Here is a brief treatise on the history of the Bahai Faith - right from its inception, the Bab, this history of Subhe' Azal, Bahaullah, Abbas Effendi and finally till the present day Universal House of Justice.
The objective of this article is to give the reader a sense of Bahai history and an insight into the power struggle for leadership over the years. Over a period of time, I intend to delve deeper into each aspect of the Faith and present to reader an objective analysis. The links, which have been posted within the article, will lead you to the analysis.
The founder of Bahaism, Mirza Ali Mohammed Bab, was born to a trader family of Shiraz, a major city of Iran. He traveled to Kerbala, where he met Syed Kazim Rashti, the leader of the Shaikhiya sect and was impressed by his teachings. He became his disciple and was greatly devoted to him. When Syed Kazim Rashti died in 1844, Mirza Ali Mohammed and Haji Mohammed Karim Khan (another disciple of Rashti) appointed themselves as his successors. During the same year on the 23rd of May Mirza Ali Mohammed announced that he was "The Bab" (the Gate) whereas Haji Karim appointed himself to be the leader of the Shaikhiyya Sect. Another zealous student and an influential follower of Syed Kazim Rashti, Mulla Husain accepted the claim of Bab-hood of Mirza Ali Mohammed and in exchange was bestowed the title of "Awwalo Man Amana" (the first to believe). Within a short time Mirza Ali Mohammed gathered 18 followers around himself. He gave them the title of "Huruf-e-Hayy" (The Letters of Life) and sent them to different areas of Iran for propagation while he himself went to Mecca for Hajj. In Mecca, according to one report, he claimed to be "The Mahdi" (The guided one).
The Muslim religious scholars severely condemned and criticized the views of Mirza Ali Mohammed, which led to discord and clashes at many places and due to this Mirza Ali Mohammed was arrested and imprisoned. However, with the connivance of Manuchehr Khan, the Jail warden of the Isfahan prison, Bab escaped and went underground. However, he was soon re-arrested and on the 9th of July 1850 was finally executed.
Somehow for about 17 years, the followers of Mirza Ali Mohammed hid his body from the government in Tehran and kept it hidden in a tomb known as "Imamzada Masoom's Tomb." After that it was sent to Akka in Palestine on the instructions of Bahaullah.
In his lifetime Mirza Ali Mohammed had appointed Mirza Yahya, the son of Mirza Buzurg, and the stepbrother of Mirza Husain Ali as his successor. The same Mirza Husain Ali later came to be known as "Bahaullah." Mirza Ali Mohammed had given Mirza Yahya the title of "Subhe' Azal" (Everlasting Dawn). He also gave his ring, his personal effects and also the authority to explain and comment on his (Mirza Ali Mohammed Bab's) writings.
In 1852, some Bahais plotted to kill the Shah of Iran, Nasiruddin Shah. Due to the strict measures adopted to exterminate them, Subhe' Azal managed to go underground, but Mirza Husain Ali was captured. However he managed to escape the very same year and along with Subhe' Azal, succeeded in reaching Baghdad. Here they stayed for 12 years and thus Baghdad became the center of Bahai activities under the leadership of Subhe Azal. Meanwhile Mirza Husain Ali, as a result of some dispute by some Bahai leaders went to Kurdistan in Turkey and stayed there. But even the Turkish government, seeing his nefarious activities and his close association with Russia and Britain dispatched him to Constantinople. He stayed there for 4 years and it was from there that he announced that he was the real and true successor of Mirza Ali Mohammed and also that Allah, the Most High, had given him a more honored and lofty position than his predecessor.
Despite Mirza Ali Mohammed's clear announcement of the appointment of Mirza Yahya as his successor, a few others also rose up with claims of successorship after his death. Amongst them was a Bahai from Tabriz, Mirza Abdullah, who was thrown in the Arabian rivers by some Bahais on the orders of Mirza Husain Ali. Likewise an Indian Bahai, Aga Bashir Mohammed had also forwarded his claim but he did not receive any response.
Subhe' Azal along with most of the 18 special companions of Mirza Ali Mohammed severely opposed this claim of Mirza Husain Ali and came to Constantinople to bring back Mirza Husain Ali to the right path. Thus a severe discord broke out amongst the Bahais themselves and they began to kill each other openly. Finally, Mirza Yahya went into a recluse and Mirza Husain Ali became the sovereign leader of Bahais.
In view of such serious circumstances, the Ottoman government intervened and sent Subhe Azal along with his family to Cyprus and Mirza Husain Ali with his family to Palestine. The Bahais thus got divided into two distinct groups, the followers of Subhe Azal came to be known as "Azalis" and the followers of Mirza Husain Ali became famous as "Bahais." The Azalis numbered 50,000 at that time but due to various reasons their number went on decreasing and today they are an extinct group. The Azalis believed in the teachings mentioned in "Al Bayan" of Mirza Ali Mohammed Bab, whereas Mirza Husain Ali assumed the title of "Bahaullah" and claimed to be the new "Manifestation" of God and made changes in the earlier Bahai teachings. After this Bahaullah initiated contacts with world leaders like Queen Victoria, the Russian Czar, Napoleon and the Pope. He even praised the Russian justice when it sentenced to death two Iranians accused of killing two Bahais. He did this by quoting two "Divine" inspirations.
Mirza Husain Ali (Bahaullah) expired in May 1892 leaving behind 4 sons and 3 daughters. A severe dispute of successorship erupted among the brothers. The eldest, Abbas Effendi claimed to be the rightful successor in view of the continuation of divine inspirations. However, his brothers Mirza Mohammed Ali, Mirza Badiullah and Mirza Ziaullah and many other Bahais countered that the Divine inspiration ended since "Bahaullah" had himself written in "Al Aqdas" that anyone who claims thus (Divine inspiration) before the completion of 1,000 years of Bahaism, indeed was a liar and that this claim was false. Nevertheless Abbas Effendi was able to tide over these problems very soon. He assumed the title of "Abdul Baha" and took over the control of Bahaism. His position was further strengthened by the fact that in 1920, (after the 1st World War), he was conferred the title of "Sir" by the British. (As a reward for his espionage activities during the World War, which had helped the British a great deal).
Abdul Baha expired on 28th November 1921. Before his death he appointed his grandson Shoghi Effendi Rabbani as his successor. Rabbani was then 24 years old and was studying in Oxford. Rabbani wrote many books in Persian, Arabic and English for the propagation of Bahaism. He appointed 32 famous Bahais for spreading the faith of Bahaism and gave them the title of "Hands Of The Cause Of God."
In 1957, Rabbani also expired in London. The 32 Bahais then took over the affairs of the Bahai faith. In 1963, with a view to frame the Bahai Law, to solve the practical problems and to solve other organizational and constitutional disputes they established the "Universal House Of Justice" based on the number 19 and established its headquarters at Mount Carmel in Israel. The members of the "Universal House of Justice" are elected every 5 years at an International Bahai convention.