(p. 32) BAB AND BABIS.
priests as fanatical and cruel as any Inquisitor of that European
period which is well described as the Dark Ages.
The measure of injustice and oppression which these courts of the Koran indict
upon the Christians may seem mild, in comparison with the treatment by which
they suppress nonconformity within the pale of their own community. We have
seen an example in the sentence of "a, hundred sticks," which the incautious
expression of liberal views brought upon the friend of the Zil-i-Sultan, who
added to free speech the wickedness of wearing trousers of European cut. There
is, however, in Ispahan a surviving heresy, the most notable in Persia, which,
when proved against a man, is almost a deathwarrant.
Early in the present century, a boy was born at Shiraz, the son of a grocer,
whose name has not been preserved. Arrived at manhood, this grocer's son
expounded his idea of a religion even more indulgent.t than that of Mahommed.
He is known by the name of Bab (the gate), and his followers are called Babis.
In 1850, Bab had established some reputation as a prophet, and was surrounded
by followers as ready to shed their blood in his defence as any who formed the
bodyguard of Mahommed in those early days at Medina, when he had gained. no
fame in battle, and ajhad not conceived the plan of the
Koran. Bab was attacked as an enemy of God and man, and at last taken
prisoner by the Persian Government, and sentenced to death. He was to be shot.
Tied to a stake in Tabriz, he confronted the firing party and awaited death.
The report of the muskets was heard, and Bab felt himself wounded, but at
liberty. He was not seriously hurt, and the bullets had cut the cord which
bound him. Clouds of smoke hung about the spot where he stood, and probably he
felt a gleam of hope that he might escape when he rushed from the stake into a
neighbouring guardhouse. He had a great reputation, and very little was
necessary to make soldiers and people believe that his life had been spared by
a genuine miracle. Half the population of Persia would perhaps have become
Babis, had that guardhouse contained the entrance to a safe hiding place. But
there was nothing of the sort;. The poor wretch was only a man, and the
soldiers saw he had no supernatural powers whatever. He was dragged again to
the firing place and killed. But dissent is not to be suppressed by punishment,
and of course Babism did not die with him. Two years afterwards, when the
present Shah was enjoying his favourite sport, and was somewhat in advance of
his followers, three men rushed upon his Majesty and wounded him in an
attempted assassination. The life of Nazr-ed-deen Shah, Kajar, was saved by his
own quickness aud by the
arrival of his followers, who made prisoners of the assassins. They
declared themselves Babis, and gloried in their attempt to avenge the death of
their leader and to propagate their doctrines by the murder of the Shah. The
baffled criminals were put to death with the cruelty which the offences of this
sect always meet with. Lighted candles were inserted in slits cut in their
livings bodies, and, after lingering long in agony, their tortured frames were
hewn. in pieces with hatchets.In most countries, the theory of punishment is,
that the State, on behalf of the community, must take vengeance upon the
offender. But in Persia it is otherwise. There, in accordance with the teaching
of the Koran, the theory and basis of punishment is, that the relations of the
victim must take revenge upon the actual or would-be murderers. In conformity
with this idea, the Shah's chamberlain executed on his Majesty's behalf, and
with his own hand, one of the conspirators. Yet the Babis remain the terror and
trouble of the Government of Ispahan, where the sect is reputed to number more
followers than anywhere else in Persia,. But many of them have, in the present
day, transferred their allegiance from Bab to Behar, a man who was lately, and
may be at present, imprisoned at Acca in Arabia, by the Turkish Government.
Behar represents himself as God the Father in human form, and declares that
Bab occupies the same position in regard to himself, that John the
Baptist held to Jesus Christ. We were assured that there are respectable
families who worship this imprisoned fanatic, who endanger their property and
their lives by a secret devotion, which, if known, would bring them to
destitution, and probably to a cruel death.