[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.
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”).
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 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.