Observing the Martyrdom of the Bab

On July 9, members of the Bahá’í Faith from all over the world commemorate the anniversary of the Martyrdom of the forerunner of Baha’u’llah who held the title of the Báb (“the gate” in Arabic).  This is one of only nine holy days on which members of the Faith suspend work and school.  Today in Pasadena members of Baha’i communities from throughout the San Gabriel Valley gathered to mark this solemn occasion.

The following is a brief overview and account of the events of this Sacred day for Baha’is:

In Persia (now Iran)  in 1844, the Báb declared that His mission was to herald the imminent arrival of the long-awaited Promised One, the Messenger of God Who would usher in the age of universal peace and transform the world. That Messenger was Bahá’u’lláh , Who in 1863 announced that He was God’s Messenger for this age.

The proclamation of the Báb attracted thousands of followers in a short time. Fearful of the Báb’s growing influence caused by His proclamation and teachings, which called for spiritual and moral renewal, religious and political leaders arose to oppose and persecute the Báb and His followers

More than 20,000 of His followers were killed in several waves of brutal persecution. Though guilty of no crime, the Báb was arrested, beaten, exiled and imprisoned by the authorities. On July 9, 1850, at the age of 31, He was executed in public by a firing squad in the city of Tabriz in northwest Persia.

The story of the events surrounding the Báb’s martyrdom has captured the interest of many because an apparent miracle was performed in the midst of tragic circumstances and in the presence of thousands of witnesses. The following is an account of the events surrounding this Sacred Day authored by Shoghi Effendi in his historical account of the early years of the Baha’i Faith entitled “God Passes By“:

The farrash-bashi had abruptly interrupted the last conversation which the Báb 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 Báb 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 Báb 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 Báb 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-Báb 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 fulfill 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 Báb, 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-Khamsih, colonel of the body-guard, volunteered to replace him. On the same wall and in the same manner the Báb 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 Báb 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.”

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 A.H. 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. In that same year no less than two hundred and fifty of the firing squad, that had replaced Sam Khan’s regiment, met their death, together with their officers, in a terrible earthquake, while the remaining five hundred suffered, three years later, as a punishment for their mutiny, the same fate as that which their hands had inflicted upon the Báb. To insure that none of them had survived, they were riddled with a second volley, after which their bodies, pierced with spears and lances, were exposed to the gaze of the people of Tabriz. The prime instigator of the Báb’s death, the implacable Amir-Nizam, together with his brother, his chief accomplice, met their death within two years of that savage act.

On the evening of the very day of the Báb’s execution, which fell on the ninth of July 1850 (28th of Sha’ban 1266 A.H.), during the thirty-first year of His age and the seventh of His ministry, the mangled bodies were transferred from the courtyard of the barracks to the edge of the moat outside the gate of the city. Four companies, each consisting of ten sentinels, were ordered to keep watch in turn over them. On the following morning the Russian Consul in Tabriz visited the spot, and ordered the artist who had accompanied him to make a drawing of the remains as they lay beside the moat. In the middle of the following night a follower of the Báb, Haji Sulayman Khan, succeeded, through the instrumentality of a certain Haji Allah-Yar, in removing the bodies to the silk factory owned by one of the believers of Milan, and laid them, the next day, in a specially made wooden casket, which he later transferred to a place of safety… No sooner had the news of the transfer of the remains of the Báb and of His fellow-sufferer been communicated to Bahá’u’lláh than He ordered that same Sulayman Khan to bring them to Tihran, where they were taken to the Imam-Zadih-Hasan, from whence they were removed to different places, until the time when, in pursuance of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s instructions, they were transferred to the Holy Land, and were permanently and ceremoniously laid to rest by Him in a specially erected mausoleum on the slopes of Mt. Carmel.

Thus ended a life which posterity will recognize as standing at the confluence of two universal prophetic cycles, the Adamic Cycle stretching back as far as the first dawnings of the world’s recorded  religious history and the Bahá’í Cycle destined to propel itself across the unborn reaches of time for a period of no less than five thousand centuries. The apotheosis in which such a life attained its consummation marks, as already observed, the culmination of the most heroic phase of the Heroic Age of the Bahá’í Dispensation. It can, moreover, be regarded in no other light except as the most dramatic, the most tragic event transpiring within the entire range of the first Bahá’í century. Indeed it can be rightly acclaimed as unparalleled in the annals of the lives of all the Founders of the world’s existing religious systems.

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