The Bahá’í Faith originated in Persian in the middle of the 19th century, at a time when the Industrial Revolution was just underway; when woman did not have the right to vote in America; when the world was connected at best by steam ships; when the South was still an advocate of slavery; and when monarchies were still rivaling for power in the Old World.
In such circumstances, two Men appeared, separated in birth by two years, and by their claim to be Messengers of God, by nineteen. Together they announced the arrival of a new Age of Man, destined by God to achieve, in due course, the ancient dreams of Peace on Earth and a Golden Age. They wrote on matters of world governance; of the equality of the sexes; of a spiritual solution to economic injustice; of universal suffrage and education; of the need for a global auxiliary language; of the high destiny every soul is capable of achieving; and of the reality of a spiritual Kingdom, within which we now develop even as embryoes in a womb, and to which we will all gain admittance after this mortal life.
Yet we believe that the welfare of society, of ourselves—even the future life of our souls—hinges upon the Message of God, and how humanity responds to that Message. Today we celebrate the lives of two special Beings Whom we believe were chosen to convey this Message to us, tailored to the exigencies of humanity’s present circumstance, and designed to move us forward toward a world founded on unity and mutual respect among all creeds, races, genders and nations.
It may be asked how any message can effect a change of this kind, and this is what makes these Manifestations of God unique in nature: That their Message is endowed with a power beyond the ken of mortal mind, capable of transforming the reality of every atom, and beginning a process that must inexorably arrive at a total realization of God’s intended purpose.
The first of these blessed Individuals to appear was Mírzá Husayn-‘Alí, born at dawn on November 12, 1817 by the Gregorian calendar, and to one of the most ancient, wealthy and renowned families of Núr—within the province of Mázindaran, Persia—a family honoured by its descent from Abraham, Zoroaster and the ancient Prophets, and through the last Zoroastrian King of Persia. Later, Mírzá Husayn-‘Alí would be given the title Bahá’u’lláh, an Arabic term meaning the “Glory of God” by which He is known to us today.
“Bahá’u’lláh’s father was distinguished by a special name from the Shah himself. One day the Shah was marvelling at a masterpiece of beautiful writing, wondering if anyone alive could ever create its equal. Bahá’u’lláh’s father was suggested, and was sent for. Challenged to match its excellence and beauty, he copied this work of art, adding his own lines, and after illuminating them, he brought the new masterpiece as a present to the Shah.
“The Shah was overwhelmed with admiration, and he issued a royal decree giving Bahá’u’lláh’s father the name of ‘Mirza Buzurg’; he also gave him a robe of honour, which he had himself worn, and exempted his entire village from tax. A few years later, Bahá’u’lláh’s father was made a high-ranking advisor to the Shah’s own son…”
The Prime Minister himself offered Bahá’u’lláh a post in the government, but He showed such a lack of interest in matters considered to be important that it was a cause of great surprise and frequent comment.
Bahá’u’lláh “greatly loved outdoor life, spending most of His time in the garden or fields.
“Extremely kind and generous, He had an incredible power of attraction, which was felt by all. People always crowded around Him, children were devoted to Him, and the ministers and people of the [Shah’s] Court would gather about Him.”
The second of these sacred Beings to appear was Siyyid ‘Alí-Muhammad, born of noble lineage to a house in Shíráz, Persia, the child of a cloth-seller, and whose family was of the merchant class. This took place on October 20, 1819.
However, by the Islamic calendar, this day was the first day of the new year, whereas Bahá’u’lláh’s birth had taken place on the second day after the new year, two years prior. This is why, although 22 days set these two births apart in the Western calendar, they took place on the 1st and 2nd days of the first month of the Islamic calendar. From this year forward, the entire Bahá’í world will also celebrate these twin days together, as if they were one day, following the eighth new moon after the first day spring, or Naw-Rúz, thus uniting the solar and lunar reckoning.
To return to the early life of the one Who would call Himself the Báb, or the “Gate”: “His mother would often relate, how from the very first moment of birth, the Báb was utterly unlike all other children; He was so perfectly serene, all the time; wholly lacking any sign of displeasure, often His mother would become taken over with anxiety.”
“Whoever encountered Him, whether friend or stranger, was struck with wonder at the extraordinary character of the Child.”
“Being only a few years of age, He would lift up His hands to the threshold of the One God, reciting beautiful prayers. Rising up in the midst of the night, He would stand to offer His prayers, and be brought to tears.”
The Báb was destined to reveal His Station as a Manifestation of God nineteen years before Bahá’u’lláh made a similar announcement. Before an assemblage of divines, and presented under armed guard, the Báb had this to say of His mission at meeting called for His arraignment by the authorities:
“I am,” thrice exclaimed the Báb, “I am, I am, the promised One! I am the One whose name you have for a thousand years invoked, at whose mention you have risen, whose advent you have longed to witness, and the hour of whose Revelation you have prayed God to hasten. Verily I say, it is incumbent upon the peoples of both the East and the West to obey My word and to pledge allegiance to My person.”
The Báb dedicated a great part of His Writing to preparing the way for One Whom He said would follow after Him, and Who would fulfill all that the Báb had Promised. This person was later known as Bahá’u’lláh, about Whom the Báb wrote: “Of all the tributes I have paid to Him Who is to come after Me, the greatest is this, My written confession, that no words of Mine can adequately describe Him, nor can any reference to Him in My Book, the Bayán, do justice to His Cause.”
One Mullá Muhammad-i-Mu’allim thus recounts the day when He presented Bahá’u’lláh with the Báb’s Writings: “‘As I approached the house of Bahá’u’lláh, I recognised His brother Mírzá Músá, who was standing at the gate, and to whom I communicated the object of my visit. He went into the house and soon reappeared bearing a message of welcome. I was ushered into His presence, and presented the scroll to Mírzá Músá, who laid it before Bahá’u’lláh. He bade us both be seated. Unfolding the scroll, He glanced at its contents and began to read aloud to us certain of its passages. I sat enraptured as I listened to the sound of His voice and the sweetness of its melody. He had read a page of the scroll when, turning to His brother, He said: “Músá, what have you to say? Verily I say, whoso believes in the Qur’án and recognises its Divine origin, and yet hesitates, though it be for a moment, to admit that these soul-stirring words are endowed with the same regenerating power, has most assuredly erred in his judgment and has strayed far from the path of justice.”
Today we celebrate the first Days of these Two Persons, Who may well have changed the course of history, even if it has always been God’s way that such changes begin slowly, and by the hard work of those who follow Him.