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Pages 26-28

The Covenant of God with Humankind

In June 1877, Bahá’u’lláh at last emerged from the strict confinement of the prison-city of ‘Akká, and moved with His family to “Mazra‘ih”, a small estate a few miles north of the city. 1 As had been predicted in His statement to the Turkish government, Sulṭán Abdu’l-’Aziz had been overthrown and assassinated in a palace coup, and gusts from the winds of political change sweeping the world were beginning to invade even the shuttered precincts of the Ottoman imperial system. After a brief two-year stay at Mazra‘ih, Bahá’u’lláh moved to “Bahjí”, a large mansion surrounded by gardens, which His son ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had rented for Him and the members of His extended family. 2 The remaining twelve years of His life were devoted to His writings on a wide range of spiritual and social issues, and to receiving a stream of Bahá’í pilgrims who made their way, with great difficulty, from Persia and other lands.
Throughout the Near and Middle East the nucleus of a community life was beginning to take shape among those who had accepted His message. For its guidance, Bahá’u’lláh had revealed a system of laws and institutions designed to give practical effect to the principles in His writings. 3 Authority was vested in councils democratically elected by the whole community, provisions were made to exclude the possibility of a clerical elite arising, and principles of consultation and group decision making were established. 27
At the heart of this system was what Bahá’u’lláh termed a “new Covenant” between God and humankind. The distinguishing feature of humanity’s coming of age is that, for the first time in its history, the entire human race is consciously involved, however dimly, in the awareness of its own oneness and of the earth as a single homeland. This awakening opens the way to a new relationship between God and humankind. As the peoples of the world embrace the spiritual authority inherent in the guidance of the Revelation of God for this age, Bahá’u’lláh said, they will find in themselves a moral empowerment which human effort alone has proven incapable of generating. “A new race of men” 4 will emerge as the result of this relationship, and the work of building a global civilization will begin. The mission of the Bahá’í community was to demonstrate the efficacy of this Covenant in healing the ills that divide the human race.
Bahá’u’lláh died at Bahjí on May 29, 1892, in His 75th year. At the time of His passing, the cause entrusted to Him forty years earlier in the darkness of Teheran’s Black Pit was poised to break free of the Islamic lands where it had taken shape, and to establish itself first across America and Europe and then throughout the world. In doing so, it would itself become a vindication of the promise of the new Covenant between God and humankind. For alone of all the world’s independent religions, the Bahá’í Faith and its community of believers were to pass successfully through the critical first century of their existence with their unity firmly intact, undamaged by the age-old blight of schism and faction. Their experience offers compelling evidence for Bahá’u’lláh’s assurance that the human race, in all its diversity, can learn to live and work as one people, in a common global homeland.
Just two years before His death, Bahá’u’lláh received at Bahjí one of the few Westerners to meet Him, and the only one to leave a written account of the experience. The visitor was Edward Granville Browne, a rising young orientalist from Cambridge University, whose attention had originally been attracted by the dramatic history of the Báb and His heroic band of followers. Of his meeting with Bahá’u’lláh, Browne wrote:
Though I dimly suspected whither I was going and whom I was to behold (for no distinct intimation had been given to me), a second or two elapsed ere, with a throb of wonder and awe, I became definitely conscious that the room was not untenanted. In the corner where the divan met the wall sat a wondrous and venerable figure… The face of him on whom I gazed I can never forget, though I cannot describe it. Those piercing eyes seemed to read one’s very soul; power and authority sat on that ample brow… No need to ask in whose presence I stood, as I bowed myself before one who is the object of a devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain! A mild dignified voice bade me be seated, and then continued:—“Praise be to God that thou hast attained!…Thou hast come to see a prisoner and an exile…We desire but the good of the world and the happiness of the nations; yet they deem us a stirrer up of strife and sedition worthy of bondage and banishment…That all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religion should cease, and differences of race be annulled—what harm is there in this?…Yet so it shall be; these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the ‘Most great Peace’ shall come…” 5 28
1. Although Sulṭán Abdu’l-’Aziz’ order of banishment was never formally revoked, the responsible political authorities came to regard it as null and void. They, therefore, indicated that Bahá’u’lláh could establish His residence outside the city walls, should He choose to do so.   [ Back To Reference]
2. The mansion, which had been built by a wealthy Christian Arab merchant of ‘Akká, had been abandoned by him when an outbreak of plague began to spread. The property was first rented and, some years after Bahá’u’lláh’s passing, purchased by the Bahá’í community. Bahá’u’lláh’s grave is located in a Shrine in the gardens of Bahjí, and is now the focal point of pilgrimage for the Bahá’í world.   [ Back To Reference]
3. For a summary of this body of teaching see World Order, pp. 143–57, and Shoghi Effendi’s Principles of Bahá’í Administration (London: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1973), throughout. A fully annotated English translation of the central document in this body of writings, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (“The Most Holy Book”), is being published to coincide with the centenary of Bahá’u’lláh’s passing, 1992.   [ Back To Reference]
4. Advent, p. 16.   [ Back To Reference]
5. Edward G. Browne, A Traveller’s Narrative (New York: Bahá’í Publishing Committee, 1930), pp. xxxix-xl.   [ Back To Reference]