Declaration of the Bab: Baha’is unite for faith’s anniversary

Upper view of tropical garden with palms

A portion of the Baha’i Gardens in Haifa, Israel. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

THURSDAY, MAY 23: About 5 million Baha’is worldwide commemorate the Declaration of the Bab today in a tradition that launched their faith on this date in 1844. Specifically, it was on this date that Mulla Husayn, a pupil of Siyyid Kazim-i-Rashti, succeeded in his mission of locating the forerunner of the coming Messiah. After several tests, Mulla Husayn regarded that the young man he had met was, indeed, the mysterious one that had been sought for several years. It was from their meeting on this date in Shiraz, Persia, that Siyyid Ali Muhammad shed his former name and adopted a new one: the Bab, otherwise known as the Gate. Mulla Husayn became the Bab’s first disciple.

Baha’is look to Baha’u’llah as the founder of their faith—but the Bab is an extremely important prophetic forerunner, sometimes compared by Baha’is to a combination of Elijah and John the Baptist in Judeo-Christian tradition.

Note: Although Baha’i days begin in the evening, May 23 is the date adherents refrain from work or school in light of the holy day.

THE SPIRITUAL SEARCH OF MULLA HUSAYN

The story of this holy day begins 61 years prior to the Siyyid Ali Muhammad’s declaration, when the first man began preaching of the coming of the Qa’im, or the Promised One of Islam. Upon this man’s death, his favored pupil (Siyyid Kazim-i-Rashti) continued spreading the message. Although met with much resistance by authorities, Siyyid continued his mission until his death, when he sent his own pupils—among them Mulla Husayn—to search for the Qa’im. The pupils spread, and on this journey, Mulla Husayn, his brother and nephew arrived in Shiraz in May of 1844. One evening, Mulla Husayn was greeted by a young man and invited to his home for refreshment. Mulla Husayn consented, and it was on this evening, after tea and evening prayer, that he tested his host. (Read more from Bahai.us.) The writings of Mulla Husayn indicate that he was astonished by the demeanor, wisdom and kindness of the young man; Siyyid Ali Muhammad far surpassed each test that Mulla Husayn had prepared. By the end of the evening, Siyyid Ali Muhammad announced that the date would become one of the most significant festivals to be celebrated.

AN AGE OF DRAMATIC DECLARATIONS

The age of the Bab’s declaration was bursting with dramatic religious declarations. In the United States in the 1830s, Joseph Smith was organizing his Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Shaker utopian communities were at their peak. And, in the early 1840s, Millerites were declaring that Jesus was soon to return to Earth. Just as many Christians were proclaiming dramatic new revelations—many Muslims also were seeking a Promised One. In this regard, the Bab announced on the evening of May 22, 1844, that his divine revelation would prepare humanity for the Promised One of all religions. (Access prayers and meditative music at New York Baha’i.)

During his short life in the public eye, the Bab attracted thousands of followers; the Baha’i faith now claims more than 5 million followers across the globe. Estimates vary, some placing the number as high as 7 million; others below 5 million. Baha’is now live in more than 200 countries around the world.

50TH ANNIVERSARY: INTERNATIONAL BAHA’I CONVENTION

More than 1,000 Baha’i representatives from around the world gathered at the Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel, earlier this month, to both reflect on their faith and elect a new international council. Convention attendees marked the 50th anniversary of their inaugural convention of 1963, at which the first international governing council—which, to this day, serves a five-year term—was elected. The state of the faith, including ongoing persecution in some parts of the world, was discussed at the gathering. A bouquet of red roses remained at the front of the stage throughout the Convention, noting the absence of the imprisoned Baha’i leaders in Iran. (Baha’i World News Service reported.)

‘FIVE YEARS TOO MANY’ CAMPAIGN REIGNS STRONG

In commemoration of the five-year anniversary of the imprisonment of seven Iranian Baha’i leaders, Baha’is throughout the world took part in an international awareness campaign. (Read more from the Baha’i World News Service.) Highlights from the 10-day campaign are featured on a site dedicated to the cause, with stories from Baha’is in Paris, Latvia, New Delhi, Chile, Canada, Germany and the UK.

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, interfaith news and cross-cultural issues.)