In this day and time we tend to equate martyrdom with blind, unthinking fanaticism, or perhaps with some warped and pitiful dependence by weak-minded souls on a despotic leader who promises heaven in exchange for their lives and material resources. This is understandable, as there have been plenty of examples of such pathetic behavior in recent history. However, the Babis and Baha’is do not belong in that category, as an unbiased examination of their history will show. These people did not harbor a death wish, and they usually avoided trouble whenever possible. Baha’u’llah strictly instructed his followers not to foment sedition or to take up arms against anyone, even in defense of their own lives. This made them easy victims, but their steadfastness was proof of the power of their faith. Their only motives were to stand up for the truth and to help build a new world order based on divine teachings. They knew that change sometimes requires the highest sacrifice, and they were willing to lay down their lives in order to achieve it. In this light it is clear that their choice was not born of some kind of mental perversion, but rather from the noblest of motives. We can think of parallel examples of this kind of sacrifice, such as the early Christians and those who, in our own time, gave their lives for the American and other civil rights movements.
In The Book of Certitude Baha’u’llah calls attention to the behavior of those who, in every age, have remained faithful to the Cause of God despite the persecutions they have been made to suffer and the antagonism of those who have rejected the prophets. He makes it clear that the behavior of such people, on the one hand, and their persecutors on the other, lays bare the true spiritual station of both parties:
Amongst the proofs demonstrating the truth of this Revelation is this, that in every age and Dispensation, whenever the invisible Essence was revealed in the person of His Manifestation, certain souls, obscure and detached from all worldly entanglements, would seek illumination from the Sun of Prophethood and Moon of divine guidance, and would attain unto the divine Presence. – Baha’u’llah, The Book of Certitude p. 221.
The Word of God as revealed by the prophets and manifestations of God has a unique power over the human heart. The prophets have other qualities that separate them from mere philosophers and teachers. They have the capacity to foresee future events. In the Gospels, for example, there are numerous instances of Christ’s prophetic foresight. One of the best known is his prophecy concerning the destruction of Jerusalem. He also foresaw his own betrayal, death, and resurrection. The Bab predicted his own martyrdom as well as the very year when Baha’u’llah’s ministry would begin. We have already seen that Baha’u’llah had this same prophetic power. He foretold the downfall of Napoleon III as a result of his arrogant response to Baha’u’llah’s message. Likewise he foretold the overthrow of Sultan Abdu’l-Aziz. He foresaw the sufferings that would be visited upon Germany. He predicted his own eventual liberation from confinement within the citadel of Akka, and he predicted many other things, a number of which we’ll cover in later essays in this series.
Baha’u’llah made other profound statements about the power of the Word of God. For example, he made clear that the prophets do not merely predict future events. In some cases such events come about because it is their will that it be so. Such prophecies convey a sense of the profound power of the Word of God. They are not mere predictions in the normal sense. They show clear cause and effect. As we have seen, for example, various rulers lost their power as a consequence of their behavior. Such examples demonstrate the dynamic force of the Word of God in influencing the course of human events. Revelation of God’s Word is a power unique to the manifestations of God.