Our Daily Bread: The Glory of Martyrs

One of the aspects in which the Bahá’í Faith shows its Shi’a pedigree most severely is in its reverence of martyrdom. Bahá’u’lláh made this clear in his Arabic Hidden Words:

O SON OF MAN! Ponder and reflect. Is it thy wish to die upon thy bed, or to shed thy life-blood on the dust, a martyr in My path, and so become the manifestation of My command and the revealer of My light in the highest paradise? Judge thou aright, O servant!

O SON OF MAN! By My beauty! To tinge thy hair with thy blood is greater in My sight than the creation of the universe and the light of both worlds. Strive then to attain this, O servant!

In prayers written for Bahá’ís, Bahá’u’lláh shows the believer what to pray for:

Every moment of my life my head crieth out to Thee and saith: “Would, O my Lord, that I could be raised on the spear-point in Thy path!” while my blood entreateth Thee saying: “Dye the earth with me, O my God, for the sake of Thy love and Thy pleasure!”

And were the infidels to slay me, my blood would, at Thy command, lift up its voice and proclaim: “There is no God but Thee, O Thou Who art all my heart’s Desire!” And were my flesh to be boiled in the cauldron of hate, the smell which it would send forth would rise towards Thee and cry out: “Where art Thou, O Lord of the worlds, Thou One Desire of them that have known Thee!” And were I to be cast into fire, my ashes would–I swear by Thy glory–declare: “The Youth hath, verily, attained that for which he had besought his Lord, the All-Glorious, the Omniscient.”

Oh, that my blood could, this very moment, be shed on the face of the earth before Thee, and Thou wouldst behold me in the condition in which Thou didst behold such of Thy servants as have drawn nigh unto Thee, and those of Thy righteous creatures as have been chosen by Thee!

— Prayers and Meditations

Elsewhere, Bahá’u’lláh elaborates on the the rewards of martyrdom:

This is a Revelation, under which, if a man shed for its sake one drop of blood, myriads of oceans will be his recompense.

Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh

It was the highest honor among Bahá’ís to refuse to recant one’s faith and thus expose oneself to the accusation of heresy. To submit to execution rather than recant one’s faith was now the highest form of heroism.

Bahá’u’lláh, in the following passage, cites an Islamic prophecy, and the large numbers of Bahá’í martyrs, as proof of his claims:

“He shall manifest the perfection of Moses, the splendour of Jesus, and the patience of Job. His chosen ones shall be abased in His day. Their heads shall be offered as presents even as the heads of the Turks and the Daylamites. They shall be slain and burnt. Fear shall seize them; dismay and alarm shall strike terror into their hearts. The earth shall be dyed with their blood. Their womenfolk shall bewail and lament. These indeed are my friends!” Consider, not a single letter of this tradition hath remained unfulfilled. In most of the places their blessed blood hath been shed; in every city they have been made captives, have been paraded throughout the provinces, and some have been burnt with fire.

— Kitáb-i-Íqán

Imagine pressing your followers toward martyrdom for the sake of fulfilling a prophecy! Or perhaps also to prove the power of your influence over them? I have heard Bahá’ís use those many martyrs so many times as validation of their beliefs!

In a number of places, Bahá’u’lláh alludes to his hope that martyrdom would convince the world of the truth of his claim:

Whoso hath inhaled the sweet fragrance of the All-Merciful, and recognized the Source of this utterance, will welcome with his own eyes the shafts of the enemy, that he may establish the truth of the laws of God amongst men.

Kitáb-i-Aqdas, ¶7

… were it not for the blood which is shed for love of Thee, what else could tinge the faces of Thy chosen ones before the eyes of Thy creatures?

Prayers and Meditations

I swear by Thy might! The ornament that adorneth the countenance of Thy dear ones is the blood which, in their love for Thee, floweth out of their foreheads over their faces.

Prayers and Meditations

Bahá’ís, though now encouraged to be “living martyrs”, are still expected to refuse to recant their faith on threat of death. When Bahá’ís are able to live up to this expectation, their sacrifices are presented to the world as proof of the strength of their conviction, oblivious to the fact that such fanaticism is not universally admired. The Bahá’í Faith, despite its many efforts to modernize itself, still bleeds Shi’ite blood.

The best lack all conviction; the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming

[Edited to include passages from older FBI article, April 2023]

©2008, 2023 Kaweah (Dan Jensen)

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