E. G. Browne's "A Traveller's Narrative:" Note J


        Of the circumstances which led to the conference, and the considerations which induced the majority of the clergy invited to take part in it to absent themselves therefrom, the Táríkh-i-Jadíd gives the following account. Although the 'Ulamá of Isfahán headed by the Imám- Jum'a had at first behaved towards the Báb with respect, and expressed themselves favourably with regard to him, they began after a while to be alarmed at his increasing influence over the governor Munúchihr Khán. Alarm presently passed into hatred: they began to speak ill of him whom they had professed to admire, and even destroyed certain books which he had composed at their request. Munúchihr Khán on hearing this was greatly incensed, and bitterly reproached these divines with the fickleness of their conduct. "At first," he said, "you praised and admired. What has happened now to cause you to become so hostile and envious and induce you to speak so ill? There is no sense in denunciation without investigation or enquiry. If you are in truth searchers and strivers in matters of faith and religion, then choose one of three places - the Imám-Jum'a's house, my house, or the Masjid-i-Sháh - and hold discussion with him [the Báb]. If he can establish and prove the truth of his claim so as to persuade and convince you,

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admit it, so that the clergy of Persia may not oppose and resist it without reason, or turn away from the truth without cause. If he cannot succeed in establishing his claim, then do you be the first to rebut it, so that this mischief may cease, and mankind may be set at ease. But it is a condition that I myself be present and that only one person at a time speak, for if once wrangling begins and clerical tricks are resorted to, the matter will not be understood"

        The clergy agreed to this proposal, and selected the Masjid- Sháh as the scene of the conference. On the appointed day Mír Seyyid Hasan Mudarris, Hájí Mullá Hasan 'Alí of Túsirkán, Áká Muhammad Mahdí Kalbásí, and other members of the clergy who were to take part in the discussion met at the house of Hájí Muhammad Ja'far of Fárs, intending to proceed with him to the Masjid-i-Sháh. Hájí Muhammad Ja'far, however, who was the oldest and most learned of those present, expressed a strong opinion to the effect that they would act most wisely in refusing to take any part in the projected discussion with the Báb, "for," said he, "if you prevail over him you will add but little to your reputation, seeing that he is confessedly unlearned and untrained in science; while if he prevail over you, you will be for ever shamed and disgraced. Under these circumstances it is best that we should sign a declaration stating that we are convinced of the heretical character of his doctrines, and refuse to have any further dealings with him." This expedient was, after some discussion, unanimously adopted, and the declaration was sent to Minúchihr Khán, who was greatly incensed thereat.

        That some of the clergy who had been invited to take part in the discussion refused to attend is a fact vouched for by both of the Bábí historians, though as to the names of the absentees they are not in complete accord, Áká Muhammad Mahdí, for instance, being specially designated in the present work (p. 12) as having been present at the conference. The Násikh 't-Tawáríkh gives a totally different account of the matter, including a report of the discussion. This account is in substance as follows.

        Minúchihr Khán, anxious to test the Báb's wisdom, one

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night invited to his house several eminent members of the clergy of Isfahán, amongst these being Mírzá Seyyid Muhammad Imám-Jum'a, Áká Muhammad Mahdí Kalbásí, and Mírzá Muhammad Hasan of Núr. Shortly after these had arrived the Báb entered and was placed in a seat of honour. The following colloquy then took place:-

        Áká Muhammad Mahdí. - "Persons who follow the path of Religion belong to one of two classes: either they themselves deduce and determine religious questions from history and tradition, or else they follow some competent authority (mujtahid)".1

        Báb: - "I follow no one, and moreover I regard it as unlawful for each one to act after his own fancy."

        Á. M. M. - "To-day the Gate of Knowledge (Báb-i-'ilm) is shut, and the Proof of God[i.e. the Twelfth Imám.] absent. Unless you hold converse with the Imám of the Age and hear the explanation of questions of truth from his tongue, how can you attain certainty and be assured? Tell me, whence have you acquired this knowledge, and from whom did you gain this assurance?"

        Báb. - "You are educated in tradition and are as a child learning the alphabet. The 'Station of Praise and of the Spirit' is mine. You cannot speak with me of what you know not"

        Mírzá Hasan (the Platonist and follower of Mullá Sadrá). - "Stop at this statement which you have made! We in our terminology have assigned a station to 'Praise and the Spirit,' whereunto whosoever attaineth is conversant with all things; from him nothing remains concealed, and there is nothing which he knoweth not. Do you recognise the 'Station of Praise and of the Spirit' as such, and does your nature thus comprehend all things?"

        Báb (without hesitation). - "It is even so. Ask what you please."

        M. H. - "One of the miracles of the Prophets and Saints was, as it appears, the [instant] traversing of the

        1 He who follows is called mukallid, and he who leads, mujtahid. Everyone belonging to the former class is at liberty to select his own guide from the latter.

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earth. Tell me now, that I may know, how the earth can be thus traversed. For instance, His Holiness Jawád1 (upon him be peace) lifted up his foot in Medína and put it down in Tús? Whither went the space which was between Medína and Tús? Did the ground between these two cities sink down, so that Medína became contiguous to Tús? And when the Imám (upon him be peace) reached Tús, did the earth again rise up? This cannot have been, for how many cities are there between Medína and Tús, all of which must in that case have been swallowed up and every living thing therein destroyed! And if you say that the lands [between them] were agglomerated so that they became amalgamated, this too is impossible, for in that case how many cities would have been obliterated or would have passed beyond Medína or Tús, whereas [in fact] no part of the earth was altered or moved from its place. And if you say, 'The Imám flew, and leapt with his mortal body from Medína to Tús,' this likewise agreeth not with sound reasonings. Say also how 'Alí the Prince of Believers (upon Him be peace) was in one night - nay, in one moment - a guest in forty [different] houses. If you say, 'It was not 'Alí, but a simulacrum [of him] appeared,' we admit it not, for God and the Prophet lie not, neither was 'Alí a juggler. And if it was in truth he, how was it so? So likewise it is [stated] in tradition that the heavens moved swiftly in the time of Sultán Jábir, but had a slow motion in the time of the Imáms. Now firstly how can there be two sorts of motion for the heavens? And secondly the Omeyyad and 'Abbásid Kings were contemporary with our Imáms (upon them be peace), so that the heavens must at one time have had both a slow and a swift motion. Discover this mystery also."

        Báb. - "If you wish, I will explain these difficulties verbally; if not, I will write [their solutions] with fingers and pen on paper."

        M. H. - "The choice is yours. Do whichever you please."

        Then the Báb took pen and paper and began to write.

        1 Jawád ("the Generous") is one of the titles assigned to the ninth Imám, Muhammad Takí.

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At this moment supper was brought in. Mírzá Hasan picked up the paper on which the Báb had written a few lines and, after glancing at it, said, "It appears that you have begun a homily, and have only written an exordium of praise to God and a few words of prayer, without acquainting us with that which we desired to know." Here the discussion dropped, and after partaking of supper each one returned to his own home.

        Whatever may be the truth about this conference and the behaviour of the clergy of Isfahán towards the Báb, one fact is clearly proved by all accounts, namely, that from first to last Minúchihr Khán shewed himself a sincere and faithful friend to the Báb. Whether, as stated by Subh-i-Ezel, he wrote to Muhammad Sháh telling him that "it was unseemly for the Government to engage in a quarrel with a private individual," and offered all the money at his disposal and even the rings on his hand to the Báb; or whether, as asserted by the Táríkh-i-Jadíd, he even went so far as to offer to place 50,000 troops at the Báb's disposal, march on Teherán, and compel the King to accept the new faith and bestow the hand of one of his daughters on its founder, must remain doubtful; but this much at least is certain, that almost the only period of comparative peace and comfort enjoyed by the Báb from the beginning of his mission till his martyrdom was the year which he passed in Isfahán under the protection of the wise and powerful Georgian eunuch.

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