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Updated: May 19, 2023

Every year on May 23, Baha’is celebrate the Declaration of the Bab -- herald of the Founder of their Faith, Baha’u’llah -- and recall the prophecies of many religions that predicted His earth-shaking announcement in 1844.

By the beginning of the nineteenth century the Industrial Revolution was already transforming lives and landscapes on the Continents of Europe and North America and is recognised as being a pivotal game changer in the way human affairs are conducted. The nineteenth century also witnessed another transformative event which has largely been forgotten, affecting religious communities on all continents and in both the northern and southern hemispheres, Christian and Muslim alike: Adventism. This was not a sudden notion or newly formed religious doctrine, but the culmination of a centuries-old belief in the return, or the Second Coming; for Protestant Christians in particular this referred to the imminent second coming of Christ, for Sunni Muslims the return of the Mahdi and of Christ, and for Shia Muslims the Qaim and return of Imam Husayn.

Christians who studied their Bibles were inspired by certain prophecies promising future events, one of them being from the Book of Matthew Chapter 24, verses 29, 30, where Christ tells his disciples which signs would herald his return.

And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

The devastating Lisbon earthquake of 1755, followed by the “Dark Day” of 1780 and the falling stars in 1833 were all the evidence that many keen Christians needed to convince them, and by the mid-nineteenth century Adventism was well established, particularly in the north-eastern area of North America where William Miller’s seven-year study of the Bible had led him to believe that Christ would return between March 1843 and March 1844. By the time 1843 arrived thousands of Christians, convinced by Miller’s discovery, were convinced that the time was right, and that the Time of the End was imminent.

Independently, Christians in other parts of the world also believed that the return was close, particularly in Great Britain, whereby the early 1840s hundreds of Church of England ministers were preaching the second coming. In 1826 the banker and politician, Henry Drummond, gathered together some of the foremost Adventist thinkers of the time at his country mansion, Albury Park, where the focus of their consultation was unfulfilled prophecies, and where they set the date of 1847 for Christ’s return. This event was the first of many and involved several ardent Adventists such as Joseph Wolff and Henry Irving.

From Scandinavia and Russia in the north, to Mexico and Australia in the south, pockets of Adventists made their mark on the Christian communities around them. However, Christians weren’t alone in their Adventist expectations, and many Shi’ih Muslims in Persia believed that the return of their own Promised One was imminent, their focus being the year 1260 in the Islamic calendar, equating to 1844 in the Gregorian. By the time William Miller’s predicted period of March 1843 to March 1844 arrived, Adventists in North America were already at fever pitch; when March 1844 passed without any sign of Christ’s return, a group of Adventists recalculated October 22nd as the correct date, but by the following day, disappointment and anguish swept through the North American Adventist community.

News travelled slowly during the nineteenth century, added to which differences in language, religion and culture created a natural sense of separation between countries, continents and peoples. Had it been otherwise it’s possible that Adventists living in North America and Europe would have known of a significant event which took place in Persia

on the eve of May 23rd, 1844. For during that night, in Shiraz, a young man named Siyyid Ali Muhammad, to whom Baha’is refer as the Bab, announced to a seeker that he was the Promised One eagerly awaited by Christians and Muslims alike. The Bab declared that his mission was to prepare the way for the latest Divine Revelation brought by Baha’u’llah. That privilege came at a high price. Just years later, the Bab would be martyred by a firing squad for his proclamation of Baha’u’llah’s arrival and preordained purpose.

The article above is based on the work of Carolyn Sparey Fox, author of many books including one on Adventism and the Baha’i faith entitled “The Half of It Was Never Told” published by George Ronald, Oxford.

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