The Life of the Báb

by Dale E. Lehman

Appeared: 10/22/2000

1. Judgment Day Dawns

Born on October 20, 1819, the Báb was twenty-five years old when He declared His mission to the first of His disciples, Mullá Husayn. The six extraordinary years that followed paved the way for the revelation of Bahá'u'lláh. Like John the Baptist nearly 2000 years before, it was the Báb's mission to raise the call and summon the people to prepare and purify themselves for the coming of the Promised One. But this time, the coming revelation would be so potent that no ordinary man could lay the necessary groundwork. It required a divine Messenger of equal status to the Promised One. The Báb claimed that He had that status, that He was, like Abraham and Moses, like Jesus and Muhammad, a "Manifestation of God."

Such a claim could not be advanced all at once. Just as the morning sun gently warms the creatures of the Earth before giving way to the full heat of noon, so also the "Sun of Reality" rises slowly, first with those who herald the "dawn" (such as John the Baptist or, in this revelation, Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kázim), then itself appearing on the horizon and gradually ascending to the zenith where its potency is fully manifested. The Báb would later comment:

The recognition of Him Who is the Bearer of divine Truth is none other than the recognition of God, and loving Him is none other than loving God. However, I swear by the sublime Essence of God--exalted and glorified be He--that I did not wish my identity to be known by men, and gave instructions that My name should be concealed, because I was fully aware of the incapacity of this people, who are none other than those who have, in reference to no less a person than the Apostle of God--incomparable as He hath ever been--remarked, `He is certainly a lunatic'. [Qur'án 68:51] If they now claim to be other than those people, their deeds bear witness to the falsity of their assertions.

(Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 121)

So the Báb instructed Mullá Husayn that he was to tell nobody of what had happened that night (May 23, 1844). Rather, He said, His first 18 followers must all find and recognize Him on their own. Only then would the word of His advent be spread abroad. Forty days elapsed before the remaining seventeen began to find the Báb. All of these disciples had been followers of Siyyid Kázim. All but one eventually came to Shíráz and--some through dreams, some through prayer and meditation--recognized and professed their belief in the Báb. The seventeenth to embrace His Cause was a woman, a poet known as Qurratu'l-'Ayn, ("the Solace of the Eyes," a designation given her by Siyyid Kázim; she would later be known as Táhirih, "the Pure One"). The eighteenth, a twenty-year-old, was named Quddús. These 18 disciples, most of whom became martyrs to their Faith, are known as the Letters of the Living. Qurratu'l-'Ayn was the only one of them who never met the Báb in person.

The Letters of the Living spent very little time with the Báb. By now it was August of 1844. No sooner had they gathered together in Shíráz than He sent them out into the world to spread the news of the new revelation, although He still prohibited His name from being revealed. He selected Quddús to be His companion on pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, and assigned to Mullá Husayn a very special task. He was to travel to Tehran, passing through several other cities along the way to announce the advent of the Qá'im, where he would find "a secret" that was hidden there and would "attain the seat of true sovereignty." Mullá Husayn, without further direction, was to find the One he sought through his own spiritual perception. The Báb then entrusted Mullá Husayn with a letter He had written, to be given to the One Whom he found.

Disappointed that he was not to accompany the Báb on His pilgrimage, Mullá Husayn nevertheless obeyed, and his efforts resulted in a number of people embracing the new religion. In Tehran he became convinced that Bahá'u'lláh was the One to whom the Báb had written the letter, and he had it delivered to Him. Immediately upon reading its contents, Bahá'u'lláh embraced the Cause of the Báb, and presented Mullá Husayn with some gifts. Mullá Husayn's letter reporting this event, which the Báb received in December of 1844, brought great joy to the Báb. He immediately embarked upon His pilgrimage.

2. The Báb Revealed

The rites of the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) are performed on the ninth and tenth days of the last month of the Moslem year. The tenth day is the Festival of Sacrifices, commemorating the sacrifice Abraham offered of His son. When this day falls on Friday, the Moslem day of worship, the year is termed the Hajj-i-Akbar (the Greatest Hajj) and more than the average number of pilgrims tend to be present. An Islamic tradition indicates that the Qá'im would appear in such a year. The year of the Báb's pilgrimage was the Hajj-i-Akbar.

The Báb arrived in Mecca on camelback, but Quddús had declined to ride, preferring instead to simply walk beside Him. On December 20, after the Báb had offered His sacrifices and their meat had then been distributed to the poor, He stood against the Ka'bah, laid hold of the ring on its door, and said three times, "I am that Qá'im whose advent you have been awaiting." The court and the roofs of adjoining houses teemed with pilgrims. A sudden hush fell over the crowd at this dramatic proclamation. It's likely that few realized the implications of what they had just heard, yet the news of the Báb's claim spread rapidly from that moment.

Before leaving Mecca, the Báb addressed a Tablet to the Sharíf (Sheriff) proclaiming His advent. The Sharíf did not read this Tablet until shortly after the Báb had been put to death, when he recalled its existence. After reading the Tablet, he condemned as evildoers those who had decreed the Báb's execution.

The Báb reached Medina on January 10, 1845, after which He and Quddús set out for home, returning via the port of Búshihr. They arrived there sometime in February or March 1845, and the Báb parted from Quddús, telling Him that they would not be reunited again until they met in the Kingdom of God.

During the Báb's pilgrimage, the other Letters of the Living had been traveling according to His instructions and spreading word of the advent of the Qá'im. One of them, Mullá 'Alíy-i-Bastámí (frequently referred to simply as Mullá 'Alí') had traveled to Iráq. Along the way he had stopped in Karbilá and informed Qurratu'l-'Ayn of the Báb's identity. (She had already intuitively known of His advent and had sent a letter to Him via one of the other Letters of the Living. The Báb accepted her as a disciple and instructed Mullá 'Alí' to meet with her.) From there he had gone to Najaf, where his bold proclamation of the Báb's advent gained many new adherents to the religion but also aroused the anger of many of the clergy. Pronouncing Mullá 'Alí a heretic, the authorities arrested him and sentenced him to death. His exact fate is not known, although he was imprisoned for several months before he died, the first martyr to the Faith of the Báb.

Mullá Sádiq-i-Muqaddas, who had converted to the new religion as a result of Mullá Husayn's teaching efforts, went to Shíráz, where he established himself in a mosque and led the congregation in prayer. Upon receiving a Tablet from the Báb, he moved to a mosque adjoining His house and, on His instructions, altered the call to prayer by adding words revealed by the Báb. Angered by this act, the Governor of the province, Husayn Khán, ordered the arrest of Quddús, Muqaddas and Mullá 'Alí-Akbar. They were beaten and subjected to public humiliations, after which Husayn Khán ordered that the Báb be brought to Shíráz in chains.

3. The Gathering Storm

To their astonishment, the arresting party found the Báb awaiting their arrival. Although He was technically their prisoner, they treated Him with reverence. His bearing upon entering that city has been described as "majestic." Husayn Khán accused the Báb of stirring up mischief and of being a disgrace to the Faith of Islám, to which the Báb replied with a verse from the Qur'án:

O believers, if an ungodly man comes to you with a tiding, make clear, lest you afflict a people unwittingly, and then repent of what you have done.

(Qur'án 44:6)

Husayn Khán was enraged by this answer. Several others present began to strike and vilify the Báb. The situation might easily have deteriorated further, but the Báb's mother, having received the news that her Son had been arrested, had sent His uncle Hájí Mírzá Siyyid 'Alí to the governor's residence. His uncle's fortuitous arrival brought a halt to the proceedings, and the Governor agreed to release the Báb into his custody, provided that He not be permitted to see anyone but His family. Hájí Mírzá Siyyid 'Alí managed to secure a three-day period for visitors prior to the imposition of what was effectively house arrest. Despite these restrictions, however, a number of Bábís did manage to meet with the Báb and receive Tablets from Him.

As the young religion spread, word of it reached the highest levels of the Persian government and aroused the concern of Muhammad Sháh. In July or August of 1845, the Sháh commissioned the erudite Siyyid Yahyá to travel to Shíráz and investigate the Báb's claims. Siyyid Yahyá undertook this mission expecting to easily expose the Báb as a fraud, yet every point he raised in his discussions with the Báb was answered to his complete satisfaction. Still doubtful, he decided that if the Báb would reveal a commentary on the Súrih of Kawthar (Qur'án 108), he would accept Him as a Prophet. However, he did not actually voice this request. At their next meeting, the Báb asked, "Were I to reveal to you a commentary on the Súrih of Kawthar, would you acknowledge that My words are born of the Spirit of God?" Stunned, Siyyid Yahyá was won over completely. The Báb then proceeded to reveal the requested commentary, deepening Siyyid Yahyá's conviction. Muhammad Sháh, hearing of the conversion of such a learned man, began to wonder if there might not be something to the Báb's teachings. Had it not been for the machinations of his Grand Vizier, Hájí Mírzá Áqásí, the course of the young religion might have been very different indeed. As for Siyyid Yahyá, the Báb would call him Vahíd ("the Unique One") and he would travel extensively, spreading the Faith of the Báb wherever he went.

Sometime during this period, the clergy of Shíráz one Friday summoned the Báb to a mosque and demanded that He recant and renounce His claims. Instead, the Báb delivered a sermon that left the congregation speechless and infuriated the authorities. The divines conferred and agreed to pass a death sentence against Him, but the Imám-Jum'ih (senior member of the clergy), who found no blame in the Báb and had declined to attend the meeting, refused to join in signing the decree, and so the plot was defeated. Yet the storm was clearly gathering. During the summer of 1846, the Báb bequeathed all His property jointly to His mother and wife, then took up residence with His uncle Hájí Mírzá Siyyid 'Alí and once again dispersed most of His followers to other cities.

On September 23, 1846, the Báb was arrested. The Governor, having received a report that a large number of Bábís had gathered at the Báb's residence, dispatched his chief constable to surprise and arrest everyone there. It appears that Hájí Mírzá Áqásí (the Grand Vizier) had instructed the Governor to secretly kill the Báb. But that night a cholera epidemic broke out in the city and the Governor fled. Meanwhile, the constable and his men found only the Báb, His uncle, and one disciple present when they raided the house. In the Governor's absence, the Báb was taken to the constable's house. When they arrived they found the constable's two sons ill. The constable pleaded with the Báb for their recovery. The Báb gave some of the water with which He was performing His ablutions to the constable, telling him to give it to his sons to drink and assuring him they would recover. They did, and in gratitude the constable begged the Governor to release the Báb. The Governor agreed on condition that the Báb leave Shíráz. The Báb was able to bid His uncle farewell, but was not given time to see either His mother or His wife Khadíjih. He would never see his wife or his mother again.

After the Báb's departure, the frustrated Governor first turned on His family and then ordered that anyone found with Writings of the Báb in their possession would be severely punished. In panic, scores of people threw bundles of His Writings into the courtyard of the house of the Báb's brother-in-law. On the advice of the Báb's uncle, the family washed off the ink and buried the paper. Thus many of the Báb's Writings from this period were destroyed.

4. Máh-Kú

In September and October, the Báb stayed in Isfahán at the home of the Imám-Jum'ih, where He was treated as an honored guest. People of all ranks came to visit Him, and even the Governor of that province, Manúchihr Khán, became convinced of the truth of the Báb's claims. But the reverence accorded to Him soon aroused the jealousy of the clergy, who began to denounce Him from the pulpit. The Grand Vizier, concerned that Manúchihr Khán might succeed in arranging a meeting between Muhammad Sháh and the Báb, censured the Imám-Jum'ih for allowing the Báb to stay with him. Although Manúchihr Khán tried to protect the Báb, the divines soon passed a verdict against Him which carried a death sentence. Meanwhile, the Sháh ordered that the Báb be brought at once to Tehran. Manúchihr Khán used this order as a pretext for sending the Báb out of the city guarded by five hundred horsemen, then had Him surreptitiously brought back into the city. The Governor offered the Báb all of His possessions and expressed his desire to proclaim His Faith before the kings and rulers of the earth, but the Báb gently declined, saying that such were not the means through which God would render His Faith victorious. Manúchihr Khán died about three months later, in February or March of 1847.

Following the Governor's death, Muhammad-Sháh again ordered the Báb brought to Tehran, and Grand Vizier Hájí Mírzá Áqásí again sought to prevent their meeting. He sent Báb's escort orders diverting them to the village of Kulayn. Although uncertain as to the reason for the change, they obeyed. On April 1, 1847, while they awaited further instructions, a letter and gifts for the Báb arrived from Bahá'u'lláh. These brought the Báb great joy.

After almost three weeks in Kulayn, the Báb petitioned Muhammad Sháh for an audience. The Sháh was readying himself for an upcoming trip, and the Grand Vizier took advantage of this, advising the Sháh that there was no time to comply with the Báb's request. He further argued that the presence of the Báb in the capitol would lead to trouble, suggesting instead that the Báb be sent to the fortress of Máh-Kú, in the extreme northwest of Irán, to await the Sháh's return. The Sháh took this advice, and though he answered the Báb courteously, the end result was the Báb's incarceration in Máh-Kú.

The road to Máh-Kú led through the city of Tabríz, which the Báb reached in May or June of 1847, and in which he would be executed in July 1850. Hearing of the Báb's approach, the Bábís of Tabríz attempted to go out to meet him, but the authorities restrained them and only one young man slipped through. The Báb's arrival in Tabríz has been compared to Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem the week of His crucifixion. The streets were packed; the cry of "Alláh-u-Akbar" ("God is Greatest") echoed on all sides as the Báb passed through. The officials were alarmed by the exuberant demonstration. The Báb was kept here in seclusion for 40 days before being taken on to Máh-Kú, which He reached in July.

The warden of Máh-Kú, 'Alí Khán, adopted an arrogant attitude toward the Báb from the start and refused to allow any of His followers to stay in the town. Only Siyyid Hasan, who was allowed to go to the market each day with a guard, was able to maintain a link between the Báb and His followers. Messages came clandestinely to the Báb from outside the fortress and His Tablets went out to His followers. Although the locals were initially hostile toward the Báb, many came to revere Him as a result of these contacts.

One day the Báb told Siyyid Hasan there would be no further need for secret meetings, since He was going to tell 'Alí Khán to permit visitors. Everyone was astounded, because 'Alí Khán had not softened his attitude. But the following morning, while riding outside of the town, 'Alí Khán saw the Báb in prayer. Incensed at his men's laxity, he intended to confront the Báb, but found himself unable to interrupt. Returning to the fortress to demand the reason for this breach of discipline, he discovered the gates locked and the Báb still in His room. Shaken by the experience, 'Alí Khán professed his faith in the Báb and from that time on allowed Him visitors. People flocked to the castle in the ensuing months. During this time, the Báb began to reveal the Persian Bayán, His book of laws, and those living at the foot of the mountain were enraptured by His voice as He chanted its verses.

5. Chiríq

The Báb's growing influence again began to agitate the authorities, so in April of 1848 He was transferred to Chiríq, a fortress in a Kurdish area that was hostile toward the Persians. But the pattern that had been set at Máh-Kú was repeated. The warden of Chiríq, Yahyá Khán, was soon captivated by the Báb and found himself unable to keep the prison's gates closed to the Bábís. So many of them came to the castle that they could not be housed there, and had to be lodged in a nearby town. Many prominent people in the surrounding area embraced the new religion.

After three months of this, the Grand Vizier ordered that the Báb be taken to Tabríz for questioning. Shortly before the summons arrived, the Báb had once more dispersed His followers. During a stop in Urúmíyyih, along the road to Tabríz, the Báb's portrait was taken by the governor's artist in residence. Under Bahá'u'lláh's later instructions, two color copies were made of this picture. Now, only one remains. The original black-and-white rendering, lost for many years, was eventually recovered and reunited with it at the Bahá'í World Center in Israel.

The interrogation of the Báb in Tabríz occurred during the last week of July, 1848 in the presence of Násiri'd-Dín Mírzá, the Crown Prince, at a time when Muhammád Sháh was ill and had little time left to live. A panel of prominent mullás gathered to examine the Báb. The questions they put to Him were frivolous, dwelling on trivial matters, and their attitude disdainful. The Báb affirmed His claim to be the Qá'im, but the divines persisted in grilling Him on matters of grammar and other trivialities. In the end, the Báb rose and walked out. He was later bastinadoed (caned on the soles of the feet) and returned to Chihríq in the first days of August.

The Sháh's failing health foreshadowed Hájí Mírza Aqásí's downfall, a fact of which he was well aware. The Grand Vizier made numerous attempts to secure his future with provincial authorities, but he was unpopular and found no safe haven. After the Báb returned to Chihríq, He composed a stern letter, known as the Khutbiy-i-Qahríyyih (Sermon of Wrath), to the Grand Vizier. By the time the Grand Vizier received it, his career had plummeted into eclipse. Expelled from the court, he set out for his hometown in Azerbaijan, but was turned back while still in the vicinity of Tehran and forced to seek refuge in a shrine. When Muhammad Sháh died on September 4, 1848, the man who had been the Báb's bitterest enemy passed into obscurity.

Even so, opposition to the young religion was by no means at an end. Oppression of the Bábís had been intensifying since the beginning of the Báb's incarceration. Many had been imprisoned. Bahá'u'lláh Himself was jailed for a few days in December 1847. That same month, Shaykh Sálih-i-Karímí and two others were executed for a murder to which another man (not a Bábí) had already confessed, becoming the first Bábí martyrs on Persian soil.

At the same time the Báb was being taken to Tabríz for interrogation, a conference of the faithful, guided by Bahá'u'lláh, convened in Badasht. Attended by 81 of the Báb's leading followers, the purpose of the Conference of Badasht was to settle a crucial question that had arisen: was this new religion simply an offshoot of Islám, or an independent religion? Bahá'u'lláh and Quddús felt that the time had come to declare the advent of a new religion. Similarly, Táhirih (Qurratu'l-'Ayn) had met with opposition from her fellow Bábís because of her bold proclamations of the advent of a new day. Three weeks of arguing over the question finally came to an end when Táhirih removed her veil, provoking a panic that is hard for westerners to imagine. Horrified, some of the men fled the conference; one overly distraught individual even tried to cut his own throat. But Bahá'u'lláh demonstrated, through a verse He read from the Qur'án, that the "day of judgment" must bring such commotions, through which some would be exalted and others abased. This incident led the Bábís who remained faithful in its wake to a clear understanding that the Báb's revelation did indeed represent a new religion and the dawning of a new era.

6. The Storm Breaks

An intense period in Bábí history was now beginning. As the Conference of Badasht ended, the townspeople stoned and robbed the participants. In the wake of the attack, Bahá'u'lláh managed to return home, but Quddús and Táhirih were arrested. Mullá Husayn, who had been unable to go to Badasht, received a message from the Báb directing him to go to the aid of Quddús, carrying the flag prophesied by Muhammad in the Hadith:

Should your eyes behold the Black Standards proceeding from Khurásán, hasten ye towards them, even though ye should have to crawl over the snow, inasmuch as they proclaim the advent of the promised Mihdí, the Vicegerent of God.

Mullá Husayn and his small company of Bábís set out to join Quddús. Along the way they proclaimed the new Faith, gaining new believers, until they numbered about two hundred. Even so, they met with such hostility that they were unable to safely stay in any village. In Bárfurúsh they were attacked by the townspeople and forced to fight for their lives. When the villagers at last withdrew, they were replaced by the army. Skirmishes continued until finally, in October 1848, Mullá Husayn gave orders for the hasty construction of a fortification in which the beleaguered Bábís could take refuge. Known as Ft. Tabarsí, it was completed shortly before the release of Quddús was secured in November. Following his release, he joined Mullá Husayn. The Bábís in Ft. Tabarsí held off wave after wave of their attackers until the army abandoned direct assault and laid siege to the fort.

In December, Bahá'u'lláh set out for Fort Tabarsí but was intercepted along the way, imprisoned and tortured. Mullá Husayn was shot and killed on Feburary 2, 1849. The siege lingered into May as casualties mounted and food ran out. Finally, assured by an oath sworn on the Qur'án that they would be allowed to live should they surrender, the remaining Bábís emerged from the fort. But the oath had been nothing but treachery. They were massacred and the fort was pillaged and razed. The bodies of the dead were hacked to pieces and scattered through the forest. A few who had been left for dead managed to survive and a few others were taken to be ransomed or sold into slavery. Quddús was tortured before being put to death, after which a mob tore his body to pieces and burned the remains.

Violent persecution of the Bábís raged throughout Persia during 1849 and 1850. Men, women and children of all ages were killed indiscriminately by the officials and by the mobs whose passions they inflamed. Wild rumors flew and Western observers returned distressed reports to their home countries. When word reached Chiríq of the massacre at Fort Tabarsí and the violent death of Quddús, the Báb was overcome with grief. For nine days He refused to meet with anyone and for months despondency seemed to overtake Him.

Shortly before His own death, the Báb placed all His Writings, His pen-case, His seals and rings in a box together with a letter and dispatched it to Mírzá Ahmad-i-Kátib. Included in the box was a scroll of blue paper upon which the Báb had written, in the form of a pentacle, five hundred derivatives of the word "Bahá." The letter instructed Mírzá Ahmad to deliver the box to Bahá'u'lláh.

The former Grand Vizier, Hájí Mírzá Áqásí, had been the Báb's chief enemy until the death of Muhammad Sháh. His successor, Mírzá Taqí Khán, was the man who ordered the execution of the Báb. The new Shah, Násiri'd-Dín, was an inexperienced teenager, and his Grand Vizier took upon himself much of the governing of Persia. In an effort to quell the civil disorder spreading throughout the kingdom, he ordered that the Báb be executed.

The execution of the Báb, which took place in Tabríz on July 9, 1850, may well have been the most astonishing event of His astonishing ministry. (Read about it here.) His last words to the crowd that had gathered to watch Him die were:

Had you believed in Me, O wayward generation, every one of you would have followed the example of this youth [Mírzá Muhammad-'Alí, a disciple who was exectued with the Báb], who stood in rank above most of you, and willingly would have sacrificed himself in My path. The day will come when you will have recognized Me; that day I shall have ceased to be with you.

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