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The Bab - Sayyid Ali Mohammed – Forerunner to Baha'u'llah

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Shrine of the Bab

Shrine of the Bab In Haifa, Israel

Arash Hashemi, Official License

Born:

1819 or 1820 in Shiraz, Iran (also known at this time as the Persian Empire)

Died:

July 8, 1850 by firing squad in Tabriz, Iran

Background:

Sayyid Ali Mohammed started life as an Iranian merchant raised in the faith of Shi'a Islam. Upon the announcement of his revelation, he became known as the Bab ("gate" in Arabic). He was understood to be the gate to God or, as Baha'i think of him, the gate to the next full Manifestation of God, whose coming the Bab foretold.

The Letters of the Living:

On May 23, 1844, the Bab announced his revelation that he was a messenger from God. Eighteen people, seventeen men and one woman, came to believe in his message, whom he labeled the Letters of the Living and whom became the first Babis. The Letters then scattered across many cities to preach his message, where they met with uneven success.

Islamic Heresy:

"There is one god, Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet," is one of the five pillars of Islam, the cornerstones of the faith. Islam accepts the existence of numerous prophets throughout history, but Mohammed is accepted as both the greatest of the prophets and the last.

The Bab's claims put him on a footing comparable to that of Mohammad, a situation completely contrary to orthodox Islamic belief. While the Babis might have seen themselves as existing within Islam, mainstream Muslims branded the teachings heretical.

The Bayan:

Over the next four years, the Bab was in and out of prison several times, then was transferred to increasingly remote areas in the hopes of the new movement dying out in obscurity. Instead, the disciples continued to spread the message, the Bab himself sometimes won over the locals, and in 1848 he wrote a book called the Bayan, which laid out his teachings, including expected behavior for followers.

Among these teachings, the Bab clarified that his revelations were indeed meant to supersede the older Islamic laws.

Trial:

In 1848, the new Iranian Shah focused on rooting out the Babi heresy. The Bab was put on trial, and Muslim clerics demanded he explain his teachings, provide proof of his divine mandate, and recant his claims.

Since the government requested a lenient sentence due to the Bab's popularity, the main purpose of the trial may have been to embarrass the Bab. The clerics called for his execution so long as he was sane, and the Crown Prince's physician conveniently found him incompetent. His sentence was commuted to subjection to bastinado, which involves beating the bare soles of the feet, plus continued incarceration.

Execution:

In 1850, a new prime minister was named, and he ordered the Bab's execution. The Bab was hung by rope from a wall in front of a firing squad. What exactly happened next is hotly contested. Everyone agrees that the first round of firing failed to kill him. The official Baha'i version is that the Bab bodily vanished and was later located in his cell, finishing a conversation that had been earlier interrupted. Everyone also agrees that the second execution attempt was successful.

Burial:

The Bab's body was protected and hidden by his followers for almost fifty years. In 1899 it was brought to Haifa in the Ottoman Empire (now Israel), and in 1909 the Bab was laid to rest in a shrine constructed for him by Baha'is, followers of Baha'u'llah.
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