Bahá’u’lláh, a title that means “the Glory of God” in Arabic, was born on 12 November 1817 in Tehran, Iran. His given name was Husayn Ali, and He was the son of a wealthy government minister, Mirza Buzurg-i-Nuri.
The family could trace its ancestry back to the great dynasties of Iran’s imperial past. Bahá’u’lláh led a princely life as a young man, receiving an education that focused largely on calligraphy, horsemanship, classic poetry, and swordsmanship.
His son, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, said this concerning His childhood: “… Bahá’u’lláh, belonged to the nobility of Persia. From earliest childhood He was distinguished among His relatives and friends.… In wisdom, intelligence and as a source of new knowledge, He was advanced beyond His age and superior to His surroundings. All who knew Him were astonished at His precocity. It was usual for them to say, ‘Such a child will not live,’ for it is commonly believed that precocious children do not reach maturity.”
In a letter Bahá’u’lláh recalled as a child seeing an elaborate puppet show about war and intrigues in the court of a king and the riches of those in authority. After the performance, Bahá’u’lláh saw a man come out from behind the tent with a box under his arm. “What is this box?” Bahá’u’lláh asked him, “and what was the nature of this display?” “All this lavish display and these elaborate devices,” the puppet master replied, “the king, the princes, and the ministers, their pomp and glory, their might and power, everything you saw, are now contained within this box.”
Bahá’u’lláh then recalled: “… Ever since that day, all the trappings of the world have seemed in the eyes of this Youth akin to that same spectacle. They have never been, nor will they ever be, of any weight and consequence, be it to the extent of a grain of mustard seed.… Erelong these outward trappings, these visible treasures, these earthly vanities, these arrayed armies, these adorned vestures, these proud and overweening souls, all shall pass into the confines of the grave, as though into that box. In the eyes of those possessed of insight, all this conflict, contention and vainglory hath ever been, and will ever be, like unto the play and pastimes of children.”
According to the custom of that time, as the son of an influential government official, Bahá’u’lláh did not receive a formal education. Yet by the time He was fourteen, he became known for His learning. He would converse on any subject and solve any problem presented to him. In large gatherings he would explain intricate religious questions to the ulama (the leading religious figures in Islam), and they listened with great interest.
After the death of His father, Bahá’u’lláh declined the ministerial career in the government that was available to Him. When the prime minister was informed of Bahá’u’lláh’s decision he remarked: “Leave him to himself. Such a position is unworthy of him.…”
Instead of pursuing a life of power and leisure, Bahá’u’lláh chose to devote His energies to a range of philanthropies which had, by the early 1840s, earned Him renown as “father of the poor.”
For more information on Bahá’u’lláh – The Life of Bahá’u’lláh