The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
No spiritual messenger appears unopposed. In the history of religion, every prophet and founder of a great world Faith has faced persecution, torture, imprisonment and even death.
But despite that harsh initial opposition, despite the machinations of kings and rulers and the past religious authorities, those Faiths and their teachings prevailed, have lasted for centuries and have guided, enlightened, and enriched the spiritual lives of millions.
As we know, however, the pure message of love and unity that the prophets initially bring can become corrupted. Some people, intent on using the teachings of religion for their own selfish purposes, have split religion into warring sects and divisions, losing sight of its original purpose. The Baha’i teachings explain that seemingly inevitable cycle with this metaphor:
When the Sun of Reality returns to quicken the world of mankind a divine bounty descends from the heaven of generosity. The realm of thoughts and ideals is set in motion and blessed with new life. Minds are developed, hopes brighten, aspirations become spiritual, the virtues of the human world appear with freshened power of growth and the image and likeness of God become visible in man. It is the springtime of the inner world. After the spring, summer comes with its fullness and fruitage spiritual; autumn follows with its withering winds which chill the soul; the Sun seems to be going away until at last the mantle of winter overspreads and only faint traces of the effulgence of that divine Sun remain …. But again the cycle begins and a new springtime appears. In it the former springtime has returned, the world is resuscitated, illumined and attains spirituality; religion is renewed and reorganized, hearts are turned to God, the summons of God is heard and life is again bestowed upon man.
Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, suffered terribly to transmit this new cycle of Baha’i teachings to humanity. This 1852 example, from the historian Nabil’s account of the early Baha’is titled The Dawn-Breakers, illustrates just one day of what Baha’u’llah endured to proclaim his faith, as he was marched for miles in chains to a dungeon:
From Shimiran to Tihran, Baha’u’llah was several times stripped of His garments, and was overwhelmed with abuse and ridicule. On foot and exposed to the fierce rays of the midsummer sun, He was compelled to cover, barefooted and bareheaded, the whole distance from Shimiran to the dungeon … All along the route, He was pelted and vilified by the crowds whom His enemies had succeeded in convincing that He was the sworn enemy of their sovereign and the wrecker of his realm. Words fail me to portray the horror of the treatment which was meted out to Him as He was being taken to the Siyah-Chal [the Black Pit] of Tihran. As He was approaching the dungeon, and old and decrepit woman was seen to emerge from the midst of the crowd, with a stone in her hand, eager to cast it at the face of Baha’u’llah. Her eyes glowed with a determination and fanaticism of which few women of her age were capable. Her whole frame shook with rage as she stepped forward and raised her hand to hurl her missile at Him. … “Suffer not this woman to be disappointed,” were Baha’u’llah’s words to His guards, as He saw her hastening behind Him. “Deny her not what she regards as a meritorious act in the sight of God.“
When they arrived in Tehran, Baha’u’llah was placed among the other prisoners in the dungeon and fastened into shackles bolted to the floor, bolted to a hundred-pound chain around his neck. He received no food or drink for the first three days of his imprisonment. This brutal and inhumane treatment, so reminiscent of the treatment of Christ on the march to Cavalry, came in spite of the fact that Baha’u’llah had committed no crime and was imprisoned solely for his beliefs.
Baha’u’llah’s incarceration as a prisoner of conscience – the first signs of renewal in a global spiritual reawakening – signaled the dawn of a new spiritual movement destined to spread to every part of the world from that terrible prison.