The Recantations or Declaration of Bab?!

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Abstract

A seemingly religious thought appeared in Persia around 1844 at the invitation of a man from the people of Shiraz, known as Ali Muhammad. He was a disciple of some of the students of Sheikh Ahmad Zainuddin Al-Ahsa’ei.

Ali Muhammad, after pilgrimage to Mecca (!), claimed to be the door to Al-Mahdi (A position like that was claimed by Ahsa’ei and his successor Seyed Kazim Al-Rashti; a special appointed Agent!) and propagated this case for a period, and founded his religion from the elements of Islam, Christianity, Judaism and paganism, and chose the title of Bab (A door and representative of the Hidden Imam) for himself.

Then, after a short time, he left this title and chose the titles of Point and the creator of truth for himself, claiming that he is not a simple prophet, but he is in the position of God. He gave the title of Bab to one of his followers, and sent preachers to different parts of Persia. Then, based on the words of his Leader, Sheikh Ahmed, mentioned another claim with regards to Imam Mahdi; claimed that he himself is Mahdi; and that so called “gentle spiritual body” has appeared in his dense physical body! One of the Babis claimed to be the return of Imam Hasan, and the next one claimed that the return of Imam Hussein has reincarnated in his body! The third one claimed to be the return of a high rank disciple, etc. All these claims were made because of the opinion of this man himself (I.E. Ali Mohammad Bab). Bab believed that when a person has the personality and characters of a distinct historical personality, with a special name, like Imam Hasan or Imam Hussein, for example, and his qualities and morals are found in a person, this new man can claim that he is the return of that holy historical person!

Due to proximity of the general beliefs of Sheikh Ahmad Al-Ahsa’ei – he was originally a Shia clergy – to the thoughts of Shia school, in the beginning, when Ali Mohammad Bab began his invitation, some Iranian people accepted his invitation. When he saw the turnout of people answered his call, raised his claim, and said that he is the Prophet, and God has revealed to him a book called Bayan, referring to the Quranic verse “Almighty created man, taught him speaking” (55:4), and man is Muhammad (pbuh & hf) and the Bayan is this book revealed to Ali Mohammad Bab.

 

The First Declaration of Bab

The Baha’is consider Ali Mohammed Shirazi, the Bab to be the return of the 12th Imam. They place of lot of importance, and rightfully so, to the first declaration of the Bab. While there are many reports while talk about the declaration, most recent reports have focused on the date of the declaration, while opposed to the actual declaration made by the Bab.

I have based this article on the reports which appear in Dawn Breakers, Nabils’ Narrative translated by Shoghi Effendi and Traveller’s Narrative by E. G Browne. … The incident commences with the death of Sayyed Kazim Rashty and with the fact the he did not announce a successor which threw the Shaykhis into confusion.

Mulla Hussain Bushrui who is credited with being the first believer of the Bab traveled from Karbala to Kufa (where he apparently spent 40 days in prayer). Thereafter he proceeded to Najaf and then to Bushir. From Bushir he proceeded to Shiraz where he met Ali Mohammed Shirazi, the Bab. The incident reported in Dawn Breakers then narrates the circumstances of the declaration of the Bab. Before moving ahead to the actual incident, I would like to make a point – Shoghi Effendi has been extremely liberal in Dawn Breakers in quoting traditions from Islamic sources without providing any references for the same.

Do pay attention to some such sweeping statements by Shoghi: “In His name, the name of the Guardian (Ali) preceded that of the Prophet (Muhammad).” (Our reply to this objection) “The year of His Revelation is identical with half of that number which is divisible by nine (2520).” (Dawn Breakers, pp. 49-50) Such traditions are open to questioning because the primary doctrine for the return of the Hidden Imam is that the time of his return is not known to anybody except to Allah.

In fact, the Bab himself endorses this creed by quoting the following tradition in his book Tafseere’ Surah Kauthar to the effect, “Abu Basir reported that he asked Imam Sadiq: May my life be a sacrifice for you! When will the Qa’im arise? He replied: “O Abu Muhammad, we, the ahl al-bayt (lit. People of the house i.e., family of Prophet Muhammad PBUH) cannot fix the time of his appearance. Moreover, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny) said: “Those who fix the time for the rising (of the Qa’im) are liars.” The practice of making baseless statements is common amongst present day Baha’is as well. How often it is that I have heard them quoting non-existent verses from the Quran; traditions from books that do not exist; or even none-xistent traditions from books.

Baha’is use the fact that most Muslims do not go beyond the recitation of the Arabic language or well versed with their books to their advantage. I would like to caution my Muslim brethren against this Baha’i practice and urge them to seek references from Baha’is during their discussions. Returning back to the declaration of the Bab, Shoghi narrates that on the 5th of Jamadiul Awwal 1260 AH, Mulla Hussain Bushrui met Ali Mohammed Shirazi, the Bab and was in his presence at sundown.

It was about an hour after sunset when my youthful host (The Bab) began to converse with me. “Whom, after Sayyed Kazim,” he asked me, “do you regard as his successor and your leader?” “At the hour of his death,” I replied, “our departed teacher insistently exhorted us to forsake our homes, to scatter far and wide, in quest of the promised Beloved. I have, accordingly, journeyed to Persia, have arisen to accomplish his will, and am still engaged in my quest.” “Has your teacher,” He further enquired, “given you any detailed indications as to the distinguishing features of the promised One?”

“Yes,” I replied, “He is of a pure lineage, is of illustrious descent, and of the seed of Fatimih. As to His age, he is more than twenty and less than thirty. He is endowed with innate knowledge. He is of medium height, abstains from smoking, and is free from bodily deficiency.” he paused for a while and then with vibrant voice declared: “Behold, all these signs are manifest in me!” (Dawn Breakers, p.57) Thereafter Shoghi writes that Mulla Hussain witnessed the narration of the exegesis on the Surah of Joseph from the Quran. The initial exegesis – the Chapter of Mulk was revealed before Mulla Hussain. He then proceeded to say: “Now is the time to reveal the commentary on the Surih of Joseph.” He took up His pen and with incredible rapidity revealed the entire Surih of Mulk, the first chapter of His commentary on the Surih of Joseph. (Dawn Breakers, p.61) The above words have to be read more than once to appreciate their significance. Ali Mohammed Shirazi (The Bab) first questioned Mulla Hussain about the successor to Seyyed Kazim Rashty.

As I have mentioned in my earlier article, the disciples of Sayyed Kazim considered him as the intermediary between the people and the hidden Imam Mahdi. The signs which Seyyed Kazim Rashty outlined for Mulla Hussain were for the successor to Seyyed Kazim – the person who would lead the Shaykhis forward and not for the 12th Imam. This belief is further reinforced when one reads Qayyamul Asma – the first revelation of the Bab. God, verily, hath decreed that this Book be divulged in interpretation (tafsir) of the “Best of Narratives” on the part of Muhammad, the son of Hasan, the son of Ali, son of Muhammad, the son of Ali, the son of Musa, the son of Ja`far, the son of Muhammad, the son of Ali, the son of Husayn, the son of Ali ibn Abi Talib unto His servant (The Bab) to the end that it might be an eloquent Proof of God from the Remembrance (al-dhikr) unto all the worlds. (Qayyamul Asma, Surah Mulk, verse 10) Dear readers, the above statement of the Bab is recorded in Qayyamul Asma, the chapter of Mulk (Kingdom) – the very first revelation of the Bab on the night of his declaration. In his very first revelation, Bab indicated the following for Mankind:

1-Imam Hasan Askari (as), the eleventh Shiite Imam did have a son

2-The name of the son was Mohammed

3-Bab considered himself as the servant of the 12 Imams

4-He put forth the Qayyamul Asma as his proof of being a servant of the 12 Imams

5-By proof, it is meant that he had some hidden connection with the 12th Imam.

There after Bab proceeded to declare, “I am the Bab (Gate) and you (Mulla Hussain) are the Bab’ul Bab (Gate to the Gate)” Once again, Shoghi Effendi has liberally added the words Door to Allah in the above statement. However, when we read the words of the Bab in Qayyamul Asma, we are clearly told that Bab believed in 12 Imams – the first of whom was Imam Ali (as) and the last was the Hidden Imam – Mohammed, the son of Hasan (as). The book Traveller’s Narrative translated by E G Browne too endorses the view that the Bab through his declaration assumed the leadership of the headless Shaykhi sect.

It seems that the support of the Shaykhis was garnered more by Mulla Husayn than by Bab himself. “No sooner was he (Mulla Husayn) convinced, than, …. He hastened to apprise his friends and comrades of his discovery.

Thus, did he become the ‘Gate of the Gate (Bab-ul-Bab). The Shaykhis who “were in general, anxiously expecting the appearance of someone who should assume the leadership of their party”, were turning to Haji Mohammed Karim Khan. “A considerable number headed by Haji Mohammed Karim Khan of Kirman utterly declined to accept Bab’s pretensions”. Those Shaykhis who were not impressed by Haji Mohammed Karim Khan accepted the Bab on the behest of Mulla Husayn. (Traveller’s Narrative, pp.240-241) Lastly, the Bab ordered his “new” disciple to exercise Taqaiyya (dissimulation). He ordered Mulla Hussain thus: “It is incumbent upon you not to divulge, either to your companions or to any other soul, that which you have seen and heard. Be engaged in the Masjid-i-Ilkhani in prayer and in teaching.”

I, too, will there join you in congregational prayer. Beware lest your attitude towards me betray the secret of your faith. You should continue in this occupation and maintain this attitude until our departure for Hijaz. (Dawn Breakers, p.63) To conclude, as per the narration of Dawn Breakers:

1-Ali Mohammed Shirazi made a declaration of being the Bab of the Hidden Imam on 5th Jamadiul Awwal 1260. At no place during the declaration did Bab say that he was the Hidden Imam.

2-If Mulla Hussain believed him to be the Hidden Imam, he would have expressed it clearly and would have addressed the Bab with at least one of the titles of the 12th Imam at that time. This aspect is notably missing during the incident.

3-Bab ordered Mulla Hussain to remain in the condition of Taqaiyya and not to reveal the subject matter of the meeting to any person. One possible explanation could be that about five months had passed from the death of Seyyed Kazim Rashty. There was an entire community of Shaykhis who were leaderless. At the same time, there were claimants to the coveted post of the leader of the Shaykhis. The Bab sought to occupy this position and presented his case to Mulla Hussain on that fateful evening.

Now, if we assume that Bab’s claim is true (!!) we must turn to investigate the other pages of Babi and Baha’i history. It was proved by Baha’i documents that the characteristics of a prophet were never true, based on the reason for his narration.

Endurance on claim

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-Islam 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. (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.” (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.” (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.” (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. (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.” (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.” (Dawn Breakers, pp. 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.

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