Release the Sun
THE HIGH STONE PRISON
The Bab was delivered into the custody of the warden, `Ali Khan, at Mahku, where He was shut up inside a four-towered, stone castle-fortress, high on the summit of a mountain. Below the fortress, on the west, flowed the river Araxes, the boundary between Persia and Russia. The Prime Minister, Haji Mirza Aqasi, had chosen Mahku for the Bab's imprisonment for only one reason. It was a wild and inhospitable region, inhabited by people who had always been the bitter enemies of the Persians. The Prime Minister had bestowed many favors upon this rebellious region and it was now under his complete control.[F1] Haji Mirza Aqasi felt certain that by this imprisonment he could cut the Bab off permanently from His followers, and separate Him from their activities. In this way, His Cause would be stifled at its birth and soon extinguished. Few, if any, would ever try to penetrate that unfriendly country. His plan was a failure. The hostility of the native people of Mahku was gradually softened by the gentle manner of the Bab. Their opposition to His teaching was melted by the wisdom of His words. Each morning they would come from the village of Mahku and gather on the road below His prison and call out to Him asking His blessing on their daily work. the Bab Himself wrote of those early days in Mahku: "My
companions are two men and four dogs." But His teachings reached the multitudes who gathered outside. He would indicate to Siyyid Husayn of Yazd, who had been brought with Him in captivity from Tabriz. On a quiet day, the sound of His voice could be clearly heard by the people below the fortress. One of the eye-witness of those days has written: " ... Mountain and valley echoed with the majesty of His voice. Our hearts vibrated in their depths to the appeal of His utterance."[F2] The warden, `Ali Khan, did his best to discourage this practice, but he was unable to dampen their enthusiasm. He refused to permit any of the villagers to enter the Bab's presence. He would not allow any of the Bab's followers who came to the mountain to remain, even for one night, in the village of Mahku. Haji Mirza Aqasi had warned `Ali Khan of the danger of falling under the spell of the Bab's charm. "He is an agitator," the Prime Minister had said. `Ali Khan found himself increasingly helpless to resist his attraction to the Bab. During the nine months of the Bab's imprisonment from the summer of 1847 until April in 1848, his hostility underwent a series of transformations from enmity to devotion. From that moment on, `Ali Khan tried by every means in his power to make up for his past hatred. One day he went to the Bab: "A poor man waiting outside the gate of Mahku yearns to attain Your presence," he said, "May I have your permission to bring him to this place so that he may meet You? By this act, I hope that You will forgive me, and that the memory of my cruel behavior toward You and Your friends in the past may be forever washed away." His request was granted. `Ali Khan did all he could to soften the rigor of the Bab's imprisonment. At night he would still close the gate of the village, but in the daytime those whom the Bab wished to see were allowed to visit Him, converse with Him, and receive His instructions. A. L. M. Nicolas writes: "All historians [unfriendly as well as friendly] ... tell us that in spite of the strict orders to keep the Bab from communicating with the outer world, the Bab received great numbers of disciples and strangers in his prison."[F3] Another has reported: "So great multitudes continued to come from all quarters to visit the Bab, and the writings which emanated from
his inspired pen during this period were so numerous that they amounted in all to more than a hundred thousand verses."[F4] During this nine-month period in Mahku, the Bab composed His most comprehensive book, the Persian Bay n. In it the Bab defined His Mission as two-fold: to call men back to God, and to announce the coming of the Promised One of all ages and religions. This great Prophet, He said, would appear soon after Himself. The station of this Figure-to-come was so exalted, the Bab told His followers, that "if one should hear a single verse from Him and recite it, it is better than that he should recite the Bay n a thousand times."[F5] He urged His followers to remember these words and to seek and find this great Figure upon His own passing. He implied that His Faith and that of the One to come after Him were identical; they were one Faith: He was the Herald, the One to come was the Author. This Truth was now in the stage of seed. In the day of Him Who was yet to come, its perfection would become apparent.[F6] Repeatedly He told His followers that He was but the preparation for that great Day of God promised in all the scriptures. Christ had warned His disciples of the last days in these words: "Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come."[F7] The Bab echoed this warning, saying: Be awake on the day of the appearance of Him Whom God will manifest."[F8] The Bab's constant prayer during those months of captivity in Mahku was that He might be able to prepare the soil of men's hearts for the coming of this great world Shepherd. "O my God!" He said, "Through Him destroy all tyrants ... annihilate, through His justice, all forms of oppression."[F9] The Bab said that He spoke of His own suffering only so that it might be "an example to [My followers] so that they may not act toward Him [Who is to come]as the believers in the Qur'an have acted toward Me."[F10] "Of all the tributes I have paid to Him Who is to come after Me," the Bab wrote in Mahku, "the greatest is this, My written confession, that no words of Mine can adequately describe Him, nor can any reference to Him in My Book, the Bay n, do justice to His Cause."[F11] He left no question whatsoever in the minds of His followers as to His own station: He was the Dawn, the One to come was the
Sun. "Were He to appear at this very moment," proclaimed the Bab, "I would be the first to adore Him, and the first to bow down before Him."[F12] The historian Nicolas states that when the Bab was asked for proofs of His mission, His answer was admirable for its precision and clearness, His explanations new and original, and His literary work of profound interest.[F13] For nine months the Bab wrote almost continuously. His followers came from all parts of Persia to visit Him. After a stay of three days they were encouraged by the Bab to return to their homes and continue the work of teaching and consolidating the Faith. Not only was the Bab able to meet His followers, in spite of the isolation imposed upon Him by the Prime Minister, but more important, He was given the time and opportunity to set down in permanent form the fundamental truths of His Mission. In His solitary chamber He was not permitted to have even a lighted lamp. The winter was so severe that the water with which He washed Himself would freeze in drops upon His face. It was during this time that Mulla Husayn decided to visit Him at Mahku.[F14] He had been teaching the Cause industriously in the city of Mashhad, greatest center of pilgrimage in all Persia. Half of the city derived its living from the flow of visitors. All these people were now joined together against this teacher who might possibly deprive them of their livelihood. To denounce abuses of religion might be all right in any other city, they said, but it was certainly not proper to denounce them in Mashhad where everyone of every class was thriving upon them. It was all very well for the Promised One to come, and perhaps He had the right, but He certainly was a public nuisance. Mulla Husayn was told plainly, by actions as well as words, that it might be very thrilling to undertake the conquest of the world with the Bab, but there was a big risk involved, not to mention fatigue and danger, especially now, while everyone was enjoying perfect peace in a fine city where business was good and one could earn a living with ease and security. Mulla Husayn left Mashhad in disgust. He was hungry for the pure, holy presence of the Bab. He told his friends: "I have resolved to go on foot the entire distance that separates me from my Beloved. I shall not rest until I have reached my destination." Warden `Ali Khan saw Mulla Husayn approaching Mahku one
morning at sun-up. He went out to greet him, bringing a horse so that he might finish the final stage of his journey in ease. Mulla Husayn refused the mount. "No," he said, "I have vowed to accomplish the entire journey on foot. I will walk to the summit of this mountain and will there visit your Prisoner." When Mulla Husayn reached the gate of the prison he saw the Bab standing at the threshold. The Bab stretched forth His arms and affectionately embraced him. One day as they stood together on the roof of the prison looking out over the mountains of Adhirbayjan, the Bab quoted the following prophecy to Mulla Husayn: "The things which will happen in Adhirbayjan are necessary for us, nothing can prevent their occurrence. Remain therefore in your homes, but if you hear that an agitator has appeared then hasten towards him." He turned toward Mulla Husayn and quoted another prophecy, saying: "The following verse is also divinely inspired: `Shiraz will be thrown into a tumult; a Youth of sugar-tongue will appear. I fear lest the breath of His mouth should agitate and upset Baghdad.'" Part of this prophecy had already taken place, He told Mulla Husayn. The mystery of the rest would be known in the year 1853. The Bab gazed toward the west where the river Araxes wound its way below the castle. He quoted yet another prophecy: "Treasures lie hidden beneath the throne of God; the key to those treasures is the tongue of poets." He looked at Mulla Husayn and said: "That is the river, and this is the bank thereof, of which the poet Hafiz has thus written: `O Zephyr, shouldst thou pass the banks of the Araxes, implant a kiss on the earth of that valley, and make fragrant thy breath. Hail, a thousand times hail, to thee, O abode of Salma !' "But for the shortness of your stay," the Bab told Mulla Husayn, "We would have shown you the `abode of Salma ,' even as We have unveiled to your eyes the `banks of the Araxes.'" By the `abode of Salma ' the Bab meant the prison of Chihriq to which He was soon to be transferred, and which stands by the town of Salma s. He then related to Mulla Husayn many things which would take place in the future. He told him not to disclose them to anyone. As the Bab bade His last farewell to Mulla Husayn, He said to him: "You have walked on foot all the way from your native
province to this place. On foot you likewise must return ... your days of horsemanship are yet to come. You are destined to exhibit such courage, such skill and heroism as shall eclipse the heroes of old." The Bab instructed Mulla Husayn to visit the believers in each of the villages on his way back. "Inflame their hearts anew, ..." He told him, "and fortify their faith in this Revelation. "A few days after your departure, they will transfer Us to another mountain. Ere you arrive at your destination, the news of Our departure from Mahku will have reached you." The prediction of the Bab soon came to pass. Those who had been sent by the Prime Minister to watch secretly and report what was taking place at Mahku, sent back alarming news. "The once unfriendly people of Mahku are now showing the greatest respect and love for the Bab, " they confessed. "People come from everywhere to visit him. Even `Ali Khan, the warden, has been enchanted by him. He treats the Bab as his host rather than his prisoner." Both fear and rage impelled the Prime Minister to issue an order for the instant transfer of the Bab to the more rigid prison of Chihriq, called "the grievous mountain." Mulla Husayn was in Tabriz when the news of the Bab's transfer to Chihriq reached him. The Bab said farewell to the people of Mahku. Their hearts were heavy at the sad sight of His departure. The One they had come to love so much was now going out of their lives forever. During the nine months of His captivity among them, they had recognized to a remarkable degree the power of His personality and the greatness of His character.