The writings which have been quoted in the foregoing were revealed, for the most part, in conditions of renewed persecution. Soon after the exiles’ arrival in Constantinople, it became apparent that the honors showered upon Bahá’u’lláh during His journey from Baghdad had represented only a brief interlude. The Ottoman authorities’ decision to move the “Bábí” leader and His companions to the capital of the empire rather than to some remote province deepened the alarm among the representatives of the Persian government.68 Fearing that the developments in Baghdad would be repeated, and might attract this time not only the sympathy but perhaps even the allegiance of influential figures in the Turkish government, the Persian ambassador pressed insistently for the dispatch of the exiles to some more distant part of the empire. His argument was that the spread of a new religious message in the capital could produce political as well as religious repercussions.
Initially, the Ottoman government strongly resisted. The chief minister, ‘Alí Páshá, had indicated to Western diplomats his belief that Bahá’u’lláh was “a man of great distinction, exemplary conduct, great moderation, and a most dignified figure.” His teachings were, in the minister’s opinion, “worthy of high esteem” because they counteracted the religious animosities dividing the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim subjects of the empire.69
Gradually, however, a degree of resentment and suspicion developed. In the Ottoman capital, political and economic power was in the hands of court functionaries who, with but few exceptions, were persons of little or no competence. Venality was the oil on which the machinery of government operated, and the capital was a magnet for a horde of people who flocked there from every part of the empire and beyond, seeking favors and influence. It was expected that any prominent figure from another country or from one of the tribute territories would, immediately upon arrival in Constantinople, join the throngs of patronage-seekers in the reception rooms of the pashas and ministers of the imperial court. No element had a worse reputation than the competing groups of Persian political exiles who were known for both their sophistication and their lack of scruple.
To the distress of friends who urged Him to make use of the prevailing hostility toward the Persian government and of the sympathy which His own sufferings had aroused, Bahá’u’lláh made it clear that He had no requests to make. Although several government ministers made social calls at the residence assigned to Him, he did not take advantage of these openings. He was in Constantinople, He said, as the guest of the Sultan, at his invitation, and His interest lay in spiritual and moral concerns.
Many years later, the Persian ambassador, Mírzá Ḥusayn Khán, reflecting on his tour of duty in the Ottoman capital, and complaining about the damage which the greed and untrustworthiness of his countrymen had done to Persia’s reputation in Constantinople, paid a surprisingly candid tribute to the example which Bahá’u’lláh’s conduct had been able briefly to set.70 At the time, however, he and his colleagues made use of the situation to represent it as an astute way on the exile’s part of concealing secret conspiracies against public security and the religion of the State. Under pressure of these influences, the Ottoman authorities finally took the decision to transfer Bahá’u’lláh and His family to the provincial city of Adrianople. The move was made hastily, in the depth of an extremely severe winter. Housed there in inadequate buildings, lacking suitable clothing and other provisions, the exiles endured a year of great suffering. It was clear that, though charged with no crime and given no opportunity to defend themselves, they had arbitrarily been made state prisoners.
From the point of view of religious history, the successive banishments of Bahá’u’lláh to Constantinople and Adrianople have a striking symbolism. For the first time, a Manifestation of God, Founder of an independent religious system which was soon to spread throughout the planet, had crossed the narrow neck of water separating Asia from Europe, and had set foot in “the West.” All of the other great religions had arisen in Asia and the ministries of their Founders had been confined to that continent. Referring to the fact that the dispensations of the past, and particularly those of Abraham, Christ, and Muḥammad, had produced their most important effects on the development of civilization during the course of their westward expansion, Bahá’u’lláh predicted that the same thing would occur in this new age, but on a vastly larger scale: “In the East the Light of His Revelation hath broken; in the West have appeared the signs of His dominion. Ponder this in your hearts, O people…”71
It is then perhaps not surprising that Bahá’u’lláh chose this moment to make public the mission which had been slowly enlisting the allegiance of the followers of the Báb throughout the Middle East. His announcement took the form of a series of statements which are among the most remarkable documents in religious history. In them, the Manifestation of God addresses the “Kings and Rulers of the world,” announcing to them the dawning of the Day of God, alluding to the as yet inconceivable changes which were gathering momentum throughout the world, and calling on them as the trustees of God and of their fellow human beings to arise and serve the process of the unification of the human race. Because of the veneration in which they were held by the mass of their subjects, and because of the absolute nature of the rule which most of them exercised, it lay in their power, He said, to assist in bringing about what He called the “Most Great Peace,” a world order characterized by unity and animated by Divine justice.
Only with the greatest difficulty can the modern reader envision the moral and intellectual world in which these monarchs of a century ago lived. From their biographies and private correspondence, it is apparent that, with few exceptions, they were personally devout, taking a leading part in the spiritual life of their respective nations, often as the heads of the state religions, and convinced of the unerring truths of the Bible or the Qur’án. The power which most of them wielded they attributed directly to the divine authority of passages in these same Scriptures, an authority about which they were vigorously articulate. They were the anointed of God. Prophecies of “the Latter Days” and “the Kingdom of God” were not for them myth or allegory, but certainties upon which all moral order rested and in which they would themselves be called on by God to give an account of their stewardship.
The letters of Bahá’u’lláh address themselves to this mental world:
O Kings of the earth! He Who is the sovereign Lord of all is come. The Kingdom is God’s, the omnipotent Protector, the Self-Subsisting.… This is a Revelation to which whatever ye possess can never be compared, could ye but know it.…
…Take heed lest pride deter you from recognizing the Source of Revelation, lest the things of this world shut you out as by a veil from Him Who is the Creator of heaven.…
By the righteousness of God! It is not Our wish to lay hands on your kingdoms. Our mission is to seize and possess the hearts of men.72
Know ye that the poor are the trust of God in your midst. Watch that ye betray not His trust, that ye deal not unjustly with them and that ye walk not in the ways of the treacherous. Ye will most certainly be called upon to answer for His trust on the day when the Balance of Justice shall be set, the day when unto every one shall be rendered his due, when the doings of all men, be they rich or poor, shall be weighed.…
Examine Our Cause, inquire into the things that have befallen Us, and decide justly between Us and Our enemies, and be ye of them that act equitably towards their neighbor. If ye stay not the hand of the oppressor, if ye fail to safeguard the rights of the downtrodden, what right have ye then to vaunt yourselves among men?73
If ye pay no heed unto the counsels which … We have revealed in this Tablet, Divine chastisement shall assail you from every direction, and the sentence of His justice shall be pronounced against you. On that day ye shall have no power to resist Him, and shall recognize your own impotence.74
The vision of the “Most Great Peace” evoked no response from the rulers of the nineteenth century. Nationalistic aggrandizement and imperial expansion recruited not only kings but parliamentarians, academics, artists, newspapers, and the major religious establishments as eager propagandists of Western triumphalism. Proposals for social change, however disinterested and idealistic, quickly fell captive to a swarm of new ideologies thrown up by the rising tide of dogmatic materialism. In the Orient, mesmerized by its own claims to represent all that humanity ever could or would know of God and truth, the Islamic world sank steadily deeper into ignorance, lethargy, and a sullen hostility to a human race which failed to acknowledge this spiritual preeminence.
Given the earlier events in Baghdad, it seems surprising that the Ottoman authorities did not anticipate what would result from the establishment of Bahá’u’lláh in another major provincial capital. Within a year of His arrival in Adrianople, their prisoner had attracted first the interest and then the fervent admiration of figures prominent in both the intellectual and administrative life of the region. To the dismay of the Persian consular representatives, two of the most devoted of these admirers were Khurshíd Páshá, the Governor of the province, and the Shaykhu’l-Islám, the leading Sunni religious dignitary. In the eyes of His hosts and the public generally, the exile was a moral philosopher and saint the validity of whose teachings was reflected not only in the example of His own life but in the changes they effected among the flood of Persian pilgrims who flocked to this remote center of the Ottoman Empire in order to visit Him.75
These unanticipated developments convinced the Persian ambassador and his colleagues that it was only a matter of time before the Bahá’í movement, which was continuing to spread in Persia, would have established itself as a major influence in Persia’s neighboring and rival empire. Throughout this period of its history, the ramshackle Ottoman Empire was struggling against repeated incursions by Tsarist Russia, uprisings among its subject peoples, and persistent attempts by the ostensibly sympathetic British and Austrian governments to detach various Turkish territories and incorporate them into their own empires. These unstable political conditions in Turkey’s European provinces offered new and urgent arguments supporting the ambassador’s appeal that the exiles be sent to a distant colony where Bahá’u’lláh would have no further contact with influential circles, whether Turkish or Western.
When the Turkish foreign minister, Fu’ád Páshá, returned from a visit to Adrianople, his astonished reports of the reputation which Bahá’u’lláh had come to enjoy throughout the region appeared to lend credibility to the Persian embassy’s suggestions. In this climate of opinion, the government abruptly decided to subject its guest to strict confinement. Without warning, early one day, Bahá’u’lláh’s house was surrounded by soldiers, and the exiles were ordered to prepare for departure to an unknown destination.
The place chosen for this final banishment was the grim fortress-town of ‘Akká (Acre) on the coast of the Holy Land. Notorious throughout the empire for the foulness of its climate and the prevalence of many diseases, ‘Akká was a penal colony used by the Ottoman State for the incarceration of dangerous criminals who could be expected not to survive too long their imprisonment there. Arriving in August 1868, Bahá’u’lláh, the members of His family, and a company of His followers who had been exiled with Him were to experience two years of suffering and abuse within the fortress itself, and then be confined under house arrest to a nearby building owned by a local merchant. For a long time the exiles were shunned by the superstitious local populace who had been warned in public sermons against “the God of the Persians,” who was depicted as an enemy of public order and the purveyor of blasphemous and immoral ideas. Several members of the small group of exiles died of the privations and other conditions to which they were subjected.76
It seems, in retrospect, the keenest irony that the selection of the Holy Land as the place of Bahá’u’lláh’s forced confinement should have been the result of pressure from ecclesiastical and civil enemies whose aim was to extinguish His religious influence. Palestine, revered by three of the great monotheistic religions as the point where the worlds of God and of man intersect, held then, as it had for thousands of years, a unique place in human expectation. Only a few weeks before Bahá’u’lláh’s arrival, the main leadership of the German Protestant Templer movement sailed from Europe to establish at the foot of Mount Carmel a colony that would welcome Christ, whose advent they believed to be imminent. Over the lintels of several of the small houses they erected, facing across the bay to Bahá’u’lláh’s prison at ‘Akká, can still be seen such carved inscriptions as “Der Herr ist nahe” (“The Lord is near”).77
In ‘Akká, Bahá’u’lláh continued the dictation of a series of letters to individual rulers, which He had begun in Adrianople. Several contained warnings of the judgment of God on their negligence and misrule, warnings whose dramatic fulfillment aroused intense public discussion throughout the Near East. Less than two months after the exiles arrived in the prison-city, for example, Fu’ád Páshá, the Ottoman foreign minister, whose misrepresentations had helped precipitate the banishment, was abruptly dismissed from his post and died in France of a heart attack. The event was marked by a statement which predicted the early dismissal of his colleague, Prime Minister ‘Álí Páshá, the overthrow and death of the Sultan, and the loss of Turkish territories in Europe, a series of disasters which followed on the heels of one another.78
A letter to Emperor Napoleon III warned that, because of his insincerity and the misuse of his power: “…thy kingdom shall be thrown into confusion, and thine empire shall pass from thine hands, as a punishment for that which thou hast wrought.… Hath thy pomp made thee proud? By My life! It shall not endure.…”79 Of the disastrous Franco-Prussian War and the resulting overthrow of Napoleon III, which occurred less than a year after this statement, Alistair Horne, a modern scholar of nineteenth-century French political history has written:
History knows of perhaps no more startling instance of what the Greeks called peripateia, the terrible fall from prideful heights. Certainly no nation in modern times, so replete with apparent grandeur and opulent in material achievement, has ever been subjected to a worse humiliation in so short a time.80
Only a few months before the unexpected series of events in Europe that led to the invasion of the Papal States and the annexation of Rome by the forces of the new Kingdom of Italy, a statement addressing Pope Pius IX had urged the Pontiff “Abandon thy kingdom unto the kings, and emerge from thy habitation, with thy face set towards the Kingdom.… Be as thy Lord hath been.… Verily, the day of ingathering is come, and all things have been separated from each other. He hath stored away that which He chose in the vessels of justice, and cast into the fire that which befitteth it.”81
Wilhelm I, King of Prussia, whose armies had won such a sweeping victory in the Franco-Prussian War, had been warned by Bahá’u’lláh in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas to heed the example of the fall of Napoleon III and of other rulers who had been victorious in war, and not to allow pride to keep him back from recognizing this Revelation. That Bahá’u’lláh foresaw the failure of the German Emperor to respond to this warning is shown by the ominous passage which appears later in that same Book:
O banks of the Rhine! We have seen you covered with gore, inasmuch as the swords of retribution were drawn against you; and you shall have another turn. And We hear the lamentations of Berlin, though she be today in conspicuous glory.82
A strikingly different note characterizes two of the major pronouncements, that addressed to Queen Victoria83 and another to the “Rulers of America and the Presidents of the Republics therein.” The former praises the pioneering achievement represented by the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire, and commends the principle of representative government. The latter, which opens with the announcement of the Day of God, concludes with a summons, a virtual mandate, that has no parallel in any of the other messages: “Bind ye the broken with the hands of justice, and crush the oppressor who flourisheth with the rod of the commandments of your Lord, the Ordainer, the All-Wise.”84
Religion as Light and Darkness
Bahá’u’lláh’s severest condemnation is reserved for the barriers which, throughout history, organized religion has erected between humanity and the Revelations of God. Dogmas, inspired by popular superstition and perfected by misspent intelligence, have repeatedly been imposed on a Divine process whose purpose has at all times been spiritual and moral. Laws of social interaction, revealed for the purpose of consolidating community life, have been made the basis for structures of arcane doctrine and practice which have burdened the masses whose benefit they were supposed to serve. Even the exercise of intellect, the chief tool possessed by the human race, has been deliberately hampered, producing an eventual breakdown in the dialogue between faith and science upon which civilized life depends.
The consequence of this sorry record is the worldwide disrepute into which religion has fallen. Worse, organized religion has become itself a most virulent cause of hatred and warfare among the peoples of the world. “Religious fanaticism and hatred,” Bahá’u’lláh warned over a century ago, “are a world-devouring fire, whose violence none can quench. The Hand of Divine power can, alone, deliver mankind from this desolating affliction.”85
Those whom God will hold responsible for this tragedy, Bahá’u’lláh says, are humanity’s religious leaders, who have presumed to speak for Him throughout history. Their attempts to make the Word of God a private preserve, and its exposition a means for personal aggrandizement, have been the greatest single handicap against which the advancement of civilization has struggled. In the pursuit of their ends, many of them have not hesitated to raise their hands against the Messengers of God themselves, at their advent:
Leaders of religion, in every age, have hindered their people from attaining the shores of eternal salvation, inasmuch as they held the reins of authority in their mighty grasp. Some for the lust of leadership, others through want of knowledge and understanding, have been the cause of the deprivation of the people. By their sanction and authority, every Prophet of God hath drunk from the chalice of sacrifice.…86
In an address to the clergy of all faiths, Bahá’u’lláh warns of the responsibility which they have so carelessly assumed in history:
Ye are even as a spring. If it be changed, so will the streams that branch out from it be changed. Fear God, and be numbered with the godly. In like manner, if the heart of man be corrupted, his limbs will also be corrupted. And similarly, if the root of a tree be corrupted, its branches, and its offshoots, and its leaves, and its fruits, will be corrupted.87
These same statements, revealed at a time when religious orthodoxy was one of the major powers throughout the world, declared that this power had effectively ended, and that the ecclesiastical caste has no further social role in world history: “O concourse of divines! Ye shall not henceforward behold yourselves possessed of any power.…”88 To a particularly vindictive opponent among the Muslim clergy, Bahá’u’lláh said: “Thou art even as the last trace of sunlight upon the mountaintop. Soon will it fade away as decreed by God, the All-Possessing, the Most High. Thy glory and the glory of such as are like thee have been taken away.…”89
It is not the organization of religious activity which these statements address, but the misuse of such resources. Bahá’u’lláh’s writings are generous in their appreciation not only of the great contribution which organized religion has brought to civilization, but also of the benefits which the world has derived from the self-sacrifice and love of humanity that have characterized clergymen and religious orders of all faiths:
Those divines … who are truly adorned with the ornament of knowledge and of a goodly character are, verily, as a head to the body of the world, and as eyes to the nations.90
Rather, the challenge to all people, believers and unbelievers, clergy and laymen alike, is to recognize the consequences now being visited upon the world as the result of the universal corruption of the religious impulse. In the prevailing alienation of humanity from God over the past century, a relationship on which the fabric of moral life itself depends has broken down. Natural faculties of the rational soul, vital to the development and maintenance of human values, have become universally discounted:
The vitality of men’s belief in God is dying out in every land; nothing short of His wholesome medicine can ever restore it. The corrosion of ungodliness is eating into the vitals of human society; what else but the Elixir of His potent Revelation can cleanse and revive it?… The Word of God, alone, can claim the distinction of being endowed with the capacity required for so great and far-reaching a change.91
In the light of subsequent events, the warnings and appeals of Bahá’u’lláh’s writings during this period take on a terrible poignancy:
O ye the elected representatives of the people in every land!… Regard the world as the human body which, though at its creation whole and perfect, hath been afflicted, through various causes, with grave disorders and maladies. Not for one day did it gain ease, nay its sickness waxed more severe, as it fell under the treatment of ignorant physicians, who gave full rein to their personal desires.…
We behold it, in this day, at the mercy of rulers so drunk with pride that they cannot discern clearly their own best advantage, much less recognize a Revelation so bewildering and challenging as this.92
This is the Day whereon the earth shall tell out her tidings. The workers of iniquity are her burdens, could ye but perceive it.93
All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. The Almighty beareth Me witness: To act like the beasts of the field is unworthy of man. Those virtues that befit his dignity are forbearance, mercy, compassion and loving-kindness towards all the peoples and kindreds of the earth.94
A new life is, in this age, stirring within all the peoples of the earth; and yet none hath discovered its cause or perceived its motive. Consider the peoples of the West. Witness how, in their pursuit of that which is vain and trivial, they have sacrificed, and are still sacrificing, countless lives for the sake of its establishment and promotion.95
In all matters moderation is desirable. If a thing is carried to excess, it will prove a source of evil.…
Strange and astonishing things exist in the earth but they are hidden from the minds and the understanding of men. These things are capable of changing the whole atmosphere of the earth and their contamination would prove lethal.…96
In later writings, including those addressed to humanity collectively, Bahá’u’lláh urged the adoption of steps toward what He called the “Great Peace.” These, He said, would mitigate the sufferings and dislocation which He saw lying ahead of the human race until the world’s peoples embrace the Revelation of God and through it bring about the Most Great Peace:
The time must come when the imperative necessity for the holding of a vast, an all-embracing assemblage of men will be universally realized. The rulers and kings of the earth must needs attend it, and, participating in its deliberations, must consider such ways and means as will lay the foundations of the world’s Great Peace amongst men. Such a peace demandeth that the Great Powers should resolve, for the sake of the tranquility of the peoples of the earth, to be fully reconciled among themselves. Should any king take up arms against another, all should unitedly arise and prevent him. If this be done, the nations of the world will no longer require any armaments, except for the purpose of preserving the security of their realms and of maintaining internal order within their territories.… The day is approaching when all the peoples of the world will have adopted one universal language and one common script. When this is achieved, to whatsoever city a man may journey, it shall be as if he were entering his own home.… That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race.… It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.97
In His letter to Náṣiri’d-Dín Sháh, the ruler of Persia, which refrains from any rebuke concerning His imprisonment in the Síyáh-Chál and the other injustices He had experienced at the king’s hand, Bahá’u’lláh speaks of His own role in the Divine Plan:
I was but a man like others, asleep upon My couch, when lo, the breezes of the All-Glorious were wafted over Me, and taught Me the knowledge of all that hath been. This thing is not from Me, but from One Who is Almighty and All-Knowing. And He bade Me lift up My voice between earth and heaven, and for this there befell Me what hath caused the tears of every man of understanding to flow. The learning current amongst men I studied not; their schools I entered not. Ask of the city wherein I dwelt, that thou mayest be well assured that I am not of them who speak falsely.98
The mission to which He had devoted His entire life, which had cost Him the life of a cherished younger son,99 as well as all of His material possessions which had undermined His health, and brought imprisonment, exile, and abuse, was not one that He had initiated. “Not of Mine own volition,” He said, had He entered on such a course:
Think ye, O people, that I hold within My grasp the control of God’s ultimate Will and Purpose?… Had the ultimate destiny of God’s Faith been in Mine hands, I would have never consented, even though for one moment, to manifest Myself unto you, nor would I have allowed one word to fall from My lips. Of this God Himself is, verily, a witness.100
Having surrendered unreservedly to God’s summons, He was equally in no doubt about the role which He had been called upon to play in human history. As the Manifestation of God to the age of fulfillment, He is the one promised in all the scriptures of the past, the “Desire of all nations,” the “King of Glory.” To Judaism He is “Lord of Hosts”; to Christianity, the Return of Christ in the glory of the Father; to Islam, the “Great Announcement”; to Buddhism, the Maitreya Buddha; to Hinduism, the new incarnation of Krishna; to Zoroastrianism, the advent of “Sháh-Bahrám.”101
Like the Manifestations of God gone before Him, He is both the Voice of God and its human channel: “When I contemplate, O my God, the relationship that bindeth me to Thee, I am moved to proclaim to all created things ‘verily I am God!’; and when I consider my own self, lo, I find it coarser than clay!”102
“Certain ones among you,” He declared, “have said: ‘He it is Who hath laid claim to be God.’ By God! This is a gross calumny. I am but a servant of God Who hath believed in Him and in His signs.… My tongue, and My heart, and My inner and My outer being testify that there is no God but Him, that all others have been created by His behest, and been fashioned through the operation of His Will.… I am He that telleth abroad the favors with which God hath, through His bounty, favored Me. If this be My transgression, then I am truly the first of the transgressors.…”103
Bahá’u’lláh’s writings seize upon a host of metaphors in their attempt to express the paradox that lies at the heart of the phenomenon of God’s Revelation of His Will:
I am the royal Falcon on the arm of the Almighty. I unfold the drooping wings of every broken bird and start it on its flight.104
This is but a leaf which the winds of the will of thy Lord, the Almighty, the All-Praised, have stirred. Can it be still when the tempestuous winds are blowing? Nay, by Him Who is the Lord of all Names and Attributes! They move it as they list.105
The Covenant of God with Humankind
In June 1877, Bahá’u’lláh at last emerged from the strict confinement of the prison-city of ‘Akká, and moved with His family to “Mazra‘ih,” a small estate a few miles north of the city.106 As had been predicted in His statement to the Turkish government, Sulṭán ‘Abdu’l-‘Azíz had been overthrown and assassinated in a palace coup, and gusts from the winds of political change sweeping the world were beginning to invade even the shuttered precincts of the Ottoman imperial system. After a brief two-year stay at Mazra‘ih, Bahá’u’lláh moved to “Bahjí,” a large mansion surrounded by gardens, which His son ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá had rented for Him and the members of His extended family.107 The remaining twelve years of His life were devoted to His writings on a wide range of spiritual and social issues, and to receiving a stream of Bahá’í pilgrims who made their way, with great difficulty, from Persia and other lands.
Throughout the Near and Middle East the nucleus of a community life was beginning to take shape among those who had accepted His message. For its guidance, Bahá’u’lláh had revealed a system of laws and institutions designed to give practical effect to the principles in His writings.108 Authority was vested in councils democratically elected by the whole community, provisions were made to exclude the possibility of a clerical elite arising, and principles of consultation and group decision making were established.
At the heart of this system was what Bahá’u’lláh termed a “new Covenant” between God and humankind. The distinguishing feature of humanity’s coming of age is that, for the first time in its history, the entire human race is consciously involved, however dimly, in the awareness of its own oneness and of the earth as a single homeland. This awakening opens the way to a new relationship between God and humankind. As the peoples of the world embrace the spiritual authority inherent in the guidance of the Revelation of God for this age, Bahá’u’lláh said, they will find in themselves a moral empowerment which human effort alone has proven incapable of generating. “A new race of men”109 will emerge as the result of this relationship, and the work of building a global civilization will begin. The mission of the Bahá’í community was to demonstrate the efficacy of this Covenant in healing the ills that divide the human race.
Bahá’u’lláh died at Bahjí on May 29, 1892, in His 75th year. At the time of His passing, the cause entrusted to Him forty years earlier in the darkness of Teheran’s Black Pit was poised to break free of the Islamic lands where it had taken shape, and to establish itself first across America and Europe and then throughout the world. In doing so, it would itself become a vindication of the promise of the new Covenant between God and humankind. For alone of all the world’s independent religions, the Bahá’í Faith and its community of believers were to pass successfully through the critical first century of their existence with their unity firmly intact, undamaged by the age-old blight of schism and faction. Their experience offers compelling evidence for Bahá’u’lláh’s assurance that the human race, in all its diversity, can learn to live and work as one people, in a common global homeland.
Just two years before His death, Bahá’u’lláh received at Bahjí one of the few Westerners to meet Him, and the only one to leave a written account of the experience. The visitor was Edward Granville Browne, a rising young orientalist from Cambridge University, whose attention had originally been attracted by the dramatic history of the Báb and His heroic band of followers. Of his meeting with Bahá’u’lláh, Browne wrote:
Though I dimly suspected whither I was going and whom I was to behold (for no distinct intimation had been given to me), a second or two elapsed ere, with a throb of wonder and awe, I became definitely conscious that the room was not untenanted. In the corner where the divan met the wall sat a wondrous and venerable figure.… The face of him on whom I gazed I can never forget, though I cannot describe it. Those piercing eyes seemed to read one’s very soul; power and authority sat on that ample brow.… No need to ask in whose presence I stood, as I bowed myself before one who is the object of a devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain!
A mild dignified voice bade me be seated, and then continued:—“Praise be to God that thou hast attained!…Thou hast come to see a prisoner and an exile…We desire but the good of the world and the happiness of the nations; yet they deem us a stirrer up of strife and sedition worthy of bondage and banishment…That all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religion should cease, and differences of race be annulled—what harm is there in this?…Yet so it shall be; these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the ‘Most great Peace’ shall come…”110