Shrine of the Báb, Haifa, Israel Copyright © Baha’i International Community
“So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.” – Bahá’u’lláh
Those of the Bahá’í faith observe the Declaration of the Báb from sunset of May 22 through sunset of May 23. They withdraw from work and school for community worship, in which they pray, sing, and read from their scripture. Sometimes programs are staged to reenact the Night of the Declaration. Two hours and 11 minutes after sunset, a special prayer may be read, followed by reflections on the history and future of the faith. These community sessions are open to those of all faiths.
History of the holiday and Bahá’í
This month the Bahá’í faith celebrates its 170th birthday, marking the date in 1844 when Siyyid Ali Muhammad declared himself the forerunner of a great prophet who would rise up to unite humanity and usher in a new worldwide era of equality, unity and harmony. Ali Muhammad called himself the Báb, the gate to truth. Fittingly, this holiday is known today as The Declaration of the Báb.
Bahá’í originated in Shiraz, Persia (modern day Iran). The hunt for the great prophet began in the 1840’s as certain Muslims concluded from study that a holy one was foretold to rise up. According to tradition, Mullá Husayn, a young disciple, was searching for this holy one in Shiraz when he happened upon a charismatic young man who introduced himself as Sayyid Ali Muhammad. The young man took Husayn to his house and the two spent the evening in earnest conversation, during which he revealed that he was indeed the man for whom the disciple searched. However, he did not claim to be the ultimate prophesied holy one; rather, he had been sent to prepare the way. He called himself the Báb, the “gate”, to demonstrate his secondary status.
For six years, the Báb traveled throughout Persia and spoke passionately, converting Muslims and others to his cause. He caused significant tension throughout the land, as leaders of Islam realized he was spreading a message counter to their own teaching. Eventually he was captured and executed in 1850 by firing squad; but his message had already spread too far to be extinguished so easily.
Bahá’í followers continued to meet without a strong leader for 13 years, until a nobleman’s son named Bahá’u’lláh proclaimed himself the prophesied holy one who would bring peace to the world. He led the disciples to break away from Islam altogether and form a new religion, based on promoting world peace and justice for all. His writings became the new holy scripture for converts to follow.
Today a Shrine to the Báb stands in Haifa, Israel, world headquarters of the Bahá’í faith. The room where the Báb first revealed himself also stands preserved in Shiraz, but tension with Muslims in Iran makes visits to that location difficult and dangerous for Bahá’í. This week Iranian religious leader Ayatollah Tehrani issued a call for “religious coexistence” between members of the two faiths, indicating a possible shift in the direction of peace.
The Declaration of the Báb reminds us that our shared humanity is cause enough to pursue equality, unity and harmony for all.