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The Dawn-Breakers: Nabíl’s Narrative of the Early Days of the Bahá’í Revelation

  • Author:
  • Nabil

  • Source:
  • US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1932 edition
  • Pages:
  • 676
Go to printed page GO
Pages 651-669


NEVER had the fortunes of the Faith proclaimed by the Báb sunk to a lower ebb than when Bahá’u’lláh was banished from His native land to ‘Iráq. The Cause for which the Báb had given His life, for which Bahá’u’lláh had toiled and suffered, seemed to be on the very verge of extinction. Its force appeared to have been spent, its resistance irretrievably broken. Discouragements and disasters, each more devastating in its effect than the preceding one, had succeeded one another with bewildering rapidity, sapping its vitality and dimming the hope of its stoutest supporters. Indeed, to a superficial reader of the pages of Nabíl’s narrative, the whole story from its very beginning appears to be a mere recital of reverses and massacres, of humiliations and disappointments, each more severe than the previous one, culminating at last in the banishment of Bahá’u’lláh from His own country. To the sceptical reader, unwilling to recognise the celestial potency with which that Faith was endowed, the entire conception that had evolved in the mind of its Author seems to have been foredoomed to failure. The work of the Báb, so gloriously conceived, so heroically undertaken, would appear to have ended in a colossal disaster. To such a reader, the life of the ill-fated Youth of Shíráz would seem, judging from the cruel blows it sustained, to be one of the saddest and most fruitless that had ever been the lot of mortal men. That short and heroic career, which, swift as a meteor, flashed across the firmament of Persia, and seemed for a time to have brought the longed-for light of eternal salvation into the gloom that encircled the country, was plunged at last into an abyss of darkness and despair.
Every step He took, every endeavour He made, had but served to intensify the sorrows and disappointments that weighed upon His soul. The plan He had, at the very outset of His career, conceived of inaugurating His Mission with a public proclamation in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina 652 failed to materialise as He had hoped. The Sherif of Mecca, to whom Quddús was bidden deliver His Message, accorded him a reception that betrayed by its icy indifference the contemptuous disregard in which the Cause of a Youth of Shíráz was held by the ruler of Hijáz and custodian of its Ka‘bih. The project He had in mind of returning triumphantly from His pilgrimage to the cities of Karbilá and Najaf, where He hoped to establish His Cause, in the very heart of that stronghold of shí’ah orthodoxy, was likewise hopelessly shattered. The programme which He had thought out, the essentials of which He had already communicated to the chosen nineteen of His disciples, remained for the most part unfulfilled. The moderation He had exhorted them to observe was forgotten in the first flush of enthusiasm that seized the early missionaries of His Faith, which behaviour was in no small measure responsible for the failure of the hopes He had so fondly cherished. The Mu’tamíd, that wise and sagacious ruler, who had so ably warded off the danger with which that precious Life was threatened, and who had proved his capacity to render Him services of such distinction as few of His more modest companions could have hoped to offer, was suddenly taken from Him, leaving Him at the mercy of the perfidious Gurgín Khán, the most detestable and unscrupulous of all His enemies. The Báb’s only chance of meeting Muhammad Sháh—a meeting which He Himself had requested and on which He had pinned His fondest hopes—was dashed to the ground by the intervention of the cowardly and capricious Hájí Mírzá Aqásí, who trembled at the thought lest His contact with the sovereign, already unduly inclined to befriend that Cause, should prove fatal to his own interests. The attempts, inspired and initiated by the Báb, which two of His foremost disciples, Mullá ‘Alíy-i-Bastamí and Shaykh Sa’íd-i-Hindí, had made to introduce the Faith, the one in Turkish territory and the other in India, ended in dismal failure. The first enterprise collapsed at its very outset by reason of the cruel martyrdom of its promoter, whilst the latter was productive of what might seem a negligible result, its only fruit being the conversion of a certain siyyid whose chequered career of service was brought to a sudden end in Luristán by the action of the treacherous Íldírím 653 Mírzá. The captivity to which the Báb Himself, during the greater part of the years of His ministry, was condemned; His isolation in the mountain fastnesses of Ádhirbayján from the body of His followers, who were being sorely tried by a rapacious enemy; above all, the tragedy of His own martyrdom, so intense, so terribly humiliating, would appear to have marked the lowest depths of ignominy which so noble a Cause, from the very hour of its birth, was doomed to suffer. His death, the culmination of a swift and stormy career, would seem to have set the seal of failure upon a task which, however heroic in the efforts it inspired, was impossible of achievement.
Much as He Himself had suffered, the agony He was made to endure was but a drop compared to the calamities which were to rain down upon the multitude of His avowed followers. The cup of sorrow that had touched His lips had yet to be drained to its very dregs by those who still remained after Him. The catastrophe of Shaykh Tabarsí, which robbed Him of His ablest lieutenants, Quddús and Mullá Husayn, and which engulfed no less than three hundred and thirteen of His staunch companions, came as the cruelest blow that had yet fallen upon Him, and enveloped with a shroud of darkness the closing days of His fast-ebbing life. The struggle of Nayríz, with its attendant horrors and cruelties, involving as it did the loss of Vahíd, the most learned, the most influential, and the most accomplished among the followers of the Báb, was an added blow to the resources and numbers of those who continued to hold aloft the torch in their hands. The siege of Zanján, following closely in the wake of the disaster that had befallen the Faith in Nayríz, and marked by the butcheries with which the name of that province will ever remain associated, depleted still further the ranks of the upholders of the Faith, and deprived them of the sustaining strength with which the presence of Hujjat inspired them. With him was gone the last outstanding figure among the representative leaders of the Faith who towered, by virtue of their ecclesiastical authority, their learning, their fearlessness and force of character, above the rank and file of their fellow-disciples. The flower of the 654 Báb’s followers had been mown down in a ruthless carnage, leaving behind it a vast company of enslaved women and children, who groaned beneath the yoke of an unrelenting foe. Their leaders, who, alike by their knowledge and example, had fed and sustained the flame that glowed in those valiant hearts, had also perished, their work seemingly abandoned amidst the confusion that afflicted a persecuted community.
Of all those who had shown themselves capable of carrying on the work which the Báb had handed down to His followers, Bahá’u’lláh alone remained. 1 All the rest had fallen by the sword of the enemy. Mírzá Yahyá, the nominal leader of the band that survived the Báb, had ingloriously sought refuge in the mountains of Mázindarán from the perils of the turmoil that had seized the capital. In the guise of a dervish, kashkúl 2 in hand, he had deserted his companions and fled the scene of danger to the forests of Gílán. Siyyid Husayn, the Báb’s amanuensis, and Mírzá Ahmad, his collaborator, who were both well-versed in the teachings and implications of the newly revealed Bayán and, by virtue of their intimacy with their Master and their familiarity with the precepts of His Faith, were in a position to enlighten the understanding, and consolidate the foundations of the faith, of their companions, lay in chains in the Síyáh-Chál of Tihrán, cut off entirely from the body of the believers who so greatly needed their counsel, both doomed to suffer, at an early date, a cruel martyrdom. Even His own maternal uncle, who, ever since His childhood, had surrounded Him with a paternal solicitude that no father could have surpassed, who had rendered Him signal services in the early days of His sufferings in Shíráz, and who, had he been allowed to survive Him by only a few years, could have rendered 655 inestimable services to His Cause, languished in prison, forlorn and hopeless of ever continuing the work that was so close to his heart. Táhirih, that flaming emblem of His Cause who, alike by her indomitable courage, her impetuous character, her dauntless faith, her fiery ardour and vast knowledge, seemed for a time able to win the whole womanhood of Persia to the Cause of her Beloved, fell, alas, at the very hour when victory seemed near at hand, a victim to the wrath of a calumnious enemy. The influence of her work, the course of which was so prematurely arrested, seemed to those who stood near as they lowered her into the pit that served as her grave, to have been completely extinguished. The Báb’s remaining Letters of the Living either had perished by the sword or were fettered in prison, or again were leading an obscure life in some remote corner of the realm. The body of the Báb’s voluminous writings suffered, for the most part, a fate no less humiliating than that which had befallen His disciples. Many of His copious works were utterly obliterated, others were torn and reduced to ashes, a few were corrupted, much was seized by the enemy, and the rest lay a mass of disorganised and undeciphered manuscripts, precariously hidden and widely scattered among the survivors of His companions.
The Faith the Báb had proclaimed, and for which He had given His all, had indeed reached its lowest ebb. The fires kindled against it had almost consumed the fabric upon which its continued existence depended. The wings of death seemed to be hovering above it. Extermination, complete and irremediable, appeared to be threatening its very life. Amidst the shadows that were fast gathering about it, the figure of Bahá’u’lláh alone shone as the potential Deliverer of a Cause that was fast speeding to its end. The marks of clear vision, of courage and sagacity which He had shown on more than one occasion ever since He had risen to champion the Cause of the Báb, appeared to qualify Him, should His life and continued existence in Persia be ensured, to revive the fortunes of an expiring Faith. But this was not to be. A catastrophe, unexampled in the whole history of that Faith, precipitated a persecution fiercer than any that had 656 hitherto taken place, and this time drew into its vortex the person of Bahá’u’lláh Himself. The slender hopes which the remnants of the believers still entertained were wrecked amidst the confusion that ensued. For Bahá’u’lláh, their only hope and the sole object of their confidence, was so struck down by the severity of that storm that no recovery could any longer be thought possible. After He had been despoiled of all His possessions in Núr and Tihrán, denounced as the prime mover of a dastardly attempt upon the life of His sovereign, abandoned by His kindred and despised by His former friends and admirers, plunged into a dark and pestilential dungeon, and at last, with the members of His family, driven into hopeless exile beyond the confines of His native land, all the hopes that had centred round Him as the possible Redeemer of an afflicted Faith seemed for a moment to have completely vanished.
No wonder Násiri’d-Dín Sháh, under whose eyes and by whose impulse such blows were being dealt, was already priding himself on being the wrecker of a Cause against which he had so consistently battled, and which he had at last, to outward seeming, been able to crush. No wonder he imagined, as he sat musing over the successive stages of this vast and bloody enterprise, that by the act of banishment which his hands had signed, he was sounding the death-knell of that hateful heresy which had struck such terror to the hearts of his people. To Násiri’d-Dín Sháh it appeared, at that supreme moment, that the spell of that terror was broken, that the tide that had swept over his country was at last turning and bringing back to his fellow-countrymen the peace for which they cried. Now that the Báb was no more; now that the mighty pillars that sustained His Cause had been crushed into dust; now that the mass of its devotees, throughout the length and breadth of his dominion, were cowed and exhausted; now that Bahá’u’lláh Himself, the one remaining hope of a leaderless community, had been driven into exile and had, of His own accord, sought refuge in the neighbourhood of the stronghold of shí’ah fanaticism, the spectre that had haunted him ever since he had ascended the throne had vanished for ever. Never again, he imagined, 657 would he hear of that detestable Movement which, if he were to believe his best counsellors, was swiftly receding into the shadows of impotence and oblivion. 3
To even the followers of the Faith who were left to survive the abominations heaped upon their Cause—to even that small caravan, with perhaps a few exceptions, wending its way in the depth of winter through the snows of the mountains bordering on ‘Iráq, 4 the Cause of the Báb, one can well imagine, might for a moment have seemed to have failed in accomplishing its purpose. The forces of darkness that had encompassed it on every side would seem to have at last triumphed over, and put out, the light which that young Prince of Glory had kindled in His land.
In the eyes of Násiri’d-Dín Sháh, at all events, the power that had seemed for a time to have swept within its orbit the entire forces of his realm had ceased to count. Ill-starred from its very birth, it had eventually been forced to surrender to the violence of the blows which his sword had dealt. The Faith had suffered a disruption certainly well deserved. Delivered from its curse, which for many nights had robbed him of his sleep, he could now, with undivided attention, set about the task of rescuing his land from the devastating effects of that vast delusion. Henceforth his real mission, as he conceived it, was to enable both Church and State to consolidate their foundations and to reinforce their ranks against the intrusion of similar heresies, which might, in a future day, poison the life of his countrymen.
How vain were his imaginings, how vast his own delusion! The Cause he had fondly imagined to have been crushed was still living, destined to emerge from the midst of that great convulsion stronger, purer, and nobler than ever. The Cause 658 which, to the mind of that foolish monarch, seemed to be speeding towards destruction was but passing through the fiery tests of a phase of transition that was to carry it a step further on the path of its high destiny. A new chapter in its history was being unfolded, more glorious than any that had marked its birth or its rise. The repression which that monarch had believed to have succeeded in sealing its doom was but the initial stage in an evolution destined to blossom, in the fulness of time, into a Revelation mightier than any that the Báb Himself had proclaimed. The seed His hand had sown, though subjected, for a time, to the fury of a storm of unexampled violence and though later transplanted to a foreign soil, was to continue to develop and grow, in due time, into a Tree destined to spread its shelter over all the kindreds and peoples of the earth. Though the Báb’s disciples might be tortured and slain, and His companions humiliated and crushed; though His followers might dwindle in number; though the voice of the Faith itself might be silenced by the arm of violence; though despair might settle upon its fortunes; though its ablest defenders might apostatise from their faith, yet the promise embedded within the shell of His word no hand could succeed in ravishing, and no power stand in the way of its germination and growth.
Indeed, the first glimmerings of the dawning Revelation, of which the Báb had declared Himself to be the Herald, and to the approach and certainty of which He had so repeatedly alluded, 5 could already be discerned amidst the gloom that encircled Bahá’u’lláh in the Síyáh-Chál of Tihrán. 6 The 659 force that, growing out of the momentous Revelation released by the Báb, was at a later time to unfold itself in all its glory and encompass the globe, was already pulsating in the veins of Bahá’u’lláh as He lay exposed in His cell to the sword of His executioner. The still voice which, in the hour of bitter agony, announced to the Prisoner the Revelation of which He was chosen to be the Mouthpiece, could not, of a certainty, have reached the ears of the monarch who was already preparing the celebration of the extinction of the Faith his Captive had championed. That imprisonment which he who had caused it, believed to have branded with infamy the fair name of Bahá’u’lláh, and which he regarded as a prelude to a still more humiliating banishment to ‘Iráq, was, indeed, the very scene that witnessed the first stirrings of that Movement of which Bahá’u’lláh was to be the Author, a Movement which was first to be made known in the city of Baghdád and at a later time to be proclaimed from the prison-city of ‘Akká to the Sháh, no less than to the other rulers and crowned heads of the world.
Little did Násiri’d-Dín Sháh imagine that by the very act of pronouncing the sentence of banishment against Bahá’u’lláh he was helping in the unfolding of God’s irrepressible Purpose and that he himself was but an instrument in the execution of that Design. Little did he imagine that as his reign was drawing to a close it would witness a revival of the very forces he had sought so strenuously to exterminate—a revival that would manifest a vitality such as he, in the hour of darkest despair, had never believed that Faith to possess. Not only within the confines of his own realm, 7 660 not only throughout the adjacent territories of ‘Iráq and Russia, but as far as India in the East, 8 as far as Egypt and European Turkey in the West, a recrudescence of the Faith such as he had never expected, awakened him from the dreams in which he had so fondly indulged. The Cause of the Báb seemed as if risen from the dead. It appeared under a form infinitely more formidable than any under which it had appeared in the past. The fresh impetus which, despite his calculations, the personality of Bahá’u’lláh, and, above all, the inherent strength of the Revelation which He personified, had lent to the Cause of the Báb, was one Násiri’d Dín Sháh had never imagined. The rapidity with which a 661 slumbering Faith had been revived and consolidated within his own territory; its spreading out to States beyond its confines; the stupendous claims advanced by Bahá’u’lláh almost in the midst of the stronghold where He had chosen to dwell; the public declaration of that claim in European Turkey, and its proclamation in challenging Epistles to the crowned heads of the earth, one of which the Sháh himself was destined to receive; the enthusiasm that announcement evoked in the 662 hearts of countless followers; the transference to the Holy Land of the centre of His Cause; the gradual relaxation of the severity of His confinement which marked the closing days of His life; the lifting of the ban that had been imposed by the Sultán of Turkey on His intercourse with visitors and pilgrims who flocked from various parts of the East to His prison; the awakening of the spirit of enquiry among the thinkers of the West; the utter disruption of the forces that had attempted to effect a schism in the ranks of His followers, and the fate that had befallen its chief instigator; above all, 663 the sublimity of those teachings with which His published works abounded and which were being read, disseminated, and taught by an ever-increasing number of adherents in Russian Turkistán, in ‘Iráq, in India, in Syria, and as far off as European Turkey—these were among the chief factors that convincingly revealed to the eyes of the Sháh the invincible character of a Faith he believed himself to have bridled and destroyed. The futility of his efforts, however much he might attempt to conceal his feelings, was only too apparent. The Cause of the Báb, the birth and tribulations of which he had himself witnessed, and the triumphant progress of which he was now beholding, had risen phoenix-like from its ashes and was pressing forward along the road leading to undreamt-of achievements. 9 664
Little did Nabíl himself imagine that within twoscore years of the writing of his narrative the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, the flower and fruit of all the Dispensations of the past, would have been capable of advancing thus far on the road leading to its world-wide recognition and triumph. Little did he imagine that less than forty years after the death of Bahá’u’lláh His Cause, bursting beyond the confines of Persia and the East, would have penetrated the furthermost regions of the globe and would have encircled the whole earth. Scarcely would he have believed the prediction had he been told that the Cause would, within that period, have implanted its banner in the heart of the American continent, would have made itself felt in the leading capitals of Europe, would have reached out to the southern confines of Africa, and would 665 have established its outposts as far as Australasia. Hardly would his imagination, fired as it was by a conviction as to the destiny of his Faith, have carried him to a point at which he could have pictured to his mind the Tomb Shrine of the Báb, of the ultimate destination of whose remains he confesses himself to be ignorant, embosomed in the heart of Carmel, a place of pilgrimage and a beacon of light to many a visitor from the ends of the earth. Hardly could he have imagined that the humble dwelling of Bahá’u’lláh, lost amid the tortuous lanes of old Baghdád, would one day, as a result of the machinations of a tireless enemy, have forced itself on the attention, and become the object of the earnest deliberations, of the assembled representatives of the leading Powers of Europe. Little did he imagine that, with all the praise he, in his narrative, lavishes upon Him, there would proceed from the Most Great Branch 10 a power that within a short period would have awakened the northern States of the American continent to the glory of the Revelation bequeathed to Him by Bahá’u’lláh. Little did he imagine that the dynasties of those monarchs the evidences of whose tyranny he recounts so vividly in his narrative, would have tottered to their fall and suffered the very fate which their representatives had so desperately striven to inflict upon their dreaded opponents. Little did he imagine that the whole ecclesiastical hierarchy of his country, the prime mover and the willing instrument of the abominations heaped upon his Faith, would so swiftly and easily be overthrown by the very forces 666 it had attempted to subdue. Never would he have believed that the highest institutions of sunní Islám, the Sultanate and the Caliphate, 11 those twin oppressors of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, would have been swept away so ruthlessly by the very hands of the professing adherents of the Faith of 667 Islám. Little did he imagine that side by side with the steady expansion of the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh the forces of consolidation and internal administration would so progress as to present to the world the unique spectacle of a Commonwealth of peoples, world-wide in its ramifications, united in its purpose, co-ordinated in its efforts, and fired by a zeal and enthusiasm that no amount of adversity can quench.
And yet who knows what achievements, greater than any that the past and the present have witnessed, may not still be in store for those into whose hands so precious a heritage has been entrusted? Who knows but that out of the turmoil which agitates the face of present-day society there may not emerge, sooner than we expect, the World-Order of Bahá’u’lláh, the bare outline of which is being but faintly discerned among the world-wide communities that bear His name? For, great and marvellous as have been the achievements of the past, the glory of the golden age of the Cause, whose promise lies embedded within the shell of Bahá’u’lláh’s immortal utterance, is yet to be revealed. Fierce as may seem the onslaught of the forces of darkness that may still afflict this Cause, desperate and prolonged as may be that struggle, severe as may be the disappointments it may still experience, the ascendancy it will eventually obtain will be such as no other Faith has ever in its history achieved. The welding of the communities of East and West into the world-wide Brotherhood of which poets and dreamers have sung, and the promise of which lies at the very core of the Revelation conceived by Bahá’u’lláh; the recognition of His law as the indissoluble bond uniting the peoples and nations of the earth; and the proclamation of the reign of the Most Great Peace, are but a few among the chapters of the glorious tale which the consummation of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh will unfold.
Who knows but that triumphs, unsurpassed in splendour, are not in store for the mass of Bahá’u’lláh’s toiling followers? Surely, we stand too near the colossal edifice His hand has reared to be able, at the present stage of the evolution of His Revelation, to claim to be able even to conceive the full measure of its promised glory. Its past history, stained by the blood of countless martyrs, may well inspire us with the 668 thought that, whatever may yet befall this Cause, however formidable the forces that may still assail it, however numerous the reverses it will inevitably suffer, its onward march can never be stayed, and that it will continue to advance until the very last promise, enshrined within the words of Bahá’u’lláh, shall have been completely redeemed. 669
1. Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl quotes in his “Fará’íd” (pp. 50–51), the following remarkable tradition from Muhammad, which is recognised as an authentic utterance of the Prophet and to which Siyyid ‘Abdu’l-Vahháb-i-Sha’rání refers in his work entitled “Kitábu’l-Yavaqit-iva’l-Javahir”: “All of them [the companions of the Qá’im] shall be slain except One who shall reach the plain of ‘Akká, the Banquet-Hall of God.” The full text is also mentioned, according to Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl, by Shaykh Ibnu’l-‘Arabí in his “Futúhát-i-Makkíyyih.”   [ Back To Reference]
2. “‘A hollow receptacle of about the size and shape of a cocoa-nut, round the orifice of which two chains are attached at four points to serve as a handle. It is used by dervishes as an alms-basket.” (“A Traveller’s Narrative,” p. 51, note 3.)   [ Back To Reference]
3. “Excellency, After the carrying out of those energetic measures on the part of the Persian Government for the extirpation and extermination of the misguided and detestable sect of the Bábís, with the details of which Your Excellency is fully acquainted [allusion is made to the great persecution of the Bábís in Tihrán in the summer of 1852], praise be to God, by the attention of the Imperial mind of is most potent Majesty, whose rank is as that of Jamshid, the refuge of the True Religion—may our lives be his sacrifice!—, their roots were torn up.” (Extract from letter addressed by Mírzá Sa’id Khán, ex-foreign minister of Persia; to the Persian ambassador in Constantinople; dated 12th of 12th Dhu’l-Hijjih, 1278 [May 10, 1862]. Facsimile and translation of the document reproduced in E. G. Browne’s “Materials for the Study of the Bábí Religion,” p. 283.)   [ Back To Reference]
4. “It was a terrible journey in rough mountain country and the travellers suffered greatly from exposure.” (Dr. T. K. Cheyne’s “The Reconciliation of Races and Religions,” p. 121.)   [ Back To Reference]
5. “But just as remarkable as his boldness in claiming Divine authority is his restraint in insisting that his authority was not final. He felt competent and commissioned to reveal much, but he felt with equal certainty that there was infinitely more yet to be revealed. Herein was his greatness. And herein was his greatest sacrifice. He thereby risked the diminution of his personal fame. But he insured the continuance of his mission…. He insured that the movement he had started would grow and expand. He himself was but ‘a letter out of that most mighty book, a dewdrop from that limitless ocean.’… This was the humility of true insight. And it had its effect. His movement has grown and expanded, and it has yet a great future before it.” (Sir Francis Younghusband’s “The Gleam,” pp. 210–11.)   [ Back To Reference]
6. “During the days when I was imprisoned in the Land of Tá [Tihrán], although the galling weight of chains and the loathsome atmosphere of the prison allowed me little sleep, yet occasionally, in my moments of slumber, I felt as if something were pouring forth over breast, even as a mighty torrent, which, descending from the Summit of a lofty mountain precipitates itself over the earth. All my limbs seemed to have been set aflame. At such moments my tongue recited what mortal ears could not hear.” (“The Epistle to the Son of the Wolf,” p. 17.)   [ Back To Reference]
7. Gobineau, writing in about the year 1865, testifies as follows: “Public opinion holds that the Bábís are to be found in every social class and among the members of every religion, with the exception of the Nusayris and the Christians, but it is especially the educated classes, the men of learning who are suspected of sympathy with Bábism. It is believed, and with good reason, that many mullás and, among them, outstanding mujtahids, magistrates of high rank, and high court officials very close to the king, are Bábís. According to a recent estimate, there would be in Tihrán, a city of about eighty thousand souls, five thousand Bábís. But this estimate is not very reliable and I am inclined to think that, if the Bábís were to triumph in Persia, their number in the capital would be much larger, for, at that moment, one would have to add to the number of the zealous ones, whatever that number may now be, a large proportion of those who are recently in favor of the officially condemned doctrine and to whom victory would impart the courage to declare their faith openly.” (Les Religions et les Philosophies dans l’Asie Centrale,” p. 251.) “Half a century has not yet elapsed since Mírzá ‘Alí-Muhammad, the young Seer of Shíráz, first began to preach the religion which now counts its martyrs by hundreds and its adherents by hundreds of thousands; which seemed at one time to menace the supremacy alike of the Qájár dynasty and of the Muhammadan faith in Persia, and may still not improbably prove an important factor in the history of Western Asia.” (E. G. Browne’s introduction to the “Taríkh-i-Jadíd,” p. 7.) “Bábism,” writes Professor James Darmesteter, “which diffused itself in less than five years from one end of Persia to another, which was bathed in 1852 in the blood of its martyrs, has been silently progressing and propagating itself. If Persia is to be at all regenerate it will be through this new faith.” (Extract from “Persia: A Historical and Literary Sketch,” translated by G. K. Nariman.) “If Bábism continues to grow at its present rate of progression, a time may conceivably come when it will oust Muhammadanism from the field in Persia. This, I think, it would be unlikely to do, did it appear upon the ground under the flag of a hostile faith. But since its recruits are won from the best soldiers of the garrison whom it is attacking, there is greater reason to believe that it may ultimately prevail. To those who know anything of the Persian character, so extraordinarily susceptible of religious influences as it is, it will be obvious to how many classes in that country the new creed makes successful appeal. The Súfís, or mystics, have long held that there must always be a Pir, or Prophet, visible in the flesh, and are very easily absorbed into the Bábí fold. Even the orthodox Musulman, whose mind’s eye has ever been turned in eager anticipation upon the vanished Imám, is amenable to the cogent reasoning, by which it is sought to prove that either the Báb, or Bahá, is the Mihdí, according to all the predictions of the Qur’án and the traditions. The pure and suffering life of the Báb, his ignominious death, the heroism and martyrdom of his followers, will appeal to many others who can find no similar phenomena in the contemporaneous records of Islám.” (Lord Curzon’s “Persia and the Persian Question,” vol. 1, p. 503.) The author, in the same chapter, commenting on the prospects of Christian missionary enterprise in Persia, writes as follows: “Persia has even been described as the most hopeful among the fields of missionary labour in the East. While conscious of the valuable work that has been and is being done by the representatives of English, French, and American Mission societies in that country, by the spread of education, by the display of charity, by the free gift of medical assistance, by the force of example, and while in no way suggesting that these pious labours should be slackened, I am unable, from such knowledge as I possess, to participate in so sanguine a forecast of the future.” (p. 504.) “…In Persia, however, not the least of the obstacles with which Christian communities are confronted arise from their own sectarian differences, and the Musulmans are perfectly entitled to scoff at those who invite them to enter a flock the different members of which love each other so bitterly. Protestants squabble with Roman Catholics, Presbyterians with Episcopalians, the Protestant Nestorians look with no very friendly eye upon the Nestorians proper, and these, again, are not on the most harmonious terms with the Chaldaeans, or Catholic Nestorians. The Armenians gaze askance upon the United (or Catholic) Armenians, and both unite in retarding the work of the Protestant missions. Finally, the hostility of the Jews may, as a rule, be reckoned upon. In the various countries of the East in which I have traveled, from Syria to Japan, I have been struck by the strange and, to my mind, sorrowful phenomenon, of missionary bands waging the noblest of warfares under the banner of the King of Peace with fratricidal weapons in their hands.” (Pp. 507–8.) “…If, then, the criterion of missionary enterprise in Persia be the number of converts it has made from Islám, I do not hesitate to say that the prodigious expenditure of money of honest effort, and of sacrificing toil that has been showered upon that country has met with a wholly inadequate return. Young Muhammadans have sometimes been baptised by Christian missionaries. But this must not too readily be confounded with conversion, since the bulk of the newcomers relapse into the faith of their fathers and I question if, since the day when Henry Martyn set foot in Shíráz up till the present moment, half a dozen Persian Muhammadans have genuinely embraced the Christian creed. I have myself often enquired for, but have never seen, a converted Musulman (I exclude, of course, those derelicts or orphans of Musulman parents who are brought up from childhood in Christian schools). Nor am I surprised at even the most complete demonstration of failure. Putting aside the dogmatic assumptions of Christianity (e.g. the doctrine of the Trinity and the Divinity of Christ), which are so repugnant to the Muhammadan conception of the unity of God, we cannot regard the reluctance of a Musulman to desert his faith with much astonishment when we remember that the penalty for such an act is death. The chances of conversion are remote indeed so long as the body as well as the soul of the convert is thrown into the scales But personal apprehensions, though an important are not the deciding factor in the situation. It is against the impregnable rock-wall of Islám as a system embracing every sphere, and duty, and act of life, that the waves of missionary effort beat and buffet in vain. Marvellously adapted alike to the climate, character and occupations of those countries upon which it has laid its adamantine grip, Islám holds its votary in complete thrall from the cradle to the grave. To him, it is not only religion, it is government, philosophy, and science as well. The Muhammadan conception is not so much that of a state church as, if the phrase may be permitted, of a church state. The undergirders with which society itself is warped round are not of civil, but of ecclesiastical, fabrication, and, wrapped in this superb, if paralysing creed, the Musulman lives in contented surrender of all volition, deems it his highest duty to worship God and to compel, or, where impossible, to despise those who do not worship Him in the spirit, and then dies in sure and certain hope of Paradise. So long as this all-compelling, all-absorbing code of life holds an Eastern people in its embrace, determining every duty and regulating every act of existence, and finally meting out an assured salvation missionary treasure and missionary self-denial will largely be spent in vain. Indeed, an active propaganda is, in my judgment, the worst of policies that a Christian mission in a bigoted Musulman country can adopt and the very tolerance with which I have credited the Persian government is in large measure due to the prudent abstention of the Christian missionaries from avowed proselytism.” (Pp. 508–9.)   [ Back To Reference]
8. Gobineau, writing about the year 1865, gives the following testimony: “Thus Bábism has won a considerable influence on the mind of Persia, and spreading beyond the Persian frontier, has overflowed into the pachalick of Baghdád and penetrated into India. Among its characteristics, one of the most striking is that, even during the life of the Báb, many of the new faith, many of its most convinced and devoted followers, have never known personally their prophet and do not seem to have attached great importance to the hearing of his instructions from his own lips. Nevertheless, they rendered him, completely and without reservation, the honors and the veneration to which, in their own eyes, he was certainly entitled.” (Comte de Gobineau’s “Les Religions et les Philosophies dans l’Asie Centrale,” p. 255.)   [ Back To Reference]
9. “The Cause of the Báb is on the road to great achievements. We have now shown how there has taken place a religious movement which absorbs the deepest attention of Central Asia, that is to say, of Persia, several regions of India and a section of Asiatic Turkey; a religious movement, therefore, truly remarkable and worthy of being studied. Through it, we witness events, manifestations, catastrophes such that one could only imagine possible in remote ages when the great religions were born. I even confess that if I were to see appear in Europe a religion like unto Bábism, with advantages such as Bábism possesses, with complete faith, an undaunted enthusiasm, tried courage and proven devotion, winning the respect of the indifferent, frightening its adversaries and, moreover, a tireless proselytism constantly gaining adherents in every social class,—if I were to see such a phenomenon in Europe, I would not hesitate to predict that, within a given time, power and sovereignty would of necessity belong to a group so richly endowed.” (Comte de Gobineau’s “Les Religions et les Philosophies dans l’Asie Centrale,” pp. 116, 293–294.)

“It seems certain that from the religious standpoint and especially from the moral one, Bábism marks an advance over the teachings of Islám; one may hold with M. Vambery (French Academy, March 12, 1892) that its leader has expressed doctrines worthy of the greatest thinkers…. In any case the growth of Bábism is an interesting chapter in the history of modern religions and civilization. And thus, after all is said, those who praise it are perhaps right; it may be that from Bábism will come the regeneration of the Persian peoples, even of the whole of Islám which is in real need of it. Unfortunately there is seldom a national regeneration without much shedding of blood.” (M. J. Balteau’s “Le Bábisme,” p. 28.)

“Now it appears to me that the history of the Bábí movement must be interesting in effort ways to others besides those who are directly engaged in the study of Persian. To the student of religious thought it will afford no little matter for reflection; for here he may contemplate such personalities as by lapse of time pass into heroes and demi-gods still unobscured by myth and fable he may examine by the light of concurrent and independent testimony one of those strange outbursts of enthusiasm, faith, fervent devotion, and indomitable heroism—or fanaticism, if you will—which we are accustomed to associate with the earlier history of the human race; he may witness in a word, the birth of a faith which may not impossibly win a place amidst the great religions of the world. To the ethnologist also it may yield food for thought as to the character of a people who, stigmatised as they often have been as selfish, mercenary, avaricious, egotistical, sordid, and cowardly, are yet capable of exhibiting under the influence of a strong religious impulse a degree of devotion, disinterestedness, generosity, unselfishness, nobility, and courage which may be paralleled in history, but can scarcely be surpassed. To the politician, too, the matter is not devoid of importance; for what changes may not be effected in a country now reckoned almost as a cypher in the balance of national forces by a religion capable of evoking so mighty a spirit? Let those who know what Muhammad made the Arabs, consider well what the Báb may yet make the Persians.” (E. G. Browne’s introduction to “A Traveller’s Narrative,” pp. 8–9.)

“So here at Bahjí was I installed as a guest, in the very midst of all that Bábism accounts most noble and most holy; and here did I spend five most memorable days, during which I enjoyed unparalleled and unhoped-for opportunities of holding intercourse with those who are the very fountain-heads of that mighty and wondrous spirit which works with invisible but ever-increasing force for the transformation and quickening of a people who slumber in a sleep like unto death. It was in truth a strange and moving experience, but one whereof I despair of conveying any save the feeblest impression. I might, indeed, strive to describe in greater detail the faces and forms which surrounded me, the conversations to which I was privileged to listen, the solemn melodious reading of the sacred books, the general sense of harmony and content which pervaded the place, and the fragrant shady gardens whither in the afternoon we sometimes repaired; but all this was as nought in comparison with the spiritual atmosphere with which I was encompassed. Persian Muslims will tell you often that the Bábís bewitch or drug their guests so that these, impelled by a fascination which they cannot resist, become similarly affected with what the aforesaid Muslims regard as a strange and incomprehensible madness. Idle and absurd as this belief is, it yet rests on a basis of fact stronger than that which supports the greater part of what they allege concerning this people. The spirit which pervades the Bábís is such that it can hardly fail to affect most powerfully all subjected to its influence. It may appeal or attract: it cannot be ignored or disregarded. Let those who have not seen disbelieve me if they will; but, should that spirit once reveal itself to them, they will experience an emotion which they are not likely to forget.” (Ibid., pp. 38–9.)

“It will thus be seen that, in its external organisation, Bábism has undergone great and radical changes since it first appeared as a proselytising force half a century ago. These changes, however, have in no wise impaired, but appear, on the contrary, to have stimulated, its propaganda, which has advanced with a rapidity inexplicable to those who can only see therein a crude form of political or even of metaphysical fermentation. The lowest estimate places the present number of Bábís in Persia at half a million. I am disposed to think, from conversations with persons well qualified to judge, that the total is nearer one million. They are to be found in every walk of life, from the ministers and nobles of the Court to the scavenger or the groom, not the least arena of their activity being the Musulman priesthood itself. It will have been noticed that the movement was initiated by siyyids, hájís, and mullás—i.e. persons who, either by descent, from pious inclination, or by profession, were intimately concerned with the Muhammadan creed; and it is among even the professed votaries of the faith that they continue to make their converts. Many Bábís are well known to be such, but, as long as they walk circumspectly, are free from intrusion or persecution. In the poorer walks of life the fact is, as a rule, concealed for fear of giving an excuse for the superstitious rancour of superiors. Quite recently the Bábís have had great success in the camp of another enemy, having secured many proselytes among the Jewish populations of the Persian towns. I hear that during the past year they are reported to have made 150 Jewish converts in Tihrán, 100 in Hamadán, 50 in Káshán, and 75 per cent of the Jews at Gulpayigán.” (Lord Curzon’s “Persia and the Persian Question,” vol. 1, pp. 499–500.)

“From that subtle race,” writes Dr. J. Estlin Carpenter, “issues the most remarkable movement which modern Muhammadanism has produced…. Disciples gathered round him, and the movement was not checked by his arrest, his imprisonment for nearly six years and his final execution in 1850…. It, too, claims to be a universal teaching; it has already its noble army of martyrs and its holy hooks; has Persia, in the midst of her miseries, given birth to a religion which will go round the world?” (“Comparative Religion,” pp. 70, 71.)

“Once again,” writes Professor E. G. Browne, “in the world’s history has the East vindicated her claim to teach religion to the West, and to hold in the Spiritual World that preeminence which the Western nations hold in the Material.” (Introduction to M. H. Phelps’ “Life and Teachings of Abbás Effendi,” p. 15.)   [ Back To Reference]

10. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s title.   [ Back To Reference]
11. “The Caliphate began with the election of Abú-Bakr in A.D. 632 and lasted until A.D. 1258, when Hulagu Khán sacked Baghdád and put Mu’tasim-Bi’llah to death. For nearly three centuries after this catastrophe the title of Caliph was perpetuated in Egypt by descendants of the House of Abbás who lived under the protection of its Mameluke rulers, until in A.D. 1517 Sultán Salím, the Osmanli, having conquered the Mameluke dynasty induced the helpless Caliph to transfer to him the title and insignia.” (P. M. Sykes’ “A History of Persia,” vol. 2, p. 25.)   [ Back To Reference]