Baha’is: A Sect of Islam Or More?

Saturday 7 November 202012:00 am
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البهائية... طائفة إسلامية أم دين سماوي مستقل؟

A great deal of books and hadith attributed to Imami Shi’ites have heralded the arrival of the awaited al-Mahdi al-Gha’eb or ‘missing one’. Currently in occultation (‘Ghaybah’ or absence), the 12th and final Imam of Ali ibn Abi Talib’s bloodline is believed to return from his Major Occultation (Ghaybah-al Kubra) just as he had returned from his Minor Occultation (Ghaybah-al Sughra). According to Imami ideology, a transcendent concept linked to esoteric beliefs describes that for every imam or manifestation of Allah is a ‘Báb’, or door to Allah & faith. For example, according to Alawite doctrine, it is thought that Salman al-Farisi is the ‘door’ to the name ‘Ali ibn Abi Taleb’. In turn, Iran was ripe ground for the return of the hidden Imam and the new Da’wah (call to embrace faith), at a time when many believed in the necessity of his awaited emergence.

The Dawn of the Da’wah

Baha’ism or the Baháʼí Faith is a monotheistic religion that believes in the one God and His prophets, Moses, Issa, and Mohammad. At the same time, it believes that other spiritual leaders such as Confucius, Buddha, Brahma, & Zarathustra are also manifestations of God. Thus, it calls for the unification of all religions without discrediting any faith or accusing it of turning away from ‘rightfulness’.

Sayyid Ali Muhammad al-Shirazi, born in the Iranian city of Shiraz in 1819, declared himself the ‘Báb’ (or gate) to "He whom God shall make manifest". His first calling or Da’wah in the year of 1844 garnered the following of 18 disciples later known as the Letters of the Living. Amongst 17 men, one woman called ‘the Pure One’ or Tahirih, was known for her great knowledge, intelligence, and fine character, and was also deemed a leading pioneer in women rights advocacy.

While some link the Baháʼí Faith to Islam, Baháʼís themselves insist that theirs is an independent celestial faith, with its own set of books, rules and principles, and widely recognized in several countries across the globe. Baháʼís believe in the rebirth of traits as opposed to the rebirth of ‘self’, unlike the idea of reincarnation maintained by many Eastern teachings such as Ismāʿīlism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. A number of sources mention the ‘Báb’ saying, “In the day of Noah, I was Noah; in the day of Abraham, I was Abraham; in the day of Moses, I was Moses; in the day of Jesus, I was Jesus; in the day of Mohammad, I was Mohammad, and in the day of Ali, I was Ali.”

The Baháʼí Faith is a monotheistic religion that believes in one God and His prophets, Moses, Issa, and Mohammad. At the same time, it believes that other spiritual leaders such as Confucius, Buddha, Brahma, & Zarathustra are also manifestations of God

 Following a rise in popularity in the Da’wah to Bábí Faith and the subsequent surge in follower numbers, Persian authorities imprisoned the ‘Báb’ in an Azerbaijani fortress. Under instigation by religious clergymen, they proceeded to pursue and torture his followers, to later publicly execute their leader by firing squad in 1850.

The Pure One: Pioneer of Women’s Liberation

Zarin-Tajj, Persian for ‘crown of gold’, was yet another title of Fatimih Baraghani, thought to be born in the year of 1817 in Qazvin, Iran. She was the sole woman to stand amidst the Letters of the Living, the first 18 followers of the ‘Báb’.

Iranian scholar Sayyid Kazim Rashti named her Qurrát'ul-'Ayn or ‘Solace of the Eyes’, while Baháʼu'lláh himself gave her the nickname Tahirih or ‘Pure One’.

Despite being known for his strict Islamic teachings, her father Muhammad Salih Baraghani decided to personally undertake her education after noticing her high levels of intelligence. He allowed her to attend his religious courses from behind a veil, where she learned theology, religious principles, and Persian literature.

Despite her brilliance in poetry and literature, she relented to local customs and was married by the age of 14 to her cousin and bore him 3 children. She learned of the Bábí Da’wah or calling and began corresponding with Sayyid Kazim Rashti. Fatimih later moved in with Sayyid Rashti following her divorce at the age of 26. Her subsequent correspondence with the ‘Báb’ led to her joining the Bábí faith.

While some link the Baháʼí Faith to Islam, Baháʼís themselves insist that theirs is an independent celestial faith, with its own set of books, rules and principles, and widely recognized in several countries across the globe

Living in Karbala saw her gaining a distinguished reputation and a growing number of followers, so much so that the irk of Shia scholars prompted the government to move her to Baghdad, and Ottoman authorities to send instructions to return her to Iran.

In June and July of 1848, Bábí leaders gathered in the Badasht desert for a conference to regroup and join ranks to call for the release of their ‘Báb’ from prison. Fatimih addressed the attendees in an eloquent speech and unveiled her hair to demonstrate the separation of Bahaism from Islam. The act caused quite a stir among the attendees and later led to her arrest, where she was made to choose between execution and rescinding her beliefs.

Fatimih was sentenced to be burned alive under the accusation of spreading corruption in the nation. However, her executioner strangled her before the appointed burning in 1852, while some say her Abyssinian servant strangled her and threw her body in a nearby well.

The ‘Pure One’s’ writings and poetry boasted considerable knowledge in both Arabic and Persian literature, but her family, in strong opposition of her beliefs, destroyed most of her work. Nevertheless, a few pieces of writings survived and spread throughout Iran. Her persistent contention with clergymen over women’s liberties is now considered one of the first feminist calls in the region. We’ll conclude with the resounding statement she offered before her death, “You can kill me whenever you wish, but you cannot stop the liberation of women.”

“While some link the Baháʼí Faith to Islam, Baháʼís themselves insist that theirs is an independent celestial faith, with its own set of books, rules and principles, and widely recognized in several countries across the globe.”

Division

Al-Shirazi wrote many books that explain his Da’wah, from the well-known Bayān (or ‘explanation’), mainly viewed as a reprint of the Quran, to the Kitab al-Ahed Wal Mithaq (or ‘book of legacy and covenant’), which explains that his succession will go to Mirza Yehya Nouri Mazandarani also known as Subh il-Azal or ‘the morning of eternity’.

The Persian government continued to persecute Bábís and their leaders, then captured the second brother of Subh il-Azal, Mirza Hossein Ali Nouri Mazandarani who is known as Baha’u’llah, and banished them to Iraq. With further instigation from the Persian government, Ottoman authorities exiled them to Istanbul then the city of Edirne.

Contention between the two spiritual leaders grew, with each man claiming he was the one meant to carry on the Bábí faith. The dispute came to a standstill when Baha’u’llah publicly announced that it was he whom the ‘Báb’ heralded the arrival of with the phrase "he whom God shall make manifest". In return, Subh il-Azal refuted the claim and declared himself the one ‘Báb’ spoke of.

Iranian scholar Sayyid Kazim Rashti named her Qurrát'ul-'Ayn or ‘Solace of the Eyes’, while Baháʼu'lláh himself gave her the nickname Tahirih or ‘Pure One’. Who is Zarin-Taj the pioneer of women’s liberation?

Disagreement and discord increased among the followers, so much so that Ottoman authorities exiled Subh il-Azal with his supporters to the island of Cyprus, while Baha’u’llah and his followers were sent to prison in Akka.

Therefore Bábís split into 3 divisions; the unbound Baháʼís who refused to follow either of the leaders, the Azalis who conformed to Subh il-Azal, and those who adhered to Baha’u’llah and came to be known as the most prominent Baháʼís.

Subh il-Azal died in Cyprus in the year of 1912, with a following of not more than 100 or 200 people. Baha’u’llah died in Akka on May 16, 1892, after leaving prison and living under harsh conditions imposed on him by authorities. He left behind a will appointing his eldest son ʻAbdu'l-Bahá as his successor.

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