|Upon His release [from the
"Black Pit"], Bahá'u'lláh was banished from His native land, the beginning of
forty years of exile, imprisonment, and persecution. He was sent first to neighboring
Baghdad. After about a year, He left for the mountainous wilderness of Kurdistan, where He
lived entirely alone for two years. The time was spent reflecting on the implications of
the task to which He had been called. The period is reminiscent of the periods of
seclusion undertaken by the Founders of the world's other great Faiths, calling to mind
the wanderings of Buddha, the forty days and nights spent by Christ in the desert, and
Muhammad's retreat in the cave on Mt. Hira.
1856, at the urging of the exiled Bábís, Bahá'u'lláh returned to Baghdad. Under His
renewed leadership, the stature of the Bábí community grew and Bahá'u'lláh's
reputation as a spiritual leader spread throughout the city. Fearing that Bahá'u'lláh's
acclaim would re-ignite popular enthusiasm for the movement in Persia, the Shah's
government successfully pressed the Ottoman authorities to send him farther into exile.
In April 1863, before leaving Baghdad, Bahá'u'lláh and His
companions camped in a garden on the banks of the Tigris River. From 21 April to 2 May,
Bahá'u'lláh shared with those Bábís in His company that He was the Promised One
foretold by the Báb--foretold, indeed, in all the world's scriptures.
The garden became known as the Garden of Ridvan, which
indicates "paradise" in Arabic. The anniversary of the twelve days spent there
are celebrated in the Bahá'í world as the most joyous of holidays, known as the Ridvan
On 3 May 1863, Bahá'u'lláh rode out of Baghdad, on His way
to Constantinople, the imperial capital, accompanied by His family and selected
companions. He had become an immensely popular and cherished figure. Eyewitnesses
described the departure in moving terms, noting the tears of many scholars, government
officials and onlookers and the honor paid to Him by the authorities.
"I have never aspired after worldly leadership. My sole purpose
hath been to hand down unto men that which I was bidden to deliver by God..." --
After four months in Constantinople, Bahá'u'lláh was sent
as a virtual state prisoner to Adrianople (modern Edirne), arriving there on 2 December
1863. During the five years He spent there, Bahá'u'lláh's reputation continued to grow,
attracting the intense interest of scholars, government officials and diplomats.
Beginning in September 1867, Bahá'u'lláh wrote a series of
letters to the world leaders of His time, addressing, among others, Emperor Napoleon III,
Queen Victoria, Kaiser Wilhelm I, Tsar Alexander II of Russia, Emperor Franz Joseph, Pope
Pius IX, Sultan Abdul-Aziz, and the Persian ruler, Nasirid-Din Shah.
In these letters, Bahá'u'lláh openly proclaimed His
station. He spoke of the dawn of a new age. But first, He warned, there would be
catastrophic upheavals in the world's political and social order. To smooth humanity's
transition, He urged the world's leaders to pursue justice. He called for general efforts
at disarmament and urged the world's rulers to band together into some form of
commonwealth of nations. Only by acting collectively against war, He said, could a lasting
peace be established.
Continued agitation from opponents caused the Turkish
Government to send the exiles to Acre, a penal city in Ottoman Palestine. Acre was the end
of the world, the final destination for the worst of murderers, highway robbers and
political dissidents. A walled city of filthy streets and damp, desolate houses, Acre had
no source of fresh water, and the air was popularly described as being so foul that
overflying birds would fall dead out of the sky.
Into this environment, Bahá'u'lláh and His family arrived
on 31 August 1868, the final stage in His long exile. He was to spend the rest of His
life, 24 more years, in Acre and its environs. At first confined to a prison in the
barracks, Bahá'u'lláh and His companions were later moved to a cramped house within the
city's walls. The exiles, widely depicted as dangerous heretics, faced animosity from the
city's other residents. Even the children, when they ventured outside, were pursued and
pelted with stones. As time passed, however, the spirit of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings
penetrated the bigotry and indifference. Even several of the town's governors and clergy,
after examining the teachings of the Faith, became devoted admirers. As in Baghdad and
Adrianople, Bahá'u'lláh's moral stature gradually won the respect, admiration and, even,
leadership of the community at large.
It was in Acre that Bahá'u'lláh's most important work was
written. Known more commonly among Bahá'ís by its Persian name, the Kitab-i-Aqdas (the
Most Holy Book), it outlines the essential laws and principles that are to be observed by
His followers, and lays the groundwork for Bahá'í administration. [See
In the late 1870s, Bahá'u'lláh was given the freedom to
move outside the city's walls and His followers were able to meet with Him in relative
peace and freedom. He took up residence in an abandoned mansion and was able to further
devote Himself to writing.
On 29 May 1892, Bahá'u'lláh passed away. His remains were
laid to rest in a garden room adjoining the restored mansion, which is known as Bahji. For
Bahá'ís, this spot is the most holy place on earth.