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Release the Sun

by William Sears

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Chapter 9

THE KINDLY GOVERNOR

The Bab departed for Isfahan, a city noted for the learning of its clergy. Here He found that the first one to have embraced His Faith was a humble sifter of wheat. As soon as he had been given the Message of the Bab he accepted and devoted his life to teaching others. A few years later, when he heard that some of his fellow believers were being martyred, he left his work, arose and carrying his sieve in his hand hurried through the bazaars of Isfahan. "Why leave in such a hurry?" his friends asked. "I am going to join the glorious company of those who are willing to give their life for their faith. With this sieve which I carry with me, I intend to sift people in every village through which I pass. Whoever I find ready to embrace this Cause I will ask to join me and hasten to the fold of martyrdom." Such was the devotion of this youth, that the Bab referred to him with great love, saying that Isfahan was a city distinguished by the religious fervor of its inhabitants, the learning of its priests, and high and low alike shared the eager expectancy of the coming of the Promised One. Yet when the Messenger of God appeared, the learned, the wise and the religious rejected Him. Of all the inhabitants of that seat of learning, only one person, a sifter of wheat, was found to recognize the Truth. This, the Bab said, was the fulfillment of the prophecy of the

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Promised One which said, "the lowliest of the creatures shall become the most exalted, and the most exalted shall become the most debased."[F1] As the Bab approached the city of Isfahan, He wrote a letter to the governor of that province, Manuchihr Khan. The letter was so courteous and friendly, and of such exquisite penmanship, that it immediately attracted the attention of the governor. Unlike Husayn Khan, he was not opposed to knowing more about this Young Man. He decided to take the Bab under his protection until he could investigate the truth of His claim. Manuchihr Khan instructed the chief priest of the Province to meet the Bab and to take Him into his own home. He told him to treat the Bab with great kindness and consideration. The chief priest was very displeased at being given this task. However, he was afraid to offend the powerful Manuchihr Khan, so he complied grudgingly to the request. Yet even he admitted that in spite of his anger, from the very first night, he fell under the spell of the Bab. The Bab's presence in Isfahan caused even more excitement than it had in Shiraz. An increasing stream of visitors and friends flowed from every corner of the province to the house of the chief priest. Some came out of curiosity, some came to gain a deeper understanding of His message. Some came, as they had to Jesus, to seek a remedy for their ills or suffering.[F2] All were welcomed and were helped according to their needs. The governor himself, Manuchihr Khan, came one night to visit the Bab. He asked Him to write a commentary upon the specific mission which Muhammad had come to earth to discharge. The Bab instantly took up His pen and began to write. In less than two hours, He filled about fifty pages. The governor was deeply impressed with the originality, vigor, and accuracy of the commentary. With masterly insight, the Bab once again expressed the central theme of His teaching: that the people had looked for the arrival of the Day of the Promised One, and now that Day had come. He argued with such force and courage that those who heard Him were amazed.[F3] The governor was enthusiastic. "Hear me!" he called to the people present at that meeting. "I take you as my witnesses. I solemnly testify to my belief in the superhuman power with which this youth

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is blessed. It is a power that no amount of learning can ever impart." With these words, the governor brought the meeting to a close. The brother of the chief priest writhed in envy at this statement. He was jealous of the attentions which the governor and his brother showered upon the Bab. His bitter enmity and savage cruelty to both the followers of the Bab and to the followers of the One Whom the Bab said would come after Him, were to earn him in the future the title: "Raqsha--the female serpent." He plotted with the other priests of the region to undermine the Bab's growing power. It was easy to win their support, for they firmly believed that unless they arose to stem the tide of this popular enthusiasm for the Bab, the foundations of their own livelihood and future might be swept away. At first they refrained from outright hostility. Instead, they began circulating wild rumors and base accusations concerning the teachings of the Bab. They made certain that these false rumors reached the capital at Tihran and were especially made known to the Prime Minister, Haji Mirza Aqasi. The Prime Minister was already fearful that the king might be inclined to befriend the Bab because of Vahid's acceptance of Him. He knew that such a friendship between the Ah h and the Bab might easily lead to his own downfall. He was even more afraid that the governor of Isfahan, Manuchihr Khan, might try to arrange an interview between them, as the governor enjoyed the complete confidence of the king. Haji Mirza Aqasi knew therefore that he must prevent such a meeting. He wrote a strongly worded message of the chief priest at Isfahan, and lashed out at him for playing host to the Bab. "We expected you to resist this teaching with all your might," he said. "Instead you befriend an arch-enemy. You have sheltered and glorified the author of a contemptible and dangerous movement." The Prime Minister wrote to all the other priests of Isfahan as well. Although he had previously ignored them, now he showered his attention and favors upon them. He made lavish promises to them. They knew what he wanted, and by his gifts to them, he welded them together against the Bab. The chief priest still was afraid to come out openly against the Bab because of the governor, Manuchihr Khan. He did, however, take steps to lessen the ever-increasing number of visitors who

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thronged each day at the door of the Bab. The chief priest's brother secretly encouraged the other priests to attack the Bab directly. He induced them to begin preaching against Him from the pulpit. When Manuchihr Khan heard of this, he immediately had the Bab brought into the safety of his own home. This protective gesture by the governor further inflamed the priests of Isfahan. They called for a great gathering of all their numbers. Once assembled, they issued a written document to be signed and sealed by all the religious leaders of the city. It condemned the Bab to death. About seventy of the leading members of the clergy set their seal to this document. Two of the priests refused to sign it. It was an abusive document, they said. The chief priest did not sign it because he feared the governor's wrath. Instead of signing it, he wrote on the document in his own handwriting saying that he could find no fault with the Bab's character or person. Then he added: "However, the extravagance of his claims and his disdainful contempt for the things of this world incline me to believe that he is devoid of reason and judgement." The governor was secretly informed of the plan of the priests to execute the Bab, so he conceived a plan of his own. He issued a statement that he was sending the Bab to Tihran. Then he gave instructions for the Bab to leave Isfahan at sundown and openly proceed toward Tihran under a protective escort of five hundred of his own mounted bodyguard. He gave further orders that at each three mile post, one hundred of the soldiers should return to Isfahan. To the captain of the last hundred, a man in whom the governor placed complete confidence, he gave instructions to send back twenty of the one hundred soldiers at every further mile post. Of the remaining twenty, ten should be dispatched to Ardistani to collect taxes. The final ten, all of whom were his most trusted hand-picked men, should return in disguise with the Bab to the governor's home in Isfahan. The instructions were carefully carried out. In order to assure the safety and comfort of the Bab upon His return the governor, Manuchihr Khan, had Him occupy his own private apartment. He served the meals himself, and waited upon the Bab at all times for a period of four months. Three orders to slay the Bab had already been issued. One by the Prime Minister, one by Husayn Khan, and one by the priests of

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Isfahan. Each had failed. It had been exactly as the Bab had told the military escort of Husayn Khan when they had come to arrest Him on the way from Bushihr: "No one knows the mystery of My Cause. No one can fathom its secrets. Until My last hour has come, none can frustrate the plan of the Almighty." One day, while the Bab was seated in the private garden of the governor, Manuchihr Khan approached Him. He said, "The Almighty has endowed me with great riches. Now that I have recognized the truth of your Message, I desire to offer all of my possessions to further the interests of this Faith." Manuchihr Khan had a plan already devised. "It is my intention," he told the Bab, "to go at once to Tihran and do my best to win over the king. His confidence in me is firm and unshaken in spite of the Prime Minister. I am certain that he will embrace this Faith and arise to promote it. "I will also try to induce the king to dismiss the profligate Haji Mirza Aqasi. His folly has brought our land to the brink of ruin. "I hope," he concluded, "to be enabled to attract the hearts of the kings and rulers of the world to this wonderful Cause." the Bab was deeply moved. "May God reward your noble intentions," He said. "So lofty a purpose is to me even more precious than the act itself. Your days and mine are numbered, however; they are too short for Me to witness, and allow you to achieve, the realization of your hopes." the Bab told Manuchihr Khan that the Faith of God would not be spread by noble and wealthy figures. Rather, He said, it would triumph through the efforts of the poor, the persecuted, and the lowly. Through the blood they shed in the path of their Lord, and through the sacrifice and suffering of those humble people, the Faith of God would be spread throughout the world. the Bab made Manuchihr Khan a promise as a reward for his love and service. "God," He said, "will in the world to come shower upon you inestimable blessings, but of your earthly life there remain only three months and nine days." As the days of his life drew to a close, the governor spent more and more time with the Bab. "I feel a great happiness flooding my life," he told the Bab one day, "but I am apprehensive for You. I fear to leave You to the

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mercy of my successor, Gurgin Khan. He will discover Your presence in this house and will grievously ill-treat You." "Fear not," the Bab assured him. He quoted words akin to those spoken by Christ and Muhammad under similar circumstances, saying: "Of My own will have I chosen to be afflicted by My enemies that God might accomplish the thing destined to be done." Manuchihr Khan was satisfied with these words. His heart was refreshed. He knew now that he had not spent his own days on earth in vain. He had met and believed in the Promised One. His ears had not been stopped by his own learning, nor had his eyes been blinded by his own wealth. Serene and confident, he died three months and nine days later after a slight fever. Mir Muhammad Husayn, the brother of the chief priest who so bitterly persecuted the Bab and His followers in Isfahan, did not escape the avenging finger that so remorselessly sought out these persecutors. He was expelled from Isfahan, and, despised, wandered from one village to another. He finally contracted a loathsome disease from which he sickened and died, a disease so foul smelling that his own wife and daughter could not bear to attend him. Almost immediately Gurgin Khan, Manuchihr Khan's successor, was informed of the Bab's presence in the governor's residence. He verified it, then sent an urgent letter to the king. "Four months ago it was believed that your Majesty had summoned the Bab to Tihran. He left here under escort. Now it is discovered that he had been hidden in the residence of Manuchihr Khan, my predecessor, all this time. It is known that the governor himself extended this secret hospitality to the Bab and believed in Him. Whatever your Majesty now wishes done, I shall be pleased to perform." The king was still convinced of the loyalty of his dear friend Manuchihr Khan. He felt certain that the governor had been waiting for a favorable occasion when he could arrange a meeting between himself and the Bab. Now, his sudden death had interfered with this plan. The king, therefore, decided to carry out what he believed to have been the wish of his friend, the governor. He would meet the Bab at last.

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