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Why does humanity persecute its prophets and spiritual messengers? What makes the leaders of humanity, both religious and political, react so badly to the founders of the world’s great Faiths?
Throughout history, the authorities and leaders of society have exiled, imprisoned, tortured, and killed the gentle souls who brought us our most widespread religions. Why?
Both kings and clergy have treated each of the original founders of those religions and their early followers very, very cruelly. Abraham and Moses faced prison, exile, ridicule and persecution. Krishna and Buddha suffered derision and official censure. Society’s leaders crucified Christ, made war on Muhammad and executed the Bab.
Perhaps you haven’t heard about the Bab yet, but if not, you should know what happened to this young prophet, who started a progressive new religion in the midst of one of the world’s most corrupt and backwards societies, and suffered enormously as a result.
The Bab, which means Gate in Arabic, and is pronounced bŏb, began his new Faith in 1844. It emerged out of the prophetic Sufi mysticism prevalent in 19th century Persia. The Bab’s stirring message – that he had come to herald the future appearance of a great, worldwide revelation, just as John the Baptist had announced the advent of Christ — rapidly caught fire in that very tradition-bound culture. His message of love and unity obviously struck a chord in those who heard it, because hundreds of thousands of people became followers of the Bab, and were known as Babis. The Bab counseled his followers to:
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.
Those who became Babis consciously broke away from their society’s Islamic traditions and practices, which challenged the authority of its leaders, both civic and religious. Those rulers did not react kindly to this new spiritual development, to say the least.
Just six years after the Bab’s announcement of his new Faith in 1844, the Qajar government ordered the execution of this young, intensely charismatic messenger.
They had already gruesomely tortured and killed more than 20,000 of the Bab’s ardent followers during the short, intense duration of the Babi movement. Because the Bab called for revolutionary changes in the prevailing system of religious belief and governance, and because he taught the unity of all religions, the authorities feared that this dynamic challenge and its growing support would soon sweep them from power.
Ultimately, when their wholesale campaign of genocide against the Babis didn’t work, the Persian king and the Islamic mullas tried to put an end to the Babi movement by publicly executing its leader.
When they charged him with apostasy, the same exact charge the Pharisees leveled against Jesus, the Bab refused to repent or refute his teachings, calmly accepting the consequences.
As a result, on July 9, 1850, the Bab’s jailers ordered him executed by firing squad in the town square of Tabriz, Persia. One of his young followers, named Anis, insisted on accompanying him, and the authorities gladly consented. A teeming crowd of ten thousand people watched from the roofs of the barracks and the nearby houses surrounding the square.
On the morning of the Bab’s scheduled execution Sam Khan, the commander of the regiment of soldiers ordered to serve as a massive firing squad, begged forgiveness from his potential victim. “I profess the Christian faith,” the Russian officer told the Bab 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 Bab gently told the commander. “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. A Western journalist who witnessed it reported that “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.”
But when the smoke cleared the Bab had disappeared. Thousands of people gasped, convinced they had witnessed something miraculous. The Bab’s devoted follower Anis stood completely uninjured at the base of the wall, and the ropes that had suspended them there hung in tatters.
Immediately, Sam Khan ordered his 750 riflemen to march out of the town square, believing that he had fulfilled his duty. He swore that he would never again obey such an order, even if it cost him his own life. When Khan’s troops departed, the colonel of the official Tabriz bodyguard volunteered to carry out the execution. After the guards found the Bab in his cell peacefully finishing a conversation with a follower, they strung him and his follower up again. The second firing squad took aim and fired.
The execution succeeded the second time.
Today the fused, bullet-ridden bodies of the Bab and his faithful follower repose under a golden dome known as the Shrine of the Bab on Mt. Carmel in Haifa, Israel. Millions of people from all over the globe visit that holy spot, and every day that Shrine proclaims the Baha’i message of unity, peace, love and selflessness to the world.
The world’s Baha’is believe that the Bab, the forerunner and herald of Baha’u’llah, set in motion a fresh cycle of progressive revelation to humanity. His revolutionary teachings opened the path for the new message of the Baha’i Faith, and his ultimate sacrifice offered us all a new vision of a unified world. All around the world, Baha’is commemorate the Martyrdom of the Bab today, and work toward that future day when the world shall be as one.