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This article is part of a five-part series exploring what it takes, and what it means, to be a Baha’i.
“Am I a Baha’i?” a friend asked me the other day. He’s been studying the Baha’i teachings for a while now, seems to believe them, and has begun to feel their impact on his mind and soul.
“That’s up to you,” I said. “If you accept Baha’u’llah’s teachings, you just might be. Look inwardly and decide.”
We talked about it for a while, and he told me he wanted to know more about Baha’u’llah. “I guess I need to figure out whether I believe the claims Baha’u’llah made.”
“Yes, they’re serious claims,” I said. “In fact, I can’t imagine more significant ones.”
In the middle of the 19th Century, the Baha’i Faith began with Baha’u’llah, who proclaimed “… this is the Day in which mankind can behold the Face, and hear the Voice, of the Promised One.”
Baha’is believe that Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, brought humanity the latest world religion — and that he represents the long-promised return of the prophets of the past.
Baha’u’llah, which means “the glory of God,” taught that a new day had dawned, opening the door to that unique time the renewal of religion takes place. In 1863, when the Baha’i Faith began and Baha’u’llah made that great announcement, the Baha’i teachings say that a new era in human history began. Baha’u’llah wrote:
This is the Voice of God, if ye do but hearken. This is the Day Spring of the Revelation of God, did ye but know it. This is the Dawning-Place of the Cause of God, were ye to recognize it. This is the Source of the commandment of God, did ye but judge it fairly. This is the manifest and hidden Secret; would that ye might perceive it.
All of the prophets and messengers who originally founded the world’s great Faiths — Krishna, Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Zoroaster, Christ, Muhammad, and now Baha’u’llah — delivered their revolutionary messages in this exact same way. They each received a divine revelation, announced it to their followers and to the world, and freely offered their teachings to those who listened and believed. They each manifested the wisdom of the Creator, and as they proclaimed their new Faiths the spiritual power of those revelations reverberated in human souls.
This pattern of the beginnings of global religions has repeated itself throughout history. Each one of those prophets, persecuted and pilloried by the authorities of their respective cultures, animated a small, committed group of initial believers. The beautiful teachings of the prophet changed their lives and compelled them toward new spiritual aspirations. Once the original messenger departed this world, those believers, through their radiance and love, inspired an increasing number of people with the new religion’s teachings.
Although initially rejected and reviled by most, those teachings eventually became the belief systems of millions. They changed cultures and civilizations, altered the course of human development, and gave humanity the impetus to grow and mature.
Such a consistent pattern of revelation over time helps explain one of the central principles of the Baha’i Faith: the unity of all religions. Baha’is regard each of the messengers of God and the founders of faith as one. Baha’u’llah wrote:
The Bearers of the Trust of God are made manifest unto the peoples of the earth as the Exponents of a new Cause and the Revealers of a new Message. Inasmuch as these Birds of the celestial Throne are all sent down from the heaven of the Will of God, and as they all arise to proclaim His irresistible Faith, they, therefore, are regarded as one soul and the same person. For they all drink from the one Cup of the love of God, and all partake of the fruit of the same Tree of Oneness.
Like the founders of all new Faiths, Baha’u’llah suffered for teaching his new belief system. Despite his gentleness and kindness, the rapid growth of his religion threatened the status quo. The Baha’is embraced Baha’u’llah’s teachings — love for all humanity, peace and unity among all religions, equality, and justice for everyone — and suffered the consequences, many of them losing their freedom and even their lives for their beliefs. Jailed, tortured, and exiled by the religious and governmental authorities in his native Persia, Baha’u’llah spent the last 40 years of his life as a prisoner, as described here by his son and successor Abdu’l-Baha:
When Baha’u’llah appeared in Persia, all the contemporaneous religious sects and systems rose against Him. His enemies were kings. The enemies of Christ were the Jews, the Pharisees; but the enemies of Baha’u’llah were rulers who could command armies and bring hundreds of thousands of soldiers into the arena of operation. These kings represented some fifty million people, all of whom under their influence and domination were opposed to Baha’u’llah. Therefore, in effect Baha’u’llah, singly and alone, virtually withstood fifty million enemies. Yet these great numbers, instead of being able to dominate Him, could not withstand His wonderful personality and the power and influence of His heavenly Cause. Although they were determined upon extinguishing the light in that most brilliant lantern, they were ultimately defeated and overthrown, and day by day His splendor became more radiant. They made every effort to lessen His greatness, but His prestige and renown grew in proportion to their endeavors to diminish it. Surrounded by enemies who were seeking His life, He never sought to conceal Himself, did nothing to protect Himself; on the contrary, in His spiritual might and power He was at all times visible before the faces of men, easy of access, serenely withstanding the multitudes who were opposing Him. At last His banner was upraised.
Now the Baha’i Faith has spread around the world, becoming the second-most widespread religion on Earth. Once a hidden secret, the Baha’i Faith has joined the pantheon of humanity’s best-known global religions. Millions of people from all backgrounds, cultures, former faiths, tribes, races, and ethnic groups have become followers of Baha’u’llah. So if, like my friend, you’ve ever wondered whether you’re a Baha’i, in this series of essays we’ll explore what it takes, and what it means, to follow Baha’u’llah’s teachings.