On Nov. 12, the Baha’is of Washington D.C. and their friends will celebrate the 194th anniversary of the birth of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith. This celebration at the Josephine Butler Parks Center in the nation’s capital will join with similar celebrations in over 100,000 localities around the world.
In a way, the global festivities involving people of thousands of different tribes and ethnic backgrounds, during the season of Thanksgiving here, is symbolic of the major message of the Baha’i Faith: that a time of joy and happiness has arrived for the entire human race as it gradually moves from a state of collective adolescence to a stage of maturity and wholeness. “We desire the good of the world and the happiness of the nations,” said Baha’u’llah to Edward Granville Browne, the Cambridge University scholar who interviewed him in 1890, “that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened… what harm is there in this? … these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the 'Most Great Peace' shall come.” These words provide an outline of the aim of Baha’u’llah’s teachings and the work of the Baha’i community today.
In a diverse city such as Washington D.C., it is always beneficial for people of any or no religious background to learn a little more about the founders of the world’s religious systems. Such knowledge helps one better understand his or her own belief as well as connect with others. Washingtonians will find learning about Baha’u’llah to be particularly interesting because, in addition to restating the moral teachings of the founders of all the world’s great religions, he also wrote about global and societal issues such as statesmanship, collective security, the news media, international language, global governance and others.
Born in Tehran in 1817, and an early champion of the new Babi religion in the 1840s, Baha’u’llah received a prophetic intimation in 1852 while being held as a religious prisoner in an underground dungeon. After being released from four months in this dungeon, he was exiled to several cities in the Ottoman Empire: Baghdad, Constantinople and Adrianople, before being finally sent to the prison-fortress of Akka in what is now Israel. He wrote over 100 volumes of teachings, mostly in Persian and Arabic.
Quite a few of his writings have been translated into English and are available for free on the Web or in audio format on ITunes. Of particular interest to Washingtonians may be his letters to specific rulers of the late nineteenth century, including Queen Victoria, Napoleon III, Kaiser Wilhelm I, Pope Pius IX and others. Baha’u’llah also wrote to the rulers of the countries in the Americas about championing human rights and global security.
In Washington the celebrations will include a banquet lunch, prayers and music including saxophone, piano and African drum pieces. Outside of Akka in Israel, there will be a commemoration in the gardens which surround the final resting place of Baha’u’llah, the holiest site for Baha’is. Wherever they are celebrating around the world, Baha’is will hold a place in their hearts for over one hundred of their coreligionists in Iran – symbols of the Iranian regime’s intolerance of a peaceful world religion that ironically began on its own soil - who will be celebrating this day in their prison cells. On that day they will, no doubt, recall the words of the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy who became familiar with the Baha’i teachings late in his life. He said: “We spend our lives trying to unlock the mystery of the universe, but there was a Turkish prisoner, Baha’u’llah, in Akka, Palestine, who had the key!”
Shastri Purushotma serves on the governing council of the Baha’is of Washington, D.C.
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