Prof. E. G. Browne of Cambridge, England, to whom the non-Persian world owes more than any one else the knowledge of the wonderful movement of liberal religion in Western Asia, opens his book “The New History of the Bab(1893) thus :- “Half a century has not yet elapsed since Mirza Ali Mahummad, the young seer of Shiraz, first began to preach the religion which now counts its martyrs by hundreds and its adherents by hundreds of thousands; which seemed at one time to meance the supremacy alike of the Kazar dynasty and of Muhommedan faith in Persia, and may still not improbably prove an important factor in the History of Western Asia”. He also quotes in a footnote from Lord Curzon’s Persia Vol. I, p.499. “The lowest estimate places the present number of Babis in Persia at half a million. I am disposed to think, from conversation with persons well qualified to judge that the total number is nearer one million.
Origin : The Bab
Shaik Mohommed Assai, the founder of a progressive sect of the Shiya Section of Mohommedanism was born in 1752. The Bab was the designation of a mediator believed by this sect to be necessary to connect the present generation to a future prophet. Hazi Sayyad Kazim the second leader of this sect before his death in 1844 used to often allude to a coming incaruation for whom his disciples were in search. At least one of these searching disciples, Mulla Hussein, fell in with an extraordinarily spiritually minded youth, Mirza Ali Mahammed, who eventually declared himself to be the Bab. The spiritual genius apparently without any education (The theistic Directory by V. R. Shinde published in 1912 pages 83 to 89 end) would put forth wonderful expositions of the Kuran and would even comment upon some intricate portion of it so as to naturally create reverence in those that gathered round him. He preached for six years his new gospel with a remarkable power all his own, and attracted to him millions of followers, eithteen ardent disciples who could throw away their home, fame, and even their life for his sake. Moulvis and Mullas who came to argue, remained as converts. Officials and even Governors secretly sympathized with him. This led to constant feuds in small towns and even to great revolts in the Northern and Southern Districts. Under the misrule and disorder of the minor King Nassiruddin Shaha the Babis were put to a terrible persecution. Any Mulla might arraign an innocent Babi under some pretext or other and open murder or even wholesale massacre would follow, which only stimulated the new faith into a more and more glorious increase. At last the Bab was arrested, transferred from one prison to another for a time and after a mock trial was finally executed together with one of his disciples Aka Mahammad in the presence of large crowds. Maddened by this last outrage, three Babi youths plotted against the life of the King Nassiruddin and failed which caused an unspeakable reign of terror, and innumerable innocent Babis were sacrificed in the massacres that followed.
Growth : Baha-ullah
The two of the disciples of the Bab who escaped this general massacre were two step brothers Mirza Hussein Ali and Mirza Yahia of the city of Nur. Their father was a late Vazir and their grandfather a Prime Minister of Iran. The Bab had nominated Mirza Yahia who was styled as Suft-E-Ezel, as his successor. But he was by nature quiet and given to solitude and not capable of organizing and developing the new faith in those troublous time. Mirza Ali Hussein, who afterwards styled himself as Beha-U-llah was wise and forceful. He betook himself with his followers to the hill Irak in the neighbourhood of Bagdad; and first spent much of his time in contemplation and laying down the foundation of the future organisation. Thence he wrote letters inculating his new faith and ideals to the Shaha of Iran, and political head of Germany, upon them to establish the Universal Peace. But he had to be removed to Constantinople and thence to Adrianople. Meanwhile he had won over most of Behis’ to his side and in 1862 declared himself as Beha’u’llah or the Glory of God. The Bab had predicted that one greater than himself would come after him just as John the Baptist had foretold Jesus Christ. But there arose bitter dissensions between the two parties of Subh-E-Ezel and Beha’u’llah, the latter however soon getting the upperhand by his natural abilities and efforts. Roused by their mutual jealousies and complaints, the Turkish Government banished them both, Subh-E-Ezel to the island of Cyprus and Beha’u’llah to the fort of Acre in Seria in 1868.
Henceforth the movement began to be known as Behaism and spread fast in Persia, Turkastan, Tartary and Egypt and reached out to Europe and America. Eminent statesman and scholars, and royal personages visited and consulted Beh’u’llah in the prison, who was treated with great honour in his confinement. Prof. Browne of Cambridge was one of such visitors. He was graphically described the noble figure and demeanour of the illustrious prisoner and the effect of the visit on himself. On having arrived in he was addressed by Beha’u’llah”. Blessed be the name of God. You have come to see an exited prisoner. We wish the good of the world and welfare of nations and we are the victim of banishment. What crime is there in proclaiming the unity of religions, annihilation of the distinctions of races, and the promotion of brotherly love among mankind?.. And this shall be in the end. The international conflict shall cease and Peace shall reign. Did not Christ prophesy this? And yet, the kings of Europe instead of spending their treasures for the welfare of their subjects, are wasting them in destructive wars. This carnage should cease and Humanity be one family. Man should take pride not in loving his own country but the whole humanity.
Prof. Browne in his “New History of the Bab” (Page XXIV Introduction) thus contrasts the teachings of Behaism to those of the primitive Babism. No sooner was Beha firmly established in his authority than he began to make free use of the privileges accorded by the Bab to “Him whom God shall manifest” to abrogate, change, cancel and develop the earlier doctrines. His chief aim seems to have been to introduce a more settled order, to discourage speculation, to direct the attention of his followers to practical reforms pursued in prudent and inobtrusive fashion, to exalt ethics at the expense of metaphysics, to check mysticsm to conciliate existing authorities including even the Shah of Persia, the Nero of the Babi faith to abolish useless, unpractical and irksome regulations and restrictions and in general to adapt the religion at the head of which he now, found himself, to the ordinary exigencies of life and to render it more capable of what he intended to make a universal system suitable to all mankind. A remembrance of all the wrongs which he and his co-religionists had suffered at the hands of Mussulmans, further caused him gradually but steadily to eliminate the tinge of Mohammedan and more especially of Shicite thought which the Babi doctrine still maintained, while ever seeking a better understanding with the Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians, with all of whom he recommended his followers to consort with friendly terms. The Present Position : Abdul Beha :-After 26 years of life in the prison at Acre, Beha’u’llah departed this world leaving behind his son as the head of the Behai church. The son is in no way inferior to the father in scholarship and learning, foresight and attractiveness. Spending 16 years in the prison after his father, he was released in the revolution of 1908, and he is now free to move wherever he chooses. But he was in no way idle in the prison. Many visitors came to him from Europe and America. One of the Miss Lansa Clifford Barni has published a beautiful book of about 350 pages “Some Answered Questions” a well arranged conspectus of the various topics dwell upon by Abdul Beha. Translations of this in Persian and French are also published.
Behaism was first introduced in America by an adventurous Behai Missionery Mirza Abdul Fazal Chicago has now been the focus of Behai activities in America. Many Behai Americans visit the Beha, centres in Europe, Turkey and Persia and spread the cause by delivering lectures in India, China and Japan. At present there are Behai Congregations in the following places in India :-Bombay, Poona, Amritsar, Lahor, Calcutta and Rangoon. In Chicago there is a grand central Prayer Hall, to which thousands of pounds have been contributed by Behais all over the world.
Most of the educational and social progressive activities in Perisa may be traced to Behai initiative. Schools, Hospitals and other philanthropic institutions are being conducted by self-sacrificing men and women from America. To promote education on a larger scale a society called “The Persian American Education Society” has been formed, the name is now changed at the suggestion of Abdul Beha into “Occidental-Oriental Interdependence Society”. The aim of this Society is no less than to promote general co-operation between mankind irrespective of time and country”. Last year Abdul Beha was enthusiastically welcomed in England by the Congregationalists in the City Temple and by the Unitarians and Brahmas in their Essex Hall in England, whence he was to proceed America and other countries. (ध. 36)