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San Jose Baha'i Community Commemorates Prophet's Death

Mercury News Staff Writer

Diana Pumpelly Bates bowed her head and quietly listened to a story she has heard at least a hundred times.

Facing the east and San Jose's colorful Rose Garden, Bates recited a prayer along with 70 other members of San Jose's Baha'i community Wednesday, commemorating the execution of their prophet, the Bab, in 1850. Shortly after the ceremony, participants ate plums and several Persian delicacies.

"I find this spot and day to be very special because we are honoring one of the important figures of the Baha'i faith who gave his life just so we could stand here in an expression of our faith," said Bates, 59, of San Jose, who has been coming to the Ros e Garden ceremony since 1971.

Baha'i's equate the Bab, which means "the gate," with Christianity's John the Baptist, in that both prophets heralded the coming of their saviors.

"The significance of today is like any other religion -- peaceful prophets are not welcomed and are killed for the messages they bring," said Jim Jam, 52, of San Jose.

On July 9, 1850, according to Baha'i followers, 750 members of an army unit carried out the orders of the Persian government and fired their muskets at Mirza `Ali-Muhammad, also known as the Bab. When the smoke had cleared, followers say, the Bab had disa ppeared. Moments later, he was found unharmed, talking to an assistant.

The execution was attempted again and the Bab and one of his disciples were riddled with bullets. Only their faces remained unmarked.

Local Baha'i's have commemorated the Bab's death for nearly 30 years at the Rose Garden.

"For me, the ceremony commemorates a time that was mind-boggling," said Carlos Portillo, 42, of San Jose. "To have so many muskets aimed at you, then to be able to escape death is truly amazing."

During his seven-year ministry, the Bab preached peace and harmony and sparked the beginning of Babism, the precursor to the Baha'i faith. Although more than 20,000 followers were believed killed when he was alive, the Bab gathered thousands of adherents throughout Persia and the Middle East.

Now, more than a century later, intolerance against Baha'i's continues. The religion is banned in Iran and denounced throughout the Middle East. Since 1979, more than 200 Baha'i's have been executed in Iran because of their beliefs, Jam said.

"Many of us have relatives who have had their land and property taken away or were sentenced to death, just because they are Baha'i," said Jennifer Adelman, 32, of San Jose. "I'm glad that we aren't persecuted here for our beliefs."

The Baha'i's savior, the Baha'u'llah, came along 19 years after the Bab's death. Baha'i's claim about 130,000 followers in the United States, including 21,000 in California and 3,000 in the Bay Area.

Copyright ©1997, San Jose Mercury News