I used to be a Christian. In Sunday School the only time I paid attention was when the teacher told the stories of Jesus. I wanted more. I wanted to know what happened during the 12 years between the stable and the temple. Did He have any friends? Did they suspect something? What made Him laugh? I hoped something did.
I became a Bahá'i in college and because this Faith began in 1844 there are recorded accounts by newspapers, historians and eye witnesses that wrote what they saw, felt, and experienced, as well as over one hundred books written by Bahá’u’lláh, the prophet Founder. There is more history than I could read in a dozen lifetimes. This is an inadequate snippet of the history of the twelve days of Ridvan, our most honored Holy Day Celebration.
Driving to work last week I heard a report about a dictator orchestrating a support rally for himself. The reporter said it was an obvious attempt to make it appear he was much loved and adored. The crowd cheered but without enthusiasm. Many in the crowd were paid to be there. I remembered the observance of Professor E.G. Browne of Cambridge, the only Westerner who met and wrote about Bahá’u’lláh: "The face of Him on Whom I gazed I can never forget, though I cannot describe it . . . no need to ask in Whose presence I stood, as I bowed myself before One Who is the object of a devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain."
The Twelve Days of Rid Van begins tonight at sunset. It is the most festive of all Bahá’i Holy Days for good reason. The history of the Bahá’i Faith makes for difficult reading. The suffering of early Persian believers is heartbreaking... A mother was given the severed head of her son by his murderers. She kissed it then returned it to them. “That which I have given to God I will not take back.” A man was dragged through the streets to his death, holes bored into his body, candles inserted and lit. When he arrived at the place for his execution, he danced and chanted prayers. Over twenty thousand were killed by such hideous and brutal methods the European reporters were unable to convey the details to their sensitive readers. If these believers recanted their Faith they could go free. The fact they remained faithful made people curious. More joined despite the danger. The Muslim clergy convinced the Shah of Persia they must destroy this Faith.
I should explain something here. These early believers were not Baha’is. They were Bábis, followers of the Báb, Whose name means "The Gate". He stated from the beginning His mission would be short and was to prepare the people for the coming of a Messenger Who would reveal Himself after His death. The Báb’s ministry lasted only six years. The Persian government and Muslim clergy condemned the Bab to death and He was killed in front of thousands of on-lookers-but it took two firing squads to do it. The first 750 rifle squad shot and smoke filled the arena. When it cleared the Báb had vanished. The soldiers hunted and found Him back in His cell finishing instructions to the believers. He had warned the guards when they came to get him that nothing could kill Him until His work was finished.
The captain of the firing squad refused to fire again and marched his regiment out of the arena.
Another firing squad was brought in and this time the Bab's body was riddled with bullets with the exception of His face. He was executed at noon and a dust storm blew up and blocked the sun for hours. Day had turned into night and the thousands of onlookers ran to their homes in fear. This happened July 9, 1850 and all of this can be found in news accounts.
Bahá’u’lláh was a follower of the Báb. Though to anyone who looked close, they could see He was special. The Persian government and Muslim clergy knew it too, which is why they wanted to get rid of Him. They imprisoned Him in a dark pit, cuffed to an 80 pound chain and attached to the wall. Prisoners on either side were also bound to it and when either moved it cut into Bahá’u’lláh's neck. The food served was rotten and maggot infested. The stench was beyond description. Prisoners were taken out one day a week. His nine year old son came one of those days and fainted when he saw Him.
The Russian ambassador, who highly respected and admired Baha'u'llah, pleaded to the court on His behalf. After a few months, Baha'u'llah was released with a date to appear in court. The Russian Ambassador offered sanctuary in Russia but Bahá’u’lláh refused. Instead He went to court and refuted every accusation.
The court's decision was to exile Baha'u'llah and His family to the city of Baghdad in Iraq. They were given only a few days to prepare, and Baha'u'llah was still weak from the imprisonment. He had been born into a wealthy family, but while in prison, His home and possessions had been stripped. His wife had managed to escape with a few jewels and sold them to buy some provisions. It was the beginning of winter and the trip would take months over treacherous terrain. The Authorities anticipated Baha'u'llah and His family would not survive.
They were wrong.
Baha'u'llah and His family arrived in Baghdad April 8, 1853.
In time Baha'u'llah's influence in Baghdad was so great that people gathered daily to seek His advice. The assigned Persian guards who were told Baha'u'llah was an evil and wicked man, became loyal and respectful to Him. They did not allow anyone to enter Baha'u'llah's presence without His permission-even the highest local officials.
When the Persian government discovered this, they decided Baha'u'llah must be exiled further away and would not disclose the destination. The local governor asked them to reconsider. They refused the governor's plea but he could not bear to enforce the order. Bahá’u’lláh relieved him of the responsibility and agreed to go.
When word spread throughout the city people came to Baha'u'llah's house. So many came it was impossible for the family to pack and prepare. A friend offered the use of his garden.
A tent was pitched and Baha'u'llah stayed in this garden for twelve days. He named the garden Ridvan which means Paradise. Over those twelve days, hundreds of people, from all backgrounds came. He presented each man, woman and child with a Tablet written personally for them. To a select few He revealed for the first time what many suspected. He was the Promised One.
When it was time for Bahá’u’lláh to leave Bagdad, a red roan stallion was brought for Him to ride. The roads were filled with people weeping. Some lay down in the road begging to be trampled rather be left without Him. He asked them not to. If they wished to please Him, be kind and loving to each other.
Most of these people were Muslims. They were not avowed followers of the Báb or Bahá’u’lláh. They responded to the power of His love but didn't know why.
"...One Who is the object of a devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain."
Sunset tonight begins the celebration of these Twelve Days of Ridvan.
During these days I'll celebrate as best I can. I have strategic planning meetings, grant deadlines, school presentations, and fund raising events. I need to get my car in for a tune-up. Someday the world will slow down and honor these days, like it does for Easter and Christmas.
Until then I'm fine with celebrating undercover. It makes even the trip to the auto repair shop a party.
PHOTO: The final exile was to the prison city of Akka in Palestine. After many years, the local authorities allowed Baha'u'llah to live in an abandoned mansion outside of the city. He named it Bahji, which means Joy. This a picture of the gardens.