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This night, this very hour will, in the days to come, be celebrated as one of the greatest and most significant of all festivals. Render thanks to God for having graciously assisted you to attain your heart’s desire, and for having quaffed from the sealed wine of His utterance. – The Bab, quoted by Mulla Husayn in The Dawnbreakers, p. 61.
How does religion begin?
Each of the world’s great Faiths started the same way. Those Faiths began when one individual—a prophet, a messenger, a manifestation—brought humanity a new iteration of God’s teachings. That prophet opens the path to a new level of human consciousness.
New religions begin when a prophet of God receives a revelation–a mystical transference of inspiration, knowledge and spiritual power from the Creator. As soon as people recognize that message, a few visionary early disciples begin to respond with their hearts and souls—and a new religion is born. With Buddha, with Abraham, with Jesus, with Muhammad, the same basic pattern played itself out.
The Baha’i Faith began that way, too, but with one difference—we have an eyewitness account.
When The Bab (pronounced bŏb), the young herald of the Baha’i Faith and the founder of its revolutionary predecessor the Babi Faith, declared his mission during that fateful evening in May of 1844, the world’s newest global Faith began. Baha’is all around the world believe that The Bab—a title which means The Gate—ushered in a new era destined to establish the unity of humanity.
A young man named Siyyid Ali Muhammad, from Shiraz, Persia, The Bab’s new teachings created an unprecedented furor throughout that society. Born in 1819 into a family of merchants and traders, raised by his maternal uncle after the premature death of his father in 1826, a mystic descended from many generations of mystical Sufis, known from childhood for his wisdom, intelligence and humility, The Bab’s teachings would spark a revolutionary religious movement unparalleled in history.
A hundred and seventy one years ago, on this day in 1844, Siyyid Ali Muhammad declared his mission as The Bab to an ardent spiritual seeker named Mulla Husayn. Younger than Jesus when he declared his revelation, The Bab started, on that day, an entirely new faith, and renewed the eternal promise of religion itself.
The news spread quickly. Soon many thousands of people became Babis, creating an uproar in traditional Persian society and its Shiite power structure. The Bab’s teachings challenged the corrupt practices of the Persian clergy, boldly defied tradition by doing away with the laws of the past, and declared that The Bab had come, like John the Baptist, as the herald for a subsequent prophet of God, the promised one that all religions awaited. The Bab’s mission, he told his followers, was to prepare the way for the founder of a universal and unifying world religion—Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, who would declare his mission nineteen years hence.
Every year in May, at two hours and eleven minutes after sunset on this day, Baha’is around the world celebrate the Declaration of The Bab—which has become, just as The Bab promised, “one of the greatest and most significant of all festivals.” Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, recounts that moment:
The opening scene of the initial act of this great drama was laid in the upper chamber of the modest residence of the son of a mercer of Shiraz, in an obscure corner of that city. The time was the hour before sunset, on the 22nd day of May, 1844. The participants were the Bab, a twenty-five year old siyyid, of pure and holy lineage, and the young Mulla Husayn, the first to believe in Him. Their meeting immediately before that interview seemed to be purely fortuitous. The interview itself was protracted till the hour of dawn…. No record has passed to posterity of that unique night save the fragmentary but highly illuminating account that fell from the lips of Mulla Husayn.
“I sat spellbound by His utterance, oblivious of time and of those who awaited me,” he himself has testified, after describing the nature of the questions he had put to his Host and the conclusive replies he had received from Him, replies which had established beyond the shadow of a doubt the validity of His claim to be the promised Qá’im. “Suddenly the call of the Mu’adhdhin, summoning the faithful to their morning prayer, awakened me from the state of ecstasy into which I seemed to have fallen. All the delights, all the ineffable glories, which the Almighty has recounted in His Book as the priceless possessions of the people of Paradise — these I seemed to be experiencing that night. Methinks I was in a place of which it could be truly said: ‘Therein no toil shall reach us, and therein no weariness shall touch us;’ ‘no vain discourse shall they hear therein, nor any falsehood, but only the cry, “Peace! Peace!”‘; ‘their cry therein shall be, “Glory to Thee, O God!” and their salutation therein, “Peace!”, and the close of their cry, “Praise be to God, Lord of all creatures!”‘
“This Revelation,” Mulla Husayn has further testified, “so suddenly and impetuously thrust upon me, came as a thunderbolt which, for a time, seemed to have benumbed my faculties. I was blinded by its dazzling splendor and overwhelmed by its crushing force. Excitement, joy, awe, and wonder stirred the depths of my soul. – God Passes By, pp. 5-6.
Just as Mulla Husayn, the first follower of the Bab did then, Baha’is rejoice and celebrate every year on the anniversary of the Bab’s momentous Declaration—when he first sounded the great call, a hundred seventy one years ago today, for the unity of all peoples, races, nations and Faiths.