On May 22,1844, in Shiraz, Persia, a young descendant of Muhammad, Mirza 'Ali Muhammad, proclaimed to a learned Shaykhi divine, Mulla Husayn-i-Bushru'i, that he was the expected Qa'im, whereupon Mulla Husayn became the first disciple of Mirza 'Ali Muhammad, who assumed the title of the Bab ("gate," or channel of grace from someone still veiled from the sight of men).
Soon the teachings of the Bab, the principal of which was the tidings of the coming of "Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest," spread throughout Persia, provoking strong opposition on the part of the clergy and the government. The Bab was arrested and, after several years of incarceration, condemned to death. In 1850 he was brought to Tabriz, where he was suspended by ropes against a wall in a public square. A regiment of several hundred soldiers fired a volley. When the smoke cleared, the large crowd that had gathered at the place of execution saw ropes cut by bullets, but the Bab had disappeared. He was found unhurt in an adjacent building, calmly conversing with a disciple. The execution was repeated, this time effectively. There followed large-scale persecutions of the Babis in which ultimately more than 20,000 people lost their lives.
History and Extent
Bahá'u'lláh, who had been an early disciple of the Bab, was arrested in connection with an unsuccessful attempt on the life of the shah of Persia, Nasiri'd-Din, made in August 1852 by two Babis intent upon avenging their master. Though Bahá'u'lláh had not known of the plot, he was thrown into the Black Pit, a notorious jail in Tehran, where he became aware of his mission as a messenger of God. He was released in January 1853 and exiled to Bag had. There Bahá'u'lláh's leadership revived the Babi community, and an alarmed Persian government urged the Ottoman government to move both Bahá'u'lláh and the growing number of his followers farther away from Persia's borders. Before being transferred to Constantinople, Bahá'u'lláh spent 12 days in a garden on the outskirts of Baghad, where in April 1863 he declared to a small number of Babis that he was the messenger of God whose advent had been prophesied by the Bab. From Constantinople, where Bahá'u'lláh spent some four months, he was transferred to Adrianople. There he made a public proclamation of his mission in letters ("tablets") addressed to the rulers of Persia, Turkey, Russia, Prussia, Austria, and Britain, to the pope, and to the Christian and Muslim clergy collectively.
An overwhelming majority of the Babis acknowledged Bahá'u'lláh's claim and thenceforth became known as Bahá'ís. A small minority followed Bahá'u'lláh's half brother, Mirza Yahya Subh-i-Azal, creating a temporary breach within the ranks of the Basis. Embittered by his failure to win more than a handful of adherents, Mirza Yahya, assisted by his supporters, provoked the Turkish government into exiling Bahá'u'lláh to Akka ('Akko, Acre), Palestine. He became, however, a victim of his own intrigues and was himself exiled to Cyprus.
For almost two years Bahá'u'lláh, his family, and a number of disciples were confined in army barracks converted into a jail. One of his sons and several companions died. When the severity of the incarceration abated, Bahá'u'lláh was permitted to reside within the walls of Akka and later in a mansion near the town. Before his life ended in 1892, Bahá'u'lláh saw his religion spread beyond Persia and the Ottoman Empire to the Caucasus, Turkistan, India, Burma, Egypt, and the Sudan.
Bahá'u'lláh appointed his eldest son, 'Abdu'l-Bahá ("Servant of the Glory," 1844-1921), as the leader of the Bahá'í community and the authorized interpreter of his teachings. 'Abdu'l-Bahá not only administered the affairs of the movement from Palestine but also actively engaged in spreading the faith, traveling in Africa, Europe, and America from 1910 to 1913. 'Abdu'l-Bahá appointed his eldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi Rabbani (1897-1957), as his successor, Guardian of the Cause, and authorized interpreter of the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh, thus assuring the continued unity of the believers.
During 'Abdu'l-Bahá's ministry, Bahá'í groups were established in North Africa, the Far East, Australia, and the United States. Since then the movement has spread to virtually every country in the world, with particularly large and vigorous communities in Africa, Iran, India, the United States, and certain areas of Southeast Asia and the Pacific.... Since the 1960s ... the Bahá'í faith has undergone a period of rapid expansion.* By January 1989 Bahá'ís resided in more than 118,000 localities throughout the world, with 148 national spiritual assemblies (national governing bodies -- two more are to be elected in April 1989) and 20,000 local spiritual assemblies. Bahá'í literature has been translated into more than 800 languages.
Bahá'í sacred literature consists of the total corpus of the writings of Bahá'u'lláh and their interpretation and amplification in the writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi. Bahá'u'lláh's literary legacy of more than 100 works includes the Kitab-i-Aqdas ("The Most Holy Book"), the repository of his laws; the Kitab-i-Iqan (The Book of Certitude), an exposition of essential teachings on the nature of God and religion; The Hidden Words, a collection of brief utterances aimed at the edification of men's "souls and the rectification of their conduct"; The Seven Valleys, a mystic treatise that "describes the seven stages which the soul of the seeker must needs traverse ere it can attain the object of its existence"; Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, his last major work; as well as innumerable prayers, meditations, exhortations, and epistles. The Bahá'ís believe that the writings of Bahá'u'lláh are inspired and constitute God's revelation for this age.
Religious and Social Tenets
Bahá'u'lláh teaches that God is unknowable and "beyond every human attribute, such as corporeal existence, ascent and descent, egress and regress." "No tie of direct intercourse can possibly bind Him to His creatures.... No sign can indicate His presence or His absence...." Human inability to grasp the divine essence does not lead to agnosticism, since God has chosen to reveal himself through his messengers, among them Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, and the Bab, who "are one and all the Exponents on earth of Him Who is me central Orb of the universe...." The messengers, or, in Bahá'í terminology, "manifestations," are viewed as occupying two "stations," or occurring in two aspects. The first "is the station of pure abstraction and essential unity," in which one may speak of the oneness of the messengers of God because all are manifestations of his will and exponents of his word. This does not constitute syncretism since "the other station is the station of distinction.... In this respect, each manifestation of God heath a distinct individuality, a definitely prescribed mission...." Thus, while the essence of all religions is one, each has specific features that correspond to the needs of a given time and place and to the level of civilization in which a manifestation appears. Since religious truth is considered relative and revelation progress he and continuing, the Bahá'ís maintain that other manifestations will appear in the future, though not, according to Bahá'u'lláh, before the expiration of a full thousand years from his own revelation.
In Bahá'í teachings God is, and always has been, the Creator. There was, therefore, never a time when the cosmos did not exist. Man was created through God's love: "Veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of My essence, I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee." The purpose of man's existence as taught by Bahá'u'lláh is to know and to worship God and "to carry forward an ever advancing civilization..." Man, whom Bahá'u'lláh calls "the noblest and most perfect of all created things," is endowed with an immortal soul which, after separation from the body, enters a new form of existence. Heaven and hell are symbolic of the soul's relationship to God. Nearness to God results in good deeds and gives infinite joy, while remoteness from him leads to evil and suffering. To fulfill his high purpose, man must recognize the messenger of God within whose dispensation he lives and "observe every ordinance of him who is the desire of the world. These twin duties are inseparable. Neither is acceptable without the other."
Civilization, Bahá'u'lláh teaches, has evolved to the point where unity of mankind has become the paramount necessity. The Bahá'í Faith, in the words of Shoghi Effendi,
proclaims the necessity and the inevitability of the unification of mankind asserts that it is gradually approaching, and claims that nothing short of the transmuting spirit of God, working through His chosen Mouthpiece in this day, can ultimately succeed in bringing it about. It, moreover, enjoins upon its followers the primary duty of an unfettered search after truth, condemns all manner of prejudice and superstition, declares the purpose of religion to be the promotion of amity and concord, proclaims its essential harmony with science, and recognizes it as the foremost agency for the pacification and-the orderly progress of human society. It unequivocally maintains the principle of equal rights, opportunities and privileges for men and women, insists on compulsory education, eliminates extremes of poverty and wealth, abolishes the institution of priesthood, prohibits slavery, asceticism, mendicancy, and monasticism, prescribes monogamy, discourages divorces, emphasizes the necessity of strict obedience to one's government, extols any work performed in the spirit of service to the level of worship, urges either the creation or the selection of an auxiliary international language, and delineates the outlines of those institutions that must establish and perpetuate the general peace of mankind.Practices