The Recantations of The Bab
A unique aspect of the Bab is that he recanted from his beliefs - not just once but at numerous occasions in his lifetime. At most places, it did not take too much suffering or pressure for the Bab to relent and wash his hands off any claims that he may have made. This aspect must be put into perspective of the claims of the Bab ... There is no credibility for the one who enforces or claims to enforce a new law only to retract his claims and withdraws his words. What can one make of the personality of the Bab who not only disclaimed everything he said, but also invoked the curse of Allah upon his followers? The Bahá'ís may try and explain the actions of the Bab by saying that he recanted in the state of Taqaiyya (concealing one's faith). They also try and read between the lines to justify the words of the Bab.
However my readers must understand that we are disputing the position of the Bab as a divinely sent or divinely inspired representative. We do not have any instance when universally acknowledged prophets or messengers were under Taqaiyya.
Prophets and messengers chose to bear the difficulties and ill-treatments meted to them rather than recant from their faith. One needs to read the Islamic viewpoint on the history of the prophets to appreciate this point. Prophet Noah (as) was oppressed by his people, yet there is no mention of him ever recanting or even altering his belief to suit his oppressors. Hazrat Ibrahim (as) chose to be thrown in the fire rather than withdrawing his claim to Prophet-hood. Hazrat Musa (as) boldly stood before the Pharaoh, but did not retract his claim as a divinely sent representative. Prophet Mohammed (saw) bore the ignominy of exile, but yet maintained at all times that he was the final prophet and messenger from Allah. There is a rationale for this - a prophet or Imam is a representative of Allah. He is sent to guide people and not to misguide or confuse believers. He must conduct himself with dignity and remain steadfast on his claims to instill confidence in the adherents to his religion. Hence the divine representative will always put forth his claim forthrightly and without any ambiguity. He will never recant.
Taqaiyyah is not permitted to divine representatives. However in the case of the Bab, none of the above is true. He made multiple claims in his lifetime and threw his followers into confusion and disarray. He recanted several times from his beliefs as well. In the book, Materials for the Study of the Babi Religion, Professor E.G, Browne has brought 5 documents which clearly indicate that the Bab washed his hands off any claim - either made by him or attributed to him. When the discussion was concluded, His Reverence the Shaykhu'l-Isl?m was summoned, who had the Bab beaten and inflicted on him an exemplary chastisement, so that he apologized, recanted, and repented of and asked pardon for his errors, giving a sealed undertaking that henceforth he would not commit such faults. (Ref: Materials for the Study of the Babi Religion, p. 255)
The following letter from the Bab in his own writing is recorded as well in the same book. "May my life be thy sacrifice? Praise be to God such as He deserves and merits, in that He hath caused (those who are) the Manifestations of His Grace and Mercy under all circumstances to comprehend all of His servants. Praise be to God, and again praise, that He hath deigned to make one like your Excellency the source of His Clemency and Mercy, by the manifestation of whose kindness He hath pardoned His servants, cast a veil over (the faults of) sinners, and shown mercy to the transgressors. I take God to witness on His part that this weak servant never intended aught contrary to the good pleasure of the Lord of the World and the Company of Saints.
Although my very existence is in itself utterly faulty, yet since my heart firmly believes in the unity of God (glorious in His mention), and the Prophet-hood of His Apostle, and the Saint ship of the Community of Saints, and since my tongue acknowledged all that hath been revealed on the part of God, I hope for His Mercy. Never have I desired aught contrary to the Will of God, and, if words contrary to His good pleasure have flowed from my pen, my object was not disobedience, and in any case I repent and ask forgiveness of Him.
This servant has absolutely no knowledge connected with any (superhuman) claim. I ask forgiveness of God my Lord and I repent unto Him of (the idea) that there should be ascribed to me any [Divine] Mission. As for certain prayers and words which have flowed from my tongue, these do not imply any such Mission (Amr), and any (apparent) claim to any special vicegerency for His Holiness the Proof of God (on whom be Peace!) is a purely baseless claim, such as this servant has never put forward, nay, nor any claim like unto it. Therefore it is thus hoped from the clemency of His Imperial Majesty and of Your Excellency, that they will exalt the head of him who continually prays for them by the favors and graces of their clement and compassionate court. Farewell." (Ref: Materials for the Study of the Babi Religion, pp. 256-8) The same is also recorded by Abul Fadl Golpaygani in his book Kashful Ghita.
The Bab openly declared his station as the promised Qaem during the public trial in Tabriz. After the punishment handed to him following the trial, he wrote a letter to Nasir al-Din al-Tus: "This weak soul has no desire contrary to the will of the Lord and the Guardians of his cause. Though my being is mere nothingness but since my heart is able to recognize the true meaning of the oneness of God, the manifestation of His prophet and the Guardianship of His Imams, and my tongue confesses to all that has been revealed by him. I hope for His mercy and have no desire save His contentment."
If certain words - contrary to His will - have been revealed from my pen, my purpose has not been that of rebellion. In any event I seek forgiveness of His Excellency. This servant has no knowledge to warrant any claims... Certain prayers and words that have been revealed from the tongue do not represent any concerns. And the claim to the deputyship of His Excellency Hujjatullah - peace be up on Him - is void. This servant has not laid such a claim or any other one. Request is made for clemency from His Royal Excellency (king) and your Excellency to honor this servant with your mercy, kindness and forgiveness." (Ref: Kashful Ghita, Mirza Abulfzadl and Mirza Mahdi Golpayegani, pp. 204-205)
"Those who say that "Remember the name of Thy Lord" means that he himself (i.e., Sayyed 'Ali Muhammad) has actually claimed to have received revelation and the Qur'an, have indeed become disbelievers. Moreover those who say that the verse means that he has claimed to be the Bab of the Remnant of God (the twelfth Imam), have also become disbelievers. O God, you are my witness that (I declare) anyone who claims to be divine or to possess the wilayat or who has received the Qur'an and the revelation, or who has omitted or altered anything in your religion, has become an unbeliever. I certainly seek to disassociate from such people. You are my witness that I have not claimed to be the Bab." (Ref: Tafseere' Surah Kauthar, Bab)
After his return from Mecca, the Bab was arrested in Bushihr and taken into custody in the residence of Hussain Khan Nazimu'l Dowla, the Governor of Fars. On the same Friday, the Bab was pressured by the Ulama, particularly the Imam Juma' of Shiraz, to publicly renounce his earlier claims in the grand Mosque of Vakil in front of a congregation of the faithful. The Bab attended the prayer session and publicly denied his claim to the position of 'Deputyship' of the Hidden Imam. This renunciation no doubt saved his life from the evil intentions of the Shirazi Ulama who had earlier encouraged Hussain Khan to execute him. (Ref: Taarikhe Nabil Zarandi, pp. 156-158) In the early phase of his revelation, the Bab revealed his position as that of 'Babiya' or the Gate leading to the presence of the Hidden Imam and clearly instructed his followers to conceal his name. (Ref: Kashful Ghita, Mirza Abulfazl and Mirza Mahdi Golpayegani, p. 242)
Mirza Ali Mohammed (The Bab) mounted the pulpit and in a clear, loud voice renounced and repented of his views as demanded by the ulema. Then he came down and kissed their hands." (Ref: Kashful Hiyal, Vol 2, pp. 88, 89) Here is another reference for the same incident from Shighi - the "official interpreter of the Bahá'í scriptures" The Bab, accompanied by Haji Mirza Seyyed Ali, arrived at the Masjid at a time when the Imam-Jum'ih had just ascended the pulpit and was preparing to deliver his sermon. As soon as his eyes fell upon the Bab, he publicly welcomed Him, requested Him to ascend the pulpit, and called upon Him to address the congregation. The Bab, responding to his invitation, advanced towards him and, standing on the first step of the staircase, prepared to address the people.
"Come up higher," interjected the Imam-Jum'ih. Complying with his wish, the Bab ascended two more steps. As He was standing, His head hid the breast of Shaykh Abu-Turab, who was occupying the pulpit-top. He began by prefacing His public declaration with an introductory discourse. No sooner had He uttered the opening words of "Praise be to God, who hath in truth created the heavens and the earth," than a certain seyyed known as Siyyidi-Shish-Pari, whose function was to carry the mace before the Imam-Jum'ih, insolently shouted: "Enough of this idle chatter! Declare, now and immediately, the thing you intend to say.
“The Imam-Jum'ih greatly resented the rudeness of the siyyid's remark.”Hold your peace," he rebuked him, "and be ashamed of your impertinence." He then, turning to the Bab, asked Him to be brief, as this, he said, would allay the excitement of the people. The Bab, as He faced the congregation, declared: "The condemnation of God be upon him who regards me either as a representative of the Imam or the gate thereof.
The condemnation of God be also upon whosoever imputes to me the charge of having denied the unity of God, of having repudiated the prophet-hood of Muhammad, the Seal of the Prophets, of having rejected the truth of any of the messengers of old, or of having refused to recognize the guardianship of Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, or of any of the imams who have succeeded him." He then ascended to the top of the staircase, embraced the Imam-Jum'ih, and, descending to the floor of the Masjid, joined the congregation for the observance of the Friday prayer. The Imam-Jum'ih intervened and requested Him to retire. "Your family," he said, "is anxiously awaiting your return. All are apprehensive lest any harm befall you. Repair to your house and there offer your prayer; of greater merit shall this deed be in the sight of God." (Ref: Dawn Breakers, page 153, 154) The above references should be sufficient to emphasize the steadfastness of the Bab, or rather the lack of it. I am amazed that for the Bahá'ís, while the religion of the Bayan lasted for 9 years - for the Bab, it did not last even that long.
At every stage of his life, as he faced any opposition, he recanted and retracted from his claims. Perhaps it is this aspect that actually saved his life on more than one occasion. This is proved by the letter brought by E. G. Browne addressed to the Bab on page 259 of his book Materials for the Study of The Babi Religion. This letter was issued after the examination of the Bab at Tabriz: "In the Imperial Banquet-hall and August Assembly of His Highness the Crown Prince of the undeclining Empire [of Persia], (may God aid, support and strengthen him!) And of a number of learned doctors, thou didst admit certain matters each one of which separately implied thy apostasy and justified thy death."
The repentance of an incorrigible apostate is not accepted, and the only thing which has caused the postponement of thy execution is a doubt as to thy sanity of mind. Should this doubt be removed, the sentence of an incorrigible apostate would without hesitation be executed upon thee." Sealed by Abul Qasim al-Hasani al- Husayn? and Ali Asghar al-Hasani al-Husayn? the above edict issued to the Bab simply means that Bab repented and the only reason why he was not executed was that the audience actually felt that he was insane. I see no reason to disagree with them.