On this day in 1844, Persian Prophet Siyyid Ali Muhammad Shirazi, known as the Bab, announced his revelation and the coming of “He whom God shall make manifest,” thereby founding the religion of Babism. He is considered the forerunner of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i faith.
The Bab was born into a middle-class Muslim merchant family from Shiraz, Persia. On 23 May 1844, at the age of 24, he claimed to be the promised Qa’im, or Mahdi, a messiah-like figure in Shi’ite Islam. After this declaration, he adopted the title “The Bab,” or “the gate.” The Bab wrote hundreds of letters and books, “Letters of the Living,” stating his messianic claims, relaying his teachings, and defining a new religious law. The religion of Babism was a mix of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism and taught followers that a new prophet would follow Muhammad. Within a few years, his movement had spread across Iran and acquired tens of thousands of followers, stirring great controversy in the land. Iran’s Shi’ite clergy opposed Babism, and so the Bab and his movement were violently crushed and his followers persecuted and killed by Iran’s government and clergy. In 1850, the Bab himself was shot by a firing squad in Tabriz.
But it wasn’t the end of Babism. After his death, the Babi movement continued. Within 20 years, more than 25 people claimed to be the Promised One, or the messiah. The most accepted of them was Baha’u’llah, a Tehran-born Persian first known as Mirza Husayn Ali Nuri. Eventually, Baha’u’llah was recognised by most remaining Babis as “He whom God shall make manifest,” and his followers began calling themselves Baha’is. This ultimately led to the founding of the Baha’i faith, which recognises Babism as a predecessor to Baha’i. Today there are an estimated five to six million Baha’is in the world, most notably in India, Iran, and the US. As for the Bab, his remains are in Haifa, Israel, at the Shrine of the Bab near Mount Carmel.