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Christ and Baha'u'llah

by George Townshend

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Chapter 12


      BAHÁ’U’LLÁH was descended from Abraham by His wife Katurah, thus fulfilling the prophecy to Abraham that in Him would all the families of the earth be blessed.

      It is difficult for an English reader to learn much about Bahá'u'lláh's early days. We know, however, that He was born on 12th November, 1817, two years before the Báb . From His early days He showed signs of wonder and power. His father dreamed a dream of Him while He was yet a child, which is recounted by Nabíl.

      "Bahá'u'lláh appeared to him swimming in a vast, limitless ocean. His body shone upon the waters with a radiance that illumined the sea. Around His head, which could distinctly be seen above the waters, there radiated, in all directions, His long, jet-black locks, floating in great profusion above the waves. As he dreamed, a multitude of fishes gathered round Him, each holding fast to the extremity of one hair. Fascinated by the effulgence of His face, they followed Him in whatever direction He swam. Great as was their number, and however firmly they clung to His locks, not one single hair seemed to have been detached from His head, nor did the least injury affect His person. Free and unrestrained, He moved above the waters and they all followed Him.

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      "The Vazír,[1] greatly impressed by this dream, summoned a soothsayer, who had achieved fame in that region, and asked him to interpret it for him. This man, as if inspired by a premonition of the future glory of Bahá'u'lláh, declared: "The limitless ocean that you have seen in your dream, O Vazír, is none other than the world of being. Singlehanded and alone, your son will achieve supreme ascendancy over it. Wherever He may please, He will proceed unhindered. No one will resist His march, no one will hinder His progress. The multitude of fishes signifies the turmoil which He will arouse amidst the peoples and kindreds of the earth. Around Him will they gather, and to Him will they cling. Assured of the unfailing protection of the Almighty, this tumult will never harm His person, nor will His loneliness upon the sea of life endanger His safety.'"[2]

      Bahá'u'lláh loved people, especially children. He loved to be surrounded by them and they loved Him. From childhood He delighted in country life, in trees, in flowers and horseback riding.

      He came of a noble and wealthy family which had long been prominent in the political sphere and He Himself was endowed with a gift of eloquence like a rushing torrent. As the years passed on He showed no inclination for political affairs but spent His time in looking after the needy, the poor and the sick. When His father died He succeeded to the management of a large estate and married the daughter of a well-known vazír. Her tastes resembled His and they became known as the Father of the Poor and the Mother of Consolation.

1. Bahá'u'lláh's father.
2. The Dawnbreakers, Nabíl’s Narrative, chap v.

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      One day, when He was twenty-seven years old, a messenger brought Him a package containing a manuscript which had been written by the Báb and sent by the hand of His first disciple, Mullá Ḥusayn . From this document He learned that the Kingdom of God, so long expected by the devout, had indeed at last come, that the Báb had declared Himself its Prophet and was sending out through Persia His messengers to announce the breaking of the new Day. The document was none other than some pages of the Qayyúmu’l-Asmá, the "first, greatest and mightiest" of the Báb’s works, the first chapter of which He had revealed on the night of His declaration. In it He called on the Sháh  and the kings and princes of the earth to acknowledge His station and He called even the people of the West to come forth and welcome Him.

      On reading a portion of this manuscript Bahá'u'lláh at once discerned that the spiritual note of the writing was the same as that of the Qur'án and He accepted its message. Casting aside at once all thought of His personal interest, regardless of His wealth, of His social eminence, of His youth, of His talents and of the brilliant future open before Him, He espoused the Cause of an obscure merchant and began to serve it with the utmost ardour. Though He must long before have realized the divinity of the station which really belonged to Himself, Bahá'u'lláh promptly joined the Báb’s followers and never disclosed His own true rank to anyone.

      During the years of the Báb’s Ministry He showed Himself a loyal and devoted coadjutor, not only by His outstanding character and His extraordinary ability but also by His heart-whole enthusiasm and personal devotion to the Báb .

1. The Báb was a wool-merchant, with His uncle in Shíráz.

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      The two Prophets never met on this earth but kept in the closest touch by letter and otherwise. Both were to suffer for the Cause and vied with one another in doing so. Three times Bahá'u'lláh was scourged as a Bábí, three times imprisoned, and the Báb in His turn three times suffered the same punishments. After the Conference at Badasht Muḥammad Sháh  determined to put Bahá'u'lláh to death, but died too soon to carry out his threat. It was to Bahá'u'lláh that the Báb sent His most precious personal possessions (His pen and His ring) when He felt His martyrdom was drawing near, and it was Bahá'u'lláh Who, on the night of the Báb’s execution, arranged for some of the disciples to carry away the body from the moat into which it had been thrown and to conceal it in a safe place of hiding.

      At the time of the attempt on the Sháh's life Bahá'u'lláh was staying at Lavásán as the guest of the Grand Vizír. Rejecting the protection and the good offices tendered Him, Bahá'u'lláh went to the headquarters of the Imperial Army at Níyávarán and was conducted thence under escort and in chains, bareheaded  and with bare feet to Ṭihrán. There He was taken at once to the Síyáh-Chál, the most terrible of all the dungeons in the capital.

      Bahá'u'lláh in His Epistle to the Son of the Wolf gives the following description of the place in which He found Himself: "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

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to lie on. God alone knoweth what befell Us in that most foul-smelling and gloomy place!" (pp. 10-21).

      Such was the place and such the occasion which God chose for the Call of Bahá'u'lláh to the office of Prophethood, and to the assumption of His Ministry.

      An independent Prophet has two stations: one a divine and the other a human station. His essential being is divine. As such He is the Word of God. The Kitáb-i-Íqán states of these Beings that:

"These sanctified Mirrors, these Day-springs of ancient glory 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. They are the Treasuries of divine knowledge, and the Repositories of celestial wisdom. Through them is transmitted a grace that is infinite, and by them is revealed the light that can never fade." (pp. 99-100)

      And again in the same book it is written,

"These ancient beings, though delivered from the womb of their mother, have in reality descended from the heaven of the will of God. Though they be dwelling on this earth, yet their true habitations are the retreats of glory in the realms above. Whilst walking amongst mortals, they soar in the heaven of the divine presence. Without feet they tread the path of the spirit, and without wings they rise unto the exalted heights of divine unity. With every fleeting breath they cover the immensity of space, and at every moment traverse the kingdoms of the visible and the invisible. . . . They are sent forth through the transcendent power of the Ancient of Days, and are raised up by the exalted will of God, the most mighty King. This is what is meant by the words: "coming in the clouds of heaven." (p. 67, U.S. ed.).

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      But they undergo a very definite, moving and tremendous experience when God wills that their Mission should open and the full power of the sovereignty which belongs to them shall be disclosed. Every Prophet goes through this experience and often finds it altogether overwhelming. We read of Moses falling into a swoon, and of Muḥammad running to His home and imploring His wife, Khadíjih, to envelop Him in His mantle. The experience alters altogether the relation between Almighty God and the Prophet, but does not necessarily make any difference between the Prophet and the people until the Prophet Himself so elects. Jesus Himself, for instance, is thought to have been called to His Ministry at the time of His baptism by John in Jordan, but He did not openly declare Himself till His pronouncement to the Jewish Sanhedrin on the last night of His life.

      Bahá'u'lláh describes this Call in the following words in His letter to the Sháh : "O King! I was but a man like others, asleep upon My couch, when lo, the breezes of the All-Glorious were wafted over Me, and taught Me the knowledge of all that hath been. This thing is not from Me, but from One Who is Almighty and All-Knowing. And He bade Me lift up My voice between earth and heaven, and for this there befell Me what hath caused the tears of every man of understanding to flow. . . This is but a leaf which the winds of the will of Thy Lord, the Almighty, the All-Praised, have stirred."

      Many years later, in His Epistle to the Son of the Wolf He tells how, "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

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safety. Ere long 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’" (p. 21).

      'Abdu'l-Bahá pointed out that the Prophet's experience when this call comes to Him is purely physical. There is no change of the Prophet's individuality. He remains precisely the same.

      Thus it was that Bahá'u'lláh's Ministry began in the year 9 (1853 A.D., 1269 A.H.) as the Báb had already indicated, a time which imbued the whole world with unimaginable potentialities. The attempt on the life of the Sháh  had taken place on 15th August, 1852; Bahá'u'lláh had been thrown into the Síyáh-Chál almost immediately afterwards and about the middle of October this Divine Call had come, endowing Him with the fullness of the power of the sovereignty which went with His Divine Mission. Two months later He was proved innocent of any connection with the crime, having been strongly defended by His friends and by the Russian Ambassador.

      Delivered from the Síyáh-Chál Bahá'u'lláh found Himself still the prisoner of the Sháh , reduced almost to destitution by the confiscation of all His property and under sentence of banishment from His native land to Baghdád in 'Iráq whither He was to start within one month.

      During the ten years He spent in Baghdád His fame and personal influence reached their highest point. So great was His influence that by degrees He spread among the Bábís cheer and hope and confidence in their Faith, not only in His neighbourhood but even among the lonely

1. Some Answered Questions, chap. xxxix.

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hamlets of Persia. Still acting as a Bábí and without going beyond the Báb’s teachings, He made the Faith more universal than it had been before, and bringing into prominence higher teachings of the Báb, long disused, lifted the religion to a higher level. His intuitive understanding of scripture astonished and attracted Bábí pilgrims from all directions and also drew eager Muslim students from Karbilá and Najaf. His modest home became the constant resort of enquirers on spiritual matters. That same unique Spirit of Divine Love which suffused so much of His writings was felt by His companions in its original intensity and won Him their love and devotion to a degree which chroniclers of the time record. Joyous feasts celebrating their love for Him were held, in spite of poverty, and many writings still testify to His little parlour being felt as an avenue to Paradise such as men's hearts had never known before. The ethical level of the Bábí community was exalted beyond recognition and the good name of the Faith began to extend itself in all directions. His great religious revelation, the Book of Certitude,[1] written in Baghdád, summarizes in two hundred pages the grand universal scheme of Redemption and explains not only the great central truths of God's revealing method but those difficulties of interpretation which have always caused discord among the great religious systems of the world.

      So rapid was Bahá'u'lláh's ascent to heights of brilliance and spiritual power that the ecclesiastical authorities of such neighbouring cities as Karbilá were moved to bitter jealousy and took counsel together how to get rid of Him. They represented that He was still too near Persia to be a

1. Persian Kitáb-i-Íqán

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harmless neighbour and persuaded the Sháh  that He should be removed further away, and by degrees brought pressure on Turkish officials to keep Him under stricter surveillance. Bahá'u'lláh's undoubted influence among the people and many leaders of opinion in Baghdád made Him open to suspicion of personal designs. By 1863 His enemies had secured His sentence of exile to Constantinople.

      Ten years had now elapsed since the time of His Call and the time was ripe for an open declaration of the power and sovereignty which for so long had been flooding His soul. On the 21st April, for a period of twelve days, Bahá'u'lláh, in the beautiful Najíbíjjih garden on the river banks outside Baghdád, instituted the great Feast of Riḍván which is held as the most joyous and triumphant of all Bahá'í Feasts. He assumed before His followers and the wide world the supreme authority which He had received from the Most High at the time of His Call. Now it was that Jesus Christ ascended His throne in the power of God the Father. Now it was that He took upon Himself the sceptre of the fullness of God's might and thus set Himself as Supreme Overlord of all that is in heaven and on earth.

      The significance of that Feast for Himself and for the world is expressed by His calling it "the King of Festivals," "the Day of God." In His own greatest work, the Aqdas,[1] He characterizes it as the Day whereon "all created things were immersed in the sea of purification." In another Tablet He refers to it as the day whereon "the breezes of forgiveness were wafted over the entire creation." And again He writes, "Rejoice with exceeding gladness, O people of Bahá, as ye call

1. Kitáb-i-Aqdas.

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to remembrance the Day of supreme felicity, the Day whereon the Tongue of the Ancient of Days hath spoken, as He departed from His House, proceeding to the Spot from which He shed upon the whole of creation the splendours of His Name, the All-Merciful."

      Surely this Day must be the greatest day in the history of mankind.

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