In the early hours of 29th May, 1892, Baha’u’llah, the prophet founder of the Bahá’í Faith, passed away. At 3am each year (4am with clocks adjusted for British summer time) Bahá’ís around the globe commemorate this event. In North-East England we have a tradition of doing so near St Mary’s Lighthouse along the coastline at Whitley Bay. This allows us, weather permitting, to witness the sun rising over the North Sea shortly after our programme of commemoration. Continue reading In the Early Hours of 29th May
23rd May is the anniversary of the event that marks the starting year of the Baha’i Calendar, the Declaration of The Báb, the moment that the fore-runner of Bahá’ú’llah first revealed His station to somebody. It took place approximately 2 hours and 11 minutes after sunset on 22nd May 1844. As with many episodes from the history of the Bahá’i and Bábí faiths, the story of the events leading up to that moment makes good reading. I will not say much more here, rather I shall link to this much fuller article I posted here some years back
I always like to pause and savour the moment, or reflect, on anniversaries -including those from other Faiths and significant past events – when I am aware of them. I find it particularly potent to do so when these events have a time associated with them. Interestingly, while with most events in the world we take the anniversary as being the time that corresponds to when it happened in the place that it happened, Bahá’í anniversaries tend to be remembered at the local time that matches what the local time was in the place it happened. The result of this is that, rather than everyone in the world marking the moment at the same time, there is a 24 hour wave of events and inidividual remembrance that circles the planet with the sun (or with the time zones).
While it may have been about 2 hours and 11 minutes after sunset that The Báb declared Himself to be a Prophet, the whole day is considered to be the anniversary (the Bahá’í day being from sunrise to sunset) and so many Bahá’í communities hold their celebration at a time that isn’t so late at night. As Newcastle community has a Bahá’í Centre adjoined to residential property we have to hold our event early the following evening (so ours is at 6:30 tonight).
At 17:32 GMT tonight (20th March) the sun crossed over the equator into the northern hemisphere. This event, called the vernal equinox, marks the beginning of springtime in the northern hemisphere and, in many traditions, the beginning of the new year.
Two hours, eleven minutes, after sunset on May 23rd 1844, The Báb (the fore-runner of Baha’u’llah and a Prophet Himself) declared His mission to Mulla Husayn.
On 28th November, at 1 am, Baha’is around the world commemorate the moment that ‘Abdu’l-Baha passed away in 1921. It was a fairly unexpected event, though ‘Abdu’l-Baha had made some comments in the preceding month to the affect that He had completed His work and was ready leave this life. ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s last hours on Earth are described in God Passes By as follows:
“Till the very last day of His earthly life ‘Abdu’l-Bahá continued to shower that same love upon high and low alike, to extend that same assistance to the poor and the down-trodden, and to carry out those same duties in the service of His Father’s Faith, as had been His wont from the days of His boyhood. On the Friday before His passing, despite great fatigue, He attended the noonday prayer at the mosque, and distributed afterwards alms, as was His custom, among the poor; dictated some Tablets — the last ones He revealed — ; blessed the marriage of a trusted servant, which He had insisted should take place that day; attended the usual meeting of the friends in His home; felt feverish the next day, and being unable to leave the house on the following Sunday, sent all the believers to the Tomb of the Báb to attend a feast which a Parsi pilgrim was offering on the occasion of the anniversary of the Declaration of the Covenant; received with His unfailing courtesy and kindness that same afternoon, and despite growing weariness, the Mufti of Haifa, the Mayor and the Head of the Police; and inquired that night – the last of His life – before He retired after the health of every member of His household, of the pilgrims and of the friends in Haifa.
“At 1:15 A.M. He arose, and, walking to a table in His room, drank some water, and returned to bed. Later on, He asked one of His two daughters who had remained awake to care for Him, to lift up the net curtains, complaining that He had difficulty in breathing. Some rose-water was brought to Him, of which He drank, after which He again lay down, and when offered food, distinctly remarked: “You wish Me to take some food, and I am going?” A minute later His spirit had winged its flight to its eternal abode, to be gathered, at long last, to the glory of His beloved Father, and taste the joy of everlasting reunion with Him.”
As the news spread, cablegrams were sent from around the world expressing sympathy, devotion, praise and anguish to ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s family and followers. Sir Winston Churchill , for example, cabled the High Commissioner for Palestine instructing him to “convey to the Bahá’í Community, on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, their sympathy and condolence.”
The funeral took place on the morning of 29th November and had no less then ten thousand participants from every class, religion and race in the country. Below is Shoghi Effendi’s description of the procession and burial:
“The coffin containing the remains of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was borne to its last resting-place on the shoulders of His loved ones. The cortege which preceded it was led by the City Constabulary Force, acting as a Guard of Honor, behind which followed in order the Boy Scouts of the Muslim and Christian communities holding aloft their banners, a company of Muslim choristers chanting their verses from the Qur’án, the chiefs of the Muslim community headed by the Mufti, and a number of Christian priests, Latin, Greek and Anglican. Behind the coffin walked the members of His family, the British High Commissioner, Sir Herbert Samuel, the Governor of Jerusalem, Sir Ronald Storrs, the Governor of Phoenicia, Sir Stewart Symes, officials of the government, consuls of various countries resident in Haifa, notables of Palestine, Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Druze, Egyptians, Greeks, Turks, Arabs, Kurds, Europeans and Americans, men, women and children. The long train of mourners, amid the sobs and moans of many a grief-stricken heart, wended its slow way up the slopes of Mt. Carmel to the Mausoleum of the Báb.
“Close to the eastern entrance of the Shrine, the sacred casket was placed upon a plain table, and, in the presence of that vast concourse, nine speakers, who represented the Muslim, the Jewish and Christian Faiths, and who included the Mufti of Haifa, delivered their several funeral orations. These concluded, the High Commissioner drew close to the casket, and, with bowed head fronting the Shrine, paid his last homage of farewell to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: the other officials of the Government followed his example. The coffin was then removed to one of the chambers of the Shrine, and there lowered, sadly and reverently, to its last resting-place in a vault adjoining that in which were laid the remains of the Báb.”
“These are the days of my farewell to you, for I am sailing on the fifth of the month. Wherever I went in this country, I returned always to New York City. This is my fourth or fifth visit here, and now I am going away to the Orient. It will be difficult for me to visit this country again except it be the will of God. I must, therefore, give you my instructions and exhortations today, and these are none other than the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh.
“You must manifest complete love and affection toward all mankind. Do not exalt yourselves above others, but consider all as your equals, recognizing them as the servants of one God. Know that God is compassionate toward all; therefore, love all from the depths of your hearts, prefer all religionists before yourselves, be filled with love for every race, and be kind toward the people of all nationalities. Never speak disparagingly of others, but praise without distinction. Pollute not your tongues by speaking evil of another. Recognize your enemies as friends, and consider those who wish you evil as the wishers of good. You must not see evil as evil and then compromise with your opinion, for to treat in a smooth, kindly way one whom you consider evil or an enemy is hypocrisy, and this is not worthy or allowable. You must consider your enemies as your friends, look upon your evil-wishers as your well-wishers and treat them accordingly. Act in such a way that your heart may be free from hatred. Let not your heart be offended with anyone. If some one commits an error and wrong toward you, you must instantly forgive him. Do not complain of others. Refrain from reprimanding them, and if you wish
to give admonition or advice, let it be offered in such a way that it will not burden the bearer. Turn all your thoughts toward bringing joy to hearts. Beware! Beware! lest ye offend any heart. Assist the world of humanity as much as possible. Be the source of consolation to every sad one, assist every weak one, be helpful to every indigent one, care for every sick one, be the cause of glorification to every lowly one, and shelter those who are overshadowed by fear.
“In brief, let each one of you be as a lamp shining forth with the light of the virtues of the world of humanity. Be trustworthy, sincere, affectionate and replete with chastity. Be illumined, be spiritual, be divine, be glorious, be quickened of God, be a Bahá’í.”
The 26th November marks the Baha’i celebration of “The Day of the Covenant”. The Covenant is the uniting force of the Baha’i Faith, the agreement by which all Baha’is continue to receive divinely ordained guidance by turning to an appointed successor. When early Baha’is wanted to celebrate the birthday of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, which falls on the same day as the Declaration of the Bab (23rd May 1844), ‘Abdu’l-Baha said that it was not permissible to celebrate his birthday but that the followers may instead celebrate the Covenant of which he was appointed the centre by his father Baha’u’llah prior to Baha’u’llah’s passing.
The following text is extracted from this article about ‘Abdu’l-Baha:
The question of religious succession has been crucial to all faiths. Failure to resolve this question has inevitably led to acrimony and division. The ambiguity surrounding the true successors of Jesus and Muhammad, for example, led to differing interpretations of sacred scripture and deep discord within both Christianity and Islam. However, Bahá’u’lláh prevented schism and established an unassailable foundation for His Faith through the provision of His will and testament, entitled “The Book of My Covenant.” He wrote: “When the ocean of My presence hath ebbed and the Book of My Revelation is ended, turn your faces toward Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hast branched from this Ancient Root. The object of this sacred verse is none other except the Most Mighty Branch [`Abdu’l-Bahá].”
Bahá’u’lláh’s appointment of `Abdu’l-Bahá as His successor was the means for diffusing His message of hope and universal peace to all corners of the world, for realizing the essential unity of all peoples. In referring to `Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’u’lláh wrote: “The glory of God rest upon Thee, and upon whosoever serveth Thee and circleth around Thee. Woe, great woe, betide him that opposeth and injureth Thee. Well is it with him that sweareth fealty to Thee.” `Abdu’l-Bahá was, in short, the Center of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant –the instrument for ensuring the unity of the Bahá’í community and preserving the integrity of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings.
As the authorized interpreter of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings, `Abdu’l-Bahá became the “living mouth of the Book, the expounder of the Word.” Without `Abdu’l-Bahá, the enormous creative power of Bahá’u’lláh’s revelation could not have been transmitted to humanity, nor its import fully comprehended. He elucidated the teachings of His Father’s Faith, amplified its doctrines, and delineated the central features of its administrative institutions. He was the unerring guide and architect of a rapidly expanding Bahá’í community. In addition, Bahá’u’lláh vested in `Abdu’l-Bahá “the virtues of perfection in personal and social behavior, that humanity may have an enduring model to emulate.” As the perfect Exemplar of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings and the Pivot of His Covenant, `Abdu’l-Bahá became “the incorruptible medium for applying the Word to practical measures for the raising up of a new civilization.”
In retrospect, it became clear that Bahá’u’lláh had carefully prepared `Abdu’l-Bahá to succeed Him. He was born on May 23, 1844, the very night that the Báb had declared the beginning of a new religious cycle in history. As a child, He suffered along with His Father during the persecutions against the Bábis. `Abdu’l-Bahá was eight years old when Bahá’u’lláh was first imprisoned for His role as a leading exponent and defender of the Bábi Faith. He accompanied Bahá’u’lláh throughout His long exile from Persia to the capital of the Ottoman empire, and ultimately, to Palestine. As He grew older, `Abdu’l-Bahá became His Father’s closest companion and emerged as His deputy, shield, and principal representative to the political and religious leaders of the day. `Abdu’l-Bahá’s extraordinary demonstration of leadership, knowledge, and service brought great prestige to the exiled Bahá’í community. He assumed His role as the Head of the Bahá’í Faith following Bahá’u’lláh’s passing in May 1892.
In 1911, after more than four decades of imprisonment and suffering, `Abdu’l-Bahá journeyed to the West and presented with brilliant simplicity, to high and low alike, Bahá’u’lláh’s prescription for the moral and spiritual renewal of society. This “Call of God,” `Abdu’l-Bahá stated, “…breathed a new life into the body of mankind, and infused a new spirit into the whole creation. It is for this reason that the world hath been moved to its depths, and the hearts and consciences of men been quickened. Erelong the evidences of this regeneration will be revealed, and the fast asleep will be awakened.”
Among the vital truths that `Abdu’l-Bahá tirelessly proclaimed to leaders of thought as well as countless groups and masses at large were: “The independent search after truth, unfettered by superstition or tradition; the oneness of the entire human race, the pivotal principle and fundamental doctrine of the Faith; the basic unity of all religions; the condemnation of all forms of prejudice, whether religious, racial, class or national; the harmony which must exist between religion and science; the equality of men and women, the two wings on which the bird of humankind is able to soar; the introduction of compulsory education; the adoption of a universal auxiliary language; the abolition of the extremes of wealth and poverty; the institution of a world tribunal for the adjudication of disputes between nations; the exaltation of work, performed in the spirit of service, to the rank of worship; the glorification of justice as the ruling principle in human society, and of religion as a bulwark for the protection of all peoples and nations; and the establishment of a permanent and universal peace as the supreme goal of all mankind.”
He affirmed time and again that He was a “herald of peace and reconciliation,” “an advocate of the oneness of humanity,” and an agent calling humanity to the “Kingdom of God.” Despite the receptivity and acclaim given Him, `Abdu’l-Bahá made clear the Source of His thought and His true station. In a letter to His followers in America He wrote:
“My name is `Abdu’l-Bahá [literally, Servant of Baha]. My qualification is `Abdu’l-Bahá. My reality is `Abdu’l-Bahá. My praise is `Abdu’l-Bahá. Thraldom to the Blessed Perfection [Bahá’u’lláh] is my glorious and refulgent diadem, and servitude to all the human race my perpetual religion… No name, no title, no mention, no commendation have I, nor will ever have, except `Abdu’l-Bahá. This is my longing. This is my greatest yearning. This is my eternal life. This is my everlasting glory.”
July 9th marked the anniversary of one of the most stunning stories in the history of the Baha’i Faith, the martyrdom (execution) of the Báb, now buried in a majestic Shrine on Mount Carmel in Haifa. The following text is lifted from the old UK Baha’i youth web site:
Martyrdom of the Báb
On July 9th each year, we remember the day when the Báb (whose name means “The Gate”) was martyred. A century later Shoghi Effendi called it “the most dramatic, the most tragic event” in the whole of Bahá’í history – an honour that presumably stands today, just over 150 years after the event.
The Báb’s life foreshadowed Bahá’u’lláh’s. In 19th century Persia He announced that He was a religious teacher prophesied in religious scripture, and that another even greater Prophet was to come soon after. His teachings very quickly attracted great interest and within a few years he had up to a million followers from all walks of life. Persia’s priests as well as its government saw Him as a massive threat to their power, and the crackdown on the young Faith was not long coming. The Báb was imprisoned in a remote corner of northwest Persia, while Bábis were caught up in armed struggles all around the country and many died appalling deaths. But the ministers and priests began to think the only way to destroy the movement was to destroy its Leader, and they set on having Him killed. They ordered the Báb to be transferred from the bleak fortress in Chihriq, where He was being held prisoner, to the army barracks in nearby Tabriz.
The Báb Arrives in Tabriz
Early in the morning on July 8th 1850, the Báb and his companions were led through the streets of Tabriz in chains. A crowd massed round them on the way to the barracks, hurling insults, throwing stones at their faces. Not far from the courtyard, a Bábi called Mirza Muhammad-‘Ali burst through the crowd and begged the Báb to let him be martyred with Him. The Báb said, “Arise, and rest assured that you will be with Me. Tomorrow you shall witness what God has decreed.” Two other friends of the youth also forced their way through the crowd and pledged their loyalty, and they were all imprisoned in the same cell. That night, the Báb appealed to His friends: “Tomorrow will be the day of My martyrdom. Would that one of you might now arise and, with his own hands, end My life. I prefer to be slain by the hand of a friend rather than by that of the enemy.” The very thought brought tears to His disciples’ eyes. But Muhammad-‘Ali jumped up, offering to do anything the Báb desired. The others protested in shock, but the Báb announced that as the young man was truly devoted, tomorrow he would be martyred with the Bab just as he wished.
The next morning, just before He was taken to receive His death warrant from the ruling priests, the Báb gave final instructions to His secretary and close companion, Siyyid Husayn. But before He had finished, the prison officer entered and shouted at Siyyid Husayn for holding up the proceedings. The Báb replied, “Not until I have said to him all those things that I wish to say can any earthly power silence Me. Though all the world be armed against Me, yet shall it be powerless to deter Me from fulfilling, to the last word, My intention.” The prison officer separated the two nonetheless.
The task of execution was given to a colonel called Sám Khan and his regiment. Sám Khan was a Christian from Armenia and he did not share the Persian government’s hostility for the Báb. The fame and reverence of the Báb led him to fear he might be killing a holy man, and he was reluctant to carry through the execution. But the Báb told him he had nothing to fear, reportedly saying, “Follow your instructions, and if your intention be sincere, the Almighty is surely able to relieve you of your perplexity.” Sám Khan went ahead as planned.
At noon on July 9th 1850, The Báb and his friend were hung by their arms from ropes attached to the wall of the barracks, in front of a firing squad of 750 guns, split into three groups. Atop the roofs of the barracks buildings and nearby houses a crowd of around 10,000 people gathered to watch the extraordinary figure being executed. Each of the three groups of 250 guns fired in turn. The smoke was so dense that only after the air had cleared did the spectators see there was no sign of the Báb – He had apparently disappeared. His friend, meanwhile, was standing alone and unhurt with his ropes cut. The crowd went into uproar. The military officers frantically searched for the Báb, and found Him finishing His conversation with Siyyid Husayn in the same nearby room where He had been interrupted before. As soon as the prison guard entered, the Báb told him, “I have finished My conversation with Siyyid Husayn. Now you may proceed to fulfil your intention.” The guard was so dumbfounded that he walked out and immediately resigned his job, while Sám Khan ordered his men to leave the barracks and refused to have any further part in the affair. But the colonel of the bodyguard volunteered his own regiment as a replacement.
The Báb and His companion were again suspended from the barrack wall and 750 guns fired on them. This time though, bullets riddled the two bodies until they were apparently a single mass of flesh and bone. The Báb’s last words were these: “Had you believed in Me, O wayward generation, every one of you would have followed the example of this youth, who stood in rank above most of you, and willingly would have sacrificed himself in My path. The day will come when you will have recognised Me; that day I shall have ceased to be with you.” The moment the shots were fired, a violent gale rose over the city and a dust whirlwind darkened the sky from noon until night.
In a turn of fate that has often characterised Bahá’í history, the people who harmed the Báb’s Faith came to sorry ends themselves. The officers of the regiment who carried out the execution together with a third of its soldiers died in an earthquake the same year, when a wall collapsed on top of them. The other two-thirds of the regiment were all executed in front of a firing squad in Tabriz, just like the Báb, after a failed mutiny a few years later. Interestingly, the details surrounding the execution are well-documented in the official report of a military officer who watched the events.
From a Ditch to a Shrine
The night of the execution, the mangled remains of the two victims were taken outside the city gates and dumped by the moat where they would be eaten by wild animals. To prevent the Bábis removing the bodies and giving them a dignified burial, a total of 40 soldiers kept watch by the bodies outside the city. But one of the Bábis, Haji Sulayman Khan, who was staying with a local mayor, was so determined to rescue the bodies and risk his life that the mayor enlisted one of his assistants for the job instead. In the middle of the night, the mayor’s assistant took the bodies from under the guards’ noses while they slept, and laid them in a specially-made wooden casket in a safe hiding place nearby. When Bahá’u’lláh heard about this development he instructed Haji Sulayman Khan to bring the bodies to a local shrine in Tehran and there they were hidden.
From then on, the Báb’s remains had to be kept a close secret to keep them out of the hands of the Faith’s enemies. Whenever danger threatened or word got out about their whereabouts, Bahá’u’lláh, or later ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, would have the casket moved to a new location. It was a full sixty years before the Báb’s body was finally laid in the ground. In that time the bodies were moved around over a dozen hiding places: under the floorboards of a shrine; between the wall
s of an abandoned temple; concealed within various Bahá’ís’ houses – a secret from even the Bahá’í community – until at last they were laid to a proper rest in Haifa in 1909, by a tearful ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá pictured a string of terraced gardens leading up the mountain to a shrine for the Báb and beyond to the mountaintop. Just under 50 years ago, Shoghi Effendi finished building the golden-domed shrine that now houses the Báb’s remains, and in May this year after ten years of work, the terraced gardens were finished.
In the early hours of 29th May Baha’is around the world commemorate the passing of Bahá’u’lláh, the prophet founder of the Bahá’í Faith. At 3am (4am where daylight savings time is in force) Baha’is gather together and often turn toward Bahji, near Akka in Israel, where Bahá’u’lláh is buried in His shrine.
In a few hours I will be heading out to lighthouse near Whitley Bay on the east coast of northern england and looking out over the sea as the sun appears over the horizon while prayers are read aloud. The way in which the occasion is commemorated varies from community to community but as the hour strikes 3 (or 4 in our case) around the world in time-zone after time-zone the Baha’is commemorate that same hour in 1892.
A little background information on the occasion follows:
The title “Bahá’u’lláh” means “The Glory of God”. In 1863, Bahá’u’lláh declared Himself to be the Messenger of God for this day and age and the Promised One of all religions, the announcement was of little surprise to many who knew Him and were ready to follow Him.
Bahá’u’lláh suffered 40 years of torture, imprisonment and exile. He was exiled from Tehran in Persia (Iran) to Baghdad and then Turkey before being sent to ‘Akká, where the prison city had a reputation for having the foulest air and few were expected to survive. After some time He and His family were moved to Bahji, on the outskirts of Akka, where He was imprisoned in a mansion house for the remaining years of His life.
Nine months before His passing Bahá’u’lláh had started expressing His desire to depart from this world to his closest friends and family, increasingly preparing them for the event to come in the 75th year of His life.
On the evening of May 8th 1892 Bahá’u’lláh developed a slight fever which, though it worsened the following day, then seemed to improve. He continued to meet friends and visitors but it soon became evident that He really was not well.
Six days before Bahá’u’lláh passed away He called the Bahá’ís assembled in the mansion in which He was imprisoned to His bedside where He addressed the saddened followers for the last time, gently and affectionately, with these words: “I am well pleased with you all, Ye have rendered many services, and been very assiduous in your labors. Ye have come here every morning and every evening. May God assist you to remain united. May He aid you to exalt the Cause of the Lord of being.”
The fever had returned more acutely than before and Bahá’u’lláh’s physical condition steadily deteriorated until further complications eventually caused Him to ascend from this world at the hour of dawn on May 29th 1892.
News spread quickly on that day and large crowds came to mourn Bahá’u’lláh, from many different religions and backgrounds, including officials, priests and other leading figures at that time.
Bahá’u’lláh had already appointed His son, ‘Abdu’l-Baha to be the “Centre of the Covenant” to whom all Bahá’ís should turn after His ascension, thereby ensuring that the unity of the Faith could be maintained.
There are some amazing stories in the history of the Bahá’í Faith. The events surrounding the Declaration of the Báb after sunset on the evening of 22nd May 1844 supply us with a few of those stories, I’ll try to give a glimpse of them here but see the links at the end to get the full stories.
The Báb is the forerunner of Bahá’u’lláh, he is regarded by Bahá’ís as a “Manifestation of God” (a Prophet or Messenger) in His own right and those who followed Him were called Bábís. The Bábs main mission was to foretel the coming of Bahá’u’lláh, the title “Báb” means “Gate”.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries lived a man called Shaykh Ahmad who had a very deep understanding of the Quran (the Holy Book of Islam). Shaykh Ahmad became certain that The Promised One (“The Qá’im”) whose coming was foretold in the Quran was close at hand and in his later days he even believed that The Promised One was alive on Earth. Shaykh Ahmad travelled through the Persian Gulf teaching people about the Quran and The Promised One. He gained a reputation for being able to answer questions about the Quran that nobody else could, but his views on the Promised One meant that he had his opponents as well as a large band of followers. In 1819 Shaykh Ahmad suffered the loss of his son, whose name was Ali, he comforted his mourning disciples with these words: “Grieve not, O my friends, for I have offered up my son, my own Ali, as a sacrifice for the Ali whose advent we all await. To this end have I reared and prepared him.” In that same year The Báb was born in the city of Shiraz, his name was Ali-Muhammad. His parents were both descendants of the Prophet Muhammad.
Among the dedicated followers of Shaykh Ahmad was a man called Siyyid Kazim, Siyyid Kazim was also recognised for his intellectual powers and spiritual insight. At the age of 22 he set out to meet Shaykh Ahmad and followed him for the rest of his life. Before Shaykh Ahmad died in 1826 he asked Siyyid Kazim to continue his work in preparing hearts for the coming of the Promised One.
Siyyid Kazim actually met Ali-Muhammad, The Báb. A follower of Siyyid Kazim called Shaykh Hasan-i-Zunuzi had started entertaining doubts about the teachings of Siyyid Kazim and was going through a period of praying a lot about this matter when one morning he was awoken at dawn by one of Siyyid Kazim’s intimate attendants who, in great excitement, asked Shaykh Hasan-i-Zunuzi to follow him to the house of Siyyid Kazim. When they arrived at Siyyid Kazim’s house they found him fully dressed and ready to go somewhere. “A highly esteemed and distinguished Person has arrived.” he said, “I feel it incumbent upon us both to visit Him.” The following are the words of Shaykh Hasan-i-Zunuzi: “We soon reached a house, at the door of which stood a Youth, as if expectant to receive us. He wore a green turban, and His countenance revealed an expression of humility and kindliness which I can never describe. He quietly approached us, extended His arms towards Siyyid Kazim, and lovingly embraced him. His affability and loving-kindness singularly contrasted with the sense of profound reverence that characterised the attitude of Siyyid Kazim towards him.” They were invited upstairs and spent a fair while there but the only words spoken in that meeting were a short verse of the Quran which the Youth quoted as he handed Siyyid Kazim a drink.
Shaykh Hasan-i-Zunuzi also recounts an event that occurred a few days later: “Three days later, I saw that same Youth arrive and take His seat in the midst of the company of the assembled disciples of Siyyid Kazim. He sat close to the threshold, and with the same modesty and dignity of bearing listened to the discourse of the Siyyid. As soon as his eyes fell upon that Youth, the Siyyid discontinued his address and held his peace. Whereupon one of his disciples begged him to resume the argument which he had left unfinished. `What more shall I say?’ replied Siyyid Kazim, as he turned his face toward the Bab. `Lo, the Truth is more manifest than the ray of light that has fallen upon that lap!’ I immediately observed that the ray to which the Siyyid referred had fallen upon the lap of that same Youth whom we had recently visited.”
One day, while travelling, Siyyid Kazim stopped with his friends and companions at a place called the Masjid-i-Baratha to say their noonday prayers and invited the people around them to join in their congregation. Siyyid Kazim was in the shade of a palm tree during the prayers and immediately after them an Arab approached and said the following to Siyyid Kazim: “Three days ago I was shepherding my flock in this adjoining pasture, when sleep suddenly fell upon me. In my dream I saw Muhammad, the Apostle of God, who addressed me in these words: `Give ear, O shepherd, to My words, and treasure them within your heart. For these words of Mine are the trust of God which I commit to your keeping. If you be faithful to them, great will be your reward. If you neglect them, grievous retribution will befall you. Hear Me; this is the trust with which I charge you: Stay within the precincts of the Masjid-i-Baratha. On the third day after this dream, a scion of My house, Siyyid Kazim by name, will, accompanied by his friends and companions, alight, at the hour of noon, beneath the shadow of the palm in the vicinity of the masjid. There he will offer his prayer. As soon as your eyes fall upon him, seek his presence and convey to him My loving greetings. Tell him, from Me: “Rejoice, for the hour of your departure is at hand. When you shall have performed your visits in Kazimayn and shall have returned to Karbila, there, three days after your return, on the day of Arafih, you will wing your flight to Me. Soon after shall He who is the Truth be made manifest. Then shall the world be illuminated by the light of His face.”‘” Siyyid Kazim knew the dream was true and it brought great joy to him to know that the Promised One whose coming he had dedicated his life to would soon be made known to the world. He encouraged his friends not to be saddened with these words: “Is not your love for me for the sake of that true One whose advent we all await? Would you not wish me to die, that the promised One may be revealed?”
Three days after his return to Karbila, Siyyid Kazim died. He had already told his students that the Promised One was alive among them and that they should search for him. On the evening of 22nd May 1844 one of these students, Mulla Husayn, who had been travelling with his brother and a nephew, arrived at the gate of the city of Shiraz.
While he was walking outside the gate of that city, a few hours before sunset, he noticed a radiant Youth wearing a green turban. The youth approached Mulla Husyan and lovingly greeted him with a smile and an affectionate hug as if he was a close and lifelong friend. At first Mulla Husayn thought that this man must have been an associate of Siyyid Kazim who had come to welcome him, Mulla Husayn recounted the events of that evening as follows:
“The Youth who met me outside the gate of Shiráz overwhelmed me with expressions of affection and loving-kindness. He extended to me a warm invitation to visit His home, and there refresh myself after the fatigues of my journey. I prayed to be excused, pleading that my two companions had already arranged for my stay in that city, and were now awaiting my return. “Commit them to the care of God,” was His reply; “He will surely protect and watch over them.” Having spoken these words, He bade me follow Him. I was profoundly impressed by the gentle yet compelling manner in which that strange Youth spoke to me.
“As I followed Him, His gait, the charm of His voice, the dignity of His bearing, served to enhanc
e my first impressions of this unexpected meeting. “‘We soon found ourselves standing at the gate of a house of modest appearance. He knocked at the door, which was soon opened by an Ethiopian servant. “Enter therein in peace, secure,” were His words as He crossed the threshold and motioned me to follow Him. His invitation, uttered with power and majesty, penetrated my soul. I thought it a good augury to be addressed in such words, standing as I did on the threshold of the first house I was entering in Shiráz, a city the very atmosphere of which had produced already an indescribable impression upon me. Might not my visit to this house, I thought to myself, enable me to draw nearer to the Object of my quest? Might it not hasten the termination of a period of intense longing, of strenuous search, of increasing anxiety, which such a quest involves? As I entered the house and followed my Host to His chamber, a feeling of unutterable joy invaded my being. Immediately we were seated, He ordered a ewer of water to be brought, and bade me wash away from my hands and feet the stains of travel. I pleaded permission to retire from His presence and perform my ablutions in an adjoining room. He refused to grant my request, and proceeded to pour the water over my hands. He then gave me to drink of a refreshing beverage, after which He asked for the samovar and Himself prepared the tea which He offered me.
“Overwhelmed with His acts of extreme kindness, I arose to depart. “The time for evening prayer is approaching,” I ventured to observe. “I have promised my friends to join them at that hour in the Masjid-i-Ilkhani.” With extreme courtesy and calm He replied: “You must surely have made the hour of your return conditional upon the will and pleasure of God. It seems that His will has decreed otherwise. You need have no fear of having broken your pledge.” His dignity and self-assurance silenced me I renewed my ablutions and prepared for prayer. He, too, stood beside me and prayed. Whilst praying, I unburdened my soul, which was much oppressed, both by the mystery of this interview and the strain and stress of my search. I breathed this prayer: “I have striven with all my soul, O my God, and until now have failed to find Thy promised Messenger. I testify that Thy word faileth not, and that Thy promise is sure.”
“That night, that memorable night, was the eve preceding the fifth day of Jamadiyu’l-Avval, in the year 1260 A.H.
“It was about an hour after sunset when my youthful Host began to converse with me. “Whom, after Siyyid Kazim,” He asked me, “do you regard as his successor and your leader?” “At the hour of his death,” I replied, “our departed teacher insistently exhorted us to forsake our homes, to scatter far and wide, in quest of the promised Beloved. I have, accordingly, journeyed to Persia, have arisen to accomplish his will, and am still engaged in my quest.” “Has your teacher,” He further enquired, “given you any detailed indications as to the distinguishing features of the promised One?” “Yes,” I replied, “He is of a pure lineage, is of illustrious descent, and of the seed of Fatimih. As to His age, He is more than twenty and less than thirty. He is endowed with innate knowledge. He is of medium height, abstains from smoking, and is free from bodily deficiency.” He paused for a while and then with vibrant voice declared: “Behold, all these signs are manifest in Me!” He then considered each of the above-mentioned signs separately, and conclusively demonstrated that each and all were applicable to His person. I was greatly surprised, and politely observed: “He whose advent we await is a Man of unsurpassed holiness, and the Cause He is to reveal, a Cause of tremendous power. Many and diverse are the requirements which He who claims to be its visible embodiment must needs fulfil. How often has Siyyid Kazim referred to the vastness of the knowledge of the promised One! How often did he say: ‘My own knowledge is but a drop compared with that with which He has been endowed. All my attainments are but a speck of dust in the face of the immensity of His knowledge. Nay, immeasurable is the difference!'” No sooner had those words dropped from my lips than I found myself seized with fear and remorse, such as I could neither conceal nor explain. I bitterly reproved myself, and resolved at that very moment to alter my attitude and to soften my tone. I vowed to God that should my Host again refer to the subject, I would, with the utmost humility, answer and say: “If you be willing to substantiate your claim, you will most assuredly deliver me from the anxiety and suspense which so heavily oppress my soul. I shall truly be indebted to you for such deliverance.” When I first started upon my quest, I determined to regard the two following standards as those whereby I could ascertain the truth of whosoever might claim to be the promised Qa’im. The first was a treatise which I had myself composed, bearing upon the abstruse and hidden teachings propounded by Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim. Whoever seemed to me capable of unravelling the mysterious allusions made in that treatise, to him I would next submit my second request, and would ask him to reveal, without the least hesitation or reflection, a commentary on the Surih of Joseph, in a style and language entirely different from the prevailing standards of the time. I had previously requested Siyyid Kazim, in private, to write a commentary on that same Surih, which he refused, saying: “This is, verily, beyond me. He, that great One, who comes after me will, unasked, reveal it for you. That commentary will constitute one of the weightiest testimonies of His truth, and one of the clearest evidences of the loftiness of His position.”
“I was revolving these things in my mind, when my distinguished Host again remarked: “Observe attentively. Might not the Person intended by Siyyid Kazim be none other than I?” I thereupon felt impelled to present to Him a copy of the treatise which I had with me. “Will you,” I asked Him, “read this book of mine and look at its pages with indulgent eyes? I pray you to overlook my weaknesses and failings.” He graciously complied with my wish. He opened the book, glanced at certain passages, closed it, and began to address me. Within a few minutes He had, with characteristic vigour and charm, unravelled all its mysteries and resolved all its problems. Having to my entire satisfaction accomplished, within so short a time, the task I had expected Him to perform, He further expounded to me certain truths which could be found neither in the reported sayings of the imams of the Faith nor in the writings of Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim. These truths, which I had never heard before, seemed to be endowed with refreshing vividness and power. “Had you not been My guest,” He afterwards observed, “your position would indeed have been a grievous one. The all-encompassing grace of God has saved you. It is for God to test His servants, and not for His servants to judge Him in accordance with their deficient standards. Were I to fail to resolve your perplexities, could the Reality that shines within Me be regarded as powerless, or My knowledge be accused as faulty? Nay, by the righteousness of God! it behoves, in this day, the peoples and nations of both the East and the West to hasten to this threshold, and here seek to obtain the reviving grace of the Merciful. Whoso hesitates will indeed be in grievous loss. Do not the peoples of the earth testify that the fundamental purpose of their creation is the knowledge and adoration of God? It behoves them to arise, as earnestly and spontaneously as you have arisen, and to seek with determination and constancy their promised Beloved.” He then proceeded to say: “Now is the time to reveal the commentary on the Surih of Joseph.” He took up His pen and with incredible rapidity revealed the entire Surih of Mulk, the first chapter of His commentary on the Surih of Joseph. The overpo
wering effect of the manner in which He wrote was heightened by the gentle intonation of His voice which accompanied His writing. Not for one moment did He interrupt the flow of the verses which streamed from His pen. Not once did He pause till the Surih of Mulk was finished. I sat enraptured by the magic of His voice and the sweeping force of His revelation. At last I reluctantly arose from my seat and begged leave to depart. He smilingly bade me be seated, and said: “If you leave in such a state, whoever sees you will assuredly say: ‘This poor youth has lost his mind.'” At that moment the clock registered two hours and eleven minutes after sunset. That night, the eve of the fifth day of Jamadiyu’l-Avval, in the year 1260 A.H., corresponded with the eve preceding the sixty-fifth day after Naw-ruz, which was also the eve of the sixth day of Khurdad, of the year Nahang. “This night,” He declared, “this very hour will, in the days to come, be celebrated as one of the greatest and most significant of all festivals. Render thanks to God for having graciously assisted you to attain your heart’s desire, and for having quaffed from the sealed wine of His utterance. ‘Well is it with them that attain thereunto.'”
“At the third hour after sunset, my Host ordered the dinner to be served. That same Ethiopian servant appeared again and spread before us the choicest food. That holy repast refreshed alike my body and soul. In the presence of my Host, at that hour, I felt as though I were feeding upon the fruits of Paradise. I could not but marvel at the manners and the devoted attentions of that Ethiopian servant whose very life seemed to have been transformed by the regenerating influence of his Master. I then, for the first time, recognised the significance of this well-known traditional utterance ascribed to Muhammad: “I have prepared for the godly and righteous among My servants what eye hath seen not, ear heard not, nor human heart conceived.” Had my youthful Host no other claim to greatness, this were sufficient—that He received me with that quality of hospitality and loving-kindness which I was convinced no other human being could possibly reveal.
“I sat spellbound by His utterance, oblivious of time and of those who awaited me. Suddenly the call of the muadhdhin, summoning the faithful to their morning prayer, awakened me from the state of ecstasy into which I seemed to have fallen. All the delights, all the ineffable glories, which the Almighty has recounted in His Book as the priceless possessions of the people of Paradise–these I seemed to be experiencing that night. Methinks I was in a place of which it could be truly said: “Therein no toil shall reach us, and therein no weariness shall touch us”; “No vain discourse shall they hear therein, nor any falsehood, but only the cry, ‘Peace! Peace!'”; “Their cry therein shall be, ‘Glory be to Thee, O God!’ and their salutation therein, ‘Peace!’ And the close of their cry, ‘Praise be to God, Lord of all creatures!'”
“Sleep had departed from me that night. I was enthralled by the music of that voice which rose and fell as He chanted; now swelling forth as He revealed verses of the Qayyumu’l-Asma’, again acquiring ethereal, subtle harmonies as He uttered the prayers He was revealing. At the end of each invocation, He would repeat this verse: “Far from the glory of thy Lord, the All-Glorious, be that which His creatures affirm of Him! And peace be upon His Messengers! And praise be to God, the Lord of all beings!”
“He then addressed me in these words: “O thou who art the first to believe in Me! Verily I say, I am the Báb, the Gate of God, and thou art the Bábu’l-Báb, the gate of that Gate. Eighteen souls must, in the beginning, spontaneously and of their own accord, accept Me and recognise the truth of My Revelation. Unwarned and uninvited, each of these must seek independently to find Me. And when their number is complete, one of them must needs be chosen to accompany Me on My pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. There I shall deliver the Message of God to the Sharif of Mecca. I then shall return to Kufih, where again, in the Masjid of that holy city, I shall manifest His Cause. It is incumbent upon you not to divulge, either to your companions or to any other soul, that which you have seen and heard. Be engaged in the Masjid-i-Ilkhani in prayer and in teaching. I, too, will there join you in congregational prayer. Beware lest your attitude towards Me betray the secret of your faith. You should continue in this occupation and maintain this attitude until our departure for Hijaz. Ere we depart, we shall appoint unto each of the eighteen souls his special mission, and shall send them forth to accomplish their task. We shall instruct them to teach the Word of God and to quicken the souls of men.” Having spoken these words to me, He dismissed me from His presence. Accompanying me to the door of the house, He committed me to the care of God.
“This Revelation, so suddenly and impetuously thrust upon me, came as a thunderbolt which, for a time, seemed to have benumbed my faculties. I was blinded by its dazzling splendour and overwhelmed by its crushing force. Excitement, joy, awe, and wonder stirred the depths of my soul. Predominant among these emotions was a sense of gladness and strength which seemed to have transfigured me. How feeble and impotent, how dejected and timid, I had felt previously! Then I could neither write nor walk, so tremulous were my hands and feet. Now, however, the knowledge of His Revelation had galvanised my being. I felt possessed of such courage and power that were the world, all its peoples and its potentates, to rise against me, I would, alone and undaunted, withstand their onslaught. The universe seemed but a handful of dust in my grasp. I seemed to be the Voice of Gabriel personified, calling unto all mankind: “Awake, for lo! the morning Light has broken. Arise, for His Cause is made manifest. The portal of His grace is open wide; enter therein, O peoples of the world! For He who is your promised One is come!”
“In such a state I left His house and joined my brother and nephew. A large number of the followers of Shaykh Ahmad, who had heard of my arrival, had gathered in the Masjid-i-Ilkhani to meet me. Faithful to the directions of my newly found Beloved, I immediately set myself to carry out His wishes. As I began to organise my classes and perform my devotions, a vast concourse of people gathered gradually about me. Ecclesiastical dignitaries and officials of the city also came to visit me. They marvelled at the spirit which my lectures revealed, unaware that the Source whence my knowledge flowed was none other than He whose advent they, for the most part, were eagerly awaiting.”
The Baha’i day starts at sunset and so we celebrate the Declaration of The Bab on 23rd May each year, or often 2 hours and 11 minutes after sunset on the 22nd.
To read more about this story, or the stories of the other followers who were among the first to discover and recognise the Báb for themselves, the best thing is to read The Dawn Breakers, available online here.
If you prefer to listen to the stories, you can download the children’s version read by William Sears from this page.
The Ridvan festival (21st April-2nd May) is the most sacred time of the year, and the holiest of all Baha’i festivals.
The word Ridvan is an Arabic word that broadly means “Paradise”. It commemorates the twelve days Baha’u’llah spent in a garden in Baghdad while preparing to leave for Constantinople (the capital of Turkey, now Istanbul), wishing farewell to its residents. It was then that He first told people of His station as a Manifestation of God.
There are no exact details on how this happened. It is generally believed that Baha’u’llah probably chose to tell just a few close companions , first hand accounts come from His son and daughter, Abdu’l-Baha and Bahiyyih Khanum and it seems He asked them to keep it a secret at this stage, in order to introduce people gradually to the reality of His station.
It had been ten years since Baha’u’llah’s first banishment from Tehran in Persia to Baghdad in modern-day Iraq. In that time He had, in the face of immense challenges, succeeded in uniting the Babi community as well as winning the respect and admiration of the local government and populace. While in Baghdad almost all of the surviving leaders of the Babi Faith went to visit Baha’u’llah and endorsed Him as the (unofficial) leader of their community.
When the officials of the Persian government exiled Baha’u’llah to Baghdad, it was to stamp out his growing popularity. After ten years, they realised this wasn’t working, and pressured the Ottoman government to move Him much further away to Istanbul (then known as Constantinople) the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Baha’u’llah had become a very highly respected figure in Baghdad society, and the summons had to be offered as a polite invitation.
Baha’u’llah pitched His tent in a garden outside the city, over the river Tigris, on 21st April, so He could bid farewell to visitors in a place other than His house so it was easier for His family to pack. The next day He left His House in Baghdad for the last time a day later and travelled to the garden. A crowd had gathered to see Baha’u’llah leave – Babi and non-Babi alike – and lined the streets as He walked. There was a tumultuous display of grief from the gathered crowd with people crying and chanting. Once camped in the garden he received a constant throng of visitors and well-wishers. The roses were in bloom and each morning, hundreds of fresh-picked roses would lie in piles in the tents, and the visitors would be given these roses as gifts.
Most Baha’i elections are held during Ridvan, a practice which started in Abdu’l-Baha’s lifetime. You might well be in a community electing its Local Spiritual Assembly round about now, for instance. The National Spiritual Assembly is also elected in Ridvan, at National Convention, and so is the Universal House of Justice, every five years. The House of Justice writes a letter to the Baha’i World every Ridvan, summarising the year’s progress and setting future challenges.