Martyrdom of the Báb - Notes

Plain English Story of the Martyrdom of the Báb.
Original Source Accounts.

[This document will be entirely rewritten shortly.]

These are the reasons for thinking Anis was executed by a smaller firing squad before the Bab, and then the Bab was fired upon in a separate volley, but He disappeared. When He was eventually refound, a new and much larger replacement squad was used.


Generally the later accounts (such as Dawnbreakers) give an increasingly miraculous and merged view of events in contrast to the less miraculous and discriminating nature of the earlier accounts. Anis goes from dying to surviving with the Bab, from being shot separately to being shot together, the firing squad portion of the regiment is presented as the whole regiment of 750 men, and a possibly much smaller first squad is made to be as large as the second squad. Generally, it's a rule of thumb that when later accounts are more miraculous than earlier accounts, the earlier accounts are the more accurate ones, especially for such a public event as this.

Anis requests to die before the Bab

In some accounts, Anis asks to be martyred before the Bab.

1890 "Even against this most cruel trial he was proof, and only asked that he might be killed before his master." (Religious Systems of the World, EG Browne)

First shots aimed and fired only at Anis

Was Anis' request to be shot first, granted? The quotes below assert that Anis was indeed shot first, exactly as he had requested.

1851 "Three volleys were fired in all; the first was not aimed at the Bab" (Mirza Jani Kashani / EG Browne's Summary)
1880 "So they shot him in the presence of his master, and laid his faithful and upright form in the dust, while his pure and victorious spirit..." (Tarikh-i-Jadid)
Some early accounts even suggest that Anis was tied and shot before the Bab was even suspended, which emphasises how separate the shootings of Anis and the Bab were in people's minds (Tarikh-i-Jadid, 1880, mentions this)
1890 "Mirza Muhammad-'Ali begged Sam Khan to be placed in such a manner that his own body would shield that of the Bab" (Dawnbreakers)

Some accounts have two volleys altogether rather than three, with our two heroes being shot at the same time in the first one, and the Bab surviving.

Anis dies in first round?

Did Anis survive the bullets that showered upon him? The early accounts are very clear that Anis fell a martyr to them.

1851 "Mirza Muhammad Ali was first tied up to be shot, and, just after this first volley was fired, the Bab exclaimed, as the body of his faithful disciple fell at his feet, "Thou art with me in Paradise'." Three volleys were fired in all; the first was not aimed at the Bab; the second severed the ropes by which he was bound without injuring him; the third proved fatal" (Mirza Jani Kashani / EG Browne's Summary)
1858 "so that he [the Bab] was not hurt at all. However, this time Mullá Muhammad-'Ali, his disciple, was killed... In brief, at this moment an accidentally discharged bullet hit the rope with which the Báb's arms were tied, and he was freed" (Nasikhu't Tavarikh)
1865 "...unfortunately, the first bullets hit the ropes with which the Báb was tied and he was freed... the criminal was again tied; Áqá Muhammad-'Alí was shot first, then the Báb." (the context is ambiguous: it could mean the first or the second volley) (Mirza Kazem-Bek)
1865 "At that very moment the company fired. The disciple was killed instantly, but the Báb was not even slightly wounded" (Les Religions et les Philosophies dans l'Asie Centrale, Gobineau)
18?? "Aka Muhammad 'Ali fell a martyr, but no hurt came nigh the Lord." (Mirza Yahya)
1880 "So they shot him in the presence of his master, and laid his faithful and upright form in the dust, while his pure and victorious spirit..." (Tarikh-i-Jadid)
1890 "The lifeless body of the disciple, indeed, riddled with bullets, swung to and fro in the air, but of the Báb no trace nor sign was visible" (Religious Systems of the World, EG Browne)
1905 "[The first volley fired.] Then Mulla Muhammad-Ali was seen covered with wounds, dying, running towards his Master, and his words terrified the witnesses: "Master," he said, "master, are you content with me?"... [After the Bab was retied, only the Bab being mentioned] The most sure testimonies of the very spectators of this drama and of its actors do not leave me in any doubt that the body of Siyyid 'Ali Muhammad was received by pious hands" (Siyyid Ali-Muhammad dit le Báb, A. L. M. Nicolas)
1919 " Mr. Latimer: "Was the Babi, Aga Muhammad-'Ali, who was martyred with the Bab, killed with the first volley or the second?" 'Abdu'l-Baha: "With the first one he was killed. He was mutilated. But the body of His Holiness the Bab was not hit by the first discharge." " (Pilgrim Notes of George Latimer)

Other accounts simply narrate what happened to the Bab and show no concept that anything surprising happened for Anis, which is as you would expect if Anis dies first in the ordinary way, but would be most surprising if they had both survived together:

1850 "When the smoke and dust cleared away after the volley, Bab was not to be seen, and the populace proclaimed that he had ascended to the skies. The balls had broken the ropes by which he was bound, but he was dragged from the recess where after some search, he was discovered, and shot.." (Sir Justin Sheil, 22nd July 1850 - just days after the event)
1856 "When the smoke cleared away, Bab had disappeared from sight. It had so happened that none of the balls had touched him..." (Glimpses of life and manners in Persia - Lady Mary Leonora Woulfe Sheil)
1940 The Bab and His friend were bound with ropes, and hung upon a wall... When the smoke had cleared, the Bab was seen to be seated in an adjoining room unharmed... Another company was hastily brought, and the heroic young Herald allowed Himself to be sent forth into the other world by the bullets of His enemies. (Chosen Highway)

Extra Notes : The 1858 Nasikhu't Tavarikh says an accidentally discharged bullet hit the Bab's ropes and then describes the second attempt, in contrast, as made 'without hurry and with deliberation' - which is a poor attempt in the official state history to play down how the Bab could have survived the execution of a proficient firing squad.

On the other hand, accounts giving Anis surviving are...

1886 "A regiment of soldiers ranged itself in three files. The first file fired; then the second file, and then the third file discharged volleys. From the fire of these volleys a mighty smoke was produced. When the smoke cleared away they saw that young man standing and the Bab seated by the side of His amanuensis Aqa Siyyid Husayn in the very cell from the staircase of which they had suspended them. To neither one of them had the slightest injury resulted." (Traveller's Narrative, Anonymous)
1890 "...a regiment of soldiers ranged itself in three files, each of two hundred and fifty men, each of which was ordered to open fire in its turn until the whole detachment had discharged the volleys of its bullets. The smoke of the firing of the seven hundred and fifty rifles was such as to turn the light of the noonday sun into darkness... As soon as the cloud of smoke had cleared away, an astounded multitude were looking upon a scene which their eyes could scarcely believe. There, standing before them alive and unhurt, was the companion of the Bab, whilst He Himself had vanished uninjured from their sight." (Dawnbreakers, Nabil-i-Zarandi)
1923 "...when the smoke cleared, it was found that the Bab and His companion were still alive. The bullets had but severed the ropes by which they were suspended, so that they dropped to the ground unhurt. They proceeded to a room nearby, where they were found talking to one of their friends." (Baha'u'llah and the New Era, Esslemont, in a chapter corrected by Abdu'l-Baha, 1923 ed., although clearly at least the pronoun they didn't get amended in the final draft ).

Baha'u'llah Himself writes in their sacred remembrance:

We call to mind at this juncture Muhammad-'Alí, whose flesh was mingled with that of his Master, his blood with His blood, his body with His body, and his bones with those of his Lord, the Exalted, the Bountiful. My Supreme Pen testifieth that he attained what no one had attained before him, and there befell him that which no ear had heard. Upon him be My Glory, and the glory of My Kingdom and My Realm on high, and the splendour of the dwellers of the city of justice and equity. Blessed art thou, O Muhammad, in that thou hast drunk from the wine of utterance proffered by thy Lord, the All-Merciful. Thus hath the Sun of divine proofs shed its light from the horizon of the blessings of Thy God, the Lord of all mankind. (Baha'u'llah, from a Tablet revealed in Arabic in honor of "Ghasem", in Noghteh Ulla by M.A.Faydi (Fayzi), pp.348, 349, translated Research Department.)

Unfortunately this reference doesn't assist us in distinguishing whether Anis was wounded in the first volley or entirely unscathed. Taken one way, it could perhaps be read to mean that Anis survived in some fashion, either wounded or unscathed, however as the early accounts presume the martyred Anis remains suspended when the Bab is resuspended as He was, and they both become a target to a regiment and mingled together, it becomes doubtful whether we can use this to distinguish any of the various possibilities presented in the histories.

First Squad is Small?

Between the lines are hints that the first firing squad may have been small compared to the second one.

The description below fits with a small firing squad not a gigantic one:

1858 for when he [Anis] was wounded, he turned to the Báb and said (Nasikhu't Tavarikh)
1930 "it appeared that a bullet had struck Muhammad-'Alí" (Mírzá Mihdí Khán)

The following use the terms 'regiment', 'detachment', 'platoon' and 'squadron':

1865 At the signal a platoon of the Christian regiment began to fire; unfortunately, the first bullets hit the ropes with which the Bab was tied and he was freed. (Mirza Kazem-Bek)
1890 As soon as they were fastened, a regiment of soldiers ranged itself in three files, each of two hundred and fifty men, each of which was ordered to open fire in its turn until the whole detachment had discharged the volleys of its bullets.... [The Bab's] body had emerged unscathed from the shower of bullets which the regiment had directed against Him... Sam Khan was likewise stunned by the force of this tremendous revelation. He ordered his men to leave the barracks immediately, and refused ever again to associate himself and his regiment with any act that involved the least injury to the Bab.... No sooner had Sam Khan departed than Aqa Jan Khan-i-Khamsih, colonel of the body-guard... volunteered to carry out the order for execution. On the same wall and in the same manner, the Bab and His companion were again suspended, while the regiment formed in line to open fire upon them. (Dawnbreakers, Nabil-i-Zarandi)
1923 The Armenians, who considered the result of their volleys a miracle, were unwilling to fire again, so another regiment of soldiers had been brought on the scene, who fired when ordered. (Baha'u'llah and the New Era 1923, Esslemont)
1930 "He [Sám Khán] submitted and appointed a detachment of the regiment to carry it out. The head of the detachment was Qúch-'Alí Sultán, a Muslim inhabitant of the town of Khuv. The head of the detachment ranged his detachment in three files... Then Sam Khan, the colonel, signaled the head of the squadron and ordered the first file to fire." (Mírzá Mihdí Khán)

On the other hand, in line with an extraordinary public spectacle from the beginning,

1858 His flight was a consequence of the power of the Shari'at for if, when the bullets hit the rope and he was freed, he had bared his chest and shouted, "O soldiers and people! Have you not seen my miracle, that of a thousand bullets not one hit me but, on the contrary, they freed me of my bonds," no one would have shot at him again (Nasikhu't Tavarikh)
1890 The lifeless body of the disciple, indeed, riddled with bullets, swung to and fro in the air (Religious Systems of the World, EG Browne)

So the jury's probably out on this question; it would be all too easy for later tellings of the story to envisage a second large squad onto a smaller first squad, and if there is any preference, it really ought to be toward a smaller first firing squad.
Even a small first squad would still be a spectacle of say at least 40-odd men, enough to create the cloud of smoke in which the Bab makes His way to the cell.

Line-by-Line shooting

Early accounts suggest a line-by-line individual shooting (see above), as opposed to a squad-by-squad shooting together.

Replacement Squad is Large

Anis is wounded or killed in the first firing, in some accounts by a small squad, but mangled to bits in the second, suggesting the replacement firing squad was certainly huge and the first one perhaps small.

The effect of this second squad is particularly emphasised:

18?? ...because they had been commingled by the blows of the bullets, they placed them in one coffin. (Mirza Yahya)
1886 At this volley the bullets produced such an effect that the breasts [of the victims] were riddled, and their limbs were completely dissected. (Traveller's Narrative)
1890 Contrariwise to the previous occasion, when only the cord with which they were suspended had been shot into pieces, this time their bodies were shattered and were blended into one mass of mingled flesh and bone... [His body, in a sketch made] had been severely mutilated. (Dawnbreakers)
1904 Again, whilst at the table, one of the Americans asked leave of Abbas Effendi to take his photograph, because he was only photographed when 27 years old, i.e., 1867. He refused and said that he will not be photographed until he puts on his head his Father's Fez, and be led to the field of martyrdom, where thousands of bullets pierce his body. His speech had such a great effect on those present, that some of them cried and wept bitterly. (Brief History of Baha'u'llah, M Qazvini)
1919 Humiliation would be this: 'Take Abbás. Beat him. Put chains on his neck. Bring him and hang him up, and have one regiment come and fire at him a thousand bullets.' They shot a thousand bullets at my forerunner. This same declaration was made upon the cross. God willing, I will give the same also. There will be no greater glory than that for me. Therefore, whoever humiliates me, for the purpose of humiliation, for me that is glory. No glory is higher than this - that some day they shall hang me and fire at me a thousand bullets. Fire! Shoot! Why? They have made me walk in the footsteps of my forerunner. The object is this, in the Cause of God there is no humiliation. (Latimer Notes of Abdu'l-Baha)
1931 This time he was hit by more than twenty bullets, and his whole body, but his face which remained whole, was mangled. (Mírzá Mihdí Khán)

On the other hand

1851 three bullets entering his body (Mirza Jani Kashani / EG Browne's Summary)

Symbolic Power

Symbolically, it makes more sense for Anis to die first, so that he then becomes a sacrifice that enables the Bab to live.

Length of time between volleys

With the disappearance of the Bab, there would have been a delay (perhaps not too long) in locating Him. (The 1850 account states, 'after some search', and the 1856, 'he was immediately discovered'.) With the refusal of the first firing squad to repeat the execution and their departure, how long did it take for a replacement firing-squad to arrive? Was it already on the scene, did it have to be called in from further afield, was its hands full with dealing with the crowd? Some accounts give the impression that the period between volleys is short, whereas one suggests it might have been as long as couple of hours:

First Suspension
1923 About two hours before noon the two were suspended by ropes under their armpits in such a way that the head of Muhammad Ali rested against the breast of his beloved Master. A regiment of Armenian soldiers was drawn up and received the order to fire. (Baha'u'llah and the New Era, 1923 edn)

Second Suspension
1886 It was before noon (Traveller's Narrative)
1923 About noon they were again suspended (Baha'u'llah and the New Era, 1923 edn)

Natural Wonders

In Nabil's Account, as the final volley is fired, an exceptional dust storm arises and the sun is blotted out for about a day. It's narrated as a very notable event, yet significantly only Nabil appears to mention it.
Why would all the other, earlier accounts, have omitted it?

We can no longer resolve the matter at this late date, for it may somehow have been as Nabil has related despite being omitted by all the other historians. An open and unattached mind should be kept upon the matter. Those who like the miraculous will tend to think it happened; those who like historical analysis will tend to think it was some event a little after that became merged in. It is included in the story in recognition that history is, beyond a statement of facts, a spiritual drama of the heart and soul.

1850-60 [When the Bab was martyred], a strong wind blew, signifying, "O Shameless people..." (Nuqta-al-Kaf)
1890 The smoke of the firing of the seven hundred and fifty rifles was such as to turn the light of the noonday sun into darkness... The very moment 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 from noon till night. Even so strange a phenomenon, following immediately in the wake of that still more astounding failure of Sam Khan's regiment to injure the Bab, was unable to move the hearts of the people of Tabriz... and yet none of them troubled himself to enquire as to the significance of these unwonted signs and wonders. (Dawnbreakers)

Shoghi Effendi and Dawnbreakers

Shoghi Effendi translated Dawnbreakers not because it is accurate (after all, he had to revise it!) but because it is written in an inspiring and sacred spirit, and also gives a great overview of the entire history.

19?? "The infallibility of the Guardian is confined to matters which are related strictly to the Cause and interpretation of the teachings; he is not an infallible authority on other subjects, such as economics, science, etc. When he feels that a certain thing is essential for the protection of the Cause, even if it is something that affects a person personally, he must be obeyed" (Directives from the Guardian, p. 33)
1992 "...we can say that it is apparent that great reliance can be placed upon the accuracy of Nabíl's Narrative, both in regard to its overall presentation of the period as well as to its relation of specific events, but as to the precise accuracy of individual details, this is an area which is always open to being cross-checked with other sources of information. " (Research Department, 12 Nov 1992)

Different Scenarios

When looking at the differing accounts, it becomes possible to argue for several alternative scenarios, of lesser or greater likelihood, and we'll never really know for sure now which is the right one; so the version used in the story, has been what appears to stand out as the most likely one.

In Conclusion

It is important always to keep in heart the spiritual rather than the material. In doing so, the material detail of whether Anis died on the first or second volley, and every other material wonder, fades from significance, and the focus is filled with the spirituality of these two great and pure sacrifices, of Anis, and supremely, of the Bab Himself, both in the purity and radiance throughout the days of their lives of suffering, and upon the great day of martyrdom itself.

  • Summary Table

    Anis 1stOther elements suggest Anis would be first, separately
    Volleys Total number of volleys narrated, 3 or 2.
    Anis X (dies), (X) (no mention - presume dies), O (lives)
    Size1/Size2 Indications of the size of the first/last firing squad (no mention of the first where a large second squad is implied can be seen as suggestive of a smaller squad) - fuller work needs doing on this area.
    Wonders Wonders narrated as the final volleys is fired.

    Red indicates same as reconstructed account, blue same as Nabil's account, and grey is indeterminate.

    DateWorkAuthorAllegianceAnis 1st +VolleysAnisSize1Size2Wonders


    1850Public Execution

    Main Accounts

    1850(Correspondence)Justin SheilBritish2(X)
    1851(In Nuqta-al-Kaf rescensions 1850-1870)Mirza Jani (d 1852)Babi3XS?
    1856Glimpses of life and manners in PersiaLady SheilBritish2(X)
    1858Násikhu't TavarikhMuslim2/3XS/LL
    1865Bab i babidyKazem-BekChristian2/3X?
    1865Les Religions et les Philosophies dans l'Asie CentraleGobineau(French)2X
    18??Mírzá YahyaBabi2XL
    1880Tarikh-i-JadidMirza Huseyn HamadaniBaha'i3X
    188?Tarikh Badi Bayani
    (rescension of Tarikh-i-Jadid)
    1886Traveller's NarrativeAnonymous (much material
    provided by Abdu'l-Baha)
    1890Religious Systems of the WorldE G BrowneX2XL
    1890DawnbreakersNabil Zarandi, EditedBaha'iX2OLLY
    1919Dictated Pilgrim Notes of Abdu'l-BahaAbdu'l-Baha / LatimerBaha'i(2)X(L)L
    1923Baha'u'llah and the New Era
    (Chapter corrected by Abdu'l-Baha)
    Esslemont (Abdu'l-Baha)Baha'i2O(L)(L)
    1930Mihdí KhánMuslim2XSL

    Notable Secondary Accounts

    1905Siyyid Ali-Muhammad dit le BabA L M NicolasBabi2X
    1922Star of West S7-V14-N7-P193Jinab-i-FadilBaha'i2X
    1945God Passes ByShoghi EffendiBaha'i2O

    Notable Tertiary Accounts

    1973Bab Herald of the Day of DaysBalyuziBaha'i2O
  • Authorship, Authority, Dates etc

    [This will be expanded considerably shortly]

    1850 - Justin Sheil

    This is a letter of Sir Justin Sheil, Queen Victoria's Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary in Tihran, writing to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Lord Palmerston.
    Written just 13 days after the Bab's martyrdom, this is a very early account indeed. It describes the recent upheavals, the execution, and other disturbances.
    In describing the Bab's execution, it only mentions the Bab's survival of the bullets; no mention of Anis is made.

    1851 - (Nuqta-al-Qaf) / Mirza Jani Kashani

    This is the earliest general account of the history of the Bab's ministry, by a foremost member of the Babi faith. Haji Hájí Mírzá Jani was a merchant and one of the most respected of the inhabitants of Kashan and of a greatly pure character; the Bab stayed with him three days, and he witnessed with his own eyes all the most important events of the Bab's ministry. He was martyred in 1852.
    Written a year after the Bab's martyrdom, it is a very early account, describing the martyrdom in great detail.
    In this account, Anis is shot first and succumbs; then the Bab is shot but disappears; and final a third volley is successful. There are no natural wonders.
    Haji Mirza Jani Kashani was awrote a very early chronicle of the Babi movement in 1850 or 1851, which spawned various rescensions that added updates to what had occurred since its creation, filled gaps, and sometimes added focus to different personalities, and many of these rescensions survive. The original (or original rescension) still till recently existed, but is unavailable. However, none of these differences are expected to impact the substance of the story concerning the martyrdom of the Bab and Anis; if there were, the changes were made by Babis, and they would be extremely unlikely to remove Anis surviving the volley.

    1856 - Glimpses of life and manners in Persia - Lady Sheil

    This work clearly depends on Justin Sheil who wrote the 1850 account, and much of the wording is similar, but it also adds new details.

    1858 - Násikhu't Tavarikh

    This is from the official Court History and is naturally pretty hostile.

    1865 - Bab i babidy

    Written by a Christian ex-muslim.

    1865 - Les Religions et les Philosophies dans l'Asie Centrale Gobineau

    18?? - Mírzá Yahya

    1880 - Tarikh-i-Jadid - Mirza Huseyn Hamadani

    1886 - Traveller's Narrative - Anonymous

    1890 - Religious Systems of the World - E G Browne

    1890 - Dawnbreakers - Nabil Zarandi, Edited

    1930 - Mihdí Khán

    1886 - Traveller's Narrative

    Latimer Dictated Notes

    Mr. Latimer: "Did 'Abdu'l-Baha dictate or write the Mysterious Forces?"
    'Abdu'l-Baha:"I dictated it."
    Mr. Latimer then asked concerning the authorship and authenticity of the Traveller's Narrative.
    'Abdu'l-Baha: "The one who wrote the Narrative (not the Notes) received most of his material from me."
    (Src - 1919 Latimer Notes, see below)

    1912 Interview with Rev J T Bixby (Pilgrim Notes)

    Rev. Bixby: Is Professor Browne correct in his statement that Abdul-Baha wrote "A Traveler's Narrative"?
    A.B.: The writer of "A Traveler's Narrative" was not one person. It contains a statement of Baha'i principles. If a book was to be written setting forth the essence of Christianity, a number of Christians would come together for that purpose.
    Rev. Bixby: Is "A Traveler's Narrative" substantially correct?
    A.B.: It is an authority.

    Interview with Rev. J T Bixby at the Hotel Ansonia in New York on 13 April 1912. Notetaker Howard MacNutt, Translator unknown. (In PUP or SOW?)

    1919 Latimer Notes

    These notes state: "A few of the luncheon talks were taken down in English by Mr. Latimer. The rest were all interpreted by Shoghi Effendi, the grandson of 'Abdu'l-Baha, and transcribed in the original Persian by Dr. Lutfullah Hakim of London. Each day they were translated into literal English. We owe an unending debt of gratitude to these two devoted souls, who by their tireless energy and servitude made it possible for us to share these precious Gems with the friends of God."
    Both the 9 July Quotes in this document were evening talks.

    Modified: 2009-06-18