07/08/2011 03:34 pm ET Updated Sep 07, 2011

Baha'is Commemorate the Martyrdom of the Bab

Baha'is around the world commemorate the Martyrdom of the Bab this July 9. The Bab, a merchant who was born Siyyid 'Ali Muhammad, had declared in 1844 that He was a Messenger of God sent to initiate a new age for humankind. His turbulent ministry lasted a brief six years until, at the age of thirty one, He was martyred in 1850 at the citadel in Tabriz, Persia (now Iran). His title, the Bab, means the "Gate."

The Bab had announced Himself as the Promised One of Islam. The boldness of His claim had caused much contention, strife and turmoil as the government and clergy of Persia tried to suppress the young religion and persecuted the early believers. Even though the Bab had been confined by authorities for His last three years in increasingly remote areas, tens of thousands had flocked to His Cause, members of all classes, including men and women, aristocrats, government officials, Muslim clergy and scholars, merchants, workers, farmers and the poor. Word of the new religion had even spread to the main cities of Europe in the cables and dispatches of consular officials and reports in major newspapers.

On November 1, 1845, The Times of London reported in an article titled, "Persia,"

We have been favored with the following letter dated Bushire, August 10:-

A Persian merchant, who has lately returned from a pilgrimage to Mecca, had been for some time endeavoring here to prove that he was one of the successors of Mahomet, and therefore had the right to demand of all true Mussulmans to mention him as such in their profession of faith; he had already attracted a good number of followers who secretly aided him in forwarding his views.

The Bab had also foretold the coming of another Messenger of God who would fulfill the prophetic expectations of all the world's religions and Whose teachings would lead to world civilization and world peace. Baha'is believe this Promised One of all humankind is Baha'u'llah. The events surrounding the lives of the Bab and Baha'u'llah and the development of the Baha'i Faith are the most thoroughly documented and corroborated accounts by eyewitnesses in the history of religion.

The Bab had been held captive in the remote mountain fortress of Chiriq for two years when a high government official ordered Him to be moved the city of Tabriz to be tried and executed in June of 1850. The convoy took a circuitous route to reach Tabriz and large numbers of people turned out along the way to see the Bab. The Rev. J. H. Shield, an American missionary to Persia, wrote: "When the Bab passed through Oroomiah on his way to his execution, the missionaries watched the excitement with great interest. The crowds of people were ready to receive him as the long-expected Imam, even the water in which he bathed was regarded as holy water."

When the Bab arrived in Tabriz, He was held overnight in a house. The next day He was being taken to the barracks and a large crowd gathered to see Him. Suddenly a young man named Muhammad-' Ali burst from the crowd and threw himself at the feet of the Bab. "Send me not from Thee, O Master. Wherever Thou goest, suffer me to follow Thee."

The Bab replied, "Muhammad-'Ali, arise, and rest assured you will be with Me. Tomorrow you shall witness what God hath decreed." The guards seized the young man and brought him to the cell with the Bab and several other of His followers. That night, the Bab said, "This same youth who has risen to comply with My wish, will, together with Me, suffer martyrdom. Him will I choose to share with Me its crown. Verily Muhammad-'Ali will be with Us in Paradise."

In the morning an official arrived at the prison cell to start the process leading to the Bab's execution. The Bab was deep in conversation with his scribe and reprimanded the official, saying, "Not until I have said to him all the things 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." Nonetheless, the official had the Bab taken to the homes of the two chief clerics who had issued His death warrant and then He was tortured.

Then the Bab was conducted to the square of the citadel where an Armenian regiment of 750 muskets waited to carry out His execution. But Sam Khan, the commander of the regiment, was uneasy about his assignment because he did not believe the Bab had done any wrong. Sam Khan said, "I profess the Christian Faith and entertain no ill will against you. If your Cause be the Cause of truth, enable me to free myself from the obligation to shed your blood."

"Follow your instructions, and if your intention be sincere, the Almighty is surely able to relieve you from your perplexity," the Bab replied. Then the Bab was suspended by a rope from the citadel wall and His disciple, the young Muhammad-'Ali was suspended with his head on the Bab's chest.

The square and every wall and rooftop were covered with people who had come to witness the execution. Sam Khan gave the order and three consecutive thunderous volleys of musket fire rang out with billows of dense smoke. When the smoke cleared, the crowd gasped in astonishment and fear. Muhammad-'Ali still hung suspended by the ropes, but was unharmed and the Bab had disappeared! A frantic search ensued and the Bab was found back in His cell, finishing the interrupted conversation with His scribe. The Bab said to the official whom He had reprimanded, "I have finished my conversation with Siyyid Hasan. Now you may fulfill your intention." The official was so shaken, he fled the scene.

Meanwhile, in the square, Sam Khan had marched his men off after seeing the miraculous escape. The Bab and Muhammad-'Ali were again suspended with ropes, a new regiment marched up and discharged its muskets, and, when the smoke cleared, the bullet-riddled bodies of the martyrs hung against the wall. At the moment of the Bab's death, a huge whirlwind of dust enveloped Tabriz and the city was left in darkness for the remainder of the day. The authorities dumped the bodies in a ditch outside the city to be eaten by dogs and wild animals. Unbeknownst to them, the bodies were secretly rescued by followers of the Bab and hidden for many years until the Bab was transported to Palestine and His body enshrined on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel.

Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha'i Faith, wrote in God Passes By, his momentous history of the Faith:

It would indeed be no exaggeration to say that nowhere in the whole compass of the world's religious literature, except in the Gospels, do we find any record relating to the death of any of the religion-founders of the past comparable to the martyrdom suffered by the Prophet of Shiraz. So strange, so inexplicable a phenomenon, attested by eye-witnesses, corroborated by men of recognized standing, and acknowledged by government as well as unofficial historians among the people who had sworn undying hostility to the Bábí Faith, may be truly regarded as the most marvelous manifestation of the unique potentialities with which a Dispensation promised by all the Dispensations of the past had been endowed. The passion of Jesus Christ, and indeed His whole public ministry, alone offer a parallel to the Mission and death of the Bab, a parallel which no student of comparative religion can fail to perceive or ignore. In the youthfulness and meekness of the Inaugurator of the Bábí Dispensation; in the extreme brevity and turbulence of His public ministry; in the dramatic swiftness with which that ministry moved towards its climax; in the apostolic order which He instituted, and the primacy which He conferred on one of its members; in the boldness of His challenge to the time-honored conventions, rites and laws which had been woven into the fabric of the religion He Himself had been born into; in the role which an officially recognized and firmly entrenched religious hierarchy played as chief instigator of the outrages which He was made to suffer; in the indignities heaped upon Him; in the suddenness of His arrest; in the interrogation to which He was subjected; in the derision poured, and the scourging inflicted, upon Him; in the public affront He sustained; and, finally, in His ignominious suspension before the gaze of a hostile multitude -- in all these we cannot fail to discern a remarkable similarity to the distinguishing features of the career of Jesus Christ.