Báb, The (ʿAlí Mohammad Shirází)Encyclopaedia Iranica, Volume 3
New York: Columbia University, 1989
BĀB, SAYYED ʿALĪ MOḤAMMAD ŠĪRĀZĪ (1235/1819-1266/1850), the founder of Babism. Born in Shiraz on 1 Moḥarram 1235/20 October 1819, he belonged to a family of Ḥosaynī sayyeds, most of whom were engaged in mercantile activities in Shiraz and Būšehr. Conflicting accounts indicate that the Bāb’s father, Sayyed Reżā Bazzāz, died either when he was in infancy or when he was aged nine and that Bāb’s guardianship was undertaken by a maternal uncle, Ḥājī Mīrzā Sayyed ʿAlī, who later became a disciple and was martyred in Tehran in 1850 (Balyuzi, The Báb, p. 32). The family had few direct links with the ʿolamāʾ, apart from Mīrzā Moḥammad Ḥasan Šīrāzī (the Mīrzā-ye Šīrāzī of the Tobacco Rebellion, and Ḥājī Sayyed Jawād Šīrāzī (an emām-e jomʿa of Kermān), but several of them were active adherents of the Shaikhi school; Zarandī, Dawn-Breakers, p. 30). After six or seven years schooling at a local maktab, the Bāb began work in the family business, entering into partnership at the age of fifteen, at which point he went to Būšehr with his guardian. References in some of his early writings, however, suggest that he had little love for business pursuits and instead applied himself to the study of religious literature, including works on feqh. At some point during the five or so years he remained in Būšehr, he began to compose prayers and sermons, an activity which seems to have excited unfavorable comment (Balyuzi, The Báb, p. 40). The Bāb’s short period of study in Iraq, his composition of tafāsīr and works on feqh and kalām, his references to theological literature in his early writings, and his idiosyncratic, ungrammatical Arabic all serve to paint a picture of him in his early youth as a would be ʿālem with original aspirations and ideas, whose lack of madrasa education, however, excluded from the rank of the ʿolamāʾ.
In 1255/1839-40, he headed for the ʿatabāt in Iraq, where he spent a year, mostly in Karbalāʾ, where he regularly attended the classes of the then head of the Shaikhi school, Ḥājj Sayyed Kāẓem Raštī and where he became acquainted with several of the latter’s younger disciples, including a number who later became his own followers. This obviously crucial period in his development remains virtually undocumented, however, and it is difficult to define the exact dimensions of the Bāb’s relations with Shaikhism at this time. In 1256/1840-41, the Bāb returned reluctantly to Shiraz at the insistence of his family and in Rajab, 1258/August, 1842, married Ḵadīja Begom, a daughter of his mother’s paternal uncle. A child, Aḥmad, was born in 1259/1843 but died in infancy or was, possibly, stillborn.
Some months later, Sayyed ʿAlī Moḥammad had what seems to have been the first of a number of dreams or visions through which he was convinced of a high spiritual station for himself; on the following day, he began the composition of his first major work, a tafsīr on the sūra al-Baqara (see bayān). A second such experience occurred on 15 Rabīʿ II 1260/4 May 1844, which he describes as “the first day on which the spirit descended into his heart” (Ketāb al-fehrest, p. 286); this experience seems to have been accompanied or followed by a dream in which he imbibed blood from the severed head of the Imam Ḥosayn, to which he later attributed “the appearance of these verses, prayers and divine sciences” (Ṣaḥīfa-ye ʿadlīya, p. 14). It must have been immediately after this that he began the composition of his first work of an unconventional nature, the unusual tafsīr on the sūra Yūsof entitled Qayyūm al-asmāʾ. He continued to experience dreams or visions until at least Ramażān, 1260/September-October, 1844 (see MacEoin, From Shaykhism, p. 153 n. 134) and possibly much later, but their significance dwindled as he came to believe himself in a state of perpetual grace and a recipient of direct verbal inspiration from the twelfth imam or God Himself.
About the time of his second vision in Rabīʿ II, 1260/early May, 1844, Sayyed ʿAlī Moḥammad seems already to have been in contact with Mollā Moḥammad Ḥosayn Bošrūʾī, a young Shaikhi who had come to Shiraz from Karbalāʾ following the death there of Sayyed Kāẓem Raštī on 11 Ḏu’l-ḥejja 1259/1 January 1844. In common with other Shaikhis, Bošrūʾī was searching for a possible successor to Raštī (see babism) and, on 5 Jomādā I/22 May, Sayyed ʿAlī Moḥammad told him privately that he was indeed Raštī’s successor as the bearer of divine knowledge and, more specifically, the channel of communication with (or “gate to”) the Hidden Imam (bāb al-emām), a theme which is pursued in the pages of the Qayyūm al-asmāʾ. This date is mentioned by the Bāb in several places, notably his Persian Bayān (2:7, p. 30). Bošrūʾī accepted these claims after some consideration, as did several other Shaikhis who arrived in Shiraz from Karbalāʾ shortly after this (see babism). A small group of disciples, to whom he gave the title ḥorūf al-ḥayy (Letters of the Living) was thus formed around the Bāb, instructed by him, and sent out as missionaries on his behalf to various parts of Iran and Iraq.
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