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TITLEThe Trial of Mullá 'Alí Bastámí: A Combined Sunní-Shí'í Fatwá against The Báb
AUTHOR 1Moojan Momen
TITLE_PARENTIran: Journal of the British Institute for Persian Studies
ABSTRACTThe trial of Mullá `Alí Bastámí was one of the most important episodes of 1844-45, being both the first occasion on which the new Bábí movement encountered the opposition of the ulama, and a crucial turning point in the development of the movement.
NOTES Also presented at the Bahá'í Studies Seminar at the University of Lancaster, April 1980. Mirrored with permission from
TAGS- Báb, The; Baghdad, Iraq; Fatwa; Iraq; Mulla Ali Bastami; Persecution, Iraq; Qayyumul-Asma (book); Trials
CONTENT The history of the Bábí movement in nineteenth-century Iran has been but little studied in recent years, and most of what has appeared has concentrated on the last three years of the Báb's mission (1848-50), during which Iran was convulsed by a series of upheavals caused by the new movement. The first year of the Báb's mission (1844-5) is, however, also of great interest, and the episode which forms the subject of this article, the trial of Mullá `Alí Bastámí, was one of the most important episodes of that year. As well as being the first occasion on which the new movement encountered the opposition of the ulama, it was a crucial turning point in the development of the Bábí movement, and is not without interest to students of Islam in that I do not know of any other occasion, at least in modern times, when Sunní and Shí`í ulama have combined to give a fatwá.[1] This is also said to have been the first occasion on which the Ottoman authorities officially recognized the Shí`í sect.[2]

Accordingly, I give a brief account of the life of Mullá `Alí and some of the events leading up to his trial in Baghdad; then the text of the fatwá, together with a translation and commentary; and finally, some conclusions relating to the claims of the Báb that may be drawn from this episode and the fatwá document.

Mullá `Alí: his early life and the Shaikhí period

Mullá `Alí was a native of one of the villages in the vicinity of Bastám in Khurasan. He obtained his early education in his hometown and, under pressure from his parents and relatives, married and started a family. He proceeded to Mashhad, where he received instruction from the eminent ulama there. He was noted for his sincerity and zeal for seeking out and investigating religious matters, and it was this trait that led him to one of the Shaikhí ulama; soon he accepted the Shaikhí doctrines and entered into communication with Sayyid Kázim Rashtí (1212-59/1797-1844) the Shaikhí leader, who was resident in Karbalá. He became so captivated by the Shaikhí teaching that he left his home and family and set out for Karbalá, where he attended the lectures of Sayyid Kázim for seven years. At the end of this time, his parents and family, distressed by his prolonged absence from his home and family, came to Karbalá and obtained Sayyid Kázim's approval for the eager scholar's return to his home-town. However, Mullá ` Alí found it impossible to live at home, and before long had returned to his master at Karbalá.[3]

Events in Karbalá after the death of Sayyid Kázim

Mullá ` Alí was present in Karbalá when Sayyid Kázim died in January 1844. This event caused a crisis in the Shaikhí community, since Sayyid Kázim had steadfastly refused to nominate a successor to the leadership of the movement. Shaikhism, since the takfír pronounced against its founder Shaikh Ahmad al-Ahsá'í by Mullá Muhammad-Taqí Baraghání in about 1822, had become a suspect movement in the eyes of orthodox Shí`ís. Even at its headquarters in Karbalá, it had a powerful enemy in the person of Sayyid Ibráhím Qazvíní. Thus the Shaikhís no doubt felt under considerable pressure to unite under a leader and thereby to counter opposition more effectively. There was also a degree of doctrinal pressure upon the Shaikhís to find a new leader. One of the major differences between the Shaikhís and the Orthodox Shí`ís was the doctrine of the Fourth Support. According to this, the

* This is a slightly modified form of a paper that was presented at the fourth Bahá'í Studies Seminar at the University of Lancaster, April 1980. It covers some of the same ground, although from a different point of view, as Denis MacEoin's unpublished paper, "The Shaykhí Reaction to Bábism in the Early Period." The present author is grateful to Dr. MacEoin for drawing his attention to this very interesting area of study. He is also very grateful to Dr. Martin Hinds for the considerable assistance that he gave with the translation of the fatwá document.



Fourth Principle (asl) of the religion of Islam was that there should always exist upon the earth a Perfect Shí`í (al-Sh`í al-kámil) whom it was the duty of all believers to find and to follow in all matters. By implication, this Perfect Shí`í had been the founder of the Shaikhí school, Shaikh Ahmad al-Ahsá'í, and his chosen successor, Sayyid Kázim Rashtí. Now with the death of the latter, the Shaikhís were under doctrinal pressure to find a new leader.

Sayyid Kázim had given few clues as to what the Shaikhís should do after his death, although according to several accounts, he had predicted by several months his own demise. Nowhere in his writings is there any firm statement on this matter and, as may be expected, oral accounts of his final instructions to his pupils are highly partisan, according to whether the narrator later became a Bábí or remained a Shaikhí. According to al-Qatíl ibn al-Karbalá'í, presumably the pseudonym of a Shaikhí of Karbalá who later became a Bábí, Sayyid Kázim had said shortly before his death, "Are you not happy that I should die and that the cause of your Imám be made manifest?"[4] According to Muhammad Karím Khán Kirmání, one of the contenders for the Shaikhí leadership and an opponent of the Báb, "When someone asked him [i.e. Sayyid Kázim] concerning his successor, he said, 'God has an affair, which he will bring to fruition.'"[5]

Thus there was considerable perplexity and confusion among the Shaikhí community in Karbalá in January 1844 following Sayyid Kázim's death. There were a number of prominent Shaikhís who were possible contenders for the leadership: Mírzá Muhít Kirmání and Mírzá Hasan Gawhar in Karbalá itself; Muhammad Karím Khán Kirmaní in Kirman; and Mírzá Shafí` Thiqat al- Islám, in Tabriz. Also, Sayyid Ahmad, Sayyid Kázim's son, was a possible contender.[6] However, there was no consensus among the Shaikhís as to which of these should become the leader. Moreover, many considered that, had Sayyid Kázim intended one of these to succeed, it would have been simple enough to appoint him, whereas he had only made cryptic references to his successor, together with (according to some accounts) admonitions to his followers to go out and search for his successor.

The following is an account of the confusion by the above-mentioned al-Qatíl ibn al-Karbalá'í:

A group of the tulláb of Sayyid Kázim who could distinguish water from wine were perplexed as to where they should go and to whom they should cleave. So they came to Mullá Hasan Gawhar, who claimed trusteeship (wisáya), and Mírzá Muhít, who claimed superintendency (nizára), and asked them, "You appeared to be the closest people to the Báb [i.e. Sayyid Kázim] and nearest to His Honour. Did you not hear anything from His Honour concerning the successorship after him?". The former said, "I did not hear anything," while the latter said, "I have something, but I will not say it now, and it is vital that you do not leave Karbalá." There became current among the people, by way of a rumour from another source, that the Sayyid al-Báb had said, "The affair will be made manifest one year after me." On account of this, the seekers were hopeful and those who had decided to travel were hesitating for about four months, thinking that perhaps Muhít was being truthful in his summons--for even a liar sometimes speaks the truth. Until, when they despaired of it and there appeared from the two of them actions at which the heart is disgusted and of which it is loath to write, they scattered in all directions (ayádí al-sabá) to the deserts, to the wastelands, to the wilderness and to the open country, and they took refuge in shrines, cemeteries, mosques and minbars.[7]
The Báb

What seems to have then occurred was a polarization of the Shaikhí community into a group headed by the older, established leaders such as Mírzá Muhít and Mírza Hasan Gawhar, who decided to remain in Karbalá and consolidate their position there, and a group of the younger Shaikhís, who decided to leave Karbalá in search of a new leader. As was traditional, this younger group retired for a period of forty days' fasting and prayer (i`tikáf), seeking guidance in their quest. The most prominent among this group was Mullá Husain Bushrú'í, who had recently returned from a highly successful mission, obtaining the approval of the renowned Mullá Muhammad-Báqir Shaftí and Mírzá `Askarí for the Shaikhí position. Also among this group was Mullá `Alí Bastámí who, according to Nabíl, "was endowed with such vast learning, and was so deeply conversant with the teachings of Shaikh Ahmad, that many regarded him as even superior to Mullá Husain."[8]

Mullá Husain, having been the first to begin i`tikáf was also the first to leave, having completed his forty days. He left with his brother and cousin and shortly after, on 25 Rabí` II/14 May, Mullá `Alí with a group of Shaikhís also left. The intention of these young Shaikhís as they left Kúfa appears to


have been to travel to Kirman in order to consult with Muhammad Karím Khán and to investigate the possibility that he might be the one intended by Sayyid Kázim to lead them. That this was their intention is indicated in several sources, including the following which purports to be a statement of Mulla Husain himself, made on the way from Karbalá:

. . .It has not been determined where I am to go; but I believe that I may go to Kirman and see Hájjí Muhammad Karím Khán, as it may be that the Sayyid meant that I should enter the service of the Imám through him.[9]

However, on the route between Karbalá and Kirman lay Shiraz, which Mullá Husain entered on 22 May 1844. It was here that he encountered Sayyid `Alí Muhammad Shírází, who, at their first meeting wrote the first sura of the Qayyúm al-asmá' (Commentary on the Qur'ánic Sura of Yúsuf) and put forward his claim. The exact nature of this claim will be discussed below; suffice it to say here that Sayyid `Alí Muhammad took for himself the title of Báb and that he put forward a claim which Mullá Husain accepted.[10]

Some time in late June, Mullá `Alí and his party arrived in Shiraz.[11] Mullá `Alí also accepted the Báb's claims,[12] being given the title Thání man ámana, "the second who believed" (Mullá Husain having of course been the first). Following Mullá `Alí's acceptance of the Báb, others of his party, as well as Mullá Husain's companions, accepted the Báb's claim. Together with Fátima Bígum Baraghání (better known by her titles of Qurrat al-`Ain and Táhira), who was not physically present in Shiraz but was accepted into this group by virtue of a letter that she had written, and Mullá Muhammad `Alí Barfurúshí (who was given the title Quddús and was to become the Báb's leading disciple), the last to arrive, this initial nucleus of the Báb's followers numbered eighteen and were called Hurúf-i hayy--"the Letters of the Living" (hayy equalling eighteen in Abjad notation).

There followed a short period of time during which there was no attempt to enroll any further disciples. The Báb must have met frequently with the "Letters of the Living", but we have virtually no information as to what occured at these meetings. Also, during this time the Báb completed the writing of the Qayyum al-asmá' and some other works.

Mullá `Alí's mission to Iraq

The approach of the season of the Hajj marked the termination of this period of contact between the Báb and the "Letters of the Living". The Báb intended to go to Mecca on the Hajj in order to announce his claim to the Sharif of Mecca, the Custodian of the Ka`ba. He therefore planned to disperse the ""Letters of the Living" in order that they might propagate his claim. There is no statement of the Báb' s specific instructions to the" "Letters of the Living" to be found in any of the sources, but from statements made in various places we may surmize that the following were included among them:

(1) that the "Letters of the Living" were to travel to specific destinations, often their own hometowns, in Iran, Iraq and India;

(2) at each place on the way and at their final destination, they were to announce the Báb's claim and the imminent advent of the Hidden Imám;

(3) they were not to reveal the Báb's specific identity until such time as the Báb returned from the Hajj, having completed his announcement there;

(4) they were to record the names of those who accepted the message in groups of 19 and 361 (equivalent to wáhid and kullu shay' respectively);

(5) they were to instruct those who accepted the message to proceed to Karbalá where the Hidden Imám would emerge;

(6) it would appear that on these initial journeys, the "Letters of the Living" contacted primarily the Shaikhís in each town. It is not however apparent whether this was on the instructions of the Báb or whether it was a natural result of the fact that the "Letters of the Living" were themselves former pupils of Sayyid Kázim.

In dispersing his disciples, the Báb sent Mullá Husain to Tehran, and thence to Khurasan, Quddús was chosen to accompany the Báb on his pilgrimage, while to Mullá `Alí was given the impor-


tant task of delivering the message to the region of the Holy Shrines at Karbalá and Najaf, the headquarters of the Shaikhí movement and the heartland of orthodox Shí`ism.

Mullá `Alí arrived in Iraq in early August 1844. He went first to Najaf where his most important task was to deliver a message from the Báb to Shaikh Muhammad Hasan Najafí (ca. 1202-66/1788-1850) the foremost Shí`í mujtahid of the day.[13] The Iraqi historian `Alí al-Wardí seems to follow the Bahá'í historian Nabíl-i A`zam in describing Mullá `Alí's interview with him:

Then he [i.e. Mullá `Alí] came to Najaf when Shaikh Muhammad Hasan, author of the Jawáhir, held religious leadership there. He entered the assembly of the Shaikh and fearlessly announced that the Promised One whom they were awaiting had appeared in Shiraz. He began to bring forward proofs to them of the truth of the claim of the Báb, saying, in describing him, "His proof is his verses, his miracle is the same miracle by which Islam is recognized as being the truth. From the pen of this Háshimite youth, who has never entered madrasas, there have streamed, within the space of forty-eight hours, verses and prayers which equal the size of the Qur'án, which came down from Muhammad, the Apostle of God, in the course of twenty-three years." These words were like a cannon-ball exploding in that assembly and all those present rose up against Bastámí.[14]

In Karbalá, Mullá `Alí informed the leading Shaikhís of the claims of the Báb. Sayyid Jawád Karbalá'í has recorded the following concerning Mullá `Alí's arrival in Karbalá:

When in the year 1260 [1844], the late Mullá `Alí Bastámí returned from Shiraz to Karbalá and announced his and his companions' success in recognizing the Báb, a mighty commotion and upheaval appeared among the people of learning. And, on account of the piety, virtue and position of the late Bastámí, mention of the appearance of the Báb spread and gained prevalence. But Mullá `Alí confined himself to mentioning the title of that personage only and refused to mention his name. He would say, "The Báb has appeared and we have attained his presence, but he has forbidden us to mention his name or from what family he is. However, soon his call shall be raised and his name and family shall be known to all." In any case, a strange tumult arose in Iraq and in every gathering there was mention of the appearance of the Báb. Everyone would say something and each would speculate on who the Báb was. But the one person that no one considered was the Primal Point [i.e. Sayyid `Alí Muhammad Shírází] on account of his youthfulness and his occupation as a merchant. For all thought and all were certain that the Gate (Báb) of Divine Knowledge would be from one of the learned families and not from the merchant class. And most of the Shaikhís considered that he must of course be one of the eminent disciples of Sayyid [Kázim] Rashtí.[15]

As a result of this commotion and of the anger of Shaikh Muhammad Hasan, Mullá `Alí was arrested and handed over to the government authorities. He was brought to Baghdad and put in prison there by Najíb Páshá, the Wálí of Baghdad. Mírzá Mustafá Baghdádí, whose father was a leading Shaikhí of Baghdad at this time, describes what ensued:

And when the messenger (i.e. Mullá `Alí] came to Baghdad, the governor imprisoned him and placed the books and letter in the council chamber (al-majlis). My father Shaikh Muhammad used to visit the messenger in prison every day and heard the Word of God from him for three months. He used to teach what he heard to the seekers and, in this brief time, many of these people became believers; for example. ..(Mírzá Mustafá here gives a list of names). And when government saw that the affair was gaining ground day by day, the aforementioned Walí, Najíb Páshá, ordered the ulama from all parts to present themselves in Baghdad. [16]

The commotion caused by Mullá `Alí did not escape the notice of Major Rawlinson, the British Consul in Baghdad. On 8 January 1845 he wrote:

I have the honor to report for Your Excellency's information the following circumstances which are at present causing much excitement at this place, and which threaten in their consequences to give rise to renewed misunderstanding between the Persian and Turkish Governments.

About three months ago, an inferior priest of Shiraz appeared in Kerbela, bearing a copy of the Koran, which he stated to have been delivered to him by the fore-runner of the Imam Mehdi, to be exhibited in token of his approaching advent. The book proved on examination to have been altered and interpolated in many essential passages, the object being, to prepare the Mohammedan world for the immediate manifestation of the Imam, and to identify the individual to whom the emendations of the text were declared to have been revealed, as his inspired & true precursor. It was in consequence pronounced by a part of the Sheeah divines at Nejef and Kerbela, to be a blasphemous production, and the priest of Shiraz was warned by them of the danger, which he incurred in giving currency to its contents--but a considerable section nevertheless of the Sheeahs of Nejef, who


under the name of Usuli, or "Transcendentalists", have lately risen into notice as the disciples of the High Priest Sheikh Kazem, and who are in avowed expectation of the speedy advent of the Imam, adopted the proposed readings, and declared themselves ready to join the Precursor, as soon as he should appear amongst them -- These parties owing to local dissensions, were shortly afterwards denounced to the Govt. by the orthodox Sheeas as heretics, and attention being thus drawn to the perverted copy of the Koran, upon which they rested their belief, the volume was seized & its bearer being brought to Baghdad, was cast into prison, as a blasphemer against Islam and a disturber of the public peace.[17]

Then Najíb Pasha gathered an impressive assembly of Sunní and Shí`í ulama drawn from the most eminent divines of Baghdad, Najaf, Karbalá and Kázimain. Major Rawlinson with perspicacity wrote:

The Soonee Priesthood have taken up the case in a rancorous spirit of bigotry, and their inveteracy has enlisted the sympathies of the entire Sheeah sect, in favor of the imprisoned Persian; instead in fact of a mere dispute between two rival schools in the town of Nejef, the question has now become one of virulent contest, between the Soonee & Sheeah sects, or which is the same thing in this part of the Ottoman Empire, between the Turkish & Persian population . . .

Nejib Pasha at the same time, to give all due formality to his proceedings, and to divest the affair of the appearance of mere sectarian persecution, has brought in the chief Priests from Nejef and Kerbela, to hold a solemn Court of Inquisition in conjunction with the heads of the Soonee religion in Baghdad, but I do not anticipate much benefit from this compulsory and most unwilling attendance of the former parties. They will probably make an effort to save the life of their unfortunate countryman, proposing the banishment of the messenger and of the heads of the Usuli sect, as the simplest method of suppressing the heresy, but they will be intimidated and overruled, and I greatly fear that sentence of death will be recorded against the Shirazee by a majority of the members of the court, and against all who promulgate and adopt the readings of his spurious Koran.[18]

Accounts of the trial itself are somewhat confused and contradictory. There seem to be three basically different accounts of what occurred. The reports of the British consul and accounts given in Shí`í histories concur in the fact that there was a fundamental disagreement between the Sunní and Shí`í ulama over the guilt of Mullá `Alí. Rawlinson reported:

The court of Inquisition convened for the trial of the Persian priest, was held on Monday last, H. E. Nejib Pasha presiding, and Moola Abdool Azeez [sc. the Iranian Consul] being also present, to afford his countenance to the accused. The perverted copy of the Koran being produced in Court, was unanimously condemned as a blasphemous production, and parties avowing a belief in the readings which it contained, were declared to be liable to the punishment of death. It was then argued whether or not the Shirazee had thus avowed his belief in a blasphemous production--he himself distinctly repudiated the charge, and although witnesses were brought forward, who stated that he had in their presence declared his adoption of the spurious text, of which he was the bearer, yet as there was reason to suspect the fidelity of their evidence, the Sheeah divines were disposed to give him the benefit of his present disavowal. After much discussion the Soonee law-officers adjudged the culprit to be convicted of blasphemy & passed sentence of death on him accordingly, while the Sheeahs returned a verdict, that he was only guilty of the dissemination of blasphemy & liable in consequence to no heavier punishment than imprisonment or banishment. The criminality of other parties implicated in the affair was then argued, and the same difference of opinion was found to prevail between the Sheeah & Soonee divines--the former admitted the importance of adopting measures for the suppression of the Usúlí heresy, and recommended that parties openly avowing a belief in the expected immediate advent of the Imam, should be removed from Kerbila and Nejef, while the Soonees unanimously declared that all such parties were guilty of blasphemy & subject to the punishment of death. The different opinions have been duly recorded & attested, and a reference on the subject will be immediately made to Constantinople by H. E. Nejib Pasha, the Persian priest remaining in confinement, pending the receipt of instructions, as to his ultimate disposal.

I understand that considerable uneasiness is beginning to display itself at Kerbela & Nejef, in regard to the expected manifestation of the Imam, and I am apprehensive that the measures now in progress will rather increase than allay the excitement.[19]

Ághá Buzurg Tihrání in his biography of Shaikh Hasan ibn Shaikh Ja`far, Káshif al-Ghitá', writes:

And when the gathering of the Walí was assembled in the presence of the mufti of Baghdad, the mufti decreed the death of the man [i.e. Mullá `Alí], not accepting his repentance. [Shaikh Hasan] opposed this, and instructed that he be called on to repent, and said, "If he repents, his repentance should be accepted according to


the Shar`." The two disputed for a long time until [Shaikh Hasan] proved his case according to the Hanafí school of law, and demonstrated it through their books. And he had victory over the mufti in that assembly.[20]

The second conflicting version of the events comes from the Bábí and Bahá'í sources, which make no mention of the Shí`í -Sunní disagreement but deny that Mullá `Alí recanted his belief. The following is the account of the trial in Mírzá Mustafá al-Baghdádí's autobiographical sketch:

And the messenger [i.e. Mullá `Alí] was summoned to that awesome meeting, and they asked him concerning the author of the cause and he answered, "The awaited Spirit of Truth has appeared, and he is the one promised in the writings (suhuf) of God and His books." He recited to them some of the verses and prayers and summoned them to believe. So the cause became of great importance to them, and they arose to denounce it and remonstrated with arrogance. They concurred in pronouncing his unbelief, and decreed the death and annihilation of the messenger.[21]

Thirdly, there is the conflicting evidence of Najíb Páshá's own report and the fatwá document itself (translated below). In Najíb Páshá's account to the Sublime Porte of the trial, it is reported that Mullá `Alí refused to impart the name of the author of the book and denied knowledge of its contents. This report confirms that it was because of the fact that the book was continuing to be circulated, despite Mullá `Alí's imprisonment, that Najíb Páshá called the meeting of the ulama. In this report and in the fatwá document there is no trace of any disagreement between the Sunní and Shí`í ulama, although it may be noted that the Shí`í ulama have carefully worded their fatwás to exclude any mention of putting Mullá `Alí to death, while the death sentence is emphatically pronounced in the fatwás of Sayyid Mahmúd, the mufti and most of the other Sunní ulama. What then happened to Shaikh Hasan's much-vaunted victory over Sayyid Mahmúd? Could it be that, after all the ulama's wrangling over what should be their attitude should Mullá `Alí repent, he refused to do so when summoned to the court?

The Fatwá

The fatwá is a document measuring 79.5 cm by 28.5 cm.[22] The top 27 cm of the page is the su'ál and the rest of the page is the jawáb. The su'ál section consists of the basic question asked of the assembled ulama, which occupies some four lines of the text followed by numerous quotations from the text of the Qayyúm al-asmá' in support of the charges. The jawáb consists of the individual, signed and sealed fatwás of twenty Sunní and ten Shí`í ulama. The Sunnís are placed first, with the pronouncement of Sayyid Mahmúd al-Alúsí, the famous mufti of Baghdad, being by far the longest and placed in the top left hand corner. The Shí`í fatwás are placed below, with that of Shaikh Hasan ibn Shaikh Ja`far being the longest and placed in the top left hand corner of the Shí`í portion.

I have broken up the su'ál portion into sections and numbered them for easier reference. Line numbers are indicated in brackets. The fatwás are numbered from left to right along the lines. I have compared the text of the quotations from the Qayyúm al-asmá' with a copy of this book transcribed by Muhammad Mahdí ibn Karbalá'í on the instructions of Mullá Husain Bushrú'í for the Amír of Qá'inát in 1261/1845 (hereinafter referred to as the Qá'inát ms.) and a copy in the Cambridge University Library (ms. F 11 of the Browne collection), transcribed by Mírzá Áqá Khán Kirmání on the instructions of Shaikh Ahmad Rúhí at Istanbul in 1309/1891-2 (hereinafter referred to as F 11). Some parts of these passages are also contained in Muntakhibát-i áyat az áthár-i Hadrat-i Nuqta-yi Úlá published by the Bahá'ís of Iran [23] (hereinafter referred to as Muntakhibát). None of these sources has the number of the individual verses indicated. However, since the whole of the Qayyúm al-asmá' is written in saj` (rhyming prose), I have indicated in the translation an approximate verse number. The names of the súras are provided in the Qá'inát ms.[24]




What do the ulama of the Muslims, may God Almighty give victory to the religion through them, say concerning a [legally] responsible man who has composed a book and arranged it in súras and made each súra consist of a set number of verses and given it a title? And he has opened many of them with disconnected letters different from those with which some of the súras of the Noble Qur'an begin. And in these súras he has made use of Qur'anic verses and has taken the liberty of adding and subtracting from them. And he has introduced in one [verse] the ending of another verse and he has claimed that this was revealed to him and [that] he was inspired with it. And in it are passages that are provocative; and in it are [positive] commands and prohibitions and a proscription against the ulama teaching anything other than it; and in it is exaggeration concerning what is due to some of the [Holy] Family, may God Almighty be pleased with them; and in it are innumerable other shameful things. And in it he has sometimes called himself the Remembrance (al-Dhibr) and other times the Gate (al-Báb). And he has produced what shows [that he is] making a mockery of religion and making light of the Sharí`a of [Muhammad] the Prince of Messengers, may God Almighty bless him and his family and all of his companions. And so is he an unbeliever by virtue of all that we have mentioned or not? And is the one who has believed in him and has lent him credence in this matter and has assisted him in spreading and propagating it and has preached it to the people an unbeliever or not? Give us a fatwá, may you be rewarded, and tighten the belt of resolve (good judgement) for the sake of the victory of the religion.

Commentary: These first five lines of the document represent the basic su'al part of the fatwá. The rest of the first half of the document consists of quotations extracted from the copy of the Qayyúm al-asma' which Mulla `Alí had brought with him, which are cited in support of the above charges.

Thus the specific charges brought against the Báb may be summarized:

(1) That he had produced a book that resembled the Qur'an in its format, with suras, verses, disconnected letters, etc.

(2) That he had taken liberties with the text of the Qur'an, by adding, subtracting and interpolating.

(3) That he has claimed this was Divine Revelation.

(4) That he has exaggerated concerning some of the Holy Family.

(5) That he has tended to make light of Islam and the Sharí`a, while exaggerating the importance of his own writings and commands.

The fatwa asks for two separate decisions, one on the kufr (unbelief) of the author of the work and the second on the question of his followers.

The text is somewhat surprising for a document addressed to the ulama of both the Sunní and Shí`í communities in that in two places, it tends to show a definite Sunní bias: firstly, in that it brings in the question of "exaggeration concerning what is due to some of the [Holy] Family", a question which


one would have thought it would have been diplomatic to have omitted in the presence of Shí`ís; secondly the honorific towards the end of the passage pointedly refers to "all" of the companions of the prophet whereas the Shí`ís do not accept the Sunní sanctification of all of the companions.[25] Perhaps this Sunní orientation of the wording merely reflects the fact that the Shí`í ulama were at a disadvantage in Baghdad away from their own home ground in Najaf, Karbala and Kazimain and assembled at the bidding of a governor in a Sunní empire; whereas the Sunní ulama were all very much at home in this environment. The formula aftúná ma'júrín appears on other fatwas of this period in Iraq.[26]

It is perhaps worth pointing out that there is no mention among the charges of the incorrectness of the Báb's Arabic grammar and syntax points which were to form a prominent part of later attacks on the Báb.


If you wish to hear something providing evidence of what he has mentioned, we would cite what he has written in the súra Káj Há Nún [Súrat al-Husain, LXI, 22]: We have inspired you as We inspired Muhammad and those messengers who were before him with clear signs in order that mankind may have no argument against God after the Gates, and truly God has spoken sublime words in the mountain of the beginning. [v. 23] And verily, we bear witness against you in the matter of the verses that God has revealed to you and the angels also bear witness, and God is sufficient as a witness, and the Gates are sufficiently informed of the truth. [v. 24] And those who curse the Remembrance after the Book has brought them the truth, verily God will not forgive them nor will He guide them in the paths of safety but rather in the path of Tághút, away from God. And verily, God has placed the Judgement of all things easily into the hands of the Remembrance with a wondrous permission.

Commentary: These verses are cited in support of charges (1), (2) and (3). In this and most of the following examples, by naming the súras by their opening disconnected letters or by their names, and occasionally referring to the number of verses in them, the compilers of the su'ál seek to substantiate the first charge.

With respect to the second charge, there is a striking parallel between this passage and Qur'án, IV, 166-7: "Messengers bringing good tidings and warnings, so that mankind may have no argument against God after [the coming of] the messengers; God is mighty and wise. But God bears witness of what He has revealed to you -- He has sent it down with knowledge of Himself, and the angels also bear witness. God is sufficient as a witness!"

Support for the third charge is also to be found in this passage where the Báb is clearly claiming Divine Revelation. Words such as awha and anzala `ala are inextricably bound up with the Muslim view of Divine Revelation. No member of the ulama class could read such a passage without coming to the conclusion that its author was claiming Divine Revelation.

The "Gates" in this passage is a reference either to the traditional four Bábs of Shí`í Islam or Shaikh Ahmad al-Ahsá'í and Sayyid Kazim Rashtí, the Shaikhí leaders who were also known as Bábs among the Shaikhís and the Bábís.[27]



For example, there is what he has mentioned in the sure Ta Há Sád [Súrat al-Dhikr, LX, 11]: Say: the truth is revealed to me -- your God is one God, and there is no God but He. And verily, I am the servant of God who was seen in the midst of the Burning Bush (fire). [v. 12] O servants of God! Listen to the call of the Proof [coming] from the Báb. Verily my Lord God has revealed to me, We have sent down this book to Our servant in order that he may truly be a bearer of both glad tidings and a warning to the worlds. [v. 14] God has sent down the book to you with the truth in order that you may judge among the believers with justice concerning that which God has shown you of his signs, in order that you may turn away from the people of Sijjín and its [?His signs'] opponents; and, verily, your Lord watches over all things.

Commentary: With regard to the second charge, that of corrupting Qur'ánic passages, there are several examples of parallels with the Qur'án in this quotation. V. 11 parallels XXI, 109:

"Say, It is revealed to me that your God is One God".

V. 12 approximates to XXV, 2:

"Blessed be He who has sent down the Furqan to His servant that he may be a warner to the worlds."

Whilst v. 14 has parallels to IV, 106:

"Indeed, We have sent down the book to you with the truth, in order that you may judge between the people".

With regard to the terms used in this passage, it should be noted that al-Hujja is one of the titles of the Hidden Twelfth Imam and thus v. 12 may be translated, "Listen to the call of the Hidden Iman [coming] from the Báb."


Another example is what he has mentioned in the súra Alif Lám Mím `Ayn [Súrat al- Wahda, XLIII, 2]: We have revealed to the pious ones this book of ours which is written and recorded in verses.

As far as where he says [v. 5]: By your Lord! Were the people of the earth, of the east and of the west, to band together to produce the like of this book, they would not be able to do it, even were they to be helped in the matter.

Commentary: V. 5 is of course the same statement that is made in the Qur'án, XVII, 89: "Say, If indeed men and jinn come together and agree to produce the like of this Qur'án, they will not produce the like of it, even though one group were helpers to the other."



Another example is in the súra Káf Há Yá Lám [Súrat al-Ulyá LXII, 12]: O people of the Earth! The Remembrance has come to you after a break [in the succession] of messengers in order that he may purge and purify you from uncleanliness for the days of the one true God. And so strive for bounty from him, for we have set him as a witness and as a source of wisdom for the peoples of the earth.

As far as where he says: [v. 21 ] O Solace of the Eye! Convey what has been sent down to you out of God's grace to you; for if you do not, the people shall never know our mystery. And verily God only created the world in order that it may know Him. And verily God has knowledge of all things and is independent of the worlds. [v. 22] Say: O People of the Furqan! You are as nothing unless you follow the Remembrance and this book. If you follow the cause of God, we will forgive you your sins, and if you turn aside from our decree, verily in the book we will sentence your souls to the most great fire. Verily we do not deal unjustly with the people even to the extent of a speck on a date stone.

Commentary: This is another passage intended primarily to prove the second charge. The phrase `alá fatrat al-rusul occurs in the Qurtan, V, 20. A part of v. 21 is paralleled in V, 68: "O messenger convey what has been sent down to you from your Lord; and if you do not do it, you have not delivered His message".

The phrase naghfiru lakum khatí'átikum occurs in VII, 162.

The third charge--that the Báb claimed Divine Revelation--is also borne out by the statement in v. 12 that the Báb is in the "succession of messengers," and once again by the use of anzala ilá in v. 21

V. 22 was probably considered by the ulama to be particularly provocative in its statement concerning the consequences of rejecting the Báb's claim.

The fatwa document has inna lá nazlimu with a small Alláh written over this phrase, which probably represents an incorrect transcription with an attempt by someone to make sense of it. I have used in the text the reading given in the Qá'inat ms. and F 11.



And another example is what he has mentioned in the sure Tá Sín [Súrat al-Rahma, LXIII, 1]: We have sent down this book to you that the people may know the truth of the Remembrance, and He is God who has been witness to all things. [v. 2] As for the believers, whenever they hear a verse of this book, their eyes overflow with tears and their hearts become enraptured on account of the most great Remembrance of God, the all-praised. And He is God the all-knowing, the eternal.

As far as where he says: [v. 19] And when I say to those who have joined partners with God; Come to God and to this book which has been sent down from the one true God, they say: Sufficient for us is the knowledge of the book which we have discovered in the past. And yet, by God, you only know a letter of the knowledge of the book and that to a limited extent.

As far as where he says: [v. 27] Fear God, O assemblage of kings! Lest ye remain distant from the Remembrance, after the truth has come to you, with a book and signs from God, in a wondrous manner, from the tongue of the Remembrance.

As far as where he says: [v. 33] O Spirit of God [i.e. Jesus]. Remember my bounty to you when I spoke to you in the midst of the sanctuary [i.e. Jerusalem] and assisted you with the Holy Spirit in order that you might speak out, as the wondrous Mouthpiece of God among the people, that which God has decreed within the secret chambers of the soul in a wondrous manner. And verily God has taught you the book and wisdom in your childhood, and has bestowed His favour upon the people of the world through your Great Name. For truly the people have not the slightest knowledge of the book.

Commentary: These verses quoted from the Súrat al-Rahma of the Qayyúm al-Asmá' are full of parallels with the Qur'an. V. 2 parallels Qur'an, V, 84: "When they hear what has been sent down to the messenger, you see their eyes overflowing with tears".

But in the Qur'án this verse is being applied to the Jews and Christians, whereas in the Qayyúm al-asmá' the tables are, by implication, turned and the verse is being applied to the Muslims -- which must have particularly galled the ulama.

V. 19 parallels V, 105: "When it is said to them, 'Come to what God has sent down and to the messenger', they reply, 'What we found our forefathers practising is sufficient for us'. What indeed! Even though their forefathers were totally without knowledge, and were not guided aright?

V. 33 parallels V, 111; "[Recall] when God said, 'O Jesus son of Mary, remember my bounty to you and to your mother, when I assisted you with the Holy Spirit in speaking to the people in the cradle and as an adult. And [recall] when I taught you the book and the wisdom'".

Also implicit in these quotations is a claim to Divine Revelation, especially in vv. 1, 19 and 27.

There is considerable variation in the texts over the word walahat. F 11 has takhsha`u, while Muntakhibát has talínú. Also in v. 27, F 11 has a further 29 words after min `ind Alláh to the end of the verse, whereas Muntakhibát agrees with the present document. The Qá'inat ms. agrees with the fatwá document on both points.



And another example is what is in the súra Alif Lám Mím Qáf [Súrat al-Ghaib, LXV, 2]: Follow what is revealed, to you from your Lord: I am God, besides whom there is no other God, and I have chosen you for myself and have decreed that compassion should characterize your soul. But the people have not the slightest knowledge of the book.

Commentary: The first part of this verse parallels Qur'án, VI, 107: "Follow what has been revealed to you from your Lord, there is no god but He".


And another example is what he has mentioned in the Súrat al-Fadl [LII, 19]: And if you are in doubt concerning what God has sent down to this servant of ours, then produce the like of some of its substance, and call on those whom you have claimed to be among your scholars (ulama), who are shut out from the Remembrance of God. Do you have confidence in any of them who are deprived of the Remembrance of God, the All-High when it is he who is (set up as) a witness in the Mother Book? [v. 22] O People of the Earth ! If you are not able to produce a book like this, then believe in your Lord God, besides whom there is no other God. By your Lord! You shall not be able to produce the like of even some of its substances without [the assistance of] God, the All-High. And God has power over all things.

Commentary: These two verses have strong Qur'ánic overtones. Cf. II, 24: "And if you are in doubt concerning what We have sent down to Our servant, then produce a súra like it, and call upon your witness apart from God, if you speak the truth".

And X, 38: "Or do they say, 'He has invented it!' Say, 'Then produce a súra like it, and call upon whomsoever you are able apart from God, if you speak the truth".

It is noticeable that the Báb is legitimating his own claim by making the same reply that Muhammad made to his challengers, thereby turning the tables on the ulama.


And another example is what he has mentioned in the súra Káf Há' Mím [Súrat al-Sabr, LIII 31]: And so listen to what has been revealed to you from your Lord. Verily, you were the Interlocutor on behalf of the one true God on the mountain [i.e. Sinai]. And He is God who has power over all things.

As far as where he says [v. 28]: And if the people come to you asking the same questions that past nation have asked of their prophets, say: To God belongs the conclusive argument. I am only the first of the worshippers of the One True God. And verily my Lord and your Lord is God, and verily He has power over all things.


Commentary: In v. 28, the Báb is openly identifying himself with the prophets of the past. The phrase qul fa-lilláhi al-hujja al-báligha is Qur'anic (VI, 150).


And another example is his words in the súra Káf Há' `Ayn Ghain [Súrat al-Rukn, LV, 2]: Verily we have sent you as a bringer of good tidings and as a warner to all the peoples. [v. 7] And verily we have taken from the believers our covenant: You shall worship none other than Him, and deal kindly with your parents, and be openly submissive to the Gates. [v. 8] Do you disbelieve in some part of the book that has been previously sent down to Muhammad, the Apostle of God, and disbelieve some part of this book? Do you not fear from God the day on which the decree of the One True God has, in truth, come to pass?

As far as where he says [v. 21]: And verily, we have sent down upon your heart the Spirit [i.e. Jesus] and Gabriel, by the leave of God, confirming what was before you, as a mercy and glad tidings to the faithful servants. He who has the covenant of God in His Remembrance, is he who was given a covenant in the heart of the [Sinaitic] Fire.

Commentary: There are several Qur'ánic parallels here. V. 2 parallels XXXIV, 29: "We did not send you except inclusively to the people as a bearer of good tidings and as a warner".

V. 7 parallels II, 84: "And when We made a covenant with the Children of Israel, 'You shall worship none except God, and deal kindly with parents'".

V. 21 parallels II, 98: "Indeed, he has brought it down upon your heart by God's permission, confirming what was before it, and as a guidance and glad tidings to the believers".

Here again, the Báb is, by implication, identifying himself with Muhammad.


And another example is what he has mentioned in the sure Alif Lám Mím [Súrat al- `Abúdiyya, XXXV, 15]: God has said: They have disbelieved in God in their souls, [saying] that this book is a lie which its author has fabricated and the party of Satan has lent them credence in their evil lie and through this action, they have wrongly disbelieved in God and in His signs, and are in the wrong concerning this Gate (Báb).

As far as where he says [v. 20]: Verily God has caused this book to be revealed in order that you may know that God knows the secret of the heavens and of the earth and verily, He is independent of the worlds. lv. 21 ] And out at pride, the people have erred and disbelieved in God.


Commentary: For v. 15, the Qá'inat mas. and F 11 read: Qála allathína yakfirún billáh

Evidence that this is the correct reading is provided by the Qur'anic parallel, XXV, 5: "Those who have disbelieved have said, 'This is nothing but a lie which he has fabricated'". A further Qur'anic parallel is between v. 20 above and V, 98: "That is in order that you may know that God knows what is in the heavens and the earth, and that God is knowledgeable about everything".

There is further support for the third charge -- that of claiming Divine Revelation -- in the word anzala in v. 20.


And another example is his words in the súra Qáf `Ayn Sín [Súrat al-Ta`bír, XXXVII, 2]: Praise be to God who has sent down the book to His servant in order that it may be a witness for all the worlds through its lofty word. [v. 3] God has given the glad-tidings to those believers who have performed righteous deeds that they have a good and plenteous reward with the Gate (Báb) from the Gate. [v. 4] And we have revealed to you this book from our tongue in order that you may truly judge among the people in the cause of the Báb. And verily God is informed of the worlds.

Commentary: V. 2 is quoted here in support of the third charge, that of claiming Divine Revelation especially as it strongly resembles a verse of the Qur'án which refers to the Qur'án itself, XVIII, 2: "Praise be to God, who has sent down the Book to His servant, and has not set in it any crookedness".


And another example is what he has mentioned in the súra Káf Há' `Ayn Sád [Súrat al-Kitáb, XLI, 3]: Read as much as you find easy of this Qur'án, morning and evening. [v. 4] And chant this book, by the leave of the eternal God, with the melody of that bird which sings in the spheres of the unseen.

As far as where he says [v. 8]: And whoever changes [even] a letter of the Furqán and this book to another letter, he shall have disbelieved in God his Lord, and God shall not accept any of his works, and his habitation shall be hell-fire, according to the decree ordained in the book. [v. 9] And they who conceal part of the letters of


this book shall eat hell-fire, and we shall not look at them nor speak to them and, on the day of resurrection, God shall have justly prepared for them a severe chastisement in the depths of the sarcophagus. [v. 10] And verily God has enjoined upon you not to touch this most mighty book except with the greatest purity. For God has forbidden it to any of the unbelievers.

Commentary: These verses are here quoted mainly to support the charge that the Báb has introduced various commands and prohibitions


And another example is what he was mentioned in the Súrat al-Anwár, beginning with Alif Lám Mím Qáf [XXVII, 133]: 0 believers! Fear God in his word of truth, for God has enjoined upon the Muslims the transmitting of [this] cause to all countries. So issue forth from your homelands and summon the people by this most great book to the holy land. And if you are not able to do this, write the text on white sheets of paper with ink of pure red gold to every country from the east of the earth to the west thereof. And the decree of God in this matter is indeed severe. [v. 14] 0 Concourse of Ulama! Verily God has forbidden after [the coming of] this book the teaching of anything other than it. Teach the people the laws of the book and turn them away from error, the baseless books among you. For the book of God is the truth and He is God who watches over what you do.

Commentary: These verses are also quoted here to support the accusation that the Báb has introduced sundry commands and prohibitions and, in particular, the prohibition to the ulama of teaching anything other than the Báb's book. F 11 omits the first part of v. 13 and begins iblighú al-amr ilá . . . The Qa'inat ms. agrees with the fatwá document. The injunction: "Summon the people . . . to the holy land," may be an allusion to the Báb's call for his followers to assemble at Karbala (see following section, The Báb's Change of Plan


And another example is what he has mentioned in the súra Káf Há' Yá' `Ayn [Súrat al-Hurriyya, XXIX, 6): 0 believers! Do not call out to the Remembrance from behind his house, for that is a sin in the Book of God and you only know some isolated matters from the knowledge of the Book. [v. 7] 0 believers! Do not raise your voices above the voice of the Remembrance and, in walking with him, do not approach until he permits you and


do not proceed in front of him and do not speak secretly when he is present. For all of this is sin in the eyes of God, your true Lord, according to what is preserved in His true Book.

Commentary: A further example of the commands and prohibitions of the Báb in the Qayyúm al-asmá'. F 11 omits v. 6.


And another example is what he has mentioned in the Súrat al-Ímán, and it has forty verses. [III, 7]: Were this book to have been revealed by any but God, they would find in it contradictions. [v. 8] And praised be to our Lord God, nothing is hidden from Him in earth or in heaven, and everything which we have thought concealed in this book was indeed recorded with God. [v. 10] We have in truth revealed to our servant this book from God, and we have placed in it verses that are clear and unambiguous. And no one knows its explanation except God and those of our pure servants whom we wish. So question the Remembrance concerning its explanation for he is, by God's bounty and through the decree of the book, informed of (or, knowledgeable about) its verses.

Commentary: This passage has been inserted to support the charge that the Báb has claimed Divine Revelation. In the Qatinat ms. and F 1 1, this súra begins: Súrat al-Ímán wa hiya ithnatá wa arba`ún [áya]


And another example is what he has mentioned in the Súrat al-Madína and it has forty verses and begins with Alif Lám Mím Tá' Há' (IV, 15): 0 People of the City [or Medina] and those around it of the Arabs! What is the matter with you? Why did you unjustly disbelieve publicly in Muhammad after his death? [v. 16] Did God and His prophet not indeed often enter into a covenant with you concerning the successorship of his guardian


throughout the countries of the world ? [v. 17] If you believe in God besides Whom there is no other God, then how did you come to a decision which is different from what God has truly revealed in His book which has been preserved from before ? For by your Lord ! If you do not believe in our Remembrance and this book then be certain that your habitation shall be hell-fire, in which you shall remain forever. [v. 20] And you have none apart from God the All-High as a supporter on the day of judgement (or, of separation) [v. 21] And in the past, some from among you died as unbelievers, and you and those around you disbelieved in Muhammad after his ascent, for lo! you did not believe in his successor. What is the matter with you that you have not pondered upon the Qur'án, which has in truth been sent down?

Commentary: These verses are, of course, strong expressions of a Shí`í point of view. Objectionable as they may have been to the Sunní ulama, it is somewhat surprisingly for them to be quoted here when a fatwá was being asked for from both Sunní and Shí`í ulama. Indeed, it is probable that it was the deliberate provocation of the Shí`ís by the inclusion of this aspect of the Báb's writings in the fatwá that caused the Shells to dissent in the formulation of their answer.


And another example is what he has mentioned in the Súrat al-Ziyára which has forty-two verses [VII, 1-3]: Ta Sin. God has caused the Furqan to be sent down upon our Remembrance in order that it may be glad tidings to the worlds and a warning upon the straight path.

As far as where he says [v. 6]: And God has chosen Husain from among his servants and has truly made him an Imám and martyr, and when he outstripped his brothers, he was a veiled letter of the knowledge of the All-Merciful and was concealed within the hidden row of the innermost secret. And verily God has completed His bounty upon Husain and his successors by making their superiority over the worlds to be like His own. And He (i.e. God) it is who has accepted the one who visits him (i.e. at Husain's shrine) as having visited the one true God Himself; and has called his (i.e. Husain's) battlefield in truth His (i.e. God's) throne. And there is no God but He, who is truly without imitation, and God has not decreed an explanation for a single letter of His secret.

And so forth of this rubbish which does not emanate from one whose bosom God Almighty has laid open to [the acceptance of] Islam, and on whose heart He has written faith. It is hoped that each servant will provide a reply in writing. Thereby shall there be for you a plenteous reward from our great Lord, glorified is His Cause and magnified His sovereignty.


Commentary: The statements made regarding Husain in this quotation are extreme even by Shí`í standards but are in conformity with the extreme veneration for the Imáms that was a feature of the Shaikhí movement. The enemies of the Shaikhís accused them of believing in tafwíd (the delegation of God's attributes to other than God) and in particular of holding the Imáms to be co-creators of the world with God.[28]


The Answer, and it is God, praised and exalted is He, [who is] the Giver of Guidance as to what is right

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate! Who can be more evil than the one who has fabricated a lie against God or has said He (i.e. God) has revealed to me, when nothing has been revealed to him. Praise be to God who has protected the súras of Prophecy from the assault of liars and has rendered those skilled in every kind of eloquence -- in spite of their abilities -- unable to bring the like of [even] the shortest of the súras of His clear Book. And blessings and peace be upon our Lord, Muhammad, the Seal of the Prophets and the light shining from the dawning-places of bounty over the pages of existence where there is neither angel nor Jinn nor mankind nor earth nor heaven, and upon his pure family and his true companions who dyed their white swords and their blue spears with the blood of al-Aswad al-`Ansí and Musailima the Liar. How often they were


summoned in the past for the assistance of the religion and they complied, being neither weak nor impotent and how well they did, performing the greatest wonders!

And to proceed, there can be no disagreement (literally, no two rams should butt each other nor any two persons dispute) over the disbelief of this evil man nor likewise over the disbelief of those who have believed in him and given him credence regarding these words. He has brought kinds of disbelief against which the believer is angered (literally, breaks the sockets of arrows). Indeed, the sensibility of anyone who has in his head so much as the head of a grain of wheat or a hair of sense shrinks back from them. And I consider that the matter, on account of its simpleness, has no need of argumentation; nor does it need, on account of its extreme obviousness -- even if the one who heard it were to be stupid -- a prolongation of discussion. And there is something amiss among the notables when the morning has need of proof. The prudent thing [to do] is to join this unbeliever to his two brothers, [Musailima] the Liar and [al-Aswad] the Lord of the Ass, and make an example of whoever has assisted in the spreading of his cause by word or deed, so that the perceptive may take cognizance. And I consider it a sedition, the evil of which will grow in the easts of the earth and the wests thereof. And many of the weak-minded will apostasize on account of it, were it to be given a free rein (literally, were its rope to be left on its withers). And we ask God Almighty for protection from that which we would regret!

And the servant who is in need of his Lord, glorified is His affair, Sayyid Mahmúd, Muftí in Baghdad . . . may his Lord, the Informed, the Kind One, forgive him, has written [this].

Commentary: Abu'l-Thaná, Sayyid Mahmúd Shiháb al-Dín ibn Sayyid `Abd Alláh al-Alúsí (1802-54) was the most prominent of the nineteenth-century Sunni Iraqi ulama. He remains famous as a traditionist and as the author of a Tafsír. He was mudarris at the Madrasa al-A`zamiyya for forty years, and Muftí of Baghdad from 1248/1832-3 to 1262/1845-6.[29]


By the One who has, in truth, revealed the Book, His Honour the Muftí was correct in his reply and there is not doubt about the unbelief of this lying innovator. He is worthy of the severest exemplary punishment and torture. May God Almighty smite him with the arrow of retribution in this world and in the world to come!

The servant of the ulama and the mudarrisún, `Abd al-Rahmán al-Mudarris, has written this.

Commentary: Probably `Abd al-Rahmán al-Rúzbihání, eminent mudarris of Baghdad at the Madrasa Jámi` al-Ahsá'í (better known as the Khálidiyya) for forty years; died Muharram 1270/ October 1853.


Yes, this accursed wretch has disbelieved, and similarly those heretics who have believed in him. They are all worthy of death according to the Law (Shari`a) of the Seal of the Prophets and of the Apostles. The one who is needy of Him, glorified is His affair, Muhammad Sa`íd, formerly Muftí of Baghdad [has written this].

Commentary: Sayyid Muhammad Sa`íd ibn Muhammad Amín al-Tabaqjalí, a member of one of the prominent families of ulama in Baghdad. He was Muftí in 1246/1830, and died on 13 Shawwal 1273/26June 1857.



Yes, he is an unbeliever, [the spilling of] whose blood is lawful, since he had lied against God Almighty and denied the station of His Apostle, Muhammad , as seal [of the prophets].

The one who is needy of Him [God], glorified is His affair, `Abd al-Ghaní, former Muftí of Baghdad [has written this].

Commentary: Sayyid `Abd al-Ghaní al-Jamíl, born in Dhu'l-Qa`da 1194 / November 1780. An `álim, poet, calligraphist and former Muftí (1247/1831) of Baghdad, and from one of the prominent families of Baghdad; he died on 9 Dhu'l-Hijja 1279/28 May 1863.


Yes, he and those believe in him are unbelievers and deserving of death.

The one who is needy of Him [God], glorified is His affair, Sibghat Alláh, Mufti of the Shafi'ís in Baghdad, the protected, [has written this].

Commentary: Sayyid Sibghat Alláh al-Haydarí, one of a prominent family of Baghdad ulama, who provided several Hanafí and Shafi`í muftis over the years. Sibghat Alláh was Shafi`í Muftí, and many of the famous ulama of Baghdad studied under him, including Dá'úd Páshá. He died on 16 Rabí` al-Awwal 1279/11 September 1862, and was buried in the Qádiriyya shrine.


There is no doubt as to the disbelief of this abominable liar. For these fabrications, he deserves to enter eternal hell-fire. The needy one, Ismá`íl al-Barzanjí, has written this.

Commentary: Ismá`íl al-Barzanjí, a Naqshbandí shaikh, died on 5 Shawwal 1279/15 April 1863.


There is no God but God. Muhammad is the Apostle of God, the Seal of the Prophets. This lying claimant has disbelieved and has committed the same crime as Musailima and the rest of the denizens of Hell. May God afflict him in this world and the next with the greatest punishment! The servant of the mudarrisún, As`ad (?), mudarris at the Madrasa al-Ásafiyya, has written this.

Commentary: The mudarris at al-Ásafiyya from the time of its inception in 1242/1826-7 until his death in 1272/1855-6 was Sayyid As`ad al-Mawsilí.



Whoso fabricates against God such a falsehood is an unbeliever, without doubt worthy of death. [Written by] The one who is needy of Him, glorified is His Affair, Sayyid `Ali at present Naqíb al-Ashraf of Baghdad, on behalf of the mudarrisún of the lofty seat of sovereignty.

Commentary: Sayyid `Alí al-Kílání, descendant of `Abd al-Qádir al-Kílání, became Naqíb al-Ashraf in 1257/1841 and was guardian of all the waqf properties of the Kílániyya mosque; he died on 24 Rabí` al-Awwal 1289/1 June 1872.


This lying claimant and all who have followed such doctrines have disbelieved and there is no error in making permissible [the spilling of] his blood. [Written by] the one who is needy of Him, glorified is His affair, Sayyid Ahmad, Khatíb al-A'zamiyya, on behalf of the mudarrisún . . .

Commentary: Sayyid Ahmad ibn Sayyid Salmán, known as Qanbúr. He was known as Khatíb al-A`zamiyya because he gave the oration at the Kílániyya Mosque (Shaikh `Abd al-Qádir al-Kílání is known as al-Imám al-A`zam).


Do not hesitate about the unbelief of this accursed man. Killing him is permissible according to the consensus (ijma`) of the Muslims. The one who is needy of Him, glorified is His affair, Muhammad al-Zaháwí, mudarris at the Madrasa al-`Aliyya, [has written this].

Commentary: Probably Muhammad Faidí ibn Ahmad ibn Hasan Baik al-Zaháwí mudarris at al-`Aliyya (born in 1212/1797); he was from one of the eminent families of Baghdad, related to the powerful Bábán family and claiming descent from Saif Allah Khálid ibn Walíd. He taught for a while in Sulaimaniyya and Kirkuk, and then came to Baghdad in 1257/1841. He was later to become the foremost `álim of Baghdad, and was muftí for 38 years until his death at an advanced age on 3 Jumádí al-Úlá 1308/15 December 1890.


Whoever has said this with his tongue, believing it with his heart, has disbelieved in Muhammad (may God bless him and his family and his companions and give them peace) and what was revealed to him. I am the lowly Muhammad Tabaqjalí-záda, mudarris in Baghdad.

Commentary: Sayyid Muhammad at-Tabaqjalí, mudarris at al-`Aliyya; he founded the Madrasa al-Tabaqjalí and donated to it a valuable collection of manuscripts. He died in 1265/1849.



Praised and exalted be He from what they join as partners to Him! The Sea of Truths and Mine of Details, the balance of the Shar` and the Master of [legal] principles and matters of application, the Teacher of all and of mankind, and the Eleventh Intellect (i.e. Sayyid Mahmúd) is right concerning the unbelief of this evil man. May God give us refuge from his wickedness and free us from his deception! I am the needy Abu Bakr al-Naqshbandí al-Majdawí.

Commentary: Not identified, but presumably a Naqshbandí shaikh


By the Mighty Qur'án! That which this accursed man has brought is heresy in the [true] religion, and abrogation of what the Lord of the Messengers has brought to the effect that he is the Messenger of God and the Seal of the Prophets. And so belief in him is kufr (unbelief), and there is no doubt about this. The one who is needy of Him, magnified is His affair, Táhá ibn Shaikh Ahmad, the mudarris, [has written this].

Commentary: Táhá ibn Shaikh Ahmad ibn Shaikh Muhammad Qásim as-Sanandají as-Sanawí, later qádi of Mosul; died 1300/1882-3.


There is no doubt about the unbelief of him who claims the descent of Divine Revelation upon him after [Muhammad] the Seal of the Prophets, may God bless him and his family and his companions and give them peace, and there is no doubt about the unbelief of one who embarks upon adding to and subtracting from and changing the verses of the mighty Qur'an. And so we bear witness, by God Almighty, that he and the one who believes in him and the one who helps him and the one who assists him in what he says are wicked unbelievers. The one who is needy of [God] Almighty, Shaikh Ahmad as-Sanandají, the mudarris, has written this.

Commentary: Shaikh Ahmad as-Sanandají, father of the previous signatory, born 1191/1777, died 1274/1857-8.



God forbid! He [God] has not sent down the trusted [Holy] Spirit upon this accursed unbeliever. And so there is no doubt about the permissibility of killing him and whoever has believed in him. The one who is needy of Him, glorified is His affair, Sayyid Muhammad Amín, mudarris of al-Hadrat al-Qádiriyya, has written this.

Commentary: Sayyid Muhammad Amín ibn Sayyid Muhammad al-Adhamí known as al-Wá`iz. He was born in 1223/1808 of an eminent Baghdadi family. He became a mudarris at al-Qádiriyya in 1246/1830-1. He died in Ramadán 1273/April-May 1857.


Praise be to Him who has sent His messenger with Right Guidance and the True Religion and decreed for him all that is precise and exact in the statutes of religious law, and has sent down to him an Arabic Qur'án in which there is no crookedness, the exposition of which is clear, expressive of the clearest of utterances and the most brilliant of proofs! And the investigative scholar and the meticulous grammarian, the well-recognized sage and the courageous genius (i.e. Sayyid Mahmúd) is correct in pronouncing the unbelief of an ignorant man who has challenged words which are beyond the ability of the skilled ones of Qahtan [to imitate], and which will thwart every brilliant poet among those skilled in oration, although they be greater in number than the stones of the valley and more numerous than the sands of Yamáma and al-`Ans and the desert. Therefore, he has wandered in the place of perdition and been thrown down into the abyss of falsehood. And whoever does not make God his light, has no light. May God shelter us and you from the paths of passions, and guide us and you in the darkness of error! And I am the lowly Yúnis, mudarris at the Madrasa al-Hasaniyya.

Commentary: Unidentified.


Whoever has fabricated this lie against God Almighty is an unbeliever and, without doubt, deserving of death. The one who is needy of Him, glorified is His affair. Muhammad Amín al-Ná'ib [al-Shar`í ] of Baghdad [has written this].

Commentary: Sayyid Muhammad Amín ibn Ahmad al-Na'ib, Qádí (Ná'ib Shar`í) of Baghdad, died in 1275/1858-9.[30]



I say that there is no doubt about the unbelief of the one who has made this claim and believed it. I am the one who is needy of Him, glorified is His affair, Mahmúd al-Naqshbandí al-Khálidí, mudarris at al-Hadra al-A`zamiyya.

Commentary: Mahmúd al-Naqshbandí brother of the famous Shaikh Khálid al-Naqshbandí. But according to al-Darúbí,[31] Mahmúd would have been residing in Damascus at this time.


By Him who sent His messenger with Right Guidance and True Religion! This accursed person is an unbeliever and, similarly, whoever has believed in him and given [him] credence; they are all worthy of death and of Hell-fire and of the wrath of God, the Almighty, the All-Subduing. The one who is needy of Him, glorified is His affair, Ibráhím, mudarris at the Madrasa al-Qiblániyya [has written this]. The end.

commentary`: This was probably Sayyid Ibráhím al-Barzanjí, one of the eminent mudarrisún of Baghdad, although al-Darúbí[32] states that this man was mudarris at al-Kílániyya. He died in 1270/1853.


There is no doubt about the unbelief of one who has laid claim to what is written on this noble fatwá, nor about his deserving death, and the one who kills him should be rewarded. Indeed, there should be no hesitation in [declaring] the unbelief of anyone who wavers in [declaring] the unbelief of such an accursed person as this and his deserving an eternity in Sijjín (Hell). I have written this with my right hand, and upon it is my oath and asseveration, and I am the one who is needy of the Lord of Grace, al-Hájj `Abd al-Razzáq al-Shawwáf, formerly mudarris at al-`Aliyya. The end.

Commentary: A member of the eminent Shawwáf family of the Karkh quarter; his son Shaikh Táhá was for a long time Muftí and Qádí of Basra. Shaikh `Abd al-Razzáq died in 1268/1851.



In the name of God! Praise be to God, and may God bless Muhammad and his family and his companions! There is no doubt that God has ordained Islam and made its Sharí`a easy for those who would enter it. And He has rendered its pillars mighty against those who would contend with it, and made it a place of safety for whoever has adhered to it and a refuge for whoever has entered it, and power for whoever has professed it and a witness to whoever has argued by it, and understanding for whoever has intelligence, and enlightenment for whoever has pondered, and an assurance for those who trust, and a repose for those who commit themselves. This, on account of its obviousness, has no need of exposition or the bringing forth of proofs and evidences. Everyone who opposes this Shar` and claims such falsehoods or such concocted phrases and corrupted words or such perverted books and worthless sayings is outside the religion and the path of [Muhammad], the Lord of the Messengers. And so the author of these words and the one who believes in these tenets are outright unbelievers. Signed by the one who hopes for the forgiveness of his Lord, Hasan son of the late Shaikh Ja`far.

Commentary: Shaikh Hasan ibn Shaikh Ja`far, Káshif al-Ghitá', al-Najafí was born in Najaf in 1201/1786-7. His father was one of the foremost ulama of his age and author of the Kashf al-Ghita'. Shaikh Hasan lived at Hilla until the death of his brother Shaikh `Alí in 1253/1837, when he returned to Najaf where he was a rival for the leadership of the ulama with Shaikh Muhammad Hasan. The most famous of his pupils was Shaikh Murtadá al-Ansari. He died during a cholera epidemic on 28 Shawwal 1262/19 October 1846.[33]


In the name of God, the best of names! The unbelief of this speaker is something about which there is no doubt and no uncertainty. Whoever has followed his path has followed Satan, and is worthy of the anger of the All-Merciful. The one who is needy of Him, glorified is His affair, Sayyid Ibráhím ibn Báqir al-Músawí, may [God] forgive them both, has written this.

Commentary: Sayyid Ibráhím ibn Sayyid Muhammad Báqir al-Músawí al-Qazwíní, born in 1214/1799-1800, was the leading mujtahid of Karbalá and author of al-Dawábit. He had been the great enemy of the Shaikhi leader Sayyid Kazim Rashti until the latter's death, and was almost certainly not unaware of the connection between the Báb and the Shaikhís. He died in the cholera epidemic of 1262/1846.



In the name of God, and praise be to God, and may God bless Muhammad and his family and his companions! There is no doubt or uncertainty about the unbelief of the one who has put forward a claim through these corrupt and worthless writings and has believed in these erroneous and useless beliefs. The one who is hopeful of the forgiveness of his Lord, the needy Muhammad `Ali son of . . . may God forgive the sins of them both, has written this.

Commentary: The identity of this man is uncertain.


In the name of God, and may God bless Muhammad and his family and his companions! There is no doubt or uncertainty about the unbelief of the one who has put forward a claim through these writings and has believed in these tenets. The one who is hopeful of the forgiveness of his Lord, Muhammad the son of the late Shaikh `Alí, may God forgive him, has written this.

Commentary: Muhammad ibn Shaikh `Alí Ál Káshif al-Ghitá', al-Najafí, was the nephew of Shaikh Hasan (see above). At a later date he became one of the leading mujtahids in Najaf and marj`a al-taqlíd. He died in 1268/1851-2.


In the name of God and may God bless Muhammad and his family and give them peace! Manifestly clear to the common people, let alone to the eminent ulama, is the unbelief of one who puts forward such claims and presents such writings and tenets. Abu'l-Hasan, mudarris in al-Najaf al-Ashraf, the son of the late Sayyid Sálih al-Shámí, may [God] forgive him, has written this with his ephemeral hand.

Commentary: Abu 'l-Hasan ibn Shaikh Sálih al-Musawi al-`Amili, Sharaf al-Dín, was one of the prominent mujtahids of Najaf, very wealthy and married into the Káshif al-Ghitá' family. He died in 1275/1858-9.


The text of this fatwa is very badly faded, and only a few words can be distinguished. Its author cannot be determined. As far as can be seen, it says the following:

In the name of God, the All-High, the Merciful . . . There is no question and no doubt that he who has believed in these corrupt tenets and worthless falsehoods has disbelieved . . .



In the name of God All-High. Whoever has believed these perverse tenets and relied on such worthless errors is an accursed unbeliever The one who is needy of God, who is independent of all, Mahdí ibn Shaikh `Alí may [God] forgive him, has written this.

Commentary: Mahdí ibn Shaikh `Alí, Ál Káshif al-Ghitá', al-Najafí, was a younger brother of Shaikh Muhammad (see above). At a later date, after the death of Shaikh Murtadá al-Ansárí, Shaikh Mahdí became the leading `álim of the Shí`í world and marja` al-taqlíd for the Caucasus and for much of Iran and Iraq. He died on 24 Safar 1289/3 May 1872.


In the name of God, All-High. There is no doubt about the unbelief of the author of these writings and of one who believes in these tenets. The sinful Muhammad ibn Shaikh Músá [has written this].

Commentary: There are a number of possible persons who might have been the author of this fatwa: Shaikh Muhammad ibn Shaikh Musá Shabál al-`Afkawí, Shaikh Muhammad ibn Shaikh Musá al-Khamáyisí, or Shaikh Muhammad ibn Shaikh Musá al-Khudarí.


In the name of God; praise be to God! The matter is as it is written. The one who is hopeful of the forgiveness of his Lord, the Beneficent, Hasan al-Kharsán, has written [this].

Commentary: Hasan ibn Sayyid `Alí al-Musawí al-Najafí al-Kharsán was an eminent mujtahid of Najaf who went to Baghdad and resided at Kázimain at the request of the Shí`í tujjár [merchants] of Baghdad. He died in Rajab 1265/June 1849.


In the name of God All-High! There is no doubt that these perverse sentences are unbelief, opposed to the constraints of religion and a contravention of the Sharí`a of the Lord of the Messengers. The one who believes in them is an unbeliever, may the curse of God and of all the angels and people be upon him. The insignificant Hasan ibn `Alí, known as Kawhar, has written [this].


Commentary: Hasan ibn `Alí al-Qarácha-Dághí, known as Gawhar, is in many ways the most interesting signatory of this document. The reason for this is that he was a Shaikhí `álim of Karbalá. Indeed, after the death of Sayyid Kázim Rashtí, he was one of the major contenders for leadership of this movement. MacEoin[34] has shown how Muhammad Karím Khán Kirmání, the major contender for the Shaikhí leadership, used attacks on Bábism as a means of advancing his claims and also as a means of establishing the orthodoxy of the Shaikhí school in the face of the takfír that had been pronounced against it by many of the leading ulama. Here we see a similar phenomenon in the fatwá of Mírzá Hasan Gawhar against the Báb.

The Fate of Mullá ` Alí

Before going on to consider the implications of this document and this episode, it is necessary to complete the biography of Mullá `Alí.

After the trial, Najíb Páshá decided to refer the matter to the Sublime Porte. At this time, Turko-Iranian relations were only just beginning to recover from the shock of Najíb Páshá's sack of Karbalá in 1843, and Britain and Russia had agreed to act as joint convenors of a conference at Erzerum to sort out these differences. The arrest and trial of Mullá `Alí, an Iranian subject, threatened to cause a setback to these proceedings. Muhibb `Alí Khán, Governor of Kirmánsháh, had already written to Najíb Páshá through Rawlinson, demanding that Mullá `Alí be handed over to be dealt with by the Iranian authorities. In March, a letter arrived from the Iranian Prime Minister, Hájjí Mírzá Aqásí, demanding the extradition of Mullá `Alí. Najíb Páshá stated to the Iranian consul that the matter had been referred to Istanbul and was now out of his hands.[35]

From documents in the Turkish State Archives, it is clear that the proposal was initially to take Mullá `Alí to Bolu, a sufficient distance removed from the Iranian frontier. The Governor of Bolu seems to have thought it better that Mullá `Alí be sent to one of the islands (or possibly Algeria). The Sublime Porte eventually decided to bring Mullá `Alí to Istanbul and to sentence him to hard labour in the naval dockyards. It must for the present be assumed that Mullá 'Alí died there.[36]

The Báb's Change of Plan

In concluding this essay, we may perhaps look at two important questions that are connected with the trial of Mullá `Alí Bastámí. The first of these concerns the fact that the Báb did not proceed to Karbalá after his pilgrimage to Mecca as he had originally intended. The second concerns the nature of the early claims of the Báb upon which the fatwá document sheds much light.

It seems clear that the original intention of the Báb was to go on the pilgrimage to Mecca and then on to Karbalá, where he would make an open proclamation of his claim to be the Imám Mahdí. Perhaps one of the most important and critical turning points in his career was his decision then not to go to Karbalá and, indeed, to put off the proclamation of his claim for four years. This change of plan, moreover, precipitated a severe crisis among his followers. Concerning this, Nabíl writes:

The receipt of this unexpected intelligence created a considerable stir among those who had been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Báb at Karbala. It agitated their minds and tested their loyalty. "What of his promise to us?" whispered a few of the discontented among them. "Does He regard the breaking of His pledge as the interposition of the will of God ?" The others, unlike those waverers, became more steadfast in their faith and clung with added determination to the Cause.[37]

Neither in the Báb's writings nor in the Bábí and Bahá'í literature is there much to indicate the cause of this change of plan. Al-Qatíl ibn al-Karbalá'í implies that it was because of the ill-treatment meted out to the messengers of the Báb (at Shiraz and Kirman as well as in Iraq):

God was angry with them and cursed them and took away His providence from them, and forbore for five years, in order that they might increase in sin and that His announcement to them might be complete and the Book might be read to them and the messengers might be chosen for them.[38]

At any rate, the Báb's full proclamation of his mission did not occur for another four years.

The Claims of the Báb

One of the controversial points in Bábí history is the exact nature of the claim put forward in the first few years of the Báb's mission. All are agreed that after four years, the Báb openly proclaimed that


he was the Hidden Twelfth Imám, the Imám Mahdí, made manifest after one thousand years of occultation, and that he was a prophet of God, the inaugurator of a new dispensation abrogating the Islamic one. However, Nabíl, the Bahá'í historian who wrote an account of these events some thirty years later, seems to indicate that the Báb put forward these claims from the very start, a view which subsequent Bahá'í historians have tended to follow. MacEoin has stated: "Bahá'í sources from a relatively early date have tended to attribute the Báb's later, developed claims retrospectively to the earliest period, resulting in a serious distortion of the pattern in which the Báb's thought developed."[39] As long as eighty years ago, Edward G. Browne noted that the claims put forward in the Báb's writings evolved during the Báb's ministry:

The Báb's original claim was . . . that he was the "Gate" whereby men could communicate with the Ká'im, Imám-Mahdí, or Twelfth Imám. At a later period of his mission, however, he declared himself to be none other than the Imám himself, and . . it was this claim that he boldly advanced before his inquisitors at Tabriz.[40]

Browne is here following the explicit claim made in the Qayyúm al-asmá', which is that of being the special representative (na'ib kháss) or the Gate (Báb) of the Hidden Imám. Thus for example in the opening súra of the Qayyúm al-asmá', it is stated that this book has been sent down from the Imám Mahdí "to his servant that it may be the proof of God revealed from His Remembrance unto all mankind,''[41] and in the Súrat al-Sirr: "Listen! By the Lord of Heaven and Earth, I am the servant of God before you who has brought the clear proof from the Remnant of God (Baqzyat Alláh), the expected one."[42] This seems to have been how most of the people perceived the Báb's claim for the first four years of his mission, whether they believed in him or not. This is how the European diplomats reported his claims when they first began to make mention of the Báb in their reports.[43] It should be noted, of course, that this claim was easily identified in the minds of most Shaikhís with the Bearer of the Fourth Support.

However, those of the ulama who were familiar with the Báb's writings came to view his claims differently. We have seen that in the fatwá document described above, the ulama have perceived through the Báb's use of words such as awhá and anzala and certain other phrases and injunctions that he was in fact claiming for himself Divine Revelation and a station equal to that of Muhammad. Descent (nuzúl) of Divine Revelation (wahy) is not even claimed for the Twelve Imáms in orthodox Shí`í Islam.[44] This implicit claim in the Báb's first book, the Qayyúm al-asmá', was clearly perceived by the Sunní and Shí`í ulama writing the fatwá against Mullá `Alí in Baghdad and formed the basis of their charge of heresy.

Completely independently and at about the same time as the trial of Mullá `Alí, Muhammad Karím Khán Kirmání, who was about to emerge as the leader of a group of Shaikhís, came to much the same conclusion. In his Izháq al-bátil (completed in July 1845), Karím Khán examines the contents of the manuscript of the Qayyúm al-asmá' brought to him by Mullá Sádiq Khurasání. Interestingly, he picks out for criticism in this book some of the same passages as the compiler of the su'ál portion of the fatwá described in this paper.[45] After quoting several verses from the Súrat al-Dhikr (including v. 12, see passage 3 and translation above), Karím Khán writes:

Ponder on these statements of unbelief and these nonsenses which only an obdurate unbeliever, disdainful of his glorious Lord and scornful of the praiseworthy Prophet, would utter. And how is it that he has asserted that . . . God has revealed to him this book in which there is no truth and that what is in it is from the Remembrance of God and his Apostle? Either it is just an expression and by it he did not intend Him, or it is not the God of creation and His Apostle [that is intended], for it is according to his assertion and not according to the assertion of the Muslims, and God has said: "Say: O unbelievers! I worship not that which you worship and neither do you worship that which I worship."[46] And so our God is not his God, nor our Apostle his Apostle, nor our Imám his Imám. Would you not say that our God is the Creator of the Word and would not make a mistake in His Word? For the God who has sent down this word, which the least of the tullab -- not even the lowliest Arab -- would utter, is not our God, and similarly, the Apostle of this God is not our Apostle, and similarly, the Caliph of this Apostle who has chosen such a gate (Báb) is not our Imám. And so all that is in it is error and worthless according to the application of the Law of Islam. Ponder on it, and you will find it incontestable that there is not an attribute of God which he has not claimed for himself nor a station of the prophets which he has not arrogated nor a virtue of the Imáms with which he has not attired himself.[47]


And after a few further quotations from the Qayyúm al-asmá', Karím Khán writes:

And so this man has sought leadership and has desired to rule and has committed what he has committed through his foolishness. And therefore, why is it that people who profess to have intelligence are hesitating [48] about the unbelief of this man and about his expulsion from Islam ? And if taking on the station of prophet and guardian, and arrogation of their virtues and dignities, and giving the lie to the Qur'án and the statement that a new book has been sent down to him, are not disbelief in the essential elements of Islam, then what else besides these are the essential elements?[49]

If Sunní, Shí`í and Shaikhí ulama in Baghdad and Kirman realized the implicit claim in the Báb's writings, it is unreasonable to suppose that the Báb's closest disciples, the Letters of the Living, and others of his leading disciples who were also themselves all of the ulama, failed to perceive this implicit claim, if indeed it was not conveyed to them orally during the several months that they were together with the Báb in Shiraz in 1844.

Thus it would seem that there were at least two levels of understanding of the Báb's claim at this early period. On one level, the generality of the people, and probably of the Bábís, thought of the Báb as an intermediary between the Hidden Imám and the world (the ná'ib kháss), or for the Shaikhís, the Bearer of the Fourth Support (hámil-i rukn-i rábi`). On the other hand, those of the ulama who were familiar with the Báb's writings, as well as the leading Bábís, were aware of the greater claims of the Báb: that of being the bearer of a new divine revelation abrogating Islam.

During this time, the Báb was insisting that his disciples follow the sharí`a of Islam. Thus in an early letter to Táhira, the Báb writes:

Be thou assured that all the externals of the sharí`a are to continue. Whoever neglects any of them, it shall be as if he has neglected all of them.[50]

There is, moreover, an open acknowledgement and an explanation by the Báb of the changing nature of his claim in the Dalá'il-i Sab`a, one of his later works:

Consider the grace of the Promised One in so extending his mercy to the people of Islam that he might bring them salvation, how he whose station is that of the first of all created things and the manifestation of the verse: "Verily, I am God," revealed himself as the Báb of the Qá'im of the family of Muhammad, and in his first book commanded observance of the laws of the Qur'án so that men might nor be disturbed by a new Book and a new cause.[51]

This situation lasted until the summer of 1848. Then almost simultaneously, the Báb at his trial in Tabriz and some of his leading disciples at the conference of Badasht openly proclaimed the Báb's claim to be the Hidden Imám Mahdí, the Qá'im of the House of Muhammad. This pronouncement was clearly a startling revelation for the Bábís and many, both at the conference of Badasht and in various parts of the country, repudiated the Báb at this time.[52] It was shortly before this time that the Báb wrote the Persian Bayán and other works in which he, for the first time, alluded to his station and gave out religious laws and ordinances which abrogated those of Islam, thereby realizing the prerogative which was implicit in his claim to be of equal station to Muhammad and the preceding apostles (rasúlún).

The mission of the Báb may therefore be considered to have consisted of three stages: the first stage lasted several months in 1844, when the Báb collected around himself in Shiraz a small band of disciples, without however making a public proclamation; the second stage was initiated in December 1844 by the open proclamation of the Báb's claim, although his followers continued to follow the sharí`a of Islam; the third stage began in the summer of 1848 with the promulgation of the new sharí`a, abrogating the Islmaic sharí`a and thus making clear the nature of the Báb's claim. The trial of Mullá c Alí which forms the subject of this article marked the opening of the second phase. It was the first major confrontation between the new religious movement and the most eminent figures in the hierarchy of both Sunní and Shí`í orthodoxy. The fatwá emanating from this trial was to set the pattern for subsequent declamations of the Bábí and Bahá'í movement. The text of this fatwá provides us with significant clues as to how the early claims of the Báb were perceived.



1. In mediaeval times, the `Abbasids brought together a number of leading `Alids together with prominent Sunní and Shí'í ulama in order to produce a rebuttal of the Fatimid claim to `Alid ancestry. The first time that this occurred was in the reign of the Caliph al-Qádir in 402/1011 and the second was in the reign of the Caliph al-Qá'im in 444/1052. See Ibn al-Athír, al-Kámil fí 't-ta'rikh, Beirut, 1386/1966, IX, pp. 236, 591; Ibn al-Jauzí, al-Muntazam, Cairo, 1386/1939, VII, pp. 255-6; Ibn Khaldún, The Muqaddimah (tr. F. Rosenthall), London 1958, 1, pp. 45-6.

2. The Iraqi historian `Alí al-Wardí writes: "This trial of Mulla `Alí was the first gathering of its kind in the Ottoman era. For it was not customary in that period for the `ulamá of the two sects (Sunní and Shí`í) to come together in one gathering in order to try an accused person. And this meant that the government was giving the Shí`í sect official recognition." Lamahát ijtimá`iyya min ta'ríkh al-`Iráq al-hadíth, Baghdad, 1969, II, pp. 138-9.

3. Summarized from Fádil-i Mázandarání, Zuhúr al-Haqq, III, Tehran, n.d., pp. 105-6.

4. Risála, in Ibid., p. 508.

5. Izháq al-batil, Kirman, 1392/1972, p. 14.

6 See MacEoin, "Shaykhi Reaction," pp. 4-5.

7 Risála, in Fadil, Zuhúr al-haqq, III, p. 510.

8. Nabil's Narrative, The Dawnbreakers (ed. and tr. Shoghi Effendi), Wilmette, Ill., 1932, p. 50.

9. Khan Bahadur Agha Mirza Muhammad, "Some New Notes on Babiism," JRAS (July 1927), p. 448 n.

10. One account of Mullá Husain's encounter with the Báb may be found in Nabil's Narrative, pp. 52-65.

11. According to one account, Mullá `Alí was accompanied by twelve persons (Nabil's Narrative, p. 66); according to another, six (Ibn al-Karbalá'í, in Fádil, Zuhúr al-haqq, loc. cit.).

12. An account of his conversion may be found in Nabil's Narrative, pp. 66-8.

13. He was the author of the Jawáhir al-kalám, a work that is regarded as authoritative in the field of Jurisprudence to the present day. Shaikh Muhammad Hasan's pre-eminence was not, however, undisputed. Muhammad Hizr al-Dín, in his biographical dictionary, states of Shaikh Muhammad Hasan's principal rival, Shaikh Hasan ibn Shaikh Ja'far, that he was "a leader who was obeyed despite the existence of the author of the Jawáhir in Najaf, and that questions came to him from all parts of the Muslim world" (Ma`árif al-rijál, Najaf, 1383/1964, I, pp. 210-11).

14. Op. cit., 11, p. 138.

15. Quoted in Abu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani, Kashf al-ghitá', Ishqabad, n.d., p. 71.

16. Risála amriyya, Cairo, 1338/1919-20, pp. 106-7.

17. Rawlinson to Lord Canning, No. 1, 8 January 1845, F.O. 195 237. Rawlinson has of course called the Shaikhis by the name of their opponents, the Usulis, and is also mistaken in stating that they were prominent in Najaf rather than Karbala. For details of all of Rawlinson's dispatches on this subject, see M. Momen, The Bábí and Bahá'í Religions (1844-1944): Some Contemporary Western Accounts, Oxford, 1981, pp. 83-90.

18. Ibid.

19. Rawlinson to Lt. Col. Shiel, No. 2, 16 January 1845, FO 248 114.

20. Tabaqát A`lám al-Shí`a, II, Najaf, 1374/1954, pp. 318-19. Substantially similar accounts are given in Hizr al-Dín, op. cit., I, pp. 215-16, al-Wardí, op. cit., II, pp. 138-40, and Muhammad Tunukabuní, Qisas al-'ulamá, Tehran, n.d., pp. 185-6

21. op. cit., p. 107

22. This document, together with the accompanying reports of Najíb Pasha, were found among miscellaneous files from Baghdad in the Ottoman Archives in Istanbul by the late Mr. Sami Doktoroglu. The author would like to express his gratitude to Mr. Doktoroglu for sharing this important discovery, and his profound sorrow at the news of his death.

23. Mu'assisa-yi Millí-yi Matbú'át-i Amrí, Tehran, 134 badí`/1977.

24. There is also a list of the titles of the súras in A.L.M. Nicolas, Seyyed Ali Mohammed dit le Báb, Paris, 1905, pp. 22-8.

25. Hasan ul-Amine, Shorter Islamic Shi`ite Eneyelopaedia, Beirut, 1969, pp.83-4.

26. See the fatwá of Sayyid Mahmúd al-Alúsí in Ibráhím al-Darúbí, al-Baghdádiyyún, akhbáruhum wa-majálisuhum, Baghdad, 1377/1958, opposite p. 368.

27. See the passage by al-Qatíl ibn al- Karbalá'í, cited above.

18. Edward G. Browne, A Traveller's Narrative, Cambridge, 1891, II, pp. 236-7; A. L. M. Nicolas, Essai sur le Cheikhisme, III: La doctrine, Paris, 1911, pp. 2-8

29. Biographies of Sunní ulama are, unless otherwise indicated, taken from al-Darúbí, al-Baghdádiyyún, and `Abbás al-`Azzawí, Ta'ríkh al-`Iráq bayn ihtilálayn, Baghdad, VlI, 13l5/1955, VIII, 1376/1956.

30 Sayyd Mustafá Núr al-Dín al-Wá'iz, al-Rawd al-adhhar, Mosul, 1368/1948, p. 118. The marriage document illustrated opposite p. 116 of this book and transcribed on pp. 116-18 is particularly interesting, in that many of the Sunní signatories of the fatwá also signed this document.

31. Op. cit., p. 166.

32. Ibid., p. 154.

33. Biographies of Shí`í ulama are taken from Hizr al-Dín, Ma`árif al-rijál and Tihrání, A'lám al-Shí`a.

34 "Shaykhi Reaction", pp. 9-10.

35. See Rawlinson to Canning, No. 6, 22 January 1845, FO 195 237; Rawlinson to Sheil, No. 10, 3 March 1845, FO 248 114.

36. Information from Ottoman Government papers found in the same file as the fatwá document (see n. 22 above). These include a report from Najíb Páshá dated 15 Muharram 1261/24 January 1845 which accompanied the fatwá, as well as a letter from the Governor of Bolu.

37. Nabil's Narrative, p. 158.

38. Risála in Fadil, Zuhur al-haqq, III, p. 512.

39. Op. cit., p. 15.

40. Op. cit., p.290.

41. Súrat al-Mulk, v. 8.

42. Súra IX, 17.

43. See for example Dolgoruki's dispatch, dated 25 December 1848 (6 January 1849 in the Gregorian calendar), quoted in Murtadá Mudarrisí-Chahárdihí, Shaikhígarí, Bábígarí, Tehran, 1351/1972, p. 270. By 1850, however, Shiel is reporting that the Báb has claimed to be the "Imam Mehdee". Shiel to Palmerston, No. 23, 12 February 1850, FO 60 150.

44. See Martin McDermott, The Theology of al-Shaikh al-Mufíd, Beirut, 1978, p. 111, and Muhammad al-Husain, Ál Káshif al-Ghitá', Asl al-Shí`a wa-usuluhá, Najaf, 9th printing 1381/1962, p. 91.

45. Súrat al-Dhikr, v. 12 (see passage 3 and translation, above); Súrat al-Husain, v. 22-3 (see passage 2 above); Súrat al-Ulyá, v. 12, 22 (see passage 5 above).

46. Qur'án, CIX, 2-4.

47. Kirmání, Izháq al-bátil, p. 92-3.

48. This may be a reference to Hájjí Sayyid Jawád, the Imám-Jum`a of Kirman, who extended his protection to Mullá Sádiq Khurásáná and Quddús, the Báb's messengers to Muhammad Karím Khán, see Nabil's Narrative, pp. 180-2, 187; Hasan M. Balyuzi, The Báb, Oxford, 1973, p. 33.

49. Kirmani, op. cit., p. 94.

50. Fadil, Zuhúr al-haqq, III, p. 334. See also MacEoin, op. cit., p. 17, where several other passages are quoted.

51. Dalá'il-i sab'a, Tehran, n.d., p. 29, quoted in MacEoin, op. cit., pp. 16 - 17.

52. For an account of those repudiating the Báb at Badasht, see Nabíl's Narrative, pp. 296-7. Apart from this, the Bábís of Marágha turned their backs on the Báb, see MacEoin, op. cit., p. 18.

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