was in those days that the host expressed the desire to consecrate all his possessions, evaluated by his contemporaries at no less than forty million francs, to the furtherance of the interests of the new Faith, declared his intention of converting Muhammad Sháh, of inducing him to rid himself of a shameful and profligate minister, and of obtaining his royal assent to the marriage of one of his sisters with the Báb. The sudden death of the Mu'tamíd, however, foretold by the Báb Himself, accelerated the course of the approaching crisis. The ruthless and rapacious Gurgín Khán, the deputy governor, induced the Sháh to issue a second summons ordering that the captive Youth be sent in disguise to Tihrán, accompanied by a mounted escort. To this written mandate of the sovereign the vile Gurgín Khán, who had previously discovered and destroyed the will of his uncle, the Mu'tamíd, and seized his property, unhesitatingly responded. At the distance of less than thirty miles from the capital, however, in the fortress of Kinár-Gird, a messenger delivered to Muhammad Big, who headed the escort, a written order from Hájí Mírzá Aqásí instructing him to proceed to Kulayn, and there await further instructions. This was, shortly after, followed by a letter which the Sháh had himself addressed to the Báb, dated Rabí'u'th-thání 1263 (March 19-April 17, 1847), and which, though couched in courteous terms, clearly indicated the extent of the baneful influence exercised by the Grand Vizir on his sovereign. The plans so fondly cherished by Man˙chihr Khán were now utterly undone. The fortress of Máh-Ku, not far from the village of that same name, whose inhabitants had long enjoyed the patronage of the Grand Vizir, situated in the remotest northwestern corner of Ádhirbayján, was the place of incarceration assigned by Muhammad Sháh, on the advice of his perfidious minister, for the Báb. No more than one companion and one attendant from among His followers were allowed to keep Him company in those bleak and inhospitable surroundings. All-powerful and crafty, that minister had, on the pretext of the necessity of his master's concentrating his immediate attention on a recent rebellion in Khurásán and a revolt in Kirmán, succeeded in foiling a plan, which, had it materialized, would have had the most serious repercussions on his own fortunes, as well as on the immediate destinies of his government, its ruler and its people.
The Báb's Captivity in Ádhirbayján
The period of the Báb's banishment to the mountains of Ádhirbayján, lasting no less than three years, constitutes the saddest, the most dramatic, and in a sense the most pregnant phase of His six year ministry. It comprises His nine months' unbroken confinement in the fortress of Máh-Ku, and His subsequent incarceration in the fortress of Chihríq, which was interrupted only by a brief yet memorable visit to Tabríz. It was overshadowed throughout by the implacable and mounting hostility of the two most powerful adversaries of the Faith, the Grand Vizir of Muhammad Sháh, Hájí Mírzá Aqásí, and the Amír-Nizám, the Grand Vizir of Násiri'd-Dín Sháh. It corresponds to the most critical stage of the mission of Bahá'u'lláh, during His exile to Adrianople, when confronted with the despotic Sultán `Abdu'l-`Azíz and his ministers, `Alí Páshá and Fu'ád Páshá, and is paralleled by the darkest days of `Abdu'l-Bahá's ministry in the Holy Land, under the oppressive rule of the tyrannical `Abdu'l-Hamíd and the equally tyrannical Jamál Páshá. Shíráz had been the memorable scene of the Báb's historic Declaration; Isfahán had provided Him, however briefly, with a haven of relative peace and security; whilst Ádhirbayján was destined to become the theatre of His agony and martyrdom. These concluding years of His earthly life will go down in history as the time when the new Dispensation attained its full stature, when the claim of its Founder was fully and publicly asserted, when its laws were formulated, when the Covenant of its Author was firmly established, when its independence was proclaimed, and when the heroism of its champions blazed forth in immortal glory. For it was during these intensely dramatic, fate-laden years that the full implications of the station of the Báb were disclosed to His disciples, and formally announced by Him in the capital of Ádhirbayján, in the presence of the Heir to the Throne; that the Persian Bayán, the repository of the laws ordained by the Báb, was revealed; that the time and character of the Dispensation of "the One Whom God will make manifest" were unmistakably determined; that the Conference of Badasht proclaimed the annulment of the old order; and that the great conflagrations of Mazindarán, of Nayríz and of Zanján were kindled.
And yet, the foolish and short-sighted Hájí Mírzá Aqásí fondly imagined that by confounding the plan of the Báb to meet the Sháh face to face in the capital, and by relegating Him to the farthest corner of the realm, he had stifled the Movement at its birth, and would soon conclusively triumph over its Founder. Little did he imagine that the very isolation he was forcing upon his Prisoner would enable Him to evolve the System designed to incarnate the soul of His Faith, and would afford Him the opportunity of safeguarding it from disintegration and schism, and of proclaiming formally and unreservedly His mission. Little did he imagine that this very confinement would induce that Prisoner's exasperated disciples and companions to cast off the shackles of an antiquated theology, and precipitate happenings that would call forth from them a prowess, a courage, a self-renunciation unexampled in their country's history. Little did he imagine that by this very act he would be instrumental in fulfilling the authentic tradition ascribed to the Prophet of Islám regarding the inevitability of that which should come to pass in Ádhirbayján. Untaught by the example of the governor of Shíráz, who, with fear and trembling, had, at the first taste of God's avenging wrath, fled ignominiously and relaxed his hold on his Captive, the Grand Vizir of Muhammad Sháh was, in his turn, through the orders he had issued, storing up for himself severe and inevitable disappointment, and paving the way for his own ultimate downfall.
His orders to `Alí Khán, the warden of the fortress of Máh-Ku, were stringent and explicit. On His way to that fortress the Báb passed a number of days in Tabríz, days that were marked by such an intense excitement on the part of the populace that, except for a few persons, neither the public nor His followers were allowed to meet Him. As He was escorted through the streets of the city the shout of "Alláh-u-Akbar" resounded on every side. So great, indeed, became the clamor that the town crier was ordered to warn the inhabitants that any one who ventured to seek the Báb's presence would forfeit all his possessions and be imprisoned. Upon His arrival in Máh-Ku, surnamed by Him Jabál-i-Basít (the Open Mountain) no one was allowed to see Him for the first two weeks except His amanuensis, Siyyid Husayn, and his brother. So grievous was His plight while in that fortress that, in the Persian Bayán, He Himself has stated that at night-time He did not even have a lighted lamp, and that His solitary chamber, constructed of sun-baked bricks, lacked even a door, while, in His Tablet to Muhammad Sháh, He
has complained that the inmates of the fortress were confined to two guards and four dogs.
Secluded on the heights of a remote and dangerously situated mountain on the frontiers of the Ottoman and Russian empires; imprisoned within the solid walls of a four-towered fortress; cut off from His family, His kindred and His disciples; living in the vicinity of a bigoted and turbulent community who, by race, tradition, language and creed, differed from the vast majority of the inhabitants of Persia; guarded by the people of a district which, as the birthplace of the Grand Vizir, had been made the recipient of the special favors of his administration, the Prisoner of Máh-Ku seemed in the eyes of His adversary to be doomed to languish away the flower of His youth, and witness, at no distant date, the complete annihilation of His hopes. That adversary was soon to realize, however, how gravely he had misjudged both his Prisoner and those on whom he had lavished his favors. An unruly, a proud and unreasoning people were gradually subdued by the gentleness of the Báb, were chastened by His modesty, were edified by His counsels, and instructed by His wisdom. They were so carried away by their love for Him that their first act every morning, notwithstanding the remonstrations of the domineering `Alí Khán, and the repeated threats of disciplinary measures received from Tihrán, was to seek a place where they could catch a glimpse of His face, and beseech from afar His benediction upon their daily work. In cases of dispute it was their wont to hasten to the foot of the fortress, and, with their eyes fixed upon His abode, invoke His name, and adjure one another to speak the truth. `Alí Khán himself, under the influence of a strange vision, felt such mortification that he was impelled to relax the severity of his discipline, as an atonement for his past behavior. Such became his leniency that an increasing stream of eager and devout pilgrims began to be admitted at the gates of the fortress. Among them was the dauntless and indefatigable Mullá Husayn, who had walked on foot the entire way from Mashad in the east of Persia to Máh-Ku, the westernmost outpost of the realm, and was able, after so arduous a journey, to celebrate the festival of Naw-R˙z (1848) in the company of his Beloved.
Secret agents, however, charged to watch `Alí Khán, informed Hájí Mírzá Aqásí of the turn events were taking, whereupon he immediately decided to transfer the Báb to the fortress of Chihríq (about April 10, 1848), surnamed by Him the Jabál-i-Shadíd (the Grievous Mountain). There He was consigned to the keeping of Yahyá Khán,
a brother-in-law of Muhammad Sháh. Though at the outset he acted with the utmost severity, he was eventually compelled to yield to the fascination of his Prisoner. Nor were the kurds, who lived in the village of Chihríq, and whose hatred of the Shí'ahs exceeded even that of the inhabitants of Máh-Ku, able to resist the pervasive power of the Prisoner's influence. They too were to be seen every morning, ere they started for their daily work, to approach the fortress and prostrate themselves in adoration before its holy Inmate. "So great was the confluence of the people," is the testimony of a European eye-witness, writing in his memoirs of the Báb, "that the courtyard, not being large enough to contain His hearers, the majority remained in the street and listened with rapt attention to the verses of the new Qur'án."
Indeed the turmoil raised in Chihríq eclipsed the scenes which Máh-Ku had witnessed. Siyyids of distinguished merit, eminent `ulamás, and even government officials were boldly and rapidly espousing the Cause of the Prisoner. The conversion of the zealous, the famous Mírzá Asadu'lláh, surnamed Dayyán, a prominent official of high literary repute, who was endowed by the Báb with the "hidden and preserved knowledge," and extolled as the "repository of the trust of the one true God," and the arrival of a dervish, a former navváb, from India, whom the Báb in a vision had bidden renounce wealth and position, and hasten on foot to meet Him in Ádhirbayján, brought the situation to a head. Accounts of these startling events reached Tabríz, were thence communicated to Tihrán, and forced Hájí Mírzá Aqásí again to intervene. Dayyán's father, an intimate friend of that minister, had already expressed to him his grave apprehension at the manner in which the able functionaries of the state were being won over to the new Faith. To allay the rising excitement the Báb was summoned to Tabríz. Fearful of the enthusiasm of the people of Ádhirbayján, those into whose custody He had been delivered decided to deflect their route, and avoid the town of Kh˙y, passing instead through Ur˙míyyih. On His arrival in that town Prince Malík Qásim Mírzá ceremoniously received Him, and was even seen, on a certain Friday, when his Guest was riding on His way to the public bath, to accompany Him on foot, while the Prince's footmen endeavored to restrain the people who, in their overflowing enthusiasm, were pressing to catch a glimpse of so marvelous a Prisoner. Tabríz, in its turn in the throes of wild excitement, joyously hailed His arrival. Such was the fervor of popular feeling that the Báb was assigned a place outside the gates of the city.
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