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Once you understand who Baha’u’llah was and what he stood for, you may want to follow those teachings yourself. So let’s take an introductory look, in this brief series of essays, at Baha’u’llah’s remarkable life, and see why Baha’is consider him the latest messenger of God.
Baha’u’llah lived a tumultuous, difficult and powerfully inspirational existence. His Faith now followed by millions in every corner of the globe, Baha’u’llah suffered tremendously for bringing the world a new, progressive, peaceful belief system. Here’s the Webster’s Dictionary definition, if you don’t know how to pronounce his name: “Baha’u’llah: (ba há ool lá), n. (Mirza Husayn Ali), 1817-92, founder of the Baha’i Faith.” His title, Baha’u’llah, means “the Glory of God.”
Named Mirza Husayn Ali when he was born into a noble, prosperous family in Persia, as a young man Baha’u’llah became known throughout his country as the Father of the Poor, for his extensive philanthropic work to alleviate hunger, homelessness and suffering. He refused lucrative official appointments to the Persian royal court, and instead focused, both as a child and as a young man, on the spiritual aspects of life, dedicating his time and efforts to serving the impoverished, the hungry and the unfortunate. In his late 20’s, though, everything changed.
Raised in his father’s Islamic faith, Baha’u’llah broke away from those traditions in 1844 by becoming a Babi, the revolutionary, mystical new belief which promised the advent of a new messenger from God—the promised one of all ages and Faiths who would unite the world’s peoples, nations and religions.
The Babis of 19th Century Persia, however, suffered dire, catastrophic abuse and torment. Tens of thousands were gruesomely killed. After only six years leading his new Faith, the Bab himself was executed by a firing squad in 1850, and fearful of a broad uprising against their authoritarian rule, the government and clergy conducted a genocidal campaign of torture and slaughter against the Bab’s followers both before and after his death.
Imprisoned and impoverished himself for those beliefs, Baha’u’llah and his family suffered tremendously, losing all of their possessions and wealth and becoming homeless. In 1852 Baha’u’llah was arrested and thrown into Persia’s worst and most pestilential dungeon, the Siyah-Chal—literally, the Black Pit. Even though he had committed no crime, he remained imprisoned there for four months.
There, in that dark underground dungeon, bound by massive chains, Baha’u’llah had a dream, a vision, a revelation:
While engulfed in tribulations I heard a most wondrous, a most sweet voice, calling above My head. Turning My face, I beheld a Maiden—the embodiment of the remembrance of the name of My Lord—suspended in the air before Me. So rejoiced was she in her very soul that her countenance shone with the ornament of the good pleasure of God, and her cheeks glowed with the brightness of the All-Merciful. Betwixt earth and heaven she was raising a call which captivated the hearts and minds of men. She was imparting to both My inward and outer being tidings which rejoiced My soul, and the souls of God’s honoured servants.
Pointing with her finger unto My head, she addressed all who are in heaven and all who are on earth, saying: By God! This is the Best-Beloved of the worlds, and yet ye comprehend not. This is the Beauty of God amongst you, and the power of His sovereignty within you, could ye but understand. This is the Mystery of God and His Treasure, the Cause of God and His glory unto all who are in the kingdoms of Revelation and of creation, if ye be of them that perceive. This is He Whose Presence is the ardent desire of the denizens of the Realm of eternity, and of them that dwell within the Tabernacle of glory, and yet from His Beauty do ye turn aside. – Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, pp. 5-6.
That revelation—what Baha’u’llah later described as “the embodiment of the remembrance of the name of My Lord”—continued to flow into his inmost soul:
Wrapped in its stygian gloom, breathing its fetid air, numbed by its humid and icy atmosphere, His feet in stocks, His neck weighed down by a mighty chain, surrounded by criminals and miscreants of the worst order, oppressed by the consciousness of the terrible blot that had stained the fair name of His beloved Faith, painfully aware of the dire distress that had overtaken its champions, and of the grave dangers that faced the remnant of its followers—at so critical an hour and under such appalling circumstances the “Most Great Spirit,” as designated by Himself, and symbolized in the Zoroastrian, the Mosaic, the Christian, and Muhammadan Dispensations by the Sacred Fire, the Burning Bush, the Dove and the Angel Gabriel respectively, descended upon, and revealed itself, personated by a “Maiden,” to the agonized soul of Baha’u’llah. – Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 101.
Like the prophets and founders of the world’s great Faiths before him—Buddha, Moses, Christ, Muhammad and many others—Baha’u’llah received a new revelation, and later began to offer that revelation to the world. He suffered enormously for giving those teachings to humanity. Opposed by his government, by the Muslim clerics of his culture and by a large segment of the bigoted populace, Baha’u’llah was repeatedly exiled by the Ottoman government from Tehran to Baghdad to Constantinople to Adrianople and finally to Akka, an infamous prison colony in Palestine.
Baha’u’llah spent the last forty years of his life, from 1852 to 1892, in prison or under house arrest.
While enduring this torture, exile and privation, Baha’u’llah gradually revealed the mystical teachings and spiritual principles that formed the Baha’i Faith—the oneness of humanity, the essential unity of all religions and the love of one God for the entire creation. Baha’u’llah also taught the equality of men and women, the agreement of science and religion, and the core Baha’i concept called progressive revelation, which links all of the great Faiths throughout humanity’s history in one chain of continuous guidance from God.
The Baha’i Faith spread rapidly. Despite the violent opposition to its modern, progressive teachings, it quickly expanded across the globe, attracting millions of followers and becoming the world’s second-most widespread religion by the end of the 20th century.