October 20, 1819
Shiraz, Qajar Iran
|Died||July 9, 1850
Tabriz, Qajar Iran
|Title||The Primal Point|
|Parent(s)||Father: Sayyid Muhammad Ridá Mother: Fátimih Bagum|
The Báb, whose birth name was Sayyed ?Ali Muhammad Shir?zi (, Persian: ; October 20, 1819 - July 9, 1850 and Muharram 1, 1235 - Sha'ban 28, 1266), was the founder of Bábism, and one of the central figures of the Azali and Bahá'í Faiths. He was a merchant from Shiraz in Qajar Iran who, at the age of twenty-four (on the evening of May 22, 1844), claimed to be an inspired interpreter of the Qur'an within the Shaykhi school of Twelver Shi'ism. In a series of several stages, he first introduced himself as the Báb (, Arabic: ?, meaning "Gate" or "Door") to the Promised Twelver Mahdi or al-Qá'im, then the Mahdi himself, then the Prophet of a New Age, and finally, as the essence of God and his being. He composed numerous letters and books in which he stated his messianic claims and defined his teachings, which constituted a new sharia. His movement eventually acquired thousands of supporters, was opposed by Iran's Shi'i clergy, and was suppressed by the Iranian government, leading to the persecution and killing of between two and three thousand of his followers, called Bábís. In 1850, at the age of thirty, the Báb was shot by a firing squad in Tabriz.
Bahá'ís claim that the Báb was also the spiritual return of Elijah and John the Baptist, that he was the saoshyant referred to in Zoroastrianism, and that he was the forerunner of their own religion. Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, was a follower of the Báb and claimed to be the fulfillment of his promise that God would send another messenger.
Ali Muhammad was born on October 20, 1819, in Shiraz to a middle-class merchant of the city. His father was Muhammad Ridá, and his mother was Fátimih (1800-1881), a daughter of a prominent merchant in Shiraz. She later became a Bahá'í. His father died while he was quite young and he was raised by his maternal uncle, Hájí Mírzá Siyyid `Alí, who was also a merchant. He claimed to be a descendant from Muhammad (a sayyid) through Husayn ibn Ali through both his parents. When he was in Shiraz his uncle sent him to maktab (primary school) and he was there for six or seven years. Sometime between when he was 15 and 20, he joined his uncle in the family business, a trading house, and became a merchant in the city of Bushehr, Iran, near the Persian Gulf. Some of his earlier writings suggest that he did not enjoy the business and instead applied himself to the study of religious literature. One of his contemporary followers described him as "very taciturn, and [he] would never utter a word unless it was absolutely necessary. He did not even answer our questions. He was constantly absorbed in his own thoughts, and was preoccupied with repetition of his prayers and verses. He is described as a handsome man with a thin beard, dressed in clean clothes, wearing a green shawl and a black turban."
An English physician described the young man by saying: "He was a very mild and delicate-looking man, rather small in stature and very fair for a Persian, with a melodious soft voice, which struck me much".
In 1842 he married Khadíjih-Bagum (1822-1882); he was 23 and she was 20. She was the daughter of a prominent merchant in Shíráz. The marriage proved to be a happy one, and they had one child, a boy named Ahmad who died the year he was born (1843). The pregnancy jeopardized Khadijih's life and she never conceived again. The young couple occupied a modest house in Shiraz along with the Báb's mother. Later, Khadijeh became a Bahá'í.
In the 1790s in Persia, Shaykh Ahmad (1753-1826) began a religious movement within Twelver Shia Islam. His followers, who became known as Shaykhis, were expecting the imminent appearance of the al-Qa'im of the Ahl al-Bayt also called "the Mahdi". After the death of Shaykh Ahmad, leadership was passed on to Kazim Rashti (1793-1843).
In 1841 the Báb went on pilgrimage to Iraq, and for seven months stayed mostly in and around Karbala. There he is believed to have met Kazim Rashti, who showed a high regard for him. He is believed to have attended some of Kazim Rashti's lectures; however, this period is almost entirely undocumented.
As of his death in December 1843, Kazim Rashti counselled his followers to leave their homes to seek the Mahdi, who, according to his prophecies, would soon appear. One of these followers, Mullá Husayn, after keeping vigil for forty days in a mosque, travelled to Shiraz, where he met the Báb.
The Báb's first religious inspiration experience claimed, witnessed by his wife, is dated to about the evening of 3 April 1844. The Báb's first public connection with his sense of a mission came with the arrival of Mullá Husayn in Shiraz. On the night of 22 May Mullá Husayn was invited by the Báb to his home; on that night Mullá Husayn told him that he was searching for the possible successor to Kazim Rashti, the Promised One. The Báb told Mullá Husayn that he was Kazim Rashti's successor and the bearer of divine knowledge. Mullá Husayn became the first to accept the Báb's claims to be an inspired figure and a likely successor to Kazim Rashti. The Báb had replied satisfactorily to all of Mullá Husayn's questions and had written in his presence, with extreme rapidity, a long tafsir (commentary) on surah "Yusuf", which has come to be known as the Qayyúmu'l-Asmá' and is considered the Báb's first revealed work.
Mullá Husayn was the Báb's first disciple. Within five months, seventeen other disciples of Kazim Rashti had recognized the Báb as a Manifestation of God. Among them was one woman, Fátimih Zarrín Táj Baragháni, a poet, 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 across Iran and Iraq. The Báb emphasized the spiritual station of these 18 individuals, who, along with himself, made the first "Unity" of his religion (in Arabic, the term w?hid "unity" has a numerical value of 19 using abjad numerals). The Báb, in his book the Persian Bayán, gives the metaphorical identity of the Letters of the Living as the Fourteen Infallibles of Twelver Shi'i Islam (Muhammad, the Twelve Imams, and Fatimah) and the four archangels. In some ways, they parallel the Twelve Apostles of Christ.
In his early writings, the Báb appears to identify himself as the gate (báb) to the Hidden Twelfth Imam, and later he begins explicitly to proclaim his station as that of the Hidden Imam and a new messenger from God. Rather than being a discontinued or evolving consciousness, Saiedi states that the works of the Báb are unitary throughout, and that the gradual disclosure of the Báb's identity is defined by the principle of unity in diversity throughout reality.
In the Báb's early writings, the exalted identity he was claiming was unmistakable, but because of the reception of the people, his writings appear to convey the impression that he is only the gate to the Hidden Twelfth Imam. To his circle of early believers, the Báb was equivocal about his exact status, gradually confiding in them that he was not merely a gate to the Hidden Imam, but the Manifestation of the Hidden Imam and the Qa'im himself. During his early meetings with Mullá Husayn, the Báb described himself as the Master and the Promised One; he did not consider himself to be simply Kazim Rashti's successor, but claimed a prophetic status, a kind of deputy, delegated not just by the Hidden Imam but through Divine authority. His early texts such as the "Commentary on the Surih of Joseph" used Quranic language that implied divine authority and identified himself effectively with the Imam. When Mullá `Alí Bas?ámí, the second Letter of the Living, was put on trial in Baghdad for preaching about the Báb, clerics studied the "Commentary on the Surih of Joseph," recognized in it a claim to divine revelation, and quoted from it extensively to prove that the author had made a messianic claim.
However, in the early phase of his declaration to the public, the title báb was emphasized as that of the gate leading to the Hidden Imam, as the Báb had told his early believers not to fully disclose his claims or reveal his name. The approach of laying claim to a lower position was intended to create a sense of anticipation for the appearance of the Hidden Imam, as well to avoid persecution and imprisonment, because a public proclamation of mahdi status could have brought upon the Báb a swift penalty of death. After a couple of months, as the Báb observed further acceptance and readiness among his believers and the public, he gradually shifted his public claim to that of the Hidden Imam. Then in his final years he publicly announced his station as a Manifestation of God; in his trial, he boldly proclaimed himself, in the presence of the Heir to the Throne of Persia and other notables, to be the Promised One. Finally, in his last authored work, the Haykal al-din, the Bab claimed that he was the "essence of God" (dh?tu 'll?h). In the early months of his public declarations, the adoption of a cautious policy had essentially achieved maximum attention with minimum controversy.
The gradual unfolding of his claims, however, did cause some confusion, both among the public and for some of his believers. A number of his early followers had instantly recognized his station as a messenger from God with divine authority, and this resulted in disagreement within the Bábi community. Furthermore, even though the Báb had intended to convey his message with discretion, many of his followers (such as Táhirih) openly declared the coming of the promised Hidden Imam and Mahdi.
After the eighteen Letters of the Living had recognized him, the Báb and the eighteenth Letter of the Living, Quddús, left on a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, the sacred cities of Islam. At the Kaaba in Mecca, the Báb publicly declared his claim to be the Qa'im. He also wrote to the Sharif of Mecca, the Custodian of the Kaaba, proclaiming his mission. After their pilgrimage, the Báb and Quddús returned to Bushehr, Iran.
After some time, preaching by the Letters of the Living led to opposition by the Islamic clergy, prompting the Governor of Shiraz to order the Báb's arrest. The Báb, upon hearing of the arrest order, left Bushehr for Shiraz in June 1845 and presented himself to the authorities. He was placed under house arrest at the home of his uncle until a cholera epidemic broke out in the city in September 1846. The Báb was released and departed for Isfahan. There, many came to see him at the house of the imam jum'a, head of the local clergy, who became sympathetic. After an informal gathering where the Báb debated the local clergy and displayed his speed in producing instantaneous verses, his popularity soared. After the death of the governor of Isfahan, Manouchehr Khan Gorji, who had become his supporter, pressure from the clergy of the province led to the 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.
After forty days in Tabriz, the Báb was then transferred to the fortress of Maku, Iran in the province of Azerbaijian close to the Turkish border. During his incarceration there, the Báb began his most important work, the Persian Bayán, which he never finished. Because of the Báb's growing popularity in Maku and the governor of Maku converting, the prime minister transferred him to the fortress of Chehriq in April 1848. In that place as well, the Báb's popularity grew and his jailors relaxed restrictions on him. It was at this time that Áqa Bálá Big Shíshvání Naqshbandí painted the portrait of the Báb. The Prime Minister ordered the Báb back to Tabriz, where the government called on religious authorities to put the Báb on trial for blasphemy and apostasy.
The trial, attended by the Crown Prince, occurred in July 1848 and involved numerous local clergy. They questioned the Báb about the nature of his claims, his teachings, and demanded that he produce miracles to prove his divine authority. They admonished him to recant his claims. There are nine extant eyewitness reports of the trial, of which several may originate from an earlier source. Six of the reports are from Muslim accounts, and portray the Báb in an unfavourable light. There are 62 questions that are found in the nine sources, however eighteen occur in only one source, fifteen in two, eight in three, five in four, thirteen in five, and three in six. Not including "yes" and "he did not answer", there are thirty-five answers, of which ten occur in one source, eight in two, six in three, three in four, two in five, five in six. Only one answer is found in all nine eyewitness sources, where the Báb states that "I am that person you have been awaiting for one thousand years."
The trial did not bring a decisive result. Some clergy called for capital punishment, but the government pressured them to issue a lenient judgement because the Báb was popular. The government asked medical experts to declare the Báb insane so that he could not be executed. It is also likely that the government, to appease the religious clergy, spread rumours that the Báb had recanted.
The Shaykh al-Isl?m, a champion of the anti-Bábist campaign, who was not at the Báb's trial, issued a conditional death sentence if the Báb was found to be sane. A fatwa was issued establishing the Báb's apostasy and stated "The repentance of an incorrigible apostate is not accepted, and the only thing which has caused the postponement of thy execution is a doubt as to thy sanity of mind."
The crown prince's physician, William Cormick, examined the Báb and complied with the government's request to find grounds for clemency. The physician's opinion saved the Báb from execution for a time, but the clergy insisted that he face corporal punishment instead, so the Báb suffered foot whipping (twenty lashes to the bottoms of his feet).
The unsigned and undated official government report states that because of his harsh beating, the Báb (orally and in writing) recanted, apologized, and stated that he would not continue to advance claims of divinity. The document of his alleged recantation was written shortly after his trial in Tabriz. Some authors theorise that the assertions were made to embarrass the Báb and undermine his credibility with the public and that the language of this document is very different from the Báb's usual style; it could have been prepared by the authorities.
Orientalist Edward Granville Browne received copies of the trial documents from Hippolyte Dreyfus-Barney, the first French Baha'i. A facsimile of the recantation is published in Browne's Materials for the Study of the Babi Religion, where he states, "[The document], unsigned and undated, was claimed to be in the Báb's handwriting and consists of a complete recantation and renunciation of any superhuman claim which he may have advanced or have appeared to advance. There is nothing to show to whom it is addressed, or whether it is the recantation referred to in the last paragraph of the [government report] or another. The handwriting, though graceful, is not easily legible..." This is a translation of the relevant section of the document:
Never have I desired aught contrary to the Will of God, and, if words contrary to His good pleasure have flowed from my pen, my object was not disobedience, and in any case I repent and ask forgiveness of Him. This servant has absolutely no knowledge connected with any [superhuman] claim. I ask forgiveness of God my Lord and I repent unto Him of [the idea] that there should be ascribed to me any [Divine] Mission. As for certain prayers and words which have flowed from my tongue, these do not imply any such Mission (amr), and any [apparent] claim to any special vicegerency for His Holiness the Proof of God (on whom be Peace!) is a purely baseless claim, such as this servant has never put forward, nay, nor any claim like unto it.
After the trial, the Báb was ordered back to the fortress of Chehríq.
In mid-1850 a new prime-minister, Amir Kabir, ordered the execution of the Báb, probably because various Bábí insurrections had been defeated and the movement's popularity appeared to be waning. The Báb was brought back to Tabriz from Chehriq for an execution by firing squad. The night before his execution, as he was being conducted to his cell, a young Bábí, Muhammad-Ali "Anis" from Zonuz, threw himself at the feet of the Báb and begged to be killed with him. 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 of Christian soldiers prepared to shoot. Numerous eye-witness reports, including those of Western diplomats, recount the result. The order was given to fire and the barracks square filled with musket smoke. When it cleared, the Báb was no longer in the courtyard and his companion stood there unharmed; the bullets apparently had not harmed either man, but had cut the rope suspending them from the wall. There was a great commotion, many in the crowd believing the Báb had ascended to heaven or simply disappeared. But the soldiers subsequently found the Báb in another part of the barracks, completely unharmed, giving his final instructions to his secretary. He and Anis were tied up for execution a second time, a second firing squad of Muslim soldiers was ranged in front of them, and a second order to fire was given. This time, the Báb and his companion were killed. In Bábí and Bahá'í tradition, the failure of the first firing squad to kill the Báb is believed to have been a miracle. Their remains were dumped outside the gates of the town to be eaten by animals.
The remains, however, were clandestinely rescued by a handful of Bábis and were hidden. Over time the remains were secretly transported according to instructions of Bahá'u'lláh and then `Abdu'l-Bahá by way of Isfahan, Kirmanshah, Baghdad and Damascus, to Beirut and thence by sea to Acre on the plain below Mount Carmel in 1899. On March 21, 1909, the remains were then interred in a special tomb, the Shrine of the Báb, erected for this purpose by `Abdu'l-Bahá, on Mount Carmel in present-day Haifa, Israel. The Bahá'í World Centre is located close to this site and visitors are welcome to tour the gardens.
In most of his prominent writings, The Báb alluded to a Promised One, most commonly referred to as man yazhiruhu'lláh, "Him Whom God shall make manifest", and that he himself was "but a ring upon the hand of Him Whom God shall make manifest." Within 20 years of the Báb's death, over 25 people claimed to be the Promised One, most significantly Bahá'u'lláh.
Before the Báb's death, he sent a letter to Mírzá Yahyá, titled Subh-i-Azal, which some consider to be a 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. At the time Subh-i-Azal was still a teenager, had never demonstrated leadership in the Bábí movement, and was still living in the house of his older brother, Bahá'u'lláh. All of this lends credence to the Bahá'í claim that the Báb appointed Subh-i-Azal the head of the Bábí Faith so as to divert attention away from Bahá'u'lláh, while allowing Bábís to visit Bahá'u'lláh and consult with him freely, and allowing Bahá'u'lláh to write to Bábís easily and freely. There is a long history in Shia Islam of hidden leaders, with their deputies wielding the true power (the four bábs themselves are the first examples of this, as is Ali-Muhammad's choice of the title "the Báb").
Bahá'u'lláh claimed that in 1852, while a prisoner in Tehran, he was visited by a "Maid of Heaven", which symbolically marked the beginning of his mission as a Messenger of God. Ten years later in Baghdad, he made his first public declaration and eventually was recognized by the vast majority of Bábís as "He Whom God shall make manifest". His followers began calling themselves Bahá'ís.
Subh-i-Azal continued to live with or close to Bahá'u'lláh throughout the latter's exiles from Iran to Baghdad and then to Istanbul and Edirne, even though Bahá'u'lláh's claim to be a Manifestation of God in 1863 theoretically rendered moot Subh-i-Azal's authority as the head of the Bábí community. In September 1867, in Edirne, the rival claims to authority came to a head. Subh-i-Azal challenged Bahá'u'lláh to a test of the divine will in a local mosque in Edirne such that "God would strike down the impostor". Bahá'u'lláh agreed and went to the Yavuz Selim Mosque at the appointed time, but Subh-i-Azal failed to show up.
Subh-i-Azal's followers became known as Azalis or Azali Bábís. For the Bábís who did not recognize Bahá'u'lláh, Subh-i-Azal remained their leader until his death 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 well as his son. The man allegedly appointed by Subh-i-Azal to succeed him, Hadíy-i-Dawlat-Abádí, later publicly recanted his faith in the Báb and Subh-i-Azal.
Ultimately, Bahá'u'llah emerged more successful and nearly all of the Báb's followers abandoned Subh-i-Azal and became Bahá'ís. Today Bahá'ís have several million followers, while estimates of the number of Azalís are generally around one thousand, isolated in Iran.
The Báb's teachings can be grouped into three broad stages which each have a dominant thematic focus. His earliest teachings are primarily defined by his interpretation of the Quran and hadith. While this interpretive mode continues throughout all three stages of his teachings, a shift takes place where his emphasis moves to philosophical elucidation and finally to legislative pronouncements. In the second philosophical stage, the Báb gives an explanation of the metaphysics of being and creation, and in the third legislative stage his mystical and historical principles are explicitly united. An analysis of the Báb's writings throughout the three stages shows that all of his teachings were animated by a common principle that had multiple dimensions and forms.
Most of the writings of the Báb have been lost. The Báb himself stated they exceeded five hundred thousand verses in length; the Qur'an, in contrast, is 6300 verses in length. If one assumes 25 verses per page, that would equal 20,000 pages of text. Nabíl-i-Zarandí, in The Dawn-breakers, mentions nine complete commentaries on the Qur'an, revealed during the Báb's imprisonment at Maku, which have been lost without a trace. Establishing the true text of the works that are still extant, as already noted, is not always easy, and some texts will require considerable work. Others, however, are in good shape; several of the Báb's major works are available in the handwriting of his trusted secretaries.
Most works were revealed in response to specific questions by Bábís. This is not unusual; the genre of the letter has been a venerable medium for composing authoritative texts as far back as the Paul the Apostle. Three quarters of the chapters of the New Testament are letters, were composed to imitate letters, or contain letters within them. Sometimes the Báb revealed works very rapidly by chanting them in the presence of a secretary and eyewitnesses.
The Archives Department at the Bahá'í World Centre currently holds about 190 Tablets of the Báb. Excerpts from several principal works have been published in the only English-language compilation of the Báb's writings: Selections from the Writings of the Báb. Denis MacEoin, in his Sources for Early B?b? Doctrine and History, gives a description of many works; much of the following summary is derived from that source. In addition to major works, the Báb revealed numerous letters to his wife and followers, many prayers for various purposes, numerous commentaries on verses or chapters of the Qur'an, and many khutbihs or sermons (most of which were never delivered). Many of these have been lost; others have survived in compilations.
The Báb has been criticized for his inconsistent use of correct and incorrect Arabic grammar in his religious works, though in his Arabic letters made very few mistakes. A reason for this inconsistency could be to distinguish those who could not see past the outer form of the words from those that could understand the deeper meaning of his message.
Todd Lawson noted this in his doctoral dissertation about the Báb's Tafsir on Surah al-Baqara. This tafsir was started by the Báb in November or December 1843, some six months before declaring his mission. The first half was completed by February or March 1844; the second half was revealed after the Báb's declaration. It is the only work of the Báb's revealed before his declaration that has survived intact. It also sheds light on the Báb's attitude toward Twelver beliefs. His wife also refers to important episodes before his declaration.
During his -month pilgrimage to Mecca, the Báb composed many works:
The Báb was in Bushehr March through June 1845, then in Shiraz.
The Báb left Isfahan in March 1847, sojourned outside Tehran several months, then was sent to a fortress at Maku, Iran, close to the Turkish border. It witnessed the composition of some of the Báb's most important works.
The Báb spent two years in Chehriq, except for his brief visit to Tabriz for his trial. The works he produced there were more esoteric or mystical and less thematically organized. Two major books were produced, in addition to many minor works:
In the Bahá'í calendar the events of the birth, declaration and death of the Báb are commemorated by Bahá'í communities on a yearly basis. At the centennial of the declaration of the Báb to Mulla Husayn in May, 1944, the Bahá'ís had a viewing of the portrait of the Báb during the celebrations held at the Bahá'í House of Worship (Wilmette, Illinois). Speaking at the event were Dorothy Beecher Baker, Horace Holley, and others.