« Baba; Baba Batra; Baba Kamma; Baba Mezia Babism Babylonia »



Antecedents of Babiam (§ 1).

Mirza Ali Mohammed, the Bab (§ 2).

Persecution and Death of the Bab (§ 3).

Doctrines (§ 4).

1. Antecedents of Babism.

Babism, the system of a mystic Mohammedan sect, which originated in Persia about the middle of the nineteenth century, is said to have more than 1,000 000 adherents to-day and is still spreading, and offers in its history some striking parallels to the origin and early development of Christianity. Mohammedanism is a religion sharply defined, even iron-bound in its doctrinal precision, dogmatic to the last degree in its essentials; and yet it has manifested the greatest elasticity in politics, in social life, in philosophy, and in religious beliefs (see Mohammed, Mohammedanism). Material and expressed in material terms, its theology has nevertheless embraced the abstractions of Greek philosophy, Persian mysticism, and Hindu pantheism and incarnation among the doctrines held by its adherents. Babism and its precursors most completely illustrate these anomalies. The roots of the sect lie in the early doctrine known as Shiah, which has flourished most prolifically and almost solely on Persian soil. The foundation of Shiah teaching is the doctrine concerning the Imam. According to this system, the Imamate or Califate is not elective nor is it to be usurped; it is of divine right and altogether spiritual; Ali, through Ayesha’s guile thrice defeated for succession to Mohammed and finally assassinated, was the first Imam. The essence of the Imamate is a light which passed directly from Mohammed to Ali and passes from one Imam to the next. By virtue of this light the Imam becomes impeccable, omniscient, divine, an incarnation of deity. A philosophic ground of this doctrine is that even an infallible book like the Koran to be effective requires an infallible exponent, which is furnished by the Imamate. But the Imamate, though it is a succession, is not unlimited, and of the two main branches of Shiites one reckons six and the other twelve Imams. Both branches hold the mystical doctrine that the last Imam did not die, but lives ” concealed” in one of the Arabic utopias, Jabulka or Jabulsa. A corollary is that he is to reappear, e.g., as the Mahdi ” the Guided,” who is to ” fill the earth with justice” —a prophecy and a hope which naturally lead to repeated attempts at their fulfilment and realization (see Mahdi). It is further held that there were two degrees of ” concealment” or ” occultation,” the minor and the major. During the former, communication with the faithful was made by intermediaries who were called Abwab or ” Gates” (singular bab). When the last of the Abwab died (1021) without naming a successor, the major occultation began in the entire cessation of communion between the Imam and the faithful. Naturally the Shiites have ever since been expecting the reopening of communication with the Imam and a period of enlightenment in his revealing.

2. Mirza Ali Mohammed, the Bab.

The immediate precursors of the Babis were the Shaikhis, followers of Shaikh Ahmad (1753-1826), a Shiite mystic, ascetic, and thinker. His special teaching was that the Imams were personifications of divine attributes and that of these personifications Ali was chief. He gathered around him a great company of believers, the leadership of whom passed after his death to Hajji Sayyid Kazim, still a young man, but reserved, mysterious, and ascetic to a degree, under whom the sect multiplied in numbers and came to include many of the nobility. Just before his death (1843) Sayyid Kazim forbade his followers to mourn and declared that it was good that he should go in order that ” the true one should appear.” He died without appointing a successor. Among his disciples had been a certain Mirza Ali Mohammed, a native of Shiraz, who was only twenty-three years of age when Sayyid Kazim died. Mirza Ali was met by Mullah Husain, one of the searchers for a successor to the dead leader, and claimed to be the sought one, the ” true one who was to appear” and the Bab or ” Gate.” He also claimed inspiration, established his right to the place of leader by revealing undiscovered meanings in the Koran, and convinced the searchers that their quest was ended. This claim was the more easily allowed because the year in which it was made was reckoned as the one thousandth from that of the disappearance of the last Imam. Millenarianism of a certain kind is as potent in its influence over Mohammedans as it was in Christendom in the year 1000 of the Christian era. Adherents came in 395by the hundred when the news that the Bab had appeared was spread abroad, as it soon was in the manner peculiar to the East. To the personal attractiveness of the young leader and the agreement of his pantheistic teachings with the mysticism held by most Shiites there was added as a compelling force driving to association, with his following the great evils of a tyrannous civil and religious administration, so that the Babis soon became a large and important body.

3. Persecution and Death of the Bab.

The next year (1843) the Bab made the pilgrimage to Mecca, returning confirmed in his opposition to the mullahs or clergy. He attacked them in his preaching, and when they sent their ablest debaters to confute him and his claims, these partizans were either silenced or convinced. They then secured his arrest and attempted to assassinate him, but were prevented since he was under the protection of the governor. When the latter died (1847), Mirza Ali was thrown into prison in Maku and finally taken to Tabriz, where his confinement was daily made more rigorous. All the time he was exceedingly prolific in a literary way, claiming indeed as evidence of his inspiration the ability to produce 1,000 lines of poetry a day. His mildness and gentleness won the hearts even of his jailers, and converts were increased as accounts of his sufferings were made public. The most notable conversion was that of a famous, learned, and very beautiful woman to whom the Bab gave the name Jenab-i-Tahira, ” Her Excellency the Pure.” She was permeated with mysticism, and by her devotion and persuasiveness during her life and still more by her martyrdom (1852), she gained large numbers as adherents of the faith. Meanwhile in 1848 the late Shah was crowned, and selected as his prime minister a violent opponent of Babism. Under the persecution immediately instituted, some of the Babis seized arms and proclaimed the Bab sovereign, a proceeding which he discountenanced. The prime minister then had the Bab executed, July 8, 1850, expecting that his death would cause the dissolution of the sect. But Mirza Ali had nominated Mirza Yahya his successor and head of the nineteen councilors, and continuity was secured. On assuming leadership, the latter took the names of Sub-i-Ezel and Hazrat-i-Ezel, ” Dawn and Holiness of Eternity.”

The execution of the Bab exasperated his followers, and some of them attempted to assassinate the Shah. This involved the sect in new persecutions and in wholesale executions in public in which the most execrable atrocities were perpetrated (Count Gobineau has described some of the scenes in Les Religions et les philosophies, pp. 301-303, quoted in Renan, Les Apôtres, p. 378, Eng. transl., p. 201). As a result there was a great exodus of the adherents of the sect to Bagdad, whence, upon Persian official protest against their continued residence so near to the Persian territory, the Turkish government removed them to Adrianople. The leader secluded himself very persistently, conducting affairs through his half-brother Beha. The latter suddenly proclaimed himself the one foretold by the Bab as ” the one whom God shall manifest,” drew after himself most of the following, and split the sect into the ” Ezelites” and the ” Behaites.” Between the two parties hostilities so bitter broke out that the Turks sent Beha to Acre, which became the headquarters of the Behaites and the center of their propaganda. Ezel was removed to Cyprus, and his following has become almost extinct. Beha was almost as prolific a writer as the Bab, and his works are extant in a Bombay edition. He died in 1892, and his son Abbas Effendi took his place and is the present leader. The number of Babis is estimated at over 1,000,000, and they carry on a propaganda in the United States (described in AJT, Jan., 1902). See Behaism.

4. Doctrines.

The doctrines of the Babis rest on two bases: (1) The general system of Shiah in its pantheistic and mystical phases; and (2) the assumption that no revelation is final, but represents only the measure of truth the stage of human progress has rendered man capable of receiving. Hence, as the revelation of Moses was superseded by that of Jesus, and his by Mohammed’s, and his in turn by the Bab’s, so the latter’s is superseded by Beha’s. But Abbas Effendi has tried to throw a log under the car of progress by declaring that ” whoever lays claim to a revelation before 1,000 full years have passed is a lying impostor.” The explicit teachings are (1) the veneration of the Imams; (2) the fact of their concealment and the doctrine of intermediaries; (3) the reappearance of the Imam as a reincarnation; (4) the non-finality of any revelation; (5) the incarnation of deity as an avatar from time to time to give instruction (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, Mohammed, and the Bab were such avatars, alike rejected by their hearers); (6) the possibility of an achievement, like that of the Buddhist Nirvana, of unity of the individual with True Being; (7) the fact of a final judgment; (8) the system of numbers based on nineteen: the year consists of nineteen months, of nineteen days, of nineteen hours, of nineteen minutes; the Bab had eighteen associates, he making the nineteenth and being the point of unity; the square of nineteen is the symbol of the universe; the Bab and his disciples represent God and, each of these having nineteen under him, make up the square which represents perfection. Commended for practise by the Babis are: abolition of religious warfare, friendly intercourse with all sects and people, obedience to the ruler, submission to law, confession of sin to God, acquisition of all knowledge which contributes to human good, and mastery of some trade or profession. Prayer is three times (not five times) a day, and the believer turns his face toward Acre, not toward Mecca. The Babi fast is not the month of Ramadhan, but the last month of the Babi year and lasts nineteen days. There is evident in all this a determination to mark the separation of the sect from Mohammedanism.

The Bab’s dictum on worship is worthy of quotation: ” So worship God that if the recompense of thy worship of him were to be the fire, no alteration 396of thy worship would be produced. If you worship from fear, that is unworthy of the threshold of the holiness of God, nor will you be accounted a believer; so also, if your gaze is on Paradise and you worship in hope of that, for then you have made God’s creation a partner with him.”

Geo. W. Gilmore.

Bibliography: The best descriptions of Babism are in the writings or translations of E. G. Browne, who gives material gained from first-hand knowledge and in sympathetic vein, as follows: Traveller’s Narrative, written to illustrate the Episode of the Bab, 2 vols., Cambridge, 1893; A Year among the Persians, London, 1893; Mirza Huseyn of Hamadan, Tarikh-i-Jadid, or the New History of Mirza Ali Muhammad the Bab, transl. by E. G. B., New York, 1892 (diffuse, but full; a native account with condensed narrative and valuable notes); Babism, in Religious Systems of the World, pp. 189 sqq.; Literary History of Persia, passim, New York, 1902. Other accounts are in: J. A. de Gobineau, Les Religions et les philosophies dans l’Asie Centrale, pp. 141 sqq., Paris, 1865 (detailed and sympathetic; one of his pathetic descriptions of the persecution is quoted in E. Renan, Les Apôtres, pp. 378 sqq., Paris, 1866, Eng. transl., pp. 201-202, London, n.d.); G. N. Curzon, Persia and the Persian Question, i, passim, especially pp. 496-504, 2 vols., London, 1892; A. S. Geden, Studies in Comparative Religion, pp. 291 sqq., ib. 1898 (concise but clear); E. Sell, Essays on Islam, pp. 46 sqq., ib. 1901 (deals with the antecedents of the sect); AJT, Jan., 1902 (describes the American propaganda); J. E. Carpenter, in Studies in Theology, by J. E. C. and P. H. Wicksted, London, 1903; M. H. Phelps, The Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi, New York, 1903 (gives one of the later phases of the development); Beha-Ullah, Les Préceptes du Béhaisme, Paris, 1906.

« Baba; Baba Batra; Baba Kamma; Baba Mezia Babism Babylonia »
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