In the early years of the nineteenth century, many religious people were expecting something important to happen. Some Christians had worked out from the prophecies in the Bible that it was time for Christ to return. Some Muslims thought that it was time for the person promised by Muhammad to appear. In Iran (which was then called Persia) there were some people who believed this very strongly and they travelled to all parts of Persia, looking for the Promised One. On May 22nd 1844, one of these people met someone who claimed to be something special: He said that He had been sent by God to prepare the way for the Promised One of all religions. He called Himself the Báb, an Arabic word meaning the Gate, to show that He was the gateway to the Promised One. Many people believed in Him and followed His teachings. They were called Bábís. However, just as in the time of Christ, the authorities saw this new religion as a threat to their power and tried to put a stop to it. Many thousands of Bábís were tortured and killed because of their beliefs. The Báb Himself was executed on July 9th 1850, but this did not stop His teachings from spreading.
One of the Báb's followers was a man called Mírzá Husayn Alí. He had the title Bahá'u'lláh, which means the Glory of God. This man was born into a wealthy and powerful family, but He was not interested in wealth or power. He was a very spiritual man who spent His time caring for others. He was known as "the Father of the Poor" and his wife was known as "the Mother of Consolation". When He heard the teachings of the Báb, He immediately became a believer. All of His possessions were taken from Him, and, like many other Bábís, He was beaten and imprisoned for His faith. He was put in a dungeon in Teheran with a very heavy chain around his neck. It was so heavy that He could not sit upright. The dungeon was filthy, there was no light or fresh air. But the Bábís who were in that prison used to chant prayers together every night. It was while He was there that Bahá'u'lláh realised that He was chosen by God to be the Promised One.
After a while, Bahá'u'lláh was released from prison. The authorities wanted to get rid of him so, although He was very ill, He was immediately sent away to another country - to Baghdád in Iraq. Many Bábís followed Him there and he also attracted many new followers in the city. Eventually the authorities decided to send Him further away. Before he went, He gathered everyone in a garden just outside the city. This place was known as the Garden of Ridvan, which means Paradise. There He announced to everyone that He was the Promised One of all religions. Many people had reAlísed this already but they were all overjoyed to hear the announcement. But they were also sad because Bahá'u'lláh was being sent away from them, on a long journey through Kurdistan and Turkey, ending in the Holy Land in the city of 'Akká.
The whole of the city was a prison. Bahá'u'lláh, all His family and more than 70 of His followers, were imprisoned in two rooms there, and they all suffered very badly. While they were there, Bahá'u'lláh's youngest son died. After about two years they were moved to a house where they had a little more space, although they were not allowed to leave the house. Gradually the city authorities realised that Bahá'u'lláh was not a danger to anyone and He was allowed to go free. For the last few years of His life He lived just outside the city. It was while He was there that He had a visitor from the West. It was an English professor of Oriental Studies at Cambridge. His name was Edward Granville Browne and this is what he wrote about his visit:
"... 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... A mild dignified voice bade me be seated, and then continued: ..."Thou hast come to see a prisoner and an exile... We desire but the good of the world and the happiness of nations ... That all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; ... so it shall be; these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the Most Great Peace shall come. Do not you in Europe need this also? Is not this that which Christ foretold? ... Let not a man glory in this, that he loves his country, let him rather glory in this, that he loves his kind..."
Bahá'u'lláh passed to the next world on May 29th 1892. He had sacrificed His whole life for the sake of God. He gave up His life of luxury and ease and devoted Himself to the service of mankind. His mission was to remind the world of the love of God, to tell God's purpose for this age, that the time has come for the people of the world to live in peace together. During His long years of imprisonment, He wrote many books and letters. He wrote to the leaders of the world, telling them that they should not spend money on armaments while their people starved, but should get together and make peace.
He spent most of His life in prison so that everyone could be truly free. His life was filled with suffering so that everyone could find true happiness.
Bahá'u'lláh's son, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, was left to carry on his Father's work. The name 'Abdu'l-Bahá means Servant of Glory, for he had always served his Father and shared in His sorrows. Most of his life was spent in prison but he was always happy and cheerful because his spirit was free. He spent his time in serving God and serving others. Bahá'u'lláh said that 'Abdu'l-Bahá was a perfect example of how a Bahá'í should behave and that Bahá'ís should try to be like him. 'Abdu'l-Bahá was eventually set free in 1908 and, although he was now old and not very strong, he travelled to Europe and to North America to tell everyone about his Father's message. In 1921 he passed away. In his will he appointed his grandson to be the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith until it was strong enough to look after itself.
Under the guidance of the Guardian the Bahá'í Faith spread to most parts of the world. In 1963 the Bahá'ís of the world elected a world council known as the Universal House of Justice. Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá had described this council, how it should be elected and what its duties and responsibilities should be.
Bahá'ís believe that Bahá'u'lláh fulfilled the prophecies of all the religions of the past for a great World Teacher - the return of the spirit of Christ, of Muhammad, of Buddha and of all the other Messengers of God. We believe that Bahá'u'lláh came to bring peace to the world. Bahá'u'lláh promised that there would be more Messengers in the future, because God will always guide and help mankind. The next one will come after about a thousand years, but before this we have to put Bahá'u'lláh's teachings into practice and bring peace and happiness to the world.
Published by the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Warwick.
Approved by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United Kingdom,
27 Rutland Gate, London SW7 1PD.