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Release the Sun

by William Sears

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Chapter 16

THE DEATH OF THE WISEST PERSIAN

Vahid, who had been sent by the king as his personal representative to investigate the truth of the Bab's mission, was the next to fall in this nation-wide wave of persecutions. In the early days of the siege of Tabarsi, Vahid hurried to Tihran to make the necessary preparations for joining Mulla Husayn and Quddus inside the fort. He was about to leave Tihran when he was told that it was too late, that his friends had already been captured or slain. During this visit to Tihran, Vahid met a companion who wrote down his recollection of that meeting: "I observed in his (Vahid's) august countenance the signs of a glory and power which I had not noticed during my first journey with him to the capital, nor on the other occasions of meeting...he said several times during the course of conversation: `This is my last journey, and henceforth you will see me no more.'...Sometimes when we were together and the conversation took an appropriate turn, he would remark: "I swear by that loved One in the grasp of Whose power my soul lies, that I know and could tell where and how I shall be slain, and who it is that shall slay me. And how glorious and blessed a thing it

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is that my blood shall be shed for the uplifting of the Word of Truth!'"[F1] Following his last visit to Tihran, Vahid journeyed to Tahirih's native town of Qazvin, and from there he went to Qum, Kashan, Isfahan, Ardistan, and Ardikan. In each of these places he met his fellow believers and was able to stimulate their enthusiasm and reinforce their efforts. In every city he would explain the fundamental teachings of the Bab with zest and fearlessness. He succeeded in winning a considerable number of the most able and notable citizens to His Cause. Thus, Vahid became an important target for the Prime Minister and all other enemies of the Bab. The story of Vahid's investigation of the Bab, undertaken on behalf of the former king and Prime Minister, was well known to the people. That these two had agreed to abide by Vahid's findings was also well known, as was the fact that they had broken their pledge when they heard that Vahid had become a follower of the Bab. Vahid was a man of great influence, of wealth and fame. In addition to his beautiful house in Yazd where his wife and four sons lived, he also had a home in D r b, and still another in Nayriz. These homes were noted for their elegance and their superb furnishings. Vahid visited his home in Yazd on the feast of the New Year. It coincided with the anniversary of the Bab's declaration of His mission. The most important religious leaders and notables came out to meet him. The Navvab-i-Raduvi, who was the most bitter of Vahid's enemies, was also present. He resented the splendor of Vahid's reception, and hinted maliciously that it was not really the New Year Feast that Vahid was celebrating. "The king's royal banquets," he said, "can hardly hope to rival this sumptuous repast. I suspect that in addition to the national festival that we are celebrating, you are commemorating another one beside it." Vahid's bold and sarcastic retort provoked the laughter of those present. They all applauded Vahid's stinging rebuke because they were aware of the stinginess and wickedness of the Navvab. This ridicule enraged the Navvab. He promised himself that if it lay in his power, Vahid would die violently because of it. Vahid seized this occasion to proclaim without reserve the principles

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of the Bab's Faith. Some were irresistibly attracted. Others, unable to challenge successfully the defense which Vahid made for his new Faith, denounced it in their hearts. They joined forces with the Navvab and made plans to overthrow Vahid without delay. Nicolas in his history of those days writes: "`To love and conceal one's secret is impossible,' says the poet; so...[Vahid] began to preach openly in the mosques, in the streets, in the bazaars, in the public squares, in a word, wherever he could find listeners. Such an enthusiasm brought forth fruit and the conversions were numerous and sincere. The Mullas [protests] deeply troubled, violently denounced the sacrilege to the governor of the city."[F2] The priests were agreed on one vital point: The life of Vahid must be destroyed. They spread the report of that New Year's day banquet, saying: "Though his listeners ranked among the most illustrious doctors of law in Yazd, not one raised a word of protest against his proclamation of the Faith of the Bab. This silence has been responsible for the wave of enthusiasm which has swept over this city. Already half of the inhabitants have been brought to his feet, while the remainder are fast being attracted." This report raced like a grass fire through all the surrounding districts. It caused hatred to flare up, but, at the same time, it brought crowds of interested people from distant towns and villages. They flocked to Vahid's home to hear the message of the Bab. A great many embraced the Faith. "What shall we do next?" they asked Vahid. "How can we express the depth and sincerity of our faith?" Each day from early morning until late night, Vahid was absorbed in teaching them, answering their questions, and inspiring them to return home where they could teach in their own villages. For forty days this feverish teaching activity continued. Vahid's home became a rallying point for both men and women. The Navvab finally convinced the governor of Yazd that if Vahid was not restrained, the people would soon revolt from the government of the king, and that he, the governor, would be to blame. The governor was new, young and inexperienced. The Navvab entreated him day after day to send a force of armed men to surround Vahid's home and put an end to his teaching. After all, the Navvab told the governor, hadn't the Prime Minister himself encouraged everyone to use the harshest means against the followers of the Bab? Was Vahid so prominent, so famous, so noble that he did not

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fall into this class? Was he not really the most flagrant offender of all? The governor at last succumbed to the Navvab's entreaties, and ordered out a detachment of soldiers. The Navvab quickly sent his personal instructions to a degraded element of the people he had been keeping ready for just such an opportunity. Gleefully, he informed them that the governor had fallen into his trap, and that Vahid was now under attack. He urged these people to rush to Vahid's home and do all they could to add to his humiliation. "There is no longer any need to restrain your indignation and righteous feelings of anger," he told them. He implied that Vahid's death would be a welcome thing in the eyes of God. Vahid was standing at a window on the upper floor of his home speaking to a large gathering of his friends in the yard below when a regiment of soldiers accompanied by a huge multitude of people arrived. They completely surrounded his house. Vahid's friends were alarmed at the sight of the soldiers and the great mob of infuriated townspeople. They turned to Vahid in their distress, asking for instructions. His servant, Hasan, quickly saddled Vahid's horse and brought it to the courtyard below his window so that he might flee for safety. Vahid called upon his friends to be calm. "Do not fear," he told them. "In a short time, all those who have now encircled us will have been scattered." Vahid pointed down at the horse standing below him in the courtyard. "That very steed," he said, "is the one which the late king gave me that I might ride upon it to undertake my mission of conducting an impartial investigation into the nature of the Faith proclaimed by the Bab. The king asked me to report to him personally the results of my inquiry, for he said I was the only one among the religious leaders in Tihran in whom he had complete confidence. "I undertook that mission riding upon that very horse. I was determined to refute everything the Bab said, and to prove my superiority. I planned to crush him with my superior knowledge, force Him to acknowledge my leadership, and then conduct Him with me to Tihran as a witness to my total triumph. "When I came into His presence and heard His words, the opposite of what I imagined took place. In my first audience, I was humbled; by the end of the second, I felt helpless and ignorant;

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the third found me as lowly as the dust beneath His feet. He became to me what He truly was: the Promised One, the living embodiment of the Holy Spirit." Vahid looked with indifference upon the enemies who were closing in on him. Of what importance could any of the happenings of this world be to him ever again, whether they were delights or disasters. "Ever since that day," he told his friends, "I have yearned to lay down my life for His sake. I rejoice that the day which I have longed to witness is fast approaching."[F3] Vahid's friends became frightened. They thought he was speaking of that very day and hour, for the soldiers and the mob were preparing to assault them. Seeing the agitation which had seized them, Vahid urged them to be calm and patient. "Rest assured," he said, "that God, the Avenger, will soon with His invisible hand inflict a crushing defeat against these forces arrayed against us." Shortly after Vahid had uttered these words, the news came that a great number of friendly companions were approaching Vahid's home to save him. This rescue party flung themselves upon the attackers. Their valor and reckless indifference to death was of a nature to alarm and scatter the entire detachment of soldiers and people. The soldiers abandoned their arms and fled for shelter. The mob, crying for help, scattered in all directions. Vahid sent a messenger through the streets with the warning that he would not attack anyone but that he would defend himself and his home. After another skirmish, in which even the governor's troops were routed, Vahid directed his companions to disperse to safety. He knew that the hour for his own departure from Yazd had come. He called his wife to him and told her to take the children and all of their belongings and go to the house of her father for safety. He instructed her to leave all of his own personal possessions in the house. "I have built this palatial residence," he told her, "with the sole intention that it should be demolished eventually in the path of the Cause of God. The stately furnishings with which I have adorned it have been purchased with the hope that one day I should be able to sacrifice them all for the sake of my Beloved." Vahid tried to make his wife understand, saying: "In that day friend and foe alike will realize that he who owned this house possessed another

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treasure so priceless that an earthly mansion, however magnificent, had no worth in his eyes; that it had sunk to nothing more than a heap of bones which only the dogs of the earth could desire." In the middle of that night he collected the writings of the Bab which were in his possession, and gave them to his servant, Hasan, with the order to take them and await his arrival outside the gate of the city. "Do not disregard my instructions," he warned, "or we shall never meet again." Hasan mounted his horse and prepared to leave. He heard the cries of the patrolling sentinels who were keeping a night watch over the city. He was afraid they might capture him and seize the manuscripts, so he took what he thought to be a safer route to the gates of the city. As he was passing through one section of town, he was recognized by the sentinels. "There goes Vahid's servant!" they cried out. They opened fire upon Hasan, shot down his horse, and captured him alive. Vahid, meanwhile, followed the route he had told Hasan to take and was soon safely outside the city. The moment Vahid left Yazd, his enemies, under the leadership of the Navvab, rushed to his house to plunder his possessions. They carried away all of the furnishings, then demolished the house completely. Vahid set out at once for his home in Nayriz. That first night he walked twenty miles until he at last approached a village in which his brother lived. Vahid did not enter his brother's house, instead, he encamped in a near-by mountain. His brother, hearing of his presence there, sent out horses and provisions which he felt Vahid would need for his journey to Nayriz. A body of the governor's troops was sent out from Yazd in pursuit of Vahid. They followed his trail to the village of his brother. They searched the house where they suspected he was concealed. Not finding him, they appeased their anger and disappointment by seizing as much of his brother's property as they could carry away. They searched the neighborhood further, but did not find Vahid's mountain camp. Disappointed, they returned to Yazd. The Navvab was still not satisfied. Vahid's teaching had stopped, but Vahid had escaped. He did not pursue Vahid himself. He left

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that to the governor. Instead, in concert with the leading priests of Yazd, he took a far more gratifying step. Nicolas reports the Navvab's actions after Vahid's departure as follows: "...he [the Navvab] gave a sigh of relief. Besides, he felt that to pursue the fugitive would involve some peril and that, therefore, it would be infinitely more practical, more beneficial, more prosperous and less dangerous to torture the [followers of the Bab], or those presumed to be--provided that they were wealthy--who had remained in the city. He sought out the most prosperous, ordered their execution, and confiscated their possessions, avenging thus his outraged religion, a matter of perhaps little concern to him, and filling his coffers, which pleased him immensely."[F4] Having failed in their plans to capture and slay Vahid, the authorities had to content themselves with the torture of his servant, Hasan. The led him out to a loaded cannon. They thought they might frighten Hasan into pleading for mercy and thus force him to renounce his Faith. After all, he was only a servant. Vahid was a man of great nobility and wisdom, and he might be expected to know what he was doing; but this ignorant servant would certainly save his own life now that his master was gone. If they could make him cry for mercy, they could publicize his recantation. This would at least be a small way of humiliating Vahid. The officer gave the instruction which was calculated to bring Hasan to his knees. "Bind him with his back to the mouth of the cannon," he commanded. "No," Hasan entreated them. "Do not do that to me." The officer smiled, gratified by the expected words. His pleasure turned to wrath as Hasan continued his entreaty. "Do not bind me with my back to the cannon," Hasan pleaded with the soldiers. "Rather bind me with my face to the gun so that I may see it fired." The gunners and those who looked on were astonished at Hasan's composure and cheerfulness. To themselves they said: "One who can be cheerful in such a plight must needs have great faith and fortitude."[F5] All along the road to Nayriz, Vahid continued his teaching. Wherever he made camp, his first action was to go immediately to the neighboring village or town. He would gather all the people together, then he would announce to them the "glad tidings" of the

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Bab's appearance. In the mountain village of Bav n t, the high-priest of the village, Haji Siyyid Isma'il, accepted the Faith. Vahid was utterly indifferent to fatigue. In whatever place he succeeded in attracting souls to the Faith of the Bab, he would stay the night so that he could deepen them in their understanding and prepare them to continue the work of teaching after his departure. If none arose to accept or to inquire further, Vahid would leave that village at once. "Through whichever village I pass," he told his companions, "and fail to inhale from its inhabitants the fragrance of belief, its food and drink are distasteful to me."[F6] When the news of Vahid's approach to Nayriz became known, there was an exodus from the city to greet him. The governor forbade it, warning the people of the danger to their lives and possessions. Therefore, the majority of them set out at night to meet Vahid under cover of darkness. The governor was informed of their secret departure. He sent a special messenger to overtake them. "You will be put to death," he warned them, "if you show allegiance to Vahid. I will not permit his victories of Yazd to be repeated in Nayriz!" Not one of the people heeded this warning. They continued on their way. The governor was dismayed when his messenger reported their disdainful neglect of his warning. He decided he must take some strong action to maintain his prestige. The very first thing Vahid did upon reaching Nayriz, even before going to his own home, was to enter the place of worship and address the congregation of his friends that had gathered there. He called upon them to embrace the Faith of the Bab. The Promised One of God has appeared, he told them. Still wearing his dust-laden garments, Vahid ascended the pulpit and spoke with such convincing eloquence that the whole audience was electrified by his appeal. When the first flush of excitement subsided, Vahid continued speaking. "My sole purpose in coming to Nayriz," he explained, "is to proclaim the Cause of God. I thank and glorify Him for having enabled me to touch your hearts with His Message." No less than a thousand persons from his own area, and five hundred from other sections of Nayriz, spontaneously responded to his appeal and accepted the Faith.

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"There is no need for me to remain any longer in your midst," Vahid told the crowd. "My work is done, and if I prolong my stay, I fear that the governor will ill-treat you because of me." The people assured Vahid of their faith, saying: "We are resigned to the Will of God. May He grant us strength to withstand the calamities that may befall us. But we cannot, however, reconcile ourselves to so abrupt and hasty a separation from you." Vahid submitted to their wishes, and agreed to remain a few days longer in Nayriz. At this news a crowd of men and women gathered around him and with cheers and praise they escorted him to the very entrance of his house. The governor was terrified to hear that such an avalanche of victories could be won by Vahid in such an astonishingly short time. The finest citizens from all fields were accepting the Faith of the Bab. This number included the governor's own nephew.[F7] The governor felt that he must destroy this influence before it undermined his own position with the king and Prime Minister. He recruited a thousand soldiers, both cavalry and infantry. He supplied them with ammunition and ordered them to make a sudden attack upon Vahid. "Seize him and bring him here as a prisoner!" Vahid was informed of this secret attack. He and his companions followed the pattern of their fellow-believers at Tabarsi and sought refuge. The prince, who was governor at Shiraz, joined forces against Vahid and his companions. He gave the same instructions which had been given at Tabarsi: "Exterminate all of them!" Vahid and his friends had taken refuge in Fort Khajih where they were besieged in the same manner in which Quddus and Mulla Husayn had been besieged at Tabarsi. They were deprived of water and food. Finally, by the same treachery used at Tabarsi, they were betrayed into coming out of their sheltered protection. The governor of Nayriz, failing tome after time to win by force, resorted to deceit, contrary to the pure spirit of Muhammad's teaching. A Qur'an was sent to Vahid with the following solemn promise: "This Qur'an is the witness of the integrity of our purpose. Let this holy Book decide whether the claim you make for your Faith is true or false. Emerge from the fort and meet us in the camp. If you prove able to demonstrate the truth of your Faith, we, too,

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will readily embrace it. The malediction of God be upon us if we should attempt to deceive you." Vahid received the book with reverence. "Our appointed hour has struck," he said. "Though I am well aware of your intention, I feel it my duty to accept their call and once again take the opportunity of telling them about our beloved Faith." With five companions, Vahid left the fort and entered the camp of the governor. For three days he spoke to them of the Bab. Though outwardly they appeared to listen, inwardly they were secretly plotting how they could get the rest of his friends out of the fort so that they could all be destroyed. A plot to persuade Vahid's friends to leave their fort to join Vahid at the camp of the soldiers was conceived and proved successful. This was the beginning of the slaughter. Vahid's companions were seized and arrested the moment they set foot outside the fort. When the news of their capture reached the governor and his staff, they immediately began to take their revenge upon Vahid. They consulted on the best way in which they could evade fulfilling the oath they had sent with the Qur'an into the fort. Their scheme was simple. A man notorious for his ruthlessness and cruelty volunteered to proceed with the killing of Vahid without conscience pangs, because he had not taken the oath. "If you are troubled by this oath," he assured the governor and his staff, "forget your worries. I am ready to do whatever you would like to have done. I am ready to put to death those you deem guilty of having violated the laws of the land." He summoned all the relatives of those people who had perished in the long struggle to conquer the fort in which Vahid and his friends had been sheltered. He had them all pronounce the sentence of death against Vahid, thus relieving, in his own mind, both the governor and himself of any responsibility for their deaths. He offered to three men in particular the privilege and pleasure of striking the first blows at the person of Vahid before turning him over to the mob. He knew these three men would be without mercy. Nayriz echoed to the sound of drums and cymbals as Vahid was brought before the people. The eager crowd was held back while the three men took their turns. The first, Mulla Rid , snatched Vahid's turban from his head, uncoiled it, then wound it about

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Vahid's neck and dragged him to the ground. Vahid was then tied to the saddle of a horse. Then the horse was whipped so that it would drag Vahid through the streets of the city. The second, Safar, as well as the third, Aqa Khan, struck and beat Vahid at will and with such ferocity that the onlookers were afraid there might be no sport left for them. In the midst of his agony, Vahid called out: "Thou knowest, O my Beloved, that I have abandoned the world for Thy sake, and have placed my trust in Thee alone. I am impatient to hasten to Thee." The mob screamed with anger at Vahid's radiant acceptance of his fate. They were determined that he would show some sign of fear and be forced to plead for mercy. They fell upon him in a great wave. Their fists and weapons pounded him into insensibility and tore his flesh. Horsemen scattered the crowd so that they could have their turn. Women danced around the corpse rejoicing, to the increased beat of the drums and cymbals. A. L. M. Nicolas in his history writes that the multitude "aroused by the scene, stoned and beat to death the unfortunate man. They then severed the head, tore off the skin, stuffed it with straw and sent that trophy to Shiraz!"[F8] The frenzied crowd did the same to the heads of Vahid's companions and sent them as a gift to the prince in Shiraz who had called for the extermination of Vahid and his friends. They were to be proof to him of the thorough execution of his commands. The prince was feasting when the caravan bearing these awesome trophies arrived. It was a festival day in Shiraz. "The bazaars were adorned with flags--joy was general. Suddenly, there was absolute silence. They saw coming thirty-two camels, each carrying an unfortunate prisoner, a woman or child, bound and thrown crosswise over the saddle like a bundle. All around them were soldiers carrying long lances and upon each lance was impaled the head of a follower of the Bab who had been slain at Nayriz ... The sight deeply affected the holiday population of Shiraz, and they returned saddened to their dwellings. "The horrible caravan passed through the bazaars and continued to the palace of the governor. This personage was in his garden where he had gathered ... the rich, the eminent citizens of Shiraz. The music ceased, the dancing stopped."[F9]

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Mirza `Ali Khan stepped toward the prince bearing his trophies. He told the prince of his own brave deeds in the assault upon Vahid and his companions. Mihr `Ali Khan then named all the prisoners who had been brought, men, women, and children. He received congratulations from the prince for his great victory. Special favors were bestowed upon Mihr `Ali Khan and his fellow leaders for this gift of severed heads. These events literally fulfilled the well-known prophecy of the coming of the Promised One, saying: "In Him [shall be] the perfection of Moses, the preciousness of Jesus, and the patience of Job. His saints shall be abased in His time, and their heads shall be exchanged as presents; they shall be slain and burned; the earth shall be dyed with their blood, and lamentation and wailing shall prevail amongst their women; these are my saints indeed."[F10] The governor of Nayriz was still not satisfied. He hungered for even greater revenge upon those who had survived his betrayal. He planned for their annihilation so that none might live to tell the tale of his treachery. Nicholas writes: "His hatred knew no bounds and it was to last as long as he lived. IT was actually the very poor that had been sent to Shiraz, the rich had been kept back. [The governor] had entrusted them to a guard who was ordered to walk them through the city beating them as they went. The people of Nayriz were greatly entertained that time."[F11] The end of Vahid's noble life was the signal for the out-break of a fierce wave of violence in Nayriz that lasted long beyond that day of betrayal. The fort in which Vahid and his friends had sought refuge was burned to the ground. Their property was seized, their houses destroyed, many were thrown into dungeons before being subjected to a final fiendish torture. The greedy officials made certain that the prisoners had nothing of value left before they were slain. During that black period, many were crucified. The fate that befell the betrayers of Tabarsi struck almost at once against one of the treacherous leaders of the Nayriz upheaval. Mihr `Ali Khan, who had escorted those trophies of severed heads to the prince at Shiraz, whose lips had sung loud praises of his own valor, was suddenly struck dumb. He was no longer able to boast of his victorious march with his gruesome prize to the palace of the prince. Mir `Ali Khan fell ill shortly after that march. His lips could form words, but no sound would

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come out. He remained mute and speechless until the very day of his death. On that last day, as he was about to expire, those who stood around him saw from the movement of his lips that he was whispering something. They leaned down to catch his last words and heard the only sound that had issued from his lips since he had been stricken. Three times he whispered faintly the words, "Followers of the Bab!" Then he fell back dead.[F12] In A Traveller's Narrative, it is reported that "Of those chiefly responsible for these cruelties not one but came to a bad end and died overwhelmed with calamity." Another great figure among the followers of the Bab had fallen, a man who had been called "that unique and peerless figure of his age."[F13] The illustrious Vahid, described by the king and Prime Minister "the wisest of the Persians," had surrendered all that men hold dear for the privilege of laying down his life in the path of God. The day of Vahid's martyrdom was but ten days before that of his Beloved One, the Bab.

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