A Vision of Global Peace
Bahá’u’lláh – Founder of the Bahá’í Faith
by Marcus Braybrook
“Yet so it shall be; these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the ‘Most great peace’ shall come … Let us not glory in this that we love our country; let us rather glory in this, that we love all humanity.”
At this turbulent time, we need to hold on to Bahá’u’lláh’s message of hope. Voiced some 150 years ago, it deserves a high place among those who will influence the future story of the human spirit. In his teachings, Bahá’u’lláh anticipated many of the creative developments of the twentieth century: the peace movement, the growth of interfaith fellowship, equal rights for women, and the establishment of the International Court of Justice and the United Nations.
Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), the ‘Glory of God,’ was the founder of the Bahá’í religion, which declares God’s message of the oneness of humankind and the fundamental oneness of religion. Although the number of Bahá’í s is still quite small, they are to be found in almost every country of the world, and often despite fierce persecution, they hold firm to this teaching.
Bahá’u’lláh was preceded by the Bab – ‘the Gate’ (1819-50). He founded the Babi faith in 1844, which Lord Curzon, a Viceroy of India, described as “a creed of charity and almost of common humanity.” The Babi movement continued into the twentieth century, but it was soon to be eclipsed by the Bahá’í faith, founded by Bahá’u’lláh.
Bahá’u’lláh (sometimes Bahaullah), originally known as Mirza Husayn ‘ali Nuri, was born at dawn on November 12, 1817 in Tehran. In 1844, he became a Babi. Two years after the Bab’s martyrdom, some of the Bab’s followers tried unsuccessfully to assassinate the Shah of Persia. One of those arrested, although he was ignorant of the plot, was Bahá’u’lláh. He was thrown into an under-ground cell at the Black Pit, a notorious Teheran jail. It was there that God revealed to him that he was to be a messenger of God.
In 1866 – which marks the beginning of the Bahá’í Faith as a separate religion – Bahá’u’lláh made a public claim to be a Divine Manifestation, the Promised One of all religions. Previous manifestations included Adam, Noah, Zoroaster, Krishna, Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad.
His embittered half-brother persuaded the Turkish government to exile Bahá’u’lláh to Akko (Acre), where he was imprisoned: but after a time he was allowed to live in the nearby countryside, ending his days in the mansion of Bhaji, a holy place, with gardens of outstanding beauty, which my wife Mary and I have had the privilege of visiting. He died there in 1892.
Bahá’u’lláh was a prolific writer and his words are now regarded by the faithful as direct revelations from God. Some 15,000 ‘tablets’ have been collected.
God, Bahá’u’lláh said, is and always has been the Creator, and there never was a time when the universe did not exist. The purpose of human life is to know and worship God and to carry forward an “ever- advancing civilization, which had now reached the stage at which the unity of humankind was a necessity.” The essential message of the Manifestations of God is one, Bahá’u’lláh said, but each Messenger has a distinct individuality and a definitely prescribed mission.
Bahá’u’lláh addressed a variety of ‘tablets’ to the rulers of Persia, Turkey, Russia, Prussia, Austria, Britain, and to Pope Pius IX. The letter to Queen Victoria can serve as an example. He called on rulers to listen to and to obey God. He commended her for entrusting “the reins of counsel into hands of the representatives of the people.” He urged such representatives to work together for the benefit of all people. He deplored the increasing expenditure on arms and pleaded for peace.
O rulers of the earth! Be reconciled among yourselves, that ye may need no armaments save in a measure to safeguard your territories … Should any one among you take up arms against another, rise ye all against him, for this is naught but manifest justice.
Bahá’u’lláh told the individual believer, to quote a few sample admonitions,
Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity,
Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbor, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face.
Be a treasure to the poor and admonisher to the rich,
An answerer of the cry of the needy…
By the time of Bahá’u’lláh’s death in 1892, the Bahá’í religion had spread beyond Persia to other parts of the Ottoman Empire and to India, Egypt and Sudan. In the following year, the new religion was referred to at the Chicago World Parliament of Religions by a Presbyterian minister, Henry Harris Jessup (1832–1910), who was working in Syria.
Before his death, Bahá’u’lláh appointed his son, ‘Abdu’l-Baha, ‘Servant of the Glory’ (1844-1921), to be his successor. ‘Abdu’l-Baha did not claim to be a prophet of God, like his father, but believed that he was divinely guided in his leadership and was the authorized interpreter of his father’s writings, which he collected. When he visited London in 1911, some liberal Christians greeted him with enthusiasm, although other Christians criticized Bahá’í s for denying the uniqueness of Jesus and accused them of syncretism or mixing religions.
‘Abdu’l-Baha appointed his eldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi Rabbani (1896-1957) to be his successor. Soon after his death, the Universal House of Justice, based at Haifa in Israel, was chosen to be the supreme ruling body of the Bahá’í Faith.
Central to the Bahá’í religion is a vision of a new world order. In this there will be complete world unity and peace and society will be grounded on moral and religious principles. The resources of the world will be shared for the betterment of all. God has created all human beings ‘as the leaves of one tree and the drops of one ocean.’
For a fuller account with references see Marcus Braybrooke, Beacons of Light, O-Books, 209 (ISBN 978-1-84694-185-6)