The Life of
Mirza Husayn Ali Nuri
Baha’u’llah (“Glory of God”; 12 November 1817 – 29 May 1892), born Mirza Husayn-Ali Nuri, was the founder of the Baha’i Faith. He was the prophetic fulfillment of Babism, a 19th-century outgrowth of Shaykhism, and, in a broader sense to be a Manifestation of God. He also was he was the fulfillment of the eschatological expectations of Islam, Christianity, and other major religions.
Baha’u’llah became a follower of the Bab in Persia in 1845. Three years after the Bab was executed, he was exiled to Baghdad (then a part of the Ottoman Empire), where in 1863 he proclaimed the Baha’i Faith when he declared himself He whom God shall make manifest, a messianic figure in Babi theology. Baha’u’llah based this announcement on a vision of the Maid of Heaven he claimed to have had while imprisoned in the Siyah-Chal in Tehran, Persia. He would be further exiled to Edirne and ultimately to the prison city of Acre, Palestine (present-day Israel), where he died. He wrote many religious works, most notably the Kitab-i-Aqdas, the Kitab-i-Iqan, and the Hidden Words.
Baha’u’llah’s teachings focus on the unity of God, religion, and mankind. Similar to other monotheistic religions, God is considered the source of all created things. Religion, according to Baha’u’llah, is renewed periodically by Manifestations of God, people who are made perfect through divine intervention and whose teachings are the sources of the major world religions throughout history. Baha’u’llah is the first of these teachers whose mission includes the spiritual unification of the entire planet through the eradication of racism and nationalism. The Baha’u’llah’s teachings include the need for a world tribunal to adjudicate disputes between nations, a uniform system of weights and measures, and an auxiliary language that could be spoken by all the people on earth. Baha’u’llah also taught that the cycles of revelatory renewal will continue in the future, with Manifestations of God appearing every thousand years.
Early and family life
Baha’u’llah was born on 12 November 1817, in Tehran, the capital of Persia, present-day Iran. Baha’i authors state that his ancestry can be traced back to Abraham through Abraham’s wife Keturah, to Zoroaster and to Yazdgerd III, the last king of the Sassanid Empire, and also to Jesse. According to the Baha’i author John Able, Baha’is also consider Baha’u’llah to have been “descended doubly, from both Abraham and Sarah, and separately from Abraham and Keturah.” His mother was Khadijih Khanum and his father was Mírza Buzurg. Baha’u’llah’s father served as vizier to Imam-Virdi Mirza, the twelfth son of Fat′h Ali Shah Qajar. Mirza Buzurg was later appointed governor of Burujird and Lorestan, a position that he was stripped of during a government purge when Muhammad Shah came to power. After the death of his father, Baha’u’llah was asked to take a government post by the new vizier Hajji Mirza Aqasi, but declined.
Baha’u’llah had three wives. He married his first wife Asiyih Khanum, the daughter of a nobleman, in Tehran in 1835, when he was 18 and she was 15. She was given the title of The Most Exalted Leaf and Navvab. His second wife was his widowed cousin Fatimih Khanum. The marriage took place in Tehran in 1849 when she was 21 and he was 32. She was known as Mahd-i-Ulya. His third wife was Gawhar Khanum and the marriage occurred in Baghdad sometime before 1863.
Baha’u’llah declared Asiyih Khanum his “perpetual consort in all the worlds of God”, and her son Abdu’l-Baha as his vicar. He had 14 children, four daughters and ten sons, five of whom he outlived. Baha’is regard Asiyih Khanum and her children Mirza Mihdi, Bahiyyih Khanum and Abdu’l-Baha to be the Baha’i holy family.
The Bab claimed no finality for his revelation. In his writings, he alluded to a Promised One, most commonly referred to as “Him whom God shall make manifest”. According to the Bab, this personage, promised in the sacred writings of previous religions, would establish the kingdom of God on the Earth; several of the Bab’s writings state the coming of Him whom God shall make manifest would be imminent. The Bab constantly entreats his believers to follow Him whom God shall make manifest when he arrives.
Acceptance of the Bab
Baha’u’llah first heard of the Bab when he was 27, and received a visitor sent by the Bab, Mulla Husayn, telling him of the Bab and his claims. Baha’u’llah became a Babi and helped to spread the new movement, especially in his native province of Nur, where he became recognized as one of its most influential believers. His notability as a local gave him many openings, and his trips to teach the religion were met with success, even among some of the religious class. He also helped to protect fellow believers, such as Tahirih, for which he was temporarily imprisoned in Tehran and punished with bastinado or foot whipping. Baha’u’llah , in the summer of 1848, also attended the conference of Badasht in the province of Khorasan, where 81 prominent Babis met for 22 days; at that conference where there was a discussion between those Babis who wanted to maintain Islamic law and those who believed that the Bab’s message began a new dispensation. It is at this conference that Baha’u’llah took on the name Baha.
When violence started between the Babis and the Qajar government in the later part of 1848, Baha’u’llah tried to reach the besieged Babis at the Shaykh Tabarsi in Mazandaran, but was arrested and imprisoned before he could get there. The following years until 1850 saw the Babis being massacred in various provinces after the Bab publicly made his claim of being the Manifestation of God.
After the Bab was executed in 1850, a group of Tehran Babis, headed by a Babi known as Azim, who was previously a Shaykhi cleric, plotted an assassination plan against the Shah Nasser-al-Din Shah, in retaliation for the Bab’s execution. Baha’u’llah condemned the plan; however, any moderating influence that he may have had was diminished in June 1851 when he went into exile to Baghdad at the chief minister’s request, returning only after Amir Kabir’s fall from power. On 15 August 1852, the radical group of Babis attempted the assassination of the Shah and failed. The group of Babis linked with the plan, were rounded up and executed, but notwithstanding the assassins’ claim that they were working alone, the entire Babi community was blamed, precipitating violent riots against the Babi community that were encouraged and orchestrated by the government. During this time many Babis were killed, and many more, including Baha’u’llah , were imprisoned in the Siyah-Chal (“black pit”), an underground dungeon of Tehran.
According to Baha’u’llah, it was during his imprisonment in the Siyah-Chal that he had several mystical experiences, and received a vision of a maiden from God, through whom he received his mission as a messenger of God and as the one whose coming the Bab had prophesied. The confession of the would-be assassin had exonerated the Babi leaders, and in the context of the continuing mass executions of Babis, the ambassador of Russia requested that Baha’u’llah and other persons apparently unconnected with the conspiracy be spared. After he had been in the Siyah-Chal for four months Baha’u’llah was in fact finally released, on condition he left Iran. Declining an offer of refugee status in Russia, he chose exile in Iraq (then part of the Ottoman Empire); in 1853 Baha’u’llah and his family, accompanied by a member of the Shah’s bodyguard and a representative of the Russian embassy, traveled from Persia, arriving in Baghdad on 8 April 1853.
Mirza Yahya had gone into hiding after the assassination attempt on the Shah, and after Baha’u’llah’s exile to Baghdad, he chose to join his brother there. At the same time, an increasing number of Babis considered Baghdad the new center for leadership of the Babi religion, and a flow of pilgrims started going there from Persia.
Mirza Yahya’s leadership was controversial. He generally absented himself from the Babi community, spending his time in Baghdad in hiding and disguise; on several occasions he went so far as to publicly disavow allegiance to the Bab. Mirza Yahya gradually alienated himself from a large number of the Babis, who started giving their allegiance to other claimants. During the time that Mirza Yahya remained in hiding, Baha’u’llah performed much of the daily administration of Babi affairs. In contrast to Mirza Yahya, Baha’u’llah was outgoing and accessible and he was seen by an increasing number of Babis as a religious leader, rather than just an organizer, and became their center of devotion.
This was increasingly resented by Mirza Yahya, who began trying to discredit Baha’u’llah , thus driving many people away from the religion. Tensions in the community mounted, and in 1854 Baha’u’llah decided to leave the city to pursue a solitary life.
On 10 April 1854, without telling anyone of his intention or destination, Baha’u’llah left his family to the care of his brother Mirza Musa and traveled with one companion to the mountains of Kurdistan, northeast of Baghdad, near the city of Sulaymaniyah. He later wrote that he left so as to avoid becoming a source of disagreement within the Babi community, and that his “withdrawal contemplated no return”.
For two years, Baha’u’llah lived alone in the mountains of Kurdistan. He originally lived as a hermit, dressed like a dervish and used the name Darvish Muhammad-i-Irani. At one point someone noticed his penmanship, which brought the curiosity of the instructors of the local Sufi orders. As he began to take guests, he became noted for his learning and wisdom. Shaykh Uthman, Shaykh Abdu’r-Rahman, and Shaykh Isma’il, leaders of the Naqshbandíyyih, Qadiriyyih, and Khalidiyyih Orders respectively, began to seek his advice. It was to the second of these that the Four Valleys was written. Baha’u’llah wrote several other notable books during this time.
In Baghdad, given the lack of firm and public leadership by Mirza Yahya, the Babi community had fallen into disarray. Some Babis, including Baha’u’llah’s family, began searching for Baha’u’llah , and when news of a man living in the mountains under the name of Darvish Muhammad spread to neighboring areas, Baha’u’llah’s family begged him to come back to Baghdad. On 19 March 1856, after two years in Kurdistan he returned to Baghdad.
Return to Baghdad
When Baha’u’llah returned to Baghdad he saw that the Babi community had become disheartened and divided. During Baha’u’llah’s absence, it had become alienated from the religion because Mirza Yahya had continued his policy of militancy and had been unable to provide effective leadership. Mirza Yahya had married the widow of the Bab against the Bab’s clear instructions; dispatched followers to the province of Nur for the second attempt on the life of the Shah; and instigated violence against prominent Babis who had challenged his leadership.
After his return to Baghdad, Baha’u’llah tried to revive the Babi community, mostly through correspondence, writing extensively to give the Babis a new understanding of the Babi religion, while keeping his perceived station as the one promised by the Bab and a Manifestation of God hidden. He was soon recognized by the Babis, as well as government authorities, as the foremost Babi leader, and there was a growing number of people joining the Babi movement. He also gained sympathy from government officials and Sunni clerics. Baha’u’llah’s rising influence in the city, and the revival of the Persian Babi community, gained the attention of his enemies in Islamic clergy and the Persian government. The Persian government asked the Ottoman government to extradite Baha’u’llah to Persia, but the Ottoman government refused and instead chose to move Baha’u’llah from the sensitive border region to Constantinople.
Declaration in the Garden of Ridvan
On 21 April 1863, Baha’u’llah left Baghdad and entered the Najibiyyih gardens, now the location of Baghdad Medical City and known to Baha’is as the Garden of Ridvan. Baha’u’llah and those accompanying him stayed in the garden for twelve days before departing for Constantinople. It was during this time that Baha’u’llah declared to a small group of his companions his perceived mission and station as a Messenger of God. Baha’u’llah declared himself He whom God shall make manifest, a messianic figure in the religion of Babism. Baha’u’llah based this announcement on an experience he had previously while imprisoned in the Siyah-Chal in Tehran where he is said to have had a vision of the Maid of Heaven. Baha’is regard this period with great significance and celebrate the twelve days that Baha’u’llah spent in this Garden as the festival of Ridvan. He referred to the period of messianic secrecy between when he claimed to have seen the Maiden of Heaven in the Siyah-Chal and his declaration as the ayyam-i butun (“Days of Concealment”). Baha’u’llah stated that this period was a “set time of concealment”. The declaration in the Garden of Ridvan was the beginning of a new phase in the Babi community which led to the emergence of the Baha’i Faith as a distinctive movement separate from Babism.
Baha’u’llah was given an order to relocate to the Ottoman capital of Constantinople. Although not a formal prisoner yet, the forced exile from Baghdad was the beginning of a long process which would gradually move him into further exiles and eventually to the penal colony of Acre, Palestine (now in Israel).
The final years of Baha’u’llah’s life (1879–1892) were spent in the Mansion of Bahji, just outside Acre, even though he was still formally a prisoner of the Ottoman Empire. During his years in Acre and Bahji, since Abdu’l-Baha, his eldest son, had taken care of the organizational work, Baha’u’llah was able to devote his time to writing, and he produced many volumes of work including the Kitab-i-Aqdas, his book of laws. His other works included letters outlining his vision for a united world, as well as the need for ethical action; he also composed many prayers.
On 9 May 1892, Baha’u’llah contracted a slight fever which grew steadily over the following days, abated, and then finally resulted in his death on 29 May 1892. He was buried in the shrine located next to the Mansion of Bahji.
What is the meaning of the ‘Manifestation of God’?
Baha’u’llah stated that he was a messenger of God, and he used the term Manifestation of God to define the concept of an intermediary between humanity and God. In the Baha’i writings, the Manifestations of God are a series of interrelated personages who speak with a divine voice and who reflect the attributes of the divine into the human world for the progress and advancement of human morals and civilization. The Manifestations of God, as explained by Baha’u’llah, are not incarnations of God, but have a two-fold station; one which is the divine in that they reveal God’s attributes, but not God’s essence, and one which is human in that they represent the physical qualities of common man, and have human limitations. Baha’u’llah wrote that God will never manifest his essence into the world.
In Baha’u’llah’s writings he writes in many styles including cases where he speaks as if he was instructed by God to bring a message; in other cases he writes as though he is speaking as God directly.
Some have interpreted Baha’u’llah’s writing style to conclude that Baha’u’llah had claimed divinity. Baha’u’llah, however, states himself that the essence of God will never descend into the human world. Statements where Baha’u’llah speaks with the voice of God are meant that he is not actually God, but that he is speaking with the attributes of God.
Baha’u’llah declared, as the most recent Manifestation of God, that he was the “Promised One” of all religions, fulfilling the messianic prophecies found in world religions. He stated that his claims to being several messiahs converging in one person were the symbolic, rather than literal, fulfillment of the messianic and eschatological prophecies found in the literature of the major religions.
After Baha’u’llah died on 29 May 1892, the Will and Testament of Baha’u’llah named his sons Abdu’l-Baha and after him Mohammad Ali as the appointed leaders and successors, and the appointment was readily accepted by almost all Baha’is, since the appointment was written and unambiguous.
“Verily God hath ordained the station of the Mightiest Branch (Ghusn-i-Akbar) after the station of the former [Ghusn-i-A‘zam]; verily He is the Ordainer, the Wise. We have surely chosen the Mightiest (Akbar) after the Greatest (A’zam), as a Command from the All-Knowing, the Omniscient.”
However, Mohammad Ali Effendi was a cause of hatred within Abdu’l-Baha and the Baha’is as he did not obey the claims of Abdu’l-Baha which were against the divine messages of Baha’u’llah. Not only Mirza Muhammad Ali was hated for his stance on the truth but also his appointment by Baha’u’llah which stated that another one of his sons Mirza Muhammad Ali was to be subordinate and second in rank after Abdu’l-Baha. Abdu’l-Baha however, called Mirza Muḥammad Ali as the ‘Center of Sedition’ and excommunicated him.
Mirza Muḥammad Ali, however, insisted that Abdu’l-Baha was exceeding his powers by calling himself as a Manifestation of God while according to the saying of Baha’u’llah in the Book of Heykal page 176,
“Say, the manifestation are ended, at this Greatest Manifestation; and he, whosoever claimeth directly after this, is a lying imposter.”
Mirza Muḥammad Ali’s actions, however, were rejected by the majority of the Baha’is. The conflict was not long lived; after being alienated by the Baha’i community.
Baha’u’llah wrote many books, tablets and prayers, of which only a fraction have been translated into English. There have been 15,000 works written by him identified; many of these are in the form of short letters, or tablets, to Baha’is, but he also wrote larger pieces including the Book of Certitude, the Hidden Words and the Gems of Divine Mysteries.
The books and letters written by Baha’u’llah cover religious doctrine, the proclamation of his claims, social and moral teachings as well as Baha’i laws; he also wrote many prayers. Jinab-i-Fadil-i-Mazindarani, analyzing Baha’u’llah’s writings, states that he wrote in the different styles or categories including the interpretation of religious scripture, the enunciation of laws and ordinances, mystical writings, writings about government and world order, including letters to the kings and rulers of the world, writings about knowledge, philosophy, medicine, and alchemy, writings calling for education, good character and virtues, and writing about social teachings. All of his works are revelation, even those that were written before his announcement of his prophetic claim. Some of his better known works that have been translated into English include Gleanings, the Hidden Words, the Kitab-i-Aqdas and the Kitab-i-Iqan.