Baha’u’llah – The Divine Educator
The Life of Baha’u’llah
April of 1863 is marked in the history as a dark period as the men and women, young and old, from all walks of life, gathered on the thoroughfare leading to the banks of the River Tigris in Baghdad to bid a tearful farewell to the One Who had become their friend, their comforter and their guide.
Mirza Husayn Ali—known as Baha’u’llah—was being banished from their midst. Being a prominent and an ardent follower of Bab, he worked very hard such that his teachings had spread through Persia over 2 decades. His sacrifice ended in exile.
But despair would soon be transformed into hope: Before leaving the environs of Baghdad, Baha’u’llah would announce to His companions what many of them had already suspected—that He was the great Divine Educator heralded by the Bab, the initiator of a new era in history in which the tyrannies and injustices of the past would give way to a world of peace and justice: an embodiment of the principle of the oneness of humankind.
The “Divine Springtime,” He would unequivocally proclaim, had arrived.
He was born in Tehran, Iran on 12 November, 1817. Mirza Husayn Ali enjoyed all the advantages conferred by noble birth. From a very early age, He displayed extraordinary knowledge and wisdom.
As a young man, rather than pursuing a career in government service like His father, Mirza Husayn Ali chose to devote His energies to the care of the poor. He showed no interest in seeking position or prominence. He led a very humble life.
After accepting Bab, the life of Mirza Husayn changed entirely. Although They never met in person, from the moment Mirza Husayn Ali heard of the Bab’s message, He declared His wholehearted belief in it and put all of His energy and influence into promoting it. His service to poor ones was now embalmed with the spirituality and Godwariness.
In 1848, a significant gathering of the Bab’s followers took place in a village in the northeast of Iran named Badasht. Mirza Husayn Ali played a key role in the proceedings of Badasht, which attested the independent character of the new religion. From this time onwards, Mirza Husayn Ali was known as Baha’u’llah, meaning the “Glory of God” in Arabic.
As the community of the Bab’s followers grew, it also provoked the fierce opposition from the regime. Thousands and thousands of Bab’s follower were subjected to the most cruel and barbaric treatment by the regime, and many of them were put to death. When three hundred Babis sought refuge in a deserted shrine called the fort of Shaykh Tabarsi, Baha’u’llah set out to join other Babis, but He was prevented from reaching His destination.
In 1850, the Bab was publicly executed in Tabriz. Majority of the Bab’s leading supporters were killed, and it soon became evident that Baha’u’llah was the only One to Whom the remaining Babis could turn. His level of spirituality and leadership was palpable.
In 1852, Baha’u’llah was falsely charged in an attempt on the life of Nasiruddin Shah, the King of Iran. When the warrant was issued, He Himself set out to face His accusers, this astonished those who were charged with arresting Him. They conducted Him, barefoot and in chains, through teeming streets to a notorious subterranean dungeon of Chihrigh, known as the “Black Pit.”
The dungeon was pitch dark and had once been the reservoir for a public bath. Within its walls, prisoners languished in the cold and unhealthy air, stinky smell clamped together by an unbearably heavy chain that left its mark on Baha’u’llah’s body for the rest of His life.
It was in these difficult circumstances that the rarest and most cherished of the events was once again played out: a mortal man, outwardly human in every respect, was chosen by God to bring to humanity a new message.
This experience of Divine Revelation, touched on only indirectly in surviving accounts of the lives of Moses, Christ, and Muhammad, is illustrated in Baha’u’llah’s own words: “During the days I lay in the prison of Tihran, though the galling weight of the chains and the stench-filled air allowed Me but little sleep, still in those infrequent moments of slumber I felt as if something flowed from the crown of My head over My breast, even as a mighty torrent that precipitateth itself upon the earth from the summit of a lofty mountain…At such moments My tongue recited what no man could bear to hear.”
Exile to Baghdad
After four months of intense sufferings and torture, Baha’u’llah—now ill and utterly exhausted—was released from the prison and exiled forever from His native Iran. He and his family were sent to Baghdad. There, the remaining followers of the Bab increasingly turned to Baha’u’llah for moral and spiritual guidance. The nobility of His character, the wisdom of His counsel, the humility he displayed, the kindness that He showered upon all and the increasing evidences of superhuman greatness in Him, revived the downtrodden community.
As Baha’u’llah emerged as the leader of the community of the Bab’s followers, it aroused intense jealousy from Mirza Yahya, His ambitious, younger half-brother. Mirza Yahya made several shameless efforts to defame & slander Baha’u’llah’s character and sow seeds of suspicion and doubt among His companions. In order to avoid tension due to this, Baha’u’llah retired to the mountains of Kurdistan, where He remained for two years, reflecting on His divine purpose of spreading the message. In the mountains of Sulaymaniyyah during these 2 years, Baha’u’llah continued his mission and sowed the seeds of Baha’i faith which is evident today in the form of believers in Sulaymaniyyah. This period of His life resembled of Moses’ withdrawal to Mount Sinai, Christ’s days in the wilderness, and Muhammad’s retreat in the Arabian hills.
Yet even in this remote region, Baha’u’llah’s fame spread very rampantly. People heard that a man of extraordinary wisdom and eloquence was to be found there. When such stories reached Baghdad, the Babís, guessing Baha’u’llah’s identity, dispatched a mission to implore Him to return.
Residing once more in Baghdad, Baha’u’llah reinvigorated the Bab’s followers; the stature of the community grew and His reputation spread ever further. He composed three of His most renowned works at this time—the Hidden Words, the Seven Valleys and the Book of Certitude (Kitab-i-Iqán). While Baha’u’llah’s writings alluded to His station, it was not yet the time for a public announcement.
As Baha’u’llah’s fame spread, it was obvious that the envy and malice of some of the clergy was rekindled. Representations were made to the Shah of Iran to ask the Ottoman Sultan to remove Baha’u’llah further from the Iranian border. A second banishment was decreed.
At the end of April 1863, shortly before leaving the environs of Baghdad for Istanbul (known as Constantinople in the English language of the time), Baha’u’llah and His companions resided for twelve days in a garden which He named Ridvan, meaning “Paradise”. On the banks of the River Tigris, Baha’u’llah declared Himself to be the One heralded by the Bab—God’s Messenger to the age of humanity’s collective maturity, foretold in all the world’s scriptures. Thousands of His lovers and admirers gathered in Ridvan and met Him. They heard the message of God from the Man of God Himself.
Three months after departing Baghdad, Baha’u’llah and His fellow exiles reached Constantinople. They remained there for just four months before a further banishment took them to Edirne (Adrianople), a gruelling journey undertaken during the coldest of winters. In Adrianople, their accommodation failed to protect them from the bitter temperatures.
Baha’u’llah referred to Adrianople as the “remote prison.” Yet despite the inhospitable conditions under which the exiles were forced to live, inspired verses continued to flow from Baha’u’llah’s pen, and His message reached as far away as Egypt and India.
During this period Mirza Yahya, the jealous half-brother of Baha’u’llah, contrived to poison Him. This tragic episode left Baha’u’llah with a tremor that showed in His handwriting to the end of His life.
Beginning in September 1867, Baha’u’llah wrote a series of letters to the leaders and rulers of various nations inviting them to the message of God. In these prescient writings, He openly proclaimed His station, speaking of the dawn of a new age. But first, He warned, there would be catastrophic upheavals in the world’s political and social order. He summoned the world’s leaders to uphold justice and called upon them to convene an assembly where they would meet and put an end to war. He said that only by acting collectively, could a lasting peace be established. His warnings fell upon deaf ears.
Continued agitation from Baha’u’llah’s detractors caused the Ottoman government to banish Him one final time, to its most notorious penal colony. Arriving in the Mediterranean prison city of ‘Akká on 31 August 1868, Baha’u’llah was to spend the rest of His life in the fortified city and its environs.
Confined to a prison for more than two years, He and His companions were later moved to a cramped house within the city’s walls. Little by little, the moral character of the Baha’is—particularly Baha’u’llah’s eldest son, Abdu’l Baha—softened the hearts of their jailers, and penetrated the bigotry and indifference of Akka’s residents. As in Baghdad and Adrianople, the nobility of Baha’u’llah’s character gradually won the admiration of the community at large, including some of its leaders.
In Akka, Baha’u’llah revealed His most important work, the Kitab-i-Aqdas (the Most Holy Book), in which He outlined the essential laws and principles of His Faith, and established the foundations for a global administrative order.
In the late 1870s, Baha’u’llah—while still a prisoner—was granted some freedom to move outside of the city’s walls, allowing His followers to meet with Him in relative peace. In April 1890, Professor Edward Granville Browne of Cambridge University met Baha’u’llah at the mansion near Akka where He had taken up residence. Prof Browne made notes of his discussion with Baha’u’llah.
Browne wrote of their meeting: “The face of Him on Whom I gazed I can never forget, though I cannot describe it. Those piercing eyes seemed to read one’s very soul; power and authority sat on that ample brow…No need to ask in whose presence I stood, as I bowed myself before one who is the object of a devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain.”
Baha’u’llah passed away on 29 May, 1892. In His will, He designated Abdu’l Baha as His successor and Head of the Baha’i Faith — the first time in history that the Founder of a world religion had named his successor in a written irrefutable text. This choice of a successor is a central provision of what is known as the “Covenant of Baha’u’llah,” enabling the Baha’i community to remain united for all time. Abdul Baha is thus known as the Centre of the Covenant.