BAHA'U'LLAH Biography - Religious Figures & Icons


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Baha'u'llah (1817-1892) was the Prophet-Founder of the Baha'i Faith,                     
considered by adherents to be the Universal Manifestation of God who has                 
ushered in a new age of world unity. His given name was Husayn-`Ali Nuri,               
and he wasborn in Tihran on 12 November 1817 into the household of a                     
prominent Iranian government dignitary, Mirza Abbas Nuri, known as Mirza                 
Buzurg. served at first as minister to one of the sons of Fath-`Ali Shah                 
(r. 1797-1834),and then, late in the same shah's reign, he was appointed                 
of Burujird and Luristan. Mirza Buzurg was in the circle of the then vizier,             
Abu'l-Qasim, the Qa'im-Maqam. The old shah died in 1834 and his son,                     
Muhammad Shah (r. 1834-1848) came to power. The young monarch wished to                 
establish his independence, and he had the vizier, Qa'im-Maqam, disgraced and           
killed. Baha'u'llah's father, Mirza Buzurg, was stripped of his governorship and         
his government salary, though he retained the Nuri family's ancestral estates           
around the village of Takur in the Nur district of Mazandaran (Bamdad, Rijal, VI,       
pp. 126-129).                                                                           
Baha'u'llah in his youth showed himself a sensitive and spiritual young man.             
He was deeply affected, for instance, when he read about the execution of a             
of traitorous and rebellious tribesmen (the Banu Qurayza) by early Muslims. He           
also related how, at the wedding of one of his brothers, he witnessed a                 
Middle Eastern puppet show. The show was set at a royal court, and when it               
ended, the puppeteers packed all the finely clothed figures into a trunk. Young         
Baha'u'llah was struck at how illusory and ephemeral were the trappings of               
earthly glory (Q.V. Tablets to the Rulers).                                             
Although Mirza Buzurg was out of favor at court, the new vizier, Hajji                   
Mirza Aqasi, offered the young Baha'u'llah a government post, which the latter           
declined. Later, the vizier sought to acquire some of Nuri lands, and was               
when Baha'u'llah refused to sell. Baha'u'llah, who had contemplative leanings,           
came into contact with believers in the mystical, esoteric school of Shaykhis (q.v.)     
in Nur. In 1844, Mulla Husayn Bushru'i arrived in Tihran in his attempt to               
the Babi faith among the Shaykhi communities, and he found a willing convert in         
Mulla Muhammad Mu`allim of Nur. The latter in turn agreed to convey the Bab's           
message to Baha'u'llah, then in the capital. The young noble accepted the new           
religion eagerly (NN, 120-122).                                                         
Late in 1844 or in 1845, Baha'u'llah returned to Takur from Tihran, and                 
expended great efforts in spreading the Babi faith in Nur and Mazandaran.               
Because of the prominence of his family, and his own charismatic personality,           
Baha'u'llah's first teaching efforts yielded some new believers, including some         
members of the Shi`ite clergy. Baha'u'llah also taught the faith to his brothers,       
including Mirza Musa and Mirza Yahya (only 13 in 1844). Baha'u'llah also                 
attempted to employ his prominence as a noble to protect other Babis, and he             
succoured Tahirih Qurratu'l-`Ayn and some other Babis when she was falsely               
accused of complicity in the slaying of her uncle, Mulla Taqi Baraghani. As a           
consequence of his coming out into the open, however, Baha'u'llah was briefly           
imprisoned in Tihran (TN, pp. 72-78, tr. pp. 56-62).                                     
In the summer of 1848, eighty-one prominent Babis gathered at the village               
of Badasht in northwestern Iran to discuss ways of freeing the Bab from his             
imprisonment in Azerbaijan. Baha'u'llah attended with his brothers, and rented           
gardens for some of the Babis, such as Tahirih, but largely stayed in the               
background. He suggested divine names for some of the Babis, in accordance with         
the Bab's instructions that his followers glorify God in this manner, and it was         
this point that he adopted for himself the name Baha', or the divine glory. His         
young brother and ward, Mirza Yahya, then 17, became Subh-i Azal or the Morn             
of Eternity. A conflict broke out at Badasht among Babis who wished to proclaim         
the abrogation of Islamic law and the inception of the Bab's independent                 
revelation, and those who saw the Babi religion as still compatible with                 
of Shi`ite legal codes. Baha'u'llah, like Tahirih, supported the adoption of the         
revealed law of the Bab, and this position won out. Baha'u'llah later visited           
Shaykh Tabarsi and advised the Babis besieged there by government troops and             
local Shi`ite clericalists. He left, and attempted to return, but he and his             
Mirza Yahya were arrested in Amul (NN, 278-300, 368-77, 459-62, 583-85).                 
Toward the end of his young life, the Bab had lost many of his major                     
disciples in the upheavals and persecutions of the late 1840s. He began                 
increasingly corresponding with and depending another cohort of followers,               
including Baha'u'llah, and also Mulla `Ali "`Azim" Turshizi and Azal. In the             
winter of 1850, Baha'u'llah was corresponding with the Bab, dictating his               
letters to Mirza Yahya; for the purposes of secrecy, these letters were sent             
in Mirza Yahya's name. Some of the letters the Bab wrote to Mirza Yahya in this         
period actually appear therefore to have been addressed                                 
through him to Baha'u'llah. Abdu'l-Baha has explained that                               
by the spring of 1850 the vizier, Amir Kabir, was putting great pressure on the         
Babis, and the religion needed a secret head whose identity remained unknown to         
the authorities. Baha'u'llah and Mulla `Abdu'l-Karim decided to give it out that         
Mirza Yahya Azal was the chief of the new religion, in order to protect                 
Baha'u'llah, now the real mover and shaker among the underground Babis.                 
Azal was acknowledged by many prominent Babis as a "Mirror" and a first                 
among equals. There is no evidence that the Bab appointed him as a legatee               
or vicar, and there were many Mirrors (a rank below that of the Letters of the           
Living) among the Bab's major followers (NN 32, 587, 593-94).                           
In July of 1850 the Bab was executed by the Iranian government.                         
Thereafter a number of important Babis put forth extravagant claims, including,         
1851, Sayyid Basir-i Hindi of Multan. Baha'u'llah challenged Sayyid Basir, and           
asserted his own divinity instead (many Babi leaders of the time represented             
themselves as participating in a pleroma of divine manifestation, similar in             
ways to that claimed by Sufis or mystics). In June, 1851, the vizier put                 
pressure on                                                                             
Baha'u'llah to leave the country, which suggests that the government had by that         
time infiltrated the Babis and discovered who the community's real leader was.           
Baha'u'llah went to the shrine city of Karbala in Iraq, the site of the tomb of         
Imam Husayn, where a small but active Babi group existed. He found that it was           
led by a Sayyid `Uluvv, who had made claims to being God incarnate. Baha'u'llah         
faced the man down and convinced him to retract those claims. On the other hand,         
during his stay in Karbala between August 1851 and March 1852, Baha'u'llah told         
some of his close companions that he was himself the return of the Imam Husayn,         
whose return Shi`ites expected after the advent of the Qa'im or Mahdi. During           
Baha'u'llah's absence, the more radical leaders of the Babi community in Tihran,         
such as Azim and Azal, plotted the assassination of Nasiru'd-Din Shah in                 
retaliation for his execution of the Bab. In the meantime, a new vizier had come         
power, Mirza Aqa Khan of Nur, a cousin of Baha'u'llah, and he called Baha'u'llah         
back to the capital. There was some expectation of better relations between the         
government and the Babis.                                                               
On his arrival, however, Baha'u'llah discovered the assassination plot, and             
denounced it. The plot was carried out on August 15, 1852, by some young                 
fanatics, but failed when the pistol misfired. Baha'u'llah was staying with his         
brother-in-law, a secretary to the Russian ambassador. The shah demanded that           
the Russian legation allow Baha'u'llah to be surrendered to the government, but         
the Russians handed him over to the vizier, Aqa Khan Nuri, who was sympathetic           
to him. The vizier found it impossible to protect Baha'u'llah when anti-Babi             
broke out in Tihran, and Baha'u'llah was arrested and made to walk in chains to         
the Siyah-Chal, the Black Pit dungeon. The vizier, furious, offered his                 
over Baha'u'llah's false arrest. During his imprisonment in the filthy,                 
disease-ridden dungeon Baha'u'llah saw several Babi friends executed and                 
suffered horribly. He underwent mystical experiences, feeling energy wash               
over his body from the crown of his head, and saw a visions that encouraged             
him to arise to reform the Babi community (NN, 595-650).                                 
Baha'u'llah was found innocent of complicity in the assassination plot, but it           
was clear that he was not now welcome in Iran. The government gave him                   
permission to go to Baghdad, in neighboring Ottoman Iraq, where he arrived on 12         
January 1853. Azal followed him there a few months later. Baha'u'llah was               
according to sources close to him unhappy about Azal coming to Baghdad as a             
recluse, apparently because Azal was not under any formal exile order and               
therefore could have remained in Iran to organize and give heart to the Babi             
community there. Factions of Babis formed in Baghdad who were loyal to either           
Baha'u'llah or to Azal, and the ensuing jealousies and rancor so disgusted               
Baha'u'llah that in 1854 he secretly departed from Baghdad, taking with him only         
one companion, a merchant, and went to Kurdistan in the north where he lived the         
life of a mystic. After some time, his friend was killed by thieves. The Kurds           
practiced the mystical form of Islam known as Sufism, and a branch of the               
Naqshbandi Sufis in Sulaymaniyyah heard of Baha'u'llah's piety, inviting him to         
their center. They could tell from his superb calligraphy that he was no                 
holy man. While in Kurdistan Baha'u'llah wrote his "Ode of the Nightingale," an         
Arabic poem in classical Sufi style that mentions his "mission" for the first           
Baha'u'llah subsequently kept up good contacts with the Kurds, who most often           
knew Persian, and may in fact have been attempting to widen the base of the Babi         
movement away from Iranian Shi`ites by attracting the Sunni, Sufi, Kurds into           
faith. Baha'u'llah was on good terms with the influential Baban family of               
(Dahaji, p. 48; Qazvini, tr., pp. 7-9; Baha'u'llah, "Al-Qasidah al-Warqa'iyyah,"         
Athar III, pp. 196-215).                                                                 
Back in Baghdad, the Babi community lacked firm, public leadership, given               
Azal's penchant for secluding himself, and it fell into disarray. Azal also             
appears to                                                                               
have alienated many in the Baghdad community by briefly taking a widow of the           
Bab's as a temporary wife, in contradiction of the laws of the Bayan. The Babis         
searched for and found Baha'u'llah and pleaded with him to return, which he did         
in 1856. In the late 1850s Baha'u'llah wrote important works such as The Hidden         
Words and Seven Valleys, which by their crisp Arabic and Persian style and their         
mystical intensity encouraged some Babis back in Iran to become especially               
attracted to his personality. The form of The Hidden Words, in which God speaks         
directly but cryptically to the believer, much resembles that of the `Holy               
(hadith qudsi) attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, and this literary form               
provided a clue to his own claims. Still, Baha'u'llah publicly and in his               
correspondence pointed to Azal as the leader of the community in this period.           
Since Azal most often remained in hiding, however, Baha'u'llah had to take on           
much of the daily administration of Babi affairs, including the management of           
the funds donated by believers. Privately, to a handful of believers such as             
Akbar Qa'ini, Baha'u'llah in the late 1850s talked of himself as a Logos-figure,         
brought into being before the creation. Increasingly, the Babis divided into             
who thought Azal was the sun and Baha'u'llah the mirror, and those who thought           
Baha'u'llah the sun and Azal the mirror. The Babi community risked persecution           
from the Shi`ite clerics throughout this period, and at one point an Iranian             
and some major clergymen attempted to begin a movement against Baha'u'llah.             
This anti-Babi move failed because the leading Shi`ite cleric in Iraq, the just         
cautious Shaykh Murtada al-Ansari, refused to go along with it (TN, pp. 107-18,         
tr. pp. 82-88; Dahaji, 81-82; Salmani, tr., 15-20, Mirza Abu'l-Fadl, Letters and         
Essays, pp. 65-76).                                                                     
In the early 1860s Baha'u'llah gradually made explicit some of the claims               
latent in his mystical works of the previous decade. Although his Book of               
Certitude, revealed circa 1861-1862, makes no open assertion of his status as           
promised one of the Bab, at the end Baha'u'llah says it was "revealed"                   
(munzal). He appears to have been waiting for the year 1280 of the Islamic               
calendar (1863-64) to make a more open declaration, since some Muslims                   
expected that a messiah would arise in that year. In the spring of                       
1863 Baha'u'llah was informed that Ottoman Sultan `Abdu'l-`Aziz wanted him               
brought to the capital, Istanbul (Constantinople). Before he left, Baha'u'llah           
set up tents in the garden of Najib Pasha at Baghdad, where, during the                 
period 21 April to 2 May, he informed a select handful of close followers and           
relatives that he was the promised one of the Bab, "He whom God shall make               
manifest." He also from this point urged a pacifist approach, condemning holy           
or jihad. He arrived in Istanbul in August, but refused to seek out prominent           
statesmen or to play politics. The Iranian ambassador put considerable pressure         
on the Ottoman government to have him exiled from the capital, from which he             
could have gained influence. Sultan `Abdu'l-`Aziz bowed to the                           
Iranian entreaties, and ordered that Baha'u'llah be exiled to Edirne (Adrianople),       
240 km from the Bosphorus on its European side. Baha'u'llah wished to contest           
the sultan's decision, suggesting that the Babis in his household refuse to obey         
This refusal would result, he reasoned, either in a glorious martyrdom, or in           
order being rescinded. Azal, however, was unwilling to go along with the plan,           
since it required unanimity to succeed, it could not be carried through (Dahaji,         
pp. 65-70, 153-54; Salmani, tr., pp. 22, 39-41; Qazvini, "Risalah," tr., pp. 16-19).     
Baha'u'llah dwelt in Edirne from 12 December 1863 to 12 August 1868,                     
along with a small number of other Babis, including Azal. They received a               
from the Ottoman government for their support. In the period 1865-1866 he               
gradually began sending letters to close friends back in Iran in which he said           
was the spiritual return of the Bab. These claims vitally threatened the                 
position of                                                                             
Azal, then widely recognized in Iran as the titular head of the religion, since         
would mean little to be vicar of the Babi religion were "He whom God shall make         
manifest" to appear and initiate a new dispensation. In March, 1866, Baha'u'llah         
moved to a separate house from that of Azal, who, he said, had plotted his death.       
In September, 1867, Baha'u'llah sent a letter to Azal in which he delineated his         
station and demanded obedience from his younger half-brother. Azal responded             
by challenging Baha'u'llah to a test of the divine will in a local mosque, such         
God would strike down the impostor. Baha'u'llah agreed, and went to the Sultan           
Selim mosque at the appointed time, but Azal lost face when he neglected to show         
up. In 1866-1868 Baha'u'llah began writing his Epistles to the Rulers,