Why Have Billions Believed?
By Pete Haug
For thousands of years humankind’s social development has been shaped by religions that began with extraordinary individuals. Against all odds, they established religions that swept different regions of the earth throughout millennia. Baha’is call these founders “Manifestations of God.” Baha’is also believe Baha’u’llah is the latest, although not the last, of these manifestations.
Let’s start with Abraham, common patriarch of Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, foundation faiths of Western civilization. Scholars disagree on specifics, but many put Abraham early in the second millennium BCE. Traditions about his life vary among Jews, Christians, and Muslims, but they agree on his patriarchal role for all three religions.
The second millennium BCE is also linked to Zoroaster, founder of Zoroastrianism in ancient Persia. Some scholars have found similarities between Zoroastrianism and Vedic traditions that developed into Hinduism. Teachings common to all these religions are also found in Buddhism, another religion originating in India.
Over millennia, people throughout the world have embraced these religions, many of which promise a universal manifestation of God who will fulfill prophecies found in all religions. Considering the number of people on earth, what’s the likelihood of that happening in recent centuries? Baha’is believe it already happened, that those promises were fulfilled in the 19th century with the life of Baha’u’llah.
Even as he advanced his claim to be the fulfillment of earlier faiths, Baha’u’llah validated those faiths. He was the “Promised One” of all religions, the universal “Manifestation of God” sent to unify all humankind under God.
Many religious leaders and others have called Baha’u’llah a “false prophet.” Christ warned of false prophets and provided an unerring test: “Ye shall know them by their fruits.”
The fruits of Baha’u’llah
Born in 1817, a Persian nobleman and Shia Muslim, Baha’u’llah was slated to replace his father at the court of the Shah. Instead he embraced the religion of the Bab, a young man who claimed to be the fulfillment of Shiite Muslim prophecy. The Bab said his mission was to prepare his followers for one greater than himself: the universal manifestation of God promised in all religions. The Bab was executed in 1850. Two years later Baha’u’llah was stripped of his rank and possessions and incarcerated four months in an underground dungeon. When released, he was exiled and imprisoned for the remaining 40 years of his life.
Baha’u’llah’s first banishment was to Bagdad with his wife and small children. His eldest, Abdu’l-Baha, was eight when the ordeal began. In 1863 the family was further exiled to Constantinople, then briefly to Adrianople and finally, in 1868, to the prison city of Akka at the edge of the Ottoman Empire. Baha’u’llah died, nominally still a prisoner, on the outskirts of Akka in 1892. His son Abdu’l Baha was not freed until 1908 at age 64.
During his lifetime, Baha’u’llah wrote unnumbered tablets and books for his followers. More than 20,000 unique works, comprising just under seven million words, have been identified at the Baha’i World Center. His tablets to kings and rulers, as well as key religious leaders, of Eurasia and America, announce his station as the promised one of all religions. Although Baha’i oral traditions exist, those written scriptures constitute the unalterable foundation of Baha’i teachings.
Fulfillment of the covenant
Some consider God’s ancient covenant began with Adam, to be renewed periodically throughout the Old Testament with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and others. God’s covenant is a promise that God will never leave man alone. Even with that promise, religions have splintered innumerable times throughout history. Baha’u’llah has renewed that covenant, this time guaranteeing the entire human race will unite in one faith, fulfilling promises of earlier faiths.
Baha’u’llah’s handwritten Book of the Covenant appointed Abdu’l-Baha as sole interpreter of his father’s scriptures. Abdu’l-Baha’s will and testament extended this covenant by naming his grandson, Shoghi Effendi, as “Guardian” of the Baha’i faith. Following the Guardian’s death in 1957, the plan he had initiated was completed. Since 1963 the faith has been governed, and will continue to be governed, by the democratically elected Universal House of Justice. This institution was mandated in Baha’u’llah’s “Most Holy Book” years before his passing. Because God’s covenant has been thus renewed, we are assured of God’s continual guidance.
This is the question confronting humankind, all people to whom God has given intellect. We must use that gift to seek facts, truth, so we can make intelligent choices about how to live our lives individually and collectively. One major choice is whom to believe, whom to follow as we live those lives.
A good place to start is to understand the fruits of Baha’u’llah’s life, to determine for ourselves the answer to a single question: If Baha’u’llah was not who he said he was, then who was he?