Bahá'í Library Online
. . . .
>>   Biographies Books Historical documents
TAGS: Babi studies; Bahai history; Edward Granville Browne
> add tags

Materials for the Study of the Babi Religion

compiled and translated by E. G. Browne.
previous chapter chapter 9 start page single page chapter 11 next chapter

Chapter 10



[blank page]

    Mention has been already made (pp.189—190 supra) of a very elaborate and detailed refutation of the Bábís entitled Ihqáqu'l- Haqq, in the course of which (pp.244—279) the author, Áqá Muhammad Taqí of Hamadán, enumerates some thirty heresies which he ascribes to the Bábís (including under this term the Bahá'ís and the Azalís) and which he endeavours to refute. This portion of the work, which gives a convenient synopsis of most of the characteristic doctrines of this sect, I shall here abridge and summarize in my own words for the information of those who desire to form a general ideal of Bábí theology, and to understand the extreme aversion with which it is regarded by Muslims, alike of the Sunní and Shí`a persuasions.

1.    Denial of miracles.

    They assert that God does not violate the laws of nature, and that the miracles ascribed in the scriptures and in tradition to the Prophets are to be explained allegorically. (Bahá'u'lláh's Iqán, one of the chief polemical works of the Bábís, affords many instances of such allegorical interpretation of signs and wonders; and when more or less miraculous occurrences are mentioned by Bábí historians and biographers, e.g. in the Ta'ríkh-i-Jadíd or "New History," care is almost always taken by the writer to explain that he attaches little importance to them, and that they are of no evidential value.)


2.    The only miracle is the Revelation itself.

    They assert that the receiving of revelations and the production of a Scripture or revealed Book are sufficient in themselves to establish the claim to Prophethood, without any adventitious support from such miracles as are generally ascribed to the great Prophets of yore. (In this connection the Bábís are very fond of quoting Qur'án xviii, 110 and xli, 5: "I am only a human being like unto yourselves [but] revelations are made to me.")

3.    Revelation not subject to the laws of grammar.

    The Báb's grammar, especially in his Arabic utterances, afforded an easy target for criticism, being, in fact, judged by ordinary standards, extremely incorrect1. His reply to his critics was that the rules of grammar were deduced from the Scriptures, while the Scriptures were not compelled to conform to the rules of grammar. He had "freed" the Arabic language from the many limitations (quyúd) or rules wherewith it had hitherto been fettered. But why, asks the author of the Ihqáq, should Persian prophets (if such there be) address their countrymen in a foreign tongue like Arabic, contrary to the practice of all previous prophets, and to the explicit verse of the Qur'án (xiv, 4): "We have not sent any Apostle save with the speech of his own people, that he may make clear to them [his message]"?

4.    By "Signs" they understand revealed verses only.

    The author has no difficulty in showing that in the Qur'án the word áyat (pl. áyát) is used of any "sign" by which the Divine Power is manifested, not only by revealed

1 cf. p. 254 supra, last paragraph.


verses, in which sense especially if not exclusively the Bábís understand it. According to a prevalent theory of the Muhammadans1, each prophet was given as his special "sign" the power to work that miracle which most appealed to his own people and his own period. Thus in the time of Moses and amongst the Egyptians, magic was rated most highly, so he was given power to excel the most skilful of Pharaoh's magicians in their own art; in the time of Jesus Christ medical skill was most esteemed, so He was given miracles of healing; while the Arabs contemporary with Muhammad valued eloquence above all else, and he therefore received the miracle of eloquence, the Qur'án, the like of which none can produce, as it is said (xvii, 90): "Say, verily if mankind and the Jinn should combine to produce the like of this Qur'án, they will not produce the like of it, even though one of them should aid another"' and again (ii, 21—2): "And if ye be in doubt concerning that which We have revealed to Our servant, then produce a súra like unto it, and summon your witnesses besides God, if ye be truthful. (22) But if ye do it not (and ye will not do it), then fear the Fire whose fuel is men and stones, prepared for the unbelievers." The well-known saying, "His signs are His proof and His existence His affirmation," refers to God, not to the prophets, and will not bear the construction the Bábís place on it.

5.    The Qur'án can be understood by all and needs
no exponent.

    It is said in the Qur'án (iii, 5): "None knoweth its interpretation save God and those who are firmly grounded in knowledge"; and the Prophet said: "I shall depart from

   1 See Dawlatsháh's Memoirs of the Poets" (Tadhkiratu'sh-Shu`ará), pp. 5—6 of my edition.


your midst, but I leave with you two great, weighty and precious things, which two things will never be separated or parted from one another until they come to me by the brink of the Fountain of al-Kawthar; and these are God's Word and my kin." So not even the Prophet's contemporaries and fellow-countrymen could without help understand the revelation given to him, though in their own language. How, then, can the Bábís pretend that a revelation in Arabic can be understood without external help by Persians, even the illiterate?

6.    The signs by which each Prophet foretold that his successor
would be distinguished are to be understood allegorically.

    The Mahdí or Qá'im whom the Shí`a expect and for whose advent they pray is the identical Twelfth Imám, the son of the Eleventh Imám and Narjis Khátún, who disappeared a thousand years ago, and who has been miraculously hidden away until the fulness of time, when he shall appear with sundry signs and wonders, enumerated in the Traditions, and "fill the earth with justice after it has been filled with iniquity." But the Bábís, giving the lie to all these traditions, would have us believe that Mírzá `Alí Muhammad of Shíráz, the son of Mírzá Rizá the cloth-seller and Khadája Khánim, who grew up in the ordinary way at the age of twenty-four advanced his claim, was the Expected Imám.

7.    The Prophets are not "immaculate' (ma`súm).

    In support of this view the Bábís appeal to certain doubtful phrases in the Qur'án and to certain incidents narrated in the Old Testament (which the author, in common with most Muslims, holds to be corrupt and distorted in the form


in which it now exists). But if the prophets be not "immaculate" and without sin, what virtue have they over other men, and what claim have they to be listened to?

8.    Purity and impurity, lawfulness and unlawfulness, and
the like, depend solely upon the Prophet's arbitrary volition.

    The prohibitions, sanctions and obligations laid down by the Prophet are all based on reason and prompted by care for the welfare of mankind: they are not mere arbitrary enactments, and, though they may be modified in detail in successive dispensations, they cannot be altered in principle. The contrary view, held by the Bábís, is both heretical and opposed to reason.

9.    The term "Seal of the Prophets" explained away.

    In the Qur'án (xxxiii, 40) Muhammad is called "the Seal of the Prophets" (Khátamu'n-Nabiyyín), and, according to a well-known tradition, he declared that there would be no prophet after him. Belief in the finality of his mission and revelation is therefore a cardinal and universal tenet of the Muslims; but the Bábís, desiring to represent the Qur'án and the Law of Islám as abrogated in favour of their own Scriptures and Law, endeavour to explain away this explicit and unambiguous declaration.

10.    The claim that the Báb or Bahá'u'lláh is the
Qá'im or Khátam.

    The Bábís claim that certain of the signs (such as earthquakes, famine and the like) which shall herald the advent of "Him who shall arise (al- Qá'im) of the House of Muhammad," i.e the Mahdí, did actually precede or accompany


the "Manifestation" of the Báb. Now as we have seen above (No. 6) they assert that these promised "Signs" are to be understood allegorically, not literally. They cannot have it both ways, or claim that such of these signs as happened to accompany the Báb's advent are to be taken literally, while such as did not appear are to be explained allegorically.

11.    Denial of the Resurrection and belief in Metempsychosis
and the like

    The Bábís deny the Resurrection of the body, for which they substitute the doctrine of the "Return" (Raj`at) to the life of this world of the dramatis personae—both believers and unbelievers —of previous "Manifestations" or Dispensations. This doctrine the author regards as hardly distinguishable from transmigration (tanásukh) and re-incarnation (hulúl), but in reality it appears that such "returns" are regarded by Bábís less as re-incarnations than as re-manifestations of former types, comparable to the repetition of the same parts in a drama by fresh actors, or the re-writing of an old story. Significant in this connection is the favourite Bábí designation of the protagonists on either side as "Letters of Light" (Hurúfu'n- Núr) and "Letters of Fire" (Hurúf'n-Nár).

12.    Denial of a Future Life.

    The Bábís deny the Resurrection of the body, and explain allegorically all the beliefs connected therewith. Thus Heaven is belief in and Hell denial of the New Theophany; the Angels are its emissaries and the Devils its antagonists; and so with the Questioning of the Tomb, the Bridge of Sirát, the Balance, the Reckoning, and the like.


13.    Denial of the miraculous eloquence of the Qur'án.

    The Bábís eagerly associate themselves with the Jews and Christians in denying not only the supreme eloquence of the Qur'án, but even in some cases the correctness of its phraseology and grammar. This they do to palliate the manifest and manifold errors of their own Scriptures.

14.    Their claim that the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh and
Subh-i-Azal were "illiterate"

    In two passages in the Qur'án (vii, 156 and 158) the Prophet Muhammad is described as "the illiterate Prophet" (an-Nabiyyu'l- Ummí). "This defect," says Sale in Sect. ii of his Preliminary Discourse, " was so far from being prejudicial or putting a stop to his design, that he made the greatest use of it; insisting that the writings which he produced as revelations from God could not possibly be a forgery of his own; because it was not conceivable that a person who could neither write nor read should be able to compose a book of such excellent doctrine, and in so elegant a style, and thereby obviating an objection that might have carried a great deal of weight." The same claim, prompted by similar motives, was advanced in turn by the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh and Subh-i-Azal; but in their case our author is at some pains to show that it is not true, and that each of them received at any rate a respectable education.

15.    Rapidity and quantity of output of "verses" deemed
by the Bábís an additional miracle

    As every letter, nay, every line, written by, or at the dictation of, the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh, or Subh-i-Azal is deemed inspired, and as they wrote or dictated almost incessantly,


the amount of their writings is prodigious; while the Báb in particular repeatedly boasts of the number of "verses" he could produce in a given time, so that it is said that ten scribes writing simultaneously could hardly succeed in recording his utterances. The idea that this, apart from the quality of the "verses," is a miracle or even a merit is strongly combated by our author, who inclines to the view expressed in the well-known Arabic saying, "the best speech is that which is briefest and most to the point."

16.    Their assertion that the miraculous quality (I`jáz) of
the Qur'án can be appreciated by the ignorant and illiterate

    The Bábís say that if the miraculous quality of the Qur'án were not apparent to all, learned and illiterate, Arab and non-Arab, alike, its proof would not be complete; and they adduce in support of this view the tradition, "Knowledge is a light which God casteth into the heart of whomsoever He will." This view also the author energetically repudiates.

17.    Their contention that willingness to die for one's
religious convictions is a proof of truth.

    In support of this view (which the author repudiates) the Bábís cite Qur'án lxii, 6, "Say, O ye who follow the Jewish faith, if ye suppose that ye are the friends of God beyond other men, then invoke Death, if ye be sincere." (In spite of our author, there is, however, no doubt that nothing so greatly conduced to the fame and diffusion of the Bábí religions as the unflinching courage with which its adherents confronted death in the most cruel forms. Compare p. 268 supra.)


18.    Their assertion that the Muhammadan doctors persecuted
them because they cannot answer their arguments

    All that the author has to say on this head is that the `Ulamá did not resort to violent methods until they had first tried persuasion and offered opportunities for recantation, and that in this they did but follow the example of the Prophets, whose heirs they are, in their dealings with heretics and infidels.

19.    Their refusal to listen to rational or traditional argu-
ments based on Scripture and tradition, philosophy and
reason, or experience and perception

    The author's meaning, which is not very clearly expressed here, appears to be that while the Bábís constantly quote texts from the Old and New Testaments and the Qur'án when these serve their purpose, they refuse to listen to such texts as run contrary to their beliefs, on the ground that the later and more perfect Theophany is its own proof (as the sun shining in heaven is its own proof) and that earlier and lesser manifestations are proved by it rather than it by them.

20.    Their assertion that the Jewish and Christian Scriptures
have not been tampered with

    It is implied in the Qur'án1 and Traditions, and almost universally believed by the Muslims, that the Scriptures now possessed by the Jews and Christians have been corrupted and mutilated, especially as regards the prophecies of Muhammad's mission which they were alleged to contain. The Bábís hold the contrary view, asserting that no people

   1 See especially ii, 39; iii, 63—4; and iv, 48 and the commentaries thereon.


possessing a Scripture which they regard as God's Word would willingly and deliberately tamper with its text; and they take a similarly indulgent view of the Zoroastrian Scriptures. Their object in this, says our author, is to flatter and gratify these people and win them over to their doctrines, in which aim they have had no small success.

21.    Their pretended tolerance and gentleness towards all.

    Bahá'u'lláh's commendation of tolerance, charity and loving kindness towards all men, irrespective of race and creed, is constant and continuous, but the author (with some reason) maintains that the practice of his followers, especially in relation to the Muslims, more particularly the Shí`ites, is very far removed from their professions.

22.    Their adherence to the heresy called Badá.

    The verb badá, yabdú in Arabic means "to appear," and with the preposition li "to occur to," of a new idea occurring to a person. In theological terminology the verbal noun al-badá denotes the heresy of those who assert that God can change his mind, especially in the designation of a prophet or Imám. The classical case of this use of the term is a traditional saying of the Sixth Imám of the Shí`a, Ja`far as-Sádiq, who intended or desired that his son Isma`il should succeed him as Imám, but subsequently bequeathed the Imámate to his other son Músá, called al-zim; concerning which substitution he is alleged to have said "God never changed His mind about anything as He did about Isma`il1." Thereafter this doctrine became very famous in Islám as characteristic of certain heretical sects, notably the

    1[one line of ARABIC TEXT]


Ghulát, or extreme Shí`ites, of whom ash Shahristáni says in his "Book of Sects" (Kitábu'l-Milal wa'n-Nihal1) that all branches of them agree in four cardinal heresies, viz. metempsychosis (tanásukh), incarnation (hulúl), return2 (raj`at), and change in the Divine intention (badá). The author discusses this question very fully and repudiates this meaning of badá as applied to God. He says that the Bábís cling to it so that, when confronted by arguments as to the signs accompanying the Advent of the Promised Imám in the last days, they may say, "Yes, this was what God originally intended, but He changed His mind and altered His plan."

23.    Their assertion that no one can falsely claim to be
a Prophet or Imám

    In support of this view the Bábís adduce Qur'án lxix, 44—6, which Sale translates: "If Muhammad had forged any part of these discoveries concerning us, verily We had taken him by the right hand, and had cut in sunder the vein of his heart; neither would we have withheld any of you from chastising him." This means, they say, that God would not suffer a false prophet to live, or his religion and law to continue on earth. (They even go so far as to say that as the proof of the architect is his ability to build a house, and of the physician to heal the sick, so the proof of the prophet lies in his ability to found a religion; and this is what they mean by their favourite phrase of nufúdh-i-kalám, or the compelling and penetrating power of his creative Word, concerning which doctrine see the article immediately following. Hence the Bábís, unlike the Muhammadans, are compelled to admit that such religious leaders as Zoroaster and Buddha were true prophets. Compare article 25 below.)

1 See Cureton's edition, p. 132.                2 See p. 330 supra.


24.    Their assertion that the proof of a Prophet lies not in the
eloquence but in the compelling power of his utterance

    According to the Bábís the miraculous quality of the Qur'án was not its eloquence (fasáhat wa balághat), but its compelling power (nufúdh, qáhiriyyat), so that, for example, the Prophet ordered all his followers to fast during the month of Ramazán, and to this day, for more than thirteen centuries, this hard discipline has been scrupulously observed by millions of believers. The author repudiates this view, which he says that the Bábís have taught in order to divert attention from the lack of eloquence and even of grammatical accuracy of their own Scriptures.

25.    Their assertion that the Founders of all religions were
really Prophets, and their books Divine Revelations, and
that on the subsequent idolatrous accretions were not
from God

    This doctrine the author ascribes not so much to the Bábís and Bahá'ís in general as to their celebrated apologist Mírzá Abu'l- Fazl of Gulpáyagán, who explicitly lays it down in his book entitled Kitábu'l-Fará'id1, declaring that all the religions of the world, Brahminism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and even Fetish-worship and Idolatry, were originally based on a true Revelation, though they may have become corrupted in course of time.

26.    Their assertion that the promised Messiah, Mahdí, or
Qá'im will not be, as the Muhammadans imagine, a
victorious and all- compelling conqueror, but one oppressed
(mazlúm) and constrained (maqhúr).

    The author says that the early Bábís who fought at Shaykh Tabarsí, Zanján, Nayríz and elsewhere believed, in

1 See p. 196 supra.


common with their antagonists, that the Imám Mahdí or Qá'im (by whom they understood the Báb) should be a conqueror and rule by virtue of the sword; and that only later when they were defeated and their hopes and aspirations disappointed, did they evolve this theory of a patient, gentle, persecuted Messiah.

27.    Their assertion that the interpretation of the prophecies
given in one Dispensation only becomes clear in the suc-
ceeding one

    The purpose of this doctrine, as of the doctrine of Badá noticed above (article 22), is, according to our author, to evade the argument of those who seek to prove that the appearance of the Báb was not accompanied by the signs foretold as heralding the advent of the Mahdí. (The Bábís on their part appeal to the history of Christ, who was the Messiah expected by the Jews, though He did not appear as they expected. The signs foretold as heralding his advent were duly manifested, but in an allegorical, not in a literal way.)

28.    Their assertion that the Mahdí or Qá'im is not merely
a Divine Messenger but a Manifestation of the Deity

    It does not suffice the Bábís to claim that the Báb was actually the expected Mahdí, Qá'im, or Twelfth Imám; they go further, and assert that he is the bringer of a new Dispensation, a new Law and a new Scripture abrogating those of Muhammad. To the clear declaration1 "What Muhammad

    1[one line of ARABIC TEXT]


hath sanctioned will remain lawful until the Resurrection Day, and what he hath forbidden unlawful," they oppose certain ambiguous traditions which speak of the Mahdí as bringing "a new law," "a new Book," or "a new Dispensation," which traditions are susceptible of a different explanation.

29.    Their assertion that the imagined return of the Mahdí
the Messiah and the Imám Husayn is really a re-mani-
festation of the same prototypes, not an actual return of
these individuals

    This is practically, to some extent at any rate, a repetition of article 11 dealing with the Bábí doctrine of "Return" (Raj`at). It is very characteristic of Bábí thought, and I have discussed it pretty fully in my translation of the New History, pp. 334 et seqq. It was in that sense, no doubt, that Khayru'lláh told his American proselytes (p. 118 supra) that "Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua and Daniel are re-incarnated and are at Acre, the `Holy Place.'" In our author's terminology, they hold that the qualities of Christhood (Masíhiyyat), Mahdí-hood (Mahdawiyyat), Qá'im- hood (Qá'imiyyat) and Husayn-hood (Husayniyyat), if these expressions may be permitted, are generic (naw`i), not personal (shakhsí).

30.    Their doctrine that God, the Eternal Essence, is beyond
all human cognizance and definition, and that we can
only see, meet, know, revere, worship and obey Him in His
Manifestations, to wit the Prophets, Imáms, "Gates," etc.

    This doctrine is also discussed in the New History (p. 331) and elaborated in the Báb's Persian Bayán, to which references are given in Vol. xv of the E. J. W. Gibb Memorial Series (text of Mírzá Jání's Nuqtatu'l-Káf), p. lxvi.


It is strongly denounced by our author as the quintessence of heresy, leading to an anthropomorphism which oscillates between polytheism and atheism. He concludes this section of his work (p. 279) by saying that this list of Bábí heresies is by no means exhaustive, but lack of time prevents him from enlarging it, though incidental allusion will be made elsewhere to other heretical tenets of the sect.

previous chapter chapter 9 start page single page chapter 11 next chapter
Back to:   Biographies Books Historical documents
Home Site Map Forum Links Copyright About Contact
. .