A millenarian religious movement developing out of Iranian Shiʿite Islam, begun by the Bab, Sayyid Ali Mohammad Shirazi, in 1844.
By 1849 there may have been 100,000 Babis in Iran and Iraq. The movement spread chiefly to cities, towns, and large villages, attracting the middle and lower-middle classes. Middle-ranking clerics, seminary students, urban artisans, laborers, and small landowners appear to have been its principal constituents, along with some influential merchants and retailers. The movement spread throughout Persia (Iran), with an especially strong showing in Khorasan to the northeast, as well as in Mazandaran, Fars, and Iraqi Ajam.
Between the beginning of the Bab's mission in 1844 and his execution in 1850, most Babis probably knew relatively little about his doctrines, and were attracted to him for charismatic and millenarian reasons. The Bab's works, many in Arabic, are abstruse and inaccessible except to the highly literate among his followers. The main emphases of mature Babi belief were that the Bab was the returned Mahdi (messiah), the hidden Twelfth Imam, and that the judgment day had symbolically occurred; that the Bab had the authority to reveal a new divine law; that he and his disciples possessed esoteric knowledge; that martyrdom was noble and that holy war could be declared by the Bab; and that a future messianic figure, "He whom God shall make manifest," would appear. The Bab allowed the taking of interest on loans and was favorable toward middle-class property; slightly improved the position of women by limiting polygamy; and admired what he had heard of Western science.
The rise of this new religion was attended by violence, as it was rejected by the Shiʿite clerics and by the state. The Babi movement often became implicated in the quarter-fighting that was typical of Qajar cities. A major clash took place in Mazandaran in 1848 and 1849, at the shrine of Shaykh Tabarsi, where several hundred Babis, including prominent disciples of the Bab, like Molla Hosayn, having raised the black banner of the Mahdi, were besieged by government troops and finally defeated, and killed or captured. In some small cities Babi quarters developed, with their own clerics and notables, and came into conflict with conservative neighborhoods. The Babis defended their quarters, withstanding sieges, until finally government troops intervened to crush them (Zanjan, 1850 and 1851, and Nayriz, 1850–1853).
In 1850, the Bab was executed in Tabriz; in 1852, a faction of about seventy notable Babis in Tehran plotted to assassinate the monarch, Naser al-Din Shah, in revenge for his execution of the Bab. The attempt failed, and in response the Qajar state ordered a nationwide pogrom against the Babis. By the middle 1850s perhaps five thousand had been killed, and most of the rest had gone underground.
Most Babis recognized Mirza Yahya Sobh-i Azal (1830–1912) as the successor to the Bab. After the failed attempt on the shah, he followed his elder half-brother, Hosayn Ali Bahaʾullah, into exile in Baghdad in 1853. From 1853 to 1864 he faced a number of regional challenges to his authority, but appears to have retained at least some loyalty among the furtive and much reduced Babi community. In the late 1860s, however, Bahaʾullah asserted that he was the messianic figure foretold by the Bab, and in the space of a decade most Babis had gone over to him, becoming Bahaʾi. The Babis who remained loyal to Azal were called Azalis, and by 1900 they numbered probably only two thousand to four thousand.
The small Babi community remained deter-minedly anti-Qajar and was open to Western ideas and culture. It produced radical intellectuals, such as Aqa Khan Kermani and Shaykh Ahmad Ruhi (both became atheists and were executed in 1896 in connection with Naser al-Din Shah's assassination); and Yahya Dawlatabadi, Mirza Jahangir Khan, Malik al-Mutakallimin, and Sayyid Jamal al-Din Isfahani (all activists on the constitutionalist side in Iran's Constitutional Revolution that began in 1905). In the twentieth century, the Babi community shrank to negligible size and influence.
see also bab, al-; bahaʾi faith; constitutional revolution; naser al-din shah; qajar dynasty.
Amanat, Abbas. Resurrection and Renewal: The Making of the Babi Movement in Iran, 1844–1850. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989.
Juan R. I. Cole
"Babis." Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/babis
"Babis." Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. . Retrieved August 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/babis
"Bābīs." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/babis
"Bābīs." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved August 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/babis