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Mirza Husayn `Ali Nuri, Baha'-Allah (1817-1892 CE). a Biographical Note




Mirza Husayn `Ali Nuri, Baha'-Allah (1817-1892 CE). a Biographical Note.

Stephen Lambden UC  Merced.

In progress and correction from an early 1980s  draft. Last uploaded 31-03-2023

Allegedly a descendent of the last Sssanid king Yazdigird III (d. 651 CE) Baha'-Allah was born in Tehran on 2nd Muhiarram 1233 AH, November 12th 1817 CE, being two lunar years older than the Bāb. His father, Mīrzā 'Abbās b. Ridā'-Kulī Khān Nūrī (d. 1255/1839), a  notable calligrapher entitled Mīrzā Buzurg by Fath 'Alī Shāh (Elr 1 :84 ), was a native of Tākūr in the district of Nur in the lranian province of Māzandarān. A one time vizier to the twelfth son of Fath 'Alī Shāh, lmām Virdī Mīrzā (chief of the clans of the Qājār tribe) Mīrzā Buzurg was a close friend of Mīrzā Abū'l Qāsim Khān Qā'im Maqām (d.1835) the author of a response to the British missionary enry Martyn (d. 18XX)„ He was a man of some wealth and influence during the reign of Fatņ 'Alī Shāh (1797-1834), married seven wives (three of them concubines) and fathered at least fifteen children. Mīrzā l:lusayn 'Alī later entitled Baha'-Allah was the third child of his second wife Khadijah Khānum (d.18??).

Baha'-Allah's childhood and youth were spent in Teheran and Māzandarān. ln the former city he had personai tutors engaged by his parents from whom he acquired a knowledge of Persian literature and penmanahip, the rudiments of Arabic grammar and the Qur'ān and other practical matters. As he himself has stated in several of his writings, he did not receive any systematic or extensive theological training. Like the Bāb drawing on Q. 7:156,8 he referred to himself as al-ummī ("unlettered"):

The learning amongst men I studied not; I did not enter the theological colleges (al-madāris). Enquire of the city wherein I dwelt, that thou you may be assured that I am not of those who speak falsely (Lawh-i Suļtān 148). We did not enter the theological colleges (al-madāris) or study learned themes (al-mabāhith). Hearken unto that through which this al-ummī (unlettered one) summoneth you unto God, the Ever-Abiding (Aqdas :121).

Baha'-Allah later frequently claimed to be in receipt of divinely inspired knowledge. ln his Lawh-i. Hikmah he intimates how he recieved such inspiration independent of actually acquiring it through reading and study,

Thou knowest full well that We (= Baha'-Allah) perused not the books which men possess and We acquired not the learning (ai- 'u/ūm) currently amongat them, and yet whenever We desire to quote the sayings of the learned (bayānāt a/-ulamā') and of
the wise (al-hukamā'), presently there will appear before the face of thy Lord [Baha'-Allah] in the form of a tablet (alwāh) all that which hath appeared in the world and in the Holy Books (al-kutub) and Scriptures (a/-zubur)  (Lawh-i Hikma, 127-8 /tr.TBAA., 148-9;
see also, L. Bismillah MAM:281; L.Shaykh, 13/ 11; Faydī. Baha'u'llāh 18ff; GWB XXX/XXX; Kl:118/ 00).

While Bahā'ī writers tend to minimize the nature of Baha'-Allah's early education such Azalī writers as 'lzziyya Khānum ( a half-sister of Baha'-Allah) reckon that he acquired knowledge by intensive study and by associating with Sutis and sages (hukamā'). 1= Compare `Abdu'l-Baha' ,  Mufawadat./ tr. SAQ:33; the talk of `Abdu'l-Baha' delivered on April 18th 1912 in PUP:25 and 'lzzīya Khanum, Tanbīh, 4, 34f, 58. Various stories about his youth confirm his interest in religious debate and his outspoken frame of mind. Others suggest that he was a charismatic and unworldly youth who enjoyed the outdoor life (Faydī, Baha'u'llah, cf; Balyuzi, BKG:19f). On his father's death he refused to follow in his footsteps and turned down his vacant position. Then twenty two years old it may be that his religious interests and Sufi-pietistic inclinations made him reluctant to embark on a worldly career. 1

Baha'-Allah married his first wife, Āsiyyih Khānum ( d. 1886; a daughter of Mīrzā lsmā'īl-i Vazir of Yālrūd) when he was almost eighteen years old (around October 1835). Entitled Nawāb (= 'Her Eminence'; after the office held by her father) and referred to by her husband as the Waraq ai-Ulā' (the Most exalted Leaf) she bore him seven children several of whom died in infancy, His cousin and second wife Bibi Fātima (d. 1890's ?) whom he married in about 1849 and entitled mahd-i 'u/yā ('the supreme cradle', a title of the Queen mother in Qājār lran) bore him six children. Gawhar Khānum (d. 1900's ?), a sister of Mīrzā Mahdī Kāshānī (an early Bābī) and Baha'-Allah's third wife bore him only one daughter, Furūghīya Khānum (b. 'Akka c.XXXX/1873? d. c. XXXX/19XX ) perhaps 15-20  years after she entered his household in Baghdad. It was through the management of his inherited lands and properties that Baha'-Allah initially supported his growing family.

Bahā'ī sources have it that it was Mullā Husayn Bushrū'ī (the first believer in the Bāb) who indirectly informed Baha'-Allah of the rise of the Bābī religion. From Tehran in early 1845 (or earler) he, according to one account, sent Mullā Muhammad-i Mu'allim (-i Nūrī) to deliver a "scroll" written by the Bāb (probably part of his Qayyum al-asmā'). On reading it Baha'-Allah agreed that it was divinely inspired, gave his allegience to its author, and sent gifts to Mullā Husayn (Zarandī, Shoghi Efendi, DB:71f).

Soon after his conversion to the Bābī religion, Baha'-Allah endeavoured to teach it in Teheran and Māzandarān. He apparently had considerable success along with a certain amount of opposition. Apart from a few hagiographic narratives little is known of his earliest Bābī contacts and activities. 1

1 `Abd al-Bahā has stated that Hājji Mirzā Āqāsi (who apparently admired Baha'-Allah despite his emnity towards his father), on being informed of Baha'-Allah's refusal to accept hia father's position, said: "Leave him to himself. He will not descend to such a position. It is imposaible that he demean himself thus. I cannot understand him; he has some great purpose in view. He has other thoughts; leave him alone." (words attributed to HāllT M irzā Āqāsi cited by 'Abd al-Bahā in a talk delivered in Haifa on December 16th 1919, trans. Hakim in Herrick, Unity Triumphant, 156.).

According to Zarandī, Baha'-Allah was a key participant in the Bābī conference of Badasht (in western Khurāsān) held in the summer of 1848. He had apparently rented three gardens; one for himself and one each for leading 'Letters of the Living', Quddūs and Tāhirah -- Mullā Husayn was not present (DB:211).2 'Abdu'l-Bahā has stated that it was Baha'-Allah and Quddūs who arranged for the "the proclamation of a universa! advent" (the Bāb's being the expected Qā'im) and the abrogation and repudiation of the ancient (lslamic) laws". -- Tāhirah also playing her part (Balyuzi, BKG:XX). A representative of the 'radical Bābī faction' Baha'-Allah is also said to have secretly conferred new names on each of the 81 ( =9x9) or so Bābis present at Badasht. He himself coming to be known as Jināb-i Bahā: ('his eminence the splendour') hence his later title Bahā'-Allāh ('the Splendour /Glory of God').3

2 The dates of birth of all the children of Baha'-Allah and Asīyih Khānum are uncertain as is --to some extent- the order in which they were born. Bearing this in mind they were-: (1) ? Mīrzā Sādiq or MTrzā Kāzim (?d.c. 1838 aged 3-4 ?); (2)? (possibly one of the former sons who died after a short while ); (3) 'Abbās (Effendi, 'Abd al-Bahā; see below); (4) Bahīyya Khānum (d. Haifa 193x ); (5) Mīrzā 'Alī Muņammad ( d. c. 51-2 [?] aged about 7); (6) MTrzā Mihdī (d. 'Akka 1870); (7) Mīrzā 'Alī Muhammad (d. Baghdad early 1850's [?] aged 2).
3 They were (birth dates and order again uncertain)-: (1) Mīrzā Muhammad 'Alī (b. Baghdad c. 1853 d. 'Akka XXXX ); (2) Samadiyya Khanum (b. Baghdad c.1855 d. 'Akka 1904); (3) Mīrzā 'AIT Muņammad (d. Baghdad c, 1858 ? ); (4) SādhajTya Khānum (d. Constantinople 1863 aged about 2); (5) MTrzā Diyā'allāh (b. Adrianople 1865 d.Haifa 1898); (6) Mirza Badī'allāh (b. Adrianople c. 1868 d. 'Akka 19XX ).
4 ln addition to these three  wives ,  Avārah asserts in his Kashfal-Hiyāl (Vol.I. p.104) that Baha'-Allah (when 70 years i.e. around 1887) also married Jamāliyya Khānum the daughter of a certain Mirzā Muhammad Hassan. This remains uncertain. 'Abdu'l-Bahā' and Shoghi Effendi speak of only three of Baha-Allah's wives. For some details on the wives and family of  Baha'Allah see, for example, Avarah, Kawākib al-Duriyya Vai. II pp. 4-10; Mirzā Muhammad Jawād Qazvīnī, 'Historical Epitome„ ' (in E.G. Browne, Materials,, p. 62f).; Shoghi Effendi, 'Genealogy of Baha'-Allah in The Baha'f World Vol. 5 (facing), p. 205.

After the Badasht gathering Baha'-Allah travelled to the district of Nūr in Māzandarān visiting various Bābīs and associates en route. Though in the light of his Bābī activities in Teheran, Māzandarān and Khurasān (Badasht) orders for his arrest (sent from Teheran) had reached Bandar-Jaz (on the Caspian), the death of Muhammad Shāh (Sept. 4th 1848) nullified them and he reached his native province safely (Balyuzi BKG:48f.). From there, some weeks later, he journeyed to the region around the shrine of Shaykh Tabarsī (near Barfurūsh in Māzandarān) where around three hundred Bābīs led by Mullā Husayn Bushrū'ī had congregated (DB:235ff)~ After approving of the
arrangements these Bābīs had made for themselves (they had constructed a kind of fortress for self protection)* apparently went to Tehran with the intention of returning with supplies and provisions.5 This, however, was not to be for he was arrested en-route at Āmul around December 1848 with a number of his Bābī companions. Local divines had him bastinadoed after which he retumed to Teheran (DB: 265ff; Balyuzi BKG: 56-60). Of Baha'-Allah's activities during the next few years more or les nothing is known save that he entertained leading Bābīs (including Siyyid Yaņya Darabī Vat)īd, Mīrzā 'Alī Sayyah Maragha'ī, Mullā Muhammad-i Zarandī [Nabīl-i A'?:am] and possibly
Tāhirah) in his house in Tehran.

1 On Baha'-Allah's earliest activities as a Bābī see for example, Balyuzi, BKG:39-42; Zarandī, [SE*] 08:75-85; 'Abdu'l-Bahā', TN: 58ff.
2 Baha'-Allah had arranged for the rescue of Tahirag from Qazvīn (where she had been imprisoned after the murder of her uncle). He concealed her for a while in Teheran and provided for her journey to Badasht in 1848 Zarandi [SE*], DB:196ff)
3 Zarandī explains that Baha'-Allah had "revealed" a "Tablet" on each day of the Badasht gathering and had arranged for a certain Mīrzā Sulayman-i Nūrī to chant them to the assembled Bābīs (no such "Tablets" are extant) who were not aware of the fact that Baha'-Allah had composed them (op. cit. p. 211 ). While the traditiona detailing Baha'-Allah's role at Badasht are probably exaggerated in the light of his later claims they may at least be taken to be indicative of the fact that he had, by the summer of 1848, and despite his non clerical background come to be seen as a Bābī of influence and importance.
4 Between September 1848 and May 1849 these Bābīs -- the core of whom may have initially left Mashad in order to rescue the Bāb from Adhirbayjan -- were largely killed in the course of armed engagements with provincial and state troops. For details see the sources listed by MacEoin in The Babi Conceptof Ho/y War p. 127. fn. 169.
5 Some doubt attaches itself to Baha'-Allah's first and succesful visit to the Bābīs who had gathered around the shrine of Shaykh Tabarsī (See MacEoin From Babism to Baha'ism .. p. 246. fn.27).

A little less than a year atter the Bāb~ execution Baha'-Allah travelled to Kirmanshāh, Baghdad and  Karbala where he remained for around ten months (Sept. 1851 --> July1852?). Mīrza Taqi Khān, Amīr Kabīr (then 'Prime minister'), on becoming aware of his Bābī activities including his support of the Bābīs atTabarsī, advised him to leave Tehran. At Karbala Baha'-Allah taught Bābism, endeavoured
to counter the extremist claims of a Bābī known as Siyyid-i 'Uluww (The elevated Sayyid) and induced certain of the followers of the Bāb to turn to him for guidance (DB:426ff.; Balyuzi BKG:66f).
It appears that whilst resident at Karbala Baha'-Allah came to be seen as the eschatological manifestation of lmām Husayn whose advent in that place is predicted in Shī'ī traditions. Zarandī reports that the amanuensis of the Bāb, Shaykh Hasan-i Zunuzi, identified Baha'-Allah as the rijat (retum) of lmām Husayn.

Baha'-Allah apparently comfirmed this identification though he urged Zunuzi to keep it secret. Here we have a hint of Baha'-Allah's earliest semi-secret claims for in his later writings explicitly claims to be the retum of lmam Husayn.
Shortly after Baha'-Allah ad retumed from Karbala to Tehran on August 15th 1852, the abortive attempt on the life of Nāsir al-Dīn Shāh by a small group of millitant Bābī activists occured. Though not connected with those responsible for this (in his estimation) "evil deed" Baha'-Allah, along with a fairly large number of other Bābīs, was arrested and imprisoned in the Siyāh-Chāl ('Black Pit') dungeon in Tehran. It was during his four months of confinement in this place (Sept--> December 1852?) that he had a series of mystical experiences which led him to claim to have been commissioned by God to regenerate the then fragmented, persecuted and demoralized Bābī community. ln a Persian
poetic work of 19 or more couplets entitled Rashh-i ·amā' {'The Sprinkling of the Theophanic Cloud' early 1269 AH/ late 1852 CE?) and in several of his later writings Baha'-Allah has intimated or dwelt on this prophetic call. ln his Lawh-i Shaykh ņ (lbn-i Dhi'b c. 1891 ), for  example, he explains how he meditated "day and night" on the conduct of the Bābīs and decided that on his release from the Siyāh Chāl
dungeon he would devote himself to regenerating them. He further related a dream in which he was assured of success and divine support and states:

"During the days I lay in the prison of Tihran„ I felt as if something flowed from the crown of my head over My breast, even asa mighty torrent that precipitateth itself upon the earth from the summlt 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." (Baha'-Allah, Lawh-i Shaykh, XXX tr. ESW: 22). 1

1 See also, idem, Lawh-i-Sultān; (Nāsir ai Dīn Shah in A/wah-i nāzila Khitāb bi- muluk wa ru'asā-yi ard, pp. 145-201 ), pp. 148, 190 (Ct. 'Abdu'l-Bahā, SAO:i9, 141, 143 interpreting the foregoing references non-literally); Sūrat al-Haykal (in AQA. Vol. 4. pp. 268-300), p. 269 (trans.Shoghi Effendi, GPB:101-102).

On the basis of such passages Bahā'īs have come to believe that he was commissioned by God in the Siyah Chāl dungeon in the year nine (=1, 269 AHJ to be his representative on earth. His mystical experiences in that place and the appearence to him of a "celestial Maiden" (har) have been likened to Moses' Sinaitic call, Jesus' baptismal commission and the prophet Muhammad's confrontation with Gabriel on Mt. Hira (SE*, GPB:101). His forty year prophetic ministry (1852-1892) is believed to have begun at this time.It was during the period of Bahā'-Allah's imprisonment in Tehran certain of his properties were confiscated or destroyed. With the establishment of his innocence and subsequent releas~ he spent about one month (mid-December- early January 1853) in the house of his half-brother, the physician
Mīrzā Ridā' Qūlī. Having been nursed back to health, he, in compliance with the orders of Nāsir al-Dīn Shāh, left the country declining the offer of asylum in Russian territory. he decided to leave Tehran for Baghdad where he spent the best part of the next ten years of his life.
Accompanied by certain members of his family and representatives of the lranian government and Russian legation he arrived in Baghdad on April 8th 1853 having left Tehran on January 12th 1853). There, he set about attempting to reform the Bābī community. He eventually came to be seen and,by the late 1850s, claiming to be its chief spokesman. His role within the Bābī community came to eclipse that of his younger half-brother, Mīrzā Yahyā Subh-i Azal ("The Morn of Eternity" c.1830-1912) whom the Bāb had assigned a leadership role pending the manifestation of man yuzhiruhu'l/āh ("Him whom God shall make manifest") and the consequent inaugeration of the "greater resurrection".

The circumtances surrounding Yahyā's nomination to leadership of the Bābī community are obscure. The Bahā'ī theory that Baha'-Allah suggested his half-brother's appointment to the Bāb in order to protect himself seems, as Gulpayganī intimates, unconvincing (Gulpayganī, A Short Sketch, 57). The question of Yahyā's nomination and Baha'-Allah's earliest claims -- which cannot be discussed in detail
hero --must be viewed, among other factors, in the light of the plethora of claims to leadership following (and indeed before) the execution of the Bāb. Despite Baha'-Allah's early identification of himself as the returned lmām Husayn and his mystical experiences in the Sīyāh Chāl in
Tehran the majority of Bābīs continued, right up until the 1860's, to regard Mīrzā Yahyā as the head of the Bābī community (Shoghi Effendi, GPB:101-102).

1 ln certain of his writings the Bāb had alluded to the importance of the 'year nine' (see for example, Persian Bayan). This year is understood by Bahā'īs to be the year 1269 AH (=15th October 1852--4th October 1853) and seen as the period of Baha-Allah's assumption of Prophethood.
2Baha-Allah's release was partly effected through the representations of the Russian minister Dolgorouki and the efforts of Mīrzā Majīd-i āhī then secretary of the Russian legation and a brother-in-law of Baha-Allah (for details see Balyuzi, BKG:99ff).