Bahá’u’lláh came to emancipate human beings from slavery. This statement is true in more senses than one. Bahá’u’lláh explicitly institutes an abolition of slavery in his teachings.
It is forbidden you to trade in slaves, be they men or women. It is not for him who is himself a servant to buy another of God’s servants, and this hath been prohibited in His Holy Tablet…. Let no man exalt himself above another; all are but bondslaves before the Lord, and all exemplify the truth that there is none other God but Him.
He also freed slaves in practice. Bahá’u’lláh was the son of a noble family of Iran. In his early life, the family owned many slaves. Years before he instituted his law against slavery, Bahá’u’lláh freed the slaves he had inherited from his father. The instrument of emancipation that Bahá’u’lláh wrote, in the form of a prayer, for one of those he freed has survived to the present day. In it, as in the passage above, Bahá’u’lláh affirms the essential equality of all human beings. It reads in part as follows:
At this moment, one slave … is standing before another slave and seeks, from him, his freedom.
Yet his owner, himself, is naught but a slave of Thee, a servant in Thy Threshold, and absolute nothingness before the manifestations of Thy Lordship.
… how then can this slave claim for himself ownership of any other human being?…
And now, O my God, since that servant hath asked from this servant his freedom, therefore, I call Thee to witness, at this moment, that I am setting him free in Thy path, liberating him in Thy name, and emancipating his neck from the chain of servitude, so that he may serve Thee in the daytime and in the night season, longing that my neck would never be relieved from the cord of Thy servitude. (unpublished Tablet (A08212). Provisional translation by Nader Saiedi, Ph.D.)
Another context in which we find Bahá’u’lláh’s view on slavery is in a letter to Queen Victoria. He praises her for the abolition of slavery in her realm.
We have been informed that thou hast forbidden the trading in slaves, both men and women. This, verily, is what God hath enjoined in this wondrous Revelation. God hath, truly, destined a reward for thee, because of this.
Yet, there is more than one kind of slavery – more than one form of human bondage.
Free thyself from the fetters of this world, and loose thy soul from the prison of self. Seize thy chance, for it will come to thee no more.
The path to freedom hath been outstretched; hasten ye thereunto.
It is commonly held that freedom has a price. The price for human emancipation from slavery was Bahá’u’lláh’s own bondage.
The Ancient Beauty hath consented to be bound with chains that mankind may be released from its bondage, and hath accepted to be made a prisoner within this most mighty Stronghold that the whole world may attain unto true liberty. He hath drained to its dregs the cup of sorrow, that all the peoples of the earth may attain unto abiding joy, and be filled with gladness. This is of the mercy of your Lord, the Compassionate, the Most Merciful. We have accepted to be abased, O believers in the Unity of God, that ye may be exalted, and have suffered manifold afflictions, that ye might prosper and flourish. He Who hath come to build anew the whole world, behold, how they that have joined partners with God have forced Him to dwell within the most desolate of cities!
This article is the 32nd in a series of what I hope will become 200 articles in 200 days for the 200th anniversary of the birth of Bahá’u’lláh. The anniversary is being celebrated around the world on 21 and 22 October 2017. The articles are simply my personal reflections on Bahá’u’lláh’s life and work. Any errors or inadequacies in these articles are solely my responsibility.