The Splendour of God, by Eric Hammond, , at sacred-texts.com
Three phases of Bahaism have to be considered.
First, that of The Bab; then that of Baha’u’llah; lastly that of Abdul Baha, usually designated Abbas Effendi, the recognised head and heart of Bahaism as it is known to-day.
The Bab: The Foreteller
(arose in Shiraz, May 1844. Executed in Tabriz, July 1850).
Sixty-four years have passed since he whom many believers rejoiced in hailing "The Bab," "The Door," began, in Persia, his singular and successful career.
As One said, ages ago, "I am The Way," so Mirza Ali Mohammed said, "I am The Door."
That One also declared that He came "not to destroy, but to fulfil." So came Mirza Ali Mohammed, not attempting in any degree to uproot the teachings and doctrines of the creator of the Koran, but to urge a complete whole-hearted performance of the Prophet's commandments.
"The Bab"—for as such he was acknowledged and will be reverently remembered—believed emphatically this: that, "in the past, whenever there was need, God raised up a Prophet on the earth, bearing a book containing a Divine Revelation; and He will do the same in the future, whenever there is need."
He believed, every whit as emphatically, that he, in his own person, was inspired by God as the Prophet for his time. That belief, that inspiration, compelled him to put implicit confidence in the continuity of God's dealings with mankind; a continuity which, always at requisite intervals, proclaims the Divine Message through prophetic lips. That Message should, practically, be one and the same, though the lips that proclaimed it might employ varying words and languages; might even, perchance, direct seekers after God to pursue apparently antagonistic methods.
The Book of The Bab was entitled "The Bayan," and, taken generally, it constituted a new rendering of much that the Prophet of Islam had written, spoken, and enforced.
Steadfast as his belief in himself was, he believed also, as steadfastly, that, while he held open the Door of the Courtyard of God, another, greater than he, should come after him. He realised, he foretold, the arrival of a later Prophet whose mission must excel his own in the power of its purpose, in its fuller acceptance, in its far
wider claims upon the minds of men. For him, Persia was the centre of his action; its regeneration and reformation, his immediate and ultimate desire.
To his successor, the whole world lay open; to be subdued by the strength of the sweetness of the Love of God.
His own gracious pleadings with his own people were not made in vain. Historic records of the rejection of prophecy by the powers that be were enlarged by another, bitter, chapter. The endeavour of Persian people to put into practice, at his instigation, a deeper, nobler conception of religion, was misinterpreted.
The priesthood fought for prestige and privilege; for this fearless lover of the light spoke straight to the hearts of his hearers without priestly intervention or clerical approval.
Where the priests were faulty in their duties or in their example, The Bab spoke of the love of God and bade men directly worship and obey Him.
Priestcraft, backed by governmental action, accused prophet and people of a design to attempt the overthrow of religion and order. Fear entered into the thought of those who, having and misusing the authority of the State, could not, or would not, comprehend these men who looked and longed for the authority of God.
These latter sought an entrance into heaven;
the former suspected them of endeavouring to set up their own will in defiance of the Shah and of Islam.
Discourtesy was followed by abuse; abuse by persecution; persecution by spoliation and execution.
After enduring the confinement of a prison, The Bab was shot to death, publicly, in Tabriz.
During two years The Bab had wrought and taught. The theme of his teaching was always "fitness for God." Purity of life, righteousness of conduct, perfect honesty and honour formed variations of that theme. It was one which, commending itself to those who truly sought to serve and reign with the Creator, caused the pharisaical and the proud to blaspheme against the speaker.
Clerical and constituted authority opposed him vehemently. He was accused—no difficult task in such a country and under such circumstances. Next came imprisonment, lasting four years. Throughout this period, notwithstanding anxiety for his many friends,—impelled partly perhaps by that anxiety; certainly impelled by the inspiration to work for the people while life lasted,—he wrote a large number of epistles and exhortations.
His care for his flock concerned their daily doings as well as their eternal welfare. He was literally their "Father in God," taking into account all their environment and all their difficulties
and directing them so to live in this world as to prepare themselves fully for the endless life to come.
Some of the epistles reached one country and some another; and while their author was in prison for conscience' sake, his words made their way far and wide. Readers of most lands had, even then, known something of the work of this earnest and devoted reformer.
His institution of a "group" did much to strengthen and enlarge his influence. It comprised eighteen of his earliest disciples. He described them—including himself as "The Point"—"The Nineteen Letters of the Living." These chosen persons were carefully instructed how to instruct others, and how to control and advance the reform of soul and of conduct which The Bab endeavoured to induce among his beloved Persians. He especially bade these eighteen to prepare the way for, and be always ready to receive, One who was about to appear; One whom God would "make manifest." The time of the coming of this Appointed One was given. That He should surely come, The Bab never doubted at all. When He came, He could not fail to be recognised as a "Great Teacher," who would "show signs of divine power and strength"; more, "through His teachings the divine unity of mankind would be established."
Scarcely, perhaps, can too much stress be laid
on The Bab's insistence upon the coming of One who should open up and augment the way and the end of his pious design.
The Bab's own personal message was, so to speak, intended for the immediate requirements of his time. The Light that should enlighten not only Persians but the sons of men generally, would inaugurate a new order of things, regenerating all.
Anticipating this Arrival, The Bab endured, wrote, and taught, until his accusers charged him with heresy.
Confiscation of property was, as might have been expected of the persecutors of that country and period, remarkable for its thoroughness. Poverty, want, sickness, were patiently and uncomplainingly borne. After enduring the strain and confinement of a prison, The Bab was shot to death, publicly, in Tabriz, in July 1850. Imprisonment and martyrdom of The Bab were followed up by a wholesale raid upon his followers. We are told that "over twenty thousand of these willingly gave up their property, families, and lives, rather than recant their faith."
The extraordinary personality and influence of The Bab cannot be gainsaid. His spirituality; his contempt for worldly and material things; his masterful grasp of religious and philosophical points; his vast love for and understanding of the people and their deepest needs; all these substantiated his position and supported his claim.
He had exhorted his pupils to "endure all" for the sake of God and their faith and his.
They obeyed. They went to prison rejoicing in the certain triumph of the truth that they adored; the truth that freed them from the fetters of the world. Torture could not wring expressions of regret from their parched but smiling lips.
Life, eternal life, fulness of joy in the perpetual presence of God, had been promised; and, in the conviction that that glorious certainty must be fulfilled in their own experience, they trampled fear of death under foot. Death had, for them, verily lost its sting. This not for a little time, but for year after year. Indeed it is noted that these persecutions continued down to the beginning of the new century.
In 1901 "there were one hundred and seventy martyrs at one time in the city of Yeza." 1
24:1 "Their spirit of self-devotion and love is well exemplified in the manner in which Mirza Kurban Ali, one of seven executed together in Teheran in September 1850, met his death. When he was brought to the foot of the execution-pole, the headsman raised his sword and smote him from behind. The blow only wounded the old man's neck and cast his turban upon the ground. He raised his head and exclaimed: 'Oh, happy that intoxicated lover who, at the foot of his Beloved, knoweth not whether it be his head or his turban which he casteth.'"—Professor E. G. Browne, A Traveller's Narrative.