- Summary: a Baha’i commemoration of the execution of the Báb
- 2019 Date: 9th July
- Celebrated by: Baha’i Faith, Bábism
- Linked Holidays: Birth of the Báb, Declaration of the Báb (Baha’i Faith)
Background and Theological Significance
The Martyrdom of the Báb is the annual commemoration in the Baha’i Faith of the execution of the Báb, one of the central figures of their history. Although the founder of the Baha’i Faith was Baha’u’llah, it was the life and teachings of the Báb that provided the cornerstone for the Faith to flourish. The title ‘Báb’ comes from the Arabic word ‘باب’ meaning ‘the door’ or ‘the gate’. It is used to refer to a man called Siyyid `Alí Muhammad Shírází, who was born in 1819 in the city of Shiraz in Persia (modern day Iran). He was a merchant who at the young age of twenty-four declared himself to be a prophet and a Manifestation of God. `Alí Muhammad became known as the Báb because he was perceived as a gate between past and future revelations, and he soon developed a large following. However, he became the subject of government persecution for his subversive religious teachings and was imprisoned and sentenced to death at the age of thirty. On 9th July 1850 the Báb and one of his followers were executed by firing squad in the city of Tabriz. The exact circumstances of his death are unclear, but many sources claim that after the squad fired for the first time, the Báb was found to have disappeared whilst his follower remained unharmed. The Báb was later found back in his cell engaged in conversation. A new firing squad were then summoned to ensure the execution of the two prisoners, after which their bodies were thrown into the town moat. Their remains were rescued by the Báb’s followers and are now entombed in the Shrine of the Báb on Mount Carmel in Israel, one of the holiest sites in the world for the Baha’i Faith.
For followers of the Baha’i Faith, the Báb’s execution at the hands of the Persian government establishes him as a martyr for his faith and his witness to divine revelation. The Martyrdom of the Báb is one of eleven holy days of the Faith that are celebrated each year and is a time to remember the important figure whose message paved the way for Baha’u’llah.
The Báb proclaimed that he was a messenger of God and the fulfilment of a strand of Shi’a Islam that believed that God sent a number of such messengers to bring further divine revelation to the world. The movement he founded was known as Bábism, and his followers spread their faith throughout Persia and further afield despite hostility from the religious and political authorities of the day. The Báb believed that God would soon send his latest messenger, or Manifestation, who would be ‘He whom God shall make manifest’ (in Arabic, من يظهر الله). Shortly after the Báb’s execution, one of his followers, a man named Baha’u’llah, experienced a vision and subsequently declared himself to be the foretold Manifestation. Building on the Báb’s teachings, Baha’u’llah founded the Baha’i Faith which has flourished and spread all around the world. However, not all Bábis recognised Baha’u’llah as the promised Manifestation, and a form of Bábism distinct from the Baha’i Faith does still exist to this day.
After his death, the Báb’s body was kept hidden by his followers for many years, until eventually it was transported to Acre in Israel. In 1909 the Báb’s body was laid to rest in the specially-built Shrine of the Báb on Mount Carmel in Haifa, where it remains a special place of pilgrimage and devotion for followers of the Baha’i Faith and others all around the world.
The Martyrdom of the Báb is commemorated annually on the 9th July in the Gregorian calendar, which is the day of his execution in 1850. According to the 19-month Baha’i calendar this is the 17 Raḥmat. It is one of the nine Baha’i holy days on which work is suspended (the only two festivals on which this is not a requirement are the Day of the Covenant and the Ascension of Abdu’l-Bahá). To mark the commemoration Baha’is will read special prayers at noon, which was the time of day when the Báb’s execution was scheduled for. The Martyrdom of the Báb is a solemn occasion to recollect the life and death of holy man whose dedication to his faith led him ultimately to the executioner’s scaffold. For Baha’is it is a day to remember the foundations of their faith and to celebrate the one who lead the way for Baha’u’llah.