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As Baha’u’llah’s leadership of the Babis increased in effectiveness and scope, the Faith grew in Iraq and Persia – but that growth only served to inflame his fundamentalist enemies.
In Baghdad, the persecutions of the Babis intensified. Hired assassins and murderers threatened and even tried to take Baha’u’llah’s life several times, but he seemed remarkably undisturbed by these attempts.
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On one occasion, a member of the Persian consulate hired an assassin to murder Baha’u’llah. The assassin, named Reza Turk, approached Baha’u’llah as he walked along the banks of the Tigris. When he came face to face with Baha’u’llah, he fumbled and dropped his gun. Baha’u’llah turned to one of his companions and told him to pick up the man’s gun, hand it back to him, and point him towards his home, remarking, “He seems to have lost his way.”
During this period, Baha’u’llah took a daily walk to one of the local coffee houses in Baghdad where men typically gathered. Whichever coffee house he visited prospered as local clerics, government officials, merchants and others gathered around him. Loved and admired, the crowds who sought Baha’u’llah wherever he went grew in size and influence – which inflamed his enemies even further. In a talk he gave in America in 1912, Baha’u’llah’s son and successor Abdu’l-Baha explained:
He was exiled in the expectation that Persia would become quiet. His banishment, however, produced the opposite effect. New tumult arose, and the mention of His greatness and influence spread everywhere throughout the country. The proclamation of His manifestation and mission was made in Baghdad. He called His friends together there and spoke to them of God …. These rulers now realized that it spread more rapidly. His prestige increased; His teachings became more widely circulated.
As admiration for Baha’u’llah increased from the townspeople as well as from people coming in from Persia, the Persian consul-general in Baghdad and the powerful Shi’a clergy became increasingly agitated. They thought the Babi movement had been crushed, but its resurgence under the guidance of Baha’u’llah had become obvious. Also, the clergy claimed great distress that Baha’u’llah lived so near the Shi’a holy places located close to Baghdad.
The mullas tried to persuade the Ottoman Sultan to extradite Baha’u’llah back to Persia where they could do with him as they pleased. Several clamored for his execution. However, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire had heard numerous reports over the years of Baha’u’llah’s noble character, and he refused to extradite him. He did, however, forward a message that Baha’u’llah would, as a guest of the Ottoman government, be asked to move farther from Persia to Constantinople, now known as Istanbul.
When this message of yet another exile came to the Governor of Baghdad – an admirer of Baha’u’llah’s – the Governor ignored the order for three months. Ashamed to give such a message to one he admired so deeply, the Governor finally, after receiving five successive orders of banishment, sent a deputy to meet with Baha’u’llah and give him the news that he was to be exiled to Constantinople.
Baha’u’llah accepted the order of banishment without protest. He took the sum of money the government gave him to pay for his transport, and distributed it to the poor. Then he prepared his family and followers for another long journey into the unknown. But before their departure, Baha’u’llah declared his mission and formally founded the Baha’i Faith.