Shrine of the Báb at night from above in Haifa Israel
Siyyid Mírzá 'Alí-Muhammad (میرزا علیمحمد in Persian) (October 20, 1819 - July 9, 1850), later to become known as the Báb ("باب" meaning "Gate" in Persian and Arabic;) was seen by Bábís (and is seen by modern Bahá'ís) to be an independent Manifestation of the Cause of God, or Prophet on par with Moses, Jesus, or Muhammad (though his claim was at first understood by some of the public at the time to be merely a reference to the Gate of the Hidden Imám of Muhammad, which he publicly disclaimed, later boldly proclaiming himself, in the presence of the Heir to the Throne of Persia and other notables, to be the Promised One or Qá'im to Shí'ih Muslims). The Báb founded the Bábí religion (sometimes refered to as the Bayani religion) which Bahá'í Faith claimed would become, in the days of Bahá'u'lláh and afterwards, the forerunning religion to theirs. His titles included, among others, the "Herald of the Faith" and the "Point of the Bayan".
The Báb's Life
Born on October 20 1819, in Shiraz to a well-known merchant of the city of Shiraz, his father died soon after his birth and the boy was raised by his uncle Hájí Mirzá Siyyid 'Ali, who was also a merchant. As a child he learned to read and write and was sent with other children to a teacher of religion. During these lessons the little boy showed uncommon wisdom and quickly attracted attention, since not only did he ask very difficult questions, but he answered them himself. He did this so well that his teacher was dumbfounded. Upon reaching manhood, he joined his uncle in the family business, a trading house, and became a merchant. His integrity and piety won the esteem of the other merchants with whom he came in contact. He was also known for his generosity to the poor. In 1842 He married Khadíjih-Bagum and they had one son, Ahmad, who died in infancy.
View of the upper room of the Báb´s house in Shiraz where he declared his mission
In the 1830's in Persia, Siyyid Kázim of Rasht was the leader of the Shaykhis , a sect of Shiite Islam. The Shayhkis were expecting the eminent appearance of the Qá'im of the House of Muhammad, also called the Mahdi.
At Siyyid Kázim's death in 1843, he had counselled his followers to leave their homes to seek the Lord of the Age whose advent would soon break on the world. One of these followers called Mullá Husayn travelled to Shiraz.
On his arrival on May 23, 1844, Mullá Husayn was approached by a young man wearing a green turban (an indication that the wearer was a descendent of the Prophet Muhammad). The stranger, the Báb, invited Mullá Husayn to his home. After being asked by the Báb of what he was doing in Shiraz, Mulla Husayn replied that he was searching for the Promised One. The Báb then asked how would the Promised One be recognized, to which Mulla Husayn replied "He is of a pure lineage, is of illustrious descent, is endowed with innate knowledge and is free from bodily deficiency". To the shock of Mulla Husayn, the Báb declared "Behold, all these signs are manifest in me.".
Mullá Husayn had one more sign by which to identify the Promised One. He had been told by Siyyid Kázim that the Promised One would write a commentary on the Surah of Joseph (a chapter in the Qur'an) without being asked. The Báb fulfilled this requirement as well, writing the commentary after making his declaration. The Báb then declared ‘O Thou who art the first to believe in Me!‘ and took the title the Báb.
Mullá Husayn became the Báb's first disciple. Within a very short time, seventeen other disciples of Siyyid Kázim had independently recognized the Báb as a Manifestation of God, among them was one woman, a poetess, who later received the name of Táhirih (the Pure). These eighteen disciples were later to be known as the Letters of the Living
To these first eighteen disciples the Báb gave the task of spreading the new Faith throughout the land.
Travels and Imprisonment
After the first eighteen Letters of the Living had independently recognized the Báb, the Báb and the eighteenth Letter of the Living, Quddús, left on a pilgrimmage to Mecca and Medina, the sacred cities of Islam. In Mecca, the Báb wrote to the Sharif of Mecca explaining his mission. After their pilgrammage, the Báb and Quddús, returned to Bushehr, Persia.
After some time, due to opposition from the Islamic clergy (according to Bahá'ís), the Governor of Shiraz ordered the Báb's arrest. The Báb, upon hearing of the arrest order, left Bushehr towards Shiraz and presented himself to the authorities. The Báb was placed under house arrest at the home of his uncle. The Báb was released when a plague broke out in Shiraz.
After his release in 1846, the Báb departed for Isfahan. During the Báb's stay in Isfahan, crowds of people came to see him every day. Due to pressure from the clergy of the province, the Shah Mohammad Shah Qajar ordered the Báb to Tehran. Before the Báb could meet the Shah, the Shah's prime-minister sent the Báb to Tabriz in the north of the country, where he was confined and was not allowed to see any visitors.
The Báb was then transferred to the fortress of Maku in the province of Azarbaijan. During his time in Maku, the Báb wrote his most important work, the Persian Bayan, which he never finished before his death. Due to the Báb's growing popularity in Maku the prime minister transferred the Báb to the fortress of Chihriq . Once again, the Báb's popularity grew in Chihriq, and thus the prime-minister ordered the Báb back to Tabriz where the government would hold a meeting with the religious authorities to examine the Báb.
At the meeting, when the officials asked the Báb who he claims to be, the Báb responded that he was the Promised One who the people of Islam were waiting for. He was then ordered back to the fortress of Chihriq.
Execution and Martyrdom
In 1850 a new prime-minister ordered the execution of the Báb; he was brought to Tabriz, where he would be killed by a firing squad. The night before his execution, as he was being conducted to his cell, a young man, Anís (sometimes called Mulla Muhammad Ali), threw himself at the feet of the Báb, wanting to be killed with the Báb. He was immediately arrested and placed in the same cell as the Báb.
On the morning of July 9, 1850, the Báb was taken to a courtyard filled with nearly ten thousand people wishing to watch his execution. The Báb and Anís were suspended on a wall and the firing squad prepared to shoot.
Discrepant accounts of events
A range of descriptions of the execution of the Báb is available. What seems clear is that a first volley missed the Báb but somehow the rope tying him was cut and he was nowhere to be seen. Once he was found a short while later, a second volley killed him.
Bábi view, later adopted by Bahá'ís
Here is an account which is in line with common Bahá'í view and paraphrased from "Release the Sun", by William Sears, a Hand of the Cause of God:
The firing squad was made up of 750 Armenian soldiers, split into three rows and was under the command of Sam Khan. Sam Khan had become increasingly affected by his Prisoner and spoke with him privately telling Him that he was a Christian and had no ill-will against Him. Sam Khan said "If Your Cause be the Cause of Truth then enable me to free myself from the obligation to shed your blood." The Bab replied, "Follow your instructions and if your intention be sincere, the Almighty is surely able to relieve you of your perplexity."
- The Bab and a young companion were suspended from a nail by ropes for execution by a firing squad of three ranks of 250 rifles each; a total of 750 rifles. Sam Khan, unable to avoid his duty, gave the order to fire. When the smoke cleared, the crowd of 10,000 persons was amazed to find the Bab's companion standing, alive and unhurt, the ropes severed by the bullets. The Bab was nowhere to be seen. He was found, back in His cell, finishing His business with His secretary. The Bab then said to the guard, "I have finished My conversation. You may now proceed to fulfill your duty." The guard, remembering the rebuke he had received earlier, resigned his post, shaken to the core and cut himself off from the enemies of the Bab.
Sam Khan, likewise removed himself and his regiment from this duty declaring, "I refuse ever again to associate myself and my regiment with any act which involves the least injury to the Bab." A colonel of the bodyguard then volunteered to carry out the execution. The Bab was again taken to the execution ground and suspended as before. Again the rifles fired. This time the bodies of the Bab and His companion were shattered by the blast. The bodies were thrown at the edge of a moat outside the city and guarded so that none of His followers could claim His remains. Two days after the execution His followers were able to recover the bodies, hid them in a specially made wooden case, and kept them in a place of safety.
There are claims that these events were witnessed by western journalists. Provided below is one source that is apparently attributed to Sir Justin Shiel, Queen Victoria's Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary in Tehran and written to Lord Palmerston, the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs July 22, 1850. This can be found in its original form as document F.O. 60/152/88 in the archives of the Foreign Office at the Public Records Office in London.
- "The founder of the sect has been executed at Tabreez. He was killed by a volley of musketry, and his death was on the point of giving his religion a lustre which would have largely increased his proselytes. When the smoke and dust cleared away after the volley, Bab was not to be seen, and the populace proclaimed that he had ascended to the skies. The balls had broken the ropes by which he was bound but he was dragged [not literally, of course] from the recess where after some search he was discovered and shot. He death, according to the belief of his disciples, will make no difference as Bab must always exist." [Quoted in Ferraby, 1975]
Shoghi Effendi also prints a large selection of western quotes in his book God Passes By (p55) however most are unsourced and cannot be confirmed.
A non-Bahá'í account is recorded by the Ahmadi author Muhammad Ali Maulana in his book "History and Doctrines of the Babi Movement" (see external links):
- Mulla Muhammad Ali was the only man who was executed along with him. It happened, however that when the smoke of musket fire cleared, Mirza Ali Muhammad [the Báb] was not there. The bullet[s] instead of hitting him hit the rope with which he was hung and Mirza Ali Muhammad fled to a closet from which he was brought again. Mirza Jani [an early Babi historian] is sure that the escape was due to the fact that he was not yet willing to be killed and therefore could not be killed, but willing or unwilling he had to submit to the same process a second time, and this time was killed. [Maulana, 1933]
After the execution
For many years after his death, the remains of the Báb were secretly transferred from place to place until they were brought to their final resting place at the Shrine of the Báb on the side of Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel on the ninth terrace of the Bahá'í Gardens.
The Báb named Mirza Yahya Nuri also known as Subh-i-Azal, to succeed him as head of the Bábís. He also entrusted to finish his unfinished work the Persian Bayan.
Bahá'í view on the succesorship
Bahá'ís view Mirza Yahya's leadership largely as a nominal head. This is explained below:
- Mirza Yahya came into prominence not because he possessed any outstanding qualities, but rather through his close link with Bahá'u'lláh. In order to divert the attention of the enemies of the Faith from the person of Bahá'u'lláh, Who had emerged as a focal point among the early believers, the Báb wholeheartedly approved the suggestion of nominating the youthful and relatively unknown Mirza Yahya as the chief of the Bábí community. This suggestion had come from Bahá'u'lláh and only two others were aware of the plan, namely, Bahá'u'lláh's faithful brother Mirza Musa (Aqay-i-Kalim) and a certain Mulla Abdu'l-Karim-i-Qazvini who had been entrusted by the Báb, shortly before His martyrdom, with the task of delivering His pen-case, seals and writings to Bahá'u'lláh; he was subsequently martyred in Tihran at the time of Bahá'u'lláh's imprisonment in the Siyah-Chal.
- The advantages of this nomination were obvious and, as this system operated for some time, those who were endowed with insight and wisdom were able to see that Mirza Yahya was only a figure-head, and that it was the guiding hand of Bahá'u'lláh alone that was unobtrusively directing the affairs of the Bábí community after the martyrdom of the Báb.[Taherzadeh, 1987]
This view is supported by the Báb's long time secretary Mulla Abdu'l-Karim-i-Qazvini, believed to be the only other person who participated in the conspiracy. John Wallbridge writes:
In Qum, shortly before the Bab's martyrdom, he received a coffer from the Bab containing the last of his writings and his pen-case, seals, rings, and the famous pentacle tablet containing 350 derivatives of the word Baha. He left the same day for Tehran, explaining that the Bab's accompanying letter ordered him to deliver it to Baha'u'llah. (Mulla `Abdu'l-Karim Qazvini (Mirza Ahmad Katib) by John Wallbridge) 
Qazvini himself wrote in a letter in 1851 describing the urgency that the friends do nothing to call attention to Baha'u'llah during his period of messianic secrecy:
May they never seek a proof from him, my good sir! For in a former time, in view of their perception of the command of God given to those who had attained the ocean of resignation and submission to the beloved Aqa Sayyid Husayn, the conceal matter should have been concealed--the matter that God has safeguarded until now, hiding it in his invisible gift. Nevertheless, it has become public, contrary to the intention, because of persons going back and forth from that place. Virtually the only news that was received was this disclosure! For that reason, the trusted ones of God are saddened and concealed. Indeed, that thing was almost revealed, which is beyond what existence can endure. Rather, it became visible, which was contrary to the intent. It will become manifest from the dwellers in the house of love. They hurried to send letters [or books: al-kutub] and repeatedly, among the means of disclosure. Then, this haste in that . . .  (translation by Juan Cole)
It is impossible to overstate the symbolism of the Báb sending to Báhá'u'llah not only all of his remaining writings, but his seals and his pens, literally handing over the instruments of revelation, along with the pentacle tablet written in his own hand confirming Baha'u'llah's station.
The Báb's Will & Testament, which was unambiguously directed to Mirza Yahya, makes it clear that he would not be the One promised by the Báb:
- "We order you to obey Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest. He will verily appear amongst this people with a sublime reign in the final resurrection. Verily we are all servants and kneel down before Him. He shall carry out whatever He wishes, with permission from His Lord. He shall not be questioned for his actions. However all others are responsible for everything they do." [verses 27-29]
A Contrary Point of View of Bahá'u'llah's Claim
A contrary point of view is that the Báb's writings refer to Mirza Yahya with a phrase identical to the one he uses for himself thus putting Mirza in the same category as the Bab himself. He also refers to him as "the One", "the Way" and "the Great Truth". Moreover, the Báb's writing do not refer to Bahá'u'lláh --other than in the pentacle tablet-- leading at least one author to state that Bahá'u'lláh was not considered an important person by the Báb.
- "....This is a letter from God, the Guardian, the Self-Subsisting, to God, the Guardian, the Self-Subsisting.... This is a letter from Ali before Nabil, the Reminder of God for the worlds, to him whose name is equivalent to the name of the One, the Reminder of God for the worlds.... That, O thou, name of the One, guard what has been revealed in the Bayan and enjoin the same, for thou art surely the way, the great truth." (Quoted from the "History and Doctrines of the Babi Movement" who quotes Browne's "Introduction to Nuqtatul Qaf".)"
It is difficult to assertain what exactly happened. One of the most significant problems is the claims that the original sources were tampered with (as they would have been kept by one of the two leaders above).
Bahá'u'llah came out far more successful in his claim following doctrinal and occasionally violent conflict. The vast majority of Bábís abandoned Mirza Yahya either to join the Bahá'ís or to become inactive.
Excerpts from the following and other writings are printed in the only English language compilation of the Báb's writings, Selections from the Writings of the Báb
- Persian Bayan
- Kitáb-i-Asmá (The Book of Names)
- Dalá'il-i-Sab'ih (The Seven Proofs).
- Arabic Bayan
- Qayyúmu'l-Asmá (Commentry on the Súrih of Joseph)
Official Bahá'í resouces
- Available online here.
- Ferraby, John (1975). All Things Made New: A Comprehensive Outline of the Baha'i Faith. Baha'i Distribution Service. ISBN 8186953019.
- Taherzadeh, Adib (1987). The Revelation of Baha'u'llah. G. Ronald. ISBN 0853980527.
- Effendi, Shoghi (1932). Dawn Breakers - Nabil's Narrative. Baha'i Publishing Trust. ISBN 0900125225. available online here
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13