This year July 10th marks the 165th anniversary of the Martyrdom of the Báb– the first of the twin Prophet figures of the Bahá’í Faith. For the Bahá’í community the Martyrdom of the Báb is a holy day commemorated annually by Bahá’ís across Canada, and the world over.
The title the “Báb” translates literally from Arabic to the “Gate” – a symbol denoting the means through which humankind comes into relation with the Divine, and humankind’s entry into a new era of spiritual, social, moral, and scientific enlightenment. The Báb, whose given name was “Siyyid-Ali Muhammad” was born in 1819 in the City of Shiraz, Iran. Raised by His maternal uncle, the Báb was a merchant of textiles. As a child the Báb was distinguished among His peers for the acuity of His mind, the temperance of His character, and His outstanding piety and devotion.
In 1844, at the age of twenty-five the Báb made an astounding and profound proclamation: He was the promised “Mahdi” or “Qa’im” – an expected messianic figure who would usher in a new era as the harbinger of an imminent and new Revelation. His stated purpose was to prepare the ground for a Figure of immense significance – a personage to which His Writings refer as “Him whom God shall make Manifest”. This expected figure would fulfill the eschatological promises of all religious traditions of the past, and bring a Revelation which would transform and renew civilization. To this end, the Báb ushered in a conceptual and spiritual revolution and renewal intended for all dimensions of religious discourse. He rejected many of the former modes of interpreting religious scripture, articulating a new, complex, and powerful means of discerning meaning and spiritual truth in the religious traditions of the past as well as the philosophical modes of discourse in which religious and scientific truth found expression. Among the attitudes He inculcated in His followers were humility, an avoidance of dogmatism, superstition, and fanaticism, and an undying devotion to spiritual truth.
Thousands from all classes of society – men, women, scholars, clerics, statesmen, poets, artisans, and farmers – enthusiastically accepted the proclamation of the Báb. His influence spread rapidly, and within a short period of time thousands upon thousands became the followers of the Báb. A number of Iran’s statesmen and eminent religious clerics saw the Báb’s heterodox claim to be irredeemably apostatic and heretical, posing a significant threat to their already waning political and religious power and legitimacy. Thousands of Bábís (followers of the Báb), refusing to recant their allegiance and devotion to the Báb, were violently tortured and executed. The Báb Himself was placed under house arrest for a time, then imprisoned, and finally martyred at the age of thirty-one by a firing squad of 750 soldiers at a barracks square in the city of Tabriz in northern Iran.
The remains of the Báb were placed in a ditch outside of the city. A few trusted Bábís managed to recover the remains at night. The remains were transported from place to place for some sixty years, finally entombed and enshrined on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel. In 1863 the community of the Bábís turned to Bahá’u’lláh as the promised figure to whom the Báb had referred.
The Báb was a personage of infinite significance to those who were convinced by His claim and message, as well as for some of those who encountered His person but chose not to accept His claim to Prophethood. To the Bahá’ís His life merits study, remembrance, reflection, and prayerful contemplation. The Bahá’ís regard the Báb as a Manifestation of God – an iteration of the Divine Will, made manifest at various crucial junctures in history, intended to guide humankind towards a recognition of its noble, inner spiritual nature, and to impel civilization onwards towards a state of greater justice, peace, beauty, and perfection. However, the Báb may also be understood as a figure who, fearless, stood against oppression, superstition, dogmatism, fanaticism, and tyranny – fetters of humankind’s childhood to be overcome in its universal process of maturation. The Báb stands as a powerful voice in humankind’s continued struggle to free itself of such barriers to progress.
The Government of Iran today continues to repress those that have accepted the teachings of the Báb and of Bahá’u’lláh. The means of such persecution have changed, becoming more subtle and insidious. The Bahá’ís in Iran are now subject to repression through the denial of their rights to higher education, their rights to practice their professions, the right to prosper, and the right to contribute to the social and economic well-being of the state. A recent policy inflicted by Iran’s state authorities has led to the closure of Bahá’í-owned shops in the cities of Rafsanjan, Kerman, Sari and Hamadan – shops that merely supplied automobile parts, household appliances, and clothing. It is a practice of Bahá’ís to close their business, and refrain from the work of their profession during a holy day. It is an unjust irony that this latest effort by Iranian authorities to attack the Baha’i community comes at a time so close to the anniversary of the Martyrdom of the Báb – Himself a merchant of textiles.