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When a new religion emerges, the Baha’i teachings say, it changes and regenerates the entire world:
In brief, the moral and ethical world and the world of spiritual regeneration are dependent for their progressive being upon that heavenly center of illumination. It gives forth the light of religion and bestows the life of the spirit, imbues humanity with archetypal virtues and confers eternal splendors. This Sun of Reality, this center of effulgences is the prophet or Manifestation of God. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 94.
The Baha’i Faith came about because of two prophets of God—Baha’u’llah, its founder; and the Bab (pronounced bäb) the young Herald of the Baha’i Faith who arose to announce a fresh revelation in the spring of 1844. The Bab—a title which means “gate”—said he had come to open the gate for “he whom God shall make manifest,” a divine messenger who would unite the world and its people.
The Bab’s revelation lasted for six years and six weeks. On July 9th, 1850, the Bab died in a hail of bullets from a massive firing squad, executed by a government and a dominant clergy who feared the potent power of the Bab’s message, the enormously rapid growth of his new Faith, and the devotion tens of thousands of his followers demonstrated.
On this day every year, Baha’is all around the world celebrate the Declaration of the Bab–a title which means The Gate. So who was The Bab?
Briefly, Siyyid Ali Muhammad was born in Shiraz, in the province of Fars, Persia in October of 1819. Baha’is around the world will celebrate the bicentenary of the Bab’s birth this coming October 28th. Born into a family of merchants and traders, his mother and father of noble lineage, raised by his maternal uncle after the premature death of his father in 1826, a mystic descended from many generations of mystical Sufis, known from childhood for his wisdom, intelligence and humility, the Bab started a revolutionary religious movement unparalleled in human history.
A hundred and seventy five years ago tonight, a few hours after sunset on that fateful day in May of 1844, Siyyid Ali Muhammad declared his mission as the Bab—the one who would open the way for the coming of Baha’u’llah—to an ardent spiritual seeker named Mulla Husayn.
On that day, Baha’is believe, a new era of faith began, a renewal of the eternal promise of religion itself.
In a very short time many thousands became followers of the Bab, who overturned the corrupt practices of the Persian clergy, upended tradition by abrogating the laws of the past and declared that he had come to pave the way for another messenger of God—the Promised One of All Ages, who would found of a universal and unifying world religion.
Almost immediately, the Bab rapidly became a widely popular figure:
This illustrious Being arose with such power as to shake the foundations of the religious laws, customs, manners, morals, and habits of Persia, and instituted a new law, faith and religion. Though the eminent men of the State, the majority of the people, and the leaders of religion arose one and all to destroy and annihilate Him, He single-handedly withstood them and set all of Persia in motion. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, p. 30.
Many historians have studied the enormous societal transformation the Bab initiated, and often remark on the virulent persecution his message engendered:
The fire of His eloquence, the wonder of His rapid and inspired writings, His extraordinary wisdom and knowledge, His courage and zeal as a reformer, aroused the greatest enthusiasm among His followers, but excited a corresponding degree of alarm and enmity among the orthodox Muslims. The Shi’ih doctors vehemently denounced Him, and persuaded the Governor of Fars, namely Husayn Khan, a fanatical and tyrannical ruler, to undertake the suppression of the new heresy. Then commenced for the Bab a long series of imprisonments, deportations, examinations before tribunals, scourgings and indignities, which ended only with His martyrdom in 1850… In consequence of these declarations of the Bab and the alarming rapidity with which people of all classes, rich and poor, learned and ignorant, were eagerly responding to His teaching, attempts at suppression became more and more ruthless and determined. Houses were pillaged and destroyed. Women were seized and carried off. In Tihran, Fars, Mazindaran, and other places great numbers of the believers were put to death. Many were beheaded, hanged, blown from the mouths of cannon, burnt or chopped to pieces. Despite all attempts at repression, however, the movement progressed. – Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, pp. 14-16.
Commemorating this special anniversary of the birth of the Babi Faith, Abdu’l-Baha described the Declaration of the Bab and the sacrifices his followers made, in a speech he gave in the United States on the anniversary of the Bab’s Declaration in 1912:
On this day in 1844 the Bab was sent forth heralding and proclaiming the Kingdom of God, announcing the glad tidings of the coming of Baha’u’llah and withstanding the opposition of the whole Persian nation. Some of the Persians followed Him. For this they suffered the most grievous difficulties and severe ordeals. They withstood the tests with wonderful power and sublime heroism. Thousands were cast into prison, punished, persecuted and martyred. Their homes were pillaged and destroyed, their possessions confiscated. They sacrificed their lives most willingly and remained unshaken in their faith to the very end. Those wonderful souls are the lamps of God, the stars of sanctity shining gloriously from the eternal horizon of the will of God. – The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 138.
Please join us as Baha’is in every community around the world rejoice and celebrate the anniversary of the Declaration of the Bab tonight. Those Baha’i communities exist because the Bab’s message, and then Baha’u’llah’s subsequent revelation, went out across the globe, sounding the great call for the unity of all peoples, cultures, nations and religions.