Monday, August 31, 2009

AKKA


Akká - Ptolemais of the ancient world, St Jean d'Acre of the Crusaders and their last stronghold, which refused to bow to the might of Napoleon, a city that gathered renown throughout the centuries - had indeed fallen into disrepute at this period of its chequered history. Its air and water were foul and pestilential. Proverb had it that a bird flying over 'Akká would fall dead. To its forbidding barracks were consigned the rebels, the desperadoes, the unredeemable criminals of the Ottoman domains - sent there to perish.

This was also the city of which David had spoken as 'The Strong City', which Hosea had extolled as a 'door of hope', of which Ezekiel had said, 'Afterward he brought me to the gate, even the gate that looketh toward the east. And, behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east: and his voice was like a noise of many waters: and the earth shined with his glory. . . . And the glory of the Lord came into the house by the way of the gate whose prospect is toward the east.'3 And the Founder of Islam had thus eulogized this very city, 'Blessed the man that hath visited 'Akká, and blessed he that hath visited the visitor of 'Akká. . . . And he that raiseth therein the call to prayer, his voice will be lifted up unto Paradise.'

The 'Akká which opened its gates to receive as a Prisoner the Redeemer of the world, was a city that had fathomed the depths of misery. And Bahá'u'lláh's exile to the Holy Land, His incarceration in the grim citadel of 'Akká, was intended by His adversaries to be the final blow which, in their calculations, would shatter His Faith and fortune. How significant and momentous will this exile seem, if we recall certain prophecies uttered in the past. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the Centre of the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh, and the Expounder of His Message, thus speaks of this stupendous event:

When Bahá'u'lláh came to this prison in the Holy Land, the
wise men realized that the glad tidings which God gave through the
tongue of the Prophets two or three thousand years before, were again
manifested, and that God was faithful to His promise; for to some of the
Prophets He had revealed and given the good news that 'The Lord of Hosts
should be manifested in the Holy Land.' All these promises were fulfilled,
and it is difficult to understand how Bahá'u'lláh could have been obliged
to leave Persia, and to pitch His tent in this Holy Land, but for the
persecution of His enemies, His banishment and exile.

David had so majestically announced: 'and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory.'

'The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them' Isaiah had said, 'and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel an Sharon; they shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God.'

'The Lord will roar from Zion' had been Amos's testimony, 'and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the habitations of the shepherd shall mourn, and the top of Carmel shall wither.'7

And Micah had thus foreseen,8 ' . . . from Assyria, and from the fortified cities, and from the fortress even to the river, and from sea to sea, and from mountain to mountain', he shall come.

(H.M. Balyuzi, Baha'u'llah - The King of Glory, p. 281)

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The following hath been recorded concerning the merits of 'Akká, and of the sea, and of Aynu'l-Baqar (The Spring of the Cow) which is in 'Akká:

Abdu'l-'Aziz, son of Abdu'-Salam, hath related unto us that the Prophet -- may the blessings of God and His salutations be upon him -- hath said: "Akká is a city in Syria to which God hath shown His special mercy."

Ibn-i-Mas'ud -- may God be pleased with him -- hath stated: "The Prophet -- may the blessings of God and His salutations be upon Him -- hath said: 'Of all shores the best is the shore of Askelon, and 'Akká is, verily, better than Askelon, and the merit of 'Akká above that of Askelon and all other shores is as the merit of Muhammad above that of all other Prophets. I bring you tidings of a city betwixt two mountains in Syria, in the middle of a meadow, which is called 'Akká. Verily, he that entereth therein, longing for it and eager to visit it, God will forgive his sins, both of the past and of the future. And he that departeth from it, other than as a pilgrim, God will not bless his departure. In it is a spring called the Spring of the Cow. Whoso drinketh a draught therefrom, God will fill his heart with light, and will protect him from the most great terror on the Day of Resurrection.'"

Anas, son of Malik -- may God be pleased with him -- hath said: "The Apostle of God -- may the blessings of God and His salutations be upon Him -- hath said: 'By the shore of the sea is a city, suspended beneath the Throne, and named 'Akká. He that dwelleth therein, firm and expecting a reward from God -- exalted be He -- God will write down for him, until the Day of Resurrection, the recompense of such as have been patient, and have stood up, and knelt down, and prostrated themselves, before Him.'"

And He -- may the blessings of God and His salutations be upon Him -- hath said: "I announce unto you a city, on the shores of the sea, white, whose whiteness is pleasing unto God -- exalted be He! It is called 'Akká. He that hath been bitten by one of its fleas is better, in the estimation of God, than he who hath received a grievous blow in the path of God. And he that raiseth therein the call to prayer, his voice will be lifted up unto Paradise. And he that remaineth therein for seven days in the face of the enemy, God will gather him with Khidr -- peace be upon Him -- and God will protect him from the most great terror on the Day of Resurrection." And He -- may the blessings of God, -- exalted be He -- and His salutations be upon Him -- hath said: "There are kings and princes in Paradise. The poor of 'Akká are the kings of Paradise and the princes thereof. A month in 'Akká is better than a thousand years elsewhere."

The Apostle of God -- may the blessings of God and His salutations be upon Him -- is reported to have said: "Blessed the man that hath visited 'Akká, and blessed he that hath visited the visitor of 'Akká. Blessed the one that hath drunk from the Spring of the Cow and washed in its waters, for the black-eyed damsels quaff the camphor in Paradise, which hath come from the Spring of the Cow, and from the Spring of Salvan (Siloam), and the Well of Zamzam. Well is it with him that hath drunk from these springs, and washed in their waters, for God hath forbidden the fire of hell to touch him and his body on the Day of Resurrection."

The Prophet -- may the blessings of God and His salutations be upon Him -- is stated to have said: "In 'Akká are works of supererogation and acts which are beneficial, which God vouchsafed specially unto whomsoever He pleaseth. And he that saith in 'Akká: 'Glorified be God, and praise be unto God, and there is none other God but God, and most great is God, and there is no power nor strength except in God, the Exalted, the Mighty,' God will write down for him a thousand good deeds, and blot out from him a thousand evil deeds, and will uplift him a thousand grades in Paradise, and will forgive him his transgressions. And whoso saith in 'Akká: 'I beg forgiveness of God,' God will forgive all his trespasses. And he that remembereth God in 'Akká at morn and at eventide, in the night-season and at dawn, is better in the sight of God than he who beareth swords, spears and arms in the path of God -- exalted be He!"

The Apostle of God -- may the blessings of God and His salutations be upon Him -- hath also said: "He that looketh upon the sea at eventide, and saith: 'God is Most Great!' at sunset, God will forgive his sins, though they be heaped as piles of sand. And he that counteth forty waves, while repeating: 'God is Most Great!' -- exalted be He -- God will forgive his sins, both past and future."

The Apostle of God -- may the blessings of God and His salutations be upon Him -- hath said: "He that looketh upon the sea a full night is better than he who passeth two whole months betwixt the Rukn and the Maqam. And he that hath been brought up on the shores of the sea is better than he that hath been brought up elsewhere. And he that lieth on the shore is as he that standeth elsewhere."

Verily, the Apostle of God -- may the blessings of God, exalted be He, and His salutations be upon Him -- hath spoken the truth.

(Baha'u'llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 177-181)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Who is Baha'u'llah?

Baha'is recognize Baha'u'llah "as the Judge, the Lawgiver and Redeemer of all mankind,
as the Organizer of the entire planet,
as the Unifier of the children of men,
as the Inaugurator of the long-awaited millennium,
as the Originator of a new "Universal Cycle,"
as the Establisher of the Most Great Peace,
as the Fountain of the Most Great Justice,
as the Proclaimer of the coming of age of the entire human race,
as the Creator of a new World Order,
and as the Inspirer and Founder of a world civilization.

To Israel He was neither more nor less than the incarnation of the "Everlasting Father,"
the "Lord of Hosts" come down "with ten thousands of saints";
to Christendom Christ returned "in the glory of the Father,"
to Shi'ah Islam the return of the Imam Husayn;
to Sunni Islam the descent of the "Spirit of God" (Jesus Christ);
to the Zoroastrians the promised Shah-Bahram;
to the Hindus the reincarnation of Krishna;
to the Buddhists the fifth Buddha.

In the name He bore He combined those of the Imam Husayn, the most illustrious of the successors of the Apostle of God - the brightest "star" shining in the "crown" mentioned in the Revelation of St. John - and of the Imam Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, the second of the two "witnesses" extolled in that same Book. He was formally designated Baha'u'llah, an appellation specifically recorded in the Persian Bayan, signifying at once the glory, the light and the splendor of God, and was styled the "Lord of Lords," the "Most Great Name," the "Ancient Beauty," the "Pen of the Most High," the "Hidden Name," the "Preserved Treasure," "He Whom God will make manifest," the "Most Great Light," the "All-Highest Horizon," the "Most Great Ocean," the "Supreme Heaven," the "Pre-Existent Root," the "Self-Subsistent," the "Day-Star of the Universe," the "Great Announcement," the "Speaker on Sinai," the "Sifter of Men," the "Wronged One of the World," the "Desire of the Nations," the "Lord of the Covenant," the "Tree beyond which there is no passing." He derived His descent, on the one hand, from Abraham (the Father of the Faithful) through his wife Katurah, and on the other from Zoroaster, as well as from Yazdigird, the last king of the Sasaniyan dynasty. He was moreover a descendant of Jesse, and belonged, through His father, Mirza Abbas, better known as Mirza Buzurg - a nobleman closely associated with the ministerial circles of the Court of Fath-'Ali Shah - to one of the most ancient and renowned families of Mazindaran.
To Him Isaiah, the greatest of the Jewish prophets, had alluded as the "Glory of the Lord," the "Everlasting Father," the "Prince of Peace," the "Wonderful," the "Counsellor," the "Rod come forth out of the stem of Jesse" and the "Branch grown out of His roots," Who "shall be established upon the throne of David," Who "will come with strong hand," Who "shall judge among the nations," Who "shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips slay the wicked," and Who "shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth." Of Him David had sung in his Psalms, acclaiming Him as the "Lord of Hosts" and the "King of Glory." To Him Haggai had referred as the "Desire of all nations," and Zachariah as the "Branch" Who "shall grow up out of His place," and "shall build the Temple of the Lord." Ezekiel had extolled Him as the "Lord" Who "shall be king over all the earth," while to His day Joel and Zephaniah had both referred as the "day of Jehovah," the latter describing it as "a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers." His Day Ezekiel and Daniel had, moreover, both acclaimed as the "day of the Lord," and Malachi described as "the great and dreadful day of the Lord" when "the Sun of Righteousness" will "arise, with healing in His wings," whilst Daniel had pronounced His advent as signalizing the end of the "abomination that maketh desolate."
To His Dispensation the sacred books of the followers of Zoroaster had referred as that in which the sun must needs be brought to a standstill for no less than one whole month. To Him Zoroaster must have alluded when, according to tradition, He foretold that a period of three thousand years of conflict and contention must needs precede the advent of the World-Savior Shah-Bahram, Who would triumph over Ahriman and usher in an era of blessedness and peace.
He alone is meant by the prophecy attributed to Gautama Buddha Himself, that "a Buddha named Maitreye, the Buddha of universal fellowship" should, in the fullness of time, arise and reveal "His boundless glory." To Him the Bhagavad-Gita of the Hindus had referred as the "Most Great Spirit," the "Tenth Avatar," the "Immaculate Manifestation of Krishna."
To Him Jesus Christ had referred as the "Prince of this world," as the "Comforter" Who will "reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment," as the "Spirit of Truth" Who "will guide you into all truth," Who "shall not speak of Himself, but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak," as the "Lord of the Vineyard," and as the "Son of Man" Who "shall come in the glory of His Father" "in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory," with "all the holy angels" about Him, and "all nations" gathered before His throne. To Him the Author of the Apocalypse had alluded as the "Glory of God," as "Alpha and Omega," "the Beginning and the End," "the First and the Last." Identifying His Revelation with the "third woe," he, moreover, had extolled His Law as "a new heaven and a new earth," as the "Tabernacle of God," as the "Holy City," as the "New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband." To His Day Jesus Christ Himself had referred as "the regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit in the throne of His glory." To the hour of His advent St. Paul had alluded as the hour of the "last trump," the "trump of God," whilst St. Peter had spoken of it as the "Day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat." His Day he, furthermore, had described as "the times of refreshing," "the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy Prophets since the world began."
To Him Muhammad, the Apostle of God, had alluded in His Book as the "Great Announcement," and declared His Day to be the Day whereon "God" will "come down" "overshadowed with clouds," the Day whereon "thy Lord shall come and the angels rank on rank," and "The Spirit shall arise and the angels shall be ranged in order." His advent He, in that Book, in a surih said to have been termed by Him "the heart of the Qur'an," had foreshadowed as that of the "third" Messenger, sent down to "strengthen" the two who preceded Him. To His Day He, in the pages of that same Book, had paid a glowing tribute, glorifying it as the "Great Day," the "Last Day," the "Day of God," the "Day of Judgment," the "Day of Reckoning," the "Day of Mutual Deceit," the "Day of Severing," the "Day of Sighing," the "Day of Meeting," the Day "when the Decree shall be accomplished," the Day whereon the second "Trumpet blast" will be sounded, the "Day when mankind shall stand before the Lord of the world," and "all shall come to Him in humble guise," the Day when "thou shalt see the mountains, which thou thinkest so firm, pass away with the passing of a cloud," the Day "wherein account shall be taken," "the approaching Day, when men's hearts shall rise up, choking them, into their throats," the Day when "all that are in the heavens and all that are on the earth shall be terror-stricken, save him whom God pleaseth to deliver," the Day whereon "every suckling woman shall forsake her sucking babe, and every woman that hath a burden in her womb shall cast her burden," the Day "when the earth shall shine with the light of her Lord, and the Book shall be set, and the Prophets shall be brought up, and the witnesses; and judgment shall be given between them with equity; and none shall be wronged...
To attempt an exhaustive survey of the prophetic references to Baha'u'llah's Revelation would indeed be an impossible task. To this the pen of Baha'u'llah Himself bears witness: "All the Divine Books and Scriptures have predicted and announced unto men the advent of the Most Great Revelation. None can adequately recount the verses recorded in the Books of former ages which forecast this supreme Bounty, this most mighty Bestowal."
In conclusion of this theme, I feel, it should be stated that the Revelation identified with Baha'u'llah abrogates unconditionally all the Dispensations gone before it, upholds uncompromisingly the eternal verities they enshrine, recognizes firmly and absolutely the Divine origin of their Authors, preserves inviolate the sanctity of their authentic Scriptures, disclaims any intention of lowering the status of their Founders or of abating the spiritual ideals they inculcate, clarifies and correlates their functions, reaffirms their common, their unchangeable and fundamental purpose, reconciles their seemingly divergent claims and doctrines, readily and gratefully recognizes their respective contributions to the gradual unfoldment of one Divine Revelation, unhesitatingly acknowledges itself to be but one link in the chain of continually progressive Revelations, supplements their teachings with such laws and ordinances as conform to the imperative needs, and are dictated by the growing receptivity, of a fast evolving and constantly changing society, and proclaims its readiness and ability to fuse and incorporate the contending sects and factions into which they have fallen into a universal Fellowship, functioning within the framework, and in accordance with the precepts, of a divinely conceived, a world-unifying, a world-redeeming Order.
Shoghi Effendi: God Passes By, pages 93-100

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Holy Land



View of Haifa and harbor from above the Shrine of the Báb
The Holy Land is sacred to the Bahá'ís for two reasons: Bahá'í belief in the oneness of religion, and the Holy Land's association with the early history of the Bahá'í Faith. The combined effect of these two factors makes the Holy Land a very special place to the Bahá'ís.
The Bahá'í Faith assumes a priori that religious revelation is not final but progressive, and that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all divine in origin.[01] Referring to the various world religions, Bahá'u'lláh (1817-1892), the prophet-founder of the Bahá'í Faith, wrote,
These principles and laws, these firmly-established and mighty systems, have proceeded from one Source, and are the rays of one Light. That they differ one from another is to be attributed to the varying requirements of the ages in which they were promulgated.[02]
The Holy Land of the Jews, Christians, and Muslims thus retains its significance and sacredness to the Bahá'ís. The Bahá'ís uphold the Torah, the New Testament, and the Quran as divinely inspired, and the fact that many of the historical figures mentioned in these great religious books actually lived and walked on the Holy Land is, by itself, sufficient reason for many Bahá'ís to revere the Holy Land. It has even been speculated that the Holy Land may bear some indirect relationship to other religions.[03]
But the Holy Land's significance to the Bahá'ís is not just a result of the Holy Land's association with previous religions. The Holy Land has a historical link to the Bahá'í Faith. The historical association is possibly the primary reason behind the great importance which Bahá'ís attach to the Holy Land.
Bahá'u'lláh's prophetic mission began in Persia in 1852 and he formally founded the Bahá'í Faith in 1863. He revealed many prayers, spiritual teachings, and social principles. Examples of his spiritual teachings include the oneness of God, the oneness of religion, and the oneness of mankind. Examples of his social teachings include universal education, world government, the abolishment of clergy, the abandonment of all forms of prejudice, the adoption of an auxiliary international language, and equal rights for men and women. Many of Bahá'u'lláh's ideas were too radical for the society in which he lived. The history of the persecution of the Bahá'í Faith dates back to the days of Bahá'u'lláh. From Persia he was exiled consecutively to Baghdad, to Constantinople, to Adrianople, and finally to the Holy Land.[04]

View of Haifa from `Akká, across the bay
In 1868 Sultán `Abdu'-l`Azíz had Bahá'u'lláh sent to the fortress of St. Jean d'Acre (`Akká) in Ottoman Syria to live out the rest of his life there as a prisoner.[05] Bahá'u'lláh spent the last twenty-four years of his life in the vicinity of Haifa. Following Bahá'u'lláh's death in 1892, the reins of the Bahá'í Faith passed to his eldest son `Abdu'l-Bahá, and then to `Abdu'l-Bahá's grandson Shoghi Effendi, who was the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith from 1921 to 1957. During these years both `Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi ministered to the needs of the Bahá'í international community from Haifa. The city continues today to be the administrative capital of the Bahá'í Faith. The Universal House of Justice, the supreme institution of the Bahá'í Faith, is situated on Mount Carmel in Haifa.[06]
Moreover, the spiritual capital of the Bahá'í Faith is also in the Holy Land. To the Bahá'í, the holiest spot on earth is the resting place of Bahá'u'lláh's mortal remains: the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh at Bahjí, north of `Akká. Bahá'ís, when reciting their prayers, turn towards the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh in the same way that Muslims turn to the Kaaba in Mecca. The Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh is the qiblih of the Bahá'í world.[07]
Evidence exists for the two-fold origin of the Holy Land's sacredness to Bahá'ís. The description of the Holy Land by Shoghi Effendi given below shows that the Holy Land's significance to the Bahá'ís has its origin both in Bahá'í belief in the divine origin of older religions, and in early Bahá'í history. Shoghi Effendi describes this region of the earth as
...the Holy Land-the Land promised by God to Abraham, sanctified by the Revelation of Moses, honoured by the lives and labours of the Hebrew patriarchs, judges, kings, and prophets, revered as the cradle of Christianity, and as the place where Zoroaster, according to `Abdu'l-Bahá's testimony, had ``held converse with some of the prophets of Israel,'' and associated by Islám with the Apostle's night-journey, through the seven heavens, to the throne of the Almighty. Within the confines of this holy and enviable country, ``the nest of all the prophets of God,'' ``the Vale of God's unsearchable Decree, the snow-white Spot, the Land of unfading splendor'' was the Exile of Baghdád, of Constantinople and Adrianople condemned to spend no less than a third of the allotted span of His life, and over half of the total period of His Mission. ``It is difficult,'' declares `Abdu'l-Bahá, ``to understand how Bahá'u'lláh could have been obliged to leave Persia, and to pitch His tent in this Holy Land, but for the persecution of His enemies, His banishment and exile.''[08]
The Bahá'í pilgrim to the Holy Land is thus brought into contact with the sacred sites of four successive divine dispensations: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the Bahá'í Faith. As David Ruhe, former member of the Universal House of Justice, explains,
A pilgrimage to Israel constitutes a journey in progressive Revelation, an experience confirming the reality of the concept of evolution in religion.[09]

Bahá'í Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage serves an important function in the Bahá'í community. Bahá'ís rely upon faith in God, daily prayer, and meditative study of the sacred texts to effect the transformation of character necessary for personal growth and maturity. But the aim of the Bahá'í community is to create a world civilization that will in turn react upon the character of the individual. To Bahá'ís the concept of personal salvation is linked to collective salvation. Bahá'ís believe that ``the world of humanity is a composite body'' and that ``when one part of the organism suffers all the rest of the body will feel its consequences.'' Guided by these principles, the Bahá'í community has accumulated over a century of experience in creating models of unity that transcend race, culture, nationality, class, and differences of sex and religion. Today over 2,100 ethnic groups and nationalities are represented in the worldwide Bahá'í community.[10] The heart of this global Bahá'í organism is the Bahá'í World Centre, and the flux of pilgrims to and from the Holy Land serves to maintain a sense of connectedness between the World Centre and the Bahá'í community at large. It is also a powerful force which inspires and revitalizes the Bahá'ís. The flow of pilgrims to the Holy Land has been compared to the life-blood of the Bahá'í community.[11]

Shrine of the Báb and new terrace
Pilgrimage is a privilege and an obligation in the Bahá'í Faith for those who can afford it. It is enjoined by Bahá'u'lláh in his most important work, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (Most Holy Book), his Book of Laws.[12] There are three places to which pilgrimage is binding. The first of these is the former residence of the Báb (1819-1850), the prophet-founder of the Bábí religion, in Shiraz, Iran. The Báb was the forerunner of Bahá'u'lláh, and the Bábí and Bahá'í religions are intimately related.[13] The Báb's residence was demolished during the Islamic Revolution in Iran and has not yet been rebuilt. The second place of pilgrimage is the former residence of Bahá'u'lláh during his banishment and exile in Baghdad. Pilgrimages to Shiraz and Baghdad have been suspended due to conditions unfavorable to Bahá'ís in those lands. The third place of obligatory pilgrimage is the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh at Bahjí.
The purpose of pilgrimage to the Holy Land is to pray at the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh and, to a lesser extent, the Shrine of the Báb (see below). On the first day the pilgrims visit the Shrine of the Báb. From the second day onwards, the pilgrims visit the sites roughly in a descending order of spiritual significance, starting with the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh. Although there is no ritual associated with Bahá'í pilgrimages, there are some practices which are quite common amongst the Bahá'ís. Circumambulation of the shrines and recitation of the Tablet of Visitation (see appendix) are two such practices.
Bahá'í pilgrimages began during the period of Bahá'u'lláh's banishment in Adrianople. Following the formal proclamation of his message to the Christian and Muslim rulers of the earth in 1867, Bahá'u'lláh asked one of the well-known Bahá'ís, Nabíl-i-A`zam, to go on pilgrimage.[14] Shoghi Effendi writes,
It was during those same days that Bahá'u'lláh instructed this same Nabíl to recite on His behalf the two newly revealed Tablets of the Pilgrimage, and to perform, in His stead, the rites prescribed in them, when visiting the Báb's House in Shíráz and the Most Great House in Baghdád -- an act that marks the inception of one of the holiest observances, which, in a later period, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas was to formally establish.[15]
Much change has taken place since the first pilgrims visited Bahá'u'lláh in prison in 1868. Pilgrimage then was a dangerous experience. By 1944, Shoghi Effendi was able to note,
we can even bear witness to the marked improvement in the conditions surrounding the pilgrimages performed by its devoted adherents to its consecrated shrines at its world center -- pilgrimages originally arduous, perilous, tediously long, often made on foot, at times ending in disappointment, and confined to a handful of harassed Oriental followers, gradually attracting, under steadily improving circumstances of security and comfort, an ever swelling number of new converts converging from the four corners of the globe, and culminating in the widely publicized yet sadly frustrated visit of a noble Queen [Marie of Rumania], who, at the very threshold of the city of her heart's desire, was compelled, according to her own written testimony, to divert her steps, and forego the privilege of so priceless a benefit.[16]
Today, Bahá'í pilgrimages can be arranged by contacting the appropriate department of the Bahá'í World Centre. Pilgrims converge in the Holy Land from all parts of the world. At present, pilgrimages last nine days. Special arrangements are made at the Bahá'í World Centre to provide local transportation to the Bahá'í properties and to ensure that the pilgrims receive guidance and explanations about the histories of the various sites. Every effort is made to enrich to the utmost these especially auspicious days in the lives of the Bahá'í pilgrims.
The future is expected to lead to a fuller and richer pilgrimage experience. Although pilgrimages to Iraq and Iran are at present impossible, the Bahá'ís are optimistic, and hope that one day the situation will change. The Bahá'í Faith is also growing very rapidly, and the number of pilgrims is very likely to increase in the near future. David Ruhe writes,
It is proper to expect that, with the spread of the Cause [sic] throughout the world and its increasing membership, the corresponding development of the [Bahá'í] World Centre will produce a great expansion of the pilgrimage experience. Just as the `flow of pilgrims ...constitutes the life-blood' of that Centre, so the World Centre itself, which is the spiritual heart, is growing larger and stronger as it beats the pulse of the new Bahá'í society.[17]

A Spiritual Journey

What is the significance of pilgrimage? If God is omnipresent, then why go to the Holy Land for pilgrimage? Why are holy places special if God transcends the physical universe? Since God created everything, how can some places be more holy than others? Is pilgrimage a physical act, or is it a spiritual journey?
Bahá'í theology and theophanology very much influence and shape the Bahá'í pilgrimage experience. A discussion of Bahá'í pilgrimage which makes no reference to how Bahá'ís relate to God is ipso facto incomplete. God, Bahá'u'lláh says, is ``sanctified above all attributes and holy above all names.'' [18] Humanity thus requires an intermediary, a prophet, to reveal the will of God. Bahá'ís use the term Manifestation of God to refer to these intermediaries.[19]
Every one of these Manifestations of God, Bahá'u'lláh says, has two stations: ``the station of pure abstraction and essential unity,'' and ``the station of distinction.''[20][21] In the latter station, they are distinct servants of God. In the former station, they are all identically the Manifestation of God:
Were any of the all-embracing Manifestations of God to declare; ``I am God,'' He, verily speaketh the truth, and no doubt attacheth thereto. For it hath been repeatedly demonstrated that through their Revelation, their attributes and names, the Revelation of God, His names and His attributes , are made manifest in the world....And were they all to proclaim , ``I am the Seal of the Prophets,''they, verily, utter but the truth, beyond the faintest shadow of doubt. For they are all but one person, one soul, one spirit, one being, one revelation. They are all the manifestation of the ``Beginning'' and the ``End,'' the ``First'' and the ``Last,'' the ``Seen'' and the ``Hidden'' -- all of which pertain to Him Who is the Innermost Spirit of Spirits and Eternal Essence of Essences. And were they to say, ``We are the Servants of God,'' this also is a manifest and indisputable fact. For they have been made manifest in the uttermost state of servitude, a servitude the like of which no man can possibly attain.[22]

The wall of the Shrine of the Báb
Pilgrimage thus assumes a special significance for the Bahá'í. Pilgrimage to the abode of the Manifestation of God is almost like pilgrimage to the abode of God. To the Bahá'í, praying to the Manifestation of God is equivalent, in a sense, to praying to God. Obedience to the Manifestation of God is obedience to God. Bahá'ís thus have a very special place in their hearts for the great Manifestations of God. They love Bahá'u'lláh almost in the same way that they love God. This is why sites associated with Bahá'u'lláh are so special to Bahá'ís.
Variations in the way Bahá'ís relate to Bahá'u'lláh obviously lead to variations in the way in which Bahá'ís perceive the Holy Land and the Bahá'í Holy Places. The pilgrimage experience is subjective. Not only is each Bahá'í an individual who responds to God and religion in a unique way, but the absence of any clergy in the Bahá'í religion encourages the pilgrim to respond in an unfettered way to numinous stimuli. Each pilgrimage is bound to be different.
In view of the subjective nature of the pilgrimage experience, it may be of some benefit to the reader for this author to share his recollections of his pilgrimage. In July 1992 the author, then aged twenty-two, went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The Bahá'í community was then commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of Bahá'u'lláh's ascension, and 1992-3 was proclaimed a Bahá'í Holy Year. Going on pilgrimage during the Holy Year was an inestimable privilege in the eyes if this author, and I will never forget those blessed days of my life. In anticipation of my pilgrimage, I had memorized the Tablet of Visitation (see appendix) and was able to recite it by heart at the Shrine of the Báb and the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh. I spent quite a bit of time there praying. I put a special effort not to ask God to fulfill my personal wishes, but instead I asked God to do with me as He pleased, and to allow me to live a life of service and sacrifice. Not only were those nine days in Israel some of the happiest in my entire life, but I believe that my character took a change for the better as a result of my pilgrimage. It was an eschatological event in my life, whose significance I am yet to understand in its full measure.
The mystical purpose of pilgrimage is to evoke in the individual a spiritual response. It is an opportunity for the individual to find new motivation in living a pure, holy life dedicated to God. `Abdu'l-Bahá explains,
Holy places are undoubtedly centres of the outpouring of Divine grace, because on entering the illumined sites associated with martyrs and holy souls, and by observing reverence, both physical and spiritual, one's heart is moved with great tenderness.[23]

Bahá'í Holy Places

Pilgrims visit a number of Bahá'í Holy Places in the Holy Land. The sites have a special significance to Bahá'ís because of the historical associations with the birth and development of the religion. Each site has its own history and to some Bahá'ís the relationship of the site to the historical figures of the Bahá'í Faith is as important as the site itself. David Ruhe writes,
In the Haifa-`Akká area the Bahá'í Holy Places include a number of places large and small, developed or to be developed, which have been hallowed by the Dust of the Forerunner [the Báb] and by twenty-four years of Revelation of the Supreme Prophet [Bahá'u'lláh], have witnessed fifty-three years of devoted service and teaching by the Master, `Abdu'l-Bahá, and bear the imprint of a lifetime of selfless and indefatigable labour by the Guardian [Shoghi Effendi]. [24]


















`Akká




The sea wall at `Akká, near the Most GREAT PRISON


The following are the major sites of `Akká (Acre):

The Barracks

Bahá'u'lláh and his companions, the Bahá'í exiles, arrived in `Akká in the late afternoon of 31 August 1868. Shortly after arrival in the barracks, several Bahá'ís died and most fell sick due to the conditions in the prison. The isolation and pressures of imprisonment were compounded by mistreatment, by deliberate deprivations of food, and by an absence of hygiene. Bahá'u'lláh was imprisoned in the barracks for two years, two months, and five days.
The barracks was set upon the massive foundations of the great chapter fortress of the Crusader Knights of the Hospital and was built upon earlier buildings. The structure stood on the edge of the former inner moat and since garrison needs were limited, it could be used as a prison. It was known to some as `the Turkish Bastille'.

The Three Houses

Bahá'u'lláh was finally removed from the prison in 1870 to three successive houses within `Akká because the Turkish army required the barracks for its reorganization. Bahá'u'lláh was moved to the house of Malík, the house of Khavvám and the house of Rabí`ih. The length of his stay in these three houses was approximately ten months.














The House of `Abbúd
The House of `Abbúd

What is known as the House of `Abbúd is actually in two parts: the eastern part and the western part. The eastern part was known as the house of `Údí Khammár and western part as the house of `Abbúd.

Bahá'u'lláh was moved to the house of `Údí Khammár in 1871. It was so inadequate for the needs of the Bahá'ís that no less than thirteen persons of both sexes had to accommodate themselves in one of its rooms. The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Bahá'u'lláh's Book of Laws and his most important work, was revealed in this house. `Abdu'l-Bahá got married in this house in 1872. Bahá'u'lláh lived in these two houses for a total of seven years.

Khán-i-`Avámíd

At the time of the transfer of Bahá'u'lláh and the Bahá'ís from the barracks to make room for the Turkish troops, most of Bahá'u'lláh's companions were consigned to a caravansarai named the Khán-i-`Avámíd (Inn of the Pillars). The means of comfort were so limited, and food was so scarce that each loaf of Arab bread, normally adequate for one meal for one person, had to be divided into four portions, for the four periods of the day! All other food was also strictly divided and assigned.

As the companions of Bahá'u'lláh took up residence in other houses, the Khán-i-`Avámíd became the first Bahá'í Pilgrim House of the Holy Land. Many eminent early Bahá'í believers stayed in and lived in this caravansarai.



The House of `Abdu'lláh Páshá





















The House of `Abdu'lláh Páshá

In 1896, four years after the death of Bahá'u'lláh, `Abdu'l-Bahá rented the house of `Abdu'lláh Páshá. The house of `Abbúd had become too small for the large family of Bahá'u'lláh. It was here that in March 1897, in an upper room of the south wing, the first child was born which was related both to Bahá'u'lláh and to his forerunner the Báb: Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith. Shoghi Effendi's mother was the eldest daughter of `Abdu'l-Bahá and his father was one of the relatives of the Báb. This house is also the site of the meeting between `Abdu'l-Bahá and the first pilgrim group from the West in the winter of 1898-9.


The Land Gate of `Akká











The Gates

The sea gate is the passage used by the Bahá'í exiles to enter the city. The land gate of `Akká witnessed passages of Bahá'u'lláh, `Abdu'l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendi during their lifetimes.


The Cemeteries

North of the land gate is a small Muslim cemetery named after Nabí Sálih. Fourteen Bahá'ís were buried there, including one of the sons of Bahá'u'lláh who died in the barracks. The remains of Bahá'u'lláh's son were transferred to Mount Carmel in 1939.

East of the city, now within the area occupied by the Israel School for Naval Officers, lies an extensive Muslim cemetery which became after 1880 the burial place for the dead of the Bahá'í community. Several members of Bahá'u'lláh's family were buried here. Until the transfer of her remains to Mount Carmel, `Abdu'l-Bahá's mother was buried here.

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The `Akká Area



Fountain at Mazra`ih
The following sites are also in the Akka area:

The Mansion of Mazra`ih

Nine years Bahá'u'lláh was confined within the city walls. His sole exercise had been to pace, in monotonous repetition, the floor of his own bed-chamber. `Abdu'l-Bahá relates that one day Bahá'u'lláh remarked,
I have not gazed on verdure for nine years. The country is the world of the soul, the city is the world of bodies.[25]

Realizing Bahá'u'lláh's longing for the country, `Abdu'l-Bahá decided to take him away from the city into the country. He was successful in renting a summer mansion of simple design located about four miles north of the city, and then informed Bahá'u'lláh that the ``palace'' was ready. ``I am a prisoner,'' replied Bahá'u'lláh.[26] But at the insistence of the Muftí of `Akká, Bahá'u'lláh departed from the city for the Mansion of Mazra`ih. Bahá'u'lláh's liberation occurred in June 1877.

The Garden of Ridván

In 1875, expectant that Bahá'u'lláh would soon leave the city, `Abdu'l-Bahá rented some property, near a place called Shahuta, as a place of beauty and rest for Bahá'u'lláh. The garden of Na`mayn is a verdant knoll situated in the middle of a river east of `Akká. The garden became one of the favorite retreats of Bahá'u'lláh and was named Ridván (paradise) by him. There was also a simple house for the gardener or caretaker. That building is now known simply as the little house.

The Mansion of Bahjí


The Mansion of Bahjí
Bahá'u'lláh's two years at the Mansion of Mazra`ih were productive and pleasant. But the mansion was too small to serve the many needs of Bahá'u'lláh, his family , and the other exiles and expatriate settlers in `Akká. In 1879, Bahá'u'lláh moved to the Mansion of Bahjí.

`Údí Khammár, who had lavished much wealth on the construction of the mansion during the years of Bahá'u'lláh's incarceration in the barracks, had fled the mansion because of an outbreak of an epidemic disease. The Bahá'ís managed to rent, and later purchase the mansion without much difficulty. `Údí Khammár's commercial successes had enabled him to add extensively to the original structure built earlier in 1821. The mansion was surrounded by a garden and high wall, and the area around the mansion was known as al-Bahjá, Place of Delight. The following inscription in Arabic which `Údí Khammár had placed over the main doorway to welcome visitors is very thought-provoking to many Bahá'ís:

Greetings and salutations rest upon this Mansion which increaseth in splendour through the passage of time. Manifold wonders and marvels are found therein, and pens are baffled in attempting to describe them.[27]

Entrance to the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh


The Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh

Bahá'u'lláh departed from this world on 29 May, 1892. The mortal remains are interred in the northernmost room of the mansion-complex of Bahjí, the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh. It is the holiest place in the Bahá'í world.




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Explanation of the Symbol
of the Greatest Name
..... by Jenabe A.Q. Faizi



"From eternity Thou hast been removed far above the reach and the ken of the comprehension of Thy servants, and immeasurably exalted above the strivings of Thy bond-slaves to express Thy mystery." -Baha'u'llah



EXPLANATION OF THE SYMBOL OF THE GREATEST NAME
The identity of the Greatest Name, a mystery concealed from time immemorial "behind the mystic veil" and preserved in the treasure house of the knowledge of God, was to be revealed and manifested to men's eyes at its appointed time in accordance with the Divine Plan, like the other manifold and basic truths of the New Age. Allusions had been made to it by the Messengers of old, under the impact of Whose Revelations, man has made spiritual progress and gradually attained a clearer understanding of its hidden meanings. Like a brilliant sun wrapt in clouds, the Greatest Name remained hidden and unknown. Those who longed to catch a glimpse of its splendor drew close, but enjoyed only a dim vision of its radiance.

Throughout past centuries, in accordance with the inscrutable wisdom of God's progressive revelation of truth, the veils remained until gradually, one by one, were removed from this precious and all-embracing Name.

1. The Greatest Name anticipated in the past religions
The eager followers of past religions, in their deep desire to witness a flickering of the approaching majestic dawn, found that the new Name of the Great One to come meant "light", "splendor" and "glory".

The followers of Krishna, for instance, expected His return under the name of "Vishnu Yasha", which in Sanskrit means "Glory of God". The last chapter of the Shrimad Bhagwad of the Hindu Scripture states:

"Vishnu Yasha will possess great energy, intelligence and prowess .... He will restore order and peace in this world .... Man in general will begin to honor and practice truth." ('The Second coming of Shri Krishna', Prof. Pritam Singh, P. 10)

One of the Baha'i scholars in the Middle East, whose father had formerly superintended a Buddhist Temple, and who was himself well-versed in the writings of that Faith, told me that many times he had read the entire Gospel of Buddha in Sanskrit, every word of which he had understood with the exception of the meaning of a word composed of "b", "h" and "a", which occasionally appears in Buddhist Scripture. When he learned of the Baha'i Faith, the mystery was solved. The letters, joined together, formed the name of "Baha".

The references by Buddha, are exceptionally clear. Ananda, one of His disciples, asked Him:

"Who shall teach us when Thou art gone?" Buddha replied in these clear terms: "I am not the first Buddha who came upon earth, nor shall I be the last. In due time another Buddha will arise .... He shall reveal to you the same eternal truths which I have taught you. He will preach to you His religion, glorious in its origin, glorious at the climax and glorious at the goal, in the spirit and in the letter." (Sermon of the Great Passing)

It is most interesting to note that in Buddhist Scripture, particularly in the Amitayus Sutra, clear reference is made to "AMITABHA" as the "Infinite Light of Revelation", the "Unbounded Light" and the "Source of Wisdom, of Virtue and of Buddha hood." When giving the qualities of a "true follower" Buddha stated that it was he who "relies with his heart upon Amitabha .... the unbounded Light of Truth." ( Shirin Khanum, 'Lord Buddha and Amitabha', pp 13, 17-19 )

The Jewish mystics knew of the significance of the two letters "b" and "h" and attached much importance to them. Their spiritual leaders and philosophers wrote commentaries and drew the attention of seeking souls to these letters. There is a legend among the Jews about Solomon's Seal, a Seal said to have carried the Greatest Name from which it reputedly derived its power over all creation including the animal world.

In Isaiah, we read,

" . . . Lebanon is ashamed and hewn down; Sharon is like a wilderness; and Bashan and Carmel shake off their fruits." ( Isaiah, chapter 33, verse 9 )

Isaiah also says,

" . . . The glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon; they shall see the glory of the Lord and the excellence of our God." ( Isaiah, chapter 35, verse2 )

It is interesting to compare this last verse with its Arabic version which, when translated literally, into English, reads as follows:

"God will render to Lebanon its glory: the Baha of Carmel and Sharon shall be manifested, and they shall see the glory of God, the Baha of our Lord." ( Holy Bible, Arabic translation, 1881, Third Ed., also: Ishraq Khavari, Rahiq-i-Makhtum (The Sealed Wine) pp. 218-219 )

When Jesus spoke to the Jews who were familiar with these terms, He told them that He would return "in the glory of the Father."

As the Islamic Faith immediately preceded the New Day, followers of Islam found that the veils covering this hidden treasure had become more diaphanous, allowing the heavenly rays of light to penetrate deeper, and to reveal in sharper detail the reality of this mystery. Explicit references had been made to the Greatest Name, and as the seekers found clear indications of these references, they became encouraged to persevere in their search.

The words of Imams and divines of Islam served to draw the longing souls to the fountainhead of true knowledge. There is a very powerful prayer which the Shi'ah Muslims chant as a dawn prayer during the month of the fast. The faithful believer awakens at dawn to catch the melody of its tune as it is chanted from the minarets of mosques or, in these days, is broadcast from the radio stations. In introducing this prayer, Imam Rida has said,

"I swear by God that the Greatest Name is found in this prayer. Had you known this, you would have fought with swords to possess this prayer." ( Mafatihu'l Jenan, 'Keys of Paradise', compilation of Muslim Prayers )

The opening words of this prayer read as follows:

"O God! My God! I beseech Thee by Thy Baha, Thy Baha in its entirety. I beseech Thee by all Thy Baha."

The prayer then goes on mentioning other Names of God including "Beauty", "Splendor", and all the Names which are a part of the Baha'i calendar.

2. Acclaimed by Poets
Poets and philosophers found this mystic secret and openly acclaimed it. At the time of Shah 'Abbes, the Persian King and contemporary of Queen Elizabeth 1, the greatest of all the divines of that age went to Persia from Lebanon and established his residence in Isfahan which was then the royal seat and the country's capital. This man had an encyclopaedic mind and he wrote outstanding books on the arts, sciences, the literature and philosophy of his age. There are many stories about him and his unique erudition and genius. It is even said that he had invented a machine which reproduced voices from distant lands. One of his discoveries was the Greatest Name, and he adopted the name of "Baha'i" for himself. Shaykh Baha'i is unquestionably the most renowned of all Persian divines.

In one of his poetical works he says, "The Greatest Name is unknown to man, but in the list of all the Names of God it stands first." No doubt he had in mind the dawn prayer mentioned above which opens with the name of Baha.

Mawlavi, the greatest of all the mystic poets of the East, whose poems are known for their elucidations of the spiritual journey of man and his attainments in the realms of God, has stated,

"We have found Baha and we hasten to offer our life as a sacrifice to Him. He is our ransom." ( Nabil's Narrative, p. 72, "whoso seeketh Me, shall find Me..." )

Hafiz, the most renowned of all lyric poets of the East, addressed Persia, saying,

"May this land remain forever prosperous. From its sacred soil at every breath the breezes of the Merciful are wafted. Glad tidings to the glorious Kings of Persia ! Glad tidings for a blissful ending ! The power of the Greatest Name has stayed away the hand of evil from that country."

While I was in Arabia, I examined the manuscript of a book on Mystic Philosophy from one of the learned men there. In one chapter the author speaks of the conditions to be observed by the Seeker of the path to God, and says,

"Those who tread the path and knock at the door of the knowledge of the Light are sincere and forbearing. They stand face to face with angels who greet them, cleanse, and purify them. They pour for them water from the fountain head of Baha. When they open their eyes they behold God passing by with great majesty. His name appears above the horizon of the Kingdom. Toss people, though they wander on earth, have their hearts attached to the Exalted Spot and the dwellers in the Great Tabernacle." ( Maqum A'ala is the name given by 'Abdu'l-Baha to the Shrine of the Bab. It means "the Exalted Spot" )

3. The Greatest Name was made known to the Babis
With the inauguration of the New Age and the appearance of its Herald, the Bab, the remaining veils were torn asunder through the movement of His Exalted Pen. The people began to know more and more clearly that "Baha" was, without any shadow of doubt, the name so dearly treasured and destined to be manifested with all splendor and majesty. The explicit nature of the Bab's reference to Baha'u'llah and the glowing terms with which He praised Him, made, 'Baha' the focus of adoration.

The Bab singled out the Greatest Name in the manuscript copies of His matchless Writings. Years ago, I had the honor to read three volumes of His Writings before they were dispatched to the beloved Guardian. The books were written down by Mulla Ali Akbar Ardestani ( Nabil's Narrative, p. 146, Footnote No. 3 ) in the first year of the Bab's Dispensation.

These books were written in black ink, but whenever the many references were made to "Baha", this word always appeared in red. During the very first year of His ministry, the Bab had instructed His amanuensis to write in this manner in order that those who had no time or patience to read all His Writings would be helped to see this Name.

There are innumerable references to "Baha" in all the Writings of the Bab and to quote them all here is beyond the scope of this essay. It is sufficient to note, that He has said,

"Well is it with him who fixeth his gaze upon the order of Baha'u'llah and rendereth thanks unto his Lord." ( Shoghi Effendi, 'God Passes By', p.25 )

When the followers of the Bab gathered under special circumstances at Badasht, it was there that everyone received a new name. It was then that they knew this shining diadem of majesty and might found its eternal manifestation, not on the forehead of one who was clad in the garments of the learned; but shone instead on that of a Youth who was majestic in appearance, glorious in gait and manners, and-godly in every atom of His being. So exalted was He in the eyes of the people, so highly respected and adored, that out of sheer homage and love they did not dare to mention His name. Instead He was referred to as "Ishan." ( Honorific form of Persian pronoun for the third person singular )

The Letters of the Living and the early believers now knew the Bearer of this Name and recognized in Him such heavenly attributes that, even though they had quaffed from the newly-found stream of life, they prayed and longed for the even more glorious day when they could be drowned in the powerful, celestial ocean of the Utterance of this Great One.

Tahirih, in one of her epistles, says,

"O my God! O my God! The veil must be removed from the face of the Remnant of the Lord. O my God! Protect Husayn the mystery of Muhammad and advance the day of reunion with him . . . Make the point of Baha, O my God, to circulate . . . O my God! Protect all who circumambulate the twin points and keep them steadfast in Thy most Great Cause, so that they might behold the point sending forth light upon them."

It was no wonder that so many hundreds of learned and outstanding divines of the East sacrificed their lives with devotion and faith in the path of the promulgation of the Great Name. They waited for its advent, waited for the moment when the effulgence would emanate from it. The instant they felt it was ascending toward the dawning point, they burnt themselves in its light and rose like glowing lamps. They became the "Dawn Breakers."

There are numerous references to the name, the place of birth, the date of declaration, the places of banishment, the imprisonment and the fate of the Central Figures of our Faith. For the purposes of this essay it is sufficient to know this great, authentic Islamic tradition:

"All the followers of the Promised Qa'im shall be put to death except One Whose face shall shine with Abha beauty in the plain of 'Akka."

From this introduction we gather that the Greatest Name is "Baha". This point should be well understood and borne in mind, as we proceed to fathom with our limited means this tremendous divine mystery. It will be necessary to proceed slowly and patiently, step by step, in order to discuss each phase of this essential theme so that we might have a full grasp of all the problems pertaining to the subject.

The Bab adored The name "Baha" and used it profusely in all His Writings. He even made many derivatives from this one word and wrote them out in a Tablet which had the form of a five pointed star, symbolizing the human temple.

Far from attempting to make an exhaustive study of this subject, we merely set forth a few points at random to pave the way for a clearer understanding of this theme, the "Symbol of the Greatest Name".

4. The Symbol of the Greatest Name

ringstone symbol

Our explanation of the symbol of the Greatest Name is based mainly on Tablets revealed by the beloved Master and will cover the topics as follows in this article.

5. Who Designed the Symbol?
One of the believers who had the bounty and privilege of attaining the presence of the beloved Master has recorded one of His oral statements which shows that this emblem was initiated by Him. No less a person than 'Abdu'l-Baha could have designed this emblem, for who else could have condensed so much of the divine mystery into so little space and into so few letters! Some of the mystic divines among the Israelites have emphatically drawn the attention of their followers to the two letters "b" and "h" indicating that they have some idea about the Greatest Name. It has been said that the Greatest Name was the leading decoration of the Temple. The Muslims were better acquainted with it but not in this form and finality. One finds in the Islamic laws governing worship and reverence that whoever possesses a ring bearing the symbol of the Greatest Name must wear the ring on their right hand.

The friends are not obliged by Baha'u'llah to wear a ring carrying this emblem since there is no specific law by Baha'u'llah in the Aqdas or in His Tablets regarding this. The beloved Master told the friends in the West that the ring should be placed on the right hand, which is a perpetuation of the Islamic law referred to above.

Some Derivatives of the Name Baha:

Baha... Light or Glory
Abha... Most Glorious
Al-Abha (sometimes used as El Abha)... The All Glorious or the Most Glorious
Bahiyyih meaning Full of Glory. The Greatest Holy Leaf.
Allah'u'Abha... God, the All-Glorious

This is-a Baha'i greeting initiated and used since the days of Adrianopole. ( Shoghi Effendi, 'God Passes by', p. 176 ) Its use ninety-five times each day, according to an instruction written on behalf of the beloved Guardian, "is not absolutely binding." "Allah'u'Abha" is to be repeated in the long obligatory prayer where instructions call for use of the Greatest Name.

Ya Baha'u'l-Abha... This is an invocation. It means "O Glory of the All-Glorious."

In this connection we recall the soul stirring message of the Guardian in 1953 to the Intercontinental Conferences where he refers to "Ya Baha'u'l-Abha" and "Ya 'Aliyyu'l-'Ala" as the "battle cry" of the pioneers and teachers in the many fields of this world-embracing spiritual Crusade. The first, as already stated, means "O Glory of the All Glorious", while the second means "O Exalted of the Most Exalted One." (The Bab) There is nothing in the Writings which says we have to repeat such an invocation a specific number of times each day. However, what a thrill it would be for us in times of dire need, to seek God's guidance, His support and strength, by addressing Baha'u'llah and the Bab directly with these beautiful invocations!

6. Explanation of the Greatest Name symbol
We will begin with basic pattern of the design and, as we proceed, the picture will be complete:
The Greatest Name symbol comprises three horizontal lines representing three distinct levels of creation. Together they represent the underlying belief which is the basis of all the religions of God. They are as follows:

(1) The top line represents the World of God-- The Creator
(2) The middle line represents the World of the Prophets or Manifestation Cause, or Command of God
(3) The bottom line represents the World of Man-- The Creation.

The followers of all religions believe that man, left to himself, can never recognize God and attain His presence; nor is man able to fathom the mystery and purpose of his own creation. God, in His unlimited bounty has singled out His Chosen Ones and will continue to do so, sending them to man at different times and ages in order to grant him penetrating insight and to enable him to have a glimpse of the unfading glories of the innumerable worlds beyond.

The Prophets accept descent from their realms on high and suffer the abasement of living in human temples, walking amongst men and speaking their languages. The Manifestations are invariably denied, ridiculed, humiliated and even put to death. Were it not for their spiritual upliftment and leadership, man would have continued to live as a wild beast and would have been eternally doomed to deprivation and loss.

These functions of the Prophets are clearly demonstrated in the design of the Greatest Name by having the world of the Prophets (shown in horizontal line) repeated in vertical line, thus joking the world of the Creator to that of His creation.

Contrary to this, mystics believe in only two worlds; the world of God and the world of man. They proclaim that should man cleanse himself from all worldly desires and earthly attachments, he will be enabled to attain the presence of his Lord, the Creator. The mystics claim there is no need for an intermediary link between God and His creation. They therefore believe in, and practice, ascetic life which sometimes takes them to secluded corners of the world, occasionally in the mountains, forests, and jungles. This hermit's life is utterly forbidden by the mighty Pen of Baha'u'llah because He desires every man to be a fruitful member of the society he lives in.

The Baha'is believe that no matter what height of spiritual, scientific and material success man may reach, he is and will forever be in need of divine guidance bestowed upon him by the Prophets of God. It is only through Them that man can comprehend the secrets of true civilization and recognize the Will of God and His Purpose. The Baha'is also believe that it is through a complete understanding and the full establishment of Their highly valued and vital precepts and teachings that man can attain the highest state of happiness, and eventually rejoice in the presence of his Lord.

Let us ponder once more upon this design and behold with our own eyes the perfect realization of Christ's prayer. The lights of the Kingdom on High are mirrored forth by the Manifestations of God upon the plane of creation, thus fulfilling the promise of the appearance of God's Kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.

7. The letters the Greatest Name symbol contains
Let us study the letters in the symbol to discover what they signify. The three horizontal lines and the one vertical line in the Greatest Name symbol are composed of the letters "B" and "H". "B" stands for the name of Baha and "H" stands for the name of Bab. Aboo Basseers says that he asked the Imam Jafar as to the meaning of "BESMELLAH" (In the name of God). The Imam answered,

"The letter "B" stands for Baha'u'llah..." (Fazilat Besmellah, p 44 by Abbass Rezai, Teheran)

To grasp the significance and the important implications of this beautiful and artistic combination, we must bear in mind that among the Near-Eastern people the Phoenicians were the first to sail their boats to distant lands. Wherever they travel led, they established trading centres, and as traders found themselves forced to adopt some practical way of recording their commercial transactions. The characters they adopted became their alphabet and in the course of centuries this alphabet developed and gradually became a pattern of alphabets used in both the East and the West.

Gibbon says

"Phoenicia and Palestine will forever live in the memory of mankind; since America as well as Europe, have received letters from the one, and religion from the other." "The use of letters was introduced among the savages of Europe about fifteen hundred years before Christ; and the Europeans carried them to America about fifteen centuries after the Christian era. But in a period of three thousand years, the Phoenician alphabet received considerable alteration; as it passed through the hands of the Greeks and Roman." ( Gibbon, "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", ch.1, P 32 )


Will Durant, in his monumental Story of Civilization, describes this contribution as the most precious legacy of the ancient cultures.

8. Ancient Alphabets
The Phoenicians used their alphabet for both letters and numbers, therefore each letter had a numerical value. Their alphabet starts as follows.

Numerical Letter value:
a= 1, h= 8, b= 2, t= 9, j= 3, i= 10, d= 4, k= 20, h= 5, l= 30, w= 6, m= 40, z= 7, n= 50

When the Phoenicians wished to say, "One house; two years; or nine letters", they would write, "a house; b years; t letters." There are some very interesting remnants of the influence exerted by this very ancient people of the Near East still to be found in the western languages of today. The four letters, "K", "L", "M" and "N" are in the same order in English, French and some other western alphabets just as they appeared in the Phoenician alphabets, illustrated above.

The next stage in the science of numbers was the acquisition of numbers by the Moslems who acquired them from the Indians. To the nine digits of the Indians, the "zero" discovered by the Arabs completed the science of numbers. The world is indebted to the Indians for this very valuable and fundamental contribution.

Had it not been for these numbers, the science of mathematics would have stood still, and without mathematics man could not have progressed in technology, nor could he have fashioned instruments with which he changes the face of the earth today.

The Hebrew alphabet used by Israeli people today is exactly the same. The people of the East continued to give numerical values to the letters of their alphabet even though they had the Indian numbers. Today it is still common to find that poets, doctors of religion and writers convey their thoughts through this symbolic method of letters and their numerical value.

This method was used a great deal by the Bab. He very often gave people and places surnames which had the same numerical value as the original names. For example, he called Mah-ku, "Basis" (open). Mah-ku and Basit have the same numerical value of 72. He called Chihriq, "Shad id" (previous). Both of these have a numerical value of 318. Likewise, the great author of the "Drawn Breakers" was named Muhammad, but surnamed Nabil; both names have a numerical value of 92. It is this same method which is used for the designs of the symbols of the Greatest Name.

9. The Names of the Bab and Baha'u'llah
We repeat that the two letters "b" and "h" stand for the names of Baha'u'llah and the Bab respectively. The numerical value of "Bab" is 5:

B = 2
A = 1
B = 2

The numerical value of Baha is 9:


B = 2
A = 1
H = 5
A = 1

Nine is the perfect number, on the top of the ladder of the numerical progressive elevation. It is very mysterious, and more than any other number, full of special qualities and potencies. The numbers end with nine. After nine whatever we write in the form of digits is repetition of the same figures. Mankind throughout ages will gradually fathom the mysteries of this special number which is the numerical manifestation of the Greatest Name: Baha.

10. The Names of Adam and Eve
Number nine contains all the digits from one to nine and number five from one to five which when added respectively will be:

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5+ 6 + 7 + 8 + 9 = 45

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 = 15

Now the name of Adam and Eve in the Oriental scripts are written as follows: ADM and HWA the numerical values of which are as follows respectively.

A = 1
H = 8
D = 4
W = 6
M = 40
A = 1
------
ADM= 45
HWA= 15

Thus we find that in the two traditional names Adam and Eve, God's first two spiritual creations, referred to in the Scriptures of old and held in such reverence and love by men throughout the ages, are linked with the twin Manifestations referred to in all the Books of God, and Whose appearance was promised to be on the Last Day. Thus Adam and Eve are connected with the Bab and Baha'u'llah in this great symbol, which becomes a token of oneness between the past and the present.

11. The Essence of Sacrifice and the Essence of Servitude
The two five pointed stars on both sides of the Greatest Name symbol represent the human body: a head, two hands and two feet. These two stars represent the twin Manifestation of God in this Day. Their advent is the fulfillment of all the writings of God's prophets in bygone ages, Who, emphatically, repeatedly and often, in a language clearer than the light of sun, assured mankind of the undoubted appearance of these Twin Luminaries, Who would rescue the world from the fetters of prejudice and the dictates of self.

In conclusion, may I venture to suggest another approach to the meaning of the two stars. This approach is merely a personal one, therefore not authoritative. Could we not visualize God as manifested in His most resplendent glory in the majestic figure of Baha'u'llah, and standing on either side of Him, two towering personalities of unsurpassed beauty: the Bab, the Herald, the incarnation of sacrifice and of self-effacement and the highest expression of true love ever possible in this contingent life; and Abdu'l-Baha, the Center of the Covenant, the true Exemplar of the teachings and the highest embodiment of servitude.

These two exemplify the mysteries of sacrifice and servitude, calling on all men to hasten and offer their potentialities as humble gifts for the establishment of God's redeeming Order, the very reflection of His Kingdom on earth.














Sunday, July 08, 2007

Bahá'u'lláh: Manifestation of God

RELATED DOCUMENTS
The Teachings of Bahá'u'lláh
Historical Introduction to Bahá'u'lláh
Statement on Bahá'u'lláh: His Life and Work
`Abdu'l-Bahá's Description of His Father
In the Words of an Early Believer
An English Scholar's Encounter with Bahá'u'lláh
Selections from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh

"The face of him on whom I gazed I can never forget, though I cannot describe it. Those piercing eyes seemed to read one's very soul; power and authority sat on that ample brow.... No need to ask in whose presence I stood, as I bowed myself before one who is the object of a devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain!"

Bahá'u'lláh was thus described by the well-known Cambridge University Orientalist Edward Granville Browne in 1890. Bahá'u'lláh had, at that time, been a prisoner and an exile for almost 40 years and His teachings were shrouded in obscurity; today He is recognized by millions of followers around the world as the Manifestation of God or Divine Teacher for this age. According to Bahá'í belief, Manifestations of God, including Moses, Abraham, Christ, Muhammad, Krishna, and Buddha, have appeared at intervals throughout history to found the world's great religious systems. They have been sent by a loving Creator to enable us to know and to worship Him and to bring human civilization to ever higher levels of achievement.

The station of these Manifestations is unique in creation. Their essential nature is twofold: they are at once human and divine. But they are not identical with God , the Creator, Who is Unknowable. Of God, Bahá'u'lláh has written,

He, in truth, hath, throughout eternity, been one in His Essence, one in His attributes, one in His works. Any and every comparison is applicable only to His creatures, and all conceptions of association are conceptions that belong solely to those that serve Him. Immeasurably exalted is His Essence above the descriptions of His creatures. He, alone, occupieth the Seat of transcendent majesty, of supreme and inaccessible glory. The birds of men's hearts, however high they soar, can never hope to attain the heights of His unknowable Essence. It is He Who hath called into being the whole of creation, Who hath caused every created thing to spring forth at His behest.1

Furthermore, Bahá'u'lláh, addressing God in a prayer, says:

Exalted, immeasurably exalted art Thou above any attempt to measure the greatness of Thy Cause, above any comparison that one may seek to make, above the efforts of the human tongue to utter its import! From everlasting Thou hast existed, alone with no one else beside Thee, and wilt, to everlasting, continue to remain the same, in the sublimity of Thine essence and the inaccessible heights of Thy glory.

And when Thou didst purpose to make Thyself known unto men, Thou didst successively reveal the Manifestations of Thy Cause, and ordained each to be a sign of Thy Revelation among Thy people, and the Day-Spring of Thine invisible Self amidst Thy creatures...2

The Shrine of Bahaullah, Bahji, near Acre, Israel.
The Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh, Bahji, near Acre, Israel.

Describing the relationship between the Manifestations of God and Their Creator, Bahá'u'lláh used the analogy of the mirror: God is as the Sun, and the Manifestations are as Mirrors that reflect that divine light -- but they are in no way to be considered as identical to that Sun:

These sanctified Mirrors...are, one and all, the Exponents on earth of Him Who is the central Orb of the universe, its Essence and ultimate Purpose. From Him proceed their knowledge and power; from Him is derived their sovereignty. The beauty of their countenance is but a reflection of His image, and their revelation a sign of His deathless glory.3
Bahaullah Shrine

Bahá'u'lláh's central message for humanity in this day is one of unity and justice. "The best beloved of all things in My sight is justice,"4 He wrote, and "The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens"5 in two often-quoted passages. He also stated, "The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established."6 This is the prescription of God, the divine and all-knowing Physician, for our ailing world.

While such statements have become part of mainstream thinking in the contemporary world, we can only imagine the startling effect they would have had on someone like E.G. Browne, to whom Bahá'u'lláh uttered the following remarkable statement:

Thou hast come to see a prisoner and an exile.... We desire but the good of the world and the happiness of the nations; yet they deem us a stirrer-up of strife and sedition worthy of bondage and banishment.... That all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religion should cease, and differences of race be annulled -- what harm is there in this? ...Yet so it shall be; these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the `Most Great Peace' shall come...

Born into a noble family in nineteenth century Persia, Bahá'u'lláh's destiny would seem to have been one of wealth and ease. Yet, from an early age He showed little interest in following in His father's footsteps at the Shah's court, preferring to spend His time and resources in ministering to the poor. Later, His recognition of the religion of the Báb , which arose in 1844 in Persia and was destined to fulfil the prophecies of Islam, caused Him to be cast into prison and subsequently exiled.

In His writings, the Báb alluded to the imminent coming of the Promised One foretold in all the world's religions -- a role claimed by Bahá'u'lláh. "This is the King of Days," Bahá'u'lláh thus extols the age that has witnessed the advent of His Revelation, "the Day that hath seen the coming of the Best-beloved, Him Who through all eternity hath been acclaimed the Desire of the World."7 "I am the One," He in another connection affirms, "Whom the tongue of Isaiah hath extolled, the One with Whose name both the Torah and the Evangel were adorned."8 Of Himself, He wrote: "Naught is seen in My temple but the Temple of God, and in My beauty but His Beauty, and in My being but His Being, and in My self but His Self, and in My movement but His Movement, and in My acquiescence but His Acquiescence, and in My pen but His Pen, the Mighty, the All-Praised. There hath not been in My soul but the Truth, and in Myself naught could be seen but God."9 And of His mission, He said:

And when the entire creation was stirred up, and the whole earth was convulsed, and the sweet savors of Thy name, the All-Praised, had almost ceased to breathe over Thy realms, and the winds of Thy mercy had well-nigh been stilled throughout Thy dominions, Thou didst, through the power of Thy might, raise me up among Thy servants, and bid me to show forth Thy sovereignty amidst Thy people. Thereupon I arose before all Thy creatures, strengthened by Thy help and Thy power, and summoned all the multitudes unto Thee, and announced unto all Thy servants Thy favors and Thy gifts, and invited them to turn towards this Ocean, every drop of the waters of which crieth out, proclaiming unto all that are in heaven and on earth that He is, in truth, the Fountain of all life, and the Quickener of the entire creation, and the Object of the adoration of all worlds, and the Best-Beloved of every understanding heart, and the Desire of all them that are nigh unto Thee.10

It was during His initial imprisonment that Bahá'u'lláh first experienced divine revelation. Of it, He wrote:

During the days I lay in the prison of Tihran, though the galling weight of the chains and the stench-filled air allowed Me but little sleep, still in those infrequent moments of slumber I felt as if something flowed from the crown of My head over My breast, even as a mighty torrent that precipitateth itself upon the earth from the summit of a lofty mountain. Every limb of My body would, as a result, be set afire. At such moments My tongue recited what no man could bear to hear.11

Throughout the long years of exile He endured, Bahá'u'lláh revealed divinely inspired passages equivalent to over 100 volumes. This revelation comprises mystical writings , social and ethical teachings , laws and ordinances, and a fearless proclamation of His message to the kings and rulers of the world, including Napoleon III, Queen Victoria, Pope Pius IX, the Shah of Persia, Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany, the Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, and others.

The conception of human nature found in Bahá'u'lláh's revelation is one of dignity and essential nobility. In one passage, He writes, with the voice of God, "O Son of Spirit! Noble have I created thee, yet thou hast abased thyself. Rise then unto that for which thou wast created."12 Elsewhere, He states, "Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom."13 Every person, He asserts, is capable of recognizing God; all that is needed is a degree of detachment:

When the channel of the human soul is cleansed of all worldly and impeding attachments, it will unfailingly perceive the breath of the Beloved across immeasurable distances, and will, led by its perfume, attain and enter the City of Certitude.

...That city is none other than the Word of God revealed in every age and dispensation.... All the guidance, the blessings, the learning, the understanding, the faith, and certitude, conferred upon all that is in heaven and on earth, are hidden and treasured within these Cities.14

Bahá'u'lláh's Son, `Abdu'l-Bahá, who was appointed by Him as His successor, described the mission of His Father in these words:

He bore these ordeals, suffered these calamities and difficulties in order that a manifestation of selflessness and service might become apparent in the world of humanity; that the Most Great Peace should become a reality; that human souls might appear as the angels of heaven; that heavenly miracles would be wrought among men; that human faith should be strengthened and perfected; that the precious, priceless bestowal of God, the human mind, might be developed to its fullest capacity in the temple of the body; and man become the reflection and likeness of God, even as it hath been revealed in the Bible: `We shall create man in Our own image.'

Briefly, the Blessed Perfection [Bahá'u'lláh] bore all these ordeals and calamities in order that our hearts might become enkindled and radiant, our spirits be glorified, our faults become virtues, our ignorance transformed into knowledge; in order that we might attain the real fruits of humanity and acquire heavenly graces; although pilgrims upon earth we should travel the road of the heavenly kingdom; although needy and poor we might receive the treasures of life eternal. For this has He borne these difficulties and sorrows.15

Bahá'u'lláh passed from this earthly world in 1892, still nominally a prisoner in Palestine. One hundred years later, in 1992, the Bahá'í international community observed a Holy Year to commemorate the centenary of His ascension. In May of that year, a delegation of several thousand Bahá'ís from over 200 countries and territories gathered at His shrine in the Holy Land to pay homage to Him. And the following November a congress of some 27,000 followers assembled in New York City in an atmosphere of reverence and joy to celebrate the inauguration of Bahá'u'lláh's Covenant which has preserved the unity of His Faith since its inception. A statement written to acquaint people everywhere with the details of Bahá'u'lláh's life and mission was also released during this special year.

We invite you to learn more about Bahá'u'lláh's life and mission; to study the prayers and sacred writings revealed by Him; and to investigate His astounding claim to be "the Promised One of All Ages" and His promise of a future when "these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the `Most Great Peace' shall come."

The Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh



  1. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 2d rev. ed. (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1976), p. 193.
  2. Bahá'u'lláh, Prayers and Meditations of Bahá'u'lláh (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1938), p. 128.
  3. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 46-49.
  4. Bahá'u'lláh, The Hidden Words (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1985), pp. 3-4.
  5. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 249-50.
  6. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 286-87.
  7. Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, 2d rev. ed. (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1974), p. 106.
  8. The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 105.
  9. The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 109.
  10. Prayers and Meditations of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 104.
  11. Bahá'u'lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, rev. ed. (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1979), p. 22.
  12. The Hidden Words, p. 9.
  13. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 260.
  14. Bahá'u'lláh, The Kitab-i-qan, 3d ed. (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1982), pp. 199-200.
  15. `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, 2d ed. (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1982), p. 28.