Statement on Bahá'u'lláh: His Life and Work

Bahá'í International Community
Office of Public Information

May 29, 1992 marked the centenary of the passing of Bahá'u'lláh. His vision of humanity as one people and of the earth as a common homeland, dismissed out of hand by the world leaders to whom it was first enunciated over a hundred years ago, has today become the focus of human hope. Equally inescapable is the collapse of moral and social order, which this same declaration foresaw with awesome clarity.

The occasion has encouraged publication of this brief introduction to Bahá'u'lláh's life and work. Prepared at the request of the Universal House of Justice, trustee of the global undertaking which the events of a century ago set in motion, it offers a perspective on the feeling of confidence with which Bahá'ís the world over contemplate the future of our planet and our race.

As the new millennium approaches, the crucial need of the human race is to find a unifying vision of the nature of man and society. For the past century humanity's response to this impulse has driven a succession of ideological upheavals that have convulsed our world and that appear now to have exhausted themselves. The passion invested in the struggle, despite its disheartening results, testifies to the depth of the need. For, without a common conviction about the course and direction of human history, it is inconceivable that foundations can be laid for a global society to which the mass of humankind can commit themselves.

Such a vision unfolds in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh, the nineteenth century prophetic figure whose growing influence is the most remarkable development of contemporary religious history. Born in Persia, November 12, 1817, Bahá'u'lláh1 began at age 27 an undertaking that has gradually captured the imagination and loyalty of several million people from virtually every race, culture, class, and nation on earth. The phenomenon is one that has no reference points in the contemporary world, but is associated rather with climactic changes of direction in the collective past of the human race. For Bahá'u'lláh claimed to be no less than the Messenger of God to the age of human maturity, the Bearer of a Divine Revelation that fulfills the promises made in earlier religions, and that will generate the spiritual nerves and sinews for the unification of the peoples of the world.

If they were to do nothing else, the effects which Bahá'u'lláh's life and writings have already had should command the earnest attention of anyone who believes that human nature is fundamentally spiritual and that the coming organization of our planet must be informed by this aspect of reality. The documentation lies open to general scrutiny. For the first time in history humanity has available a detailed and verifiable record of the birth of an independent religious system and of the life of its Founder. Equally accessible is the record of the response that the new faith has evoked, through the emergence of a global community which can already justly claim to represent a microcosm of the human race.2

During the earlier decades of this century, this development was relatively obscure. Bahá'u'lláh's writings forbid the aggressive proselytism through which many religious messages have been widely promulgated. Further, the priority which the Bahá'í community gave to the establishment of groups at the local level throughout the entire planet militated against the early emergence of large concentrations of adherents in any one country or the mobilization of resources required for large-scale programs of public information. Arnold Toynbee, intrigued by phenomena that might represent the emergence of a new universal religion, noted in the 1950s that the Bahá'í Faith was then about as familiar to the average educated Westerner as Christianity had been to the corresponding class in the Roman empire during the second century A.D.3

In more recent years, as the Bahá'í community's numbers have rapidly increased in many countries, the situation has changed dramatically. There is now virtually no area in the world where the pattern of life taught by Bahá'u'lláh is not taking root. The respect which the community's social and economic development projects are beginning to win in governmental, academic, and United Nations circles further reinforces the argument for a detached and serious examination of the impulse behind a process of social transformation that is, in critical respects, unique in our world.

No uncertainty surrounds the nature of the generating impulse. Bahá'u'lláh's writings cover an enormous range of subjects from social issues such as racial integration, the equality of the sexes, and disarmament, to those questions that affect the innermost life of the human soul. The original texts, many of them in His own hand, the others dictated and affirmed by their author, have been meticulously preserved. For several decades, a systematic program of translation and publication has made selections from Bahá'u'lláh's writings accessible to people everywhere, in over eight hundred languages.

Birth of a New Revelation

Bahá'u'lláh's mission began in a subterranean dungeon in Teheran in August 1852. Born into a noble family that could trace its ancestry back to the great dynasties of Persia's imperial past, He declined the ministerial career open to Him in government, and chose instead to devote His energies to a range of philanthropies which had, by the early 1840s, earned Him widespread renown as "Father of the Poor." This privileged existence swiftly eroded after 1844, when Bahá'u'lláh became one of the leading advocates of a movement that was to change the course of His country's history.

The early nineteenth century was a period of messianic expectations in many lands. Deeply disturbed by the implications of scientific inquiry and industrialization, earnest believers from many religious backgrounds turned to the scriptures of their faiths for an understanding of the accelerating processes of change. In Europe and America groups like the Templers and the Millerites believed they had found in the Christian scriptures evidence supporting their conviction that history had ended and the return of Jesus Christ was at hand. A markedly similar ferment developed in the Middle East around the belief that the fulfillment of various prophecies in the Qur'an and Islamic Traditions was imminent.

By far the most dramatic of these millennialist movements had been the one in Persia, which had focused on the person and teachings of a young merchant from the city of Shiraz, known to history as the Báb.4 For nine years, from 1844 to 1853, Persians of all classes had been caught up in a storm of hope and excitement aroused by the Báb's announcement that the Day of God was at hand and that He was himself the One promised in Islamic scripture. Humanity stood, He said, on the threshold of an era that would witness the restructuring of all aspects of life. New fields of learning, as yet inconceivable, would permit even the children of the new age to surpass the most erudite of nineteenth-century scholars. The human race was called by God to embrace these changes through undertaking a transformation of its moral and spiritual life. His own mission was to prepare humanity for the event that lay at the heart of these developments, the coming of that universal Messenger of God, "He Whom God will make manifest," awaited by the followers of all religions.5

The claim had evoked violent hostility from the Muslim clergy, who taught that the process of Divine Revelation had ended with Mu h ammad; and that any assertion to the contrary represented apostasy, punishable by death. Their denunciation of the Báb had soon enlisted the support of the Persian authorities. Thousands of followers of the new faith had perished in a horrific series of massacres throughout the country, and the Báb had been publicly executed on July 9, 1850.6 In an age of growing Western involvement in the Orient, these events had aroused interest and compassion in influential European circles. The nobility of the Báb's life and teachings, the heroism of His followers, and the hope for fundamental reform that they had kindled in a darkened land had exerted a powerful attraction for personalities ranging from Ernest Renan and Leo Tolstoy to Sarah Bernhardt and the Comte de Gobineau.7

Because of His prominence in the defense of the Báb's cause, Bahá'u'lláh was arrested and brought, in chains and on foot, to Teheran. Protected in some measure by an impressive personal reputation and the social position of His family, as well as by protests which the Bábi pogroms had evoked from Western embassies, He was not sentenced to death, as influential figures at the royal court were urging. Instead, He was cast into the notorious Siyah-Chal, the "Black Pit", a deep, vermin-infested dungeon which had been created in one of the city's abandoned reservoirs. No charges were laid but He and some thirty companions were, without appeal, kept immured in the darkness and filth of this pit, surrounded by hardened criminals, many of them under sentence of death. Around Bahá'u'lláh's neck was clamped a heavy chain, so notorious in penal circles as to have been given its own name. When He did not quickly perish, as had been expected, an attempt was made to poison Him. The marks of the chain were to remain on His body for the rest of His life.

Central to Bahá'u'lláh's writings is an exposition of the great themes which have preoccupied religious thinkers throughout the ages: God, the role of Revelation in history, the relationship of the world's religious systems to one another, the meaning of faith, and the basis of moral authority in the organization of human society. Passages in these texts speak intimately of His own spiritual experience, of His response to the Divine summons, and of the dialogue with the "Spirit of God" which lay at the heart of His mission. Religious history has never before offered the inquirer the opportunity for so candid an encounter with the phenomenon of Divine Revelation.

Toward the end of His life, Bahá'u'lláh's writings on His early experiences included a brief description of the conditions in the Siyah-Chal.

We were consigned for four months to a place foul beyond comparison.... The dungeon was wrapped in thick darkness, and Our fellow-prisoners numbered nearly a hundred and fifty souls: thieves, assassins and highwaymen. Though crowded, it had no other outlet than the passage by which We entered. No pen can depict that place, nor any tongue describe its loathsome smell. Most of these men had neither clothes nor bedding to lie on. God alone knoweth what befell Us in that most foul-smelling and gloomy place!8

Each day the guards would descend the three steep flights of stairs of the pit, seize one or more of the prisoners, and drag them out to be executed. In the streets of Teheran, Western observers were appalled by scenes of Bábi victims blown from cannon mouths, hacked to death by axes and swords, and led to their deaths with burning candles inserted into open wounds in their bodies.9 It was in these circumstances, and faced with the prospect of His own imminent death, that Bahá'u'lláh received the first intimation of His mission:

One night, in a dream, these exalted words were heard on every side: "Verily, We shall render Thee victorious by Thyself and by Thy Pen. Grieve Thou not for that which hath befallen Thee, neither be Thou afraid, for Thou art in safety. Erelong will God raise up the treasures of the earth -- men who will aid Thee through Thyself and through Thy name, wherewith God hath revived the hearts of such as have recognized Him."10

The experience of Divine Revelation, touched on only at secondhand in sur- viving accounts of the lives of the Buddha, Moses, Jesus Christ, and Mu h ammad, is described graphically in Bahá'u'lláh'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. Every limb of My body would, as a result, be set afire. At such moments My tongue recited what no man could bear to hear.11


Eventually, still without trial or recourse, Bahá'u'lláh was released from prison and immediately banished from His native land, His wealth and properties arbitrarily confiscated. The Russian diplomatic representative, who knew Him personally and who had followed the Bábi persecutions with growing distress, offered Him his protection and refuge in lands under the control of his government. In the prevailing political climate, acceptance of such help would almost certainly have been misrepresented by others as having political implications.12Perhaps for this reason, Bahá'u'lláh chose to accept banishment to the neighboring territory of Iraq, then under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. This expulsion was the beginning of forty years of exile, imprisonment, and bitter persecution.

In the years which immediately followed His departure from Persia, Bahá'u'lláh gave priority to the needs of the Bábi community which had gathered in Baghdad, a task which had devolved on Him as the only effective Bábi leader to have survived the massacres. The death of the Báb and the almost simultaneous loss of most of the young faith's teachers and guides had left the body of the believers scattered and demoralized. When His efforts to rally those who had fled to Iraq aroused jealousy and dissension,13 He followed the path that had been taken by all of the Messengers of God gone before Him, and withdrew to the wilderness, choosing for the purpose the mountain region of Kurdistan. His withdrawal, as He later said, had "contemplated no return." Its reason "was to avoid becoming a subject of discord among the faithful, a source of disturbance unto Our companions." Although the two years spent in Kurdistan were a period of intense privation and physical hardship, Bahá'u'lláh describes them as a time of profound happiness during which He reflected deeply on the message entrusted to Him: "Alone, We communed with Our spirit, oblivious of the world and all that is therein."14

Only with great reluctance, believing it His responsibility to the cause of the Báb, did He eventually accede to urgent messages from the remnant of the desperate group of exiles in Baghdad who had discovered His whereabouts and appealed to Him to return and assume the leadership of their community.

Two of the most important volumes of Bahá'u'lláh's writings date from this first period of exile, preceding the declaration of His mission in 1863. The first of these is a small book which He named The Hidden Words. Written in the form of a compilation of moral aphorisms, the volume represents the ethical heart of Bahá'u'lláh's message. In verses which Bahá'u'lláh describes as a distillation of the spiritual guidance of all the Revelations of the past, the voice of God speaks directly to the human soul:

O Son of Spirit! The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes.

O Son of Being! Love Me that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach thee. Know this, O servant.

O Son of Man! Sorrow not save that thou art far from Us. Rejoice not save that thou art drawing near and returning unto Us.

O Son of Being! With the hands of power I made thee and with the fingers of strength I created thee; and within thee have I placed the essence of My light. Be thou content with it and seek naught else, for My work is perfect and My command is binding. Question it not, nor have a doubt thereof.15

The second of the two major works composed by Bahá'u'lláh during this period is The Book of Certitude, a comprehensive exposition of the nature and purpose of religion. In passages that draw not only on the Qur'an, but with equal facility and insight on the Old and New Testaments, the Messengers of God are depicted as agents of a single, unbroken process, the awakening of the human race to its spiritual and moral potentialities. A humanity which has come of age can respond to a directness of teaching that goes beyond the language of parable and allegory; faith is a matter not of blind belief, but of conscious knowledge. Nor is the guidance of an ecclesiastical elite any longer required: the gift of reason confers on each individual in this new age of enlightenment and education the capacity to respond to Divine guidance. The test is that of sincerity:

No man shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding except he be detached from all that is in heaven and on earth.... The essence of these words is this: they that tread the path of faith, they that thirst for the wine of certitude, must cleanse themselves of all that is earthly -- their ears from idle talk, their minds from vain imaginings, their hearts from worldly affections, their eyes from that which perisheth. They should put their trust in God, and, holding fast unto Him, follow in His way. Then will they be made worthy of the effulgent glories of the sun of divine knowledge and understanding, ... inasmuch as man can never hope to attain unto the knowledge of the All-Glorious ... unless and until he ceases to regard the words and deeds of mortal men as a standard for the true understanding and recognition of God and His Prophets.

Consider the past. How many, both high and low, have, at all times, yearningly awaited the advent of the Manifestations of God in the sanctified persons of His chosen Ones.... And whensoever the portals of grace did open, and the clouds of divine bounty did rain upon mankind, and the light of the Unseen did shine above the horizon of celestial might, they all denied Him, and turned away from His face -- the face of God Himself....

Only when the lamp of search, of earnest striving, of longing desire, of passionate devotion, of fervid love, of rapture, and ecstasy, is kindled within the seeker's heart, and the breeze of His loving-kindness is wafted upon his soul, will the darkness of error be dispelled, the mists of doubts and misgivings be dissipated, and the lights of knowledge and certitude envelop his being.... Then will the manifold favors and outpouring grace of the holy and everlasting Spirit confer such new life upon the seeker that he will find himself endowed with a new eye, a new ear, a new heart, and a new mind.... Gazing with the eye of God, he will perceive within every atom a door that leadeth him to the stations of absolute certitude. He will discover in all things the ... evidences of an everlasting Manifestation.

When the channel of the human soul is cleansed of all worldly and impeding attachments, it will unfailingly perceive the breath of the Beloved across immeasurable distances, and will, led by its perfume, attain and enter the City of Certitude....

That city is none other than the Word of God revealed in every age and dispensation.... All the guidance, the blessings, the learning, the understanding, the faith, and certitude, conferred upon all that is in heaven and on earth, are hidden and treasured within these Cities.16

No overt reference is made to Bahá'u'lláh's own as yet unannounced mission; rather, The Book of Certitude is organized around a vigorous exposition of the mission of the martyred Báb. Not the least of the reasons for the book's powerful influence on the Bábi community, which included a number of scholars and former seminarians, was the mastery of Islamic thought and teaching its author displays in demonstrating the Báb's claim to have fulfilled the prophecies of Islam. Calling on the Bábis to be worthy of the trust which the Báb had placed in them and of the sacrifice of so many heroic lives, Bahá'u'lláh held out before them the challenge not only of bringing their personal lives into conformity with the Divine teachings, but of making their community a model for the heterogeneous population of Baghdad, the Iraqi provincial capital.

Though living in very straitened material circumstances, the exiles were galvanized by this vision. One of their company, a man called Nabil, who was later to leave a detailed history of both the ministries of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh, has described the spiritual intensity of those days:

Many a night no less than ten persons subsisted on no more than a pennyworth of dates. No one knew to whom actually belonged the shoes, the cloaks, or the robes that were to be found in their houses. Whoever went to the bazaar could claim that the shoes upon his feet were his own, and each one who entered the presence of Bahá'u'lláh could affirm that the cloak and robe he then wore belonged to him.... O, for the joy of those days, and the gladness and wonder of those hours!17

To the dismay of the Persian consular authorities who had believed the Bábi "episode" to have run its course, the community of exiles gradually became a respected and influential element in Iraq's provincial capital and the neighboring towns. Since several of the most important shrines of Shi`ih Islam were located in the area, a steady stream of Persian pilgrims was also exposed, under the most favorable circumstances, to the renewal of Bábi influence. Among dignitaries who called on Bahá'u'lláh in the simple house He occupied were princes of the royal family. So enchanted by the experience was one of them that he conceived the somewhat naive idea that by erecting a duplicate of the building in the gardens of his own estate, he might recapture something of the atmosphere of spiritual purity and detachment he had briefly encountered. Another, more deeply moved by the experience of his visit, expressed to friends the feeling that "were all the sorrows of the world to be crowded into my heart they would, I feel, all vanish, when in the presence of Bahá'u'lláh. It is as if I had entered Paradise..."18

The Declaration in the Ridvan Garden

By 1863, Bahá'u'lláh concluded that the time had come to begin acquainting some of those around Him with the mission which had been entrusted to Him in the darkness of the Siyah-Chal. This decision coincided with a new stage in the campaign of opposition to His work, which had been relentlessly pursued by the Shi`ih Muslim clergy and representatives of the Persian government. Fearing that the acclaim which Bahá'u'lláh was beginning to enjoy among influential Persian visitors to Iraq would re-ignite popular enthusiasm in Persia, the Shah's government pressed the Ottoman authorities to remove Him far from the borders and into the interior of the empire. Eventually, the Turkish government acceded to these pressures and invited the exile, as its guest, to make His residence in the capital, Constantinople. Despite the courteous terms in which the message was couched, the intention was clearly to require compliance.19

By this time, the devotion of the little company of exiles had come to focus on Bahá'u'lláh's person as well as on His exposition of the Báb's teachings. A growing number of them had become convinced that He was speaking not only as the Báb's advocate, but on behalf of the far greater cause which the latter had declared to be imminent. These beliefs became a certainty in late April 1863 when Bahá'u'lláh, on the eve of His departure for Constantinople, called together individuals among His companions, in a garden to which was later given the name Ri|dvan ("Paradise"), and confided the central fact of His mission. Over the next four years, although no open announcement was considered timely, the hearers gradually shared with trusted friends the news that the Báb's promises had been fulfilled and that the "Day of God" had dawned.

The precise circumstances surrounding this private communication are, in the words of the Bahá'í authority most intimately familiar with the records of the period, "shrouded in an obscurity which future historians will find it difficult to penetrate."20 The nature of the declaration may be appreciated in various references which Bahá'u'lláh was to make to His mission in many of His subsequent writings:

The purpose underlying all creation is the revelation of this most sublime, this most holy Day, the Day known as the Day of God, in His Books and Scriptures -- the Day which all the Prophets, and the Chosen Ones, and the holy ones, have wished to witness.21

...this is the Day in which mankind can behold the Face, and hear the Voice, of the Promised One. The Call of God hath been raised, and the light of His countenance hath been lifted up upon men. It behooveth every man to blot out the trace of every idle word from the tablet of his heart, and to gaze, with an open and unbiased mind, on the signs of His Revelation, the proofs of His Mission, and the tokens of His glory.22

As repeatedly emphasized in Bahá'u'lláh's exposition of the Báb's message, the primary purpose of God in revealing His will is to effect a transformation in the character of humankind, to develop within those who respond the moral and spiritual qualities that are latent within human nature:

Beautify your tongues, O people, with truthfulness, and adorn your souls with the ornament of honesty. Beware, O people, that ye deal not treacherously with any one. Be ye the trustees of God amongst His creatures, and the emblems of His generosity amidst His people....23

Illumine and hallow your hearts; let them not be profaned by the thorns of hate or the thistles of malice. Ye dwell in one world, and have been created through the operation of one Will. Blessed is he who mingleth with all men in a spirit of utmost kindliness and love.24

The aggressive proselytism that had characterized efforts in ages past to promote the cause of religion is declared to be unworthy of the Day of God. Each person who has recognized the Revelation has the obligation to share it with those who he believes are seeking, but to leave the response entirely to his hearers:

Show forbearance and benevolence and love to one another. Should any one among you be incapable of grasping a certain truth, or be striving to comprehend it, show forth, when conversing with him, a spirit of extreme kindliness and good-will....25

The whole duty of man in this Day is to attain that share of the flood of grace which God poureth forth for him. Let none, therefore, consider the largeness or smallness of the receptacle....26

Against the background of the bloody events in Persia, Bahá'u'lláh not only told His followers that "if ye be slain, it is better for you than to slay," but urged them to set an example of obedience to civil authority: "In every country where any of this people reside, they must behave towards the government of that country with loyalty, honesty and truthfulness."27

The conditions surrounding Bahá'u'lláh's departure from Baghdad provided a dramatic demonstration of the potency of these principles. In only a few years, a band of foreign exiles whose arrival in the area had aroused suspicion and aversion on the part of their neighbors had become one of the most respected and influential segments of the population. They supported themselves through flourishing businesses; as a group they were admired for their generosity and the integrity of their conduct; the lurid allegations of religious fanaticism and violence, sedulously spread by Persian consular officials and members of the Shi`ih Muslim clergy, had ceased to have an effect on the public mind. By May 3, 1863, when He rode out of Baghdad, accompanied by His family and those of His companions and servants who had been chosen to accompany Him to Constantinople, Bahá'u'lláh had become an immensely popular and cherished figure. In the days immediately preceding the leave-taking a stream of notables, including the Governor of the province himself, came to the garden where He had temporarily taken up residence, many of them from great distances, in order to pay their respects. Eyewitnesses to the departure have described in moving terms the acclaim that greeted Him, the tears of many of the onlookers, and the concern of the Ottoman authorities and civil officials to do their visitor honor.28

"The Changeless Faith of God..."

Following the declaration of His mission in 1863, Bahá'u'lláh began to elaborate a theme already introduced in The Book of Certitude, the relationship between the Will of God and the evolutionary process by which the spiritual and moral capacities latent in human nature find expression. This exposition would occupy a central place in His writings over the remaining thirty years of His life. The reality of God, He asserts, is and will always remain unknowable. Whatever words human thought may apply to the Divine nature relate only to human existence and are the products of human efforts to describe human experience:
Far, far from Thy glory be what mortal man can affirm of Thee, or attribute unto Thee, or the praise with which he can glorify Thee! Whatever duty Thou hast prescribed unto Thy servants of extolling to the utmost Thy majesty and glory is but a token of Thy grace unto them, that they may be enabled to ascend unto the station conferred upon their own inmost being, the station of the knowledge of their own selves.29

To every discerning and illumined heart it is evident that God, the unknowable Essence, the divine Being, is immensely exalted beyond every human attribute, such as corporeal existence, ascent and descent, egress and regress. Far be it from His glory that human tongue should adequately recount His praise, or that human heart comprehend His fathomless mystery. He is and hath ever been veiled in the ancient eternity of His Essence, and will remain in His Reality everlastingly hidden from the sight of men....30

What humanity experiences in turning to the Creator of all existence are the attributes or qualities which are associated with God's recurring Revelations:

The door of the knowledge of the Ancient of Days being thus closed in the face of all beings, the Source of infinite grace, ... hath caused those luminous Gems of Holiness to appear out of the realm of the spirit, in the noble form of the human temple, and be made manifest unto all men, that they may impart unto the world the mysteries of the unchangeable Being, and tell of the subtleties of His imperishable Essence....31

These sanctified Mirrors ... are one and all the Exponents on earth of Him Who is the central Orb of the universe, its Essence and ultimate Purpose. From Him proceed their knowledge and power; from Him is derived their sovereignty. The beauty of their countenance is but a reflection of His image, and their revelation a sign of His deathless glory....32

The Revelations of God do not differ in any essential respect from one another, although the changing needs they serve from age to age have called out unique responses from each of them:

These attributes of God are not and have never been vouchsafed specially unto certain Prophets, and withheld from others. Nay, all the Prophets of God, His well-favored, His holy, and chosen Messengers, are, without exception, the bearers of His names, and the embodiments of His attributes. They only differ in the intensity of their revelation, and the comparative potency of their light....33

Students of religion are cautioned not to permit theological dogmas or other preconceptions to lead them into discriminating among those whom God has used as channels of His light:

Beware, O believers in the Unity of God, lest ye be tempted to make any distinction between any of the Manifestations of His Cause, or to discriminate against the signs that have accompanied and proclaimed their Revelation. This indeed is the true meaning of Divine Unity, if ye be of them that apprehend and believe this truth. Be ye assured, moreover, that the works and acts of each and every one of these Manifestations of God, nay whatever pertaineth unto them, and whatsoever they may manifest in the future, are all ordained by God, and are a reflection of His Will and Purpose....34

Bahá'u'lláh compares the interventions of the Divine Revelations to the return of spring. The Messengers of God are not merely teachers, although this is one of their primary functions. Rather, the spirit of their words, together with the example of their lives, has the capacity to tap the roots of human motivation and to induce fundamental and lasting change. Their influence opens new realms of understanding and achievement:

And since there can be no tie of direct intercourse to bind the one true God with His creation, and no resemblance whatever can exist between the transient and the Eternal, the contingent and the Absolute, He hath ordained that in every age and dispensation a pure and stainless Soul be made manifest in the kingdoms of earth and heaven.... Led by the light of unfailing guidance, and invested with supreme sovereignty, They [the Messengers of God] are commissioned to use the inspiration of Their words, the effusions of Their infallible grace and the sanctifying breeze of Their Revelation for the cleansing of every longing heart and receptive spirit from the dross and dust of earthly cares and limitations. Then, and only then, will the Trust of God, latent in the reality of man, emerge ... and implant the ensign of its revealed glory upon the summits of men's hearts.35

Without this intervention from the world of God, human nature remains the captive of instinct, as well as of unconscious assumptions and patterns of behavior that have been culturally determined:

Having created the world and all that liveth and moveth therein, He [God] ... chose to confer upon man the unique distinction and capacity to know Him and to love Him -- a capacity that must needs be regarded as the generating impulse and the primary purpose underlying the whole of creation.... Upon the inmost reality of each and every created thing He hath shed the light of one of His names, and made it a recipient of the glory of one of His attributes. Upon the reality of man, however, He hath focused the radiance of all of His names and attributes, and made it a mirror of His own Self. Alone of all created things man hath been singled out for so great a favor, so enduring a bounty.

These energies with which the ... Source of heavenly guidance hath endowed the reality of man lie, however, latent within him, even as the flame is hidden within the candle and the rays of light are potentially present in the lamp. The radiance of these energies may be obscured by worldly desires even as the light of the sun can be concealed beneath the dust and dross which cover the mirror. Neither the candle nor the lamp can be lighted through their own unaided efforts, nor can it ever be possible for the mirror to free itself from its dross. It is clear and evident that until a fire is kindled the lamp will never be ignited, and unless the dross is blotted out from the face of the mirror it can never represent the image of the sun nor reflect its light and glory.36

The time has come, Bahá'u'lláh said, when humanity has both the capacity and the opportunity to see the entire panorama of its spiritual development as a single process: "Peerless is this Day, for it is as the eye to past ages and centuries, and as a light unto the darkness of the times."37 In this perspective, the followers of differing religious traditions must strive to understand what He called "the changeless Faith of God"38 and to distinguish its central spiritual impulse from the changing laws and concepts that were revealed to meet the requirements of an ever-evolving human society:

The Prophets of God should be regarded as physicians whose task is to foster the well-being of the world and its peoples, that, through the spirit of oneness, they may heal the sickness of a divided humanity.... Little wonder, then, if the treatment prescribed by the physician in this day should not be found to be identical with that which he prescribed before. How could it be otherwise when the ills affecting the sufferer necessitate at every stage of his sickness a special remedy? In like manner, every time the Prophets of God have illumined the world with the resplendent radiance of the Day Star of Divine knowledge, they have invariably summoned its peoples to embrace the light of God through such means as best befitted the exigencies of the age in which they appeared....39

It is not only the heart, but the mind, which must devote itself to this process of discovery. Reason, Bahá'u'lláh asserts, is God's greatest gift to the soul, "a sign of the revelation of ... the sovereign Lord."40 Only by freeing itself from inherited dogma, whether religious or materialistic, can the mind take up an independent exploration of the relationship between the Word of God and the experience of humankind. In such a search, a major obstacle is prejudice: "Warn ... the beloved of the one true God, not to view with too critical an eye the sayings and writings of men. Let them rather approach such sayings and writings in a spirit of open-mindedness and loving sympathy."41

The Manifestation of God

What is common to all who are devoted to one or another of the world's religious systems is the conviction that it is through the Divine Revelation that the soul comes in touch with the world of God, and that it is this relationship which gives real meaning to life. Some of the most important passages in Bahá'u'lláh's writings are those which discuss at length the nature and role of those who are the channels of this Revelation, the Messengers or "Manifestations of God." A recurrent analogy found in these passages is that of the physical sun. While the latter shares certain characteristics of the other bodies in the solar system, it differs from them in that it is, in itself, the source of the system's light. The planets and moons reflect light whereas the sun emits it as an attribute inseparable from its nature. The system revolves around this focal point, each of its members influenced not only by its particular composition, but by its relationship to the source of the system's light.42

In the same way, Bahá'u'lláh asserts, the human personality which the Manifestation of God shares with the rest of the race is differentiated from others in a way that fits it to serve as the channel or vehicle for the Revelation of God. Apparently contradictory references to this dual station, attributed, for example, to Christ,43 have been among the many sources of religious confusion and dissension throughout history. Bahá'u'lláh says on the subject:

Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth is a direct evidence of the revelation within it of the attributes and names of God ... To a supreme degree is this true of man, who, among all created things, ... hath been singled out for the glory of such distinction. For in him are potentially revealed all the attributes and names of God to a degree that no other created being hath excelled or surpassed.... And of all men, the most accomplished, the most distinguished, and the most excellent are the Manifestations of the Sun of Truth. Nay, all else besides these Manifestations, live by the operation of their Will, and move and have their being through the outpourings of their grace.44

Throughout history, the conviction of believers that the Founder of their own religion occupied a unique station has had the effect of stimulating intense speculation on the nature of the Manifestation of God. Such speculation has, however, been severely hampered by the difficulties of interpreting and resolving the allegorical allusions in past scriptures. The attempt to crystallize opinion in the form of religious dogma has been a divisive rather than unifying force in history. Indeed, despite the enormous energy devoted to theological pursuits -- or perhaps because of it -- there are today profound differences among Muslims as to the precise station of Mu h ammad, among Christians as to that of Jesus, and among Buddhists with respect to the Founder of their own religion. As is all too apparent, the controversies created by these and other differences within any one given tradition have proven at least as acute as those separating that tradition from its sister faiths.

Particularly important to an understanding of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings on the unity of religions, therefore, are His statements about the station of the successive Messengers of God and the functions performed by them in the spiritual history of humankind:

[The] Manifestations of God have each a twofold station. One is the station of pure abstraction and essential unity. In this respect, if thou callest them all by one name, and dost ascribe to them the same attributes, thou hast not erred from the truth....

The other station is the station of distinction, and pertaineth to the world of creation, and to the limitations thereof. In this respect, each Manifestation of God hath a distinct individuality, a definitely prescribed mission, a predestined revelation, and specially designated limitations. Each one of them is known by a different name, is characterized by a special attribute, fulfills a definite mission...

Viewed in the light of their second station ... they manifest absolute servitude, utter destitution, and complete self-effacement. Even as He saith: "I am the servant of God. I am but a man like you."...

Were any of the all-embracing Manifestations of God to declare: "I am God," He, verily, speaketh the truth, and no doubt attacheth thereto. For ... through their Revelation, their attributes and names, the Revelation of God, His names and His attributes, are made manifest in the world.... And were any of them to voice the utterance, "I am the Messenger of God," He, also, speaketh the truth, the indubitable truth.... Viewed in this light, they are all but Messengers of that ideal King, that unchangeable Essence.... And were they to say, "We are the Servants of God," this also is a manifest and indisputable fact. For they have been made manifest in the uttermost state of servitude, a servitude the like of which no man can possibly attain....45

Thus it is that whatsoever be their utterance, whether it pertain to the realm of Divinity, Lordship, Prophethood, Messengership, Guardianship, Apostleship, or Servitude, all is true, beyond the shadow of a doubt. Therefore these sayings ... must be attentively considered, that the divergent utterances of the Manifestations of the Unseen and Day Springs of Holiness may cease to agitate the soul and perplex the mind.46

Statement on Bahá'u'lláh: Part II

  1. Bahá'u'lláh ("Glory of God") was born H usayn-`Ali. The authoritative work on the missions of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh is Shoghi Effendi's God Passes By (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1987). For a biographical study see Hasan Balyuzi's Bahá'u'lláh: The King of Glory (Oxford: George Ronald, 1980). Bahá'u'lláh's writings are extensively reviewed in Adib Taherzadeh's The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh (Oxford: George Ronald, 1975), four volumes.
  2. Britannica Yearbook, 1988, indicates that, although the Bahá'í community numbers only about five million members, the Faith has already become the most widely diffused religion on earth, after Christianity. There are today 155 Bahá'í National Assemblies in independent countries and major territories of the globe, and more than 17,000 elected Assemblies functioning at the local level. It is estimated that 2,112 nationalities and tribes are represented.
  3. Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, Vol. VIII (London: Oxford, 1954), p. 117.
  4. The Báb ("Gate" or "Door") was born Siyyid `Ali-Mu h ammad in Shiraz, October 20, 1819.
  5. Passages in the Báb's writings which refer to the advent of "Him Whom God will make manifest" include cryptic references to "the year Nine" and "the year Nineteen" (i.e. roughly 1852 and 1863, calculating in lunar years from the year of the Báb's inauguration of His mission, 1844). On several occasions the Báb also indicated to certain of His followers that they would themselves come to recognize and serve "Him Whom God will make manifest."
  6. The proclamation of the Báb's message had been carried out in mosques and public places by enthusiastic bands of followers, many of them young seminarians. The Muslim clergy had replied by inciting mob violence. Unfortunately, these events coincided with a political crisis created by the death of Mu h ammad Shah and a struggle over the succession. It was the leaders of the successful political faction, behind the boy-king Na s iri'd-Din Shah, who then turned the royal army against the Bábi enthusiasts. The latter, raised in a Muslim frame of reference, and believing that they had a moral right to self-defense, barricaded themselves in makeshift shelters and withstood long, bloody sieges. When they had eventually been overcome and slaughtered, and the Báb had been executed, two deranged Bábi youth stopped the Shah in a public road and fired birdshot at him, in an ill-conceived attempt at assassination. It was this incident which provided the excuse for the worst of the massacres of Bábis which evoked protests from Western embassies. For an account of the period see W. Hatcher and D. Martin, The Bahá'í Faith: The Emerging Global Religion (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985), pp. 6-32.
  7. For an account of these events see God Passes By, chapters I-V. Western interest in the Bábi movement was aroused, particularly, by the publication in 1865 of Joseph Arthur Comte de Gobineau's Les religions et les philosophies dans l'Asie centrale (Paris: Didier, 1865).
  8. Bahá'u'lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1979), pp. 20-21.
  9. A number of Western diplomatic and military observers have left harrowing accounts of what they witnessed. Several formal protests were registered with the Persian authorities. See Moojan Momen, The Bábi and Bahá'í Religions, 1844-1944 (Oxford: George Ronald, 1981).
  10. Epistle, p. 21.
  11. Epistle, p. 22.
  12. There was, understandably, great suspicion in Persia about the intentions of the British and Russian governments, both of which had long interfered in Persian affairs.
  13. The focal point of these problems was one Mirza Ya h ya, a younger half-brother of Bahá'u'lláh. While still a youth and under the guidance of Bahá'u'lláh Ya h ya had been appointed by the Báb as nominal head of the Bábi community, pending the imminent advent of "Him Whom God will make manifest." Falling under the influence of a former Muslim theologian, Siyyid Mu h ammad I s fahani, however, Ya h ya gradually became estranged from his brother. Rather than being expressed openly, this resentment found its outlet in clandestine agitation, which had a disastrous effect on the exiles' already low morale. Ya h ya eventually refused to accept Bahá'u'lláh's declaration, and played no role in the development of the Bahá'í Faith which this declaration initiated.
  14. Bahá'u'lláh, The Book of Certitude (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1985), p. 251.
  15. Bahá'u'lláh, The Hidden Words (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1985), Arabic 2 on pp. 3-4, Arabic 5 on p. 4, Arabic 35 on p. 12, Arabic 12 on p. 6. Except where the context makes it obvious, the conventional use of the English word "man" translates the concept of "humanity".
  16. Certitude, pp. 3-4, pp. 195-200.
  17. Cited in God Passes By, p. 137.
  18. Quotation from Prince Zaynu'l-`bidin Khan, God Passes By, p. 135.
  19. See Note 68 below.
  20. God Passes By, p. 153. Increasingly, after 1863, the word "Bahá'í" replaced "Bábi" as the designation for the new faith, marking the fact that an entirely new religion had emerged.
  21. Cited in Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1984), p. 77.
  22. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1983), pp. 10-11.
  23. Gleanings, p. 297
  24. Gleanings, p. 334.
  25. Gleanings, p. 8.
  26. Gleanings, p. 8.
  27. The two statements quoted may be found cited by `Abdu'l-Bahá in J. E. Esslemont, Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust 1987), p. 170 and Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh Revealed after the Kitb-i-Aqdas (Haifa: Baha' World Centre, 1982), pp. 22-23, respectively.
  28. God Passes By, pp. 127-57, gives an account of these events.
  29. Gleanings, pp. 4-5.
  30. Certitude, p. 98.
  31. Certitude, p. 99.
  32. Certitude, pp. 99-100.
  33. Certitude, pp. 103-4.
  34. Gleanings, p. 59.
  35. Gleanings, pp. 66-67.
  36. Gleanings, pp. 65-66.
  37. Cited in Advent, p. 79.
  38. Gleanings, p. 136.
  39. Gleanings, p. 80.
  40. Gleanings, p. 164.
  41. Gleanings, p. 329.
  42. For a detailed exposition of this subject see `Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions (Wilmette: Baha' Publishing Trust, 1970), pp. 163-201.
  43. Examples, in the words of Jesus, are "Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God..." (Matthew 19:17); "I and my Father are one." (John 10:30)
  44. Gleanings, pp. 177-79.
  45. Gleanings, pp. 54, 55.
  46. Gleanings, p. 56.
  47. New Testament, John 1:10.
  48. Gleanings, pp. 141-42.
  49. Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh: Selected Letters (Wilmette: Baha' Publishing Trust, 1982), p. 117.
  50. Gleanings, p. 74. In the Baha' writings the term "Adam" is used symbolically in two different senses. The one refers to the emergence of the human race, while the other designates the first of the Manifestations of God.
  51. Gleanings, p. 213.
  52. Gleanings, p. 151.
  53. See Bahá'u'lláh, The Seven Valleys and The Four Valleys (Wilmette: Baha' Publishing Trust, 1986), pp. 6-7: "Yea, although to the wise it be shameful to seek the Lord of Lords in the dust, yet this betokeneth intense ardor in searching."
  54. World Order, p. 116.
  55. Seven Valleys, pp. 1-2.
  56. Gleanings, p. 214.
  57. Gleanings, p. 286.
  58. Gleanings, pp. 4-5.
  59. New Testament, John 10:16.
  60. For elaboration on the subject of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings on the process of the maturation of the human race, see World Order, pp. 162-63, 202.
  61. Gleanings, p. 217.
  62. Tablets, p. 164.
  63. Gleanings, p. 95.
  64. Tablets, p. 164.
  65. Gleanings, pp. 6-7.
  66. Tablets, pp. 66-67.
  67. Women: A Compilation (Toronto: Baha' Publishing Trust, 1986), p. 26.
  68. A combination of unusual circumstances had made the central authorities in Constantinople especially sympathetic to Bahá'u'lláh, and resistant to pressure from the Persian government. The governor of Baghdad, Namq Pasha, had written enthusiastically to the capital about both the character and influence of the distinguished Persian exile. Sul t an `Abdu'l-`Azz found the reports intriguing because, although he was Caliph of Sunni Islam, he considered himself a mystical seeker. Equally important, in another way, was the reaction of his chief minister, `Al Pasha. To the latter, who was an accomplished student of Persian language and literature as well as a would-be modernizer of the Turkish administration, Bahá'u'lláh seemed a highly sympathetic figure. It was no doubt this combination of sympathy and interest which led the Ottoman government to invite Bahá'u'lláh to the capital rather than send Him to a more remote center or deliver Him to the Persian authorities, as the latter were urging.
  69. For the full text of the report of the Austrian ambassador, Count von Prokesch-Osten, in a letter to the Comte de Gobineau, January 10, 1886, see Báb and Bahá'í Religions, pp. 186-87.
  70. Revelation, Vol. 2, p. 399.
  71. Tablets, p. 13.
  72. Gleanings, pp. 210-12.
  73. Gleanings, pp. 251-52.
  74. Gleanings, p. 252.
  75. For a description of these events see Revelation, Vol. 3, especially pp. 296, 331.
  76. For a description of this experience see God Passes By, pp. 180-89.
  77. In the 1850s two German religious leaders, Christoph Hoffmann and Georg David Hardegg, collaborated in the development of the "Society of Templers," devoted to creating in the Holy Land a colony or colonies which would prepare the way for Christ, on His return. Leaving Germany on August 6, 1868, the founding group arrived in Haifa on October 30, 1868, two months after Bahá'u'lláh's own arrival.
  78. For a description of the disasters which befell European Turkey in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 see Addendum III in King of Glory, pp. 460-62.
  79. Epistle, p. 51.
  80. Alistair Horne, The Fall of Paris (London: Macmillan, 1965), p. 34.
  81. Cited in Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day Is Come (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1980), pp. 32-33.
  82. Cited in Promised Day, p. 37.
  83. Cited in Promised Day, p. 35.
  84. Cited in Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith: Messages to America 1947-1957 (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1980), pp. 18-19.
  85. Epistle, p. 14.
  86. Certitude, p. 15.
  87. Cited in Promised Day, p. 83.
  88. Cited in Promised Day, p. 81.
  89. Epistle, p. 99.
  90. Cited in Promised Day, pp. 110-11.
  91. Gleanings, p. 200.
  92. Gleanings, pp. 254-55.
  93. Gleanings, p. 40.
  94. Gleanings, p. 215.
  95. Gleanings, p. 196.
  96. Tablets, p. 69.
  97. Tablets, pp. 165-67.
  98. Epistle, p. 11. The phrase "Not of Mine own volition" appears in the same paragraph immediately above the excerpt cited.
  99. Bahá'u'lláh's son, Mirza Mihdi,a youth of twenty-two, died in 1870 in an accidental fall resulting from the conditions in which the family was imprisoned.
  100. Gleanings, pp. 91.
  101. God Passes By, pp. 94-96.
  102. World Order, p. 113.
  103. Gleanings, p. 228.
  104. Tablets, p. 169.
  105. Epistle, pp. 11-12.
  106. Although Sul t an `Abdu'l-`Aziz' order of banishment was never formally revoked, the responsible political authorities came to regard it as null and void. They, therefore, indicated that Bahá'u'lláh could establish His residence outside the city walls, should He choose to do so.
  107. The mansion, which had been built by a wealthy Christian Arab merchant of 'Akka, had been abandoned by him when an outbreak of plague began to spread. The property was first rented and, some years after Bahá'u'lláh's passing, purchased by the Bahá'í community. Bahá'u'lláh's grave is located in a Shrine in the gardens of Bahji, and is now the focal point of pilgrimage for the Bahá'í world.
  108. For a summary of this body of teaching see World Order, pp. 143-57, and Shoghi Effendi's Principles of Bahá'í Administration (London: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1973), throughout. A fully annotated English translation of the central document in this body of writings, the Kitab-i-Aqdas ("The Most Holy Book"), is being published to coincide with the centenary of Bahá'u'lláh's passing, 1992.
  109. Advent, p. 16.
  110. Edward G. Browne, A Traveller's Narrative (New York: Bahá'í Publishing Committee, 1930), pp. xxxix-xl.
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