Tragedy, Sacrifice, and Baha’u’llah’s Book of Laws

Conditions in the prison at Akka remained harsh for the Baha’is, but at least their work making mats now provided some small sustenance.

Meanwhile, more and more visitors made their way to Akka to see Baha’u’llah and his followers – but even after two years in the prison had passed, death stayed close by.

One evening as Baha’u’llah’s son Mihdi, the younger brother of Abdu’l-Baha, paced back and forth on the roof of the barracks, absorbed in prayer, he fell through an open skylight onto a wooden crate.  The sharp staves of the crate pierced his torso. These injuries resulted in his death twenty-two hours later. 

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Before he died, Mihdi had one final prayer with his grieving father beside him. He asked that God make of his life a ransom for those Baha’is who traveled from great distances and then could not see Baha’u’llah. Of this tremendous sacrifice Baha’u’llah wrote a prayer in memory of his son: “I have, O my Lord, offered up that which Thou hast given Me, that Thy servants may be quickened, and all that dwell on earth be united.

Shortly after Mihdi’s death, the Ottoman government mobilized Turkish troops in Akka, making it necessary to move the exiles to other quarters to make room for the troops in the barracks. Placed in various houses around Akka, the exiles now had the ability to move about the prison colony more freely, and to receive some visitors. This less restrictive locations provided greater opportunities for Baha’is to meet with Baha’u’llah. In this way, the answer to Mihdi’s dying prayer became a reality.

Three years later, still imprisoned but now living in cramped, flea-infested quarters scattered throughout the prison-city of Akka, Baha’u’llah and the exiles eked out a meager existence as best they could. Paradoxically, this difficult period of death and deprivation would culminate in one of Baha’u’llah’s greatest triumphs – the revelation of his primary book of Baha’i laws and ordinances.

Known as the Kitab-i Aqdas (which means “Most Holy Book”), and written around 1873, three years after his son’s tragic death, Baha’u’llah’s book of laws and spiritual teachings set in place the basic charter for the moral and social values of his emerging Faith. In citing the need for a spiritually-oriented moral and legal framework, Baha’u’llah wrote that the admonitions in his new book transcended a “mere code of laws” and offered humanity the blueprint of a new global civilization:

They whom God hath endued with insight will readily recognize that the precepts laid down by God constitute the highest means for the maintenance of order in the world and the security of its peoples. … these are the breath of life unto all created things. The seas of Divine wisdom and Divine utterance have risen under the breath of the breeze of the All-Merciful. Hasten to drink your fill, O men of understanding!

The Most Holy Book contains guidance for the spiritual life of the individual Baha’i such as prayer, fasting, marriage, the education of children, and ethical teachings. It also creates the features of Baha’i community life such as the regular holding of spiritual meetings and gatherings, and the building of houses of worship with associated charitable trusts such as orphanages and homes for the aged. 

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In the Most Holy Book, Baha’u’llah outlined the new foundation for the democratically-elected administrative institutions of the Baha’i Faith, while at the same time doing away with the institution of the clergy. In his social teachings he abolished slavery, encouraged charitable funds, exalted work done in the spirit of service to the rank of worship, enjoined his followers to associate with the followers of all faiths in a spirit of friendliness, forbid fanaticism and bigotry, and called upon all people to abandon whatever ideologies have caused them to shun one another.  

In the book, Baha’u’llah made one central point clearly – that the new laws of the Baha’i Faith would serve as the lamps of God’s loving providence to all humanity, bringing about peace, unity and love. Using the metaphor of wine to describe the ecstasy of a soul intoxicated by the love of God, Baha’u’llah wrote:

Think not that We have revealed unto you a mere code of laws. Nay, rather, We have unsealed the choice Wine with the fingers of might and power. To this beareth witness that which the Pen of Revelation hath revealed. Meditate upon this, O men of insight!

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