May 23, 1844, signalizes the commencement of the most turbulent period of the Heroic Age of the Bahá’í Era, an age which marks the opening of the most glorious epoch in the greatest cycle which the spiritual history of mankind has yet witnessed. No more than a span of nine short years marks the duration of this most spectacular, this most tragic, this most eventful period of the first Bahá’í century. It was ushered in by the birth of a Revelation whose Bearer posterity will acclaim as the “Point round Whom the realities of the Prophets and Messengers revolve,” and terminated with the first stirrings of a still more potent Revelation, “whose day,” Bahá’u’lláh Himself affirms, “every Prophet hath announced,” for which “the soul of every Divine Messenger hath thirsted,” and through which “God hath proved the hearts of the entire company of His Messengers and Prophets.” Little wonder that the immortal chronicler of the events associated with the birth and rise of the Bahá’í Revelation has seen fit to devote no less than half of his moving narrative to the description of those happenings that have during such a brief space of time so greatly enriched, through their tragedy and heroism, the religious annals of mankind. In sheer dramatic power, in the rapidity with which events of momentous importance succeeded each other, in the holocaust which baptized its birth, in the miraculous circumstances attending the martyrdom of the One Who had ushered it in, in the potentialities with which it had been from the outset so thoroughly impregnated, in the forces to which it eventually gave birth, this nine-year period may well rank as unique in the whole range of man’s religious experience. We behold, as we survey the episodes of this first act of a sublime drama, the figure of its Master Hero, the Báb, arise meteor-like above the horizon of Shíráz, traverse the sombre sky of Persia from south to north, decline with tragic swiftness, and perish in a blaze of glory. We see His satellites, a galaxy of God-intoxicated heroes, mount above that same horizon, irradiate that same incandescent light, burn themselves out with that self-same swiftness, and impart in their turn an added impetus to the steadily gathering momentum of God’s nascent Faith.
He Who communicated the original impulse to so incalculable a Movement was none other than the promised Qá’im (He who ariseth), the Ṣáḥibu’z-Zamán (the Lord of the Age), Who assumed the exclusive right of annulling the whole Qur’ánic Dispensation, Who styled Himself “the Primal Point from which have been generated all created things … the Countenance of God Whose splendor can never be obscured, the Light of God Whose radiance can never fade.” The people among whom He appeared were the most decadent race in the civilized world, grossly ignorant, savage, cruel, steeped in prejudice, servile in their submission to an almost deified hierarchy, recalling in their abjectness the Israelites of Egypt in the days of Moses, in their fanaticism the Jews in the days of Jesus, and in their perversity the idolators of Arabia in the days of Muḥammad. The arch-enemy who repudiated His claim, challenged His authority, persecuted His Cause, succeeded in almost quenching His light, and who eventually became disintegrated under the impact of His Revelation was the Shí‘ah priesthood. Fiercely fanatic, unspeakably corrupt, enjoying unlimited ascendancy over the masses, jealous of their position, and irreconcilably opposed to all liberal ideas, the members of this caste had for one thousand years invoked the name of the Hidden Imám, their breasts had glowed with the expectation of His advent, their pulpits had rung with the praises of His world-embracing dominion, their lips were still devoutly and perpetually murmuring prayers for the hastening of His coming. The willing tools who prostituted their high office for the accomplishment of the enemy’s designs were no less than the sovereigns of the Qájár dynasty, first, the bigoted, the sickly, the vacillating Muḥammad Sháh, who at the last moment cancelled the Báb’s imminent visit to the capital, and, second, the youthful and inexperienced Náṣiri’d-Dín Sháh, who gave his ready assent to the sentence of his Captive’s death. The arch villains who joined hands with the prime movers of so wicked a conspiracy were the two grand vizirs, Ḥájí Mírzá Áqásí, the idolized tutor of Muḥammad Sháh, a vulgar, false-hearted and fickle-minded schemer, and the arbitrary, bloodthirsty, reckless Amír-Niẓám, Mírzá Taqí Khán, the first of whom exiled the Báb to the mountain fastnesses of Ádhirbáyján, and the latter decreed His death in Tabríz. Their accomplice in these and other heinous crimes was a government bolstered up by a flock of idle, parasitical princelings and governors, corrupt, incompetent, tenaciously holding to their ill-gotten privileges, and utterly subservient to a notoriously degraded clerical order. The heroes whose deeds shine upon the record of this fierce spiritual contest, involving at once people, clergy, monarch and government, were the Báb’s chosen disciples, the Letters of the Living, and their companions, the trail-breakers of the New Day, who to so much intrigue, ignorance, depravity, cruelty, superstition and cowardice opposed a spirit exalted, unquenchable and awe-inspiring, a knowledge surprisingly profound, an eloquence sweeping in its force, a piety unexcelled in fervor, a courage leonine in its fierceness, a self-abnegation saintly in its purity, a resolve granite-like in its firmness, a vision stupendous in its range, a veneration for the Prophet and His Imáms disconcerting to their adversaries, a power of persuasion alarming to their antagonists, a standard of faith and a code of conduct that challenged and revolutionized the lives of their countrymen.
The opening scene of the initial act of this great drama was laid in the upper chamber of the modest residence of the son of a mercer of Shíráz, in an obscure corner of that city. The time was the hour before sunset, on the 22nd day of May, 1844. The participants were the Báb, a twenty-five year old siyyid, of pure and holy lineage, and the young Mullá Ḥusayn, the first to believe in Him. Their meeting immediately before that interview seemed to be purely fortuitous. The interview itself was protracted till the hour of dawn. The Host remained closeted alone with His guest, nor was the sleeping city remotely aware of the import of the conversation they held with each other. No record has passed to posterity of that unique night save the fragmentary but highly illuminating account that fell from the lips of Mullá Ḥusayn.
“I sat spellbound by His utterance, oblivious of time and of those who awaited me,” he himself has testified, after describing the nature of the questions he had put to his Host and the conclusive replies he had received from Him, replies which had established beyond the shadow of a doubt the validity of His claim to be the promised Qá’im. “Suddenly the call of the Mu’adhdhin, summoning the faithful to their morning prayer, awakened me from the state of ecstasy into which I seemed to have fallen. All the delights, all the ineffable glories, which the Almighty has recounted in His Book as the priceless possessions of the people of Paradise—these I seemed to be experiencing that night. Methinks I was in a place of which it could be truly said: ‘Therein no toil shall reach us, and therein no weariness shall touch us;’ ‘no vain discourse shall they hear therein, nor any falsehood, but only the cry, “Peace! Peace!”’; ‘their cry therein shall be, “Glory be to Thee, O God!” and their salutation therein, “Peace!”, and the close of their cry, “Praise be to God, Lord of all creatures!”’ Sleep had departed from me that night. I was enthralled by the music of that voice which rose and fell as He chanted; now swelling forth as He revealed verses of the Qayyúmu’l-Asmá’, again acquiring ethereal, subtle harmonies as He uttered the prayers He was revealing. At the end of each invocation, He would repeat this verse: ‘Far from the glory of thy Lord, the All-Glorious, be that which His creatures affirm of Him! And peace be upon His Messengers! And praise be to God, the Lord of all beings!’”
“This Revelation,” Mullá Ḥusayn has further testified, “so suddenly and impetuously thrust upon me, came as a thunderbolt which, for a time, seemed to have benumbed my faculties. I was blinded by its dazzling splendor and overwhelmed by its crushing force. Excitement, joy, awe, and wonder stirred the depths of my soul. Predominant among these emotions was a sense of gladness and strength which seemed to have transfigured me. How feeble and impotent, how dejected and timid, I had felt previously! Then I could neither write nor walk, so tremulous were my hands and feet. Now, however, the knowledge of His Revelation had galvanized my being. I felt possessed of such courage and power that were the world, all its peoples and its potentates, to rise against me, I would, alone and undaunted, withstand their onslaught. The universe seemed but a handful of dust in my grasp. I seemed to be the voice of Gabriel personified, calling unto all mankind: ‘Awake, for, lo! the morning Light has broken. Arise, for His Cause is made manifest. The portal of His grace is open wide; enter therein, O peoples of the world! For He Who is your promised One is come!’”
A more significant light, however, is shed on this episode, marking the Declaration of the Mission of the Báb, by the perusal of that “first, greatest and mightiest” of all books in the Bábí Dispensation, the celebrated commentary on the Súrih of Joseph, the first chapter of which, we are assured, proceeded, in its entirety, in the course of that night of nights from the pen of its divine Revealer. The description of this episode by Mullá Ḥusayn, as well as the opening pages of that Book attest the magnitude and force of that weighty Declaration. A claim to be no less than the mouthpiece of God Himself, promised by the Prophets of bygone ages; the assertion that He was, at the same time, the Herald of One immeasurably greater than Himself; the summons which He trumpeted forth to the kings and princes of the earth; the dire warnings directed to the Chief Magistrate of the realm, Muḥammad Sháh; the counsel imparted to Ḥájí Mírzá Áqásí to fear God, and the peremptory command to abdicate his authority as grand vizir of the Sháh and submit to the One Who is the “Inheritor of the earth and all that is therein”; the challenge issued to the rulers of the world proclaiming the self-sufficiency of His Cause, denouncing the vanity of their ephemeral power, and calling upon them to “lay aside, one and all, their dominion,” and deliver His Message to “lands in both the East and the West”—these constitute the dominant features of that initial contact that marked the birth, and fixed the date, of the inception of the most glorious era in the spiritual life of mankind.
With this historic Declaration the dawn of an Age that signalizes the consummation of all ages had broken. The first impulse of a momentous Revelation had been communicated to the one “but for whom,” according to the testimony of the Kitáb-i-Íqán, “God would not have been established upon the seat of His mercy, nor ascended the throne of eternal glory.” Not until forty days had elapsed, however, did the enrollment of the seventeen remaining Letters of the Living commence. Gradually, spontaneously, some in sleep, others while awake, some through fasting and prayer, others through dreams and visions, they discovered the Object of their quest, and were enlisted under the banner of the new-born Faith. The last, but in rank the first, of these Letters to be inscribed on the Preserved Tablet was the erudite, the twenty-two year old Quddús, a direct descendant of the Imám Ḥasan and the most esteemed disciple of Siyyid Káẓim. Immediately preceding him, a woman, the only one of her sex, who, unlike her fellow-disciples, never attained the presence of the Báb, was invested with the rank of apostleship in the new Dispensation. A poetess, less than thirty years of age, of distinguished birth, of bewitching charm, of captivating eloquence, indomitable in spirit, unorthodox in her views, audacious in her acts, immortalized as Ṭáhirih (the Pure One) by the “Tongue of Glory,” and surnamed Qurratu’l-‘Ayn (Solace of the Eyes) by Siyyid Káẓim, her teacher, she had, in consequence of the appearance of the Báb to her in a dream, received the first intimation of a Cause which was destined to exalt her to the fairest heights of fame, and on which she, through her bold heroism, was to shed such imperishable luster.
These “first Letters generated from the Primal Point,” this “company of angels arrayed before God on the Day of His coming,” these “Repositories of His Mystery,” these “Springs that have welled out from the Source of His Revelation,” these first companions who, in the words of the Persian Bayán, “enjoy nearest access to God,” these “Luminaries that have, from everlasting, bowed down, and will everlastingly continue to bow down, before the Celestial Throne,” and lastly these “elders” mentioned in the Book of Revelation as “sitting before God on their seats,” “clothed in white raiment” and wearing on their heads “crowns of gold”—these were, ere their dispersal, summoned to the Báb’s presence, Who addressed to them His parting words, entrusted to each a specific task, and assigned to some of them as the proper field of their activities their native provinces. He enjoined them to observe the utmost caution and moderation in their behavior, unveiled the loftiness of their rank, and stressed the magnitude of their responsibilities. He recalled the words addressed by Jesus to His disciples, and emphasized the superlative greatness of the New Day. He warned them lest by turning back they forfeit the Kingdom of God, and assured them that if they did God’s bidding, God would make them His heirs and spiritual leaders among men. He hinted at the secret, and announced the approach, of a still mightier Day, and bade them prepare themselves for its advent. He called to remembrance the triumph of Abraham over Nimrod, of Moses over Pharaoh, of Jesus over the Jewish people, and of Muḥammad over the tribes of Arabia, and asserted the inevitability and ultimate ascendancy of His own Revelation. To the care of Mullá Ḥusayn He committed a mission, more specific in character and mightier in import. He affirmed that His covenant with him had been established, cautioned him to be forbearing with the divines he would encounter, directed him to proceed to Ṭihrán, and alluded, in the most glowing terms, to the as yet unrevealed Mystery enshrined in that city—a Mystery that would, He affirmed, transcend the light shed by both Ḥijáz and Shíráz.
Galvanized into action by the mandate conferred upon them, launched on their perilous and revolutionizing mission, these lesser luminaries who, together with the Báb, constitute the First Váḥid (Unity) of the Dispensation of the Bayán, scattered far and wide through the provinces of their native land, where, with matchless heroism, they resisted the savage and concerted onslaught of the forces arrayed against them, and immortalized their Faith by their own exploits and those of their co-religionists, raising thereby a tumult that convulsed their country and sent its echoes reverberating as far as the capitals of Western Europe.
It was not until, however, the Báb had received the eagerly anticipated letter of Mullá Ḥusayn, His trusted and beloved lieutenant, communicating the joyful tidings of his interview with Bahá’u’lláh, that He decided to undertake His long and arduous pilgrimage to the Tombs of His ancestors. In the month of Shá‘bán, of the year 1260 A.H. (September, 1844) He Who, both on His father’s and mother’s side, was of the seed of the illustrious Fáṭimih, and Who was a descendant of the Imám Ḥusayn, the most eminent among the lawful successors of the Prophet of Islám, proceeded, in fulfillment of Islamic traditions, to visit the Kaaba. He embarked from Bushihr on the 19th of Ramaḍán (October, 1844) on a sailing vessel, accompanied by Quddús whom He was assiduously preparing for the assumption of his future office. Landing at Jaddih after a stormy voyage of over a month’s duration, He donned the pilgrim’s garb, mounted a camel, and set out for Mecca, arriving on the first of Dhi’l-Ḥajjih (December 12). Quddús, holding the bridle in his hands, accompanied his Master on foot to that holy Shrine. On the day of ‘Arafih, the Prophet-pilgrim of Shíráz, His chronicler relates, devoted His whole time to prayer. On the day of Nahr He proceeded to Muná, where He sacrificed according to custom nineteen lambs, nine in His own name, seven in the name of Quddús, and three in the name of the Ethiopian servant who attended Him. He afterwards, in company with the other pilgrims, encompassed the Kaaba and performed the rites prescribed for the pilgrimage.
His visit to Ḥijáz was marked by two episodes of particular importance. The first was the declaration of His mission and His open challenge to the haughty Mírzá Muhít-i-Kirmání, one of the most outstanding exponents of the Shaykhí school, who at times went so far as to assert his independence of the leadership of that school assumed after the death of Siyyid Kaẓím by Ḥájí Muḥammad Karím Khán, a redoubtable enemy of the Bábí Faith. The second was the invitation, in the form of an Epistle, conveyed by Quddús, to the Sherif of Mecca, in which the custodian of the House of God was called upon to embrace the truth of the new Revelation. Absorbed in his own pursuits the Sherif however failed to respond. Seven years later, when in the course of a conversation with a certain Ḥájí Níyáz-i-Baghdádí, this same Sherif was informed of the circumstances attending the mission and martyrdom of the Prophet of Shíráz, he listened attentively to the description of those events and expressed his indignation at the tragic fate that had overtaken Him.
The Báb’s visit to Medina marked the conclusion of His pilgrimage. Regaining Jaddih, He returned to Búshihr, where one of His first acts was to bid His last farewell to His fellow-traveler and disciple, and to assure him that he would meet the Beloved of their hearts. He, moreover, announced to him that he would be crowned with a martyr’s death, and that He Himself would subsequently suffer a similar fate at the hands of their common foe.
The Báb’s return to His native land (Ṣafar 1261) (February–March, 1845) was the signal for a commotion that rocked the entire country. The fire which the declaration of His mission had lit was being fanned into flame through the dispersal and activities of His appointed disciples. Already within the space of less than two years it had kindled the passions of friend and foe alike. The outbreak of the conflagration did not even await the return to His native city of the One Who had generated it. The implications of a Revelation, thrust so dramatically upon a race so degenerate, so inflammable in temper, could indeed have had no other consequence than to excite within men’s bosoms the fiercest passions of fear, of hate, of rage and envy. A Faith Whose Founder did not content Himself with the claim to be the Gate of the Hidden Imám, Who assumed a rank that excelled even that of the Ṣáḥibu’z-Zamán, Who regarded Himself as the precursor of one incomparably greater than Himself, Who peremptorily commanded not only the subjects of the Sháh, but the monarch himself, and even the kings and princes of the earth, to forsake their all and follow Him, Who claimed to be the inheritor of the earth and all that is therein—a Faith Whose religious doctrines, Whose ethical standards, social principles and religious laws challenged the whole structure of the society in which it was born, soon ranged, with startling unanimity, the mass of the people behind their priests, and behind their chief magistrate, with his ministers and his government, and welded them into an opposition sworn to destroy, root and branch, the movement initiated by One Whom they regarded as an impious and presumptuous pretender.
With the Báb’s return to Shíráz the initial collision of irreconcilable forces may be said to have commenced. Already the energetic and audacious Mullá ‘Alíy-i-Basṭámí, one of the Letters of the Living, “the first to leave the House of God (Shíráz) and the first to suffer for His sake,” who, in the presence of one of the leading exponents of Shí‘ah Islám, the far-famed Shaykh Muḥammad Ḥasan, had audaciously asserted that from the pen of his new-found Master within the space of forty-eight hours, verses had streamed that equalled in number those of the Qur’án, which it took its Author twenty-three years to reveal, had been excommunicated, chained, disgraced, imprisoned, and, in all probability, done to death. Mullá Ṣádiq-i-Khurásání, impelled by the injunction of the Báb in the Khasá’il-i-Sab‘ih to alter the sacrosanct formula of the adhán, sounded it in its amended form before a scandalized congregation in Shíráz, and was instantly arrested, reviled, stripped of his garments, and scourged with a thousand lashes. The villainous Ḥusayn Khán, the Niẓámu’d-Dawlih, the governor of Fárs, who had read the challenge thrown out in the Qayyúmu’l-Asmá’, having ordered that Mullá Ṣádiq together with Quddús and another believer be summarily and publicly punished, caused their beards to be burned, their noses pierced, and threaded with halters; then, having been led through the streets in this disgraceful condition, they were expelled from the city.
The people of Shíráz were by that time wild with excitement. A violent controversy was raging in the masjids, the madrisihs, the bazaars, and other public places. Peace and security were gravely imperiled. Fearful, envious, thoroughly angered, the mullás were beginning to perceive the seriousness of their position. The governor, greatly alarmed, ordered the Báb to be arrested. He was brought to Shíráz under escort, and, in the presence of Ḥusayn Khán, was severely rebuked, and so violently struck in the face that His turban fell to the ground. Upon the intervention of the Imám-Jum‘ih He was released on parole, and entrusted to the custody of His maternal uncle Ḥájí Mírzá Siyyid ‘Alí. A brief lull ensued, enabling the captive Youth to celebrate the Naw-Rúz of that and the succeeding year in an atmosphere of relative tranquillity in the company of His mother, His wife, and His uncle. Meanwhile the fever that had seized His followers was communicating itself to the members of the clergy and to the merchant classes, and was invading the higher circles of society. Indeed, a wave of passionate inquiry had swept the whole country, and unnumbered congregations were listening with wonder to the testimonies eloquently and fearlessly related by the Báb’s itinerant messengers.
The commotion had assumed such proportions that the Sháh, unable any longer to ignore the situation, delegated the trusted Siyyid Yaḥyáy-i-Dárábí, surnamed Vaḥíd, one of the most erudite, eloquent and influential of his subjects—a man who had committed to memory no less than thirty thousand traditions—to investigate and report to him the true situation. Broad-minded, highly imaginative, zealous by nature, intimately associated with the court, he, in the course of three interviews, was completely won over by the arguments and personality of the Báb. Their first interview centered around the metaphysical teachings of Islám, the most obscure passages of the Qur’án, and the traditions and prophecies of the Imáms. In the course of the second interview Vaḥíd was astounded to find that the questions which he had intended to submit for elucidation had been effaced from his retentive memory, and yet, to his utter amazement, he discovered that the Báb was answering the very questions he had forgotten. During the third interview the circumstances attending the revelation of the Báb’s commentary on the súrih of Kawthar, comprising no less than two thousand verses, so overpowered the delegate of the Sháh that he, contenting himself with a mere written report to the Court Chamberlain, arose forthwith to dedicate his entire life and resources to the service of a Faith that was to requite him with the crown of martyrdom during the Nayríz upheaval. He who had firmly resolved to confute the arguments of an obscure siyyid of Shíráz, to induce Him to abandon His ideas, and to conduct Him to Ṭihrán as an evidence of the ascendancy he had achieved over Him, was made to feel, as he himself later acknowledged, as “lowly as the dust beneath His feet.” Even Ḥusayn Khán, who had been Vaḥíd’s host during his stay in Shíráz, was compelled to write to the Sháh and express the conviction that his Majesty’s illustrious delegate had become a Bábí.
Another famous advocate of the Cause of the Báb, even fiercer in zeal than Vaḥíd, and almost as eminent in rank, was Mullá Muḥammad-‘Alíy-i-Zánjání, surnamed Ḥujjat. An Akhbárí, a vehement controversialist, of a bold and independent temper of mind, impatient of restraint, a man who had dared condemn the whole ecclesiastical hierarchy from the Abváb-i-Arba‘ih down to the humblest mullá, he had more than once, through his superior talents and fervid eloquence, publicly confounded his orthodox Shí‘ah adversaries. Such a person could not remain indifferent to a Cause that was producing so grave a cleavage among his countrymen. The disciple he sent to Shíráz to investigate the matter fell immediately under the spell of the Báb. The perusal of but a page of the Qayyúmu’l-Asmá’, brought by that messenger to Ḥujjat, sufficed to effect such a transformation within him that he declared, before the assembled ‘ulamás of his native city, that should the Author of that work pronounce day to be night and the sun to be a shadow he would unhesitatingly uphold his verdict.
Yet another recruit to the ever-swelling army of the new Faith was the eminent scholar, Mírzá Aḥmad-i-Azghandí, the most learned, the wisest and the most outstanding among the ‘ulamás of Khurásán, who, in anticipation of the advent of the promised Qá’im, had compiled above twelve thousand traditions and prophecies concerning the time and character of the expected Revelation, had circulated them among His fellow-disciples, and had encouraged them to quote them extensively to all congregations and in all meetings.
While the situation was steadily deteriorating in the provinces, the bitter hostility of the people of Shíráz was rapidly moving towards a climax. Ḥusayn Khán, vindictive, relentless, exasperated by the reports of his sleepless agents that his Captive’s power and fame were hourly growing, decided to take immediate action. It is even reported that his accomplice, Ḥájí Mírzá Áqásí, had ordered him to kill secretly the would-be disrupter of the state and the wrecker of its established religion. By order of the governor the chief constable, ‘Abdu’l-Ḥamíd Khán, scaled, in the dead of night, the wall and entered the house of Ḥájí Mírzá Siyyid ‘Alí, where the Báb was confined, arrested Him, and confiscated all His books and documents. That very night, however, took place an event which, in its dramatic suddenness, was no doubt providentially designed to confound the schemes of the plotters, and enable the Object of their hatred to prolong His ministry and consummate His Revelation. An outbreak of cholera, devastating in its virulence, had, since midnight, already smitten above a hundred people. The dread of the plague had entered every heart, and the inhabitants of the stricken city were, amid shrieks of pain and grief, fleeing in confusion. Three of the governor’s domestics had already died. Members of his family were lying dangerously ill. In his despair he, leaving the dead unburied, had fled to a garden in the outskirts of the city. ‘Abdu’l-Ḥamíd Khán, confronted by this unexpected development, decided to conduct the Báb to His own home. He was appalled, upon his arrival, to learn that his son lay in the death-throes of the plague. In his despair he threw himself at the feet of the Báb, begged to be forgiven, adjured Him not to visit upon the son the sins of the father, and pledged his word to resign his post, and never again to accept such a position. Finding that his prayer had been answered, he addressed a plea to the governor begging him to release his Captive, and thereby deflect the fatal course of this dire visitation. Ḥusayn Khán acceded to his request, and released his Prisoner on condition of His quitting the city.
Miraculously preserved by an almighty and watchful Providence, the Báb proceeded to Iṣfahán (September, 1846), accompanied by Siyyid Kaẓim-i-Zanjání. Another lull ensued, a brief period of comparative tranquillity during which the Divine processes which had been set in motion gathered further momentum, precipitating a series of events leading to the imprisonment of the Báb in the fortresses of Máh-Kú and Chihríq, and culminating in His martyrdom in the barrack-square of Tabríz. Well aware of the impending trials that were to afflict Him, the Báb had, ere His final separation from His family, bequeathed to His mother and His wife all His possessions, had confided to the latter the secret of what was to befall Him, and revealed for her a special prayer the reading of which, He assured her, would resolve her perplexities and allay her sorrows. The first forty days of His sojourn in Iṣfahán were spent as the guest of Mírzá Siyyid Muḥammad, the Sulṭanu’l-‘Ulamá, the Imám-Jum‘ih, one of the principal ecclesiastical dignitaries of the realm, in accordance with the instructions of the governor of the city, Manuchihr Khán, the Mu ‘Tamidu’d-Dawlih, who had received from the Báb a letter requesting him to appoint the place where He should dwell. He was ceremoniously received, and such was the spell He cast over the people of that city that, on one occasion, after His return from the public bath, an eager multitude clamored for the water that had been used for His ablutions. So magic was His charm that His host, forgetful of the dignity of his high rank, was wont to wait personally upon Him. It was at the request of this same prelate that the Báb, one night, after supper, revealed His well-known commentary on the súrih of Va’l-‘Aṣr. Writing with astonishing rapidity, He, in a few hours, had devoted to the exposition of the significance of only the first letter of that súrih—a letter which Shaykh Aḥmad-i-Aḥsá’í had stressed, and which Bahá’u’lláh refers to in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas—verses that equalled in number a third of the Qur’án, a feat that called forth such an outburst of reverent astonishment from those who witnessed it that they arose and kissed the hem of His robe.
The tumultuous enthusiasm of the people of Iṣfahán was meanwhile visibly increasing. Crowds of people, some impelled by curiosity, others eager to discover the truth, still others anxious to be healed of their infirmities, flocked from every quarter of the city to the house of the Imám-Jum‘ih. The wise and judicious Manuchihr Khán could not resist the temptation of visiting so strange, so intriguing a Personage. Before a brilliant assemblage of the most accomplished divines he, a Georgian by origin and a Christian by birth, requested the Báb to expound and demonstrate the truth of Muḥammad’s specific mission. To this request, which those present had felt compelled to decline, the Báb readily responded. In less than two hours, and in the space of fifty pages, He had not only revealed a minute, a vigorous and original dissertation on this noble theme, but had also linked it with both the coming of the Qá’im and the return of the Imám Ḥusayn—an exposition that prompted Manuchihr Khán to declare before that gathering his faith in the Prophet of Islám, as well as his recognition of the supernatural gifts with which the Author of so convincing a treatise was endowed.
These evidences of the growing ascendancy exercised by an unlearned Youth on the governor and the people of a city rightly regarded as one of the strongholds of Shí‘ah Islám, alarmed the ecclesiastical authorities. Refraining from any act of open hostility which they knew full well would defeat their purpose, they sought, by encouraging the circulation of the wildest rumors, to induce the Grand Vizir of the Sháh to save a situation that was growing hourly more acute and menacing. The popularity enjoyed by the Báb, His personal prestige, and the honors accorded Him by His countrymen, had now reached their high watermark. The shadows of an impending doom began to fast gather about Him. A series of tragedies from then on followed in rapid sequence destined to culminate in His own death and the apparent extinction of the influence of His Faith.
The overbearing and crafty Ḥájí Mírzá Áqásí, fearful lest the sway of the Báb encompass his sovereign and thus seal his own doom, was aroused as never before. Prompted by a suspicion that the Báb possessed the secret sympathies of the Mu‘tamid, and well aware of the confidence reposed in him by the Sháh, he severely upbraided the Imám-Jum‘ih for the neglect of his sacred duty. He, at the same time, lavished, in several letters, his favors upon the ‘ulamás of Iṣfahán, whom he had hitherto ignored. From the pulpits of that city an incited clergy began to hurl vituperation and calumny upon the Author of what was to them a hateful and much to be feared heresy. The Sháh himself was induced to summon the Báb to his capital. Manuchihr Khán, bidden to arrange for His departure, decided to transfer His residence temporarily to his own home. Meanwhile the mujtahids and ‘ulamás, dismayed at the signs of so pervasive an influence, summoned a gathering which issued an abusive document signed and sealed by the ecclesiastical leaders of the city, denouncing the Báb as a heretic and condemning Him to death. Even the Imám-Jum‘ih was constrained to add his written testimony that the Accused was devoid of reason and judgment. The Mu‘tamid, in his great embarrassment, and in order to appease the rising tumult, conceived a plan whereby an increasingly restive populace were made to believe that the Báb had left for Ṭihrán, while he succeeded in insuring for Him a brief respite of four months in the privacy of the ‘Imárat-i-Khurshíd, the governor’s private residence in Iṣfahán. It was in those days that the host expressed the desire to consecrate all his possessions, evaluated by his contemporaries at no less than forty million francs, to the furtherance of the interests of the new Faith, declared his intention of converting Muḥammad Sháh, of inducing him to rid himself of a shameful and profligate minister, and of obtaining his royal assent to the marriage of one of his sisters with the Báb. The sudden death of the Mu‘tamid, however, foretold by the Báb Himself, accelerated the course of the approaching crisis. The ruthless and rapacious Gurgín Khán, the deputy governor, induced the Sháh to issue a second summons ordering that the captive Youth be sent in disguise to Ṭihrán, accompanied by a mounted escort. To this written mandate of the sovereign the vile Gurgín Khán, who had previously discovered and destroyed the will of his uncle, the Mu‘tamid, and seized his property, unhesitatingly responded. At the distance of less than thirty miles from the capital, however, in the fortress of Kinár-Gird, a messenger delivered to Muḥammad Big, who headed the escort, a written order from Ḥájí Mírzá Áqásí instructing him to proceed to Kulayn, and there await further instructions. This was, shortly after, followed by a letter which the Sháh had himself addressed to the Báb, dated Rabí‘u’th-thání 1263 (March 19–April 17, 1847), and which, though couched in courteous terms, clearly indicated the extent of the baneful influence exercised by the Grand Vizir on his sovereign. The plans so fondly cherished by Manuchihr Khán were now utterly undone. The fortress of Máh-Kú, not far from the village of that same name, whose inhabitants had long enjoyed the patronage of the Grand Vizir, situated in the remotest northwestern corner of Ádhirbáyján, was the place of incarceration assigned by Muḥammad Sháh, on the advice of his perfidious minister, for the Báb. No more than one companion and one attendant from among His followers were allowed to keep Him company in those bleak and inhospitable surroundings. All-powerful and crafty, that minister had, on the pretext of the necessity of his master’s concentrating his immediate attention on a recent rebellion in Khurásán and a revolt in Kirmán, succeeded in foiling a plan, which, had it materialized, would have had the most serious repercussions on his own fortunes, as well as on the immediate destinies of his government, its ruler and its people.