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COLLECTIONPublished articles
TITLETrial of the Báb: Shi'ite Orthodoxy Confronts its Mirror Image
AUTHOR 1Denis MacEoin
TITLE_PARENTStudies in Honor of Clifford Edmund Bosworth 2: The Sultan's Turret
ABSTRACTOverview of, and documents preserved from, the Bab's 1848 trial for heresy against Islam.
NOTES This article was published here in May 1997, and later in Studies in Honor of Clifford Edmund Bosworth. The republished version is online in Google Books.
TAGS- Báb, The; Báb, Trial of; Iran (documents); Tabríz, Iran
This study includes four appendices, which are here posted as separate historical documents:
  1. Table of the questions and statements made during the interrogation of the Bab
  2. Table of the answers the Bab gave to these questions and their sources
  3. Account of the trial given by Mulla Muhammad Mamaqani
  4. Account of the trial given by 'Alim-i Hashtrud

Trials of religious heretics have always assumed a central importance in religious history, and have frequently been the subject of close scrutiny in the modern period. The trials of Jesus Christ,[1] al-Hallaj,[2] Galileo,[3] Giordano Bruno,[4] Joan of Arc,[5] Michael Servetus,[6] and others have drawn the attention of scholars for a wide variety of reasons. More broadly, and for similar reasons, we have seen studies of the Inquisition,[7] witchcraft trials (often linked to the inquisition),[8] the Albigensians,[9] the persecution of heresy in general,[10] and, for the modern West, the Scopes 'Monkey trial',[11] and the activities of anti-cult organizations and 'de-programmers'.[12] The treatment of heretics, both religious and secular,[13] is central to the self-identification of all orthodoxies, and to study how any given establishment seeks to define and control heresy is a crucial task for the understanding of any dominant belief system. The heresy trial is clearly the showpiece within which self-definition takes place, the moment when orthodoxy maps out the perimeters of belief and unbelief, and for this reason the content of actual trials is of immense importance, not just at the theological level, but also at the social and political.[14]

In the modern period, Islamic heresy trials have achieved a large degree of notoriety in the Western media, the best known being the semi-formal condemnation and demonization of Salman Rushdie. Other widely-reported cases include the trials in Bangladesh of the writer Taslima Nasreen, in Egypt of the writer 'Ala Hamid and others, and in Saudi Arabia of the surviving participants in the 1979 seizure of the Great Mosque in Mecca. Less publicized in the West have been numerous trials or fatwas concerning Ahmadis and Bahá'ís.[15]

Even if the modern period has seen more than its fair share of such trials, they have not been uncommon in the past. The takfir formula has been used repeatedly by both Sunni and Shi'i 'ulama to condemn those -- very often Sufis -- whose beliefs or actions were deemed injurious to the shari'a.

Surprisingly, however, there are not many cases of heresiarchs being formally arraigned before tribunals, whether religious or civil (or both combined). Though condemned by fatwa and sermon, almost none of the major leaders of heretical or semi-heretical movements in modern Islam -- Muhammad Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab, Ahmad al-Tijani, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani, Muhammad Ahmad al-Sayyid 'Abd Allah the Sudanese Mahdi, Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i, and Mirza Husayn 'Ali Baha' Allah -- was publicly tried on account of what they had personally written or preached.[16]

The Trial of Sayyid 'Ali Muhammad Shirazi

In general, the condemnation of heresy has tended to remain an informal matter, dependent very much on the whims of individual 'ulama. There are, however, two important exceptions to this, both of them related. In January 1845, Mulla 'Ali Bastamim, one of the first converts to Babism, and the sect's first exponent in Iraq, was tried before a combined panel of Sunni and Shi'i 'ulama, whose verdict was issued in an unusual fatwa signed by clerics of both communities. This fatwa and the circumstances surrounding Bastami's trial have been well studied by Momen and Amanat.[17]

A few years later, in Sha'ban 1264/July 1848,[18] the Bab himself (Sayyid 'Ali Muhammad Shirazi) was brought before a consistory (variously described as a majlis, majlis-i muhavarat, majlis-i khass-i vali-'ahd, majlis-i guftugu, jalasa-yi guft u shunud, munazara, mahzar, hay'at, and majma', but seldom as mahkama, bar-rasi, etc.)[19] of 'ulama and state officials, presided over by the Crown Prince, Nasir al-Din Mirza.[20] The tribunal was held in the provincial capital Tabriz, then the seat of the heir to the throne. Most sources indicate that the gathering was held on the direct instructions of Muhammad Shah.[21] In its course, the Bab was questioned and given the opportunity to reply and, if he wished, recant. A fatwa condemning him was written by two 'ulama, Abu 'l-Qasim al-Hasani al-Husayni and 'Ali Asghar al-Hasani al-Husayni, two leading Shaykhi 'ulama of the city.22 A separate report of the trial, described by some authors[23] as having been penned by Nasir al-Din Mirza, but in the text ascribed to his uncle, Amir Aslan Khan, was written and almost certainly sent to the king, Muhammad Shah.[24] We also possess a document, supposedly written shortly after this arraignment, and apparently in the Bab's handwriting, in which the young prophet recants any claim to a divine mission.[25]

Two days later, the Bab was bastinadoed in the presence of the Shaykh al-Islam. It was after this that he was treated for his wounds by the British doctor, William Cormick, who left a brief account of their meetings over a few days.[26]

Although the fatwa recommended the sentence of death (unless the Bab could be found to be mad), the prisoner was returned to prison in Chihriq, where he remained for almost exactly two years. In July 1850, he was again brought to Tabriz, briefly re-examined by individual 'ulama, and executed.

The 1848 trial is important, not least because it was conducted by a court which included, not only regionally-prominent clergy, but also nationally-eminent men of state, and presided over by the future king. The event, though short in duration, was clearly accorded more than ordinary significance, for reasons that are obvious, given the very real threat to public order posed by the Bab's growing popularity.

The Sources

The problem for the historian is how to disentangle the numerous contradictory accounts of the trial itself. There are about nine of these, although several may originate in a single, earlier source. Six are by Muslim writers: Rida Quli Khan Hidayat's Rawdat al-safa-yi Nasiri;27 Lisan al-Mulk Sipihr's Nasikh al-tawarikh;28 'Ali Quli Khan I'tidad al-Saltana's al-Mutanabbi'in;29 Mirza Mahdi Khan Za'im al-Dawla's Miftah bab al-abwab; Mirza Muhammad Taqi Mamaqani's Namus-i Nasiri; and the above-mentioned report of Amir Aslan Khan. The other three are the work of Babi or Bahá'í historians: Mulla Muhammad Taqi Hashtrudi's Abwab al-huda, quoted in the much later historical narrative of Mu'in al-Saltana Tabrizi; Mirza Muhammad Nabil Zarandi's narrative;[30] and Mirza Jani Kashani's Nuqtat al-Kaf.31

Browne, Amanat, and others have treated Mirza Muhammad Tunakabuni's Qisas al-'ulama' as a separate source, but I prefer not to do so, on the grounds that it is almost a verbatim (but unattributed) transcription of the text in Rawdat al-safa. Either Tunukabuni copied his account directly from Hidayat or also made us of the report by Nizam al-'Ulama. In either case, he provides no significant variants.

Most commentators have remarked on the noticeable differences between these texts, drawing the conclusion that it is hard to place much reliance on any of them. Certainly, we possess no single account which commands our unreserved respect. But that is not to say that something useful cannot be done to reconstruct some of the main feature's of the trial and from there to analyse the chief concerns of those involved. If there are striking differences between the narratives, there are also significant resemblances, some substantial, some trivial, and it seems likely that the surviving accounts reflect with varying degrees of distortion the general content of the questions and (much less dependably) the Bab's answers to them.

The relationship between the Muslim accounts can be roughly estimated on the basis of their chronological order. The earliest must, by any reckoning, be Amir Aslan Khan's 'official report', probably written to Muhammad Shah soon after the trial, and certainly before the king's death on 6 Shawwal/4 September.

Mamaqani[32 ]refers to an account of the trial in the hand of Haji Mulla Mahmud Tabrizi, Nizam al-'Ulama, the crown prince's tutor, and the leading cleric present at the trial, whose questions form the bulk of the inquisitorial text in most versions. Rida Quli Khan states that his version of the trial is a direct transcript from Nizam al-'Ulama's autograph,[33] It is possible that, in terms of content, this account also formed the basis for the versions in Nasikh al-tawarikh, al-Mutanabbi'in, and the Qisas al-'Ulama . It is, however, more likely that the Nasikh al-tawarikh account is built around that of the Rawdat al-safa,[34] and that both the al-Mutanabbi'in and Qisas al-'ulama narratives are lifted straight from it.

Mamaqani's account was written for Nasir al-Din Shah in Ramadan-Shawwal 1306/June-July 1889, and is described by the author as a corrective to the versions given in the Nasikh al-tawarikh and Rawdat al-safa. For all that, there are numerous parallels between the three accounts. Mamaqani argues that Nizam al-'Ulama's account was written when the author was getting on in years and growing forgetful, and that his own account, based on hs father's eye-witness rendition, is a much closer approximation to the truth. His father, Mulla Muhammad Mamaqani[35] took a leading part in the trial and was later one of the 'ulama who signed fatwas for the Bab's execution in 1850.

I'tidad al-Saltana's history of the Babi insurrections, which forms part of a longer work entitled al-Mutanabbi'in, is rather odd. Most of it constitutes a verbatim re-write, either of the Rawdat al-safa or the account by Nizam al-'Ulama, but at one point the text breaks off, leaving out material which is introduced in very different form before the quoted material begins (and without any indication of what comes from where). One very odd thing about this is that, where Hidayat clearly attributes the quotation of a verse to Nasir al-Din Mirza, I'tidad al-Saltana (who has been following that account very closely to this point) only says it was spoken by 'one of those present'. Quite what one is to make of this jumble is not yet clear. Did I'tidad al-Saltana have a different source, or did something just go wrong with his transcription?

Mirza Mahdi Khan Za'im al-Dawla published his book on the Babis and Bahá'ís in Cairo in 1321/1903-4, which makes it by far the latest of the Muslim accounts. Its claim to accuracy rests on the fact that the author's father, Mirza Taqi Tabrizi, and grandfather, Muhammad Ja'far, were both present at the trial and supplied him with details of it. It does, however, have numerous exact parallels with and some verbal resemblances[36] to the Rawdat al-Safa and Nasikh al-tawarikh, and it is hard to believe that Za'im al-Dawla did not make use of them.

The Babi/Bahá'í accounts are much less detailed, although that of Hashtrudi lays claim to some degree of first-handedness, and does contain small details that suggest the presence of an eye-witness. It is, for example, the only account to note that lamps were lit and tea served mid-way through the proceedings. I have not been able to establish a date for the writing of the Abwab al-huda (which apparently is no longer extant); but Mu'in al-Saltana's history, which quotes from it, was completed around 1340/1921-22.[37]

The Nuqtat al-Kaf is a much earlier text, possibly written in the early 1850s in Baghdad,[38] but it has no particular claim to authenticity in respect of the trial. There are, however, enough similarities between it and other reports to suggest, if not a common source, a reliable informant. Kashani's account has enough parallels to the main Muslim reports that it seems likely he had access to one of these. If not, his description of the trial provides strong corroboration for many of the details found in those texts.

The brief account in Zarandi's narrative has fewer resemblances to other descriptions of the trial, but is recorded as being based on the evidence of Shaykh Hasan Zunuzi, who was one of a number of people outside the hall where the arraignment was held, but who claimed that he could follow the conversation inside. This, again, is a late composition, having been written between 1888 and 1890.

Taking all these texts together, it is difficult (and intriguing) to see that no simple pattern of plagiarism emerges. Some texts are very closely linked, but in other cases questions and statements occur in different places with no discernible system (as will be demonstrated below). In many ways this is encouraging to the historian, since it suggests a definite core of information which has managed to survive in spite of the forgetfullness or bias of any one source or group of sources. It will require a lot of work to piece the jigsaw together properly, but the following attempt provides a starting-point.

The Questions

A proper attempt to restructure the trial is beyond the resources of this article, and should await the publication of the complete texts of all the accounts, along with translations. In the meantime, it will be worth trying to tabulate the main themes pursued in the interrogation and how far these occur in the different versions. The attached tables show the occurrence of quesions and answers across the sources. Since we are obviously dealing with attempts to reconstruct statements from memory, in some cases long after the event, I have created simplified versions of questions and answers that cover as many different wordings as seems justifiable. In some cases it might have made sense to conflate even more: for example, it seems clear that at some point the Bab said he would 'reveal a verse' concerning his staff, or that he responded to a request to do so: our variants might very well be subsumed into a single heading 'recites verses concerning his staff'. The same is true for several other entries.

In order to give a more coherent sense of the proceedings, however, also I append a translation of Mamaqani's account in the Namus-i Nasiri, which can be read in conjunction with the versions given by Browne.

Of the sixty-two questions listed, eighteen occur in only one source, fifteen in two, eight in three, five in four, thirteen in five, and three in six. Of the thirty-five answers (omitting numerous citations of 'yes' and 'he did not answer'), ten occur in one source, eight in two, six in three, three in four, two in five, five in six, and one -- quite outstandingly -- in all nine.

Mere numerical frequency is a poor indicator of reliability, bearing in mind the interdependence of the five main Muslim sources, which together account for the bulk of all the information we possess. The really interesting questions and answers are those which occur across unlikely combinations, particularly, of course, Babi and Muslim accounts.

One of the most significant of these is question number one, 'Are these your writings?', which occurs in all the Muslim texts and also in the Nuqtat al-kaf. It seems immediately apparent from this and from other references to writings of the Bab shown or referred to in the course of the hearing, that the tribunal had not been hastily assembled, and that some effort had been made to assemble writings of the heresiarch and to use them as the basis for some of the questioning. The Rawdat al-safa indicates that Nizam al-'Ulama showed these documents to the Bab and asked him to admit to their authorship.

Further evidence that works of the Bab were referred to occurs in a number of passages in which questions are framed around pericopes selected for their heretical content. These questions are mostly put to the Bab by Haji Murtada-Quli Marandi 'Alam al-Huda, a wealthy mujtahid who seems to have taken the trouble to study some of the texts in question. With two exceptions, these questions (numbers 20, 22, 23, 26, 27, 34, 36, 37) occur in one source only, the Namus-i Nasiri; but precisely because they can in theory be cross-checked against known writings of the Bab,[39] they are more open to external authentication than most of the trial material.

Three of the questions (26, 34 and 36) have definite analogues in the Bab's writings. The first, which quotes the Bab as saying 'The first to believe in me (awwal man amana bi) was Muhammad ibn 'Abd Allah' (or 'The first to believe in me was the Light of Muhammad, and 'Ali'), which parallels a couple of passages in late letters of the Bab.[40] The second is put by 'Alam al-Huda as follows: 'In your book you have said that you dreamed that they had killed the Prince of Martyrs (Husayn), and that you drank a few drops of his blood and that the gates of heavenly grace were thereupon opened to you.' This is close to a statement in the early Sahifa-yi 'adliyya,[41] where the Bab decsribes a vision of the head of Husayn and his drinking seven drops of blood from it, and that, as a result, his breast was filled with 'convincing verses and mighty prayers'.

The third asserts that 'In your book, you have said that if jinn and men were to assemble together, they could not produce the like of half a word from your book.' This is close, in spirit, if not precisely in wording, to two pericopes from the Qayyum al-asma': 'O assembly of jinn and men. If you are able, bring forth a book like this'[42] and 'O people of the earth. Even if you were to gather together to produce a word like a single word of my knowledge, you would be unable to do so.'[43]

I am less sure about the authenticity of another pericope cited by 'Alam al-Huda, who states that, in his 'Qur'an', the Bab had indicated that one-third of any booty was to be given to 'the Remembrance' (i.e. the Bab). It should be relatively easy to find such a statement. The reference to 'the Remembrance' (al-Dhikr) would date this as coming from an early work of the Bab's, while the description of the book as the Bab's 'Qur'an' makes it tempting to identify it as a passage from the Qayyum al-asma', the prophet's first major work, which is described in its own text as 'this Qur'an',[44]was referred to at the trial of Mulla 'Ali Bastami in the same terms.[45] The temptation is greater because the Qayyum al-asma' is the main source for the Bab's thoughts about jihad in the earliest period;[46] but there really does not seem to be a verse alluding to the division of booty anywhere there or, as far as I know, in other early works. References to booty in later works such as the Persian Bayan are quite different.

Another passage that has a strong air of authenticity is one in which Nasir al-Din Mirza confronts the Bab with a sphere of the heavens and asks him to explain the circles and figures on it, which the Bab says he is unable or unwilling to do. It occurs in the Namus-i Nasiri and two Babi texts, the Nuqtat al-kaf and Abwab al-huda, an unlikely conjunction. Its presence in the Namus is compelling, in that the work was submitted to Nasir al-Din Shah in person. One must assume that Mamaqani would not have risked fabricating an incident that the king could so easily have said never happened. But quite why the other sources omit such a vivid sequence is hard to explain.

The Answers

As noted above, one of the Bab's answers (number 6: 'I am that person you have been awaiting for one thousand years') occurs in some form in all nine sources, and I think we must conclude that it is the most authentic statement recorded from the trial. It seems highly plausible that he should have made such an egregious claim at this point. In 1263/1847, while in prison in Maku, the Bab had made an open claim to Mahdihood, a claim which he was now developing in his writings while in Chihriq.[47]

There are three other passages which have analogues in the Bab's writings, although (with two exceptions) they occur in a form which does not imply quotation. One ('question' 5) occurs in two sources, in the first as a question ( 'In these books of yours, have you not called yourself the Tree of Sinai [shajara-yi Tur]?'[48], in the second as a statement ('What you mean when you say "My words are from God" is that your tongue is like the Tree on Sinai').[49] In our other sources (see answer 4), the Bab himself states that his writings are 'like the revelation of words from the Tree on Sinai'. Question 61 is put by Mamaqani: 'You have said in your books that the light that shone on Moses out of the Burning Bush was your light: is that correct?' Answer 35 attributes the statement directly to the Bab. The Qayyum al-asma' contains several short passages which parallel this, and which may have been the basis for the questions.[50]

Passing from the terse to the prolix, we can be reasonably sure that the passage cited by Hashtrudi, listing grammatical inaccuracies in the text of the Qur'an, apart from being off the mark more than once, is highly unlikely to be genuine. The likelihood of the Bab being allowed to expatiate on the grammatical inadequacies of holy writ is very small indeed.

In four sources, the Bab claims to be able to write 1000 (or 2000, or 10000) verses in a single day. A similar claim appears in several passages of the Bab's writings,[51] and several histories give details of incidents when a public demonstration was made of the prophet's ability to reveal verses of speed, which, it is said, had the effect of convincing onlookers of his divine power.[52] In fact, this is exactly what several sources say happened during the trial, and there is every reason to regard those descriptions as broadly accurate, certainly in respect of the Bab's own insistence on providing proof of his claims by these means.

In general, however, the Bab's answers are much more difficult to evaluate than the questions attributed to his accusers. Not unsurprisingly, the Muslim accounts do not portray the villain of their piece in a very favourable light. But so unintelligent are the answers they do attribute to him that it is very hard to believe he was ever capable of making a favourable impression on anyone, let alone the many 'ulama who became his followers.

This is particularly noticeable in the jibes directed at the young prophet's Arabic. No-one who has read his books and letters in that language will deny that the Bab's Arabic was idiosyncratic; nonetheless, they are very far from being the products of someone who could not decline qala (or even says 'qala? What qala?') or vocalizes al-samawati as al-samawata. The Bab had a relatively sophisticated grasp of Arabic, and it is hard to imagine him mumbling and stumbling his way through a series of easy questions on grammar.

But it is equally easy to see that we are, in fact, witnessing the acting-out of a sort of unrehearsed play, or the playing of an elaborate game. The Bab's behaviour, even as reported by the hostile accounts, may have been deliberately designed to convey a range of symbolic meanings. Here, for example, is someone claiming to be the Mahdi, yet his opponents insist on his declining Arabic verbs or answering questions about veterinary medicine. A dignified silence, or perhaps a statement to the effect that he had studied some grammar as a child but since forgotten it might well be seen as responses designed to point up the inappropriateness of the line of questioning being taken. And we should not forget that the Bab himself, taking his cue from popular notions of the Prophet Muhammad's illiteracy, made a point of saying he was a merchant by training, not a divine.[53] Hence the difficulty of interpreting almost anything the Bab is reported to have said and done during this session.

Finally, it is worth remarking on the presence of several incidental features that lend some of the narratives a degree of credibility just by being there. Hashtrudi's references to the time of day, the lighting of lamps and candles, and the serving of tea and qalyans all suggest an eye-witness account, even if the bulk of his narrative is sparse. Zarandi's description of the throng gathered outside the assembly hall and the statement that they remained there, listening through the doors again has the smell of first-hand knowledge on the part of his informant, Shaykh 'Ali Zunuzi. Similarly, more than one source (and, tellingly, his son's in particular) refers to Mulla Muhammad Mamaqani growing angry at repeated intervals. By contrast, Nizam al-'Ulama is reputed to have possessed a sense of humour, and this comes through in more than one remark attributed to him. Small details like these may tell us very little in themselves, but they do tend to suggest genuine knowledge of what went on during the trial.

In one instance, however, there is a serious discrepancy between our sources. According to some (Rawdat al-safa, Miftah), the Bab was placed in a place of honour near the Wali-'Ahd; Mamaqani says he was placed to one side; two Babi accounts (Hashtrudi and the Nuqtat al-kaf) say he was not offered a seat and had to sit in a corner; and the other Babi source (Zarandi) says he actually took the seat that had been reserved for the Crown Prince.


There is no space here for a full analysis of the trial and its wider significance. Amanat's account is perceptive, drawing particular attention to the conflicting aims of the government (who wanted to humiliate the Bab, but to avoid a death sentence that might have aroused resentment among the populace at a time when the prophet was enjoying considerable popularity) and the 'ulama (many of whom wanted to put the apostate to death).

The affair is undeniably peculiar. Although the questioning is conducted in the main by 'ulama, state officials are not only present, but take part in the interrogation. Most of the city's 'ulama are absent, leaving the questioning almost wholly in the hands of Shaykhis such as Nizam al-'Ulama and Mamaqani. A fatwa for the Bab's death (subject to his being found sane) is issued after the event by two 'ulama (Shaykh 'Ali Asghar Shaykh al-Islam and Shaykh Abu 'l-Qasim) who were not present at the trial. That is outmanoeuvred by presenting the Bab to Dr. William Cormick, a British physician, who naturally complies with a letter recommending clemency.

The questioning itself has an almost Weberian quality (Lloyd, not Max). The innocent prophet, assailed by the forces of church and state, faced with a barrage of at times ridiculous questions which have little or no bearing on his claims, offers an almost classic contrast to his sarcastic, pedantic, irritable interlocutors. One senses almost that the 'ulama fell into an avoidable trap. A modern PR agent would have torn his hair out in despair.

But perhaps that is too facile a reading of events. Granted that human nature butts its head in repeatedly, there is still plenty of evidence that the basic line of questioning had been pre-meditated and adhered to with some degree of rigour. We have to remember that the Shi'i 'ulama (and this includes the Shaykhis, particularly those of A~dharbayjan, as much as the regular Usulis) during this period were consolidating their authority within the developing Qajar state.[54] That authority was, as much as anything, built on the claim of the 'ulama to superior learning, particularly in areas like fiqh; but it also rested increasingly on the routinized charisma of senior mujtahids and, above all, maraji' al-taqlid.55 As the 19th century progressed, there was a growing tendency to focus the charismatic pole of religious authority within an increasingly tiny number of individuals or a single individual.

The problem with charismatic authority is, of course, its instability. The Usuli establishment had already fought off a major challenge in the form of revived Ni'mat Allahi Sufism in the late 18th century and (ironically, given the allegiance of the Bab's accusers) Shaykhism in the 1830s and early 1840s. Other challenges of a less pressing nature hovered about on the periphery of religious life,[56] but none had the same resonance as Babism, which demonstrated an ability to attract not only the masses, but also substantial numbers of 'ulama.

At the heart of the original Babi summons to repentance and expectation of the millennium lay an insistence on the superiority of intuition over learning, the heart over the mind, the divinely aroused over the book-laden. It was hardly an original theme, but it is certainly marked in the accounts of the Bab's trial. By parading their knowledge of grammar, jurisprudence, astronomy, mathematics, and all the rest before the representatives of the state, the 'ulama were not only trying to face down the Bab, but to stake their claim to whole areas of public life.

The real implications of what was going on here can best be seen in the development of Babism after about 1850, when the Bab was executed in Tabriz. Prior to that date, with the exception of the Bab himself, leadership of the movement lay exclusively in the hands of young 'ulama like Mulla Husayn Bushru'i and Muhammad 'Ali Barfurushi. After the virtual eradication of that leadership in the Babi-state struggles of 1848-50, a new cadre emerged from among the lay following. Both Azali and Bahá'í Babism produced inspired claimants to divine authority, and an entirely fresh interpretation of the criteria for hierarchy.[57]

The trial of the Bab may, therefore, be seen as something of a watershed, a moment when the representatives of knowledge-based hierarchy confronted the representative of what was coming. This was, in many ways, precisely what the clergy had awaited for over one thousand years: an unlearned man capable of subverting the very basis of their authority. Azali Babism produced secular reformers like Aqa Khan Kirmani and Shaykh Ahmad Ruhi. Not quite what the Bab had in mind, perhaps, but part of the vanguard of an army of educated challengers who came close to sweeping the old hierarchy away entirely.


    [1] The literature on this subject is, not surprisingly, large. The following should be noted: E. Bammel (ed.), The Trial of Jesus: Cambridge Studies in Honour of C. F. D. Moule, London, 1970; J. Blinzler, Der Prozess Jesu, rev. ed., 1969 (Eng. trans. of 1st. ed. as The Trial of Jesus, Cork, 1959)S.G. F. Brandon, The Trial of Jesus of Nazareth, London, 1968; T. A. Burkill, 'The Trial of Jesus', Vigiliae Christianae, XII (1958); S. Buss, The Trial of Jesus, Ilustrated from Talmud and Roman Law, 1906; D. Catchpole, The Trial of Jesus: a study in the Gospels and Jewish historiography from 1770 to the present day, Leiden, 1971; J. Carmichael, The Death of Jesus, London, 1962; H. Cohn, The Trial and Death of Jesus, New York, 1967; J. Duncan Derrett, An Oriental Lawyer Looks at the Trial of Jesus and the Doctrine of Redemption, London, 1966; G. Di Miscio, Il Processo di Cristo, Milan, 1967; J. Isorin, Le vrai proces de Jeåsus, Paris, 1967; K. Kartelge (ed.), Der Prozess gegen Jesus: Historische Ru[[dieresis]]ckfrage und theologische Deutung, Freiberg, 1989; G. D. Kilpatrick, The Trial of Jesus, London, 1953; J. Knowlton, The Trial of Jesus: A Study in Jewish Jurisprudence, Washington, D.C., 1900; W. Koch (ed.), Zum Prozess Jesu, Weiden, 1967; H. Lietzmann, Der Prozess Jesu, repr. in Kleine Schriften II: Studien zum Neuen Testament, Berlin, 1958, pp. 251-63; C. Nordi, Il processo di Gesu, re dei Guidei, Bari, 1966; H. Rimmer, Outlines for Study in the Trial and Death of Jesus, Los Angeles, 1928; G. Rosadi, The Trial of Jesus, 3rd. ed., 1905; J. Stalker, The Trial and Death of jesus Christ, 1897; A. Strobel, Die Stunde der Wahrheit: Untersuchungen zum Strafverfahren gegen Jesus, Tu[[dieresis]]bingen, 1980; P. Winter, On the Trial of Jesus, Berlin, 1961;

    [2] See Louis Massignon, La Passion de Husayn Ibn Mansur Hallaj: martyre mystique de l'Islam executeå a Baghdad le 26 mars 922: eåtude d'histoire religieuse, 2 vols., Paris, 1922; new ed., Paris, 1975 (Eng. trans. by H. Mason as The Passion of al-Hallaj, Mystic and Martyr of Islam, 4 vols., Bollingen Series XCVIII, Princeton, 1982). The section covering the trials constitutes chapter VI of volume 1.

    [3] See R. Blackwell, Galileo, Bellarmine, and the Bible, Notre Dame, 1991; R. Feldhay, Galileo and the Chuirch: political inquisition or critical dialogue?, Cambridge, 1995; M. A. Finocchio (ed. and trans.), The Galileo Affair: A Documentary History, University of California Press, 1989; G. De Santillana, The crime of Galileo, New York, 1953; R. S. Westfall, Essays on the Trial of Galileo, Notre Dame, 1989; H. Vedrine, Censure et pouvoir: trois proces: Savonarole, Bruno, Galileåe, Paris, 1976;

    [4] See A. Mercati, Il sommario del processo di Giordano Bruno, con appendice di documenti sull' eresia e l'inquisizione a Modena nel secolo 16, Vatican City, 1942; G. Aquilecchia, Giordano Bruno, Rome, 1971; W. Boulting, Giordano Bruno: His Life, Thought and Martyrdom, London, 1914.

    [5] See The Trial of Joan of Arc: Being the Verbatim Report of the Proceedings from the Orleans Manuscript, Westport, Conn., 1956; L. Morice, Joan of Arc: a Recreation of her 1431 trial for treason, Lakeside, Ca., 1991; R. Pernoud, The retrial of Joan of Arc: the evidence at the trial for her rehabilitation, 1450-1456, London, 1955; W. S. Scott, The Trial of Joan of Arc, 1968; J. Quicherat, Proces de condamnation et de reåhabilitation de Jeanne d'Arc, New York, 1960; K. Sullivan, Inquiry and Inquisition in Late Medieval Culture: the Questioning of Joan of Arc and Christine de Pisan, Ph.D., University of California, 1993.

    [6] See R. H. Bainton, Hunted Heretic: The Life and Death of Michael Servetus, 1511-1553, Boston, 1953; J. Friedman, Michael Servetus: A Case Study in Total Heresy, Geneva, 1978.

    [7] See A. Dondaine, Les heåreåsies et l'Inquisition XIIe-XIIIe siecles: documents et eåtudes, London, 1990; C. T. Gorham, The Medieval Inquisition: A Study in Religious Persecution, London, 1918; B. Hamilton, The Medieval Inquisition, London, 1981; H. Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition, New York, 1956; G. Henningsen, Inquisition and Interdisciplinary History: Report from an International Symposium on the Medieval and Modern Inquisition, Copenhagen, 1979; H. C. Lea, The Inquisition of the Middle Ages: Its Organization and Operation, New York, 1900; W. Monter, Frontiers of Heresy: the Spanish Inquisition from the Basque Lands to Sicily, Cambridge, 1990; B. Netanyahu, The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain, New York, 1995; C. Roth, The Spanish Inquisition, 1964; R. Sabatini, Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition, rev. ed., Boston, 1930; Domenico Scandella known as Menocchio: His Trials before the Inquisition (1583-1599), Binghampton, N.Y., 1996; S. Seidel Manchi, Erasmus als Ketzer: Reformation und Inquisition im Italien des 16 Jahrhunderts, Leiden, New York, 1993; A. C. Shannon, The Medieval Inquisition, Washington, D.C., 1983; Symposium Internacional sobre la Inquisizion Espanola, The Spanish Inquisition and the Inquisitorial Mind, Boulder, Colo., 1987; J. Tedeschi, The Prosecution of Heresy: Collected Studies on the Inquisition in Early Modern Italy, Binghampton, NY, 1991; A. S. Turberville, Medieval Heresy and the Inquisition, London, 1920; W. C. Wakefield, Heresy, Crusade and Inquisition in Southern France 1100-1250, London, 1974.

    [8] See Association of Social Anthropologists of the Commonwealth, Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations, London & New York, 1970; H. Boguet, An Examen of Witvches Drawn from Various Trials of Many of this Sect in the District of Saint Oyen de Joux Commonly known as Sainte Claude in... Burgundy, trans. E. A. Ashwin, ed. M. Summers, [London], 1929; C. H. L. Ewen, Witch Hunting and Witch Trials: the Indictments for Witchcraft from the Records of 1373 assizes held for the Home Circuits AD 1559-1736, London, 1929; J. Hansen, Zauberwahn, Inquisition und Hexenprozess imm Mittelalter, und die Entstehung der grossen Hexenverfolgung, 1964; G. Henningsen, The Witches' Advocate: BAsque Witchcraft and the Spanish Inquisition, 1609-1614, 1980; R. Martin, Witchcraft and the Inquisition in Venice 1550-1650, Oxford, 1989;

    [9] See Z. Oldenbourg, Massacre at Montsegur: A History of the Albigensian Crusade, New York, 1961; J. R. Strayer, The Albigensian Crusades, Ann Arbor, 1971; B. Hamilton, The Albigensian Crusade, 1974; H. T. Warner, The Albigensian Heresy, London & New York, 2 vols., 1922;

    [10] See E. Peters, Heresy and Authority in Medieval Europe; London, 1980; N. P. Tanner (ed.), Heresy Trials in the Diocese of Norwich, 1428-31, London, 1977; R. Kieckhefer, Repression of Heresy in Medieval Germany, Ph. D., University of Texas at Austin, 1972.

    [11] See Monkey trial : the State of Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes, Boston, 1960; L. Sprague De Camp, The Great Monkey Trial, [New York], 1967; R. Halliburton, The Scopes "Monkey Trial" and its thirty-fifth anniversary celebration, [n. p.], 1964, Reprinted from the Proceedings of the Oklahoma Academy of Science, vol. 44, 1964; Marvin N. Olasky, When world views collide: journalists and the great monkey trial: paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (69th, Normou, OK, August 3-6, 1986), Alexandria, VA., 1986; Tom McGowen, The great monkey trial: science versus fundamentalism in America, New York, 1990; W.C. Bledsoe, 'Scopes "Monkey" trial', in Tennessee's role in U.S. constitutional development: a series of essays, Murfreesboro, TN, 1991; S. L. Harrison, The Scopes "monkey trial", revisited: Mencken and the editorial art of Edmund Duffy, [USA], 1993.

    [12] See A. D. Shupe Jr. and D. G. Bromley, The New Vigilantes: Deprogrammers, Anti-Cultists and the New Religions, Veverley Hills, London, 1980; T. Rabbino, Cults, Culture, and the Law, Chico, Ca., 1985; D. Bromley and J. Richardson (eds.), The Brainwashing/Deprogramming Controversy: Sociological, Psychological, Legal, and Historical Perspectives, New York, 1983; D. M. Kelley, 'Deprogramming and Religious Liberty', The Civil Liberties Review, July/August 1977, pp. 23-33; J. T. Biermans, The Odyssey of New Religious Movements: A Case Study of the Unification Church, Lewsiton, NY, 1986.

    [13] Though insufficiently studied, the definition of heresy within science (particularly medicine) is of immense importance. Thomas Kuhn's study of paradigm shifts (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd. ed., Chicago, 1970) and Harry Collins's work on replication (Changing Order: Replication and Induction in Scientific Practice, London, 1985 ) both indicate the broad context within which such studies can shed light on the creation and maintenance of scientific orthodoxy. Thomas Szasz's controversial but lucis studies of the links between psychiatry and the law are equally illuminating (Law, Liberty, and Psychiatry, London, 1974; The Therapeutic State, Buffalo, NY, 1984; The Manufacture of Madness: A Comparative Study of the Inquisition and the Mental Health Movement, New York, 1970). See also R. Wallis (ed.), On the Margins of Science: The Social Construction of Rejected Knowledge, Keele, 1979; R. Wallis and P. Morley (eds.) Marginal Medicine, London, 1976.

    [14] For an examination of the links between social normalization, punishment, tutelage, torture, and the political and social realms, see Darius M. Rejali, Ttorture and Modernity: Self, Society, and State in Modern Iran, Boulder, San Francisco, Oxford, Westview Press, 1994.

    [15] The Ahmadi/Qadiyani issue is mainly restricted to Pakistan, although `ulama and newspapers in other Muslim countries do issue condemnations from time to time. Trials of Bahá'ís in Iran are well known, but there have been several important judgements in cases throughout the Islamic world, including Morocco (1962), Egypt (1985), and even Turkey (1928, 1933). The literature on this subject is immense. I intend to publish a bibliography of Arabic and Persian material shortly.

    [16] There were some inquisitions of leaders of the Ni`mat Allahi Sufi revival in late eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century Iran (William Royce, 'Mir Ma'sum 'Ali Shah and the Ni'mat Allahi Revival 1776-77 to 1796-97', Ph. D., Princeton University, 1979, p. 173. We have details of the inquisition of Ma`sum `Ali Shah, but only in an anti-Sufi treatise by the alim who organized the trial and issued the death sentence, Mulla Muhammad `Ali Bihbihani (see ibid, p. 170, cited Bihbihani's Risala-yi Khayratiyya as cited in other works).

    Sayyid Kazim Rashti, al-Ahsa'i's successor as head of the Shaykhi school, was summoned to more than one inquisitorial gathering; but these seem to have been more in the nature of debates than formal trials (see D. MacEoin, 'From Shaykhism to Babism', Ph. D., University of Cambridge, 1979, pp. 106, 108-109). Our record of these meetings is extremely limited.

    Baha' Allah was briefly detained and interrogated by the civil authorities during his exile to Acre, following the murder of three Azali Babis by seven of his followers. This interrogation was part of the investigation of the crime and does not seem to have touched on his religious claims or beliefs (see H. M. Balyuzi, Bahaå'u'llaåh The King of Glory, Oxford, 1980, pp. 326-30).

    [17] Moojan Momen, 'The Trial of Mulla `Ali Bastami: A Combined Sunni-Shi`i Fatwa against the Bab', Iran 20 (1982): pp.113-43; Abbas Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal: The Making of the Babi Movement in Iran, 1844-1850, Ithaca and London, 1989, pp. 220-238.

    [18] The Nasikh al-tawarikh mistakenly places this event under the year 1263.

    [19] Mazandarani uses, among others, the terms majlis-i mukalima, baz-khwast, and muhakama. Mirza Asad Allah Fadil-i Mazandarani, Kitab-i zuhur al-haqq, vol. 3, Tehran, n.d., p. 14.

    [20] Za`im al-Dawla describes it as hay'ati az `ulama' va fuqaha' va fudala' va umara' va shakhsiyyatha-yi buzurg az a`yan va saran-i shahr, bi-riyasat-i khudash [i.e. the Crown Prince] (Mirza Mahdi Khan Za`im al-Dawla, Miftah Bab al-abwab ya tarikh-i Bab va Baha, Persian trans. by Hajj Shaykh Hasan Farid-i Gulpaygani, 3rd. ed., Tehran, 1328 sh./1968, p. 137.

    [21] It is not impossible that the idea of confronting the Bab with a tribunal made of chiefly of clerics came from the prophet himself. In one of his letters to Muhammad Shah, dated 1264, he writes: 'Why do you not summon the `ulama of the land and then summon me, so that I may confound them just as I did with others before them, from among the deniers?' (Muntakhabati az ayat az athar-i Hadrat-i Nuqta-yi Ula, [Tehran], 134 badi`/1977-8, p. 11).

    [22] A facsimile, text, and translation of this fatwa were published by Browne (E. G. Browne, Materials for the Study of the Baåbiå Religion, Cambridge, 1918, pp. 258-59. Browne suggests that `Ali Asghar was Mirza `Ali Asghar Shaykh al-Islam,.but is unable to identify Abu 'l-Qasim. The latter was, in all probability, the Shaykh al-Islam's son, Shaykh Abu 'l-Qasim. Curiously enough, it is likely that neither of these men was actually present at the tribunal. Abu 'l-Qasim later wrote an attack on the Bab entitled Qal` al-Bab, which has not been published. Amanat (p. 388) describes him as `Ali Asghar's 'nephew' and finds references to him in Zarandi and Mu`in al-Saltana which are not there.

    [23] See, for example, Mazandarani, Zuhur al-haqq, p. 15; `Abd al-Husayn Nava'i (ed.), Fitna-yi Bab, 2nd. printing, Tehran, 1351/1973, p. 127.

    [24] For facsimile, text, and translation, see Browne, Materials, pp. 248-55.

    [25] For facsimile, text, and translation, see ibid pp. 256-58.

    [26] See ibid, pp. 260-62.

    [27] Rida Quli Khan Hidayat, Tarikh-i Rawdat al-safa-yi Nasiri, vol. 10, Qum, 1339 sh./1961, pp. 423-28. A translation of this account, with additions and adjustments, is provided by E. G. Browne in A Traveller's Narrative Written to Illustrate the History of the Baåb, Cambridge, 1891, vol. 2, pp. 277-90. Volume 10 of the Rawdat al-s]afa was first published in 1274/1857.

    [28] Mirza Muhammad Taqi Lisan al-Mulk Sipihr, Naasikh al-tawarikh: Salatin-i Qajar, Tehran, 1385/1965, 4 vols. in 2, vol. 3, pp. 126-30. Sipihr finished the Qajar volumes of his history in 1274/1857-58, and the first edition was probably a continuation of the 1273 edition of the entire history.

    [29] Published as Fitna-yi Bab, ed. `Abd al-Husayn Nava'i, 2nd. printing, Tehran, 1351/1973, pp. 20-28. An earlier edition is recorded in the Russian version of Storey: vol. 1, ed. Qasim Radi, Tehran, 1343/1964. Nava'i is coy about the manuscript which forms the basis of his text. There appears to be a manuscript in the Majlis library.

    [30] So far published only in English translation, or in translations based on it: [Mulla Muhammad Nabil Zarandi], The Dawn-Breakers: Nabiål's Narrative of the Early Days of the Bahaå'iå Revelation, ed. and trans. Shoghi Effendi, Wilmette, Ill., 1932, pp. 314-19. For comments on this source, see MacEoin, Sources, pp. 166-69.

    [31] Haji Mirza Jani Kashani, Kitaåb-i-Nuqtatu'l-Kaåf, ed. E. G. Browne, London & Leiden, 1910, pp. 133-36. For details of this source, see MacEoin, Sources, pp. 134-52.

    [32] Mirza Muhammad Taqi Mamaqani, Namus-i Nasiri, published as Guft-u-shunud-i Sayyid `Ali Muhammad Bab ba rawhaniyun-i Tabriz, ed. Hasan Mursilvand, Tehran, 1374 sh./1996, p. 26.

    [33] Rida Quli Khan Hidayat, Tarikh-i Rawdat al-safa-yi Nasiri, vol. 10, Qum, 1339 sh./1961. Nava'i (Fitna p.127) states that Nizam al-`Ulama's son compiled a file (daftar) from which Hidayat and Sipihr took their accounts.

    [34] This is difficult to establish. Both books were finished and published around 1273/1274, but it does seem to be the case that Sipihr borrowed from his contemporary.

    [35] Or Mamaqani.

    [36] These are more difficult to be sure of. The original text was published in Arabic, and the Persian version is a translation.

    [37] See D. MacEoin, The Sources for Early Babi Doctrine and History, Leiden, 1992, p. 175. My text for the section dealing with the trial of the Bab (p. 201 ff.) is a photocopy of poor quality, which adds to the difficulties posed by bad handwriting. Access to the original manuscript is presently impossible.

    [38] See MacEoin, Sources, p. 151.

    [39] For a comprehensive review of these, see D. MacEoin, The Sources for Early Babi Doctrine and History: A Survey, Leiden, 1992.

    [40] See [Sayyid `Ali Muhammad the Bab] and [Sayyid Husayn Katib-i Yazdi], Qismati az alwah-i khatt-i Nuqta-yi Ula wa Sayyid Husayn-i Katib, [Tehran], n.d., p. 13 (awwal man baya`a bi Muhammad Rasul Allah, thumma `Ali) and p. 17 (awwal man baya`a bi 'l-Qa'im Muhammad Rasul Allah ). The first of the Bab's disciples, Mulla Muhammad Husayn Bushru'i, is often referred to in Babi texts as Awwal man amana. For a little more on this theme, see D. MacEoin, 'Hierarchy, Authority, and Eschatology in Early Babi Thought', in P. Smith (ed.), In Iran: Studies in Babi and Bahá'í History 3, Los Angeles, 1986, pp. 105-105.

    [41] [Tehran], n.d., p. 14. See also Zarandi, Dawnbreakers, p. 253.

    [42] Qayyum al-asma', Cambridge University Library, Browne Or. Ms. F.11, f. 66b.

    [43] Ibid, f. 99a.

    [44] Ibid f. 65a. Cf. ff. 35a, 67b, 72b, 75a, 141b, 167b.

    [45] A copy of the Qayyum al-asma' was used in that trial as a point of reference for the charges against the Bab's emissary.

    [46] See D. MacEoin, 'The Babi Concept of Holy War', Religion (1982) 12:93-129.

    [47] See Amanat, Resurrection, p. 375 ff. On the development of the Bab's claims and other Babi theophanic ideas, see MacEoin, 'Hierarchy', pp. 97-113.

    [48] Miftah, p. 138.

    [49] Rawdat al-safa, p. 424.

    [50] Qayyum al-asma' ff. 40a, 89b, 133a ('I am he who spoke from the fire'), 147b ('I am the fire that spoke on Mount Tur').

    [51] See Bayan-i Farsi, 2:1, p. 13 and p. 17 (1000 verses in 5 hours); Tafsir Surat al-kawthar, CUL, Browne Or. Ms. F.10, f.5a (1000 verses in 6 hours); letter to Manuchihr Khan, Browne Or. Ms. F.2w1, p. 91 (ditto); Risala-yi dhahabiyya II, Iran National Bahá'í Manuscript Collection 53, p. 164 (a complete sahifa in 1 hour).

    [52] Zarandi, Dawn-Breakers, pp. 61, 202; Nuqtat al-kaf, pp. 108, 121.

    [53] See, for example, his letter to Muhammad Shah in Muntakhabat-i ayat, p. 14.

    [54] For generall accounts of state-`ulama relations in this period, consult Hamid. Algar, Religion and State in Iran 1785-1906, Berkeley/Los Angeles, 1969; Said Amir Arjomand, The Shadow of God and the Hidden Imam, Chicago, 1984, Part Three.

    [55] On this theme in general, see MacEoin, 'From Shaykhism to Babism', chapter 1.

    [56] For a very good account of some of these alternatives to orthodoxy, see Amanat, Resurrection, chapter 2.

    [57] For details, see D. MacEoin, 'Divisions and Authority Claims in the Babi Community, 1850-1866', Studia Iranica, 18 (1989): 93-129.

This study includes four appendices, which are here posted as separate historical documents
  1. Table of the questions and statements made during the interrogation of the Bab
  2. Table of the answers the Bab gave to these questions and their sources
  3. Account of the trial given by Mulla Muhammad Mamaqani
  4. Account of the trial given by 'Alim-i Hashtrud
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