Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Bábi

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1905829Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition, Volume III — BábiRichard Garnett
BÁBI, or Báby, the appellation of a remarkable modern

sect in Persia, is derived from the title (bob, i.e., gate) assumed by its founder, Seyed Mohammed Ali, born at Shiraz about 1824, according to Count Gobineau, but ten years earlier according to Kasem Beg. Persia, as is well known, is the least strictly Mahometan of all Mahometan countries, the prophet himself occupying an almost secondary place in the popular estimation to his successor Ali, and the latter s sons, Hassan and Hosein. The cause of this hetero doxy is, no doubt, to be sought in ethnological distinctions, the Aryan Persians never having been able to thoroughly accommodate themselves to the creed of their Semitic con querors. Their dissatisfaction has found vent partly in tha universal homage paid to Ali, and the rejection of the Sunna or great mass of orthodox Mahometan tradition, partly in violent occasional outbreaks, most characteristically of all in the mystical philosophy and poetry of the Sufis, which, under the guise of a profound respect for the ex ternals of Mahometanism, dissolves its rigid Monotheism into Pantheism. Babism is essentially one of the innumer able schools of Sufism, directed into a more practical channel by its founder s keen perception of the evils of his times. His first appearance in public took place about 1843, when, on his return from a pilgrimage to Mecca and after a prolonged course of meditation in the ruined mosque of Kufa, the scene of Ali s murder, he presented himself in his native city with a journal of his pilgrimage and a new commentary on the Koran. He speedily became engaged in controversy with the mollahs or regular clergy, who, exasperated by the freedom of his strictures on their lives as well as their doctrines, obtained an official decree for bidding him to preach in public, and confining him to his house. The Bab, by which title he was now universally known, complied in appearance, but continued to instruct his disciples in private ; his doctrines rapidly assumed more logical consistency, and his pretensions augmented in an equal ratio. He now laid aside the title of Bab, declaring himself to be the Nokteh or Point, i.e., not merely the re cipient of a new divine revelation, but the focus to which all preceding dispensations converged. There was little in such a pretension to shock Oriental habits of thought; while the simplicity and elevation of the ethical part of the Bab s system, united to the charm of his manner and the eloquence of his discourse, rapidly gained fresh proselytes. The most remarkable of these was the Mollah Hussein Boushrevieh, a man of great erudition and energy of char acter, who, having come all the way from Khorassan to hear him, became his convert, and undertook the dissemination of his religion throughout the empire. Two other apostles were speedily added, the appearance of one of whom may almost be said to mark an epoch in Oriental life. It is rare indeed to find a woman enacting any distinguished part in the East, least of all that of a public teacher. Such, however, was the part assumed by the giited Zerryn Taj (Crown of Gold), better known by the appella tion of Gourred-Oul-Ayn (Consolation of the Eyes), be stowed in admiration of her surpassing loveliness. The third missionary was Mohammed Ali Balfouroushi, a reli gious man, who had already acquired a high reputation for sanctity. The new religion made rapid progress, and the endeavours of the authorities to repress it eventually pro duced a civil war. Hussein constructed a fort in the pro vince of Mazanderan, where he defeated several expeditions despatched against him, but at length fell mortally wounded in the moment of victory, and his followers, reduced to surren der by famine, were mostly put to death (1849). Balfou- roushi, with a number of his principal adherents, perished in the city of Zendian after an obstinate defence (May 1850). Ere this event had taken place, the Government had proceeded to the execution of the Bâb himself, who had now been confined for some time in the fortress of Cherigh, where he is said to have greatly impressed his gaolers by his patience and dignity. He was removed to Tabriz, and all attempts to induce him to retract having failed, he was suspended from the summit of a wall by the armpits in view of the people, along with one of his disciples; the object of this public exposure being to leave no doubt of the reality of his death. A company of soldiers discharged their muskets at the martyrs; but although the disciple was killed on the spot, the bullets merely cut the cords by which the Bâb himself was suspended, and he fell to the ground unhurt. With more presence of mind on his part, this apparently miraculous deliverance might have provoked a popular insurrection in his favour; but, bewildered by the fall, instead of invoking the people, he took refuge in a guard-house, where he was promptly despatched. His death was far from discouraging his followers, who recognised as his successor Mirza Yahya, a youth of noble birth. Yahya established himself at Baghdad, where he is or was recently still residing. No new event of importance occurred until 1852, when an attempt of several Babis to assassinate the Shah led to a ferocious persecution, in which the beautiful Gourred-Oul-Ayn perished with many others. In the opinion of M. Gobineau, this persecution has rather tended to encourage than to repress the sect, which is believed to be widely diffused in Persia at this moment, under the mask of conformity to the established creed. It can only be regarded as an individual symptom of a constantly recurring phenomenon—the essential incompatibility between the religious conceptions of Aryan and Semitic races. The doctrines of Bâbism are contained in an Arabic treatise, entitled Biyan (the Exposition), written by the Bâb himself. It is essentially a system of Pantheism, with additions from Gnostic, Cabbalistic, and even Buddhistic sources. All individual existence is regarded as an emanation from the Supreme Deity, by whom it will ultimately be reabsorbed. Great importance is attached to the number seven, being that of the attributes supposed to be displayed in the act of creation, and to the number nineteen, which mystically expresses the name of

the Deity himself, and is, moreover, the sum of the prophets among whom the latest incarnation of the divine nature is conceived to be distributed in the present dispensation. Of these the Bâb is chief, but the other eighteen are regarded as no less participators in the divine nature. This sacred college cannot become extinct until the last judgment; the death of any of its members being immediately followed by a reincarnation, as in the case of the Grand Lama. The prophetic character of Moses, Christ, and Mahomet is acknowledged, but they are considered as mere precursors of the Bâb. The morality of the sect is pure and cheerful, and it manifests an important advance upon all previous Oriental systems in its treatment of woman. Polygamy and concubinage are forbidden, the veil is disused, and the equality of the sexes so thoroughly recognised that one at least of the nineteen sovereign prophets must always be a female. The other chief precepts of Bâbism inculcate hospitality, charity, and generous living, tempered by abstinence from intoxicating liquors and drugs. Asceticism is entirely discountenanced, and mendicancy, being regarded as a form of it, is strictly prohibited.

Our principal authorities on Bâbism to this date are Count Gobineau, formerly French attaché at Teheran, in his work, Les Réligions et les Philosophies dans l'Asie centrale (Paris, 1865), and an article by Kasem Beg in the Journal Asiatique for 1866. These materials have been condensed into a valuable essay, by F. Pillon, in L'Année Philosophique for 1869. See also the History of Persia under the Kojar Dynasty, by R. G. Watson (whose accusations of immorality against the Bâbis seem to be founded solely on the misconduct of particular members of the sect); Ethé, Essays und Studien (Berlin, 1872); and incidental notices in the travels of Vambéry, Polak, Piggott, and Lady Sheil.

(r. g.)