XV. The Heart of the World Afire

"They will experience an emotion they are not likely to forget"

Chapter 14
Section 1- Rebels of God

The world-wide Community of Baha'u'llah is, in large measure, the work of young people. Behind dramatic dialogue between the kings of the world, hundreds of youth of both sexes willingly laid down their lives for the redemption of mankind. That is how the revelation was born.

A handful of young men, three hundred and thirteen in number, "unequipped yet God-intoxicated students, mostly sedentary recluses of the college and cloister" suddenly found themselves "pitted in self defense against a trained army, well equipped, supported by the masses of the people, blessed by the clergy, headed by a prince of the royal blood" and backed "by the resources of the state."

These early idealistic followers of the Bab rose up as one soul against the corruption and hypocrisy of their society. Their spiritual rebellion against injustices became the "seed" which already is beginning to yield its fruit in the shape of an world-encircling Order whose purpose is to assure the welfare and identity of every human being.

It is no small thing. The French author, Renan, in Les Apotres described one of the dramatic episodes in the rise of the Baha'i Faith as "a day without parallel perhaps in the history of the world."

Over twenty thousand followers were killed in Persia alone. More of these early believers were slain in one year than there were Christians martyred by official Roman decree in the most terrible eight-year long persecution by the Emperor, Diocletian. Lord Curzon of Kedleston wrote, "Of no small account, then, must be the tenets of a creed that can awaken in its followers so rare and beautiful a spirit of self-sacrifice."

The spirit which animated and inspired these youthful defenders of the Baha'i Faith was so moving that Professor E.G. Browne of Cambridge University said "it can hardly fail to affect most powerfully all subjected to its influence." "Should that spirit once reveal itself to them," he added, "they will experience an emotion which they are not likely to forget."

The adult world is caught up at the present time in the iron grip of youth rebellion which it can neither understand nor control. It watches helpless on the sidelines while all it once held dear goes up in flames. With the impetuousness of youth, the revolt is sweeping away the good with the bad, it seems too difficult and painful to weed out the good trees from the forest of diseased ones. So let it all fall together.

The racial revolt has been wedded to the rebellion of youth until in many instances they become indistinguishable. It moves from the campus to the streets to the homes and threatens to engulf all society. Although to adults the rebels have "thrown out the baby with the bath water," their revolt has its own commandment "Thou shalt not kick thy neighbor around!"

The truth is, entire civilizations perpetuate themselves long after the Spirit which gave them birth and relevance has departed. We are asking of our present day Western civilization the vitality, enthusiasm, purity, uprightness and courage of its youth it is suffering from the diseases of old age.

Hardening of the spiritual arteries has set in. Traditional religion has dug down deep into its barrel of spiritual resources, and has come up empty.

Both religious and government leaders continue to make "adjustments" in the old institutions to try and make them relevant. These leaders are "confident" that the problems are "only temporary." They are sure they will find a solution to these passing crises if the young people are only patient enough.

The representatives of the established order seem somehow incapable of accepting that we cannot go back to the past to try to solve problems only on a local or national level. Any solution to the crying needs of man, which is not planetary in its scope, is doomed to failure. Sectarian religion similarly has no relevance in an age where unity is essential for survival. It is no longer possible to launch our rockets on the oats we fed our horses. A world society is erupting beneath our feet and shaking down the cultural walls behind which we still try to hide.

The world is not suffering from a "temporary maladjustment" in its life. It is suffering from the "death-pangs" of an old effete, worn-out order. We have become a profit making society instead of a welfare-producing society. We have become an oblivion-seeking society instead of a truth-seeking society.

The tremendous resources of our planet are largely expended on weapons of war and defense, not on health, education, and the elimination of poverty.

How is it possible for young people, or any people, to turn for guidance concerning peace and welfare to agencies which have been developed for the ends of war and destruction?

"Why should these be exempt?"

Chapter 15
Section 2- A Spiritual Revolution

A hundred years ago Baha'u'llah warned of the spiritual revolution now invading the family itself, the basic building-block of the social order. However painful the process, He warned against efforts to defend standards and institutions which, by their very existence, keep men from becoming aware of the need for a new social order based on the Revelation of God.

The principles of the Baha'i Community state plainly:

"If long-cherished ideals and time-honored institutions, if certain social assumptions and religious formulae have ceased to promote the welfare of the generality of mankind, if they no longer minister to the needs of a continually evolving humanity, let them be swept away and relegated to the limbo of obsolescent and forgotten doctrines. Why should these, in a world subject to the immutable law of change and decay, be exempt from the deterioration that must needs overtake every human institution? For legal standards, political and economic theories are solely designed to safeguard the interests of humanity as a whole, and not humanity to be crucified for the preservation of the integrity of any particular law or doctrine. (World Order of Baha'u'llah, page 42)

Baha'is see the current social breakdown as an irresistible natural process. It could have been prevented, and the transition made peaceful and productive only if men and nations had turned to the source of all civilization.

Yet, Baha'is are firmly obedient to the governments of the nations in which they reside. Baha'u'llah Himself commanded them to behave "with faithfulness, trustfulness and truthfulness" to the governments of their countries. The teachings of Baha'u'llah's faith demand not only that the Baha'is be loyal to their government, but forbid any involvement in any political movement, apart from the individual's right to decide his vote in the privacy of his own conscience. Baha'is everywhere have a "sacred obligation to promote, in the most effective manner, the best interests of their government and people," without associating themselves with the diplomatic policies or pursuits of any government. True patriotism, they believe, need not conflict with man's supreme loyalty to God and to the welfare of the one human race.

Within this clear and undeviating framework, the Baha'is of the world labor energetically to change those things that are wrong and unjust. They use all the channels open to them. Above all, however, they seek to change the hearts of men, for until we have a new world conscience we cannot have a new world society. Increasingly, it is young people who seem most able to grasp the necessity for this balance. Ironically, it is this element of society, regarded as most "irresponsible" and violent, which best understands that mankind's urgent need is for moral and spiritual regeneration.

The Writings of Baha'u'llah's Faith say that the "most vital duty" given to every Baha'i is to "purify" his character. Every Baha'i is commanded to conduct himself in such a manner that he will stand out amongst the people of the world because of his moral qualities. These seemingly impossible goals are within the individual's reach for only one reason. Baha'u'llah has created, and God sustains, a true community, a society fit for human beings to live in.

In this day, Baha'u'llah says, God loves and aids "those who work in His path in groups." Like a healthy body, the Community of Baha'u'llah provides the spiritual nourishment which each individual, as a cell in an organism, requires. There is no other way to live.

Far from being negative, the Baha'i Community realizes that the painful ills now afflicting present-day society are the "death pangs" of a dying civilization. They are being accompanied by the "birth pangs" of a new civilization which is the organic world community, the "Ark of human salvation" now rising in strength and beauty upon the ruins of the old.

"The hour of final victory"

Chapter 15
Section 3- A World Community

Baha'u'llah's Community has been a Faith of youth since its earliest days. The Herald of the Baha'i Faith, the Bab, was but twenty-five when His Mission began. He was only thirty when an execution squad of 750 soldiers leveled their rifles at Him. The companion who died with Him on that occasion, head upon His breast, was only eighteen.

The overwhelming number of His chief disciples of were young. The first was twenty-seven, the last nineteen.

Baha'u'llah himself was but twenty-seven when He first began teaching in His native province and thirty-six when His Mission began.

'Abdu'l-Baha was nine when He first understood the great station of His Father, Baha'u'llah. He was a small child when He saw Baha'u'llah beset with pain and suffering under the iron-yoke of chains in the Black-Pit prison. He was nineteen when He left Iraq in exile with His Father. He was only twenty-four when He arrived at the prison-city of 'Akka, and Baha'u'llah turned over to Him the responsibility of dealing with the outside world. He was still young when Baha'u'llah passed away and the weight of the entire Baha'i world fell upon His shoulders.

'Abdu'l-Baha's youngest brother, Mirza Mihdi, was but twenty-two when he sacrificed his life in the prison of 'Akka so that the gates of the prison might open, and the Spirit of Baha'u'llah's Revelation touch the hearts of all mankind.

'Abdu'l-Baha's grandson, the first Guardian of the Baha'i Faith, Shoghi Effendi, was only twenty-five when he assumed the world leadership of the Baha'i Faith.

The membership of the present International Administrative Body, the Supreme elective Body of the Baha'i Faith, described in the Baha'i Writings as the "sole refuge" for this "tottering civilization" is composed at present of nine men who number very young members among them.

The messenger who carried Baha'u'llah's powerful Letter to Nasiri'd-Din Shah was scarcely more than a boy, only seventeen. His family despaired of his conduct. They considered him to be what many people today would probably call a delinquent. Yet, he was chosen by Baha'u'llah over a crowd of volunteers for this great mission. Alone, and on foot, he walked the entire distance from the prison on the Mediterranean Sea to Teheran, the capital of Persia, a journey of four months.

His name was Aqa Buzurg. He was known as "Badi" (Wonderful). He delivered the Letter to Nasiri'd-Din Shah, was arrested, and branded and tortured for three successive days. And finally he was beaten to death and his body was thrown into a pit.

Baha'u'llah Himself declared that "the spirit of might and power was breathed" into that youth. He praised Badi for three years in His writings, saying that his example was as "salt" in the spiritual food needed by mankind.

All over the world, in Africa, Asia, Australia, the islands of the South Pacific, Latin America and Europe, the number of young people embracing the Faith of Baha'u'llah increases each year. Those in their teens and twenties make up the majority of the new "recruits" for Baha'u'llah's spiritual army.

In the Baha'i Community there is no "generation gap," any more than there is a distinction between "races" or "classes." The tragic lack of communication which causes the rift in our sick society need not exist if each individual is accepted on his own merits without regard to age or race, sex or culture. A disciple of the Bab, a youth of nineteen, who was the first to suffer persecution on Persian soil, was accompanied through every humiliation by an elderly man, who miraculously withstood one thousand lashes his back. They suffered together, fellow believers, side by side. It is the same the world over.

Youth is not mainly a time of life, but a state of mind. Years can wrinkle the skin, but losses of ideals can wrinkle the soul and wither the spirit of man, whatever his age - young or old. Baha'u'llah did not come to any one group of people. He came to the world. His Faith calls upon "young and old alike" to make the teaching of His, healing, world-redeeming Faith the "dominating passion of their lives." Baha'u'llah offers a challenge which is today testing the determination, stamina, selflessness, sacrifice and devotion of people of every race, culture, nation, and position in life.

The words are those of Baha'u'llah's great-grandson who inspired and led the worldwide spread of the Message of God:

"Under whatever conditions, the dearly loved, the divinely sustained, the onward marching legions of the army of Baha'u'llah may be laboring, in whatever theater they may operate, in whatever climes they may struggle, whether in the cold and inhospitable territories beyond the Arctic Circle, or in the torrid zones of both the Eastern and Western Hemispheres; on the borders of the jungles of Burma, Malaya and India; on the fringes of the deserts of Africa and of the Arabian Peninsula; in the lonely, far-away, backward and sparsely populated islands dotting the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Indian Oceans and the North Sea; amidst the diversified tribes of the Negroes of Africa, the Eskimos and the Lapps of the Arctic regions, the Mongolians of East and South East Asia, the Polynesians of the South Pacific Islands, the reservations of the Red Indians in both American continents, the Maoris of New Zealand, and the aborigines of Australia; within the time-honored strongholds of both Christianity and Islam, whether it be in Mecca, Rome, Cairo, Najaf or Karbila; or in towns and cities whose inhabitants are either immersed in crass materialism, or breathe the fetid air of an aggressive racialism, or find themselves bound by the chains and fetters of a haughty intellectualism, or have fallen a prey to the forces of a blind and militant nationalism, or are steeped in the atmosphere of a narrow and intolerant ecclesiasticism - to them all, as well as to those who, as the fortunes of this fate-laden Crusade prosper, will be called upon to unfurl the standard of an all-conquering Faith in the strongholds of Hinduism, and assist in the breaking up of a rigid age-long caste system, who will replace the seminaries and monasteries acting as the nurseries of the Buddhist Faith with the divinely-ordained institutions of Baha'u'llah's victorious Order, who will penetrate the jungles of the Amazon, scale the mountain-fastnesses of Tibet, establish direct contact with the teeming and hapless multitudes in the interior of China, Mongolia and Japan, sit with the leprous, consort with the outcasts in their penal colonies, traverse the steppes of Russia or scatter throughout the wastes of Siberia, I direct my impassioned appeal to obey, as befits His warriors, the summons of the Lord of Hosts, and prepare for that Day of Days when His victorious battalions will . . . celebrate the hour of final victory. -Messages to the Baha'i World, pages 37-38

Peoples of all ages, by the hundreds and by the thousands, from all races and nations, are answering that call.

"The Cause of God," Baha'u'llah has said, "has set the heart of the world afire. How regrettable if you fail to be enkindled!"

William Sears, television writer and producer, won a wide popular audience and a number of industry awards in the United States. He wrote and starred in his own CBS show, "In the Park," and had other work recognized by TV Guide as the most popular in its field.

In 1953 Mr. Sears undertook the first of a series of extensive travels in Africa and the near east, collecting material for the following books: Thief in the Night, Release the Sun, God Loves Laughter and The Wine of Astonishment.

It was during his travels that he first encountered the story which appears in The Prisoner and the Kings.

Prisoner and the Kings by William Sears

Chapter 1 / Chapter 2 / Chapter 3 / Chapter 4 / Chapter 5 / Chapter 6 / Chapter 7 / Chapter 8 / Chapter 9
Chapter 10 / Chapter 11 / Chapter 12 / Chapter 13 / Chapter 14 / Chapter 15 /

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Joel Smith is a member of the Baha'i Faith living in the United States. Much of the material on this homepage consists of extracts from existing Baha'i publications, but also included are a number of insights and comments about prophecies which are entirely the author's own understanding and, as such, do not necessarily represent the official position of the Baha'i Faith or its teachings.