At midday on the 9th of July, Baha’is across Canada and around the world will mark the anniversary of the martyrdom of the Bab, one of the two founders of the Baha’i Faith.
The execution of the Bab by firing squad on July 9, 1850 took place in a public square in the Persian city of Tabriz. He was sentenced to death by civil and ecclesiastical authorities who believed that His influence threatened their rule. The Bab (a title meaning “the Gate”) had proclaimed that He was the Herald of a long-awaited divine revelation that would transform the spiritual life of humanity. Although His ministry was brief, the Bab had a significant impact on a society hardened by corruption and depravity.
The nineteenth century was a period of great discoveries and upheavals in human civilization. Accompanying the breakthroughs in science and technology was a widespread sense of spiritual excitement and expectation. While many Christians expected the return of Christ, Muslims anticipated that Islam’s prophesied “Lord of the Age” would appear.
In 1844, the Bab announced that He was the One foretold in the scriptures of the past. He taught that spiritual renewal and social advancement were based on love and compassion rather than on force and coercion. “Purge your hearts of worldly desires and let angelic virtues be your adorning…” were His words to His first group of disciples.
The Bab called for the spiritual and moral reformation of Persian society, elevating the status of women and championing the poor. His teachings called for the promotion of education and the study of the sciences, messages that were revolutionary in a region of the world that had resisted the introduction of modern ideas and technology. The central purpose of the Bab, however, was to prepare the people for the Messenger of God Who would succeed Him – One Who would usher in a new age. This Messenger is recognized by Baha’is as Baha’u’llah, the Promised One who announced His station in 1863.
The Bab’s teachings spread quickly throughout Persia, attracting thousands upon thousands of followers, known as Babis. As these adherents grew in number, the authorities declared them to be heretics, eventually resulting in the horrific massacres of some twenty thousand Babis, and the execution of the Bab and a loyal companion by firing squad. Despite efforts to quash the influence of the Bab, news of the Babis’ moral courage continued to spread, and was recorded by several Western scholars and diplomats.
Today, even after the passage of more than 160 years, followers of the Baha’i Faith remain heavily persecuted in the birthplace of their religion. The Iranian authorities’ denial of human rights such as access to higher education, employment, and the burial of their dead are just a few of the abuses to which Baha’is continue to be subjected today. Although international organizations and concerned governments have called for Iran to stop their mistreatment of Baha’is, the Iranian government has shown few signs of relenting.
The anniversary of the martyrdom of the Bab is one of nine Baha’i holy days that are commemorated with prayers and observed in communities all over the world.