Execution of the Báb
In 1850 the Persian prime-minister ordered the execution of the Báb, and the prophet was brought to Tabriz, where he would face a firing squad.
On the morning of July 9, 1850, the Báb was taken to a courtyard filled with nearly ten thousand people wishing to watch his execution. The Báb and a follower named Anís were suspended on a wall and the firing squad of 750 rifles prepared to shoot.
The events surrounding the execution of the Báb have been the subject of much interest and writing. Bábí and Bahá'í reports claim that it was a miracle of God when the first firing of 750 bullets completely missed him and cut the ropes suspending him.
Other sources, which include Persian and European reports, give a variety of accounts, some in agreement with the miracle-like Bahá'í story, and some claiming that he was killed by the first shots. But all agree that he was eventually killed by the firing squad.
Here is an account which is in line with the common Bahá'í view and paraphrased from "Release the Sun", by William Sears, a Hand of the Cause of God:
The firing squad was made up of 750 Armenian soldiers, split into three rows and was under the command of Sam Khan. Sam Khan had become increasingly affected by his Prisoner and spoke with him privately telling Him that he was a Christian and had no ill-will against Him. Sam Khan said "If Your Cause be the Cause of Truth, then 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 of your perplexity."
The Báb and a young companion were suspended from a nail by ropes for execution by a firing squad of three ranks of 250 rifles each; a total of 750 rifles. Sam Khan, unable to avoid his duty, gave the order to fire. When the smoke cleared, the crowd of 10,000 persons was amazed to find the Báb's companion standing, alive and unhurt, the ropes severed by the bullets. The Báb was nowhere to be seen. He was found, back in His cell, finishing His business with His secretary. The Báb then said to the guard, "I have finished My conversation. You may now proceed to fulfill your duty." The guard, remembering the rebuke he had received earlier, resigned his post, shaken to the core and cut himself off from the enemies of the Bab.
Sam Khan, likewise removed himself and his regiment from this duty declaring, "I refuse ever again to associate myself and my regiment with any act which involves the least injury to the Bab." A colonel of the bodyguard then volunteered to carry out the execution. The Báb was again taken to the execution ground and suspended as before, and a new regiment brought in. Again the rifles fired. This time the bodies of the Báb and His companion were shattered by the blast. The bodies were thrown at the edge of a moat outside the city and guarded so that none of His followers could claim His remains. Two days after the execution His followers were able to recover the bodies, hid them in a specially made wooden case, and kept them in a place of safety.
These events were witnessed by western journalists. Provided below is one source that is attributed to Sir Justin Shiel, Queen Victoria's Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary in Tehran and written to Lord Palmerston, the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs July 22, 1850. This can be found in its original form as document F.O. 60/152/88 in the archives of the Foreign Office at the Public Records Office in London.
"The founder of the sect has been executed at Tabreez. He was killed by a volley of musketry, and his death was on the point of giving his religion a lustre which would have largely increased his proselytes. When the smoke and dust cleared away after the volley, Báb was not to be seen, and the populace proclaimed that he had ascended to the skies. The balls had broken the ropes by which he was bound, but he was dragged [not literally, of course] from the recess where after some search he was discovered and shot. His death, according to the belief of his disciples, will make no difference as Báb must always exist." [Quoted in Ferraby, 1975]
Shoghi Effendi also prints a large selection of western quotes in his book God Passes By (p55), however most are unsourced.
Another view is recorded by Muhammad Ali Maulana, a member of the Ahmadiyya Islamic Community, in his book History and Doctrines of the Babi Movement (1933):
Mulla Muhammad Ali was the only man who was executed along with him. It happened, however that when the smoke of musket fire cleared, Mirza Ali Muhammad [the Báb] was not there. The bullet[s] instead of hitting him hit the rope with which he was hung and Mirza Ali Muhammad fled to a closet from which he was brought again. Mirza Jani [an early Babi historian] is sure that the escape was due to the fact that he was not yet willing to be killed and therefore could not be killed, but willing or unwilling he had to submit to the same process a second time, and this time was killed.
Another documentation was made by Miller, a Presbyterian missionary, in his book The Bahá'í Faith: Its History and Teachings (1974):
The execution was carried out by firing squads of soldiers, who fired three volleys. The first firing party was composed of Christian soldiers, and the second of Muslims.
In the presence of a great crowd Mirza Muhammad Ali was suspended by ropes from the parapet, and his body was riddled by the first volley of bullets. Then a second volley was fired by the same firing squad at the Bab, who was similarly suspended. When the smoke rolled away, “a cry of mingled exultation and terror arose from the spectators – for the Báb had disappeared from sight! It seemed, indeed, that his life had been preserved by a miracle, for, of the storm of bullets which had been aimed at him, not one had touched him; nay, instead of death they had brought him deliverance by cutting the ropes which bound him, so that he fell to the ground unhurt.”
Had the Báb been able to maintain his presence of mind and rush out alive and unhurt among the crowd, the spectators would without doubt have hailed his escape from death as a miracle of God, and would have eagerly espoused his cause. No soldier would have dared shoot at him again, and uprisings would have occurred in Tabriz which might have resulted in the overthrow of the Qajar dynasty. However, dazed by the terrible experiences he had passed through, the Báb took refuge in one of the rooms of the barracks. There he was soon found, “was seized, dragged forth, and again suspended; a new firing party was ordered to advance (for the men who had composed the first refused to act again); and before the spectators had recovered from their first astonishment, or the Babis had time to attempt a rescue, the body of the young prophet of Shiraz was riddled with bullets.