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Abstract:
The heretical and progressive message of The Báb.
Notes:

Celebrating a 'revolutionary' who ushered in a new age

by Ted Slavin

published in St. Catharines Standard
St. Catharines, Ontario: 2009-10-17
Oct. 20 marks a special celebration for the Bahá'í Community.

It's the 190th anniversary of the birth of the Báb (a title He took to mean the "Door" or "Gate" in Arabic), born in Persia's city of Shiraz in 1819. But His birth is not so much what Bahá'ís celebrate as is the change He started in His short life. Much like the small pebble that drops at the perfect point to start a mountain-changing rockslide, the Báb opened the door to a transformation of society.

Take a moment in your mind's eye and step back to the first half of the 19th century. New inventions were popping up everywhere — the steam locomotive, the bicycle, the electric motor, the photograph, and (my personal favourite) the saxophone — to name very few. Partnered with this frantic age of invention was an age of spiritual excitement and expectation. While many Christians expected the return of Christ, Muslims, similarly, anticipated that Islam's prophesied "Lord of the Age" would appear. Perhaps nowhere else was the hope for renewal greater than in Persia (modern day Iran) where corruption and immorality had come to be the norm. It was in the midst of this age of wonder that, in 1844, the Báb made an announcement. Now, one would think that with all the miracles and discoveries being made at the time that a young merchant with the given name of Siyyid Ali-Muhammad would not attract much attention.

One would think that.

The Báb's words, however, began to spread -- fast -- attracting thousands and thousands of followers, known as Bábis, and Persia's religious and secular leaders weren't happy about it. As the number of Bábis grew, so grew the authorities' fears of losing their influence, causing some 20,000 Bábis to suffer a horrific series of massacres.

The Báb, seen as a dangerous heretic, was sentenced by the authorities to be executed by a firing squad of 750 soldiers — this only six years after He first proclaimed His message. The miraculous scene that took place on His day of execution may appear here in a future column, but what perhaps was even more miraculous was the read of the Báb's teachings.

The Báb's announcement was that He was the Herald of a long-awaited, divine revelation that would transform the spiritual life of humanity. The teachings of this revelation included that spiritual renewal and social advancement were based on "love and compassion" rather than "force and coercion."

"Purge your hearts of worldly desires and let angelic virtues be your adorning...." were His words to His first group of disciples.

Attempts to silence the Báb had, instead, caused His teachings to reach outside Persia's borders. News of the Bábis' moral courage was recorded by a number of Westerners, particularly the story Tahirih. Tahirih was one of the first Bábis and she recognized that the Báb's teachings would bring an end to the conditions that denied the equality of women and men. Upon being told that she had been sentenced to death, she responded to her jailer, "You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women."

The Báb's teachings included the promotion of education and study of useful sciences to humanity. Though these may not seem mind-blowing to our 21st century ideals, His message was revolutionary in an area of the world that had changed little from medieval times. His central message was to be prepared for a following Messenger who ushered in a new age, recognized by Bahá'ís as Bahá'u'lláh, "the Glory of God."

So, consider yourself invited to a celebration. Bahá'í Holy Days are always open to the public. Those wishing to join us can come to White Oaks Resort on Taylor Road on Monday evening. Doors open at 7 p. m. with refreshments, followed by a program that includes a talk and musical performance.
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