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he whom god shall make manifest April 21, 2007

Posted by Brad Richert in religion.

The following is an article I wrote on this day last year about in celebration of first day of Ridvan, a Baha’i festival.

Since man first gained consciousness of himself he has come face to face with forces that he does not understand. The concept of religion, whether named or not, has been around since the dawn of humanity. Thus, every single day there probably is a celebration of some festival of the past. Some founder of a religion is either born, or has declared himself to the world. I use “he” fairly liberally simply because religious leaders, and especially founders, traditionally are men, most likely compensating for something.

I feel that it is important to occasionally recognize the foundations of religions or to celebrate their birth. One such significant religion is the Baha’i Faith. Much like the founders of the world’s other major religions, Bahá’u’lláh received an explicit vision from God. The history of the Baha’i Faith reads like a condensed version of the Judeo-Christian scriptures. And like the Christian faith, the Baha’i was founded during a crucial epoch in history which would contribute to the exponential growth of the religion. As early Christians took advantage of the Pax Romana complete with safe passage on the newly built road system, the Baha’i have spread their message with the use of ocean liners, automobiles, and now the internet.

In Shi’a Islam there was promised to be a Messianic figure known as the Al-Qā’im (He Who Arises). In 1844, a young Persian merchant named Siyyid Mírzá `Alí-Muhammad proclaimed himself to be the next manifestation of God, fulfilling this title of the Al-Qā’im. He declared himself “The Báb” (The Gate). Within six years The Báb gained a multitude of followers which named themselves Bábís. After numerous conflicts with the Islam authorities he was executed before a firing squad in 1850. During his ministry, however, he wrote of a person whom “He whom God shall make manifest”.

Two years after The Báb’s execution, one of his followers, Husayn `Alí of Nur, was incarcerated in Tehran. At one pointHusayn `Alí of Nur changed his name to Bahá’u’lláh. During this time, as he later told his followers, he received a vision that it was indeed him “whom God shall make manifest”. The first time he pronounced this vision was on April 21, 1863. As Bahá’u’lláh’s mission continued to grow, he came into conflict with the appointed leader of the Bábís, Subh-i-Azal. This eventually led to the 1866 public declaration of his calling, which he had already told a few followers three years earlier. Bahá’u’lláh died in 1892 after living his entire life in exile or imprisonment.

In just over 150 years since that first declaration, the Baha’i Faith has become known as one of the most ethnically diverse religions boasting approximately 5 million adherents. It is often used as a functionary by the United Nations because of its distinct advocacy for human rights. It is one of the new independent major religions, meaning that it has transcended a “cult” like status and is taken seriously on the world religious stage.

However, the religious plurality, or more definitive, the religious relativity, of the Baha’i Faith occasionally runs into conflict when addressing certain congregations. The Baha’i Faith does not target conversions from the mainstream adherents of other rleigions, but to those who are disgruntled with the lack of tolerance and acceptance. I will end with the following message concerning the Baha’i Faith in relation to other religions.

The Changeless Faith of God

When Bahá’ís say that the various religions are one, they do not mean that the various religious creeds and organizations are the same. Rather, they believe that there is only one religion and all of the Messengers of God have progressively revealed its nature. Together, the world’s great religions are expressions of a single unfolding Divine plan, “the changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future.”

People from all of the major religious backgrounds have found that the promises and expectations of their own beliefs are fulfilled in the Bahá’í Faith. Bahá’ís from Native American, African and other indigenous backgrounds, similarly, find in the Bahá’í teachings fulfillment of prophetic visions.

For Bahá’ís of Jewish background, Bahá’u’lláh is the appearance of the promised “Lord of Hosts” come down “with ten thousands of saints.” A descendent of Abraham and a “scion from the root of Jesse,” Bahá’u’lláh has come to lead the way for nations to “beat their swords into plowshares.” Many features of Bahá’u’lláh’s involuntary exile to the Land of Israel, along with other historical events during Bahá’u’lláh’s life and since are seen as fulfilling numerous prophecies in the Bible.

For Bahá’ís of Buddhist background, Bahá’u’lláh fulfils the prophecies for the coming of “a Buddha named Maitreye, the Buddha of universal fellowship” who will, according to Buddhist traditions, bring peace and enlightenment for all humanity. They see the fulfillment of numerous prophecies, such as the fact that the Buddha Maitreye is to come from “the West”, noting the fact that Iran is West of India.

For Bahá’ís of Hindu background, Bahá’u’lláh comes as the new incarnation of Krishna, the “Tenth Avatar” and the “Most Great Spirit.” He is “the birthless, the deathless,” the One who, “when goodness grows weak,” returns “in every age” to “establish righteousness” as promised in the Bhagavad-Gita.

For Bahá’ís of Christian background, Bahá’u’lláh fulfils the paradoxical promises of Christ’s return “in the Glory of the Father” and as a “thief in the night.” That the Faith was founded in 1844 relates to numerous Christian prophecies. Bahá’ís note, for example, that central Africa was finally opened to Christianity in the 1840s, and that event was widely seen as fulfilling the promise that Christ would return after “the Gospel had been preached ‘to all nations.'” In Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings Bahá’ís see fulfillment of Christ’s promise to bring all people together so that “there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”

For Bahá’ís of Muslim background, Bahá’u’lláh fulfils the promise of the Qur’an for the “Day of God” and the “Great Announcement,” when “God” will come down “overshadowed with clouds.” They see in the dramatic events of the Bábi and Bahá’í movements the fulfillment of many traditional statements of Muhammad, which have long been a puzzle.

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