Baha’í Basics, Part 3: The life — and death — of the Báb

[Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series on the Bahá’í Faith Basics.] 

The Bahá’í Faith started in 1844 with the proclamation by a young man, titled the Báb (the Gate or Door), that he was the prophesied Promised One to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — all bundled in one person! His appearance was first mentioned in my Part 1 article about the Bahá’í Faith.  In Part 2 it was revealed how Bible prophecies were fulfilled by the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh, and the Bahá’í Faith.


Graphic by Christy Besozzi

This 1840s time period in Persia was one of ignorance, corruption and violence in the government and general society. In addition, it was a dark period in the Shi’ite Islam clergy, too, as its leadership was corrupted and worldly, wanting wealth and power. The other religious communities in Persia, such as the Zoroastrians, Sunni Muslims, Christians, and Jews, along with the Shi’ite, all taught that each of the others were unclean and would not associate with each other. This degradation of the glory of the Persian culture was quite a plummet from its former greatness.

Most Muslims in Persia (now Iran) are of the Shi’ite branch of Islam. This branch believes, contrary to the Sunnis, that Muhammad designated His cousin Ali to be his successor, and Ali’s male offspring thereafter. The descendants of Muhammad who became the chief leaders of the Shi’ites were called Imams. There were 11 of them.  When the eleventh Imam died, his son supposedly was named the Imam, but he disappeared.  Some theorized that the Twelfth Imam was made to disappear, referred to as a spiritual occultation, or just killed and hidden.

There was a prophecy that this Twelfth Imam, the Qa’im, would return in the Islamic year 1260 A.H. (referred to simply as “the year ‘60”).


The room where the Declaration of the Báb took place on May 23, 1844. The House of the Báb in Shiraz was destroyed in 1979 during a wave of persecution of Baha’is that swept across Iran following the Islamic revolution.

In 1844 (the year 1260 A.H. of the Islamic calendar), powerful expectations suffused throughout Persia of the imminent appearance of the Promised One of Shi’ite Islam – the return of the Twelfth Imam.  The intensity of these expectations was as momentous in Persia as the renowned Christian “Great Awakening,” aka “The Adventist Movement,” of the early to mid-1800s in America and Europe on their expectations of the return of Jesus Christ in that same year, 1844.

A scholar of Islam in Persia at that time, Siyyid Kazim, a leader in the Shaykhi sect of Shi’ite Islam, sent his students out in the area of Shiraz, Persia to look for the Promised One from God, the Qa’im.  A student named Mulla Husayn Bushru’i was walking outside the gate to Shiraz on his search and noticed a young man coming toward him. This young man named Siyyid ‘Ali-Muhammad, wearing a green turban that designated him as a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, greeted Mulla Husayn as if he knew him. He invited Mulla Husayn to his home for some hospitality to rest after his journey to Shiraz.

After evening prayers, about an hour after sunset on May 23, 1844, Siyyid ‘Ali-Muhammad revealed to Mulla Husayn the he was the promised Qa’im. Mulla Husayn accepted this proclamation after Siyyid ‘Ali-Muhammad provided many proofs that Mulla Husayn’s teacher, Siyyid Kazim, said the Qa’im would provide.

Siyyid ‘Ali-Muhammad, now revealed to be the Báb, which means “the Gate” of God, told Mulla Husayn not to reveal his identity yet. There were to be 18 people who would come to recognize him as the Qa’im on their own with no prompting or help from others.  One by one, those 18 souls found him and professed their belief in him. One of them was a woman, later given the name Tahirih (the Pure One), who was a renowned poet. She was prompted by a dream of the Qa’im.  These first 18 disciples of the Báb were called the Letters of the Living.

After these 18 affirmed their belief in the Báb, He wrote a tablet to a special person in Tehran. He had this tablet delivered personally to a man in that city who would become his 19th disciple or Letter of the Living; later he would be called Bahá’u’lláh. The Báb never actually met Bahá’u’lláh face-to-face.

The Báb spread his teachings of the Kingdom of God for several years. Many thousands of people pledged their allegiance to him as the Qa’im. His followers became known as “Bábís” — followers of the Báb. His writings included the Book of His Dispensation, the Bayan (means the Exposition or Utterance).

A key teaching of his was that there would soon be another prophet of God who would come shortly after him which the Báb referred to as “Him Whom God shall make manifest.” This new manifestation of God would bring a revelation far greater than his own and the Báb taught that the Bábís should follow him once he was revealed.


The wall at Fort Tabriz where the Bab was suspended by a rope (where the “X” is marked) and shot by firing squad on July 9, 1850. Photo was taken decades later. Photo from “A Basic Baha’i Dictionary”, editor Wendi Momen, 1989.

The fast spread of the Bábi Faith and its throngs of followers did not please the Muslim clergy and government leaders. The Muslim clergy saw a threat to their power and prestige to this upstart who would not be muzzled by them. In the last few years of his six-year ministry, the Báb was imprisoned in several locations. Two of these locations were in remote areas of the mountains of the province of Azerbaijan, in the fortress of Chihriq and in a desolate castle near Maku.

Because his imprisonment in these isolated locations did not stem the tide of the fervor of his followers, he was taken to a prison in Tabriz. The army was instructed to kill the Báb by firing squad. The colonel of the Armenian regiment, who was a Christian, was ordered to execute the Báb. The Grand Vizier of the Persian king, Nasir’d-Din Shah, ordered the killing because he could not stop the Bábi Faith from spreading.

When it came time to be taken from his cell to his martyrdom, the Báb told those sent to lead him away that he was not ready yet. He needed to dictate more instructions to his amanuensis, or literary assisant. But they did not listen and led him away to his fate.

A young man devoted to the Báb begged to be killed with him. The Báb and this young man were suspended on a wall with the young man’s head over the chest of the Báb. The regiment of 750 soldiers lined up in tiers, aimed their rifles, and fired. The smoke was so dense that the many people watching the event did not immediately see that the Báb had disappeared and the young man was standing on the ground by himself. All those bullets had merely served to sever the ropes that suspended them.

The Báb was found back in his cell completing his instructions to his amanuensis.

Sam Khan, the colonel of the Armenian regiment, and his troops refused to attempt to kill the Báb a second time. Another regiment of troops was ordered to conduct the execution. This occurred around noon of July 9, 1850, with many witnesses.

Again the Báb was led out of his room and suspended on the wall with his young devotee. The squad fired. The bodies of the Báb and the young man were riddled with bullets, but few marked their faces.

Their bodies were thrown to the side of a moat. Some Bábís retrieved the bodies the following night in very dangerous circumstances. For many years, the Bábís hid their remains, then smuggled them out of the country. In January 1899 the remains arrived in Haifa, Palestine, and were interred in a marble sarcophagus donated by the Bahá’ís of Rangoon (now known as Yangon in Myanmar) in March, 1909.

Bahá’u’lláh had selected the exact location for the Shrine of the Báb to be built on the side of Mount Carmel. It was noted that the Báb’s remains were “safely deposited for their everlasting rest in the bosom of God’s holy mountain.”  The name Carmel comes from the Hebrew “Karm” (vineyard) and El (God), in other words, the Vineyard of God.

Please note that the Báb was the “Lamb” (or the “Ram” in some translations) foretold in the Book of Revelation.

After the death of the Báb in July 1850, the fury of the Persian government and the Muslim clergy continued to be directed against the followers of the Báb in their futile quest to nullify the Bábi Faith. Over 20,000 Bábís were murdered, and many others persecuted.

Once Bahá’u’lláh (means ‘the Glory of God’) proclaimed in April 1863 that he was “Him Whom God shall make manifest” that the Báb had prophesied as coming, most Bábis then became followers of Bahá’u’lláh and, thus, became known as Bahá’ís (followers of the Glory) and were no longer called Bábís. Persecution by the government and mullas continued against the Bahá’ís.

This relentless persecution against Bahá’ís continues to this day in Iran.

The next several articles in this series will cover the life of Bahá’u’lláh, the new Messiah for this era as prophesied by Jesus, among others.

For more information:   www.bahai.uswww.bahai.org

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11 Responses to “Baha’í Basics, Part 3: The life — and death — of the Báb”

  1. The History of the Messiah of the Second Advent, Baha’u’llah -- Part 4 | Toledo Faith & Values

    […] previous article in this series reviewed the life and martyrdom of the Elijah-figure of the Bahá’í Faith. In this quest to […]

  2. Michele Joseph
    Christy, here are two interesting articles I have found that speak directly
    to the question.
    I the first, you will note that there is a statement about half-way down the
    page that discloses that the symbolic meaning of 7-70-700 indicates -A
    The second article reminds us that there are the Five Pillars of Islam, forming
    the foundation of the Islamic Faith & Islamic life. Many are familiar with the
    pentacle, and the Hamsa, which symbolize this.
    These two facts make it possible to view the number in a coherent symbolic
    way. The Bab came from an Islamic culture, and within that culture was
    considered a heretic of the worst possible kind, having had declared himself
    the Promised One. So- in the short form, the statement would be that he was
    killed by a lot of people resulting from their understanding & devotion to Islam.
    The account leading upto the execution is frought with instances in which
    the Bab had horrified & scandalized the people. Further, there are accounts
    of His captivating personality, His charisma. Many people believed He was
    the Promised One, but knew that they would suffer a similar fate if they so
    declared. Thus, it is possible that many missed on purpose.
    The practice of using numbers as symbols has been in place for millenia,
    especially favored by the Arabs.
    In the present day, they have used this as part of psychological warfare.
    They choose an especially meaningful , terrorizing and/or ominous
    date to attack.
    For instance: 9/ 11/ 2001. 9 is the last single digit number and carries
    a connotation of the completed gestation, the moment right before delivery of a new creation, 9 is the last of the single digit cycle. 10 represents a completion.
    11 is the first day of the new cycle. So, the date can be read like this : “HEY
    you’re done! Your time is finished ! First year of new millenium- last
    day of your reign, first day of ours!”
    And the towers came tumbling down.

  3. Christy Besozzi

    Why did it take 750 shooters to kill 2 people?

    Well, obviously, the first set of 750 all missed the targets, the Bab and His young devotee, per hundreds of witnesses. Maybe they needed more shooters? Or maybe the Bab wanted to finish His task and no number of guns could have killed Him until He was ready.

    But, really, you’d have to ask the Shah of Persia and his Prime Minister why they thought a whole regiment was needed to accomplish the murder. My guess is that they wanted the public in Tabriz to see what will happen to all of them if they become followers of the Bab and His new religion.

    And, asking questions is OK to me. You don’t even have to believe.

    Also, be aware that this episode and in the life of Baha’u’llah there were what the observers and participants would call ‘miracles’. But our teachings – of Baha’u’llah Himself – is that you cannot rely on miracles alone. People who were not there when the miracle occurred will have doubts – as does Patrick – even though there were many, many witnesses who reported their observations on record in various ways.

    We are Baha’is because of a mountain of evidence of His being from God and bringing a new Revelation for this age, not because of miracles.

    The purpose of my writing this “Baha’i Basics” article series is to acquaint people with the history, main characters, and, in later articles, how our religious administrative order is structured just so people will, hopefully, understand that it is a real religion, not a mere cult. When you know nothing about a group it is very easy to invent things – often woefully incorrect – about that group. A little knowledge about us may help people see that there is no reason to fear us or dismiss us.

    My intent is not to ‘convert’ anyone. I simply want people to know who and why were are Baha’is. New Baha’is have to basically convert themselves. If a person is not interested, that is their business and their right. We are instructed to teach people who want to be taught – and let others go about as they wish.

  4. Michele Joseph

    This is, once again, getting circular,as it always does with you.
    So now, we are into repetition.
    This story has been represented as a miracle.
    I assume you know what that is ?
    But, if I had pictures – even video – you would say you don’t believe
    You act if you think someone is trying to convert you.
    I assure you, no one is trying to convert you.
    These articles are offered as a report , if you will, of a
    little-known faith.
    Simply information.
    If you are SINCERELY interested in the Bahai Faith, the web-site
    will direct you to a group near you.
    Or-simply study Bahai.
    There is a very good program called Ocean that will provide you
    with answers.
    The information regarding Bahai is wide and broad and deep.
    Way too lengthy for a comment line on a web-site.
    What would be best is to do both – home study & immersion in
    a community, so as you could see for yourself -for “answers”.
    But that’s not really what you want at all- is it ?

  5. Patrick

    Why do I ask? To get some answers.
    And I really don’t mind looking foolish in the provess.
    There’s little choice, in fact, because it’s my usual expression.

    It would just be nice if someone can explain why a firing squad of 750 men was needed to shoot two people.
    …That’s all.
    Maybe nobody knows.
    I certainly don’t.

    If anyone likes, I’ll explain why the logistics of this incident puzzle me so.
    …But surely I don’t need to?

    Probably doesn’t matter, anyway.

  6. Michele Joseph

    I have heard of people who swear to God that the whole moon landing
    thing was staged to demonstrate the awesomeness of our proud country.
    They point to the flag, how it was rippling- the shadows are wrong, etc.
    I know of people who insist 9/11 never happened, or happened but it was an inside job, etc,
    Some people don’t trust, because they have been lied to too much,
    I can relate to that- I am like that in regard to some things.
    But, some peoples’ true intention is to make other people look foolish.
    Taken far enough- they wind up looking foolish themselves.
    Today, there are seven million Bahai’s and we have been successful in meeting the goals we set for ourselves.
    But there will always be one individual who is smarter than us all.

  7. Michele Joseph

    The line of questioning is pointless.
    You say you’d like to see more detail — O.K.–
    Say there was a photo – well, you would say “It could be photo-shopped”.
    The existing accounts – which are numerous -“You would say that they are from all Bahai sources, therefore hopelessly biased.
    So, visual records are not trustworthy- written accounts are not trustworthy.
    So……. what is the purpose of your questioning ?
    You know & I know that nothing that is offered will be accepted —
    so, why do you ask ?

  8. Patrick

    “Why was it not reported in the American press???”

    I didn’t mention the American press, Christy. Any press would do.
    Very insular, Americans, back then, at least.

    I just find the idea of a 750-strong firing squad remarkable to the point of disbelief.
    The logistics are scarcely comprehensible.
    Why so many shooters, for two victims?

    So – it seems to me that the failure of a firing squad of such extraordinarily enormous proportions – entirely failing to hit its target – might have eventually got into a newspaper somewhere.
    Very good story, indeed.

    No wonder it the whole curious episode seemed to go haywire on the day.

    Ten or so soldiers for each person, would have surely have been plenty.
    Does nobody else ponder on this kind of thing?
    …Probably not.

    (You must forgive me. It was my job in real life to ask obvious and absurd questions like this. I’m not suggesting the story’s not true. I’d just like to see more detail.)

  9. Christy Besozzi

    Also, from a history about the Bab written by historian H.M. Balyuzi in his book ‘The Bab – The Herald of the Day of Days’, p. 202:

    The martyrdom of the Báb was reported by Lt.-Col. Sheil to Lord Palmerston, the British Foreign Secretary, on July 22nd 1850:

    “’The founder of this 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 its 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 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.’”

    Why was it not reported in the American press??? Answer: Why isn’t a lot of things that happen in the Middle East not reported in the US??

  10. Christy Besozzi

    Actually there were many records made of the event. It was reported in the European press.

    Many years later a drama was written by a Russian poetess (don’t know the name) about the event and it was performed in Russian in 1904. Title was “The Bab”. Tolstoy wrote a eulogy to the Bab that was published in the Russian press.

  11. Patrick

    A firing squad of 750 men, Christy?

    Very unusual.
    Never heard of such a thing before.
    No journalists present?

    …Not saying it isn’t true, of course…

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