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The Birth of the Báb

by Dale E. Lehman

Appeared: 10/14/2000

Revised: 10/05/2007

On October 20th, Bahá'ís around the world celebrate the Birth of the Báb, one of eleven Holy Days in the Bahá'í calendar. The Báb is often referred to as the Herald of the Bahá'í Faith, because it was His mission to prepare the way for Bahá'u'lláh, the Founder of the Bahá'í Faith. Like John the Baptist some 2,000 years before, the Báb called upon the people to purify themselves for the coming of the day of God. Unlike John, however, He founded an independent religion and claimed equal station with Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. Bahá'ís view the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh both as "Manifestations of God" even though by the Báb's own testimony His mission was subordinate to Bahá'u'lláh's.

The similarities between the missions of Jesus and the Báb are often noted with awe. In his popular book Thief in the Night, William Sears listed a number of them. Both were known for their meekness. Both condemned the corruption present in religious and secular society. Their chief enemies were the religious authorities. Both were taken before the authorities and publicly interrogated, after which both were scourged. Both went first in triumph then in suffering through the streets of the cities where they were to be killed. Both were suspended before a multitude as they were put to death. Both spoke words of comfort to one who was to die with them. Yet in spite of the many similarities, there is one major difference.

Almost nothing, it seems, is known about the circumstances attending the Báb's birth.

We do know that He was born on October 20, 1819 (Muharram 1, 1235 A.H.) in Shiraz, Persia. In The Dawnbreakers, Nabíl records stories that indicate Shaykh Ahmad was aware of the births of both Bahá'u'lláh (in 1817) and the Báb, but the Shaykh never met either of them and the births themselves are not discussed. Neither does H. M. Balyuzi, in his biography of the Báb, present any portrait of how the One who was destined to usher in not merely a new religion but a new cycle of religion came into the world. We are left with only a few bare facts.

The Báb, whose name was Siyyid 'Alí-Muhammad, was the son of Siyyid Muhammad-Ridá, a mercer of Shíráz, and Fátimih-Bagum. Both parents were descendants of the Prophet Muhammad. When the Báb was young, his father died. Some accounts put this event during the Báb's infancy, others when He was nine years old. (Balyuzi states that 'Abdu'l-Bahá appears to have confirmed the latter account.) In any case, care of the child fell to Hájí Mírzá Siyyid 'Alí, a maternal uncle who later embraced the new religion.

In contrast to the paucity of information about the Báb's birth, there are stories of His childhood that bear remarkable resemblance (in spirit at least) to the stories told in the Gospels about the young Jesus. For example, when the Báb was sent to school, the schoolmaster was so astonished at His wisdom and intelligence that he sent the child back to His uncle, saying that he had nothing to teach such a gifted student! The Báb's uncle commanded Him to observe silence and listen attentatively to His teacher, but as time progressed the schoolmaster began to feel more like the student than the teacher.

Other accounts speak of the young Báb's radiant character and the considerable time He spent in prayer. There can be little doubt that He was an extraordinary child. Some who had known Him in those early years later became His followers. It seems that many of them were hardly surprised by the way events played out.

With little or nothing in the way of historical details to go on, and with no established traditions at this early stage of our religion's history, Bahá'ís celebrate the birth of the Báb in various simple but joyous ways. This day is one of the nine Holy Days on which work is to be suspended. In most communities, parties will be held. After beginning with prayers and devotional readings, these parties can take any of a number of forms. Most often they are simply social gatherings. However they are celebrated, they are open to all who would like to attend. So please join us!

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