Baha’i: Celebrating historical milestones of the faith

This year is the centennial of Abdu’l-Baha’s 239-day visit to America. Photo in public domainSATURDAY, OCTOBER 20: Today is the birthday of the Bab, who was born in 1819 and became one of the central figures in the founding of the Baha’i faith. While we have not yet reached the bicentennial of the Bab’s birth, the world’s 6 million Baha’is already are celebrating other historical milestones.

Who was the Bab?

Talking with Christians, Baha’is often describe the Bab as similar to John the Baptist in preparing people for Jesus’s ministry 2,000 years ago. The Bab’s religious teachings in the 1840s paved the way for his contemporary Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), who is considered the founder of the Baha’i faith. (Today’s photos show Bahá’u’lláh’s son, Abdu’l-Baha, who made a very important tour of the United States in 1912.)

On October 20, 1819, the Bab was born as Siyyid Ali-Muhammad in an upper chamber of his uncle’s house in Shiraz, Persia (now Iran). The title “Siyyid” refers to his special lineage. Both of his parents were descendants of the Prophet Muhammad. (Read more at Planet Bahai.)

The Bab’s personality is described as much like Jesus: Well known for condemning corruption in society and religion, he was confronted by religious authorities and he eventually was killed in the same city where he once was greeted in triumph. The Bab’s mother is noted as having been alarmed at the Bab’s extreme serenity, even from birth. Baha’is view both the Bab and Baha’u’llah as Manifestations of God.

Today, adherents to the faith mark his birthday with devotional readings and community gatherings.


Abdu’l-Baha was knighted by the British in 1920 for promoting peace in the Middle East.The centennial of the U.S. tour of Abdu’l-Baha continues as American Baha’is remember the 239-day visit that occurred between April and December of 1912. While in America, Abdu’l-Baha asked citizens to make this land a place of “spiritual distinction,” as he had personally experienced four decades of imprisonment in Turkey for his religious affiliation.

As members of a minority faith, still severely persecuted in some parts of the world, Baha’is are trying to spread a greater awareness of their early leaders. Most Americans today have never heard about the influential role Abdu’l-Baha played in establishing the faith in the United States. Long before “Eastern” religions were widely represented in this country, prominent Americans including Phoebe Hearst sought out Abdu’l-Baha and were impressed. Wikipedia has a biography of Phoebe Hearst, who was William Randolph Hearst’s mother and a major donor to American educational institutions. In the 1890s, she converted to the Baha’i faith after having traveled to Palestine and met with Abdu’l-Baha. One reason this bearded teacher and this new faith appealed to Hearst and her friends was the radically inclusive Baha’i message. At a time when gender and racial equality were not even considered in most global cultures, Abdu’l-Baha taught that these were, indeed, essential values. During his American tour, he insisted on their enforcement at his public appearances.

Abdu’l-Baha impressed many world leaders. World War I prevented easy travel back and forth between the Middle East and the United States. But, after the war, Britain knited Abdu’l-Baha for his service to world peace. He died a year later, at age 87, and is buried in the Shrine of the Bab on Mount Carmel.

Museums across the U.S. are displaying his articles during this centennial anniversary. (Last month, Lincoln, Neb. marked the centennial of Abdu’l-Baha’s visit.)

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