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In 1850, at least ten thousand people witnessed a miraculous event in Baha’i history – the public martyrdom, by the Persian government, of the Bab.

Baha’u’llah’s herald and predecessor, The Bab (pronounced bŏb) proclaimed the Babi Faith starting in 1844. The new Faith created a massive revolutionary movement in Persia that challenged the dominance and the repressive policies of the Islamic government and clergy. Literally hundreds of thousands of people responded positively to the Bab’s message, and in response the hierarchy of the ruling powers attempted to violently extinguish the movement with genocidal policies that resulted in widespread torture, martyrdoms and mass killings of the Babis. Historians recount a death toll of more than 20,000 people. Finally, when those efforts did not succeed in stopping the growth of the new Faith, the rulers tried to quash the Babi movement by executing its founder.

Recorded by Western observers and journalists, the events surrounding that execution astounded some as a miracle — and seemed completely, rationally explainable by others. Here, the British physician and author J. E. Esslemont briefly reports what happened:

On the 9th of July, 1850, the Bab Himself, Who was then in His thirty-first year, fell a victim to the fanatical fury of His persecutors. With a devoted young follower named Aqa Muhammad Ali, who had passionately begged to be allowed to share His martyrdom, He was led to the scaffold in the old barrack square of Tabriz. About two hours before noon the two were suspended by ropes under their armpits in such a way that the head of Muhammad Ali rested against the breast of his beloved Master. A regiment of Armenian soldiers was drawn up and received the order to fire. Promptly the volleys rang out, but when the smoke cleared, it was found that the Bab and His companion were still alive. The bullets had but severed the ropes by which they were suspended, so that they dropped to the ground unhurt. The Bab proceeded to a room nearby, where He was found talking to one of His friends.

About noon they were again suspended. The Armenians, who considered the result of their volleys a miracle, were unwilling to fire again, so another regiment of soldiers had been brought on the scene, who fired when ordered. This time the volleys took effect. – Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 17.

Many people believed that they had witnessed a miracle when the Bab and his young follower, targeted by 750 military rifles at close range, emerged unscathed. Others believed that they may have seen the results of the reluctance of the Armenian regimental commander, Sam Khan, who reported this conversation with the Bab before the execution took place: “I profess the Christian Faith,” Khan said to The Bab, “and entertain no ill-will against you. If your Cause be the Cause of Truth, then enable me to free myself from the obligation to shed your blood.”

The Bab comforted the commander with these words: “Follow your instructions and if your intention be sincere, the Almighty is surely able to relieve you from your perplexity.”

City Gate of Tabriz 1840

Sketch of the City Gate of Tabriz in 1840

When the first attempt at The Bab’s execution failed, Sam Khan marched his regiment away, saying that he would never follow another order to harm the Bab, no matter what the consequences. Another regiment had to be called to carry out the second execution order.

No one knows if Khan’s 750 soldiers intentionally aimed high to sever the ropes; or if somehow the fusillade of bullets miraculously missed their target. Mid-19th Century weapons technology did not produce great accuracy, so a purely scientific explanation seems unlikely. But for Baha’is, the prospect of a miracle is not the point – Baha’is believe that miracles are no proof of the truth.

…for the Manifestations these miracles and wonderful signs have no importance. They do not even wish to mention them. For if we consider miracles a great proof, they are still only proofs and arguments for those who are present when they are performed, and not for those who are absent. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 99.

So are miracles possible? Certainly some Baha’is believe they have seen miraculous events occur, or even experienced them. However, the Baha’i Faith does not present miracles as a proof of anything; and in addition, Baha’u’llah specifically asked the Baha’is to not relate miracle stories, writing:

We entreat Our loved ones not to besmirch the hem of Our raiment with the dust of falsehood, neither to allow references to what they have regarded as miracles and prodigies to debase Our rank and station, or to mar the purity and sanctity of Our name. – Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 33

martyrdom_siteMany people have experienced supernatural feelings, emotions or events – “super”-natural meaning something not explainable by natural laws. Just about everyone who dreams has had a déjà-vu experience, where a dream will exactly recall or predict a future event. Just because science can’t yet explain such phenomenon doesn’t make them any less plausible – after all, every day we continue to make new scientific discoveries that were never thought possible before.

3 Comments

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  • Jul 18, 2015
    Wow Tom, I was reading this article with great enthusiasm, I had no idea it was your wonderful penmanship. Thank you.
  • Stephanie
    Apr 29, 2014
    I am your forever best fan FBF ;)
    • ttaiseale
      Apr 30, 2014
      :)