You may know that all Bahá’ís are encouraged to go on a pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime—a journey to visit the most sacred places connected to the Bahá’í Faith. You may have seen photos of the beautiful holy places in Haifa and ‘Akká, such as the Twin Holy Shrines of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. Every year, many thousands of Bahá’ís from all around the world are given the privilege of visiting these Shrines, where they offer prayers and meditate, striving to draw closer to God and feel His presence.
But did you know that, besides these, there are two very sacred places where Bahá’ís will come for pilgrimage in the future? In His Most Holy Book, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Bahá’u’lláh revealed a law which states that Bahá’ís must make a pilgrimage to one of two Sacred Houses: His House in the city of Baghdad, and the House of the Báb in Shiráz. These places are considered sacred because of the great events that took place within their walls. Although both were humble homes built of stones, they were blessed by the presence of the Twin Manifestations of God for this Day, who came to fulfill God’s promise to guide humanity.
One glorious spring night long ago, in His home in Shiráz, the Báb declared that he was the Promised One from God. The sun had set in the west, and He was entertaining a guest named Mullá Husayn, a traveller whom He had met by the gates of the city. As the Báb’s faithful servant lovingly poured them tea, they spoke at length about the new Day that was about to dawn, and about this “Promised One” who would soon appear. The Báb asked His guest: How could you tell if someone was the Promised One? And Mullá Husayn began to describe Him: Who He would be, what He would do, how He would look, how He would act. The Báb paused, and then said in a vibrant voice: “Behold, all these signs are manifest in Me!” That night, as they sat together by the light of a lamp, the Báb declared His mission as the Promised One, whose coming humanity had awaited since ancient times. Mullá Husayn became the first to believe in Him, becoming known as the gate of the Gate. From that house, on that blessed night, the message of the Báb spread across the land of Persia, renewing God’s Covenant with humanity, and preparing the way for Bahá’u’lláh, Who the Báb called “He Whom God shall make manifest”.
Nineteen years later, Bahá’u’lláh was living in Baghdád, a city that belonged to the Ottoman Empire. Banished from Persia because He believed in the Báb’s message, Bahá’u’lláh had settled there with His family, and had become much loved and respected by all who knew Him. So loved, in fact, that the rulers of Persia had begun to fear His growing influence. They complained to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, pleading with him to move Bahá’u’lláh to a far-away land. The Sultan gave in to their demands, and asked Bahá’u’lláh to leave Baghdád and come to Constantinople, the imperial capital. Bahá’u’lláh accepted the Sultan’s request, and He and His family began preparing for the long journey.
Outside the home of Bahá’u’lláh, there was a great commotion. Tears streaming down their faces, the people of Baghdád had come to plead with Bahá’u’lláh not to leave them. So many people came to see Him, in fact, that they overran the house, and His family was unable to continue with their preparations. Because of this, He made plans to move to a garden across the river where He would receive His guests. As the days passed and His departure for the garden drew near, Bahá’u’lláh met with His close friends and fellow believers, chanting beautiful prayers and soul-stirring Writings He had newly revealed. Little by little, those who gathered in His home came to understand that something great was in store. The sadness of the approaching departure, they realized, was to be accompanied by something unbelievably more glorious and joyful. In the garden a great tent was raised for Bahá’u’lláh, surrounded by green trees and streams of water, and helpers arrived to pick bright red roses from the bushes. On the appointed day, Bahá’u’lláh emerged from the inner room of His house, wearing a beautifully decorated táj, or tall felt hat, which no one had seen Him wear before. Men, women and children from all around the city surrounded the house, observing in wonder and awe as He stepped outside with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and set out towards the garden. It was in this garden, which He called the Garden of Ridván, that Bahá’u’lláh would declare to his closest companions that He was the One Whose advent the Báb had foretold, the Supreme Manifestation of God, the Ancient Beauty Who had consented to be bound with chains that the whole of mankind might be freed from its bondage.
Although the Houses where these wonderful events took place are no longer standing today, the places where they once stood are still sacred places. They were blessed by the presence of the Twin Manifestations of God. Because it has not always been easy for Bahá’ís to travel in these areas, not many have been able to go there for pilgrimage. But one day, in the future, it will become much easier. The houses will be rebuilt, stone by stone, brick by brick, just the way they were in the time of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. And many Bahá’ís from all around the world will come to visit them, as Bahá’u’lláh said they would.