April 1, 2012

Baha’u’llah’s Childhood and Youth

Husayn-‘Ali [later known as Baha’u’llah] was born November 12, 1817, at dawn when the birds begin their songs. He was born in the land of Persia, in the city of Tehran. According to the Muslim calendar used in Persia, the day of His birth was the second day of the month of Muharram in the year 1233 A.H. At that time, Fath-'Ali Shah ruled Persia, and King George III was King of England. James Monroe was President of the United States, which had only nineteen states, Abraham Lincoln was a boy of eight, living in Indiana, and Frederick Douglass was a baby, born into slavery in the state of Maryland.

Husayn-‘Ali was the third-born child of the honorable Mirza ‘Abbas Buzurg, a vizier (minister of state) of the shah, and his noble wife Khadijih Khanum. Only later, when the time was right, would He take the title "Baha’u’llah," meaning in Arabic "the Glory of God."

Early on, His parents recognized that Husayn-'Ali was an unusual child. His mother often wondered how a baby could be so happy and content all the time. "This child never cries!" she would exclaim.

But what truly astonished them as they watched their young son grow was His extraordinary knowledge and wisdom. His simple education was no different from that given to other sons of the Persian nobility. Tutors came to His home to teach reading, writing, and Persian culture, just as they did for the other boys. Husayn-‘Ali learned to read the great Persian poets - 'Attar, Hafez, Rumi - as the other boys did, and to recite from the Koran, the holy book of Islam. He did not study science, for science was viewed with suspicion in nineteenth-century Persia, nor did He study philosophy or religion. Those were left to the mullas and mujtahids -- Muslim scholars who spent long years studying the teachings, laws, and traditions of Islam.

Yet Husayn-'Ali showed a lively interest in spiritual topics, and from His boyhood He displayed a profound understanding of spiritual truth. His understanding was innate and reached far beyond the knowledge of His teachers. Although Husayn-‘Ali was never arrogant or boastful about the knowledge that came so easily to Him, neither was it something He could hide.

As Hnsayn-‘Ali grew into a youth, His father could find Him, from time to time, deep in conversation with the most learned of men. They welcomed Him into their company despite His young age. His understanding of the Prophets and Their teachings, of the nature of God and the human spirit, added much to their discussions. By the time He was fourteen years old, Husayn-‘Ali’s innate knowledge and wisdom were recognized by all who knew Him.

"Such intelligence! And such perception! He is as a flame of fire," Mirza Buzurg said. "Even at this young age He surpasses mature men."

He wondered how his young son could know these things. Did His gift have something to do with the noble ancestors of their family lineage? Through His father, Husayn-‘Ali was a descendant of the great Persian kings of old as far back as Yazdigird the Sassanian. He was also a descendant of two holy Prophets: the Persian Prophet Zoroaster, Who taught His followers about the battle between good and evil; and Abraham, Who taught the Jews to worship one God.

Mirza Buzurg pondered these things about his young son. One night he dreamed a strange dream. In his dream he saw an ocean stretching in every direction as far as the eye could see. In the center of the ocean swam Husayn-‘Ali, strong and peaceful, with His long, jet-black hair floating on top of the waves. His body seemed to glow with light, attracting fish from every direction. As the fish gathered around Him, each clung tightly to one of His hairs; but the fish did not bother Husayn-‘Ali. He swam freely wherever He wished, while the fascinated fish swam with Him.

When he awoke, Mirza Buzurg remembered the dream clearly. It seemed strange yet wonderful, as some dreams do. But what did it mean? He would need to call on a soothsayer who was wise in the language of dreams to find out….

When the soothsayer came, he listened closely to every detail of Mirza Buzurg's dream. Finding the truth of a dream could seem like winding through the maze of a marketplace, but the soothsayer was experienced in interpreting the language of dreams. Soon it was Mirza Buzurg's turn to listen as the soothsayer spoke.

The ocean was the world, he explained. The fish that gathered around Husayn-‘Ali were the peoples of the world. Husayn-‘Ali would cause great confusion and turmoil amongst them, but no one could stop Him or stand in His way.

"Single-handed and alone," the soothsayer promised, “your son will achieve supreme ascendancy over it [the world of being]. Wherever He may please, He will proceed unhindered."

Not even the soothsayer could tell the exact path of events that would unfold Husayn-‘Ali’s future. But Mirza Buzurg's heart was deeply moved. The soothsayer's words confirmed his own thoughts about the boy Who was wise beyond His years. The finest qualities of those kings and Prophets who were their forbearers was reflected in the brilliance of His spirit. Now more than ever Mirza Buzurg was determined to protect and care for his beloved son. Everything that was his -- wealth, position, and honor -- he valued only for this purpose.

Mirza 'Abbas Buzurg, who served as a vizier of the shah, was himself a man of both talent and good character. Unlike many officials who were easily influenced by anyone willing to pay a price, Mirza Buzurg was a just man who decided matters fairly. Although wealthy, with mansions in both the city and the country, Mirza Buzurg showed compassion toward the poor and always gave generously to those in need. He was a highly regarded calligrapher who created beautiful designs from the graceful lines of Persian script. The shah himself had honored Mirza 'Abbas by giving him the title Buzurg, which means "Great One." He was known throughout Persia and respected by his countrymen.

Husayn-'Ali, Who loved His father dearly, called him "Master" to express His own deep respect for one whose source of nobility reached far deeper than mere title. It was the custom in Persia that sons follow their fathers in skill or profession. Other people expected Husayn-'Ali to hold an important government office when He came of age. No one doubted that Husayn-'Ali, like His father, would continue to be welcomed at the royal court. Like the other boys of noble families, He had learned the etiquette that governed behavior at the royal court, but such a life and career did not attract Husayn-‘Ali.

He saw that many of Tehran's privileged, unlike His own father, were less concerned with justice or the needs of the poor than with their own enjoyment. How they vied with one another in their feasts and lavish lifestyles, in acquiring "heaped-up treasures" and "gorgeous finery"! How they schemed and maneuvered for the power and prestige they so coveted! But Husayn-'Ali remembered the puppet show [that He saw during the festivities associated with His older brother’s wedding] and how the puppets, with all their pomp and glory, were put away in a box at the end of the play.

For Himself, Husayn-'Ali much preferred to mount His horse and ride out of the city gates into the countryside and the mountains beyond. Among the tall trees and rocky paths He heard no scheming or gossiping tongues, only the gentle rustling of leaves, the soft splashing of meandering streams, and the sweet warbled songs of birds. Here paused and darted the swift, black-eyed gazelles, whose graceful beauty had been captured by Persian poets for a thousand years. Here Husayn-'Ali felt a deep contentment that He did not find at the court of the shah.

"'The country is the world of the soul,"' He would remark in His later years, "'the city is the world of bodies."'

When Husayn-‘Ali rode out of the city and through the Persian countryside, He would pass the simple stone and mud-plastered homes of humble farmers and villagers. Often He would stop to talk with the people who lived there and ask about their concerns. How were their families faring? Did they have enough to eat? Was anyone sick, in need of a doctor or medicine? Wherever there was a need, He would see to it that help was given. Sometimes a dispute needed mediating or an injustice needed attention. Here, too, Husayn-‘Ali gave assistance. Even as a youth, He was not afraid to speak up at the shah's courts in defense of the weak and innocent.

So it was that Husayn-'Ali, who cared sincerely about all people, followed in the spirit of His father's footsteps. In deed as well as in name, He grew up as the noble son of a noble father. Mirza Buzurg, for his part, never forgot his dream and the soothsayer's words. Although he could not know the future, Mirza Buzurg felt sure that whatever unfolded, his unique son would be at the center of it. The words he carved above the door of their country mansion in Takur hinted at the mystery he felt:

“When thou enterest the sacred abode of the Beloved say:
I am at thy command.
This is the home of Love; enter with reverence.
This is holy ground; remove thy shoes when thou enterest here."
(Druzelle Cederquist, The Story of Baha’u’llah)