ABN Bahá’í News In the middle of the 19th century—one of the most turbulent periods in the world’s history—a young merchant announced that He was the bearer of a message destined to transform the life of humanity. At a time when His country, Iran, was undergoing widespread moral breakdown, His message aroused excitement and hope among all classes, rapidly attracting thousands of followers. He took the name “The Báb”, meaning “the Gate” in Arabic.
With His call for spiritual and moral reformation, and His attention to improving the position of women and the lot of the poor, the Báb’s prescription for spiritual renewal was revolutionary. At the same time, He founded a distinct, independent religion of His own, inspiring His followers to transform their lives and carry out great acts of heroism.
The Báb announced that humanity stood at the threshold of a new era. His mission, which was to last only six years, was to prepare the way for the coming of a Manifestation of God Who would usher in the age of peace and justice promised in all the world’s religions: Bahá’u’lláh.
“His life is one of the most magnificent examples of courage which it has been the privilege of mankind to behold…”
— Tribute to the Báb by the 19th century French writer A.L.M. Nicolas
The Life of the Báb
On a spring evening in 1844, a conversation took place between two young men that heralded a new era for the human race. A Persian merchant announced to a traveller in the city of Shiraz that He was the Bearer of a Divine Revelation destined to transform the spiritual life of humanity. The merchant’s name was Siyyid ‘Alí-Muhammad, and He is known to history as the Báb (meaning “the Gate” in Arabic).
The middle of the 19th century was one of the most turbulent periods in the world’s history. Great revolutions were under way. In parts of Europe and North America, time-worn social structures and relationships were being challenged by sudden and unprecedented changes in the fields of agriculture, industry, and economics. At the same time, throughout the world followers of divers religions perceived that humanity was on the cusp of a new stage in its development, and many prepared themselves for the imminent coming of a Promised One, praying fervently that they would recognise Him.
A Quest Fulfilled
A young scholar named Mulla Husayn was one such soul engaged in a life-changing quest. He felt drawn, as if by a magnet, to Shiraz—a city renowned for the perfume of its roses and the singing of nightingales. On the evening of 22 May 1844, as he approached the gate of the city, he was greeted by a radiant young man who wore a green turban. This stranger greeted Mulla Husayn as if he were a lifelong friend.
“The Youth who met me outside the gate of Shiraz overwhelmed me with expressions of affection and loving-kindness,” recalled Mulla Husayn. “He extended to me a warm invitation to visit His home, and there refresh myself after the fatigues of my journey.”
The house of the Báb in Shiraz, now destroyed, where He declared His mission on 23 May 1844.
The two men spent the entire night immersed in conversation. Mulla Husayn was astonished to discover that each of the characteristics he was seeking in the Promised One was manifest in this young man. Before departing early the next morning, his Host addressed to him these words: “O thou who art the first to believe in Me! Verily I say, I am the Báb, the Gate of God…Eighteen souls must, in the beginning, spontaneously and of their own accord, accept Me and recognize the truth of My Revelation.”
Within several weeks of the Báb’s declaration, seventeen more people had, by their own spontaneous efforts, recognized His station, had renounced the comforts and security of their old way of life, and—severed from all attachments—had set out on the mission of spreading His teachings. These first eighteen followers of the Báb became known collectively as the “Letters of the Living.”
One of them, the poetess Tahirih, was to play a pivotal role in breaking with the past, raising the call to full equality between women and men. The last member of the group, a young man who was given the title Quddus—meaning “The Most Holy”—displayed a level of devotion and courage that made him the most revered of the Letters of the Living.
Mulla Husayn was overwhelmed at the words that poured forth from the Báb that night. The Báb demonstrated an innate wisdom that, even when He was young, had left His family awe-struck. “He is not to be treated as a mere child,” His schoolmaster had told them, “He, verily, stands in no need of teachers such as I.”
The Mission of the Báb
Born in Shiraz, a city in southern Iran, on 20 October 1819, the Báb was the symbolic gate between past ages of prophecy and a new age of fulfilment for humanity. His primary purpose was to awaken the people to the fact that a new period in human history had begun, one which would witness the unification of the entire human race and the emergence of a world civilization of spiritual and material prosperity. This great day would be established through the influence of a divinely inspired Educator, whom the Báb referred to as “He Whom God shall make manifest.” It was His own mission, the Báb declared, to herald the coming of this promised Manifestation of God. The Báb explained that the new Manifestation would usher in an age of peace and justice that was the hope of every longing heart and the promise of every religion. The Báb instructed His followers to spread this message throughout the country and to prepare people for this long-awaited day.
The Báb’s message aroused hope and excitement among people from every walk of life. Although a number of prominent Muslim clerics accepted the Báb, many others felt insecure and threatened by His growing influence and feared their entrenched positions of privilege and authority would be threatened by the empowerment of the people. They denounced the Báb’s teachings as heretical and set out to destroy Him and His followers. Controversy raged in mosques and schools, in streets and bazaars throughout the land.
Remains of the mountain fortress of Mah-Ku where the Báb was imprisoned.
As a result, the Báb was banished—from city to city, from prison to prison. But none of the plans His enemies devised could prevent His influence from spreading. In every place He was sent, His grace and the magnetic attraction of His personality won the admiration of civic leaders and townspeople. Callous prison governors and soldiers guarding Him became His followers. Each time, believing they were extinguishing the flame of His influence, the authorities merely added fuel to His life-giving light. In time, the Báb’s popularity grew to such an extent that some prominent clergymen appealed to the government to have Him executed. The Bábís, shut off from their leader, boldly defended themselves against the full force of the state, which was summoned for their destruction. Thousands of His followers—men, women and children—suffered cruel and brutal deaths.
The Execution of the Báb
In 1850, Mirza Taqi Khan (Grand Vizier of Nasiri’d-Din Shah) ordered the Báb’s execution. When the guards came to take Him on the day of His execution, 9 July, the Báb told them that no “earthly power” could silence Him until He had finished all that He had to say. Thousands crowded the rooftops that overlooked the barracks square in Tabríz where the Báb was to be executed by a firing squad. In the intense heat of the noonday sun, He was suspended by ropes against a wall of the barracks, along with a young follower. A regiment of 750 soldiers opened fire in three successive volleys. When the smoke and dust of the gunpowder cleared, the Báb had vanished from sight. Only His companion remained, alive and unscathed, standing beside the wall on which they had been suspended. The ropes by which they had been hung alone were severed. After a search, the Báb was found back in His cell, continuing the conversation with His secretary that had been earlier interrupted.
“Now you may proceed to fulfil your intention,” the Báb told His captors. Again, He was brought out for execution. After the first regiment refused to fire, another was assembled and ordered to shoot. This time the bodies of the Báb and His young follower were shattered. A whirlwind of dust engulfed the city, blotting out the light of the sun until nightfall.
In 1909, after being hidden away for more than half a century, the Báb’s remains were finally interred on Mount Carmel in the Holy Land. Today, entombed in an exquisite golden-domed Shrine, encompassed by spectacular terraced gardens and fountains, the Báb rests in conspicuous glory, a symbol of the triumph of the Cause that He heralded over the fiercest of opposition. Throughout the world, millions recognize the Báb as the divinely inspired Herald of the Bahá’í Faith and turn reverently to His Writings to discover the “resplendent Light of God.”
The Bábí Movement
The proclamation of the Báb’s message caused an upheaval in Persia even greater than the events that had surrounded the advent of Jesus Christ in the Holy Land almost two millennia before. From 1845 to 1847, a wave of passionate inquiry swept the country and countless congregations listened with wonder to the testimonies of the Báb’s followers. The principles, standards and laws they promoted challenged the whole structure of society. Inspired by His message, thousands upon thousands of people embraced His teachings and became known as Bábís.
Despite the fierce opposition they faced from authorities antagonized by fear and envy, the intense devotion that seized the Báb’s followers spread to members of the clergy, to the merchant classes and into higher circles of society. Among the most unexpected of those who embraced the Cause of the Báb was a brilliant theologian who bore the title of Vahid—meaning “unique”. A trusted advisor to the Shah, Vahid had been sent to interrogate the Báb on behalf of the king, who wished to secure reliable firsthand information about the movement that was sweeping his land. Upon learning of Vahid’s conversion, the Shah called for the Báb to be brought immediately to Tehran. The Prime Minister—fearing that his own position might be fatally undermined should the Shah also fall under the Báb’s influence—ordered instead that He be imprisoned in the remote fortress of Mah-Ku, near the Turkish border. The excuse given to the Shah was that the Báb’s arrival in the capital might lead to great public distress and disorder.
The most distinguished personage to embrace the Cause of the Báb was the son of a wealthy minister. Mirza Husayn-‘Alí was a greatly revered, young nobleman who had renounced a position at the Shah’s court to tend to the oppressed and the poor. One day, Mulla Husayn—the first to recognize the Báb—arrived in Tehran on his Master’s instruction to seek out a prominent personage whom he had been told would be especially receptive to His message.
Facsimile of the Báb’s tablet addressed to “He Whom God shall make manifest” (Bahá’u’lláh).
The letter that Mirza Husayn-‘Alí received from the Báb evoked an immediate response. In it, He recognized the character of Divine Revelation. “Whoso believes in the Qur’an,” He declared, “and recognizes its Divine origin, and yet hesitates, though it be for a moment, to admit that these soul-stirring words are endowed with the same regenerating power, has most assuredly erred in his judgment and has strayed far from the path of justice.”
Although the two never met, the Báb was aware that Mirza Husayn-‘Alí—titled Bahá’u’lláh—was “He Whom God shall make manifest”, the Divine Educator whose advent the Báb was heralding.
An Historic Conference
While the Báb was imprisoned in the north of Iran, His Cause continued to spread throughout the country. In June 1848, a large group of His followers met in the village of Badasht. Their gathering would prove to be a defining moment in the movement’s history. There, they debated what their movement stood for, how to achieve their goals in the face of a rising tide of opposition and how to secure the Báb’s release. It was at Badasht that they realized that the Báb’s mission represented a sudden, complete and dramatic break with the religious and social traditions of the past.
Among those present was the poetess Tahirih. The conference was electrified by her explicit clarifications of the implications of the Báb’s message. He was, she announced, the long-awaited Manifestation of God, and the founder of a new and independent religious dispensation. To demonstrate this, she appeared on one occasion without the veil required by Muslim tradition. Her action proved to be a severe test of faith for some of the Bábís, and news of the event further aroused the antagonism of the Muslim clergy.
Upheavals across Persia
After Badasht, some 300 Bábís found themselves under siege in a small encampment, which they had hastily erected around an isolated shrine in the province of Mazindaran. Having enthusiastically marched through the province proclaiming that the Promised One had appeared, the group was denounced as heretical by the local clergy who aroused the population of several villages to attack them. The new prime minister ruled that the Bábís must be crushed and armed forces were dispatched to support the campaign of the local mullas.
The siege at the shrine of Shaykh Tabarsi was an unexpected humiliation for the opponents of the Báb. For several months, one army after another, numbering thousands of men, was sent to overcome the Bábís. These untrained, unequipped, “God-intoxicated” students defended themselves heroically against a coordinated army supported by the local population, blessed by the clergy and backed by the resources of the state.
Eventually, the Bábís, weakened by starvation and the loss of a large percentage of their members—including the Báb’s first disciple Mulla Husayn—were enticed to surrender under a solemn oath, taken on a copy of the Qur’an, that they would be freed. No sooner did they step out of the fortress, however, than they were set upon. Many were killed outright, others were captured and tortured to death, of those who survived, some were stripped of their possessions and sold into slavery.
Two other major locations witnessed similar scenes. In Nayriz and Zanjan, armed forces of the state came to the support of mobs that had been stirred into a state of frenzy. In Nayriz not even the leadership of a figure as preeminent as Vahid succeeded in calming the rage of the local authorities and the angry mob they incited. Vahid perished in the massacre that followed the capture of the small fort in which the beleaguered Bábís had taken refuge. At Nayriz, as at Tabarsi, the surrender of the Bábí defenders was secured by false pledges of peace and friendship signed and sealed on a copy of the Qur’an. Shortly thereafter the prisoners were slaughtered.
A Devastating Blow
The Prime Minister Amir Kabir was determined to strike the uprising at its heart. The Báb was taken to Tabríz where leading scholars were asked to decide the case as a matter of religious rather than civil law. As the Prime Minister had anticipated, the clergy readily cooperated in signing a formal death warrant, based on a charge of heresy. The Báb was publicly executed in extraordinary circumstances at noon on 9 July 1850.
For the Bábís, the effect of the Báb’s execution, following so soon after the violent deaths of most of the Faith’s prominent supporters, was a devastating blow. It deprived the community of the leadership it needed, not only to endure the intensifying persecutions it was experiencing, but also to maintain the integrity of the standards of behaviour taught by the Báb.
The Bábís had continuously emphasized that their sole concern was to proclaim the new spiritual and social teachings revealed by the Báb. At the same time, they believed that it was their duty to defend themselves and their families, provided they did not engage in acts of aggression. Once the guiding hands of those who understood the Báb’s message were withdrawn by such brutal repression, it was predictable that volatile elements among the Bábís might prove unable to maintain the original discipline.
This proved to be the case when on 15 August 1852, two Bábís fired a pistol at the Shah. The king escaped serious injury because the pistol was loaded only with birdshot; but the attempt on the monarch’s life triggered a new wave of persecutions on a scale far surpassing anything the country had yet witnessed. Thousands of men, women and children were put to death in circumstances of horrible cruelty. Advised that the property of the “apostates” was forfeit, many local authorities joined in hunting down followers of the Báb. In Tehran the different trade guilds—bakers, butchers, carpenters and others—seized groups of Bábís and vied with each other to devise the cruellest forms of tortures.
Many historians and commentators—some of whom were eyewitnesses to events—have written about the persecution of the Báb’s followers, of the stirring deeds of valour which He inspired, and of His own charm and radiance.
The new wave of persecutions also emboldened those who wished to silence the resolute and ever more outspoken Tahirih. And yet, when advised that she had been condemned to death, Tahirih is reported to have said to her jailer: “You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women.”
The End of the Bábí Dispensation
For a brief period, the whole of Persia hovered on the brink of sweeping social change. That such transformation did not come about was the result of the intervention of religious and political leaders, who feared that the Báb would threaten the authority which their positions conferred upon them.
The boundless cruelty of these leaders left the followers of the Báb broken and exhausted, deprived of all resources and of the counsel of their leaders. But their sacrifices were not in vain. Unlike those seers of old who could but look to the far future for the time when “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,” the Báb—by His very appearance—signified that the dawn of the “Day of God” had at last arrived, setting the stage for an even greater Revelation that was about to be released through Bahá’u’lláh.
The Shrine of the Báb
During the darkest nights of His incarceration, bereft of contact with His devoted followers, the Báb was refused even a lamp by His captors. Today, however, hundreds of thousands of visitors a year are able to view the luminous Shrine that encloses His earthly remains. Bathed in light, each and every night, the Shrine of the Báb is a singular point of attraction on Mount Carmel in the Holy Land. The building’s location and harmonious blend of Eastern and Western architectural styles have made it a familiar and well-loved landmark on the Mediterranean coast.
A Visual Journey »
Follow the building of the Shrine of the Báb through this collection of images.
It was in the summer of 1891 that Bahá’u’lláh stood by a circle of cypress trees halfway up the barren north slope of Mount Carmel and pointed out to His son, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the spot where a befitting mausoleum should be erected to receive the remains of the Báb. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá set about the arduous task of purchasing the land and erecting a modest, six-roomed mausoleum. “Every stone of that building, every stone of the road leading to it, I have with infinite tears and at tremendous cost, raised and placed in position,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is recorded as having remarked. He envisaged that a Shrine would eventually be “constructed in the most exquisite fashion and will appear with the utmost beauty and magnificence. Terraces will be built from the bottom of the mountain to the top. Nine terraces from the bottom to the Shrine and nine terraces from the Shrine to the summit. Gardens with colourful flowers will be laid down on all these terraces.”
On 21 March 1909, the remains of the Báb—hidden for six decades following His execution and secretly transported from Iran to the Holy Land—were finally laid to rest. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s grandson Shoghi Effendi wrote, “When all was finished, and the earthly remains of the Martyr-Prophet of Shiraz were, at long last, safely deposited for their everlasting rest in the bosom of God’s holy mountain, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Who had cast aside His turban, removed His shoes and thrown off His cloak, bent low over the still open sarcophagus, His silver hair waving about His head and His face transfigured and luminous, rested His forehead on the border of the wooden casket, and, sobbing aloud, wept with such a weeping that all those who were present wept with Him. That night He could not sleep, so overwhelmed was He with emotion.”
Soon after ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s passing, Shoghi Effendi personally supervised the addition of three rooms to the original building, converting it into a symmetrical square with nine rooms. In the early 1940s, the distinguished Canadian architect, William Sutherland Maxwell, designed a superstructure for the Shrine. Despite the impact of the Second World War and the turmoil sweeping the region, construction was completed in October 1953, inspiring Shoghi Effendi to describe the Shrine as the “Queen of Carmel enthroned on God’s Mountain, crowned in glowing gold, robed in shimmering white, girdled in emerald green, enchanting every eye from air, sea, plain and hill.”
The Shrine of the Báb with its spectacular garden terraces.
The decision made by the Universal House of Justice in 1987 to complete the terraces as envisaged by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá galvanized the Bahá’ís of the world. Financial donations flowed in from every part of the planet. Every sum—no matter how small or large—was offered voluntarily by members of the Bahá’í community in a spirit of devotion and generosity, with the desire to make some contribution to the beautification of this well-loved, sacred spot. In 1990, development commenced on the construction of the 19 terraces, which were inaugurated 11 years later.
In the years since these terraces opened, more than ten million people have visited them and the surrounding gardens. In 2008, the Shrine of the Báb—along with the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh near ‘Akká—was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in recognition of its “outstanding universal value” to the common heritage of humanity.
“The beauty and magnificence of the Gardens and Terraces,” wrote the Universal House of Justice, “are symbolic of the transformation which is destined to occur both within the hearts of the world’s people and in the physical environment of the planet.”
It was for this vision of transformation that the Báb and tens of thousands of His followers gave their lives.
Quotations from the Báb
The quantity and quality of the Báb’s Writings are extraordinary by any measure. In the first four years of His mission alone, He penned half a million verses. The Báb wrote numerous letters, including to the King of Iran, Muhammad Shah, and to all the nation’s leading clerics. During the early part of His Mission, the Báb wrote mostly in His own hand. Later, verses were dictated to a secretary.
Below is a small selection of extracts from the Writings of the Báb.
Is there any Remover of difficulties save God? Say: Praised be God! He is God! All are His servants and all abide by His bidding!
Rid thou thyself of all attachments to aught except God, enrich thyself in God by dispensing with all else besides Him, and recite this prayer:
Say: God sufficeth all things above all things, and nothing in the heavens or in the earth or in whatever lieth between them but God, thy Lord, sufficeth. Verily, He is in Himself the Knower, the Sustainer, the Omnipotent.
O Lord! Unto Thee I repair for refuge and toward all Thy signs I set my heart. O Lord! Whether travelling or at home, and in my occupation or in my work, I place my whole trust in Thee.
Grant me then Thy sufficing help so as to make me independent of all things, O Thou Who art unsurpassed in Thy mercy! Bestow upon me my portion, O Lord, as Thou pleasest, and cause me to be satisfied with whatsoever Thou hast ordained for me.
Thine is the absolute authority to command.
The most acceptable prayer is the one offered with the utmost spirituality and radiance; its prolongation hath not been and is not beloved by God. The more detached and the purer the prayer, the more acceptable is it in the presence of God.
It is seemly that the servant should, after each prayer, supplicate God to bestow mercy and forgiveness upon his parents.
I am the Primal Point from which have been generated all created things. I am the Countenance of God Whose splendor can never be obscured, the Light of God Whose radiance can never fade.
The substance wherewith God hath created Me is not the clay out of which others have been formed. He hath conferred upon Me that which the worldly-wise can never comprehend, nor the faithful discover.
It is better to guide one soul than to possess all that is on earth, for as long as that guided soul is under the shadow of the Tree of Divine Unity, he and the one who hath guided him will both be recipients of God’s tender mercy, whereas possession of earthly things will cease at the time of death. The path to guidance is one of love and compassion, not of force and coercion. This hath been God’s method in the past, and shall continue to be in the future!
The Lord of the universe hath never raised up a prophet nor hath He sent down a Book unless He hath established His covenant with all men, calling for their acceptance of the next Revelation and of the next Book; inasmuch as the outpourings of His bounty are ceaseless and without limit.
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