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The Martyrdom of the Báb

by Dale E. Lehman

Appeared: 07/08/2000

The Martyrdom of the Báb took place on July 9, 1850 at noon. An event with no parallel in history save the crucifixion of Jesus, it is commemorated as a solemn Holy Day by Bahá'ís around the world. Here's how it happened:

The Báb had been imprisoned for about three years before His death was finally ordered. All attempts to crush His fledgling religion had failed. The violent deaths of many of the Báb's principal followers had strengthened rather than extinguished the faith of those that remained. Muhammad Shah had not seen fit to execute the Báb, but now he was dead and his successor Násiri'd-Dín Sháh ruled. Lacking experience, the new Shah relied heavily upon his advisors. One of these--his Grand Vizir, Mírzá Taqí Khán--believed that the upheavals wracking the country could only be stilled through the death of the Báb.

He therefore ordered that the Báb be taken from His prison to the city of Tabríz, although to avoid objections from other officials, no reason for the move was given. Three days after the Báb's arrival in Tabríz, new orders arrived calling for an Armenian regiment under the command of Colonel Sam Khan to carry out His execution. Anyone professing to be a follower of the Báb was likewise to be put to death. The Báb was transferred to the barracks in the center of the city to await His execution. As He was being led there, a youth named Muhammad-'Alí rushed out from the crowd of onlookers and threw himself at the Báb's feet, imploring Him, "Send me not from Thee, O Master. Wherever Thou goest, suffer me to follow Thee."

The Báb replied, "Muhammad-'Alí, arise, and rest assured that you will be with Me. Tomorrow you shall witness what God has decreed."

Muhammad-'Alí and two others who rushed forward to express their loyalty to Him were taken and confined with Him in the barracks. Early the next morning, the farrash-bashi (head attendant) was ordered to bring the Báb before the mujtahids (chief religious officials) of the city to obtain death warrants. When he arrived, he found the Báb speaking privately with Siyyid Husayn, who acted as His secretary. The farrash-bashi pulled Siyyid Husayn aside and reprimanded him. Hearing this, the Báb warned, "Not until I have said to him all those things that I wish to say can any earthly power silence Me. Though all the world be armed against Me, yet shall they be powerless to deter Me from fulfilling, to the last word, My intention."

The farrash-bashi then took Muhammad-'Alí before the mujtahids, who tried to convince him to recant his belief in the Báb. He boldly refused. Afterward, the Báb was also taken to the mujtahids, but they refused to meet Him face-to-face, instead sending out the necessary documents in the hands of their attendants. The Báb and Muhammad-'Alí were then confined, under the supervision of Sam Khan, in a different room from Siyyid Husayn.

Now Sam Khan was Christian. Observing both the Báb and the way He was being treated, he grew increasingly uncomfortable at his assignment. Eventually he expressed his misgivings to the Báb: "I profess the Christian Faith," he said, "and entertain no ill will against you. If your Cause be the Cause of Truth, enable me to free myself from the obligation to shed your blood." The Báb replied, "Follow your instructions, and if your intention be sincere, the Almighty is surely able to relieve you from your perplexity."

There was little else to do in any case. Under Sam Khan's direction, a spike was driven into a pillar facing the barracks courtyard and two ropes were tied to it. As noon approached, the Báb and Muhammad-'Alí were brought into the courtyard and suspended from these ropes, Muhammad-'Alí's head resting against the Báb's chest. A regiment of seven hundred fifty soldiers, ranged in three ranks of two hundred fifty each, formed the firing squad. It seemed the entire city had turned out to watch the execution. About ten thousand spectators lined the rooftops of the barracks and adjoining houses as the first rank fired, then the second, then the third. The smoke from the guns was so thick it momentarily darkened the sky and obscured the view of the condemned.

When the smoke cleared, the crowd was stunned to find the Báb gone and Muhammad-'Alí standing unscathed on the ground! The bullets had cut to pieces the ropes suspending the prisoners. A frenzied search was mounted to locate the Báb. When they found Him, He was seated in the room He had occupied the night before, finishing His interrupted conversation with Siyyid Husayn. When the farrash-bashi arrived at the scene, the Báb told him, "I have finished My conversation with Siyyid Husayn. Now you may proceed to fulfil your intention." But so shaken was the farrash-bashi that he refused to have anything further to do with the execution, resigned his post, and quit the scene.

Sam Khan, remembering what the Báb had told him, was likewise stunned. He ordered his men to leave the barracks, refusing to take further part in the execution, even if it meant his own life would be forfeit.

The Shrine of the Bab

But others were not so disinclined. A new firing squad was drawn up and the Báb and Muhammad-'Alí were again suspended against the pillar. As the regiment prepared to fire, the Báb spoke His final words: "Had you believed in Me, O wayward generation, every one of you would have followed the example of this youth [Muhammad-'Alí], 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."

The regiment opened fire. This time, the victims' bodies were shattered by bullets. Immediately a gale of unusual ferocity blew up, engulfing the city and raising a thick cloud of dust that blotted out the light of the sun until nightfall.

The bodies were dumped outside the city and guards posted to ensure that nobody disturbed them. However, the Bábís managed to retrieve them under the cover of night. The guards later reported that they had observed the corpses being devoured by wild animals. But the remains of the Báb, secretly kept in a plain wooden box and hidden in various places over many decades, in 1909 were finally laid to rest by 'Abdu'l-Bahá in a beautiful shrine on the slopes of Mt. Carmel.

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