This is the story of Mulla Aliy-i-Bastami, one of the Letters of the Living, "the first to leave the House of God (Shiraz) and the first to suffer for His sake…" (The Báb, quoted by Shoghi Effendi, ‘God Passes By’) He was “one of the foremost disciples of Siyyid Kazim…. He was endowed with such vast learning, and was so deeply conversant with the teachings of Shaykh Ahmad, that many regarded him as even superior to Mulla Husayn.” (Nabil, ‘The Dawn-Breakers’)
Following the death of their leader, Siyyid Kazim, Mulla Ali and twelve other followers of Siyyid Kazim decided to follow the example of Mulla Husayn and begin their search for the Promised One – as they were instructed to do so by Siyyid Kazim. Mulla Husayn had just started his spiritual preparation in retirement by praying and fasting for forty days. On several occasions Mulla 'Ali approached Mulla Husayn to ask him where he was going and what his destination would be. Every time he neared Mulla Husayn, he found him so deeply wrapt in prayer that he felt it improper to venture a question. Mulla 'Ali decided to retire in a like manner from the society of men and prepare his own heart for the quest. His companions followed his example with the exception of three who acted as their personal attendants.
As soon as the forty days were up, Mulla Husayn decided to leave Karbila at once for Persia where he felt his search should begin. His brother and nephew also accompanied him. An inner prompting led him to Bushihr on the Persian Gulf. Though he could feel the sweet savors of His holiness the Báb in Bushir something suddenly turned him like a compass needle to the north. He set out at once on foot for the city of Shiraz. When he arrived at the gate of the city, he directed his brother and his nephew, who had accompanied him, to go to the prayer-house and await his return. "Something draws my heart into the city," he said, "but I shall meet you for evening prayers." A few hours before sunset, Mulla Husayn's eyes fell upon the Báb and received an invitation to His House and became the first believer in the Bábi Dispensation.
Shortly after Mulla Husayn had left Karbila, Mulla ‘Ali accompanied by twelve companions also followed him towards Persia.
On the morning of May 23, 1844, the Báb allowed Mulla Husayn, bearing his secret, to return to his fellow travelers. He told Mulla Husayn that seventeen more disciples were to come after him - but they would have to find the Object of their quest alone and unaided, through prayer and meditation. These eighteen, along with the Báb, were to form the body of the "Letters of the Living," the first believers of the new Revelation.
When on the morning of May 23, 1844 Mulla Husayn reached the mosque where his companions had lodged, he found that some of the followers of the Shaykhi doctrine had heard of his arrival and had come to see him. He was already famous in the city; the news of his achievements and the confidence Siyyid Kazim had placed in him was known everywhere. He was asked to stay in Shiraz so that searchers for the truth might profit from his vast knowledge. Mulla Husayn accepted the invitation and told his fellow Shaykhis to prepare for the talks he would give in the same mosque where they were lodged. He would teach from one of the books of Siyyid Kazim.
How surprised his companions were when they heard this news! When Mulla Husayn had left Karbala, he had vowed never to rest until he attained the presence of the Promised One. They had promised to follow him wherever he went, and to obey him, whatever he might command. Now, in view of this change, they felt that they at least deserved an explanation. But this he refused to give.
Mulla Husayn began his classes and a large group of students eventually gathered around him, notables of the city coming to visit him as well. All wondered at the spirit which his lectures revealed. Naturally, they were unaware that the Source of his inspiration was now the very One whose advent they were all eagerly awaiting. Nabil has recorded Mulla Husayn's own recollections of this time:
"During those days I was, on several occasions, summoned by the Báb to visit Him. He would send at night-time that same Ethiopian servant to the masjid [mosque], bearing to me His most loving message of welcome. Every time I visited Him, I spent the entire night in His presence. Wakeful until the dawn, I sat at His feet fascinated by the charm of His utterance and oblivious of the world and its cares and pursuits. How rapidly those precious hours flew by! At daybreak I reluctantly withdrew from His presence. How eagerly in those days I looked forward to the approach of the evening hour! With what feelings of sadness and regret I beheld the dawning of day! In the course of one of these nightly visits, my Host addressed me in these words:
'Tomorrow thirteen of your companions will arrive. To each of them extend the utmost loving-kindness. Leave them not to themselves, for they have dedicated their lives to the quest of their Beloved. Pray to God that He may graciously enable them to walk securely in that path which is finer than a hair and keener than a sword. Certain ones among them will be accounted, in the sight of God, as His chosen and favoured disciples. As to others, they will tread the middle way. The fate of the rest will remain undeclared until the hour when all that is hidden shall be made manifest.'"(The Dawn-Breakers’)
That same morning, after Mulla Husayn had returned home, Mulla 'Aliy-i Bastami, with twelve of his companions, arrived at the Ilkhani Mosque, where Mulla Husayn was staying. Mulla Husayn immediately saw to their accommodations. After they had been in Shiraz for a few days, Mulla 'Ali finally gave vent to his anxious feelings:
"You know well," he said, "how great is our confidence in you. We bear you such loyalty that if you should claim to be the promised Qa'im we would all unhesitatingly submit. Obedient to your summons, we have forsaken our homes and have gone forth in search of our promised Beloved. You were the first to set us all this noble example. We have followed in your footsteps. We have determined not to relax in our efforts until we find the Object of our quest. We have followed you to this place, ready to acknowledge whomsoever you accept, in the hope of seeking the shelter of His protection and of passing successfully through the tumult and agitation that must needs signalise the last Hour. How is it that we now see you teaching the people and conducting their prayers and devotions with the utmost tranquility? Those evidences of agitation and expectancy seem to have vanished from your countenance. Tell us, we beseech you, the reason that we too may be delivered from our present state of suspense and doubt." (‘The Dawn-Breakers’)
Mulla Husayn replied:
"Your companions may naturally attribute my peace and composure to the ascendancy which I seem to have acquired in this city. The truth is far from that. The world, I assure you, with all its pomp and seductions, can never lure away this Husayn of Bushruyih from his Beloved. Ever since the beginning of this holy enterprise upon which I have embarked, I have vowed to seal, with my life-blood, my own destiny. For His sake I have welcomed immersion in an ocean of tribulation. I yearn not for the things of this world. I crave only the good pleasure of my Beloved. Not until I shed my blood for His name will the fire that glows within me be quenched. Please God you may live to witness that day. Might not your companions have thought that, because of the intensity of his longing and the constancy of his endeavours, God has, in His infinite mercy, graciously deigned to unlock before the face of Mulla Husayn the Gate of His grace, and, wishing, according to His inscrutable wisdom, to conceal this fact, has bidden him engage in such pursuits?” (‘The Dawn-Breakers’)
Mulla 'Ali immediately understood the import of these words. With tearful eyes, he pleaded with Mulla Husayn to tell him the name of the One they both had sought. "I adjure you," he begged, "to bestow upon me a portion of that holy draught which the Hand of mercy has given you to drink, for it will assuredly allay my thirst, and ease the pain of longing in my heart." "Beseech me not to grant you this favor," was the reply. "Let your trust be in Him, for He will surely guide your steps, and appease the tumult of your heart." (‘The Dawn-Breakers)
After this conversation, Mulla 'Ali rushed to his companions to inform them of the secret their leader had concealed, explaining that only God could guide them to the Beloved of their hearts. They all dispersed and secluded themselves in their rooms, praying, fasting, and meditating - asking God to guide them to the Beloved and to remove the veil that separated them from Him.
On the third night, Mulla 'Ali had a vision. A light appeared before him, and he followed it until he reached the presence of his Beloved. It was midnight when the veil was rent and his eyes saw clearly. With uncontrolled excitement, he hastened to Mulla Husayn's room. Weeping, he told him about his vision and his discovery. Full of joy, Mulla Husayn recited this passage from the Qur'an to his dear companion: ‘Praise be to God who hath guided us hither! We had not been guided had not God guided us!’
At daybreak, the two friends rushed to the house of the Báb. To their surprise, they were met at the door by His Ethiopian servant. The servant explained: "Ere break of day, I was summoned to the presence of my Master, who instructed me to open the door of the house and to stand expectant at its threshold. 'Two guests,' He said, 'are to arrive early this morning. Extend to them in my name a warm welcome. Say to them from me, ‘Enter therein in the name of God.’” (‘The Dawn-Breakers’)
When Mulla 'Alyi-i Bastami came into the presence of his Beloved, he threw himself at His feet and confessed his faith in Him. This confession of the second believer was strikingly different from that of the first one. Mulla Husayn had come to the Báb's House as an almost unwilling guest, without any idea of what might happen to him in that place. When the Báb had declared His mission to him, he first scoffed and then doubted and asked for proofs. But the second believer crossed the threshold of the house with a heart filled with faith and devotion.
Mulla 'Ali's twelve companions, who had also prayed and meditated, each found their heart's desire in a different way. Some discovered him in their dreams, others in visions or through prayer and fasting. Each was eventually taken to the House of the Báb, where he attained the presence of his Beloved and accepted His glorious station. Seventeen of these Letters of the Living were eventually enrolled in Shiraz.
One additional Letter was enrolled. She was a woman and had not traveled to Shiraz. This was Qurratu'l-'Ayn, later named Tahirih. From Karbila she had sent a letter, through one of her relatives, to her as yet unknown Master. The letter expressed her desire to be accepted into the court of that heavenly King.
Mulla Ali had a great station in the Bábi Dispensation. The Báb bestowed upon him the station of Imam 'Ali, who in the view of Shí'ah Islam is the true successor of Muhammad. This He did when He sent Mulla 'Ali to deliver His newly-revealed words into the hands of Shaykh Muhammad-Hasan-i-Najafi, one of the leading religious leaders in 'Iraq. In His Message to this divine, the Báb clearly stated that the bearer of the message was the return of the reality of Imam 'Ali.
(Adapted from ‘The Dawn-Breakers,’ by Nabil, ‘Release the Sun,” by William Sears, ‘Mulla Husayn’, by Mehrankhani; ’God Passes By’, by Shoghi Effendi, and ‘The Revelation of Baha’u’llah vol.4’, by Adib Taherzadeh)