Martyrdom of The Báb - First of the Twin Manifestations of a New Day
Gender inequality, racial injustice, unequal wealth distribution: many of these global issues we face today were alive in the 19th century, but a discussion only for the enlightened few. Now multiple social movements are underway at once. Back then, mentioning gender or racial equality might lead to loss of one’s life.
Such were the times when, in the mid-1800s, a holy figure known as The Báb [‘The Gate’] arose in Persia, inaugurating a new religious dispensation and raising the questions that would prepare humanity for the eventual coming of an even greater Manifestation of God, Bahá’u’lláh, prophet of the Baha’i Faith, whose message would spread globally. The Báb introduced revolutionary ideals, including the equality of women and unity of religions, which would influence a multitude of social uprisings worldwide for centuries to follow.
Born in 1819 in Shiraz, Persia, Siyyid Ali-Muhammad, later called The Bab, was the son of a highly-regarded family of merchants with ancestors tracing back to the Prophet Muhammad. As a child, He exhibited qualities far beyond His years, was intelligent, eloquent and pious. He began working in the family’s business, establishing peerless standards in trade negotiations, rising above petty self-aggrandisement that was the norm at the time.
But His much-greater destiny was to proclaim the revelation of God for a new age. He produced a body of revelatory Writings that were innovative at every level and took the title, ‘The Báb ’, symbolic of His purpose as a gateway to the advancement of civilisation. In public He commented fearlessly on long-standing Persian customs and corruption that ran deep in high circles, and on the need for society to progress to a state of justice, unity and maturity.
The Báb rapidly gained followers, much to the chagrin of the authorities who mostly rose against Him, resulting in His imprisonment and torture. More recent scholarly studies conclude that His adherents ultimately numbered more than 100,000.
Despite the terrifying circumstances of His ministry, The Bab completed His mission to prepare the world for the coming of a new Manifestation of God, Bahá’u’llah, the Founder of the Bahá’i Faith we know today. In order to lay that groundwork, The Báb spread a message of unity and called for the people of Persia to abandon discriminatory customs, particularly society’s attitude towards women. He inspired one of His earliest followers – the woman intellectual and poetess Tahirih – to bravely join a conference of hundreds of male followers unveiled in 1848, in order to demonstrate the profound need for women’s freedom and equality. Her courageous gesture was inconceivable at the time, and countless academics agree this was one of the earliest recorded statements on gender equality in the Middle East.
Each July, we mark the anniversary of The Báb’s eventual martyrdom when in 1850 after a tragically short ministry He was brought before a firing squad of 750 rifles by order of the Persian Prime Minister and executed.
Resting Place of The Báb in Haifa, Israel
Although His time on earth was brief, today we hear powerful echoes of The Báb ’s teachings throughout society as forward-thinking and fair-minded people espouse the principles of the oneness of mankind and of unity in diversity, many of them not realising that a young man once stood alone in this position; that at the outset of the Baha’i Faith the Bab readily relinquished His life while heroically calling out for the maturation of the human race and its guiding principles.
The difficulty in going against the social norm and speaking out against acts of wrongdoing is irrefutable. Perhaps keeping in mind the courage of The Báb in standing firm against what He believed to be dredges of the past, holding society back from progression, can inspire us to emulate His actions and work towards the unified world we all desire.