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The Declaration of the Báb

by Dale E. Lehman

Appeared: 05/20/2000

Revised: 05/18/2001

The Bahá'í Faith marks as its inception May 23, 1844. Here's how it happened...

The story actually begins some years prior, in 1783, when a learned man known as Shaykh Ahmad-i-Ahsá'í (1743-1826) began, at the age of 40, to travel through Persia teaching that the advent of a great Day was drawing near, the Day that would see the advent of the Qá'im, the Promised One of Islám. As he spread this message, his knowledge and wisdom impressed many among the clergy and secular leaders of the day and gathered to him a group of students eager to learn from him. Among these was a gifted young man named Siyyid Kázim-i-Rashtí (1793-1843), who became Shaykh Ahmad's favored pupil and eventual successor.

After Shaykh Ahmad's death in 1826, Siyyid Kázim continued to spread the word of the advent of the Qá'im, but opposition to the message was rising. In an effort to enlist the voices of some well-respected authorities, he therefore sent one of his pupils, Mullá Husayn-i-Bushrú'í, to relate Shaykh Ahmad's teachings to these authorities and answer their questions. In this task, Mullá Husayn was successful. Yet opposition to Siyyid Kázim's message grew and caused him considerable hardship as his enemies used every means at their disposal to discredit him and if possible put his life in jeopardy. Throughout this time, however, he continued to steadfastly announce the coming revelation, although when pressed to reveal the identity of the Qá'im, he always refused, often adding that even if he did reveal this secret, none would be able to accept it. Shortly before his death in 1843, he instructed his students to go out and search for the Qá'im, saying He was about to be revealed.

It was this quest that led Mullá Husayn, his brother, and a nephew to the city of Shíráz on May 22, 1844. Having traveled far in search of the Qá'im, he sent his companions to the mosque to await him while he wandered awhile, promising to rejoin them for evening prayers. While walking outside the gates of the city a few hours before sunset, he was unexpectedly greeted by a young man. Mullá Husayn thought this man must be a disciple of Siyyid Kázim who had heard of his arrival in Shíráz and had come to welcome him. Even so, the manner of the greeting was astonishing. He is said to have related,

The Youth who met me outside the gate of Shíráz overwhelmed me with expressions of affection and loving-kindness. He extended to me a warm invitation to visit His home, and there refresh myself after the fatigues of my journey. I prayed to be excused, pleading that my two companions had already arranged for my stay in that city, and were now awaiting my return. "Commit them to the care of God," was His reply; "He will surely protect and watch over them." Having spoken these words, He bade me follow Him. I was profoundly impressed by the gentle yet compelling manner in which that strange Youth spoke to me.

(The Dawn-Breakers, p. 52-53)

He accompanied the young man to his house, where tea was served and preparations begun for the evening prayer. Mullá Husayn then relates the astonishing thing that happened next:

Overwhelmed with His acts of extreme kindness, I arose to depart. "The time for evening prayer is approaching," I ventured to observe. "I have promised my friends to join them at that hour in the [mosque]." With extreme courtesy and calm He replied: "You must surely have made the hour of your return conditional upon the will and pleasure of God. It seems that His will has decreed otherwise. You need have no fear of having broken your pledge." His dignity and self-assurance silenced me. I renewed my ablutions and prepared for prayer. He, too,stood beside me and prayed.... It was about an hour after sunset when my youthful Host began to converse with me. "Whom, after Siyyid Kázim," He asked me, "do you regard as his successor and your leader?" "At the hour of his death," I replied, "our departed teacher insistently exhorted us to forsake our homes, to scatter far and wide, in quest of the promised Beloved. I have, accordingly, journeyed to Persia, have arisen to accomplish his will, and am still engaged in my quest." "Has your teacher," He further enquired, "given you any detailed indications as to the distinguishing features of the Qá'im?" "Yes," I replied, "He is of a pure lineage, is of illustrious descent, and of the seed of Fátimih. As to His age, He is more than twenty and less than thirty. He is endowed with innate knowledge. He is of medium height, abstains from smoking, and is free from bodily deficiency." He paused for a while and then with vibrant voice declared: "Behold, all these signs are manifest in Me!"

(ibid., p. 55-77)

The young man, whose name was Siyyid Alí Muhammád, proceeded to demonstrate that each of the signs given by Siyyid Kázim were indeed applicable to Him. Yet Mullá Husayn was unsure. He had prepared two tests for anyone claiming to be the Qá'im, and decided to place them before Siyyid Alí Muhammád in order to prove the matter one way or the other. Those tests, Mullá Huysan related, were as follows:

The first was a treatise which I had myself composed, bearing upon the abstruse and hidden teachings propounded by Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kázim. Whoever seemed to me capable of unravelling the mysterious allusions made in that treatise, to him I would next submit my second request, and would ask him to reveal, without the least hesitation or reflection, a commentary on the Súrih of Joseph, in a style and language entirely different from the prevailing standards of the time. I had previously requested Siyyid Kázim, in private, to write a commentary on that same Súrih, which he refused, saying: "This is, verily, beyond me. He, that great One, who comes after me will, unasked, reveal it for you. That commentary will constitute one of the weightiest testimonies of His truth, and one of the clearest evidences of the loftiness of His position."

(ibid., p. 59)

So Mullá Husayn asked his Host to comment on the treatise he had written. The result of that request only further astonished him:

He graciously complied with my wish. He opened the book, glanced at certain passages, closed it, and began to address me. Within a few minutes He had, with characteristic vigour and charm, unravelled all its mysteries and resolved all its problems. Having to my entire satisfaction accomplished, within so short a time, the task I had expected Him to perform, He further expounded to me certain truths which could be found neither in the reported sayings of the Imáms of the Faith nor in the writings of Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kázim. These truths, which I had never heard before, seemed to be endowed with refreshing vividness and power.... He then proceeded to say: "Now is the time to reveal the commentary on the Súrih of Joseph." He took up His pen and with incredible rapidity revealed the entire Súrih of Mulk, the first chapter of His commentary on the Súrih of Joseph. The overpowering effect of the manner in which He wrote was heightened by the gentle intonation of His voice which accompanied His writing. Not for one moment did He interrupt the flow of the verses which streamed from His pen. Not once did He pause till the Súrih of Mulk was finished. I sat enraptured by the magic of His voice and the sweeping force of His revelation. At last I reluctantly arose from my seat and begged leave to depart.... At that moment the clock registered two hours and eleven minutes after sunset.... "This night," He declared, "this very hour will, in the days to come, be celebrated as one of the greatest and most significant of all festivals. Render thanks to God for having graciously assisted you to attain your heart's desire, and for having quaffed from the sealed wine of His utterance."

(ibid., p. 59-62)

From that day forward, Siyyid Alí Muhammád refered to Himself as the Báb (the Gate) and Mullá Husayn became his first disciple. Although the Báb was indeed the Qá'im foretold by Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kázim, He taught that He was but the Herald of another Messenger who would appear very soon after Him and the power of whose revelation would far exceed any previously sent down by God. It was the beginning of six tumultuous years that would see Persia turned upside down, thousands of the Báb's followers put to death and the Báb Himself executed by firing squad in 1850. Mullá Husayn would be killed when the army beseiged a group of Bábís at Fort Tabarsí in 1849.

The day the Báb declared His mission is now, as He had promised, celebrated by Bahá'ís around the world as "one of the greatest and most significant of all festivals."

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