This post is about the Baha’i Faith more specifically the Báb, the Predecessor Who Paved the Way for the Bahai Religion. So what do we know about the Bab? The Báb, (1819 – 1850) was the founder of Bábism; and one of the central figures of the Baháʼí Faith. Now we know that the Báb was a merchant from Shiraz in Qajar Iran. And in 1844, at the age of twenty-four, claimed to be a messenger of God. So he took on the title of the Báb meaning “Gate” or “Door” in Arabic. Usually, a reference is associated with the promised Twelver Mahdi or al-Qá’im. As a result, he faced opposition from the Persian government; which eventually executed him and thousands of his followers, who were known as Bábís.
Moreover, the Báb composed numerous letters and books in which he stated his claims and defined his teachings. Also, he introduced the idea of He whom God shall make manifest. In other words, a messianic figure who would bring a greater message than his own. To Baháʼís, the Báb fills a similar role as Elijah or John the Baptist; a predecessor or forerunner who paved the way for their own religion. Baháʼu’lláh, the founder of the Baháʼí Faith, was a follower of the Báb and claimed in 1863 to be the fulfillment of the Báb’s prophecy, 13 years after the former’s death.
The Báb: The Shaykhi Movement
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 may have met Kazim Rashti, who showed 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 counseled 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, traveled to Shiraz, where he met the Báb.
The Báb: Declaration to Mullá Husayn
So the Báb’s first religiously inspired experience, claimed and 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 the 22nd of May, Mullá Husayn was invited by the Báb to his home where Mullá Husayn told him of his search for the possible successor to Kazim Rashti, the Promised One. The Báb claimed this, and the bearer of divine knowledge.
Mullá Husayn became the first to accept Báb’s claims to be an inspiring 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. In other words, a commentary on surah “Yusuf”, known as the Qayyúmu’l-Asmáʼ and considered the Báb’s first revealed work. It has been adopted as a Baháʼí Holy Day.
The Báb: Proclamation
In his early writings, the Báb appears to identify himself as the gate (báb) to the Hidden Twelfth Imam. And later begins explicitly to proclaim his station as that of the Hidden Imam and a new messenger from God. In 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 as 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 as 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 Surah of Joseph” used Quranic language that implied divine authority and identified himself effectively with the Imam.
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 as to avoid persecution and imprisonment. Because a public proclamation of Mahdi status could bring a swift penalty of death.
The Báb Declares Himself as the Hidden Imam
After a couple of months, 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, the Promised One. Finally, in his last authored work, the Haykal al-din; he claimed the “essence of God”, dhātu’llāh.
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. 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.
The Shaykh al-Islām, a champion of the anti-Bábist campaign. Although not at the Báb’s trial, issued a conditional death sentence if the Báb was found to be sane. A fatwa was issued establishing 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 examined the Báb and complied with the government’s request to find grounds for clemency. In fact, 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. In other words, 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 theorize 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, and so prepared by the authorities
Execution of the Báb
In mid-1850 a new prime minister, Amir Kabir, ordered the execution of the Báb, probably because of various Bábí insurrections’ defeats and the movement’s popularity appeared waning. The Báb was brought back to Tabriz from Chehriq for an execution by firing squad. The night before his execution, while being conducted to his cell, a young Bábí, Muhammad-Ali “Anis” from Zonuz, threw himself at the feet of the Báb and begged martyrdom with him, then was immediately arrested and placed in the same cell as the Báb.
On the morning of July 9, 1850, taken to the courtyard of the barracks where held; there appeared thousands of people gathered to watch his execution. The Báb and Anís were suspended on a wall and a large firing squad of soldiers prepared to shoot. Numerous eye-witness reports, including those of Western diplomats, recount the result. The order was given to fire.
Accounts differ on the details, but all agree that the first volley failed to kill the Báb; the bullets had instead cut the rope suspending them from the wall. A second firing squad was brought in and a second order to fire was given. This time the Báb was killed. In Bábí and Baháʼí tradition, the failure of the first firing to kill the Báb is believed to be a miracle. According to Iranian sources, the remains of the Báb and Anis were thrown into a ditch and eaten by dogs, an action condemned by Justin Sheil, then British Minister in Tehran.
The Báb: Last Place of Rest
Baháʼí sources maintain that their remains were clandestinely rescued by a handful of Bábis and then hidden. Over time the remains were secretly transported according to the instructions of Baháʼu’lláh and then ʻAbdu’l-Bahá by way of Isfahan; Kirmanshah; Baghdad; Damascus; Beirut. And then by sea to Acre on the plain below Mount Carmel in 1899. On March 21, 1909, the remains were interred in a special tomb, the Shrine of the Báb, erected for this purpose by ʻAbdu’l-Bahá, on Mount Carmel in present-day Haifa, Israel. In its vicinity, the Baháʼí World Centre welcomes visitors to tour the gardens.
The Báb: Succession
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 Baháʼu’lláh. In 1852 Baháʼu’lláh, while a prisoner in Tehran, was visited by a “Maid of Heaven”, which symbolically marked the beginning of his mission as a Messenger of God. Eleven 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 Baháʼís.
Báb’s teachings have three broad stages; each with a dominant thematic focus. His earliest teachings are primarily defined by his interpretation of the Quran and hadith. This interpretive mode continues throughout all three stages of his teachings. But 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 unite. An analysis of Báb’s writings throughout these stages shows his teachings were animated by a common principle with multiple dimensions and forms.
The Báb: Commemorations in the Baha’i Calendar
In the Baháʼí calendar, the events of the birth; declaration and death of the Báb are commemorated by Baháʼí communities on a yearly basis. The notion of “twin Manifestations of God” is a concept fundamental to Baháʼí belief; describing the relationship between the Báb and Baháʼu’lláh. Both are considered Manifestations of God in their own right; having each founded separate religions (Bábism and the Baháʼí Faith) and revealed their own holy scriptures. To Baháʼís, however, the missions of the Báb and Baháʼu’lláh are inextricably linked. That is to say, the Báb’s mission was to prepare the way for the coming of Him whom God shall make manifest; who eventually appeared in the person of Baháʼu’lláh. For this reason, both the Báb and Baháʼu’lláh are revered as central figures of the Baháʼí Faith. A parallel is made between Baháʼu’lláh and the Báb as between Jesus and John the Baptist.