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The aim of this Wronged One in sustaining woes and tribulations. . . hath been naught but to quench the flame of hate and enmity, that the horizon of the hearts of men may be illumined with the light of concord and attain real peace and tranquility. - Baha'u'llah
No prophet appears unopposed. In the history of religion, every founder of a great world Faith has faced persecution, ridicule, torture, imprisonment and even death. But despite that 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 this 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. - Abdu'l-Baha, Baha'i World Faith, p. 255.
Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, suffered terribly to transmit the Baha’i teachings to humanity. One example illustrates what Baha’u’llah endured:
He marched for miles in chains toward the gates of the city. The August heat shimmered the horizon and scorched the stones under his bare and bleeding feet. The rhythmic clink of the prisoner’s chains, the hoof-beats of the guards’ horses, faded against the rowdy curses of a growing mob. The rabble gathered, happy to see a nobleman taste humiliation. Stones pelted him as they made their way past the city gates through the dirty streets of Tehran.
An old woman could not keep pace with the guards. She begged them to slow down long enough for her to throw the stone she has clutched in her fist. She cried out in frustration as the guards shoved past her. Then, the prisoner himself stopped and pleaded her cause.
“Suffer not this woman to be disappointed,”
he told them.
“Deny her not what she regards as a meritorious act in the sight of God.”
The guards had often witnessed fear, shock, anger and even violence in the people they had arrested over the years. And yet this prisoner’s calm dignity remained, even in the face of rough treatment and abuses of the mob. He came from a wealthy and noble family of Tehran. His name was Mirza Husayn-Ali, known later as Baha’u’llah (Arabic: the Glory of God). In another part of the same city, his wife and children did not know that he had been arrested or that he was being taken to the most notorious prison in Persia, the Siyah-Chal -- the Black Pit.
The guards opened the door to the pit and the prisoner descended to the underbelly of Tehran. There was no light and no ventilation in this dungeon that had once been used as an underground reservoir. This prison in reality was nothing more than a narrow, stone hole in the ground extending twenty meters into the darkness. Within this dungeon, nearly one hundred fifty men lay in chains. They were starving, filthy, and deprived of all human dignity. The unbearable stench of the place oppressed these men whose lives seemed to have come to such a pathetic end. But they were burdened as much by the hopelessness of their situation as by the skittering vermin that tormented them day and night.
The prisoners were seated in two rows facing each other on the bare stone floor, their feet linked by chains. Baha’u’llah was placed among them and fastened into shackles that were bolted to the floor. Across his neck was placed a chain that weighed about one hundred pounds. For the first three days of his imprisonment, he was given no food or drink. Sleep was impossible under the weight of the chains and surrounded by the incessant cries of pain and despair from the prisoners.
Why were these men treated so cruelly? Some were imprisoned for their crimes. There were thieves and murderers there. Others, such as Baha’u’llah, were imprisoned for their beliefs. These prisoners of conscience were the Babis, members of a new spiritual movement.
Adapted from One With All The Earth, © Kalimat Press 2003, All Rights Reserved.