“His life is one of the most magnificent examples of courage which it has been the privilege of mankind to behold.”
~19th century writer A.L.M. Nicolas, writing about The Bab
This week members of the Baha’i Faith worldwide celebrate a holy day known as the Birth of the Bab. Baha’i teachings equate work performed in the spirit of service with worship. But on this day we suspend work and school in memory of someone described by a key figure in our faith as “matchless in His meekness” and “imperturbable in His serenity.”
The Bab, whose name means “Gate”, also started a spiritual revolution in the mid-1800s that resulted in the creation of the Baha’i Faith.
Many of us became Baha’is because we couldn’t help but feel that divine messengers, including Jesus, Muhammad, and Buddha, weren’t intended to be competing factions, but rather part of a single, progressive process through which the Creator is guiding humanity forward. The teachings of the Baha’i Faith describe how the world’s major religions are united. And it all began with the Bab, whose story is like a brief, intense storm that reshapes a landscape overnight, or what some have likened to a “thief in the night.”
Born Siyyid ‘Ali-Muhammad in 1819 in what was then called Persia, the Bab lived in a time of millennial zeal in which many Christians and Muslims held an expectation that scriptural prophecies were about to be fulfilled. Orphaned early in life, The Bab was raised by his maternal uncle, who was one day told by his nephew’s teacher, an esteemed cleric, that there was nothing more he could teach his prodigious and unfailingly courteous pupil.
Later, in extending guidance to humanity, The Bab reminded that in order for a soul to recognize and receive divine inspiration, “eyes of the spirit” are necessary — a vision unclouded by personal attachments or preconceived notions. The promised Day of God, He declared, required new standards of conduct and a nobility of character that the Creator had destined for humanity, but which it had yet to achieve. “Purge your hearts of worldly desires,” the Bab told his earliest followers, “and let angelic virtues be your adorning.”
In a society in which moral breakdown was rampant, the Bab’s assertion that the spiritual renewal of society depended on “love and compassion” rather than “force and coercion” stirred enormous hope among all classes of people in Persia. His call for spiritual reformation — in particular, the uplifting of women and the poor, and the promotion of education for all — provoked an angry, fearful response from those who held religious and secular power in an oppressive society that had changed little since medieval times.
Persecution of the Bab’s followers rapidly ensued, and thousands were killed in brutal massacres. The remarkable courage — even joy — that many of His followers exhibited in the face of such carnage was documented by such Western observers as Leo Tolstoy. Eventually, the Bab was imprisoned and publicly executed before a crowd of 10,000 in 1850.
A century and a half later, the spirit of the Bab informs the lives of Baha’is, more than 5 million of us, who see ourselves as citizens of one world and friends of all faiths.
Photos courtesy / Nelson Ashberger
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