He claimed to be the prophetic fulfillment of Bábism, a 19th-century outgrowth of Shí‘ism, but in a broader sense claimed to be a "supreme Manifestation of God", referring to the fulfillment of the eschatological expectations of Islam, Christianity, and other major religions. Bahá'ís see Bahá'u'lláh as the initiator of a new religion, as Buddha or Muhammad — but also the initiator of a new cycle, like that attributed to Adam.
Bahá'u'lláh taught that humanity is one single race and that the age has come for its unification in a global society. His claim to divine revelation resulted in persecution and imprisonment by the Persian and Ottoman authorities, and his eventual 24-year confinement in the prison city of `Akka, Palestine, where he died. In his lifetime he authored many religious works, most notably the Kitáb-i-Aqdas and the Kitáb-i-Íqán.
There are two known photographs of Bahá'u'lláh. Outside of pilgrimage, Bahá'ís prefer not to view his photo in public, or even to display it in their private homes. Further information and a photo can be found below.
While the Báb claimed a station of revelation, he also claimed no finality for his revelation. A constant theme in his works, especially the Persian Bayan was that of the great Promised One, the next embodiment of the Primal Will, whom the Báb termed He whom God shall make manifest, promised in the sacred writings of previous religions would soon establish the Kingdom of God on the Earth. In the books written by the Báb he constantly entreats his believers to follow He whom God shall make manifest when he arrives.
When violence started between the Bábís and the Qajar government in the later part of 1848, Bahá'u'lláh tried to reach the besieged Bábís at the Shaykh Tabarsi in Mazandaran, but was arrested and imprisoned before he could get there. The following years until 1850 saw the Bábís being massacred in various provinces after the Báb made his claim of being Manifestation of God more public.
According to Bahá'u'lláh, it was during his imprisonment in the Síyáh-Chál that he had several mystical experiences, and that he received a vision of a maiden from God, through whom he received his mission as a messenger of God and as the one whose coming the Báb had prophesied. After four months in the Síyáh-Chál, owing to the insistent demands of the ambassador of Russia , and after the person who tried to kill the Shah confessed and exonerated the Bábí leaders, the authorities released him from prison, but the government exiled him from Iran. Bahá'u'lláh chose to go to Iraq in the Ottoman Empire and arrived in Baghdad in early 1853.
Mírzá Yaḥyá had been appointed by the Báb to lead the Bábí community, and had been travelling around Persia in disguise. He decided to go to Baghdad and join the group using funds given to him by Bahá'u'lláh.
An increasing number of Bábí's considered Baghdad the new center for leadership of the Bábí religion, and a flow of pilgrims started coming there from Persia. However, as time went on, people began to look to Mírzá Yaḥyá for leadership less and less, and instead saw Bahá'u'lláh as their leader.
Mírzá Yaḥyá, as the appointed leader of the Bábís, started to try to discredit Bahá'u'lláh and further divided the community. The actions of Mírzá Yaḥyá drove many people away from the religion and allowed its enemies to continue their persecution.
For two years Bahá'u'lláh lived alone in the mountains of Kurdistan dressed like a dervish and using the name Darvish Muhammad-i-Irani. At one point someone noticed his remarkable penmanship, which brought the curiosity of the instructors of the local Sufi orders. As he began to take guests, he became noted for his learning and wisdom. Shaykh `Uthmán, Shaykh `Abdu'r-Rahmán, and Shaykh Ismá'íl, undisputed leaders of the Naqshbandíyyih, Qádiríyyih, and Khálidíyyih Orders respectively, began to seek his advice and admire him. It was to the second of these that the Four Valleys was written. Several other notable books were also written during this time.
In Baghdad, given the lack of firm and public leadership by Mirza Yahya, the Babi community had fallen into disarray. Some Babis, including Bahá'u'lláh's family, thus searched for Bahá'u'lláh, and when news of a wise man living in the mountains under the name of Darvish Muhammad spread to neighbouring areas, Bahá'u'lláh's family pleaded with him to come back to Baghdad, which he did.
When Bahá'u'lláh returned to Baghdad he saw that the Bábí community had become disheartened and divided. In the time of Bahá'u'lláh's absence, the Baghdad community had become alienated with the religion since Mirza Yahya had proceeded to marry the widowed wife of the Báb against the clear instructions left by him and dispatched followers to the province of Nur for the second attempt on the life of the Shah. A few Babis went so far as refuting Mirza Yahya's claims to successorship, advancing counter-claims, and disseminating their own writings.
Bahá'u'lláh remained in Baghdád for seven more years. During this time, while keeping his perceived station as the Manifestation of God hidden, he taught the Báb's teachings. He published many books and verses, which he called revelations, including the Book of Certitude and the Hidden Words.
Bahá'u'lláh's rising influence in the city, and the revival of the Persian Bábí community gained the attention of his enemies in Islamic clergy and the Persian government. They were eventually successful in having the Ottoman government exile Bahá'u'lláh from Baghdad to Constantinople.
The eleven years of messianic secrecy that passed between when Bahá'u'lláh claimed to have seen the Maiden of Heaven in the Síyáh-Chál and this declaration are referred to by Bahá'í chroniclers and by Bahá'u'lláh himself as ayyam-i butun ("Days of Concealment"). Bahá'u'lláh stated that this period was a "set time of concealment".
Bahá'u'lláh and his family, along with a small group of Bábís, stayed in Constantinople for only four months. (One source states there were seventy-five people all together.) During this time the Persian Ambassador in the court of the Sultan mounted a systematic campaign against Bahá'u'lláh. He was thus exiled to Adrianople (now Edirne), but before leaving he wrote a Tablet to the Sultan, the contents of which are unknown, but Shamsi Big, who delivered the letter, gave the following report:
During the month of December 1863, Bahá'u'lláh and his family embarked on a twelve-day journey to Adrianople. Bahá'u'lláh stayed in Adrianople for four and a half years. Mirza Yahya, upon hearing Bahá'u'lláh's words in a tablet read to him, challenging him to accept Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation, offered a counter-claim that he was the one whom the Báb had prophesied about. This caused a break within the Bábí community, and the followers of Bahá'u'lláh became known as Bahá'ís, while the followers of Mirza Yahya, also known as Subh-i-Azal ("Morning of Eternity") became known as Azalís. See Bahá'í/Bábí split. While in Adrianople, Bahá'u'lláh was poisoned and nearly died. His hand was left shaking for the rest of his life. Bahá'í historical texts, and contemporary accounts, report that Subh-i-Azal was directly behind the poisoning. Later, followers of Azal made the counter-claim that Bahá'u'lláh had accidentally poisoned himself while trying to poison others.
The first years in `Akká imposed very harsh conditions on, and held very trying times for, Bahá'u'lláh. Mirzá Mihdí, Bahá'u'lláh's son, was suddenly killed at the age of twenty-two when he fell through a skylight while pacing back and forth in prayer and meditation. After some time, the people and officials began to trust and respect Bahá'u'lláh, and thus the conditions of the imprisonment were eased and eventually, after Sultan `Abdu'l-`Aziz's death, he was allowed to leave the city and visit nearby places. From 1877 until 1879 Bahá'u'lláh lived in the house of Mazra'ih.
The final years of Bahá'u'lláh's life (1879-1892) were spent in the Mansion of Bahjí, just outside `Akká, even though he was still formally a prisoner of the Ottoman Empire. During his years in `Akká and Bahjí, Bahá'u'lláh produced many volumes of work including the Kitáb-i-Aqdas.
On May 9, 1892 Bahá'u'lláh contracted a slight fever which grew steadily over the following days, abated, and then finally took his life on May 29, 1892. He was buried in the shrine located next to the Mansion of Bahjí.
Bahá'u'lláh declared that he was the "Promised One" of all religions, fulfilling the messianic prophecies found in world religions. He stated that his claims to being several messiahs converging one person were the symbolic, rather than literal, fulfilment of the messianic and eschatological prophecies found in the literature of the major religions. Bahá'u'lláh's eschatological claims constitute six distinctive messianic identifications: from Judaism, the incarnation of the "Everlasting Father" from the Yuletide propechy of Isaiah 9:6, the "Lord of Hosts"; from Christianity, the "Spirit of Truth" or Comforter predicted by Jesus in his farewell discourse of John 14-17 and the return of Christ "in the glory of the Father"; from Zoroastrianism, the return of Shah Bahram Varjavand, a Zoroastrian messiah predicted in various late Pahlavi texts; from Shi'a Islam the return of the Third Imam, Imam Husayn; from Sunni Islam, the return of Jesus, Isa; and from Bábism, He whom God shall make manifest.
While Bahá'u'lláh did not claim himself to be either the Hindu or Buddhist messiah, he did so in principle through his writings. Later, `Abdu'l-Bahá stated that Bahá'u'lláh was the Kalki avatar, who in the classical Hindu Vaishnavas tradition is the tenth and final avatar (great incarnation) of Vishnu who will come to end The Age of Darkness and Destruction. Bahá'ís also believe that Bahá'u'lláh is the fulfilment of the prophecy of appearance of the Maitreya Buddha, who is a future Buddha who will eventually appear on earth, achieve complete enlightenment, and teach the pure Dharma. Bahá'ís believe that the prophecy that Maitreya will usher in a new society of tolerance and love has been fulfilled by Bahá'u'lláh's teachings on world peace. Bahá'u'lláh is believed to be a descendant of a long line of kings in Persia through Yazdgerd III, the last monarch of the Sasanian Dynasty; he also asserted to be a descendant of Abraham through his third wife Keturah.
The favor given to `Abdu'l-Bahá was a cause of jealousy within Bahá'u'lláh's family. Muhammad `Alí insisted that he should be the one to lead the Bahá'í community. This period is considered by Bahá'ís as one of the most difficult tests of the early years of the Faith.
Due to the conflict with his half brother, `Abdu'l-Bahá ex-communicated him as a Covenant-breaker. The division was not long lived. After being alienated by the Bahá'í community, Muhammad Ali died in 1937 with only a handful of followers.
The books and letters written by Bahá'u'lláh cover religious doctrine, the proclamation of his claims, social and moral teachings as well as Bahá'í laws; he also wrote many prayers. Jináb-i-Fádil-i-Mázindarání, analyzing Baha'u'llah's writings, states that he wrote in the different styles or categories including the interpretation of religious scripture, the enunciation of laws and ordinances, mystical writings, writings about government and world order, including letters to the kings and rulers of the world, writings about knowledge, philosophy, medicine, and alchemy, writings calling for education, good character and virtues, and writing about social teachings. All of his works are considered by Bahá'ís to be revelation, even those that were written before his announcement of his prophetic claim. Some of his better known works that have been translated into English include Gleanings, the Hidden Words, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas and the Kitáb-i-Íqán.
There are two known photographs of Bahá'u'lláh. This photo was taken while he was in Adrianople (reproduced in William Miller's book on the Bahá'í Faith). Copies of both pictures are at the Bahá'í World Centre, and one is on display in the International Archives building, where the Bahá'ís view it as part of an organized pilgrimage. Outside of this experience Bahá'ís prefer not to view this photo in public, or even to display it in their private homes, and Bahá'í institutions have requested the press not to publish the image in the media.
Bahá'u'lláh's image is not, itself, offensive to Bahá'ís. However, Bahá'ís are expected to treat the image of any Manifestation of God with extreme reverence. According to this practice, they avoid depictions of Jesus or of Muhammad, and refrain from portraying any of them in plays and drama. For example, copies of the photographs are displayed on highly significant occasions, such as six conferences held in October 1967 commemorating the centenary of Bahá'u'lláh's writing of the Suriy-i-Mulúk (Tablet to the Kings), which Shoghi Effendi describes as "the most momentous Tablet revealed by Bahá'u'lláh" (God Passes By, pp. 171). After a meeting in Edirne (Adrianople), Turkey, the Hands of the Cause travelled to the conferences, 'each bearing the precious trust of a photograph of the Blessed Beauty, which it will be the privilege of those attending the Conferences to view.' (Marks, Geoffry W. (Ed.) (1986). Messages of The Universal House of Justice 1963 to 1986, p. 105.)
The official Bahá'í position on displaying the photograph of Bahá'u'lláh is:
While the above passage clarifies that it is considered disrespectful to display his photograph to the public, regarding postings on other websites the Bahá'í World Centre has written: