The Báb: Herald of the Bahá'í Faith
Siyyid Mírzá 'Alí-Muhammad (میرزا علیمحمد in Persian) (October 20, 1819 - July 9, 1850), was a merchant from Shiraz, Persia, who at the age of 25, claimed to be a new and independent Manifestation of God, and the promised Qá'im, or Mihdi.
After his declaration he took on the title of the Báb (باب), meaning "Gate" in Arabic, and 6 years later was shot by a firing squad in Tabriz. His titles include, among others, the "Herald of the Faith" and the "Point of the Bayan".
His claim was at first understood, by some of the public at the time, to be merely a reference to the Gate of the Hidden Imám of Muhammad, which he publicly disclaimed. He later boldly proclaimed himself, in the presence of the Heir to the Throne of Persia and other notables, to be the Promised One.
Bahá'ís claim that the Báb was the forerunner of their own religion. Bahá'u'lláh, the prophet-founder of the Bahá'í Faith, was a follower of the Báb, and claimed to be the fulfillment of his prophecy.
The Báb's Life
Born on October 20, 1819, 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 Hájí Mirzá Siyyid 'Ali, who was also a merchant.
As a child he learned to read and write and was sent with other children to a teacher of religion. During these lessons the little boy showed uncommon wisdom and quickly attracted attention, since he not only asked difficult questions, but he answered them himself. He did this so well that his teacher was dumbfounded.
Upon reaching manhood, he joined his uncle in the family business, a trading house, and became a merchant. 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.
In the 1790's in Persia, Shaykh Ahmad began a religious movement within Shi'a Islam. His followers, who became known as Shaykhis, were expecting the eminent appearance of the Qá'im of the House of Muhammad, also called the Mihdi. After the death of Shaykh Ahmad, leadership was passed on to Siyyid Kázim of Rasht.
At Siyyid Kázim's death in 1843, he had counselled his followers to leave their homes to seek the Lord of the Age whose advent would soon break on the world. One of these followers named Mullá Husayn travelled to Shiraz after 40 days of prayer and fasting.
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 descendent of the Prophet Muhammad. The stranger, the Báb, invited Mullá Husayn to his home.
After being asked by the Báb of what he was doing in Shiraz, Mulla Husayn replied that he was searching for the Promised One. The Báb then asked how would the Promised One be recognized, to which Mulla 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 Mulla Husayn, the Báb 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 without being asked. The Báb fulfilled this requirement as well, writing the commentary after making his declaration.
After spending the night alone with the Báb, Mullá Husayn recorded the following:
This Revelation, so suddenly and impetuously thrust upon me, came as a thunderbolt... the knowledge of His Revelation had galvanised my being. I felt possessed of such courage and power that were the world, all its peoples and its potentates, to rise against me, I would, alone and undaunted, withstand their onslaught. 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! -- The Dawn-Breakers, p. 65
Mullá Husayn was the Báb's first disciple. Within a very short time, 17 other disciples of Siyyid Kázim had independently recognized the Báb as a Manifestation of God, among them was one woman, a poetess, who later received the name of Táhirih (the Pure). These eighteen disciples were later to be known as the Letters of the Living. To these first 18 disciples the Báb gave the task of spreading the new Faith throughout the land.
After the first 18 Letters of the Living had independently recognized the Báb, the Báb and the 18th Letter of the Living, Quddús, left on a pilgrimmage to Mecca and Medina, the sacred cities of Islam. In Mecca, the Báb wrote to the Sharif of Mecca explaining his mission. After their pilgrammage, the Báb and Quddús, returned to Bushehr, Persia.
After some time, due to opposition from the Islamic clergy, the Governor of Shiraz ordered the Báb's arrest. The Báb, upon hearing of the arrest order, left Bushehr towards Shiraz and presented himself to the authorities. The Báb was placed under house arrest at the home of his uncle. The Báb was released when a plague broke out in Shiraz.
After his release in 1846, the Báb departed for Isfahan. During the Báb's stay in Isfahan, crowds of people came to see him every day. Due to pressure from the clergy of the province, the Shah Mohammad Shah Qajar ordered the Báb to Tehran. Before the Báb could meet the Shah, the Shah's prime-minister sent the Báb to Tabriz in the north of the country, where he was confined and was not allowed to see any visitors.
The Báb was then transferred to the fortress of Maku in the province of Azarbaijan. During his time in Maku, the Báb wrote his most important work, the Persian Bayan, which he never finished before his death. Due to the Báb's growing popularity in Maku the prime minister transferred the Báb to the fortress of Chihriq. Once again, the Báb's popularity grew in Chihriq, and thus the prime-minister ordered the Báb back to Tabriz where the government would hold a meeting with the religious authorities to examine the Báb.
At the meeting, when the officials asked the Báb who he claimed to be, the Báb responded that he was the Promised One for whom the people of Islam were waiting. He was then ordered back to the fortress of Chihriq.
Execution of the Báb
In 1850 a new prime-minister ordered the execution of the Báb; he was brought 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 (sometimes called Mulla Muhammad Ali), 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 a courtyard filled with nearly ten thousand people wishing to watch his execution. The Báb and 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.
For many years after his death, the remains of the Báb were secretly transferred from place to place until they were brought to their final resting place at the Shrine of the Báb on the side of Mount Carmel in Haifa on the middle terrace of the Bahá'í Gardens.
Successorship of the Báb
The Báb left a great deal of writings alluding to a Promised One, most commonly referred to as "He 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 addressed to Subh-i-Azal, which is considered to be his will and testament. Translations and commentary on the document can be seen here.
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.
Bahá'u'lláh 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.