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I embraced the Baha’i Faith in my late twenties after a nine-year spiritual and intellectual search. To me, one of the magnets of this religion was its relative newness.
In the spring of 1863, Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, made his declaration in Baghdad as the promised one of all the world’s religions, sent to usher in an era of human unity.
A few weeks later, on May 22 of that same year, a world away in the trenches outside Vicksburg, Mississippi, four of my great great great uncles, soldiers in the Eleventh Wisconsin Infantry, put their lives on the line to eradicate slavery and preserve the country’s unity. At age 90, the youngest of those uncles penned for my grandfather a letter chronicling the regiment’s experiences in the Civil War. It remains a family keepsake.
The point is that we have an abundance of memoirs about 1863 and surrounding years, whether in the scintilla of my family history or in the trove of the Baha’i archives. These include texts in Baha’u’llah’s own hand, unique in all of the world’s great Faiths.
In my own experience, I found the accounts of eyewitnesses to Baha’u’llah’s episodes of revelation gripping. Three types of such eyewitnesses exist: Baha’u’llah himself, eyewitness accounts from the early Baha’is who followed his new Faith; and modern-day seekers like me.
Revelation–the voice of the God speaking to and through a divine messenger–is a pillar of religion. Abraham hears the voice of God commanding him to sacrifice, then spare, his son. Moses communes with the burning bush. Jesus Christ has the spirit of God alight on him in the form of a dove which speaks to him. Muhammed hears the voice of the Angel Gabriel.
In much the same way, Baha’u’llah received his revelation. Not only do we have available eyewitness accounts of those episodes of revelation, we have descriptions of them from Baha’u’llah himself. These took place in the Siyah-Chal, the terrible “black pit,” when Baha’u’llah was imprisoned.
During the days I lay in the prison of Ṭihran … I felt as if something flowed from the crown of My head over My breast, even as a mighty torrent that precipitateth itself upon the earth from the summit of a lofty mountain … At such moments My tongue recited what no man could bear to hear. – Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 22.
Another of Baha’u’llah’s accounts reads:
One night, in a dream, these exalted words were heard on every side: “Verily, We shall render Thee victorious by Thyself and by Thy Pen. Grieve Thou not for that which hath befallen Thee, neither be Thou afraid, for Thou art in safety.” – Ibid., p. 21.
The maid of heaven visits Baha’u’llah amidst such despair:
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 … 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 … – Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, pp. 5-6.
Imagine if we had eyewitness accounts of those who saw the divine messengers who brought us the world’s great Faiths—as they received the Holy Word. This is the case in the Baha’i Faith. Mirza Aqa Jan, who later became Baha’u’llah’s scribe, detailed one experience which took place in Karbila, Iraq, while Baha’u’llah, reciting revelatory verses, paced at night on the roof of a house:
Methinks, with every step He took and every word He uttered thousands of oceans of light surged before my face, and thousands of worlds of incomparable splendor were unveiled to my eyes, and thousands of suns blazed their light upon me!… Every time He approached me He … would say: “… This Cause will assuredly be made manifest …” – Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 116.
“This cause will assuredly be made manifest,” he said! Now, two hundred years after Baha’u’llah’s birth, millions of Baha’is and their friends worldwide are preparing to celebrate this bicentenary on October 22, 2017.
Mirza Haydar Ali a preeminent early Baha’i, recalled:
The verses of God were being revealed and the words streamed forth as in a copious rain. Methought the door, the wall, the carpet, the ceiling, the floor and the air were all perfumed and illumined … To which worlds I was transported and in what state I was, no one who has not experienced such as this can ever know. – The Revelation of Baha’u’llah (volume one), p. 29.
Tarazu’llah Samandari, another preeminent Baha’i who lived from 1875 to 1968, described how these words were written:
The Holy Word revealed from the heaven of the Will of the All-Merciful first descends upon the pure and radiant heart of the Manifestation of God and then is spoken by Him… I had the great privilege of being present on two occasions when Tablets were being revealed. The holy words were flowing from His lips as He paced up and down the room, and His amanuensis [scribe] was recording them … – The Revelation of Baha’u’llah (volume one), p. 36-37.
Another striking concept of the Baha’i Faith to me was the principle of the independent investigation of religious truth, whether regarding the Baha’i revelation or any other belief. The Baha’i teachings say that no one else can dictate your own spirituality, and everyone is empowered to read the divine word directly. Baha’u’llah says: “For the faith of no man can be conditioned by anyone except himself.” – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 143.
Yet embracing the Baha’i Faith, I learned, is just one step in our ongoing search and development. The Faith encourages Baha’is to constantly fuel their spiritual growth and read the holy texts, revealed from the divine luminary, in the morning and evening.
Hence, whatever your stage of search—whether you’re a lifelong believer coming from a longtime Baha’i family; just discovering Baha’u’llah’s teachings; or simply exploring Baha’i perspectives to enrich your beliefs in another tradition—you, too, are an eyewitness to revelation.