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Christ and Baha'u'llah

by George Townshend

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Chapter 11

THE BÁB[1]

      THE Bible throughout has for its constant theme mankind’s toilsome journey towards the Kingdom of God and paints its promised attainment with fervor and vividness and illimitable joy. These exquisite, pictures have been for a hundred generations and more a source of undying comfort and happiness to a struggling race. But the Bible nowhere describes the inwardness of that Kingdom nor develops the psychology of it, nor explains why the Kingdom should come at that particular stage of man's journey. Jesus admits expressly that He had other things to say and gives as His reason for withholding the knowledge that mankind in His day was not advanced and mature enough to understand its future experiences.

      But now the Herald of the Kingdom had come and gone. The Seal of the Prophets had likewise come and gone. The next great spiritual event was the actual coming of the Kingdom which both these Revelators had announced.

      With the Báb the Kingdom actually begins. He stands both as a Revealer Prophet bringing His own Dispensation and Laws and also as a Forerunner of One, Bahá'u'lláh, bearing a Revelation immeasurably greater than His own.

1. Siyyid 'Alí-Muḥammad of Shíráz, a descendant of Muḥammad, known to history as the Báb. 1819-50. He was the Qá'im of Islám and Fore-runner of Bahá'u'lláh, “He Whom God Should manifest."


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      Standing at the close of the whole Prophetic Cycle[1] His Revelation is described as including twenty-five out of the twenty-seven letters of all knowledge; and with Him each and every past Prophet has a separate Covenant, concerning the One whom He heralded, the Supreme World Redeemer. Thus He stands at the confluence of the Prophetic Cycle which is closed and of the Age of Fulfillment which now opens. The Bahá'í Era begins with His Declaration on the evening of May 22nd, 1844, and ushers in the universal Age of Truth. The creative energies which He imparts endow mankind with the capacity to attain its maturity which will enable it in course of time and in conjunction with the still greater power generated by Bahá'u'lláh to achieve the organic unification of the human race.

      To any spiritually expectant soul, the Báb’s declaration would have indicated that the Kingdom of God had indeed come. No earlier Manifestation, not even Jesus Christ Himself had issued a challenge to the rulers of the world proclaiming the Self-Sufficiency of His Cause, denouncing the vanity of their ephemeral power and calling upon them to lay aside, one and all, their dominion, and deliver His Message to lands in both the East and the West. But to such men as the Persian authorities, such claims merely proved the Author was an undoubted mountebank and probably not in his right mind and that His Cause would quickly collapse of its own weight.

      The progress of the Báb’s teaching never kept pace with the ardour of His own desire. His pilgrimage to Mecca bore no visible fruit, and upon His return He, Himself,

1. Muḥammad, the "Seal of the Prophets" was the last Prophet in the Age of Promise; the Báb closed that Age and opened the Age of Fulfillment.


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was arrested and brought under escort to Shíráz where He was violently buffeted in open court and released only on parole. His disciples carrying His Message through the country were everywhere opposed and often manhandled and persecuted. Some were tortured and some killed.

      But at the same time the fire of the Bábís kindled interest and enthusiasm through the countryside and the bazaars. The Báb’s own eloquence and radiant charm warmed the hearts of many. And when the upper officials of Church and State, at the end of two years and more, took stock of the situation they found that the Báb had captivated the hearts of high and low in the important Shí’ih city of Iṣfáhán and that His Cause was now spreading among the merchant class, through the Army and the landed gentry. Thoroughly alarmed at the result of their slackness, they formed a carefully designed plan which they would pursue remorselessly till this monstrous heresy (as they thought it) had been stamped out.

      In 1847 the Báb was carried to the lonely mountain  fastness of Ádhírbáyján and there imprisoned first in the castle of Máh-Kú and then in that of Chihríq, where He spent the short remainder of His life. Shí’ih Mullás denounced His teachings and from their pulpits incited their congregations against all Bábís, appealing to their fanaticasm. Bábís were assaulted, their houses entered and spoiled, their women maltreated. The courts gave no protection, no redress. The Bábís were practically outlawed.

      In three neighborhoods, those of Ṭabarsí, of Nayríz and of Zanján, the Bábís stood at bay and were only overcome by the King's troops using perjury and treachery as well as overwhelming numbers.

      Deeply angered by the cruel imprisonment of their


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beloved Lord, the Bábís fought back in His name with such success that the new Prime Minister resolved to end this conflict at once by putting the Báb to death, with or without legal warrant. The Báb was brought from Chihríq to Ṭabríz where He was shot to death.

      The occasion of His martyrdom provides the spiritual history of martyrdom with an undoubted miracle, attested by witnesses on both sides.[1] The Báb was suspended by a rope to a beam let into the prison wall, a favored disciple being suspended across His breast. A Christian regiment was chosen to be the firing force and its colonel, horrified at the thought of raising his hand against so holy a Man, implored Him to excuse him from committing so great a sacrilege. "Follow your instructions," said the Báb, "and if your intention be sincere, the Almighty is surely able to relieve you from your perplexity."

      Just before the execution the Báb drew aside His amanuensis, Siyyid Ḥusayn , for a confidential conversation in one of the rooms of the prison. The gaoler interrupted and ordered the Báb to go at once. "Not until I have said to him all those things that I wish to say," the Báb warned the gaoler, "can any earthly power silence Me. Though all the world be armed against Me, yet shall they be powerless to deter Me from fulfilling, to the last word, My intention." He then went with the gaoler.

      The Christian regiment opened fire at the Báb and His disciple, tied to the beam of wood, and when the smoke from seven hundred and fifty rifles had cleared away, it was seen by ten thousand onlookers that the Báb had disappeared and the disciple was standing unharmed, on

1. A. L. M. Nicolas Siyyid 'Alí-Muḥammad dit le Báb, p. 375-9; The Dawnbreakers, Nabíl’s Narrative, ch xxiii.


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the ground. A frantic search ensued and the Báb was discovered completing His talk with His amanuensis. "I have finished my conversation with Siyyid Ḥusayn ," He said, "Now you may proceed to fulfil your intention."

      The Christian regiment refused to continue the execution. Their place was taken by Muslims and the Báb and His disciple were instantly killed.

      Their bodies were thrown out in a moat but rescued by the disciples and now they rest in the Holy Land in a beautiful mausoleum built by thousands of believers from all parts of the world.

      The Bábís refused to be discouraged, even by the execution of their Lord, and continued to make converts to His Cause.

      Two years later an effort to assassinate the Sháh  was made by two obscure and irresponsible youths and this gave the priests the excuse they were looking for. Throughout the whole of Persia the Bábís were hunted out and hounded down, and the ordeal of torture and massacre did not cease till the soil of Persia was incarnadined with the blood of martyrs and the authorities felt absolutely assured that the Faith of the Báb was dead and could never rise again.


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