Bab, Sayyed ?Ali Muhammad (1819–1850)

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Sayyed ˓Ali Muhammad, later known as "the Bab," was born on 20 October 1819 in Shiraz, the provincial capital of Fars. A descendent of the prophet Muhammad's family, the Bab traced his lineage from the tribe of Quraysh to his father, Sayyed Muhammad Reza, a merchant in the bazaar of Shiraz. In his early childhood, the Bab's father died and he came under the care of his maternal uncles. During his adolescence and young adulthood, the Bab's uncle Hajji Mirza Sayyed ˓Ali was his most stalwart supporter, overseeing his limited education, guiding his early business ventures as a merchant, and later becoming one of the earliest adherents of his nephew's new creed.

The Bab's demure demeanor as a child matured into quiet, religious contemplation, as noted by his contemporaries. His personal piety led him to undertake a pilgrimage to the Shi˓ite holy shrines in Iraq between 1840 and 1841. While there, the Bab, an adherent of the Shaykhi school of Twelver Shi˓ite Islam, attended a few classes given by the Shaykhi leader Sayyed Kazem Rashti. On 22 May 1844, three years after his return to Shiraz, the Bab advanced his claim to divine authority from God to one of Kazem's students, Mulla Hosayn, and soon after gained a large following among seminarians who in turn made many converts among merchants and even upper-class landowners, including Mirza Husayn ˓Ali Nuri, who later founded the Baha˒i religion.

Although the Bab couched his claims in abstruse language early in his career, the implications were not lost upon the Shi˓ite ulema. In particular, they viewed his assertion to reveal verses in the same manner as Muhammad as a violation of a cardinal tenet of Shi˓ite and Sunni Islam—that Muhammad was the last of God's messengers. He was tried by religious judges and condemned to death for heresy. As a result of clerical agitation, he was soon arrested and suffered imprisonment until his execution on 9 July 1850, at the age of thirty.

During his prophetic career, the Bab composed numerous religious texts of varying genres. Some of the more notable titles include the Qayyum al-asma˒ (his earliest, post-declaration doctrinal work), the Persian and Arabic Bayans (two separate books detailing the laws of his new religion), and Dala˒il sab˓a (an apologetic work).

See alsoBabiyya ; Baha˒allah ; Baha˒i Faith .


Amanat, Abbas. Resurrection and Renewal: The Making of theBabi Movement in Iran, 1844–1850. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989.

MacEoin, Denis. The Sources for Early Babi Doctrine andHistory. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1992.

William McCants