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The Bab - Life and Writings

Excerpt from a Calligraphic exercise by the Bab

A brief account of the Life and Writings of Sayyid `Alī Muhammad Shirazi, the Bāb (1819-1852 CE). 

Stephen Lambden 1982 (rev. 2006)

Being revised, corrected and updated 2019.

The following pages will attempt to introduce the life and Arabic and Persian writings of Sayyid `Alī Muhammad Shirazi who came to be known as the Bāb. He was born a Sayyid or descendent of the Prophet Muhammad (through the 3rd twelver Imam Ḥusayn, d. 61/ 680) on the 1st Muḥarram 1235 AH or October 20th 1819. This within a Shī`ī Muslim mercantile family resident in Shiraz (Fars) Persia (modern day Iran). His father Siyyid Muhammad Riḍā (c.1778?‑ c.1820/1826/7?) was a merchant in the Shiraz Bazar (K. Fihiist 6006C: 339‑40) and his mother  was named Fāṭimah Bāgūm (c.1800–1881) from a merchant family. When his father passed away, the youthful Bāb (then perhaps 5‑6 years old?) was reared and supervised by his maternal uncle Ḥājjī Mīrzā Siyyid `Alī, later known as the (Per.) Khāl‑i A`ẓam (greatest uncle) who died a Bābī martyr in Tehran in 1850.

 The elementary schooling of the Bab began around 1826 CE under the tutelage of the Shaykhī teacher Shaykh `Ābid (d. c.1846?). This in a school situated in the Bazar‑i murgh  (`poultry market') quarter of Shīrāz. Here he was doubtless instructed in rudimentary basics; special attention being payed to calligraphic excellence and the (`parrot‑fashion') recitation of the Arabic Qur'ān (cf. Wills, 1883:337ff; Banani, 1961:85f). In various later writings the Bab claimed, like the Prophet Muhammad, to be al‑ummī  ("unlettered" Q. 7:157f) though one possessed of innate divine knowledge or subject to waḥy  (divine inspiration). The Bāb's education never formally went beyond 5‑6 years of basic instruction so as to embrace such higher studies as Qur'ān commentary, law, logic, philosophy and `irfan, gnosis, etc which demanded a mastery of Arabic and were the pursuit of those destined for religious office. His writings, however, obviously presuppose that he made an independent study of such subjects being particularly interested in tafsīr  (Qur’an commentary ) and fiqh (`jurisprudence’) as well as dimensions of Sufi related irfān (esoterica) including jafr  (gematria related gnosis) or numerological prognosis.

 The Bab  initially claimed  (as this his title indicates)  on May 22nd 1844 (1260 AH) to be a personified Bāb,  a human "Gate" or spiritual "Gateway"  to the messianic hidden 12th Imam. The "hidden Imam" was traditionally believed to be  located in the celestial realm and to be a  channel for communication with God. In claiming to be the Bab he was claiming a special knowledge of the end-time Will of God  and of inner dimensions of  eschatological truth.  He subsequently claimed to inaugurate a new  era as a  Divine Theophany or Manifestation of God (maẓhar-i īlāhī). For this he was executed for heresy by Iranian Shi`i clerics on July 9th 1850  in the  seventh year of his new Badi` calendar (BE) or the sixth Gregorian year of his religious mission (1844-1850 CE).

 Various stories about the school days of the Bāb exist in Bābī‑Bahā'ī literature which underline his alleged supernatural knowledge and extraordinary piety. They are, however, of limited historical value, being largely hagiographic reworkings of time‑honoured motifs and legends designed to highlight the miraculous youth of prophets, imams saints and heroes. They add  little to the extremely meagre facts that may be gleaned from extant sources about the earliest years of the Bāb (cf. Amanat 1989:108f).

The Bab came from a family of urban middle‑class merchants. On occasion he referred to himself as a merchant (tujjar).  After several years of basic schooling he entered the family business when he was about 15 (c. l834). Despite his marked individualism and devotional preoccupations, his subsequent mercantile activities, in partnership with his uncles and as a commercial agent, were quite successful. Initially engaging in trade in Shīrāz the Bāb soon left his birthplace for Bushire, an important commercial port and trade centre on the Persian Gulf. Here he resided for 5‑6 years (from c.1250‑ 1256/ l835‑1841).

 Very little is known of the Bab's dealings and contacts during this period in Bushire.  When about 20 years of age (around 1840) the Bāb assumed direct responsibility for the family business in Bushire and began to establish his own independent trade ([Mu`in al‑Salṭāna] Balyuzi, 1973: 41). This was perhaps motivated by a desire on his part to extricate himself from the family business in favour of deedication to the devotional life and the pursuit of ḥikmat‑i ilāhiyya (`religio‑metaphysical gnosis'). Such is certainly suggested by the fact that during his stay in Bushire he had been extraordinarily zealous in his religious devotions and had engaged in the composition of Sufi influenced religious treatises. fn.  Several sources have it that the Bāb engaged in the composition of religious treatises during his time in Bushire. Nicolas, for example, records in his Seyyèd Ali Mohammed dit le Bāb,  that it was at this time that he  wrote a work entitled Risāla‑yi Fiqhiyya  (`Treatise on Jurisprudence’) (1905:189‑90). Like the great mujtahids of the Shi`i universe, he certainly gave the study of fiqh  (jurisprudence) a great importance in his post 1260/1844 writings. Few of the Bāb's early writings appear, however,  extant. Shortly after he had achieved some independence in Bushire he, contrary to the desire of his uncles and at the expense of his mercantile career, set out for the `atabāt  (Shī`īte shrine cities) in Iraq. This, according to Mīrzā Abu al‑Faḍl Gulpāyigānī, early in 1257/1841 (Tarikh, ADD, noted by Balyuzi, 1973:41).

 The Bāb himself has stated that he sojourned in the arḍ al‑muqaddas ("holy land")  the `atabāt   of Ottoman Iraq for one year, perhaps from early 1257/1841/2 until early 1258/1852?  (refer, the Bāb, untitled biographically oriented prayer cited  SWB:128/trans.181). The sources variously mention a period of the sojurn in Iraq ranging from 3 months to 2 years. Gulpayganī mentions a 7 month period (spring until autumn 1841) most probably on the basis of statements made by Siyyid Jawād Karbalā'ī (d. Kirmān c.1883) who was in Karbala at the same time as the Bāb and who was requested by the latter's family to induce him to return to Shīrāz (cf. Balyuzi, 1973:41). Muslim sources tend to lengthen the time of the Bāb's stay in Karbalā with a view to underlining the derivative nature of his message since it was here that he associated with leading Shaykhīs (see above). Bābī‑ Bahā'ī sources on the other hand, tend, for the opposite reason, to shorten the length of the Bāb's sojourn in Karbalā (cf. Bayat, 1982:88). The Bāb was certainly back in Shīrāz sometime before August 1842 when he was married.

 In Iraq the Bab attended some of the lectures of the second Shaykhī leader Siyyid Kāẓim Rashtī (d. Baghdad 1843) who in Bahā’ī sources is said to have treated him with great respect (Dawnbreakers:19ff). The often esoteric, imamological, prophetological and eschatological teachings of the Shaykhī leader markedly influenced the youthful Bāb who also during the time at the `atabāt   forged important  links with such  leading  Shaykhīs as Mullā Ḥusayn Bushrū'ī who later became `the first believer' (awwāl man āmana  in Bābīsm). At this time the Bāb  appears to have been regarded as a pious and somewhat mysterious youth whose ethereal charm was not easily forgotten. 1 The relatively short duration of the Bāb's stay in Karbalā and the nature of his education and background indicate that he did not become anything like a fully initiated Shaykhī. Early Shaykhī teaching, however, contributed markedly to the subsequent formulation of his claims and ideas (see 1.7). Both before and after he made his claims known in 1260/1844 the Bāb had the greatest respect for Shaykh Aḥmad and Siyyid Kāzim ‑‑ towards the end of his early Risāla fī'l‑sulūk  (c. 1260; early 1844?), the Bāb referred to Sayyid Kāẓim as "my lord (sayyidī), my support (mu`ammadī)  and my teacher (mu`allimī)" (R. Sulūk TBA 6006C:74). Non‑mainstream Shī`ī  and Shaykhī Islāmic streams of thought that might have influenced the Bāb have yet to be investigated in any detail. It is certainly the case that the Bāb's developed doctrine is far from being merely neo‑Shaykhī.           

If the Bāb had not made these important connections with leading Shaykhīs and come to be viewed in Iraqi Shaykhī circles with respect it would seem unlikely that Mullā Ḥusayn and his companions would have sought him out in Shīrāz in 1260/1844 -- whilst en route to visit Karīm Khān Kirmanī in Kirmān? -- and come to accept his early claims (cf. MacEoin, 1982:14).

 Whilst the Bāb was associating with Shaykhīs in Iraq his mother and uncles were most anxious that he return to Shīrāz. Ḥajjī Mīrzā Siyyid `Alī travelled to Iraq and only succeeded after repeated pleading in inducing him to return to his birthplace. His deep religiosity, stimulated by the Iraqi Shaykhīs, evidently made him reluctant to return to the scene of his mundane mercantile activities or be fettered by transient family commitments. Indeed, shortly after his return to Shīrāz (1258‑9/ early‑mid. 1842?) he planned to go back to Iraq. This plan was, it seems, only frustrated by the arrangement on the part of the Bāb's mother and her brother, of his marriage to Khadī ja Khānum (d.1299‑1300/1882) the daughter of a paternal cousin of the Bāb's mother. The marriage took place in 1258/August l842. From this union a son, Aḥmad, was born in 1259/1843 though the child was either still‑born or died in infancy (Ḥabīb‑Allāh Afnān, Tārīkh  [Balyuzi, 1973:45]).

 After his marriage the Bāb hardly engaged in mercantile activities, having no definite occupation and spending much time in religious devotions in the upper chamber of his house in Shīrāz (Balyuzi, 1981:9f). He came to view bazaar merchants as `those who hesitate on the Path' and who are inferior to "a Jewish dog" (Risāla fī'l‑sulūk).  He doubtless studied and wrote much as the following recollection of his wife indicates:

As was customary among merchants, He, the Bāb would ask in the evenings for his business papers and account books. But I noticed that they were not business papers. Sometimes I used to ask him what the papers were. He once said,`It is the Book of the accounts of all the peoples of the world.' Should any visitor arrive, He would spread a handkerchief over the papers... (From the recollections of Khadīja Bāgūm as narrated by Munīra Khānum and recorded in Fayḍī's Khāndān‑i Afnān, 170 trans. Taherzadeh, RB.II:3 5‑6).   

Such secreted and closely guarded papers probably included the Bāb's own early writings ‑‑ his incomplete Tafsīr ṣūrat al‑baqara  (`Commentary on the sūra of the Cow' Q. Sūra 2) was begun in the latter months of 1843 (MacEoin,1992:46‑7; Lawson, 1987:00).

 Between the time of his marriage and the semi‑secret announcement of his claims (late 1843 early 1844) the Bāb had a number of spiritual dreams, visionary experiences similar to those claimed by Shaykh Aḥmad and Siyyid Kāẓim who believed themselves to be the recipients of special guidance from the Twelver Imāms. On one occasion, according to his own testimony in the Sahifa-yi `adliyya, the Bāb visioned the severed head of Imām Ḥusayn (martyred in 61/680 CE) hanging on a tree. After drinking from its blood, he found his soul regenerated and became cognisant of the divine mysteries (see Zarandi, DB:177; cf. Veccia Vaglieri, `Ḥusayn..’EI2 III:612‑3).


1  See Lambden, 1986b where it is argued that the Bābī‑ Bahā'ī accounts of the Bāb's first day at school are rooted in Christian apocryphal elaborations of the alpha‑beta logion as indirectly transmitted and elaborated in Islāmic literatures.


 For the edification of his first disciples and in proof of his claims, the Bāb wrote a lengthy commentary on the Qur'ānic sūrat Yūsuf (Q.12). This Arabic work, completed in the summer of 1844 and best known as the Qayyūm al‑asmā' (= QA lit. `Self‑Subsustence of the [divine] Names’)  formed the main basis of the earliest Bābī preaching. It came to be known (not without justification) as the `Bābī Qur'ān' ‑‑  being, in large measure, a kind of rearranged, rewritten semi‑expository Qur'ān at times focussing on an  esoteric‑qabbalistic, imamological, quasi‑messianic exposition of the twelfth sūra of the Q.  It purports to be a revelation "sent down" from the hidden Imām upon his servant the Bāb. Therein its author refers to himself as one who is at once in communication or identical with the dhikr Allāh ("remembrance of God", hidden, messianic imām ) and  khātim al‑abwāb (`seal of the gates’ cf. the `four gates’ of the lesser occultation) and one who (among other things) may be moved to utter the Sinaitic declaration of divinity ("Verily, I am God, no God is there besides me", see QA I. III. XXII, etc., see Lawson, 1988, Lambden 1988a).1

            Having, by August 1844,  it seems,  completed his Qayyūm al‑asmā'  and attracted to himself a number of zealous disciples, the Bāb instructed several of them to travel to various parts of Iran and Iraq and to make known, albeit in a guarded and cautious manner, something of the nature and implications of his claims. Mullā Ḥusayn and other Shaykhī converts became active Bābī missionaries and succeeded in attracting, in a remarkably short space of time, large numbers of Shaykhīs and others to the emergent Bābī movement (see Zarandī, DB:67ff; Balyuzi, 1973:67ff; Amanat, 1989:211ff; Momen, 1982) 

            Accompanied, among others, by his youthful early disciple Muhammad `Alī entitled Quddūs (`the Most Sanctified’), the Bāb himself left Shīrāz on Sept. 9th 1844 (26th Sha`bān 1260) on a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. Here he intended, in accordance with Islamic eschatological expectations, to directly or indirectly make something of his claims known or to (more likely) announce the imminent advent of the messianic Qā'im ‑‑ who, according to certain  ḥadīth  resided (at times) incognito in Mecca.2 He promised his followers that after his pilgrimage he would meet them in Karbalā where preparations should be made for the advent of the Qā'im (Māzandarānī, ZH. 3:325; MacEoin, 1982:23f).The Bāb did subsequently travel to Karbalā after his pilgrimage but informed the Bābīs that he, in accordance with a divine wisdom, had altered his plans. This caused a number of his devotees to turn away from him (cf. Qaṭīl ibn al‑Karbala'ī, Risāla in ZH 3:503f). While it seems probable that the Bāb considered himself the Qā'im at this time, subsequent events prevented him from explicitly claiming this until his imprisonment in Ādhirbayjān (1848>).

 During the course of his pilgrimage the Bāb wrote several important works and a large number of epistles, several of which are listed in his Kitāb al‑fihrist. 1 Foremost among the writings of this period is the Ṣaḥīfa bayn al‑ḥaramayn (`Epistle between the two Shrines’; Muḥarram 1261/ mid‑January 1845) which was in part composed in reply to questions posed by Mīrzā Muhammad Ḥusayn, Muḥīṭ‑ i Kirmānī (a prominent Shaykhī) ‑‑ to whom the Bāb had announced  certain claims near theḥajar al‑aswad   (black stone)  in the Ka`ba on the 15th of  Dhu'l‑Ḥijja 1260 (December 25th 1844).2  In this work the Bāb refers to himself as the dhikr Allāh (remembrance of God) and the fatā al‑`arabī (Arabian youth) as well as the  kalimat al‑`amā'ayn (`doubly beclouded Word’) and "the khaṭṭ al‑qā'im (`upright trace’) between the worlds subject at all times to inspiration from the spirit" (al‑rūḥ) (Ḥaramayn, F7 (9):fol6f). Apart from discussions of such subjects as the paths of the stars and the science of talismans the Ṣāḥifa bayn al‑ḥaramayn  contains a fair amount of material illustrative of the Bā b's marked interest in `ilm al‑fiqh (`jurisprudence’). Throughout his ministry the Bāb set forth in great detail sometimes novel regulations to be observed by the (ultra‑) pious adherent of what, by 1848 had evolved into the revolutionary new Bābī shari`a.

            It was on May 15th 1845 (8th Jumadī 1 1261) that the Bāb, having performed the pilgrimage and written a considerable amount, arrived back in Bushire (Khuṭba al‑Jidda  INBAMC 91:60f). He sent Quddūs (his fellow pilgrim and disciple) ahead to Shīrāz with a copy of his recently composed Khasā`il‑i sab`a.  In accordance with one of its daring precepts Mullā Sādiq Khurasānī (a leading Bābī) publicly uttered the new Bābī addition to the Shī`ī adhān  (Call ro prayer) formula. It apparently stated, "I bear witness that `Alī before Nabīl [= `Alī Muhammad = the Bāb] is the servant (`abd)  of the baqiyyat Allāh ("the Remnant of God", occulted the 12th Imām)" ‑‑ in the `new mosque ’  in Shīrāz (see Ishrāq Khāvarī, Muḥarḍirāt  :785; Zarandī, DB:100f; MacEoin, 1992:61f). Partly as a result of the tumult caused by this innovatory act and the presence in Shīrāz of a growing band of inquisitive Shaykhīs and zealous Bābī missionaries, Mīrzā Ḥusayn Khān the governor of Fars punished and expelled several leading Bābīs (including Quddūs and Mullā S ādiq). The Bāb was arrested whilst en route to Shīrāz (from Būshire) in early July 1845 (Zarandī, ibid). 

 When, under official escort, the Bāb himself arrived back in Shīrāz ‑‑ having been absent from the scene of his earliest claims for practically 10 months ‑‑ he was interrogated by Ḥusayn Khān, rebuked by leading Shī'ī divines, and placed under house arrest. He was subsequently compelled, in an attempt to calm the fanatical orthodoxy of sections of the Shīrāzī population, to address a Friday gathering at the Vakīl mosque in Shīrāz. As was desired, he diffused tensions by outwardly affirming his strict Shī'ī orthodoxy and denying his claim to be the representative (nā'ib) or gate (bāb) of the hidden Imām. Certain fanatical divines however, remained (understandably in the light of the Bāb's writings) unconvinced of the Bāb's orthodoxy and unsuccessfully pressed for his execution. 1

 Despite the Bāb's house arrest and apparently thoroughgoing recantation of his claims the Bābī community continued to grow very rapidly. Knowledge of the young Siyyid's writings, claims and identity had, by mid‑1845, already become a matter of considerable excitement and concern in various parts of Iran and Iraq.During, it seems, most of the period of his confinement in Shīrāz (July 1845 ‑ September 1846), the Bāb continued to write important works and to correspond with his increasingly far‑flung and rapidly growing band of enthusiastic supporters. In particular he continued, often in an abstruse style, and utilizing an  inner sometimes qabbalistic type hermeneutic, to comment on Qur'ānic sūras and verses and on a number of Shī'ī traditionsstatements attributed to the Twelver Imams.  One of the commentaries on Qur'ānic sūras dating from this period, the Tafsīr ṣūrat al‑kawthar (commentary on Q. 108) was written for Siyyid Yaḥyā Dārābī who had journeyed to Shīrāz in order to investigate the Bāb's claims on behalf of the reigning sovereign Muhammad Shāh (r. 1834‑1848). 3 Some sources have it that Siyyid Yaḥyā was won over to the Bābī cause as a result of the Bāb's astonishingly rapid dictation of this commentary (Zarandī, DB:123ff).1 During this period that Bāb also continued to write such treatises as the Risāla furū` al‑`adliyya (early‑mid 1846/ early‑mid 1262) containing detailed ritualistic regulations (MacEoin 1992:70f).

  Perhaps in view‑of the turmoil attendant upon his return to Shīrāz after his pilgrimage and the ensuing attacks on his claims and writings, it appears to have been the case that the Bāb, throughout the Shīrāz period, attempted to underline the orthodoxy of his message ‑‑though without ultimately abandoning his claim to be `the servant' of the expected hidden twelfth Imām. His followers, for the most part devout and liberal minded Shaykhīs, did not conceive and were not called upon to view the movement with which they identified as anything but a religious school firmly within the bounds of Shī`ī‑Shaykhī orthodoxy. In the first major Persian work of the Bāb, the Ṣaḥī fa‑yi `adliyya  (`Treatise on Justice’ late Shīrāz period?) the Bāb explicitly states that his verses are wholly inferior to Qur'ānic revelation and the words of the Imāms and that the sharī`a legal system "shall not be abrogated." (Ṣaḥīfa‑yi `adliyya) Though he represents the enemies of Shaykh Aḥmad and Siyyid Kāzim as unbelievers he yet condemns belief in a  spiritual interpretation of the  mi`rāj  (`night journey’ [of the prophet Muhammad]) and resurrection of the dead.2  In such manner, during this period, did the Bāb attempt to underline his own orthodoxy and, to the same end, that of the teachings of the first two Shaykhi leaders.3

 Towards the end of his confinement in Shīrāz, the Bāb bequeathed his property to his wife and mother, took up residence in the house of Ḥājjī Mīrzā Siyyid `Alī (his uncle) and sent a number of his disciples to Isfāhān. The Bābīs in Shīrāz had been the object of increasing harassment and it appears to have been the intention of Mīrzā Ḥusayn Khān (on the orders of Ḥājjī Mīrzā Āqasī) to secretly have the Bāb executed. In late September 1846, however, a cholera epidemic swept Shīrāz and Mīrzā usayn Khān fled the city. In the absence of the Governor, the chief constable `Abd al‑amīd Khān detained the Bāb in his own house. Here he is said to have cured the latter's sons then sick with cholera. The grateful father subsequently induced Mīrzā usayn Khān to allow him to release the Bāb from house arrest. This though was on condition that the Bāb quit Shīrāz. Thus was precipitated the Bāb's six month sojurn in Isfāhān (Sept 1846 ‑> March 1847).

 The Bāb spent most of the Isfāhān period as the semi‑secret guest of the governor Manūchihr Kh ān (d. 1262/1847), Mu`tamad al‑Dawla (`Chancellor of the Empire), a Georgian eunuch who had outwardly embraced Islām. A somewhat tyrannical though excellent administrator and faithful servant of Muhammad Shāh, Manūchihr Khān had, for reasons that are not clear, responded favourably to a letter from the Bāb requesting asylum (Zarandī, DB:144f; Balyuzi, 1973:l09f; Mangol Bayat, 1982:95). For the first 40 days or  so of his residence in Isfāhān the Bāb was accommodated in the house of Mīrzā Siyyid Muhammad Sulṭān al‑`Ulam ā', the Imām Jum`a of the city. It was at his first host's request that he wrote, in just half a day a one hundred or so page Tafsīr ṣūrat wa'l‑`aṣr  (Commentary on the sūra of `By the Afternoon!' = Q.103; see INBMC 69:21‑119). About one third of this work, which is again expressive of the  Bāb's continuing role as Qur'ānic commentator, consists of an exposition of the 73 letters which are contained in this aforementioned sūra.

            Manūchihr Khān himself visited the Bāb at the house of the Imām Jum`a and asked him to write a treatise on the nubuwwa khāṣṣa (Specific prophethood) of Muhammad.2  In  compliance with this request the Bāb allegedly within two hours wrote this  fifty or so page Arabic According to Zarandī it led the Governor to make a sincere confession of his faith in Islam (Zarandī,DB:145ff). Within it is an acrostic type explanations of the names of Adam and Muhammad as well as qabbalistically informed speculations oriented around the chronology of the latter's mission, the Bāb identifies the mashīya  (Divine will’) as the bearer of the nubuwwa  khāṣṣa  in the being or body of the prophet Muhammad (see INBMC 14:321‑333b). Such demonstrations of inspired bābiyya ("gatehood") and the increasin g number of devotees which the Bāb had managed to attract to or gain in Isfāhān, served to arouse the opposition of a number of leading Isfāhānī `ulamā'. Once again the young Siyyid was condemned to death. The Imām Jum`a however, despite an increased openness on the part of the Bāb in asserting his claims, refused to view the Bāb as anything but an extraordinarily pious though somewhat unbalanced adherant of the Shī'ī creed.

 Though it was eventually decided that the Bāb should be expelled from Isfāhān and conducted to Tehran ‑‑ where grave concern about his influence had been expressed in official circles ‑‑ Manūchihr Khān gave secret orders that this journey to the capital be cut short and the Bāb be secretly condcuted to his private residence in Isfāhān. Such, according to Bahā'ī sources, was the devotion of Manūchihr Khān to the Bāb, that he offered him his considerable fortune and the resources of his army. The motivation behind this support was doubtless related to the Governor's political ambitions, which may have been fueled by his sharing of the Bā b's own vision of a new religio‑political order in Iran the like of which he subsequently outlined in his Persian Bayān. Whatever the case nothing concrete came of Manūchihr Khān's patronage of the Bāb for this powerful governor of Fārs died in the month of Rabi` al‑Awwal 1263 (21st Feb 1847). The properties he had bequeathed to the Bāb were appropriated by Gurgīn Khān the nephew of Manūchichr Khān and his successor  who hastened to inform Muhammad Shāh of the Bāb's whereabouts. 

 Having become aware of the Bāb's place of residence, Muhammad Shāh instructed Gurgīn Khān to have him escorted to Tehran. The king was apparently most desirous of meeting the one whose charismatic charms had exercised such a remarkable influence over the late Governor of Fā rs. Ḥājjī Mīrzā Āqāsī however, his haughty and hypnotic prime‑minister, anxious of the possible consequences of such a meeting, made sure that it never took place. After passing through Kāshān and Qum (en route to Tehran) the Bāb was detained for 20 days at Kulayn (a village about 20 miles from Tehran) until orders were received from ājjī Mīrzā Āqāsī instructing a group of Nuṣayrī horsemen to take him to prison in Mākū, a remote town in Ādhirbayjān near the Russian border. Here the Bāb remained, having passed through and caused considerable excitement in (among other places) Mīlān and Tabrīz (where he was detained for 40 days) for about 9 months,  from late summer (July/August?) 1847 until early April 1848.

 The imprisonment of the Bāb in Mākū neither succeeded in isolating him from his followers nor induced him to abandon his claims. It was during the period spent at Mākū that the Bāb wrote several important works and large numbers of epistles. Here he explicitly claimed to be the expected Qā'im, initially in early l848 in a letter to Mullā Shaykh Alī Turshīzī `Aẓīm (cited ZH III:1640‑6). In the light of his more developed claims he began to systematize and reformulate his teachings. The transformation of Bāb īsm from a semi‑heterodox and generally neo‑Shaykhī movement into an ultimately militant messianic and anti‑royalist faith superseding Islām and claiming to fulfill Islāmic eschatological expectations, was initiated by the Bāb during the latter part of his imprisonment in Mākū.

 Apart from the now lost series of nine Qur'ān commentaries which the Bāb dictated to his amanuensis in Mā kū, the most important writings of this period  expressive of developed Bābi thought are the Bāb's Dalā'il‑i sab`ih  (Seven Proofs) and Bayān‑i fārsī (Persian Bayān),  both of which exist in shorter (later?) Arabic versions or recensions.

 Towards the end of his imprisonment in Mākū the Bāb estimated the number of his followers at over 100,000 (Dalā'il, 64). He had gained the devotion of `Alī Khān the prison warder at M ākū who ignored official directives pressing for his strict imprisonment. Through the many Bābīs who flocked to ādhirbayjān to meet or be near their master, numerous devotees had been gained in that Iranian province. The turmoil caused by Bābī propagandists in various parts of Iran, along with Russian concern over the Bāb's presence near the Russian border, led to his transference from Mākū. ājjī Mīrzā Āqāsī sent orders for the Bāb's strict imprisonment in Chihrīq near Urumiyya (about 00 miles south of Māh‑Kū) where he arrived in early May 1848 (Jumadī II 1264). Here the Bāb remained for the best part of the remaining two years of his life and from here, as will be indicated, he continued to write much and to gain enthusiastic followers.                                                                   

 By the time of the Bāb's transference to Chihrīq, his developed teachings and by now explicit claim to be the Qā'im, had begun to become known amongst leading and well‑educated Bābīs in various parts of Iran and Iraq. At Badasht in western Khurāsān about 6 weeks after the Bāb's arrival at Chihrīq, a gathering of eighty or so Bābls was convened at which the nature and implications of the Bāb's developed claims and teachings were brought out into the open and hotly debated (during late June (?) ‑> mid‑July 1848). Several of the `Letters of the Living'(urūf al‑ayy), including Mullā Ḥusayn, ÿāhira and Quddūs, as well as Mīrzā Ḥusayn `Alī Bahā'‑Allāh, endorsed and championed the Bāb's new theophanic claims and announced the abrogation of the Islāmic law. āhira, who was looked upon as the incarnation of Fātima and who had for some time been voicing sentiments well outside the sphere of Shī'ī‑ Shaykhī orthodoxy, in symbolic gesture removed her veil to the horror of the more conservative brethren. 

 When this new development within Bābīsm became widely realised a not inconsiderable number of Bābīs either apostasized or adopted an attitude or marked dissimulation. Others however, fired by millenial zeal, greeted it with great enthusiasm. They, in the name of their Qā'im, prepared themselves for holy war (jihād) against non‑Bābī infidels and looked foward to the establishment of a B ābī theocracy. After Badasht and with the death of Muammad Shāh on September 4th 1848 certain groups of Bābīs ‑‑ as members of an essentially millenariam movement centered in a politically and ecomomically unstable realm ‑‑ adopted a militant anti‑royalist, anti‑`ulama stance. As members of a movement no longer merely neo‑Shaykhī (either doctrinally or in terms of the totality of Bābī adherants) they, despite vigorous attempts to stamp them out, caused considerable upheaval in Iran. They preferred martyrdom in the path of their Qā'im to life in what they deemed a decadent, redundant and corrupt society. 1  

 Yaḥyā Khān, the warden of the citadel at Chihrīq in which the Bāb was ordered to be strictly confined and isolated, was unable or unwilling to enforce strict isolation. Bābīs flocked to Chihrīq (as they had to Mākū) and such nearby towns as Urumiyya and Khū y where several leading divines and officials had become Bābīs ‑‑ including Mīrzā Assad Allāh, a learned government official entitled Dayyān by the Bāb. At Chihrīq the Bāb renamed in communication with his followers and wrote many letters on a wide range of subjects. It was during the last two years of his life that he wrote his Kitāb al‑asmā'  ("Book of Names"), Kitāb‑i panj sha'n ("Book of the Five Grades") and Law‑i Haykal al‑dīn  ("Book of the Temple of Religion") to mention a few of the best known works of the Chihrīq period.

 Like several other of the Bāb's major works his Kitāb al‑Asmā' (early 1266/late 1849) is divided into 19 wāids ("unities") each containing 19  bābs  ("sections"). Though extant manuscripts are (all?) defective it is clear that this work consists in large measure of often untranslatable and etymologically and grammatically impossible permutations of the names of "all things" (kull shay'; abjad   = 361 = 19 X 19) or 361 "names of God". Despite its, to the logically minded western reader, abstruse and difficult content it appears to have been much read by the Bābīs. It was believed to contain ciphers of the names of prominent followers of the Bāb. 2  

 Also illustrative of the Bāb's marked interest in qabbalistic permutations of the names of God is his Kitāb‑i panj sha'n  (mid 1266/spring 1850). Arranged in 17 sections (at least in the incomplete? Azalī edition) each of which contain verses in each of the 5 categories (shu'un) into which the Bāb divided his writings 3 and perhaps (separately) sent to various leading Bābīs, this work contains a fair amount of interesting prophetological, alchemical and talismanic material. The 17th section of this somewhat abstruse text, apparently separately circulated and variously known as the Lawh‑i ḥurūfāt ("Tablet of the Letters"), Risāla‑yi Ja`fariya ("Ja`farī Scroll") and Kitāb dar hayākil [‑i wāidl  ("Book concerning the Temples [of Unity]) deals with the `construction of talismans on qabbalistic lines' with a view to enabling the Bābīs to recognize the Bābī messiah (man yuhiruhu'llāh)  when he appears (MacEoin 1984:XXX; 1992:XXX).               

 The Lawḥ‑i haykal al‑dīn  (1266/early‑mid 1850) is an Arabic compendium of Bābī law in 8 wāḥids ("unities"), each except the last having 19 babs (MacEoin, 1992:90‑91). Within this work are many examples of the labyrinthine and novel legalistic enactments of the Bāb, many of which are designed to `prepare the way' for the advent of man yuẓhiru-hu Allāh. In order to give some idea of the teachings and laws formulated by the Bāb during the latest period of his life the following lines summarize a few sections of the Haykal al‑dīn.

  • The age of maturity and from which marriage is permissible is eleven (I:5, 8:15).
  • That when the year 662 of the new Bābī calendar is reached contemporary men of learning will be viewed as being like 11 year olds (1:16)
  • the year consisting of 19 months each with 19 days (= 361 days, 2:3 );
  • To write the Bāb's verses in talismanic pentacles (hayākil) and circles (dawā'ir) (2:10); To write a testament (kitāb wisīya) for man yuẓhiru-hu Allāh  since one may, on the (next) "day of resurrection" come to believe in God and his signs or verses (2:13);
  • To read nothing other than the Bāb's verses (3:15); That the future Bābī king, as a manifestation of the wrath of God (maẓhar qahr Allāh)  should put all non‑Bābīs to death (4:9);
  • That children under the age of 5 should not be beaten; those over 5 may only be beaten lightly 5 times -- since the child may be man yuẓhiru-hu Allāh  (6:11);
  • To cease work when man yuẓhiruhu Allāh appears ‑‑ except that which he permits (7:5);
  • To present 19 precious stones to the first believers ("first wāḥid") in man yuẓhiruhu Allāh  (8:5b).

 It was in the light of his authorship of such teachings and the turmoil being caused by his zealous propagandists that the Bāb was twice summoned from Chihrīq to Tabrīz. In this latter place during late July ‑> early August 1848 (just two  months after his arrival at Chihrīq) and around the same time as the Bābī conference at Badasht, that the Bāb's claims were critically examined. Before the young Nāṣir al‑Dīn (r. 1848‑1896) then crown prince and governor of ādhirbayjān and several leading Shī`ī and Shaykhī divines, the young Siyyid admitted claiming to be the expected Qā'im. He was subjected to mocking ridicule. His knowledge of Arabic grammar, medicine and other branches of learning, was called into question as was the reputation he had gained for being able to perform miracles. Perhaps inasmuch as the examiners regarded their time with the Bāb as an entertaining episode not to be taken too seriously ‑‑ having failed to divine the social and political implications of Bābism represented by a seemingly harmless youth ‑‑ they merely had him bastinadoed and returned to Chihrīq. The Bāb subsequently expressed his indignation by writing a strongly worded epistle to Hajjī Mīrzā āqāsī, the so‑called Sermon of Wrath (Khuṭba‑yi qahrīya)   and adopted a more marked anti‑establishment stance.1   

 Two years after his (first) examination in Tabrīz and following the Māzandarān upheaval, the militant and subversive nature of Bābīsm having become clear, the Bāb was again summoned to that city (1266/in mid 1850) by amzih Mīrzā the Governor General of Ādharbāyjān on the orders of Mīrzā Taqī Khān, Amīr Kabīr (d. 1852 , Nāṣir al‑Dīn's new grand vizier). The latter subsequently sent orders that the Bāb should be publicly executed. Local divines did not hesitate to sign the death warrant of one whom they doubtless viewed as a politically dangerous religious heretic. Thus on July 9th 1850 the Bāb was executed in the public square in Tabrīz along with Mīrzā Muhammad `Alī Zunūzī one of his faithful disciples. Bābism however, as we shall see, survived through eventually giving birth to the Azalī Bābī and Bahā'ī movements. These latter developments stem from two Nūrī half‑brothers,  Mīrzā Yaḥyā (Subḥ‑i Azal  "The Morn of Eternity" 1830‑1914 CE.) and Mīrzā Ḥusayn `Alī  Bahā'‑Allāh ("The Splendour of God" 1817‑1892) who claimed (from  the 1860s) to be man yuẓhiru-hu Allāh, the expected Bābī messiah.




SELECT NOTES -- to be assimilated

     1 For further details see MacEoin, 1992:00; Lambden, 1995. The Qayyūm al‑asmā'  is not a commentary (tafsīr)  on the Qur'ānic sūra Yūsuf  in the classical sense of tafsīr. It should also be noted that there are passages in this work which suggest that the Bāb's claims did not straightfowardly progress from `representative of the hidden Imām ' to being the Qā'im in person' to the claim to ilāhiyya and rabbāniyya (`divinity and lordship').

     2 Habīb‑Allāh Afnān (a Bahā'ī  writer d.1951) on the authority of a certain `Abu'l‑Ḥasan (see Balyuzi, 1973:71f) records that Bāb claimed to be the Qā'im during the course of his pilgrimage.

     1 This work was written in Bushire after the Bāb had completed his pilgrimage (on June 21st 1845 = 15th Jumadi II 1261 AH). It includes a list of most of his early works up to the date of its writing (K. Fihrist  TBA. 6006C:339‑348, esp. 346‑ 7 cf. MacEoin, 1992:00).

     2  0n the Ṣaīfa bayn al‑ḥaramayn  refer, MacEoin, 1992:60‑1;  Amanat, 1989:246f. Mīrzā Muḥīṭ‑ i Kirmānī, a one time tutor to the two sons of Siyyid Kāẓim Rashtī, made an early and somewhat unsuccessful bid for the leadership of the Shaykhīs (in Karbalā ) and subsequently vacillated between his claim to personal leadership and acceptance of the claims of his nephew Karim Khān Kirmānī (Zarandī, DB:95).

      1 See for example, Zarandī, DB:107ff; Balyuzi, 1973:94ff (citing various sources), Mangol Bayat, 1982:92f. The date of the Bāb's recantation in the Vakīl mosque is not known. The whole episode invites detailed analysis.

     2 Hajjī Mīrzā Muḥammad Karīm Khān Kirmānī, who claimed leadership of the Shaykhī community soon after the passing of Siyyid Kāẓim Rashtī, as early as mid‑1845 found it necessary to compose the first of his several works designed to discredit the Bāb or expose the falsity of his claims and teachings. His Izhāq al‑Bā³il  (The Crushing of Falsehood) was completed on July 17th 1845 (12th Rajab 1261 AH) and already accuses the Bāb of such heresies as the claim to waḥy (divine revelation) and to be the author of a new holy book (the Qayyūm al‑asmā') (cf. MacEoin, 1982:3bf).

     3 Before embarking on his pilgrimage the Bāb had written to both Muhammad Shāh and his grand vizier Hājjī Mīrzā Āqāsī (c.1783‑1849). Mullā Ḥusayn had travelled to Tehran not long after his acceptance of the Bāb's claims (May 1844) where a Bābī community gradually came into being. Siyyid Yaḥyā was the son of Shaykh Ja`far‑i Kashfī (d. 1267/1850) a well known and influential Shī'ī scholar and mystic.

     1 After his conversion Siyyid Yaḥyā was sent by the Bāb to his home town Burūjird (in Luristan, Iran) in order to acquaint his father with his claims. Entitled Vaḥīd by the Bāb he subsequently travelled much as a Bābī missionary and was eventually martyred in Nayrīz in 1850.

     2 Both Shaykh Amad and Siyyid Kāẓim were accused of going beyond orthodoxy by teaching a "spiritual" resurrection and non‑bodily ascent  (mi`rāj)  of the prophet Muḥammad.

     3 Such heterodox if not heretical elements perceived by Karīm Khān in the Bāb's  Qayyūm al‑asmā' and other very early writings, may have led the Bāb, during the latter part of the Shīrāz period, to reassert his orthodoxy by modifying or toning down certain of his earlier claims and statements. In this light it is worth recalling Mīrzā Yayā's claim that the Bāb at one point (during the Shīrāz period?) ordered his followers to `wash out' their copies of the Qayyūm al‑Asmā '  (see Browne, 1889:268).

     1 Refer, Zarandī DB:40‑76. On the 73 letters which follow the basmala  see ibid 145 though what is said here about the contents of the Tafsīr sūrat al‑`a®r  is slightly misleading.

     2 On the concept of the nubuwwa khāṣṣah ("specific prophethood") as opposed to the nubuwwa `āmmah  "general prophethood" see Browne, 1924[59]:387‑8; Karīm Khān Kirmānī, al‑Kitāb al‑mubīn, 1:132ff.

     1 The Bāb's cyclic eschatology would seem to be rooted in an Ismā'lī type prophetological cyclic schema. The Sunnī‑ Shī`ī belief that at his advent of the Maḥdī‑ Qā`im will be accompanied (or followed) by that of Jesus or the Imām ḤḤusayn (d.61/680) is central as is the notion that God himself (as represented by His Messenger) will appear at the eschatological consummation.

     1 On the date and nature of the Persian Bayā n  see MacEoin, 1992: index. Planned to‑consist of 9 wāids  each with 19 bābs, the Persian Bayān was left `incomplete' in that its last w āid ("unity") lacks 9 bābs ("subsections"). It came to believed that the Bābī messiah would complete it.

     2 For a survey of the contents of the Persian Bayān and an index to it refer Browne (ed.) 1910:liv‑xcv and Momen (ed.) 1987:316‑406. cf. Wilson, 1915.

     1 The chief features and social basis of the major Bābī upheavals ‑‑ centered around the shrine of Shaykh Tabarsī in Māzandārān (during Oct.1848 ‑> May 1849) and subsequently elsewhere ‑‑ have been the subject of considerable scholarly attention which cannot be summed up here. See for example Momen, 1983.

     2 This work has not been studied in any detail but see Browne (ed), 1891 II:202, 318, 338 and MacEoin 1992. These writers are overly dismissive of this important text.

     3 In his Persian Bayān the Bāb divided his writings into the following five categories‑: l) ayāt  (=  [Arabic] "verses" in the style of the Qur'ān); 2) munājāt  ("supplications") ; 3) tafsīr ("commentaries" on Qur'ā nic texts ); 4) suwar/ kalimāt‑i `ilmīya ("learned treatises") or s", "homilies") and 5) kalimāt‑i farsīya ("Persian writings"). Refer, Persian Bayān III:17; VI:1; IX:2.

      1 For a list of some of the `numerous and conflicting accounts' of the Bāb's examination in Tabrīz refer MacEoin, 1982:41 fn.2. cf. Mangol Bayat, 1982:99‑100.