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Release the Sun

by William Sears

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Chapter 17

THE SEVEN HEROES OF TIHRAN

The death of Vahid came as an added blow to the heart of the Bab. He was already in great sorrow because of the suffering at Tabarsi, when He was told of the betrayal at Nayriz. Yet even these tragedies were not the final troubles to becloud the remaining days of His fast-ebbing life. The Bab's beloved uncle, Haji Mirza Siyyid `Ali, who had reared Him from childhood and who had so faithfully served His Cause, was soon to be engulfed in this same wave of persecution. The Bab's uncle had just visited Him in the castle of Chihriq. The Bab had sent him forth from that prison-city to obtain the crown of martyrdom, saying: "I Myself will follow you, together with one of My loyal disciples, and will join you in the realm of eternity." When the Bab's uncle entered Tihran, his friends warned him of the grave danger of his presence there. "Why fear for my safety?" he confidently replied. "I, too, am anxious to share in the banquet which the hand of God is spreading for His chosen ones throughout the land." Shortly after this a traitor who pretended to be interested in the Faith of the Bab attended classes, and thus secured a list of fifty names which he turned over to Mahmud Khan, the mayor of the city. The mayor immediately ordered the arrest of the fifty. Four-

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teen were seized and brought before the authorities. One of these fourteen was the Bab's uncle. They were all placed in confinement in the home of the mayor. It was on the upper floor of this same house that Tahirih was also held prisoner. Every kind of ill-treatment was inflicted upon these fourteen captives to induce them to reveal the names and addresses of the other believers in the city. The Prime Minister, Mirza Taqi Khan, was informed of their capture. According to historical record, this arch-enemy of the Bab was the son of the head cook of a former Prime Minister. He had risen in a few short years from the kitchen to become chief advisor to the king through a policy of self-advancement and ruthlessness. He immediately issued an order threatening with execution whoever among the fourteen was unwilling to deny his Faith. Seven were compelled to yield to the pressure he exerted, and were released at once. The remaining seven who remained steadfast became known as the "Seven Martyrs of Tihran." The Bab's uncle was one of the seven. His business friends urged him to deny his Faith and save his life. God winks His eyes at such things, they said. Several rich merchants offered to pay a ransom to free him, but the Bab's uncle rejected their offer. Finally, he was brought before the Prime Minister. "A number of prominent people have interceded in your behalf," the Prime Minister told him. "Wealthy merchants from Shiraz and Tihran are willing, nay eager, to pay your ransom. A word of denial from you will set you free, and we shall return you to your native city with honors." The Bab's uncle boldly replied to these words. "Your Excellency," he said, "my rejection of the truths which are given in this Revelation would be the same as rejecting all the Revelations that have preceded it. If I refuse to acknowledge the mission of the Bab, I must also deny the divine character of the message which Muhammad, Jesus, Moses and all the Prophets of the past have revealed." The Prime Minister did not try to hide his impatience as the Bab's uncle continued. "God knows that whatever I have heard and read concerning the lives of these past Messengers of God, the same have I been privileged to witness from this Youth, this beloved Kinsman of mine, from His earliest boyhood to this, the

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thirtieth year of His life. I only request that you allow me to be the first to lay down my life in His path." The Prime Minister was stupefied by such an answer. Without uttering a word, he motioned that the Bab's uncle should be taken out and beheaded. As he was being conducted to his death, the Bab's uncle called out to the crowd that swarmed around him. "For over a thousand years you have prayed that the Promised One appear. Now that He has come, you have driven Him to a hopeless exile in a remote corner of the land. With my last breath I pray that the Almighty may enable you to awaken from your sleep of heedlessness." The executioner was shaken by those words. He pretended that the sword he had been holding in readiness needed to be sharpened. He hurried away and never returned. He told the story of that moving event many times expressing his repentance of the act he had been compelled to perpetrate. Whenever he spoke of the Bab's uncle, he could not repress the tears which bore witness to the depth to which he had been stirred.[F1] The second to fall beneath the headman's axe was Mirza Qurban `Ali. He was a close friend of many of the notables of the city. So greatly was he esteemed that when he visited Karbila, a vast concourse of people lined the road all along his route in order to pay tribute to him. he mother of the king was a great admirer of Qurban `Ali. Because of her close friendship and admiration for him, she told her son, the king, that Qurban `Ali was being branded with lies. "He is no follower of the Bab, " she insisted. "He has been falsely accused." So they sent for Qurban `Ali. The Prime Minister brought him to the palace under guard. His arrest had already caused a commotion such as Tihran rarely experienced. Huge crowds followed Qurban `Ali as he was led through the streets. Some cried out encouragement to him. Some, bewildered, asked, "What has he done? What harm can be found in this great man?" The people packed the approaches to the government headquarters anxious to hear some word about his fate. At first Qurban `Ali was treated with great respect. The authorities assured him of their confidence in him, and expressed concern that so grave an injustice should have been done to him.

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"We know you do not belong to these misguided followers of the Bab, " they assured him. "A false charge has been made against you. We know that you have not accepted him as a Prophet." Qurban `Ali replied simply: "I know not whether He has accepted me, but I have accepted Him. I reckon myself as one of the followers and servants of the Bab." They tried to persuade him to give up this foolishness.[F2] He was far too intelligent to be anyone's servant, they said, far too important to lower himself in the eyes of his fellowmen. They promised Qurban `Ali a permanent salary and a generous pension if he would accompany them to the street and announce now to the public that he had denied this false Faith. Qurban `Ali waited patiently until they were finished. Then he spoke with quiet conviction. "This life and these drops of blood of mine are of but small account. But if the entire earth were mine, and I had a thousand lives, I would freely cast them all at the feet of the humblest of the Bab's friends." The Prime Minister himself then tried to show Qurban `Ali the foolishness of such a stubborn attitude. "Since last night," he said, "I have been swamped by all classes of state officials. They are all vigorously speaking in your defense. From what I learn of the position you occupy and the influence your words exercise, I cannot understand your attitude. If you had claimed such leadership for yourself, it would have been better for you. Far better than declaring your allegiance to one who is obviously inferior to you in knowledge." Qurban `Ali shook his head. "That is not so," he told him. "All of the knowledge which I have acquired has led me to recognize Him and bow down before Him. I have judged Him fairly. If the Bab is false, then every Prophet from the beginning of time until this very day is false."* The king and his mother each in turn tried to sway Qurban `Ali from his belief, but neither the sweetness of bribes nor the threat of death had any effect. The treasure which the Bab offered him, he told them was of a matchless kind. Seeing their astonishment at his refusal to accept honors and riches in place of death, he tried to explain. "I have over a thousand admirers who are influenced by my * See Appendix, Note Two.

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words, yet I am powerless to change the heart of the least among them. The Bab, however, has proved Himself capable of uplifting and changing the most degraded among His fellowmen. He has exerted such an influence over our hearts, that we consider it a most inadequate sacrifice when we lay down our lives for His sake." The Prime Minister hesitated. "I do not know whether your words are of God or not. But I am reluctant to pronounce the sentence of death against one of your exalted rank and station." "Why hesitate?" burst forth Qurban `Ali. "For this I was born. By this I shall prove I am worthy of the knowledge God has given to me. This is the day on which I shall seal with my life-blood my faith in His Cause." Seeing the Prime Minister's uncertainty, Qurban `Ali added, "Be not reluctant. Rest assured that I shall never blame you for your act. The sooner you strike off my head, the greater will be my gratitude to you." The Prime Minister became angry. "Take him away from this place!" he cried. "Another minute and he will have cast his spell over me!" Qurban `Ali smiled gently. "No," he said, "you are proof against that magic. It is a magic that can captivate only the pure in heart." Infuriated, the Prime Minister arose from his seat. His face was mottled and his whole frame shook with anger. He shouted aloud: "Nothing but the edge of the sword can silence the voice of this deluded people!" He turned to the executioner. "It is enough! No need to bring any more members of this hateful people before me. Words are powerless to overcome their unswerving obstinacy. Whomever you are able to induce to deny his Faith, release him. As for the rest, strike off their heads! I will face no more of them!" As Qurban `Ali was led to the scene of his death, he spoke with exultation. "Hasten to slay me," he cried, "for by this death you will have offered me the cup of everlasting life. In exchange for this withered breath which you now extinguish, my Beloved will reward me with a life such as no mortal heart can conceive." A great crowd pressed in about him. Qurban `Ali addressed them in these words: "The Promised One has arisen in Shiraz in the person of His Holiness the Bab." The people shouted at him, deaf to his call. Their mocking cries drowned out his words. His friends had now withdrawn, unable to look upon the tragic sight. The mob, seeing a great one fallen, was now eager for his finish.

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"Strike him!" they cried out. "Slay the enemy of God!" Qurban `Ali sighed sadly. "Oh the blindness of this generation! My soul is filled with ecstasy, but alas, I can find no heart to share with me its charm, and no mind to understand its glory." He approached the spot where the Bab's uncle had been slain. When Qurban `Ali saw that broken body, he gathered it up tenderly into his arms. He looked out over that sea of hatred, then summoned the executioner. "Approach," he told him, "and strike your blow. My faithful comrade is unwilling to release himself from my embrace. He calls me to hasten with him to the Kingdom of God." The blow was struck. Sounds of distress and sorrow stirred even through that hostile crowd as the two were united for all time.[F3] The next of the seven martyrs was Haji Mulla Isma'il. Like Qurban `Ali, he had planned to go to the fort at Tabarsi to join Mulla Husayn and Quddus, but had been stricken with illness. When he recovered he was told that the siege was over and his friends massacred. He began to teach the Faith with renewed energy in order to try to make up for the tragic loss which the Cause of the Bab had suffered at Tabarsi. Mulla Isma'il was arrested in Tihran with the others. He was told that if he would renounce the Bab's Faith and speak evil of its Author, he would be released, otherwise he would suffer death. "Renounce my Faith?" he cried. "Never! I am determined to confess my faith openly and to lay down my life for the Bab." He explained the importance of his feelings to the other prisoners. "If we fail to proclaim the coming of the Promised One, who else will proclaim it? If we fail to direct men into the right way, to arouse them from the slumber of death, who else will do it? We are the instruments of God. Let everyone who is able, come forth in all steadfastness and bear me company." As Mulla Isma'il was being led to the place appointed for his death, one of the surrounding crowd cried out. "He is one of them! There goes a follower of the Bab!" Mulla Isma'il turned and laughed. He said, "Yes, I am a follower of the Bab, and I am going to die for you." As he passed through the crowd, they cursed him and threw stones at him. "Followers of the Bab, " they mocked, "and madmen!" Mulla Isma'il answered. "Followers of the Bab we are, but mad-

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men we are not. By God, Oh people, it is to awaken such as you that we have forsaken wealth, wife, child and life. We have shut our eyes to the world and all that dwell therein in the hope that you may at last be led to make an inquiry into this Faith. We are willing to die so that you may understand that the Messenger of Gods has come, and be no longer blind." Even at the headsman's block a few personal friends broke through the crowd and tried to persuade Mulla Isma'il to deny the Bab. They pleaded with him. "It is such a little thing," they said. "Just to say, `I don't believe.'" "For thirty years I have yearned to witness this blessed day," he replied. "I was fearful lest I should carry this wish with me unfilled to my grave." Mulla Isma'il looked away from them and looked toward those two martyrs who had preceded him. They were still entwined in each other's embrace. "Well done, my beloved companions," he cried. "You have turned Tihran into a paradise. Would that I had preceded you." He removed his turban from his head and turned to the executioner. Then Mulla Isma'il lifted his eyes toward heaven. "Accept me, O my God, unworthy though I be." The executioner cut short his prayer.[F4] The death of the other four martyrs of Tihran followed in swift succession. For three days and three nights the bodies of these heroic men remained abandoned in the public square adjoining the imperial palace. Thousands gathered round their corpses, kicked them with their feet, and spat in their faces. They were pelted with stones, cursed and mocked by the angry multitude. Heaps of refuse were flung upon the remains. Not one hand was raised to stop the atrocities. The ferocious fanaticism even broke out in "insults to the mortal remains of those whose spirits had now passed beyond the power of their malice."[F5] The religious authorities refused to permit the bodies to be buried. They were cast into a pit outside the gate of the city, where, in a common grave, they remained as united in body as they had been in spirit when they kneeled at the headsman's feet. Professor Browne points out one of the most significant things about these seven martyrs of Tihran. "They were men representing all the more important classes in Persia--divines, dervishes, merchants, shopkeepers, and government

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officials; they were men who had enjoyed the respect and consideration of all; they died fearlessly, willingly, almost eagerly."[F6] Browne further states: "This eventful day brought to the Bab more secret followers than many sermons could have done. I have just said that the impression created by the prodigious endurance of the martyrs was deep and lasting. I have often heard repeated the story of that day by eye-witnesses, by men close to the government, some even important officials. From their accounts, one might easily have believed that they were all [followers of the Bab], so great was the admiration they felt --and so high was the esteem they entertained for the resourcefulness, the hopes and the chances of success of the new doctrine." This closes the tragic story of the lives of all but one or two of the chief disciples of the Bab. A relentless foe had struck down in swift succession Mulla Husayn, Quddus, Vahid, and the Bab's uncle. This same wave of hatred swept to destruction Tahirih, Qurban `Ali and Mulla Isma'il. The wind of death now changed direction and blew its breath toward the Bab's prison-castle in Chihriq.

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