without trial or recourse, Baháulláh was released from prison and
immediately banished from His native land, His wealth and properties arbitrarily
confiscated. The Russian diplomatic representative, who knew Him personally and who had
followed the Bábí persecutions with growing distress, offered Him his protection and
refuge in lands under the control of his government. In the prevailing
political climate, acceptance of such help would almost certainly have been misrepresented
by others as having political implications.12 Perhaps for this reason,
Baháulláh chose to accept banishment to the neighboring territory of Iraq,
then under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. This expulsion was the beginning of forty years
of exile, imprisonment, and bitter persecution.
In the years which immediately followed
His departure from Persia, Baháulláh gave priority to the needs of the
Bábí community which had gathered in Baghdad, a task which had devolved on Him as the
only effective Bábí leader to have survived the massacres. The death of the Báb and the
almost simultaneous loss of most of the young faith's teachers and guides had left the
body of the believers scattered and demoralized. When His efforts to rally
those who had fled to Iraq aroused jealousy and dissension,13 He followed the path that
had been taken by all of the Messengers of God gone before Him, and withdrew to the
wilderness, choosing for the purpose the mountain region of Kurdistan. His withdrawal, as
He later said, had contemplated no return. Its reason was to avoid
becoming a subject of discord among the faithful, a source of disturbance unto Our
companions. Although the two years spent in Kurdistan were a period of intense
privation and physical hardship, Baháulláh describes them as a time of
profound happiness during which He reflected deeply on the message entrusted to Him: Alone, We communed with Our spirit, oblivious of
the world and all that is therein.14
Only with great reluctance, believing it His
responsibility to the cause of the Báb, did He eventually accede to urgent messages from
the remnant of the desperate group of exiles in Baghdad who had discovered His whereabouts
and appealed to Him to return and assume the leadership of their community.
Two of the most important volumes of
Baháulláhs writings date from this first period of exile, preceding
the declaration of His mission in 1863. The first of these is a small book which He named The
Hidden Words. Written in the form of a compilation of moral aphorisms, the volume
represents the ethical heart of Baháulláhs message. In verses which
Baháulláh describes as a distillation of the spiritual guidance of all the
Revelations of the past, the voice of God speaks directly to the human soul:
The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away
therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid
thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of
thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy
heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My
loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes.
O Son of Being!
Love Me that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My love can in
no wise reach thee. Know this, O servant.
O Son of Man!
Sorrow not save that thou art far from Us. Rejoice not save that
thou art drawing near and returning unto Us.
O Son of Being!
With the hands of power I made thee and with the fingers of strength
I created thee; and within thee have I placed the essence of My light. Be thou content
with it and seek naught else, for My work is perfect and My command is binding. Question
it not, nor have a doubt thereof.
The second of the two major works composed by
Baháulláh during this period is The Book of Certitude, a
comprehensive exposition of the nature and purpose of religion. In passages that draw not
only on the Qur'an, but with equal facility and insight on the Old and New Testaments, the
Messengers of God are depicted as agents of a single, unbroken process, the awakening of
the human race to its spiritual and moral potentialities. A humanity which has come of age
can respond to a directness of teaching that goes beyond the language of parable and
allegory; faith is a matter not of blind belief, but of conscious knowledge. Nor is the
guidance of an ecclesiastical elite any longer required: the gift of reason confers on
each individual in this new age of enlightenment and education the capacity to respond to
Divine guidance. The test is that of sincerity:
No man shall attain the
shores of the ocean of true understanding except he be detached from all that is in heaven
and on earth.... The essence of these words is this: they that tread the path of faith,
they that thirst for the wine of certitude, must cleanse themselves of all that is earthly
their ears from idle talk, their minds from vain imaginings, their hearts from
worldly affections, their eyes from that which perisheth. They should put their trust in
God, and, holding fast unto Him, follow in His way. Then will they be made worthy of the
effulgent glories of the sun of divine knowledge and understanding, ... inasmuch as man
can never hope to attain unto the knowledge of the All-Glorious ... unless and until he
ceases to regard the words and deeds of mortal men as a standard for the true
understanding and recognition of God and His Prophets.
Consider the past.
How many, both high and low, have, at all times, yearningly awaited the advent of the
Manifestations of God in the sanctified persons of His chosen Ones.... And whensoever the
portals of grace did open, and the clouds of divine bounty did rain upon mankind, and the
light of the Unseen did shine above the horizon of celestial might, they all denied Him,
and turned away from His face the face of God Himself....
Only when the lamp of
search, of earnest striving, of longing desire, of passionate devotion, of fervid love, of
rapture, and ecstasy, is kindled within the seeker's heart, and the breeze of His
loving-kindness is wafted upon his soul, will the darkness of error be dispelled, the
mists of doubts and misgivings be dissipated, and the lights of knowledge and certitude
envelop his being.... Then will the manifold favors and outpouring grace of the holy and
everlasting Spirit confer such new life upon the seeker that he will find himself endowed
with a new eye, a new ear, a new heart, and a new mind.... Gazing with the eye of God, he
will perceive within every atom a door that leadeth him to the stations of absolute
certitude. He will discover in all things the ... evidences of an everlasting
channel of the human soul is cleansed of all worldly and impeding attachments, it will
unfailingly perceive the breath of the Beloved across immeasurable distances, and will,
led by its perfume, attain and enter the City of Certitude....
That city is none other
than the Word of God revealed in every age and dispensation.... All the guidance, the
blessings, the learning, the understanding, the faith, and certitude, conferred upon all
that is in heaven and on earth, are hidden and treasured within these Cities.
No overt reference is made to
Baháulláh's own as yet unannounced mission; rather, The Book of
Certitude is organized around a vigorous exposition of the mission of the martyred
Báb. Not the least of the reasons for the book's powerful influence on the Bábí
community, which included a number of scholars and former seminarians, was the mastery of
Islamic thought and teaching its author displays in demonstrating the Báb's claim to have
fulfilled the prophecies of Islam. Calling on the Bábís to be worthy of the trust which
the Báb had placed in them and of the sacrifice of so many heroic lives,
Baháulláh held out before them the challenge not only of bringing their
personal lives into conformity with the Divine teachings, but of making their community a
model for the heterogeneous population of Baghdad, the Iraqi provincial capital.
Though living in very straitened material
circumstances, the exiles were galvanized by this vision. One of their company, a man
called Nabil, who was later to leave a detailed history of both the ministries of the Báb
and Baháulláh, has described the spiritual intensity of those days:
night no less than ten persons subsisted on no more than a pennyworth of dates. No one
knew to whom actually belonged the shoes, the cloaks, or the robes that were to be found
in their houses. Whoever went to the bazaar could claim that the shoes upon his feet were
his own, and each one who entered the presence of Baháulláh could affirm
that the cloak and robe he then wore belonged to him.... O, for the joy of those
days, and the gladness and wonder of those hours! 17
To the dismay of the Persian consular
authorities who had believed the Bábí episode to have run its course, the
community of exiles gradually became a respected and influential element in Iraqs
provincial capital and the neighboring towns. Since several of the most important shrines
of Shiih Islam were located in the area, a steady stream of Persian pilgrims was
also exposed, under the most favorable circumstances, to the renewal of Bábí influence.
Among dignitaries who called on Baháulláh in the simple house He occupied
were princes of the royal family. So enchanted by the experience was one of them that he
conceived the somewhat naive idea that by erecting a duplicate of the building in the
gardens of his own estate, he might recapture something of the atmosphere of spiritual
purity and detachment he had briefly encountered. Another, more deeply moved
by the experience of his visit, expressed to friends the feeling that were all the
sorrows of the world to be crowded into my heart they would, I feel, all vanish, when in
the presence of Baháulláh. It is as if I had entered Paradise...