Chapter 1: Proclamation
1. Historical Background
Bahá'ísm and its predecessor, Babism, grew out of the peculiar religious
environment of Shi'ite Islam in Persian. As will become clearer later, Bahá'ísm
cannot be regarded as simply another Shi'ite sect and, indeed, any attempt to
understand it merely from the point of view of Islamics is bound to
misrepresent it. It is necessary, however, that we be aware of the environment
from which this movement sprang. We must consider especially two trends in
Shi'ite Islam which have an important bearing on the origin of our movement and
which we shall call the chiliastic and the gnostic motifs. While these motifs
had merged before in Shi'ite history, they came together with particular power
in the Babi explosion in the first half of the
Both Sunnite and Shi'ite Islam possess well-developed eschatologies, but the
chiliastic motif, the urgent expectation of imminent eschatalogical events, is
much stronger in the latter. Muhammad himself appeared from the beginning as
the messenger of a coming day of judgement, one whose task, in the words of one
of the early Meccan suras, was to "arise and warn".
It has been held that this warning of approaching judgement
was perhaps the most powerful new element in Muhammad's message.
In the Koran the day of judgement is described with
In contrast with Biblical
eschatology, however, this day is not advertised by any signs and portents. It
is always present in terrible nearness, placing each moment of life in the
shadow of eternal decision.
With the worldly victory of Islam after the death of the Prophet the terrible
simplicity of this message grew into an eschatology both more complicated and
more comfortably remote. In this period we find the development of the
conception of the Mahdi.
The word itself
(from the Arabic al-mahdi
, "the one who is led") does not occur in this
form in the Koran. All speculations and doctrines concerning the Mahdi are part
of the hadith
, the sacred tradition containing revealed truth outside
the Koran. In early times the term was often used without eschatological
implications in reference to the first four Caliphs and, indeed, was used in
this way in later times too. Soon, however, it came to refer specifically to
one from the family of Muhammad who is to appear shortly before that end of the
world to renew faith and establish the universal empire of Islam with the
assistance of Isa (Jesus). The hadith
attributes to the Prophet himself
several prophecies concerning the Mahdi.
The conception of the Mahdi remained quite marginal in Sunnite
It was more important as a figure in the popular
imagination than as a theological doctrine. In Shi'ite theology, however, the
doctrine of the Mahdi occupies a central position.
Here the coming of the Mahdi is identified with the return
) of the Hidden Imam.
to orthodox Shi'ite doctrine the
Imam, Muhammad ibn
Hasan, went into concealment (ghaibat
) shortly after the death of his
father Hasan al-Askari, the
Imam. For a period of
about 70 years the 12th
was represented on earth by four consecutive agents (wakils
, also known
as "gates", abwab
). This is the period of the "Lesser Concealment",
during which the Hidden Imam does not communicate with his people at all,
except through occasional dreams of holy men. This period, during which the
Hidden Imam is still the "Lord of the Age" (sahibu'l-saman
), will come
to an end with his glorious return as the Imam-Mahdi. At this return he will be
accompanied not only by Isa but by many others, making it a kind of preliminary
day of resuurection. Among the returning will be Yazid ibn Muawiyya, the hated
founder of the 'Ummayyad dynasty, and Husain ibn 'Ala, the Holy Martyr, who
will now take bloody vengeance on the former. Finally, 'Ali and Muhammad will
also return to earth and defeat Satan himself in a tremendous battle.
The expectation of the Mahdi expressed itself in recurrent chiliastic
eruptions in the history of Shi'ite Islam. This expectation, as is to be
expected, was always strongest in periods of great distress, as at the time of
the Mongel invasions. Madhist traditions, however, were already used
politically in the 8th
century by the Abbassids, who wished to rally the support of the strongly
Shi'ite east of the Arab empire to overthrow the 'Ummayyad Caliphate in
Damascus. Making use of a prophecy put in the mouth of Muhammad by the
, the Abbassids advanced towards Syria under the black banners
signifying the coming of the Mahdi.
century the Shi'ite
Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt was established by 'Ubejdallah, claiming the title
The gnostic motif in Shi'ite Islam is to be traced back largely to the
Neoplatonist influences under which the Arabs came after their first contact
with Greek thought.
A number of systems of
) which were developed within Islam may go back to
Indian as well as Greek sources. The Neoplatonist influence early found
expression in Sufism.
But the Sufis,
mystics rather than gnostics, were more interested in the experiences of the
inner life than in the formation of theosophist systems. The latter became an
important characteristic of Shi'ite thought, whether strongly oriented towards
Sufism or not, especially in heterodox groups.
The development of the Isma'ili sect is the most important example of the
gnostic motif in Shi'ite Islam.
Isma'ilis built their doctrine around the Neoplatonist idea of periodic
emanations of the world intellect. The Imams were incorporated in this scheme
in such a way as to appear as incarnations of the logos
. The Mahdi in
Isma'ili thinking now becomes the coming manifestation of the world intellect,
exceeding even that of the very foundations of Islam, going as far in some of
its branches as an explicit understanding of raj'a
in terms of
transmigration. All branches of the Isma'ili sect are characterised by abstruse
allegorical interpretations of the Koran and complicated numerological
The Isma'ilis are important for our considerations because they represent an
early combination of chiliastic and gnostic motifs which, like that of the
Babis, resulted in powerful historical events. The history of the Isma'ili
origins of the Fatimids, Druzes
afford ample evidence of this.
The essential characteristic of the Isma'ili heresy is its allegorical approach
to the historical religions, especially, of course, to the Koran.
Distinguishing between the inner meaning
) and the outer meaning (zahir
) of the revealed writings,
the Isma'ilis increasingly included all historical revelations under the
latter, that is, interpreted them as temporary constructions for the benefit of
the uninitiated. In the final step of gnostic initiation the Isma'ili disciple
learns to transcend Islam itself. The Isma'ilis called their method of
interpretation and dissolution of the substance of the Koran ta'wil
, "the secret interpretation of the secret interpretation",
leading in a number of steps of initiation to the final gnosis
shared this concept with the Sufis, who, however were largely interested in
finding Koranic justification for their mystical experiences and were,
therefore, less dangerous from the point of view of Muslim orthodoxy.
Interesting to us is an outgrowth of the Isma'ili sect known as the school of
the Hurufi ("Interpretation of Letters"), who engaged in the most fantastic
numerological speculations of all Isma'ili groups.
It should be pointed out that, in spite of their wide
departures from Shi'ite orthodoxy, these groups share with the latter two
psychological traits, a blind faith in religious authority (as already
expressed in the initial Shi'ite doctrine of the Imamate as against the
secular-democratic conception of the Sunnite Caliphate) and a fierce
intolerance towards those of other religious convictions (the fanaticism of the
fundamental Shi'ite religious experience, the "Weeping for Husain").
The trends discussed above found an important expression just before the Babi
explosion in the Shaikhi sect.
was founded by Shaikh Ahmad Ahsai of Bahrein (1753-1826), a Shi'ite Arab who
began his teaching career in the pilgrimage cities of Karbala and Najaf. He
travelled widely, came to Persia on the invitation of the Shah and lived there
for many years, teaching in Teheran and Yazd. He was, however, publicly
excommunicated in Persia in his old age because of his heretical doctrines,
especially his conception of the Imams as causes of creation, their
pre-existence and return in an Isma'ili sense, and his denial of bodily
resurrection and of the bodily voyage of the Prophet to heaven, as well as
other points. It is interesting that both Shaikh Ahmad and his successors
maintained their orthodoxy before the religious authorities, thus following in
the Shi'ite tradition, adopted by all the Shi'ite heretical sects as well as by
Shi'ite orthodoxy, that the true faith may be denied and hidden with a good
conscience before unbelievers.
Shaikh Ahmad died on a pilgrimage near Medina, shortly after his
excommunication. He was succeeded by Siyyid Kazim Reshti, a Persian, who
followed him closely in his doctrine and was also excommunicated by the Shi'ite
religious authorities. He established his school at Kerbela, where one of his
students was Mirza 'Ali Muhammad, later known as the Bab.
Before we take up the thread of events at this point let us briefly review the
historical heritage that fell to Babism. It sprang up from within Shi'ite
Islam, from whose doctrine of the Imamate its conception of religious
revelation and authority took its color. From Shi'ite Islam Babism also
received the underlying motifs of expectation
awesome wonder of what is to come and the mystery of what is present but
hidden. In its chiliastic motif Babism could find its point of contact in
popular Mahdism, both orthodox and heretical. In its gnostic motif Babism would
base itself on the rich theosophical lore handed on through centuries by the
secret heretical groups. It seems to us that the merging of these two motifs in
the peculiar religious configuration offered by the Shi'ite environment was
bound to have powerful historical results, as was the case with the Isma'ili
sect and again with the movement that is here our special concern.
2. The Appearance of the Bab
The first period of the Bahá'í movement, which we have called
here the period of proclamation, is clearly divided into two halves, the one
from 1844 to 1850, from the declaration of the Bab to his execution, and the
other from 1850 to 1892, from the beginning of the succession struggle after
the death of the Bab to the death of Baha-u'llah, in whose favor this struggle
was resolved. Th whole period, however, is characterised by the passionate
intensity of the proclamation that they expected on has indeed arrived and is
now living in the midst of men. With the death of Baha-u'llah the content of
the Bahá'í message found its point of orientation in the past and ceased to be
that breathless proclamation of the divine wonder to be found here and now with
which the movement began. In spite of many important contradictions in the
the main outline of events during
the period of the Bab is clear. It will now be our task to follow these events
up to the year 1852, two years after the execution of the Bab, when, as a
result of bloody suppression, the movement seemed all but destroyed.
Siyyid 'Ali Muhammad, later to be known as the Bab, was born in Shiraz on
March 20, 1821.
His father, Siyyid
Ibrahim, was a merchant of that city, died when 'Ali Muhammad was still a
child. The maternal uncle of the child, one Siyyid 'Ali, also a merchant, took
care of his education after the death of his father. As indicated by the title
, both the paternal and maternal lines of 'Ali Muhammad's family
claimed descent from the Prophet Muhammad.
Babi traditions have claimed a number of miraculous events connected with 'Ali
Muhammad's childhood, supposedly going back to accounts given by his uncle.
Characteristic of these is the story that upon his birth 'Ali Muhammad
exclaimed in Arabic, "The Kingdom is God's", and that he was found reading the
Koran on the day he was to learn the alphabet.
It seems clear, however, that the child was serious and
intelligent, showed an early interest in religious matters, and charmed many of
the adults around him with his pleasant personality. As an adolescent 'Ali
Muhammad was sent to work in Bushire for his uncle's business and lived there
about 5 years before returning to his native Shiraz.
Shortly after his stay in Bushire the young 'Ali Muhammad set out on a
pilgrimage to Kerbala.
This in itself
would have been a very ordinary thing to do for a young Shi'ite Persian, but
while on this pilgrimage, 'Ali Muhammad attended the Shaikhi school in Kerbela.
According to Babi sources, 'Ali Muhammad personally met Siyyid Kazim, then head
of the Shaikhi sect, who was greatly impressed by him and, according to one
source, secretly but explicitly designated him as the bearer of the new divine
manifestation which the Shaikhis were expecting.
In view of the later events, however, this is highly
improbable. It is certain that 'Ali Muhammad spent several months in Kerbela,
became a member of the Shaikhi sect, then returned to Shiraz. Also, it seems
very likely that shortly before his death Siyyid Kazim prophesied that the
"Lord of the Age" would soon appear and would be a young man, a descendent of
Muhammad and un-instructed in formal learning.
After Siyyid Kazim's death in 1843 a number of Shaikhi
leaders, among them one Mulla Husain, a Persian, set out to search for this
"Lord of the Age" in different parts of the Muslim world.
While 'Ali Muhammad's personality and learning had impressed many people both
in Kerbela and in Shiraz, there had as yet been no indication on his part that
he claimed any supernatural station for himself. We can only guess about the
inner process which led him to such conviction. The outward proclamation of his
claim was sudden and dramatic. On June 11, 1844 (5 Djemadi el-Akher 1260 A.H.)
'Ali Muhammad publicly declared himself to be the Bab ("Gate") and began to
preach a number of highly exciting sermons in the mosques of his native city.
There has been considerable disagreement on the precise meaning intended by
'Ali Muhammad when he adopted the title of the Bab. The term itself has a long
The term has no Koranic
significance. On the Shi'ite hadith
it is put into the mouth of Muhammad
to refer to 'Ali, the first Imam: "I am the city of knowledge and 'Ali is its
)". Also, as we have pointed out above, the term in its plural
) is used by the Shi'ites to refer tot he four agents of the
Hidden Imam. In Sufi tradition the term was used to denote the means through
which it is possible to enter the world of mystic illumination. The Isma'ilis
gave the title of bab
to the spiritual leader (shaikh
instructs the initiates in the secrets of the sect. It seems that the Shaikhis
thought of the term mainly in terms of the idea of return (raj'a
is, the return not only of the Hidden Imam as the Mahdi, but also of the
and perhaps other historical figures preceding the next
manifestation of the divine world intellect. There is little doubt that the
masses who first heard the Bab's preaching in Shiraz, and those among them that
became his first followers, understood his claim in an orthodox Shi'ite sense,
that is, in connection with the coming of the Imam-Mahdi. When, soon later, the
Bab acknowledged the ascription to him of the honors of the Imam-Mahdi himself,
and bestowed the title of Bab
to one of his followers, this was still
understandable in a Shi'ite sense. Indeed, at his final trial in Tabriz the Bab
reiterated his claim to be the Mahdi before the religious tribunal and
explained his title in terms of the hadith
concerning 'Ali. It is
obvious, however, that in the Bab's own mind the meaning of the title far
transcended any Shi'ite or even Islamic context. The only question is whether
this was so from the beginning or its adoption or only a result of further
developments. There is a progression of claims on the part of the Bab to be
("Reminder" - a term associated with the Mahdi), Qa'im
(Mahdi) and finally Nuqta
(Point). The last of these terms probably
reflects the Bab's own thinking most accurately. It is a gnostic concept,
derived from the Isma'ili and Shaikhi traditions, and means that center of a
divine manifestation. The matter is further confused by the fact that the title
was claimed by several people in succession, if not
simultaneously, in the course of the following years, with the Bab agreeing to
the claim in at least one case, that of Kuddus (we shall have occasion to come
back to this peculiarity later). Muslim sources claim that the Bab made this
claims [sic] in succession, carried along, as it were, by the dynamic of the
movement he had started. Babi sources, on the other hand, claim that the full
meaning of Nuqta
was intended by the Bab from the beginning, and was
only hidden from the masses and the religious authorities in harmony with the
traditional Shi'ite usage of ketman
- the hiding and disguising of the
true faith from hostile unbelievers. The Babi interpretation of this matter is
much more probable, in view of the Bab's Shaikhi connections, his acceptance by
important Shaikhi leaders as the coming divine manifestation prophesied by
Siyyid Kazim, and the fact that, as we shall see, an inner circle of his
followers actually proclaimed his full claim, in the sense of Nuqta
the so-called Council of Bedesht. It may be added here, incidentally, that the
later Bahá'í claim that the Bab adopted his title because he understood himself
as merely the forerunner of Baha-u'llah, that is, as the "Gate" to Baha-u'llah,
lacks any foundation in the facts.
Even in the Shi'ite sense, however, the claim was a stupendous one. The
religious implication of the statement that a bab
had re-appeared meant
that the gate of revelation, closed since the disappearance of the
Imam and the death of
his last agent, was re-opened. The Mahdi was near, and was already
communicating with the world. The actual claim to be the Mahdi himself was, of
course, even more stupendous. Its political implication was nothing less than
the establishment of theocracy, as, according to Shi'ite doctrine, all Islamic
secular rulers, including the Kajar dynasty then ruling Persia, were only
ruling as trustees of the Hidden Imam, the true "Lord of the Age". It is no
wonder, then, that the declaration of 'Ali Muhammad to be the Bab immediately
aroused widespread attention.
The Bab's early sermons in Shiraz must have been extremely impressive events.
It seems that the impact of his preaching and his personality was stunning.
The religious teachers of the city were
deeply disturbed by the appearance of this 23-year old preacher, but completely
unable to do anything against him. He easily countered all arguments, silenced
all who would oppose him. Shortly after the Bab's declaration Mulla Husain
arrived in Shiraz, pursuing his mission of searching for the new "Lord of the
Age" expected by the Shaikhis. After an interrogation of the Bab, Mulla Husain
became fully convinced of his identity and thus became the Bab's "First
Believer". The Bab bestowed upon him the title of Bab-ul-Bab ("Gate of the
and sent him to preach in Iraq and
Khorasan. At Isfahan Mulla Husain openly proclaimed the Bab as the
"Il faut dire ici, pour preventir joute erreur,
qu'en assimilant le Bab au douziene Imam, le missionaire cherchait a se faire
comprendre de la foule et a gagner ses sympathies, absolument comme Saint Parul
lorsqu'il revelait aux. Atheniends que le Dieu qu'il leur annoncait etait ce
Dieu inconnu auquel ils avaient deja eleve unautel. C'etait des deux parts une
facon de parler, et on verra plus tard qu'il n'y a aucun rapport entre l'idee
que les Babys se font du Point, et ce que les musulmans pensent au sujet di
The Bab himself, shortly after Mulla Husain's departure, set out on a
pilgrimage to Mecca.
Muslim sources claim
that there he drew a sword and proclaimed himself Mahdi in front of the Ka'aba,
but this is to be doubted. It seems that the pilgrimage took place without
outward excitement and that at its conclusion the Bab returned to Shiraz, where
he resumed his preaching and began to write verses and commentaries.
The first serious clash between Babis and Muslims occurred during the Bab's
absence from Shiraz.
His followers, led by
Mulla Muhammad 'Ali of Barfurush, whom the Bab had given the title Kuddus,
changed the kibla
(the direction in which Muslims turn for prayer) from
Mecca to the Bab's house in Shiraz, changed the azzen
(the Muslim call
to prayer), and recited verses written by the Bab instead of the Koran in the
mosque. From the Muslim point of view, this was equivalent to blasphemy and
apostasy. Kuddus and another Babi missionary by the name of Moqaddes were
brought before Husain Khan, the governor of Shiraz, who ordered them to be
whipped and tortured. The two missionaries thereupon left Shiraz and went on a
preaching tour including Yezd and Kirman, meeting with mounting violence on the
part of the religious authorities and fanatical Muslim mobs. An angry meeting
took place during this trip between Moqaddes and Kerin Khan, who had become
head of the Shaikhis after the death of Siyyid Kazim. Kerim Khan refused to
recognise the claims of the Bab and, following this meeting, the majority of
the Shaikhi sect held aloof from the Babi movement, in some instances even
became active against it.
The Bab himself was brought before the religious authorities in Shiraz.
When he declared his mission there, the
leader of the religious teachers ('ulamas
), Shaikh Abu Tarab, beat him
with a stick. The Bab was sent to his uncle's house with orders to cease public
activity. As, however, attention was growing and people from different parts of
the country came to Shiraz to see the Bab, he was taken to the great mosque and
ordered to recant. According to Babi sources, he preached a powerful sermon
instead, even further confusing his enemies and drawing upon himself the
attention of the country.
Finally, the attention of the court was drawn to the situation in Shiraz and
one Siyyid Yahya Darabi was sent by the Shah to deal with the Bab personally.
Siyyid Yahya arrived in Shiraz and went to see the Bab. When the latter again
asserted his divine mission, Siyyid Yahya, probably in mockery, asked him to
write on the spot a commentary on an obscure sura of the Koran. The Bab did so
at once. Moreoever, the contents of the commentary struck Siyyid Yahya greatly,
as they referred to certain thoughts he had himself had concerning this
passage. Greatly disturbed, Siyyid Yahya requested another interview with the
Bab, openly recognised his claim and was ordered by him to go out and preach
This incident is typical of
the effect the personality of the Bab had upon many people who met him.
The opposition to the Bab was mounting in Shiraz and several plots were made
to assassinate him. In 1846 he left Shiraz for Isfahan.
The governor of that city, a tolerant and curious man,
assigned him a house there. However, he was unable to prevent the Bab from
further violent disputes with the 'ulamas
, leading to mounting feeling
against the Bab in Isfahan too. As a result, the Bab left the city under guard
and with much ostentation, was brought back secretly and went into hiding.
From Isfahan the Bab addressed a letter to the Shah, asking that the latter
reach a decision about his position and claims, and, if possible, permit him to
come to Tehran to present his case.
Shah replied that the Bab should go to Maku, a royal fortress, and stay there
quietly for a while. Under virtual arrest, the Bab was brought there by
military escort. On the way to Maku he had yet another dispute with an assembly
, who made fun of him by asking him questions in Arabic
grammar and astronomy, to make him admit his ignorance.
The Bab arrived in Maku and stayed there for nine months
in relative freedom. According to Babi tradition he converted 'Ali Khan, the
commander of the fortress.
While the Bab was staying in Maku, his missionaries carried his message
throughout practically all of Persia. Especially Mulla Husain was responsible
for large numbers of converts in different parts of the country.
In Kashan he converted Mirza Jani, who later was to write
the most important history of the movement,
and in Teheran he converted the two half-brothers Mirza
Yahya Nuri (Sobh-al-Azal - "Dawn of Eternity") and Mirza Husain 'Ali Nuri
(Baha-u'llah - "Glory of God"), later to be the two protagonists in the
struggle for succession following the death of the Bab.
One of the most interesting converts to the Bab was a woman, Qurat'ul-Ain of
Kazvin, whom the Bab called Tahirih ("The Pure One").
Tahirih must have been a woman of unusual beauty and
learning. After an early marriage, she went on a pilgrimage to Karbela and
attended the Shaikhi school there, an enterprise sufficiently unusual for a
Muslim woman so as to require great will power and determination. In 1848 she
wrote to the Bab, whom she apparently was never to meet in person,
and declared herself this disciple. Muslim
sources claim that she showed herself in public without a veil, which is denied
by Babi sources for this period. Muslim sources also credit her with
extravagant claims concerning her own person, assert that that she claimed to
be the Nuqta
of the new revelation at one time and told her followers
that she was the kibla
towards whom they must turn in prayer.
Be this as it may, her behaviour created a
great scandal in her city, especially as she went out to preach in several
provinces, on orders of the Bab. Her uncle, a fervent Muslim by the name of
Muhammad Taghi, was brutally assassinated while praying in the mosque by one of
Tahirih was accused
of having ordered this murder and was forced to flee Kasvin. Many Babis were
arrested in that city.
There followed a large meeting of the several Babi missionaries and their
followers which has come to be known as the Council of Bedesht.
It marks a turning point in the history of the movement.
The three main characters of the meeting were Mulla Husain, Kuddus and Tahirih.
Bahá'u'lláh was also present. The meeting was one of tremendous excitement,
heightened by the extravagant claims put forward by Kuddus and Tahirih. The
position of Kuddus is especially interesting. It seems that Mulla Husain was
accepted for a while as the leader of the group of Babis with whom Kuddus
travelled, and that Kuddus replaced him in one night, which he spent reciting
new verses, an event regarded by both Shi'ites and Babis as a clear sign of
It is quite clear from
the sources that Kuddus at one time claimed to be the Nuqta
of the new
divine manifestation, apparently without incurring opposition from the
"It is abundantly clear from Haji Mirza Jani's history
that Hazrat-I-Kuddus advanced the most extravagant claims, and that many of the
Babis were disposed to regard him as superior to the Bab. He not only developed
himself to be Christ come back to earth, but even went so far as to say,
'Whosoever hath known me is become a polytheist, and whosoever hath not known
me is become an infidel, and whosoever asketh 'why' or 'wherefore' or 'how'
concerning me is become a reprobate."
The original aim of the meeting was to arrange a great pilgrimage to Maku,
where the Bab was then staying, probably with the intention of liberating him
by force. The meeting soon, however, arrived at a discussion of the new
doctrine. Tahirih made the suggestion to the other leaders that the time had
come to tell all the Babis that the time of a new divine manifestation
transcending Islam had come and that it was not just a question of recognising
the Bab as Mahdi. The other leaders, however, argued against such an open break
with Islam. Tahirih then suggested a stratagem, which was agreed to by the
others. Shi'ite law prescribes death for the apostate, even if he later
repents, but not if the apostate is a woman. Tahirih, therefore, suggested that
she announce the real nature of the Babi manifestation to a mass meeting in the
absence of Kuddus; if the people accepted her message, Kuddus was to join her;
if they rejected it, Kuddus was to reproach her for her apostacy and
"re-convert" her to Islam, and the leaders would continue to practice
in regard to their real convictions, not only against the
Shi'ites but against the mass of their own followers. The event must have been
one of great dramatic power. As usual, Tahirih sat behind a curtain and began
to address the assembled people:
aussitôt sa conférence: l'aventure qu'elle tentait, l'emotion bien
naturelle qu'elle en ressentait, l'espoir de la réusseite, la crainte
d'un échec l'excitèrent à tel point que jamais elle
n'avait été aussi eloquente ni aussi persuasive. Les auditeurs,
charmés par sa voix et par son talent, l'écoutaient avec une
attention profonde, pas un ne remuait. Au moment ou elle prononça ces
paroles, 'Vous devez aujourd'hui tous savoir que Dieu s'est manifesté et
que le Qoran est abregé: un livre nouveau nous est descendu du ciel, une
lei nouvelle nous est donnée', elle fis le signe convenu: les servantes
obéirent, le rideau tomba et splendide elle apparut aux yeux des
auditeurs. Elle se tourna une seconde vers ses servantes comme pour leur
demander compte de ce qui venait de se passer, mais faisant
immédiatement face à la foule: 'Qu'importe cet accident dit-elle,
cela n'a aucune importance: ne suis-je pas votre soeur et n'êtes-vous
point mes frères. Or quelle soeur a jamais cache son visage à son
There must have been a tremendous turmoil on the meeting place after this
event. It is not hard to imagine the emotions of these men, as they heard this
open rejection of Islam and saw the curtain fall before the proclaimer of the
new manifestation appearing in the figure of this beautiful, passionate woman.
The men ran about, shouting, many of them hiding their faces so as not to see
Tahirih. Distressed by the confusion, Tahirih stepped down and walked among the
men, trying to convince them, until Baha-u'llah threw his coat over her and led
her away to one of the tents. The mob broke into two factions, one seeking out
Kuddus and telling him of the event, the other following Tahirih. Kuddus would
not openly accept or reject Tahirih's announcement, appeared pensive, said that
she had put herself outside the pale of Islam by her statement concerning the
Koran, but that perhaps there was some hidden meaning to her actions. Tahirih
meanwhile instructed those who had followed her in the new faith, then sent two
men, who had expressed readiness to die, to invite Kuddus to a "discussion" at
the point of a sword. Kuddus accepted the invitation, was "convinced" by her
argumentation and openly submitted to her. The meeting then ended with several
days of festivities. Apparently no more thought was given to the original
purpose of the meeting, the pilgrimage to Maku. After the festivities, Mulla
Husain left for the interior of Khorasan, Kuddus left for Mazindaran,
accompanied for a while by Tahirih, who then returned to Kazvin.
The Council of Bedesht was followed by the bloodiest episode in early Babi
history, the Mazindaran insurrection.
we have seen, the Babi leaders separated after the Council of Bedesht, with
Kuddus and his group going on into Mazindaran, his native province. After
travelling through the province and encountering much opposition from the
Muslims, Kuddus issued a call to Mulla Husain to join him with his men in
Mazindaran. It is difficult to establish the exact meaning of this call. Babi
historians have claimed that the Babis took up arms in self-defense and knew
that they were going to their martyrdom. Muslim historians, on the other hand,
assert that the Mazindaran insurrection was the first step in what was to be
the establishment by the sword of a Babi theocracy in all Persia, with the
overthrow of both Shi'ite Islam and the Kajar dynasty. The Muslim
interpretation appears more adequate to the facts as we know them, especially
since the earliest Babi history, that of Mirza Jani of Kashan, tends to agree
with the Muslim interpretation that the Mazindaran events constituted an open
insurrection planned and led by Kuddus.
is interesting to note that the Mazindaran episode happened in the period
immediately following the death of Muhammad Shah and before the accession of
the new Shah, in that period of interregnum during which successful rebellions
have often broken out in oriental countries. Also, this was the period during
which Kuddus wrote verses, thereby laying claim to immediate revelation from
God and, possibly, a station in the new divine manifestation even superior to
that of the Bab. The coming together of the several Babi groups, the
establishment of a powerful fortress and the fanaticism with which the Muslims
were attacked hardly seem explainable in terms of self-defense.
Mulla Husain heeded the call and set out for Mazindaran with about 200 men and
their dependents. According to the Babi historians, Mulla Husain made a speech
to his men, telling them that they were going to their martyrdom and that any
wishing to leave the group should do so, after which only 30 men are supposed
to have left for their homes. Mulla Husain's journey was not unopposed and
there were repeated armed clashes with Muslims. In the Babi sources Mulla
Husain is extolled as a great hero and fighter. His sword stroke was to have
been so powerful that he usually split his opponent in two down to the waist,
once did this not only to a Muslim but also split in two the big tree behind
which that Muslim was hiding. One incident, which we have no reason to
disbelieve, is to have taken place in a caravanserai in which Mulla Husain's
band was besieged. Mulla Husain told a man to go on a terrace and chant the
, the Muslim call to prayer. Before he could finish the
, the man was shot by the Muslim outside the caravanserai. Mulla
Husain, to show the Muslims how the Babis respected God's commandments, sent a
second and a third man to the terrace, both of whom were also killed by Muslim
shots, but the third man was able to finish the azzan
Kuddus and Mulla Husain met at the tomb of Shaikh Tabarsi, a local Shi'ite
shrine. They immediately set out to build a fortress around the shrine.
Apparently, this fortress was well constructed and greatly impressed the
Muslims who came to take it. Shaikh Tabarsi was occupied by about 2,000 Babi
men, in addition to the families which many had brought along. Over this
community Kuddus was the undisputed ruler, received visitors from behind a
curtain. Mulla Husain acted as his lieutenant and as military commander.
In trying to understand the emotions which animated these men as they built
their fortress and awaited the coming of their enemies, we may look at two
descriptions of the situation at Shaikh Tabarsi, one based on a Muslim source,
and other from a Babi source:
"Du haut de leur
château, ils parlèrent presque exclusivement de politique, de
politique bâby sans doute, mais enfin de politique. Ils
announcèrent que tous ceux qui voulaient vivre heureux dans ce monde, en
attendant l'autre avaient désormais peu de temps pour se dècider.
Une année encore, une année sans plus, et son Altesse le
Bâb, envoyé de Dieu, allait s'emparer de tous les climats de
l'univers. La fuite était impossible, la résistance
puérile. Tout ce qui serait bâby posséderait le monde, tout
ce qui serait infidèle servirait. Il fallait se háter d'ouvrir
les yeux, de fair soumission à Moulla Houssein, sans quoi, tout à
l'heure il allair être trop tard."
"They knew for a surety that in a little while that devoted band would to a man
fall before the guns of the foe, and stain the earth with their life-blood. In
spite of this knowledge, however, they eagerly set out from the most distant
provinces to share the martyrdom of those already assembled in that fatal spot.
I know not what these people had seen or apprehended that they thus readily
cast aside all that men do most prize, and thus eagerly hastened to imperil
their lives. Surely their conduct was such as to leave no room for doubt of
their sincerity and devotion in any unprejudiced mind; and in truth what they
did and suffered was little short of miraculous, being beyond mere human
It is characteristic of the exalted state of mind prevailing at Shaikh Tabarsi
that the provisions to sustain the fortress and its large garrison in case of
siege were completely inadequate. Mulla Husain distributed among his men the
titles of prophets and Imams, and governorships of distant lands. Also, he
promised that any of those killed in battle would rise again in 40 days, a
statement that he might have understood in the Babi sense of "return", but
which was certainly taken in the literal sense by his men.
The battle around Shaikh Tabarsi lasted for over four months and ended in the
complete destruction of the Babi fortress. At first, however, success was all
on the side of the Babis. The first royal troops sent to Shaikh Tabarsi with
the express order from the Shah to destroy the Babi uprising were routed by the
fanatic Babis. Their battle cry "Oh, Lord of the Age" ("Ya
") struck terror into the hearts of the Muslim soldiers.
The Babis completely destroyed and massacred
a village that had given assistance to the royal troops and terror of their
ferocity spread through the whole province. Other Babi groups, among them one
led by Baha-u'llah, tried to get through to Shaikh Tabarsi, but were unable to
get through the cordon thrown around the fortress.
The tide turned late in 1848, after Mulla Husain was killed in open battle.
The Babis were deeply struck by the death of their beloved military leader.
Hunger began to undermine the fortress from within. Soon the situation was such
that Mulla Husain's half-putrified dead horse was disinterred and eaten. New
royal troops were brought against the fortress and a holy war (jihad
was proclaimed in all the mosques of Mazindaran. The Muslim sources report that
some Babis were beginning to desert and even join the other camp.
The royal commander offered a truce and free passage to Kuddus. A Muslim
source claims that the condition for the truce was return to Islam, but the
Babi sources deny this, claim that Kuddus knew that the Muslims were going to
kill him, but, when the royal commander sent him the guarantee of free passage
written on a page of the Koran, he accepted, knowing the other's intent but
wishing the show him respect for God's book.
However this may have been, the 214 Babis who surrendered
with Kuddus were brutally massacred, their women raped and carried away by
soldiers. A Muslim source recounts how the soldiers cut open the bellies of
their Babi prisoners to find undigested grass, the diet of Shaikh Tabarsi in
the last days of the seige. Kuddus himself was taken to Barfurush, his native
city, and there tortured to death. The fortress of Shaikh Tabarsi was levelled
to the ground.
The Mazindaran uprising was not the only occasion in which the Babis took up
arms against the Shah. Shortly after the conclusion of the Mazindaran uprising
there was an insurrection in Zendjan, capital of the Turkish-speaking province
The Babis there were led by
one Mulla Muhammad 'Ali, who proved himself highly adept in street fighting.
And for many months mountain warfare went on in Niriz between Babi bands and
Both the Zendjan and the
Niriz episodes, like that of Mazindaran, ended in bloody defeat for the Babis.
In terms of worldly success, the fall of Shaikh Tabarsi marked the defeat of
the Babi movement in Persia. There followed a period of cruel persecution and
The suppression of the Mazindaran uprising also ushered in the final chapter
in the life of the Bab himself.
In 1848 a
royal envoy was sent to transfer the Bab from Maku, where he had lived in
relative freedom and received many pilgrims from all parts of the country, to
the fortress of Chihriq. There too, however, he exercised as much influence
around himself as at Maku:
"Nor was it an uncommon
occurrence even for unbelievers involuntarily to bow down in lowly obeisance on
beholding His Holiness; while the inmates of the castle, though for the most
part Christians or Sunnis revently
prostrated themselves whenever they saw the visage of His Holiness appear
resplendent over the walls of the building. In short, at no previous time had
the serene and awful beauty of that noble countenance exercised so irresistible
an attraction over all who came within the sphere of its influence. No sooner,
then, did the 'Indian believer', as he approached the building, catch sight of
the face of His Holiness, than he involuntarily exclaimed, 'This is my Lord!' and fell swooning to the ground. On coming
to his senses he wept much, and, the glory of that divine apparition
irradiating a heart, clear and receptive as a mirror, began to chant the words,
'I am the Ka'im become manifest', and, like Mansur, to cry out, 'I am the Truth!'"
From Chihriq the Bab was brought to Tabriz, where he was imprisoned rigidly for
several months, awaiting his trial for heresy before the religious authorities
of the city.
The interrogation of the Bab was conducted by the 'ulemas
with the same
contempt and mockery that had marked the previous disputes of the young
preacher with the religious authorities of Shi'ite Islam:
"'We have heard,' continued they, 'that you claim to be the Bab.'
'Yes,' replied he.
'What,' demanded Mulla Muhammad with a scornful smile, 'does 'Bab' mean?'
'The same,' answered His Holiness, 'as in the holy saying of the Prophet, 'I am
the City of Knowledge, and 'Ali is its Gate.''
'On what night,' continued the other, 'wert thou thus favoured, and who
assigned this name to thee?'
His Holiness answered, 'I am He whose advent you have been expecting for one
thousand two hundred and sixty years,
whom ye now deny.'
They said, 'We are expecting Him who is to arise of the kindred of Muhammad, to
wit, Muhammad ibnu'l-Hasan, whose mother is Narjis Khatun, and who is of the
Arabs; thy birthplace is Fars, thou art of the Persians, and thy father and
mother, too, are known.'
'By just such nominal considerations was it,' he replied, 'that all former
peoples were veiled from knowledge of the prophet of their time; you too are
veiled, else I am indeed He.'
'Whence,' asked they, 'shall we recognize you?'
He answered, 'By the evidence of the verses revealed through me.'"
This constituted an open claim to the title of Mahdi, but more than that, the
open assertion that, as the Koran, the Bab's Bayan was an immediate revelation
of God. This alone would be enough, under Shi'ite law, to merit death. It
appears that after the interrogation the Bab was cruelly beaten and tortured.
Muslim sources claim that after receiving a bastinado the Bab recanted and
renounced all his supernatural claims.
This fact is doubtful, but, in view of the evidence, it cannot be dismissed
entirely. In any case, such recantation could not have saved the Bab's life, as
under Shi'ite law an apostate must die even if he recants. A doctrinal opinion
) was issued against the Bab, pronouncing him worthy of death and
asserting that he would already have been executed, if there had not been some
doubt concerning his sanity.
The Bab and two of his closest disciples, Mulla Muhammad 'Ali of Tabriz and
Siyyid Husain of Yazd were paraded through streets, after their condemnation,
and cruelly tortured in front of a growing mob. The two disciples were urged to
deny their master and save their lives thereby. Siyyid Husain finally succumbed
to the torture and cursed the Bab. The officer in charge of the procedure told
him that he would be immediately released if he also spat in the Bab's face. He
did what was asked of him and was released.
Mulla Muhammad 'Ali remained faithful to death, even when
he was confronted with his weeping wife and children, who lived in the city.
The execution of the Bab took place on the same day as his condemnation and
torture, apparently in the late afternoon, on July 8, 1850.
The authorities wished the execution to be as public as
possible, so that no legends might arise of a "hidden" Bab. It was, therefore,
carried out on a large square in Tabriz, strangely enough known as the Square
of Sahibu'l Zaman. The two men were suspended by cords from a wooden structure
erected on the square and a company of Armenian Christian soldiers was prepared
to shoot them.
The men were hanging is
such a way that Mulla Muhammad 'Ali's head rested on the Bab's shoulder and he
is reported to have said, just before the volley, "Are you satisfied with me
now, master?" When the volley rang out and the smoke cleared, only one man was
hanging dead by the cords, Mulla Muhammad 'Ali. The Bab's cords had merely been
cut by the shots and he had fallen unhurt to the ground. There was great
confusion on the square in face of this apparent miracle. It appears that the
soldiers, stricken with terror, refused to fire again. The Bab, dazed and
apparently not knowing what he was doing, ran from the square and tried to hide
in a guardhouse. He was followed there by an officer, who struck him with his
sword. When the soldiers saw that the Bab drew blood, was, therefore
vulnerable, they suspended him again and this time killed him with their
The dead body of the Bab was
paraded through streets and thrown outside the gates to be eaten by dogs.
According to the Babi sources, the body was recovered by faithful believers,
hidden, and eventually brought to Palestine on the order of Baha-u'llah. It is
now supposed to be buried in the Baha'I shrine known as the Persian Gardens on
the slopes of Mount Carmel in Haifa.
It is interesting to reflect what might have happened if the Bab, after the
failure of the first volley, had had the presence of mind to appeal to the mob
as the Imam-Mahdi. Even the Muslim sources admit that no soldiers could then
have been found to carry through the execution and that the whole history of
the Babi movement might have been changed.
The persecution continued after the execution of the Bab. The civil and
religious authorities were determined to eradicate the heresy once and for all.
Mirza Yahya, son of Mirza Buzurg Nuri, was chosen as the successor of the
Mirza Yahya was then 16 years old. He
secretly travelled around the country, forbidding the Babis to engage in
useless rebellions. He took refuge in Bagdad, then part of the Turkish
In 1852 two Babis attempted the murder the Shah, Nasr-al-Din.
The Babi sources present considerable evidence that the
assassination was part of a plot, possibly to prepare a Babi insurrection in
the capital itself.
According to Muslim
sources, the assassins could easily have killed the Shah with the pistols they
used on his entourage, but that the attempt failed because instead they tried
to drag him from his horse, literally obeying the orders given them by the Babi
leaders to cut his throat.
The attempt on the life of the Shah was followed not only by the cruel
execution of the assassins but by a massacre of 40 of the leading Babis of
Teheran. The different departments of the government were assigned one victim
each and the executions took place amid terrible tortures before large mobs.
All the reports agree on the great heroism shown by the Babis as they went to
As they were led through the
streets, they chanted, "Truly, we come from God and to God we return." It is
certain that many secret converts were gained by this heroism. It is reported
that one man who came to watch the execution of a Babi was so moved with the
victim's heroism that he rushed out, shouting, "Kill me! I am a Babi too!"
Another story reports that a Babi was to be beheaded, but the executioner
failed to cut off his head with the first stroke but only knocked off his
turban, whereupon the Babi lifted his head and recited the verse of Hafiz:
"Happy the man who knows not whether it is head or turban that falls at the
feet of the Beloved!"
Among those who died were Mirza Jani of Kashan, the author of the earliest
Babi history, and Siyyid Husain of Yezd, who had betrayed the Bab at Tabriz and
whose conscience had led him to seek martyrdom at Teheran. The most famous of
the victims of this massacre was Tahirih, who had been arrested at Kazvin and
brought to the capital for trial. There are different reports of her death, but
all stress her complete fearlessness and dignity to the last moment.
Baha-u'llah was thrown in jail, but his life
In this way the Babi movement was drowned in blood. In 1852 it might have
seemed as if the movement was permanently destroyed. The Babis were in hiding.
European travellers, writing more than a decade after the Teheran massacre,
were unable to come across any who would dare admit that they were Babis.
3. Babi Doctrine
We have characterised Babism as a meeting point of gnostic and chiliastic
motifs in Shi'ite Islam. If we may anticipate for a moment, it will be our task
to show how the former motif was gradually eliminated almost completely in the
development of the Baha'I movement, while the latter underwent a profound
transformation, with important effects on the social structure of the movement.
Also, it must be realised that the gnostic doctrine taught by the Bab and his
followers remained the property of a small circle of initiates within the large
Babi movement, whose driving forces were chiliastic, not gnostic. The gnostic
motif was significant within the large movement not so much through its
content, but because it gave the authority of superior wisdom to the Babi
leaders who possessed it, that is, it satisfied an essential requirement of the
Imam in popular Shi'ite consciousness. As this study is concerned with the
development of the social-religious structure of the movement, rather than with
its doctrinal history, we shall devote considerably less space to matters of
doctrine than to the course of historical events. In the next few pages we
shall look briefly at the gnostic and chiliastic motifs as they expressed
themselves in Babi doctrine as it has come down to us,
and then look briefly at the kind of life which was
envisaged by this doctrine for its followers.
Babism took over the gnostic corpus of doctrine of the Shaiki sect, which in
turn had received it as the result of a long historical tradition the outline
of which we have traced above. At the heart of this corpus lies a gnostic
doctrine of God and revelation.
Any gnostic conception of God has always been grounded in the originally
Neoplatonist distinction between His pure being (proten hen
) and His
attributes (protologen hen
). The latter constitute the realm of the
, that intermediary being between God and world which constitutes
especially God's creative activity. In the Islamic tradition this logos
became the 'akl
, which, under the influence of Jewish gnosticism (Philo:
; Ibn-Gabirol: kavod
), is seen
particularly under the aspect of light. In Babi doctrine too there is much
imagery associated with light, the fraction and mirroring of light.
Following the Shaikis, the Bab calls the logos
God's primal will. This
primal will is the source of all revelation and religion. It appears in the
world through the cycles of revelation, but is never dissolved in the world
, against which Babi doctrine repreatedly
protests as leading to pantheism).
In the Bayan we are told that nothing exists but God, and His names and
His pure being, or essence,
never changes; all of His works are performed by the primal will, which
emanates from His pure being.
protest against Sufi mysticism, the Bayan stresses that God's essence is
unknowable and is only manifested in the world in His primal will:
"L'Essence éternelle ne se peut comprendre en
essence, ne se peut décrire, ne se peut qualifier, ne se peut leuer, ne
se peut voir, quoique tout se comprenné per Elle, se qualifie par Elle,
se loue par Elle, se voit par Elle.
Dans les livres célestes chaque fois qu'il est question qu'on Le verra,
cela veut dire qu'on verra Celui qui est manifesté dans Sa
manifestation, c'est-à-dire qu'on verra le Point de Verite qui est etait
la Volonte Primitive."
That is, God's primal will, His activity in the world, is known through the
prophet who becomes the "point" (nuqta
) at which the primal will reveals
itself in a particular age.
The Babi doctrine of revelation is a complicated gnostic system of cycles of
prophetic manifestations. Each prophet is a "mirror" of the light emanated by
the primal will.
The Bab is at pains to
point out that the prophet is not to be understand as an "incarnation"
) of the primal will, but this distinction appears technical in
view of his own claims and was probably motivated by considerations of
, as Muslim orthodoxy, in its polemic against Christianity, has
always abhorred any conception of hullul
. In any case, the prophet, as
, speaks of himself as one with the primal will and, through it,
with God himself. The Bab frequently refers to himself as God, in this way,
despite his doctrinal differentiations from them, reminding of the extreme Sufi
The term Nuqta
, the crucial term in the Bab's own understanding of the
prophet's station, is found in Shi'ite hadith
, where it is connected
with the belief that the Prophet Muhammad gave to 'Ali a secret revelation of
the hidden meaning of the Koran:
"Alles was in Koran its,
ist in der Fatiha (l.Sure) und alles was in der Fatiha ist, ist in Bismillah
(ihrem ersten ort) und alles was in Bismillah ist, ist im ba (seinem
Anfangsbuchstaben) und alles was im ba ist, ist im Punkt unter dem ba (seinem
kleinsten Teil) und ich ('Ali) bin der Puntk unter dem ba".
The prophet, as the "mirror" of the world of the primal will, becomes the
demiurg who creates, by the emanation of his prophecy, a new world on
"Der Prophet erweist als der Demiurg... seine
Schoepferkraft in der Hervorbringung eines Buches, dessen Buchstaben ein
Widerspiel der transzendenten Wirklichkeit darstellen, die somit mit Hilfe der
geheimen, von logos selbat geoffenbarten Buchstabenwissenschaft erfasst werden
kann. Entweder eird dann aus der ueberlieferten H. Schrift (A.T. bezw. Koran)
diese Wissenschaft ohne weiteres erhoben oder es verbindet sich damit ein neuer
prophetischer Anspruch mnit Darbietung eines neues neuen Kanons. Das letztere
ist in Babissmus der Fall."
We might add that the choosing of the second alternative marks the decisive
division between Shaikhism and Babism, as it was dramatically demonstrated at
the Council of Bedesht.
The new world, as it were, which the prophet establishes on earth must
correspond in inner structure to the world of the primal will, that is, the two
stand in a relationship of microcosm and macrocosm. This inner structure is
understood primarily in terms of kabbalistic numerology.
The Sufi philosopher Ibnu'l-'Arabi had asserted that the
opening sura of the Koran, Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim
("In the name of
God the Most Merciful") corresponds numerologically to the number 19. This
number has ever since played an important role in Islamic numerology, but
probably never to the extent it did in the Bayan.
According to the Bayan, the universe is patterned in
structures 19. Consequently, the microcosm of the "people of the Bayan" on
earth must also be built around this structure. As there are 19 attributes of
God, so there are 19 "Letters of the Living" in each prophetic manifestation.
These 19 "Letters", which in the Babi manifestation were believed to be the Bab
and 18 of his closest followers, were created before all time by the primal
will and "return" with each manifestation. It is easily seen how this
conception could lead to something closely resembling polytheism:
"Personne ne saurait se laisser aveugler par le dogma
unitaire au point de croire que le polythéism n'est pas là en
germe, et en germe patent."
This helps us to understand not only the hate which the Babis aroused in the
Muslims, but also the ease with which different leaders of the movement claimed
the title of Nuqta
at different times of the history. Moreover, despite
the vigorous denials of the Babis, this "return" of the "Letters of the Living"
borders so closely on a doctrine of transmigration that the distinctions,
again, appear very technical and are perhaps to be understood in terms of
The Bayan, in its final form, is to contain 19
The Bayan also establishes a new
calendar based on 19 months, still used by the Bahá'ís. Social life is also to
follow the structure of 19, down to the number of days a school teacher must
withdraw from his wife as a punishment for beating a child. As often happens
when numerological doctrine is popularised, the Babis used many talismans
consisting of different numerological combinations of words, to which great
magical powers were ascribed. Some of these talismans seem to go back to the
Bab himself, and there is no reason to believe that he did not share the belief
in their magic.
A prophet is recognised by two signs: his ability to write verses and the sheer
force of his personality:
"De pa part de Dieu pour tous les
hommes, il y a deux témoins: l'un, les versets, l'autre, la personne sur
qui descendent les versets."
The first of these, of course, would be particularly close to the thinking of
Muslims, for whom "the miracle of the Koran", from the point of view of the
Arabic language, is the most important sign of the prophetic dignity of
Muhammad. There are five elements of this sign:
fluent diction; rapid composition; direct as opposed to
acquired knowledge; claim to divine inspiration; absolute power over men. We
have seen what role these played in the actual life of the Bab.
Following in the Ismaili tradition, the Bab understands revelation as being
In each prophet the primal
will manifests itself more fully to the world. Thus the Bab sees himself in the
line of the prophets recognised in the Koran, including Moses, Jesus and
Muhammad. Progressive revelation is still held as a cardinal doctrine by the
Bahá'ís to this day, though the catalog of prophets has been changed or left
vague in the course of the history. Each divine manifestation follows a certain
cycle. Each manifestation has a rising and a setting, the "day" when it is at
full blaze, surrounded by the "minor manifestation" or "dawn", the period of
the "forerunners" (according to the Bab, that of the Shaikhi saints), and the
"minor occultation" or "evening", when the followers of the prophet are still
living, and then the "occultation" or "night", occupying the period of time
between the manifestations. The high point of the "theophanic day",
or zuhur-I-zubra, is, of course, the period
of the Bab, in this case:
"This day is separated from the
night of the Gheybat-i-Kubra or 'Major Occultation' by the twilight of
the Ghaybat-i-Sughra or 'Minor Occultation', during which the last Saint
or Imam of the cycle, though invisible to his followers, still leaves amongst
them in concealment, and communicates with them by means of the 'Gates' or
'Babs' (abwab) whom he appoints to act as intermediaries between himself
and his church. When the faithful have become accustomed to receiving the
commands of the Imam thus indirectly, and to being debarred from seeing him,
the series of 'Gates' is terminated, and the full night of the 'Major
Occultation' supervenes. As, however, the time for a new 'Manifestation'
approaches, one or more of the 'Gates' reappears or 'returns' to prepare
mankind for the fuller light which is soon to burst upon them. The period of
these precursors or harbingers of the Theophany is called
Zuhur-i-Sughra, 'The Minor Manifestation', corresponding to the 'True
Dawn' (Subh-i-Sadik), when, though the sun has not yet risen, its light
is apparent in the sky. The 'Minor Manifestation' of the Christian cycle was
John the Baptist, of the Muhammadan, Waraka ibn Nawfal and the other Kanifs, of
the Babi or Beyanic, Sheykh Ahmad of Ahsa and Seyyid Kazim of Resht."
At the end of time, all emanations return to God, who will then again fill all
with His pure being as it was before the emanation of the primal will.
It is easily seen how such a conception of revelation leads to the dissolution
of any historical religion within which it arises. Following Isma'ili practice,
the Bab uses an allegorical method to explain the Koran and, by implications,
all other historical religions:
"Dans chaque manifestation,
le refuge en Dieu est le refuge dans cette manifestation. Pendant que (le
soleil de verité) est caché, le refuge est le refuge dans ses
ordres, jusqu'a la manifestation suivante. A ce moment la manifestation
precedente et ses ordres ne donnent plus de refuge, si n'est par la
manifestation suivante et ses ordres."
That is, the Koran, and all other historical revelations, must be understood
from the point of view of the Bayan:
"A l'époque de
la descente du Quoran, la goire de tous résidait dans l'éloquence
de la parole; c'est pourquoi Dieu a fait descendre le Qoran empreint de la plus
sublime eloquence, et il en a fait (ainsi) le miracle de Muhammad. Dans cette
periode-ci le Dieu du monde a donné au Point du Beyan ses versets es ses
téxoignages; il an a fait sone témoin inacessible sur toutes
choses. Si tous ceux qui sont sur la terre s'unissaint ils ne pourraiant
apparter un seul verset semblable aux versets que Dieu a fait couler de sa
langue .... Du moment de la descente du Qoran jusqu'au moment de celle du
Beuan, 1270 ans out passés; comment quelqu'un n'a-t-il pas produit, de
ersets? Et sependant, de toutes leurs forces, tons ont voulu étouffer la
parole de Dieu, mais tous ont été impuissants et sucun n'a pu le
If we now turn to the chiliastic motif as expressed in Babi doctrine, we can
see more clearly, after the above discussion, how the Bab understood himself as
a fulfilment of the prophecies concerning the Mahdi, but also as much more than
that, and, ultimately, as something different from that.
But specifically we must devote a few words to a very
curious doctrine of the Bayan which was later to lead to the great schism
between the Bahá'ís and Azalis, namely, the doctrine of "Him whom God shall
manifest" (M.Y.H. - Man yuz-hiruhu'llah).
The Bayan is full of references of M.Y.H., indeed, at one place it is stated
that all the Bayan's glory (baha) lies in M.Y.H..
M.Y.H. is the bearer of the coming divine manifestation,
who will bring to an end and surpass the Bayanic cycle:
"Justqu'au jour de Celui que Dieu doit manifester, tous demanderont refuge
à Dieu et au point du Beyan, mais ce jour-là ceci ne leur servira
de rien, car alors se se refugier en Lui et se réfugier dans le piont du
Beyan, c'est se refuier en Lui." 102
It is difficult to say whether the doctrine of M.Y.H. was an important matter
in the Bab's mind from the beginning, as re-emphasizing his gnostic conception
of revelation, or whether it was a result of his disappointment in the outward
failures of his faith. Be this as it may, there can be no question of the
importance of the doctrine in the Bayan as we now have it.
We are told that M.Y.H. will appear before 2001 years
have passed, but no lower limit is given; the exact date of his coming is only
known to God. He will appear suddenly and it is impossible that any one should
falsely claim to be him (!). Like all manifestations of the primal will, he is
identical with the Nuqta-i-Bayan, but he is to be known by his own authority,
not that of the Bayan. He will not be the last manifestation of the primal
Will, but others will follow him. The "people of the Bayan" are urged not to
repeat the mistake of the "people of the Koran" by rejecting him as the Muslims
rejected the Bab. Many rules are given to emphasize the Babi community's
expectation of M.Y.H. - he is to complete the remaining "unities" of the Bayan;
the first month of the Babi year is called "Baha" and set aside for him (!); a
vacant place is to be left for him in each Babi assembly; no child may be
beaten or man insulted, for it may be him.
What interests us particularly in view of the later history is whether the Bab
considered it possible that M.Y.H. would appear within the lifetime of his
followers, or whether he regarded his coming as an event in the more distant
future. The issue cannot be decided on the available evidence. Events after the
death of the Bab, involving rival claims to this and other titles, indicate the
general nature of Babi "polytheism" rather than the Bab's specific ideas about
M.Y.H. In view of the Bab's entire gnostic system, however, and the elaborate
Bayanic "microcosm" instituted by him, it seems unlikely that he regarded the
coming of M.Y.H. as occurring immediately after his death. He utterances about
himself are hardly those of one who understood himself as merely a kind of John
"Et ce serait pour ce pitcyable résultat
que cet homme aurait subi le martyre? C'est pour cela qu'il aurait devant les
balles du peleton d'execution la verite de sa doctrine, et qu'il aurait
répandu son sang, comme aussi celui de ses compagnons les plus chers? Il
n'est innutile d'affirmer que cette thèse est essentiellement fausse."
This argument is not too convincing, just because of the very example of John
the Baptist! However, it remains true that the Bayan makes the later Bahá'í
"forerunner" interpretation very doubtful, to say the least. What the doctrine
of M.Y.H. did in pratice was to re-shift the chiliastic motif again into the
future, making possible further expression of the powerful forces at the heart
of the Babi movement.
Finally, we must ask ourselves briefly what kind of life the Bab envisaged for
his followers. In the matter of piety, the Babis may be characterised by the
-mysticism. Their story incorporated certain Sufi features,
such the "Mansur ecstasy", but it was always an adoration of the manifestation
of the primal will in the prophet, not that which has been called "infinity
mysticism" and which finally leads to pantheism.
The final fate of the soul, however, is some kind of
return to God, as all emanations will finally return to God. This was movingly
expressed in the words of the Babi martyrs of Teheran, "from God we come and to
God we return".
The prayer of the Babi
is private. There is no public prayer except the prayer for the dead, the
latter being easily understood in a severely persecuted community. This, of
course, gives the Babi piety a very pietist, quietist character.
The political ideal of the Bayan is the establishment of a Babi theocracy.
The possibility of holy war
) is implicitly recognised in the Bab's prohibition of arms except
in such war.
Indeed, there is no
evidence that the Bab had any objection against the armed uprisings of his
followers, in spite of his personal withdrawal from practical affairs, which is
in keeping with the Sufi ideal of sainthood. We have already indicated that
sometimes minutes regulations for everyday life which the Bab made for his
followers. (He was particularly concerned with the education of children, but
is hard to find in the Bayan much that could be called "social reform".
While the killing of unbelievers in the
Babi state is forbidden,
they are to be
driven from the central provinces of Persia, their property is to be
confiscated, marriage with them is unlawful, and they are to be the virtual
slaves of the Babis.
) It is ambiguous
whether the Bab envisaged this theocracy as covering all the earth, or only
Persia and the surrounding countries.
The political and social conceptions of the Bayan were never realized, and
underwent fundamental changes in the later Bahá'í developments. In conclusion,
we must emphasize again that the driving forces of the Babi eruption were not
its complicated doctrines, but the violent expectations and passions which the
appearance of the Bab aroused. It must also be stated clearly that this implies
no general statement of the relative importance of doctrine and "life" in
religious history, but is a description of this particular phenomenon.
4. The Appearance of Bahá'u'lláh
The period which it is our task to discuss now is the most obscure in
the entire history of the Bahá'í movement. The information available about it
is sparse and contradictory,
result of the schism between Bahá'ís and Azalis, and the distortions,
suppressions and falsifications of the historical sources which resulted from
We must first look at the Babi background of the schism, which, after all, was
a struggle for succession to the position of the Bab.
It is certain that the Bab appointed Sohb-i-Azal to be
his successor and, as we have seen in our discussion of the period immediately
after the Bab's death, that Azal was generally recognised as such by the Babi
community after 1850. What is not clear, however, is the exact meaning to be
described to this appointment, in the understanding of the Bab, Azal himself,
and the Babi community, and its relationship to the Babi doctrine of M.Y.H.
The document presented by Azal to substantiate his claim is hardly convincing.
It is a letter from the Bab to Azal, which reads as follows:
"God is Most Great with the Uttermost Greatness. This is a letter on the part
of God, the Protector, the Self-Existent, to God, the Protector, the
Self-Existent. Say, 'All originate from
God'. Say, 'All return unto God'. This is a letter from 'Ali before Nabil, God's Reminder unto the Worlds, unto him
whose name is equivalent to the Name of the One, God's Reminder unto the Worlds. Say, 'Verily all
originate from the Point of Revelation.' O Name of the One, keep what hath been
revealed in the Beyan, and what hath been commanded, for verily Thou art a
Mighty Way of Truth."
Whatever may have been the Bab's intent, Azal himself regarded this
appointment as a legal-political one, that is, in the sense of Caliphate rather
than Imamate. It was to be his task to lead the Babi community in the difficult
period of the "Minor Occultation". Certainly Azal did not regard himself as
M.Y.H. When after the death of the Bab several claims to the station of
were made, Azal appears to have welcomed these as ecstatic
identifications with the Bab (that is, as manifestations of the "Mansur
ecstasy"), not as claims to the station of M.Y.H. From the Azali point of view,
therefore, Baha-u'llah's claim to that station, not in the sense of the "Mansur
ecstasy" but as abrogating the Bayanic cycle, was outrageous heresy.
The Bahá'ís have not been consistent in their interpretation of the Bab's
intentions concerning Azal. At first, their intention seems to have been to
claim all of Azal's titles for their own candidate, simply ignoring Azal and
stating that the Bab appointed Baha-u'llah to be his successor; this is still
generally done in western Bahá'í publications. To this purpose, the Bahá'ís
tried to destroy or falsify the early history of the Babi movement, as recorded
by Mirza Jani of Kashan, and to write new histories which would assert
Baha-u'llah's claim, as was done in the 1880's from the Bahá'í center in
"As the Biography of the Prophet Muhummad
composed by Ibn Is-hak was superseded by the recension of Ibn Hisham, so should
Mirza Jani's old history of the Bab and his apostles be superseded by a
revised, expurgated, and amended "New History" (Tarikh-i-Jadid), which, while
carefully omitting every fact, doctrine and expression calculated to injure the
policy of Beha, or to give offence to his followers, should preserve, and even
supplement with new material derived from fresh sources, the substance of the
However, in the history which was written by Abdul Baha and became the official
Bahá'í version until after the latter's death, the appointment of Azal was
admitted, but explained in the following manner:
assistance and instruction of Bahá'u'lláh, therefore, they made him notorious
and famous on the tongues of friends and foes, and wrote letters, ostensibly at
his dictation to the Bab. And since secret correspondence were in process the
Bab highly approved of this sceme [sic]. So Mirza Yahya was concealed and
hidden while mention of him was on the tongues and in the mouths of men. And
this might plan was of wondrous efficacy, for Bahá'u'lláh, though he was known
and seen, remained safe and secure, and this veil was the cause that no one
outside (the sect) fathomed the matter or fell into the idea of molestation,
until Bahá'u'lláh quitted Teheran at the permission of the King and was
permitted to withdraw to the Supreme Shrines".
There is, of course, no substantiating evidence for this explanation.
Mirza Jani himself, the only Babi historian who wrote before the schism and
whose book we have, regarded the appointment of Azal as a recognition of this
station as M.Y.H., because, he claims, the Bab ordered Azal to write the
unfinished part of the Bayan, a task to be performed by M.Y.H.:
"He (B.) also wrote a testamentary deposition, explicitly
nominating him (Ezal) as his successor (Wali), and added, 'Write the
eight (unwritten) Vahids of the Beyan, and, if 'He whom God shall
manifest' should appear in His power in thy time, abrogate the Bayan, and put
into practice that which he shall inspire into thine heart."
This proves, if nothing else, that there were Babis immediately after the death
of the Bab who considered the possibility that M.Y.H. might appear and abrogate
the Bayanic cycle within their own lifetime. If Mirza Jani is to be trusted in
his interpretation of the appointment, the Bab himself did not completely
dismiss this possibility either.
Very little appears certain in this confusion of claims and counterclaims. We
cannot know clearly what the Bab's own understanding was in the succession
matter. Azal himself, and his followers, adopted the more moderate,
conservative interpretation of the appointment. Baha-u'llah, and his followers,
taking up the chiliastic motif where the Bab had projected it into the future
in his doctrine of M.Y.H. appeared with a new radical claim, which in the
course of the struggle won completely over the conservative claim within the
Babi community. It was Baha-u'llah, therefore, and not his half-brother, who
was carrying on the dominant motif of the Babi movement. We may say that Azal
may have been right from a "legal" point of view, but that Baha-u'llah was
"religiously" right in his claim.
As we have already pointed out, Azal was generally recognised as the leader of
the Babi movement after the Bab's death in 1850. Both Babi and non-Babi sources
agree on this.
There were, however, a
number of other claims in this period, such as that of Jenab-i-Zabih and
Jenab-i-Basir (the "Indian believers"), all appearing as divine manifestations
and asserting themselves as Nuqta
. Azal did not feel perturbed by these
claims, accepting them as expressions of the "Mansur ecstasy", only mildly
reproved the most violent ones. Mirza Jani himself comments on them in a
"We love such as advance claims, provided
that they be sincere in their claims ... The more branches and leaves a tree
bears, the greater is its perfection, and the more abundant its
A later Azali source comments more caustically:
came to such a pass that everyone on wakening from his first sleep in the
morning adorned his body with this pretension."
In 1852, at the time of the Teheran massacre, Azal was in Nur, in the south
He escaped arrest despite a
price that had been set on this head. Disguised as a dervish, he escaped across
the border into Iraq, then part of the Turkish Empire. Baha-u'llah was arrested
in Teheran, apparently released because of his aristocratic background and some
kind of intervention on the part of the Russian embassy, and was permitted also
to proceed to Iraq with his family. The two brothers met in Bagdad, where they
remained for 12 years. The Babi exiles appear to have received a friendly, or
at least indifferent, reception from the Turkish authorities. The latter were
not interested in the inner quarrels of the Shi'ite faith, as the Babi episode
must have appeared to them, and may not have been too averse to welcoming
people who had created political difficulties in neighboring Persia, with which
the Turkish Empire was not always on the best of relations.
From this time onwards the important events of Bahá'í history take place
outside Persia. In the period following the flight of the two brothers to Iraq
the Persian community lived in hiding, under the constant threat of
persecution. Outside Persia there were established two centers of Babi exiles.
One was the community in Bagdad, the other was established in Ishqabad, in
Russian Turkestan, where a number of Babis had taken refuge and had been well
received by the Russian authorities, who had from the first shown a sympathetic
attitude towards these victims of persecution. The community in Ishqabad was
later to erect the first Bahá'í house of worship. It continued, however, in
relative isolation and played no great part in the subsequent history of the
movement. The community in Bagdad, however, found itself at the very heart of
the Shi'ite world. It was able to engage in open missionary activity among the
many Persian pilgrims who came to the Shi'ite shrines of Kerbela and Najaf.
Despite the secret character of the movement in Persia, communications between
Bagdad and Persia were frequent, and the Babi community in the homeland of the
movement was able to follow in all the details the succession struggle which
was to break out.
The most important problem of the Bagdad period is the growing claims and
importance of Baha-u'llah.
sources assert that Baha declared himself to be M.Y.H. the new prophet of the
age, in the "Year 9" (after the declaration of the Bab), that is, 1853. This
date has to this been accepted by Bahá'ís as the beginning of the Bahá'í era,
following that of the Bab, but the date is very improbable. Other Bahá'í
sources speak of the "Year 19", that is, 1863, when just before the departure
of the community from Bagdad Baha made some kind of a declaration in the
caravansarai of the "Garden of Rizwan", from where the group was to start out
on its journey to Adrianople. The first, if not both, of these declarations
were, if made at all, communicated more or less in secret to a small inner
circle of Baha's followers.
know, of course, now the consciousness of his position developed in Baha's own
mind. We know that Baha spent two years in retirement in the wilderness of
The Bahá'í sources have
described this period as one in which his prophetic consciousness was ripening
and have compared it to the retreats of Jesus and Muhummad. The Azali source,
however, claims that Baha left in anger because the community resisted his
innovations in Babi laws and his pretensions to leadership, and that he
returned at the invitation of Azal.
This source also states that Baha did not begin to dispute Azal's supremacy
until the second part of the Baghdad period, gradually making use of his
administrative position to increase his power, but that he did not openly
proclaim himself as M.H.Y., or, as the Azali source falsely claims, as
incarnation of God, until the transfer of the community to Adrianople.
What appears certain is that from the beginning Azal remained in the
background, living in meditation like a Sufi saint, and like the Bab had done
before him. Baha was the administrative leader of the community, taking care
especially of the important communication line with Persia. He also wrote some
important books in this period, which we shall discuss below. From our sources
and from the internal evidence of these books, it seems that Baha did not
openly proclaim himself in the Baghdad period, submitted outwardly to Azal's
leadership, but gradually began to prepare his followers and wider Babi circles
in Persia for the coming of a new proclamation.
The community stayed in Baghdad until 1863 or 1864.
At that time, the Persian embassy in Constantinople
made a formal request to the Sultan for the extradition of the Babi exiles,
who, it was asserted, constituted a political threat to Persia. The request for
extradition was not granted. Instead the Babis were summoned to Constantinople,
apparently for an audience with the Sultan. This audience never took place. The
Babis arrived in Constantinople after an arduous journey through Anatolia, and
immediately began a vigorous missionary activity in the Turkish capital. This
aroused the anger of the Sunnite clergy, who influenced the Sultan to remove
the Babis from the capital. The community was ordered to proceed to Adrianople,
as far away from Persia as possible and reasonably far from Constantinople.
They arrived there in 1864.
The community of Babi exiles remained in Adrianlople from 1864 to 1868. In
this period the schism between Azal and Baha reached its culmination. It is
completely impossible to determine the truth of what happened during these four
years; all we can do is put the two versions of events side by side, and take
the story up again at the end of this period. The only thing we know for
certain, and on which both versions agree, is that Baha openly declared himself
as M.Y.H. in 1866 and 1867, and at that time appealed to Babis everywhere to
recognise him as the prophet of the new age predicted by the Bab.
The Bahá'í version of the Adrianople period
asserts that Azal openly "rebelled" against Baha and
claimed the title of M.Y.H. for himself, although he knew that his title
rightfully belonged to Baha. In this he was to have been inspired largely by
one Siyyid Muhummad of Isfahan, an Azali who was later assassinated by Bahá'ís
in Palestine. The Bahá'í version further claims that Azal made two attempts to
murder Baha, one by trying to poison his food and the other by bribing Baha's
barber to cut his throat. Baha is supposed to have addressed a letter to all
Babis, faithfully declaring both his own and Azal's claim, and to have retired
for a brief period awaiting the result of this appeal. In accordance with the
Bab's promise that M.Y.H. would be recognizable by the sheer powr of this
person, Baha was universally recognized by the Babi community. Thereupon Azal
is to have denounced Baha to the government, stating that he was planning
rebellion against the Turkish Empire. As a result of this denunciation both
Bahá'ís and Azalis are to have been deported from Adrianople. Of this version
we can only say that the assertion that Azal laid claim to the title of M.Y.H.
is certainly untrue, as is clear from his subsequent behavior, and that the
statement that the "rebelled" against Baha makes little sense in view of Azal's
undisputed leadership prior to Baha's declaration (declarations).
The Azali version give us an almost precise reversal of this story.
It tells us that Baha, who had already
begun to subvert Azal's leadership in Baghdad, openly proclaimed himself not
only as M.Y.H. but as an incarnation of God at Adrianople. It was he who tried
to murder Azal in the two ways mentioned above. Again, it was he who denounced
Azal to the Turkish authorities as a rebel leader, going as far as planting
false letters in government offices in Constantinople, purporting to be calls
to rebellion from Baha. This denunciation is to have led to the deportation
from Adrianople. Of this version it can only be said that Baha did not proclaim
himself as an incarnation of God, as we have already pointed out. In regard to
both claims of denunciation to the authorities we may doubt their veracity, as
such a denunciation was likely to harm all Babis, of whatever faction. Our best
impartial researcher into this period has this to say about it:
"It is difficult amidst the conflicting statement of the two
parties and the silence of disinterested historians to discover precisely what
were the causes which led to the removal of the Babis from Adrianople. Further
investigation inclines me to abandon the view ... that overt acts of hostility
between the two factions made it necessary to separate them, for Mirza Yahya
appears to have been almost without supporters at Adrianople, so that,
according to his own account, he and his little boy were compelled to go
themselves to the market to buy their daily food."
If we are unable to discover the precise causes, we know what the consequences
were. Both Azal and Bah were arrested by the Turkish authorities and deported
from Adrianople with their respective followers. The Bahá'í group was
substantially larger than the Azali one. Azal was sent to Famagusta, on Cyprus,
with four Bahá'ís to watch him, while Baha was sent to the prison fortress of
Acre, in Palestine, with four Azalis to watch him. Of these four one was
already assassinated in Adrianople, the three others in Acre.
The greater severity of Baha's fate seems to indicate
that the Turkish authorities regarded him as the principal culprit.
From this time on we no longer have to concern ourselves with Azal. Baha's
victory was complete and the history of this followers constitutes from then on
the history of the movement. Azal continued to live in Famagusta until his
death in 1912 in increasing isolation and obscurity. The Azali faction ceased
to exist long before that. [
Baha lived in and then near Acre for 1868 to 1892, the date of his death.
This period is characterised by the full
unfolding to his prophetic claim and an extensive literary activity, to be
discussed below, in which the corpus of the new Bahá'í manifestation was laid
The first two years Baha lived under strict imprisonment in the filthy
fortress notorious for holding the worst criminals of the Turkish Empire.
Gradually his conditions were alleviated. He was first permitted to move into a
private house within the city gates and after nine years, in 1877, into a quiet
country house at Bahji, outside the city, where he lived until his death.
From the first, a stream of pilgrims passed through Acre, Persian Bahá'ís who
came to see their prophet. While he was in prison, he could only show himself
through the window, and the pilgrims would wait patiently for hours to catch
this brief glimpse of him. Baha received now the same passionate worship that
the Bab had received before him. When he was permitted to live at Bahji he
lived in the same contemplative islation that had characterized the life of the
Bab. An audience with him was a privilege granted to only few.
The temporal affairs of the Bahá'í movement were
increasingly administered by Baha's son Abdul-Baha, just as Baha had done at
Baghdad, and the various "Letters of the Living" in the time of the Bab. Baha
was constantly surrounded by secretaries, who took down all he said, as far as
possible. His numerous letters were called "tablets" (alwah
indicate their imperishability, and treated as containers of divine
The Bahá'í community in Acre established itself as a fairly respected
minority. Some Bahá'ís became successful in business there. After the
assassination of the Azali spies brought along from Adrianople, an act in which
Baha, at any rate, acquiesced, the community was united under Baha. His
authority was unquestioned, however, not only in Acre, but in all Bahá'í
communities in Persia as well.
In the homeland of the movement the Bahá'ís continued as a secret group. Baha
gave strict orders against any form of rebellion or even resistance against
persecution. As we have seen, the Bahá'í histories of the 1880s tried
substantially to change the character of the Babi movement, one of these
changes being the systematic suppression of the rebellious character of the
movement and the exoneration of the Kajar dynasty from the cruelties inflicted
on the Babis. In the course of a series of lettes Baha sent to various rulers
and kings, he also wrote a letter to the Shah. In this letter he assured the
Shah of the Bahá'ís' loyalty to the Persian throne and urged him to practice
religious toleration. The letter was delivered in Teheran by a young Bahá'í,
Mirza Badi, who was immediately executed in cruel fashion. We have every reason
to believe that Baha really meant this new policy and that he completely
abandoned any idea of establishing the Bahá'í order by force of arms.
In spite of secrecy and persecution, the movement continued to grow in Persia.
was generally observed against the Shi'ites, less so as the
fierceness of the original opposition began to subside. There were, however,
intermittent outbreaks of bloody persecution, as at Isfahan and Yezd in
Bahá'ísm achieved some
remarkable successes among Persian Jews and, to a lesser extent, was received
favorably by Zoroastrians. To both these groups the movement was attractive as
abandoning the rigid Muslim attitudes towards them. Also at this time the
movement began to attract some freethinking individuals, who, under western
influences, were becoming estranged from Islam.
Baha died in 1892, at the age of 75. He is buried in the garden of Bahji, a
place of pilgrimage for Bahá'ís from all over the world and the Bahá'í
5. Doctrinal Developments
There are no fundamental differences between the doctrinal systems of
the Bab and Baha-u'llah. The works of Baha, the most important of which are
available in translation,
elaboration of the Bayanic system in terms of the new claim to divine
manifestation. There are certain changes and shifts of emphasis, and the
esoteric gnosticism of the Bayan is considerably pushed into the background. On
the basis of Baha's works, we can say that the gnostic motif in Babism was
receding and its chiliastic motif was being increasingly domesticated into an
ethical-religious program for world peace and betterment. Also, we find in
Baha's works the signs of the larger audiences the movement was trying to reach
with its spread beyond the borders of Persia.
Chronologically, we can see, of course, a great difference between the works
written in Baghdad, when Baha was still recognizing Azal's leadership, and
those written in Adrianople and Acre, where the new claim was openly
proclaimed. However, this difference appears to consist in the doctrine of
Baha's person and the practical consequences, in terms of the new
manifestation, drawn from it, not in the underlying conceptions of God,
revelation and the religious life. The most important works from Baghdad period
are the Haft Vadi
("Seven Valleys") and the Kalimat-i-Maknune
("Hidden Words"), both edificational tracts, and the Kitab'ul-Ighan
("Book of Certitude"), an apologetic work to defend Babism against its critics.
From the late Adrianople period dates the Suratu'l-Haikal
("Sura of the
Temple"), setting forth Baha's claim, and perhaps some of the Alwahi
("Tablets to the Kings"), in which Baha addresses the rulers of
both east and west. From the Acre period dates above all the Kitab Akdas
("Holy Book"), containing the new Bahá'í legislative corpus, as well as a large
number of "tablets" (alwah
) sent to different individuals or groups.
Translation of the Kitab Akdas
were forbidden by Baha until its
legislative plans could be realized in practice, but summaries of its contents
have been made.
The Bahá'í doctrine of God and revelation is identical with that of the Bayan,
with the difference that the person of Baha is included in the catalog of
prophets and that there is less emphasis on the mysterious elements of the
revelatory process, such as the concept of "return". As in the Bayan, the
Bahá'í doctrine of God differentiates between His essence and attributes, only
the latter being knowable to men through the manifestations of the logos
). Sufi formulations of man's unity with God are emphatically
rejected. The world is co-eternal with God, the arena of His emanations and
As in the Bayan, the Bahá'í doctrine speaks of a series of prophets, each
bearing the message of God to a particular age. There does not appear to be a
clear idea of the number and identity of these prophets; in one place Baha
mentions prophets that came before Adam.
The signs of the prophet are still the "descent of
verses" and the power of his personality. As had been done by the Bab, Islamic
eschatology is interpreted in an allegorical fashion to refer to the coming of
the next prophet. Baha, however, also showed considerable interest in Christian
eschatology, interpreting it in the same allegorical fashion as referring to
himself, as in Jesus' words concerning the Comforter to come and the sign of
the Son of Man appearing in the sky, to be understood as referring
respectively to Baha and the Bab.
Bab, in this way, appears in the role of John the Baptist, the "Minor
Manifestation", in relation to Baha.
Baha appears in the full authority of the prophet for the new age. The Bayanic
manifestation is concluded and the Bahá'í era has begun. In one of this
polemics against the Azalis, who refuse to accept this claim, Baha says:
"Remarquez que certains vergets rèvèlès
postèrieurement abrogent ceux qui one ètè
rèvèlès antèrieurement. Peut- être que les
polyth êtesistes du Bayan n'ont jamais lu le Qoran non plus, sinon
comment peuvent-ile dire que, le commandement du verset antérieur il
n'est pas possible de l'abroger par un autre verset? Quant à ceux dent
nous avons parle en vérité, vous ne trouverez en eux que
l'infidelité, la rébellion, la néglegence, la perdition.
Leur et tout ce qui se trouve dans les Ecritures divines, au sujet des
abrogations et des contradictions du Qoran, ils recommencent les mewes errrurs,
et de nouveau ils se soulévent contre le Roi de l'invisible et du
All manifestations are essentially one, so that Baha can speak of himself as
Jesus returned from heaven:
"En vérité, Il est
venu Ciel comme Il en vint la première fois; prenex gards de controdire
ce qu'Il dit, comme l'ont fait les peuples qui vous ont
précédés! Ainsi Dieu vous instruit, si vous êtes de
ceux qui savent."
In this spirit of authority Baha addressed his letters not only to the Persian
Shah and the Turkish Sultan, but to the Pople and the Christian rulers of
Europe. He wrote to Queen Victoria, Napoleon III and Alexander II, demanding
that they recognize him as the returned Christ. To Pope Pius IX he wrote:
"O Pape! Déchire les voiles, car le Seigneur des
Seigneurs est venu à l'ombre des nuages, et l'ordre a été
decreté de la part de Cieu, l'independent, le Tout-Puissant! Ouvre les
rideux par la puissance de ton Seigneur, puis monte au Royaume des noms et des
Seigneur, le Fort, le Puissant."
Just as the Bab had envisaged a Babi state in which the Bayan would be the
supreme law, so Baha envisaged a Bahá'í commonwealth. Baha, however, was
explicit in his expectation that his commonwealth would cover the whole earth.
Baha explicitly abrogates the "four great barriers" of the Bayan: killing men's
lives (jihhad); burning books; shunning other nations; and exterminating other
The purpose of the Bahá'í
manifestation is the "Promulgation of the Most Great Peace" throughout the
"O ye people of the world! The virtue of this Most
Great Manifestation is that we have effaced from the Book whatever was the
cause of difference, corruption and discord, and recorded therein that which
leads to Unity, Harmony and Accord."
In the place of the "four great barriers" of the Bayan are recommended the
"five greatest foundations" for the government of the nations: the promotion of
the Most Great Peace by the House of Justice, which we shall discuss below; a
universal language; the practice by all of love and unity; the levying of taxes
for universal education; and promotion of agriculture.
Other specific recommendations is that Bahá'ís must
obey all governments, that all clergy and monasticism must be abolished, that
the sciences "which lead and conduce to the elevation of mankind" be studied,
and that each man must have an occupation in which to serve God.
The last of these is especially
interesting to us, as it gave the Bahá'ís in the Near East a vocational ethic
often setting them off visibly from their Muslim neighbors.
To carry out the administrative work of the Bahá'í commonwealth, both on the
local, national and eventually international level, Baha instituted the
("House of Justice"). The idea of the "House of Justice"
represents a curious blending of theocratic and democratic concepts, the former
going back to the Bayan, the latter to Baha's great admiration of British
orders the establishment in the future of local "Houses of Justice"
by election of the local communities (assumed to consist of Bahá'ís), later to
lead to national "Houses of Justice", and eventually to culminate in a
"Universal House of Justice", which would constitute a world government. Baha
ordered that after his death the succession pass to Abbas Effendi (Abdul-Baha),
his oldest son, and from the latter to the "Universal House of Justice", which
Baha expected would exist by then. The "Houses of Justice" are to exist side by
side with existing monarchies, their relationship with the monarchies
corresponding to that between the British Throne and Parliament. The "Houses of
Justice" are administrative organs, both religious and political, but they have
no right to change the fundamental laws as laid down by the prophet.
Above all Bahá'ís must cultivate a spirit of tolerance and sympathy towards
all men, of whatever nation or race:
"Consort with (the
people of) religions with joy and fragrance; to show forth (in deeds, etc) that
which is declared by the Speaker of the Mount; and to render justice in
affairs. The followers of Sincerity and Faithfulness must consort with all the
people of the world with joy and fragrance; for association (intercourse) is
always conducive to union and harmony, and union and harmony are the cause of
the order of the world and the life of nations. Blessed are they who hold fast
to the rope of compassion and kindness and are detached from animosity and
Baha's commandment of international amity is summed up in the following
statement, frequently quoted by western Bahá'ís:
not his who loves his native land; but glory is his who loves his kind."
The religious life as laid down by Baha is one of simple worship, mostly
private (as had been the case with the Babis), warm inner piety, the practice
of love and active work for the betterment of the world.
In describing the experiences of the inner life Baha frequently uses Sufi
symbolism, especially in his early Haft Vadi
. It is a mistake, however,
to regard even this work as Sufi in inspiration.
The terms implying unity and ecstasy never refer, in
the Sufi sense, to God, but always to the logos
as found in the
prophetic manifestations. Through the logos
, however, all creation is
seen to be filled with the emanations of God's glory:
cherches à l'interieur de chaque atome, au milieu tu trouves un
Sufism is explicitly rejected:
"Those souls (mystic Sufis)
have affirmed concerning the stages of 'Divine Unity' that which is the
greatest cause of addicting people to idleness and superstition. They have,
indeed, removed the distinction and have imagined themselves to be God. The
True One is sanctified above all; (but) His signs are manifest in all things.
The signs are from Him - not He Himself - and all of them are recorded
and visible in the volume of the world. The plan of the world is a great Book;
everyone endowed with perception can grasp (therefrom) that which shall enable
him to attain to the Right Path an the 'Great Message'".
While clergy and monasticism are abolished, along with the Muslim laws
concerning ritual uncleanness and purification, and while prayer is to be
essentially private, Baha ordered the establishment of Bahá'í houses of
worship, to be called Mashriqu'l-Azkar
(literally, "Place of Ascent of
Prayers"). The first of these was established in Ishqabad, but later closed by
the Soviet authorities. The only one in existence today is that in Wilmette,
Ill., whose foundations were laid by Abdul-Baha.
In conclusion, we may point out that Baha continued the Bab's concern for the
humane education of children. In the Near East Bahá'ís are known for the charm
of their children, as well as the high regard (at least by comparison with the
Muslims) in which they hold their women.
- This is the end of the typed excerpt I possess. Please email me if you can help finish typing or scanning this dissertation. I don't have a copy of it, but it can be obtained in many university libraries.
- The footnote reference numbers were included in the text above by the typist, but the footnotes themselves have not yet been typed.