July 1, 2015

No peace in the city of Tabriz on July 9, 1850 – the martyrdom of the Báb

As the Bábís of Zanjan continued courageously to defend themselves against the assaults of the army, the Grand Vizier of Persia grew angrier than before. He had heard of the heroic ways in which the Bábís at Fort Tabarsi and Nayriz had managed to fight off their attackers, now he had to deal with a similar episode at Zanjan – a town located about 180 miles northwest of the Capital, Tehran.

The Grand Vizier was witnessing his own futile attempts to stifle the new Faith. He was getting frustrated and angrier than ever. He realized that the Báb might be imprisoned in a remote corner of the country, but His Cause continued to spread. Nothing seemed to dampen the enthusiasm of His followers. To crush their spirit, he felt he must eliminate their leader. Therefore he ordered that the Báb be brought one last time to Tabriz - this time to be executed.

Forty days before the Grand Vizier's orders arrived, the Báb gathered together His few belongings - His pen-case, His rings, His precious Writings, and the seals with which He stamped the wax that sealed His letters. The Báb sent all of these things with a trusted servant to Baha’u’llah, along with a special gift -a scroll of fine blue paper embellished with the design of a five-pointed star. The delicate lines of the star were lines of words written in the Báb's own elegant handwriting - five hundred words all related to the word "Baha," meaning "Glory." The scroll was a gift of praise from the Báb to Baha’u’llah.

When the order from the Grand Vizier arrived in Tabriz, the governor of the province refused to execute the Báb. The Báb had committed no crime, and He was a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, Who therefore deserved to be treated with honor. "The task I am called upon to perform is a task that only an ignoble person would accept," said the governor.

The Grand Vizier would let no objection stand in his way. He turned to his brother, Mirza Hasan Khan, to carry out his command. He must execute the Báb immediately, the Grand Vizier told his brother, along with anyone claiming to be a Bábí. The execution should take place in a public square of Tabriz so that everyone would know of the Báb's death.

Mirza Hasan Khan agreed to do his brother's bidding and prepared to transfer the Báb to a cell in the city barracks to await execution. First he ordered the removal of the Báb's green turban and sash, the emblems of His lineage to the Prophet. Then the Báb and His amanuensis, Siyyid Husayn, were marched to the barracks that housed the soldiers. People crowded and strained to see the prisoner who would be executed. The Báb would receive no honor in Tabriz.

Suddenly a young man broke through the crowd and threw himself on the ground at the Báb's feet. "Send me not from Thee, O Master," he begged. "Wherever Thou goest, suffer me to follow Thee."

"Arise," the Báb answered in a loving voice, "and rest assured that you will be with Me. Tomorrow you shall witness what God has decreed."

The youth, a Bábí, was arrested and taken to the same prison cell as the Báb. The Báb gave him a new name, "Anís," meaning "Close Companion”.

Anís was condemned to die with the Báb, but a sentence of death did not frighten him. For months he had yearned to be with the Báb. His father had locked him in the house to keep him from traveling to Chihriq. He must forget this Bábí foolishness, his father told him, and get on with life's normal activities. But Anís could not forget.

Then, in a dreamlike vision, the Báb had appeared and spoken to Anís. "The hour is approaching when, in this very city, I shall be suspended before the eyes of the multitude and shall fall a victim to the fire of the enemy," said the Báb. "I shall choose no one except you to share with Me the cup of martyrdom. Rest assured that this promise which I give you shall be fulfilled."

The Báb's promise filled Anís with a deep joy that was unreachable by any earthly sorrow. In the days and weeks that followed, the loving voice and tender smile of the Báb, along with His promise, lingered in Anís's memory. Now, at long last, his greatest wish - to be with the Báb – was granted, and Anís was content.

In His barracks cell, the Báb was bound with iron shackles around His wrists and an iron collar was placed around His neck. An attendant tied a long cord to the iron collar and, taking the cord in hand, led the Báb, with a guard of soldiers, through the streets and bazaars of the town. Execution alone would not satisfy the Grand Vizier. The Báb must be seen helpless and humiliated.

Nearly ten thousand people crowded into the streets and the public square. They had poured into Tabriz from surrounding villages especially to watch the execution. Onlookers jeered and shouted insults at the Báb. If He was from God, let Him save Himself! Let Him perform a miracle! The Báb suffered all in silence until finally He was returned to His cell. The hour of execution was at hand.

When the chief attendant came for the Báb and Anís, the Báb was speaking with Siyyid Husayn, His amanuensis. The attendant would not permit the Báb to complete His conversation.

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

But the chief attendant paid no heed to the prisoner. The Báb and Anís were taken to the public square.

A firing squad of 750 soldiers prepared for the execution. The officer in charge was Sam Khan, a Christian. Sam Khan was moved by the Báb's noble spirit and greatly disturbed to think that he might execute a holy man. But Sam Khan was also a soldier who must follow orders. What was he to do?

"I profess the Christian Faith and entertain no ill will against you,” Sam Khan said to the Báb. "If your Cause be the Cause of Truth, enable me to free myself from the obligation to shed your blood."

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

The Báb and Anís were tied together with ropes, Anís with his head resting on the Báb's chest. A nail was pounded into a pillar between the doors of the barracks. With another rope the two prisoners were suspended in front of the firing squad.

The regiment of 750 soldiers lined up in three rows. Each row of soldiers took aim. Then, with a sad heart, Sam Khan gave the final order: "Fire!" One after another, each row fired their weapons. The square filled with smoke, but when the air cleared, the watching crowd saw Anís standing unharmed, his ropes cut by the bullets. The Báb, however, was nowhere to be seen.

The onlookers were astonished. Confusion and fear rippled through the crowd. Was this the miracle for which they had asked? The attendants began a frantic search. They did not have far to go. The Báb was found back in His prison cell, talking to Siyyid Husayn.

"I have finished My conversation with Siyyid Husayn," said the Báb calmly when the chief attendant found Him. "Now you may proceed to fulfil your intention.

The chief attendant was deeply shaken. Nothing like this had ever happened to him before. Was this a sign of the power of God? He did not know, but he left the barracks cell and the public square of Tabriz. He gave up his job as chief attendant and never again would have anything to do with the enemies of the Báb.

Sam Khan made his own decision and ordered his regiment to leave. God had spared him from shedding the Báb's blood. He would have nothing more to do with the execution of the Báb, even if it meant his own death for disobeying orders.

Another regiment volunteered to take the place of the first. Once again the Báb and Anís were tied up and suspended against the wall.

"Had you believed in Me, O wayward generation," said the Báb to the watching crowd, "every one of you would have followed the example of this youth… The day will come when you will have recognized Me; that day I shall have ceased to be with you."

This time, when the rows of soldiers fired their weapons, the Báb and Anís were killed. Their bodies were rendered inseparable by the force of the bullets from 750 rifles. But the faces of the Báb and Anís were left unmarked. A look of calm and peace was upon the face of the Báb. The time was twelve o'clock noon on Sunday, July 9, 1850.

There was no peace in the city of Tabriz that day. From the very hour of the Báb's death, a fierce wind visited the city. With it came a thick, gritty dust that sifted into people's clothes and eyes as the wind whipped through city streets. The dust was so thick that it hid the afternoon sun, and the day grew dark as evening.

The darkness outside was akin to the blindness within of those who had turned their backs on the Messenger of God. They had looked for a king but saw only a merchant from Shiraz. They had closed their eyes to His light and stopped their ears to His truth. They had used their powers to extinguish His life, the life of the promised Qa'im. These lived, indeed, in a dark place. 
(Adapted from ‘The Story of Baha’u’llah’, by Druzelle Cederquist, and from ‘The Dawn-Breakers’, by Nabil)