Siyyid `Alí Muhammad (October 20, 1819 – July 9, 1850), better known as the Báb, was a martyred Iranian religious leader recognized by his followers as either the "hidden imam" of Islam or the "Gateway" (Báb) to him. After his death he became a major figure in the Baha'i faith, which sees him as the forerunner of Bahá'u'lláh.
The son of a merchant from Shiraz, Iran, the Báb announced himself at age 25 after meeting Mullá Husayn, who was searching for the Mahdi or Qá'im the messianic deliverer of Shi'a Islam. However, sources differ as to whether Siyyid `Alí Muhammad claimed to be the deliver himself or only his forerunner. After his encounter with Mullá Husayn, he assumed the title of "the Báb," meaning "Gate."
As the religion of the Báb (Bábism) spread, opposition from traditional clergy resulted in his arrest. While he was imprisoned, clashes and uprisings resulted in the deaths of thousands of his followers. When he refused to renounce his claims, he was convicted of blasphemy and apostasy, and was executed by firing squad in Tabriz in 1850.
In the 1790s, in Persia, Shaykh Ahmad-i-Ahsa'i began a religious movement within Shi'a Islam, preaching the imminent appearance of the Qá'im, the Promised One of Islam. After the death of Shaykh Ahmad, leadership was passed on to Siyyid Kázim of Rasht, a city north of Tehran.
Meanwhile on October 20, 1819, Mīrzā ʿAlī Moḥammad in Shiraz—the future Báb—was born in Shiraz, to a well-known merchant of the city. His father died soon after his birth, and the boy was raised by his uncle who was also a merchant. Upon reaching manhood, he joined his uncle in the family business, a trading house. 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.
Soon after Mīrzā ʿAlī Moḥammad's marriage, Siyyid Kázim passed away, instructing his followers to leave their homes after his death to seek the Lord of the Age, whose advent would soon break on the world. One of these followers, Mullá Husayn, prayed and fasted for 40 days, and then traveled to Shiraz, where he met the Báb.
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 descendant of the prophet Muhammad. The stranger, who was in fact Mīrzā ʿAlī Moḥammad, invited Mullá Husayn to his home.
After being asked what he was doing in Shiraz, Mullá Husayn replied that he was searching for the Promised One. Mīrzā ʿAlī Moḥammad asked how would the Promised One be recognized, to which Mullá 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 his guest, Mīrzā ʿAlī Moḥammad 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 Surih of Joseph—the twelfth book of the Qur'an telling the story of the patriarch Joseph—without being asked. Mīrzā ʿAlī Moḥammad reportedly fulfilled this requirement as well, writing the commentary under inspiration after making his declaration.
After spending the night alone with the Mīrzā ʿAlī Moḥammad, Mullá Husayn recorded the following:
This Revelation, so suddenly and impetuously thrust upon me, came as a thunderbolt… The universe seemed but a handful of dust in my grasp. I seemed to be the Voice of Gabriel personified, calling unto all mankind: "Awake, for lo! the morning Light has broken. Arise, for His Cause is made manifest. The portal of His grace is open wide; enter therein, O peoples of the world! For He who is your promised One is come!" (Nabíl-i-A'zam, The Dawn-Breakers, 65).
Mullá Husayn became the Báb's first disciple. Within five months 17 other disciples of Siyyid Kázim had recognized the Báb. Among them was one woman, a poetess, who later received the name of Táhirih (the Pure). These 18 disciples were later to be known as the Letters of the Living and were given the task of spreading the new faith.
A controversy exists over the question of the nature and timing of the Bab's declaration of himself. His writings indicate that he saw himself as a forerunner of another, greater prophet yet to come. The Bahá'ís view of the subject is that the Báb declared himself to be the "Gate," in the same sense that John the Baptist declared himself to be the one whose mission was to straighten the way of one who came after him, namely Jesus. However, later in his ministry, he reportedly proclaimed himself, in the presence of the heir to the throne of Persia and other notables, to be the [[Mahdi] himself.
The Báb and his eighteenth disciples, Quddús, soon left on a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, the sacred cities of Islam. In Mecca, the Báb wrote to the Sharif of Mecca explaining his mission. After their pilgrimage, the Báb and Quddús returned to Bushehr, Persia.
Soon the preaching of his disciples began to bear fruit, and as the movement strengthened, opposition from the traditional Islamic clergy resulted in the governor of Shiraz ordering the Báb's arrest. The Báb immediately left Bushehr and went to Shiraz, where he presented himself to the authorities. He was placed under house arrest at the home of his uncle, but was released when a plague broke out in the city. After his release in 1846, the Báb departed for Isfahan. There, many came to see him at the house of the head of the local clergy, who became sympathetic. After an informal gathering where the Báb debated other imams, his popularity soared.
However, after the death of the governor of Isfahan, who had become his supporter, pressure from the clergy of the province led to Shah Mohammad Shah Qajar ordering the Báb to Tehran, in January 1847. After spending several months in a camp outside Tehran, and before the Báb could meet the shah, the prime minister sent the Báb to Tabriz in the northwestern corner of the country, where he was confined and not allowed to see visitors.
After 40 days in Tabriz, the Báb was transferred to the fortress of Máh-Kú in the far western province of Azarbaijan, close to the Turkish border. During his incarceration there, the Báb began his most important work, the Persian Bayán, which he never finished. Due to the Báb's growing popularity in Máh-Kú and its governor converting to his cause, the prime minister transferred the Báb to the fortress of Chihríq in April 1848. In that place as well, the Báb's popularity grew, and his jailers relaxed restrictions on him. Hence, the prime minister ordered the Báb back to Tabriz. It was under questioning there in the presence of the heir to the throne and other notables that the Báb reportedly admitted that he was indeed the Promised One for whom the people of Islam were waiting. He was then ordered back to the fortress of Chihriq.
During this time, the Báb's movement continued to spread, resulting in clashes between Bábís and local populations, as well as the military, especially in the northwestern provinces. From October 1848 until May 1849, in the northern province of Mázandarán, 313 Bábís led by Quddús defended themselves against the attacks of local villagers and 12,000 members of the shah's army. They were finally subdued through false promises of safety and put to death or sold into slavery.
A revolt at the fortress of Ali Mardan Khan in Zanjan resulted in nearly 2,000 followers of the Báb giving up their lives in the village of Zanjan. With substantial local support for the Bab's forces, fierce battles followed for months, with government forces besieging the Bábís' fort. The siege eventually succeeded, and those remaining at the fort, including women and children, were put to death.
In 1850, a new prime minister ordered the execution of the Báb on the capital offense of apostasy. He was brought again 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 (born Muhammad `Ali Zunuzi), 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 the courtyard of the barracks in which he was being held, where thousands of people had gathered to watch his execution. The Báb and Anís were suspended on a wall and a large firing squad prepared to shoot. Numerous eyewitnesses, including western diplomats, reported the order was given and the square filled with musket smoke. When the cleared, however, the Báb was nowhere to be seen, and his companion was left unharmed. Amid a great commotion in the crowd, many believing the Báb had ascended to heaven, the soldiers subsequently found the Báb in another part of the barracks, completely unharmed. He and Anís were tied up for execution a second time, a second firing squad was arranged, and a second order to fire was given. This time, the Báb and his companion were killed. Their remains were then dumped outside the gates of the town to be eaten by animals.
Their bodies, however, were clandestinely rescued by a handful of Bábis and were hidden. Over time, the remains were secretly transported by way of Isfahán, Kirmansháh, Baghdad, and Damascus, to Beirut, and thence by sea to Acre, Palestine, on the plain below Mount Carmel in 1899. In 1909, the relics were interred in a special tomb, erected for this purpose by `Abdu'l-Bahá, on Mount Carmel in the Holy Land. The Universal House of Justice is located close to this site and visitors are welcome to tour the gardens.
Shi'a Muslims believe at a certain point of historical turmoil, the Imam Mahdi (also termed the Qa'im) will return and restore true religion on Earth before the cataclysmic end of the world and Judgment Day. In Bábí belief, the Báb fulfilled the prophecy of the return of the Imam Mahdi.
The Báb taught that his revelation was beginning an apocalyptic process that was bringing the Islamic dispensation to its cyclical end, and starting a new dispensation. He interpreted the doctrines of "resurrection" and "Judgment Day " symbolically. Resurrection means the appearance of a new revelation, and that Judgment Day means the spiritual awakening of those who have stepped away from true religion.
One of the core Bábí teachings is the great Promised One—promised not only in Islam but the previous religions as well—whom the Báb termed "He whom God shall make manifest," would soon establish the Kingdom of God on the Earth. In his writings, he constantly entreats his believers to follow the Promised One and not behave like the Muslims who rejected his own revelation.
The Báb abrogated traditional Islamic law and, in the Persian Bayán, promulgated a system of Bábí law. Some of these include the carrying of arms only in times of necessity, sitting on chairs instead of the floor, a tradition of cleanliness as displayed by the Christians, the kind treatment of animals, a ban against beating children severely, and a prohibition against the study of logic or dead languages.
While some statements in the Bayan show tolerance, other regulations appear harsh and restrictive. For example, non-believers are forbidden to live in five central Iranian provinces, the holy places of previous religions are to be demolished, all non-Bábí books should be destroyed, believers are not to marry or even sit in the company of non-believers, and the property of non-believers can be taken from them. Scholars debate whether the Báb seriously intended these rules to be put into practice.
The Báb's greatest legacy is clearly the establishment of the Baha'i faith under the leadership of his follower Bahá'u'lláh. The Báb left a number of writings alluding to a future, greater prophet. In some passages he states that he himself is "but a ring upon the hand of Him Whom God shall make manifest."
Before the Báb's death, he sent a letter addressed to Subh-i-Azal, which is considered to be his last will and testament. The letter is recognized as appointing Subh-i-Azal to be the leader of the Bábí community after the death of the Báb. He is also ordered to obey the Promised One when he appears.
Within 20 years of the Báb's death, more than 25 people claimed to be the Promised One. The most significant of these was Bahá'u'lláh, who claimed that in 1853, while a prisoner in Tehran, he was visited by a "Maid of Heaven," and given his task as a messenger of God. Ten years later in Baghdad, he made his first public declaration and became recognized by most Bábís as "He whom God shall make manifest." His followers began calling themselves Bahá'ís.
Subh-i-Azal, however, disputed the claim of Bahá'u'lláh and other claimants and made a counter-claim to receiving his own divine revelation. His followers became known as Bayanis or Azalis. Subh-i-Azal later revoked his claim of having received a divine revelation, but the Bábis that did not recognize Bahá'u'lláh, continued to recognize him as their leader until he died in 1912. Whether or not he had a successor is disputed.
Bahá'í sources report that 11 of the 18 "witnesses" appointed by Subh-i-Azal to oversee the Bábí community became Bahá'ís, as did his son. The man reportedly appointed by Subh-i-Azal to succeed him, Hadiy-i-Dawlat-Abadi, later publicly recanted his faith in both the Báb and Subh-i-Azal.
The vast majority of the Báb's followers eventually abandoned Subh-i-Azal and become Bahá'ís. Today, Bahá'ís claim to have over 6 million followers worldwide, while estimates of Azali's are as low as one thousand, isolated in Iran.
The archives department at the Bahá'í World Center currently holds about 190 Tablets of the Báb. Excerpts from the following and other writings are published in the only English language compilation of the Báb's writings, Selections from the Writings of the Báb.
All links retrieved December 4, 2012.
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