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AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis
One of the gardens leading to The Bahai
Shrine of the Bab

Happy Birthday, Bahá'u'lláh, Founder of the Bahá’í Religion

November 12, 2009
by Caleb March
Iranian spiritual leader Bahá'u'lláh founded the Bahá’í religion in 1863. Today, it has five million followers from around the world.

Bahá'u'lláh's Early Days

Mirza Hoseyn Ali Nuri, who would later be known as Bahá'u'lláh or “The Splendor of God,” was born on November 12, 1817, in Tehran, Iran. Bahá'u'lláh’s father, Mirza Abbas Nuri, was a powerful government dignitary who served as a governor until 1834 when the new Shah purged the old government. Bahá'u'lláh’s family was left with their family estate, where Bahá'u'lláh had a comfortable childhood. As the son of nobility, traditions of the time prevented Bahá'u'lláh from receiving a formal education, but he studied calligraphy, poetry, horsemanship and swordsmanship on his own, and soon gained a reputation for his knowledge and insight. Bahá'u'lláh was offered a position as a government minister, but he declined the offer.

In 1844, Bahá'u'lláh came into contact with the teachings of Mirza Ali Muhammad, known as the Báb. The Báb claimed to be a direct descendent of the prophet Muhammad and a manifestation of God himself. His teachings were considered very controversial and in 1850, the Báb was executed for heresy. Bahá'u'lláh’s half-brother Mírzá Yaḥyá became the leader of the main faction of the Babi sect. Bahá'u'lláh had become one of the Báb’s followers, and he used his powerful social position to gain support for the Babi movement and protect other Babis from persecution. Thousands of Babis were executed by the government during the 1840s and 1850s, and Bahá'u'lláh’s position remained risky.

Bahá'u'lláh's Notable Accomplishments

After the Báb’s execution, many members of the Babi sect claimed divine status; Bahá'u'lláh gained the most support for his claim. In 1851, the government pressured Bahá'u'lláh to leave the country, but unrest in 1852 prompted Bahá'u'lláh to return to Tehran, where attempted to stop a Babi plot to assassinate the Shah. He wasn’t able to stop the attack; when the assassins failed, Bahá'u'lláh was falsely arrested and sentenced to the Black Pit prison in Tehran. Bahá'u'lláh was finally cleared in 1853, but he was ordered to leave the country on his release from prison. Bahá'u'lláh was exiled to what is now Iraq, spending periods of time in Baghdad, where a large group of Babis had settled. For the rest of his life, Bahá'u'lláh’s movements would be restricted by the Ottoman government.

In 1863, Bahá'u'lláh proclaimed to the Babi community that he was the true prophet. Most of the Babis aligned themselves with Bahá'u'lláh, and a new sect, known as Bahá’í, was created. The violent clashes that arose after Bahá'u'lláh’s proclamation led the Ottoman government to banish Bahá'u'lláh to the city of Acre. From his base in Acre, Bahá'u'lláh called upon his followers to unify all people under one religion and to break down the barriers of racial, gender and class-based prejudices. In 1873, Bahá'u'lláh wrote “Kitab-i-Aqdas,” “The Most Holy Book,” which outlined the laws and beliefs of the Bahá’í religion. For the rest of his life, Bahá'u'lláh spread his teachings of universal brotherhood throughout the Middle East.

The Rest of the Story

Bahá'u'lláh was confined to the areas in and around Acre for the rest of his life. He died on May 29, 1892, after appointing his eldest son, Abdu'l-Baha, to be his successor. Under Abdu'l-Baha’s leadership, the Bahá’í religion spread to Europe and the United States.

Today, the Bahá’í religion has approximately five million followers around the world. Members of the Bahá’í faith believe that all religions are aspects of a universal truth. They are required to abstain from all alcohol and drug use, and to fast for 19 days every year. Although there are no clergy, Bahá’í temples have been built in many countries. The Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel, interprets and administers the laws of the faith.

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