Oct 202017

Today is the birthday (1819) of the Báb (“the door/gate”), whose birth name was Sayyed ʿAli Muhammad Shirāzi (سيد علی ‌محمد شیرازی‎‎ —  descendant of the prophet Ali Muhammad from Shiraz), the founder of Bábism, and one of the central figures of the Azali and Bahá’í faiths. His birthday is celebrated in the Bahá’í tradition on this date using the Gregorian calendar rather than the Islamic or Bahá’í calendars. He is considered to be a figure rather like John the Baptist in the Christian tradition, that is, a forerunner who prepared the way for Bahá’u’lláh. (see https://www.bookofdaystales.com/ascension-of-bahaullah/ ). He also has followers in his own right. Bahá’ís claim that the Báb was the spiritual return of Elijah and John the Baptist, that he was the saoshyant referred to in Zoroastrianism, and that he was the forerunner of their own religion. Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith, was a follower of the Báb and claimed to be the fulfillment of his promise that God would send another messenger. What follows gets a bit detailed and I understand if it is a bit much to digest for a simple daily post. I do think it is important, however, to glimpse the historical evolution of branches of Islam. The average non-Muslim Westerner doesn’t even know the difference between Shi’a and Sunni Muslims, let alone the branches of these main denominations.

The Báb was born in Shiraz to a middle-class merchant of the city. His father was Muhammad Ridá, and his mother was Fátimih (1800–1881), a daughter of a prominent merchant in Shiraz. She later became a Bahá’í. His father died while he was quite young and he was raised by his maternal uncle, Hájí Mírzá Siyyid `Alí, who was also a merchant. He claimed to be a descendant from Muhammad (a sayyid) through Husayn ibn Ali through both his parents. When he was in Shiraz his uncle sent him to maktab (primary school) and he was there for 6 to 7 years. Some time between when he was 15 and 20, he joined his uncle in the family business, a trading house, and became a merchant in the city of Bushehr in Iran, near the Persian Gulf. Some of his earlier writings suggest that he did not enjoy the business and instead applied himself to the study of religious literature. One of his contemporary followers described him as,

. . . very taciturn, and  would never utter a word unless it was absolutely necessary. He did not even answer our questions. He was constantly absorbed in his own thoughts, and was preoccupied with repetition of his prayers and verses. He was a handsome man with a thin beard, dressed in clean clothes, wearing a green shawl and a black turban.

An English physician him as a young man by saying: “He was a very mild and delicate-looking man, rather small in stature and very fair for a Persian, with a melodious soft voice, which struck me much.

In 1842 he married Khadíjih-Bagum (1822–1882); he was 23 and she was 20. She was the daughter of a prominent merchant in Shiraz. They had only one child, a boy named Ahmad who died the year he was born (1843). The pregnancy jeopardized Khadijih’s life and she never conceived again. The young couple occupied a modest house in Shiraz along with the Báb’s mother. Later, Khadijih became a Bahá’í.