Persia Past and Present
A Book of Travel and Research
With More Than Two Hundred Illustrations and a Map
A. V. Williams Jackson
Professor of Indo-Iranian Languages, and sometime Adjunct Professor
of the English Language And Literature in Columbia University
London: Macmillan & Co., Ltd.
In Persia, moreover, within the last seventy years a new religious movement, eclectic in its character and known as Babism, has sprung up and assumed such proportions as to menace the universal supremacy of Mohammedanism in Iran and even to attract attention and some followers in the Occident.
Not far from the bazaars is a large public square to which a particular interest attaches, not because of the armory and the gunsmiths’ shops, the arsenal, prison, royal stables, and buildings belonging to the Crown Prince, but because it was the scene of the execution of the Báb, a Persian reformer, on July 9, 1850. This religious enthusiast and moral teacher, whose real name was Mirza Ali Mohammed, was born in Shiraz about the year 1820. He was trained at first to commercial life, but a pilgrimage to Kerbela and Najaf, and afterward to Mecca, awakened in his heart the religious enthusiasm which made him devote his life henceforth to developing the tenets which he held. Upon his return to his native city, about 1844, he assumed the title of Báb, or ‘Gate’ leading to the spiritual life. His religious views were somewhat eclectic; his doctrines leaned toward a mystic pantheism, with elements
of gnosticism, and were of a highly moral order, and so liberal as to include steps toward the emancipation of woman.
In the eyes of the strict Mohammedan, however, the tenets upheld by the Bab were rank heresy. Nevertheless, they spread rapidly and awakened such intense sympathy among those who were dissatisfied with the regime maintained by the Persian mullahs, on the one hand, and raised such bitter opposition, on the other, among those who were pronouncedly conservative, that they led finally to bloody conflicts which resulted in the imprisonment of the Bab. He was ultimately taken to Tabriz and there condemned to be shot. The place of execution was this very square of the arsenal and gunsmiths which I am describing. Cords were passed under his arms, and he was suspended from the wall above a small shop which was pointed out to me. By his side was suspended also a devoted disciple, a young merchant of Tabriz, and orders were given to the soldiers to fire their volley. When the smoke cleared away, the body of the young follower of the Bab was discovered, riddled with bullets; but by some strange hap the Bab had escaped. The shots had simply cut the cords that held him, so that he fell to the ground unhurt and took refuge in the shop below. He was probably dazed; for had he retained his presence of mind, he might at once have turned the incident into a miracle before the astonished multitude. He was seized, however, dragged forth from the shop and again suspended, and shot to death by a different company of soldiers, since the first absolutely refused to fire another volley. The bodies of the two religious martyrs were then cruelly dragged through the streets and thrown to the dogs and birds, but they were afterward taken up and buried by sympathetic Babis, as the movement had gained a large number of adherents. It still has many followers, despite the persecution to which the sect has been subjected.
Babism, in fact, is not confined to Persia, but has adherents in Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, India, and even in America, where some of its believers have tried to disseminate their doctrines.
The true renown of Shiraz, as I have implied, rests not upon the beauties of nature, which I have been describing, but upon the fame of her poets and the distinguished men she has given to Iran. Not the least known among the latter class is one of recent memory, the Bab, whose religious reform in the past century I have mentioned in an earlier chapter.
The spread of Babist doctrines, which favor religious liberty and toleration, has possibly contributed also by lessening intolerance on the part of the Mohammedans.
- See Browne, A Year Amongst the Persians, pp. 58-64, and especially the same author’s translation of the Táríkh-i-Jadíd, or New History of Mírzá ‘Alí Muḥammad the Báb, by Mírzá Ḥuseyn of Hamadán, pp. 299-312, especially pp. 303-306, Cam- bridge, 1893; compare also Browne, The Episode of the Báb, 2. 43-45, 182, 190, 321-322, Cambridge, 1891.
- There is a society of Babists in Chicago who call themselves Behaists, after Beha Ullah, who claimed to be the successor of the Bab and a manifestation of the glory of God. See Open Court, 18. 355 seq., 398 seq., Chicago, 1904.
- See pp. 48-50, above.