There are some amazing stories in the history of the Bahá’í Faith. The events surrounding the Declaration of the Báb after sunset on the evening of 22nd May 1844 supply us with a few of those stories, I’ll try to give a glimpse of them here but see the links at the end to get the full stories.
The Báb is the forerunner of Bahá’u’lláh, he is regarded by Bahá’ís as a “Manifestation of God” (a Prophet or Messenger) in His own right and those who followed Him were called Bábís. The Bábs main mission was to foretel the coming of Bahá’u’lláh, the title “Báb” means “Gate”.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries lived a man called Shaykh Ahmad who had a very deep understanding of the Quran (the Holy Book of Islam). Shaykh Ahmad became certain that The Promised One (“The Qá’im”) whose coming was foretold in the Quran was close at hand and in his later days he even believed that The Promised One was alive on Earth. Shaykh Ahmad travelled through the Persian Gulf teaching people about the Quran and The Promised One. He gained a reputation for being able to answer questions about the Quran that nobody else could, but his views on the Promised One meant that he had his opponents as well as a large band of followers. In 1819 Shaykh Ahmad suffered the loss of his son, whose name was Ali, he comforted his mourning disciples with these words: “Grieve not, O my friends, for I have offered up my son, my own Ali, as a sacrifice for the Ali whose advent we all await. To this end have I reared and prepared him.” In that same year The Báb was born in the city of Shiraz, his name was Ali-Muhammad. His parents were both descendants of the Prophet Muhammad.
Among the dedicated followers of Shaykh Ahmad was a man called Siyyid Kazim, Siyyid Kazim was also recognised for his intellectual powers and spiritual insight. At the age of 22 he set out to meet Shaykh Ahmad and followed him for the rest of his life. Before Shaykh Ahmad died in 1826 he asked Siyyid Kazim to continue his work in preparing hearts for the coming of the Promised One.
Siyyid Kazim actually met Ali-Muhammad, The Báb. A follower of Siyyid Kazim called Shaykh Hasan-i-Zunuzi had started entertaining doubts about the teachings of Siyyid Kazim and was going through a period of praying a lot about this matter when one morning he was awoken at dawn by one of Siyyid Kazim’s intimate attendants who, in great excitement, asked Shaykh Hasan-i-Zunuzi to follow him to the house of Siyyid Kazim. When they arrived at Siyyid Kazim’s house they found him fully dressed and ready to go somewhere. “A highly esteemed and distinguished Person has arrived.” he said, “I feel it incumbent upon us both to visit Him.” The following are the words of Shaykh Hasan-i-Zunuzi: “We soon reached a house, at the door of which stood a Youth, as if expectant to receive us. He wore a green turban, and His countenance revealed an expression of humility and kindliness which I can never describe. He quietly approached us, extended His arms towards Siyyid Kazim, and lovingly embraced him. His affability and loving-kindness singularly contrasted with the sense of profound reverence that characterised the attitude of Siyyid Kazim towards him.” They were invited upstairs and spent a fair while there but the only words spoken in that meeting were a short verse of the Quran which the Youth quoted as he handed Siyyid Kazim a drink.
Shaykh Hasan-i-Zunuzi also recounts an event that occurred a few days later: “Three days later, I saw that same Youth arrive and take His seat in the midst of the company of the assembled disciples of Siyyid Kazim. He sat close to the threshold, and with the same modesty and dignity of bearing listened to the discourse of the Siyyid. As soon as his eyes fell upon that Youth, the Siyyid discontinued his address and held his peace. Whereupon one of his disciples begged him to resume the argument which he had left unfinished. `What more shall I say?’ replied Siyyid Kazim, as he turned his face toward the Bab. `Lo, the Truth is more manifest than the ray of light that has fallen upon that lap!’ I immediately observed that the ray to which the Siyyid referred had fallen upon the lap of that same Youth whom we had recently visited.”
One day, while travelling, Siyyid Kazim stopped with his friends and companions at a place called the Masjid-i-Baratha to say their noonday prayers and invited the people around them to join in their congregation. Siyyid Kazim was in the shade of a palm tree during the prayers and immediately after them an Arab approached and said the following to Siyyid Kazim: “Three days ago I was shepherding my flock in this adjoining pasture, when sleep suddenly fell upon me. In my dream I saw Muhammad, the Apostle of God, who addressed me in these words: `Give ear, O shepherd, to My words, and treasure them within your heart. For these words of Mine are the trust of God which I commit to your keeping. If you be faithful to them, great will be your reward. If you neglect them, grievous retribution will befall you. Hear Me; this is the trust with which I charge you: Stay within the precincts of the Masjid-i-Baratha. On the third day after this dream, a scion of My house, Siyyid Kazim by name, will, accompanied by his friends and companions, alight, at the hour of noon, beneath the shadow of the palm in the vicinity of the masjid. There he will offer his prayer. As soon as your eyes fall upon him, seek his presence and convey to him My loving greetings. Tell him, from Me: “Rejoice, for the hour of your departure is at hand. When you shall have performed your visits in Kazimayn and shall have returned to Karbila, there, three days after your return, on the day of Arafih, you will wing your flight to Me. Soon after shall He who is the Truth be made manifest. Then shall the world be illuminated by the light of His face.”‘” Siyyid Kazim knew the dream was true and it brought great joy to him to know that the Promised One whose coming he had dedicated his life to would soon be made known to the world. He encouraged his friends not to be saddened with these words: “Is not your love for me for the sake of that true One whose advent we all await? Would you not wish me to die, that the promised One may be revealed?”
Three days after his return to Karbila, Siyyid Kazim died. He had already told his students that the Promised One was alive among them and that they should search for him. On the evening of 22nd May 1844 one of these students, Mulla Husayn, who had been travelling with his brother and a nephew, arrived at the gate of the city of Shiraz.
While he was walking outside the gate of that city, a few hours before sunset, he noticed a radiant Youth wearing a green turban. The youth approached Mulla Husyan and lovingly greeted him with a smile and an affectionate hug as if he was a close and lifelong friend. At first Mulla Husayn thought that this man must have been an associate of Siyyid Kazim who had come to welcome him, Mulla Husayn recounted the events of that evening as follows:
“The Youth who met me outside the gate of Shiráz overwhelmed me with expressions of affection and loving-kindness. He extended to me a warm invitation to visit His home, and there refresh myself after the fatigues of my journey. I prayed to be excused, pleading that my two companions had already arranged for my stay in that city, and were now awaiting my return. “Commit them to the care of God,” was His reply; “He will surely protect and watch over them.” Having spoken these words, He bade me follow Him. I was profoundly impressed by the gentle yet compelling manner in which that strange Youth spoke to me.
“As I followed Him, His gait, the charm of His voice, the dignity of His bearing, served to enhance my first impressions of this unexpected meeting. We soon found ourselves standing at the gate of a house of modest appearance. He knocked at the door, which was soon opened by an Ethiopian servant. “Enter therein in peace, secure,” were His words as He crossed the threshold and motioned me to follow Him. His invitation, uttered with power and majesty, penetrated my soul. I thought it a good augury to be addressed in such words, standing as I did on the threshold of the first house I was entering in Shiráz, a city the very atmosphere of which had produced already an indescribable impression upon me. Might not my visit to this house, I thought to myself, enable me to draw nearer to the Object of my quest? Might it not hasten the termination of a period of intense longing, of strenuous search, of increasing anxiety, which such a quest involves? As I entered the house and followed my Host to His chamber, a feeling of unutterable joy invaded my being. Immediately we were seated, He ordered a ewer of water to be brought, and bade me wash away from my hands and feet the stains of travel. I pleaded permission to retire from His presence and perform my ablutions in an adjoining room. He refused to grant my request, and proceeded to pour the water over my hands. He then gave me to drink of a refreshing beverage, after which He asked for the samovar and Himself prepared the tea which He offered me.
“Overwhelmed with His acts of extreme kindness, I arose to depart. “The time for evening prayer is approaching,” I ventured to observe. “I have promised my friends to join them at that hour in the Masjid-i-Ilkhani.” With extreme courtesy and calm He replied: “You must surely have made the hour of your return conditional upon the will and pleasure of God. It seems that His will has decreed otherwise. You need have no fear of having broken your pledge.” His dignity and self-assurance silenced me I renewed my ablutions and prepared for prayer. He, too, stood beside me and prayed. Whilst praying, I unburdened my soul, which was much oppressed, both by the mystery of this interview and the strain and stress of my search. I breathed this prayer: “I have striven with all my soul, O my God, and until now have failed to find Thy promised Messenger. I testify that Thy word faileth not, and that Thy promise is sure.”
“That night, that memorable night, was the eve preceding the fifth day of Jamadiyu’l-Avval, in the year 1260 A.H.
“It was about an hour after sunset when my youthful Host began to converse with me. “Whom, after Siyyid Kazim,” He asked me, “do you regard as his successor and your leader?” “At the hour of his death,” I replied, “our departed teacher insistently exhorted us to forsake our homes, to scatter far and wide, in quest of the promised Beloved. I have, accordingly, journeyed to Persia, have arisen to accomplish his will, and am still engaged in my quest.” “Has your teacher,” He further enquired, “given you any detailed indications as to the distinguishing features of the promised One?” “Yes,” I replied, “He is of a pure lineage, is of illustrious descent, and of the seed of Fatimih. As to His age, He is more than twenty and less than thirty. He is endowed with innate knowledge. He is of medium height, abstains from smoking, and is free from bodily deficiency.” He paused for a while and then with vibrant voice declared: “Behold, all these signs are manifest in Me!” He then considered each of the above-mentioned signs separately, and conclusively demonstrated that each and all were applicable to His person. I was greatly surprised, and politely observed: “He whose advent we await is a Man of unsurpassed holiness, and the Cause He is to reveal, a Cause of tremendous power. Many and diverse are the requirements which He who claims to be its visible embodiment must needs fulfil. How often has Siyyid Kazim referred to the vastness of the knowledge of the promised One! How often did he say: ‘My own knowledge is but a drop compared with that with which He has been endowed. All my attainments are but a speck of dust in the face of the immensity of His knowledge. Nay, immeasurable is the difference!'” No sooner had those words dropped from my lips than I found myself seized with fear and remorse, such as I could neither conceal nor explain. I bitterly reproved myself, and resolved at that very moment to alter my attitude and to soften my tone. I vowed to God that should my Host again refer to the subject, I would, with the utmost humility, answer and say: “If you be willing to substantiate your claim, you will most assuredly deliver me from the anxiety and suspense which so heavily oppress my soul. I shall truly be indebted to you for such deliverance.” When I first started upon my quest, I determined to regard the two following standards as those whereby I could ascertain the truth of whosoever might claim to be the promised Qa’im. The first was a treatise which I had myself composed, bearing upon the abstruse and hidden teachings propounded by Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim. Whoever seemed to me capable of unravelling the mysterious allusions made in that treatise, to him I would next submit my second request, and would ask him to reveal, without the least hesitation or reflection, a commentary on the Surih of Joseph, in a style and language entirely different from the prevailing standards of the time. I had previously requested Siyyid Kazim, in private, to write a commentary on that same Surih, which he refused, saying: “This is, verily, beyond me. He, that great One, who comes after me will, unasked, reveal it for you. That commentary will constitute one of the weightiest testimonies of His truth, and one of the clearest evidences of the loftiness of His position.”
“I was revolving these things in my mind, when my distinguished Host again remarked: “Observe attentively. Might not the Person intended by Siyyid Kazim be none other than I?” I thereupon felt impelled to present to Him a copy of the treatise which I had with me. “Will you,” I asked Him, “read this book of mine and look at its pages with indulgent eyes? I pray you to overlook my weaknesses and failings.” He graciously complied with my wish. He opened the book, glanced at certain passages, closed it, and began to address me. Within a few minutes He had, with characteristic vigour and charm, unravelled all its mysteries and resolved all its problems. Having to my entire satisfaction accomplished, within so short a time, the task I had expected Him to perform, He further expounded to me certain truths which could be found neither in the reported sayings of the imams of the Faith nor in the writings of Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim. These truths, which I had never heard before, seemed to be endowed with refreshing vividness and power. “Had you not been My guest,” He afterwards observed, “your position would indeed have been a grievous one. The all-encompassing grace of God has saved you. It is for God to test His servants, and not for His servants to judge Him in accordance with their deficient standards. Were I to fail to resolve your perplexities, could the Reality that shines within Me be regarded as powerless, or My knowledge be accused as faulty? Nay, by the righteousness of God! it behoves, in this day, the peoples and nations of both the East and the West to hasten to this threshold, and here seek to obtain the reviving grace of the Merciful. Whoso hesitates will indeed be in grievous loss. Do not the peoples of the earth testify that the fundamental purpose of their creation is the knowledge and adoration of God? It behoves them to arise, as earnestly and spontaneously as you have arisen, and to seek with determination and constancy their promised Beloved.” He then proceeded to say: “Now is the time to reveal the commentary on the Surih of Joseph.” He took up His pen and with incredible rapidity revealed the entire Surih of Mulk, the first chapter of His commentary on the Surih of Joseph. The overpowering effect of the manner in which He wrote was heightened by the gentle intonation of His voice which accompanied His writing. Not for one moment did He interrupt the flow of the verses which streamed from His pen. Not once did He pause till the Surih of Mulk was finished. I sat enraptured by the magic of His voice and the sweeping force of His revelation. At last I reluctantly arose from my seat and begged leave to depart. He smilingly bade me be seated, and said: “If you leave in such a state, whoever sees you will assuredly say: ‘This poor youth has lost his mind.'” At that moment the clock registered two hours and eleven minutes after sunset. That night, the eve of the fifth day of Jamadiyu’l-Avval, in the year 1260 A.H., corresponded with the eve preceding the sixty-fifth day after Naw-ruz, which was also the eve of the sixth day of Khurdad, of the year Nahang. “This night,” He declared, “this very hour will, in the days to come, be celebrated as one of the greatest and most significant of all festivals. Render thanks to God for having graciously assisted you to attain your heart’s desire, and for having quaffed from the sealed wine of His utterance. ‘Well is it with them that attain thereunto.'”
“At the third hour after sunset, my Host ordered the dinner to be served. That same Ethiopian servant appeared again and spread before us the choicest food. That holy repast refreshed alike my body and soul. In the presence of my Host, at that hour, I felt as though I were feeding upon the fruits of Paradise. I could not but marvel at the manners and the devoted attentions of that Ethiopian servant whose very life seemed to have been transformed by the regenerating influence of his Master. I then, for the first time, recognised the significance of this well-known traditional utterance ascribed to Muhammad: “I have prepared for the godly and righteous among My servants what eye hath seen not, ear heard not, nor human heart conceived.” Had my youthful Host no other claim to greatness, this were sufficient—that He received me with that quality of hospitality and loving-kindness which I was convinced no other human being could possibly reveal.
“I sat spellbound by His utterance, oblivious of time and of those who awaited me. Suddenly the call of the muadhdhin, summoning the faithful to their morning prayer, awakened me from the state of ecstasy into which I seemed to have fallen. All the delights, all the ineffable glories, which the Almighty has recounted in His Book as the priceless possessions of the people of Paradise–these I seemed to be experiencing that night. Methinks I was in a place of which it could be truly said: “Therein no toil shall reach us, and therein no weariness shall touch us”; “No vain discourse shall they hear therein, nor any falsehood, but only the cry, ‘Peace! Peace!'”; “Their cry therein shall be, ‘Glory be to Thee, O God!’ and their salutation therein, ‘Peace!’ And the close of their cry, ‘Praise be to God, Lord of all creatures!'”
“Sleep had departed from me that night. I was enthralled by the music of that voice which rose and fell as He chanted; now swelling forth as He revealed verses of the Qayyumu’l-Asma’, again acquiring ethereal, subtle harmonies as He uttered the prayers He was revealing. At the end of each invocation, He would repeat this verse: “Far from the glory of thy Lord, the All-Glorious, be that which His creatures affirm of Him! And peace be upon His Messengers! And praise be to God, the Lord of all beings!”
“He then addressed me in these words: “O thou who art the first to believe in Me! Verily I say, I am the Báb, the Gate of God, and thou art the Bábu’l-Báb, the gate of that Gate. Eighteen souls must, in the beginning, spontaneously and of their own accord, accept Me and recognise the truth of My Revelation. Unwarned and uninvited, each of these must seek independently to find Me. And when their number is complete, one of them must needs be chosen to accompany Me on My pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. There I shall deliver the Message of God to the Sharif of Mecca. I then shall return to Kufih, where again, in the Masjid of that holy city, I shall manifest His Cause. It is incumbent upon you not to divulge, either to your companions or to any other soul, that which you have seen and heard. Be engaged in the Masjid-i-Ilkhani in prayer and in teaching. I, too, will there join you in congregational prayer. Beware lest your attitude towards Me betray the secret of your faith. You should continue in this occupation and maintain this attitude until our departure for Hijaz. Ere we depart, we shall appoint unto each of the eighteen souls his special mission, and shall send them forth to accomplish their task. We shall instruct them to teach the Word of God and to quicken the souls of men.” Having spoken these words to me, He dismissed me from His presence. Accompanying me to the door of the house, He committed me to the care of God.
“This Revelation, so suddenly and impetuously thrust upon me, came as a thunderbolt which, for a time, seemed to have benumbed my faculties. I was blinded by its dazzling splendour and overwhelmed by its crushing force. Excitement, joy, awe, and wonder stirred the depths of my soul. Predominant among these emotions was a sense of gladness and strength which seemed to have transfigured me. How feeble and impotent, how dejected and timid, I had felt previously! Then I could neither write nor walk, so tremulous were my hands and feet. Now, however, the knowledge of His Revelation had galvanised my being. I felt possessed of such courage and power that were the world, all its peoples and its potentates, to rise against me, I would, alone and undaunted, withstand their onslaught. The universe seemed but a handful of dust in my grasp. I seemed to be the Voice of Gabriel personified, calling unto all mankind: “Awake, for lo! the morning Light has broken. Arise, for His Cause is made manifest. The portal of His grace is open wide; enter therein, O peoples of the world! For He who is your promised One is come!”
“In such a state I left His house and joined my brother and nephew. A large number of the followers of Shaykh Ahmad, who had heard of my arrival, had gathered in the Masjid-i-Ilkhani to meet me. Faithful to the directions of my newly found Beloved, I immediately set myself to carry out His wishes. As I began to organise my classes and perform my devotions, a vast concourse of people gathered gradually about me. Ecclesiastical dignitaries and officials of the city also came to visit me. They marvelled at the spirit which my lectures revealed, unaware that the Source whence my knowledge flowed was none other than He whose advent they, for the most part, were eagerly awaiting.”
The Baha’i day starts at sunset and so we celebrate the Declaration of The Bab on 23rd May each year, or often 2 hours and 11 minutes after sunset on the 22nd.
To read more about this story, or the stories of the other followers who were among the first to discover and recognise the Báb for themselves, the best thing is to read The Dawn Breakers, available online here.
If you prefer to listen to the stories, you can download the children’s version read by William Sears from this page.