April 30, 2019


When the headmaster finally caught sight of Siyyid ‘Alí-Muhammad reciting prayers behind the school, he was determined to interrupt Him and punish Him for not returning to class in time. However, so beautiful was the sight of this small child – the sweetness and utter devotion in His expression, His face lifted heavenward and bathed in light – that he was utterly spellbound. At last the child bent his forehead to the ground in a final reverence. After a moment’s hesitation, the headmaster finally approached the boy – no longer with anger, but with awe. “Siyyid ‘Alí-Muhammad! To whom were you praying with such fervor?” he inquired with a wink of humour and a slight unsteadiness in his voice. “To my grandfather,” replied the boy, very calmly. He meant, of course, the Prophet Muhammad.

Siyyid ‘Alí Muhammad’s gift for prayer would move many people whose spiritual eyes and ears were receptive. All people are born with gifts of some sort – some create paintings that stir the imagination; some play music or dance beautifully or discover distant planets or invisible particles. Siyyid ‘Alí Muhammad had the rarest of gifts, however, which was a soul so clear and pure and a love for God so great that when he prayed it was as though you could see God moving within him like a great white whale leaping majestically in shimmering emerald waters, or like a huge orange sun rising from the centre of his being.

The headmaster, Shaykh ‘Ábid, did not know what to do with his brilliant student. At every moment the wisdom of this seven-year-old child declared his own ignorance. At every opportunity, this boy showed an understanding of the Qu’rán far beyond his own. Therefore, he decided to return the boy to his home and confess his inability to adequately teach him.

Hají Mirzá Siyyid ‘Alí was the boy’s maternal uncle and legal guardian to both his sister and the boy since his father’s death. He was not pleased to see the headmaster arrive with his nephew. Now what has he done? he thought. It was not that Siyyid ‘Alí-Muhammad was ever a bad boy. It was rather that he was different. From the moment of his birth in the southwestern Iranian city of Shíraz as dawned peeked over the earth on October 20, 1819, he rarely cried, played very quietly and was always even-tempered. When he spoke, he would say the most amazing things. His uncle witnessed how people were drawn to the little boy.

“I have brought him to you,” said Shaykh ‘Ábid, “and commit him to your protection. He is no ordinary child, for in him I can already see the evidences of the mighty power that only the Promised One can reveal. He needs no teachers such as I.”

“Have you forgotten my instructions?” his uncle demanded. “Did I not ask you to follow the example of your schoolmaster, observe silence and listen carefully to your teacher’s every word?

Nevertheless, the boy returned to the school and when he was 17 years old, his uncle, who was a merchant, sent him to the port city of Búshihr to open a shop. Because he was a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, he wore a green turban and a green sash as a symbol of his lineage. The merchant business soon thrived. Siyyid ‘Alí Muhammad had a reputation for honesty and integrity, and people were attracted to his deep, devotional character. People who witnessed him praying in the mosque were sometimes moved to tears. In 1842, when he was 22 years old, Siyyid ‘Alí Muhammad returned to Shíraz to marry Khadijih Bagum.

Khadijih Bagum and Siyyid ‘Alí Muhammad were cousins and neighbours who grew up together. When her cousin left for Búshihr, she dreamt she saw him standing in a field of beautiful flowers. He was facing Mecca and wore a coat whose lapels were richly embroidered with verses from the Qu’rán. His face was shining like the noonday sun. Not long after their marriage, she soon discovered she was pregnant. When the time came to give birth, however, there were complications that threatened both her life and that of the child. His mother begged him to save them, so he gave her a prayer written on a mirror to be placed before his wife. Their son was safely delivered but died soon afterwards. His mother could not understand how he had such power but could not save his son. Although Siyyid ‘Alí-Muhammad was saddened, he replied that he was not destined to have a child.

Khadijih Bagum received another shock as well, one that would change her life forever. One night, her husband arose from their bed and left the room. She thought nothing of it until his absence lengthened to more than an hour. Overcome with curiosity, she saw a light in the chamber on the second floor and decided to climb the stairs to see, although with every step she felt a growing anxiety. When she reached the top, she saw her husband standing in the centre of the room, arms lifted upward, His face streaming with tears, chanting prayers in a beautiful voice. His face radiated light that deflected off the stain glass windows, turning them into jewels that blurred her vision. Trembling and glued to the floor in fear, she could not move. Siyyid ‘Alí-Muhammad then made a brief movement of his hand which released her. She flew down the stairs back to their bedroom.

The next morning, she dreaded meeting her husband and shrank away from him when he sat with her at breakfast. He asked her why she looked so anxious. “O my husband! It is the change in you that weighs upon my mind. We have known each other since childhood, we have been married and living in this house these past two years, but now I see a different person before me. You have been transformed, and this makes me anxious and uneasy.” Her husband smiled.

“It was not my desire that you see me last night, but the Will of God that decreed it so that no shadow of a doubt should ever cross your mind. You should come to know with absolute certainty that I am that Manifestation of God Whose advent has been expected for a thousand years. This light radiates from My heart and My being.”

As soon as Khadijih Bagum heard these words, she did not hesitate. She knelt at his feet, her heart now calm and assured, and promised to serve Him all the days of her life, which she did with absolute humility and steadfastness.

[1] Islamic hadith (saying) attributed to the Imam ‘Alí, which gives a clue as to when the promised One would be born. The Báb was born in 1819 and Bahá’u’lláh in 1817.

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