The Suffering of the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh
The sacred breast of His Holiness, the Exalted One (may
my life be a sacrifice unto Him), was made a target to many a
dart of woe...
'His Holiness, the Exalted One' is one of the titles of the Bab. He offered up His life and through His supreme sacrifice, as testified by Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá, enormous spiritual forces were released for the advancement of the Cause of God. In the first year after the Declaration of His Message, the Bab expressed His longing to lay down His life in the path of Bahá'u'lláh, to whom He refers as 'The Remnant of God' in the following celebrated passage from the Qayyumu'l-Asma':
O Thou Remnant of God! I have sacrificed myself wholly for Thee;
I have accepted curses for Thy sake, and have yearned for naught
but martyrdom in the path of Thy love. Sufficient witness unto me
is God, the Exalted, the Protector, the Ancient of Days.
[68 The Bab, Selections, p. 59.]
About six years later He achieved His heart's desire when He was publicly executed in Tabriz on 9 July 1850. While the circumstances of His martyrdom are recorded in books of history, a brief account of this supreme sacrifice is bound to enlighten the vision and enrich the heart and mind of any believer who embarks on a deeper study of the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Here is a short account of this tragic and earth-shaking episode:
After securing the Bab's death warrant from the leading mujtahids of Tabriz, Mirza Hasan Khan, as instructed by his brother, the Grand Vizir, took charge of His execution. As a mark of humiliation, the Bab's green turban and sash, the twin emblems of His noble lineage from the Prophet of Islam, were removed. He was conducted by the farrash-bashi (the chief attendant) to a room in the barracks of the city where a few of His disciples, including His amanuensis, were also imprisoned. Shoghi Effendi describes the circumstances leading to the execution of the Bab in these words:
The farrash-bashi had abruptly interrupted the last conversation
which the Bab was confidentially having in one of the rooms
of the barracks with His amanuensis Siyyid Husayn, and was
drawing the latter aside, and severely rebuking him, when he
was thus addressed by his Prisoner: 'Not until I have said to him
all those things that I wish to say can any earthly power silence Me.
Though all the world be armed against Me, yet shall it be powerless
to deter Me from fulfilling, to the last word, My intention.' To the
Christian Sam Khan — the colonel of the Armenian regiment
ordered to carry out the execution — who, seized with fear lest his
act should provoke the wrath of God, had begged to be released
from the duty imposed upon him, the Bab gave the following
assurance: 'Follow your instructions, and if your intention be sincere,
the Almighty is surely able to relieve you of your perplexity.'
Sam Khan accordingly set out to discharge his duty. A spike was
driven into a pillar which separated two rooms of the barracks facing
the square. Two ropes were fastened to it from which the Bab and
one of his disciples, the youthful and devout Mirza Muhammad-'Ali-i-Zunuzi
surnamed Anis, who had previously flung himself at the
feet of his Master and implored that under no circumstances he
be sent away from Him, were separately suspended. The firing
squad ranged itself in three files, each of two hundred and fifty men.
Each file in turn opened fire until the whole detachment had
discharged its bullets. So dense was the smoke from the seven
hundred and fifty rifles that the sky was darkened. As soon as the
smoke had cleared away the astounded multitude of about ten
thousand souls, who had crowded onto the roof of the barracks,
as well as the tops of the adjoining houses, beheld a scene which
their eyes could scarcely believe.
The Bab had vanished from their sight! Only his companion
remained, alive and unscathed, standing beside the wall on which
they had been suspended. The ropes by which they had been hung
alone were severed. 'The Siyyid-i-Bab has gone from our sight!'
cried out the bewildered spectators. A frenzied search immediately
ensued. He was found, unhurt and unruffled, in the very room He
had occupied the night before, engaged in completing His interrupted
conversation with His amanuensis. 'I have finished My
conversation with Siyyid Husayn' were the words with which the
Prisoner, so providentially preserved, greeted the appearance of
the farrash-bashi, 'Now you may proceed to fulfil your intention.'
Recalling the bold assertion his Prisoner had previously made, and
shaken by so stunning a revelation, the farrash-bashi quitted
instantly the scene, and resigned his post.
Sam Khan, likewise, remembering, with feelings of awe and
wonder, the reassuring words addressed to him by the Bab, ordered
his men to leave the barracks immediately, and swore, as
he left the courtyard, never again, even at the cost of his life, to
repeat that act. Aqa Jan-i-Kamsih, colonel of the body-guard,
volunteered to replace him. On the same wall and in the same
manner the Bab and His companion were again suspended, while
the new regiment formed in line and opened fire upon them. This
time, however, their breasts were riddled with bullets, and their
bodies completely dissected, with the exception of their faces which
were but little marred. 'O wayward generation!' were the last words
of the Bab to the gazing multitude, as the regiment prepared to
fire its volley, 'Had you believed in Me every one of you would
have followed the example of this youth, who stood in rank above
most of you, and would have willingly sacrificed himself in My
path. The day will come when you will have recognized Me; that
day I shall have ceased to be with you.'
Nor was this all. The very moment the shots were fired a gale
of exceptional violence arose and swept over the city. From noon
till night a whirlwind of dust obscured the light of the sun, and
blinded the eyes of the people. In Shiraz an 'earthquake', foreshadowed
in no less weighty a Book than the Revelation of St John,
occurred in 1268 AH. which threw the whole city into turmoil and
wrought havoc amongst its people, a havoc that was greatly aggravated
by the outbreak of cholera, by famine and other afflictions.
[69 Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 52-4.]
Bahá'u'lláh, as well as the Bab, suffered grievously at the hands of His enemies, as 'Abdu'l-Bahá has testified:
...and in Mazindaran, the blessed feet of the Abha
Beauty (may my life be offered up for His loved ones) were so
grievously scourged as to bleed and be sore wounded.
The story of Bahá'u'lláh's imprisonment in Amul is recorded in numerous history books but it is appropriate here to give a brief account of His suffering in His native land, Mazindaran. In the winter of 1848 Bahá'u'lláh, accompanied by a few believers including His half-brother Mirza Yahya, set out from Nur for the fortress of Shaykh Tabarsi. Government forces had besieged the fortress and the defenders inside were in great danger. Bahá'u'lláh's intention was to aid them. To Nabil-A'zam, the famous chronicler of The Dawn-Breakers, He recounted the following:
...We had intended to send 'Abdu'l-Vahhab, one of Our companions,
in advance of Us, and to request him to announce Our
approach to the besieged. Though encompassed by the forces of
the enemy, We had decided to throw in Our lot with those steadfast
companions, and to risk the dangers with which they were confronted.
This, however, was not to be. The hand of Omnipotence
spared Us from their fate and preserved Us for the work We were
destined to accomplish. In pursuance of God's inscrutable wisdom,
the intention We had formed was, before Our arrival at the fort,
communicated by certain inhabitants of Nur to Mirza Taqi, the
governor of Amul, who sent his men to intercept Us. While We
were resting and taking Our tea, We found Ourselves suddenly
surrounded by a number of horsemen, who seized Our belongings
and captured Our steeds. We were given, in exchange for Our own
horse, a poorly saddled animal which We found it extremely
uncomfortable to ride, The rest of Our companions were conducted,
handcuffed, to Amul. Mirza Taqi succeeded, in spite of the
tumult Our arrival had raised, and in the face of the opposition
of the 'ulamas, in releasing Us from their grasp and in conducting
Us to his own house. He extended to Us the warmest hospitality.
Occasionally he yielded to the pressure which the 'ulamas were
continuously bringing to bear upon him, and felt himself powerless
to defeat their attempts to harm Us.'
[70 Bahá'u'lláh, quoted in Nabil, Dawn-Breakers, pp. 583-4.]
The suffering Bahá'u'lláh underwent at the hands of the 'ulama is truly heartrending. Nabil describes how the bastinado[*] was inflicted on Him in public with such ferocity that His feet bled. Here is Nabil's account of the circumstances leading to this tragic outcome:
[*The victim is made to lie on his back on the ground while his feet are inserted into a loop and held up by two men. The soles are then beaten with a cane or a whip.]
...Bahá'u'lláh had signified His wish that they should proceed
directly to their destination and allow no pause in their journey.
His intention was to reach that spot at night, inasmuch as strict
orders had been issued ... that no help should be extended, under
any circumstances, to the occupants of the fort. Guards had been
stationed at different places to ensure the isolation of the besieged.
His companions, however, pressed Him to interrupt the journey
and to seek a few hours of rest. Although He knew that this delay
would involve a grave risk of being surprised by the enemy, He
yielded to their earnest request. They halted at a lonely house
adjoining the road. After supper, His companions all retired to
sleep. He alone, despite the hardships He had endured, remained
wakeful. He knew well the perils to which He and His friends were
exposed, and was fully aware of the possibilities which His early
arrival at the fort involved.
As He watched beside them, the secret emissaries of the enemy
informed the guards of the neighbourhood of the arrival of the
party, and ordered the immediate seizure of whatever they could
find in their possession. 'We have received strict orders,' they told
Bahá'u'lláh, whom they recognized instantly as the leader of the
group, 'to arrest every person we chance to meet in this vicinity,
and are commanded to conduct him, without any previous investigation,
to Amul and deliver him into the hands of its governor....'
At daybreak, as they were approaching the town, a message was
sent in advance to the acting governor, informing him of the arrival of
a party that had been captured on their way to the fort
of Tabarsi... As soon as the message reached him, he went to the
masjid of Amul and summoned the 'ulamas and leading siyyids of
the town to gather and meet the party. He was greatly surprised
as soon as his eyes saw and recognized Bahá'u'lláh, and deeply
regretted the orders he had given. He feigned to reprimand Him
for the action He had taken, in the hope of appeasing the tumult
and allaying the excitement of those who had gathered in the
masjid. 'We are innocent', Bahá'u'lláh declared, 'of the guilt they
impute to us. Our blamelessness will eventually be established in
your eyes. I would advise you to act in a manner that will cause you
eventually no regret.' The acting governor asked the 'ulama who
were present to put any question they desired. To their enquiries
Bahá'u'lláh returned explicit and convincing replies...
The circumstances which Bahá'u'lláh proceeded to relate in
connection with the reply, no less than the manner of His delivery,
convinced the arrogant mujtahid of his stupidity and blunder.
Unable to contradict so weighty a statement, he preferred to keep
silent. A siyyid angrily interjected: 'This very statement conclusively
demonstrates that its author is himself a Babi and no less
than a leading expounder of the tenets of that sect.' He urged in
vehement language that its followers be put to death. 'These
obscure sectarians are the sworn enemies', he cried, 'both of the
State and of the Faith of Islam! We must, at all costs, extirpate that
heresy.' He was seconded in his denunciation by the other siyyids
who were present, and who, emboldened by the imprecations
uttered at that gathering, insisted that the governor comply unhesitatingly
with their wishes.
The acting governor was much embarrassed, and realized that
any evidence of indulgence on his part would be fraught with
consequences for the safety of his position. In his desire to hold
in check the passions which had been aroused, he ordered his
attendants to prepare the rods and promptly inflict a befitting
punishment upon the captives. 'We will afterwards', he added,
keep them in prison pending the return of the governor, who will
send them to Tihran, where they will receive, at the hands of the
sovereign, the chastisement they deserve.'
The first who was bound to receive the bastinado was Mulla
Baqir. 'I am only a groom of Bahá'u'lláh,' he urged. 'I was on my,
way to Mashhad when they suddenly arrested me and brought me
to this place.' Bahá'u'lláh intervened and succeeded in inducing
his oppressors to release him. He likewise interceded for Haji
Mirza Jani, who He said was 'a mere tradesman' whom He regarded
as His 'guest', so that He was 'responsible for any charges
brought against him'. Mirza Yahya, whom they proceeded to bind,
was also set free as soon as Bahá'u'lláh had declared him to be His
attendant. 'None of these men', He told the acting governor, 'are
guilty of any crime. If you insist on inflicting your punishment, I
offer Myself as a willing Victim of your chastisement.' The acting
governor was reluctantly compelled to give orders that Bahá'u'lláh
alone be chosen to suffer the indignity which he had intended
originally for His companions...
Bahá'u'lláh and His companions remained for a time imprisoned
in one of the rooms that formed part of the masjid. The
acting governor, who was still determined to shield his Prisoner
from the assaults of an inveterate enemy, secretly instructed his
attendants to open, at an unsuspected hour, a passage through the
wall of the room in which the captives were confined, and to
transfer their Leader immediately to his home. He was himself
conducting Bahá'u'lláh to his residence when a siyyid sprang
forward and, directing his fiercest invectives against Him, raised
the club which he held in his hand to strike Him. The acting
governor immediately interposed himself and, appealing to the
assailant, 'adjured him by the Prophet of God' to stay his hand.
'What!' burst forth the siyyid. 'How dare you release a man who
is the sworn enemy of the Faith of our fathers? A crowd of ruffians
had meanwhile gathered around him, and by their howls of
derision and abuse added to the clamour which he had raised.
Despite the growing tumult, the attendants of the acting governor
were able to conduct Bahá'u'lláh in safety to the residence of their
master, and displayed on that occasion a courage and presence of
mind that were truly surprising.
Despite the protestations of the mob, the rest of the prisoners
were taken to the seat of government, and thus escaped from the
perils with which they had been threatened. The acting governor
offered profuse apologies to Bahá'u'lláh for the treatment which
the people of Amul had accorded Him. 'But for the interposition
of Providence,' he said, 'no force would have achieved your deliverance
from the grasp of this malevolent people. But for the efficacy
of the vow which I had made to risk my own life for your sake,
I, too, would have fallen a victim to their violence, and would
have been trampled beneath their feet.' He bitterly complained
of the outrageous conduct of the siyyids of Amul, and denounced
the baseness of their character. He expressed himself as being
continually tormented by the effects of their malignant designs.
He set about serving Bahá'u'lláh with devotion and kindness, and
was often heard, in the course of his conversation with Him, to
remark: 'I am far from regarding you a prisoner in my home. This
house, I believe, was built for the very purpose of affording you
a shelter from the designs of your foes.'
I have heard Bahá'u'lláh Himself recount the following: 'No
prisoner has ever been accorded the treatment which I received
at the hands of the acting governor of Amul. He treated Me with
the utmost consideration and esteem. I was generously entertained
by him, and the fullest attention was given to everything that
affected My security and comfort.'
[71 Nabil, ibid. pp. 368-75. (Dawn-Breakers.)]
A few days later arrangements were made for the safe departure of Bahá'u'lláh and His companions for Tihran. Thus the intention of Bahá'u'lláh to join the defenders of the fortress of Tabarsi did not materialize. The protecting Hand of the Almighty preserved Him for His future mission of revealing Himself as the Supreme Manifestation of God for all time.
Referring to the suffering of Bahá'u'lláh, the Master states in His Will and Testament:
His neck also was put into captive chains and His feet
made fast in the stocks. In every hour, for a period of fifty years,
a new trial and calamity befell Him and fresh afflictions and
cares beset Him. One of them: after having suffered intense
vicissitudes, He was made homeless and a wanderer and fell a
victim to still new vexations and troubles.
This statement refers to Bahá'u'lláh's imprisonment in the Siyah-Chal of Tihran. Since this is a well-known story, a brief summary of events will suffice.
In the summer of 1852, obsessed by the tragedy of the martyrdom of the Bab and many of His outstanding disciples, a few irresponsible Babis made an unsuccessful attempt on the life of Nasiri'd-Din Shah to avenge the blood shed by his orders. Immediately afterwards a fierce onslaught was unleashed against anyone suspected of being a Babi and a ruthless campaign of killing resulted in the martyrdom of a great many souls. Bahá'u'lláh's position as an outstanding figure in the Babi community was well-known to the Shah and his government. His open championship of the Bab, His irresistible eloquence when expounding upon the newly born Faith to groups of learned divines and the public, together with His resourcefulness, His penetrating judgement and His unobtrusive yet effective leadership of the Babi community during the imprisonment of the Bab and following His martyrdom, were widely known. He was thus suspected as the chief director of this assassination attempt by the Shah and especially his mother, who openly denounced Bahá'u'lláh as the would-be murderer of her youthful son. But again the Hand of God protected Bahá'u'lláh and His life was miraculously spared. He was arrested and forced to walk before royal horsemen at their pace from Niyavaran to Tihran, a distance of about 15 miles, in the burning heat of a summer day, barefoot and in chains. To further humiliate Him, they removed His hat, which in those days was the symbol of a man's dignity. His destination was the Siyah-Chal (Black Pit).
The Siyah-Chal was no ordinary prison but a huge underground pit which had once served as a reservoir for one of the public baths of the city. It had only one entrance. It was situated in the heart of Tihran close to a palace of the Shah and adjacent to the Sabzih-Maydan, where the Seven Martyrs of Tihran were executed. This dungeon was occupied by many prisoners, some of whom were without clothes or bedding. Its atmosphere was humid and dark, its air fetid and filled with a loathsome smell, its ground damp and littered with filth. These conditions were matched by the brutality of the guards and officials towards the Babi victims who were chained together in that dismal place. The notorious chains of Qara-Guhar and Salasil, one of which was placed around Bahá'u'lláh's neck at all times, cut through His flesh and left their marks on His blessed body until the end of His life. They were so heavy that a special wooden fork was provided to support their weight.[*]
[* Qara-Guhar, heavier than Salasil, weighed about 17 'man' (51 kilos).]
Through the kindness of one of the prison officials who was friendly towards Bahá'u'lláh, His eldest son, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, then nine years of age,[**] was taken one day to visit His father at the Siyah-Chal. He had come only half-way down the steps when Bahá'u'lláh caught sight of Him and ordered that the child be taken out immediately. 'Abdu'l-Bahá was permitted to wait in the prison yard until noon, when the prisoners were allowed an hour of fresh air. 'Abdu'l-Bahá saw His father in chains and tied to His nephew, Mirza Mahmud. Bahá'u'lláh walked with great difficulty, His beard and hair were unkempt, His neck bruised and swollen from the pressure of a heavy steel collar, and His back was bent with the weight of the chain. On witnessing this sight 'Abdu'l-Bahá fainted and was carried home, unconscious.
[** According to the lunar calendar. 'Abdu'l-Bahá was born on 23 May 1844 and was at this time in His ninth year.]
While breathing the foul air of the Siyah-Chal, with His feet in stocks and His head weighed down by the mighty chain, Bahá'u'lláh received, as attested by Him in His Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, the first intimations of His station as the Supreme Manifestation of God — He whose appearance had been foretold by the Prophets of old in such terms as the 'reincarnation of Krishna', the 'fifth Buddha', the 'Shah Bahram', the 'Lord of Hosts', the Christ returned 'in the glory of the Father', the 'Spirit of God', and by the Bab as 'Him Whom God shall make manifest'. These are Bahá'u'lláh's words describing this initial experience of the 'Most Great Spirit' stirring within His soul:
During the days I lay in the prison of Tihran, though the galling
weight of the chains and the stench-filled air allowed Me but little sleep,
still in those infrequent moments of slumber I felt as if
something flowed from the crown of My head over My breast, even
as a mighty torrent that precipitateth itself upon the earth from
the summit of a lofty mountain. Every limb of My body would, as
a result, be set afire. At such moments My tongue recited what no
man could bear to hear.
[72 Bahá'u'lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 22.]
While Bahá'u'lláh lay in the prison of Tihran, Nasiri'd-Din Shah ordered his prime minister, Mirza Aqa Khan, to send troops to the province of Nur and arrest the followers of the Bab in that area. The prime minister — who also came from Nur and was related to Bahá'u'lláh by the marriage of his niece to Mirza Muhammad-Hasan, Bahá'u'lláh's half-brother — made efforts to protect Bahá'u'lláh's relatives in Nur but failed.
Bahá'u'lláh's properties were confiscated by the Shah and His house in Nur was razed to the ground. Even the prime minister took advantage of the situation and, without recompense, transferred the deeds of some of Bahá'u'lláh's properties into his own name. The luxurious house of Bahá'u'lláh in Tihran was plundered and its valuable furnishings were removed. Some unique articles, together with many more of great value, fell into the hands of the prime minister Among them were part of a Tablet, inscribed on leather by the hand of Imam 'Ali, successor to Muhammad, which was over a thousand years old and known to be priceless, and a rare manuscript of the poems of Hafiz written by a celebrated calligrapher.[*]
[* Muhammad Shah had once been eager to own this manuscript but when he learned that for each of its twelve thousand verses he would have to pay one golden sovereign, he abandoned the idea.]
Although most of the Babis were taken from the prison, one by one, and martyred in the adjoining market square of Sabzih-Maydan, Bahá'u'lláh's life was providentially spared. After four months He was released but was ordered to leave Persia within a month.
When Bahá'u'lláh came out of prison, stripped of His possessions, His back bent by the weight of the fetters, His neck swollen and injured and His health impaired, He did not intimate to anyone His experience of divine revelation. Yet those who were close to Him could not fail to witness a transformation of spirit, a power and a radiance never seen in Him before.
The following is an extract from the spoken chronicle of the Greatest Holy Leaf recounting her impressions of Him at the time of His release from the Siyah-Chal:
Jamai-Mubarak [lit. the Blessed Beauty, referring to Bahá'u'lláh]
had a marvellous divine experience whilst in that prison.
We saw a new radiance seeming to enfold him like a shining
vesture, its significance we were to learn years later. At that time
we were only aware of the wonder of it, without understanding, or
even being told the details of the sacred event.
[73 Quoted in Blomfield, Chosen Highway, p. 45.]
Bahá'u'lláh spent the month preceding His exile in the house of His half-brother Mirza Rida-Quli, a physician. The latter was not a believer, though his wife Maryam, a cousin of Bahá'u'lláh, had been converted by Him in the early days of the Faith and was one of His most sincere and faithful followers within the family. With great care and affection Maryam, together with Asiyih Khanum, nursed Bahá'u'lláh until His condition improved and, though not fully recovered, He had gathered sufficient strength to enable Him to leave Tihran for Iraq. Those who accompanied Him on this great journey were members of His family, including 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the Greatest Holy Leaf, Navvab and His two brothers Aqay-i-Kalim and Mirza Muhammad-Quli.
The journey to Baghdad, undertaken in the middle of a severe winter across the snow-bound mountains of western Persia, inflicted much hardship and suffering on the exiles. The following is an extract from one of the prayers revealed by Bahá'u'lláh at that time; it portrays the suffering and hardship which befell Him in the early days of His ministry:
My God, My Master, My Desire!... Thou hast created this atom
of dust through the consummate power of Thy might, and nurtured
Him with Thine hands which none can chain up... Thou
hast destined for Him trials and tribulations which no tongue can
describe, nor any of Thy Tablets adequately recount. The throat
Thou didst accustom to the touch of silk Thou hast, in the end,
clasped with strong chains, and the body Thou didst ease with
brocades and velvets Thou hast at last subjected to the abasement
of a dungeon. Thy decree hath shackled Me with unnumbered
fetters, and cast about My neck chains that none can sunder. A
number of years have passed during which afflictions have, like
showers of mercy, rained upon Me... How many the nights
during which the weight of chains and fetters allowed Me no rest,
and how numerous the days during which peace and tranquility
were denied Me, by reason of that wherewith the hands and
tongues of men have afflicted Me! Both bread and water which
Thou hast, through Thy all-embracing mercy, allowed unto the
beasts of the field, they have, for a time, forbidden unto this
servant, and the things they refused to inflict upon such as have
seceded from Thy Cause, the same have they suffered to be inflicted
upon Me, until, finally, Thy decree was irrevocably fixed,
and Thy behest summoned this servant to depart out of Persia,
accompanied by a number of frail-bodied men and children of
tender age, at this time when the cold is so intense that one cannot
even speak, and ice and snow so abundant that it is impossible
[74 Bahá'u'lláh, quoted in Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 109.]