Bahá'í Library Online
. . . .
>>   Unpublished Articles
TAGS: Bab, Life of (documents); Haji Mulla Muhammad Karim Khan Kirmani; Qayyumul-Asma (book); Shaykhism
> add tags
Shaykhi critiques of the Qayyum al-asma; the nature of the Báb's gradually unfolding claims, first as a báb to imam and qá'ím and finally prophethood; the Báb's concept of religious authority.
First presented at Irfan Colloquia Session 51, Louhelen Bahá'í School (October 2003) as "An Early Shaykhi Reaction to the Claims of the Bab."

Multivalent Mahdihood:
Karim Khan Kirmani's Early Critique of the Multiple Claims of the Bab

by William F. McCants

The nature of the Bab's early claims has long been a subject of controversy. We know where he ended up: he claimed to be the promised Qa'im during his trial in Tabriz in 1848. But where did he begin? Muslim critics of the Bab have argued that he initially thought of himself only as the gate of the hidden Imam but he became more deluded and eventually claimed the station of Imam and then prophethood for himself. In the Western academy, Dennis MacEoin has legitimated this perspective, although he doesn't use such pejorative language. Like other Muslim critics of the Bab, MacEoin only accepts babiyyat-i imam as the "actual" claim of the Bab in the earliest years of his ministry. He offers no good reason for doing so, other than that other claims to higher authority are not "explicit" in the Bab's early writings, even though they might be hinted at. Therefore, he rejects the arguments of those who say that the Bab was claiming multiple stations from the very beginning and characterizes this position as a "serious distortion" of the Bab's intellectual development. In rebuttal, some scholars, like Todd Lawson and Stephen Lambden, have recently argued that while the Bab's higher claims to religious authority may not have been as explicit as his claim to being the gate to the Hidden Imam, it is certainly obvious to anyone who reads the style of the Bab's early writings. In the early years of his ministry, they argue, the Bab often wrote in the style of the Qur'an and the Imams and thus his claim to those stations is implicit in the style of writing itself. Moreover, he even claims in the Qayyum al-asma to have written a book like the Qur'an and this in itself is evidence that he believed himself to be a Messenger on par with Muhammad.

MacEoin does acknowledge this point, writing: "Even at the earliest period, there is evidence that the Bab claimed for himself and his writings a level of inspirational authority well above that normally associated with the role of babu'l-imam." [MacEoin, Hierarchy, p. 98] However, he asserts that while the Bab may have indeed thought that he was the recipient of revelation in the first year of his ministry, this was just a part of his concept of being a bab of the Hidden Imam. In other words, in the mind of the Báb in the early years, being a bab of the imam meant having the powers usually reserved for a Messenger of God in Shi`í theology. Thus, when presented with the Bab's revelation writing in the Qayyum al-Asma, MacEoin can say that, for the Bab, being a bab of the hidden Imam meant that he was capable of innate knowledge and receiving divine revelation. In other words, writing in a form similar to the Qur'an does not prove that the Bab thought he was a Messenger of God. When MacEoin presents the other side with examples of the Bab claiming to be the bab of the Hidden Imam, the other side can retort that this is just one of several claims that he makes. In other words, they acknowledge that he professed to be receiving writing from the Hidden Imam and acting as his bab, but the very act of writing in a manner similar to the Qur'an is proof that he had claims to be a Messenger of God as well.

The warrant behind MacEoin's rejection of the stylistic argument is that if the Bab had loftier claims about himself, he would have said so, as he did later in 1848. This position seems to evince a lack of appreciation for the circumstances under which the Bab was writing and ignore the literary and religious culture of Iran which valorized dissimulation. Furthermore, MacEoin has conflated categories of religious authority to such an extent that any evidence of loftier claims by the Bab can be placed under the category of babiyyat-i imam. It remains difficult, however, for a Bahá'í scholar to challenge MacEoin's thesis since those who put forward the multiple-claim argument are dismissed as apologists. Of course, one could just as fairly accuse MacEoin of reading later Muslim apologetics back into the Bab's writings, but mutual recriminations do nothing to answer the question of the Bab's early self-identity.

In many ways, the solution to the problem is already assumed in how one defines the Bab's concept of religious authority. For example, let's assume that, for the Bab, the bab-i imam possessed innate knowledge and the ability to receive revelation. If we see him claiming to have revealed a new Qur'an, we do not think that he is claiming prophetic status. Rather, we believe he is just claiming something that is the prerogative of the Báb. Of course, one has to wonder that if this is the prerogative of the Bab, then what is left over for a Messenger of God? Now for the other side: Let's assume that, for the Bab, the bab-i imam does not have innate knowledge or the ability to receive revelation. If we see him claiming to have revealed a new Qur'an, we think that he is claiming the prerogative of a Messenger of God, since this is not something that a bab of the Hidden Imam would do.

So what is the solution? For me, I agree with the latter position because I believe that, despite the Bab's penchant for inflating the stations of the Imams, he still subscribed to a hierarchal notion of religious authority, moving from the Bábs, to the Imams, and then Muhammad. I have never seen anything in the Bab's writings to indicate that he believed the Imams could receive revelation, much less the Bábs. However, I do see MacEoin's point and I do not think it is so easily dismissed. It is another plausible, if not in my mind entirely probable, schema for interpreting the same data.

Perhaps instead of wrangling over which interpretive model is better, we can ask a different question. What did the Bab's earliest audience think his claims were? Of course, the answer will vary depending on whose response you analyze and it presents the same kind of conflicting solutions that contemporary scholars have given. It is of more interest to me, however, because early Muslims were hearing the Bab's message for the first time and were not influenced by a century and a half of argument over what the Bab claimed to be in the early years of his ministry. I would like to share with you one of these early responses, the Izhaq al-Batil, by Muhammd Karim Khan Kirmani (whom I will hereafter refer to as Kirmani).

Kirmani finished writing the Izhaq in 12 Rajab, 1261 (July 17, 1845), a little over a year after the Bab first declared his mission to Mulla Husayn. He wrote it in response to the claims of the Bab as conveyed by two Babis. The first was the elderly Mullá Sádiq Khurásání, one of Sayyid Kazim's students. Mulla Sadiq had become a follower of the Bab through Mulla Husayn when the latter visited Isfahan in mid-1844. He then went to visit Kirmani and took a number of the Bab's writings with him. Kirmani says that among them were "a number of suras in the style of the Qur'an, a number of books in style of the Sahifa Sajjádiyya [a popular collection of prayers attributed to the fourth Imam, Ali ibn Husayn "Sajjád"], and a number of khutbas in the style of the Nahj al-Balagha." [MacEoin, Reactions, 29] As it turns out, the "suras in the style of the Qur'an" were suras from the Qayyum al-asma. Kirmani says he debated with Mulla Sadiq and sent him packing. Soon thereafter, arrived and gave him a letter from the Bab in the Bab's own handwriting. Kirmani says he sent him packing too. [MacEoin, Reactions, 29] Soon thereafter, he wrote a lengthy refutation of the Bab based on the texts that Mulla Sadiq had given him. This refutation is called "The Annihilation of Falsehood." It is the substance of Kirmani's analysis of these writings that is the main subject of my talk.

Some of you in the audience may wonder why anyone would waste their time studying what Kirmani had to say about the Bab's writings. Believe me, I have asked myself the same question after spending hours of my time pouring through his exceptionally turgid, tortuous, and digressive prose. But it is, nonetheless, very useful. First, Kirmani was a very learned man by the standards of his age. He had a great command of Arabic and Persian and prided himself on his rhetorical skill. Further, he was very conversant with the traditional religious sciences, such as dogmatics, hadith criticism, and law, as well as the more esoteric sciences, like numerology and alchemy. Therefore, he was in a position to know when the Bab was saying something that did not mesh well with the standards of the time, whether with regard to grammar or dogma. As such, reading over his shoulder and examining the things that evoked his ire can remind us of what bothered the clerical establishment so much about the Bab's writings and, hence, what was so challenging about them. Today, we mainly look upon the Bab's writings as depositories for a single word, bahá', or a single number, 19. To be sure, those are there. But those are things that became important to a later religious community and that's not what really struck people at the time. Since this is a very early analysis of the Bab's writings by someone who wanted to expose what the author was really saying, we can use Kirmani to remind us of what all the fuss was about.

Kirmani was ideally suited to expose the Bab's true claims in the Qayyum al-asma. Unlike his more mainstream counterparts, he was a master of the esoteric language of Shaykh Ahmad and Sayyid Kazim. Because of the nature of society and the valorization of dissimulation, Shaykh Ahmad and Sayyid Kazim had raised the practice of taqiyya to an art form, employing code words to signal their true intent to fellow initiates and prevent others from understanding. Having spent a number of years with Kazim, Kirmani was certainly conversant with this language. As I will demonstrate below, he was also receptive to claims of heightened religious authority, no matter how unorthodox. Just because he did not accept the claims of the Bab did not mean that he misunderstood them. On the contrary, he understood them much better than his contemporaries because he had advanced such claims on behalf of Sayyid Kazim.

Kirmani came from a very powerful Qajar family. His father, Ibráhím Khán, Zahír al-Dawla, was a member of the ruling Qajar clan and a son-in-law and cousin of the Persian ruler Fath `Alí Sháh. He was also a capable ruler in his own right who governed the provinces of Kirmán and Balújistán for over twenty years. Ibrahim Khan also managed a very large household. This was important at that time, for if a noble had a large family, then he could further secure his power by making sure his sons received important administrative posts and his daughters married well. Ibrahim Khan succeeded on both counts. He had over forty children, many of whom grew up to be very influential.

Ibrahim Khan was also a very pious man and patronized the religious elite, overseeing the construction of a number of religious facilities. Foreshadowing the future of his son, he was also very enamored with Shaykh Ahmad. Even though Shaykh Ahmad tried to avoid the company of rulers, he had befriended Ibrahim Khan and even visited his home when he was in Yazd in the early part of the nineteenth century. [MacEoin, Reactions, 7-8; Talaqani, 205]

Despite his patronage of religious men, Ibrahim Khan had not paid for any of his sons to receive the training of a religious scholar. To have a son trained as a religious scholar was important, for a son with such training would not only be a living testament to his father's piety, but would also expand his family's influence in the powerful ulama establishment. Ibrahim Khan may have had these things in mind when his son, Muhammad Karim Khan, was born in 1225/1810, perhaps while Ahsai was still in Yazd, first meeting a young Sayyid Kazim Rashti. It's said that he hoped for a boy, and when his wish came true, he spared no expense in providing teachers for him. Young Kirmani quickly mastered reading and writing Persian and then moved on to studying Arabic with some of the teachers of Kirman. He was particularly enamored with calligraphy and excelled at it.

When his father died, Kirmani set out in search for the "perfect Shi`í". Although there are conflicting reports as to how it happened, we know that he eventually heard about Sayyid Kazim in Karbala. On his way to Iraq, he stopped in Kirmánsháh and met Shaykh `Alí, the son of Shaykh Ahmad. He attended his classes for a few days and then went to Karbala to meet Sayyid Kazim. Kirmani finally met him around 1828, when he was eighteen years old. He stayed there for about a year and returned to Kirman to continue his studies and teach some classes of his own. He then returned to Karbala for some time and was an intimate disciple of Sayyid Kazim. After awhile, Sayyid Kazim told Kirmani to return to Kirman and teach the people there. [MacEoin, Reactions, p. 8-9]

There is some dispute as to how highly Sayyid Kazim regarded Kirmani. It seems that Kirmani did not receive a teaching license from him, which would indicate that he was not one of his more advanced students. On the other hand, we know from various reports that Kirmani was enamored with Sayyid Kazim. He once offered all of his wealth and his lands to his teacher as a gift. Kazim refused, but Kirmani was persistent and his teacher finally relented and accepted one fifth of his student's wealth as huquq. Kazim was also very kind to Kirmani and visited his home once or more every week and accepted dinner invitations from him twice or more every month. Kirmani even served Kazim in the latter's home and cooked food for him with his own hands and is said to have remarked, "The insight and knowledge that I attained and was bestowed on me by God were from the blessing (baraka) of the smoke of the Sayyid's kitchen."[Talalaqani, 206-7] Upon his return to Kirman, Kirmani continued to correspond with Sayyid Kazim. The latter seems to have held him in high regard, writing "his decree is to be obeyed and whatever he prefers is to be done; to reject him is to reject God, the Prophet, and the blessed Imam."[MacEoin, Reactions, p. 9] Statements such as these, coupled with the power of his family, helped Kirmani become the leader of Shaykhism in Kirman.

Prior to Sayyid Kazim's death, Kirmani used his social network and his own substantial erudition to shore up support for the Shaykhi school in Kirman and, more broadly, to fend off charges of heresy directed against his teacher and Shaykh Ahmad. In pursuit of the latter objective, Kirmani wrote a number of treatises arguing that Shaykhi doctrine was perfectly orthodox. Based on these writings, Western scholars who have studied Kirmani's teachings, such as Henri Corbin or MacEoin, have concluded that Kirmani worked to conciliate Shaykhism with orthodoxy. For example, Dennis MacEoin cites Kirmani's Risálay-i sí fadl, written in 1269/1853, as an example of his move toward orthodoxy. In it Kirmani states that Shaykhis believe exactly what the majority of the Twelver Shi`í community believes. [MacEoin, Reactions, 10]

Citing such texts as evidence of a Shaykhí intellectual's true thoughts on any religious question presents certain problems. First, they were written for public consumption and for apologetic purposes, so one should not expect authors writing for such an audience and for such a purpose to be entirely forthright in their views. Moreover, authors like Kirmani were writing in a milieu where wrong belief could get you killed. It's understandable if they didn't put all their cards on the table. Finally, Kirmani had to be particularly careful when he wrote since his income and his religious prestige, and hence political power, depended on him playing nice with the religious establishment.

So how can we assess what Kirmani's real religious views were before the Babi movement? Since we should be rightly suspicious of his public statements for the reasons outlined above, we should look, instead, at accounts of private conversations he had with disciples or his private correspondence. The former still presents certain problems, since conversations can be misrepresented by those who record them. The most reliable source of information on someone's private religious views (although by no means free of interpretative problems for the researcher) is private correspondence. Luckily, we have such a letter that gives a lot of insight into Kirmani's private thoughts on religious authority prior to 1844.

The letter in question was written by Kirmani to Sayyid Kazim, although I do not know the date. Obviously, it was written before Kazim's death in 1259/1844. Excerpts from this letter were published by Mírzá Músá al-Uskú'í (d. 1363/1944) in his Ihqáq al-haqq, a very long expose on the religious views of Kirmani. Uskú'í was certainly not an impartial author, since he was one of the leaders of the Tabríz branch of the Shaykhi movement, which was one of the main contenders with Kirmani for leadership of the school after Kazim's death. However, I do not doubt that Uskú'í has faithfully reproduced Kirmani's letter. He was a very respected religious leader in Iraq and lived in Karbala, where he probably found the letter in Kazim's library. Here are the juicy excerpts from the letter:

"I believe that whoever does not know the one who precedes him (al-sábiq `alayhi) and the gate (al-báb) from which all emanations (al-fuyúḍ) stream...knows nothing of tawhíd, prophethood and the imamate."

Here Kirmani is saying that he believes it is necessary to know al-báb al-sábiq (preceding gate) and al-báb al-láhiq (the subsequent gate). These gates are the source of the divine emanations. Moreover, knowledge of this gate is the foundation of the three pillars of tawhíd, nubuwwa, and imama since a person who doesn't know the identity of the gate is ignorant of these usul. [Talaqani, 310]

"I, your sinful servant (`abduka al-athím), Muhammad Karim, have detached myself from the entire world and (am focused only) on you....Verily, the most glorious, most illustrious Shaykh was the pole (qutb) of his time in accordance with the explicit statement of the Prophet regarding him: "You are the pole (al-qutb)."

Kirmani is now saying that Shaykh Ahmad was the qutb of his time and that he was so designated by Muhammad, the Prophet. In Sufi theology, the qutb is the perfect human being who stands at the head of all of the saints. In Shi`í thought, this would mean the Shi`í Imám.

"The great Shaykh is the one by whom the Merciful One is worshiped and paradise is obtained because he is the `aql."

This statement comes from a tradition attributed to the sixth Imam, Ja`far al-Sadiq. He was asked the meaning of the `aql and he answered: "It is that by which the Merciful One is worshipped and paradise is obtained." In his later writings, Kirmani equated this `aql with Muhammad.

"After him, we saw that the amr clearly returned to you...You are his deputy/representative (ná'ib) in accordance with the clear designation (bil-nass al-jalí) from him... Therefore, you are the one by whom the Merciful One is worshiped and paradise is obtained."

Here Kirmani is acknowledging Sayyid Kazim as the rightful successor of Shaykh Ahmad. Like his predecessor, therefore, Kazim is now the qutb and the `aql through whom God is worship. Kirmani goes on to say:

"...and you are the gate of God (báb alláh), Who is not approached save through it, as we heard from you in a vision (al-tayf)."

Kirmani calls Kazim the "gate of God." This is very different than calling someone the Báb al-Imam, the gate of the Imam. When the Twelfth Imam was in hiding, he communicated with his followers through four successive individuals who were called gates. They were mediators between the Imam and the people. From the extract I quoted earlier, we know that Kirmani considered Shaykh Ahmad and then Rashti gates to the Hidden Imam. But here, Kirmani is calling Kazim the Báb Alláh, the gate of God. In other words, he is calling him an Imam. He further adds that he had heard Kazim himself make this claim in vision. Apparently, this vision had a powerful effect on Kirmani:

"Now it is close to three years and I increasingly make you the gate to which I orient myself in the times of my supplications and my obligatory prayers and I put you before (uqaddimu bayn yaday) my needs and desires in all of my conditions and matters....I believe that whoever does not do this has prayed in a direction other than the qibla and the (correct) orientation (al-wijha)...."

As a result of what he saw in his vision, Kirmani prayed toward him rather than the Ka`ba and said that anyone who does not do so has not played toward the correct qibla. This is very racy stuff! But wait, that's not the best of it:

"If it was permissible for there to be a prophet after our Prophet and you claimed prophethood (al-nubuwwa), we would not seek any miracle (mu`jiza) from you. Rather (and God is my witness), if you claimed that right now, I would believe you without a miracle." [Ihqaq al-Haqq by Musa al-Uskú'í, Najaf: 19665/1385, p. 168-174; quoted in Talaqani, al-Shaykhiyya, p. 309-10]

Obviously, the most striking revelation is Kirmani's willingness to acknowledge Sayyid Kazim as a prophet without any miraculous proof, even though he recognizes that this is heretical. Equally, if not more significant, Kirmani has asserted that Kazim simultaneously possesses several stations. He starts off by recognizing him as a bab to the Hidden Imam, itself quite heretical. He goes beyond this to describe Kazim as the qutb of the age, the `aql, and the gate of God, all of which means that he held him to have the station of one of the Shi`í Imams. Finally, he ends by expressing his willingness to acknowledge Kazim as a prophet.

As I stated earlier, the content of Kirmani's private correspondence contrasts sharply with his public statements about Shaykhi doctrine during Kazim's lifetime. Further, they most certainly contradict his dogmatic formulations after Kazim's death. For example, in the Irshad al-Awwam, he strongly condemns the Sufi practice of praying toward their spiritual leader and equates this with idolatry. Such an attitude sharply contrasts with the letter we just read. [Talaqani 311]

I hope I have adequately demonstrated that there was a dissonance between Kirmani's public and private religious views and that he was not as conservative as MacEoin and Corbin assert. What are we to make of this contradiction? One could assert that he had been very heretical in his youth (he was around twenty when he started corresponding with Sayyid Kazim) and that he changed his mind over time and become more conservative. That's possible, but I have not seen any of his private letters from a later period that might bolster this assertion. What we can say is that he was generally conservative in his public statements throughout his life, but he privately held heretical views, at least in the early period. [give example of Fourth Pillar]

I suppose many in the audience would say that this makes him a hypocrite, or someone who professes "beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess" [American Heritage Dict]. Of course, not being a hypocrite is a lot easier in a place like United States, where we have the freedom to speak our mind, than in many other countries. Therefore, we should be a little more understanding of people living under authoritarian governments where political dissent can lead to torture and execution. In nineteenth century Persia, we can understand why a religious figure would be particularly cautious where the state had unchecked coercive power and relied on clerical authority for legitimacy. Uttering heresy could get you killed.

Of course, this situation was not unique to nineteenth century Persia but was generally the nature of things in most pre-industrial societies (even some post-industrial societies, like the Soviet Union). As a religious minority, the Shi`ís had long dealt with this kind of oppression and had developed a very elaborate system of dissimulation, or taqiyya, to protect themselves from persecution. Put crudely, the Shi`í imams legitimated lying about one's true beliefs if the person was in danger. However, even when Shi`í states were established, the practice continued, particularly among the more daring Shi`í theologians. This was not only to protect your life and property from the ire of the representatives of orthodoxy. It also had a didactic purpose: only the people that had passed through the lower grades of knowledge were really prepared to hear the truth. Thus, the true doctrine of a religious thinker was often communicated to just a small circle of initiates. This was not only to physically protect their more advanced followers from persecution but was also a way to prevent the people from hearing truths that they were not ready for and thus prevent disorder in society.

Given this milieu, its not surprising that the Shaykhis were masters of the art of taqiyya. Shaykh Ahmad's writings are full of heretical teachings but he was very careful to conceal them. His primary technique of concealment was to espouse the standard orthodox line, but use philosophical vocabulary to describe the doctrine. The explanation of that vocabulary would be scattered throughout other treatises and only the initiates or a very perceptive reader would be able to piece together his true ideas on a subject. The other way of relating one's true beliefs was a mode we have already discussed: private oral statements or personal correspondence with initiates. This is the milieu in which Kirmani was operating and that's why he would have felt comfortable saying one thing in public but privately believing another. His privately held heretical opinions concerning religious authority might have been transferred to someone else if Kazim had designated a successor, but this was not to be. As we will see, the Bab claimed exactly those stations that Kirmani had imputed to Sayyid Kazim. Now Kirmani had to make a choice: did he transfer his allegiance to the Bab, make his own claim to religious authority, or move the Shaykhi school back to orthodoxy? He chose options two and three. Importantly, it was the Bab's increasingly challenging claims to religious authority that helped Kirmani to achieve his objectives.

As I demonstrated with his letter to Sayyid Kazim, Kirmani did not privately disagree with the notion of there being another prophet after Muhammad or that such a prophet could claim multiple stations. Therefore, despite his public protestations to the contrary, it seems unlikely that Kirmani thought the Bab had grievously betrayed the Shaykhi teachings by claiming zuhúr. More likely, Kirmani was probably fearful that the Bab's public enunciation of esoteric Shaykhi teaching and his claim to divine authority placed all Shaykhis under suspicion. And, in terms of wealth and political power, Kirmani had more to lose than anyone else. It's not surprising, then, that Kirmani was one of the earliest critics of the Bab. We will now analyze his assessment of the Bab's claims in his Izhaq al-Batil, a book he wrote only one year after the Bab had proclaimed his mission.

In the Izhaq, Kirmani's primarily focuses on refuting the Bab's claim in the Qayyum al-Asma to have brought a book like the Qur'an and his challenge to others to produce one like it. First, Kirmani contends that the Bab is setting himself up as an equal to Muhammad by claiming to have written a book that equals the Qur'an. He rejects this as impossible for reasons I will not go into in this paper. Second, Kirmani does not accept the Bab's repeated statements that the Qayyum al-Asma was written by Muhammad b. Hasan, the Hidden Imam, and that the Bab is only acting as his emissary. He points out that the Bab himself must have written it since it contains many grammatical errors and that the Imam would not have committed such elementary errors because he was an educated Arab. Finally, Kirmani points out that the Bab is not just portraying himself as the humble messenger of a book from the Hidden Imam. Rather, he charges, the Bab is making multiple claims for himself and putting them in the mouth of the Imam.

In the section on "Examples of Some of the Simple-Minded Drivel of the Suspicious Báb" (fí dhikri ba`di khuráfáti al-báb al-murtáb) [Izháq al-bá (Kirman: 1972), pgs. 80-103], Kirmání criticizes the grammar and content of an early dahífa by the Báb and chapters from the Qayyúm al-asmá'. To my knowledge, this dahífa does not exist anywhere else, so we owe Kirmani a debt of gratitude for preserving it, even if that was not his intention. He also quotes copiously from several chapters of the Qayyum al-asma, which will also be useful in the future for establishing a critical edition of that text. So let's read over the shoulder of Kirmani:

We can see that Kirmani believed that the Bab was claiming multiple stations for himself and that anyone who did not see this either did not know enough about Shi`í dogmatics, did not appreciate the craftiness of the Bab's language, or had just not bothered to read his writings very closely. I think Kirmani presents a very convincing argument and his analysis is an extremely important piece in answering the puzzle of the Bab's early claims. To be fair, MacEoin does acknowledge that Kirmani perceived these things in the Bab's first book, the Qayyum al-Asma. However, he does not believe that they constitute evidence that the Bab was claiming to be more than the Báb of the Hidden Imam in the early years of his ministry:

"Karim Khan also succeeds in extracting evidence from the passages he quotes, to demonstrate that the Bab had advanced a variety of claims in respect of his own person. these passages show that the Bab had made a claim to the role of Gat to the Imam (babiyya), the station of Imam (imama), prophethood (risala), and even divinity.

"A curious tension exists between the actual claims of the Bab made in his writings of this period, and clearly demonstrated by passages such as those quoted earlier in this paper, and those claims Karim Khan attributes to him on the basis of an inductive process using a limited number of the Bab's works. References to wahy (revelation), jihad (holy war), halal and haram (matters that are permitted and forbidden), and the like, enabled Karim Khan to perceive a trend toward increasingly elevated claims on the part of the Bab well before the majority of such claims were made explicit." [MacEoin, Reactions, 34]

Again, the problem for MacEoin is that such statements by the Bab do not constitute "explicit" evidence of the Bab's actual claims. I believe, however, that his insistence on a clear statement by the Bab, such as he made at his trial in Tabriz, is unreasonable and demonstrates a failure on his part to take into account nineteenth century Iranian social, literary, and religious conventions for communicating religious claims, particularly the valorization of dissimulation. As I have demonstrated, an understanding of both the Bab and Kirmani's notions of religious authority has to take into account the role of taqiyya in the written formulation of their thought. Finally, MacEoin's characterization of the multiple-claim model as a "serious distortion" of the Bab's intellectual development needs to be toned down in the face of Kirmani's own endorsement of such a model in one of the first written reactions to the Bab's message. Even if someone persists in adhering to the notion that the Báb initially thought of himself only as the gate of the Hidden Imam, it is not reasonable to characterize the other position as merely an outcome of Bahá'í apologetics when the first proponent of this position was an inveterate opponent of the Bab.

Back to:   Unpublished Articles
Home Site Map Forum Links Copyright About Contact
. .