Martyrdom in the Bahá'í Faith
Martyrdom in the Bahá'í Faith is the act of sacrificing one's life in the service of humanity and in the name of God. However, Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, discouraged the literal meaning of sacrificing one's life, and instead offered the explanation that martyrdom is devoting oneself to service for humanity. `Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá'u'lláh's son and appointed interpreter, explained that the truest form of martyrdom is a lifelong sacrifice to serve humanity in the name of God. While the Bahá'í Faith exalts the station of its martyrs, martyrdom is not something that Bahá'ís are encouraged to pursue; instead one is urged to value and protect one's life.
In the history of the Bahá'í Faith there are many who are considered martyrs. The Bahá'í Faith grew out of a separate religion, Bábism, which Bahá'ís see as part of their own history. In Bábism, martyrdom had the literal meaning of sacrificing one's life and was seen as a public declaration of sincerity and devotion to God. During the 1840s and 1850s the Báb claimed to be the return of the Mahdi and gained a strong following. The Persian clergy tried to stop the spread of the Bábí movement by denouncing the Bábís as apostates; these denouncements led to public executions of the Bábís, troop engagements against the Bábís, and an extensive pogrom where thousands of Bábís were killed. In addition, the Báb himself was publicly executed in 1850. The Bábís that were killed during these times are seen as martyrs by Bahá'ís, and the date of execution of the Báb, who Bahá'ís see as a Manifestation of God equal to that of Bahá'u'lláh, is considered a holy day in the Bahá'í calendar as the Martyrdom of the Báb. Also among the Bábí executions was the poet Táhirih, one of the Báb's eighteen disciples, who Bahá'ís consider the first woman suffrage martyr.
After Bahá'u'lláh abstracted the meaning of martyrdom, gave it a new meaning, and abolished holy war, the Bábís who became Bahá'ís stopped seeking martyrdom as a public declaration of devotion. However, Bahá'ís continue to be persecuted in predominantly Muslim countries, especially in Iran where over 200 Bahá'ís were executed between 1978 and 1998. Among these executions include two sets of nine people who were part of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Iran, the national governing body of the Bahá'ís, who were arrested and killed solely for their religious beliefs. Such deaths are also considered martyrdom. Mona Mahmudnizhad, one of the martyrs, is the subject of the Mark Perry play A Dress for Mona and Doug Cameron's song "Mona With the Children".
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