The Martyrdom of the Bab

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Members of the Bahá'í faith all over the world will mark Sunday, July 9, as a holy day. Bahá'ís are remembering the death, on that date in 1850, of one of the founding figures of the faith. Mírzá Alí Muhammad, who assumed the title of the

Bab

(or "Gate"), arose in Persia to preach social and religious reform, and foretold the coming of a new age of human development. He gained many followers, but his message aroused the enmity of the rulers, and he was arrested and finally executed by firing squad. Thousands of his followers were put to death. However, his teachings did not die, and they laid the basis for the present-day worldwide Bahá'í faith.

Ultimately, those opposed to the Báb argued that he was not only a heretic, but a dangerous rebel. The authorities decided to have him executed. On July 9, 1850, this sentence was carried out in the courtyard of the Tabriz army barracks. Some 10,000 people crowded the rooftops of the barracks and houses that overlooked the square. The Báb and a young follower were suspended by two ropes against a wall. A regiment of 750 Armenian soldiers, arranged in three files of 250 each, opened fire in three successive volleys. So dense was the smoke raised by the gunpowder and dust that the entire yard was obscured.

The report of the execution, written to Lord Palmerston, the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, by Sir Justin Shiel, Queen Victoria's Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, in Tehran on July 22, 1850, records: "When the smoke and dust cleared away after the volley, Báb was not to be seen, and the populace proclaimed that he had ascended to the skies. The balls had broken the ropes by which he was bound but he was dragged from the recess where, after some search he was discovered and shot."

After the first attempt at execution, the Báb was found back in his cell, giving final instructions to one of his followers. Earlier in the day, when the guards had come to take him to the courtyard, the Báb had warned that no "earthly power" could silence him until he had finished all that he had to say. When the guards arrived this second time, the Báb calmly announced: "Now you may proceed to fulfill your intention."

Again, the Báb and his young companion were brought out for execution. The Armenian troops refused to fire, and a Muslim firing squad was assembled and ordered to shoot. This time, the bodies of the pair were shattered, their bones and flesh mingled into one mass. Surprisingly, their faces were untouched. The light of the "Mystic Fane," as the Báb referred to himself, had been quenched under a dramatic set of circumstances. The last words of the Báb to the crowd were: "O wayward generation! Had you believed in Me every one of you would have followed the example of this youth, who stood in rank above most of you, and would have willingly sacrificed himself in My path. The day will come when you will have recognized Me; that day I shall have ceased to be with you."

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