March 3, 2010

Forerunners of the Bab - Shaykh Ahmad & Siyyid Kazim

Before Baha'u'llah was born Shaykh Ahmad, a Muslim scholar known as "the most learned among the most learned,"(1) had made a profound discovery. In his studies of Islamic scripture, he had determined that the time promised by all the Prophets of God was at hand -- a time in which the world would receive not just one, but two new divine Messengers. These two "Promised Ones" would come like two trumpet blasts, said the Koran, one shortly after the other.[a] According to the Shi’ih branch of Islam, [b] the first Messenger would herald and prepare His followers to recognize the Messenger yet to come. The title of the first would be the ‘Qa’im’, meaning in Arabic "He Who Shall Arise." The title of the great Messenger yet to come would be the ‘Qayyum’ meaning "The All-Compelling.” [c]

Human history had seen the appearance of such divine Messengers before. Their ranks had included Moses, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Zoroaster, Krishna, and Buddha. They were the world's great Teachers – each One "a pure and stainless Soul"(2) entrusted by God with a sacred mission! Unlike philosophers and other ordinary teachers, each divine Messenger not only infused the world with new knowledge, but also released a tremendous new spiritual energy that gave rise to the advancement of whole civilizations.
The history of religion had often recorded heavenly signs -- stars or comets -- which seemed to announce the coming of each divine Messenger. Certain teachers, chosen by God, prepared the way for each Messenger. These spiritually gifted teachers served as guides, helping the people of their time better understand the signs and prophecies that heralded the coming of a new Messenger. Shaykh Ahmad was one of these chosen teachers.
For twenty-five years Shaykh Ahmad devoted himself to study until, at last, he was ready to teach others what he had learned. He left his island home of Bahrain in the waters of the Persian Gulf and traveled north to the city of Karbala, Iraq, on the banks of the great Euphrates River. Farther north, Baghdad straddled its sister river, the Tigris. The land around Karbala, which had once been the rich farmland of the ancient Fertile Crescent, was now mostly grassland and parched desert. Still, many people lived in Karbala [d], and many more traveled to the city. It was a place of pilgrimage for Shi’ih Muslims and a center of study for Muslim scholars.

There, where sparse palm trees offered little shade from the intense heat, Shaykh Ahmad began to teach. Many Muslims were eager for the coming of the promised Qa'im, but their expectations were clouded by their own wishful thinking. They wanted the Qa'im to come as a king who would conquer their enemies. Shaykh Ahmad knew better. The Qa'im would not be king of any earthly dominion, for His was a far greater sovereignty.

Patiently Shaykh Ahmad tried to teach those who studied with him how to look with spiritual eyes. The truth of the holy scriptures was not always found in their plain, literal meaning, but in the spiritual meaning hidden within the language of metaphor. Only sincere seekers, willing to open their minds and purify their hearts -- to let go of false ideas and self-centered desires -- would grasp the truth and be able to recognize the promised Qa’im.

Shaykh Ahmad taught his students the signs that would identify the promised Qa’im. Some signs were physical. He would be of medium height and in age a young man. He would also be a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. Other signs were not as obvious or easy to understand. Among the most important was that the Messenger's learning would come from God, not from any mortal teacher.

Shaykh Ahmad did not share with others everything that he knew. When he traveled to Persia he did not say why he was drawn to the cities of Shiraz and Tehran. That these cities would each cradle a Messenger from God -- the Qa’im in Shiraz, the Qayyum in Tehran -- was a truth he held close to his heart. To tell all was not the course of wisdom, for with the appearance of every Messenger, also came those who wished to harm Him. For these holy ones to grow up as children among others -- their true identity unknown --was their best protection.

When he learned of the birth of Husayn-‘Ali in Tehran, Shaykh Ahmad did not tell others how his heart leapt with joy. He only prayed that the people of the land might recognize and cherish “this hidden Treasure of God" amongst them and arise to “proclaim His excellence to all nations and peoples."(3)

Years passed, and the aging Shaykh Ahmad saw his days in this world growing shorter; yet his work was not complete. In this unique time, when two holy Messengers would walk upon the earth in the same lifetime, two teachers were needed to prepare the way. Shaykh Ahmad was the first of these, but who would be the second?

One day a young man, the son of a silk merchant, joined the group who studied with Shaykh Ahmad. His name was Siyyid Kazim. He had come to Shaykh Ahmad because of a vision he had received. Like Shaykh Ahmad himself, the young Siyyid Kazim was gifted with extraordinary powers of mind and spirit. In only a few weeks' time Shaykh Ahmad knew his question was answered: This was the one who was destined to continue his work. Shaykh Ahmad did all that he could in his remaining years to prepare Siyyid Kazim to teach others.

As he felt his life drawing to a close, Shaykh Ahmad spoke urgently to Siyyid Kazim. "You have no time to lose," he warned. "Every fleeting hour should be wisely utilized. You should gird up the loin of endeavour and strive day and night to rend asunder, by the grace of God and by the hand of wisdom and loving-kindness, those veils of heedlessness that have blinded the eyes of men."(4) At the age of eighty-one, Shaykh Ahmad passed away, content that he had carried out the task that was his to fulfill.

Siyyid Kazim, like Shaykh Ahmad before him, made his home in Karbala, where he carried on the work entrusted to him. Some of his students found Siyyid Kazim so wise that they thought he must be the promised Qa'im, but he grew angry and immediately stifled such talk. "My knowledge is but a drop compared with the immensity of His knowledge," he told them sternly, "my attainments a speck of dust in the face of the wonders of His grace and power."(5)

Patiently Siyyid Kazim prepared his followers to look for the promised Qa'im-"He Who Shall Arise," who would lead them to the Qayyum --"the All-Compelling." "When the star of the Former has set," Siyyid Kazim promised, "the sun of [the Later] will rise and illuminate the whole world. Then will be unfolded in all its glory the 'mystery' and the 'secret' spoken of by Shaykh Ahmad.”(6)

When Siyyid Kazim himself knew that his own days were numbered and his life was drawing to a dose, he urged his followers to begin their search for the promised Qa’im. By now the Qa'im would be a grown man, ready to begin His mission from God. The time of fulfillment, long promised, was at hand.

"O my beloved companions!" Siyyid Kazim addressed them, "How great, how very great, is the Cause! How exalted the station to which I summon you! . . . I pray to God graciously to assist you to weather the storms of tests and trials which must needs beset you, to enable you to emerge. unscathed and triumphant. . . and to lead you to your high destiny. It is incumbent upon you to renounce all comfort, all earthly possessions and kindred," he told them, "in your quest of Him who is the Desire of your hearts and of mine. Scatter far and wide. . . and humbly and prayerfully beseech your Lord to sustain and guide you. Never relax in your determination to seek and find Him."(7)

One day, when Siyyid Kazim was in his sixtieth year, an Arab shepherd approached with a message to deliver -- a message given to the shepherd in a dream. "Three days ago I was shepherding my flock in this adjoining pasture," he said, "when sleep suddenly fell upon me." In this dream, he said, the Prophet Muhammad had spoken to him, telling him where to find Siyyid Kaizim and what to say. The shepherd conveyed the Prophet's words: "Rejoice, for the hour of your departure is at hand. . . . Soon after shall He who is the Truth be made manifest."(8)

Siyyid Kazim smiled. "Of the truth of the dream which you have dreamt there is no doubt," be told the shepherd. Tenderly he consoled his devoted disciples and, in the days left to him, encouraged them all to go forth to seek the Promised One. His companions were overcome with grief, but Siyyid Kazim spoke to them calmly, asking, "Would you not wish me to die, that the promised One may be revealed?"(9)

Shortly thereafter, Siyyid Kazim passed away. Those who had studied with him, devoted as they were, could not agree on what to do next. Where should they begin in their search for the promised Qa'im? Siyyid Kazim had not mentioned a particular place. There was much discussion, for they were not eager to leave Karbala and strike out for the unknown.

As they talked, they remembered one of their companions-Mulla Husayn. Siyyid Kazim had often praised him for his spiritual insights and abilities in argument. Before his death, Siyyid Kazim had sent him on an important mission, and Mulla Husayn had not yet returned from his travels. But the more his companions talked among themselves, the more they became convinced of one thing: Mulla Husayn must be the Promised One. They decided to await his return. It seemed a good solution to their dilemma, and they went about their business in the city. (Adapted from ‘The Story of Baha’u’llah, Promised One of All Religions’, by Druzelle Cederquist, pp. 17-21)

[a] Koran 39:68
[b] One of the two major branches of Islam. The other branch, to which the majority of Muslims belong, is Sunni Islam.
[c] Shi’ih Muslims also referred to the return of the lmam Husayn, while Sunni Muslims referred to the descent of the "Spirit of God" (Jesus Christ). Tradition in both branches also uses the term ‘Mahdi’, meaning literally "one rightly guided," to refer to the Promised One to come.
[d] Karbala is the site of the martyrdom and of the shrine of the Imam Husayn, a prominent figure in the history of Shi’ih Islam.


(1) ALM ALM Nicolas, “Essai sur le Shaykhisme,” quoted in Perigord, ‘Translation of French Foot-Notes of the Dawn-Breakers’, p. 1
(2) Baha’u’llah, ‘Gleanings’, p. 66
(3) Nabil, ‘Dawn-Breakers’, p. 13
(4) Shaykh Ahmad, quoted in Nabil, ‘Dawn-Breakers’, p. 16
(5) Siyyid Kazim, quoted in Nabil, ‘Dawn-Breakers’, p. 25
(6) Ibid, pp. 41-42
(7) Ibid, pp. 42, 40-41
(8) As reported by Nabil, Dawn-Breakers, p. 44
(9) Siyyid Kazim, quoted in ibid, p. 45