Babi, or Babists

Babi, Or Babists a Persian sect of Mohammedans, whose founder, according to one account, was Moollah Sadik; according to others, a certain Bab, who, coming forth in 1835 as a prophet, was shot by order of the shall of Persia. It is probable that both names refer to the same person, and that Sadik assumed the name of Bab, i.e. Papa, Father; or, according to another version, the Gate, through which alone truth and eternal bliss can be reached. A more recent account is given by Gobineau, Les Religions et les Philosophies d'Asie Centrale (cited in The Nation, June 22, 1866, from which this account is taken). About 1843 a youth of Shiraz, named Mirza Ali Mohammed, after reading the Christian Scriptures, as well as the Oriental Sacred Books, came out as a prophet, to reform or destroy Islamism. He is said to have been endowed with many graces of person and manner, and to have soon made many proselytes. Inspired by success, he now declared that, instead of the Gate, he was the Point; that is, the very creator of truth; no longer a simple prophet, but a living manifestation of divinity. The title of the Bab was now conferred upon a priest of the Khorassan, Moollah Houssein Bousrhewich, who became the active chief and soon the warrior-apostle of Babism. Houssein was sent on a missionary tour into Irak and Khorassan, taking with him the writings of his master. He made a great sensation by his preaching. Another missionary was a woman, possessed of extraordinary beauty and eloquence. About 1848, Houssein and the Babists generally gathered at a place called Sheik Tebersi, and built a huge tower, providing it for a siege. They now gave out political predictions, in which the advent of the Bab as universal sovereign was announced. All who died fighting for the new faith were to rise again, to become princes of some of the countries over which the Bab would extend his sway. Two large armies sent against the Babists were surprised and routed. A third expedition, though it succeeded in withstanding the sortie of the Babists, and in mortally wounding the Babist chief, Moollah Houssein, retired. The next campaign was more successful. For four months the Babists held out, in spite of tremendous odds, but at last, worn out by famine, they tried to force their way through the enemy's lines, but were overpowered, and when they surrendered only 214 were living. The survivors, and multitudes of others, even those who professed to renounce the heresy, were cruelly put to death. A similar Babist insurrection in Khamseh was also put down. Meanwhile Ali Mohammed had been living in semi-concealment at Shiraz. After the insurrection of Mezenderan he was brought before a court of royal commissioners and Mohammedan priests. In the examination which took place, the Bab, as he was still popularly called, gained the advantage. Seeing this, the discussion was abruptly broken off, and the Bab, with two of his disciples, was condemned to death, which was inflicted the next day. Everything now seemed to be finished; but the new Bab, Mirza Iaia, whom a divine mark had pointed out at the age of fifteen as the successor to the office, established himself at Bagdad, where he kept up communication with his followers through the pilgrims to the shrines there. The Babists were now forbidden from making any more attempts at insurrection until the Bab should decide that the hour had come and should give them the signal. In 1852 an attempt was made to assassinate the king, but failed. The attempted assassins were recognized as Babists. Forty others were arrested, among them the feminine apostle, Gourret-Oul-Ayn, the Consolation of Eyes. The next day she publicly confessed her Babism, was burnt at the stake with insult and indignity, and her ashes were scattered to the wind. The rest of the prisoners were distributed each to a courtier as his especial victim. Then was seen at Teheran a sight never to be forgotten. Through the streets, between the lines of executioners, marched men, women, and children, with burning splinters flaming in their wounds. The victims sing: "In truth we come from God, and we return to him." A sufferer falls in the road; he is raised by lashes and bayonet thrusts. But no apostate was found among the sufferers.

Babism, like Mohammedanism, asserts the absolute unity of God; but the eternal unity, far from shutting himself up in himself, is, on the contrary, an ever-expanding principle of life. It is ceaselessly moving, acting, creating. God has created the world by means of seven words — Force, Power, Will, Action, Condescension, Glory, and Revelation — which words embrace the active plenitude of the virtues which they respectively represent. God possesses other virtues, even to infinity, but he manifests only these. The creature who emanates from God is distinguished from him by the privation of all emanatory action, but he is not altogether separated from him, and at the last day of judgment he will be confounded anew with him in the eternal unity. The Babist doctrine of revelation does not claim that the Bab has revealed the complete truth, but only as his predecessors, the prophets before him, have done — that portion of truth necessary for the age. The Bab is declared superior to Mohammed as Mohammed was to Jesus; and another revelation, which will complete the Bab's, is announced as coming in the future. Nineteen is a sacred number, which the Bab declares ought to preside over everything. Originally, he says, the Unity was composed of nineteen persons, among whom the highest rank belongs to the Bab. All the prophets who have appeared are, like the world, manifestations of God; divine words; not God, but beings who come from God more really than common men. At the death of a prophet or a saint, his soul does not quit the earth, but joins itself to some soul still in the flesh, who then completes his work. Babism enjoins few prayers, and only upon fixed occasions, and neither prescribes nor defends ablutions, so common in the religious rites of Mohammedanism. All the faithful wear amulets. Mendicancy, so much in honor among the Mussulman people, is forbidden. Women are ordered to discard veils, and to share in the intercourse of social life, from which Persian usage excludes them.

What will be the future of Babism it is difficult to tell. Since 1852 it has changed its character to a secret doctrine, which recruits its disciples in silence. The same Babists who before suffered martyrdom so courageously rather than deny their religion, now, obedient to the new order of their chief, conceal their faith: with Oriental dissimulation. Babism is much more in harmony with the subtle and imaginative genius of the Persian people than the Shiite Mohammedanism. The growing spirit of nationality makes their present religion and the present dynasty, both of which were established among them by foreign conquest, less and less acceptable every year. The hour when the Bab shall send word from Bagdad that the time has come for the Babists to take up arms again will be a very critical one for the present dynasty of Persia and for Shiite Mohammedanism.

The first thorough work on the origin and the history of the Babis is the one above referred to by Count Gobineau (formerly French minister in Teheran). Little had previously been published in Europe concerning the sect. (See Zeitschrfft der deutschen Morgenland. Gesellschaft, vol. 5; Petermann, Reisen im Orient, vol. 2.) The history of the Babis in Gobineau's work is followed by treatises on their doctrines, and, as a concluding appendix, he gives the sacred book of the Babis, "The Book of Precepts." See also Polak (a German, court-physician of the shall, and director of a medical school at Teheran), Persien. Das Land wnd seine Bewohner (Leipzig, 1865, 2 vols., vol. 1, p. 350354). — Pierer, Universal- Lexikon, 2, 117; The Nation,' June 22,1866; American Ann. Cyclopcedia, 1865, p. 698.

 
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