The Childhood and Youth of the Bab
Updated: Aug 31, 2019
Childhood of the Bab
In the autumn of 1819, the Báb, whose name was Siyyid Áli-Muhammad, was born in the beautiful city of Shíráz, located in the south of Persia (Iran). He belonged to a noble ancestry which traced its origin to the Prophet Muhammad. Both His father and mother were descendants of the Prophet, and both were loved and respected by the people.
In His early childhood, He lost his father, Siyyid Muhammad-Ridá, a man who was held in high esteem and honor, and known throughout the province for his piety and virtue. Following the father’s passing, the child became a ward of his maternal uncle, Hájí Mirzá Siyyid 'Ali, a shipping merchant. Astonished to see the extent of knowledge and wisdom that his young nephew possessed, he placed the child at the age of seven in a school under the care of a schoolmaster named Shaykh ‘Abid. The child remained at the school for five years.
The schoolmaster was astounded by the child’s depth of innate intelligence, insight and knowledge. He was also impressed by the noble character, and the quiet dignity, serenity and calmness the boy exuded. The child often came to class late, but, as his teacher learned, it was because He, even as a young child, spent hours every morning deeply immersed in prayer.
Shaykh ‘Abid, who had been a student of the great scholar, Siyyid Kázim, had gained respect as a prominent scholar himself, and as a man of piety. Even so, he felt unworthy to teach this child of such rare character and mind. He requested a meeting with the uncle, to whom he praised Áli-Muhammad as his star pupil, but also expressed doubt that his classroom was the best place to nurture the child’s “intuitive, superhuman wisdom.”
He said to the uncle, “The fees thou givest for teaching ‘Ali-Muhammad I can only accept as a present. He has no need of my teaching!” The schoolmaster explained to the uncle that the child’s ability to expound the meanings of the most complex verses found in the Koran “with such knowledge and fluency” struck him with amazement. He said, “I have brought ‘Ali-Muhammad back to you and commit Him to your vigilant protection. He is not to be treated as a mere child, for in Him I can already discern evidences of that divinely mysterious power… It is incumbent upon you to surround Him with your most loving care. Keep Him in your house,
for He verily stands in no need of teachers such as I.”
Even so, the uncle scolded his nephew and insisted on sending Him back to school. Eventually, after the passing of five years and more than a few deliberations with the schoolmaster, the uncle accepted the reality that his brilliant, extraordinary nephew had no need of school. He then devoted himself to train the child to follow in his footsteps as a merchant, but believed, as many others who were close to the child, that ‘Ali-Muhammad was destined for a very special, divinely ordained path.
The Báb as a Youth
In the year 1836, at the age of seventeen, Áli-Muhammad left His family home in Shiraz to live in Búshihr, a coastal city in southern Persia (Iran), and remained there for five years gaining experience in the trade. Although still a Youth, He won the esteem of the mercantile (merchant) community. The merchants were amazed not only by the Youth’s brilliant intellect and aptitude, but also by the depth of His integrity, veracity and piety. The Youth was extremely attentive to His religious duties, and gave away large sums to charity to help the poor and disadvantaged. The merchants, aware that Áli-Muhammad was of noble lineage, were struck by the Youth’s humility, honesty and compassion.
By the time Áli-Muhammad reached the age of twenty, He gained independent direction of His business affairs. Achieving independence at such a young age was no surprise to His uncle, for it was clear that no matter what endeavors his nephew undertook, He revealed signs of a power and greatness that few could approach and none could rival. And His example of piety was inspiring. The oppressive heat of the summer in Búshihr did not deter Him from devoting several hours every Friday to continuous worship upon the roof of His house. Though exposed to the fierce rays of the noon tide sun, He turned His heart to God in pious prayer and meditation, unmindful of the intensity of the heat.
During His years in Búshihr, whether occupied as a merchant, tending to the needy, or immersed in devotions, the people came to regard the perfection of His character and the purity of His deeds and actions as that of a great spiritual teacher. Years later, after the Báb revealed Himself as a Manifestation of God and bringer of a new religion, there were many who remembered Him with deep affection as a child prodigy, or as a virtuous young merchant and pious Youth, and were elated by His declaration.
Among them was Ḥájí Siyyid Javád, disciple of the scholar Siyyid Kázim, who recounted his impressions of the young merchant while passing through Búshihr. He said, “Every time I met Him, I found Him in such a state of humility and lowliness as words fail me to describe. His downcast eyes, His extreme courtesy, and the serene expression of His face made an indelible impression upon my soul. I often heard those who were closely associated with Him testify to the purity of His character, to the charm of His manners, to His sell-effacement, to His high integrity, and to His extreme devotion to God.”
Likewise, His childhood tutor, Shaykh ‘Abid, years after the Báb proclaimed His mission, spoke reverently about Him as a young pupil in his class. He expressed his amazement by this child’s uncanny ability to understand the most complex verses in the Koran. He said,
“He expounded the meaning…in terms such as I had neither read nor heard. The sweetness of His utterance still lingers in my memory... Day after day He continued to manifest superhuman wisdom as I am powerless to recount.”