Jul. 6, 2002. 01:00 AM
Visionary rebel with a cause
Herald of Baha'i Faith foretold coming of era of human progress
By Rashid Mughal
special to the star
At high noon on Tuesday more than seven million Baha'is will assemble in 116,000 localities in 205 countries to commemorate
the Martyrdom of the Bab 152 years ago. Some 10,000 people witnessed a miracle in Tabriz, Persia (now Iran) when a
regiment of 750 Armenian soldiers took aim and fired three volleys of 250 rounds at Mirza Ali Muhammad and a young follower
of the alleged "heretic and dangerous rebel." The gunpowder smoke from the volleys was so dense it obscured the
entire courtyard of the army bar- racks. When the smoke cleared, Mirza Ali Muhammad, known as the Bab ("Gate" in
Arabic and Persian), appeared unharmed. When the Armenian regiment refused to repeat the firing, a Muslim regiment
was ordered to carry out the execution on the infamous 9th of July, 1850. The report of the execution, written to
British secretary of state for foreign affairs Lord Palmerston by Queen Victoria's envoy extraordinary and minister
plenipotentiary Sir Justin Shiel, in Tehran on July 22, 1850, records:
smoke and dust cleared away after the volley, the Bab was not to be seen, and the populace proclaimed that he had ascended
to the skies. The balls had broken the ropes by which he was bound but he was dragged from the recess where, after some
search he was discovered and shot." In other words, after the first attempt at execution, the Bab was found back in
his cell, giving final instructions to one of his followers.
`When the smoke and dust cleared away
after the volley, the Bab was not to be seen'
assumed the title of the Bab to preach social and religious reform and foretell the coming of a new age of human progress,
he gained many followers, but his message aroused the enmity of the rulers, and he was arrested and finally executed by
firing squad and thousands of his followers were put to death following his arrest and execution. However, his
teachings did not die, and they form the basis for the present-day worldwide Baha'i faith. Ultimately, those opposed
to the Bab argued that he was not only a heretic, but a dangerous rebel and so the authorities decided to have him executed.
People crowded the rooftops of the barracks and houses that overlooked the square where the Bab and a young follower
were suspended by two ropes against a wall before the bullets that silenced him made the Bab immortal. Earlier in the
day, when the guards had come to take him to the courtyard, the Bab had warned that no "earthly power" could silence him
until he had finished all that he had to say. When the guards arrived this second time, the Báb calmly announced:
"Now you may proceed to fulfill your intention." Again, the Báb and his young companion were brought out for
execution. The Armenian troops refused to fire, and a Muslim firing squad was assembled and ordered to shoot.
This time, the bodies of the pair were shattered, their bones and flesh mingled into one mass. Surprisingly,
their faces were untouched.
Millennial fervour gripped many peoples
throughout the world during the first half of the nineteenth century; while Christians expected the return of Christ, a wave
of expectation swept through Islam that the "Lord of the Age" would appear. Both Christians and Muslims envisioned that,
with fulfillment of the prophecies in their scriptures, a new spiritual age was about to begin. In Persia, this
messianic ferment reached a dramatic climax on May 23, 1844, when a young merchant from Shiraz, Siyyid Ali Muhammad,
announced that he was the bearer of a long-promised divine revelation destined to transform the spiritual life of the human
The Bab's declaration that spiritual renewal and social
advancement rested on love and compassion rather than force and coercion, aroused hope and excitement among the people, and
he quickly attracted thousands of followers against a backdrop of moral breakdown in Persian society.His coming, the
Bab explained, represented the portal through which the universally anticipated revelation of God to all humanity would soon
appear. The central theme of his major work — the Bayan — was the imminent appearance of a second messenger from God, one
who would be far greater than the Bab, and whose mission would be to usher in the age of peace and justice promised in
Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and all the other world religions. Husayn Ali, a leading disciple of the Bab known to
history as Baha'u'llah, assumed the title of "Baha" ("glory" or "splendour") at a gathering of the Bab's followers in 1848,
a title that was later confirmed by the Bab himself. Baha'is say the Bab's role can be compared to that of John the
Baptist in the founding of Christianity. The Bab was Baha'u'llah's herald: His principal mission was to prepare the way for
the advent of Baha'ullah. Accordingly, the founding of the Babi faith is viewed by Baha'is as synonymous with the
founding of the Baha'i faith — and its purpose was fulfilled when Baha'u'llah announced in 1863 that he was the Promised
One foretold by the Bab. The Bab's appearance marked the end of the "prophetic cycle" of religious history, and
ushered in the "cycle of fulfillment." At the same time, however, the Bab founded a distinctive, independent religion
of his own. Known as the Babi faith, that religious dispensation produced its own vigorous community, its own
scriptures, and left its own indelible mark on history. The greatness of the Bab consists primarily in his wielding,
as never before, "the sceptre of independent prophethood."The hearts and minds of those who heard the message of the
Bab were locked in a mental world that had changed little from medieval times. Along with his prescription for
spiritual renewal, his promotion of education and the useful sciences was by any measure revolutionary. Thus, by
proclaiming an entirely new religion, the Bab was able to help his followers break free from the Islamic frame of reference
and to mobilize them in preparation for the coming of Baha'u'llah. The boldness of the Bab's proclamation — which
put forth the vision of an entirely new society — stirred intense fear within the religious and secular establishments.
Accordingly, persecution of the Bábis quickly developed. Thousands of the Bab's followers were put to death in a
horrific series of massacres.
The Bab's appearance
marked the end of the `prophetic cycle' of religious
The extraordinary moral courage evinced by the Babis in the face
of this onslaught was recorded by a number of Western observers. European intellectuals such as Ernest Renan, Leo
Tolstoy the Comte de Gobineau and actress Sarah Bernhardt and were deeply affected by this spiritual drama that had unfolded
in what was regarded as a darkened land. The nobility of the Bab's life and teachings and the heroism of his
followers became a frequent topic of conversation in the salons of Europe. The story of Tahirih, the great poet and
Babi heroine, who declared to her persecutors, "You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of
women," travelled as far and as quickly as that of the Bab.
`You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of
On Tuesday, more than 25,000 Baha'is in Canada will commemorate the martyrdom of the Bab.According to Liz
Chappel, a member of the local governing body called the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Toronto, (and executive
director of the Ontario Multifaith Council), Tuesday's commemoration services will be attended by 300 to 500 people at noon
at each of two locations in Toronto: at the Baha'i Centre at Huron and Bloor Sts. and at Edward Gardens at Don Mills Rd. and
Lawrence Ave. E. Similar observances will be held in halls and homes in smaller communities across the Greater
Toronto Area.Baha'i literature has been translated into approximately 800 languages and the Encyclopedia
Britannica reports that this young religion is the second most widespread after Christianity.
Rashid Mughal is a freelance editor and writer.
©Copyright 2002, The Toronto Star