The period of the Báb’s banishment to the mountains of Ádhirbáyján, lasting no less than three years, constitutes the saddest, the most dramatic, and in a sense the most pregnant phase of His six year ministry. It comprises His nine months’ unbroken confinement in the fortress of Máh-Kú, and His subsequent incarceration in the fortress of Chihríq, which was interrupted only by a brief yet memorable visit to Tabríz. It was overshadowed throughout by the implacable and mounting hostility of the two most powerful adversaries of the Faith, the Grand Vizir of Muḥammad Sháh, Ḥájí Mírzá Áqásí, and the Amír-Niẓám, the Grand Vizir of Náṣiri’d-Dín Sháh. It corresponds to the most critical stage of the mission of Bahá’u’lláh, during His exile to Adrianople, when confronted with the despotic Sulṭán ‘Abdu’l-‘Azíz and his ministers, ‘Álí Páshá and Fu‘ád Páshá, and is paralleled by the darkest days of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá’s ministry in the Holy Land, under the oppressive rule of the tyrannical ‘Abdu’l-Ḥamíd and the equally tyrannical Jamál Páshá. Shíráz had been the memorable scene of the Báb’s historic Declaration; Iṣfáhán had provided Him, however briefly, with a haven of relative peace and security; whilst Ádhirbáyján was destined to become the theatre of His agony and martyrdom. These concluding years of His earthly life will go down in history as the time when the new Dispensation attained its full stature, when the claim of its Founder was fully and publicly asserted, when its laws were formulated, when the Covenant of its Author was firmly established, when its independence was proclaimed, and when the heroism of its champions blazed forth in immortal glory. For it was during these intensely dramatic, fate-laden years that the full implications of the station of the Báb were disclosed to His disciples, and formally announced by Him in the capital of Ádhirbáyján, in the presence of the Heir to the Throne; that the Persian Bayán, the repository of the laws ordained by the Báb, was revealed; that the time and character of the Dispensation of “the One Whom God will make manifest” were unmistakably determined; that the Conference of Badasht proclaimed the annulment of the old order; and that the great conflagrations of Mázindarán, of Nayríz and of Zanján were kindled.
And yet, the foolish and short-sighted Ḥájí Mírzá Áqásí fondly imagined that by confounding the plan of the Báb to meet the Sháh face to face in the capital, and by relegating Him to the farthest corner of the realm, he had stifled the Movement at its birth, and would soon conclusively triumph over its Founder. Little did he imagine that the very isolation he was forcing upon his Prisoner would enable Him to evolve the System designed to incarnate the soul of His Faith, and would afford Him the opportunity of safeguarding it from disintegration and schism, and of proclaiming formally and unreservedly His mission. Little did he imagine that this very confinement would induce that Prisoner’s exasperated disciples and companions to cast off the shackles of an antiquated theology, and precipitate happenings that would call forth from them a prowess, a courage, a self-renunciation unexampled in their country’s history. Little did he imagine that by this very act he would be instrumental in fulfilling the authentic tradition ascribed to the Prophet of Islám regarding the inevitability of that which should come to pass in Ádhirbáyján. Untaught by the example of the governor of Shíráz, who, with fear and trembling, had, at the first taste of God’s avenging wrath, fled ignominiously and relaxed his hold on his Captive, the Grand Vizir of Muḥammad Sháh was, in his turn, through the orders he had issued, storing up for himself severe and inevitable disappointment, and paving the way for his own ultimate downfall.
His orders to ‘Alí Khán, the warden of the fortress of Máh-Kú, were stringent and explicit. On His way to that fortress the Báb passed a number of days in Tabríz, days that were marked by such an intense excitement on the part of the populace that, except for a few persons, neither the public nor His followers were allowed to meet Him. As He was escorted through the streets of the city the shout of “Alláh-u-Akbar” resounded on every side. So great, indeed, became the clamor that the town crier was ordered to warn the inhabitants that any one who ventured to seek the Báb’s presence would forfeit all his possessions and be imprisoned. Upon His arrival in Máh-Kú, surnamed by Him Jabal-i-Básiṭ (the Open Mountain) no one was allowed to see Him for the first two weeks except His amanuensis, Siyyid Ḥusayn, and his brother. So grievous was His plight while in that fortress that, in the Persian Bayán, He Himself has stated that at night-time He did not even have a lighted lamp, and that His solitary chamber, constructed of sun-baked bricks, lacked even a door, while, in His Tablet to Muḥammad Sháh, He has complained that the inmates of the fortress were confined to two guards and four dogs.
Secluded on the heights of a remote and dangerously situated mountain on the frontiers of the Ottoman and Russian empires; imprisoned within the solid walls of a four-towered fortress; cut off from His family, His kindred and His disciples; living in the vicinity of a bigoted and turbulent community who, by race, tradition, language and creed, differed from the vast majority of the inhabitants of Persia; guarded by the people of a district which, as the birthplace of the Grand Vizir, had been made the recipient of the special favors of his administration, the Prisoner of Máh-Kú seemed in the eyes of His adversary to be doomed to languish away the flower of His youth, and witness, at no distant date, the complete annihilation of His hopes. That adversary was soon to realize, however, how gravely he had misjudged both his Prisoner and those on whom he had lavished his favors. An unruly, a proud and unreasoning people were gradually subdued by the gentleness of the Báb, were chastened by His modesty, were edified by His counsels, and instructed by His wisdom. They were so carried away by their love for Him that their first act every morning, notwithstanding the remonstrations of the domineering ‘Alí Khán, and the repeated threats of disciplinary measures received from Ṭihrán, was to seek a place where they could catch a glimpse of His face, and beseech from afar His benediction upon their daily work. In cases of dispute it was their wont to hasten to the foot of the fortress, and, with their eyes fixed upon His abode, invoke His name, and adjure one another to speak the truth. ‘Alí Khán himself, under the influence of a strange vision, felt such mortification that he was impelled to relax the severity of his discipline, as an atonement for his past behavior. Such became his leniency that an increasing stream of eager and devout pilgrims began to be admitted at the gates of the fortress. Among them was the dauntless and indefatigable Mullá Ḥusayn, who had walked on foot the entire way from Mashad in the east of Persia to Máh-Kú, the westernmost outpost of the realm, and was able, after so arduous a journey, to celebrate the festival of Naw-Rúz (1848) in the company of his Beloved.
Secret agents, however, charged to watch ‘Alí Khán, informed Ḥájí Mírzá Áqásí of the turn events were taking, whereupon he immediately decided to transfer the Báb to the fortress of Chihríq (about April 10, 1848), surnamed by Him the Jabal-i-Shadíd (the Grievous Mountain). There He was consigned to the keeping of Yaḥya Khán, a brother-in-law of Muḥammad Sháh. Though at the outset he acted with the utmost severity, he was eventually compelled to yield to the fascination of his Prisoner. Nor were the kurds, who lived in the village of Chihríq, and whose hatred of the Shí‘ahs exceeded even that of the inhabitants of Máh-Kú, able to resist the pervasive power of the Prisoner’s influence. They too were to be seen every morning, ere they started for their daily work, to approach the fortress and prostrate themselves in adoration before its holy Inmate. “So great was the confluence of the people,” is the testimony of a European eye-witness, writing in his memoirs of the Báb, “that the courtyard, not being large enough to contain His hearers, the majority remained in the street and listened with rapt attention to the verses of the new Qur’án.”
Indeed the turmoil raised in Chihríq eclipsed the scenes which Máh-Kú had witnessed. Siyyids of distinguished merit, eminent ‘ulamás, and even government officials were boldly and rapidly espousing the Cause of the Prisoner. The conversion of the zealous, the famous Mírzá Asadu’lláh, surnamed Dayyán, a prominent official of high literary repute, who was endowed by the Báb with the “hidden and preserved knowledge,” and extolled as the “repository of the trust of the one true God,” and the arrival of a dervish, a former navváb, from India, whom the Báb in a vision had bidden renounce wealth and position, and hasten on foot to meet Him in Ádhirbáyján, brought the situation to a head. Accounts of these startling events reached Tabríz, were thence communicated to Ṭihrán, and forced Ḥájí Mírzá Áqásí again to intervene. Dayyán’s father, an intimate friend of that minister, had already expressed to him his grave apprehension at the manner in which the able functionaries of the state were being won over to the new Faith. To allay the rising excitement the Báb was summoned to Tabríz. Fearful of the enthusiasm of the people of Ádhirbáyján, those into whose custody He had been delivered decided to deflect their route, and avoid the town of Khuy, passing instead through Urúmíyyih. On His arrival in that town Prince Malik Qásim Mírzá ceremoniously received Him, and was even seen, on a certain Friday, when his Guest was riding on His way to the public bath, to accompany Him on foot, while the Prince’s footmen endeavored to restrain the people who, in their overflowing enthusiasm, were pressing to catch a glimpse of so marvelous a Prisoner. Tabríz, in its turn in the throes of wild excitement, joyously hailed His arrival. Such was the fervor of popular feeling that the Báb was assigned a place outside the gates of the city. This, however, failed to allay the prevailing emotion. Precautions, warnings and restrictions served only to aggravate a situation that had already become critical. It was at this juncture that the Grand Vizir issued his historic order for the immediate convocation of the ecclesiastical dignitaries of Tabríz to consider the most effectual measures which would, once and for all, extinguish the flames of so devouring a conflagration.
The circumstances attending the examination of the Báb, as a result of so precipitate an act, may well rank as one of the chief landmarks of His dramatic career. The avowed purpose of that convocation was to arraign the Prisoner, and deliberate on the steps to be taken for the extirpation of His so-called heresy. It instead afforded Him the supreme opportunity of His mission to assert in public, formally and without any reservation, the claims inherent in His Revelation. In the official residence, and in the presence, of the governor of Ádhirbáyján, Náṣiri’d-Dín Mírzá, the heir to the throne; under the presidency of Ḥájí Mullá Maḥmúd, the Niẓámu’l-‘Ulamá, the Prince’s tutor; before the assembled ecclesiastical dignitaries of Tabríz, the leaders of the Shaykhi community, the Shaykhu’l-Islám, and the Imám-Jum‘ih, the Báb, having seated Himself in the chief place which had been reserved for the Valí-‘Ahd (the heir to the throne), gave, in ringing tones, His celebrated answer to the question put to Him by the President of that assembly. “I am,” He exclaimed, “I am, I am the Promised One! I am the One Whose name you have for a thousand years invoked, at Whose mention you have risen, Whose advent you have longed to witness, and the hour of Whose Revelation you have prayed God to hasten. Verily, I say, it is incumbent upon the peoples of both the East and the West to obey My word, and to pledge allegiance to My person.”
Awe-struck, those present momentarily dropped their heads in silent confusion. Then Mullá Muḥammad-i-Mamáqání, that one-eyed white-bearded renegade, summoning sufficient courage, with characteristic insolence, reprimanded Him as a perverse and contemptible follower of Satan; to which the undaunted Youth retorted that He maintained what He had already asserted. To the query subsequently addressed to Him by the Niẓámu’l-‘Ulamá the Báb affirmed that His words constituted the most incontrovertible evidence of His mission, adduced verses from the Qur’án to establish the truth of His assertion, and claimed to be able to reveal, within the space of two days and two nights, verses equal to the whole of that Book. In answer to a criticism calling His attention to an infraction by Him of the rules of grammar, He cited certain passages from the Qur’án as corroborative evidence, and, turning aside, with firmness and dignity, a frivolous and irrelevant remark thrown at Him by one of those who were present, summarily disbanded that gathering by Himself rising and quitting the room. The convocation thereupon dispersed, its members confused, divided among themselves, bitterly resentful and humiliated through their failure to achieve their purpose. Far from daunting the spirit of their Captive, far from inducing Him to recant or abandon His mission, that gathering was productive of no other result than the decision, arrived at after considerable argument and discussion, to inflict the bastinado on Him, at the hands, and in the prayer-house of the heartless and avaricious Mírzá ‘Alí-Aṣghar, the Shaykhu’l-Islám of that city. Confounded in his schemes Ḥájí Mírzá Áqásí was forced to order the Báb to be taken back to Chihríq.
This dramatic, this unqualified and formal declaration of the Báb’s prophetic mission was not the sole consequence of the foolish act which condemned the Author of so weighty a Revelation to a three years’ confinement in the mountains of Ádhirbáyján. This period of captivity, in a remote corner of the realm, far removed from the storm centers of Shíráz, Iṣfahán, and Ṭihrán, afforded Him the necessary leisure to launch upon His most monumental work, as well as to engage on other subsidiary compositions designed to unfold the whole range, and impart the full force, of His short-lived yet momentous Dispensation. Alike in the magnitude of the writings emanating from His pen, and in the diversity of the subjects treated in those writings, His Revelation stands wholly unparalleled in the annals of any previous religion. He Himself affirms, while confined in Máh-Kú, that up to that time His writings, embracing highly diversified subjects, had amounted to more than five hundred thousand verses. “The verses which have rained from this Cloud of Divine mercy,” is Bahá’u’lláh’s testimony in the Kitáb-i-Íqán, “have been so abundant that none hath yet been able to estimate their number. A score of volumes are now available. How many still remain beyond our reach! How many have been plundered and have fallen into the hands of the enemy, the fate of which none knoweth!” No less arresting is the variety of themes presented by these voluminous writings, such as prayers, homilies, orations, Tablets of visitation, scientific treatises, doctrinal dissertations, exhortations, commentaries on the Qur’án and on various traditions, epistles to the highest religious and ecclesiastical dignitaries of the realm, and laws and ordinances for the consolidation of His Faith and the direction of its activities.
Already in Shíráz, at the earliest stage of His ministry, He had revealed what Bahá’u’lláh has characterized as “the first, the greatest, and mightiest of all books” in the Bábí Dispensation, the celebrated commentary on the súrih of Joseph, entitled the Qayyúmu’l-Asmá’, whose fundamental purpose was to forecast what the true Joseph (Bahá’u’lláh) would, in a succeeding Dispensation, endure at the hands of one who was at once His arch-enemy and blood brother. This work, comprising above nine thousand three hundred verses, and divided into one hundred and eleven chapters, each chapter a commentary on one verse of the above-mentioned súrih, opens with the Báb’s clarion-call and dire warnings addressed to the “concourse of kings and of the sons of kings;” forecasts the doom of Muḥammad Sháh; commands his Grand Vizir, Ḥájí Mírzá Áqásí, to abdicate his authority; admonishes the entire Muslim ecclesiastical order; cautions more specifically the members of the Shí‘ah community; extols the virtues, and anticipates the coming, of Bahá’u’lláh, the “Remnant of God,” the “Most Great Master;” and proclaims, in unequivocal language, the independence and universality of the Bábí Revelation, unveils its import, and affirms the inevitable triumph of its Author. It, moreover, directs the “people of the West” to “issue forth from your cities and aid the Cause of God;” warns the peoples of the earth of the “terrible, the most grievous vengeance of God;” threatens the whole Islamic world with “the Most Great Fire” were they to turn aside from the newly-revealed Law; foreshadows the Author’s martyrdom; eulogizes the high station ordained for the people of Bahá, the “Companions of the crimson-colored ruby Ark;” prophesies the fading out and utter obliteration of some of the greatest luminaries in the firmament of the Bábí Dispensation; and even predicts “afflictive torment,” in both the “Day of Our Return” and in “the world which is to come,” for the usurpers of the Imamate, who “waged war against Ḥusayn (Imám Ḥusayn) in the Land of the Euphrates.”
It was this Book which the Bábís universally regarded, during almost the entire ministry of the Báb, as the Qur’án of the people of the Bayán; whose first and most challenging chapter was revealed in the presence of Mullá Ḥusayn, on the night of its Author’s Declaration; some of whose pages were borne, by that same disciple, to Bahá’u’lláh, as the first fruits of a Revelation which instantly won His enthusiastic allegiance; whose entire text was translated into Persian by the brilliant and gifted Táhirih; whose passages inflamed the hostility of Ḥusayn Khán and precipitated the initial outbreak of persecution in Shíráz; a single page of which had captured the imagination and entranced the soul of Ḥujjat; and whose contents had set afire the intrepid defenders of the Fort of Shaykh Ṭabarsí and the heroes of Nayríz and Zanján.
This work, of such exalted merit, of such far-reaching influence, was followed by the revelation of the Báb’s first Tablet to Muḥammad Sháh; of His Tablets to Sulṭán ‘Abdu’l-Majíd and to Najíb Páshá, the Válí of Baghdád; of the Saḥífiy-i-baynu’l-Ḥaramayn, revealed between Mecca and Medina, in answer to questions posed by Mírzá Muḥít-i-Kirmání; of the Epistle to the Sherif of Mecca; of the Kitábu’r-Ruḥ, comprising seven hundred súrihs; of the Khasá’il-i-Sab‘ih, which enjoined the alteration of the formula of the adhán; of the Risaliy-i-Furu‘-i-‘Adliyyih, rendered into Persian by Mullá Muḥammad-Taqíy-i-Harátí; of the commentary on the súrih of Kawthar, which effected such a transformation in the soul of Vaḥíd; of the commentary on the súrih of Va’l-‘Asr, in the house of the Imám-Jum‘ih of Iṣfahán; of the dissertation on the Specific Mission of Muḥammad, written at the request of Manúchihr Khán; of the second Tablet to Muḥammad Sháh, craving an audience in which to set forth the truths of the new Revelation, and dissipate his doubts; and of the Tablets sent from the village of Síyah-Dihán to the ‘ulamás of Qasvín and to Ḥájí Mírzá Áqásí, inquiring from him as to the cause of the sudden change in his decision.
The great bulk of the writings emanating from the Báb’s prolific mind was, however, reserved for the period of His confinement in Máh-Kú and Chihríq. To this period must probably belong the unnumbered Epistles which, as attested by no less an authority than Bahá’u’lláh, the Báb specifically addressed to the divines of every city in Persia, as well as to those residing in Najaf and Karbilá, wherein He set forth in detail the errors committed by each one of them. It was during His incarceration in the fortress of Máh-Kú that He, according to the testimony of Shaykh Ḥasan-i-Zunúzí, who transcribed during those nine months the verses dictated by the Báb to His amanuensis, revealed no less than nine commentaries on the whole of the Qur’án—commentaries whose fate, alas, is unknown, and one of which, at least the Author Himself affirmed, surpassed in some respects a book as deservedly famous as the Qayyúmu’l-Asmá.
Within the walls of that same fortress the Bayán (Exposition)—that monumental repository of the laws and precepts of the new Dispensation and the treasury enshrining most of the Báb’s references and tributes to, as well as His warning regarding, “Him Whom God will make manifest”—was revealed. Peerless among the doctrinal works of the Founder of the Bábí Dispensation; consisting of nine Váḥids (Unities) of nineteen chapters each, except the last Váḥid comprising only ten chapters; not to be confounded with the smaller and less weighty Arabic Bayán, revealed during the same period; fulfilling the Muḥammadan prophecy that “a Youth from Bani-Háshim … will reveal a new Book and promulgate a new Law;” wholly safeguarded from the interpolation and corruption which has been the fate of so many of the Báb’s lesser works, this Book, of about eight thousand verses, occupying a pivotal position in Bábí literature, should be regarded primarily as a eulogy of the Promised One rather than a code of laws and ordinances designed to be a permanent guide to future generations. This Book at once abrogated the laws and ceremonials enjoined by the Qur’án regarding prayer, fasting, marriage, divorce and inheritance, and upheld, in its integrity, the belief in the prophetic mission of Muḥammad, even as the Prophet of Islám before Him had annulled the ordinances of the Gospel and yet recognized the Divine origin of the Faith of Jesus Christ. It moreover interpreted in a masterly fashion the meaning of certain terms frequently occurring in the sacred Books of previous Dispensations such as Paradise, Hell, Death, Resurrection, the Return, the Balance, the Hour, the Last Judgment, and the like. Designedly severe in the rules and regulations it imposed, revolutionizing in the principles it instilled, calculated to awaken from their age-long torpor the clergy and the people, and to administer a sudden and fatal blow to obsolete and corrupt institutions, it proclaimed, through its drastic provisions, the advent of the anticipated Day, the Day when “the Summoner shall summon to a stern business,” when He will “demolish whatever hath been before Him, even as the Apostle of God demolished the ways of those that preceded Him.”
It should be noted, in this connection, that in the third Váḥid of this Book there occurs a passage which, alike in its explicit reference to the name of the Promised One, and in its anticipation of the Order which, in a later age, was to be identified with His Revelation, deserves to rank as one of the most significant statements recorded in any of the Báb’s writings. “Well is it with him,” is His prophetic announcement, “who fixeth his gaze upon the Order of Bahá’u’lláh, and rendereth thanks unto his Lord. For He will assuredly be made manifest. God hath indeed irrevocably ordained it in the Bayán.” It is with that self-same Order that the Founder of the promised Revelation, twenty years later—incorporating that same term in His Kitáb-i-Aqdas—identified the System envisaged in that Book, affirming that “this most great Order” had deranged the world’s equilibrium, and revolutionized mankind’s ordered life. It is the features of that self-same Order which, at a later stage in the evolution of the Faith, the Center of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant and the appointed Interpreter of His teachings, delineated through the provisions of His Will and Testament. It is the structural basis of that self-same Order which, in the Formative Age of that same Faith, the stewards of that same Covenant, the elected representatives of the world-wide Bahá’í community, are now laboriously and unitedly establishing. It is the superstructure of that self-same Order, attaining its full stature through the emergence of the Bahá’í World Commonwealth—the Kingdom of God on earth—which the Golden Age of that same Dispensation must, in the fullness of time, ultimately witness.
The Báb was still in Máh-Kú when He wrote the most detailed and illuminating of His Tablets to Muḥammad Sháh. Prefaced by a laudatory reference to the unity of God, to His Apostles and to the twelve Imáms; unequivocal in its assertion of the divinity of its Author and of the supernatural powers with which His Revelation had been invested; precise in the verses and traditions it cites in confirmation of so audacious a claim; severe in its condemnation of some of the officials and representatives of the Sháh’s administration, particularly of the “wicked and accursed” Ḥusayn Khán; moving in its description of the humiliation and hardships to which its writer had been subjected, this historic document resembles, in many of its features, the Lawḥ-i-Sulṭán, the Tablet addressed, under similar circumstances, from the prison-fortress of ‘Akká by Bahá’u’lláh to Náṣiri’d-Dín Sháh, and constituting His lengthiest epistle to any single sovereign.
The Dalá’il-i-Sab‘ih (Seven Proofs), the most important of the polemical works of the Báb, was revealed during that same period. Remarkably lucid, admirable in its precision, original in conception, unanswerable in its argument, this work, apart from the many and divers proofs of His mission which it adduces, is noteworthy for the blame it assigns to the “seven powerful sovereigns ruling the world” in His day, as well as for the manner in which it stresses the responsibilities, and censures the conduct, of the Christian divines of a former age who, had they recognized the truth of Muḥammad’s mission, He contends, would have been followed by the mass of their co-religionists.
During the Báb’s confinement in the fortress of Chihríq, where He spent almost the whole of the two remaining years of His life, the Lawḥ-i-Ḥurúfát (Tablet of the Letters) was revealed, in honor of Dayyán—a Tablet which, however misconstrued at first as an exposition of the science of divination, was later recognized to have unravelled, on the one hand, the mystery of the Mustagháth, and to have abstrusely alluded, on the other, to the nineteen years which must needs elapse between the Declaration of the Báb and that of Bahá’u’lláh. It was during these years—years darkened throughout by the rigors of the Báb’s captivity, by the severe indignities inflicted upon Him, and by the news of the disasters that overtook the heroes of Mázindarán and Nayríz—that He revealed, soon after His return from Tabríz, His denunciatory Tablet to Ḥájí Mírzá Áqásí. Couched in bold and moving language, unsparing in its condemnation, this epistle was forwarded to the intrepid Ḥujjat who, as corroborated by Bahá’u’lláh, delivered it to that wicked minister.
To this period of incarceration in the fortresses of Máh-Kú and Chihríq—a period of unsurpassed fecundity, yet bitter in its humiliations and ever-deepening sorrows—belong almost all the written references, whether in the form of warnings, appeals or exhortations, which the Báb, in anticipation of the approaching hour of His supreme affliction, felt it necessary to make to the Author of a Revelation that was soon to supersede His own. Conscious from the very beginning of His twofold mission, as the Bearer of a wholly independent Revelation and the Herald of One still greater than His own, He could not content Himself with the vast number of commentaries, of prayers, of laws and ordinances, of dissertations and epistles, of homilies and orations that had incessantly streamed from His pen. The Greater Covenant into which, as affirmed in His writings, God had, from time immemorial, entered, through the Prophets of all ages, with the whole of mankind, regarding the newborn Revelation, had already been fulfilled. It had now to be supplemented by a Lesser Covenant which He felt bound to make with the entire body of His followers concerning the One Whose advent He characterized as the fruit and ultimate purpose of His Dispensation. Such a Covenant had invariably been the feature of every previous religion. It had existed, under various forms, with varying degrees of emphasis, had always been couched in veiled language, and had been alluded to in cryptic prophecies, in abstruse allegories, in unauthenticated traditions, and in the fragmentary and obscure passages of the sacred Scriptures. In the Bábí Dispensation, however, it was destined to be established in clear and unequivocal language, though not embodied in a separate document. Unlike the Prophets gone before Him, Whose Covenants were shrouded in mystery, unlike Bahá’u’lláh, Whose clearly defined Covenant was incorporated in a specially written Testament, and designated by Him as “the Book of My Covenant,” the Báb chose to intersperse His Book of Laws, the Persian Bayán, with unnumbered passages, some designedly obscure, mostly indubitably clear and conclusive, in which He fixes the date of the promised Revelation, extols its virtues, asserts its pre-eminent character, assigns to it unlimited powers and prerogatives, and tears down every barrier that might be an obstacle to its recognition. “He, verily,” Bahá’u’lláh, referring to the Báb in His Kitáb-i-Badí‘, has stated, “hath not fallen short of His duty to exhort the people of the Bayán and to deliver unto them His Message. In no age or dispensation hath any Manifestation made mention, in such detail and in such explicit language, of the Manifestation destined to succeed Him.”
Some of His disciples the Báb assiduously prepared to expect the imminent Revelation. Others He orally assured would live to see its day. To Mullá Báqir, one of the Letters of the Living, He actually prophesied, in a Tablet addressed to him, that he would meet the Promised One face to face. To Sayyáḥ, another disciple, He gave verbally a similar assurance. Mullá Ḥusayn He directed to Ṭihrán, assuring him that in that city was enshrined a Mystery Whose light neither Ḥijáz nor Shíráz could rival. Quddús, on the eve of his final separation from Him, was promised that he would attain the presence of the One Who was the sole Object of their adoration and love. To Shaykh Ḥasan-i-Zunúzí He declared while in Máh-Kú that he would behold in Karbilá the countenance of the promised Ḥusayn. On Dayyán He conferred the title of “the third Letter to believe in Him Whom God shall make manifest,” while to ‘Azím He divulged, in the Kitáb-i-Panj-Sha‘n, the name, and announced the approaching advent, of Him Who was to consummate His own Revelation.
A successor or vicegerent the Báb never named, an interpreter of His teachings He refrained from appointing. So transparently clear were His references to the Promised One, so brief was to be the duration of His own Dispensation, that neither the one nor the other was deemed necessary. All He did was, according to the testimony of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá in “A Traveller’s Narrative,” to nominate, on the advice of Bahá’u’lláh and of another disciple, Mírzá Yaḥyá, who would act solely as a figurehead pending the manifestation of the Promised One, thus enabling Bahá’u’lláh to promote, in relative security, the Cause so dear to His heart.
“The Bayán,” the Báb in that Book, referring to the Promised One, affirms, “is, from beginning to end, the repository of all of His attributes, and the treasury of both His fire and His light.” “If thou attainest unto His Revelation,” He, in another connection declares, “and obeyest Him, thou wilt have revealed the fruit of the Bayán; if not, thou art unworthy of mention before God.” “O people of the Bayán!” He, in that same Book, thus warns the entire company of His followers, “act not as the people of the Qur’án have acted, for if ye do so, the fruits of your night will come to naught.” “Suffer not the Bayán,” is His emphatic injunction, “and all that hath been revealed therein to withhold you from that Essence of Being and Lord of the visible and invisible.” “Beware, beware,” is His significant warning addressed to Váḥid, “lest in the days of His Revelation the Váḥid of the Bayán (eighteen Letters of the Living and the Báb) shut thee out as by a veil from Him, inasmuch as this Váḥid is but a creature in His sight.” And again: “O congregation of the Bayán, and all who are therein! Recognize ye the limits imposed upon you, for such a One as the Point of the Bayán Himself hath believed in Him Whom God shall make manifest before all things were created. Therein, verily, do I glory before all who are in the kingdom of heaven and earth.”
“In the year nine,” He, referring to the date of the advent of the promised Revelation, has explicitly written, “ye shall attain unto all good.” “In the year nine, ye will attain unto the presence of God.” And again: “After Ḥín (68) a Cause shall be given unto you which ye shall come to know.” “Ere nine will have elapsed from the inception of this Cause,” He more particularly has stated, “the realities of the created things will not be made manifest. All that thou hast as yet seen is but the stage from the moist germ until We clothed it with flesh. Be patient, until thou beholdest a new creation. Say: ‘Blessed, therefore, be God, the most excellent of Makers!’” “Wait thou,” is His statement to ‘Azím, “until nine will have elapsed from the time of the Bayán. Then exclaim: ‘Blessed, therefore, be God, the most excellent of Makers!’” “Be attentive,” He, referring in a remarkable passage to the year nineteen, has admonished, “from the inception of the Revelation till the number of Váḥid (19).” “The Lord of the Day of Reckoning,” He, even more explicitly, has stated, “will be manifested at the end of Váḥid (19) and the beginning of eighty (1280 A.H.).” “Were He to appear this very moment,” He, in His eagerness to insure that the proximity of the promised Revelation should not withhold men from the Promised One, has revealed, “I would be the first to adore Him, and the first to bow down before Him.”
“I have written down in My mention of Him,” He thus extols the Author of the anticipated Revelation, “these gem-like words: ‘No allusion of Mine can allude unto Him, neither anything mentioned in the Bayán.’” “I, Myself, am but the first servant to believe in Him and in His signs.…” The year-old germ,” He significantly affirms, “that holdeth within itself the potentialities of the Revelation that is to come is endowed with a potency superior to the combined forces of the whole of the Bayán.” And again: “The whole of the Bayán is only a leaf amongst the leaves of His Paradise.” “Better is it for thee,” He similarly asserts, “to recite but one of the verses of Him Whom God shall make manifest than to set down the whole of the Bayán, for on that Day that one verse can save thee, whereas the entire Bayán cannot save thee.” “Today the Bayán is in the stage of seed; at the beginning of the manifestation of Him Whom God shall make manifest its ultimate perfection will become apparent.” “The Bayán deriveth all its glory from Him Whom God shall make manifest.” “All that hath been revealed in the Bayán is but a ring upon My hand, and I Myself am, verily, but a ring upon the hand of Him Whom God shall make manifest … He turneth it as He pleaseth, for whatsoever He pleaseth, and through whatsoever He pleaseth. He, verily, is the Help in Peril, the Most High.” “Certitude itself,” He, in reply to Váḥid and to one of the Letters of the Living who had inquired regarding the promised One, had declared, “is ashamed to be called upon to certify His truth … and Testimony itself is ashamed to testify unto Him.” Addressing this same Váḥid, He moreover had stated: “Were I to be assured that in the day of His manifestation thou wilt deny Him, I would unhesitatingly disown thee … If, on the other hand, I be told that a Christian, who beareth no allegiance to My Faith, will believe in Him, the same will I regard as the apple of My eye.”
And finally is this, His moving invocation to God: “Bear Thou witness that, through this Book, I have covenanted with all created things concerning the mission of Him Whom Thou shalt make manifest, ere the covenant concerning My own mission had been established. Sufficient witness art Thou and they that have believed in Thy signs.” “I, verily, have not fallen short of My duty to admonish that people,” is yet another testimony from His pen, “…If on the day of His Revelation all that are on earth bear Him allegiance, Mine inmost being will rejoice, inasmuch as all will have attained the summit of their existence.… If not, My soul will be saddened. I truly have nurtured all things for this purpose. How, then, can any one be veiled from Him?”
The last three and most eventful years of the Báb’s ministry had, as we have observed in the preceding pages, witnessed not only the formal and public declaration of His mission, but also an unprecedented effusion of His inspired writings, including both the revelation of the fundamental laws of His Dispensation and also the establishment of that Lesser Covenant which was to safeguard the unity of His followers and pave the way for the advent of an incomparably mightier Revelation. It was during this same period, in the early days of His incarceration in the fortress of Chihríq, that the independence of the new-born Faith was openly recognized and asserted by His disciples. The laws underlying the new Dispensation had been revealed by its Author in a prison-fortress in the mountains of Ádhirbáyján, while the Dispensation itself was now to be inaugurated in a plain on the border of Mázindarán, at a conference of His assembled followers.
Bahá’u’lláh, maintaining through continual correspondence close contact with the Báb, and Himself the directing force behind the manifold activities of His struggling fellow-disciples, unobtrusively yet effectually presided over that conference, and guided and controlled its proceedings. Quddús, regarded as the exponent of the conservative element within it, affected, in pursuance of a pre-conceived plan designed to mitigate the alarm and consternation which such a conference was sure to arouse, to oppose the seemingly extremist views advocated by the impetuous Ṭáhirih. The primary purpose of that gathering was to implement the revelation of the Bayán by a sudden, a complete and dramatic break with the past—with its order, its ecclesiasticism, its traditions, and ceremonials. The subsidiary purpose of the conference was to consider the means of emancipating the Báb from His cruel confinement in Chihríq. The first was eminently successful; the second was destined from the outset to fail.
The scene of such a challenging and far-reaching proclamation was the hamlet of Badasht, where Bahá’u’lláh had rented, amidst pleasant surroundings, three gardens, one of which He assigned to Quddús, another to Ṭáhirih, whilst the third He reserved for Himself. The eighty-one disciples who had gathered from various provinces were His guests from the day of their arrival to the day they dispersed. On each of the twenty-two days of His sojourn in that hamlet He revealed a Tablet, which was chanted in the presence of the assembled believers. On every believer He conferred a new name, without, however, disclosing the identity of the one who had bestowed it. He Himself was henceforth designated by the name Bahá. Upon the Last Letter of the Living was conferred the appellation of Quddús, while Qurratu’l-‘Ayn was given the title of Ṭáhirih. By these names they were all subsequently addressed by the Báb in the Tablets He revealed for each one of them.
It was Bahá’u’lláh Who steadily, unerringly, yet unsuspectedly, steered the course of that memorable episode, and it was Bahá’u’lláh Who brought the meeting to its final and dramatic climax. One day in His presence, when illness had confined Him to bed, Ṭáhirih, regarded as the fair and spotless emblem of chastity and the incarnation of the holy Fáṭimih, appeared suddenly, adorned yet unveiled, before the assembled companions, seated herself on the right-hand of the affrighted and infuriated Quddús, and, tearing through her fiery words the veils guarding the sanctity of the ordinances of Islám, sounded the clarion-call, and proclaimed the inauguration, of a new Dispensation. The effect was electric and instantaneous. She, of such stainless purity, so reverenced that even to gaze at her shadow was deemed an improper act, appeared for a moment, in the eyes of her scandalized beholders, to have defamed herself, shamed the Faith she had espoused, and sullied the immortal Countenance she symbolized. Fear, anger, bewilderment, swept their inmost souls, and stunned their faculties. ‘Abdu’l-Kháliq-i-Iṣfahání, aghast and deranged at such a sight, cut his throat with his own hands. Spattered with blood, and frantic with excitement, he fled away from her face. A few, abandoning their companions, renounced their Faith. Others stood mute and transfixed before her. Still others must have recalled with throbbing hearts the Islamic tradition foreshadowing the appearance of Fáṭimih herself unveiled while crossing the Bridge (Ṣirát) on the promised Day of Judgment. Quddús, mute with rage, seemed to be only waiting for the moment when he could strike her down with the sword he happened to be then holding in his hand.
Undeterred, unruffled, exultant with joy, Ṭáhirih arose, and, without the least premeditation and in a language strikingly resembling that of the Qur’án, delivered a fervid and eloquent appeal to the remnant of the assembly, ending it with this bold assertion: “I am the Word which the Qá’im is to utter, the Word which shall put to flight the chiefs and nobles of the earth!” Thereupon, she invited them to embrace each other and celebrate so great an occasion.
On that memorable day the “Bugle” mentioned in the Qur’án was sounded, the “stunning trumpet-blast” was loudly raised, and the “Catastrophe” came to pass. The days immediately following so startling a departure from the time-honored traditions of Islám witnessed a veritable revolution in the outlook, habits, ceremonials and manner of worship of these hitherto zealous and devout upholders of the Muḥammadan Law. Agitated as had been the Conference from first to last, deplorable as was the secession of the few who refused to countenance the annulment of the fundamental statutes of the Islamic Faith, its purpose had been fully and gloriously accomplished. Only four years earlier the Author of the Bábí Revelation had declared His mission to Mullá Ḥusayn in the privacy of His home in Shíráz. Three years after that Declaration, within the walls of the prison-fortress of Máh-Kú, He was dictating to His amanuensis the fundamental and distinguishing precepts of His Dispensation. A year later, His followers, under the actual leadership of Bahá’u’lláh, their fellow-disciple, were themselves, in the hamlet of Badasht, abrogating the Qur’ánic Law, repudiating both the divinely-ordained and man-made precepts of the Faith of Muḥammad, and shaking off the shackles of its antiquated system. Almost immediately after, the Báb Himself, still a prisoner, was vindicating the acts of His disciples by asserting, formally and unreservedly, His claim to be the promised Qá’im, in the presence of the Heir to the Throne, the leading exponents of the Shaykhí community, and the most illustrious ecclesiastical dignitaries assembled in the capital of Ádhirbáyján.
A little over four years had elapsed since the birth of the Báb’s Revelation when the trumpet-blast announcing the formal extinction of the old, and the inauguration of the new Dispensation was sounded. No pomp, no pageantry marked so great a turning-point in the world’s religious history. Nor was its modest setting commensurate with such a sudden, startling, complete emancipation from the dark and embattled forces of fanaticism, of priestcraft, of religious orthodoxy and superstition. The assembled host consisted of no more than a single woman and a handful of men, mostly recruited from the very ranks they were attacking, and devoid, with few exceptions, of wealth, prestige and power. The Captain of the host was Himself an absentee, a captive in the grip of His foes. The arena was a tiny hamlet in the plain of Badasht on the border of Mázindarán. The trumpeter was a lone woman, the noblest of her sex in that Dispensation, whom even some of her co-religionists pronounced a heretic. The call she sounded was the death-knell of the twelve hundred year old law of Islám.
Accelerated, twenty years later, by another trumpet-blast, announcing the formulation of the laws of yet another Dispensation, this process of disintegration, associated with the declining fortunes of a superannuated, though divinely revealed Law, gathered further momentum, precipitated, in a later age, the annulment of the Sharí‘aḥ canonical Law in Turkey, led to the virtual abandonment of that Law in Shí‘ah Persia, has, more recently, been responsible for the dissociation of the System envisaged in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas from the Sunní ecclesiastical Law in Egypt, has paved the way for the recognition of that System in the Holy Land itself, and is destined to culminate in the secularization of the Muslim states, and in the universal recognition of the Law of Bahá’u’lláh by all the nations, and its enthronement in the hearts of all the peoples, of the Muslim world.