This account of the Martyrdom of the Bab represents the many accounts of the event rolled into a single story, without addition of new detail or loss of detail (apart from removal of names), and has been written in easy English. On finding a passage of especially interest, readers are encouraged to turn to the original sources which are linked at the end.
This is the story of the final days of the Báb, who appeared in Persia in 1844 to challenge and reform the corruption of the land, and introduce to the world the appearance of Bahá'u'lláh and a new world Faith. Meeting His death in 1850, He was suspended in mid-air with a disciple and executed by a regiment of soldiers in full view of thousands of people.
The story begins with the vision of Anis, promising him a death alongside the Báb...
During the Báb's imprisonment in the Castle, His message was heard by a youth named Anis. From that moment onwards, Anis was overtaken with a longing to sacrifice himself upon that path. His stepfather deplored his state, forcefully confining him to his house; he placed a watch over him so that he might not leave the city. Anis languished in this confinement, tears continually raining from his eyes. One day, the Báb appeared before him in a vision of indescribable beauty and power, and from that day, Anis' face was constantly filled with serenity and joy. In that vision, the Báb told him how He would Himself be suspended before the eyes of the multitude in that very city and fall to the fire of the enemy, and that He had chosen none but him to share in that cup of martyrdom. "Rest assured," were the Báb's closing words, "that this promise which I give you shall be fulfilled."
In prison within the Castle of Chihriq, the Báb gathered together His letters, documents, seals and private possessions into a chest, which he entrusted with the key and a letter to one of the Letters of the Living to convey to one of His secretaries, urging the greatest confidentiality and care. After much journeying, he caught up with the secretary in a rented house. Opening the chest of its items, everyone marvelled at a spotless scroll of blue paper, of the most delicate texture, on which the Báb had written in the shape of a man-shaped star many hundreds of derivatives of the word "Bahá" 1. They appeared as a single wash of ink, such that no calligraphist might ever hope to rival. Everything was returned to the chest, and by the Báb's instruction, that very day His secretary pressed on to the Capital and delivered them to Bahá'u'lláh.
Only a month after the Báb had sent away all His possessions from the prison, the unremitting Prime Minister, reconsidering his scheme for leading the Báb out publicly across the land and everywhere ensuring his humiliation, now defied the King's orders and his ministers' feeble protests, and commanded the Governor-General to transfer the Báb to the city of Tabriz, the second capital city of the realm. That Governor however instructed one of his friends to accommodate the Báb with the utmost respect within his home.
In three days, the Prime Minister's own brother arrived carrying further orders for the Governor to execute the Báb immediately, along with all who persisted in following Him.
The shocked Governor absolutely refused to obey such a shameful act, and the Prime Minister's brother on his return was instead entrusted with the task. Returning to acquaint the Governor with this change of order, the Governor pretended to be ill, and refused to meet him. He instead tried to arrange the Báb to come before a conference of the clergy of the city, but the clergy one and all shrank away in fear, demanding His death. The Prince therefore arranged for the Báb to appear in the citadel before his own Council and judges, who treated the Báb arrogantly and abusively; when the Báb confounded them from top to bottom, they finally understood why the clergy had declined to entertain any meeting with Him. They too responded that He must die, and as they were holding the Báb by the arm about to execute Him with cruelty upon the spot, the decision was conveyed by the Prime Minister's brother to execute Him clearly and publicly, that no one should ever doubt that He was gone: formal sentence would be obtained from the clergy of the city and the nearby Christian regiment summoned, and suspending the Báb within the courtyard of the barracks before the full view of all the people of the city, the Báb should be executed, thereby entering the month of fasting with an untroubled mind.
This Prime Minister's brother summoned his Chief Aide to carry out the command. The Báb's green turban 2 and sash were seized, to lessen the sympathy evoked in the people when they saw Him, and the Báb was then taken out with four of His followers toward His destination.
A tremendous and mysterious commotion began to arise in that city, spreading like a fire amongst its inhabitants. As the Báb was approaching the barrack courtyard, suddenly a youth leapt forward, forcing his way through the crowds; his face haggard, feet bare, hair dishevelled, and breathless with excitement and exhausted with fatigue He disregarded all personal peril and flung himself at the feet of the Báb. He seized the hem of His garment, and passionately implored Him: "O Master, send me not away from You - suffer me to follow You wherever You go." "Arise," responded the Báb to Anis, "and rest assured you will be with Me: for tomorrow you shall witness God's decree." Two other companions, unable to contain themselves, rushed forward declaring their loyalty to the Báb. All of these were seized and confined with the Báb in a cell, with a large number of soldiers placed on their guard.
That night the face of the Báb was aglow with joy. Unmoved by the storm raging all around Him and conscious of approaching victory, He conversed with His companions in the utmost gaiety and cheerfulness.
'Tomorrow,' said the Báb to His companions, 'will be the day of My martyrdom. Would that one of you might now arise, and with his own hands end My life; I prefer to be slain by the hand of a friend, than by that of the enemy.'
Tears rained from their eyes; they all made their excuses, and remained silent. This same Anis sprang suddenly to his feet and announced he would obey the Báb's desire. The companions prevented him from achieving what they considered an unfaithful act; yet the Báb smiled approvingly, and praised Anis' devotion. However, He requested rather that they should disown Him, so that they would be able to convey to the rest of His followers everything they knew. Anis however fell at the Báb's feet, and entreated Him to be allowed to lay down his life with Him. The Báb offered Anis reasons that could dissuade him from such a course, but Anis persisted with his pleas. "This same youth," the Báb consented, "will suffer with Me in martyrdom: Him will I choose to share with Me its crown. Truly, Anis will be with Us in Paradise."
Early in the morning, the Prime Minister's brother ordered his Chief Aide to conduct the Báb into the presence of the city's religious leaders and gain the necessary authorisation for the execution. The Aide interrupted the Báb just as he was engaged in a confidential conversation with his secretary. The Báb turned to this intruder, and warned him severely; "Not until I have told him all that I wish to say, can any earthly power silence Me. I shall not be deterred from fulfilling, to the last word, My intention." Staggered at such a bold assertion from a prisoner, the Aide conducted the Báb's secretary away without a word of reply.
Outside, the whole city was astir with expectation. Under close guard, the prisoners were led out with great iron chains firmly bound round necks and arms; barefoot and without cloak, clad only in under-coats and night-caps, the Báb had been deprived of the green turban that signified an ancestry that would have kept away the hand of execution. They were conducted into the city by a long cord from the iron collars clamped around their necks. Every street and lane was teeming with crowds of expectant onlookers, who had climbed up on each others' shoulders to see the One of whom they had heard so much talk; many were moved by the pale gentle face, white delicate hands, and simple but spotless raiment of the sufferer, whilst a large number, urged on by the implacable clergy, subjected them relentlessly to their coarse taunts and blows as they cast stones and mud at the helpless captives, breaking out through the ranks to strike them hard in the face and head, shouting with delight at every missile and shard that struck them, the Báb even it is said paraded upon an ass. For hours the prisoners were dragged in violent turmoil and abuse through the endless streets and bazaars of Tabríz.
Anis, the Báb's secretary and the Báb were taken in turn to several of the houses of the leading clergy, who attempted to induce them to deny their Faith or taste death, with insults, blows, and brutalities bursting out with extreme violence. Anis refused to their face to renounce the Báb, just as firmly as the Báb unswervingly upheld His declaration. The clergy utterly refused to engage the Báb face to face, many pretending illness and cowardly sending out an attendant with the authorisation for His execution.
Having promptly secured the necessary documentation, the formality produced a great effect upon the hostile teeming crowds, who presumed an even greater guilt than they had supposed until then, and the prisoners were dragged back again through the violence of the streets. The Báb's secretary, his powers of endurance utterly exhausted, falling to the ground fainting with fatigue and pain, yet dragged again to his feet like a drunk man and shaken hard, followed out the Báb's instructions for conveying to the faithful His last writings and injunctions, and declared that he was not of them. They demanded he face the Báb and gain his freedom and forgiveness by cursing Him. Satisfying this heartbreaking request, they then demanded that if he spit in the Báb's face, he would in that instance be set at liberty. Though in heart abhorring it, yet it is said he fulfilled the Báb's command 3. Hearing and seeing these acts, the crowd abandoned him, as they continued with the parade until they at last reached the Small Barracks.
With the secretary confined now within a cell and hoping that Anis might follow him in denying the Báb, the executioners made another attempt to seduce Anis. His young wife and little children were brought before him, that the rain of their tears and entreaties might conquer his resolution; but Anis remained steadfast, declaring his faith in the most forthright manner, asking of them only that he might be killed before his Master.
The colonel, finding himself increasingly affected by the behaviour of the Báb, was seized with great fear that his action might bring upon him the wrath of God. "Enable me to free myself from the obligation to shed your blood," he requested the Báb. But the Báb bade him carry out his instructions, and assured him, "the Almighty is surely most able to deliver you from your perplexity."
Exhausted and weary of finding their efforts fruitless, the Báb was brought out through the first door that led to the square, and reaching the roof of the cistern, He stopped for a moment before a number of nobles and prominent persons present there. All begged the Báb to renounce His claims and not spill His blood in such a famous city. The Báb paid no attention, and remained wholly calm, showing no signs of fear, anxiety, or confusion. The Governor's Chief Aide came to the commander and showed him the order for the execution of the Báb and his comrade, but the officer refused to obey an order from outside his ministry. The head of the gate keepers went out to the colonel of the Christian regiment, and he appointed a detachment of the regiment to carry out the order.
Opposite the cells on one side of the Square, also known as the 'Square of the Lord of the Age', one or more spikes 4 were driven in, and Anis and then the Báb were suspended by separate heavy ropes from the stone gutters erected under the eaves of the cells. The Báb remained silent, the beautiful features of His pale handsome face framed by a black beard and small moustache, his appearance and refined manners, his white, delicate and well-shaped hands, his simple but very neat garments - everything about him awakened sympathy and compassion. They were placed so that they were looking into the stone, but Anis begged to be turned to face the soldiers so that he could see the bullets flying toward him. The officer granted his request. Anis implored he be executed before the Bab, and the officer responded 5. He then asked his face be placed right down upon the Báb's feet, but the officer rejected this; as was his request to be positioned to shield the Báb from bullets aimed only at him. In the end, they bound their shoulders firmly so that the head of the young man was on the Báb's breast, both suspended three metres from the ground. His relations and friends cried out that he was mad, and therefore unlawful to receive the death-penalty; but Anis responded, "I am in my right mind: perfect in service, and in sacrifice." Anis calmly spoke aloud excerpts from the prayers of his master, whilst the Báb remained peaceful and silent throughout.
As soon as they were fastened, soldiers from 6 the seven-hundred-and-fifty-strong regiment were ranged with their guns into three files.
The surroundings and housetops billowed with a crowd of about ten thousand impatient spectators. One of the Báb's followers was amongst the people with his sword on, foolishly waiting for an opportunity to attempt a rescue, but he found himself suddenly overcome with drowsiness, and was forced to sit down, weak and insensible.
The Colonel gave the order, and the soldiers raised their guns as for salute. The people fell silent, as though everyone had stopped breathing. Hearts pounded, joints shook, one could hear the hum like the hum of flies' wings. At the second command such silence descended upon the people as if a bird were perched on their heads. One could hear the beat of hearts and pulses. At that moment the Colonel glanced toward the chief of the governor's gate keepers who held in his hand the order for execution, and then received the signal to carry it out. The Colonel signalled the head of the squadron and ordered the first file to fire.
As the firing-party made themselves ready, Anis, whose name was Muhammad 'Alí, was heard to say to the Báb, "Master, are You content with me?" The Báb replied to him in Arabic, "Verily, Muhammad 'Alí is with Us in Paradise!" As these words were spoken, the crash of musketry rang out, as the soldiers discharged their guns in a vast hail of bullets.
The next file received the orders to fire, and discharged their guns in a hail of bullets whistling at the Báb. A mighty smoke was produced, and for a moment the rolling cloud of smoke hid the bodies of the prisoners from the crowds of onlookers as they watched that sad and moving scene. The bullets cut the Báb free without touching Him, releasing Him to the ground without a scratch, and He made his way back into the cell from which He had been suspended, to finish His conversation with His secretary 7. As the smoke and dust cleared, the astounded multitude beheld a scene their eyes could scarcely believe. Anis was still visible 8, yet the Báb was nowhere to be seen. Uproar arose on all sides, a great clamour of wonder, admiration and awe broke forth amongst the bewildered people, as they proclaimed He had disappeared, perhaps flown through the air, or even ascended up into the skies.
The authorities perceived with fear the populace ready to veer around in favour of one who but an hour ago they had been jeering and pelting with stones. The colonel ordered the soldiers to form together a wedge, and they stopped the people's rush.
A frenzied search of the vicinity followed, and a soldier discovered the Báb seated in the same room where He had been lodged the night before, engaged in completing His interrupted conversation with His secretary. An expression of unruffled calm was upon His face, unscathed from the shower of bullets which the regiment had directed against Him. The soldier made a cut at the Báb with his sword, and the others, seeing the pool of red blood flowing from their unresisting victim, lost their fear and they hastened to complete their work of death. "I have finished My conversation with My secretary," the Báb told the Chief Aide: "now you may proceed to fulfil your intention."
The Chief Aide, recalling His Prisoner's bold assertion previously made, was too much shaken to resume what he had already attempted. Refusing to accomplish his duty, he abandoned the scene in terror and resigned his post. The Colonel of the Regiment, stunned by the force of this tremendous revelation and recalling the reassuring words the Báb had made him, ordered his men to leave the barracks immediately, and refused ever again to associate himself or his regiment with any act that would involve the least injury to the Báb, swearing he had performed his order, and would never resume the task though it should entail the loss of his own life.
No sooner had they departed, than the Colonel of the Bodyguard stepped forth and volunteered to continue the order for execution. The Báb was dragged forcefully from the recess and being hit on the back of His head, shown before the crowd. An intense clamour arose at this moment as the onlookers saw the Báb free from His bonds and advancing towards them. The soldiers held up to the people's gaze the broken ropes. They again tied the Báb suspended to that fatal post, whilst the regiment formed in lines ready to open their fire. It was now two hours after the execution had opened. This time, the Báb was not silent.
"O people, am I not after all the son of God's Apostle? Do not approve such injustice and cruelty towards me! Fear God, and have some shame before His Apostle! What is my crime, save that I have invited you to the knowledge of God, and called you to the Kingdom of Unity, and cast myself into affliction and suffering for your sake?"
"Had you believed in Me, O wayward generation," were the last words of the Báb in Persian to the gazing multitude as the regiment prepared to fire the final volley, "every one of you would have followed the example of this youth, who stood in rank above most of you, and willingly would sacrifice himself in My path. The day will come when you will have recognized Me; that day I shall have ceased to be with you." 9
Suddenly the orders were given to fire, and that holy Spirit, yielding from its gentle frame, returned to the Supreme Horizon. Their breasts were riddled and limbs completely dissected by the bullets, their bodies shattered and blended into one mass of mingled flesh and bone; yet their faces remained untouched, a smile still lingering upon the Báb's face.
The crowd, vividly impressed by the spectacle they had so strangely witnessed, dispersed slowly, hardly convinced that the Báb was a criminal.
It is said that as the shots were fired, a gale of exceptional severity rose up and swept over the whole city, and 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 from noon right until the black of night took over. 10
In the evening, by order of the Prime Minister's brother, the mangled bodies of the Báb and His companion were lowered, ropes tied to their legs, and removed from the courtyard of the barracks they were dragged through the streets and the bazaar to the gate of the main street. Reaching the edge of the city, they passed through the gate and threw the bodies into the city ditch opposite the middle tower, to feed the dogs and jackals, the body of the Báb left lying on its left side. Forty soldiers were ordered to keep watch over them in turn to prevent anyone attempting to retrieve the precious remains. Not far away, two Bábis, under the veil of pretended madness, kept vigil throughout the night.
The next morning, the Emperor of Russia requested his consul in the city to investigate fully all these circumstances. He went to that spot with an artist, and an accurate drawing was made of the remains, as they lay beside the moat.
That night at midnight, one renowned for his exploits appeared before the soldiers with a few others, holding out the offer of an exceptionally large bribe in one hand and a sword in the other. The guards, greedy for gain and fearing for their lives, chose the large sum of money and surrendered the bodies, which still remained entirely fresh, and these men faithfully handed the two bodies over to one of the Báb's followers, who transferred them out to a Silk Factory, removed their shirts and clothes and enshrouded them in fine silk, and then hid them under bales of silk; the next day the Báb's followers made a casket which they placed them in, and at the order of Bahá'u'lláh conveyed it secretly to the capital Tihran.
On the next day, the bodies were discovered missing, and the guards had to explain where they had gone; so they pretended the wild beasts had carried them away. Their superiors, fearing a rebuke if it were known the bodies had been stolen, endorsed and spread the story abroad, whilst the clergy too jubilantly proclaimed it from their high pulpits, since a holy person, it was believed, would never be devoured by beasts of prey. In their turn, the followers of the Báb were very happy with these stories being spread, for it meant the remains would not be sought out.
After a great many years and a very long journey, being transported secretly from place to place, the remains of the Báb and Anis eventually reached the Holy Land, where they attained their eventual rest.
Anyone reading the martyrdoms of both Jesus and the Báb, will notice some very intriguing similarities...
1. The Traveller's Narrative states 360 derivatives, whilst Dawnbreakers states about 500. In history the more prosaic or least exceptional versions tend to be more accurate.
2. His green turban was a sign of descent from Muhammad, which would have evoked sympathy, especially at an execution.
3. Perhaps carrying this out mostly in appearance.
4. Some say one spike, some say more; it is not obvious which is correct. Other accounts indicate a more specific arrangement:- "suspended by the arms from gallows-like frames in front of the firing-squad" from a guide whose grandfather had witnessed it, and likewise "bound to a cross" by a man who had himself witnessed the event as a boy.
5. Most accounts state or imply the soldiers first fired at our hero Anis, and only after at the Bab.
6. Judging from early accounts the first firing squad may well have been only a section 'from' the 750-strong regiment, and one account specifically calls the first squad a 'small party of soldiers'; however it would not be unreasonable after the Bab's survival to bolster them to a larger number to ensure they didn't miss again. There are challenging logistical problems however with having a full 750 men fire the weak armaments of the times and stay within sufficient range and accuracy, which even with three curved lines would have been firing at 80 metres' distance.
7. The suspension was just steps away from the entrance to the cell.
8. Most accounts - including a table-note of Abdu'l-Baha's reply when He was explicitly asked - have Anis martyred by the first volley, or heavily wounded, late accounts have him unscathed. The wording here is kept ambiguous as to which.
9. Speeches recorded in histories should usually be understood as the gist of what was said rather than the exact words.
10. All the early accounts omit this event; only a late work suggests it happened, though an early work mentions that a strong wind blew.
Author : David Merrick, Edinburgh
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