Three central figures shape the history of the Baha'i Faith. The most important is Baha'u'llah (1817-1892), who was the founder of the religion and the main source of its teachings. Though the Bab set up a religion called the Babi religion, he is also regarded by Baha'is as the forerunner who announced the coming of Baha'u'llah, and as a co-founder of the Baha'i Faith. The third figure was 'Abdu'l-Baha who was the appointed successor and authorized interpreter of the teachings of Baha'u'llah.

Following the execution of the Bab in 1850 and the persecution and killing of thousands of his followers, the Babi movement was in disarray. An attempt on the life of the Shah by a small group of Tehran Babis in 1852 led to further intense persecutions. Among those arrested in 1852 was a Babi from a family of high government officials, Mirza Husayn 'Ali Nuri. In his later writings, he stated that it was following this arrest, while he was in a dark underground prison in Tehran in late 1852, that, through a vision of a maiden of heaven, he became aware of his divine mission to guide humanity. He took the title of Baha'u'llah (the Glory of God). Although almost all of his Babi fellow-prisoners were executed after gruesome tortures, he was freed from prison. It had been clearly established that he could have played no part in the plot to assassinate the Shah, having in fact been in exile or under house arrest in the home of the Prime Minister for most of the preceding year. He did, however, lose all of his wealth and possessions.

Baha'u'llah's Description of His Vision of a Maiden of Heaven while Imprisoned in Tehran in 1852
While engulfed in tribulations I heard a most wondrous, a most sweet voice, calling above My head. Turning My face, I beheld a Maiden—the embodiment of the remembrance of the name of My Lord—suspended in the air before Me. So rejoiced was she in her very soul that her countenance shone with the ornament of the good-pleasure of God, and her cheeks glowed with the brightness of the All-Merciful. Betwixt earth and heaven she was raising a call which captivated the hearts and minds of men. She was imparting to both My inward and outer being tidings which rejoiced My soul, and the souls of God's honored servants. Pointing with her finger unto My head, she addressed all who are in heaven and all who are on earth, saying:  "By God! This is the Best-Beloved of the worlds, and yet ye comprehend not. This is the Beauty of God amongst you, and the power of His sovereignty within you, could ye but understand. This is the Mystery of God and His Treasure, the Cause of God and His glory unto all who are in the kingdoms of Revelation and of creation, if ye be of them that perceive."

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.

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