Bábism, also known as the Bábi Faith (Persian: بابیه, romanized: Babiyye), is an Abrahamic monotheistic religion which professes that there is one incorporeal, unknown, and incomprehensible God who manifests his will in an unending series of theophanies, called Manifestation of God. It has no more than a few thousand adherents according to current estimates, most of whom are concentrated in Iran. It was founded by ʻAli Muhammad Shirazi who first assumed the title of Báb (lit. 'Gate') from which the religion gets its name, out of the belief that he was the gate to the Twelfth Imam. However throughout his ministry his titles and claims underwent much evolution as the Báb progressively outlined his teachings.
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Founded in 1844, the Bábi Faith flourished in Iran until 1852, then lingered on in exile in the Ottoman Empire, especially Cyprus, as well as underground in Iran. An anomaly amongst Islamic messianic movements, the Bábí movement signaled a break with Shia Islam, beginning a new religious system with its own unique laws, teachings, and practices. While Bábism was violently opposed by both clerical and government establishments, it led to the founding of the Baháʼí Faith, whose followers consider the religion founded by the Báb as a predecessor to their own. Baháʼí sources maintain that the remains of the Bab were clandestinely rescued by a handful of Bábis and then hidden. Over time the remains were secretly transported according to the instructions of Baháʼu'lláh and then ʻAbdu'l-Bahá through Isfahan, Kermanshah, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and then by sea to Acre on the plain below Mount Carmel in 1899. On 21 March 1909, the remains were interred in a special tomb, the Shrine of the Báb, erected for this purpose by ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, on Mount Carmel in present-day Haifa, Israel.
Bábism, a term originating from Orientalists rather than the followers of the religion, comes from the Perso-Arabic noun bab (Arabic: باب), meaning gate. Additionally, Bayání comes from the triliteral root B-Y-N which forms a class of words relating to concepts of clarity, differentiation, and separation, including Bayán which can refer to explanation, commentary, or exposition as well as the branch of Arabic rhetoric dealing with metaphors and interpretation.
Beliefs and teachings
The Báb's teachings can be grouped into three broad stages which each have a dominant thematic focus. His earliest teachings are primarily defined by his interpretation of the Quran and other Islamic traditions. While this interpretive mode continues throughout all three stages of his teachings, a shift takes place where his emphasis moves to the philosophical elucidation and finally to legislative pronouncements. In the second philosophical stage, the Báb gives an explanation of the metaphysics of being and creation, and in the third legislative stage his mystical and historical principles are explicitly united. An analysis of the Báb's writings throughout the three stages shows that all of his teachings were animated by a common principle that had multiple dimensions and forms.
In Twelver Shiʻa Islamic belief there were twelve Imams, the last of which, known as Imam Mahdi, communicated with his followers only through certain representatives. According to the Twelver's belief, after the last of these representatives died, the Imam Mahdi went into a state of Occultation; while still alive, he was no longer accessible to his believers. Shiʻa Muslims believe that when the world becomes oppressed, the Imam Mahdi (also termed the Qa'im) will come out of occultation and restore true religion on Earth before the cataclysmic end of the world and judgement day.
In Bábí belief the Báb is the return of the Imam Mahdi, but the doctrine of the Occultation is implicitly denied; instead the Báb stated that his manifestation was a symbolic return of the Imam, and not the physical reappearance of the Imam Mahdi who had died a thousand years earlier. In Bábí belief the statements made from previous revelations regarding the Imam Mahdi were set forth in symbols. The Báb also stated that he was not only the fulfillment of the Shiʻi expectations for the Qá'im, but that he also was the beginning of a new prophetic dispensation.
Resurrection, Judgment Day and cyclical revelation
The Báb taught that his revelation was beginning an apocalyptic process that was bringing the Islamic dispensation to its cyclical end, and starting a new dispensation. He taught that the terms "resurrection", "Judgement Day", "paradise" and "hell" used in Shiʻa prophecies for the end-times are symbolic. He stated that "Resurrection" means that the appearance of a new revelation, and that "raising of the dead" means the spiritual awakening of those who have stepped away from true religion. He further stated that "Judgement Day" refers to when a new Manifestation of God comes, and the acceptance or rejection of those on the Earth. Thus the Báb taught that with his revelation the end times ended and the age of resurrection had started and that the end-times were symbolic as the end of the past prophetic cycle. The Báb wrote: "Verily, the world and the hereafter are two spiritual states. If you turn towards God, exalted be He, then you are in paradise and if you are occupied with your self then you are in hell and in the world. Therefore understand these allusions".
In the Persian Bayán, the Báb wrote that religious dispensations come in cycles, as the seasons, to renew "pure religion" for humanity. This notion of continuity anticipated future prophetic revelations after the Báb.
Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest
While the Báb claimed a station of revelation, he also claimed no finality for his revelation. One of the core Bábí teachings is the great Promised One, whom the Báb termed He whom God shall make manifest, promised in the sacred writings of previous religions would soon establish the Kingdom of God on the Earth. In the books written by the Báb he constantly entreats his believers to follow He whom God shall make manifest when he arrives and not behave like the Muslims who have not accepted his own revelation.
The Báb abrogated Islamic law and in the Persian Bayán promulgated a system of Bábí law, thus establishing a separate religion distinct from Islam. Some of the new laws included changing the direction of the Qibla to the Báb's house in Shiraz, Iran and changing the calendar to a solar calendar of nineteen months and nineteen days (which became the basis of the Baháʼí calendar) and prescribing the last month as a month of fasting. The Bab also prohibits confession and seeking forgiveness from anyone but God and His Manifestation.
In many respects, the Báb raised the status of women in his teachings. The Báb taught that, since God transcends the boundaries of male and female, God wishes that "neither men exalt themselves over women, nor women exalt themselves over men". He instructs his followers to not mistreat women "even for the blink of an eye" and sets the penalty for causing grief to women as double that of causing grief to men.(Persian Bayān 7:18) He also encourages the education of women and doesn't display a gender distinction in Bábi laws on education. Armin Eschraghi notes the context of 19th century Iran and that, "Modern western readers might not appreciate the revolutionary potential" of the Báb's teaching that "Those who have been brought up in this community, men and women, are allowed to look [at each other], speak and sit together" The Primal Will of God is also personified as the female figure of the maid of heaven. The Báb also foreshadowed later developments in media, by emphasising the need for a rapid system of news communication, which would be available for all to access, no matter their wealth or social standing. He writes, regarding the news, that "until such a system is made universal, its benefit will not reach those servants of the kingdom unless there come a time when it will be accessible to all the people. Although today the kings have their own special couriers, this is fruitless, for the poor are deprived of such a service." Commenting on the extremes of wealth and poverty in society, the Báb also teaches that the true station of the rich should be as "the depositories of God" and enjoins generosity and charity. He says, "Should ye find one stricken with poverty, enrich him to the extent of your ability...should ye find one who is in distress, bring him tranquility by any means in your power"
Jack McLean, summarising Nader Saiedi's analysis, writes that "the Báb’s writings even foresee current global issues of crisis, such as the protection of the environment and the commodification of natural resources" The Báb specifically calls for the absolute purity of water (Bayán 6:2). It may be easily deduced from this injunction that the environment must not be polluted since all substances return to the inland water table and the oceans. The Arabic Bayán (9:11) also forbids the commodification of the four elements, earth, air, fire and water
The Báb also created a large number of other rituals, rites and laws. Some of these include the carrying of arms only in times of necessity, abstaining from smoking tobacco, the obligatory sitting on chairs, the advocating of the cleanliness displayed by Christians, the non-cruel treatment of animals, the prohibition of beating children severely, the recommendation of the printing of books, even scripture and the prohibition on the study of logic or dead languages. Other laws include elaborate regulations regarding pilgrimage, fasting, the manufacture of rings, the use of perfume, and the washing and disposal of the dead.
Abrogation of Babism
Bábism and the Baháʼí Faith are both correlative and almost inseparable. Both have similar beliefs and doctrines. Bábism is considered to be the essential precedent to, and an integral part of the Baháʼí Faith. As according to Muslim belief Judaism is considered to have been abrogated and replaced by Christianity, and Christianity by Islam, so also Bábism is believed by the Baháʼís to have been abrogated and replaced by the Baháʼí Faith.
Twelver Shia Muslims regard the Twelfth Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, as the last of the imams. They contend that Muhammad al-Mahdi went into the Occultation in 874 CE, at which time communication between the Imam and the Muslim community could only be performed through mediators called bābs ('gates') or nā'ibs ('representatives'). In 940, the fourth nā'ib claimed that Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi had gone into an indefinite "Major Occultation", and that he would cease to communicate with the people. According to Twelver belief, the Hidden Imam is alive in the world, but in concealment from his enemies, and that he would only emerge shortly before the Last Judgment. At that time, acting as al-Qa'im ("He who will arise"), a messianic figure also known as the Mahdi ("He who is rightly guided"), the Hidden Imam would start a holy war against evil, would defeat the unbelievers, and would start a reign of justice.
In 1830s Qajar Persia, Sayyid Kazim Rashti was the leader of the Shaykhis, a sect of Twelvers. The Shaykhis were a group expecting the imminent appearance of al-Qāʾim. At the time of Kazim's death in 1843, he had counselled his followers to leave their homes to seek the Lord of the Age whose advent would soon break on the world.
On 22 May, 1844 Mullá Husayn of Boshruyeh in Khorasan, a prominent disciple of Sayyid Kāẓim, entered Shiraz following the instruction by his master to search for al-Qā'im. Soon after he arrived in Shiraz, Mullá Husayn came into contact with the Báb. On the night of 22 May 1844, Mulla Husayn was invited by the Báb to his home; on that night Mullá Husayn told him that he was searching for the possible successor to Sayyid Kāẓim, al-Qā'im, and the Báb told Mullá Husayn privately that he was Sayyid Kāẓim's successor and the bearer of divine knowledge. Through the night of the 22nd to dawn of the 23rd, Mulla Husayn became the first to accept the Báb's claims as the gateway to Truth and the initiator of a new prophetic cycle; the Báb had replied in a satisfactory way to all of Mullá Husayn's questions and had written in his presence, with extreme rapidity, a long commentary on the surah of Yusuf, which has come to be known as the Qayyūmu l-Asmā' and is often considered the Báb's first revealed work, though he had before then composed a commentary on Surat al-Fatihah and Surat al-Baqara. This night and the following day are observed in the Baháʼí Faith as a holy day since then.
After Mulla Husayn accepted the Báb's claim, the Báb ordered him to wait until 17 others had independently recognized the station of the Báb before they could begin teaching others about the new revelation.
Within five months, seventeen other disciples of Sayyid Kāẓim had independently recognized the Báb as a Manifestation of God. Among them was one woman, Zarrin Tāj Baraghāni, a poet, who later received the name of Táhirih (the Pure). These 18 disciples were later to be known as the Letters of the Living and were given the task of spreading the new faith across Iran and Iraq. The Báb emphasized the spiritual station of these 18 individuals, who along with himself, made the first "Unity" of his religion.
After his declaration, he soon assumed the title of the Báb. Within a few years the movement spread all over Iran, causing controversy. His claim was at first understood by some of the public at the time to be merely a reference to the Gate of the Hidden Imám of Muhammad, but this understanding he publicly disclaimed. He later proclaimed himself, in the presence of the heir to the Throne of Persia and other notables, to be al-Qā'im. In the Báb's writings, the Báb appears to identify himself as the gate (báb) to Muhammad al-Mahdi and later he begins to explicitly proclaim his station as equivalent to that of the Hidden Imam and a new messenger from God. Saiedi states the exalted identity the Báb was claiming was unmistakable, but due to the reception of the people, his writings appear to convey the impression that he is only the gate to the Hidden Twelfth Imam. To his circle of early believers, the Báb was equivocal about his exact status, gradually confiding in them that he was not merely a gate to the Hidden Imam, but the Manifestation of the Hidden Imam and al-Qā'im himself. During his early meetings with Mullá Husayn, the Báb described himself as the Master and the Promised One; he did not consider himself just Sayyid Kāẓim Rashti's successor, but claimed a prophetic status, with a sense of deputyship delegated to him not just from the Hidden Imam, but from Divine authority; His early texts, such as the Commentary on the Sura of Yusuf, used Qurʼanic language that implied divine authority and identified himself effectively with the Imam. When Mullā ʿAlī Basṭāmī, the second Letter of the Living, was put on trial in Baghdad for preaching about the Báb, the clerics studied the Commentary on the Sura of Yusuf, recognized in it a claim to divine revelation, and quoted from it extensively to prove that the author had made a messianic claim.
The Báb's message was disseminated by the Letters of the Living through Iran and southern Iraq. One of these initial activities was communicated to the West starting 8 January 1845 as an exchange of diplomatic reports concerning the fate of Mullá ʿAli-e Bastāmi, the second Letter. These were exchanges between Sir Henry Rawlinson, 1st Baronet who wrote first to Stratford Canning, 1st Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe. Followups continued until in 1846 he was sentenced by the Ottomans to serve in the naval shipyards at hard labor—the Ottoman ruler refusing to banish him as it would be "difficult to control his activities and prevent him spreading his false ideas." Quddús and other early followers then were sent on to Shiraz to begin public presentations of the new religion. Indeed various activities the Báb initiated were devolved to various Letters of the Living like preaching activities and answering questions from the community. In particular as these first public activities multiplied opposition by the Islamic clergy arose and prompted the Governor of Shiraz to order the Báb's arrest. The Báb, upon hearing of the arrest order, left Bushehr for Shiraz in June 1845 and presented himself to the authorities. This series of events become the first public account of the new religion in the West when they were published 1 Nov 1845 in The Times. The story was also carried from 15 Nov by the Literary Gazette which was subsequently echoed widely. The Báb was placed under house arrest at the home of his uncle, and was restricted in his personal activities, until a cholera epidemic broke out in the city in September 1846.
The Báb was released and departed for Isfahan. There, many came to see him at the house of the imám jum'ih, head of the local clergy, who became sympathetic. After an informal gathering where the Báb debated the local clergy and displayed his speed in producing instantaneous verses, his popularity soared. After the death of the Governor of Isfahan, Manouchehr Khan Gorji, an Iranian Georgian, who had become his supporter, pressure from the clergy of the province led to the Shah, Mohammad Shah Qajar, ordering the Báb to Tehran in January, 1847. After spending several months in a camp outside Tehran, and before the Báb could meet the Shah, the Prime Minister sent the Báb to Tabriz in the northwestern corner of the country, and later Maku and Chehriq, where he was confined. During his confinement, he was said to have impressed his jailers with his patience and dignity. Communication between the Báb and his followers was not completely severed but was quite difficult, and more responsibilities were devolved to the Letters as he was not able to elucidate his teachings to the public. With Bábí teachings now mostly spread by his followers, they faced increasing persecution themselves.
The role played by Táhirih in Karbalāʾ was particularly significant. She began an effort of innovation in religion based on her station as a Letter of the Living and the incarnation of Fatimah. In his early teachings, the Báb emphasized observing Sharia and extraordinary acts of piety. However, his claim of being the Bāb, i.e. the authority direct from God, was in conflict with this more conservative position of supporting Sharia. Táhirih innovated an advance in the understanding of the priority of the Báb's station above that of Islamic Sharia by wedding the concept of the Bāb's overriding religious authority with ideas originating in Shaykhism pointing to an age after outward conformity. She seems to have made this connection circa 1262/1846 even before the Bāb himself. The matter was taken up by the community at large at the Conference of Badasht.
This conference was one of the most important events of the Bábí movement when in 1848 its split from Islam and Islamic law was made clear. Three key individuals who attended the conference were Baháʼu'lláh, Quddús, and Táhirih. Táhirih, during the conference, was able to persuade many of the others about the Bábí split with Islam based on the station of the Báb and an age after outward conformity. She appeared at least once during the conference in public without a veil, heresy within the Islamic world of that day, signalling the split. During this same month the Báb was brought to trial in Tabriz and made his claim to be the Mahdi public to the Crown Prince and the Shiʻa clergy.
Several sources agree that by 1848 or 1850 there were 100,000 converts to Babism. In the fall of 1850 newspaper coverage fell behind quickly unfolding events. Though the Báb was named for the first time he had in fact already been executed.
Uprisings and massacres
By 1848 the increased fervour of the Bábís and the clerical opposition had led to a number of confrontations between the Bábís and their government and clerical establishment. After the death of Mohammad Shah Qajar, the shah of Iran, a series of armed struggles and uprisings broke out in the country, including at Tabarsi. These confrontations all resulted in Bábí massacres; Baháʼí authors give an estimate of 20,000 Bábís killed from 1844 to present, with most of the deaths occurring during the first 20 years. Former Professor of Islamic Studies Denis MacEoin studied documented deaths, both for individuals and for round figures, from Bábí, Baháʼí, European, and Iranian sources, and confirmed at most two to three thousand. He stated that he could not find evidence for any higher figures. Supporters of the Bábís paint their struggle as basically defensive in nature; Shiʻi writers on the other hand point to this period as proof of the subversive nature of Bábísm. MacEoin has pointed out that the Bábís did arm themselves, upon the Báb's instructions, and originally intended an uprising, but that their eventual clashes with state forces were defensive, and not considered an offensive jihad. In mid-1850 a new prime-minister, Amir Kabir, was convinced that the Bábí movement was a threat and ordered the execution of the Báb which was followed by the killings of many Bábís.
Of the conflicts between the Bábís and the establishment, the first and best known took place in Māzandarān at the remote shrine of Shaykh Tabarsi, about 22 kilometres southeast of Bārfarush (modern Babol). From October 1848 until May 1849, around 300 Bábís (later rising to 600), led by Quddús and Mullá Husayn, defended themselves against the attacks of local villagers and members of the Shah's army under the command of Prince Mahdi Qoli Mirza. They were, after being weakened through attrition and starvation, subdued through false promises of safety, and put to death or sold into slavery.
The revolt at the fortress of ʿAli Mardan Khan in Zanjan in northwest Iran was by far the most violent of all the conflicts. It was headed by Mullā Muhammad ʻAli Zanjani, called Hujjat, and also lasted seven or eight months (May 1850 – January 1851). The Bábí community in the city had swelled to around 3000 after the conversion of one of the town's religious leaders to the Bábí movement. The conflict was preceded by years of growing tension between the leading Islamic clergy and the new rising Bábí leadership. The city governor ordered that the city be divided into two sectors, with hostilities starting soon thereafter. The Bábís faced resistance against a large number of regular troops, and led to the death of several thousand Bábís. After Hujjat was killed, and the Bábí numbers being greatly reduced, the Bábís surrendered in January 1851 and were massacred by the army.
Meanwhile, a serious but less protracted struggle was waged against the government at Neyriz in Fars by Yahya Vahid Darabi of Nayriz. Vahid had converted around 1500 people in the community and had thus caused tensions with the authorities which led to an armed struggle in a nearby fort. The Bábís resisted attacks by the town's governor as well as further reinforcements. After being given a truce offer on 17 June 1850, Vahid told his followers to give up their positions, which led to Vahid and the Bábís being killed; the Bábí section of the town was also plundered, and the property of the remaining Bábís seized. Later, in March 1853 the governor of the city was killed by the Bábís. These further events led to a second armed conflict near the city where the Bábís once again resisted troop attacks until November 1853, when a massacre of Bábís happened, with their women being enslaved.
After the execution of the Báb
The revolts in Zanjan and Nayriz were in progress when in 1850 the Báb, with one of his disciples, was brought from his prison at Chehriq citadel, which was called jabal alshadid meaning mount extreme by Báb, to Tabriz and publicly shot in front of the citadel. The body, after being exposed for some days, was recovered by the Bábís and conveyed to a shrine near Tehran, whence it was ultimately removed to Haifa, where it is now enshrined.
Most western scholars who reviewed the Faith of the Báb after 1860 saw it as a way of letting in Western and Christian ideals into "a closed and rigid Moslem system" and giving the Báb himself sometimes less or more credit for being authentic in the process. However some went further. In 1866 British diplomat Robert Grant Watson (b. 8 February 1834, d. 28 October 1892) published a history of the first 58 years of the 19th century of Persia and would serve in several diplomatic capacities Watson summarizes the impact of the Báb in Persia:
Bábism, though at present a proscribed religion in Persia, is far from being extinct, or even declining, and the Báb may yet contest with Mahomed (sic) the privilege of being regarded as the real prophet of the faithful. Bábism in its infancy was the cause of a greater sensation than that even which was produced by the teaching of Jesus, if we may judge from the account of Josephus of the first days of Christianity.
Latter commentators also noted these kinds of views: Ernest Renan, Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch, son of Charles Bulfinch, and others.
For the next two years comparatively little was heard of the Bábís. The Bábís became polarized with one group speaking of violent retribution against Naser al-Din Shah Qajar, while the other, under the leadership of Bahaʼu'lláh, looked to rebuild relationships with the government and advance the Babí cause by persuasion and the example of virtuous living.
The militant group of Babis was between thirty and seventy persons, only a small number of the total Babi population of perhaps 100,000. Their meetings appear to have come under the control of a "Husayn Jan", an emotive and magnetic figure who obtained a high degree of personal devotion to himself from the group. Meanwhile, Tahirih and Baha'u'llah, visible leaders of the community previously, were removed from the scene – Tahirih by arrest and in the case of Baha'u'llah an invitation to go on pilgrimage to Karbila. On 15 August 1852, three from this small splinter group, acting on their own initiative, attempted to assassinate Naser al-Din Shah Qajar as he was returning from the chase to his palace at Niavarān. Notwithstanding the assassins' claim that they were working alone, the entire Bábí community was blamed, and a slaughter of several thousand Bábís followed, starting on 31 August 1852 with some thirty Bábís, including Táhirih. Dr Jakob Eduard Polak, then the Shah's physician, was an eye-witness to her execution. Baháʼu'lláh surrendered himself and he along with a few others were imprisoned in the Siāhchāl "Black Pit", an underground dungeon in Tehran. Meanwhile, echoes of the newspaper coverage of the violence continued into 1853.
In most of his prominent writings, the Báb alluded to a Promised One, most commonly referred to as "He whom God shall make manifest", and that he himself was "but a ring upon the hand of Him Whom God shall make manifest." Within 20 years of the Báb's death, over 25 people claimed to be the Promised One, most significantly Baháʼu'lláh.
Shortly before the Báb's execution, a follower of the Báb, Abd al-Karim, brought to the Báb's attention the necessity to appoint a successor; thus the Báb wrote a certain number of tablets which he gave to Abd al-Karim to deliver to Subh-i Azal and Baháʼu'lláh. These tablets were later interpreted by both Azalis and Baháʼís as proof of the Báb's delegation of leadership. Some sources state that the Báb did this at the suggestion of Baháʼu'lláh. In one of the tablets, which is commonly referred to as the Will and Testament of the Báb, Subh-i Azal is viewed to have been appointed as leader of the Bábis after the death of the movement's founder; the tablet, in verse 27, orders Subh-i Azal "...to obey Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest." At the time of the apparent appointment Subh-i Azal was still a teenager, had never demonstrated leadership in the Bábí movement, and was still living in the house of his older brother, Baháʼu'lláh. All of this lends credence to the Baháʼí claim that the Báb appointed Subh-i Azal the head of the Bábí Faith so as to divert attention away from Baháʼu'lláh, while allowing Bábís to visit Baháʼu'lláh and consult with him freely, and allowing Baháʼu'lláh to write Bábís easily and freely.
Subh-i Azal's leadership was controversial. He generally absented himself from the Bábí community spending his time in Baghdad in hiding and disguise; and even went so far as to publicly disavow allegiance to the Báb on several occasions. Subh-i Azal gradually alienated himself from a large proportion of the Bábís who started to give their alliance to other claimants. During the time that both Baháʼu'lláh and Subh-i-Azal were in Baghdad, since Subh-i Azal remained in hiding, Baháʼu'lláh performed much of the daily administration of the Bábí affairs.
Baháʼu'lláh claimed that in 1853, while a prisoner in Tehran, he was visited by a "Maid of Heaven", which symbolically marked the beginning of his mission as a Messenger of God. Ten years later in Baghdad, he made his first public declaration to be He whom God shall make manifest to a small number of followers, and in 1866 he made the claim public. Baháʼu'lláh's claims threatened Subh-i Azal's position as leader of the religion since it would mean little to be leader of the Bábís if "Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest" were to appear and start a new religion. Subh-i-Azal responded by making his own claims, but his attempt to preserve the traditional Bábísm was largely unpopular, and his followers became the minority.
Eventually Baháʼu'lláh was recognized by the vast majority of Bábís as "He whom God shall make manifest" and his followers began calling themselves Baháʼís. By 1908, there were probably from half a million to a million Baháʼís, and at most only a hundred followers of Subh-i Azal.
Subh-i Azal died in Famagusta, Cyprus in 1912, and his followers are known as Azalis or Azali Bábis. MacEoin notes that after the deaths of those Azali Babis who were active in the Persian Constitutional Revolution, the Azali form of Babism entered a stagnation from which it has not recovered as there is no acknowledged leader or central organization. Some few have coined the term Bayání faith though it died out in Cyprus. (Persian: بيانى, Bayání).
- See also Writings of the Báb
The Báb affirms that the verses revealed by a Manifestation of God are the greatest proof of His mission and the writings of the Báb comprise over two thousand tablets, epistles, prayers, and philosophical treatises. These writings form part of Baha'i scripture, particularly his prayers, which are often recited individually as well as in devotional gatherings. The Báb's major writings include the Qayyúmu'l-Asmáʼ (a commentary on the Sura of Joseph), and the Persian Bayán, which the Bábís saw as superseding the Qurʼan. The latter has been translated into French; only portions exist in English.
The works of the Báb have also excited scholarly interest and analysis. Elham Afnan describes the writings of the Báb as having "restructured the thoughts of their readers, so that they could break free from the chains of obsolete beliefs and inherited customs". Jack McLean notes the novel symbolism of the Báb's works, observing that "The universe of the Báb’s sacred writings is pervasively symbolic. Numbers, colors, minerals, liquids, the human body, social relationships, gestures, deeds, language (letters and words), and nature itself are all mirrors or signs that reflect the profounder reality of the names and attributes (asmá va sifát) of God". Todd Lawson similarly identifies in the commentaries of the Báb an assertion of "the potential and ultimate meaningfulness of all created things, from the highest to the lowest.” The Báb's works are characterised by linguistic innovation, including many neologisms whenever He found existing theological terms inadequate. Several scholars have identified the continual repetition of particular words or phrases of religious importance to be a distinct feature throughout the Bab's writings. John Walbridge views the "unquestionably hypnotic" use of repetition in the Bab's Kitab-i-Panj Sha'n, where "the same evocative words are repeated ceaselessly" with gradual variations over time, as anticipating a minimalist aesthetic as well as possibly prefiguring the modernist style of Finnegans Wake. The Báb himself categorised his writings into five modes: divine verses, prayers, commentaries, rational discourse — written in Arabic — and the Persian mode, which encompasses the previous four. Scholars have noted commonalities between the Báb’s writings and Western philosophers such as Hegel, Kant and James Joyce
Unfortunately, most of the writings of the Báb have been lost. The Báb himself stated they exceeded five hundred thousand verses in length; the Qurʼan, in contrast, is 6300 verses in length. If one assumes 25 verses per page, that would equal 20,000 pages of text. Nabíl-i-Zarandí, in The Dawn-Breakers, mentions nine complete commentaries on the Qurʼan, revealed during the Báb's imprisonment at Máh-Kú, which have been lost without a trace. Establishing the true text of the works that are still extant, as already noted, is not always easy, and some texts will require considerable work. Others, however, are in good shape; several of the Báb's major works are available in the handwriting of his trusted secretaries.
Most works were revealed in response to specific questions by Bábís. This is not unusual; the genre of the letter has been a venerable medium for composing authoritative texts as far back as Paul of Tarsus. Three-quarters of the chapters of the New Testament are letters, were composed to imitate letters, or contain letters within them. Sometimes the Báb revealed works very rapidly by chanting them in the presence of a secretary and witnesses.
The Archives Department at the Baháʼí World Centre currently holds about 190 Tablets of the Báb. Excerpts from several principal works have been published in an English language compilation of the Báb's writings: Selections from the Writings of the Báb, other publications include Prayers from the Bab: The Remembrance of God. Denis MacEoin, in his Sources for Early Bābī Doctrine and History, gives a description of many works; much of the following summary is derived from that source. In addition to major works, the Báb revealed numerous letters to his wife and followers, many prayers for various purposes, numerous commentaries on verses or chapters of the Qurʼan, and many khutbihs or sermons (most of which were never delivered). Many of these have been lost; others have survived in compilations.
Also significant to Bábism are the writings of Quddús, which "display a close similarity to that of the Báb in both form and content" according to Moojan Momen and Todd Lawson, as well as the poetry and prose of Tahirih.
Denis MacEoin, a former member of the Baha'i faith and now a critic, considers Bábí law as a "mishmash of rules and regulations that at times are little more than mere whimsy, revolving around some of the Bab's own obsessions about cleanliness, polite behaviour, and elegance. It is a shari'a, but not in any practical sense. Certainly, it does not seem to be going anywhere...Here and there we find indications that the Bab had been impressed by Europeans and that he wanted his followers to emulate them." He further states: "One comes away from the Bayan with a strong sense that very little of this is to be taken seriously. It is a form of a game, never actually intended to be put into practice, much in the same way that whole sections of the Bab's later books don't, in fact, mean anything very much, but are elaborate exercises in interesting things you can do with Arabic roots. Or the way so many of the Bab's early writings, described as tafsirs on this or that sura of the Qurʼan, are really not commentaries at all." He further criticizes the Babi laws stating "The average Babi could hardly hope to afford the three diamonds, four yellow rubies, six emeralds, and six red rubies that he was expected to give to the Babi Messiah, let alone find time to observe all the rules and regulations laid down in the book. For all that, the Babi shari'a made an impact."
Baha'i scholar, Nader Saiedi states that the severe laws of the Bayán were never meant to be put in practice, because their implementation depended on the appearance of He whom God shall make manifest, while at the same time all of the laws would be abrogated unless the Promised One would reaffirm them. Saiedi concludes that these can then only have a strategic and symbolic meaning, and were meant to break through traditions and to focus the Báb's followers on obedience to He whom God shall make manifest.
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|Wikisource has the text of the 1905 New International Encyclopedia article "Babism".|
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