Bahá'ís retell Báb's story
by David Sperry
for The Oak Ridger
Area Bahá'ís gathered July 9 at "Heart of the Hills" in Sevier County to commemorate the execution of the Báb.
July 9 is the anniversary of the event and a holy day in the Bahá'í faith. In addition to retelling the story of the execution, the local commemoration included prayers, readings and music of the "Wings of Fire" Bahá'í choir, followed by a cookout and conversation.
For the past 151 years, people have retelling the amazing story of the execution of the Báb and its impact.
In the mid-1800s, a time of great expectancy in both the Christian and Islamic faiths, in a year which some Christians identify as the "the year of the great disappointment" (since Jesus did not return as expected), and the day before Samuel Morris sent his historic "What hath God wrought?" telegram (May 23, 1844), Siyyid 'Alá-Muhammad began making an audacious claim.
This young merchant of Shiraz, Persia (Iran), taking on the title of "the Báb" (meaning "the gate") proclaimed himself to be the promised one of Islam, the Qá'im, and said the primary purpose of his mission was to prepare people for the imminent advent of one who would have a far greater and more universal mission.
After only six years of his ministry, the Báb had attracted a substantial number of followers (Bábí's) from all levels of Persian society, from the poorest to many high-ranking clerical and government officials.
The claim that God was providing additional guidance subsequent to the Prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam, was considered quite heretical, and the reaction of the clergy, government and people in many parts of the country was quite violent.
In 1850, the Amir-Nizam, the grand vazir (prime minister) of Nasiri'd-Din Shah, summoned his counselors. "Behold the storm which the faith of the Siyyid-i-Bab has provoked in the hearts of my fellow-countrymen!" he exclaimed. "Nothing short of his public execution can, to my mind, enable this distracted country to recover its tranquillity and peace."
After obtaining the necessary official signatures to authorize the execution, the Báb and one of his followers (a youth who had refused to recant his faith in the Báb) was suspended on a wall, before a firing squad.
The Armenian regiment commanded by Col. Sam Khan had been ordered to shoot the Báb in the courtyard of the barracks of Tabriz, situated in the center of the city.
Previously, Khan, after observing the behavior of his captive and the way he had been treated, spoke with the Báb. "I profess the Christian faith," he explained to the Báb, "and entertain no ill will against you. If your cause be the cause of Truth, enable me to free myself from the obligation to shed your blood."
"Follow your instructions," the Báb replied, "and if your intention be sincere, the Almighty is surely able to relieve you from your perplexity."
Immediately prior to being suspended before the firing squad, the Báb had been engaged in a confidential conversation with Siyyid Husayn, his secretary, when an officer suddenly interrupted and, holding Siyyid Husayn by the hand, drew him aside and severely rebuked him.
The Báb warned the officer, "Not until I have said to him all those things that I wish to say can any earthly power silence me. Though all the world be armed against me, yet shall they be powerless to deter me from fulfilling, to the last word, my intention."
The officer was amazed by the bold assertion, but made no reply, and ordered Siyyid Husayn to follow him.
The Báb and his companion were suspended in such a position that the youth's head reposed on the breast of his master. The Armenian regiment, in three files of 250 soldiers, each fired upon command. The smoke from their rifles brought darkness to the courtyard under the noonday sun.
As the smoke cleared, some 10,000 spectators on the adjoining rooftops were astounded to see the Báb's companion standing unhurt before them, but no sign of the Báb. A frenzied search eventually found the Báb, in the room he had occupied the night before, engaged in completing his interrupted conversation with his secretary.
With unruffled calm, the Báb told the officer who had interrupted him earlier, "I have finished my conversation with Siyyid Husayn. Now you may proceed to fulfill your intention."
The officer was too shaken to resume what he had already attempted. Refusing to accomplish his duty, he immediately left the scene and resigned his post.
Sam Khan ordered his regiment to leave the barracks immediately and swore not to resume his task, even if it cost his own life.
The Báb and his companion were again suspended on the barracks wall in the same manner. A second firing squad of 750 men was assembled and succeeded in carrying out the orders of execution.
At the international center for the Bahá'í faith in Haifa, Israel, a century and a half after this event that was intended to extinguish the influence of the Báb, a 1-kilometer-long series of terraced gardens surrounding the Shrine of the Báb on Mount Carmel were completed.
These gardens were formally dedicated to world peace on May 23, 2001, the anniversary of the Báb's birth, then opened to the public the following week.
David Sperry is a publicist for area Bahá'ís.
©Copyright 2002, The Oak Ridger