The Cultural and Religious Precursors of Baha’ism-By Shua Ullah Behai

Shua Ullah Behai

Shua Ullah Behai (1878 – July 3,1950), also known in the Baha’i tradition as Mirza Shua’u’llah, was the son of Mohammed Ali, son of Baha’u’llah. He was Baha’u’llah’s eldest grandson. Mr. Behai was fluent in English and is the only known descendant of the Baha’i prophet to have become an American citizen.
This chapter contains most of the first two chapters of his book manuscript about the Baha’i faith. I have removed some Persian poetry and an excerpt from the writings of Professor Edward G. Browne about his meetings with the Bab’s successor Subh-i-Azal, and condensed Prof. Browne’s lengthy description of the execution of Babi martyrs, for the sake of brevity. Some of the section headings have been added.
—The Editor

The Great Culture of Iran (Persia), the Birthplace of the Baha’i Faith
The area of Iran is 1,648,000 square kilometers.13  It is situated between the following countries: to the north, the Caucasus, the Caspian Sea, and Russian Turkestan 14;  to the east, Afghanistan and British Baluchistan 15;  to the south, the Oman Sea and the Persian Gulf; to the west, Iraq and Turkey. Its population according to the last census is about 18,000,ooo. 16

 13. In 2014, it is exactly 1,648,195 square kilometers, which is 636,372 square miles.

14. Russian Turkestan was a Governor-Generalship within the Russian Empire, which included the present-day countries of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and parts of Kazakhstan.
 15. A province of British India, which was located in the western part of the present day country of Pakistan.
16. This census would have been sometime in the 1940s. The population of Iran has grown dramatically since then, reaching over 75 million.

On account of the great mountains and wide plains, the climate of Iran is of two distinct types, that of the temperate regions and the tropical zones. Few countries of such a size enjoy such a diversity of climate.
According to history, Iran was a country of ancient civilization, great empire, and the center of the art of literature, producing such a historian poet as Ferdowsi, who wrote the Shahnameh (Book of Kings) 17,  which contains over fifty thousand verses of poetry and was completed by him in the 11th century A.D. His work has been acclaimed by modern judges of literature as one of the greatest, and his millenary was celebrated all over the world in 1934.
The following is from Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh (reproduced from The Oriental Caravan ) 18:

A weary traveler sat to grieve By Gureng’s gate, at early eve,
Where fragrant gardens, filled with bloom,
Cast forth their breath of soft perfume,
And wandering o’er his brow and free,
Relieved him for a moment’s space.
But sorrow weighed upon his breast,
And dimmed the lustre of his eye;
He had no home—he sought but rest,
And laid him down to sleep—or die.

17. The Shahnameh is the national epic poem of Iran. Including both mythology and history, it tells the story of the Persian empire from the creation of the world to the Islamic conquest of Persia in the 7th century.

18. Sirdar Ikbal Ali Shah (Editor), The Oriental Caravan (New York: Claude Ken­dall, 1933), pp. 216-219. This book is a compilation of excerpts from various Middle Eastern and South Asian classical literature translated into English.

ICing Gureng’s lovely daughter lies Beside a fountain gently playing;
She marks not though the waves be bright,
Nor in the roses takes delight;
And though her maids new games devise,
Invent fresh stories to surprise,
She heeds not what each fair is saying;…
But hark! soft whispers, questions gay,
Amongst the female train prevail;
A young slave, beautiful as day,
Blushes while she tells her tale….
The princess heard: “Go hence,” she cried,
“And be the stranger’s wants supplied:
Let him beneath our shades repose,
And find a refuge for his woes.” …
Meanwhile the princess mused alone,
And thus she sighed, in mournful tone:— …
“That prince whose power was far above All those who vainly seek my love;…
His Kingdom gone, his fortune crost,
And he, perhaps, for ever lost!”
She ceased, when lo! The laughing train Came dancing back, with song and jest,
And leading, in a flowery chain,
The stranger youth their welcome guest.
’Twas thus they met—they met and gazed,
Struck by the self-same power—amazed;
Confused, admiring, pleased, distressed,
As passion rose in either breast.
The princess spoke—soft as a bird
In spring to some dear partner sighing;
And the fair stranger’s words were heard,
Sweet as the bulbul’s 19  notes replying.

19.Bulbul means nightingale in Persian.

Her long hair, streaming to the ground With odours fills the air around;
She moves to music and to song,
As the wild partridge steps along.
She leads him to her jasmine bower,
Midst fountains, birds, and blossoms sweet;
And her attendant maidens shower The sparkling wave upon his feet;…
My tale is told. Ye lovers, say,
Can ye not guess the blissful close?
How Jamshid 20  won a bride that day,
And found a balm for all his woes.

Another was the philosopher-poet Saadi, 13th century A.D., who wrote The Rose Garden (Gulistan) and The Orchard (Boston). The fol­lowing is the translation of a few verses from Gulistan:

In a public bath, one winter day,A beloved presented me with a fragrant clay.Amazingly said I! Art thou Musk or Amber?

To thine exquisite fragrance I slumber.

I was a common clay, humbly said he,

But I befriended the rose of Parsee 21

Sweet friendship of by-gone day,

Brought me the fragrance of to-day.

Take thou that fragrance from me away,

I am nothing but the same common clay.

The following is taken from Costello’s Rose Garden of Persia

Contentment (from the Boston)

Smile not, nor think the legend vain,

That in old times a worthless stone Such power in holy hands could gain,
That straight a silver heap it shone.
Thy alchemist Contentment be,
Equal is stone or ore to thee.
The infant’s pure unruffled breast,
No avarice nor pride molest:
He fills his little hands with earth,
Nor knows that silver has more worth.
The sultan sits in pomp and state,
And sees the dervish at his gate;
But yet of wealth the sage has more Than the great king, with all his store.

20. As the legend goes, Prince Jamshid became a great king who reigned for hundreds of years and commanded the powers of light and darkness. He became prideful and fell from grace, and roamed the earth as an outcast for a hundred years, but gained wisdom and regained his kingdom after marrying King Gureng’s daughter.

21. The Parsees (also spelled Parsis) are Persians who continued to follow the Zoroastrian religion, the original faith of Persia, after the arrival of the Islamic empire. A small number of Parsis remain in Iran today.

Rich is a beggar, worn and spent,
To whom a silver coin is thrown;
But Feridoun 22 23 24    was not content,
Though Ajum’s kingdom was his own.
Hafez 25 was another well-known Iranian poet, of the 14th century
A.D. The following verses by Hafez are translated by G.L. Bell: 26
The nightingale with drops of his heart’s blood Had nourished the red rose, then came a wind,
And catching at the boughs in envious mood,
A hundred thorns about his heart entwined.
Like to the parrot crunching sugar, good Seemed the world to me who could not stay The wind of Death that swept my hopes away.
Light of mine eyes and harvest of my heart,
And mine at least in changeless memory!
Ah, when he found it easy to depart,
He left the harder pilgrimage to me!

22.Louisa Stuart Costello, The Rose Garden of Persia (London: Gibbings and Company, 1899), pp. 102-103.
23. A dervish is a Sufi Muslim who follows a spiritual path of extreme poverty and asceticism.
24. Feridoun (also spelled Fereydun) was a mythical king of Persian prehistory.

25. Also spelled Hafiz.
26. Gertrude Lowthian Bell (Translator), Poems From the Divan of Hafiz (Lon¬don: William Heinemann, 1928), pp. 102-103.

Oh Camel-driver, though the cordage start,
For God’s sake help me lift my fallen load,
And Pity be my comrade of the road!
My face is seamed with dust, mine eyes are wet.
Of dust and tears the turquoise firmament Kneadeth the bricks for joy’s abode; and yet.27..  Alas, and weeping yet I make lament!
Because the moon her jealous glances set Upon the bow-bent eyebrows of my moon,
He sought a lodging in the grave—too soon!
I had not castled, and the time is gone.
What shall I play? Upon the chequered floor Of Night and Day, Death won the game—forlorn And careless now, Hafiz can lose no more.
Although Omar Khayyam’s name springs readily to mind with the mention of Iranian poetry, in his native land his fame is surpassed by that of Ferdowsi, Saadi and Hafez. The superb translation by FitzGerald 28 made him popular in the Western world as a poet.
Iran enjoyed great progress for many centuries, according to the Book of Kings (Shahnameh) which is the only [early] Iranian history in existence. Also the ancient examples of art and excavated discoveries prove this progress. Times passed as such, until the Arabs conquered the Persian empire and forced them to accept Islam by the sword.

27. Ellipsis in original book by Bell.
28 A selection of poems attributed to the uth-i2th century Persian intellectual Omar Khayyam was translated into English by Edward FitzGerald and published in 1859 under the title The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

After a long period of oppression, the Iranians became students of the Arabic language, devout followers of the Prophet [Muhammad] and strong believers in his book, the Qur’an. Eventually they surpassed the Arabs in their language. The first Arabic dictionary was compiled by an Iranian, named Abu Tahir Majdeddin Fairuzabadi, and it is still in existence today, bearing his name.
The following well-known personages are a few of the thousands of Iranians that served in the Islamic kingdom:
® The great Imam Abu Hanifa (founder of the Hanafi sect of Islam).
® Ibn Muqla (calligrapher of the Naskh alphabet, and powerful politician who served as Grand Vizier under three Abbasid caliphs).
® Abu Ishaq Estakhri (composer of the first book on geography in Arabic).
« Abu Ali Ibn Sina 29 (philosopher, physician, and founder of the science of medicine).
® Zamakhshari (logician and grammarian).
® Abu Baler [Muhammad ibn Zalcariya] Razi (physician and mathematician).
® Fakhruddin Razi (philosopher).
® Nasir al-Din Tusi (astronomer and founder of Maragheh observatory near Tabriz).
® Imam Muhammad Al-Ghazali (theologian, philosopher, and mystic).

Shi’ism, Theocracy, and the Descent of Persia into Darkness
As the years went by, the Iranians progressed greatly both socially and politically. Then a new idea appeared in their mind, and a decision was reached to control the government through the power of religion. They hoped to regain their freedom through that channel and to re¬build their empire. They tried on several occasions to fulfill their desire, especially during the Abbasid caliphate, but at every attempt they failed.
While the Safavid rulers controlled the throne of Iran during the 16th century, realizing their numerous unsuccessful attempts to overcome the Arabian kingdom, they encouraged the mullahs (leaders of theology) to renew the Shi’ite doctrine (which was originated after the reign of Ali, the fourth caliph after Muhammad) against the other Islamic denominations—thus building a strong wall between them, owing that no barrier could be stronger than religious superstition. By this means, they sowed the seeds of hatred in the hearts of the masses.
For the enlightenment of the reader I hereby explain some of the Shi’ite doctrine. The Shi’ites believe that the true spiritual leaders after the Prophet were his descendants, and they are called Imams. The Imam is the divinely ordained successor of the Prophet, one endowed with all perfections and spiritual gifts, one whom all the faithful must obey, whose decision is absolute and final, whose wisdom is superhuman, and whose words are authoritative. The Imams, the [chosen] descendants of the Prophet, were twelve in number; therefore it is termed “Creed of the Twelve.”

29. Also known as Avicenna.
30. Twelver Shi’ism, as it is usually called, is the largest branch of Shi’ite Islam, but other types of Shi’ites also exist. For example, Zaidis believe in only five Imams, and Ismailis believe in seven.

These twelve are as follows:
1.    Ali, son-in-law of Muhammad.
2.    Hasan, son of Ali and Fatimah [the daughter of Muhammad].
3.    Hussein, [younger] son of Ali and Fatimah.
4.    Ali, son of Hussein and Shahrbanu (daughter of Yazdegerd III,
the last Sasanian 31  king), generally called Zayn al-Abedin.
5.    Muhammad Baqir, son of Zayn al-Abedin.
6.    Ja’far Sadiq, son of Muhammad Baqir.
7.    Musa Kazim, 32  son of Ja’far Sadiq.
8.    Ali Reza,33  son of Musa Kazim.
9.    Muhammad [al-Jawad] Taqi, son of Ali Reza.
10.    Ali [al-Hadi] Naqi, son of Muhammad Taqi.
11.    Hasan Askari, son of Ali Naqi.
12.    Muhammad, son of Hasan Askari and Narjis Khatun, called “Imam Mahdi.”
Imam Mahdi was born in Surra Man Ra’a,  34 Iraq, and succeeded his father in the year 260 A.H.35  [874 A.D.] The Shi’ites hold that he did not die, but disappeared in an underground passage in Surra Man Ra’a; that he still lives surrounded by a chosen band of his followers in one of the mystical cities called Jabulqa and Jabulsa; 36 and that when the fullness of time is come, when the earth is filled with injustice, and the faithful are plunged in despair, he will come forth to overthrow the infidels, establish universal peace and justice and inaugurate a millennium of blessedness. During the whole period of his Imamate, i.e. 260 A.H. until the present day, the Imam Mahdi has been invisible and inaccessible to the mass of his followers.

31. The Sasanian dynasty ruled the last Iranian empire before the coming of Islam.
32. Also spelled Musa Kadhim.

33.Also spelled Ali Ridha or Rida.
34.Present-day Samarra.
35. A.H. (i.e. anno hegirae): The year according to the Islamic calendar, which starts at the Hijra or emigration of the Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in 622 A.D.
36. Shi’ites believe the Imam Mahdi went into “occultation,” i.e. disappeared from public view, and communicated his teachings through a series of deputies for several decades. After that, the “Hidden Imam” is believed to have continued to live somewhere unknown, on earth, and will reappear at a future time of divine judgment, heralding the return of Jesus Christ. Some Shi’ites taught that the Mahdi ascended to a mystical realm between heaven and earth, instead of remaining in hiding as a supernaturally long-lived man in the physical world. The 12th century Iranian Sufi philosopher Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi provided the basis for this alternative possibility with his teachings about the “emerald cities” of “Jabalqa and Jabarsa”—spiritual places that are only accessible through special gnosis in an altered state of consciousness. Jabulqa and Jabulsa is a variation of the same, and this concept was adopted by Shi’ites of the theological school that ultimately gave rise to the Baha’i faith.

The renewal of the Shi’ite doctrine shattered the peaceful minds of Iranians, drowned them in the ocean of superstition and for two hundred years kept them in darkness. Students of history are aware of the unbearable conditions which existed in Iran from the 17th to the 19th centuries, especially during the Qajar rule. [Unnumbered people endured] extreme agonies for the freedom of their thoughts, and thou¬sands of noble souls sacrificed their lives to free their fellow beings from the clutches of religious leaders and their superstitions.
The Shaykhi Reform Movement
The era of awakening for liberation from religious orthodoxy began in Iran (Persia) in the early 19th century. The first reformer was Shaykh Ahmad Ahsa’i, born 1741 A.D.37  From his youth this great personage was a seeker of new light. He was a devout student of the Qur’an and the Shi’ite doctrine, a progressive teacher and [the founding] leader of the Shaykhi school.
At the suggestion of his spiritual advisors he journeyed to Karbala and Najaf 38 (the center for students of theology) where he resided and taught his progressive teachings. In a short time he acquired great fame and surrounded himself with many liberal-minded students. He was an advanced and independent thinker, and his explanations of doctrine appealed to the dissatisfied people. At the time, the horizon of the minds of Iranians was covered with the clouds of religious superstition; therefore the appearance of such a great sun of liberty and his sound explanation and interpretation of doctrine brought him fame and glory, and eventually he became a powerful leader. His sudden rise to popularity caused the Shah to extend to him an invitation to come to the capital for counsel and advice. Then he proceeded to Kermanshah and from there to Yazd where he resided twelve years, devoting his entire time to progressive teachings.

37.The year of birth of Shaykh Ahmad is uncertain. Different sources report it as 1741,1744, or as late as 1753.
38. These cities are in present-day Iraq.

He made several pilgrimages to Mecca, and on the last occasion he passed unto Eternity before reaching the Holy Shrine of the Kaaba in 1825 A.D. 39
Shaykh Ahmad Ahsa’i was succeeded by his devoted disciple, Haji Siyyid Kazim Rashti, who came from a prominent merchant family.
While a young man, one night in a dream this future leader was authorized by a supposed “saint” to enroll himself under the spiritual guidance of the said Ahsa’i. He proceeded accordingly and eventually became a devout disciple of the great Ahsa’i, in whose doctrine he at¬tained such a fame that after his death he was unanimously recognized as the leader of the Shaykhi school. He died at Baghdad, Iraq, in the year 1843 A.D. at the age of fifty.
This venerable teacher authorized his followers to expect the appearance of the Qa’im 40  or Imam Mahdi (said to be the spiritual return of Elijah 41 )  after his departure. He did not appoint a successor and devoted the last few years of his life to paving the way for the coming of the Mahdi and his appearance on earth.

Siyyid Ali Muhammad Shirazi, the Bab
In May 1844 A.D. there appeared in Iran a young man of twenty- four years of age, whose name was Ali Muhammad, a descendant of the Prophet. He possessed the highest degree of the power of wisdom and spiritual inspiration. At the beginning he called himself the Bab, meaning the Gate (through which to gain knowledge of truth). Afterwards he claimed to be the Qa’im or Imam Mahdi, whom the Muslims expected.
In a short time he revolutionized the thoughts of the masses. He brought them from darkness to light and from extreme religious orthodoxy to liberalism. He paved the way for the coming of the Glory of God, “He Whom God Shall Make Manifest, 42”  Baha’u’llah.

39.Different sources report the year of his death as either 1825 or 1826.
40.The Qa’im, meaning “He Who Shall Arise,” is another title for a prophetic figure expected by Shi’ite Muslims to appear on earth at the end of the age. The Qa’im is the return of the Imam Mahdi.
41. Jews expected the prophet Elijah to return to earth to announce the advent of the Messiah and the Kingdom of God. In Islam, the Mahdi is expected to play a similar role prior to the return of Christ.
42. In Persian, man yuzhiruhu’llah. This was the title by which the Bab referred to a coming messianic figure who would be even greater than himself. Baha’u’llah later claimed to be this figure.

One of the Bab’s messages was thus: “O ye people of the earth, that which was prophesied by the holy men of ancient times will shortly come to pass. The Kingdom of God shall be established upon the earth.”
His message spread rapidly throughout the land and thousands of theologians and learned students followed him. His followers were called Babis and were scattered all over Iran, but more prominently visible in the cities of Shiraz, Tabriz, Zanjan, the province of Mazandaran and the Persian province of Iraq. 43
The rapid spread of his message and the progress of his cause aroused the anger of the mullahs, as they feared the downfall of their leadership. They organized against the Bab and his followers, calling him an impostor and a magician, and finally succeeded in sowing the seed of hatred in the hearts of the ignorant masses against the Babis. They allied themselves with the governors of many provinces and caused the persecution of thousands of innocent citizens. Faithful and prominent Babis were put to death without question or judgment, and many of the governors participated in these unfortunate events to satisfy the desire of the mullahs. In spite of severe persecution the Babis became more energetic and enthusiastic in their diffusion of the message throughout the land.
The clamor of this movement commanded the attention of the Shah, who sent Sayyid Yahya Darabi, one of the highest doctors of theology, to question the Bab as to his message. After his visit to the Bab, this learned man became convinced of the truth of the Bab’s message and allied himself with the cause as a zealous believer and preacher, so the Bab’s cause became stronger as time passed.
The mullahs decided to try a new method to extinguish this great light by forcing the government to capture the Bab and put him in prison. Not satisfied with this, they finally caused his execution. The Bab and a devoted follower called Aqa Muhammad Ali 44 were together put to death in the city of Tabriz on July 9,1850 A.D.
A noted Babi historian recorded this unfortunate event as follows: 45

43. A western province of Persia, not the same as the present-day country of Iraq.
44.Muhammad Ali Zunuzi, who is known as Anis (“companion”) in the Baha’i tradition.
45. Edward G. Browne (Translator), A Traveller’s Narrative: Written to Illustrate the Episode of the Bab, Volume II. English Translation and Notes (Cambridge: University Press, 1891), pp. 43-45. The original Persian text of the book was writ¬ten by ‘Abdu’l-Baha. The translator was a British orientalist who studied the Babi and Baha’i faiths.

Next day the chief of the farrashes (jail keeper) delivered over the Bab and a young man named Aqa Muhammad Ali who was of a noble family of Tabriz to Sam Khan, colonel of the Christian regiment of Urumiyyih, 46  at the sentences of the learned divine 47 Mulla Muhammad of Mamaqan, of the second ecclesiastical authority Mirza Baqir, and of the third ecclesiastical authority Mulla Murtaza-Quli and others. An iron nail was hammered into the middle of the staircase of the very cell wherein they were imprisoned, and two ropes were hung down. By one rope the Bab was suspended and by the other rope Aqa Muhammad Ali, both being firmly bound in such wise that the head of that young man was on the Bab’s breast. The surrounding house-tops billowed with teeming crowds. A regiment of soldiers ranged itself in three files. The first file fired; then the second file, and then third file discharged volleys. From the fire of these volleys a mighty smoke was produced. When the smoke cleared away they saw that young man standing and the Bab seated… in the very cell from the staircase of which they had suspended them. To neither one of them had the slightest injury resulted.
Sam Khan the Christian asked to be excused (from the second attempt of the execution of the Bab); the turn of service came to another regiment, and the chief of the farrashes withheld his hand. Aqa Jan Beg of Khamsa,48  colonel of the body-guard, advanced; and they again bound the Bab together with that young man to the same nail….
The colonel of the regiment appeared in person: and it was before noon on the twenty-eighth of [the Islamic month of] Sha‘ban in the year [A.H.] one thousand two hundred and sixty-six (the 9th of July, 1850 A.D.) Suddenly he gave orders to fire. At this volley the bullets produced such an effect that the breasts of the victims were riddled, and their limbs were completely dissected, except their faces, which were but little marred.

46.Present-day Urmia, Iran.
47.An old-fashioned term for a cleric or theologian.
48. A historical province of Persia, usually spelled Khamseh, which is part of the present-day province of Zanjan, Iran.

Three days after the execution the remains were taken away by a few Babis in the darkness of night. Kept in a hiding place for years, they finally were brought to the Holy Land and buried on Mount Carmel in Haifa.

His Holiness the Bab is recognized as Mahdi and Elijah, and this is proven by his works and teachings entitled Bayan.49  He says:
The whole Bayan revolves round the saying of Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest.50 A thousand perusals of the Bayan are not equal to one verse of what shall be revealed by Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest.  I swear by the most holy essence of God, Glorious and Splendid is He, that in the day of the appearance of Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest, if one should hear a single verse from Him and recite it, it is better than that he should recite the Bayan a thousand times. The Bayan today is in the stage of seed but in the day of Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest it will arrive at the degree of fruition. All the splendor of the Bayan is “He Whom God Shall Make Manifest.”

49. The Bayan (Arabic: “exposition”) is the principal scriptural text of the Bab.
50. Cf. John the Baptist’s statement regarding Jesus, the Messiah: “He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:27). The Bab claimed to play a similar role as John the Baptist, who, in the Christian tradition, is regarded as the return of Elijah.

The Seven Martyrs of Tehran
The following narrative appeared in the works of the late Professor Edward G. Browne of the University of Cambridge, England, published in the year 1891: 51
“This year,” says Lady Sheil 52  writing in September 1850, “seven Babis were executed at Tehran for an alleged conspiracy against the life of the Prime Minister [of Persia]. Their fate excited general sympathy, for every one knew that no criminal act had been committed, and suspected the accusation to be a pretence. Besides this Babism had spread in Tehran too. They died with the utmost firmness. Previously to decapitation they received an offer of pardon, on the condition of reciting the Kalima, or creed, that Muhammad is the Prophet of God. It was rejected, and these visionaries died steadfast in their faith. The Persian minister was ignorant of the maxim that persecution was proselytism.”53 54

Amongst these seven—“the Seven Martyrs” as they are called by the Babis—was the Bab’s uncle Haji Mirza Seyyid ‘Ali. The other sufferers were Haji Mulla Isma’il of Qum, Mirza Qurban ‘Ali the dervish, Aqa Seyyid Huseyn of Turshiz the mujtahid,i2 Haji Mulla Naqi of Kirman, Mirza Muhammad Huseyn of Tabriz, and Mulla
Sadiq of Maragha.(Some sources list Haji Muhammad-Taqi Kirmani and Aqa Sayyid Murtada Zanjani among the seven martyrs, instead of Haji Mulla Naqi and Mulla Sadiq.)

Of their martyrdom the Tarikh-i-Jadid( A chronicle of the Babi movement written by the Babi historian Mirza Husayn Hamadani, which was translated into English by Edward G. Browne)  gives a long and touching account, on which I here append an abridgement.

What led to this tragic event was, as stated by Lady Sheil, a report conveyed to Mirza Taqi Khan(Mirza Taghi Khan Farahani, also known as Amir Kabir, served as the chief minister to Naser al-Din Shah from 1848 to 1851.) the Prime Minister that the  Babis in Tehran meditated a rising. Thirty-eight persons suspected of belonging to the obnoxious sect were therefore arrested and cast into prison. After a few days it was decided that all of these who would consent to renounce or repudiate their connection with the Bab and his doctrines should be released, but that those who refused to do so should suffer death.

Accordingly of the thirty-eight prisoners seven determined to adopt the more courageous course, while the others for various reasons were not prepared to forfeit their lives, and decided to recant. The latter were therefore released; the former were led out to die.
In spite of the widespread sympathy felt for the sufferers there were not lacking wretches to deride and mock them as they were led forth to the place of execution. Some of these threw stones at them; others confined themselves to abuse and raillery.
When the executioners had completed their bloody work, the rabble onlookers, awed for a while by the patient courage of the martyrs, again allowed their ferocious fanaticism to break out in insults to the mortal remains of those whose spirits had now  passed beyond the power of their malice. They cast stones and filth at the motionless corpses… Nor would they suffer their bodies to be interred in a burial-ground, but cast them into a pit outside the Gate of Shah ‘Abdu’l-‘Azim,( One of the entrances to the old city of Tehran) which they then filled up.

53. From Lady Sheil’s book, Glimpses of Life and Manners in Persia.
54. A mujtahid is a Muslim legal scholar with the authority to interpret Islamic law.

After detailing the occurrences briefly set forth above, the Babi historian proceeds to point out the special value and unique character of the testimony given by the “Seven Martyrs.” They were men representing all the more important classes in Persia— divines, dervishes, merchants, shop-keepers, and government officials; they were men who had enjoyed the respect and consideration of all; they died fearlessly, willingly, almost eagerly, declining to purchase life by that mere lip-denial, which, under the name of kitman or taqiyya, is recognized by the Shi’ites as a perfectly justifiable subterfuge in case of peril;… and they sealed their faith with their blood in the public square of the Persian capital wherein is the abode of the foreign ambassadors accredited to the court of the Shah. And herein the Babi historian is right: even those who speak severely of the Babi movement generally, characterizing it as a communism destructive of all order and all morality, express commiseration for these guiltless victims.

Fatimah Baraghani, Called Tahirih or Qurratu’l-‘Ayn
The disciples of the Bab included many spiritual leaders of whom historians have spoken with great reverence. Among them was a great soul, a wonderful woman who discarded the veil  and preached the new message to the masses. She was called Qurratu’l-Ayn [“Solace of the Eyes”], and Tahirih 55 (meaning “Pure”). A daughter of a theologian and well-informed student, she served the cause of the Bab with great vigor and enthusiasm.

55. Tahirih is best known for her radical act of removing her veil at a Babi religious conference, defying the strict interpretation of Islamic traditions of modesty which required women to cover their faces in front of men outside their family. The Bab supported Fatimah Baraghani’s courageous action, which resulted in her arrest, and he gave her the new name Tahirih to affirm her purity. The Arabic word tahira means “pure one (female).” The alternative spelling Tahireh is closest to the preferred pronunciation among Baha’is (TAH- her-ay), which reflects a Persian dialect.

Of this noble soul an English author writes:
The appearance of such a woman as Qurratu’l-Ayn is in any country and any age a rare phenomenon, but in such a country as Persia it is prodigy—nay, almost a miracle. Alike in virtue of her marvelous beauty, her rare intellectual gifts, her fervid eloquence, her fearless devotion, and her glorious martyrdom, she stands forth incomparable and immortal amidst her countrywomen. Had the Babi religion no other claim to greatness, this were sufficient – that it produced a heroine like Qurratu’l-‘Ayn. 56

56. Edward G. Browne, A Traveller’s Narrative: Written to Illustrate the Episode of the Bab, Volume II. English Translation and Notes (Cambridge: University Press, 1891), p. 309.

This venerable lady was a poet also. The same author attributes the following verses to her:
The effulgence of thy face flashed forth and the rays of thy-visage arose on high;
Why lags the word “Am I not your Lord?’ “Yea, that thou art” let us make reply.
“Am I not’s” appeal from thy drum to greet what “Yeas” do the drums of devotion beat;
At the gate of my heart I behold the feet and the tents of the host of calamity.
That fair moon’s love for me, I trow, is enough, for he laughed at the hail of woe,
And exulting cried as he sank below, “The Martyr of Karbala am I.”
When he heard my death-wail drear, for me he prepared, and arranged my gear for me,
He advanced to lament at my bier for me, and o’er me wept right bitterly.
What harm if thou with the fire of amaze should’st set my Sinai- heart ablaze
Which thou first mad’st fast in a hundred ways but to shake and shatter so ruthlessly?
To convene the guests to his feast of love all night from the angel-host above
Peals forth this summons ineffable “Hail, sorrow-stricken com-munity!”
Can a scale of the fish of amaze like thee aspire to sing of Being’s Sea?
Sit still like Tahirih, hearkening to what the monster of “No” doth cry.

Qurratu’l-Ayn, like many of the Bab’s disciples, was executed in Tehran in the year 1852 A.D. The account of her execution varies but the most authentic is thus: After extreme tortures she was cast alive into a dry well which was filled with stones. Dr. Jakob Eduard Polak of Vienna, Austria, formerly physician to the Shah and professor at the Medical College of Tehran, happened to be an eyewitness to the execution. He writes of the horrible cruelties perpetrated on the Babis, their extraordinary fortitude, the tortures inflicted on the beautiful Qurratu’l-Ayn, and the superhuman courage wherewith she endured her lingering death.

57. These observations are recorded in Dr. Polak’s 1865 book, Persien. Das Land und seine Bewohner.

Mirza Yahya Nuri, Called Subh-i-Azal

Mirza Yahya Subh-i-Azal 58  was born in 1828 A.D.59 He was appointed by His Holiness the Bab to be his successor, but when Baha’u’llah proclaimed himself the one “Whom God Shall Make Manifest,” Mirza Yahya denied him, and therefore he lost the respect and support of the majority of the Babis.

In the summer of 1868 he was banished by the Turkish government to Famagusta, Cyprus. After the British occupation of that island in 1878 he was set free, but he preferred to remain there with the members of his household. He kept in seclusion and rarely made public appearances.

58. A younger half-brother of Baha’u’llah, who also made prophetic claims. His followers called him by the title Subh-i-Azal, which means “Morning of Eternity”.
59. According to most sources he was actually born in 1831.

He passed unto Eternity on April 29,1912 at Famagusta, Cyprus.


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