(1817-92), MĪRZĀ ḤOSAYN-ʿALĪ NŪRĪ,  founder of the Bahai religion or Bahaism. 


BAHĀʾ-ALLĀH MĪRZĀ ḤOSAYN-ʿALĪ NŪRĪ (1233-1309/1817-92). Iranian notable and founder of the Bahai religion or Bahaism. He was born 2 Moḥarram 1233/12 November 1817 in Tehran into the household of a notable family from Māzandarān. His father, Mīrzā ʿAbbās Nūrī (d. 1839), known as Mīrzā Bozorg, served the court of Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah Qājār (1797-1834) in several capacities. He was appointed vizier to the shah’s twelfth son, the il-khan of the Qajar tribe. He grew close to First Minister Mīrzā Abu’l-Qāsem Qāʾemmaqām, and in 1834 he was appointed governor and tax-farmer of Borūjerd and Luristan (Lorestān). But in 1835 the new monarch Moḥammad Shah (1834-48) had Qāʾemmaqām executed, and the new first minister, Ḥājī Mīrzā Āqāsī, removed Mīrzā Bozorg from his posts and stopped his salary (Bāmdād, Rejāl VI, pp. 126-29). The family retained lands around its ancestral village of Takor in the Nūr district of Māzandarān.

In his youth Mīrzā Ḥosayn-ʿAlī demonstrated pacifist tendencies, and was disturbed when he read an account of the early Muslim execution of the Banū Qorayẓa in Medina (Bahāʾ-Allāh, in Ešrāq Ḵāvarī, ed., Māʾeda-ye āsmānī VII, p. 136). At the wedding of one of his brothers he received a lesson about the world’s ephemerality when he saw that, after a puppet show about a royal court, all the pomp was packed into trunks at the end (Bahāʾ-Allāh, “Lawḥ-e raʾīs,” in Majmūʿa-ye maṭbūʿa, pp. 107-10). Mīrzā Ḥosayn-ʿAlī, the future Bahāʾ-Allāh, was just reaching adulthood when his father fell from power and the experience may have further disillusioned him with worldly politics and predisposed him to a meditative spirituality, and, later, the adoption of the radical religion of Babism. Bahāʾ-Allāh wrote, late in his life, that Moḥammad Shah committed two “heinous deeds,” the banishment of the Bāb to Azerbaijan and the murder of Qāʾemmaqām, and this consideration appears to have partially underpinned his advocacy from the 1870s of constitutional constraints on the monarchy (“Kalemāt-e ferdowsīya,” in Majmūʿa-ī az alwāḥ, pp. 35-36; tr. Taherzadeh, p. 65). Indeed, many of Mīrzā Bozorg’s children reacted against the orthodoxies of Qajar Shiʿism. Of Mīrzā Bozorg’s thirteen children by four wives and three concubines, al least one adopted Shaikhism (q.v.) and at least six others Babism.

The new first minister, Āqāsī, offered Mīrzā Ḥosayn-ʿAlī his patronage, despite his being the son of an enemy, but the young Nūrī proved uninterested, and the two later fell out when Mīrzā Ḥosayn-ʿAlī refused to sell some land and villages to the rapacious Āqāsī. (Moḥammad “Nabīl-e Aʿẓam” Zarandī, Maṭāleʿ al-anwār, MS. International Baháʾí Archives, Haifa; partial Eng. tr. Shoghi [Šawqī] Effendi Rabbani, The Dawn-Breakers, New York, 1932; repr. Wilmette, 1974, pp. 120-22.) Mīrzā Ḥosayn-ʿAlī was in contact with Shaikhis from Nūr and from Tehran, a natural development given the popularity of esoteric Shaikhism with Qajar-era notables and his own speculative bent. When Mollā Ḥosayn Bošrūʾī came to Tehran in 1844 to spread the new beliefs of Babism, centered on Sayyed ʿAlī-Moḥammad Šīrāzī the Bāb, he met with local Shaikhis. One of them, Mollā Moḥammad Moʿallem Nūrī, became a Babi and consented to contact Mīrzā Ḥosayn-ʿAlī for Bošrūʾī. Mīrzā Ḥosayn-ʿAlī in this manner accepted the Bāb’s claims to religious authority as the gate of the Twelfth Imam. Soon thereafter, late in 1844 or in 1845, Mīrzā Ḥosayn-ʿAlī returned to his village of Takor, where he endeavored to spread Babism in Nūr and in Māzandarān. His prestige as a local notable gave him many openings, and this missionary journey met with some success, even among some members of the religious class. Through him, as well, his brothers Mīrzā Yaḥyā (whom Mīrzā Ḥosayn-ʿAlī raised, aged 14 in 1844) and Mīrzā Mūsā became Babis (Ketāb-e noqṭat al-kāf, ed. E. G. Browne, E. J. W. Gibb Memorial Series 15, 1910, pp. 239-40; Zarandī, Maṭāleʿ, tr. pp. 102-20; ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ, Maqāla-ye šaḵṣ-ī sayyāḥ, E. G. Browne, ed. and tr. as A Traveller’s Narrative, Cambridge, 1891, pp. 72-78, tr. pp. 56-62).

Mīrzā Ḥosayn-ʿAlī used his position and his contacts in Tehran, not only to spread Babism, but to protect his coreligionists. He did so at some risk, however, since the aid he gave the poet Qorrat-al-ʿAyn and other Babis after they were accused in the slaying (actually by a Shaikhi) of Mollā Taqī Baraḡānī caused him to suffer temporary imprisonment in Tehran. In 1847 the government exiled the Bāb to imprisonment in Azerbaijan. In the summer of 1848 eighty-one prominent Babis gathered for twenty-two days in Khorasan in the village of Badašt. Mīrzā Ḥosayn-ʿAlī and his young brother Mīrzā Yaḥyā both attended. Mīrzā Ḥosayn-ʿAlī played a low-key role, renting gardens for Qorrat-al-ʿAyn and others, and suggesting theophanic names for some of the Babis, whom the Bāb had encouraged to glorify God by adopting divine names. From this point Mīrzā Ḥosayn-ʿAlī adopted the name Bahāʾ (the glory, [of God]). Mīrzā Yaḥyā became Ṣobḥ-e Azal (The morn of eternity). In the conflict at the conference between those who wanted to retain the Islamic law (Šarīʿa) and those who knew of the Bāb’s recent announcement that he was the messianic Mahdī or Qāʾem, empowered to begin another dispensation, Bahāʾ-Allāh took the side of the pro-change group, who won out (Noqṭat al-kāf, pp. 145-54, 240-41; for Bahāʾ-Allāh’s role see Zarandī, Maṭāleʿ, tr. pp. 278-300, 459-61, 584-85).

Violence broke out between the Babis and the Qajar government in the second half of 1848, and Bahāʾ-Allāh and several companions, including his half-brother Yaḥyā (then aged 17 or 18), set out from Nūr to help the besieged Babis at Šayḵ Ṭabarsī near Bābol, Māzandarān, in early December, 1848, but they were arrested and imprisoned in Āmol (Noqṭat al-kāf, pp. 242-43; Zarandī, Maṭāleʿ, tr. pp. 368-77, 461-62, 583-84; Mīrzā Ḥosayn Hamadānī, Tārīḵ-ejadīd, ms., Cambridge University Library, Browne Or. F. 55/9, tr. E. G. Browne, The New History of Mīrzā ʿAlī Muḥammed, the Bāb, Cambridge, 1893; repr. Amsterdam, 1975, pp. 64-65). The following three years witnessed a series of disasters for the Babis, whom government troops besieged and then massacred in Māzandarān, Nayrīz, and Zanjān. On 9 July 1850 the government had the Bāb executed, but only after he had declared himself an independent manifestation of God (maẓhar-e elāhī) and had written a book of laws, the Bayān-e fārsī for the new religion he founded.

The Bāb had been in correspondence with the Nūrī brothers from his prison, and after the death of many prominent disciples in 1848-50, they emerged as the most likely leaders. Bahāʾ-Allāh, then aged thirty-three and a well-known notable, might have been expected to become the leading Babi. But surprisingly, the Bāb appears to have indicated for Mīrzā Yaḥyā Ṣobḥ-e Azal (then around nineteen) a high station or leadership position, at least nominally, in Babism. The young Azal, however, seems to have possessed little widespread authority or legitimacy, and the 1850s saw the Babi community splinter into a number a regional sects headed by various claimants to theophanic status. The Bāb’s works emphasized that another messianic figure, “He whom God shall make manifest (man yoẓheroh Allāh)” would appear. More important, the disheartened Babis seem to have been looking for charismatic leaders to replace the Bāb. Azal at first refused to denounce these rivals outright, rather incorporating them into a “theophanic field” with himself at the apex. Later in the 1850s Azal became more intolerant of rivals. Bahāʾ-Allāh, on the other hand, attempted to deflate Babi “manifestations” (ẓohūrāt) even in early 1851, asserting his own high station. He snubbed the Babi disciple Sayyed Baṣīr-e Hendī of Multan when he came to visit Nūr, because the Indian made grandiose claims. Finally, Bahāʾ-Allāh “took pity on him and manifested upon that temple of servitude, [Sayyed Baṣīr] the effulgences of divinity, [tajallīyāt-e robūbīyat] from that glory of paradise (Bahāʾ al-reżwān, [i.e., Bahāʾ-Allāh]).” (Noqṭat al-kāf, p. 258; see also pp. 238-61 ).

In June, 1851, Bahāʾ-Allāh left Tehran for Karbalāʾ in Iraq at the suggestion of First Minister Amīr Neẓām Taqī Khan (later Amīr[-e] Kabīr), who attempted to co-opt him by offering him a government post whenever he should return. Bahāʾ-Allāh refused the post, but took the hint that he should leave Iran for a while. Bahāʾ-Allāh found Babis in Karbalāʾ following a Sayyed ʿOloww, who claimed to be a divine incarnation until Bahāʾ-Allāh’s greater prestige caused him to renounce his pretensions. While in Karbalāʾ in 1851, according to his companion Shaikh Ḥasan Zonūzī, Bahāʾ-Allāh said he was himself the return of Imam Ḥosayn (whom many expected to appear after the Mahdī, whom Babis identified with the Bāb), though he kept this “messianic secret” from most of his associates. In public, Bahāʾ-Allāh supported Azal, in the interests of unity, and worked to spread Babism in Karbalāʾ (Zarandī, Maṭāleʿ, tr. pp. 32, 587, 593-94).

The fall of Amīr Kabīr and the rise of Mīrzā Āqā Khan Nūrī Eʿtemād-al-Dawla as first minister under Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah had the potential for changing Bahāʾ-Allāh’s political fortunes. The first minister wanted a rapprochement with Bahāʾ-Allāh, a relative from his region of the country, and with the Babis. He wrote Bahāʾ-Allāh asking him to return to Tehran, and the latter complied. The first minister’s brother lavished hospitality on Bahāʾ-Allāh in Tehran for a month, after which the Babi notable retired to a summer house in Šemrān. On the way, he met briefly with Shaikh ʿAlī ʿAẓīm, learning that ʿAẓīm and other radical Babi leaders in the capital had planned the assassination of the shah in retaliation for the execution of the Bāb. Bahāʾ-Allāh condemned the plan. On August 15, 1852, Babis did attempt to assassinate the shah, but failed (Zarandī, Maṭāleʿ, tr. pp. 595-602; Ḥasan Fasāʾī, Fārs-nāma-ye nāṣerī, tr. H. Busse, History of Persia under Qajar Rule, New York, 1972, pp. 302-04; Sheil to Malmsbury, correspondence August 1852, FO 60/171 in M. Momen, The Bābī and Bahāʾī Religions, 1844-1944: Some Contemporary Western Accounts, Oxford, 1981, pp. 128-46).

Though he knew suspicion would fall on him, Bahāʾ-Allāh declined to go into hiding. He went to Zarganda, staying with his brother-in-law, Mīrzā Majīd, who acted as secretary to the Russian ambassador. His presence was reported to the shah by Ḥājī ʿAlī Khan Ḥājeb-al-Dawla. Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah demanded that the Russian legation hand Bahāʾ-Allāh over, but the ambassador insisted on delivering him to Mīrzā Āqā Khan Nūrī, who sympathized with Bahāʾ-Allāh. Mīrzā Āqā Khan, however, proved unable to protect Bahāʾ-Allāh when anti-Babi riots broke out in Tehran, and Bahāʾ-Allāh was arrested and made to walk in chains to the Sīāh Čāl (black pit) dungeon. At length he was found innocent. His stay in the crowded, filthy dungeon, where he watched several Babi friends being executed, proved important for Bahāʾ-Allāh’s spiritual development. He later wrote that he at that point decided to “undertake, with the utmost vigor, the task of regenerating” the Babi community (Bahāʾ-Allāh, Lawḥ-e Šayḵ, pp. 14-16; tr. Shoghi Effendi, pp. 20-22). He had several mystical experiences and dreams of a visionary nature while in prison. Despite having found him innocent, the government exiled Bahāʾ-Allāh, who chose to return to Iraq in the Ottoman empire, arriving in Baghdad on 12 January 1853. In Iran, the aftermath of the attempt on the shah’s life saw widespread massacres of suspected Babis, and pillaging of the Nūrīs’ property in Takor (Zarandī, Maṭāleʿ, tr. pp. 602-50; Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana [Rūz-nāma-yeḵāṭerāt, ed. Ī. Afšār, Tehran, 1350 Š./1971, p. 957] asserts that Mīrzā Āqā Khan Nūrī, who remained in power until 1858, offered his resignation over the issue of Bahāʾ-Allāh’s imprisonment).

A small number of other Babis chose to follow Bahāʾ-Allāh into exile in Iraq, including his half-brother Mīrzā Yaḥyā Ṣobḥ-e Azal, who arrived a few months later. Azal tended to distance himself from the community, spending his time in disguise and dealing with affairs through proxies, including Bahāʾ-Allāh, who publicly deferred to his brother. In Baghdad during 1853 differences arose between Bahāʾ-Allāh, and Azal and his close disciples. A close companion, Dahajī, wrote that Bahāʾ-Allāh disagreed with Azal’s policy of remaining incognito, and left Baghdad in order to distance himself from Azal. He retired for two years (1854-56) to Kurdistan, living the life of a Sufi dervish. Azal’s continued attempts to assassinate the shah, of which Bahāʾ-Allāh disapproved, may have been another source of contention. Prominent Babis in Baghdad, feeling a need for Bahāʾ-Allāh’s stabilizing influence, pleaded with him to return from Solaymānīya, which he did in 1856 (Mīrzā Mehdī Dahajī, “Resāla,” ms., Cambridge University Library, Browne Or. F. 57, p. 48; Mīrzā Javād Qazvīnī, “Resāla,” ms., Cambridge University Library, Browne Or. F. 26, tr. E. G. Browne in Materials for the Study of the Babi Religion, Cambridge, 1918, pp. 7-9; Bahāʾ-Allāh wrote an important mystical poem while staying with the Ḵāledī Naqšbandīs in Solaymānīya, that mentions his “mission” [beʿṯatī], “al-Qaṣīda al-warqāʾīya,” Āṯār III, pp. 196-215).

From 1856 to 1863 Bahāʾ-Allāh lived in Baghdad, building up an increasingly loyal following in Iran through his elegant mystical aphorisms and crisp doctrinal treatises in Persian or Arabic such as the Kalemāt-e maknūna (Hidden words), Haft wādī (Seven valleys), and Ketāb-e īqān (Book of certitude). He took very seriously a widely believed Muslim prophecy that the Mahdī or Jesus Christ would appear in 1280/1863-64, and put off making any public announcement until then, though evidence abounds that he kept a “messianic secret” for years before (for the wave of millenarianism that swept the Muslims of Arabia and India in the years just before 1280, see O. Pearson, Islamic Reform and Revival in Nineteenth Century India: the Tariqah-i Muhammadiyyah, Ph.D. dissertation, Duke University, 1979, pp. 211-12). Bahāʾ-Allāh replaced the disastrous militancy of the Babis to which leaders like Azal were still committed with an emphasis on internal personal transformation similar to Sufi ethics and mysticism.

In the 1860s, Bahāʾ-Allāh’s gatherings attracted many local notables and Iranian pilgrims, lending him greater influence in Iran as well as in Baghdad. Despite his emphasis on communal harmony, however, sporadic communal violence broke out between Shiʿites and Babis, and among factions of Babis, especially among unruly tradesmen and religious students, and Ottoman and Persian officials often laid this violence at his door. Bahāʾ-Allāh’s influence worried his enemies in the Iranian government and among the Shiʿite clerics, and he narrowly escaped assassination at the hands of a man hired by the Iranian consul in Baghdad, Mīrzā Bozorg Khan. Mollā ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Ṭehrānī, Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah’s religious envoy to the shrine cities, cooperated with the consul, and began a major Shiʿite drive against Bahāʾ-Allāh and the fifty or so Babis in Iraq that lost steam when Shaikh Mortażā Anṣārī, the leading marjaʿ-e taqlīd, refused to join in on the grounds that he knew nothing about the Babis (Bahāʾ-Allāh, Ketāb-e īgān, pp. 210-12; tr. Shoghi Effendi, pp. 249-53; ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ, Maqāla, pp. 107-18, tr. pp. 82-88; Dahajī, “Resāla,” pp. 81-82; Ostād Moḥammad-ʿAlī Salmānī, Ḵāṭerāt, ms., International Baháʾí Archives, Haifa; Eng. tr. M. Gail, My Memories of Bahāʾullāh, Los Angeles, 1982, pp. 15-20; Mīrzā Abu’l-Fażl Golpāyegānī, “Resāla be Aleksandr Tumanskii,” R. Mehrābḵānī, ed., Rasāʾel wa raqāʾem, Tehran, 1978, pp. 65-76; tr. J. Cole, Letters and Essays 1886-1913, Los Angeles, 1985; “Two State Papers of 1862,” in Browne, Materials, pp. 270-81).

Alarmed at the revival of Babi activity under Bahāʾ-Allāh’s de facto leadership, and at the easy access to Iranians enjoyed by the Babi leaders situated so near the Shiʿite shrine cities, Mīrzā Ḥosayn Khan Mošīr-al-Dawla (q.v.), the Iranian consul in Istanbul who at that point considered the Babis subversive, pressured the Ottomans to exile Bahāʾ-Allāh farther from Iran. The Ottomans complied, calling Bahāʾ-Allāh to Istanbul in the spring of 1863. Before he left Baghdad, Bahāʾ-Allāh camped for twelve days at the Garden of Necip Paşa, where a large number of friends came to bid him farewell. During these days, to intimates, “he would speak of the Bāb’s Cause and declare his own” (Salmānī, Ḵāṭerāt, tr. p. 22; see also Dahajī, “Resāla,” pp. 65-70, 153-54; Qazvīnī, “Resāla,” p. 16). In late April, 1863, Bahāʾ-Allāh declared himself, to a handful of close followers, the promised one foretold by the Bāb. Perhaps because the year 1280 had not yet begun, he delayed any written declaration for almost a year.

After a four-month journey overland, Bahāʾ-Allāh and his entourage arrived in Istanbul. He had chosen twenty Babis to accompany him, in addition to his own family and muleteers; these were often men he thought might make trouble if left to themselves. Azal voluntarily accompanied his older brother, traveling incognito. Bahāʾ-Allāh met with a few Ottoman officials who came to visit him, but refused to seek audiences with the sultan or first minister. In Istanbul in 1863 he first gave evidence of thinking about the global social reforms that he advocated in later years. He told former First Minister Kemal Pasha that the Ottomans, and the world, should adopt a universal auxiliary language to be taught alongside local languages in every nation, so that “the whole earth would come to be regarded as one country” (Bahāʾ-Allāh, Lawḥ-e šayḵ, p. 90, tr. p. 38.) Because he refused to build alliances with Ottoman politicians, Bahāʾ-Allāh had no means of resisting Mošīr-al-Dawla’s pressure on the sultan to exile him still farther away. Sultan ʿAbdülaziz (ʿAbd-al-ʿAzīz) commanded that Bahāʾ-Allāh be banished to Edirne in Rumelia, a common site for the exile of political prisoners. Bahāʾ-Allāh at first refused to leave Istanbul, and wanted to make a stand against the Ottomans, seeking either to overturn the sultan’s edict or to attain martyrdom when troops came to arrest the Babis. But such a plan required unanimity, and when Azal declined to go along it fell through (Salmānī, Ḵāṭerāt, tr. p. 39-41, Qazvīnī, “Resāla,” tr. pp. 18-19). Bahāʾ-Allāh and his entourage, as well as Azal and his, lived in Edirne from 12 December 1863 to 12 August 1868. They received an Ottoman stipend for their support. In the winter and spring of 1864/1280, Bahāʾ-Allāh gradually began announcing himself to friends in Iran. In the “Sūrat Damm” (Sura of blood), written twenty years after the Bāb’s declaration (1260/1844) for Mollā Moḥammad “Nabīl” Zarandī, then in Iran, Bahāʾ-Allāh said he was the return (rajʿa) of the Bāb, that is, “He whom God would make manifest” (Āṯār IV, pp. 1-15). Close disciples of Bahāʾ-Allāh in Iran like Mīrzā Ḥaydar-ʿAlī Eṣfahānī received such letters and began increasingly passing them on to other Babis. For his followers, Bahāʾ-Allāh’s assertion that he was an independent manifestation of God able to found a new dispensation made Azal’s position as head of the old Babi religion irrelevant. Bahāʾ-Allāh and his supporters in any case held that the Bāb’s appointment of Azal had been a ruse to draw the fire of Iranian officials from Bahāʾ-Allāh. In spring of 1866 Bahāʾ-Allāh moved to a separate house from that of Azal, saying that Azal had attempted to have him killed, and, meeting with failure, had then imputed similar plots to his older brother. Bahāʾ-Allāh began more openly proclaiming his status as an independent prophet, writing suras he said were divine revelation (waḥy). In September, 1867, he decisively broke with Yaḥyā, addressing to him a letter in which he set forth his station and demanded his brother’s obedience. Yaḥyā refused, challenging Bahāʾ-Allāh to a test of the divine will (mobāhela) at the mosque of Sultan Selim, but Azal lost face when he changed his mind and did not appear (Bahāʾ-Allāh, “Lawḥ-e Naṣīr,” in Majmūʿa-ye maṭbūʿa, pp. 166-202; see Bahāʾ-Allāh’s many Edirne-period works in Āṯār, vol. 4; Dahajī, “Resāla” pp. 35-38, 283-85; Salmānī, Ḵāṭerāt, tr. pp. 42-48, 93-105; Qazvīnī, “Resāla,” tr. pp. 19-27).

From 1866 Bahāʾ-Allāh began addressing a series of letters to world leaders, announcing his advent as the promised one of all religions. His first was a long general letter of moral exhortations, the Sūrat al-molūk (Sura of the kings, 1866). Specific individuals therein addressed were Sultan ʿAbd-al-ʿAzīz and the Iranian ambassador, Mošīr-al-Dawla. In 1868 he wrote a long letter (Lawḥ-e solṭān) to Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah, saying Babis under his leadership were not militant, and requesting an end to their persecution in Iran. The shah had Bahāʾ-Allāh’s emissary bearing this letter tortured and killed. Bahāʾ-Allāh also wrote Napoleon III, elliptically proclaiming himself the return of Christ (Bahāʾ-Allāh, Alwāḥ-e nāzela ḵeṭāb be molūk, pp. 3-70, 91-117, 143-201; for Western diplomatic correspondence on Bahāʾ-Allāh in the Edirne period, see Momen, The Bābī and Bahāʾi Religions, pp. 185-200).

In 1868 the Ottoman government exiled the Babis once more. Bahāʾ-Allāh and his followers, along with a few Azalīs, were sent to the prison city of ʿAkkā on the coast of Palestine, while Azal, his companions, and a few Bahais were sent to Famagusta, Cyprus. Bahāʾ-Allāh was imprisoned in the citadel for over two years, where some of his followers died from the unsanitary conditions. There he continued his proclamation to world leaders, including Queen Victoria, Tsar Aleksandr II, and Pope Pius IX. From 1870 to 1877 Bahāʾ-Allāh was kept under house arrest in the old city of ʿAkkā. In the late 1860s and early 1870s most Babis in Iran went over to Bahāʾ-Allāh, becoming Bahais. These believers in a new revelation asked for a new code of religious and ritual law. Around 1873 Bahāʾ-Allāh in ʿAkkā set down a new book of law and ritual, the Ketāb-e aqdas, which he said derived from divine revelation, meant to replace both the Koran and the Bayān (Aleksandr Tumanskiĭ, Kitabe akdes, Mémoires de l’Académie impériale des sciences de St. Petersbourg, 8th ser., vol. 3, no. 6, 1899; Dahajī, “Resāla,” pp. 154-56; Qazvīnī, “Resāla,” tr. pp. 27-52).

His improving relations with local officials were only disturbed once, when some of the rougher of his followers in ʿAkkā, unbeknownst to Bahāʾ-Allāh, plotted and carried out the murder of several Azalīs who had been spying on the Bahais for the Ottomans and stirring up local inhabitants against them. Bahāʾ-Allāh denounced the murderers in no uncertain terms, but the incident revived restrictions on his movements. In 1877, however, the Pasha gave him permission to live in a mansion outside ʿAkkā, at Mazraʿa till 1879, then at Bahjī until his death in 1892. His advocacy of social reforms in the 1870s won him new respect from old foes like Mošīr-al-Dawla. Bahāʾ-Allāh gradually convinced many Qajar notables that he represented no political threat (Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana wrote in 1892 in his Rūz-nāma-ye ḵāṭerāt, 1st ed., p. 957: “Mīrzā Ḥosayn-ʿAlī, an old man, was no assassin”). In the ʿAkkā period his financial support probably came from believers’ contributions as well as from the Ottoman stipend. Bahāʾ-Allāh married three times, once in Iran (Āsīa “Nawwāb” Ḵānom), once in Baghdad, a cousin (Mahd-e ʿOlyā) whose family had been martyred, and once in ʿAkkā (Gowhar Ḵānom). In accordance with Babi law, he had only two wives at any one time (Bahai law later required monogamy). He had fourteen children, four of them girls; five sons predeceased him (Qazvīnī, “Resāla,” tr. Browne, pp. 45-65; Dahajī, “Resāla,” pp. 285-91; Western primary accounts of ʿAkkā period in Momen, Bābī and Bahāʾi Religions, pp. 201-40). Before his death Bahāʾ-Allāh appointed his eldest son, ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ ʿAbbās Effendi to head the Bahai faith after him (“Ketāb ʿAhdī,” in Majmūʿa-ī az alwāḥ, pp. 134-38).

Religious doctrines. Bahāʾ-Allāh taught a theological via negativa, writing that God’s essence is unknowable, and he is simply the absolute truth (al-ḥaqq, al-ʿamāʾ). Following the theology of Muʿtazilism and Shaikhism, Bahāʾ-Allāh teaches that God’s essential attributes (ṣefāt al-ḏāt) are identical to his essence (“Lawḥ madīnat al-tawḥīd,” Māʾeda-ye āsmānī IV, p. 321). According to Bahāʾ-Allāh, both God and the universal matter have always existed temporally, though God is essentially prior to matter, which is essentially originated (maḥdaṯ ḏātī: Bahāʾ-Allāh, “Lawḥ al-ḥekma,” Majmūʿa-ye maṭbūʿa, p. 4b; this is Avicennian). He rejected the Sufi doctrine of existential monism or waḥdat al-wojūd, and denied that God becomes incarnate (ḥolūl) in the world, or manifests (ẓohūr) his essence corporeally (Bahāʾ-Allāh, Haft wādī, Āṯār-e qalam-e aʿlā 3:114-15; Ketāb-e īqān, p. 79; “Lawḥ-e Salmān,” Majmūʿa-ye maṭbūʿa, pp. 140-42).

The transcendent essence of God and the originated material world are bridged in Bahāʾ-Allāh’s thought by the Word of God (kalemat Allāh, kalām Allāh; also called ketāb Allāh and amr or divine command), a temporally preexistent principle whereby God created composite creatures. The Word of God manifests (ẓahara) itself in human form, in the shape of prophets and messengers (“Lawḥ al-ẓohūr,” ms. AB 201, Bahāʾī World Centre, Haifa; “Lawḥ al-ḥekma,” pp. 41-42; “Lawḥ Ašraf,” Majmūʿa-ye maṭbūʿa, p. 212; “Sūrat al-raʾīs,” Majmūʿa-ye mobāraka, p. 87). Bahāʾ-Allāh distinguished between prophets (sing. nabī [y]) who simply came with a mission to their people and “prophets endowed with constancy” (anbīāʾ olu’l-azm), who revealed new religious legislation abrogating that of the previous dispensation. He wrote of the Zoroastrian, Mosaic, Christian, Islamic, and Babi dispensations, recognizing all of them as divinely-ordained religions progressively leading up to his own (he did not exclude other world religions, and his son ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ later incorporated Buddha and Krishna into the schema). He taught the sinlessness (al-ʿesma al-kobrā) of the legislating prophets, though he wrote that their human souls could progress and be purified. The purpose of the advent of prophets is to transmit God’s grace and educate souls for their own spiritual advance in this world and in the afterlife (Bahāʾ-Allāh, “Ešrāqāt,” in Čand lawḥ, pp. 54-59; “al-Qaṣīda al-warqāʾīya,” Āṯār 3: 198; Ketāb-e aqdas, Bombay, n.d., p. 51; Ketāb-e īqān, pp. 82-83).

Bahāʾ-Allāh’s doctrine of prophets is theophanic. He held that prophets manifest the active attributes (ẓohūr-e asmāʾ wa ṣefāt) of God into the material world, though he denied that God’s essence (ḏāt) itself could ever be manifested, differing in this regard from Druze and other Shiʿite esotericists. In neo-Platonic fashion, he sometimes refers to the totality of God’s active attributes as the “self” (nafs) of God. Only through the prophets and messengers of God, he wrote, could human beings attain a knowledge of God’s attributes, which his envoys mirror forth. He said that prophets have a two-fold nature (do ʿonṣor), one physical and the other divine (elāhī), corresponding to two stations (maqām), the human, and the station wherein his voice is the voice of God. The doctrine of the divinity (olūhīyat) of all the prophets does not imply incarnation, but refers to the manifestation of the active attributes of God. Explaining his own station, he compared God’s manifestation in him to the divine effulgence in the burning bush of Moses, and wrote of divinity, “This station is the station in which one dies to himself (fanāʾ) and lives to God. Divinity, whenever I mention it, indicates my complete and absolute self-effacement.” (Lawḥ-e šayḵ, p. 30; see also Majmūʿa-ye maṭbūʿa, p. 340; “Tajallīyāt,” in Čand lawḥ, pp. 203-05). Because all prophets manifest the same divine attributes, in Bahāʾ-Allāh’s doctrine they are all metaphysically identical, though their human personalities differed. Thus, each is a “return” of the previous prophets (but this does not imply reincarnation of the human soul, a doctrine Bahāʾ-Allāh rejected).

Social teachings. Bahāʾ-Allāh’s enunciation of steps for social reform dates to his arrival in the Turkish-speaking provinces of the Ottoman empire in the mid-1860s, and continued during his Palestine exile 1868-92. He was in Edirne during some of the Ottoman debate on constitutionalism, and around 1868 wrote Queen Victoria that the parliamentarian form of constitutional monarchy she presided over was the best type of government. In 1866 he had denounced the international arms race, urging that the money poured into it be instead spent on the poor. Later in ʿAkkā he advocated the convening of an international parliament that would guarantee peace through the principle of collective security. He urged the adoption of one universal language throughout the world, and of uniform weights, measures, and currency. He forbade religious and racial prejudice, and discouraged nationalist chauvinism (“Glory not in this that you love your country, glory in this that you love mankind”). He urged universal education of children, and his insistence that daughters be educated along with sons is only one of many indications that he supported an improved status for women. He advocated the adoption of modern technology in the Middle East, arguing that it was only an extension of Greek science and philosophy, which Middle Easterners had long accepted (“Lawḥ maleka Vīktūrīa,” Alwāḥ-e nāzela, p. 133; “Sūrat al-molūk,” ibid.; Ketāb-e aqdas, pp. 52-53; other quotes and points in “Lawḥ al-ḥekma,” Majmūʿa-ī az alwāḥ and tr. Taherzadeh; this entire volume has these reformist emphases).



Most of the major primary sources have been cited in the course of the article. Several thousands of Bahāʾ-Allāh’s letters and writings are preserved by Bahais in private archives in Iran and at the “International Baháʾí Archives” in Haifa, Israel. The best primary sources for Bahāʾ-Allāh’s life, the chronicle by Mollā Moḥammad “Nabīl” Zarandī, the memoirs of Āqā Ḥosayn Āščī, and those of Āqā Reżā Qannād Šīrāzī, all close companions of Bahāʾ-Allāh in Iran and during his exile, remain in ms. in Haifa; these have been summarized by H. M. Balyuzi, Bahāʾuʾllāh, Oxford, 1980. The first part of Zarandī was translated, as noted above. A reliable but slightly abridged English translation of memoirs by another companion, Salmānī, has appeared recently (op. cit.). The Noqṭat al-kāf contains primary material for the Babi movement in the 1840s and early 1850s, despite lingering questions about possible late interpolations in the recension published by Browne. The “Resāla”s of Sayyed Mehdī Dahajī and Mīrzā Javād Qazvīnī, companions of Bahāʾ-Allāh, are also valuable (microfilms of these and other Cambridge University Library Browne mss. are in the Library of Congress and the University of Michigan, British Manuscript Project). Bahāʾ-Allāh’s eldest son, ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ, wrote a valuable chronicle, cited above, translated by Browne as A Traveller’s Narrative. Some important details are in Mīrzā Ḥaydar-ʿAlī Eṣfahānī, Baḥjat al-Ṣodūr, Bombay, 1331/1912-13, a small portion of which was translated by A. Faizi, Stories from the Delight of Hearts, Los Angeles, 1980. Primary biographies of Bahāʾ-Allāh’s major disciples in Iran are in Kāẓem Samandar, Tārīḵ-eSamandar wa molḥaqāt, Tehran, 131 Badīʿ/1974. Momen’s collection of Western documentary sources is useful, though neither the Ottoman nor the Iranian archives have been intensively explored for Bahāʾ-Allāh’s biography (see Moḥammad-ʿAlī Mowaḥḥed, “Asnād-ī az āršīv-e dawlatī-e Estānbūl,” Rāhnāma-ye ketāb 6, 1342 Š./1963, pp. 102-10). Because of his access to family history and private manuscripts as Bahāʾ-Allāh’s great-grandson, Shoghi Effendi’s God Passes By (Wilmette, Ill., 1944) is also useful. Many Azalī sources exist, some of them primary, but they are hard to collate with sources originating with Bahāʾ-Allāh and his supporters, because they are so hostile and contradictory. Of note here are Mollā Rajab-ʿAlī Qāher, “Ketāb,” ms. Cambridge University Library, Browne Or. F. 24; and ʿEzzīya Ḵānom, “Tanbīh al-nāʾemīn,” ms. Cambridge University Library, Browne Or. F. 60.

Most of Bahāʾ-Allāh’s major works have been published, though no scientific editions have been prepared. Multivolume collections of his writings include Āṯār-e qalam-e aʿlā, 8 vols., Tehran, 1963-76? and ʿAbd-al-Ḥamīd Ešrāq Ḵāvarī, ed., Māʾeda-ye āsmānī, 10 vols., Tehran, 1971-73; repr. New Delhi, 1985. Facsimiles of many documents by or relating to the Bāb and Bahāʾ-Allāh were privately published in the 1970s by the Iran National Bahai Archives (INBA) in 100 volumes. Important works by Bahāʾ-Allāh from the 1850s and early 1860s are in Āṯār, vol. 3, including Jawāher al-asrār, Haft wādī and Čahār wādī; for Eng. tr. of the latter two see The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys, tr. Ali Kuli Khan and Marzieh Gail, Wilmette, Ill., rev. ed. 1952. Kalemāt-e maknūna, from the late 1850s, is in Majmūʿa-ye maṭbūʿa-ye alwāḥ-e mobāraka, Cairo, 1920, repr. Wilmette, Ill., 1978, tr. Shoghi Effendi, The Hidden Words, London, 1949. Works from the 1850s and early 1860s can also be found in INBA, vol. 36, and in Māʾeda-ye āsmānī, vol. 4. One of Bahāʾ-Allāh’s more important theological and eschatological works, written in 1862 for an uncle of the Bāb, is Ketāb-e īqān, Cairo, 1902, Eng. tr. Shoghi Effendi, The Kitábi-i-Íqán: The Book of Certitude, Wilmette, 1931, 1970, Fr. tr. Hyppolyte Dreyfus and Mīrzā Habibullāh Chirazi, Le livre de la certitude, Paris, 1904. Other tablets of the mid-1860s can be found in the section on Reżwān in ʿA. Ešrāq Ḵāvarī, ed., Ayyām-e tesʿa, Tehran, n.d., including the Lawḥ-e ṣabr, set down on April 21, 1863. Many of Bahāʾ-Allāh’s Arabic letters to Iran declaring his independent prophethood in 1864-68 are in Āṯār, vol. 4, including the Sūrat damm, and the Sūrat al-aṣḥāb. His epistles to the world’s rulers written in 1866-69 are in Alwāḥ-e nāzela ḵeṭāb be molūk wa roʾasā-ye arż, Tehran, 124 Badīʿ/1968; partial tr., Shoghi Effendi, Proclamation of Bahāʾuʾllāh to the Kings and Leaders of the World, Haifa, 1967. Persian writings from the Edirne period and many significant essays from the ʿAkkā period, 1868-92, are in Majmūʿa-ye maṭbūʿa. Bahāʾ-Allāh’s most important opus, the Ketāb-e aqdas (1873) was published at the Dutt Prashad Press: al-Ketāb al-aqdas wa nabża-ī men alwāḥ Bahāʾ-Allāh, Bombay, 1890. A poor translation of the Ketāb-e aqdas with fundamentalist Christian commentary was unaccountably published by the Royal Asiatic Society: E. Elder and W. Miller, tr. and ed., Al-Kitab al-Aqdas or the Most Holy Book, Oriental Translation Fund, N.S., vol. 38, London, 1961; the contemporary official Bahai approach to this book of laws can be seen in A Synopsis and Codification of the Kitáb-i Aqdas, the Most Holy Book of Baháʾuʾlláh, Haifa, 1973. Several collections have been published of Bahāʾ-Allāh’s tablets on global social reform and world government written from 1877 to 1892, including Alwāḥ-e mobāraka-ye hażrat-e Bahāʾ-Allāh šāmel-e ešrāqāt wa čand lawḥ-e dīgar, Tehran, n.d.; and Majmūʿa-ī az alwāḥ ke baʿd az Ketāb-e aqdas nāzel šodand, Hofheim-Langenhain, 1980, pp. 35-36, Eng. tr. H. Taherzadeh et al., Tablets of Baháʾuʾlláh Revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Haifa, 1978. Bahāʾ-Allāh’s last major book, which contains many passages of autobiography, is Lawḥ-e mobārak ḵeṭāb ba Šayḵ Moḥammad Taqī Mojtahed, Hofheim-Langenhain, 1982, pp. 14-16, Eng. tr. Shoghi Effendi Rabbānī, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, Wilmette, 1971, Fr. tr. H. Dreyfus, L’épitre au fils du loup, Paris, 1913. Translations into other European languages have for the most part followed the English rather than the original languages. Important translations in addition to those noted above are Gleanings from the Writings of Bahāʾuʾllāh, tr. Shoghi Effendi, Wilmette, Ill., 1939; and Prayers and Meditations, tr. Shoghi Effendi, London, 1957.

Most of the Arabic and Persian originals were published in the twentieth century by the Bahai Publishing Trust in Tehran, destroyed in 1979, but many have been recently reprinted in the original languages at the Bahai Publishing Trusts at Hofheim-Langenhain in West Germany, in Wilmette, Ill., and in New Delhi. For rare nineteenth-century editions of Bahāʾ-Allāh’s works see Alwāḥ-e Bahāʾ-Allāh moštamel bar sūrat-e haykaḷ . . . wa ḡayroh, Bombay, 1890 and Alwāḥ-e Bahāʾ-Allāh, Bombay, 1893; see also Baron Victor Rosen, Collections scientifiques de l’institut des langues orientales du ministère des affaires étrangères, St. Petersburg, vol. 1: Manuscrits arabes, 1877, pp. 179-212; vol. 3: Manuscrits persans, 1886, pp. 1-51; vol. 6: Manuscrits arabes, 1891, pp. 141-225; Rosen, ed., al-Majmūʿ al-awwal men rasāʾel al-šayḵ al-bābī Bahāʾ-Allāh, (Historico-Philological Section of the Imperial Academy of St. Petersburg, 1908); and Aleksandr Tumanskiĭ, ed., Ketāb ʿahdī wa lawḥ-e bešārāt, in Zapiski of the Russian Oriental Society 7, 1892, pp. 183-92, 193-203, as well as his edition of the Ketāb-e aqdas, cited above. A brief survey of Bahāʾ-Allāh’s major works is ʿA. Ešrāq Ḵāvarī, Ganj-e šāyegān, Tehran, 123 Badīʿ/1966). A traditional Bahai commentary in English on a large number of these works in A. Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baháʾuʾlláh, 3 vols., Oxford, 1974.

No modern, academic biography of Bahāʾ-Allāh has yet been written, though Balyuzi uses some critical apparatus. Early relevant Western scholarship includes: E. G. Browne, “The Babis of Persia,” JRAS 21, 1889, pp. 485-526, 881-1009; “Some Remarks on the Babi Texts Edited by Baron Victor Rosen,” JRAS 24, 1892, pp. 259-332; “A Catalogue and Description of 27 Babi Manuscripts,” JRAS 24, 1892, pp. 433-99, 637-710; and “Babiism,” in The Religious Systems of the World, ed., London, 1905, (other works by Browne are cited in the text); and Hermann Roemer, Die Babi-Bahaʾi, Potsdam, 1911. A short biographical notice is Bāmdād, Rejāl I, pp. 434-42. Modern academic works bearing on Bahāʾ-Allāh’s life are A. Bausani, Persia religiosa da Zoroaster a Bahâʾuʾllâh, Milan, 1959; idem, “Bahāʾīs,” EI2; M. Bayat, Mysticism and Dissent: Socioreligious Thought in Qajar Iran, Syracuse, 1982; D. MacEoin, From Shaykhism to Babism, Ph.D. dissertation, Cambridge University, 1979; A. Amanat, The Early Years of the Babi Movement, Ph.D. dissertation, Oxford University, 1981; and for the Bahai religion see P. Smith, The Bābī and Bahāʾī Religions: From Messianic Shīʿism to a World Religion (forthcoming). For the 1850s see J. Cole, “Bahāʾuʾllāh and the Naqshbandī Sufis in Iraq, 1854-1856,” in J. Cole and M. Momen, eds., From Iran East and West: Studies in Bábí and Baháʾí History II, Los Angeles, 1984, pp. 1-28; and K. Kazemzadeh and F. Kazemzadeh, “Bahāʾuʾllāh’s Prison Sentence: The Official Account,” World Order 13, Winter 1978-79, pp. 11-13. Recent academic works of interest include the following articles in Bahāʾī Studies Bulletin (BSB), on offset publication (ed. S. Lambden, Department of Religion, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England): K. Beveridge and D. MacEoin, “Seven Manuscripts Attributed to Bahāʾuʾllāh,” BSB 1/4, 1983, pp. 33-56; articles by S. Lambden: “A Tablet of Bahāʾuʾllāh to Georg David Hardegg: The “Lawḥ-i Hirtīq,” BSB 2/1, 1983, pp. 32-62; “A Tablet of Bahāʾuʾllāh in the Late Baghdad Period,” BSB 2/3, 1983, pp. 107-12; “A Tablet of Mīrzā Ḥusayn ʿAlī Bahāʾuʾllāh of the Early Iraq Period: The Tablet of All Food,” BSB 3/1, 1984, pp. 4-67; “An Early Poem of Mīrzā Ḥusayn ʿAlī Bahāʾuʾlāh: The Sprinkling of the Cloud of Unknowing (Rashḥ-i ʿAmāʾ),” BSB 3/2, 1984, pp. 4-114; M. Momen, “The Bahāʾī Influence on the Reform Movements of the Islamic World in the 1860s and 1870s,” BSB 2/2, 1983, pp. 47-65.

(J. R. I. Cole)

(Juan Cole)

Originally Published: December 15, 1988

Last Updated: August 23, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. III, Fasc. 4, pp. 422-429