Reflections on Baha'u'llah's Claims to Being the Return of Imam Husayn
1. Shi'a expectations
The Imam Husayn in Shi'a Islam
The Imám Husayn is regarded by Shi'a Muslims as the 3rd Imám, grandson of Prophet Muhammad and son of 'Ali (1st Imám, and according to Shi'is the Prophet's chosen successor) and Fatima, the Prophet's daughter. He is one of the "14 Immaculate Ones" comprising the Prophet, His daughter, and the 12 Imams, lineal descendants and infallible successors of the Prophet. The 12th of these Imáms is believed by Shi'a Muslims to be Muhammad, son of Hasan al-Askari (11th Imám), who went into hiding in Samarra (the Occultation/ghaybat), and is therefore referred to as the Hidden Imam. He will emerge from Occultation in the last days as the Qa'im al-Mahdi, the messianic figure who, in collaboration with holy figures from the past who will return (raj'a) to life, will bring about the final Day of Resurrection (Yawm al-Qiyamah).
Among the twelve Imáms, the Imám Husayn is uniquely venerated as the King of Martyrs, and His execution and beheading at the hands of Yazid in the year 680 was an historical trauma whose impact on the Shi'i psyche, at that time and into the present day, cannot be exaggerated (see Madelung for an overview of his life and significance iranicaonline.org/articles/hosayn-b-ali-i). Phenomenologically, it is fully equivalent in its pathos, focus, and redemptive charge, to the Passion of Christ in a Christian context, a parallel which was in fact reflected in many of the early hadith sources (see Ayoub, Redemptive suffering in Islam, pp.34-36). His execution is ritually enacted each year in communal passion plays and recitations (ta'ziyyih), where his sufferings, the injustice of his enemies, and his redemptive character are brought to life in a frenzy of emotion (c.f. iranicaonline.org/articles/tazia).
In the Shi'a imaginary, this greatest of injustices, will be reversed and redressed in the Day of Resurrection, through his return, and that of his oppressors, who this time will be defeated, and the reign of justice established upon the earth.
Shi'a expectations of Return (Raj'a)
The hadith literature on the subject of the return of Husayn is extensive. Perhaps the most widely popular compendium is the Kitab al-Raj'a in Allama Majlisi's encyclopedic Bihar al-Anwar (vol 13 in old edition, 51 in new edition), where the messianic role of Husayn is described (e.g. in hadiths 1, 13, 19, 29, 52, 103, 130, 116), and likewise the exceptionally long, ghulati (extremist) hadith of Mufaddal (vol 53) which is of importance in Babi-Bahá'í conceptions. Further references include An-Nawbakhti's Firaq al-Shia, al-Mufid's Al-Fusul al-`Ashara fi al-Ghaybah and Rajab al-Bursi's Mashaariq Anwar al-Yaqin. Much later, but of great relevance to the Babi-Bahá'í conception of these themes, Shaykh Ahmad's ‘Ismat wa raj‘at is also worth highlighting.These books may be considered the basis of the Shi'a intertextual substratum of later Babi-Bahá'í conceptions of the Return.
The hadith literature on the subject, typically contains a great deal of often contradictory detail, but on the whole amounts to a coherent grand redemptive narrative, summarised (selectively) by Sachedina as follows:
"It is reported on the authority of the sixth Imam, al-Sadiq, that the first person for whom the earth will open up and who will return will be al-Husayn. This is not to be a general return of the dead, which will take place on the Day of Judgment; rather, this will be a partial return of only the genuine believers and the total non-believers. Another report quotes the fifth Imam, al-Baqir, who told a group of Kufans that al-Husayn will be the first person to return, and he will rule until such a time that his eyebrows will fall on his eyes (i.e. until the skin of his forehead becomes so slack as a result of old age that his eyebrows will begin to slide down over his eyes). Furthermore, a report from al-Sadiq adds that al-Husayn will be responsible for judging the people's deeds before and after the final resurrection, when people will enter heaven or hell according to the judgment passed by al-Husayn." Al-Sadiq, in explaining the passage of the Qur'an which says "Then, returned We unto you the turn [to prevail] against them and aided you ," (17:6) says that by "returned" is meant the return of al-Husayn, who will be accompanied by his seventy-two companions who were killed with him on the battlefield of Karbala'. The companions will announce the return of al-Husayn to the people. At the same time, the Imam says, the believers should not doubt him, since he is neither Antichrist (al-Dajjal) nor the Devil. The Qa'im will be among the people. When the people have gained certainty about his being al-Husayn, the Qa'im will die, and al-Husayn will perform his funeral rites and bury him.'
"...The ra'ja, then, can be interpreted as a prelude to the final resurrection. While the function of al-Mahdi is to commence the zuhur and launch the revolution in the final days, it is 'Ali and, more particularly, al-Husayn, who will establish the Islamic rule after returning to life, following the zuhur. The traditions of this aspect of raj'a are unanimous in according al-Husayn, the martyr par excellence of Shi'ism, the honor of initiating the rule of justice and equity, in collaboration with 'Ali and al-Qa'im." (Sachedina, Islamic Messianism: The Idea of Mahdi in Twelver Shi'ism, pp.168-69, 171)
Among the plethora of hadith descriptions and expectations, some relatively obscure ones came to have greater prominence in the subsequent Babi-Bahá'í conception of the raj'a, such as one tradition cited by Shaykh Ahmad in his sharh al-ziyarah (vol 3 p.57), to the effect that the Qa'im will appear first, then the Imám Husayn, who will remain silent for 11 years, and take the place of the Qa'im for 19 years after the latter is martyred. This and similar hadiths became part of the Babi-Bahá'í contemplations on the expected duration of the Dispensation of the Qa'im, understood as the Bab, and the role of Mirza Husayn 'Ali, Bahá'u'lláh, understood as Husayn, in that Dispensation.
Another example of more obscure Husayni traditions that gained some prominence, was the expectation, recorded in the Bihar, that the Imam 'Ali would return twice, once with the Prophet Muhammad, and once with the Imam Husayn (e.g. vol 53 p.75 bre.is/wuKuN7X4). This became the basis for reflections on the names 'Ali Muhammad, and Husayn 'Ali, respectively the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh.
Which is to say, that in the context of future Babi, Bahá'í and Azali conceptions, expectations and controversies concerning the circumstances of the messianic advent of the Qa'im in general, and the return of Husayn in particular, there was a reciprocal hermeneutic dialogue between historic and realised eschatology. The hadith literature of expectation (not always consistent at the level of detail) forged in the centuries that followed the brutal suppression of the Shi'a Imams, shaped and coloured the context, framing, language and initial reception of both, the Bab, and to a lesser extent, Bahá'u'lláh's claims. On the other hand, the contemporary unfolding of the life, mission and interactions of the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh with the Shi'a community, and subsequently with the Babi community, shaped the salience, selection, exclusion, interpretation, appropriation and reframing of this traditionary heritage, by the Bab and His followers, and by Bahá'u'lláh and His followers.
This appropriation and re-framing of the traditional expectations reviewed above in light of the actual circumstances and mission of the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh, led eventually to the transcendence of the hadith heritage, retained but subsumed into a universalist eschatology that correlated all particularist messianic claims and expectations into a shared vision of the unification of the human race and the reconciliation of all religions through their common fulfilment in the Twin Manifestations of the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh.
2. Husayn in the Bab's life and writings
Out of the Shi'i sacred sacred pantheon, the figure of Imam Husayn has a perhaps unparalleled significance in the Bab's life and writings, whose distinctive nature evolved throughout His ministry, from the moment of His birth, until His final days.
One could conceptualise this evolution in terms of 7 dimensions the Bab's approach to the Imam Husayn that manifested as His own life and teachings unfolded.
Upon His birth in 1819, the Báb inherited the mantle of direct descent from the Imám Husayn on both His paternal and maternal sides. This entitled Him to the honorific Siyyid (and similar honorifics such as Mir), reserved for descendants of the Prophet, and likewise to the title Hashimi, descended from the Prophet's Bani Hashim clan.
This lineage was not merely an uplifting association. It was a category apart in His environment and held as sacred by His contemporaries:
"Several traditions describe the two grandsons of the Prophet, al-Hasan and al-Husayn, and their parents, as sayyids. Al-Hasan and al-Husayn are also addressed as sayyiday shabab ahl al-Janna, “the two leaders of the young men of paradise”... Due to the sayyid factor, belonging to or being a descendant of the “house of the Prophet” has become a mark of social distinction and elevated status in most of the Islamic world... They are treated differently from non-sayyids in most Islamic societies. For example, they occupy a prominent place in Arab genealogies. In many social settings, a sayyid who distinguishes himself by a pious life becomes revered as a holy man. His blessing is expected to bring good fortune, while his wrath brings misfortune." (Takim, L. (2018), Black or White: The Turbanization of Shi‘i Islam. Muslim World, 108: 548-563)
The Báb would have grown up with an acute consciousness of the significance of His lineage. He would wear clothes that would mark Him as a descendant of the Prophet at all times, people would show deference toward Him in their daily interactions, and on Holy Days would show special favour. Siyyids would be asked to bless marriages, and births (Momen, Shi'i Islam) and during the reenactment of the Martyrdom of Husayn, every year at 'Ashura, His status as a descendant of the King of Martyrs would be commemorated and honoured with pride of place (see Yitzhak Nakash, The Shi'is of Iraq, p.146 for an equivalent description in Persianate Iraq).
These reenactments and recitations were the most intense recreations conceivable, and the Báb would have grown up, every year, experiencing this, while receiving signs of reverence for His lineage. This wider veneration of His link to the third Imám by all the people that he encountered in everyday life was nurtured from childhood by stories told by the generality of the people of sacred dreams with admonitions from the Holy figures to treat Siyyids with kindness and generosity regardless of their behaviour; the divine rewards of showing kindness and donating funds to Siyyids, and the perils of not demonstrating enough reverence (Morimoto Kazuo, “How to Behave towards Sayyids and Sharifs: a Trans-Sectarian Tradition of Dream Accounts, in Morimoto Kazuo ed., Sayyids and Sharifs, 22-25). The privilege of being a Siyyid was even embodied in law, with a proportion of the khums tax being dedicated to Siyyids (Takim, ibid; Roy Mottahedeh, "Quranic Commentary on the Verse of Khums (al-Anfal VIII:41)," in Sayyids and Sharifs in Muslim Societies: the Living Links to the Prophet).
Pious bequests and endowments would likewise often be earmarked for Siyyids. One notable and historically relevant example of such religious endowments (vaqf) comes from the Governor of Isfahan, Manuchihr Khan, the Mu'tamidu'd-Dawlih, who would at the end of his life encounter the Bab in 1846, recognise His mission, and dedicate his remaining days to Him. Two years earlier, a record survives of a deed of endowment (vaqf) whereby Manuchir Khan offers up five entire villages and mazra'ih (farmlands). The benefits from these lands were to be divided into three parts and dedicated, respectively, to: the Imam Husayn; poor siyyids; and those members of Manuchir Khan's family who had converted to the Shi'a faith. (Nobuaki Kondo, "Vaqf and Patronage", in Robert Gleave, Religion and Society in Qajar Iran, p.233). This indicates that Manuchir Khan was already predisposed toward the charisma of Siyyidhood, and particularly as pertains to the Imam Husayn, and creates some context for his receptivity upon encountering the Bab.
Siyyid 'Ali-Muhammad, the Bab, therefore grew up with an ancestral relationship to the Imam Husayn doubly reinforced by His mother and His father, and this biological association amounted to much more than a genealogical distinction, it was a distinctive way of life: a sacralised relationship, a social grouping, an embodied remembrance, a collective affirmation constantly reinforced.
One childhood account has survived that indicates His precocious and profound consciousness of this relationship, in an exchange with his primary school teacher:
"Some mornings, the schoolmaster recalled, He was late coming to school and when asked the reason He remained silent. On occasions Shaykh 'Abid sent other pupils to call at His home and ask Him to come to school. They would return to say that they had found Him at His devotions. One day, when He had come late to school and was questioned by Shaykh 'Abid, the Bab said quietly that He had been in the house of His 'Grandfather'. Thus do the Siyyids refer to their ancestor the Prophet Muhammad. To the schoolmaster's remonstrances that He was only a child of ten from whom such rigorous attention to devotions was not demanded, He replied quietly again, 'I wish to be like My Grandfather'. At that time, Shaykh 'Abid said, he had taken the words of Siyyid 'Ali-Muhammad as childish naivete." (Balyuzi, Herald of Days, p.35)
The term used for "My Grandfather" is jaddam (c.f. Abu'l-Qásim Afnán, ʻAhd-i-Aʻlá, p. 35).which can also be translated as ancestor or forefather. Although in this quote the term jaddam quite likely does alludes to Prophet Muhammad as inferred by Mr. Balyuzi, the same title could equally refer to the Imám Husayn. In either case, the story shows an early and deeply meaningful consciousness of His ancestral tie, and a yearning for communion.
There can be no doubt that this deep sense of spiritual and biological kinship extended to His direct ancestor, the Imám Husayn: as one example, in the Qayyumu'l-'Asma, Suratu'l-Bahr, the Báb laments the killing by Yazid of "Our ancestor Husayn" (jaddna'l- Husayn), abandoned, yet peerless. This line, beside reinforcing our sense of the Báb's consciousness of siyyidhood, and of being kindred of Husayn, also connects us to the annual reenactments and recitations of the sufferings of His forebear, and simultaneously alludes to His own future proclamation of being the Qa'im. Even today, in the recitation of marzziyya or elegies for Husayn during Muharram, it is common for the rawzih-khan (ritual reciter, and often a Siyyid), to address the Qa'im (a descendant of Husayn as the 12th, Hidden Imám), and offer salutations to Husayn. Upon each blessing of Husayn, the audience addressed the Qa'im and exclaims its re-affirmation: “upon your grandfather Husayn (‘alá jaddaka’l-Husayn)!", with “your” referring to the Qá’im (Nima Rafaie, post on Tarikh listserve, 22 June, 2020) . When the Báb refers in the Qayyumu'l-'Asma to "Our grandfather Husayn", in the context of recalling Husayn's martyrdom, He is likewise evoking the annual ceremonies and recitations enacted across Persia, and the ritual affirmation of the third Imám's ties to the Qa'im, Whom He would soon declare Himself to be.
It becomes readily apparent then that the Báb's sense of an ancestral relation to Husayn was intrinsic to both His intense devotional relationship to him, and His messianic consciousness.
The evidence is conclusive that for the Bab, indeed, the sacredness of His connection to the Imám Husayn was not merely one of heritage and outward forms, a social status evoking piety in others. On the contrary, the genealogical and socio-cultural link to the Imám Husayn, was above all a deeply personal one, characterised by an exceptional intensity of love, piety and spiritual attachment.
The Báb has left behind supplications of sublime intensity and fervent love toward Husayn, and instructions on how to approach his Shrine in absolute reverence and devotion, sometimes even refraining from going into the heart of his tomb, out of a sense of profound numinosity. His piety found outlet in a torrent of devotion captured in sermons and supplications devoted to Husayn throughout His ministry, from an early Khutbih dedicated to His sufferings, named in His Kitab-i Fihirst, through prayers such as those in the Sahífiy-i A’mál-i Sanah, to His last days, when in the prison fortress of Chihriq, the Báb revealed yet more impassioned prayers dedicated to the Imám Husayn (INBA vol. 67 with thanks to Nima Rafaie for the reference).
This literary outpouring was reflected in the Báb's own personal devotional practices, to an extreme degree, in a way that first became widely apparent during His time in Karbila, when He adoringly made frequent visitations to the Shrine of Husayn. The combination of observably powerful spiritual emotions and attraction (jadhb), and His reverential approach to the ground that entombed His ancestor's remains, was remarkable even by the highly demonstrative expressions of piety prevalent among Qajar Shi'as at their most sacred shrines. Such was the intensity of the Báb's devotion to the figure of Husayn, that the manner and fervour of His prayers at the Shrine of the Prince of Martyrs created a stir which spread the Báb's reputation for piety through the astonished pilgrims all the way to Persia (Amanat, Early Years, pp.141-142). It was compelling enough to sow the seeds for the recognition of His later claims in multiple spectators who saw Him make His supplications before Husayn. Among these spectators who were enkindled by what they observed to the point of some time later accepting His claim on the strength of that extraordinary memory, we know of Siyyid Javad Karbala'i, Mulla Sadiq Khurasani (Muqaddas), the celebrated Nahri brothers from Isfahan, and several more (Amanat, pp.132-133).
An eye witness account of the Báb's devotion to Husayn was transmitted by Shaykh Hasan-i Zunuzi's, who confided in Nabil:
"I often felt the urge to seek alone the presence of that Hashimite Youth and to endeavour to fathom His mystery. I watched Him several times as He stood in an attitude of prayer at the doorway of the shrine of the Imam Husayn. So wrapt was He in His devotions that He seemed utterly oblivious of those around Him. Tears rained from His eyes, and from His lips fell words of glorification and praise of such power and beauty as even the noblest passages of our Sacred Scriptures could not hope to surpass. The words `O God, my God, my Beloved, my heart's Desire' were uttered with a frequency and ardour that those of the visiting pilgrims who were near enough to hear Him instinctively interrupted the course of their devotions, and marvelled at the evidences of piety and veneration which that youthful countenance evinced. Like Him they were moved to tears, and from Him they learned the lesson of true adoration. Having completed His prayers, that Youth, without crossing the threshold of the shrine and without attempting to address any words to those around Him, would quietly return to His home... That Youth had set my heart aflame. The memory of that vision haunted me. My soul was wedded to His till the day when the call of a Youth from Shiraz, proclaiming Himself to be the Bab, reached my ears. The thought instantly flashed through my mind that such a person could be none other than that selfsame Youth whom I had seen in Karbila, the Youth of my heart's desire." (Dawnbreakers p.30)
Note the emphasis on "that Hashimite Youth" which illustrates the added charisma of His lineage, as explored above. The impact of the Báb's devotional fervour was further heightened in this witness by His status as a Siyyid, a scion of Husayn pouring out His soul at the threshold of His kinsman. Moreover, in the heightened atmosphere of messianic expectation that enveloped many students of Siyyid Kazim in Karbila, the vision of a supernally holy Hashimite Youth, praying to Husayn in Arab lands, may have evoked a set of Shi'i traditions circulating among His Shaykhi peers and much later adduced by Bahá'u'lláh in His apologia for the Báb:
"In the 'Avalim,' an authoritative and well-known book... it is related of Sadiq, son of Muhammad, that he spoke the following: 'There shall appear a Youth from Bani-Hashim, Who will bid the people plight fealty unto Him. His Book will be a new Book, unto which He shall summon the people to pledge their faith. Stern is His Revelation unto the Arab. If ye hear about Him, hasten unto Him.'" (Iqan, cf Bihar 52, )
The combination of such exalted memories of the "Hashimite Youth", and such traditions, may account for the readiness with which His Shaykhi witnesses did "hasten unto Him" when they heard about His claim.
Similarly, Habibullah Afnan tells the story of Mullah Husayn's experience of the Báb's devotions at the threshold of Husayn: "One day the honored Mullá Husayn, who at that time was engaged in studies in `Atabat under the tutelage of the late Siyyid [Kazim-i-Rashti], saw the Báb while He was standing in prayer at the sanctuary of the Prince of Martyrs [i.e. Imam Husayn]. Bewildered by the condition of this young Siyyid, aged no more than twenty-two, offering His supplications with such intense humility and rapture that until that day had not been observed among any of the `ulama, the mystics or the pilgrims to that sacred Shrine, Mullá Husayn, filled with admiration and praise, approached His Holiness and greeted Him warmly. However, wrapped in devotions, His Holiness did not reply. Mullá Husayn moved to the back and waited there. Having completed His prayers at the inner sanctuary, the Báb came out to the courtyard, and to Mullá Husayn’s utter astonishment, commenced further meditation on that location.
"Once more, Mullá Husayn came nigh and offered salutations. Being occupied with His prayers, the Báb did not respond, which further deepened the Akhund’s wonder.
"When the Báb had completed paying homage [to the fallen Imam], He moved outside from the courtyard where Mullá Husayn awaited Him and the Akhund stepped forward and greeted Him yet again. The Báb acknowledged him in turn and apologized, “Twice you were kind to offer welcome, but absorbed in My devotionals and concentrated singularly on the exalted Shrine of the Imam – upon Him be peace – I did not respond and hence I apologize. Whosoever attains a Sacred Ground must become oblivious of the world and all therein.” (The Báb in Shiraz)
The Báb's adoration of Husayn, in His ritual and devotional practices, continued into the remaining stages of His life, with an evocative example from His incarceration in Mah-Ku recounted by Nabil:
"The water which the Báb used for His ablutions was of such icy coldness that its drops glistened as they froze upon His face. He would invariably, after the termination of each prayer, summon Siyyid Husayn to His presence and would request him to read aloud to Him a passage from the Muhriqu'l-Qulub... in which the author extols the virtues, laments the death, and narrates the circumstances of the martyrdom of the Imam Husayn. The recital of those sufferings would provoke intense emotion in the heart of the Báb. His tears would keep flowing as He listened to the tale of the unutterable indignities heaped upon him, and of the agonising pain which he was made to suffer at the hands of a perfidious enemy." (The Dawn-Breakers, p. 252)
Amidst such intensity of feeling and rapture of devotion, the encounter with Husayn became reciprocal in the realm of visionary dreams. In the Sahífiy-i Adiliyyih, the Báb writes that sometime before His declaration, A vision of Husayn visited His soul, and mystically initiated Him into the manifestation of divine verses and spiritual mysteries:
"Know that the appearance (ẓuhūr) of verses (āyāt), prayers (munājāt), and divinely inspired knowledge/sciences (‘ulūm ladunī-ye) began after a dream I had (nawmā ast keh mushāhadeh-ye namūdeh) in which was seen the pure head of his holiness ( janāb) the Lord of Martyrs, upon him be peace, separated (or cut) from his pure body together with the heads of the family members (dhūya al-qurbā). And seven draughts of the blood of his holiness, the Lord of Martyrs, did I drink with perfect love/friendship (āz kamāl-i ḥubb). From the blessing of the blood of that Holiness my breast was gladdened/dilated (munshareḥ gashteh) with the like of these indisputably genuine and holy verses (āyāt muttaqineh) and these obviously authentic and holy prayers (munājāt muḥakkameh). Praise be to God, He who caused me to drink the blood of His Proof [the Imam Ḥusayn] and made it [that blood] the reality of my heart ( fuʾād). For that reason, numerous tests have befallen me by the authority (imḍa) of God. We all come from God and unto Him do we return [Q 2:156]. For the like of this let the strivers strive [Q 37:61]" (Lawson, Tafsir as Mystical Experience: Intimacy and Ecstasy in Quran Commentary, Tafsir Surat Al-Baqara of Siyyid Ali Muhammad Shirazi, the Bab, p.46; see Amanat and MacEoin for alternative translations).
Nabil writes similarly:
“In one of His writings revealed in the year ’60 A.H., the Báb declares the following: “The spirit of prayer which animates My soul is the direct consequence of a dream which I had in the year before the declaration of My Mission. In My vision I saw the head of the Imám Husayn, the Siyyidu’sh-Shuhada’, which was hanging upon a tree. Drops of blood dripped profusely from His lacerated throat. With feelings of unsurpassed delight, I approached that tree and, stretching forth My hands, gathered a few drops of that sacred blood, and drank them devoutly. When I awoke, I felt that the Spirit of God had permeated and taken possession of My soul. My heart was thrilled with the joy of His Divine presence, and the mysteries of His Revelation were unfolded before My eyes in all their glory.” (Dawnbreakers p. 253.)
Lawson considers this a second, unidentified text by the Báb referring to the same incident. MacEoin (Rituals, pp. 42-43) considers this instead a corruption of the same text, perhaps from memory, rather than an additional account.
MacEoin bases his opinion on making a correlation between the dream documented in the Sahífiy-i Adiliyyih, and a separate affirmation found in the Báb's Kitabu'l-Fihirst: "the first day on which the spirit descended into his heart was the middle [i.e., the 15th] of the month of Rabiʿ II." (translated in ibid. p.43)
The Báb clarifies says this happened 15 months earlier (counting approximately from His return from pilgrimage in June 1845) meaning mid month of Rabiʿ II 1260, or late April 1844.
MacEoin equates "the first day on which the spirit descended into his heart" from the Fihirst, with "the appearance of verses, prayers, and divinely inspired knowledge/sciences" which "began after a dream" dream reported in the Sahífiy-i Adiliyyih. This would place the dream only a few weeks earlier than His declaration, in April 1844. This explains, in MacEoin's mind, why there is such a contrast in style between the Tafsir Surat'u-l Baqara and the Qayyumu'l-'Asma: the dream intervened. (Messiah of Shiraz, p. 161).
In contrast, Nabil says that the tablet He is quoting comes from 1844, whereas the Sahifeh-yi Adiliyyih was written in Shiraz in 1846; and that the experience happened "in the year before the declaration of My Mission" (June 1843 - May 1844) implying perhaps an earlier date than just some weeks before the declaration, and suggesting, as Lawson accepts, that Nabil is working from a different text. Given how close the story in both accounts is, however, MacEoin concludes that Nabil is mistaken in the dating of the source, and is citing a corrupt copy of the Sahifeh-yi Adiliyyih, or misquoting it from memory.
Lawson, more tentatively than MacEoin, nevertheless follows him in one instance in placing this dream between the Tafsir Surat'u-l Baqara and the Qayyumu'l-'Asma (Gnostic Apocalypse and Islam: Qur'an, Exegesis, p.17), but in the his more recent Glory, p., he treats Nabil's citation as a separate text rather than a corruption or misquote of the same source, departing from MacEoin (Tafsir as Mystical Experience, p.46)
While MacEoin's dating of the dream to April 1844 is compelling, it is not the only possibility. The tension between Nabil's text and the Sahifeh-yi Adiliyyih stems entirely from MacEoin's association of the undated dream in the Sahífiy-i Adiliyyih account to the dated descent of the spirit referred to in the Fihirst, implying that there was only one key catalyst moment in the Báb's messianic consciousness, the dream in question, which therefore must be the only referent possible in the Fihirst quote. Indeed, based on the correlation of this dream report and the Fihirst, he states that "Although the Báb is generally reckoned to have made his claim to be the Gate of the Hidden Imám on the evening of 22 May, 1844, his own belief that he had been given a divine mission dates from slightly earlier", meaning April 1844.
But as Lawson suggests, the messianic, stylistic shift noticeable in the Qayyumu'l-'Asma may be be "the result of one or more spiritual experiences" (Gnostic Apocalypse, p.17), and the evidence strongly indicates that the Báb's "belief that he had been given a divine mission" considerably precedes the experience referred to in the Kitab-i Fihirst.
Beside the external childhood accounts we have of the Báb's precious mysticism, the Báb Himself affirms an unequivocal sense of divine mission from early in life. In the Qayyumu'l-'Asma, Surih al-Sina, verse 5, He thus addresses Himself:
“And We favored Thee during Thy Childhood with the mighty Cause of God (amru'llah al-'aliyyin), as had been decreed in the Mother Book.”
Again in the Surih al-Ism, verse 34, the Báb proclaims:
“Verily as a child I was aware of the truth of My own Self, and God is the Almighty, the All-knowing.” (translation in "The Bab in Shiraz" by Mirza Habibu'llah Afnan).
And in the Surih al-Rahma:
"O Spirit of God! Call to mind My bounty to Thee, when I conversed with Thee in the centre of holiness, and assisted Thee through the Holy Spirit, that Thou mayest address the people, with the new wondrous tongue of God, with that which God hath wondrously ordained concerning the mystery of the heart. Verily God hath taught Thee the Book and the Wisdom (Hikma) in Thy childhood, and shown favour unto the people of the earth by virtue of thy Most Great Name."(trans. Nader Saiedi, Gate of the Heart, pp.143-4)
Likewise, the narrative of Mu'in al-Saltanih tells of the Báb declaring His mission as Lord of the Cause (Sahib al-'Amr) to His mother and uncle prior to the year 60 (1844) (Khandan-i Afnan, p.163). Amanat makes a compelling case for a messianic awareness and expression in the year before 1844, without ever making the association to the tablet cited by Nabil (ibid. pp.142-143). By then of course, the Báb had already composed several works, all of which could be said to fit the description of verses (āyāt), prayers (munājāt), and divine sciences (‘ulūm ladunī-ye), up to and including the Tafsir Surat'u-l Baqara (see MacEoin, Sources, pp.44-46).
Thematically, it is true that these texts make no overt claims to a divine mission, but it is notable, as Lawson observes, that the Tafsir Surat'u-l Baqara, "allows the Báb to assert his complete independence from all others, including Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kázim (who are not mentioned in the main body of the tafsír), apart from the Holy Family, and, of course, the Qur’án itself." ("Interpretation as Revelation: The Qur’án Commentary of the Báb", JBS).
Likewise worth noting, is that although there is a clear discontinuity in style and thematic between this tafsri and the proclamatory Qayyumu'l-'Asma, there is also a deeper continuity, as the Báb in the Tafsir Surat'u-l-Baqara outlines an intellectual framework that would in some important ways provide the cosmological scaffolding for the Bayán, at the height of His claims, in its theophanic architecture of existence discussed below).
From this perspective accepting, with Lawson, Nabil's citation as a separate retelling in an unidentified tablet of the dream recounted in the Sahífiy-i Adiliyyih, and therefore accepting its affirmation that the dream occurred "in the year before the declaration of My Mission", would seem to fit the facts well.
In this interpretation, the dream of Husayn was the initiatory trigger for the manifestation of verses, prayers and divine sciences, not only in the Qayyumu'l-'Asma, but in the writings of the preceding year, the most significant of which was the Tafsir Surat'u-l-Baqara. These pre-declaration writings would correspond to a period of messianic concealment, where the Revelation sounded in conformity with Shi'a, and largely Shaykhi tones. Support for this view comes from a fragment of a letter dated in 1843 (1259) cited. By Amanat (p. 145. Note again the affirmation of His ancestry, and the mystical sense of His connection to His forefathers.):
"Writing from Bushihr to Shiraz, the Bab asks his uncle to inform the tullab that 'the cause (of God) is still not ripened, and the time has not matured. Therefore, if anyone attributes anything to me but submission to Islamic laws and beliefs, I and my holy ancestors will be discontented with him both in this world and in the next."
The question then remains, if His mystical, initiatory encounter with Husayn took place in 1843, as Nabil's text implies, what of the experience registered in the Kitab-i Fihirst, which took place in April 1844, only 5-6 weeks before His declaration to Mullah Husayn?
One possibility is that it could refer to a separate mystical experience, recounted by by the Báb's wife, Khadijih, and amounting to what in Christian terminology might be referred to as a transfiguration.
"The practice of His Holiness was that each day He would return home about an hour after the sunset and commence His devotionals, prayers and His writings. About three hours into the night He would have the evening meal and retire about four hours past the sunset. In the morning, He would awake one hour before the dawn and after washing, would perform His ablutions and then proceed to the upper chambers of the House where it served as His outer formal guestroom. There, He stood to recital of visitation tablets, prayers, supplications, and repetition of verses. When the sun had risen, in the chamber occupied by His mother, Fiddih would fire up the samovar and prepare the tea. His Holiness would come down to that apartment and have the morning tea. After that, He would proceed to undertake His commercial activities and other personal business.
"However, one night, unlike other nights, He came home at dusk [earlier than customary], stating, “Inform Fiddih to prepare whatever we have for the evening meal sooner than usual as tonight I have a particular task to attend to.” About an hour and a half into the night, the dinner was served and He joined others for this purpose. Afterwards, Fiddih brought water for Him to wash His blessed hands and, as other evenings, she spread our night bedding and left for her own quarter. His Holiness came to bed and retired for the night.
"It was not long after that I saw Him rise from the bed and leave the room towards the outer courtyard. At first, I thought He had gone to visit the facilities, but when His absence prolonged and He did not return, I became concerned. I rose from my bed and went out to look for Him, but He was nowhere to be found. Trying the street door I found it locked from within. I checked the chamber of His mother and did not find Him there either. By then I was deeply bewildered and perplexed. I walked to the western side of the courtyard, looked up towards the upper chamber, situated on the eastern direction of the House and serving as His private quarters, and saw that it was well lighted. It seemed as if a thousand lamps illumined the room. This added to my surprise, because we had no guests that required such profusion of lights. Therefore, with astonishment, I went up the steps of the chamber. When I entered, I noticed although only one light was in the room, it was so brilliantly lit that overwhelmed me.
"There I saw His Holiness standing, faced the Qiblih; His hands raised heaven-wards, intoning a prayer. As soon as my gaze fell upon Him, I beheld such majesty and resplendence that is beyond my powers to explain. Suddenly, as if thunder-struck, such fear and trepidation enveloped me that I stood transfixed where I was, trembling uncontrollably. I could neither retrace my steps nor stand. I was near losing consciousness. Fright and quiver had thoroughly overtaken my entire being when all of a sudden He made a gesture with His blessed hand, telling me to go back. This movement of His sanctified hands gave me back my courage, and I returned to my room and bed. But I could not go to sleep and I remained deeply disturbed. Whenever I thought of His blessed Person and that scene [in the upper chamber], it added to my consternation. I felt like a wrongdoer who awaits the all-powerful sovereign to pass sentence on her. Sleep was impossible that night, and then came the dawn, and I heard the muezzin’s call to prayer from the mosque adjacent to our house.
"After the conclusion of the adhán, He came downstairs to our room. As soon as my eyes alighted on His blessed Countenance, I paled and shuddered [involuntarily]. He seemed no longer like the Person with whom I had lived for two and a half years. I did not have the courage to utter a word. Somehow the morning arrived and I rose from the bed, preformed my ablutions and stood to prayers.
"In accordance with our everyday practice, our servant, Faddih, had taken the samovar and tea sets to the room of His mother and informed us that tea was ready. Accompanied by Him, I went there. In His mother’s room, He drank some tea. Each moment added to my anxiety and perplexity. With His blessed hand He poured a cup of tea, passed it to me, and with a heavenly smile said, “What is it that troubles you? You are agitated.” I drank a bit of the tea, which to a prescribed degree calmed my nerves. I stated, 'Áqá, what event and condition was it last night that I beheld in Your chamber?' He replied, 'What a peculiar time you arrived. That was untimely. But it was the will of God to see with your own eyes. Know and be certain that at that very moment the One Exalted God appointed Me as His Manifestation to guide these servants. I am that the same promised Person whose advent they have expected for the past twelve hundred and sixty years and for His appearance they perpetually beseeched the Almighty. I have been sent forth for the salvation of the peoples.'
As soon as I heard Him speak these words, I kissed His knees and became a believer in Him. In prostration, I raised my voice in gratitude to Lord for having enabled me to recognize Him." (Habibullah Afnan, h-net.org/~bahai/trans/vol1/babshir1.htm)
This event is linked by Habibullah Afnan to the Declaration to Mullah Husayn, but it obviously took place some time earlier, as the Declaration occurred in the evening of May 22 until the morning if the 23. This story likewise takes up an entire evening and night, so would have happened somewhat earlier. We know it did not happen later because Khadijih told Munirih Khanum, who would one day marry 'Abdu'l-Bahá, that she was present at the Declaration, in a nearby room, and overheard the conversation. Her surprise, as well as the Afnan's commentary, imply this was her first encounter with the Báb's messianic claims. At the same time Habibullah Afnan is very explicit in assigning this experience to the Declaration period. To surmise it may have been 5 weeks before the Declaration, therefore, in line with the Kitab-i Fihirst, seems wholly plausible. The fact the Báb tells her that it was at that very moment He was first appointed by God, would fit with the Fihirst referring to "the first day on which the spirit descended into his heart".
In conclusion, what Khadijih's story demonstrates, at the minimum, is that, as Lawson considers, there were indeed more than one "spiritual experience" linked to a divine investiture, and that the association MacEoin makes between the dream experience and the Fihirst experience, while plausible, is not the only possibility, and in fact it may not even be the possibility that best fits with what we know of the Báb's writings and disclosures in 1843-1844.
Which means that MacEoin may be right, even without questioning Nabil's source: if the dream took place "in the year before the declaration of My mission", it is compatible with it having taken place only a few weeks earlier. In this context all the Báb's previous writings could be considered pre-revelatory.
Or it could be that it took place some time in 1843, and a subsequent transfiguration took place in 1844, which immediately preceded the revelation of the Qayyumu'l-'Asma, in which case His devotional and expository writings before the Qayyumu'l-'Asma, coinciding with the accounts of His private declaration of a divine station to His mother and uncle, and His letter asking that His Cause be yet concealed, all reflect that early dream of His cherished Husayn.
Finally, as Momen considers, it could be that all three experiences in fact refer to the same event, and the Báb had that dream the same day Khadijih saw Him bathed in light, and the Kitab-i Fihirst states that the spirit descended for the first time into His heart.
In all cases, what emerges from this picture is multiple stages of messianic consciousness or expression, beginning with a childhood apprehension of divine mission, catalysed by a dream of the Imám Husayn that signals the first manifestation of verses, prayers and treatises He considered divine, and culminating in, or attended by, a transfiguration which marked the start of His outward mission and immediately preceded the revelation of what He Himself, notwithstanding His previous sacred writing, refers to as His "first book" (in Seven Proofs).
The Báb's relationship to the wronged one of Karbila, His sense of intimacy, forged already through His lineage and His fervent supplications at his shrine, thus gained a new layer of immediacy, as the King of Martyrs would be henceforth not only his forefather, but also His initiator into a literal apotheosis.