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Tonight at 3 a.m., those who love Baha’u’llah and his teachings will mourn his passing.
When the founder of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah, passed away in 1892, Baha’is began observing May 29th as a holy day, commemorated with prayers and meditative contemplation of Baha’u’llah’s incredibly difficult but enormously inspiring and influential life.
Repeatedly persecuted, exiled, jailed and tortured for his progressive teachings, Baha’u’llah died at the age of 74. Born in 1817, he became the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith in 1863—and then spent the rest of his life in exile and prison as a result of those teachings.
His son Abdu’l-Baha, who would lead Baha’u’llah’s Faith after his passing, summarized his father’s life this way:
Baha’u’llah endured ordeals and hardships sixty years. There was no persecution, vicissitude or suffering He did not experience at the hand of His enemies and oppressors. All the days of His life were passed in difficulty and tribulation—at one time in prison, another in exile, sometimes in chains. He willingly endured these difficulties for the unity of mankind, praying that the world of humanity might realize the radiance of God, the oneness of humankind become a reality, strife and warfare cease and peace and tranquillity be realized by all. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 145.
Thrown in Tehran’s notorious Black Pit, his land and possessions seized, then forced out of Persia by its government, Baha’u’llah was successively banished to Baghdad in 1852; then from Baghdad to Constantinople in 1863; then to Adrianople (now Edirne) in 1867; and finally to the prison-city of Akka in Palestine (now Israel) in 1868.
Baha’u’llah ultimately spent the rest of his adult life as a prisoner of conscience.
He taught a new Faith with remarkably progressive principles: the independent investigation of truth, the unity of all religions, the oneness of God and humanity, the establishment of a global democratic order, the agreement of science and religion. Baha’u’llah’s new Faith challenged dogma and orthodoxy by doing away with clergy, outlawing racial prejudice, establishing the equality of women and men, and demanding that the world’s rulers reduce their armaments and agree to establish peace.
Those spiritual and social teachings caused the Persian and Ottoman governments to subject Baha’u’llah to decades of cruel and unusual punishment. Baha’u’llah underwent terrible suffering, not for any crime, but for promulgating the peaceful principles of his new Faith, which boldly challenged the existing power structure and the endemic corruption of the governmental, social and religious orders of the time.
The Baha’i teachings tell us that Baha’u’llah underwent this terrible treatment, like all the Prophets and Manifestations of God have undergone persecution, as a sacrifice for all humanity. Abdu’l-Baha said that Baha’u’llah:
… bore all these ordeals and calamities in order that our hearts might become enkindled and radiant, our spirits be glorified, our faults become virtues, our ignorance be transformed into knowledge; in order that we might attain the real fruits of humanity and acquire heavenly graces; in order that, although pilgrims upon earth, we should travel the road of the heavenly Kingdom, and, although needy and poor, we might receive the treasures of eternal life. For this has He borne these difficulties and sorrows. – Ibid., p. 28.
Despite continuing government-sponsored campaigns aimed at Baha’is, and despite the passing of Baha’u’llah, the Baha’i Faith continues to grow, develop and prosper in every corner of the planet.
Baha’u’llah’s teachings still emphasize peace, unity and harmony among all people. They have inspired millions around the world, and the Faith that Baha’u’llah revealed so long ago has joined the pantheon of the world’s major Faiths as a result.
So today Baha’is around the world will gather during the darkest part of the night to observe and commemorate the anniversary of the passing of Baha’u’llah, and the dawning of his new, light-filled revelation. In those solemn and prayerful occasions that will happen tonight across the planet, Baha’is and their friends and loved ones will reflect on the powerful teachings of this relatively new global Faith and remember the extreme sacrifices that brought its message of unity to humanity. They will remember that Baha’u’llah said he:
… hath consented to be bound with chains that mankind may be released from its bondage, and hath accepted to be made a prisoner within this most mighty Stronghold that the whole world may attain unto true liberty. He hath drained to its dregs the cup of sorrow, that all the peoples of the earth may attain unto abiding joy, and be filled with gladness. This is of the mercy of your Lord, the Compassionate, the Most Merciful. We have accepted to be abased, O believers in the Unity of God, that ye may be exalted, and have suffered manifold afflictions, that ye might prosper and flourish. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 99-100.