On July 9, members of the Baha’i Faith commemorate the anniversary of the Martyrdom of the Bab (“the gate” in Arabic), one of nine holy days on which members of the Faith suspend work and school.
In Persia in 1844, the Bab declared that His mission was to herald the imminent arrival of the long-awaited Promised One, the Messenger of God Who would usher in the age of universal peace and transform the world. That Messenger was Baha’u'llah, Who in 1863 announced that He was God’s Messenger for this age.
The proclamation of the Bab attracted thousands of followers in a short time. Fearful of the Bab’s growing influence caused by His proclamation and teachings, which called for spiritual and moral renewal, religious and political leaders arose to oppose and persecute the Bab and His followers.
More than 20,000 of His followers were killed in several waves of brutal persecution. Though guilty of no crime, the Bab was arrested, beaten, exiled and imprisoned by the authorities. Then, on July 9, 1850, at age 31, He was executed in public by a firing squad in the city of Tabriz in northwest Persia.
The story of the events surrounding the Bab’s martyrdom has captured the interest of many because an apparent miracle was performed in the midst of tragic circumstances and in the presence of thousands of witnesses.
At His execution, the Bab and a young disciple were suspended by two ropes from a nail driven into a pillar of the soldier barracks in the public square of Tabriz. A regiment of 750 armed soldiers faced them in three lines of 250 each.
A crowd of about 10,000 was gathered on the roof of the barracks and on the roofs of nearby houses. Each group of 250 soldiers fired. The smoke of the guns turned “the light of the noonday sun into darkness.”
When the smoke cleared, the multitude was astounded to see that the two ropes were completely severed, and standing there unharmed was the Bab’s disciple. The Bab was nowhere to be seen.
After a hurried search, He was found unharmed in the room near the barracks where He had spent the previous night. He was calmly engaged in conversation with one of His disciples. When the guards walked in, the Bab declared that He had completed His conversation and that they could now carry out His execution.
The commander of the regiment was so unnerved that he ordered his men to quit the scene immediately. Another regiment was called into service and the sequence of the execution repeated. Once again, the air filled with thick smoke.
As the shots were fired, “…a gale of exceptional severity arose and swept over the whole city. A whirlwind of dust of incredible density obscured the light of the sun and blinded the eyes of the people. The entire city remained enveloped in that darkness till night.”
The stunning events were reported in newspapers around the world, in diplomatic correspondence among governments, by scholars and historians, and by members of the Faith.
The authorities dumped the remains of the Bab into the moat outside the city in the expectation they would be devoured by animals. Instead, they were secretly recovered, preserved, concealed and moved from place to place for almost 60 years.
In 1909, they were laid to rest in the Shrine of the Bab on the slopes of Mount Carmel in the Holy Land (now Haifa). The Shrine is one of the holiest places for Baha’is, who visit it while on pilgrimage. (Israel had become the world center of the Baha’i Faith after Baha’u'llah was exiled there. His remains were laid to rest there as well.)
Nineteenth century French writer A.L.M. Nicolas wrote of the Bab, “His life is one of the most magnificent examples of courage which it has been the privilege of mankind to behold.”
In the 1860s Count Gobineau, the former French Minister to Persia, described the attraction of the Bab’s Message: “And so, here is a religion presented and promoted by a mere youth. In a very few years … this religion had disseminated throughout almost the whole of Persia, and counted within its fold numerous zealous adherents… And it is not at all the ignorant part of the population that has been touched; it is eminent members of the clergy, the rich and learned classes, the women from the most important families; and lastly, after the Muslims, it is the philosophers, the Sufis in great numbers, and many Jews, who have been conquered by the new revelation…”