In attempting to convey a correct impression of past events, it is often difficult to decide how far their true sequence may be disregarded for the sake of grouping together things naturally related. To set down all occurrences day by day, as they actually took place, is undoubtedly the easiest, and, in some ways, the most natural plan. On the other hand, it often necessitates the separation of matters intimately connected with one another, while the mind is distracted rather than refreshed by the continual succession of topics presented to it. For this reason I have thought it best to include in a separate chapter all that I have to say concerning my intercourse with the Babis in Shiraz. Had this intercourse been more closely interwoven with the social life which I have endeavoured to portray in the preceding chapter, such dissociation might have been inadvisable, and even impossible. as it was, it was a thing apart; a separate life in a different sphere; a drama, complete in itself, with its own scenes and its own actors.
Those who have followed me thus far on my journey will
remember how, after long and fruitless search, a fortunate chance
Whilst I was still undecided as to the course I should pursue, another unlooked-for event suddenly removed all difficulties. I have already mentioned Mirza 'Ali, a young Persian with whom I had previously been intimately acquainted in Europe. Three days after my arrival he came to pay me a visit. I hardly recognised him at first, in the tall lambskin cap and long cloak which he wore, and was equally surprised and delighted at this unexpected meeting. He did not stay long, but before leaving invited me to come and see him on the following day.
I had scarcely entered the room where he was waiting to receive me, when the cursory glance which I cast round was riveted by an Arabic text which hung on the wall. Yet it was not so much the Arabic characters which attracted my attention (though these too seemed in some way strangely familiar), as a line of writing beneath them. There was no mistaking the parallel oblique strokes and the delicate curves and spirals which sprang from them. Only once before had I seen that character in the hands of the Babi dallal at Isfahan.
I withdrew my eyes from the tablet and turned them on Mirza
'Ali, who had been attentively watching my scrutiny. Our
glances met, and I knew at once that my conjecture was right.
"Do you know Mirza Muhammad?" I asked presently.
"I know him well," he replied; "it was he who informed me that you were coming. You have not seen him yet? Then I will take you there one day soon, and you shall meet other friends. I must find out when he will be disengaged, and arrange a time."
"I did not know," said I, "that you.... Tell me what you really think...."
"I confess I am puzzled," he answered. "Such eloquence,
such conviction, such lofty, soul-stirring words, such devotion
and enthusiasm! If I could believe any religion it would be that."
Before I left he had shown me some of the books which he possessed. One of these was a small work called Madaniyyat ("Civilisation"), lithographed in Bombay, one of the few secular writings of the Babis. Another was the Kitab-i-Akdas ("Most Holy Book"), which contains the codified prescriptions of the sect in a brief compass. The latter my friend particularly commended to my attention.
"You must study this carefully if you desire to understand the matter," he said; "I will get a copy made for you by our scribe, whom you will also see at Mirza Muhammad's. You should read it while you are here, so that any difficulties which arise may be explained. I am acquainted with a young Seyyid well versed in philosophy, who would perhaps come regularly to you while you are here. This would excite no suspicion, for it is known that you have come here to study."
Rejoiced as I was at the unexpected facilities which appeared
to be opening out to me, there was one thing which somewhat
distressed me. It was the Bab whom I had learned to regard as
a hero, and whose works I desired to obtain and peruse, yet of
him no account appeared to be taken. I questioned my friend
about this, and learned (what I had already begun to suspect at
Isfahan) that much had taken place amongst the Babis since those
events of which Gobineau's vivid and sympathetic record had
so strangely moved me. That record was written while Mirza
A day or two after the events narrated above I received another
visit from Mirza 'Ali, who was on this occasion accompanied
by the young Babi Seyyid of whom he had spoken. They remained
with me more than an hour, and the Seyyid talked much, asking
me numberless questions about anatomy, physiology, chemistry,
and other sciences, but speaking little about his own views.
Before they left it was arranged that on the following afternoon
I should accompany them to the house of Mirza Muhammad.
On the following afternoon I sallied forth to the house of
Mirza 'Ali, accompanied by my servant, Haji Safar, whom I
would rather have left behind had I been able to find the way
by myself. I met Mirza 'Ali at the door of his house, and we
proceeded at once to the abode of Mirza Muhammad. He was
not in when we arrived, but appeared shortly, and welcomed me
I was at first somewhat at a loss to know how to begin, especially as several servants were standing about outside, watching and listening. I enquired of Mirza 'Ali if I might speak freely before these, whereupon he signified to Mirza Muhammad that they should be dismissed.
"Now," he said, when this order had been given and obeyed, "speak freely, for there is no 'ass's head' (ra' su'l-himar*) here."
I then proceeded to set forth what I had heard of the Bab, his gentleness and patience, the cruel fate which had overtaken him, and the unflinching courage wherewith he and his followers, from the greatest to the least, had endured the merciless torments inflicted on them by their enemies.
"It is this," I concluded, "which has made me so desirous to
know what you believe; for a faith which can inspire a fortitude
so admirable must surely contain some noble principle."
Then began a discussion between myself on the one
hand, and the young Seyyid and Haji Mirza Hasan on the other, of
which I can only attempt to give a general outline. Disregarding
those details of persons, past events, and literary history about
which I was so desirous to learn, they proceeded to set forth
the fundamental assumptions on which their faith is based in
"The object for which man exists," they said, "is that he should know God. Now this is impossible by means of his unassisted reason. It is therefore necessary that prophets should be sent to instruct him concerning spiritual truth, and to lay down ordinances for his guidance. From time to time, therefore, a prophet appears in the world with tokens of his divine mission sufficient to convince all who are not blinded by prejudice and wilful ignorance. When such a prophet appears, it is incumbent on all to submit themselves to him without question, even though he command what has formerly been forbidden, or prohibit what has formerly been ordained."
"Stay," I interposed; "surely one must be convinced that such prohibition or command is sanctioned by reason. If the doctrine or ordinance be true, it must be agreeable to the idea of Absolute Good which exists in our own minds."
"We must be convinced by evidence approved by reason that
he who claims to be a prophet actually is so," they replied; "but
when once we are assured of this, we must obey him in everything,
for he knows better than we do what is right and wrong. If it were
not so, there would be no necessity for revelation at all. As
for the fact that what is sanctioned in one 'manifestation'
is forbidden in another, and vice versa, that presents no difficulty.
A new prophet is not sent until the development of the human race
renders this necessary. A revelation is not abrogated till it no
longer suffices for the needs of mankind. There is no disagreement
between the prophets: all teach the same truth, but in such
measure as men can receive it. One spirit, indeed, speaks through
all the prophets; consider it as the instructor (murabbi) of mankind.
As mankind advance and progress, they need fuller instruction. The
child cannot be taught in the same way as the youth, nor the youth
as the full-grown man. So it is with the human race. The instruction
given by Abraham was suitable
"What you say is agreeable to reason," I assented; "but tell me, in what way is the prophet to be recognised when he comes? By miracles, or otherwise?"
"By miracles (if by miracles you mean prodigies contrary to
nature)--No!" they answered; "it is for such that the ignorant
have always clamoured. The prophet is sent to distinguish the
good from the bad, the believer from the unbeliever. He is the
touchstone whereby false and true metal are separated. But if
he came with evident supernatural power, who could help
believing? who would dare oppose him? The most rebellious
and unbelieving man, if he found himself face to face with one
who could raise the dead, cleave the moon, or stay the course of
the sun, would involuntarily submit. The persecutions to which
all the prophets have been exposed, the mockery to which they
have been compelled to submit, the obloquy they have borne,
all testify to the fact that their enemies neither feared them
nor believed that God would support them; for no one, however
foolish, however froward, would knowingly and voluntarily
fight against the power of the Omnipotent. No, the signs
whereby the prophet is known are these:--Though untaught
in the learning esteemed of men, he is wise in true wisdom;
he speaks a word which is creative and constructive; his word
so deeply affects the hearts of men that for it they are willing
to forgo wealth and comfort, fame and family, even life itself.
What the prophet says comes to pass. Consider Muhammad.
He was surrounded by enemies, he was scoffed at and opposed
by the most powerful and wealthy of his people, he was derided
as a madman, treated as an impostor. But his enemies have
"I understand your argument," I replied, "and it seems to
me a weighty one. But I wish to make two observations. Firstly,
it appears to me that you must include amongst the number
of the prophets many who are ordinarily excluded, as, for
example, Zoroaster; for all the proofs which you have enumerated
were, so far as we can learn, presented by him. Secondly, though
"As to your first observation," rejoined the Babi spokesman, "it is true, and we do recognise Zoroaster, and others whom the Musulmans reject, as prophets. For though falsehood may appear to flourish for a while, it cannot do so for long. God will not permit an utterly false religion to be the sole guide of thousands. But with Zoroaster and other ancient prophets you and I have nothing to do. The question for you is whether another prophet has come since Christ: for us, whether another has come since Muhammad."
"Well," I interrupted, "what about the propagation of Islam by the sword? For you cannot deny that in many countries it was so propagated. What right had Muhammad--what right has any prophet--to slay where he cannot convince? Can such a thing be acceptable to God, who is Absolute Good?"
"A prophet has the right to slay if he knows that it is necessary,"
answered the young Seyyid, "for he knows what is hidden from us;
and if he sees that the slaughter of a few will prevent
"I do not agree with you there," I answered. "I know very
well that men have often attributed, and do attribute, such
qualities as these to God, and it appears to me that in so doing
they have been led into all manner of evil and cruelty, whereby
they have brought shame on the name of their religion. I believe
what one of your own poets has said:
At this point there was some dissension in the assembly; the young Seyyid shook his head, and relapsed into silence; Mirza 'Ali signified approval of what I had said; Haji Mirza Hasan strove to avoid the point at issue, and proceeded thus:
"I have already said that what is incumbent on every man is
that he should believe in the 'manifestation' of his own age.
It is not required of him that he should discuss and compare all
previous 'manifestations.' You have been brought up a follower
of Christ. We have believed in this 'manifestation' which has
taken place in these days. Let us not waste time in disputing
about intermediate 'manifestations.' We do not desire to make
you believe in Muhammad but in Beha. If you should be convinced
of the tmth of Beha's teaching you have passed over the
stage of Islam altogether. The last 'manifestation' includes and
"True," I replied, "but those same books tell us also that His
coming shall be 'as tbe lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part
under heaven and shineth unto the other part under heaven.'"
"There can be no contradiction between these two similes,"
answered the Babi; "and since the phrase 'like a thief in the
night' evidently signifies that when Christ returns it will be in
a place where you do not expect Him, and at a time when you
do not expect Him--that is, suddenly and secretly--it is clear
that the comparison in the other passage which you quoted is
to the suddenness and swiftness of the lightning, not to its
universal vividness. If, as the Christians for the most-part
expect, Christ should come riding upon the clouds surrounded
by angels, how could He be said in any sense to come 'like a
thief in the night'? Everyone would see him, and, seeing, would be
compelled to believe. It has always been through such considerations
as these that men have rejected the prophet whose advent they
professed to be expecting, because He did not come in some
unnatural and impossible manner which they had vainly imagined.
Christ was indeed the promised Messiah, yet the Jews, who had
waited, and prayed, and longed for the coming of the Messiah,
"Well," I replied, "your arguments are strong, and certainly
deserve consideration. But, even supposing that you are right
in principle, it does not follow that they hold good in this
particular case. If I grant that the return of Christ may be in
such wise as you indicate, nevertheless mere assertion will not
* Mount Carmel.
"Many have arisen falsely claiming to be Christ," he answered, "but the injunction laid on you to beware of these does not mean that you are to refuse to accept Christ when He does return. The very fact that there are pretenders is a proof that there is a reality. You demand proofs, and you are right to do so. What proofs would suffice for you?"
"The chief proofs which occur to me at this moment," I
replied, "are as follows:--You admit, so far as I understand,
that in each 'manifestation' a promise has been given of a
succeeding 'manifestation,' and that certain signs have always
been laid down whereby that 'manifestation' may be recognised.
It is therefore incumbent on you to show that the signs foretold
by Christ as heralding His return have been accomplished in the
coming of Beha. Furthermore, since each 'manifestation' must
be fuller, completer, and more perfect than the last, you must
prove that the doctrines taught by Beha are superior to the
teaching of Christ--a thing which I confess seems to me almost
impossible, for I cannot imagine a doctrine purer or more
elevated than that of Christ. Lastly, quite apart from miracles
in the ordinary sense, there is one sign which we regard as the
especial characteristic of a prophet, to wit, that he should have
knowledge of events which have not yet come to pass. No sign
can be more appropriate or more convincing than this. For a
prophet claims to be inspired by God, and to speak of the
mysteries of the Unseen. If he has knowledge of the Unseen
he may well be expected to have knowledge of the Future. That
we may know that what he tells us about other matters beyond
our ken is true, we must be convinced that he has knowledge
surpassing ours in some matter which we can verify. This is
afforded most readily by the foretelling of events which have not
yet happened, and which we cannot foresee. These three signs
"As regards knowledge of the future," replied Haji Mirza Hasan, "I could tell you of many occasions on which Beha has given proof of such. Not only I myself, but almost all who have been at Acre, and stood in his presence, have received warnings of impending dangers, or information concerning forthcoming events. Some of these I will, if it please God, relate to you at some future time. As regards the superiority of Beha's doctrines to those of Christ, you can judge for yourself if you will read his words. As regards the news of this 'manifestation' given to you by Christ, is it not the case that He promised to return? Did He not declare that one should come to comfort His followers, and perfect what He had begun? Did He not signify that after the Son should come the Father?"
"Do you mean," I demanded in astonishment, "that you regard
Beha as the Father? What do you intend by this expression?
You cannot surely mean that you consider Beha to be God Himself?"
"What do you mean by the expression 'Son of God'?"
returned the Babi.
"Our learned men explain it in different ways," I answered; "but let us take the explanation which Christ Himself gave in answer to the same question--'As many as do the will of God are the sons of God.' Christ perfectly fulfilled the will of God; He had--as I understand it--reached the stage which your Sufis call 'annihilation in God' (fena fi'llah); He had become merged in God in thought, in will, in being, and could say truly, 'I am God.' Higher than this can no one pass; how then can you call Beha 'the Father,' since 'the Father' is Infinite, Invisible, Omnipresent, Omnipotent?"
"Suppose that in this assembly," replied the other, "there
were one wiser than all the rest, and containing in himself all,
and more than all, the knowledge which the others possessed
"Well," I answered, by no means satisfied with this explanation,
"apart from this, which I will pass by for the present, it appears
to me that you confuse and confound different things. The coming
of the Comforter is not the same thing, as we understand it, as
the return of Christ, yet both of these you declare to be fulfilled
in the coming of Beha. And whereas you spoke of Beha a little while
ago as Christ returned, you now call him 'the Father.' As regards
the Comforter, we believe that he entered as the Holy Spirit into
the hearts of the disciples soon after the Jews had put Christ to
death. I know that the Muhammadans assert that the prophecies
which we apply to this descent of the Holy Spirit were intended
to refer to Muhammad; that for the word [Greek word] they would substitute
[Greek word] which is in meaning nearly equivalent to Ahmad or Muhammad,
signifying one 'praised,' or 'illustrious.' But if you, as I suppose,
follow the Muhammadans in this, you cannot apply the same prophecy
to Beha. If the promise concerning the advent of the Comforter was
fulfilled in the coming of Muhammad, then it clearly cannot apply
to the coming of Beha. And, indeed, I still fail to understand in
what light you regard Islam, and must return once more to the
question concerning its relation to Christianity and to your
religion which I put some time ago, and which I do not think you
answered clearly. If news of the succeeding 'manifestation' is
given by every messenger of God, surely it is confined to the
'manifestation' immediately succeeding that wherein it is given,
and does not extend to others which lie beyond it. Assuming that
you are right in regarding Islam as the completion and fulfilment
of Christianity, your religion must be regarded as the completion
and fulfilment of Islam, and the prophecies concerning it must
then be sought in the Kur'an and Traditions rather than in the Gospel.
It is therefore
"To explain the relations of Islam to Christianity on the one
hand, and to this manifestation on the other, would require a
longer time than we have at our disposal at present," replied
the Babi apologist; "but, in brief, know that the signs laid down
by each prophet as characteristic of the next manifestation apply
also to all future manifestations. In the books of each prophet
whose followers still exist are recorded signs sufficient to convince
them of the truth of the manifestation of their own age. There
is no necessity for them to follow the chain link by link.
Each prophet is complete in himself, and his evidence is conclusive
unto all men. God does not suffer His proof to be incomplete,
or make it dependent on knowledge and erudition, for it has been
seen in all manifestations that those who have believed were
men whom the world accounted ignorant, while those who were
held learned in religion were the most violent and bitter opponents
and persecutors. Thus it was in the time of Christ, when fishermen
believed in Him and became His disciples, while the Jewish doctors
mocked Him, persecuted Him, and slew Him. Thus it was also in the
time of Muhammad, when the mighty and learned among his people did most
furiously revile and reproach him. And although in this manifestation
--the last and the most complete--many learned men have believed,
because the proofs were such as no fair-minded man could resist,
As it was growing late, and I desired to make use of the present occasion to learn further particulars about the literature of the Babis, I allowed the discussion to stand at this point, and proceeded to make enquiries about the books which they prized most highly. In reply to these enquiries they informed me that Mirza 'Ali Muhammad the Bab had composed in all about a hundred separate treatises of different sizes; that the name Beyan was applied generally to all of them; and that the book which I described as having been translated into French by Gobineau must be that specially designated as the Kitabu'l-Ahkam ("Book of Precepts"). Beha, they added, had composed about the same number of separate books and letters. I asked if all these works existed in Shiraz, to which they replied, "No, they are scattered about the country in the hands of believers--some at Yezd, some at Isfahan, some in other places. In Shiraz the total number of separate works is altogether about a dozen."
"If that be so," I remarked, "I suppose that some few works of greater value than the others are to be found in every community of believers; and I should be glad to know which these are, so that I may endeavour to obtain them."
"All that emanates from the Source (masdar) is equal in
importance," they answered, "but some books are more systematic,
more easily understood, and therefore more widely read than
others. Of these the chief are:--(I) The Kitab-i-Akdas ('Most
"Can you get me these?" I enquired, "especially the Kitab-i- Akdas and the History (for I already possess the Ikan)? And was the writer of the History one of yourselves?"
"I will get a transcript of the Kitab-i-Akdas made for you if I can," replied Mirza 'Ali, "and meanwhile I will borrow a copy for you to read. I daresay some of us can lend you the History also. It is not altogether good. The author devotes too large a portion of his work to abuse of the Muhammadan doctors and reflections on the Persian Government, while, on the other hand, he omits many events of real importance. Besides that, I do not like his pretence of being a French traveller; for we all know, and indeed anyone who reads his book can see, that he was not a European. I do not know his name, but I expect Haji Mirza Hasan does."
"I know- it," answered the person appealed to, "but it is a
secret which I am not entitled to divulge, though, as the writer is
dead now, it could make very little matter even were it generally
known. I may tell you this much, that he was one of the secretaries
of Manakji* Sahib at Teheran. When he began to write he was quite
impartial, but as he went on he became convinced by his investigations
of the truth of the matter, and this change in his opinions is
manifest in the later portion of the
* Manakji, the son of Limji Hushang Hataryari, was for many years
maintained by the Parsees of Bombay at Teheran to watch over the interests
of the Persian Zoroastrians. He died about the year 1890. Full
particulars of the circumstances under which the New History here
alluded to was composed will be found in the Introduction to my
translation of that work.
"Have you got any of the poems of Kurratu'l'Ayn?" I demanded; "I have heard that she wrote poems, and should like very much to see some of them, and obtain copies."
"Yes," they answered, "she wrote poems, and some of them are still extant; but we have none of them here in Shiraz. You would most likely find them, if anywhere, at Kazvin, her native place, at Hamadan, which she visited after her conversion, or at Teheran, where she suffered martyrdom. In Khurasan and Mazandaran, also, they might be found, but here in the South it is difficult."
It was now past sunset, and dusk was drawing on, so I was reluctantly compelled to depart homewards. On the whole, I was well satisfied with my first meeting with the Babis of Shiraz, and looked forward to many similar conferences during my stay in Persia. They had talked freely and without restraint, had received me with every kindness, and appeared desirous of affording me every facility for comprehending their doctrines; and although some of my enquiries had not met with answers as clear as I could have desired, I was agreeably impressed with the fairness, courtesy, and freedom from prejudice of my new acquaintances. Especially it struck me that their knowledge of Christ's teaching and the gospels was much greater than that commonly possessed by the Musulmans, and I observed with pleasure that they regarded the Christians with a friendliness very gratifying to behold.
Concerning the books, they were as good as their word. I
received on the following day manuscripts of the History and of
1 Acre, the residence of Beha'u'llah, "the Sun of Truth."
2 The Traveler's Narrative, composed by Beha'u'llah's son, 'Abbas Efendi, about the year 1886, was the outcome of this intention. It was published by me with a translation in 1891.
Four days after the conference described above, I received a note from Mirza 'Ali informing me that Haji Mirza Hasan had come to see him, and that I might join them if I wished. Of course I hastened thither at once, taking with me the Kitab-i-Akdas (which I had meanwhile read through) to ask the explanation of certain passages which I had been unable fully to understand. Most of these Haji Mirza Hasan explained to me, but the very complicated law of inheritance he could not altogether elucidate. In answer to my question whether polygamy was sanctioned by their religion, he replied that two wives are allowed, but believers are recommended to limit themselves to one. I then enquired whether it was true, as asserted by Gobineau, that circumcision had been abolished. He answered that it was ignored, being a thing altogether indifferent. Sundry other points wherein the ordinances of the new religion differed from those of Islam, such as the prohibition of shaving the head or wearing long locks (zulf) like the Persians, and the regulations for prayer, were then discussed.
Two days later Mirza 'Ali again paid me a visit, and remained
for about two hours. From him I learned sundry particulars
about the Babis of which his European education had enabled
him to appreciate the interest, but which would probably never
have been mentioned to me by Haji Mirza Hasan or my other friends,
who, as is so often the case in the East, could not understand a
mere desire for information as such, and who therefore would
speak of little else but the essential doctrines of their
religion. Amongst other things he told me that, besides the new
writing (known only to a few), many of the Babis had cornelian
seals on which was cut a curious device. These seals were all
As to its significance* Mirza 'Ali professed himself ignorant.
I questioned him about the prophecies of Beha alluded to at the
house of Mirza Muhammad, and he replied that I had better ask
Haji Mirza Hasan, who had been much at Acre, and knew far
more about them than he did. One of the best known instances,
he added, was connected with the history of the martyrs of
Isfahan. Soon after their death, Sheykh Bakir, who had been
chiefly instrumental in bringing it about, received a terrible
letter of denunciation from Acre, wherein it was announced
that he would shortly die in disgrace and ignominy, which
actually occurred a little while afterwards. "Sheykh Bakir's
miserable end is a matter of notoriety in Persia," concluded my
friend, "but I will try to get Haji Mirza Hasan or one of the
others to show you the epistle in which it is foretold, and to
relate to you all the details of the matter, for I quite understand
the importance which you attach to prophecy in the sense in
which you commonly understand it in Europe." About sunset
Mirza 'Ali rose to depart, but before leaving invited me to spend
the next day in a garden near Masjid-Bardi which belonged to
him. "I shall ask Haji Mirza Hasan and some other friends,"
he added, "and we can discuss matters undisturbed and
p. 522 infra.
Early next morning I met my friend and Haji Mirza Hasan at the gate of the city. As soon as I perceived them I gave Haji Safar permission to withdraw, telling him that I should not need him again before evening. When he was gone, Mirza 'Ali informed me that the other guests would proceed independently to the garden, as it was perhaps inadvisable for all of us to be seen together. After a pleasant walk of about forty minutes (for I had entreated my friend to dispense with horses) we reachcd the garden, and betook ourselves to an upper chamber in a little summer-house standing in its midst. Though the day was cloudy, no rain fell till 10.30 a.m., by which time all the other guests had arrived. These were three in number, all men past middle age, grave and venerable in appearance. Two of them, both Seyyids, and both of the number of the Afnan1, I had met already. The third wore a white turban, and brought with him, concealed beneath his cloak, two books.
After the usual interchange of greetings, Mirza 'Ali suggested
to the possessor of the books that he should read a portion aloud;
and the Epistle addressed to Napoleon III, exhorting him to
believe and warning him of his approaching humiliation, was
accordingly chosen as containing one of the most remarkable
prophecies of Beha. The prophecy in question I have published
elsewhere2 in an account given to the Royal Asiatic Society of
the Literature and Doctrines of the Babis, but two verses of it
may be repeated here. They run as follows:--
"Because of what thou hast done, affairs shall be changed in thy kingdom, and empire shall depart from thine hands, as a punishment for thine action....
"Thy glory hath made thee proud. By my life! It shall not endure, but
shall pass away, unless thou takest hold of this firm rope. We have seen
humiliation hastening after thee, while thou art of those that sleep."
When the reader ceased, I asked for permission to examine the books, which was readily accorded. The one from which the Epistle to Napoleon had been read, contained, besides this, the whole of the Kitab-i-Akdas, and the other Epistles addressed to the rulers of the principal countries in Europe and Asia. These comprised letters to the Queen of England, the Emperor of Russia, the Shah of Persia, and the Pope of Rome, as well as one addressed to a Turkish minister who had oppressed the Babis. I asked when these were written, but no one present seemed to know the exact date, though they thought that it was about twenty years before, when Beha was in Adrianople. Besides these "Epistles to the Kings" (Alwa-i-Salatin) were one or two other letters addressed to believers, amongst which was one written to the Babi missionary whom I had met at Isfahan while he was in exile at Khartoum with Haji Mirza Hasan. These epistles were, as I learned, known collectively as the Sura-i-Heykal*.
The other book was a larger volume, containing many suras without name or title, some of considerable length, some quite short. This collection was termed by my companions "The Perspicuous Book" (Kitab-i-Mubin). While I was engaged in examining it breakfast was announced, and we repaired to an adjoining room, where a sumptuous repast of savoury pilaws and chilaws, prawns, melons, and other delicacies was laid out. I wished to take my place on the floor with the other guests, but this Mirza 'Ali would not permit, saying that he knew I should be more comfortable if I would sit at the table which he had provided expressly for me.
After the meal one or two of the guests lay down to sleep
for a while, and in the narrower circle conversation seemed to
flow more freely. I succeeded at length in inducing my Babi
Each of the prophets is the "manifestation" of one of the
Names (or Attributes) of God. The name manifested in the
Bab was the highest of all--Wahid, the One. Hence it is that
19 is amongst the Babis the sacred number according to which
all things are arranged--the months of the year, the days of the
month, the chapters in the Beyan, the fines imposed for certain
offences, and many other things. For 19 is the numerical value
of the word Wahid according to the abjad notation, in which each
letter has a numerical equivalent, and each word a corresponding
number, formed by the addition of its component letters. This
sacred number was manifested even at the first appearance of the
Bab, for eighteen of his fellow-students at once believed in him.
These eighteen are called "the Letters of the Living" (Hurufat-i-
Hayy), because they were the creative agents employed by the Bab
for bestowing new life upon the world, and because the numerical
value of the word Hayy is 18. All of them were inspired and
pervaded by the Bab, the One (Wahid), and with him constitute
the manifested Unity (Wahid) of 19. Thus the visible church on
earth was a type of the one God, one in Essence, but revealed
through the Names, whereby the Essence can alone be comprehended.
But this is not all. Each of the nineteen members of the "Unity"
gained nineteen converts, so that the primitive church comprised 361
persons in all. This is called "The Number of All Things" ('alad-i-
kulli shey), for 361 is the square of 19 and the further expansion
thereof, and it is also the numerical equivalent of the words kulli
shey, which mean "All Things." This is why the Babi year, like the
Beyan, is arranged according to this number in nineteen months
of nineteen days each. But the Babi year is a solar year containing
366 days. These five additional days are added at the beginning of
the last month, which is the month of fasting, and
"Place the days which are in excess over the months before the month of
fasting. Verily we have made them the manifestations of the [letter] HA
[=5] amongst the nights and days. Therefore are they not comprised within
the limits of the months. It is incombent on such as are in Beha to feed
therein themselves, and their relatives; then the poor and distressed....
And when the days of giving [which are] before the days of withholding are
finished, let them enter upon the fast."
Immediately after the month of fasting comes the great festival of the Nawruz, which inaugurates a new year. That the old national festival, which marks the period when the sun again resumes his sway after the dark cold winter is past and the earth again clothes herself with verdure, should be thus consecrated again by the Babis is one sign amongst many of the Persian genius by which the new faith was inspired.
Sheykh Ahmad Ahsa'i, who taught at Kerbela about the
beginning of the nineteenth century, first began to hint darkly
that the days wherein the promised Imam should appear were at
hand. When he died (A.D. 1826) his pupil, Haji Seyyid Kazim
of Resht, succeeded him, and spoke more clearly on the same
theme, especially towards the end of his life. Amongst the
number of those who attended his lectures were Mirza 'Ali
Muhammad the Bab, and Haji Muhammad Karim Khan of
Kirman. Now when the former arose and declared himself to
be the promised Imam, foretold by the lately deceased teacher,
the latter strenuously opposed him, and claimed the supremacy
for himself. And some followed Karim Khan, whilst others (and
these were the majority) recognised the claim of Mirza 'Ali
Muhammad the Bab. These latter were henceforth called Babis,
while the former retained the title of Sheykhis, thereby
implying that they were the true exponents of the doctrine of
Sheykh Ahmad, and that the Babis had departed therefrom; for
before that time all alike who accepted the Sheykh's teaching
were called by this name. Thus it is that, although the Bab and
the majority of his disciples had previously to the "manifestation"
Beha, whose proper name is Mirza Huseyn 'Ali, of Nur, in
Mazandaran, was one of those who believed in the Bab. He
was arrested at Amul on his way to join the Babis, who, under
the leadership of Mulla Huseyn of Bushraweyh, were entrenched
at Sheykh Tabarsi. In 1852 he narrowly escaped death in the
great persecution wherein the intrepid Suleyman Khan, the
brilliant and beautiful Kurratu'l-'Ayn, and a host of others,
suffered martyrdom. It was proved, however, that he had but
just arrived at Teheran, and could not have had any share in the
plot against the Shah wherein the others were accused of being
involved, so his life was spared, and, after an imprisonment of
about four months, he was allowed to leave Persia and take up
his residence at Baghdad. Mirza Yahya, "Subh-i-Ezel" ("the
Morning of Eternity"), Beha's half-brother (then only about
twenty-two years of age), was at that time recognised as the Bab's
successor, having been designated as such by the Bab himself,
shortly before he suffered martyrdom at Tabriz. His supremacy
was recognised, at least nominally, by all the Babis during the
eleven years' sojourn of their chiefs at Baghdad, but even then
Beha took the most prominent part in the organisation of affairs,
the carrying on of correspondence, and the interviewing of
visitors. In 1863 the Ottoman Government, acceding to the
urgent requests of the Persian authorities, removed all the Babis,
including Beha and Mirza Yahya, "Subh-i-Ezel," from Baghdad
to Constantinople, and thence to Adrianople, where they arrived
about the end of the year. Here at length Beha cast aside the
veil, proclaimed himself as "He whom God shall manifest,"
whose coming the Bab had foretold, and called on all the Babis,
including Mirza Yahya, "Subh-i-Ezel," to acknowledge his claim
and submit to his authority. Many of the Babis did so at once,
and their number increased as time went on, so that now the
And now, the afternoon being far advanced, it was time to retrace our steps to the city. The rain had ceased and the evening was soft and balmy, but the roads were terribly muddy. In spite of this we had a pleasant walk back to the town, where we arrived a little before dusk, after a most delightful day.
On the morrow, as I was sitting in my room after breakfast
* I give this account as it was given to me by the Babis of Shiraz,
but I do not think that it is altogether correct. For instance, I
think that not 'Ali Pasha, but Fu'ad Pasha, who actually died at Nice
in 1869, was the Turkish statesman concerned.
My first question related to the laws of inheritance and the
partition of property, but here I was not more fortunate than
on a previous occasion, even Kamil being compelled to admit
that he could not altogether comprehend them. I therefore
passed on to the passage in the Kitab-i-Akdas wherein the
"Pilgrimage to the House" (Hajju'l-Beyt) is enjoined on all male
believers who are able to perform it, and enquired what was
meant by "the House" in question. To this Kamil replied that
the house in Shiraz wherein the Bab formerly dwelt was intended.
I asked eagerly if I might not be permitted to visit it while
in Shiraz, whereat they looked doubtfully at one another,
and said that they would try to manage it, but that it was difficult
--firstly, because the present inmates of the house were all
women; secondly, because the house was well-known to the
Musulmans, who would not fail to remark so unusual an event
as the visit of a Firangi to a Babi shrine.
* His actual title was similar to, but not identical with, this.
Considerations of expediency have led me to alter it as above.
"It is not meet for any one to demand pardon before another; repent unto
God in presence of yourselves; verily He is Forgiving, Bounteous, Mighty,
(and) Swift to repent."
"What does this prohibition refer to?" I demanded of Kamil.
"To the power which your priests claim of absolving men of sin,"
"But surely," I urged, "since this claim is in the first place
confined to Christendom, and in the second place is limited to
the priests of one sect amongst the Christians, it seems hardly
necessary to prohibit it here."
"It is not confined to Christians," he replied, "for the mullas here claim very similar powers, though perhaps they formulate them in a less definite manner. When a man has embezzled or extorted money, and his conscience pricks him, he goes before one of our clergy and states the case to him, whereupon the latter takes a small sum from him in the name of religion, and declares the remainder purified thereby. All such tricks of priests and mullas are forbidden in this verse."
The fourth question which I put forward provoked a more
fruitful discussion. It related to the verse wherein the Sufis
and others who lay claim to inward knowledge are condemned
in the following terms:--
"And there are amongst them such as lay claim to the inner and the inmost
(mystery). Say, 'O liar! By God, what thou hast is but husks which we have
abandoned to you as bones are abandoned to the dogs.'"
"Surely," I demanded, "not only is the doctrine of the Sufis
in many ways near akin to your own, but it is also purer and
more spiritual by far than the theology of the mullas. Do you
condemn Mansur-i-Hallaj for saying, 'I am the Truth' (Ana'l-
Hakk), when Beha makes use of the same expression? Do you
regard Jalalu'd-Din Rumi as a liar when you continually make
use of the Masnavi to illustrate your ideas?"
"No," answered Kamil, "assuredly Mansur and Jalalu'd-Din
"So far as I understand you, then," I replied, "you admit the Sufi doctrine, that a man may, by self-renunciation and intense abstraction, attain to the degree of 'Annihilation in God,' and that in this condition he may truly say, 'I am God,' inasmuch as he has forgone self, escaped from the illusions of plurality, and realised the unity of True Being. If this be so, I do not clearly understand in what way you regard the prophet as his superior, for surely no degree can be higher than this. As your proverb says, 'There is no colour beyond black' (bala-tar az siyah rangi nist). Still less do I see how you can speak of one prophet as superior to another, unless you place all but the highest in a lower rank than the Sufi who has attained to absorption into the Divine Essence."
"When we speak of one prophet as superior to another,"
answered Kamil, "we speak in a manner purely relative, for
the Universal Spirit (Ruh-i-Kulli) speaks through all of them
alike. But inasmuch as they speak in divers manners, according
to the capacity of their hearers, and according to the requirements
of time and place, to us they appear in different degrees of
perfection. The sun, for example, is the same to-day as it was
I now put to Kamil the following question, which I had
already propounded in my first meetiing with the Babis of
Shiraz:--"If the references to Christ's coming which occur in
the Gospel refer to this manifestation, then they cannot be
applied, as they are by the Muslims, to Muhammad; in which case
"Do you," I asked, "regard Zoroaster as a true prophet?"
"Assuredly," he replied, "inasmuch as every religion which has become current in the world, and has endured the test of time, must have contained at least some measure of truth, however much it may have been subsequently corrupted. Only a Divine Word can strongly affect and continuously control men's hearts: spurious coin will not pass, and the uninterrupted currency of a coin is the proof of its genuineness. The architect is proved to be an architect by his ability to construct a house; the physician is shown to be a physician by healing sickness; and the prophet vindicates his claim to the prophetic office by establishing a religion. These two things are his sufficient proof, and these only: that he has wisdom immediate and God-given, not acquired from men; and that his word so penetrates and controls men that for its sake they are willing to give up all that they most prize, and even to lay down their lives."
So completely was Kamil dominated by this conception of the
nature of the proof required to establish a claim to prophethood,
that I could not make him see the iniportance of any other
evidence. "Had the Bab," I enquired, "explicitly or by
Before I left I was shown several books and epistles which I had not previously seen. Amongst the latter was one addressed to a Christian, and another containing consolations addressed to one of Mirza 'Ali's uncles on the occasion of his father's death and his own bankruptcy, on account of which (for he had failed to the extent of 60,000 tumans) he was then in sanctuary at the Masjid-i-Naw. I was also shown a specimen of the Khatt-i- tanzili, or "revelation-writing"; i.e. the almost illegible draft of Beha's utterances made by his amanuensis, Aka Mirza Aka Jan, called Khadimu'llah ("the Servant of God"), who, as I was informed, wrote with such speed that he could take down 1500 verses in an hour, this being, as it appears, the maximum of rapidity attained by Beha's revelations. Very few, however, save the amanuensis himself, could read this "revelation-writing."
A seal, on which was inscribed the name Huseyn, both in the
Arabic character and in the Khatt-i-badi', or new writing invented
by the Babis, was also shown to me by one of those present. This
A few days after this I again called on my friend Mirza 'Ali. Shortly after my arrival, Haji Mirza Hasan joined us, and for nearly three hours we talked without intermission about the Babi religion, save for a short time, when we were interrupted by an "ass's head1." The conversation ran, for the most part, on announcements of coming events by Beha, of which Haji Mirza Hasan related the following instances from his own personal experience:--
"You have heard of the 'Martyrs of Isfahan,'"2 said he.
"Well, shortly before their death I was at Acre with Haji Mirza
Hasan 'Ali, whom you met at Isfahan, and Aka Seyyid Hadi.
A day or two before the time fixed for our return to Persia we
were with Beha, in a garden whither he sometimes repairs. He
was seated, and we, according to our custom, were standing
before him. Presently he bade us sit down, and ordered an
attendant to give us tea. While we were drinking it he said, 'A
great event will shortly take place in Persia.' In the evening
Aka Seyyid Hadi privately enquired of him where this event
would happen, and was informed that it would be in the 'Land
of Sad'(Isfahan). Seyyid Hadi wrote to some of his friends in
Persia, and in his letter mentioned this prophecy. When we
reached Persia, Haji Mirza Hasan 'Ali remained at Teheran, while
I continued my journey towards Isfahan. At Kashan I was met
by the news of the martyrs' arrest. As they were very rich I
"This is one instance of Beha's prescience, about which you
enquired. I will give you another, in which I myself was more
closely concerned; but indeed such experiences are common to
most of us who have been privileged to hold intercourse with
our Master. I and Haji Mirza Hasan 'Ali, whom you saw at
Isfahan, had been to visit Beha at Adrianople before he was
1 Haji Mirza Hasan here added an account of the events which had led
to the death of the two Seyyids. This I have already given at pp. 232-3,
supra, so I will not repeat it here.
2 Mirza 'Ali told me that he had himself seen and copied this letter when a boy, before the calamities which it foreshadowed had befallen Sheykh Bakir.
"How long were you imprisoned at Khartoum?" I enquired;
"and how did you effect your escape?"
"We remained there for seven years," replied Haji Mirza
Hasan, "and for some time we were unable to communicate
with our Master, or even to ascertain whither he had been
removed (for vague rumours of his removal from Adrianople
reached us). At length we foregathered with some Christian
missionaries, whose goodwill we won by manifesting an interest
in their doctrines. By means of these we were able to send a
letter to Beha, informing him of our condition. On receiving
our letter, Beha at once indited an answer, consoling us in our
misfortune and announcing that our oppressor, Isma'il Pasha,
would shortly fall from power, and that we should in a little
while again stand in the presence of our Master. This letter
was entrusted to an Arab called Jasim*, who started at once
for Khartoum, where he arrived six months later. When we
received it there seemed to be no likelihood that the promises of
deliverance which it contained would be fulfilled; but we were
at least no longer wholly cut off from our friends, for the Arab
not only took back with him our answer, but made arrangements
* In the Journal of tbe Royal Asiatic Society for April 1892,
pp. 311, 312, I have attempted to prove that one of the epistles
now included in what is called by the Babis the Sura-i-Heykal
(the text of which has been published in full by Baron Rosen in
vol. vi of the Collections Scientifiques de l'Institut des Langues
Orientales de St Petersbourg, pp. 149-192) is this very letter.
Jasim, as I was informed at Acre, is merely a vulgar and local
pronunciation of the name Kasim.
"General Gordon," I answered.
"Yes," rejoined Haji Mirza Hasan, "that was it. Well, soon after his arrival he enquired about the prisoners whom he found in Khartoum, and especially about us and the other Persians. As he could find no crime recorded against us, he interrogated us as to the reason of our confinement. We told him that we were innocent of any crime, and that we had been condemned unheard, without a chance of defending ourselves. Our statement was confirmed by the prison officials, and General Gordon accordingly telegraphed to Isma'il Pasha demanding the reason of our detention. The replies which he received were vague and unsatisfactory, and he accordingly released us, telling us that we were free to stay or go as we pleased. Haji Mirza Hasan 'Ali and myself at once availed ourselves of this permission, and set out for Acre, but our companions, having wives and families at Khartoum, chose to remain there. Soon after this, as you know, Isma'il Pasha was deposed, and the prophecy contained in the epistle was fulfilled.
"You see that in all these cases when the prophecy was
uttered there seemed to be no likelihood of its fulfilment;
indeed, when we received instructions to act in a certain way, we
seldom understood the reason till afterwards. For instance, on
one occasion Haji Mirza Hasan 'Ali and myself were about to
return to Persia from Acre by way of Diyar Bekr, Mosul, and
Rawandiz. We were to take with us certain books destined for
a believer at Tabriz; but, though we intended to proceed thither
ourselves, we were instructed to convey them no farther beyond
the Persian frontier than we could help, but to hand them over
to some trustworthy person as soon as possible after entering
Persia. Accordingly, when, on reaching Souch Bulak, we heard
that a certain believing merchant was staying in the caravansaray,
"These are certainly very strange experiences," I said; "but of course the evidential value of prophecies referring to events of public notoriety, and existing in written form before those events came to pass, would be greater."
"Well, is there not the epistle to 'Ali Pasha,'2 answered
Haji Mirza Hasan, "in which his death in a foreign land, as
well as the assassination of the Turkish ministers whom Cherkez
Hasan slew, is clearly foreshadowed? And is there not also the
epistle to Sheykh Bakir, by whom the martyrs of Isfahan were
done to death, of which you have already heard? These epistles
are well known, and the events to which they refer are notorious.
But let me tell you how Haji Muhammad Ja'far, who escaped
exile to Khartoum, showed his devotion to Beha. When it was
1 30 pounds sterling.
2 I think, for reasons stated at pp. 271-2 of the Journal of the Royal Asiaic Soiety for 1892, that Fu'ad Pasha, not 'Ali Pasha, is really intended. I have not, however, thought myself justified in altering the notes of these conversations rccorded in my diary. Cf.n. I on p. 353, supra.
"Why," I asked, "do you speak of Mirza Yahya as though he were of no account? In the books about your religion which I read in Europe he is described as the Bab's chosen successor, and, after him, as the chief of your sect?"
"Yes," replied Haji Mirza Hasan, "it is true that he was one
of the early believers, and that at first he was accounted the
successor and vicegerent of the Bab. But he was repeatedly
1 I.e. Subh-i-Ezel. This title, however, is seldom given by the followers
of Beha to Mirza Yahya. At most they call him "an shakhs-i-Ezel," "that
2 This, as I subsequently discovered, is not strictly accurate. Four of Beha's followers (Sheykh 'Ali Sayyah, Muhammad Bakir, 'Abdu'l-Ghaffar, and Mushkin-kalam) were sent with Subh-i-Ezel to Cyprus. The first and second died in the island in 1871 and 1872 respectively; the third escaped in 1870; and the last left for Acre (where I saw him in the spring of 1890) in 1886.
"Has he any followers in Cyprus?" I asked.
"Hardly any," answered Haji Mirza Hasan; "he writes absurd
and meaningless letters to his partisans and to such as he hopes
to persuade; but he is afraid to come to Persia (though the Turks
have given him permission to do so*), fearing lest we should kill
"And would you kill him?" I enquired.
"I ask pardon of God! We are not authorised to kill anyone,"
replied the Babi missionary.
Next day I again met Haji Mirza Hasan at the house of my
friend Mirza 'Ali. He had with him a commentary on the Kitab-i-
Akdas, with the aid of which we attempted, with but partial
success, to unravel the complicated law of inheritance laid down
by Beha. I was able, however, to learn from it something more
about the arrangement of the Babi year. This consists of nineteen
months of nineteen days each, the same names serving alike
for the months of the year and the days of the month. These
names are as follows:--(1) Beha, (2) Jalal, (3) Jemal, (4) 'Azimat,
(5) Nur, (6) Rahmat, (7) Kalimat, (8) Kamal, (9) Asma, (10) 'Izzat,
(11) Mashiyyat, (12) 'Ilm, (13) Kudrat, (14) Kawl, (15) Masa'il,
(16) Sharaf, (17) Sultan, (18) Mulk, (19) 'Ula. According to this
arrangement, the week is completely abolished; the third day
of the eighth month, for example, is called Yawmu'l-Jemal min
shahri'l-Kamal, "the day of Beauty (Jemal) in the month of
Perfection (Kamal)." But, pending the retention of the week,
* This also is a mistake. It was only after the English occupation of
Cyprus that the Babis interned at Famagusta were given permission to leave
the island, on condition of forfeiting the pensions which they enjoyed.
Sunday, Yawmu'l-Jemal. Wednesday, Yawmu'l-'Idal. Monday, " Kamal. Thursday, " Istijlal. Tuesday, " Fizal. Friday, " Istiklal. Saturday, Yawmu'l-Jalal.
I learned a few more new facts about the Babis on this
occasion. The relations of the Bab (of whom I saw several
at ShIraz) are called "Afnan," and the sons of Beha "Aghsan,"
both of these words meaning "branches." Beha's eldest son,
'Abbas Efendi, is called Ghusn-i-Akbar ("the Most Great
Branch"), and also Akayi Sirru'llah (the Master, God's
Mystery"), while another of his sons, named Mirza
1 For a fuller account of the arrangement of the Babi calendar, and of the
system of intercalation employed to keep it in correspondence with the solar
year (for the Nawruz, which corresponds with the entry of the sun into the
sign of the Ram and the vernal equinox, marks the beginning of thc Babi,
as of the old Persian, year), see vol. ii of my Traveller's Narrative written
to illustrate the Episode of the Bab, pp. 412-425. See also pp. 320-1 supra.
2 I have described the impression produced upon me by this remarkable man at pp. xxxv-xxxvi of vol. ii of my Traveller's Narrative.
One of the older Babis whom I had previously met was
present for a while; and I urgently repeated a request, which
I had already made, that I might be taken to see the house
(called "Beyt"--"the House" par excellence) formerly inilabited
by the Bab. There had been some difficulty about this--firstly,
because its inmates at that time were without exception
women; and secondly, because it was feared that my visiting
it would excite the suspicion of the Muhammadans, to whom
also the honse was well known; but these difficulties appeared
to have been surmounted, and I received a promise that on the
next day but one my wish should be gratified. It was
therefore in the highest spirits that I took leave of my Babi
friends and turned homewards; but alas for my hopes, destined
to disappointment; for, had I known it, there was already
awaiting me there that which was to cut short my pleasant
days in Shiraz, and debar me from the accomplishment of the
visitation" which I so ardently desired to perform.
3 Him I did not see at Acre; he was probably living in seclusion. Afterwards
he became the Pontiff of the Beha'i Babis, agreeably to Beha's testamentary
depositions, published in tho original by Baron Rosen in vol. ii of the
Zapisski, pp. 194-6. Beha died on 29th May (16th, old style) 1892. In my
diary, as well as in my first article on the Babis in the Journal of the
Royal Asiatic Society for July 1888, I have wrongly transposed the titles
of these two sons ot Beha.