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Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, the revealer of the world’s most recent global religion, left this material world 130 years ago today, at 3:00 a.m. on May 29th, 1892.
At that exact hour, in the darkest time of night, Baha’is in every part of the planet will solemnly and spiritually mark the occasion with prayers, meditation, and readings from Baha’u’llah’s voluminous writings.
Baha’u’llah was seventy-five years old when he passed away, and his life included a remarkable number of both heroic and harrowing events – as a Persian nobleman, a poet, a mystic, and his country’s acknowledged and celebrated “Father of the Poor.” Then, after he began proclaiming the Baha’i message, Baha’u’llah suffered as a prisoner of conscience, a torture victim, an exile, a persecuted prisoner who had done no wrong, and above all, as the prophet who promulgated humanity’s newest global religion.
For a single purpose were the Prophets, each and all, sent down to earth; for this was Christ made manifest, for this did Baha’u’llah raise up the call of the Lord: that the world of man should become the world of God, this nether realm the Kingdom, this darkness light, this satanic wickedness all the virtues of heaven – and unity, fellowship and love be won for the whole human race, that the organic unity should reappear and the bases of discord be destroyed and life everlasting and grace everlasting become the harvest of mankind.
Baha’u’llah’s astounding life and revolutionary teachings have now become models of spiritual and social progress for millions of people all around the world. Baha’is come from every background, every class, every nation, every racial group, and every former Faith — and commit their lives to universal fellowship and love, following the ideals and principles Baha’u’llah taught.
When Baha’u’llah passed into the next world in 1892, many religious observers and historians wondered if his new Faith would survive. The Baha’i Faith not only survived, it thrived, growing rapidly and spreading to every continent, without splitting up into the hostile sects and warring divisions that have frequently plagued new revelations soon after the deaths of their founders.
No major new world religion has ever done this before.
Often, as a result of the violent opposition their radical teachings first generate among the prevailing cultures they appear in, new Faiths typically struggled to stay unified after the passing of their founders. Persecuted, misunderstood, exiled, tortured and imprisoned, the early Jews and Buddhists and Christians and Muslims suffered tremendously and died in large numbers for their beliefs. Entire governments tried to exterminate them. But even worse, their own members argued, fought, entered into internecine conflicts, and ultimately broke the founder’s new Faith into many conflicted and contentious sects. This happened universally, until the advent of Baha’u’llah.
Repeatedly persecuted, exiled, jailed and tortured for his progressive teachings, Baha’u’llah prevented that fractious fate by establishing a written Covenant that passed the leadership of the Baha’i Faith to Abdu’l-Baha, his eldest son. When Abdu’l-Baha passed away in 1921, he named his grandson Shoghi Effendi as the Guardian of the Faith and the Center of that continuing Covenant.
Today, after the passing of Shoghi Effendi in 1957, no appointed leader of the Baha’i Faith remains. Instead, leadership has transferred, as Baha’u’llah promised it would, to the democratically-elected global Baha’i administrative body, The Universal House of Justice. The Baha’i Covenant – that binding agreement all faithful Baha’is turn to – was challenged but never compromised, and the Baha’is as a body of believers remain enthusiastically united around the world to this day.
Baha’u’llah suffered through great oppression for the last four decades of his life, just as all the prophets of God have undergone persecution, as a sacrifice for all humanity and as an example of the power of unity. In a speech he gave in New York City in 1912, 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.
The Baha’i teachings emphasize the sanctity of the human rights of all people. Baha’is believe in the independent investigation of truth, the fundamental agreement of science and religion, the equality of the races and the sexes, and the absolute freedom of everyone to worship as they wish. Those progressive, challenging ideas caused the Persian and Ottoman governments to subject Baha’u’llah to four decades of cruel and unusual punishment. Baha’u’llah underwent terrible suffering, not for any crime, but for promulgating the peaceful principles of a new Faith, which boldly challenged the orthodoxy, the power structure, and the endemic corruption of the existing governmental, social, and religious order.
Despite the passing of Baha’u’llah, the Baha’i Faith continues to grow, develop and prosper in every corner of the planet. Tonight Baha’is around the world will gather to observe and commemorate the anniversary of the passing of Baha’u’llah, and in those thousands of solemn and prayerful occasions, filled with meditative contemplation and loving remembrance, Baha’is everywhere will reflect on the powerful teachings of this relatively new Faith and remember the extreme sacrifices Baha’u’llah made to bring the Baha’i message of unity to humanity.