Release the Sun
THE MASSACRE AT THE FORT OF SHAYKH TABARSI
Muhammad Shah was dead. The new ruler was the seventeen-year-old Nasiri'd-Din Shah. Haji Mirza Aqasi was toppled from power. The new Prime Minister was Mirza Taqi Khan. The young king was even less friendly than his father. The new Prime Minister was more iron-hearted in his rule, and his hatred for the Bab was more implacable than that of Haji Mirza Aqasi. He unchained a combined assault by the civil and religious powers against the Bab and His leading disciples. He was determined not to make the mistake of the former Prime Minister and wait too long. The news of the Bab's triumph over His examiners at Tabriz spread rapidly throughout all of Persia. It awakened new zeal in the hearts of His supporters. They redoubled their efforts to spread His teachings. It enkindled a corresponding reaction among His enemies. Encouraged by the new Prime Minister, persecutions unprecedented in their violence swept over the nation, engulfing the staunchest of the Bab's followers. This brief but triumphant period may well be called the bloodiest and most dramatic in the rise of His Faith. No story of the life of the Bab would be complete unless it told about His disciples who sacrificed everything in life, proving their
love and devotion for His Cause. Some preceded the Bab in death, some followed shortly after. Almost every one of His chief followers was struck down during this raging period of persecution. Quddus was imprisoned in the town of Sari, and Mulla Husayn set out to rescue him. A messenger had come from the Bab to Mulla Husayn bearing the Bab's turban. "Adorn your head with My green turban,..." the message said, "and with the Black Standard unfurled before you, hasten to lend your assistance to My beloved Quddus." Mulla Husayn immediately left the province of Khurasan and headed for Sari. His small party marched under a black banner which Mulla Husayn raised up so that all who wished to join him would know that these were followers of the Bab. That emblem waved continuously over his small band for eleven months. It summoned all who gazed upon it to renounce the world and embrace the Cause of God. This was the same standard prophesied for the last days: "Should your eyes behold the Black Standards proceeding from Khurasan, hasten ye toward them, even thou ye should have to crawl over the snow, inasmuch as they proclaim the advent of the Promised [One], the Viceregent of God."[F1] Mulla Husayn and his party arrived at a junction on the highroad to Mazindaran. They encamped under the shadow of a big tree by a running stream. "We stand at the parting of the ways," he told his companions. "We shall wait here for some sign telling us which road to take." One day a fierce gale arose and struck down a large branch from the big tree. Mulla Husayn, watching, observed: "The tree of the sovereignty of Muhammad Shah has been uprooted and hurled to the ground." On the third day after he had uttered that prediction, a messenger arrived from Tihran reporting the death of the king. The following day Mulla Husayn gathered his companions and pointed in the direction of Mazindaran and Sari. "This is the way that leads to our martyrdom," he said. "Whoever is unprepared, let him return home now. I, together with seventy-two of my companions, shall suffer death for the sake of the Bab. Whoever is unable to renounce the world, let him at this very moment depart, for later on he will be unable to escape." Twenty chose to return, feeling themselves powerless to with-
stand the trials to which Mulla Husayn continually alluded. The others approached the town of Barfurush. The news of their coming alarmed the Sa`idu'l-`Ulama, the chief religious leader of that city. Nicolas says in his history that all the clerics of Barfurush were filled with hate for the followers of the Bab because of the many conversions which Quddus had been able to make in their city, as many as three hundred in one week.[F2] The Sa`idu'l-`Ulama told the town crier to summon all the people to the mosque at once. When an immense throng had gathered, he ascended to the pulpit. He flung his turban to the ground, tore open the neck of his shirt, and angrily began to incite the people to arise against Mulla Husayn and his party. "Awake!" he thundered. "Our enemies are at our very doors. Let both young and old arm themselves against these wreckers of our Faith. Tomorrow, at the hour of dawn, let all arise and march out to exterminate their forces." The entire congregation arose in response to his appeal and made every preparation for the dawn, arming themselves with any weapon they could find or devise. The next morning immediately after offering his morning prayers, Mulla Husayn called his companions together and told them to discard all their possessions. "Leave behind all your possessions," he urged them. "Content yourselves with only your steeds and your swords, so that all may witness your abandonment of all earthly things. Then may they realize that this little band of God's chosen companions has no desire to safeguard its own property, much less covet the property of others." Instantly all obeyed. They unburdened their steeds without a word. A prominent merchant, who had joined the band at Nishipur, had brought with him a satchel full of very precious turquoise. Yet, at a word from Mulla Husayn, he was the first to cast aside his treasure as an example to the others. He hurled it into a ditch without a backward glance. A short distance from Barfurush, Mulla Husayn and his companions encountered a multitude of people who blocked their way along the road to Sari. In the face of the uproar from this angry populace, some of the companions began to unsheathe their swords. "No," Mulla Husayn told them. "Not yet. Not until the aggressor
forces us to protect ourselves must our swords leave their scabbards." The mob armed with knives, clubs, axes, guns, swords and every conceivable weapon moved forward toward that small group. They had set out from Barfurush at the break of day determined to meet and slay Mulla Husayn's party, and to plunder their possessions. The Sa`idu'l-`Ulama had remained behind in the safety of his home after urging the others to attack. This was but one of a series of such onslaughts which were taking place throughout the country, all encouraged by the Prime Minister, Mirza Taqi Khan. The following historical account indicates the gravity of the situation: "The minister with the utmost arbitrariness, without receiving any instructions or asking any permission, sent forth commands in all directions to punish and chastise the Babis [followers of the Bab]. Governors and magistrates sought a pretext for amassing wealth, and officials a means of acquiring profits; celebrated doctors [of religion] from the summits of their pulpits incited men to make a general onslaught; the powers of the religious and civil law linked hands and strove to eradicate and destroy this people."[F3] This was to be the first of three occasions on which the followers of the Bab withdrew to a chosen retreat, erected defenses, and defied further pursuit. They would fight for their lives with determined skill and strength; but they would not attack. Even in the midst of a fierce conflict they would not drive home an advantage or strike an unnecessary blow.[F4] Browne, in his Year Among the Persians, says that on one of these occasions even the women took part, and when their shelter was attacked, like the Carthaginian women of old, they cut off their long hair and bound it around their make-shift weapons to afford them the necessary support. "The desperate resistance offered by the [followers of the Bab] must therefore," he says, "be attributed less to the strength of the position which they occupied than to the valor with which they defended themselves."[F5] Separated as they were from their imprisoned leader, the Bab, His followers did not yet understand His clear teaching on the matter of physical violence and warfare. Therefore, they followed after the pattern of their previous religious teaching: do not attack, but defend. In the book A Traveller's Narrative, edited by Professor E. G. Browne of Cambridge University, it states: "In towns where
these [followers of the Bab] were but a limited number, all of them with bound hands became food for the sword, while in cities where they were numerous they arose in self-defense in accordance with their former beliefs, since it was impossible for them to make enquiry as to their duty."[F6] His followers had not yet read the Bab's words: "The slaying of a soul is outside the religion of God. ... and if anyone commands it, he is not and has not been of the Bay n [the Bab's Book and symbol of His followers], and no sin can be greater for him than this."[F7] As the huge crowd moved menacingly toward them at Barfurush, Mulla Husayn's companions pleaded with him. "Allow us to defend ourselves." "Not yet," Mulla Husayn replied. The mob poured down upon that small group and as they neared opened fire. Six of the defenseless party were struck down by the first blast. Mulla Husayn's companions were impatient. "We have risen and followed you," they said, "with no other thought than to sacrifice our lives in the path of God. But we pray you, allow us to defend ourselves so that we do not fall disgracefully before this savage mob." Mulla Husayn was still patient, hoping there might be found some way to avoid this bloodshed. A bullet struck his nearest companion, Siyyid Rid , in the chest and killed him instantly. Rid was a man of humble and loving disposition. His devotion to the Bab was deep and sincere. He had walked on foot beside Mulla Husayn all the way from Khurasan. At the sight of this much-loved companion fallen dead at his feet, Mulla Husayn could no longer remain silent. "O God," he cried out. "Behold the plight of my companions! Witness the welcome which these people have given us. Thou knowest that we cherish no other desire than to guide them to the way of Truth." Unsheathing his sword, Mulla Husayn spurred on his horse as the attack of the mob was unleashed in full force. He commanded his followers to defend themselves. On the plain of Barfurush the words which the Bab had spoken to Mulla Husayn at Mahku began to come true: "Your days of horsemanship are yet to come. You are destined to exhibit such
courage, skill and heroism as will eclipse the mightiest deeds of the heroes of old." Mulla Husayn struck terror into the hearts of that unruly mob. One of the killers took refuge behind a small tree. He held his musket in front of his body to shield himself as Mulla Husayn swept down upon him. Mulla Husayn recognized him as the slayer of Rid , his friend. Mulla Husayn rushed on and, with a single sweeping slash of his sword, he cut through the trunk of the tree, through the musket, and severed the body of his enemy in two. The historian Nicolas states that "anger redoubled the strength of Mulla Husayn who with one single blow of his weapon cut in two the gun, the man and the tree." He adds: "The Muslims themselves do not question the authenticity of this anecdote."[F8] One of the enemies of Mulla Husayn on that day has recorded his impression of that dreadful attack: "Then I saw Mulla Husayn unsheathe his sword and raise his face toward heaven ... `Now have they made it our duty to protect ourselves,' he said. Then he began to attack us on the right and on the left. I swear by God that on that day he wielded the sword in such wise as transcends the power of man. Only the horsemen of Mazindaran held their ground and refused to flee. And when Mulla Husayn was well warmed to the fray, he overtook a fugitive soldier. The soldier sheltered himself behind a tree, and further strove to shield himself with his musket. Mulla Husayn dealt him such a blow with his sword that he clove him and the tree and the musket into six pieces."[F9] The outstanding force of that blow ended the opposition. The mob fled in panic, crying "Peace! Peace!" Mulla Husayn forced his way through the ranks of that retreating mob, unmindful of the bullets that rained about him as he passed. He galloped his horse toward Barfurush. He rode straight to the residence of the Sa`idu'l-`Ulama. Three times Mulla Husayn circled the house calling for him to come out. "Let that contemptible coward emerge from his inglorious retreat," he cried out. "Has he forgotten that the one who preaches holy war must himself march at the head of his followers and by his own deeds sustain their enthusiasm?" Peace was at last restored. Mulla Husayn addressed the people of Barfurush. "What have we done that you should arise against us? Why should you think it meritorious in the sight of God to shed our blood? Have we ever spoken one word against the truth of your
Faith? Is this the hospitality which your own Prophet, Muhammad, has commanded you to show to believer and unbeliever alike? Mulla Husayn shamed them with his words, then he assembled his companions and they continued on their way toward Sari and the rescue of Quddus. The Sa`idu'l-`Ulama came out of hiding as soon as Mulla Husayn departed with his friends. He immediately planned an attack upon them at the place where they had encamped for the night at the Subzih-Maydan caravanserai. That evening at sunset, Mulla Husayn gathered his companions together. "Is there one among you," he asked, "who is willing to arise and risk his life for the sake of God and ascend to the roof of the caravanserai and sound the call to prayer?" In this way, Mulla Husayn told them, they would demonstrate to the people that they were not enemies, but friends; that they were lovers of Islam. A youth gladly responded. No sooner had the melodious words of "God is great!" echoed over the countryside than a bullet struck him, killing him instantly. "Let another arise," Mulla Husayn urged them, "and, with the selfsame renunciation, proceed with the prayer which that youth was unable to finish." Another young man mounted to the roof and began to chant the words: "I bear witness that Muhammad is the Apostle of God!" His testimony was cut short by another bullet which struck him down. Although Muhammad, Himself, had commanded that everyone should "Honor thy guest though he be an infidel," still these companions who were lodged for the night in the village caravanserai were being slain for observing out of respect and love His sacred call to prayer. Mulla Husayn entreated them to show their loyalty and thus expose the unfaithfulness of those who were attacking them. A third youth, at the bidding of Mulla Husayn, attempted to complete the prayer which his two martyred companions had left unfinished. He, too, suffered the same fate. As he approached the end of his prayer, and with power and vigor called out the words, "There is no God but God," he in his turn, fell dead. Such ruthless behavior impelled Mulla Husayn to throw open the
gates of the caravanserai. He leaped onto his horse, gave the signal to charge, and at the head of his companions he swept out upon the assailants who had been massing before the gates. They fled before the fury of his onslaught. It was the story of Barfurush repeated: again the enemy fled in panic, again they pleaded for peace, again they implored for mercy. This was to be the first in a series of such encounters which were to last for nearly a year. The believers met every attack with a counter-attack and time after time humiliated their opponents. They would rally to the encouraging cry of Mulla Husayn, which all took up in turn: "Mount your steeds, O heroes of God!" Mulla Husayn and his companions finally arrived at the small shrine Shaykh Tabarsi about fourteen miles from Barfurush. They hoped that by withdrawing, the onslaught against them might cease, and that after a reasonable time they might be permitted to go on their way to Sari in peace. The Sa`idu'l-`Ulama rejoiced. He felt that he had his hated enemies trapped at last. He vowed they would never escape. He called upon the government to help him annihilate them. The night preceding the arrival of Mulla Husayn and his companions at the fort of Shaykh Tabarsi, the keeper of the shrine had a strange dream. He saw a holy man with seventy warriors and many companions arrive at Tabarsi. He dreamed that they remained in that place and engaged in the most heroic of battles, triumphing over the forces against them, and that finally, the Prophet of God Himself arrived one night to speak with them. When Mulla Husayn arrived the next day, the keeper recognized him and told him of his dream. Mulla Husayn replied: "All that you witnessed will come to pass. Those glorious scenes of your dream will soon be enacted before your eyes." The keeper threw in his lot with Mulla Husayn and the heroic defenders of what came to be known as the fort Shaykh Tabarsi. Realizing that they would never be set free, but that orders had been issued to exterminate them, Mulla Husayn and his companions erected defenses about Tabarsi to help protect themselves. Mulla Husayn was feeling very sad because of his failure to reach Sari and rescue Quddus, when word came that Quddus was approaching the fort. The messengers Mulla Husayn had sent to
Sari were successful in securing his release from the official in whose home he had been held captive. Inside this fort the followers of the Bab were to hold out against assault, starvation, and treachery; they would outwit and outfight the entire army of the king; this God-intoxicated handful would be pitted against a trained army, well equipped, supported by the masses of the people, blessed by the clergy, headed by a prince of royal blood, backed by the resources of the state, and acting with the enthusiastic support of the king himself. When Quddus entered the fort, he asked Mulla Husayn to determine the exact number of the assembled companions. One by one Mulla Husayn counted them off as they passed in through the gate: three hundred and twelve in all. He was on his way to make his report to Quddus when a young man who had come on foot from Barfurush rushed through the gate and begged to be allowed to join them. Thus, the number reported to Quddus was exactly three hundred and thirteen. Quddus said to them: "Whatever the tongue of the Prophet of God has spoken concerning the Promised One must needs be fulfilled." Then the companions were reminded of the prophecy given for this day, that "the assembling of three hundred and thirteen chosen supporters" would be yet another proof which would herald the coming of the Promised One on earth.[F10] The fury of the Sa`idu'l-`Ulama of Barfurush was increased when the news of Quddus' presence in the fort reached him. Impelled by an implacable hatred, he sent a burning appeal to the king. "A revolt has taken place," he told the Shah. "This wretched band of agitators strikes at the very foundation of your kingdom. They have built a fort, and in that massive stronghold they have entrenched themselves, preparing to direct a campaign which will sweep you from your throne. What greater triumph could begin your new rule than to wipe out this hateful group which has dared to conspire against you. Should you fail to rise against them, I feel it my duty to warn you that the day is fast approaching when not only this province, but the whole of Persia will have cast aside your authority and surrendered to their cause."[F11] The king was alarmed and responded by sending an army of twelve thousand men to drive this small band from the fort of Tabarsi and to destroy them all. Food and water were cut off from
them and soon the companions were reduced to grave conditions. The army was installed upon a hill overlooking the fort. As Quddus stood with Mulla Husayn watching the army of the king, he said, "The scarcity of water has distressed our compani0ns. God willing, this very night a downpour of rain will overtake our opponents followed by a heavy snowfall, which will assist us to repulse their planned attack." That night as the great mass of soldiers prepared to launch an assault upon the fort, a torrential rain overtook them. It ruined their ammunition. They broke ranks and took shelter, abandoning all plans of attack. Rainwater was quickly gathered inside the fort to quench the thirst of the friends. The following historical record of that period has been preserved: "A snowfall such as the people in the neighborhood even in the depths of winter had never experienced added considerably to the annoyance which the rain caused." These storms brought hardship and ruin to the camp of the king's soldiers, but refreshment to the fort. One of the most memorable encounters took place one morning just before dawn. The companions were sorely distressed and constantly harried by the outright attacks as well as by the snipers. One morning the gates of the fort were thrown open to meet an attack. "Mount your steeds, O heroes of God!" came the command from Mulla Husayn. This stirring call rallied all hearts. Preceded by Quddus, they rushed full charge toward the stronghold of the prince, the leader of the army of the king. Mulla Husayn thrust his way right into the royal quarters. The prince had already thrown himself from a back window into the moat, and had escaped barefooted, leaving the army bewildered and routed by a handful of Mulla Husayn's companions. Comte de Gobineau in his account states that "in a few moments his [the prince's] army already in such confusion, was scattered by the three hundred men of Mulla Husayn! Was not this the sword of the Lord and of Gideon?" In the prince's quarters, the companions found coffers filled with gold and silver. They looked at them, then left them behind, taking only the abandoned sword of the prince which they gave to Mulla Husayn whose own sword had been struck by a bullet.
A detachment of soldiers, meanwhile, surrounded Quddus and fired a volley at him, wounding him in the mouth and throat. Mulla Husayn rushed to his aid. He seized the sword of Quddus, and brandishing this blade in one hand and the captured sword of the prince in the other, he attacked the enemy and aided by one hundred and ten of his fellow disciples, put the soldiers to flight. Quddus recovered from his wound, minimizing its importance. Every time the enemy was routed, Quddus would remind the companions of their real purpose. "We have repulsed them," he said, "no need to carry the punishment further. Our purpose is to protect ourselves in the hope that God may enable us to continue our work of teaching and regenerating the hearts of men. We have no intention whatever of causing unnecessary harm to any one." Repeatedly the companions of Mulla Husayn and Quddus tried to persuade their enemies to permit them to go on their way without the shedding of further blood. Even one of the leaders of the king's army has testified to this. When questioned at a later date by Prince Ahmad Mirza about Tabarsi and Mulla Husayn, `Abbas-Quli Khan gave this account: "One day Mulla Husayn stood forth in the open field, and leaning upon a lance which he held in his hand, said, `O people, why without enquiry, and under the influence of passion and prejudiced misrepresentation, do ye act so cruelly toward us, and strive without cause to shed innocent blood? Be ashamed before the Creator of the universe, and at least give us passage, that we may depart out of this land.' Seeing that the soldiers were moved, I opened fire and ordered the troops to shout so as to drown out his voice. Again I saw him lean on his lance and cry: `Is there anyone who will help me?' Three times, so that all heard his cry. At this moment all the soldiers were silent, and some began to weep, and many of the horsemen were visibly affected. Fearing that the army might be seduced from their allegiance, I again ordered them to fire and shout. Then I saw Mulla Husayn unsheathe his sword, raise his face toward heaven and heard him exclaim: `O God, I have completed the proof to this host, but it availeth not.' Then he began to attack us on the right and on the left."[F12] Mulla Husayn was slain during the course of the struggle to defend the fort of Tabarsi. True to his forecast, he fell a victim to the enemy fire, along with seventy-two of his friends. The scarcity of water compelled the companions to dig a well
inside the fort. Mulla Husayn, who was watching the completion, said with a smile, "Today we shall have all the water we require for our bath. Cleansed of all earthly defilements, we shall seek the court of the Almighty. Whoso is willing to join me, let him prepare himself to partake of the cup of martyrdom ere dawn." That afternoon he had washed himself thoroughly, clothed himself with freshly washed garments, and placed the Bab's green turban upon his head. A great happiness appeared to surround him. He spent a long time in conversation with Quddus. He visited with each one of his companions that evening, cheering them and encouraging their hearts. Soon after midnight, the morning star appeared in the skies. Mulla Husayn, gazing at it, recognized it as a star that "heralded the dawn of reunion with his Beloved." He mounted his charger and ordered that the gate of the fort be thrown open. He rode out at the head of his companions, to cry: "O Lord of the Age!" So intense and powerful was this shout in praise of the Bab that forest, fort, and camp vibrated to its resounding echo. Mulla Husayn charged the barricades from behind which the army planned to launch their most concentrated offensive. One after the other he crushed his way through them until all seven of the barricades had fallen. His gallantry and courage were never greater, but his days of horsemanship and heroism were now at an end. With victory complete, Mulla Husayn's steed became entangled in the rope of a tent. Before he could free himself, he was struck in the breast by a bullet which had been fired from the ambush of a neighboring tree. One of the leaders of the enemy, `Abbas-Quli Khan, had fled and hidden in the sheltering branches rather than face the attack of Mulla Husayn. Seeing him in distress, he fired the fatal shot. Mulla Husayn dismounted, staggered a few steps, then fell exhausted to the ground, unconscious. Two of his companions bore him back to the fort. Quddus said, "Leave me alone with him." The friends retired. One of them standing near the door heard Quddus speak gently to Mulla Husayn with the greatest love. "You have hastened the hour of your departure, and have
abandoned me to the mercy of my foes. Please God I will ere long join you and taste the sweetness of heaven." What a short time had passed since that night in Shiraz when the Bab had spoken to Mulla Husayn, saying : "O thou who art the first to believe in Me, verily, I say I am the Bab, the Gate of God." On that never-to-be-forgotten night, the Bab had called upon all men to awake! teach the Word of God! quicken the souls of men! Now Mulla Husayn lay dying in the fort of Tabarsi. His last words, addressed to Quddus were directed beyond him to the Beloved of his heart, the Bab. Softly, he said, "Are you pleased with me?" Quddus opened the door and came out to the companions of Mulla Husayn. "I have bade my last farewell to him," he said. They knew then that Mulla Husayn was dead. They entered to say farewell, moved to tears by the faint smile of happiness that still lingered upon his face. Such was the peacefulness of his countenance, that he seemed to have fallen asleep.[F13] Quddus attended to the burial. He clothed Mulla Husayn in his own shirt and gave instructions to bury him in a spot adjoining the Shrine at the fort of Tabarsi. A Traveller's Narrative says that "his mortal remains still repose in the little inner room of the Shrine of Shaykh Tabarsi where, at the direction of [Quddus], they were reverently laid by the hands of his sorrowing comrades in the beginning of the year A.D. 1849."[F14] As Quddus placed Mulla Husayn's body in its last resting place, he said: "I pray God to grant that no division ever be caused between you and me." In every encounter, Mulla Husayn had distinguished himself by acts of valor and chivalry. His great learning, his high sense of justice, his tenacity of faith, and his unswerving devotion to God marked him as an outstanding figure among those who have borne witness to the power of the Faith of the Bab. The historian Gobineau said of him, "At last, he passed away. The new religion which found in him its first martyr, lost, in the same stroke, a man whose moral strength and ability would have been of great value to it, had he lived longer. The [opposing forces] naturally feel a hatred for the memory of this leader, which is as deep as the love and veneration shown for him by the [followers of the Bab].[F15] The Christian clergyman, Dr. T. K. Cheyne, wrote, "Frail of form, but a gallant soldier and an impassioned lover of God, he [Mulla
Husayn] combined the qualities and characteristics ... seldom found united in the same person."[F16] The death of Mulla Husayn caused inexpressible sorrow to the Bab, a sorrow that gave rise to eulogies and prayers equivalent to thrice the volume of the Qur'an. In one of His prayers, the Bab declared that the very dust of the ground where the remains of Mulla Husayn lie buried is endowed with such a potency as to bring joy to the disconsolate and healing to the sick.[F17] That great Figure (Bahá'u'lláh) Whose coming the Bab unceasingly proclaimed, wrote at a later date, that but for Mulla Husayn the Cause of God would not have been established. Mulla Husayn was thirty-six when he was slain. After his burial Quddus gave instructions to inter the bodies of the thirty-six who had fallen with him that night in one and the same grave near the shrine. "Let the loved ones of God," Quddus said, as they were lowered into the earth, "take heed of the example of these martyrs of our Faith. Let them be as united in life as these are now in death." Quddus was now in sole command of those in the fort. When their supply of provisions was nearly exhausted, Quddus distributed the last of the rice among them, and warned them of the hardships that lay ahead. "Whoever feels himself strong enough to withstand the calamities that are soon to befall us, let him remain with us in this fort. And whoever perceives in himself the least hesitation and fear, let him betake himself away from this place. The way will soon be barred before our faces, and we shall fall a victim to devastating afflictions." The very night Quddus gave this warning, one fearful soul betrayed his companions. He wrote a letter to `Abbas-Quli Khan, the king's general, informing him that Mulla Husayn was dead. "He was the pillar upon which the strength and security of the fort depended. They are worn with famine and are being grievously treated." The letter was carried by a messenger, who, with his share of the rice given to him by Quddus, stole out of the fort during the night. The welcome news of the death of Mulla Husayn nerved `Abbas-Quli Khan to a fresh attack. Fearing that the messenger might spread the report of Mulla Husayn's death and thus rob him of some of the glory of victory, he killed him instantly. He massed his
soldiers for an advance and, at the head of two detachments, he had the fort surrounded. Quddus understood at once what had happened. "A betrayer has announced the death of Mulla Husayn," he said. "Sally out and administer a befitting chastisement." Nineteen of the companions plunged headlong into the ranks of the enemy. They were pitted against no less than two regiments of infantry and Calvary. They counter-attacked with such fury that `Abbas-Quli Khan, the slayer of Mulla Husayn, became terrified and fell from his horse. In his panic and haste, he left one of his boots hanging from the stirrup. He ran away half-shod and thoroughly frightened. He fled to the prince and confessed the ignominious reverse he had suffered a5t the hands of those nineteen companions of Mulla Husayn. This same `Abbas-Quli Khan later wrote of these defenders of Tabarsi: "In truth, I know not what had been shown unto these people, or what they had seen, that they came forth to battle with such alacrity and joy. The imagination of man cannot conceive the vehemence of their courage and valor." Gobineau reports that the army "built large towers as high as the various levels of the fortress or higher and, through a continuous plunging fire, they rendered the circulation of [followers of the Bab] within their fort extremely dangerous ... but in a few days, [they], taking advantage of the long nights, raised their fortifications so that their height exceeded that of the attacking towers of the enemy."[F18] "Exasperated by these evidences of unquenchable fervor, the commanding officer erected a great tower upon which he placed his biggest cannon, and directed his fire into the heart of the fort. "The faithful seeing this," an historical document tells us, "began to dig subterranean passages and retreat thither. But the ground of Mazindaran lies near the water and is saturated with moisture, added to which rain fell continually, increasing the damage so those poor sufferers dwelt amidst mud and water till their garments rotted away with damp."[F19] Outraged at their failure to conquer this pitiful band of untrained students, the leading officers of the army, under the command of the prince, gathered a huge force and constructed trenches and barricades. They brought up more cannon and cannon-balls.
They hurled flaming projectiles into the fort and gave orders to begin a heavy bombardment. Gobineau states in his book, "In a very short time, the outer defenses of the fortress were dismantled; nothing was left of them but falling girders, smoked and burning timbers, and scattered stones."[F20] While the bombardment was in progress, Quddus emerged from his shelter and walked to the center of the fort. His manner was one of the greatest tranquility. A cannon-ball fell suddenly into the fort. It embedded itself in the earth before him, then rolled free. It came to a stop in front of him. Calmly Quddus placed his foot on it and rolled it back and forth. "How utterly unaware," he said, "are these boastful aggressors of the power of God's avenging wrath. Do they seek to intimidate the heroes of God, in whose sight the power of kings is but an empty shadow?" Quddus turned to his friends. "Beware," he cautioned them, "lest fear and selfishness steal away your glorious station. Each one of you has his appointed hour, and when that hour is come neither the assault of the enemy nor the pleading of your friends will be able to retard or advance it. If you allow your hearts to be frightened by the booming of these guns which with increasing violence will shower their projectiles on this fort, you will have cast yourselves out of the stronghold of God's protection." This appeal breathed much-needed confidence into every heart, for their troubles were mounting. Their food was at last reduced to the flesh of the horses they had brought away from the camp of the enemy. Later they had to content themselves with grass snatched from the ground. Finally, they consumed the bark of trees and the leather of their saddles, their belts, their scabbards, and their shoes. They even subsisted on the ground bones of the horses fallen in battle. For eighteen days their only sustenance was a mouthful of water each morning. "God knows," one of the survivors has testified, "that we had ceased to hunger for food." Quddus quickened their enthusiasm and brightened their hopes each day at sunrise and at sunset, by telling of the beauty and greatness of the Bab. Many lost their lives, but the dwindling band still remained unconquered. Their actions fulfilled several prophecies which foretold of the coming of God's Prophet in the last days. One of the most
significant spoke of the "halting of those who had believed in the Lord about Tabarsi, and their martyrdom."[F21] The young king at last grew impatient. "An army which we thought could fight a lion or a whale cannot fight a handful of weak and defenseless men," he said. "It has achieved nothing!" He and his Prime Minister, Mirza Taqi Khan, burst forth against their army leaders. In the most bitter terms they accused them of rank incompetency. They threatened to punish them with the same treatment which had been planned for the followers of the Bab. The king, in his anxiety and anger, threatened the lives of every person in the province around the fort of Shaykh Tabarsi. "I shall exterminate them to the last man!" he said. The prince and `Abbas-Quli Khan knew it was useless to try and explain to an angry king that although the defenders of the fort were not professional soldiers, it had proved impossible to force their surrender. `Abbas-Quli Khan himself expressed this dilemma by admitting in his own words that the companions of Quddus were: "Scholars and men of learning ... strangers to the roar of the cannon, the rattle of musketry, and the field of battle ... Notwithstanding this, it seemed as if in time of battle a new spirit were breathed into their frames ... the imagination of man cannot conceive the vehemence of their courage and valor. They used to expose their bodies to the bullets and cannon-balls not only fearlessly and courageously, but eagerly and joyously, seeming to regard the battle-field as a banquet.[F22] The prince was informed of the threats which the king had made. He was afraid that any further delay in subduing Quddus and his companions might result in the loss of his prestige, perhaps his own life. Therefore, he resorted to treachery. He despaired of conquering, so he conceived a plan of betrayal. The prince sent a Qur'an to Quddus and swore by that Holy Book that he would set free all the defenders of the fort and permit them to go their way. They would not even be molested, the prince promised. He himself, at his own expense, he vowed, would arrange for their safe departure with honor to their homes. Quddus received the Book, kissed it reverently, and quoted from the sacred words: "O our Lord, decide between us and between our people with truth; for the best to decide art Thou." Then he read the pledge, and assembled his companions. "Prepare to leave the fort,"
he said. "By our response to their oath, we shall test the sincerity of their intentions." At the gate of the fort, they mounted the horses which were to take them to the camp of the prince. A dinner was placed before Quddus and his starving friends. He refused to touch it, knowing that the hour of death was upon him. The prince repeated his promise: "My oath is irrevocable and sacred," he said. One of the companions whispered to Quddus, "I am of the opinion that what his tongue professes, his heart does not believe at all." Quddus, who shared this view, told his companions to disperse that very night before it was too late. They implored him not to send them away from his side. "Weep not," was his final word, "the reunion which will follow this separation will endure eternally. We now commit our Cause to the care of God." This was the final scene of that somber tragedy at Tabarsi. The prince violated his sacred pledge. Quddus and his companions were seized, stripped of their meager possessions, and some were sold as slaves. Others were slain outright, killed by the spears and swords of the officers who were hungry for revenge. One account states, "the whole world marvelled at the manner of their sacrifice ... their deeds ... their fortitude and bodily endurance."[F23] No less than nine of the Bab's first eighteen disciples, known as the Letters of the Living, fell in this disaster. The historian Nicolas speaks of the futile attempt of the civil and religious authorities to erase all trace of that gallant spot. "All the fortifications constructed by the followers of the Bab, " he says, "were razed to the ground, and even the ground was leveled to remove any evidence of the heroic defense of those who had died for their Faith. They imagined that this would silence history." Quddus was bound with chains and taken by the prince on foot to Barfurush, the city of the cowardly high-priest, the Sa`idu'l-`Ulama. Barfurush was also the city in which Quddus had been born. The Sa`idu'l-`Ulama was not afraid now to come out of his home. With all the religious leaders of Barfurush, he went to welcome the prince, and to extend his congratulations on their triumphal
return. The entire town was hung with flags to celebrate the victory. Bonfires blazed at night. Three days of festivities took place. The prince gave no indication to the high-priest as to what was to be done with Quddus. The prince himself was extremely reluctant to ill-treat his captive further. He had captured Quddus by treachery, but now that his prestige was secure, he did not wish any further shame to be attached to his share in this hateful episode. The prince made up his mind to conduct Quddus to Tihran and deliver him into the hands of the king. This, he felt, would relieve him of the responsibility of deciding Quddus' fate. What was more important, it would also bring additional honors to him along the route of march. However, the unquenchable hostility of the high-priest interfered with this plan. When the high-priest saw that Quddus might slip from his grasp, he appealed to the mob once more, as he had appealed to them on that first day when Mulla Husayn and his companions had appeared on the plain of Barfurush. He encouraged their basest sentiments. He whipped them into a frenzy. The whole of Barfurush was aroused by the persistency and viciousness of his call to action. "I have vowed to deny myself both food and sleep," he cried from the pulpit, "until such a time as I am able to end the life of Quddus with my own hands." The crowd rallied around him and became so ugly that the prince feared that his own safety might be in danger. He summoned all the priests of Barfurush in to consult upon measures to quiet and restrain the populace. Quddus was also summoned into their presence. At that moment, the prince realized that the hatred of the entire city was solidly against him. He sighed, and spoke words reminiscent of those of Pontius Pilate: "I wash my hands of all responsibility for any harm that may befall this man. You are free to do what you wish with him. You will yourselves be answerable to God on the day of Judgement." As soon as he had spoken these words, the prince surrendered Quddus into the hands of the chief priest. He mounted his horse and as his final act of cowardice, fled from the city, turning his back upon Quddus. There was now no restraint upon the people. They pounced upon Quddus with uncontrolled violence. He was stripped of his clothes. He was paraded through the streets barefooted, bareheaded, and
loaded down with chains. He was followed each step of the way by a howling mob. They jeered at him, spat upon him, and flung refuse at him. Amidst his last tortures, Quddus asked the pardon of God for his persecutors. "Forgive the trespasses of these people, O God," he cried. "Deal with them in Thy mercy, for they do not know the secret we have already discovered. Show them the way of Truth, O God, and turn their ignorance into faith." In his hour of agony, one of the traitors who had deserted the fort passed Quddus. He saw how helpless Quddus now was. Emboldened, he came forward and struck him in the face. "If what you speak is of God," he scoffed, "free yourself." Quddus looked quietly into his eyes. "May God forgive you your deed," he said, "inasmuch as you have added to the measure of my suffering." When the family of Quddus heard of his agonies, they recalled the prophetic words he had spoken to them many years before in that same city. His step-mother, who had been kind and loving to him, had urged him to marry. "I long to witness your nuptials," she told him, "but I fear this longing will always remain unfulfilled." Quddus replied: "The day of my wedding is not yet come. That day will be unspeakably glorious. Not within the confines of this house, but out in the open air, under the vault of heaven, in the public square before the gaze of the great multitude, I shall celebrate my nuptials and witness the fulfillment of all my hopes." Now that promise had come true. As he approached the public square, Quddus remembered those long-ago tender years, and the words he had spoken. He raised his voice. "Would that my mother were with me now, and could see the splendor of my nuptials!" In the middle of the night, a devoted friend gathered what still remained of Quddus' burned and mutilated body. He buried them in a place not far from the scene of his martyrdom. Nabil in his history declares that the story of Mulla Husayn, Quddus, and the defense of the fort of Tabarsi "must ever remain as one of the most moving episodes of modern times."[F24] The words spoken by Quddus in the fort of Tabarsi now made themselves felt, fulfilling his prediction: "How utterly unaware are these boastful aggressors of the power of God's avenging wrath." After the passing of but a short time, the Sa`idu'l-Ulama was
struck down by the same fate that had crushed Husayn Khan, Mirza `Ali-Asghar, Muhammad Shah, and Haji Mirza Aqasi. Thus still another leader in the plot against the Bab and His followers was seized in the grip of destruction. He became afflicted with a strange disease for which there was no cure. In spite of the furs which he wore, in spite of the fire which burned constantly in his room, he could never become warm. Even as he trembled with the cold, his fever was so high that nothing could quench his burning thirst. He died of his illness, and his beautiful house was abandoned until it crumbled into ruins. Little by little the practice grew of dumping refuse upon the site where it had once so proudly stood. Nicolas points out in his history, "This so impressed the people [of that district] that when they quarrel among themselves, the final insult frequently is, `May thy house meet the same fate as the house of the Sa`idu'l-Ulama!'"[F25] The news of the tragic fate which had overtaken the heroes of Tabarsi reached the Bab in His prison at Chihriq. It brought great sadness to His heart. He penned a eulogy in honor of Quddus and Mulla Husayn. In it He wrote that He, too, would soon join these twin immortals; each of whom by his life and his death had shed imperishable luster on the Faith of God. He instructed one of His followers to visit Tabarsi and Barfurush. "Arise," He said, "and ... in the guise of a traveler, ... visit on My behalf, the spot which enshrines [their ] bodies. ... Bring back to Me, as a remembrance of your visit, a handful of that holy earth which covers the remains of My beloved ones, Quddus and Mulla Husayn. Strive to be back ere the day of Naw-Ruz [New Year] that you may celebrate with Me that festival, the only one I probably shall ever see again."[F26]