“His life is one of the most magnificent examples of courage which it has been the privilege of mankind to behold,” French writer A.L.M. Nicolas said of the Báb (“gate” in Arabic).
The Báb—born Siyyid `Alí-Muhammad in Shiraz, Persia (now Iran)—announced on May 22, 1844, that He was the bearer of a Divine Revelation which would prepare humanity for the advent of the Promised One of all religions.
That Promised One, the Báb declared, was destined to usher in the age of justice, unity and peace promised in Judaism, Christianity, Islam and all the other world religions. Bahá’u'lláh, one of the Báb’s leading advocates, announced in April 1863 that He was the Divine Messenger the Báb had promised.
The Báb’s announcement in the middle of the 19th century came at a time when many Christians were expecting the return of Christ based on their reading of Biblical prophecy. Simultaneously, half way around the world, in the Middle East, many followers of Islam were also expecting their Promised One to appear.
It seemed as if a new spiritual age was about to begin.
Those who had met the Báb were struck by the beauty of His being and grace. His voice, particularly, when chanting the tablets and prayers He revealed, possessed a sweetness that captivated the heart.
Against the backdrop of widespread moral breakdown in Persian society, the Báb’s assertion that He was the Bringer of a new Revelation from God and His call for spiritual and social renewal aroused both hope and excitement among the masses and hostility among the religious and political leaders of His day.
He quickly attracted thousands of followers.
Soon the Báb and His followers were persecuted by the religious and political leaders. The Bab was imprisoned, exiled, beaten and finally executed. The followers, by the thousands, were tortured and martyred.
Their extraordinary moral courage in the face of persecution was noted by a number of Western observers, such as Leo Tolstoy and Sarah Bernhardt, who were deeply affected by the spiritual drama that was unfolding in what was regarded as a darkened land.
Despite the opposition, the Báb’s religion survived. Most of the Báb’s followers embraced Bahá’u'lláh’s announcement that He was the One promised by the Báb. The religion, known as the Bahá’í Faith after Bahá’u'lláh’s declaration, continued to expand although persecutions also continued.
Today, the Bahá’í Faith has more than five million followers from every part of the world, drawn from every class of society and nearly every religion. In the United States, the Bahá’í Faith now has about 160,000 adherents.
Bahá’ís celebrate the anniversary of the Báb’s declaration through prayers and programs where the story of His declaration may be retold. It is one of nine holy days in the Bahá’í calendar when Bahá’ís suspend work or school.