By most measures, November 1817 was a decidedly ho-hum month in world history. On November 5, the Third Anglo-Maratha War broke out between the British and Indians at the Battle of Khadki. On November 20, the first Seminole War began in the American state of Florida. Historical almanacs show the parade of 19th century thinkers and doers marching on and a subtle passing from a world of crushing conventionality (Jane Austen died that year) to a world of intense questioning and social and philosophical mischief (Henry David Thoreau and Frederick Douglass were born that year).
But on November 12, 1817 something happened that in time will make all the wars, rises and falls of empires, and even sweeping social and philosophical movements pale by comparison. On that Wednesday, a baby was born in Tehran, a baby Who would grow up to upset the equilibrium of the whole world, indeed whose life would mark the culmination of an age 6,000 years long — our entire known history — and launch us into a turbulent modernity and then into the long-promised but elusive Kingdom of God on Earth.
The baby was named Husayn. As a youth He would show all the hallmarks present in other Messengers of God — peaceful, happy, wise beyond His years, in fact, so wise that despite His complete lack of theological training the most learned of the clergy could teach Him nothing, but only learn from Him instead.
In adulthood, He, like the Buddha, rejected the princely existence that was His inheritance, instead choosing to serve the poor. He recognized the reality of a new prophet and became His leading apostle. When that prophet was martyred, He fearlessly led the believers on and eventually was confirmed as the One whom that prophet had heralded — the promised one of all religions and the great uniter and educator of the world.
Of course, these years later, only a relative handful of people — about one in 1,000 people on earth — know this date as special. One online source lists November 12, 1817, as the birthdate of Baha’u’llah, with the accurate but underwhelming descriptor: “Persian spiritual figure.” And this nonchalance, of course, fulfills prophecy just as everything else in His life did — that when the spirit of Christ returns He will come as a “thief in the night,” as Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. The Manifestation of God never fulfills the expectations of the day, but He winds up vastly outstripping those limited expectations in hindsight, revolutionizing life itself.
Birthdays remind us of gifts. Life itself is a gift from God, and among God’s innumerable gifts to humanity we can also count intelligence, beauty, the capacity to feel joy. Religions of the world chronicle other divine gifts to humanity, such as the rainbow at the end of Noah’s flood signifying God’s covenant and promise to humanity, the clay tablets listing the Ten Commandments, the cross, symbolizing a new covenant with humankind brought by Jesus Christ, and the Koran, embodying yet another.
In Baha’u’llah (whose birthday is celebrated worldwide each year according to the Baha’i calendar and the movements of the moon) can there be any doubt that God has sent his greatest gift of all time to humanity? To use a cliché, if ever there were a “gift that kept on giving,” it is Baha’u’llah. Indeed, we are told the gift of Baha’i civilization will keep on giving for 500,000 years.
The birth of a person also forces us to contemplate whether it is really possible for a single person, no matter how great, to be “the hinge of history”? Is it actually possible for one person to change everything?
Nature itself provides an emphatic and moving answer to this question: yes. In the act of creating of a human, it is not necessary that all the cells involved make an equal contribution. Indeed, all it takes is one sperm cell out of the millions to fertilize the egg, triggering a chain reaction that brings into being, as if by a miracle, a new entity with potentialities that only heaven can know.
So it is with the Manifestation of God and with civilization — that new body of humanity that is reborn in each new age. And with Baha’u’llah we are not simply born into a new age within the Cycle of Prophecy, but by God’s grace are passing beyond that age of infancy, through our current adolescence, and before long into maturity, an age in which we will finally see the potential of humanity realized in a civilization that would surely stun us if we could see it now fully formed.
Leo Tolstoy, among the foremost intellects of the 19th century, whose life span was offset from Baha’u’llah’s by only about a decade, may have put it best when he wrote:
We spend our lives trying to unlock the mystery of the universe, but there was a Turkish prisoner, Baha’u’llah, in Akka, Palestine, who had the key… Baha’u’llah’s teachings now present us with the highest and purest form of religious teaching… Very profound, I know of no other so profound.
Avrel Seale lives in Austin, Texas, U.S.A., where he writes and speaks frequently on the Baha'i Faith. He's the author of seven books and the blog The Trailhead.
Dear Avrel, Thank you for your moving story on Baha’u’llah, and how He relates to world history and the world’s future. I am passing this along by Facebook, and looking forward to more posts about the Baha’i Faith.–Kathi
Kathryn Justman (November 11, 2012 at 6:37 AM)
Love this post. I’m going to add it into our post with ideas for celebrating this Holy Day with children found here: http://www.enablemetogrow.com/2012/11/01/sharing-bahaullahs-birthday/ Thanks for sharing these beautiful thoughts!
Chelsea (November 11, 2012 at 10:20 AM)
Congratulations, Avrel! You’ve made the cut! Excerpts from this post will be shared at the Birth of Baha’u’llah celebration in Albany, Oregon tomorrow night. I hope all is well.
Joe Fradella (November 11, 2012 at 4:56 PM)
[…] Source: Bahai Blog […]
The Birth of Bahá’u’llah | miguel in belgium (November 11, 2012 at 5:16 PM)
[…] week Baha’is around the world celebrated the Birth of Baha’u’llah, and some of the Baha’is in London celebrated this special event in a unique and creative […]
Celebrating the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh in London | Baha'i Blog (November 11, 2012 at 8:37 PM)
[…] connections, I was pleased at the time to realise that I was in New York on the anniversary of the Birth of Baha’u’llah (November 12), just as Abdu’l-Baha had been exactly 100 years earlier. After three weeks of […]
Searching for the Footsteps of Abdu’l-Baha | Baha'i Blog (December 12, 2012 at 12:01 PM)
Avrel, I was asked to speak at our Twin Cities observance of the Birth of Baha’u’llah. I was at a loss as to what to say, or how to focus on volumes of ideas. Then I ran across this, your essay on said subject. I read it along with some of my own observations that your words triggered. Everyone loved it. I had to collect email addresses of everyone who wants to subscribe to Baha’i Blog as a result of your lucid words. Thank you for making our observance excellent!
Alan (November 11, 2013 at 4:23 AM)
Thank you for this historical lesson and wonderful article.
May I have permission to have it printed in our local newspaper as we approach October?
There are a couple questions though:
Hiw did you tabulate 194 years?
How to advertise Bahaullah’s birthday in October this year when your article mentions November 12?
Azita (March 3, 2017 at 2:34 PM)
Thank you for your comment! You are more than welcome to use this article but we would kindly ask that you attribute it to Baha’i Blog.
To answer your questions: I believe 194 years was tabulated as the article was written in 2012, a few days before what would have been the 195th anniversary of Baha’u’llah’s Birth. If you decide to use this article, you may feel free to change the number to better reflect our current year.
It is true that the article mentions November 12th and focuses on that date since it was written before the worldwide adoption of the Badi calendar (here’s a link for more about the Badi calendar if you need it: http://bahaiblog.net/2014/07/bahai-badi-calendar-overview/#more-12740). Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We have made a slight amendment to the article. In the 7th paragraph it now says “In Baha’u’llah (whose birthday is celebrated worldwide each year according to the Baha’i calendar and the movements of the moon)…”
This somewhat explains why the Birth of Baha’u’llah isn’t celebrated on November 12th each year but it isn’t a completely explanation. If you use this article, you may wish to change the text to say “In Baha’u’llah (whose birthday will be celebrated on October 22nd this year in accordance with the Baha’i calendar and the movements of the moon)…”.
I hope this helps and I wish you much success in promoting your local bicentennial celebration!
Sonjel Vreeland (March 3, 2017 at 11:53 PM)
Ja, ER kann! Ein einziger Mensch kann die Welt ändern. Ich kann nie genug von all diesen wunderbaren Geschichten lesen! Für mich ist es einfach das Paradies!
Margrit Rita Hurni (October 10, 2020 at 8:25 AM)