“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. … His all-compelling summons hath reached Me, and caused Me to speak His praise amidst all people.”
The mid-nineteenth century was a time of a new awakening in the life of humanity. Throughout Europe, Latin America, China, India and North America, one after the other, peoples arose to overthrow oppressive political and social systems. It seemed like human consciousness was awakening out of a long night of passivity and submission.
Everywhere there was a yearning for a new vision for society based on justice, equality and the nobility of the human being. The sense that the dawn of a great age was at hand was captured in the words of the poets of the time. As Rabindranath Tagore wrote, “The call has come to every individual in the present age to prepare himself and his surroundings for this dawn of a new era when man shall discover his soul in the spiritual unity of all human beings.”
At such a time, unknown to most of the world, the sun of a new message from God arose in Iran with the appearance of Baha’u’llah, God’s messenger for humanity’s coming of age. Baha’u’llah taught that there is one God, that all religions came from the same God and were true in essence and that the time has come for the unification of the human race.
The life of Bahá’u’lláh was characterized by the same superlative qualities that distinguished the earthly lives of the Founders of the other great religions. Born in Iran in 1817 into the family of a wealthy nobleman, from His early childhood Bahá’u’lláh showed uncommon wisdom and His qualities of kindness, generosity and justice were without peer. After His father’s death, He was offered a high position in the court of the king, which He politely refused, preferring instead to dedicate His time to helping the oppressed, the sick and the poor.
When Bahá’u’lláh proclaimed His mission in the middle of the nineteenth century as the Prophet Founder of a new religion, His teachings were revolutionary for the vision of modernity that they unveiled. His central principle—that the time had come for the oneness of humankind to be realized—was supplemented by a host of social teachings such as the equality of women and men, the harmony between science and religion, the need for the independent investigation of the truth, the abolition of priesthood, the abandonment of all forms of prejudice, and universal education.
His teachings provoked a hailstorm of opposition from the ecclesiastical and political orthodoxy of the time that was steeped in a medieval mindset. The Shia clergy of Iran along with two of the most powerful courts of the time—the King of Iran and the Ottoman Empire—did everything in their power to extinguish His influence. Bahá’u’lláh was stripped of all his wealth, was tortured, beaten, imprisoned in chains, and was exiled four times from country to country until He passed away in 1892 in the Ottoman Empire’s penal colony of Acre (Akko in today’s Israel).
Despite His appalling sufferings, Bahá’u’lláh continued in His mission revealing over a hundred volumes of sacred texts for humanity’s guidance. He had unconquerable Faith in the nobility that the human race could rise to and no amount of pain or sacrifice could deter Him from sowing the seeds of that transformation which would allow humanity to achieve its true destiny. During His lifetime, Bahá’u’lláh’s influence grew despite the opposition of His enemies. Wherever He was exiled, thousands were drawn to His teachings and by the love, power and majesty of His Person. Today His Faith has spread to every corner of the world with more than six million followers and millions of others drawing inspiration for building a united world from His life and words.
The Cambridge orientalist Edward Granville Browne met Baha’u’llah shortly before His passing. He has left for posterity this moving pen portrait: “The face of him on whom I gazed I can never forget, though I cannot describe it. Those piercing eyes seemed to read one’s very soul; power and authority sat on that ample brow … No need to ask in whose presence I stood, as I bowed myself before one who is the object of a devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain!”