Story of the Martyrdom of the Bab

READ > Resources for the Bicentennial of the Birth of the Bab

Barracks Square in Tabríz - Close-up view of the Barracks Square in Tabríz where the Báb was martyred. Photos taken in the dead of winter of a later year

Mirza Ali Muhammad was born in Shiraz in 1819 and was executed in Tabriz in 1850, at the age of 31. His title, the Bab, means “the Gate.” Similar to John the Baptist, He foretold of a Mighty Messenger of God that was coming soon. This Messenger was Bahá’u’lláh, the Prophet and Founder of the Bahá’í Faith. The Bab, however, was also a Prophet in his own right; He revealed a Holy Book, the Bayan, as well as many tablets and prayers. Although His Dispensation lasted only 6 years, from 1844-1850, He had many followers, thousands of whom gave their lives for His Cause.

Shoghi Effendi wrote that posterity will recognize the Bab’s life as “standing at the confluence of two universal prophetic cycles, the Adamic Cycle stretching back as far as the first dawnings of the world’s recorded religious history and the Bahá’í Cycle destined to propel itself across the unborn reaches of time for a period of no less than five thousand centuries.” He depicts the Martyrdom of the Bab in this way:

“It can, moreover, be regarded in no other light except as the most dramatic, the most tragic event transpiring within the entire range of the first Bahá’í century. Indeed it can be rightly acclaimed as unparalleled in the annals of the lives of all the Founders of the world’s existing religious systems.” - Shoghi Effendi

“The Bab’s isolation and captivity had produced the opposite effect to that which the Amir-Nizam had confidently anticipated. Gravely perturbed, a more drastic and still more exemplary punishment, he felt, must now be administered to what he regarded as an abomination of heresy which was polluting the civil and ecclesiastical institutions of the realm. Nothing short, he believed, of the extinction of the life of Him Who was the fountain-head of so odious a doctrine and the driving force behind so dynamic a movement could stem the tide that had wrought such havoc throughout the land. He dispatched his order to the governor of Adhirbayjan, instructing him to execute the Bab.


Deprived of His turban and sash, the twin emblems of His noble lineage, the Bab, together with Siyyid Husayn, His amanuensis, was driven to yet another confinement which He well knew was but a step further on the way leading Him to the goal He had set Himself to attain. That day witnessed a tremendous commotion in the city of Tabriz. The great convulsion associated in the ideas of its inhabitants with the Day of Judgment seemed at last to have come upon them. Never had that city experienced a turmoil so fierce and so mysterious as the one which seized its inhabitants on the day that the Bab was led to that place which was to be the scene of His martyrdom. As He approached the courtyard of the barracks, a youth suddenly leaped forward who, in his eagerness to overtake Him, had forced his way through the crowd, utterly ignoring the risks and perils which such an attempt might involve. His face was haggard, his feet were bare, and his hair dishevelled. Breathless with excitement and exhausted with fatigue, he flung himself at the feet of the Bab and , seizing the hem of His garment, passionately implored Him:


“Send me not from Thee, O Master. Wherever Thou goest, suffer me to follow thee.”

“Muhammad-’Ali,” answered the Bab, “arise, and rest assured that you will be with Me. Tomorrow you shall witness what God has decreed.”


Two other companions, unable to contain themselves, rushed forward and assured Him of their unalterable loyalty. These, together with Mirza Muhammad ‘Aliy-i-Zunuzi, were seized and placed in the same cell in which the Bab and Siyyid Husayn were confined. I have heard Siyyid Husayn bear witness to the following:


“That night the face of the Bab was aglow with joy, a joy such as had never shone from His countenance. Indifferent to the storm that raged about Him, He conversed with us with gaiety and cheerfulness. The sorrows that had weighed so heavily upon Him seemed to have completely vanished. Their weight appeared to have dissolved in the consciousness of approaching victory. ‘Tomorrow,’ He said to us, ‘will be the day of My martyrdom. Would that one of you might now arise and, with his own hands, end My life. I prefer to be slain by the hand of a friend rather than by that of the enemy.’ Tears rained from our eyes as we heard Him express that wish. We shrank, however, at the thought of taking away with our own hands so precious a life. We refused, and remained silent. Mirza Muhammad-’Ali suddenly sprang to his feet and announced himself ready to obey whatever the Bab might desire. ‘This same youth who has risen to comply with My wish,’ the Bab declared, as soon as we had intervened and forced him to abandon that thought, ‘will, together with Me suffer martyrdom. Him will I choose to share with Me its crown.’”

Early in the morning, Mirza Hasan Khan ordered his farrash-bashi to conduct the Bab into the presence of the leading mujtahids of the city and to obtain from them the authorization required for His execution. As the Bab was leaving the barracks, Siyyid Husayn asked Him what he should do.


“Confess not your faith,” He advised him. “Thereby you will be enabled, when the hour comes, to convey to those who are destined to hear you, the things of which you alone are aware.”


He was engaged in a confidential conversation with him when the farrash-bashi suddenly interrupted and, holding Siyyid Husayn by the hand, drew him aside and severely rebuked him.


“Not until I have said to him all those things that I wish to say,” the Bab warned the farrash-bashi, “can any earthly power silence Me. Though all the world be armed against Me, yet shall they be powerless to deter Me from fulfilling, to the last word My intention.”

The farrash-bashi was amazed at such a bold assertion. He made, however, no reply, and bade Siyyid Husayn arise and follow him.


The Bab was, in His turn, brought before Mulla Muhammad-i-Mamaqani. No sooner had he recognised Him than he seized the death-warrant he himself had previously written and, handing it to his attendant, bade him deliver it to the farrash-bashi.


No sooner had the farrash-bashi secured the necessary documents than he delivered his Captive into the hands of Sam Khan, assuring him that he could proceed with his task now that he had obtained the sanction of the civil and ecclesiastical authorities of the realm. Siyyid Husayn had remained confined in the same room in which he had spent the previous night with the Bab. They were proceeding to place Mirza Muhammad-’Ali in that same room, when he burst forth into tears and entreated them to allow him to remain with his Master. He was delivered into the hands of Sam Khan, who was ordered to execute him also, if he persisted in his refusal to deny his Faith.


Sam Khan was, in the meantime, finding himself increasingly affected by the behaviour of his Captive and the treatment that had been meted out to Him. He was seized with great fear lest his action should bring upon him the wrath of God.


“I profess the Christian Faith,” he explained to the Bab, “and entertain no ill will against you. If your Cause be the Cause of Truth, enable me to free myself from the obligation to shed your blood.”


“Follow your instructions,” the Bab replied, “and if your intention be sincere, the Almighty is surely able to relieve you from your perplexity.”


Sam Khan ordered his men to drive a nail into the pillar that lay between the door of the room that Siyyid Husayn occupied and the entrance to the adjoining one, and to make fast two ropes to that nail, from which the Bab and His companion were to be separately suspended. Mirza Muhammad-’Ali begged Sam Khan to be placed in such a manner that his own body would shield that of the Bab. He was eventually suspended in such a position that his head reposed on the breast of his Master. As soon as they were fastened, a regiment of soldiers ranged itself in three files, each of two hundred and fifty men, each of which was ordered to open fire in its turn until the whole detachment had discharged the volleys of its bullets. The smoke of the firing of the seven hundred and fifty rifles was such as to turn the light of the noonday sun into darkness. There had crowded onto the roof of the barracks, as well as the tops of the adjoining houses, about ten thousand people, all of whom were witnesses to that sad and moving scene.


As soon as the cloud of smoke had cleared away, an astounded multitude were looking upon a scene which their eyes could scarcely believe. There, standing before them alive and unhurt, was the companion of the Bab, whilst He Himself had vanished uninjured from their sight. Though the cords with which they were suspended had been rent in pieces by the bullets, yet their bodies had miraculously escaped the volleys. Even the tunic which Mirza Muhammad-’Ali was wearing had, despite the thickness of the smoke, remained unsullied.

“The Siyyid-i-Bab has gone from our sight!” rang out the voices of the bewildered multitude. They set out in a frenzied search for Him, and found Him, eventually, seated in the same room which He had occupied the night before, engaged in completing His interrupted conversation, with Siyyid Husayn. An expression of unruffled calm was upon His face. His body had emerged unscathed from the shower of bullets which the regiment had directed against Him.

“I have finished My conversation with Siyyid Husayn,” the Bab told the farrash-bashi. “Now you may proceed to fulfill your intention.”


The man was too much shaken to resume what he had already attempted. Refusing to accomplish his duty, he, that same moment, left that scene and resigned his post. Sam Khan was likewise stunned by the force of this tremendous revelation. He ordered his men to leave the barracks immediately, and refused ever again to associate himself and his regiment with any act that involved the least injury to the Bab. He swore, as he left that courtyard, never again to resume that task even though his refusal should entail the loss of his own life.

No sooner had Sam Khan departed than Aqa Jan Khan-i-Khamsih, colonel of the body-guard, known also by the names of Khamsih and Nasiri, volunteered to carry out the order for execution. On the same wall and in the same manner, the Bab and His companion were again suspended, while the regiment formed in line to open fire upon them. Contrariwise to the previous occasion, when only the cord with which they were suspended had been shot into pieces, this time their bodies were shattered and were blended into one mass of mingled flesh and bone.


“Had you believed in Me. O wayward generation,” were the last words of the Bab to the gazing multitude as the regiment was preparing to fire the final volley, “every one of you would have followed the example of this youth, who stood in rank above most of you, and willingly would have 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.”


The very moment the shots were fired a gale of exceptional severity arose and swept over the whole city. A whirlwind of dust of incredible density obscured the light of the sun and blinded the eyes of the people. The entire city remained enveloped in that darkness from noon till night. Even so strange a phenomenon, following immediately in the wake of that still more astounding failure of Sam Khan’s regiment to injure the Bab, was unable to move the hearts of the people of Tabriz, and to induce them to pause and reflect upon the significance of such momentous events. They witnessed the effect which so marvelous an occurrence had produced upon Sam Khan; They beheld the consternation of the farrash-bashi and saw him make his irrevocable decision; they could even examine that tunic which, despite the discharge of so many bullets, had remained whole and stainless; they could read in the face of the Bab, who had emerged unhurt from that storm, the expression of undisturbed serenity as He resumed His conversation with Siyyid Husayn; and yet none of them troubled himself to enquire as to the significance of these unwonted signs and wonders.


In Shiraz an “earthquake,” foreshadowed in no less weighty a Book than the Revelation of St. John, occurred in 1268 A.H. which threw the whole city into turmoil and wrought havoc amongst its people, a havoc that was greatly aggravated by the outbreak of cholera, by famine and other afflictions.


In that same year no less than two hundred and fifty of the firing squad, that had replaced Sam Khan’s regiment, met their death, together with their officers, in a terrible earthquake, while the remaining five hundred suffered, three years later, as a punishment for their mutiny, the same fate as that which their hands had inflicted upon the Bab. To insure that none of them had survived, they were riddled with a second volley, after which their bodies, pierced with spears and lances, were exposed to the gaze of the people of Tabriz. The prime instigator of the Bab’s death, the implacable Amir-Nizam, together with his brother, his chief accomplice, met their death within two years of that savage act.


READ > Resources for the Bicentennial of the Birth of the Bab

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