By A. K. MERCHANT, Temple of Understanding India Foundation, New Delhi
This article has been republished from The Statesman newspaper (Kolkata, Siliguri, New Delhi ) with the permission of the author.
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As the world faces its most perilous hour, the salutary truth the followers of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh maintain is that the peoples of the earth must recognize their interdependence and oneness. For, the Divinity that created the universe surely has a purpose for His creation and wants humankind to unite, to cooperate and to contribute positively and meaningfully for the advancement of civilization, as we know it.
Báb and Bahá’u’lláh
The twin-birthdays of the founders of the Bahá’i Faith, as per the Bahá’i Calendar come consecutively and this year it is 16-17 October. Celebrations by Bahá’ís with joy and gratitude are organized throughout the world. The birth of holy Souls is surrounded with happenings and events, some of which start unfolding and occupy centre stage for entire populations.
Bahá’is believe that the appearance of the twin-manifestations is the fulfilment of long-awaited prophecies in the Scriptures of all the major religions of the world. From the very beginning of their lives, both the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh manifested unusual spiritual powers that astonished members of their families and people who knew them.
They were completely detached from worldly affairs and taught the virtues of sacrifice, heroism, benevolence and high-mindedness. The country of their birth was Iran which in those days and even today is in the grip of blind-faith, prejudice and utter confusion.
Both these transcendent Beings, despite being born in families that could provide every material and physical comfort, had to face ferocious opposition from religious and secular wielders of power. But the light that shone in them could not be put out and its radiance continued to spread, attracting large multitudes. So much so that diplomats and media from Europe and Russia were impelled to investigate as to why they were being persecuted.
The Báb was born 16 October 1819 in the city of Shiraz, fulfilling what poets and prophets had promised for hundreds of years. His mother and father were liked and respected because of the good lives they led. But sadly, when the Báb was still very young, his father died.
A kind uncle then helped to look after him. When he was five years old, the Báb was sent to school. One day the teacher asked him to read the words from a Holy Book, but the Báb asked if his teacher could explain what the divine verses meant. The teacher pretended that he did not know the meanings and the Báb said he could explain what the holy words meant. And he did so, which completely astonished the teacher.
He, therefore, told the Báb’s uncle that this was no ordinary child and asked him to take great care of him. Another interesting story is an incident reported by a friend of the family of the Bab’s mother.
One day when he was passing by, he heard someone praying so sweetly, and with such fervour that he stood to listen. He was enchanted by the beauty of the voice and wondered who it could be. Later, he discovered it was the Báb, who was then only nine years old. As time passed, the Báb started helping his uncle in his cloth business, but soon it became apparent that he had no interest in worldly affairs and was much given to prayers and conversation on spiritual subjects. His knowledge amazed his family and friends.
At age 25, he declared that he was the prophet-herald whose task was to prepare the people to recognize the Promised One of all Religions who was soon to appear. His uncle, the school teacher, and thousands of others believed in him. Many of them even sacrificed their lives to spread the truth. The Báb was martyred just six years after He declared His mission. Just before the execution, he addressed the people:
“…You are the witnesses of the Dawn of the promised Day of God… Gird up the loins of endeavour, and be mindful of the words of God as revealed in His Book… Purge your hearts of worldly desires, and let angelic virtues be your adorning…
The time is come when naught but the purest motive, supported by deeds of stainless purity, can ascend to the throne of the Most and be acceptable unto Him.”
As promised by the Báb, the exalted Personage, Bahá’u’lláh, for whom he had sacrificed his life, soon appeared.
The Exalted Personage, Bahá’u’lláh
He was born on 17 October, 1817, in Tehran. At the time of his birth in another part of the country, a holy man prostrated and offered a prayer. His face was shining with joy, for he had intuitively realized that Bahá’u’lláh had just been born. When Bahá’u’lláh was just five years old, his father dreamed that he saw him swimming in the sea.
The little boy shone like a light upon the water, and his long black hair floated around his head. Many fishes were attracted by the light. They gathered around, each one holding onto a strand of his hair. Although there were thousands of fishes, Bahá’u’lláh was able to swim freely wherever he wished, with all the fish following him. Bahá’u’lláh’s father asked a soothsayer to tell him the meaning of this dream.
The sage told him that the sea was like this world, and that Bahá’u’lláh would become the spiritual King of the world, loved by people in every land. The wise man also said that however difficult Bahá’u’lláh’s life would be, nobody would be able to stop him from fulfilling his mission as prophesied in the Holy Scriptures of all the major religions of the world.
Just two years later in 1852, Bahá’u’lláh received the first intimation of his divine mission while imprisoned in a dungeon in Tehran. Thus began his 40-year long imprisonment and exile which finally culminated in the then Ottoman Turkish penal-colony, ‘Akko’, which today is in Israel.
Enduring deprivation, deep anguish at the suffering of family members and devoted followers, hunger and cruelty at the hands of his tormentors, Bahá’u’lláh maintained a demeanour of fortitude and patience and penned his Revelation, which today has become the focus of human hope. He wrote Letters called Tablets to the kings and rulers in words such as these:
“The world is in travail, and its agitation waxeth day by day. Its face is turned toward waywardness and unbelief…
Its perversity will long continue. And when the appointed hour is come, there shall suddenly appear that which shall cause the limbs of mankind to quake. Then, and only then, will the Divine Standard be unfurled, and the Nightingale of Paradise warble its melody… The earth is but one country, and humankind its citizens.”
Anyone even superficially aware of what is happening on our planet would discern the profound foresight and attest to the causes for the collapse of present-day Order. The Bahá’is continue in their services, confident that despite immense suffering and grave turmoil, humanity can confront the crises and emerge victorious.
Far from signalizing the end of civilization, the convulsive transformations will serve to release the mysterious potentialities inherent in human beings and manifest the power of altruism, determination, a sense of justice, compassion, and self-sacrifice that an All-Loving Creator has endowed the human race with.
The experience of the seven-million strong worldwide Bahá’i community today offers compelling evidence that the human race, in all its diversity, can learn to live and work as one people, in a common global homeland.
A. K. MERCHANT is General Secretary, Temple of Understanding India Foundation; Trustee & Secretary, The Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Delhi NCT; Joint Secretary, Shanti Sahyog Centre for Nonviolence; National Trustee, Sarvodaya International Trust; Visiting Faculty, Centre for Cultural Resources & Training; Secretary General, Global Warming Reduction Centre; President, Mintra Foundation. Views expressed are personal.