Is there a Baha’i mysticism? Strictly speaking, Baha’u’llah has rendered the question redundant by making the process of acquiring mystical insight into God fundamental to his religion. One of the most important books Baha’u’llah wrote is called the Most Holy Book. In it, he sets out the principles, observances, exhortations and laws of his faith. It consists of 190 mostly short paragraphs, each one devoted to a principal idea. The very first of these paragraphs hinges around the concept of mystical insight into God. The relevant sentence, in English, reads:
“The first duty prescribed by God for His servants is the recognition [‘irfan] of Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws, Who representeth the Godhead in both the Kingdom of His Cause and the world of creation.”Baha’u’llah, Most Holy Book (Kitab-i-Aqdas), para 1
I will put the gist of this sentence into simpler English: The first duty God has laid down for human beings is to recognise [‘irfan] the prophet, who is the source of God’s revelation and laws, and who represents God and God’s purpose in creation.
This sentence outlines the first duty that God has set down for each person and that duty is to recognise the prophet. In the original Arabic, the word that has been translated above as “recognition” is “‘irfan”. The word “‘irfan” comes from a verb that means ‘to know’. This can mean to know someone in the sense of recognising their face or knowing someone because you have met them. But it can also mean to know someone in the mystical sense, where people have mystical insight into God. It is fair to say that Baha’u’llah intended all these possible meanings when he said that each person has the primary duty of recognising the prophet.
One way of looking at this is to see a person’s primary duty as a journey rather than a one-off event. This journey begins, let us say, when a person first hears about Baha’u’llah and takes an interest in knowing about him. She learns more and likes what she sees. Gradually, she develops an affinity with Baha’u’llah and decides he is a prophet after all. At that point, she begins a new stage of the journey, where she sees Baha’u’llah from the point of view of a fan and follower. Her recognition then grows ever deeper as she moves increasingly into the territory in which she has mystical experiences of God. Eventually, she might get to a point where, in her heart, she never leaves Baha’u’llah’s presence. But this, in turn, is just the beginning of a new stage of the journey, which is never ending.
(This is a passage I wrote for a very early draft of my book – say, around 2015?)