Bahá'u'lláh was the founder of the Bahá'í Faith. He was born in 1817 to Khadíjih Khánum and Mírzá Buzurg of Nur (in the province of Mazandaran), a Persian nobleman, and went on to be a leader in the Bábí movement, and then established the Bahá'í Faith in 1863. Bahá'u'lláh's family consists of his three wives and the children of those wives.
Titles of descendants
One of Bahá'u'lláh's titles is Sadratu'l-Muntahá, which translates from Arabic as the tree beyond which there is no passing (a quote from Qur'an 53:14). In this connection, Bahá'u'lláh entitled his descendants with terms relating to the Sadratu'l-Muntahá. His male descendants were given the title of Aghsán (Arabic for "Branches") which in singular form is "Ghusn". In particular, three of his sons were given specific "branch" titles:
- `Abdu'l-Bahá (given name, Abbás): Ghuṣn-i-A`ẓam (Arabic: الغصن الأعظم "The Most Great Branch").
- Mírzá Muhammad `Alí: Ghuṣn-i-Akbar, (Arabic: الغصن الأکبر "The Greater Branch").
- Mírzá Mihdí: Ghuṣn-i-Athar, (Arabic: الغصن الأطهر "The Purest Branch").
His daughters were given the title of Varaqat (translated from Arabic as "Leaves"). Thus Bahá'u'lláh's eldest daughter, Bahíyyih (given name, Fatimih), was given the title of the Greatest Holy Leaf.
During Bahá'u'lláh's lifetime, he referred to his eldest son, Abbás, by terms such as "Sirru'lláh" (Mystery of God), or "Sarkár-i-Áqá" (the Master). After the death of Bahá'u'lláh, he chose the title "`Abdu'l-Bahá" (Servant of Bahá). Bahá'u'lláh did not give his descendants any direct right to the property of others. This contrasts with Shi'a Islam in which sayyids were given special financial entitlements.
Ásiyih was born in 1820 in the village Yalrud, Mazandaran. Her father was Mirza Isma’il-i-Vazir, a powerful and wealthy Persian nobleman. Bahá'u'lláh addressed her as Navváb, and the Most Exalted Leaf. She was chosen to marry the young Bahá'u'lláh based on her rare physical beauty, wealth and piety. The family had pre-existing roots with Bahá'u'lláh's family by virtue of their influence in the royal court which may have influenced the marriage arrangements. They married some time between 24 September and 22 October 1835 aged 15 in Tehran and she had seven of Bahá'u'lláh's children, of whom only three lived to adulthood. She died in 1886 in `Akká, and is buried on Mount Carmel within the vicinity of the Shrine of the Báb. Bahá'u'lláh named her his "perpetual consort" and her son as his vicar. Bahá'ís regard the children of Ásíyih and Bahá'u'lláh to be the Bahá'í "holy family". Her children were:
Better known as `Abdu'l-Bahá, `Abbas was born in 1844 and died in 1921. He was the oldest child of Ásíyih and Bahá'u'lláh. He was variously referred to by Bahá'u'lláh as "Mystery of God", "The Master", "Perfect Exemplar" and "the Most Great Branch". After Bahá'u'lláh died on 29 May 1892, the Will and Testament of Bahá'u'lláh named `Abdu'l-Bahá as Centre of the Covenant, successor and interpreter of Bahá'u'lláh's writings. During his time as head of the religion, while still a prisoner of the Ottoman Empire, he met with many pilgrims and was in constant communication with Bahá'ís around the world. After the 1908 Young Turks revolution freed all political prisoners in the Ottoman Empire, `Abdu'l-Bahá was freed from imprisonment and in 1910, with the freedom to leave the country, he embarked on a three year journey to Egypt, Europe, and North America, spreading the Bahá'í message. On 27 April 1920, he was awarded a knighthood by the British Mandate of Palestine for his humanitarian efforts during the World War I. `Abdu'l-Bahá died on 28 November 1921, and he is currently buried within one of the rooms at the Shrine of the Báb.
Bahíyyih Khánum was born in 1846 and was the eldest daughter of Bahá'u'lláh and Ásíyih Khánum. She was entitled the Greatest holy Leaf. She was particularly dear to her father and is seen within the Bahá'í Faith as one of the greatest women to have lived. She stood by and remained faithful to the Centers of the Covenant over years of infighting within Bahá'u'lláh's family that led to the expelling of many of them. She was given the position of acting head of the religion repeatedly when `Abdu'l-Bahá (during periods between 1910 and 1913), and Shoghi Effendi (during periods between 1922 and 1924), were absent from the Bahá'í World Centre in Haifa. Shoghi Effendi in particular felt her support during difficult period following the death of `Abdu'l-Bahá. She died on 15 July 1932 and was buried in the Bahá'í gardens downhill from the Bahá'í Arc on Mount Carmel, under the Monument of the Greatest Holy Leaf raised for her at the Bahá'í World Centre.
Mírzá Mihdí was born in Tehran in 1848 and was entitled the Purest Branch. He died at the age of 22 on 23 June 1870 in `Akká after a fall through a skylight while he was preoccupied in prayer. The death is significant as Bahá'ís believe that Bahá'u'lláh offered him the chance of being cured, however he chose to use his life as a sacrifice so that the close imprisonment of the Bahá'ís would end. Mírzá Mihdí was eventually buried alongside his mother in the gardens below the Bahá'í Arc on Mount Carmel in Haifa near his brother and sister.
Navváb bore at least four other children all sons, but due to their early deaths little is known about them:
- Kázim who died sometime in Persia.
- Sádiq who died aged 3–4.
- `Alí Muhammad who died in Mazandaran at the age of 7 in 1852.
- `Alí Muhammad who was born and died in Baghdad at the age of 2.
Fatimih was born in 1828 in Mazandaran and was generally known as Mahd-i-'Ulya. A first cousin of Bahá'u'lláh, Fatimih was married at fourteen to an influential cleric several decades older than she was. She seems to have been widowed shortly afterwards, perhaps aged sixteen. It is reported that Bahá'u'lláh's aunt implored him to wed his widowed cousin and he reluctantly agreed to do so. They married in 1849 in Tehran and she had six of Bahá'u'lláh's children, of whom four survived to adulthood. She was said to have been very jealous of and harboured great enmity towards `Abdu'l-Bahá. She died in 1904, and was later labelled a Covenant-breaker.
Her children are:
Samadiyyih married Majdu'd-Din, who was the son of Aqay-i-Kalim, Bahá'u'lláh's brother; Majdu'd-Din was one of `Abdu'l-Bahá's greatest critics, and Samadiyyih and Majdu'd-Din were eventually declared Covenant-breakers. She died at age 49 in 1904/5 and her husband died at over one-hundred years of age in 1955.
Mírzá Muhammad `Alí was born in Baghdad in 1853. Bahá'u'lláh called him the "Greater Branch" and when Bahá'u'lláh declared `Abdu'l-Bahá his successor, he set that Muhammad `Alí was next in rank after him. Motivated by a jealousy for `Abdu'l-Bahá he conspired to undermine his brother's leadership, but he was unable to gain extensive support from the Bahá'ís. When `Abdu'l-Bahá died, his will went into great detail about how Muhammad `Alí had been unfaithful to the Covenant, labelling him a Covenant-breaker, and appointing Shoghi Effendi his successor instead. Muhammad `Alí was described by Shoghi Effendi as the "Arch-Breaker of Bahá'u'lláh's Covenant". Muhammad `Alí died in 1937.
Díyá'u'lláh (alternate spelling: Zíyá'u'lláh) was born 15 August 1864 in Edirne (modern day Adrianople). He swayed between the two sides in his brothers' argument, and died before taking part in an act against `Abdu'l-Bahá, but has still been labelled a Covenant-breaker. He died on 30 October 1898. He married Thurayyá Samandarí, daughter of Shaykh Kázim-i-Samandar. The marriage was childless, and according to Samandar's memoirs, Mírzá Muhammad `Alí had prevented her from returning to him.
Badi'u'lláh was born in Adrianople in 1867. For much of his life he supported his brother's challenge to `Abdu'l-Bahá's authority as Centre of the Covenant. However, in 1903 Badi'u'llah rejected Muhammad-`Alí, and delivered his loyalty to `Abdu'l-Bahá and circulated an open letter denouncing Muhammad-`Alí, known as Badi'u'lláh's epistle; however his loyalty to `Abdu'l-Bahá was short lived. He died in Israel in 1950.
Mahd-i-'Ulya bore at least two other children:
- `Alí Muhammad who died at the age of 2 in Baghdad.
- Sádhijíyyih Khánum who was born in Baghdad and died at the age of 2 in Constantinople.
Gawhar was born in Kashan to a Bábí family of the city. She was brought to Baghdad by her brother Mirza Mihdiy-i-Kashani with his intention reportedly being for her to serve the household and Ásíyih Khánum. Bahá'u'lláh married her some time around 1862. When Bahá'u'lláh left Baghdad in 1863, unlike the other two wives, Gawhar remained in Baghdad. During her time in Baghdad she stayed and lived with her brother. shortly afterwards, the Bahá’í community of Baghdad was rounded up and exiled to Mosul, and Gawhar with her brother were some of the exiles. Her brother wrote a number of times asking Bahá'u'lláh to allow them to enter Akká and finally he accepted. Brother and sister arrived in late 1870. Gawhar may have been a maid of the first wife of Bahá'u'lláh when he married her. Bahá'u'lláh and Gawhar had one daughter, Furúghíyyih who was born in `Akká. Both mother and daughter were declared Covenant-breakers after the death of Bahá'u'lláh. Gawhar died sometime between 1892 and 1921.
Relatively little is known about Furughiyyih. She married Siyyid Ali, the son of the Báb's brother-in-law. She, her husband and her children (in particular her eldest Nayyir), all sided with Muhammad-`Ali, and were labelled Covenant-breakers. She died of cancer.
Plurality of wives
That Bahá'u'lláh had three wives, when his religion teaches monogamy, has been the subject of criticism. Bahá'í teachings on gender equality and monogamy post-date Bahá'u'lláh's marriages and are understood to be evolutionary in nature, slowly leading Bahá'ís away from what had been a deeply rooted cultural practice.
Bahá'u'lláh had three concurrent wives, Bahá'u'lláh married his first wife in Tehran when they both were Muslims, and he married his second wife also in Tehran, when he, his first wife and his new wife were all Bábís and no longer Muslims. According to the laws and tradition of Islam, which Bahá'u'lláh would have been following at the time of his marriages, a man is allowed four wives. Bahá'í marriage laws were written in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas more than ten years after his last marriage. In that book he limits the number of wives to two with no concubines and states that having only one wife would be the cause of tranquility for both partners. This was later interpreted by `Abdu'l-Bahá that having a second wife is conditional upon treating both wives with justice and equality and was not possible in practice, thus establishing monogamy. This interpretation is probably influenced by the equivalent reasoning of some Muslim scholars who interpret Quran's permissive stance of polygamy - restricted to 4 wives - as indicated in verse 4:3 to be subject of the impossible condition of absolute justice on part of the husband.
The general view among Bahá'u'lláh's family and Bahá'ís today is that all the wives were legal and equal. The question about how this conforms to religious law is addressed directly in two letters from Universal House of Justice quoting Shoghi Effendi twice:
- "Bahá'u'lláh had no concubine, He had three legal wives. As He married them before the "Aqdas" (His book of laws) was revealed, He was only acting according to the laws of Islám, which had not yet been superseded. He made plurality of wives conditional upon justice; `Abdu'l-Bahá interpreted this to mean that a man may not have more than one wife at a time, as it is impossible to be just to two or more women in marriage."
- "...Bahá'u'lláh married the first and second wives while He was still in Tihrán, and the third wife while He was in Baghdád. At that time, the Laws of the "Aqdas" had not been revealed, and secondly, He was following the Laws of the previous Dispensation and the customs of the people of His own land.".
Bahá'ís argue that polygamy is an ancient practice and other religions did not require monogamy. Under the Law of Moses a man could take as many wives as he chose. Scholars views and church practices around the world vary about polygamy in Christianity; certainly some have advocated and practiced it across all of Christian history. In the Arabian peninsula Muhammad introduced a limit of four wives; polygamy was unlimited in pre-Islamic Arabia. The Bahá'í Faith slowly introduced monogamy to a region that considered polygamy a righteous lifestyle. Note 89 of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas comments on the verse in question:
- "Bahá’u’lláh, Who was revealing His Teachings in the milieu of a Muslim society, introduced the question of monogamy gradually in accordance with the principles of wisdom and the progressive unfoldment of His purpose. The fact that He left His followers with an infallible Interpreter of His Writings enabled Him to outwardly permit two wives in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas but uphold a condition that enabled ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to elucidate later that the intention of the law was to enforce monogamy."
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- Ghusn-i-A‘ẓam and Ghusn-i-Akbar can both be translated as "the great branch", "the greater branch" or "the most great branch". A‘ẓam carries a higher status in Arabic (see Baalbaki 2005, or Steingass 2005), so Bahá'í authors and others translate `Abdu'l-Bahá's title as "Most Great" and Muhammad `Alí's title as "Greater" (Taherzadeh, 2000, p. 256.). The designations of Ghusn-i-A‘ẓam and Ghusn-i-Akbar are clear. (Browne, 1918, p. 61, & p. 85 )
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- Letter from the Universal House of Justice: 1996, Jun 27, Monogamy, Sexual Equality, Marital Equality, and the Supreme Tribunal 
- Letter from the Universal House of Justice: 1998, Apr 06, Memorandum re Wives of Bahá'u'lláh
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