The New International Encyclopædia/Babism

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BABISM, bäb'iz'm. A term applied to the beliefs of a sect in Persia, founded by Mirza Ali Muhammad ibn Radhīk, born about 1824, who assumed the name of Bab-ud-Din, i.e. ‘gate of the faith.’ On returning from a pilgrimage to Mecca, in 1843, the Bab appeared in his native city of Shiraz with a new eonnnentary on the Koran, and soon became engaged in controversy with the regular priests, or mullahs, who, exasperated by his free criticism of their conduct, obtained an order forbidding him to teach in public, and confining him to his house. He taught privately, however, but increased his pretensions, until he declared he was the Nuqtah, ‘the point,’—an epithet of Mohammed as well. He thus claimed to be not merely the recipient of a new divine revelation, but the focus in which all preceding dispensations converged. He gained proselytes rapidly. Among these was a woman,—a remarkable circumstance in any country of the East,—known as Gurrad-ul-Ain (‘consolation of the eyes’), because of her surpassing loveliness, which was enhanced by her intelligence and purity. The sect made rapid progress with their new religion, but they were not molested until the accession of Nasr-ed-Din in 1848. At this juncture the Babis, in fear of persecution by the new Shah, arose in rebellion and proclaimed the Bab as a universal sovereign, when a civil war ensued. Hussein, one of the disciples, was made prisoner, after defeating several expeditions sent against him, and was put to death in 1849; and the next year Baliurushi, another leader, was slain in battle. The Bab himself, who had taken no active part in the rebellion, was imprisoned and executed at Tabriz, in 1850, after a long incarceration; but his death did not discourage his followers. They recognized Mirza Yahya, a youth of noble descent, and son of the Governor of Teheran, as his successor, who established himself in Bagdad. An attempt, in 1852, of some zealous Babis to assassinate the Shah, led to a terrible persecution, in which the beautiful ‘consolation of the eyes’ perished.

The Babi doctrines are essentially a system of pantheism, with additions from gnostic and other sources, and they may be regarded as a development of the mystic or Sufiistic movement against the orthodox Mohammedanism of the Sunnis, which has lasted with great persistence since the first introduction of Islam into Persia. All individual existence is regarded as emanating from the Supreme Deity, by whom it will ultimately be reabsorbed. Great importance is attached to the number 7, as indicating the attributes supposed to be displayed in the act of creation; and to the number 19, 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, and of whom the Bab himself is the chief. The sacred college cannot become extinct until the final judgment, the death of any of its members being immediately followed by a reincarnation. Moses, Christ, and Mohammed are considered to be prophets, but merely precursors of the Bab and inferior to him. The morals of the sect are good: polygamy and concubinage are forbidden; the veiling of woman's face is omitted, and the equality of sex is so far recognized that at least one of the nineteen prophets must always be a female. Among the Babis women have a position of honor. They join in social intercourse, and are freed from many of the degradations to which orthodox Mohammedanism subjects them, such as the extreme facility of divorce on the part of the husband. Asceticism is discountenanced, mendicancy forbidden, and hospitality, charity, generous living, and abstinence from intoxicating liquors and drugs and tobacco, as well as prohibition of slave-dealing, are taught and practiced. The Babis live in outward conformity to the religion of Mohammed. The faith of the Bab has found a few adherents in America, like other Oriental religions which have sent their apostles to this country.

Consult: Browne, A Traveler's Narrative Written to Illustrate the Episode of the Bab (Cambridge, 1892); Huart, La religion de Bab (Paris, 1889); and Andreas, Die Babis in Persien (Leipzig, 1896).