July 9, 2018

July 1850: Safeguarding the sacred remains of the Báb and His companion

Moat surrounding city of Tabriz, circa 1930s
On the evening of the very day of the Báb's execution, which fell on the ninth of July 1850…, during the thirty-first year of His age and the seventh of His ministry, the mangled bodies of the Báb and His companion were transferred from the courtyard of the barracks to the edge of the moat outside the gate of the city. Four companies, each consisting of ten sentinels, were ordered to keep watch in turn over them so that none of His followers might claim them.

On the following day the Russian Consul in Tabriz visited the spot, and ordered the artist who had accompanied him to make a drawing of the remains as they lay beside the moat. Nabil, in his chronical, ‘The Dawn-Breakers’, relates the following account from a believer by the name of Hájí ‘Alí-‘Askar who saw this drawing:

“An official of the Russian consulate, to whom I was related, showed me that same sketch on the very day it was drawn. It was such a faithful portrait of the Báb that I looked upon! No bullet had struck His forehead, His cheeks, or His lips. I gazed upon a smile which seemed to be still lingering upon His countenance. His body, however, had been severely mutilated. I could recognize the arms and head of His companion, who seemed to be holding Him in his embrace. As I gazed horror-struck upon that haunting picture, and saw how those noble traits had been disfigured, my heart sank within me. I turned away my face in anguish and, regaining my house, locked myself in my room. For three days and three nights, I could neither sleep nor eat, so overwhelmed was I with emotion. That short and tumultuous life, with all its sorrows, its turmoil, its banishments, and eventually the awe-inspiring martyrdom with which it had been crowned, seemed again to be re-enacted before my eyes. I tossed upon my bed, writhing in agony and pain.”

Earlier, when the Báb had dispersed all of His Writings and personal belongings, it become clear and evident to His followers from various signs that His days on earth were coming to an end. A devoted follower of the Báb, Haji Sulayman Khan, the son of Yahya Khan, one of the nobles of Adhirbayjan, therefore, left Tehran for Tabriz, in the hope of rescuing the Báb.

The father of Haji Sulayman Khan was an officer in the service of the father of Muhammad Shah. Haji Sulayman Khan was a highly influential man. Amir Nizam, the Prime Minister of the time, was induced to spare his life, in spite of the fact that many of his fellow believers were being put to death.

On the afternoon of the second day following the execution, Sulayman Khan arrived in Tabriz. To his dismay, he found that he had arrived too late. Hearing what had happened to the remains of the Báb and His companion, he resolved to recover them in spite of the danger involved.

Sulayman Khan proceeded straightaway to the house of the mayor of Tabriz who was an old friend, associate, and confidant of his. The mayor was also of a mystical temperament and did not entertain aversion or dislike for any sect. Sulayman Khan divulged this secret to him saying:

‘Tonight I, with several others, will endeavor by every means and artifice to rescue the body. Even though it be not possible, come what may we will make an attack, and either attain our object or pour out our lives freely in this way.’

The Mayor, however told Sulayman Khan that ‘such troubles were in no wise necessary.’ He called on the venturous Haji Allah-Yar, a courageous and daring man, to render this service to his friend.

In the middle of the night Haji Allah-Yar took some of his men, accompanied by two Bábís from Milan (a town in the province of Adhirbayijan), and Sulyman Khan, to the spot where the remains of the Báb and His disciple had been left. The soldiers guarding the bodies did not dare to challenge them. Sulaymán Khán reverently gathered the sacred remains and placed them in the 'aba of one of the believers and delivered them to a silk factory belonging to Haji Ahmad, a believer from Milan. For two days the remains were left in this silk factory. They were wrapped in shrouds and hidden under bales of silk. They were then placed in a special casket which they manufactured and transferred to another place of safety. Sulayman Khan then communicated the news to Bahá'u'lláh and awaited His instructions. This transaction remained absolutely secret.

When the news reached Baha’u’llah, He directed His faithful brother, Mirza Musa (entitled Aqay-i-Kalim) to send a trusted person to Tabriz and bring the casket to Tehran. Nabil explains that this decision was prompted by the wish the Báb Himself had expressed in a Tablet of Visitation He revealed some time previous when He was in the vicinity of a Muslim shrine near Tehran. In the concluding passages of this Tablet the Báb addressed the buried saint in words such as these, “Well is it with you to have found your resting place in Ray, under the shadow of My Beloved. Would that I might be entombed within the precincts of that holy ground!”

Sulaymán Khán and the others wrapped the casket in cotton and prepared it for the journey. Riding on horseback, they travelled during the cool of the night along the rocky pathways through the hills and mountains. They were worried about the possibility of attack by highway robbers, who preyed on travellers along the route. They were also very apprehensive of encountering government custom authorities on route who would stop, question and inspect the belongings of travelers to obtain revenue and stop smuggling. Any suspicion by such authorities that these believers were carrying a casket containing the bodies of the Báb and His disciple would have definitely resulted in their confiscation and destruction. It would have also resulted in the killing of the couriers.

Fortunately, such concerns did not materialize thanks in part to the assistance they received from one of the believers in Tabriz, who was the deputy-director of the provincial customs office of that city. It is noteworthy to know that Tabriz in those years was apparently more populous than Tehran as most of Iran’s imports and exports passed through it. The government, therefore, had set up such customs houses to prevent smuggling or other unwanted activities.

After travelling on horseback for about 300 kilometers, the men, with their sacred cargo, arrived safely in Zanjan, a town about 330 kilometres from Tehran. They spent one night in Zanjan and continued on toward Tehran the following day.

The casket arrived in Tehran at a time when Bahá'u'lláh, on the order of the Prime Minister, had already departed from the capital for Karbila. Following Baha’u’llah’s instructions, the casket was delivered to Mirza Musa, Baha’u’llah’s faithful brother, who, with the help of another believer, placed it in a safe location inside a Muslim shrine in Tehran. Other than one believer who assisted Mirza Musa, no one else knew about this. After some time the casket was transferred to the house of Sulayman Khan in Tehran.

In the meantime, on the third day following the execution, the residents of Tabriz became aware of the disappearance of the bodies. As to what happened, the sentinels excused themselves by saying that wild beasts must have devoured them when they fell asleep. Their superiors also concealed the truth and did not report it to the authorities for fear of losing their own positions. The clergy took advantage of the opportunity to further undermine and humiliate the Báb by fabricating the following logic: "The holy body of the immaculate Imam and that of the true Shi'ite are preserved from the encroachments of beasts of prey and creeping things and wounds, but the body of this person have the wild beasts torn in pieces."

On His return to the capital Bahá’u’lláh directed that the casket be removed and concealed in another Muslim shrine located west of Tehran. It was left there until about 1868 when, from Adrianople, Baha’u’llah addressed a Tablet to two believers in Tehran and instructed them to remove the casket to yet another safe location. Thus under Baha’u’llah’s direction, and later through ‘Abdu’l-Baha’is instructions, the sacred remains were moved from place to place in Iran, until the time when, in pursuance of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's instructions, they were transferred to the Holy Land, and were permanently and ceremoniously laid to rest by Him in a specially erected mausoleum on the slopes of Mt. Carmel – in the year 1909.
(Adapted from: ‘A Traveller’s Narative’, by ‘Abdu’l-Baha; ‘God Passes By’, by Shoghi Effendi, ‘Revelation of Baha’u’llah’, by Adib Taherzadeh; ‘Release the Sun’, by William Sears; ‘Robe of Light’, by David Ruhe; ‘Journey to a Mountain’, by Michael Day)