Read: Mulla Muhammad Mamaqani


The Trial of the Bab in Mamaqani's Namus-i Nasiri

(p. 42 ff.)

Then the late Nizam al-`Ulama' said to my father [Mulla Muhammad Mamaqani]: `Before we move on to a discussion of scholarly matters, I have some questions I'd like to put to him, with your permission.'

      Then he faced the Bab and asked: `These writings, some of which are in the style of the Qur'an, and others in the style of sermons and prayers, and which have been distributed among the people by your followers -- are they yours, or have they just been attributed to you?'

      Bab: `They are from God.'

      NU: `Be that as it may, did you write them?'

      Bab: `Yes, like the revelation of words from the Tree on Sinai.'

      NU: `Now, here's something I don't understand. Who gave you this title of "Bab"?'

      Bab: God.'

      NU: `That's very presumptious of you. Exactly when did God bestow this "Goodnight" on you?'

      The Bab grew angry and said: `You're making fun of me.'

      NU: `Well, let's leave it there. What are you the Gate of?'

      Bab: `"I am the City of Knowledge and `Ali is its Gate."'

      NU: `You are the Gate of the City of Knowledge?'

      Bab: `Yes. "And pass through the Gate, prostrating yourselves."'

      NU: `Are you also the Bab of prostration?'

      Bab: `Yes.'

      NU: `Since you are the Gate of the City of Knowledge, will you answer any question people may put to you?'

      Bab: `Yes. You do not recognize me. I am that very person you have been awaiting for over one thousand years.'

      Whereupon my father said: `Sayyid -- you started by claiming to be the Gate of the Imam. Have you now become the hidden Lord of the Command in person?'

      Bab: `Yes. I am he for whom you have been waiting since the very beginning of the Islamic revelation.'

      My father grew very angry at these vain words, and said: `Sayyid, why aren't you ashamed of yourself? What sort of foolishness is this you're mouthing? If we're waiting, we're waiting for that Imam whose father was Imam Hasan al-'Askari, and whose mother was Narjis the daughter Yashu'a, son of the king of Byzantium, who was born of his mother in the year 256 in Samarra, andwho will appear in Mecca with the sword. Since when have we ever waited for Sayyid `Ali Muhammad, the son of Sayyid Rida the Shirazi grocer, who only left his mother's womb yesterday? In any case, when the Lord of the Age appears, he will bring with him all the inheritance of the prophets, from Adam to the Seal. Why don't you produce one of those heirlooms so we can see it?'

      Bab: `I am not permitted to at this moment.'

      My father grew angry and said: `If you didn't get permission, you made a big mistake coming here and nailing your head to the wall. Off you go and get permission, then you can come back. A Lord of the Command who comes without permission is jumping the gun. In any case, the Lord of Command can perform miracles. In the name of God, turn your staff into a dragon so we will all believe.'

      Bab: `I shall cause a verse to descend upon this staff.'

      The onlookers laughed loudly and said: `What verse will you reveal?'

      With his hand placed behind his ear like a singer, he chanted in a singing voice: `Praise be to God Who created this staff and made it a sign among His signs, that you may fear Him.'

      They said, `Is this your verse?'

      Bab: `Yes.'

      The late Amir Aslan Khan Majd al-Dawla, who was present, said: `If your being an Imam can be established by such a verse, I can reveal a better one than you. "Praise be to God Who created this staff and made the morning and the evening that you may give Him thanks." What is there to choose between your verse and mine?'

      The sayyid could not come up with an answer. Then he faced my late father and said: `Indeed, you have the right to reject me. It has come down in the traditions that when the Lord of the Age, may God hasten his advent, appears, forty thousand clerics will issue fatwas for his death.'

      My late father said: `Sayyid, why do you invent traditions, and why do you talk nonsense? To begin with, it would be a miracle if forty thousand muftis gathered together at a single time. Secondly, the Lord of the Command won't come as such a miserable creature as you, that anyone would dare issue a sentence for his death. The sword Dhu 'l-Fiqar will be in his hand, and if anybody resists him he will strike his neck like a dog. Tell me the truth, in which book did you find this tradition, and from which Imam did it come?'

      Bab: `It may not be forty thousand, but the forty that are here.'

      The onlookers laughed loudly at this exaggeration and its sudden playing down.

      Mamaqani: That isn't even a tradition. What book is it in, which Imam is it from?

      Bab: `Well, it's certainly written that some of the `ulama will turn against him.'

      Mamaqani: `Nor is that a tradition. It's something that was said by Muhyi 'l-Din ibn `Arabi -- that when the promised Mahdi comes, the majority of those who reject him will be the outwardly learned (`ulama-yi zahira). Since you are so seriously ill-informed about the texts and traditions, you lay claim to the Imamate with idle talk, and say you are the Gate of the City of Knowledge. He who disbelieves speaks slander.'

      Then the late Nizam al-'Ulama said: `Yes, your statements in regard to this tradition are exactly the same as those which an unlettered man asked of a learned one: "Which Imam was it who was eaten by a jackal in Basra?" He meant his holiness Joseph. [The scholar] replied: `He wasn't an Imam, he was a prophet; it wasn't Basra, it was Egypt; it wasn't a jackal, it was a wolf; and it didn't eat him.'

      The onlookers laughed loudly.

      Then Nizam al-'Ulama said: `Since you lay claim to the Imamate, we won't ask you to perform another miracle. Our king is suffering from gout. Please pray for his ailment to be healed. If it is, we shall all believe in you.'

      His Excellency the Shadow of God[1] said: `Why travel so far? Let him restore you to youth in this very assembly, and we shall all believe.'

      There was no response. Then the Bab turned to my late father and said: `You consider the S|ahifa-yi Sajjadiyya to be among the miracles of his holiness (Imam) Sajjad, and to be a proof of his Imamate. I have written ten times that number of prayers. Are they not sufficient as a miracle for me?'

      Mamaqani: `"Praise be to Thee, this is a great calumny." In the first place, when did we ever say that the S|ahifa-yi Sajjadiyya is one of the miracles of his holiness? Why do you have to make things up? The most we say is that those prayers stand among the words of human kind in the highest degree of eloquence and elegance. In the second place, what relationship can there be between your words, which are filled with mistakes from beginning to end, and the S|ahifa-yi Sajjadiyya? What link is there between the earth and the pure world (`alam-i pak)? And how can incorrect and stumbling words be considered miraculous?'

      NU: `Jinab-i A~qa! One of the prayers from the S|ahifa reads: "O Thou through Whom the knot of the deceiver is untied." Do you write a prayer lke it and we shall believe in you.'

      There was no reply.

      Mamaqani: `In His Book, God says in respect of Jesus, using the words of his followers: "They said, `How can we speak with one who is in his cradle, a babe?'" Such a distancing and expression of amazement is perfectly understandable, since conversing with a baby while still in the cradle would be a miracle. Now, you put yourself on a level with this verse in your own book. You say: "How can one speak the words of God when he is in truth only twenty-five years old?" Leaving aside the mistakes in the words themselves, what would be a cause for bewilderment and pulling back in a twenty-five-year-old man speaking on behalf of God that you should take the troubl to defend yourself against it? What fool would say such a thing for you to feel it necessary to refute him? You who have still to learn how to put a few words together. He who disbelieves slanders.'

      Then the late `Alam al-Huda said: `Sir, God has said in His Book: "Know that whenever you have taken booty, a fifth of it belongs to God." Has the decree laid down in this verse been abrogated, or does it still stand?'

      Bab: `It still stands.'

      A.H.: `In that case, on what grounds do you in your book say: "Know that whenever you have taken booty, a third of it belongs to the Remembrance"? Doesn't this decree abrogate the Word of God?'

      Bab: `Well, the share of the Imam belongs to me.'

      A.H.: `The Imam's share is one half of a fifth, and half a fifth is a tenth, not a third.'

      Bab: `No, it is a third.'

      All the onlookers laughed. In the end, `Alam al-Huda, with a thousand perhapses and maybes and calculations on the finger showed him that half a fifth is a tenth. Once he had been convinced, he said: `It was a slip.'

      Then my late father said: `You who possess such skill in counting, will you tell me how many fractions there are in arithmetic?'

      Bab: `I have never studied arithmetic.'

      Then `Alam al-Huda said: `Jinab-i Sayyid. It is an essential tenet of our faith that the gate of original revelation has been closed since the days of the Prophet. Even Gabriel said at the time when the Prophet died that this was his final descent to the earth. What he meant was his coming down to bring an original revelation.'

      Bab: `Yes, that is the case.'

      `Alam al-Huda: `But then you say in your book: "Truly, we have sent a revelation down to you even as we sent it down to Muhammad before you." What is the meaning of this? Especially since, in your style of writing, a likeness is identical to what it is likened to.'

      Bab: `It was closed then, and now it has been opened again. What's the harm in that?'

      `Alam al-Huda: `No harm, but it does mean that the Prophet [Muhammad] is not the Seal of the Prophets, and that the words: "There shall be no prophet after me" are a lie.'

      There was no reply. Then `Alam al-Huda said: `In your book you have said: "We have caused you to be raised up above a station, or to a nearer place". Is that so?'

      Bab: `Yes.'

      `Alam al-Huda: `To begin with, what's the purpose in using the transitive in the verb "arfa'naka" [We have caused you to be raised up]?, bearing in mind that God, when He says concerning Idris in His Book, "And We raised him up to a high place" does not use the transitive. Secondly, the furthest limit travelled to by the Prophet during his ascension to heaven was the station of "or nearer", for there is nothing higher than that world in the realm of creation. You who have gone five stops beyond Mecca and placed your foot above the station of prophethood [reading nubuwwat for nawbat], where do you plan to go now? On this basis, your rank must be higher than that of the Prophet. He who has disbelieved slanders.'

      Then my late father said: `You have said in your books that the light that shone on Moses out of the Burning Bush was your light: is that correct?'

      Bab: `Yes.'

      Mamaqani: `What's your proof for that?'

      Bab: `Well, there is a tradition that the light which shone forth upon Moses was the light of one of the followers (Shi'ian) of the Prince of Believers. Isn't that so?'

      His excellency the Shadow of God, who was at that time seventeen years old, asked out of his understanding and sagacity: `What makes you think that's you? How does that prove your claim? The Prince of Believers has plenty of followers.'

      My late father said: `The criticism is correct. Apart from that, "You have remembered something, and you have forgotten many things". You have heard something, but you haven't understood its meaning in the least. The light of one person does not shine on another, when they are separated by a distance of isolation (nur-i digari bi-digari ka mian-i anha baynunat-i `uzlatist, tajalli nami-kunad). Rather, it shone for it and upon it (tajalla la-ha bi-ha) and through it it was kept apart from it; this meaning is perfectly clear in the philosophy of the Imams. The meaning of this light is the light of the reality of Moses himself, who is one of the followers of the Prince of the Believers; for the Imam has made this clear in another tradition, in which the transmitter asked his holiness about the cherubim. His holiness declared "They are a people from among the followers of the Prince of Belivers, from the first creation, [dwelling] behind the throne; if the light of any one of them were to be split up among all the people of the earth, there would be enough to go round. When his holiness Moses asked his God what he asked Him, God commanded one of those cherubim, And he shone forth upon the mountain, and laid it level with the earth, and Moses fainted away."2 The transmitter asked "What are there names?" He answered: "Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus." The transmitter asked: "Whose light was it that shone forth on Moses?" He said: "The light of Moses."

      `You, you poor wretch, who know nothing about the traditions and possess no insight into the rules governing philosophy, what sort of ridiculous claims are you making?'

      Then he said: `Let's leave these abstruse questions, and let me ask you a question concerning religious law. Tell me, in our law, how many types of divorce are there? Which type constitutes "innovative divorce"? Which one is "legitimate divorce"? And within legitimate divorce, which is irrevocable, which revocable, and which healthy (?'adha)?'

      He said: `I have not studied religious law.'

      After this, my late father asked a question regarding medicine, which I do not remember.

      He said: `I have not studied medicine.'

      Then he (Mamaqani) said: `In a letter you wrote to me, in which you invited me to join you, [you have written]: "The first to believe in me was Muhammad ibn `Abd Allah". Was this letter written by you?'

      Bab: `Yes.'

      Mamaqani: `Well, in that case your rank is above that of the Prophet, since it is the follower who believes in him whom he follows, and not the other way round.'

      There was no reply from that Gate of the City.

      Then the late `Alam al-Huda asked: `You have referred to yourself as "Lord"? Why is that?'

      Bab: `Well, my name is numerically equivalent to the word "Lord".'

      My late father said: `Your name isn't unique to you. On the strength of what you say, shouldn't anybody called `Ali Muhammad or Muhammad `Ali be considered a Lord apart from God?'

      No reply could be heard. Then he put his hand to his ear and said: `Listen. I shall reveal a verse: "Praise be to God Who created the heavens and the earth"', putting the vowel "a" at the end of the word "heavens" (samawat).[3]

      His majesty said: `You don't even know the rules of Arabic grammar. "Whatever takes its plural in ta' and alif is vocalized with `i' in both accusative and genitive".'

      Bab: `Listen: "And he made the sun and the moon"', vocalizing the shin of shams [the sun] with `i'.

      The onlookers exclaimed: `You've made a mistake. Why do you put the vowel "a" where you should have "i"?'

      Bab: `Now, listen....'

      My late father grew angry and said: `Who wants to listen to words with mistakes in them?'

      His (the Bab's?) breath was cut short. By chance there happened to be a sphere of the heavens in the room. His excellency the Shadow of God said: `Bring that sphere over and show us the figures and circles on it.'

      Bab: `I have not studied astrology (nujum).'

      My late father grew angry and said: `You donkey! This isn't astrology, it's astronomy!'

      Nizam al-'Ulama' said: `You, sir -- what's the meaning of these words of `Allama:[4] `If a man should have intercourse with a hermaphrodite, or a hermaphrodite with a woman, ablutions are obligatory for the hermaphrodite, but not for either the man or the woman'. Explain the mode of this ruling, and what was `Allama's thinking.'

      Bab: `I've already said that I have not studied religious law.'

      Nizam al-'Ulama': Ma'mun asked his holiness Rida' the following: "Where is your proof for the caliphate of your grandfather [`Ali]?" His holiness replied: "The Quranic verse `Ourselves'". Ma'mun said: "But for our wives". His holiness made the rejoinder: "But for our sons". What is the character of the proof cited by the Imam, and the nature of Ma'mun's objection, and the sense of Rida's response to it in this tradition?'

      Bab: `Is it really a tradition?'

      Nizam al-'Ulama': `Yes.'

      Bab: `I can't think of anything.'

      Nizam al-'Ulama: `God says: "He it is Who causes you to behold the lightning, for fear and for hope"[5]. How are the phrases "for fear" and "for hope" construed according to the rules of grammar?'

      Bab: `I haven't studied grammar.'

      Nizam: `Tell me the meaning of this tradition: May God curse the eyes, for they have behaved unjustly towards the one eye.'

      He hesitated for a moment, then said: `I don't know.'

      Then the late `Alam al-Huda said: `Sir! In your book, you have said that if jinn and men were to assemble together, they could not produce the like of half a word from your book. Is this true?'

      Bab: `Yes.'

      `Alam al-Huda: `In His Book, God has challenged men to (produce) a single sura, saying: "Produce a sura like it". How did your book come to be elevated above the Book of God? Secondly, half a word cannot be pronounced, in order for this to be a permissible challenge. To impose what is impossible is reprehensible. Secondly [sic], fine speech and eloquence are attributes of words and combined letters; in the case of separate letters, both eloquent and ineloquent are reduced to the same level. Look -- if I were to utter an alif, how would it differ from an alif in your book? If you should say that the alif in your book is divine (lahuti) and my alif earthly (nasuti), it seems to me that I could turn the whole thing round the other way. For what I say and what you say are both claims unsubstantiated by any proof. What is the point in this sort of challenge?'

      His excellency the Bab remained astonished, and said nothing. But after that he showed no shame, and said: `This Qur'an that I have brought -- no-one else could produce one like it. This proof is sufficient as testimony to the truth of my claims.'

      My father grew angry and said: `Sayyid, how long will you keep singing this nonsense? Your book is full of mistakes from beginning to end, and all it says is foolishness. We consider ourselves more dignified than to descend to competing with your nonsense. And unlike you we are not lacking in shame, first of all to descrate God's Qur'an, and then to make remarks about how it has been put together and make ourselves fit to be reviled. If you insist on this matter, here is one of our `ulama. His name is Mirza H|asan, and he is one of the `ulama of Khuy. For the sake of proving the point to you, he will compose a few pages in the style of your writings, and if you like they will be brought to you so you can see that in respect of accuracy, eloquence, and refinement of style his words will not bear the slightest resemblance to these jumbled scribblings of yours.'

      The sayyid remained silent, and did not reply. Then the Nizam al-'Ulama said: `It has been reported with respect to the revelation of the Sura of Kawthar that his holiness the Prophet was walking through an alleyway, when `A~s the father of `Amr said: "This man has no children. He'll soon die, leaving no descendants." His holiness the Prophet grew sad, and to comfort him the sura in question was revealed. In what way did it comfort him?'

      Bab: `Was the occasion for the revelation of the sura really as you have said?'

      Nizam: `Yes.'

      He thought for a bit, then said: `Nothing springs to mind.'

      Then the late `Alam al-Huda said: `Sir! In your book you have said that you dreamed that they had killed the Prince of Martyrs (H|usayn), and that you drank a few drops of his blood and that the gates of heavenly grace were thereupon opened to you. Is that correct?'

      Bab: `Yes.'

      My late father said: `Sayyid, what enmity do you hold for the Prince of Martyrs, that you should eat him after they put him to death?'

      Nizam al-'Ulama said in jest: `Well, after all, Hind was a liver-eater.'

      There was no reply from the Bab. Then, my late father, having been angered, indeed incensed by these nonsensical words, said: `Very well, you Shirazi rascal, what sort of hypocrisy and and double-dealing is this? When the followers of the Shaykh-i Ahsa'i ask you, you write: "Ahmad and Kazim, may God bless them both". But what about Sayyid Yahya, the son of Sayyid Ja'far Darabi? The father disagrees with the opinions of the late Shaykh-i Ahsa'i about the resurrection. But when the son asks you, you write in reply that the shaykh was wrong about the resurrection, and you openly declare him a heretic, and you write: "In truth, Sayyid Ja'far Darabi was correct in what he wrote concerning the words: "His lightning flashed forth, encompassing the eastern and western horizons". So what was all that "may God bless them" of yours about? And what's this condemnation and excommunication? If you're an honest man, why can't you just stick to one position?'

      The sayyid hung his head and made no reply. The late Nizam al-'Ulama' said: `Let's leave these questions. If a man should be uncertain [in the ritual prayer] between two and three, how should he begin?'

      Bab: `He should begin with two.'

      My late father grew angry, and the sayyid immediately said, `No, I made a mistake. He should begin with three.'

      The onlookers laughed. My father said: `Since it wasn't two, it had to be three.'

      Nizam al-'Ulama': `You wretch! If you'd stuck to your first remark and not said anything about having made a mistake, it would have been better for you, since that position used to be held by some in the past. You could at least have maintained that it was your legal ruling, since engaging in an indubitable duty demands fulfillment of that indubitable duty.[6] But why didn't you ask whether the doubt was in the case of ritual prayer of two, three, or four prostrations? Or whether it was before or after the two prostrations? Or before or after completion?'

      The Bab hung his head down and said nothing.

      NU: `Since you don't know the answer to any of these questions, let me ask you a simple question. What tense is the verb qulna[7] in, and how does its weak letter mutate?

      Bab: `I haven't studied syntax.'

      My late father grew angry again and said: `You donkey! This is morphology, not syntax. And you lay claim to the Imamate with an intelligence like yours.'

      Then the late Nizam al-'Ulama saw that the Bab wasn't up to a learned debate, so he started to deride him, saying: `You, sir! When did I send you as an Imam? Why did you come talking such nonsense?'

      Bab: `Are you claiming to be God?'

      NU: `Yes. An Imam like you deserves a God like me.'

      When the discussion reached this point, and the degrees of the Bab's ignorance and dullness were made obvious to everyone, there was no need to proceed further. His Excellence the Shadow of God spoke to the Farrashbashi, saying: `This idiot isn't fit to debate with the ulama. Take him away.'

      They took him away from that place swiftly and placed him in the house of Kazim Khan the Farrashbashi. And so the meeting came to an end. Take heed, ye that have eyes to see.

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