¶6. The Báb and the Bábí Movement, 1844-62
The movement founded by Siyyid 'Alí Muhammad of Shíráz became known as the Bábí Movement, or Babism, after his assumed title, the Báb, "Gate" or "Door." The Báb made a series of claims to religious leadership, first as a "báb," or representative to the hidden Imám, then as the Qá'im, the Imám himself, and finally as an independent Prophet. He emphasized repeatedly that he was but the forerunner of "He whom God shall make manifest," Man yuzhiruhu'lláh. In 1863 Bahá'u'lláh claimed that he was this figure. Bahá'ís view the Báb as being a harbinger, a figure sent to tear down entrenched religious beliefs and pave the way for the renewal of civilization brought by Bahá'u'lláh.
Bahá'í sources treat the Báb and his movement in great depth. Chief among these is Bahá'u'lláh's Kitáb-i-Íqán (Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 63-155), which he wrote before his own declaration, ostensibly for the purpose of defending the truth of the Báb's claims. The major events of the movement are vividly described in Nabíl-i-Zarandí's Dawn-Breakers and Shoghi Effendi's God Passes By. Bahá'ís view the former of these very highly, for it was commissioned and partially read by Bahá'u'lláh himself. Finally, 'Abdu'l-Bahá himself wrote a short history of the Bábí movement entitled A Traveler's Narrative Written to Illustrate the Episode of the Báb. Shoghi Effendi summarized and elucidated the Bahá'í understanding of the Báb's station in The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh, reprinted in The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh. See notes in Lights of Guidance, 469-71.
Esslemont, 11-22 Huddleston, 183-88 Ferraby, 193-97 Momen, 115-18 Hatcher and Martin, 10-27 Smith 1987, 56
¶6.1. The Báb: Early Life and Prophetic Career*
Much primary-source information on the Báb is presented in Nabíl-i-Zarandí's The Dawn-Breakers, 'Abdu'l-Bahá's A Traveller's Narrative, and Shoghi Effendi's God Passes By.
Esslemont, 11-18 Momen, 116-17 Ferraby, 186-99, 201-02 Smith 1987, 13-30 Hatcher and Martin, 6-9, 18-19 Smith 1996, 19-25, 27-31 Huddleston, 177-90
The only systematic biography of the Báb written according to the standards of modern scholarship is Abbas Amanat's Resurrection and Renewal, particularly chapters 3, 4, 5, and 9. A useful biography is Balyuzi's The Báb. Also useful is Stephen Lambden's "An Episode in the Childhood of the Báb," in Peter Smith, In Iran, Studies in Bábí and Bahá'í Religions, volume 3 (reprinted from Bahá'í Studies Bulletin, 1.4 (March 1983)). Kalimát Press' The Martyrdom of the Báb: A Compilation, brings together the Bahá'í scriptural accounts and a few eyewitness accounts of the Báb's execution. Descriptions of his execution can also be found in a collection of original accounts collected and edited by Firuz Kazemzadeh titled "The Báb: Accounts of His Martyrdom," in World Order, 8.1 (Fall 1973). Moojan Momen examines the significances of the principal confrontations between the Bábís and their opponents in "The Bábí Upheavals 1848-1853," in Bahá'í Studies Bulletin, 4.2 (Jan. 1990). He further examines the demographics of the early Bábí community in "The Social Basis of the Bábí Upheavals," in International Journal of Middle East Studies 14 (1983) and "The Social Location of the Bábí Movement: A Preliminary Note," in Bahá'í Studies Bulletin, 3.3 (September 1985). Peter Smith provides estimates of Bábí and Bahá'í populations in Iran from the late 1840s-1979 in his dissertation A Sociological Study of the Bábí and Bahá'í Religions; the relevant section is amended and reprinted as "A Note on Bábí and Bahá'í Numbers in Iran," in Bahá'í Studies Bulletin, 1.4 (1983), and also in Iranian Studies 17.2-3 (1984)
Contemporary Western descriptions of the Báb have been published in Momen, The Bábí and Bahá'í Religions, 1844-1944: Some Contemporary Western Accounts. Seena Fazel briefly discusses and reprints "The First Western Language Encyclopedia Article on the Bábí Religion" in Bahá'í Studies Bulletin, 5.3-6.1 (June 1991). The Encyclopedia Iranica and the Encyclopedia of Islam both have excellent articles on the Báb.
MacEoin's "Hierarchy, Authority, and Eschatology in Early Bábí Thought," in Peter Smith, In Iran, Studies in Bábí and Bahá'í Religions, volume 3, offers a variety of insights into the Báb's theology and discusses the gradually-increasing stages of the Báb's religious claims and the eschatological significances of them. Todd Lawson discusses similar topics, though with a more theological focus, in "The Terms "Remembrance" (dhikr) and "Gate" (báb) in the Báb's Commentary on the Sura of Joseph," in Moojan Momen, Studies in Honor of the Late Hasan M. Balyuzi: Studies in the Bábí and Bahá'í Religions, volume 5. Another short but valuable study of the Báb's theology is Lawson's "The Structure of Existence in the Báb's Tafsír and the Perfect Man Motif," in Bahá'í Studies Bulletin, 6.2-3 (February 1992). MacEoin's Rituals in Babism and Baha'ism provides a comprehensive discussion of Bábí praxis, though its textual focus void of anthropological considerations lends it a somewhat suspect relevance. (Christopher Buck has offered a Bahá'í response to the latter in his "Review of Denis MacEoin's Rituals in Babism and Baha'ism" in the International Journal of Middle East Studies, 28.3 .)
* The scholar who has published the most work on the Bábí movement thus far is Denis MacEoin. This requires a brief note. MacEoin's work as a whole tends to be academic and penetrating, and is a very valuable resource. However, he has an open bias against aspects of the Bahá'í Faith which can occasionally color his scholarship. A number of exchanges between Bahá'í academics and MacEoin on this and related issues have been published in a variety of journals. MacEoin has honestly admitted that his work could be affected by his bias, and even that he sometimes writes in "a deliberate attempt to stimulate controversy" ("A Critique of Moojan Momen's Response to my `Problems of Scholarship in a Bahá'í Context,'" in Bahá'í Studies Bulletin, 1.4 [June, 1983] 69). MacEoin's explanation, as given here and elsewhere, is that he is simply more honest about a facet of any and every scholar's work, namely his or her (usually unconscious) preconceptions.
¶6.2. The Báb's Teachings: Sources and Historical Context
The only book of writings of the Báb available in English is Selections from the Writings of the Báb. The Arabic and Persian Bayáns and The Book of Seven Proofs are available in French translation by A.L.M. Nicolas. See part two of the bibliography "Writings of the Báb," below.
Esslemont, 19-22 Huddleston, 175-8 Faizi, 3-7 Smith 1987, 31-47 Ferraby, 199-201 Smith 1996, 27-9, 35-8
E. G. Browne was the first English-speaking scholar to study seriously about the Bábí movement and translate a significant portion of the Báb's writings. Most of his work, though now quite dated, is still a valuable resource. Of especial note is his translation of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's A Traveller's Narrative. Following the heavily-footnoted translation, Browne includes over 250 pages of detailed notes about notable figures, events, and texts relevant to Bábí history. These are only included in the original 1891 edition and its 1930 reprint; the 1980 edition by the Bahá'í Publishing Trust contains none of Browne's copious notes and footnotes. Moojan Momen has compiled many of Browne's writings in his Selections from the Writings of E. G. Browne on the Bábí and Bahá'í Religions. The largest effort to set the Báb's teachings in historical context is Amanat's Resurrection and Renewal, particularly chapter 3. Denis MacEoin has published extensively on Babism, including The Sources for Early Bábí Doctrine and History, a hundred-page summary of the writings of the Báb in the approximate order they were composed. The book also has an excellent bibliography, including a listing of all the known Bábí manuscripts and the archives that contains them. Momen's "Early Relations Between Christian Missionaries and the Bábí and Bahá'í Communities," in Studies in Bábí and Bahá'í History, volume 1, addresses the reaction of Christian contemporaries to and their acceptance of the Bab.
The fullest studies of the relation between the Báb's thought and his Shaykhí background are the doctoral dissertations of Denis MacEoin, From Shaykhism to Babism: A Study in Charismatic Renewal in Shí'i Islam, and Vahid Rafati, The Development of Shaykhi Thought in Shi'i Islam, especially chapters 6 and 7. A shortened version of the latter has been published under the same title in Heshmat Moayyad, ed., The Bahá'í Faith and Islam. MacEoin's "Early Shaykhí Reactions to the Báb and His Claims," in Moojan Momen, Studies in Bábí and Bahá'í History, volume 1, discusses the degree to which the Báb's Shaykhí contemporaries did and did not accept his claims. Todd Lawson's "Interpretation as Revelation: the Qur'án Commentary of the Báb" in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 2.4 (1989-1990), an abridgment of portions of his doctoral dissertation, The Qur'án Commentary of Sayyid 'Alí Muhammad Shírází, the Báb, discusses the early thought of the Báb and also serves to locate it somewhat in its Shaykhí background.
For a listing of original and secondary works about the Báb, his writings, and his community, in English, Persian, Arabic, French, Russian, and other languages, Moojan Momen's The Bábí and Bahá'í Religions: Some Contemporary Western Accounts has an excellent bibliography.
¶6.3. The Bábí Community
The best effort to examine the Bábí movement from the point of view of sociology, anthropology, and critical historical study, is Amanat's Resurrection and Renewal, particularly chapters 6, 7, and 8. A sociological study of the resources available to the Bábí movement is presented in Peter Smith's "The Bábí Movement: A Resource Mobilization Perspective," in Peter Smith, In Iran, Studies in Bábí and Bahá'í History, volume 3. The doctoral dissertations of Denis MacEoin, From Shaykhism to Babism: A Study in Charismatic Renewal in Shí'i Islam, and Vahid Rafati, The Development of Shaykhi Thought in Shi'i Islam, are fairly useful for understanding the forces that helped shape Babism. Moojan Momen's "Early Relations Between Christian Missionaries and the Bábí and Bahá'í Communities," in Moojan Momen, Studies in Bábí and Bahá'í History, volume 1, provides some information on the Western reactions to the Bábí movement. This work has been expanded in Moojan Momen, The Bábí and Bahá'í Religions, 1844-1944: Some Contemporary Western Accounts. The latter has an extensive and excellent bibliography of recent as well as classic studies on Babism. MacEoin's The Sources for Early Bábí Doctrine and History contains a detailed section describing all known manuscripts by the Báb's followers and their contents; another section gives all histories of the Bábí movement. His "Divisions and Authority Claims in Babism (1850-1866)," in Studia Iranica 18:1 (1989) explores some of the political dynamics of the early community.
¶7. Background of the Bahá'í Faith: Islam, Shaykhism, and Iran
Bahá'ís often describe the relationship between Islam and the Bahá'í Faith as being analogous to that between Judaism and Christianity. This is, to a large extent, a useful analogy. The thought of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh is of course in dialogue with their cultural and religious milieu. Though their social teachings were revolutionary, both expressed theologies that very much reflected Islamic thought. Both held Muhammad and the Qur'án in the highest regard and quoted from Qur'án and hadíth extensively. 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, however, utilize cultural and literary frameworks other than Islam in their writings--particularly the West--and thus present a Bahá'í religion that is less Islamic in language and approach.
James Heggie's Bahá'í References to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is a comprehensive resource of primary source references to Islam. Lights of Guidance, 494-8, has a variety of notes on Muhammad and Islam.
Ferraby, 21, 46-47 Huddleston, 23-4, 173-8 Hatcher and Martin, 1-5
Many areas of Bahá'í scholarship--such as, for example, applied social change--would not necessarily require an examination of Islam. However, most scholars feel that in order to understand the rise of the Bábí and Bahá'í Faiths, it is extremely important to be familiar with Islamic thought and especially the social, religious, political, and cultural context of nineteenth-century Iran. Perhaps with this consideration in mind, Bahá'í academics have done more scholarship on Islam than on any other religion save the Bábí movement. (Apologetic "teaching" material in North America and Europe, however, addresses Christian themes more than Islamic ones.)
¶7.1. Background: Islam and Shí'ism
Shí'ism split off from mainstream (later "Sunní") Islam over the issue of successorship to Muhammad, the Shí''is believing that Muhammad had during his lifetime appointed his son-in-law 'Alí to lead the community following his death, and the Sunnís holding that leadership fell to the community as a whole and its elected leaders. Shí'ism, as a separate branch of Islam, developed some distinguishing characteristics such as political quietism, esoteric spirituality, authoritative spiritual guidance and hierarchy, a highly-developed eschatology, and, with the advent of the Persian Safavid dynasty in the sixteenth-century, a strongly Iranian flavor. These and other unique qualities are reflected to a high degree in the Bábí and Bahá'í religions, such that a study of Shí'ism can be considered just as crucial for an understanding of the Bahá'í Faith as Islam as a whole.
Bahá'u'lláh's Kitáb-i-Íqán (Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 63-155) is an extended commentary of Shí'í and, to a lesser extent, Christian theology, a reading of which can provide much insight of Bahá'u'lláh's interpretations of Qur'ánic symbolism.
Hatcher and Martin, 1-6, 20-4 Smith 1987, 5-8 Huddleston, 23-4 Smith 1996, 13-17 Momen, 115
Surprisingly little has yet been written on the Bahá'í Faith's
Shi'i background. Moojan Momen's An Introduction to Shi'i Islam, one of
the best and by far the most detailed introductions to Shi'ism, includes a few
passing references to the state of the Faith in twentieth-century Iran. Denis
MacEoin's "Changes in Authority in Qajar Shi'ism," in Qajar Iran, edited
by Edmund Bosworth and Carole Hillenbrand, details the authority structures in
the environment into which Babism was born and the interactions and tensions
between them, and his "Divisions and Authority Claims in Babism (1850-1866),"
in Studia Iranica 18:1 (1989), carries the discussion further into
Babism. Jonah Winter's master's thesis Dying For God: Conceptions of
Martyrdom in the Shi'i, Babi, and Bahai Religions includes discussion of
some Shi'i theological symbolism and its transformation in the
Bábí and Bahá'í traditions.
Many introductory works and encyclopedia articles on Islam provide a useful introduction to the parent religion of the Bábí and Bahá'í Faiths. The fullest account of Islam written by a Bahá'í is H. M. Balyuzi's Muhammad and the Course of Islam, though Balyuzi makes no mention of the Bahá'í religion in the book. The relationship between the Bahá'í Faith and Islam has been examined in many works, the longest of which is the collection of eight articles in Heshmat Moayyad, ed., The Bahá'í Faith and Islam: Proceedings of Symposium, McGill University, March 1984. Juan Cole's "A Dialogue on the Bahá'í Faith," in World Order, 15.3/4 (Spring/Summer 1981) considers the impact of Bahá'í teachings on late nineteenth-century Islamic reformers. William Collins' "Islam's Tahríf: Implications for the Bahá'í Faith," in World Order, 11.1 (Fall 1976) considers the Muslim understanding of the quranic term tahríf ("corruption" of the text) and Bahá'u'lláh's reinterpretation of the term. Denis MacEoin's "The Concept of the Nation in Islam," in World Order, 10.4 (Summer 1976) considers the Bahá'í interpretation of the concept of nation, especially as it was understood in Islam. Christopher Buck's Symbol and Secret: Qur'án Commentary in Bahá'u'lláh's Kitáb-i-Íqán: Studies in the Bábí and Bahá'í Religions, volume 7, discusses in depth Bahá'u'lláh's interpretations of much of Islamic symbolism. Moojan Momen addresses another aspect of dialogue, that of mutual influence, in his "The Bahá'í Influence on the Reform Movements of the Islamic World in the 1860's and 1870's," in Bahá'í Studies Bulletin, 2.2 (Sept. 1983).
¶7.2. Background: Nineteenth-Century Iran and Shaykhism
A great number of Shaykhís accepted the Báb's claims, and the vitality of the movement, in large part, was absorbed by Babism. Bahá'ís were quick to interpret Shaykhism as a divinely-inspired precursor to the Báb.
The narrative of Nabíl-i-Zarandí, the Dawn-Breakers, discusses the Shaykhí background of the Bábí movement in depth.
Ferraby, 185-86 Smith 1987, 8-13, 17-8, 35, 42, 45 Hatcher and Martin, 6 Smith 1996, 17-8, 22-6, 32, 40 Huddleston, 173-77
No extended academic work has yet been devoted to placing the Bábí and Bahá'í religions in their Iranian context, but some short studies are very useful. Two articles published in The International Journal of Middle East Studies, Juan Cole's "Iranian millenarianism and democratic thought in the 19th century" in 24 (Feb. 1992) and Moojan Momen's "Social basis of the Babi upheavals in Iran (1848-53): a preliminary analysis" in 15 (May 1983) each offer a fairly in-depth examination of the sociological influences of the Bábí movement. The longest survey of the period is Mangol Bayat's Mysticism and Dissent: socioreligious thought in Qajar Iran, which offers two full chapters on Shaykhism and one on Babism. Juan R. Cole's "Iranian Millenarianism and Democratic Thought in the 19th Century," published in The International Journal of Middle East Studies, 24 (1992): 1-26, provides excellent context for the thought and writings of Bahá'u'lláh.
Denis MacEoin's "Orthodoxy and heterodoxy in nineteenth-century Shí'ism: the cases of Shaykhism and Babism," in Journal of the American Oriental Society, 110 (April/June 1990) discusses the influences of the Bábí movement from a theological perspective. The single best work designed to provide Iranian and Shaykhí context is Abbas Amanat's Resurrection and Renewal: The Making of the Bábí Movement in Iran, 1844-1850, especially part one, "Historical Background," 33-105. Peter Smith, Bábí and Bahá'í Religions, 5-13, provides an excellent summary of the context. A useful article on a related subject is Denis MacEoin's "Early Shaykhí Reactions to the Báb and his Claims," in Moojan Momen, Studies in Bábí and Bahá'í History, volume 1, a partial abridgment of his doctoral dissertation From Shaykhism to Babism: A Study in Charismatic Renewal in Shí'i Islam. Vahid Rafati's doctoral dissertation examines Shaykhí thought, especially as it relates to Babism, and thus is a valuable source of background. Rafati summarizes aspects of his dissertation an article of the same title, "The Development of Shaykhí Thought in Shí'í Islam," in The Bahá'í Faith and Islam. Momen briefly discusses the Shaykhí school in An Introduction to Shí'í Islam, pages 225-31.