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In three ranks, the massive firing squad took aim. They all leveled their weapons and waited for the command. The bright noonday sun beat down on them.
The Qajar government had ordered the execution of this young, intensely charismatic 30-year-old man called The Báb (pronounced băb, which means The Gate in Persian). They had already gruesomely tortured and killed more than 20,000 of The Báb’s ardent followers. During the past six years since the Bábi movement sprung up, calling for revolutionary changes to the prevailing system of religious belief and governance, the authorities feared that this dynamic challenge would soon sweep them from power. They had tried to put an end to the Bábi movement with wholesale genocide against its followers, but that had not worked. More and more people became Bábis. So now, desperate to bring the movement down, they planned to execute its leader. Charged with apostasy, The Báb refused to repent or refute His teachings.
When they strung The Báb up one of his young followers, named Mirza Muhammad Ali, insisted on accompanying Him. The authorities gladly obliged. Both men waited for the bullets while a teeming crowd of thousands of people watched from the roofs of the barracks and nearby houses surrounding the square.
Earlier that morning Sam Khan, the commander of the regiment of soldiers ordered to execute The Báb, had begged forgiveness from his potential victim. “I profess the Christian faith,” the Russian officer told The Báb in his cell, “and entertain no ill will against you. If your Cause be the Cause of Truth, enable me to free myself from the obligation to shed your blood.”
“Follow your instructions,” The Báb calmly told him. “And if your intention be sincere, the Almighty is surely able to relieve you from your perplexity.”
When Sam Khan gave the order to fire, the muskets roared. Eyewitnesses said “The smoke of the firing of the seven hundred and fifty rifles was such as to turn the light of the noonday sun into darkness.” – Nabil-i-Azam, The Dawnbreakers, p. 512.
But when the smoke cleared The Báb had disappeared. His companion stood uninjured at the base of the wall. Their ropes hung in tatters. Astonished, the crowd believed they had witnessed a miracle.
Sam Khan ordered his soldiers to leave immediately, swearing that he would never again obey such an order, even if it cost him his own life. As he marched his regiment out of the barracks square the colonel of the official Tabriz bodyguard volunteered to carry out the execution order. The Báb -- found peacefully finishing a conversation with a follower in his cell -- and Mirza Muhammad Ali were strung up once again.
This time the rifles found their marks.
The fused, bullet-ridden bodies of The Báb and his faithful follower – called Anis, which means close companion – now repose under a golden dome on Mt. Carmel in Haifa, Israel. Millions of people from all over the globe visit that holy spot, and every day the Shrine of the Báb silently proclaims the Baha’i message of unity, peace, love and selflessness to the world.
Baha’is believe that The Báb – the Forerunner and Herald of the Baha’i Faith – set in motion a fresh cycle of progressive revelation to humanity. His revolutionary new teachings opened the path to the Baha’i Faith, and his ultimate sacrifice gave us all a new vision of what it means to be human:
Become as true brethren in the one and indivisible religion of God, free from distinction, for verily God desireth that your hearts should become mirrors unto your brethren in the Faith, so that ye find yourselves reflected in them, and they in you. This is the true Path of God, the Almighty, and He is indeed watchful over your actions. - The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 55.