Bahá'í Library Online
. . . .
.
>>   Books
> add tags

Release the Sun

by William Sears

previous chapter chapter 12 start page single page chapter 14 next chapter

Chapter 13

THE SCOURGING AT TABRIZ

the Bab was subjected to a closer more rigorous confinement at Chihriq. The Prime Minister gave strict and explicit orders to the warden, Yahya Khan, who was a brother-in-law of the king. He told Yahya Khan that no one was ever to enter the presence of the Bab. There were to be no exceptions to this rule. The warden was warned to profit by the failure of `Ali Khan at Mahku, and never to disregard the orders he had received, even for a minute, if he valued his life. Yet, in spite of this open threat to his own safety, Yahya Khan found himself powerless to obey. He too soon felt the fascination of his Prisoner. He forgot completely the duty he was expected to perform. Love for the Bab claimed his entire being, until he would have preferred to be slain rather than to cause Him the slightest discomfort. The villagers who lived in Chihriq were more fanatic in their hatred of the Bab than those who had lived at Mahku, but they also gradually fell under the transforming influence of His presence. The spirit which He radiated was a life-creating thing. It changed hate into love, enemies into friends. This is confirmed by the following historical account: "His qualities were so rare in their nobility and beauty, His personality so gentle and yet so forceful, and His natural charm was combined

[page 73]

with so much tact and judgment, that after His Declaration He quickly became in Persia a widely popular figure. He would win over almost all with whom He was brought into personal contact, even converting His gaolers to His Faith and turning the ill-disposed into admiring friends."[F1] The size of the crowds who had visited Him at Mahku was dwarfed by the number of those who flocked to Him at Chihriq. Yahya Khan would not refuse admittance to anyone who wished to see Him. So many sought His presence that there was no room to accommodate them all. They had to be housed at Old Chihriq, an hour's distance away. M. Mochenin who was on duty for a foreign organization in that region says in his memoirs: "The multitude of hearers was so great that the court was not large enough to hold them all; most of them stayed in the streets and listened with religious rapture."[F2] Whatever provisions were required for the Bab were purchased in Old Chihriq. One day honey was purchased for Him. The price seemed exorbitant. He refused it and said: "Honey of a superior quality could no doubt be purchased at a lower price. It behooves you in all your transactions to follow in My way. You must neither defraud your neighbor not allow him to defraud you." He insisted that the honey be returned and one better in quality and cheaper in price be bought in its place.[F3] During those days a dervish walked all the way from India to seek the Bab. As soon as he met Him, he embraced His Faith. He told the following story: "I was an official in India occupying a fine position. In a dream a young man gazed at me and won my heart completely. I arose and started to follow Him. He looked at me intently and said: `Divest yourself of your gorgeous attire, depart from your native land and hasten on foot to meet Me in Adhirbayjan. In Chihriq you will attain your heart's desire.' I followed his directions and have now reached my goal." This fulfilled the words of the prophecy given for the last days that: men should come from the far places, guided by the spirit, until they met their Promised One.[F4] This was but one of many remarkable events which followed upon each other with swift succession. They caused the turmoil in Chihriq to eclipse that of Mahku. A continuous stream of seekers and followers flowed back and forth through this old prison city.

[page 74]

Men of distinguished merit, eminent members of the clergy, and even government officials were openly and rapidly embracing the Faith of the Bab. One of the most outstanding literary figures of the land, who was also a high governmental official, accepted the Bab's teaching and devoted both his person and his pen to the spreading of His Faith. He was called Dayyan by the Bab. Previously, Dayyan had denounced the Bab and His Message. Then one night he had a dream, after which he wrote to the Bab, saying, "I have definite things in my mind. I request you to reveal to me their nature." A few days later he received a reply penned by the Bab in which He described the dream and revealed the exact words that were in Dayyan's mind. The accuracy of that reply brought about his complete conversion. He went on foot to the mountain to meet the Bab. The meeting excited in him a fiery ardor which lasted to the end of his life. the Bab knew that the hour of his deeper affliction was approaching. He told all of His followers who had gathered in Chihriq to disperse and to return to their most important work, teaching. He instructed the believer from India to return to his native land and work unceasingly for the spread of the Faith. He obeyed the Bab at once, and alone, clad in simplest attire, staff in hand, he went down the mountainside and walked all the way back to his own country, teaching in every village along the way. Calmly the Bab waited for the inevitable edict of Haji Mirza Aqasi. It was not long in coming. When the news of all these startling events reached the capital, the Prime Minister was violent in his anger. He had failed again. He knew he must not fail a third time. He demanded that the Bab be transferred at once from the prison to the city of Tabriz. Strict orders were given to avoid any contact with those towns to which the Bab's influence had already spread. He was to be brought to Tabriz by an unexpected route by way of the village of Urumiyyih. Such a secret, however, could not be kept. On His arrival in Urumiyyih, the prince Malik Qasim Mirza respectfully received Him, and gave the Bab a guard of footmen to hold back the gathering crowd. The people were crushing against each other in their eagerness to catch a glimpse of so marvelous a Prisoner. Arrangements were made for the Bab to go to the public bath. The prince was anxious to test the power and courage of his Guest,

[page 75]

having heard such wondrous tales about Him. He ordered his groom to offer the Bab one of his wildest horses to ride. The groom feared that the Bab, Whom he loved, might suffer harm from this untamed animal. He secretly approached the Bab and told Him the story, and tried to induce Him to refuse to mount this steed. "It has already overthrown the bravest and most skillful of horsemen," he said. "Fear not," the Bab replied. "Do as you have been bidden and commit Us to the care of the Almighty." The villagers learned of the plan of the prince. They filled the public square the next morning, eager to witness the test and learn what would befall the Bab. The wild horse was brought from his stable. The bridle was cautiously given to the Bab by the frightened groom. The Bab quietly stepped toward the animal. Gently, He caressed the steed, and then slowly placed His foot in the stirrup. The horse stood motionless as the Bab mounted. He rode the animal to the public bath. All along the way people tried to rush in from every side to marvel at such a miracle, and to offer their belief in His Faith. On His return from the bath He again mounted the same horse, and was once again acclaimed by the townspeople. As soon as the Bab left the public bath, the people of Urumiyyih rushed to take away all the water from that place and carry it in containers to their homes in all parts of the village. There were some who remembered the closing words of a prophecy given for the time of the Promised One's coming which said that the lake of Urumiyyih will boil up, will overrun its banks, and inundate the town.[F5] When the Bab was told that many people had spontaneously arisen to accept His Faith because of these remarkable events, which they considered to be miracles, He sadly quoted the words: "Think men that when they say, `We believe,' they shall be let alone and not put to the proof?" The comment was fully justified by the attitude of these same people of Urumiyyih when later they heard the news of the dreadful treatment which the Bab had suffered at Tabriz. Hardly a handful of those who had so eagerly proclaimed their belief in His Cause on that day remained faithful. Miracles, the followers of His Faith were to learn, are but a secondary proof and of value only to those

[page 76]

who witness them; of themselves miracles have no lasting value. It was now as it had been in the time of Christ, for when Jesus miraculously healed the ten lepers only one remained to thank Him. He said: "Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?"[F6] Tales of what had happened in Urumiyyih raced ahead of the Bab and His escort, causing a great wave of enthusiasm. Tabriz, in particular, was in the throes of the wildest excitement. Word of the Bab's coming ignited the imagination of the people and roused the fierce animosity of the religious leaders. Such was the fervor of the public feeling that the authorities decided to confine the Bab in a place outside the gates. Precautions were taken, warnings were published, restrictions were enforced, yet all these only served to aggravate a situation which had already become critical. The Bab had captured the fancy of the people and nothing the officials or clergy could do was able to diminish their ardor. Haji Mirza Aqasi issued an order from the capital. He demanded that all the leading religious dignitaries, as well as the government officials, hold an immediate gathering. His words made clear the grave nature of this crisis. The religious leaders, he said, must decide at once upon the most effective measures for extinguishing this fire which the Bab had kindled. They must bring to an abrupt end the Bab's power over the public. There must be no mistakes. The Bab must be summoned before this important gathering, and there He must be humiliated in such a manner as would permanently undermine His influence. The Bab was well aware of the Prime Minister's purpose. On the second night after His arrival in Tabriz, the Bab told His friends that on the morrow, in the presence of the king's eldest son, the assembled religious leaders, and the notables of the city, He would publicly proclaim His Mission.[F7] The meeting was arranged according to the plan of the Prime Minister. It took place in the residence of the governor. An officer of the army was sent to bring the Bab into the presence of the gathering. Already a multitude besieged the outside entrance. Crowds had been waiting since early dawn to catch a glimpse of the Bab's face. They pressed forward in such large numbers that a passage had to be forced through the crowd for the Bab to enter. When He came into the hall, He saw that every seat was occupied

[page 77]

except one, which had been reserved as the seat of honor for the heir to the throne, the king's son. The Bab courteously greeted the assembly. He knew they planned to humiliate Him by making Him stand. Without hesitation He walked to the seat of honor and sat down. A silence, long and intense, fell over the gathering. Their plans had been frustrated, and their anger was apparent in their faces. At last the stillness was broken by the presiding officer of the meeting. "Who do you claim to be?" he asked the Bab. "What is the message which you have brought?" It was the story of Christ retold. When Jesus was taken into the judgment chamber before the priests with their pre-planned investigation, He was asked: Art thou the Christ? He replied: I am.[F8] There could no longer remain any doubt of His mission. In like manner, with similar words, the Bab replied to this assembly which also wished to hear Him condemn Himself by making this staggering claim. Three times He repeated it in their presence. "I am," exclaimed the Bab, "I am, I am the Promised One! I am the One Whose name you have for a thousand years invoked, at Whose mention you have risen, Whose advent you have longed to witness, and the hour of Whose Revelation you have prayed God to hasten. Verily I say, it is incumbent upon the people of both the East and the West to obey My word and to pledge allegiance to My person." A witness to that stirring event has said: "Immediately after He declared Himself to be the Promised One, a feeling of awe seized those who were present. The pallor of their faces betrayed the agitation of their hearts." It was recorded of that meeting in yet another place: "The majesty of His gait, the expression of overpowering confidence which sat upon His brow--above all, the spirit of power which shone from His whole being, appeared to have for the moment crushed the soul out of the body of those whom He had greeted." A hush fell over the hall. At last, unable to bear the tension any longer, one of the assembly arose and shouted angrily at the Bab. "You wretched and immature lad of Shiraz! Do you wish to arouse a turmoil here?" The Bab turned to the presiding officer. "Your honor," He said,

[page 78]

"I have not come hither of My own accord. I have been summoned to this place." The authorities asked no truly sincere questions about His Mission or His teachings. Instead, they indulged in a series of insulting and flippant inquiries which had nothing to do with His Faith, but were designed solely to humiliate their Prisoner. After patiently bearing their abuse and insults throughout the session, the Bab quoted their own Holy Book to them, saying: "Praise be to God, the Lord of all the worlds!" Immediately after, He arose and abruptly left the hall. At once, the religious authorities began to spread the most unfavorable and false reports of the Bab's part in that trial. They said His answers were both childish and unsatisfying, that they were not even the replies of a sane man, let alone those of a promised Redeemer. Fortunately for history, two European scholars, following much investigation, have preserved an unbiased account of those proceedings. The first was Dr. T. K. Cheyne, a Christian clergyman and student of that period. He has written: "As for the Muslim accounts [of the trial], those which we have before us do not bear the stamp of truth; they seem to be forgeries. Knowing what we do of the Bab, it is probable that he had the best of the argument, and that the leaders and functionaries who attended the meeting were unwilling to put on record their own fiasco."[F9] The second was Professor Edward G. Browne, of Cambridge University. He called the questions which these religious leaders had asked the Bab "frivolous and even indecent." He writes of that trial: "That the whole examination was a farce throughout, that the sentence was a foregone conclusion, that no serious attempt to apprehend the nature and evidence of the Bab's claim and doctrine was made, and that from the first to last a systematic course of browbeating, irony, and mockery was pursued, appear to me to be facts proved no less by the Muhammadan than by the Babi accounts of these inquisitorial proceedings."[F10] Even the presiding officer at that gathering, Haji Mulla Mahmud, was displeased at the way the priests had conducted that meeting. He did not wish his name associated with it. "How shameful is the discourtesy of this people," he said, "What possible connection could there possibly be between such idle questions and

[page 79]

the honest consideration of such an important issue as the Bab's claim?" A. L. M. Nicholas referring to an earlier inquisition of the Bab by such hostile religious leaders, says they conditioned their belief in His Truth by His ability to explain three miracles to them: (1) How could the Imam Javad travel in the twinkling of an eye from Arabia to Persia in the body; (2) How could the Imam `Ali be in sixty different places at one instant; (3) How did the heavens revolve rapidly during the reign of a tyrant and slowly during that of an Imam? "It was the solution of these inanities," says Nicolas, "that they proposed to the Bab. I shall not dwell on them any longer ... one will easily understand the emptiness and arrogance of all those minds."[F11] The Bab was brought to the home of Mirza `Ali-Asghar, the head of the religious court. He was given over to the governor's bodyguard for humiliating punishment. The guard refused. "This is not a government affair," he insisted. "It is the concern of the clergy." Impatient at the delay, Mirza `Ali-Asghar himself decided to inflict the punishment upon the Bab with his own hands. It would then be done, and at least the Bab's triumph would appear less spectacular in the eyes of the people. Just as Jesus had fallen under the scourge of Pilate following His examination in the judgement hall where He proclaimed Himself as the Redeemer of men, the Bab was also subjected to the same indignity, following the same trial, and the same great proclamation. Seven times the rod of the bastinado was applied to His feet. He was struck across the face with one of the blows. It caused a great wound. Dr. Cormick, an English physician who was residing in Tabriz, was called to treat the Bab. He has set down his impression of the Bab, gained during those meetings. "He was a very mild and delicate looking man ... with a melodious soft voice which struck me much ... on my saying that I was willing to know something about his religion as I might perhaps be inclined to adopt it. He regarded me very intently on my saying this, and replied that he had no doubt of all Europeans coming over to his religion. In fact," the doctor added, "his whole look and deportment went far to dispose one in his favor."[F12] The Bab was not released after His scourging. He was marched

[page 80]

back under heavy guard to the prison of Chihriq. However, He left behind Him in Tabriz the memory of a great victory. Many who had been opposers became followers. Many, pointing a finger at the cruel behavior of the religious leaders, recalled the well-known prophecy about the Promised One: "In that day most of His enemies shall be the [religious authorities]." To those who felt great anguish because of the cruelties inflicted upon the gentle Bab, these words of His brought comfort, "Be patient ... for verily God hath vowed to establish Thy glory in every land, amongst all who dwell on earth." The trial in Tabriz had enabled the Bab to set forth clearly the fundamental features of His Faith. It had also enabled Him to destroy, in brief and convincing language, the arguments of His enemies. As Jesus had said: My teaching is not Mine, but His that sent Me; the Bab, too, made it plain that His message was an outpouring from One greater than Himself. His purpose was to proclaim the Word of God as a Messenger of God. The people were free to believe or not, as they chose. When the Bab returned to the prison-fortress of Chihriq, He wrote a moving letter denouncing the treacherous Prime Minister, Haji Mirza Aqasi. It foretold his downfall soon to come. This was written as a warning to all such leaders who, refusing the truth themselves, had shut the door in the face of those whose destiny they held in their power. The Bab gave the letter to one of His disciples and told him to deliver it personally into the hands of Haji Mirza Aqasi. The letter was called: "The Sermon of Wrath." It began with the words: "O thou who hast disbelieved!"[F13] From that hour, the dreadful consequences, which had already befallen so many who had persecuted the Bab and His followers began to descend upon the ring-leaders of His Tabriz torture.[F14] The head of the religious court, Mirza `Ali-Asghar, who with his own hands had scourged the Bab in the prayer-house, was despised and feared by a people who had sickened of his leadership and which prayed to be delivered from his evil ways. Mirza `Ali-Asghar was suddenly struck with paralysis. After enduring long and excruciating pain, he died a miserable death. Following his death, his office was permanently abolished in Tabriz. The very name of the

[page 81]

institution which had been associated with his name became abhorred by the people and was used as an insult.[F15] The king himself, Muhammad Shah, did not escape this retribution. He had been weak enough to listen to the promptings of the Prime Minister and had refused to meet the Bab, in spite of His personal letter, requesting such an audience. The king instead had banished the Bab to a remote mountain prison. No sooner had he agreed to issue that order than he was afflicted with an abrupt reversal of fortune. Several parts of his kingdom broke out in revolt. His health declined rapidly. Finally, at the early age of forty, he fell a victim to a complication of maladies which the Bab had foretold would in the end devour him. The Prime Minister, Haji Mirza Aqasi, who had been the chief conspirator in the outrages committed against the Bab, was made the major target of this avenging wrath. Scarcely a year and six months from the moment he first came between the Bab and the king and prevented their meeting, he was hurled from power. While the Bab was still in the prison to which Haji Mirza Aqasi had condemned Him, and from which He had sent the "Sermon of Wrath," the Prime Minister was dismissed in disgrace from his post. He was stripped of all his dishonestly acquired property and riches. C. R. Markham's History of Persia says, "Haji Mirza Aqasi, the half-crazy old Prime Minister ... was sedulously collecting wealth for himself at Tihran, at the expense of the wretched country. The governorships of provinces were sold to the highest bidder, who oppressed the people in a fearful manner."[F16] When knowledge of the enormity of his graft and thefts became known, he had to flee for shelter from the anger of his countrymen. Haji Mirza Aqasi had expelled the Bab from His home and banished Him to a far place, now he, in turn was expelled from his native country and banished to Iraq where he fell a victim to disease and sorrow. "Gnawing grief sickened his life," says the Journal Asiatique.[F17] History has recorded these words of the last days of Haji Mirza Aqasi: "He met his death in circumstances of abject poverty and unspeakable distress."[F18]

[page 82]

previous chapter chapter 12 start page single page chapter 14 next chapter
Back to:   Books
Home Site Map Forum Links Copyright About Contact
.
. .