By Eileen Maddocks
Siyyid Káẓim had told his disciples, “repeatedly and emphatically, . . . [to] quit their homes, scatter far and wide, purge their hearts from every idle desire, and dedicate themselves to the quest of Him to whose advent he had so often alluded. . . that the Object of our quest was now revealed.” (1) The veils that had intervened between Him and them could now be removed by their devoted search. “Nothing short of prayerful endeavour, of purity of motive, of singleness of mind, will enable you to tear them asunder. Has not God revealed in His Book: ‘Whoso maketh efforts for Us, in Our ways will We guide them’” (2) Of those who undertook the search, Mullá Ḥusayn was among the most dedicated.
After 40 days of prayer and medication, Mullá Ḥusayn, accompanied by his brother and nephew, set forth for Karbilá in Iraq and Bushehr in Persia. Then Mullá Ḥusayn felt pulled like a magnet to Shiraz. Upon arrival he asked his companions to proceed to a mosque and wait for his arrival.
While walking outside the gate of Shiraz, “his eyes fell suddenly upon a Youth of radiant countenance, who wore a green turban and who, advancing towards him, greeted him with a smile of loving welcome. He embraced Mullá Ḥusayn with tender affection as though he had been his intimate and lifelong friend.” (3) The extraordinary account of what transpired between Mírzá ‘Ali-Muḥammad (the Báb, which means the gate) and Mullá Ḥusayn the evening of May 23, 1844, and into the early morning hours of May 24 (4) can be read online. (5)
The ministry of the Báb’ lasted eight years until his execution in 1850. It had two major purposes—to separate His followers, called Bábís, from Islam, and to urge them to prepare for the coming of “Him Whom God will make manifest” in 19 years. The Báb brought spiritual renewal. The response was twofold—a massive embrace from all segments of society, from learned ‘ulamás to the illiterate poor, and a merciless persecution of this new community spurred by the inveterate opposition of the royal court and most of the Islamic clergy. The Báb spent about half of His ministry under house arrest or severe imprison. He revealed many Writings that He entrusted to His followers, who continued to spread this new Faith. There are innumerable poignant, as well as heroic, episodes during these eight years as this infant Faith spread and its followers struggled to protect themselves.
At one point in His imprisonment in the mountain prison fortress at Chihriq, the Báb was taken to the nearby city of Tabriz in northern Persia to meet with various dignitaries of the Shah and the clergy, who had trembled at the speed at which the Bábí movement had spread. At the rate it was progressing, it would threaten Islamic institutions and the livelihood and stature of Islamic clergy. Therefore, it was decided to try to entice the Báb to forsake His mission. The ensuing encounter was reported as follows: (6)
The majesty of His gait, the expression of overpowering confidence which sat upon His brow—above all, the spirit of power which shone from His whole being, appeared to have for a moment crushed the soul out of the body of those whom He had greeted. A deep, a mysterious silence, suddenly fell upon them. Not one soul in that distinguished assembly dared breathe a single word. At last the stillness which brooded over them was broken by the Niẓámu’l-‘Ulamá’ [a high official of the Shah’s court]. “Whom do you claim to be,” he asked the Báb, “and what is the message which you have brought?” “I am,” thrice exclaimed the Báb, “I am, I am, the promised One! I am the One whose name you have for a thousand years invoked, at whose mention you have risen, whose advent you have longed to witness, and the hour of whose Revelation you have prayed God to hasten. Verily I say, it is incumbent upon the peoples of both the East and the West to obey My word and to pledge allegiance to My person.”
The Báb was executed by a firing square with ten thousand volleys in Tabríz on July 9, 1850. His remains are entombed in the Shrine of the Báb on Mount Carmel on the grounds of the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa, Israel.
Mírzá Ḥusayn-`Alí Núrí, named Bahá’u’lláh, the Glory of God by the Báb, declared His station and identity as Him Whom God will make manifest in April 1863, in Baghdad, Iraq, where He had been banished in 1853. Days after His declaration, Bahá’u’lláh was further banished to Adrianople, and four years later to the dreaded prison city of Akka, Palestine. His complete mission was conducted within the terms of imprisonment, but temporal authorities could not distinguish the light of His Revelation. He passed from this life in 1892 and His remains are now interred in the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh at Bahji, a location in the countryside outside Akka, which is now in Israel.
1 Nabíl-i-A’zam, The Dawn-Breakers, 52.
2 Qur’an, 29:69 (Rodwell trans.) The Dawn-Breakers, 47‒48.
3 The Dawn-Breakers, 52.
4 On May 24, 1844, Samuel Morse sent the first official telegraph message “What hath God wrought!”, from Wasington D.C. to Baltimore, Maryland, that started the modern communications revolution. Also in 1844, the Ottoman Turkish empire, which controlled Palestine, signed the Tanzimat reforms, which included an edict of toleration that allowed the return of the Jews to their homeland.
5 The complete account can be read online, The Dawn-Breakers, 52‒66, http://bahai-library.com/nabil_dawnbreakers
6 The Dawn-Breakers, 315‒316. The complete account can be read online, 309‒323, , http://bahai-library.com/nabil_dawnbreakers.