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Martyrs, Bábí

by Peter Smith and Moojan Momen

published in Encyclopaedia Iranica
New York: Columbia University, 2005
MARTYRS, BABI (Bābi), adherents of the Babi religion who were killed for their faith (see BABISM) during the period up to about 1866 when the Bahai faith emerged. Bahai martyrs are not included here although Bahais were commonly called ‘Bābis’ until the middle of the 20th century.

Instances. The challenging and heterodox nature of the Bāb’s (see BĀB, SAYYED ʿALI-MOḤAMMAD ŠIRĀZI) claims provoked opposition on the part of the Shiʿite establishment, which then led the civil authorities of Qajar Persia to intervene on the side of the clerics. Thus, whilst no Babis are known to have been executed for their faith during the first three-and-a-half years of the movement’s existence (May 1844-late 1847), several Bābi missionaries were beaten or otherwise persecuted for their activities, as with the arrest and trial before a joint Sunni-Shiʿite religious tribunal of one of the Bāb’s disciples (Mollā ʿAli Basṭāmi) in Ottoman Iraq in January 1845, leading to his being condemned to work in the naval dockyards in Istanbul where he soon died (Wardi, pp. 138-40; Amanat, 1989, pp. 211-37; Balyuzi, pp. 48-57; Hamadāni, p. 401; ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ, pp. 248-49; Momen, 1981, pp. 83-90; Idem, 1982; Nabil,pp. 87-92), and the public humiliation and torture of two other disciples of the Bāb in Shiraz in mid-1845 (Hamadāni, p. 200-02; Momen, 1981, pp. 4, 69-70; Nabil,pp. 144-48).

The first known killings of Babis followed the murder of the prominent Qazvini cleric Ḥāji Mollā Moḥammad-Taqi Baraḡāni, the uncle and father-in-law of the Babi leader Ṭāhera (Qorrat-al-ʿAyn), and a leading opponent of both the Shaikhis and the Babis (October 1847). Although the murderer was at that time a Shaikhi, Ṭāhera and her followers in the city were blamed, and several were arrested, one being formally executed, and several others being done to death by Baraḡāni’s supporters (Sepehr, III, pp. 997-98; Wardi, pp. 152-90; Samandar, pp. 80-83, 92-93, 110-14, 356-64; Amanat, 1989, pp. 316-24; Hamadāni, pp. 274-81, 403-04; Momen, 2003; Nabil, pp. 273-83). From this point onwards, attacks against the Bābis by leading clerics and their followers became more common and some Babis began to carry weapons. One such confrontation occurred at Bārforuš in Māzandarān, involving the killing of several Babis and their opponents, and leading directly to the armed conflict between the Babis and their enemies at the nearby shrine of Shaikh Ṭabarsi (October 1848-May 1849).

The Ṭabarsi confrontation was a key event in Babi history. Linked both to the more radical and uncompromising religious stance now adopted by the Babis (the Bāb had publicly proclaimed himself to be the Mahdi, or the Shiʿite expected saviour, in the summer of 1848), and the struggle for clerical leadership in Bārforuš, it rapidly escalated into a major conflict in which local and later national military units besieged several hundred (perhaps eventually about 600) Babis in the now fortified shrine, and the Babi defenders sallied out to attack the besiegers. Many of the Babis were killed in the fighting and the remainder were deceived into leaving the fort and then massacred, but large numbers of the besiegers were also killed, the event thus marking the solidification of the widening perception of the Babis as dangerous insurgents. The Babi leader Molla Moḥammed-ʿAli of Bārforuš (known as “Qoddus”) was handed over to the leading local cleric, who had him tortured and killed in the main square of Bārforuš, before having his remains dismembered. The primary accounts for this episode from the government side are Sepehr (III, pp. 1010-36) and Hedāyat (pp. 421-22, 430-47). There are several Babi manuscript sources on this episode, by Sayyed Moḥammad Ḥosayn Mahjur Zavāraʾi, Ḥāji Nāṣer Qazvini, Loṭf-ʿAli Mirzā Širāzi and Mir Abu Ṭālib Šāhmirzādi (see descriptions in MacEoin, 1992, pp. 161-63) and it is extensively covered in other works (Malek-Ḵosravi, I and II; Avāra, I pp. 131-86; Balyuzi, pp. 171-77; Kašāni, pp. 158-208; Browne, 1987, pp. 141-42; Hamadāni, pp. 44-110, 360-68, 404-10; ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ,pp. 35-39, 177-79, 189-90, 307-08; Momen, 1981, pp. 91-99; Nabil, pp. 324-68, 378-429; Zabihi-Mogaddam).

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