Shi'ite Orthodoxy Confronts its Mirror Image
Research Fellow, Durham University
Trials of religious heretics have always assumed a central importance in religious history, and have frequently been the subject of close scrutiny in the modern period. The trials of Jesus Christ, al-Hallaj, Galileo, Giordano Bruno, Joan of Arc, Michael Servetus, and others have drawn the attention of scholars for a wide variety of reasons. More broadly, and for similar reasons, we have seen studies of the Inquisition, witchcraft trials (often linked to the inquisition), the Albigensians, the persecution of heresy in general, and, for the modern West, the Scopes 'Monkey trial', and the activities of anti-cult organizations and 'de-programmers'. The treatment of heretics, both religious and secular, is central to the self-identification of all orthodoxies, and to study how any given establishment seeks to define and control heresy is a crucial task for the understanding of any dominant belief system. The heresy trial is clearly the showpiece within which self-definition takes place, the moment when orthodoxy maps out the perimeters of belief and unbelief, and for this reason the content of actual trials is of immense importance, not just at the theological level, but also at the social and political.
In the modern period, Islamic heresy trials have achieved a large degree of notoriety in the Western media, the best known being the semi-formal condemnation and demonization of Salman Rushdie. Other widely-reported cases include the trials in Bangladesh of the writer Taslima Nasreen, in Egypt of the writer 'Ala Hamid and others, and in Saudi Arabia of the surviving participants in the 1979 seizure of the Great Mosque in Mecca. Less publicized in the West have been numerous trials or fatwas concerning Ahmadis and Baha'is.
Even if the modern period has seen more than its fair share of such trials, they have not been uncommon in the past. The takfir formula has been used repeatedly by both Sunni and Shi'i 'ulama to condemn those -- very often Sufis -- whose beliefs or actions were deemed injurious to the shari'a.
Surprisingly, however, there are not many cases of heresiarchs being formally arraigned before tribunals, whether religious or civil (or both combined). Though condemned by fatwa and sermon, almost none of the major leaders of heretical or semi-heretical movements in modern Islam -- Muhammad Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab, Ahmad al-Tijani, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani, Muhammad Ahmad al-Sayyid 'Abd Allah the Sudanese Mahdi, Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i, and Mirza Husayn 'Ali Baha' Allah -- was publicly tried on account of what they had personally written or preached.
The Trial of Sayyid 'Ali Muhammad Shirazi
In general, the condemnation of heresy has tended to remain an informal matter, dependent very much on the whims of individual 'ulama. There are, however, two important exceptions to this, both of them related. In January 1845, Mulla 'Ali Bastamim, one of the first converts to Babism, and the sect's first exponent in Iraq, was tried before a combined panel of Sunni and Shi'i 'ulama, whose verdict was issued in an unusual fatwa signed by clerics of both communities. This fatwa and the circumstances surrounding Bastami's trial have been well studied by Momen and Amanat.
A few years later, in Sha'ban 1264/July 1848, the Bab himself (Sayyid 'Ali Muhammad Shirazi) was brought before a consistory (variously described as a majlis, majlis-i muhavarat, majlis-i khass-i vali-'ahd, majlis-i guftugu, jalasa-yi guft u shunud, munazara, mahzar, hay'at, and majma', but seldom as mahkama, bar-rasi, etc.) of 'ulama and state officials, presided over by the Crown Prince, Nasir al-Din Mirza. The tribunal was held in the provincial capital Tabriz, then the seat of the heir to the throne. Most sources indicate that the gathering was held on the direct instructions of Muhammad Shah. In its course, the Bab was questioned and given the opportunity to reply and, if he wished, recant. A fatwa condemning him was written by two 'ulama, Abu 'l-Qasim al-Hasani al-Husayni and 'Ali Asghar al-Hasani al-Husayni, two leading Shaykhi 'ulama of the city.22 A separate report of the trial, described by some authors as having been penned by Nasir al-Din Mirza, but in the text ascribed to his uncle, Amir Aslan Khan, was written and almost certainly sent to the king, Muhammad Shah. We also possess a document, supposedly written shortly after this arraignment, and apparently in the Bab's handwriting, in which the young prophet recants any claim to a divine mission.
Two days later, the Bab was bastinadoed in the presence of the Shaykh al-Islam. It was after this that he was treated for his wounds by the British doctor, William Cormick, who left a brief account of their meetings over a few days.
Although the fatwa recommended the sentence of death (unless the Bab could be found to be mad), the prisoner was returned to prison in Chihriq, where he remained for almost exactly two years. In July 1850, he was again brought to Tabriz, briefly re-examined by individual 'ulama, and executed.
The 1848 trial is important, not least because it was conducted by a court which included, not only regionally-prominent clergy, but also nationally-eminent men of state, and presided over by the future king. The event, though short in duration, was clearly accorded more than ordinary significance, for reasons that are obvious, given the very real threat to public order posed by the Bab's growing popularity.
The problem for the historian is how to disentangle the numerous contradictory accounts of the trial itself. There are about nine of these, although several may originate in a single, earlier source. Six are by Muslim writers: Rida Quli Khan Hidayat's Rawdat al-safa-yi Nasiri;27 Lisan al-Mulk Sipihr's Nasikh al-tawarikh;28 'Ali Quli Khan I'tidad al-Saltana's al-Mutanabbi'in;29 Mirza Mahdi Khan Za'im al-Dawla's Miftah bab al-abwab; Mirza Muhammad Taqi Mamaqani's Namus-i Nasiri; and the above-mentioned report of Amir Aslan Khan. The other three are the work of Babi or Baha'i historians: Mulla Muhammad Taqi Hashtrudi's Abwab al-huda, quoted in the much later historical narrative of Mu'in al-Saltana Tabrizi; Mirza Muhammad Nabil Zarandi's narrative; and Mirza Jani Kashani's Nuqtat al-Kaf.31
Browne, Amanat, and others have treated Mirza Muhammad Tunakabuni's Qisas al-'ulama' as a separate source, but I prefer not to do so, on the grounds that it is almost a verbatim (but unattributed) transcription of the text in Rawdat al-safa. Either Tunukabuni copied his account directly from Hidayat or also made us of the report by Nizam al-'Ulama. In either case, he provides no significant variants.
Most commentators have remarked on the noticeable differences between these texts, drawing the conclusion that it is hard to place much reliance on any of them. Certainly, we possess no single account which commands our unreserved respect. But that is not to say that something useful cannot be done to reconstruct some of the main feature's of the trial and from there to analyse the chief concerns of those involved. If there are striking differences between the narratives, there are also significant resemblances, some substantial, some trivial, and it seems likely that the surviving accounts reflect with varying degrees of distortion the general content of the questions and (much less dependably) the Bab's answers to them.
The relationship between the Muslim accounts can be roughly estimated on the basis of their chronological order. The earliest must, by any reckoning, be Amir Aslan Khan's 'official report', probably written to Muhammad Shah soon after the trial, and certainly before the king's death on 6 Shawwal/4 September.
Mamaqani[32 ]refers to an account of the trial in the hand of Haji Mulla Mahmud Tabrizi, Nizam al-'Ulama, the crown prince's tutor, and the leading cleric present at the trial, whose questions form the bulk of the inquisitorial text in most versions. Rida Quli Khan states that his version of the trial is a direct transcript from Nizam al-'Ulama's autograph, It is possible that, in terms of content, this account also formed the basis for the versions in Nasikh al-tawarikh, al-Mutanabbi'in, and the Qisas al-'Ulama . It is, however, more likely that the Nasikh al-tawarikh account is built around that of the Rawdat al-safa, and that both the al-Mutanabbi'in and Qisas al-'ulama narratives are lifted straight from it.
Mamaqani's account was written for Nasir al-Din Shah in Ramadan-Shawwal 1306/June-July 1889, and is described by the author as a corrective to the versions given in the Nasikh al-tawarikh and Rawdat al-safa. For all that, there are numerous parallels between the three accounts. Mamaqani argues that Nizam al-'Ulama's account was written when the author was getting on in years and growing forgetful, and that his own account, based on his father's eye-witness rendition, is a much closer approximation to the truth. His father, Mulla Muhammad Mamaqani took a leading part in the trial and was later one of the 'ulama who signed fatwas for the Bab's execution in 1850.
I'tidad al-Saltana's history of the Babi insurrections, which forms part of a longer work entitled al-Mutanabbi'in, is rather odd. Most of it constitutes a verbatim re-write, either of the Rawdat al-safa or the account by Nizam al-'Ulama, but at one point the text breaks off, leaving out material which is introduced in very different form before the quoted material begins (and without any indication of what comes from where). One very odd thing about this is that, where Hidayat clearly attributes the quotation of a verse to Nasir al-Din Mirza, I'tidad al-Saltana (who has been following that account very closely to this point) only says it was spoken by 'one of those present'. Quite what one is to make of this jumble is not yet clear. Did I'tidad al-Saltana have a different source, or did something just go wrong with his transcription?
Mirza Mahdi Khan Za'im al-Dawla published his book on the Babis and Baha'is in Cairo in 1321/1903-4, which makes it by far the latest of the Muslim accounts. Its claim to accuracy rests on the fact that the author's father, Mirza Taqi Tabrizi, and grandfather, Muhammad Ja'far, were both present at the trial and supplied him with details of it. It does, however, have numerous exact parallels with and some verbal resemblances to the Rawdat al-Safa and Nasikh al-tawarikh, and it is hard to believe that Za'im al-Dawla did not make use of them.
The Babi/Baha'i accounts are much less detailed, although that of Hashtrudi lays claim to some degree of first-handedness, and does contain small details that suggest the presence of an eye-witness. It is, for example, the only account to note that lamps were lit and tea served mid-way through the proceedings. I have not been able to establish a date for the writing of the Abwab al-huda (which apparently is no longer extant); but Mu'in al-Saltana's history, which quotes from it, was completed around 1340/1921-22.
The Nuqtat al-Kaf is a much earlier text, possibly written in the early 1850s in Baghdad, but it has no particular claim to authenticity in respect of the trial. There are, however, enough similarities between it and other reports to suggest, if not a common source, a reliable informant. Kashani's account has enough parallels to the main Muslim reports that it seems likely he had access to one of these. If not, his description of the trial provides strong corroboration for many of the details found in those texts.
The brief account in Zarandi's narrative has fewer resemblances to other descriptions of the trial, but is recorded as being based on the evidence of Shaykh Hasan Zunuzi, who was one of a number of people outside the hall where the arraignment was held, but who claimed that he could follow the conversation inside. This, again, is a late composition, having been written between 1888 and 1890.
Taking all these texts together, it is difficult (and intriguing) to see that no simple pattern of plagiarism emerges. Some texts are very closely linked, but in other cases questions and statements occur in different places with no discernible system (as will be demonstrated below). In many ways this is encouraging to the historian, since it suggests a definite core of information which has managed to survive in spite of the forgetfulness or bias of any one source or group of sources. It will require a lot of work to piece the jigsaw together properly, but the following attempt provides a starting-point.
A proper attempt to restructure the trial is beyond the resources of this article, and should await the publication of the complete texts of all the accounts, along with translations. In the meantime, it will be worth trying to tabulate the main themes pursued in the interrogation and how far these occur in the different versions. The attached tables show the occurrence of questions and answers across the sources. Since we are obviously dealing with attempts to reconstruct statements from memory, in some cases long after the event, I have created simplified versions of questions and answers that cover as many different wordings as seems justifiable. In some cases it might have made sense to conflate even more: for example, it seems clear that at some point the Bab said he would 'reveal a verse' concerning his staff, or that he responded to a request to do so: our variants might very well be subsumed into a single heading 'recites verses concerning his staff'. The same is true for several other entries.
In order to give a more coherent sense of the proceedings, however, also I append a translation of Mamaqani's account in the Namus-i Nasiri, which can be read in conjunction with the versions given by Browne.
Of the sixty-two questions listed, eighteen occur in only one source, fifteen in two, eight in three, five in four, thirteen in five, and three in six. Of the thirty-five answers (omitting numerous citations of 'yes' and 'he did not answer'), ten occur in one source, eight in two, six in three, three in four, two in five, five in six, and one -- quite outstandingly -- in all nine.
Mere numerical frequency is a poor indicator of reliability, bearing in mind the interdependence of the five main Muslim sources, which together account for the bulk of all the information we possess. The really interesting questions and answers are those which occur across unlikely combinations, particularly, of course, Babi and Muslim accounts.
One of the most significant of these is question number one, 'Are these your writings?', which occurs in all the Muslim texts and also in the Nuqtat al-kaf. It seems immediately apparent from this and from other references to writings of the Bab shown or referred to in the course of the hearing, that the tribunal had not been hastily assembled, and that some effort had been made to assemble writings of the heresiarch and to use them as the basis for some of the questioning. The Rawdat al-safa indicates that Nizam al-'Ulama showed these documents to the Bab and asked him to admit to their authorship.
Further evidence that works of the Bab were referred to occurs in a number of passages in which questions are framed around pericopes selected for their heretical content. These questions are mostly put to the Bab by Haji Murtada-Quli Marandi 'Alam al-Huda, a wealthy mujtahid who seems to have taken the trouble to study some of the texts in question. With two exceptions, these questions (numbers 20, 22, 23, 26, 27, 34, 36, 37) occur in one source only, the Namus-i Nasiri; but precisely because they can in theory be cross-checked against known writings of the Bab, they are more open to external authentication than most of the trial material.
Three of the questions (26, 34 and 36) have definite analogues in the Bab's writings. The first, which quotes the Bab as saying 'The first to believe in me (awwal man amana bi) was Muhammad ibn 'Abd Allah' (or 'The first to believe in me was the Light of Muhammad, and 'Ali'), which parallels a couple of passages in late letters of the Bab. The second is put by 'Alam al-Huda as follows: 'In your book you have said that you dreamed that they had killed the Prince of Martyrs (Husayn), and that you drank a few drops of his blood and that the gates of heavenly grace were thereupon opened to you.' This is close to a statement in the early Sahifa-yi 'adliyya, where the Bab describes a vision of the head of Husayn and his drinking seven drops of blood from it, and that, as a result, his breast was filled with 'convincing verses and mighty prayers'.
The third asserts that 'In your book, you have said that if jinn and men were to assemble together, they could not produce the like of half a word from your book.' This is close, in spirit, if not precisely in wording, to two pericopes from the Qayyum al-asma': 'O assembly of jinn and men. If you are able, bring forth a book like this' and 'O people of the earth. Even if you were to gather together to produce a word like a single word of my knowledge, you would be unable to do so.'
I am less sure about the authenticity of another pericope cited by 'Alam al-Huda, who states that, in his 'Qur'an', the Bab had indicated that one-third of any booty was to be given to 'the Remembrance' (i.e. the Bab). It should be relatively easy to find such a statement. The reference to 'the Remembrance' (al-Dhikr) would date this as coming from an early work of the Bab's, while the description of the book as the Bab's 'Qur'an' makes it tempting to identify it as a passage from the Qayyum al-asma', the prophet's first major work, which is described in its own text as 'this Qur'an',was referred to at the trial of Mulla 'Ali Bastami in the same terms. The temptation is greater because the Qayyum al-asma' is the main source for the Bab's thoughts about jihad in the earliest period; but there really does not seem to be a verse alluding to the division of booty anywhere there or, as far as I know, in other early works. References to booty in later works such as the Persian Bayan are quite different.
Another passage that has a strong air of authenticity is one in which Nasir al-Din Mirza confronts the Bab with a sphere of the heavens and asks him to explain the circles and figures on it, which the Bab says he is unable or unwilling to do. It occurs in the Namus-i Nasiri and two Babi texts, the Nuqtat al-kaf and Abwab al-huda, an unlikely conjunction. Its presence in the Namus is compelling, in that the work was submitted to Nasir al-Din Shah in person. One must assume that Mamaqani would not have risked fabricating an incident that the king could so easily have said never happened. But quite why the other sources omit such a vivid sequence is hard to explain.
As noted above, one of the Bab's answers (number 6: 'I am that person you have been awaiting for one thousand years') occurs in some form in all nine sources, and I think we must conclude that it is the most authentic statement recorded from the trial. It seems highly plausible that he should have made such an egregious claim at this point. In 1263/1847, while in prison in Maku, the Bab had made an open claim to Mahdihood, a claim which he was now developing in his writings while in Chihriq.
There are three other passages which have analogues in the Bab's writings, although (with two exceptions) they occur in a form which does not imply quotation. One ('question' 5) occurs in two sources, in the first as a question ( 'In these books of yours, have you not called yourself the Tree of Sinai [shajara-yi Tur]?', in the second as a statement ('What you mean when you say "My words are from God" is that your tongue is like the Tree on Sinai'). In our other sources (see answer 4), the Bab himself states that his writings are 'like the revelation of words from the Tree on Sinai'. Question 61 is put by Mamaqani: 'You have said in your books that the light that shone on Moses out of the Burning Bush was your light: is that correct?' Answer 35 attributes the statement directly to the Bab. The Qayyum al-asma' contains several short passages which parallel this, and which may have been the basis for the questions.
Passing from the terse to the prolix, we can be reasonably sure that the passage cited by Hashtrudi, listing grammatical inaccuracies in the text of the Qur'an, apart from being off the mark more than once, is highly unlikely to be genuine. The likelihood of the Bab being allowed to expatiate on the grammatical inadequacies of holy writ is very small indeed.
In four sources, the Bab claims to be able to write 1000 (or 2000, or 10000) verses in a single day. A similar claim appears in several passages of the Bab's writings, and several histories give details of incidents when a public demonstration was made of the prophet's ability to reveal verses of speed, which, it is said, had the effect of convincing onlookers of his divine power. In fact, this is exactly what several sources say happened during the trial, and there is every reason to regard those descriptions as broadly accurate, certainly in respect of the Bab's own insistence on providing proof of his claims by these means.
In general, however, the Bab's answers are much more difficult to evaluate than the questions attributed to his accusers. Not unsurprisingly, the Muslim accounts do not portray the villain of their piece in a very favourable light. But so unintelligent are the answers they do attribute to him that it is very hard to believe he was ever capable of making a favourable impression on anyone, let alone the many 'ulama who became his followers.
This is particularly noticeable in the jibes directed at the young prophet's Arabic. No-one who has read his books and letters in that language will deny that the Bab's Arabic was idiosyncratic; nonetheless, they are very far from being the products of someone who could not decline qala (or even says 'qala? What qala?') or vocalizes al-samawati as al-samawata. The Bab had a relatively sophisticated grasp of Arabic, and it is hard to imagine him mumbling and stumbling his way through a series of easy questions on grammar.
But it is equally easy to see that we are, in fact, witnessing the acting-out of a sort of unrehearsed play, or the playing of an elaborate game. The Bab's behaviour, even as reported by the hostile accounts, may have been deliberately designed to convey a range of symbolic meanings. Here, for example, is someone claiming to be the Mahdi, yet his opponents insist on his declining Arabic verbs or answering questions about veterinary medicine. A dignified silence, or perhaps a statement to the effect that he had studied some grammar as a child but since forgotten it might well be seen as responses designed to point up the inappropriateness of the line of questioning being taken. And we should not forget that the Bab himself, taking his cue from popular notions of the Prophet Muhammad's illiteracy, made a point of saying he was a merchant by training, not a divine. Hence the difficulty of interpreting almost anything the Bab is reported to have said and done during this session.
Finally, it is worth remarking on the presence of several incidental features that lend some of the narratives a degree of credibility just by being there. Hashtrudi's references to the time of day, the lighting of lamps and candles, and the serving of tea and qalyans all suggest an eye-witness account, even if the bulk of his narrative is sparse. Zarandi's description of the throng gathered outside the assembly hall and the statement that they remained there, listening through the doors again has the smell of first-hand knowledge on the part of his informant, Shaykh 'Ali Zunuzi. Similarly, more than one source (and, tellingly, his son's in particular) refers to Mulla Muhammad Mamaqani growing angry at repeated intervals. By contrast, Nizam al-'Ulama is reputed to have possessed a sense of humour, and this comes through in more than one remark attributed to him. Small details like these may tell us very little in themselves, but they do tend to suggest genuine knowledge of what went on during the trial.
In one instance, however, there is a serious discrepancy between our sources. According to some (Rawdat al-safa, Miftah), the Bab was placed in a place of honour near the Wali-'Ahd; Mamaqani says he was placed to one side; two Babi accounts (Hashtrudi and the Nuqtat al-kaf) say he was not offered a seat and had to sit in a corner; and the other Babi source (Zarandi) says he actually took the seat that had been reserved for the Crown Prince.
There is no space here for a full analysis of the trial and its wider significance. Amanat's account is perceptive, drawing particular attention to the conflicting aims of the government (who wanted to humiliate the Bab, but to avoid a death sentence that might have aroused resentment among the populace at a time when the prophet was enjoying considerable popularity) and the 'ulama (many of whom wanted to put the apostate to death).
The affair is undeniably peculiar. Although the questioning is conducted in the main by 'ulama, state officials are not only present, but take part in the interrogation. Most of the city's 'ulama are absent, leaving the questioning almost wholly in the hands of Shaykhis such as Nizam al-'Ulama and Mamaqani. A fatwa for the Bab's death (subject to his being found sane) is issued after the event by two 'ulama (Shaykh 'Ali Asghar Shaykh al-Islam and Shaykh Abu 'l-Qasim) who were not present at the trial. That is out manoeuvred by presenting the Bab to Dr. William Cormick, a British physician, who naturally complies with a letter recommending clemency.
The questioning itself has an almost Weberian quality (Lloyd, not Max). The innocent prophet, assailed by the forces of church and state, faced with a barrage of at times ridiculous questions which have little or no bearing on his claims, offers an almost classic contrast to his sarcastic, pedantic, irritable interlocutors. One senses almost that the 'ulama fell into an avoidable trap. A modern PR agent would have torn his hair out in despair.
But perhaps that is too facile a reading of events. Granted that human nature butts its head in repeatedly, there is still plenty of evidence that the basic line of questioning had been pre-meditated and adhered to with some degree of rigour. We have to remember that the Shi'i 'ulama (and this includes the Shaykhis, particularly those of Adharbayjan, as much as the regular Usulis) during this period were consolidating their authority within the developing Qajar state. That authority was, as much as anything, built on the claim of the 'ulama to superior learning, particularly in areas like fiqh; but it also rested increasingly on the routinized charisma of senior mujtahids and, above all, maraji' al-taqlid.55 As the 19th century progressed, there was a growing tendency to focus the charismatic pole of religious authority within an increasingly tiny number of individuals or a single individual.
The problem with charismatic authority is, of course, its instability. The Usuli establishment had already fought off a major challenge in the form of revived Ni'mat Allahi Sufism in the late 18th century and (ironically, given the allegiance of the Bab's accusers) Shaykhism in the 1830s and early 1840s. Other challenges of a less pressing nature hovered about on the periphery of religious life, but none had the same resonance as Babism, which demonstrated an ability to attract not only the masses, but also substantial numbers of 'ulama.
At the heart of the original Babi summons to repentance and expectation of the millennium lay an insistence on the superiority of intuition over learning, the heart over the mind, the divinely aroused over the book-laden. It was hardly an original theme, but it is certainly marked in the accounts of the Bab's trial. By parading their knowledge of grammar, jurisprudence, astronomy, mathematics, and all the rest before the representatives of the state, the 'ulama were not only trying to face down the Bab, but to stake their claim to whole areas of public life.
The real implications of what was going on here can best be seen in the development of Babism after about 1850, when the Bab was executed in Tabriz. Prior to that date, with the exception of the Bab himself, leadership of the movement lay exclusively in the hands of young 'ulama like Mulla Husayn Bushru'i and Muhammad 'Ali Barfurushi. After the virtual eradication of that leadership in the Babi-state struggles of 1848-50, a new cadre emerged from among the lay following. Both Azali and Baha'i Babism produced inspired claimants to divine authority, and an entirely fresh interpretation of the criteria for hierarchy.
The trial of the Bab may, therefore, be seen as something of a watershed, a moment when the representatives of knowledge-based hierarchy confronted the representative of what was coming. This was, in many ways, precisely what the clergy had awaited for over one thousand years: an unlearned man capable of subverting the very basis of their authority. Azali Babism produced secular reformers like Aqa Khan Kirmani and Shaykh Ahmad Ruhi. Not quite what the Bab had in mind, perhaps, but part of the vanguard of an army of educated challengers who came close to sweeping the old hierarchy away entirely.
(p. 42 ff.)
Then the late Nizam al-`Ulama' said to my father [Mulla Muhammad Mamaqani]: `Before we move on to a discussion of scholarly matters, I have some questions I'd like to put to him, with your permission.'
Then he faced the Bab and asked: `These writings, some of which are in the style of the Qur'an, and others in the style of sermons and prayers, and which have been distributed among the people by your followers -- are they yours, or have they just been attributed to you?'
Bab: `They are from God.'
NU: `Be that as it may, did you write them?'
Bab: `Yes, like the revelation of words from the Tree on Sinai.'
NU: `Now, here's something I don't understand. Who gave you this title of "Bab"?'
NU: `That's very presumptuous of you. Exactly when did God bestow this "Goodnight" on you?'
The Bab grew angry and said: `You're making fun of me.'
NU: `Well, let's leave it there. What are you the Gate of?'
Bab: `"I am the City of Knowledge and `Ali is its Gate."'
NU: `You are the Gate of the City of Knowledge?'
Bab: `Yes. "And pass through the Gate, prostrating yourselves."'
NU: `Are you also the Bab of prostration?'
NU: `Since you are the Gate of the City of Knowledge, will you answer any question people may put to you?'
Bab: `Yes. You do not recognize me. I am that very person you have been awaiting for over one thousand years.'
Whereupon my father said: `Sayyid -- you started by claiming to be the Gate of the Imam. Have you now become the hidden Lord of the Command in person?'
Bab: `Yes. I am he for whom you have been waiting since the very beginning of the Islamic revelation.'
My father grew very angry at these vain words, and said: `Sayyid, why aren't you ashamed of yourself? What sort of foolishness is this you're mouthing? If we're waiting, we're waiting for that Imam whose father was Imam Hasan al-'Askari, and whose mother was Narjis the daughter Yashu'a, son of the king of Byzantium, who was born of his mother in the year 256 in Samarra, and who will appear in Mecca with the sword. Since when have we ever waited for Sayyid `Ali Muhammad, the son of Sayyid Rida the Shirazi grocer, who only left his mother's womb yesterday? In any case, when the Lord of the Age appears, he will bring with him all the inheritance of the prophets, from Adam to the Seal. Why don't you produce one of those heirlooms so we can see it?'
Bab: `I am not permitted to at this moment.'
My father grew angry and said: `If you didn't get permission, you made a big mistake coming here and nailing your head to the wall. Off you go and get permission, then you can come back. A Lord of the Command who comes without permission is jumping the gun. In any case, the Lord of Command can perform miracles. In the name of God, turn your staff into a dragon so we will all believe.'
Bab: `I shall cause a verse to descend upon this staff.'
The onlookers laughed loudly and said: `What verse will you reveal?'
With his hand placed behind his ear like a singer, he chanted in a singing voice: `Praise be to God Who created this staff and made it a sign among His signs, that you may fear Him.'
They said, `Is this your verse?'
The late Amir Aslan Khan Majd al-Dawla, who was present, said: `If your being an Imam can be established by such a verse, I can reveal a better one than you. "Praise be to God Who created this staff and made the morning and the evening that you may give Him thanks." What is there to choose between your verse and mine?'
The sayyid could not come up with an answer. Then he faced my late father and said: `Indeed, you have the right to reject me. It has come down in the traditions that when the Lord of the Age, may God hasten his advent, appears, forty thousand clerics will issue fatwas for his death.'
My late father said: `Sayyid, why do you invent traditions, and why do you talk nonsense? To begin with, it would be a miracle if forty thousand muftis gathered together at a single time. Secondly, the Lord of the Command won't come as such a miserable creature as you, that anyone would dare issue a sentence for his death. The sword Dhu 'l-Fiqar will be in his hand, and if anybody resists him he will strike his neck like a dog. Tell me the truth, in which book did you find this tradition, and from which Imam did it come?'
Bab: `It may not be forty thousand, but the forty that are here.'
The onlookers laughed loudly at this exaggeration and its sudden playing down.
Mamaqani: That isn't even a tradition. What book is it in, which Imam is it from?
Bab: `Well, it's certainly written that some of the `ulama will turn against him.'
Mamaqani: `Nor is that a tradition. It's something that was said by Muhyi 'l-Din ibn `Arabi -- that when the promised Mahdi comes, the majority of those who reject him will be the outwardly learned (`ulama-yi zahira). Since you are so seriously ill-informed about the texts and traditions, you lay claim to the Imamate with idle talk, and say you are the Gate of the City of Knowledge. He who disbelieves speaks slander.'
Then the late Nizam al-'Ulama said: `Yes, your statements in regard to this tradition are exactly the same as those which an unlettered man asked of a learned one: "Which Imam was it who was eaten by a jackal in Basra?" He meant his holiness Joseph. [The scholar] replied: `He wasn't an Imam, he was a prophet; it wasn't Basra, it was Egypt; it wasn't a jackal, it was a wolf; and it didn't eat him.'
The onlookers laughed loudly.
Then Nizam al-'Ulama said: `Since you lay claim to the Imamate, we won't ask you to perform another miracle. Our king is suffering from gout. Please pray for his ailment to be healed. If it is, we shall all believe in you.'
His Excellency the Shadow of God said: `Why travel so far? Let him restore you to youth in this very assembly, and we shall all believe.'
There was no response. Then the Bab turned to my late father and said: `You consider the S|ahifa-yi Sajjadiyya to be among the miracles of his holiness (Imam) Sajjad, and to be a proof of his Imamate. I have written ten times that number of prayers. Are they not sufficient as a miracle for me?'
Mamaqani: `"Praise be to Thee, this is a great calumny." In the first place, when did we ever say that the S|ahifa-yi Sajjadiyya is one of the miracles of his holiness? Why do you have to make things up? The most we say is that those prayers stand among the words of human kind in the highest degree of eloquence and elegance. In the second place, what relationship can there be between your words, which are filled with mistakes from beginning to end, and the S|ahifa-yi Sajjadiyya? What link is there between the earth and the pure world (`alam-i pak)? And how can incorrect and stumbling words be considered miraculous?'
NU: `Jinab-i Aqa! One of the prayers from the S|ahifa reads: "O Thou through Whom the knot of the deceiver is untied." Do you write a prayer like it and we shall believe in you.'
There was no reply.
Mamaqani: `In His Book, God says in respect of Jesus, using the words of his followers: "They said, `How can we speak with one who is in his cradle, a babe?'" Such a distancing and expression of amazement is perfectly understandable, since conversing with a baby while still in the cradle would be a miracle. Now, you put yourself on a level with this verse in your own book. You say: "How can one speak the words of God when he is in truth only twenty-five years old?" Leaving aside the mistakes in the words themselves, what would be a cause for bewilderment and pulling back in a twenty-five-year-old man speaking on behalf of God that you should take the trouble to defend yourself against it? What fool would say such a thing for you to feel it necessary to refute him? You who have still to learn how to put a few words together. He who disbelieves slanders.'
Then the late `Alam al-Huda said: `Sir, God has said in His Book: "Know that whenever you have taken booty, a fifth of it belongs to God." Has the decree laid down in this verse been abrogated, or does it still stand?'
Bab: `It still stands.'
A.H.: `In that case, on what grounds do you in your book say: "Know that whenever you have taken booty, a third of it belongs to the Remembrance"? Doesn't this decree abrogate the Word of God?'
Bab: `Well, the share of the Imam belongs to me.'
A.H.: `The Imam's share is one half of a fifth, and half a fifth is a tenth, not a third.'
Bab: `No, it is a third.'
All the onlookers laughed. In the end, `Alam al-Huda, with a thousand perhapses and maybes and calculations on the finger showed him that half a fifth is a tenth. Once he had been convinced, he said: `It was a slip.'
Then my late father said: `You who possess such skill in counting, will you tell me how many fractions there are in arithmetic?'
Bab: `I have never studied arithmetic.'
Then `Alam al-Huda said: `Jinab-i Sayyid. It is an essential tenet of our faith that the gate of original revelation has been closed since the days of the Prophet. Even Gabriel said at the time when the Prophet died that this was his final descent to the earth. What he meant was his coming down to bring an original revelation.'
Bab: `Yes, that is the case.'
`Alam al-Huda: `But then you say in your book: "Truly, we have sent a revelation down to you even as we sent it down to Muhammad before you." What is the meaning of this? Especially since, in your style of writing, a likeness is identical to what it is likened to.'
Bab: `It was closed then, and now it has been opened again. What's the harm in that?'
`Alam al-Huda: `No harm, but it does mean that the Prophet [Muhammad] is not the Seal of the Prophets, and that the words: "There shall be no prophet after me" are a lie.'
There was no reply. Then `Alam al-Huda said: `In your book you have said: "We have caused you to be raised up above a station, or to a nearer place". Is that so?'
`Alam al-Huda: `To begin with, what's the purpose in using the transitive in the verb "arfa'naka" [We have caused you to be raised up]?, bearing in mind that God, when He says concerning Idris in His Book, "And We raised him up to a high place" does not use the transitive. Secondly, the furthest limit travelled to by the Prophet during his ascension to heaven was the station of "or nearer", for there is nothing higher than that world in the realm of creation. You who have gone five stops beyond Mecca and placed your foot above the station of prophethood [reading nubuwwat for nawbat], where do you plan to go now? On this basis, your rank must be higher than that of the Prophet. He who has disbelieved slanders.'
Then my late father said: `You have said in your books that the light that shone on Moses out of the Burning Bush was your light: is that correct?'
Mamaqani: `What's your proof for that?'
Bab: `Well, there is a tradition that the light which shone forth upon Moses was the light of one of the followers (Shi'ian) of the Prince of Believers. Isn't that so?'
His excellency the Shadow of God, who was at that time seventeen years old, asked out of his understanding and sagacity: `What makes you think that's you? How does that prove your claim? The Prince of Believers has plenty of followers.'
My late father said: `The criticism is correct. Apart from that, "You have remembered something, and you have forgotten many things". You have heard something, but you haven't understood its meaning in the least. The light of one person does not shine on another, when they are separated by a distance of isolation (nur-i digari bi-digari ka mian-i anha baynunat-i `uzlatist, tajalli nami-kunad). Rather, it shone for it and upon it (tajalla la-ha bi-ha) and through it it was kept apart from it; this meaning is perfectly clear in the philosophy of the Imams. The meaning of this light is the light of the reality of Moses himself, who is one of the followers of the Prince of the Believers; for the Imam has made this clear in another tradition, in which the transmitter asked his holiness about the cherubim. His holiness declared "They are a people from among the followers of the Prince of Belivers, from the first creation, [dwelling] behind the throne; if the light of any one of them were to be split up among all the people of the earth, there would be enough to go round. When his holiness Moses asked his God what he asked Him, God commanded one of those cherubim, And he shone forth upon the mountain, and laid it level with the earth, and Moses fainted away."2 The transmitter asked "What are there names?" He answered: "Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus." The transmitter asked: "Whose light was it that shone forth on Moses?" He said: "The light of Moses."
`You, you poor wretch, who know nothing about the traditions and possess no insight into the rules governing philosophy, what sort of ridiculous claims are you making?'
Then he said: `Let's leave these abstruse questions, and let me ask you a question concerning religious law. Tell me, in our law, how many types of divorce are there? Which type constitutes "innovative divorce"? Which one is "legitimate divorce"? And within legitimate divorce, which is irrevocable, which revocable, and which healthy (?'adha)?'
He said: `I have not studied religious law.'
After this, my late father asked a question regarding medicine, which I do not remember.
He said: `I have not studied medicine.'
Then he (Mamaqani) said: `In a letter you wrote to me, in which you invited me to join you, [you have written]: "The first to believe in me was Muhammad ibn `Abd Allah". Was this letter written by you?'
Mamaqani: `Well, in that case your rank is above that of the Prophet, since it is the follower who believes in him whom he follows, and not the other way round.'
There was no reply from that Gate of the City.
Then the late `Alam al-Huda asked: `You have referred to yourself as "Lord"? Why is that?'
Bab: `Well, my name is numerically equivalent to the word "Lord".'
My late father said: `Your name isn't unique to you. On the strength of what you say, shouldn't anybody called `Ali Muhammad or Muhammad `Ali be considered a Lord apart from God?'
No reply could be heard. Then he put his hand to his ear and said: `Listen. I shall reveal a verse: "Praise be to God Who created the heavens and the earth"', putting the vowel "a" at the end of the word "heavens" (samawat).
His majesty said: `You don't even know the rules of Arabic grammar. "Whatever takes its plural in ta' and alif is vocalized with `i' in both accusative and genitive".'
Bab: `Listen: "And he made the sun and the moon"', vocalizing the shin of shams [the sun] with `i'.
The onlookers exclaimed: `You've made a mistake. Why do you put the vowel "a" where you should have "i"?'
Bab: `Now, listen....'
My late father grew angry and said: `Who wants to listen to words with mistakes in them?'
His (the Bab's?) breath was cut short. By chance there happened to be a sphere of the heavens in the room. His excellency the Shadow of God said: `Bring that sphere over and show us the figures and circles on it.'
Bab: `I have not studied astrology (nujum).'
My late father grew angry and said: `You donkey! This isn't astrology, it's astronomy!'
Nizam al-'Ulama' said: `You, sir -- what's the meaning of these words of `Allama: `If a man should have intercourse with a hermaphrodite, or a hermaphrodite with a woman, ablutions are obligatory for the hermaphrodite, but not for either the man or the woman'. Explain the mode of this ruling, and what was `Allama's thinking.'
Bab: `I've already said that I have not studied religious law.'
Nizam al-'Ulama': Ma'mun asked his holiness Rida' the following: "Where is your proof for the caliphate of your grandfather [`Ali]?" His holiness replied: "The Quranic verse `Ourselves'". Ma'mun said: "But for our wives". His holiness made the rejoinder: "But for our sons". What is the character of the proof cited by the Imam, and the nature of Ma'mun's objection, and the sense of Rida's response to it in this tradition?'
Bab: `Is it really a tradition?'
Nizam al-'Ulama': `Yes.'
Bab: `I can't think of anything.'
Nizam al-'Ulama: `God says: "He it is Who causes you to behold the lightning, for fear and for hope". How are the phrases "for fear" and "for hope" construed according to the rules of grammar?'
Bab: `I haven't studied grammar.'
Nizam: `Tell me the meaning of this tradition: May God curse the eyes, for they have behaved unjustly towards the one eye.'
He hesitated for a moment, then said: `I don't know.'
Then the late `Alam al-Huda said: `Sir! In your book, you have said that if jinn and men were to assemble together, they could not produce the like of half a word from your book. Is this true?'
`Alam al-Huda: `In His Book, God has challenged men to (produce) a single sura, saying: "Produce a sura like it". How did your book come to be elevated above the Book of God? Secondly, half a word cannot be pronounced, in order for this to be a permissible challenge. To impose what is impossible is reprehensible. Secondly [sic], fine speech and eloquence are attributes of words and combined letters; in the case of separate letters, both eloquent and ineloquent are reduced to the same level. Look -- if I were to utter an alif, how would it differ from an alif in your book? If you should say that the alif in your book is divine (lahuti) and my alif earthly (nasuti), it seems to me that I could turn the whole thing round the other way. For what I say and what you say are both claims unsubstantiated by any proof. What is the point in this sort of challenge?'
His excellency the Bab remained astonished, and said nothing. But after that he showed no shame, and said: `This Qur'an that I have brought -- no-one else could produce one like it. This proof is sufficient as testimony to the truth of my claims.'
My father grew angry and said: `Sayyid, how long will you keep singing this nonsense? Your book is full of mistakes from beginning to end, and all it says is foolishness. We consider ourselves more dignified than to descend to competing with your nonsense. And unlike you we are not lacking in shame, first of all to desecrate God's Qur'an, and then to make remarks about how it has been put together and make ourselves fit to be reviled. If you insist on this matter, here is one of our `ulama. His name is Mirza H|asan, and he is one of the `ulama of Khuy. For the sake of proving the point to you, he will compose a few pages in the style of your writings, and if you like they will be brought to you so you can see that in respect of accuracy, eloquence, and refinement of style his words will not bear the slightest resemblance to these jumbled scribblings of yours.'
The sayyid remained silent, and did not reply. Then the Nizam al-'Ulama said: `It has been reported with respect to the revelation of the Sura of Kawthar that his holiness the Prophet was walking through an alleyway, when `As the father of `Amr said: "This man has no children. He'll soon die, leaving no descendants." His holiness the Prophet grew sad, and to comfort him the sura in question was revealed. In what way did it comfort him?'
Bab: `Was the occasion for the revelation of the sura really as you have said?'
He thought for a bit, then said: `Nothing springs to mind.'
Then the late `Alam al-Huda said: `Sir! In your book you have said that you dreamed that they had killed the Prince of Martyrs (H|usayn), and that you drank a few drops of his blood and that the gates of heavenly grace were thereupon opened to you. Is that correct?'
My late father said: `Sayyid, what enmity do you hold for the Prince of Martyrs, that you should eat him after they put him to death?'
Nizam al-'Ulama said in jest: `Well, after all, Hind was a liver-eater.'
There was no reply from the Bab. Then, my late father, having been angered, indeed incensed by these nonsensical words, said: `Very well, you Shirazi rascal, what sort of hypocrisy and and double-dealing is this? When the followers of the Shaykh-i Ahsa'i ask you, you write: "Ahmad and Kazim, may God bless them both". But what about Sayyid Yahya, the son of Sayyid Ja'far Darabi? The father disagrees with the opinions of the late Shaykh-i Ahsa'i about the resurrection. But when the son asks you, you write in reply that the shaykh was wrong about the resurrection, and you openly declare him a heretic, and you write: "In truth, Sayyid Ja'far Darabi was correct in what he wrote concerning the words: "His lightning flashed forth, encompassing the eastern and western horizons". So what was all that "may God bless them" of yours about? And what's this condemnation and excommunication? If you're an honest man, why can't you just stick to one position?'
The sayyid hung his head and made no reply. The late Nizam al-'Ulama' said: `Let's leave these questions. If a man should be uncertain [in the ritual prayer] between two and three, how should he begin?'
Bab: `He should begin with two.'
My late father grew angry, and the sayyid immediately said, `No, I made a mistake. He should begin with three.'
The onlookers laughed. My father said: `Since it wasn't two, it had to be three.'
Nizam al-'Ulama': `You wretch! If you'd stuck to your first remark and not said anything about having made a mistake, it would have been better for you, since that position used to be held by some in the past. You could at least have maintained that it was your legal ruling, since engaging in an indubitable duty demands fulfillment of that indubitable duty. But why didn't you ask whether the doubt was in the case of ritual prayer of two, three, or four prostrations? Or whether it was before or after the two prostrations? Or before or after completion?'
The Bab hung his head down and said nothing.
NU: `Since you don't know the answer to any of these questions, let me ask you a simple question. What tense is the verb qulna in, and how does its weak letter mutate?
Bab: `I haven't studied syntax.'
My late father grew angry again and said: `You donkey! This is morphology, not syntax. And you lay claim to the Imamate with an intelligence like yours.'
Then the late Nizam al-'Ulama saw that the Bab wasn't up to a learned debate, so he started to deride him, saying: `You, sir! When did I send you as an Imam? Why did you come talking such nonsense?'
Bab: `Are you claiming to be God?'
NU: `Yes. An Imam like you deserves a God like me.'
When the discussion reached this point, and the degrees of the Bab's ignorance and dullness were made obvious to everyone, there was no need to proceed further. His Excellence the Shadow of God spoke to the Farrashbashi, saying: `This idiot isn't fit to debate with the ulama. Take him away.'
They took him away from that place swiftly and placed him in the house of Kazim Khan the Farrashbashi. And so the meeting came to an end. Take heed, ye that have eyes to see.
From Mu`in al-Saltana p. 201 ff.
There is also the account of `Alim-i Hashtrudi, who was in Tabriz at that time; and the narratives of some others from the early period, both believers and non-believers, agree with Hashtrudi's account....
Hashtrudi says: it was near sunset when they brought the Bab, who had just emerged from the public bath, to that assembly of misery. When he entered, the `ulama, who had arrived early, had already occupied the main seats, sitting to the left and right of the heir to the throne., and there was no room left for anyone to sit. His holiness entered the assembly and greeted those present, but no-one returned his greeting, nor did they show him a place to sit. For a moment, the Bab remained standing, like someone who awaits a welcome and expects to be shown a seat by the owner of the house or his host, but no-one paid any heed. But on the faces of those present could be clearly seen the signs of imposture and meanness, of hatred and enmity, of obstinacy and opposition.
So his holiness went to a corner, with that polite and dignified manner which he always possessed, and removing his hands from his sleeves, sat down in the posture of oneness. The ulama had been conversing a little together in private, and had asked the heir to the throne about the health of the king and his wife, and he had answered them. And they had uttered prayers and murmured `Amen' in the most abjectly flattering manner.
When they turned their attention to his holiness the Bab, they asked: `What is this affair of yours, and what is the truth of the matter, and what is the nature of your claim?'
His holiness the exalted, without the least change in his manner, and with the utmost firmness and dignity, declared: `I am the Qa'im for whom you have been waiting' (Ana 'l-Qa'im alladhi kuntum bihi muntazirun).
No sooner had they heard these words, it was as if an earthquake had struck and had cast the inhabitants of the place into a state of fear and confusion. A strange murmuring passed among those present at the assembly. One said: `I ask God's forgiveness, and repent to Him. What audacity has this man shown!' Another said: `There is no god but God.' Another said from the bottom of his heart: `May God protect us from it. Amen.' [Another] said: `No strength or power is there save in God, the Exalted, the Great. Why hasn't the ground opened up and why haven't the heavens fallen?'
At that time, the ulama and clerics of the Muslims and the judges of the holy law considered themselves to be God's representatives and the pillars of heaven and earth, inasmuch as the ulama interfered greatly through their legal rulings and their sentencing in the affairs of the nation and the important matters of state. The dominance of the ulama of those days cannot be compared to what it is today....
After a great murmuring and much talking, they demanded evidence, and started to ask academic questions. First of all, the heir to the throne took a silver ball on which had been drawn circles and lines [showing] the form of the heavens, corresponding to the heavenly bodies of Ptolemy, and which the astronomers and astrologers call a globe. Nasir al-Din Mirza held it in his hand, then rolled it in the direction of his holiness, asking a question concerning the stars and planets. His holiness replied: `I have not studied astronomy or astrology, and am unlettered and bereft in the acquisition of such sciences.'
The fuqaha' and `ulama' said: 'What is the proof of the truth and the evidence for the rightness of your claim?' His holiness the Most Mighty Gate replied, saying: 'The verses of God [possess?] a divine spirit, inasmuch as they descended upon a beloved and honoured servant [illegible]. [Illegible] is a [confirmation?] of this, inasmuch as he has said: "He shall appear with verses like the Qur'an". [Such verses] descend upon and flow from my tongue and pen. The lasting proof is the verses of God.'
They said: [illegible]
Without hesitation, his holiness the most exalted began to recite verses, and continued to do so for a little time. The `ulama criticized the verses of his holiness on the grounds of [illegible], and said: 'They do not comply with the rules of grammar and syntax, and are replete with errors.'
[Text reverts abruptly to Mu'in al-Saltana here.] But none of the historians, including `Alim-i Hashtrudi himself, who is the narrator of this account and the author of the Abwab al-huda, have recorded the verses that were revealed at that time. I myself have taken much trouble and asked both believers and non-believers, but have never obtained a text of those verses. I would also hesitate to square this with the text of the verses cited by Nasir al-Din Mirza in his letter, as I shall soon explain in my account of my own opinion.
[Returning to Hashtrudi's narrative?.] Then his holiness the most exalted [said?]: 'I am unlettered [man ummi hastam] and have studied none of your sciences. These verses flow forth upon my tongue and mind, but you divines, who hold the rules of grammar and syntax in such high esteem, will you please tell me which rules of grammar does the following passage, which was revealed in the noble Qur'an, conform to? And a word from Him, his name is the Messiah.5 " A word" [kalima], which is [grammatically] feminine is referred to by a masculine pronoun. He should have said "from it". And [in the case of] the words It is only a reminder to men, which were revealed in respect of the Qur'an itself, the [masculine form] huwa should have been used, since the pronoun refers back to the Qur'an or the Book of God, which is masculine, not feminine. And [in the case of] the verse: It is one of the greatest things, as a warning to men,9 which refers to the Prophet himself, it should have read `He', since the Prophet is not feminine. And [in the case of] this noble verse, where He has said These two men are sorcerers,11 the scholars of grammar say that (the particle) in [illegible] is a `word resembling the verb', whose noun should be in the accusative. The accusative case is indicated by the letter ya' [?], so it should read: These two men are indeed sorcerers.
`Similarly you `ulama say that nunation is a form peculiar to the noun, and is never used for a verb, yet in the noble Qur'an He has said: We shall drag him by the forelock. `We shall drag' is an imperfect verb in the first person (plural) which has been altered [? ma'a 'l-ghayr] and given nunation. Likewise, in the Qur'an the feminine has been mentioned in the masculine form: Some women in the city said. This should have read: `[they (fem.)] said [qalat]. Likewise, He has mentioned the pronoun before the [noun?], when He says: Say, He is God, One.15
When the speech reached this point, the `ulama were unable to give a reply. Whereupon, Mrza Ahmad the Imam-Jum'a, who was recognized as the leading mujtahid of Tabriz, said to his holiness the exalted: `You say you have studied no branches of learning, so where did you pick up all this?' His holiness the Herald said in reply: `These things flow forth upon my tongue just like those verses. I have not studied them.'
At this point, Haji Mulla Mahmud, Nizam al-'Ulama', the teacher and Mullabashi of the Wali-'Ahd, asked his holiness: `Will you reveal a verse suitable to the circumstances and appropriate to this gathering?' But just then the sun had gone down and night had started to fall, and the servants had lit magnificent lamps such as various kinds of candelabra (chil-chiragh, jar, mirdanak ?), and gold and silver and crystal candlesticks, such as were fit for a king's court, and the gathering was lit up anew by pure [reading sada] light and illumination.
In accordance with the request of Nizam al-'Ulama', verses resembling the Light Verse were revealed, but neither Hashtrudi nor any other historian has recorded the precise words of these verses. So, just as I have written, they too have written that verses like the Light Verse of the Qur'an were sent down. Although I have searched hard, I have not been able to obtain an accurate record of those verses.
In the end, Haji Mulla Mahmud wrote down those revealed verses, and kept them for himself. At this point, the Wali-'Ahd asked for tea to be served. The servants and butlers served to those present. After the tea and hookahs had been served, Nizam al-'Ulama' said to the Bab that he wanted him to reveal the same verses a second time. The Bab began to write down the verses and [several words illegible Nizam al-'Ulama?] also wrote down [illegible these verses?].
The text of these new verses differed slightly from that of the first. [Haji?] Mulla Mahmud turned to those present and said: `[word unclear] Look, these [two?] (sets of) verses are different [illegible -- from one another?].'
[A digression follows concerning thoughts expressed in a Baha'i gathering `fifty years ago" about this incident.]
After these discussions and remarks, Haji Mirza `Al, the son of Mirza Mas'ud, the Foreign Minister, who [illegible] was someone well-versed in Arabic, and who had been accounted among the invitees in order to help distinguish between truth and falsehood, asked the Bab: `What grammatical form [sigha] does the phrase qawluhu take?' His holiness the exalted did not reply. He got up and left the gathering. The oppressors returned the Bab to his prison in the Citadel.
Key to sources:
NN: Namus-i Nasiri (Mamaqani)
RS: Rawdat al-safa-yi Nasiri (Hidayat)
NT: Nasikh al-tawarikh (Sipihr)
MBA: Miftah bab al-abwab (Za'im al-Dawla)
FB: Fitna-yi Bab/al-Mutanabbiyyin (I'tidad al-Saltana)
AKh: Letter of Mirza Aslan Khan
NK: Nuqtat al-kaf (Kashani)
AH: Abwab al-huda (Hashtrudi in Mu'in al-Saltana)
DB: Nabil's Narrative/Dawnbreakers (Zarandi)
# Answer NN RS NT MBA FB AKh NK AH DB Totl 1 `God [gave me x x x x x 5 this title]' 2 `These verses are x x x x x x 6 from God' 3 `They are my x x x x x x 6 writings' 4 `Like the x x x x1 x2 x3 6 revelation of words from the Tree on Sinai' 5 Quotes `I am the x x x x4 x x 6 City of Knowledge, `Ali is its Gate' 6 `I am that person x x x x x x x x5 x 9 you have awaited for 1000 years' 7 `I am not x x 2 permitted [to produce heirlooms]' 8 `I am the Gate of x x 2 adoration' 9 `I shall cause a x 1 verse to descend on this staff' 10 Verse about staff x x x 3 11 `40,000 `ulama x x 2 will reject him' 12 `Or 4,000' x x 2 13 `Light from x x x 3 Burning Bush that of one of Shi'a' 14 `I have not x 1 studied fiqh' 15 `I have not x x x x x 5 studied medicine' 16 `My name is x x x 3 numerically equivalent to rabb' 17 `Praise be to x x x x x6 x7 6 God....' (with fatha on samawat) 18 `And he made the x 1 sun and moon' (with kasra on shin) 19 `I have not x x x 3 studied astrology' 20 `I have not x 1 studied grammar' 21 `I studied x x x x 4 grammar as a child but have forgotten it' 22 `He should begin x 1 with two (rak'as) 23 `I have not x 1 studied nahw' 24 `I have written x 1 ten times the bulk of the S|ahifa...' 25 `I can write x x x x x8 5 1,000/2,000/10,000 verses per day' 26 `Blessings be x x x 3 upon you'9 27 `You are Haji x x 2 Mulla Mahmud' 28 `Identical with x x 2 the Essence' 29 `I have not x x 2 studied hikmat' 30 `One third is x10 x x x 4 half of a fifth' 31 `I have not x 1 studied arithmetic 32 `My name is `Ali x x x 3 Muhammad etc.'11 33 `To reply to such x 1 questions needs another time & place' 34 `You are well x 1 informed about different religions'12 35 `Light on Sinai x x 2 was my light'
1 Appears as a question (see questions table).
2 Said by Bab and Nizam al-'Ulama.
4 Bab al-'ilm.
5 In Arabic as: Ana 'l-Qa'im alladhI kuntum bihi muntazirun.
8 Expressed as 'Within the space of two days and two nights, I declare Myself able to reveal verses of such magnitiude as will equal the whole of the Qur'an' (p. 317).
9 To Nizam al-'Ulama
10 Different wording.
11 The Bab's age as given in this passage is 35, which is about six years out. This passage is omitted in al-Mutanabbi'In.
12 To the grandfather of Za'Im al-Dawla.
13 Appears as a question (see questions table).
14 Said by Bab and Nizam al-'Ulama.
16 Bab al-'ilm.
17 In Arabic as: Ana 'l-Qa'im alladhi kuntum bihi muntazirun.
20 Expressed as `Within the space of two days and two nights, I declare Myself able to reveal verses of such magnitiude as will equal the whole of the Qur'an' (p. 317).
21 To Nizam al-'Ulama
22 Different wording.
23 The Bab's age as given in this passage is 35, which is about six years out. This passage is omitted in al-Mutanabbi'in.
24 To the grandfather of Za'im al-Dawla.
Key to sources:
NN: Namus-i Nasiri (Mamaqani)
RS: Rawdat al-safa-yi Nasiri (Hidayat)
NT: Nasikh al-tawarikh (Sipihr)
MBA: Miftah bab al-abwab (Za`im al-Dawla)
FB: Fitna-yi Bab/al-Mutanabbi'in (I`tidad al-Saltana)
AKh: Letter of Mirza Aslan Khan
NK: Nuqtat al-kaf (Kashani)
AH: Abwab al-huda (Hashtrudi in Mu`in al-Saltana)
DB: Nabil's Narrative/Dawnbreakers (Zarandi)
# Question etc. NN RS NT MBA FB AKh NK AH DB Totl
1 `Are these your x x x x x x 6 writings?' 2 `Who gave you the x x x x x x 6 title Bab?' 3 `When did God bestow x x1 x2 3 this title?' 4 `What are you the x x3 x 3 gate of?' 5 `Did you call x x 2 yourself/your tongue is like Tree of Sinai?'4 6 Quotes `Ask me before x x 2 I am gone....' 7 `Are you the hidden x x5 x6 x7 x 5 Imam in person?' 8 `The Imam we await is x x x x x 5 so-and-so. You are someone else.' 9 `Why did you not x x 2 bring the heirlooms of the Prophet?' 10 `Go and get x x 2 permission (to bring heirlooms)' 11 `Turn your staff into x 1 a dragon' 12 `Do you have a verse X x x 3 for your staff?' 13 `I can reveal a x x x x 4 better verse than that' (Aslan Khan) 14 `It is not a x 1 tradition, but from Ibn al-`Arabi ' 15 `A jackal in Basra' x 1 16 `Pray for Muhammad x x x x x 5 Shah's health' 17 `Restore Nizam x x x x x 5 al-`Ulama to youth' 18 `O Thou through Whom x 1 the knot of the deceiver is untied' 19 `How can we speak x 1 with one in his cradle?'8 20 `Does the Quranic x x x x9 x 5 decree on booty still stand?' 21 `How many fractions x 1 are there in arithmetic?'10 22 `We have sent a x 1 revelation to you as to Muhammad'11 23 `We have caused you x 1 to be raised up a station...'12 24 `How many kinds of x 1 divorce are there in fiqh?' 25 `A question on x13 x14 x15 x16 x17 5 medicine' 26 `Queries claim that x x18 x19 x20 x 5 first to believe in Bab was Muhammad' 27 `You refer to x 1 yourself as "Lord". Why?' 28 `Whatever takes its x x x x x22 5 plural in ta' and alif....'21 29 `Explain the figures x x x 3 on this sphere of the heavens'23 30 Quotes `Allama x x x x x 5 al-Hilli on hermaphrodite. 31 Quotes question of x x x x x x 6 Ma'mun to Imam Rida 32 `He it is Who causes x x x x x 5 you to behold the lightning....' 33 `May God curse the x x x x x 5 eyes....' 34 `You claim that men x 1 and jinn cannot produce a word...'24 35 On remark of the x x x x x 5 father of `Amr 36 Claim to have drunk x 1 drops of blood of Husayn25 37 Bab's hypocrisy x 1 regarding al-Ahsa'i and Rashti 38 `If a man is x x x x x 5 uncertain between two and three (rak`as) 39 `What tense is x x26 x 3 qulna?/Decline qala' 40 `When did I send you x x x 3 as an Imam?' 41 Quotes `If it is x x x 3 allowed for a tree to say "I am the Truth"' 42 `Are you content with x 2 this name?' 43 `Are you the Gate of x x 2 the City of Knowledge?' 44 `I have waited 40 x x 2 years to meet one of the abwab' 45 `I shall give this x x x x 4 throne to you'27 46 `Are knowledge, x x 2 hearing etc. of the Essence?' 47 `Religious sciences x x x x 4 depend on sarf etc.' 48 `Show the mutation of x x 2 the defective letter in qala' 49 `What is grammatical x x 2 form of qawluhu?' 50 `I`jaz, fasaha, and x x x x 4 balagha' 51 `Engaging in an x x28 2 indubitable duty....' 52 `What are the x x 2 fractions of nine?' 53 Quotes `How long x x 2 these words...?' 54 `Show me a miracle' x x x x 4 55 `What needs improving x29 1 in Islam? How do you improve it?' 56 `On the true nature x30 1 of Christ's ascension to heaven.' 57 `Be quiet, be quiet'31 x 1 58 `What were the names x 1 of your father and mother...?' 59 Trouble in Khurasan x x 2 etc. on account of writings 60 `What is this x 2 affair... truth of matter... nature of claim?' 61 `Light from Burning x 1 Bush was your light -- is that so?' 62 `Why should that x32 x33 x34 3 Shi`i be you?'
3 'What is the meaning of "Bab"?'
4 Some other sources have the reference to the Tree on Sinai as a statement of the Bab's.
5 'In person or in type?' (shakhsi ya naw`i)
6 'In person or in type?' (naw`i buda'i ya shakhsi mibashi)
7 'In person or in type?'
8 Asked by Mamaqani
9 This is the only source to attribute this question to a certain Mirza `Abd al-Karim Mullabashi. The others say it was asked by `Alam al-Huda.
10 sked by Mamaqani
11 Asked by `Alam al-Huda.
12 Asked by `Alam al-Huda.
13 Asked by Mamaqani. Mamaqani's son did not remember what this was.
14 Asked by Nizam al-`Ulama.
15 Asked by Nizam al-`Ulama.
16 Asked by Nizam al-`Ulama.
17 Asked by Nizam al-`Ulama.
18 'The Light of Muhammad'.
19 'The Light of Muhammad'.
20 'The Light of Muhammad'.
21 Quoted by Nasir al-Din Mirza
22 Attributed to 'one of those present'.
23 Said by Nasir al-Din Mirza.
24 Said by `Alam al-Huda.
25 Said by `Alam al-Huda.
26 The Bab is asked to decline qala and cannot. Nizam al-`Ulama declines as far as qulna and asks him to finish.
27 Said by Nasir al-Din Mirza.
28 This comment is dropped in the text of al-Mutanabbi'in.
29 Asked by Za`im al-Dawla's grandfather.
31 Said by Nasir al-Din Mirza.
32 Attributed to Nasir al-Din Mirza.
33 Attributed to unnamed individual(s).
34 Attributed to Amir Aslan Khan.