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Religion Library: Baha'i

Founders

Written by: Moojan Momen

Although freed from prison, Baha'u'llah was banished from Iran and chose to go to the city of Baghdad, which was then the provincial capital of the Ottoman province of Iraq. He delayed for a decade making any open reference to his vision of 1852 while he set about rebuilding the shattered Babi community. Opposition from his half-brother, Azal (1832-1912), who was the nominal leader of the Babi community, caused him to spend two years wandering in the mountains of Kurdistan, from 1854-1856. Despite this, and despite the opposition from Iranian religious leaders and consular authorities, he succeeded in revitalizing the Babi community. Alarmed by Baha'u'llah's success and growing influence, the Iranian government persuaded the Ottoman authorities to move Baha'u'llah away from the borders of Iran. So he was summoned to Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. As he was leaving Baghdad in April-May 1863, he announced to a few select followers the mission that he believed God have given him.

After a few months in Istanbul, the Ottoman government exiled Baha'u'llah again, this time to Edirne in European Turkey. Here his half-brother Azal, who had voluntarily followed Baha'u'llah to Edirne, intensified his opposition and even attempted to poison Baha'u'llah, causing him serious permanent harm. After this, Baha'u'llah cut his ties to Azal and openly announced his claim to be the bearer of a divine mission to the Babis. Also in Edirne, Baha'u'llah began a series of announcements of his claims and his message to the major religious leaders and rulers of the world.

As a result of a campaign waged by Azal and the resulting doubts thrown into the minds of the Ottoman government ministers, Baha'u'llah was exiled in 1868 to the walled city of 'Akka (Acco, Acre) in what was then the Syrian province of the Ottoman Empire. For more than two years he was kept a prisoner in the citadel of that city; later, when that building was needed for a troop mobilization, he was kept under house arrest in the city. The people of the city, although at first whipped into a frenzy of hatred for these "heretics," were gradually won over, and by 1877, Baha'u'llah was allowed to move to a house outside the city. He eventually moved to a house called the Mansion of Bahji, where he died on May 29, 1892.

Baha'u'llah had appointed, as his successor, his son who took the title 'Abdu'l-Baha (the servant of the Glory). In the early years of his leadership, he overcame the determined opposition of his half-brother, Mirza Muhammad 'Ali (1853-1937), but the latter's scheming did cause the reimposition upon 'Abdu'l-Baha of the original orders for confinement within the city of 'Akka. Following the Young Turks revolution in 1908, 'Abdu'l-Baha regained his freedom and, after entombing the remains of the Bab in a mausoleum that he had built on the side of Mount Carmel, he left for Egypt.

Then in 1911, he traveled to France and England. In London, he made his first public address in the Temple Church. During this trip and a longer journey through North America, Great Britain, France, Germany, and Austria-Hungary in 1912-13, 'Abdu'l-Baha maintained a daily schedule of public addresses, meetings with Baha'i communities, private interviews with both local Baha'is and members of the public, receptions held in his honor, and constant travel. On the eve of World War I, he returned to Haifa, where he led the Baha'i community through the years of the war. His effective leadership in storing supplies and feeding the starving during the war contributed to his prestige. He died on November 28, 1921.

 

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