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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Babiism

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The religion founded in Persia in A.D. 1844-1845 by Mirth `Ali Muhammad of Shiraz, a young Sayyid who was at that time not twenty-five years of age. Before his "manifestation " (zuhur ), of which he gives in the Persian Bayan a date corresponding to 23rd May 1844, he was a disciple of Sayyid Kazim of Rasht, the leader of the Shaykhis, a sect of extreme Shiites characterized by the doctrine (called by them Rukn-irabi`, " the fourth support ") that at all times there must exist an intermediary between the twelfth Imam and his faithful followers. This intermediary they called " the perfect Shi`ite," and his prototype is to be found in the four successive Babs or " gates " through whom alone the twelfth Imam, during the period of his " minor occultation " ( Ghaybat-i-sughra, A.D. 87494 0), held communication with his partisans. It was in this sense, and not, as has been often asserted, in the sense of " Gate of God " or " Gate of Religion," that the title Bab was understood and assumed by Mirz&`Ali Muhammad; but,though still generally thus styled by non-Babis, he soon assumed the higher title of .Nugta (" Point "), and the title Bab, thus left vacant, was conferred on his ardent disciple, Mull& Husayn of Bushrawayh.

The history of the Babis, though covering a comparatively short period, is so full of incident and the particulars now available are so numerous, that the following account purports to be only the briefest sketch. The Bab himself was in captivity first at Shiraz, then at Maki", and lastly at Chihriq, during the greater part of the six years (May 1844 until July 1850) of his brief career, but an active propaganda was carried on by his disciples, which resulted in several serious revolts against the government, especially aster the death of Muhammad Shah in September 1848. Of these risings the first (December 1848-July 1849) took place in Mazandaran, at the ruined shrine of Shaykh Tabarsi, near Barfurush, where the Babis, led by Mulla Muhammad `Ali of Barfurush and Mulla Husayn of Bushrawayh (" the first who believed "), defied the shah's troops for seven months before they were finally subdued and put to death. The revolt at Zanjan in the north-west of Persia, headed by Mulla Muhammad `Ali Zanjani, also lasted seven or eight months (May-December 1850), while a serious but less protracted struggle was waged against the government at Niriz in Fars by Aga, Sayyid Yahya of Niriz. Both revolts were in progress when the Bab, with one of his devoted disciples, was brought from his prison at Chihriq to Tabriz and publicly shot in front of the arg or citadel. The body, after being exposed for some days, was recovered by the Babis and conveyed to a shrine near Tehran, whence it was ultimately removed to Acre in Syria, where it is now buried. For the next two years comparatively little was heard of the Babis, but on the 15th of August 1852 three of them, acting on their own initiative, attempted to assassinate Nasiru'd-Din Shah as he was returning from the chase to his palace at Niyavaran. The attempt failed, but was the cause of a fresh persecution, and on the 31st of August 1852 some thirty Babis, including the beautiful and talented poetess Qurratu'l-'Ayn, were put to death in Tehran with atrocious cruelty. Another of the victims of that day was Hajji Mirth Jani of Kashan, the author of the oldest history of the movement from the Babi point of view. Only one complete MS. of his invaluable work (obtained by Count Gobineau in Persia) exists in any public library, the Bibliotheque Nationale at Paris. The so-called " New History " (of which an English translation was published at Cambridge in 1893 by E. G. Browne) is based on Mirth Jani's work, but many important passages which did not accord with later Babi doctrine or policy have been suppressed or modified, while some additions have been made. The Bab was succeeded on his death by Mirth Yahya of Nur (at that time only about twenty years of age), who escaped to Bagdad, and, under the title of Subh-i-Ezel (" the Morning of Eternity "), became the pontiff of the sect. He lived, however, in great seclusion, leaving the direction of affairs almost entirely in the hands of his elder halfbrother (born 12th November 1817), Mirth Husayn `Ali, entitled Baha' u'llah (" the Splendour of God "), who thus gradually became the most conspicuous and most influential member of the sect, though in the Igan, one of the most important polemical works of the Babis, composed in 1858-1859, he still implicitly recognized the supremacy of Subh-i-Ezel. In 1863, however, Bah& declared himself to be " He whom God shall manifest " ( Man Yuz-hiruhu'llah, with prophecies of whose advent the works of the Bab are filled), and called on all the Babis to recognize his claim. The majority responded, but Subh-i-Ezel and some of his faithful adherents refused. After that date the B&bis divided into two sects, Ezelis and Baha'is, of which the former steadily lost and the latter gained ground, so that in 1908 there were probably from half a million to a million of the latter, and at most only a hundred or two of the former. In 1863 the Babis were, at the instance of the Persian government, removed from Bagdad to Constantinople, whence they were shortly afterwards transferred to Adrianople. In 1868 Baha and his followers were exiled to Acre in Syria, and Subh-i-Ezel with his few adherents to Famagusta in Cyprus, where he was still living in 1908. Baha'u'llah died at Acre on the 16th of May 1892. His son `Abbas Efendi (also called `Abdu'l-Baha, " the servant of Baha ") was generally recognized as his successor, but another of his four sons, Muhammad `Ali, put forward a rival claim. This caused a fresh and bitter schism, but `Abbas Efendi steadily gained ground, and there could be little doubt as to his eventual triumph. The controversial literature connected with this latest schism is abundant, not only in Persian, but in English, for since 1900 many Americans have adopted the religion of Baha. The original apostle of America was Ibrahim George Khayru'llah, who began his propaganda at the Chicago Exhibition and later supported the claims of Muhammad `Ali. Several Persian missionaries, including the aged and learned Mirza Abu'l-Fazl of Gulpayagan, were thereupon despatched to America by `Abbas Efendi, who was generally accepted by the American Baha'is as " the Master." The American press contained many notices of the propaganda and its success. An interesting article on the subject, by Stoyan Krstoff Vatralsky of Boston, Mass., entitled " Mohammedan Gnosticism in America," appeared in the American Journal of Theology for January 1902, pp. 57-58.

A correct understanding of the doctrines of the early Babis (now represented by the Ezelis) is hardly possible save to one who is conversant with the theology of Islam and its developments, and especially the tenets of the Shi`a. The Babis are Muhammadans only in the sense that the Muhammadans are Christians or the Christians Jews; that is to say, they recognize Muhammad (Mahomet) as a true prophet and the Qur'an (Koran) as a revelation, but deny their finality. Revelation, according to their view, is progressive, and no revelation is final, for, as the human race progresses, a fuller measure of truth, and ordinances more suitable to the age, are vouchsafed. The Divine Unity is incomprehensible, and can be known only through its Manifestations; to recognize the Manifestation of the cycle in which he lives is the supreme duty of man. Owing to the enormous volume and unsystematic character of the Bali scriptures, and the absence of anything resembling church councils, the doctrine on many important points (such as the future life) is undetermined and vague. The resurrection of the body is denied, but some form of personal immortality is generally, though not universally, accepted. Great importance was attached to the mystical values of letters and numbers, especially the numbers 18 and 19 (" the number of the unity ") and 19 2 = 361 (" the number of all things "). In general, the Bab's doctrines most closely resembled those of the Isma`ilis and Hurufis. In the hands of Baha the aims of the sect became much more practical and ethical, and the wilder pantheistic tendencies and metaphysical hair-splittings of the early Balls almost disappeared. The intelligence, integrity and morality of the Babis are high, but their efforts to improve the social position of woman have been much exaggerated. They were in no way concerned (as was at the time falsely alleged) in the assassination of Nasiru'd-Din Shah in May 1896. Of recent persecutions of the sect the two most notable took place at Yazd, one in May 1891, and another of greater ferocity in June 1903. Some account of the latter is given by Napier Malcolm in his book Five Years in a Persian Town (London,1905), pp. 87-89 and 186. In the constitutional movement in Persia (1907) the Babis, though their sympathies are undoubtedly with the reformers, wisely refrained from outwardly identifying themselves with that party, to whom their open support, by alienating the orthodox mujtahids and mullds, would have proved fatal. Here, as in all their actions, they clearly obeyed orders issued from headquarters.

LITERATURE. - The literature of the sect is very voluminous, but mostly in manuscript. The most valuable public collections in Europe are at St Petersburg, London (British Museum) and Paris (Bibliotheque Nationale), where two or three very rare MSS. collected by Gobineau, including the precious history of the Bab's contemporary, Hajji Mirth Jani of Kashan, are preserved. For the bibliography up to 1889, see vol. ii. pp. 173-211 of the Traveller's Narrative, written to illustrate the Episode of the Bdb, a Persian work composed by Baba's son, `Abbas Efendi, edited, translated and annotated by E. G. Browne (Cambridge, 1891). More recent works are: - Browne, The New History of the Bdb (Cambridge, 1893) and " Catalogue and Description of the 27 Babi Manuscripts," Journal of R. Asiat. Soc. (July and October 1892); Andreas, Die Bdbi's in Persien (1896); Baron Victor Rosen, Collections scientifiques de l'Institut des Langues orientales, vol. i. (1877), pp. 179-212; vol. iii. (1886), pp. i-51; vol. vi. (1891), pp. 141-255; " Manuscrits Babys "; and other important articles in Russian by the same scholar; and by Captain A. G. Toumansky in the Zapiski vostochnava otdyeleniya Imperatorskava Russkava Archeologicheskava Obshchestva (vols. iv. - xii., St Petersburg, 1890-1900); also an excellent edition by Toumansky, with Russian translation, notes and introduction, of the Kitdb-i-Agdas (the most important of Baba's works), &c. (St Petersburg, 2899). Mention should also be made of an Arabic history of the Babis (unsympathetic but well-informed) written by a Persian, Mirth Muhammad Mandi Khan, Za'imu'd-Duwla, printed in Cairo in A.H. 1321 (=A.D. 1903-1904). Of the works composed in English for the American converts the most important are :- Bahci'u'lldh (The Glory of God), by Ibrahim Khayru'llah, assisted by Howard MacNutt (Chicago, 1900); The Three Questions (n.d.) and Facts for Bandists (1901), by the same; Life and Teachings of `Abbas Efendi, by Myron H. Phelps, with preface by E. G. Browne (New York, 2903); Isabella Brittingham, The Revelations of Bala u'lldh, in a Sequence of Four Lessons (2902); Laura Clifford Burney, Some Answered Questions Collected [in Acre, 1904-1906] and Translated from the Persian of `Abdu'l-Bahl [i.e. `Abbas Efendi] (London, 1908). In French, A. L. M. Nicolas (first dragoman at the French legation at Tehran) has published several important translations, viz. Le Livre des Sept preuves de la mission du Bdb (Paris, 1902); Le Livre de la certitude (1904); and Le Beyan arabe (1905); and there are other notable works by H. Dreyfus, an adherent of the BAN faith. Lastly, mention should be made of a remarkable but scarce little tract by Gabriel Sacy, printed at Cairo in June 1902, and entitled Du regne de Dieu et de l'Agneau, connu sous le nom de Babysme. (E. G. B.)


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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Babiism'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/bri/b/babiism.html. 1910.

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