iv. In Babism and Bahaism
Many of the writings of the Bāb (q.v.) are permeated with Islamic and other eschatological texts and traditions. Individual Babis and Bahais have also compiled testimonia and written “demonstrative treatises” (estedlālīya) to show the fulfillment, in their religion, of apocalyptic and eschatological prophecies (e.g., see Iran National Bahāʾī Manuscript Collection [INBMC], LXXX and bibliography under Golpaygānī, 1925 and Sears).
In 1260/1844 the Bāb claimed to inaugurate a new era of communication with the Hidden Imam and, a few years later, claimed to be the expected Qāʾem or Mahdi. According to him, the awaited Day of resurrection (yawm al-qīāma) and associated eschatological events, largely spiritually understood, were set in motion or were believed to have come to pass (see, e.g., Dalāʾel, pp. 13, 25, 34, 49 ff.; INBMC, LXXX/1; Amanat, index, s.v. qiyāma). Many sections of the Persian and Arabic Bayāns as well as the late Haykal al-dīn (1850) of the Bāb expound eschatological matters (e.g., mawt “death,” al-qabr “the tomb,” the ṣerātÂ bridge, mīzān “the balance”; Bayān-e fārsī 2:8-9, 2:12-13). The Bāb’s first disciples were identified as the (spiritual) return (rojūʿ) of the “fourteen immaculate ones” (čahārdah maʿṣūm, q.v.) and other Shiʿite worthies (Bayān-e fārsī 1:1-19; cf. Mīrzā Jānī, p. 199). Using Sufi terminology (Goldziher, p. 254) the Bāb made frequent reference to imminent as well as futuristic advents of “him whom God shall make manifest” (man yoẓheroho Allāh; see Browne, pp. lxix f.), whose manifestation represents the encounter with God (leqāʾ Allāh) mentioned in the Koran (6:31, 10:45; Bāb, Haykal al-dīn 3:7). Exactly when this messiah figure would first appear is said to be a divine secret. The time is variously intimated in the Bāb’s writings (cf. MacEoin, 1986, pp. 126 ff.). There exists what appears to be a kind of terminus a quo of 1511 (i.e., abjad, q.v., value of aḡyaṯ “the most assisting”) and a terminus ad quem of 2001 (i.e., abjad value of mostaḡāṯ “the one invoked”) years set down in certain late writings (Bayān-e fārsī 2:16). Azalī Bābīs have tended to highlight the futurity of man yoẓheroho Allāh’s appearance in their anti-Bahai polemic (Momen, “Azal, Azalīs”). The Bāb saw his own dispensation as a kind of eschatological ‘messianic interregnum’ to be followed, from age to age, by nine or more successive manifestations of man yoẓheroho Allāh (Panj šaʾn, pp. 314-15, cf. p. 397).
During the 1850s Bahāʾ-Allāh (q.v.) spoke of himself as the “return” of Imam Ḥosayn, later claiming to be the one promised in mostaḡāt¯ with the name man yoẓheroho Allāh (unpub. letter to Mīrzā Asad-Allāh Nūrī) and the return of all past major Prophets and expected messiah figures within both Semitic and non-Semitic religions. It was during the Reżwān (i.e., Najebīya garden in Baghdad) declaration period (22 April-3 May 1863), that Bahāʾ-Allāh initially made something of his messianic claims known to a few Bābīs on the outskirts of Baghdad, also stating that no future manifestation of God (maẓhar-e elāhī) would succeed him for at least 1,000 (solar) years (see INBMC, XLIV, p. 225; al–Ketāb al-aqdas, p. 113, tr. p. 32). Ultimately, he claimed to be the promised messianic advent of Divinity: the eschatological advent of Yahweh (YHWH, the tetragrammaton); the return of Christ as the “Father”; the appearance of Allāh the Self-Subsisting (al-qayyūm). Many of his letters explain Islamic and Judaeo-Christian eschatology (see, e.g., Ketāb-e īqān; Tablets . . . after Aqdas, pp. 9-17, 117-119; cf. McLaughlin). Relative to non-Semitic religions Bahāʾ-Allāh referred to himself as the Zoroastrian Shah Bahrām (lawḥ-e haft porseš) and is viewed as Kalki, the tenth Avatār of Vishnu or the spiritual “reincarnation of Krishna,” expected by some Hindus. In addition, he is considered by some Bahais to be the fifth Buddha Maitreya or Amitābha, the ruler of the western paradise of Sukhāvatī (Shoghi Effendi, 1944, pp. 94 ff). Certain eschatological prophecies found within Hindu, Zoroastrian, and Buddhist texts are given detailed interpretation by Bahais (e.g., Fozdar; Momen, 1990, pp. 33-37).
Bahāʾ-Allāh made various apocalyptic predictions including that of an unforeseen global catastrophe (Gleanings, pp. lxi, civ; Shoghi Efendi, 1938, pp. 33 f.), which would precipitate the triumph of the Bahai faith. He wrote about successive realizations of a future international peace (lawḥ-e maleka, p. 138), as Shoghi Effendi interpreted the Arabic; a secular lesser peace (al-ṣolḥ al-akbar, lit., greater peace); and a spiritual world order of Bahāʾ-Allāh, the greatest peace (al-ṣolḥ al-aʿẓam).
ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ penned detailed explanations of eschatological prophecies, which he sometimes “demythologized.” According to him, a 6,000 year cycle of prophecy (from Adam until the Prophet Moḥammad) ended in 1844 C. E. when a 500,000 year (Bābī-)Bahai universal “cycle of fulfillment” began. Bahais do not expect a literal apocalyptic collapse of the cosmos or end of the world. ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ stated, for example, that the millennium commenced in 1844 (Tablets 3:659-60) and indicated that the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:16, 20:4) found some realization with the commencement of World War I (Star of the West 10/3, p. 33). He predicted that the promised “lesser peace” would be realized in the twentieth century. Shoghi Effendi, interpreting Bahai scripture in such works as The Advent, The Promised Day, and in other letters, equated the continuing Armageddon of war (World War II and other conflicts) and socio-economic tribulations with the judgement of God on a humanity unresponsive to the parousia of Bahāʾ-Allāhʾ. He also warned Bahais of a twentieth century global, possibly nuclear, catastrophe which would cause the “limbs of all mankind to quake” (Directives, pp. 12-13; Citadel, pp. 58 f.) A future Bahai world commonwealth, the “World Order of Bahāʾ-Allāh,” is sketched by him; its hallmark being the spiritual unity in diversity of mankind (1938, pp. 202 f.)
The Bahai doctrines relating to human immortality or “personal eschatology” presuppose that all human beings have an immortal, personal soul and a life after death (Motlagh). For eternity this soul is capable of evolving through an infinitude of worlds beyond time and space; reincarnation is not espoused. As a point of transition, death is viewed positively by Bahais. In his Kalemāt-e maknūna Bahāʾ-Allāh referred to death as a messenger of joy (bešārat). Asked how one should look forward to death, ʿAbd-al-Bahaʾ posed the question, “How does one look forward to the goal of any journey?” The Bāb, Bahāʾ-Allāh, and ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ wrote prayers for the dead (see Bishárát). The only communal Bahai prayer is that written by Bahāʾ-Allāh to be recited at the funeral of a deceased Bahai.
For Bahais individual resurrection signifies a transition from the “death” of irreligiousness to the “life” of spirituality. Heaven and hell are essentially states of mind which may exist in all the worlds of God. The former is that spiritual happiness which results from nearness to God expressed through faithfulness to the religion of His latest messenger (i.e., Bahāʾ-Allāh), including faith-inspired good deeds and service to mankind. Hell is selfishness; separation from God. During fetal life human beings prepare for bodily life in this world, while life on earth should be viewed as a preparation for the heaven of the afterlife.
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Originally Published: December 15, 1998
Last Updated: January 19, 2012
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Vol. VII1, Fasc. 6, pp. 581-582