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The Ministry of the Báb
Miniature No. 2
from a series of nine miniatures depicting
themes from the Bahá'í Revelation
by Michael Sours
Copyright © 1996
This work of art is part of a series of nine works which together are titled "Symbols of Glory." This work represents events that followed the coming of the Day of God, depicted in the first work of art in this series, and those events preceding the birth of Bahá'u'lláh's revelation in the Síyáh-Chál, depicted in the third artwork in this series.
The Báb (literally the "Gate" to God) is the title assumed by Mírzá 'Alí-Muhammad (181950) after the declaration of His mission in Shíráz (May, 1844), Persia (present day Irán). He was the Founder of the Bábí Faith and the Herald of Bahá'u'lláh. To Muslims-and most of His followers were first Muslims-He was the expected Qá'im, or Deliverer who was to appear at the end time, or Day of Judgement.
The essential components of this work of art concern the ministry of the Báb: The gathering of His disciples, the proclamation of His teachings, the abrogation of past religious laws and the persecution of the Báb and His followers that ensued, their sacrifices, and the Báb's successive imprisonments leading up to His martyrdom. There are many events associated with this period that could have been depicted, as not all of them could be featured in a single artwork of this size. Nevertheless, the ones chosen here are among the most significant and provide the viewer with representations that demonstrate both the extraordinary spiritual nature of what happened as well as the violent character of that period. The depictions, though representational are not wholly realistic in so far as symbolic coloring and conflation of events is employed to emphasize more fully what happened and to capture the inspirational interpretation of these events as found in authentic Bahá'í sources, especially Nabíl's narrative, the Dawn-Breakers.
The overall composition of other artworks in this series, such as The Coming of the Day of God and The Supreme Theophany, is based on the Bahá'í ringstone symbolism (see explanation accompanying The Coming of the Day of God). The composition of this artwork, however, departs from that approach. The various scenes and images are organized into two related groupings. One grouping of images consist of a series of five spheres, four depicting important places associated with the ministry of the Báb and one containing a monogram composed of the letters "B" and "H". The four outer spheres are arranged according to chronological significance (following clockwise) in the ministry of the Báb. The other and most obvious grouping is eight  narrative illustrations depicting important episodes from the Bábí era, spanning almost nine years from 1844 to 1852. In the grouping of narrative illustrations, the four scenes in the bottom half are also in chronological order--reading from left to right as shown in order in middle figure below (numbers 1-8). The main scene, illustrating the martyrdom of the Báb (no. 7), is placed at the top to give it the greatest prominence owing to the significance of the Báb's sacrifice. The selection and arrangement of narrative illustrations is based on a combination of importance and chronology. From a purely chronological point of view, the martyrdom of the Báb follows the scene illustrating the martyrdom of Quddús, shown in the lower left hand panel (no. 6).
The Five Spheres
The sphere in the upper left hand corner depicts the entrance to the Báb's house in Shíráz (see right diagram above, no. 1), where the Báb began His ministry when He announced His claims to Mullá H.usayn in 1844. Together with Quddús, the Báb's leading disciple, the Báb embarked on a pilgrimage to Mecca, shown in the sphere in the upper right hand corner (right diagram, no. 2), where the Báb planned to inaugurate His mission with a public proclamation. As word of the Báb's claims spread, however, opposition grew. The Báb was sheltered for a time by the governor of Is.fáhán, Manúchihr Khán, but upon his death, the Báb's whereabouts were discovered and He was set to the remote prison of Máh-Kú for nine months (184748), illustrated in the sphere in the lower right hand corner (right diagram, no. 3). He was later transferred to an even more remote location, the fortress of Chihríq, illustrated in the sphere in the lower left hand corner (right diagram, no. 4), where the Báb remained until 1850. From Chihríq, the Báb was taken to Tabríz, the city where He was executed by firing squad, as illustrated in the central panel (see left diagram above, no. 8).
The four outer spheres illustrating Shíráz, Mecca, and the prison fortresses of Máh-Kú and Chihríq surround a fifth central sphere of similar color. This fifth sphere in the center of the overall composition contains a monogram circled by a nine-pointed star. This monogram is composed of the letters "B" and "H," the two consonants that form the "Most Great Name," (that is, "Bahá," meaning glory and signifying Bahá'u'lláh: . The purpose of this composition is to signify that the central aim of the ministry of the Báb was to prepare people for the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh. This aim was the center around which all these dramatic and sacrificial events revolved (cf. Dawn-Breakers 26869).
The Narrative Illustrations
In the days following the Báb's declaration to Mullá H.usayn in Shíráz, the Báb appointed nineteen individuals to be His disciples, known as "Letters of the Living" (see Dawn-Breakers 69, 80, 93), who are here represented by the nineteen faces and nineteen accompanying stars shown in the upper left hand corner (see left diagram above, no. 1)
In the upper left hand corner there is also one figure (B) shown standing on a pulpit (the minbar) with raised hands giving the call to prayer (the adhán). This figure represents Mullá Sádiq, the first to be persecuted for the sake of his faith in Persia. Upon returning to Shíráz after his pilgrimage to Mecca with the Báb, Quddús taught the Faith to Mullá Sádiq. Quddús also gave him a copy of one of the Báb's best known works titled the Seven Qualifications (Khasá'il-i-Sab'ih), a treatise in which the Báb had set forth the essential requirements of the new believers. One of these requirements concerned the changing of the traditional call to prayer, a change involving the introduction of the term "Baqíyyatu'lláh" (Dawn-Breakers 144), a reference to Bahá'u'lláh meaning "Remnant of God" (see Dawn-Breakers 14445, Kitáb-i-Íqán 231). Mullá Sádiq's public implementation of this change brought about his swift arrest. Together with Quddús, both were inflicted with cruel punishments and expelled from Shíráz. Mullá Sádiq, however, probably owning to his more prominent standing in Shíráz, was alone inflicted with an excessive number of lashed-as shown in the upper right hand corner (left diagram, no. 3). The persecution he received foreshadowed the violent reception many of the people of Persia would accord the newly proclaimed Faith.
The four scenes at the bottom follow the two scenes of Mullá Sádiq at the top and illustrate the Bábí conference of Badasht (left diagram above, no. 4), the prophetic raising of the Black Standard (left diagram above, no. 5), the martyrdom of Quddús (left diagram above, no. 6), and the misguided attempt to assassinate the Sháh (left diagram above, no. 7).
The Bábí Conference of Badasht
Organized by Bahá'u'lláh, the conference at the hamlet of Badasht occurred in the summer (June) of 1848 and lasted 22 days. It was attended by 81 persons, the most prominent of which were Bahá'u'lláh, Quddús, and Táhirih. Its primary purpose was to consider how the release of the Báb might be achieved and to resolve questions of Islamic and Bábí law, i.e., the extent to which past laws and traditions should be abrogated. The Bábís tended to fall into two groups, those advocating the greater abrogation of Islamic law and those maintaining the continuance of many Islamic practices and customs. Under the direction of Bahá'u'lláh, these two groups were represented by Táhirih and Quddús. The confrontation came to a head when Táhirih appeared without the traditional Islamic head covering for Muslim women in Persia, and proclaimed the emancipation of women. Quddús threatened her with his sword, while other Bábís responded with shock. This act was regarded as extremely scandalous, especially since Táhirih was regarded as the very incarnation of the spirituality of Fátimih (daughter of Muhammad), a person held in the greatest reverence by Muslims (in some respects like Mary, mother of Jesus, among many Christians). Some covered their faces, while one believer, 'Abdu'l-Kháliq-i-Isfánání, was so shaken that he cut his own throat (shown on the right side). According to Nabíl, the event was staged by Bahá'u'lláh Who used Táhirih and Quddús in this way to effect a reconciliation between the two groups. Later when questioned about Táhirih's actions, the Báb confirmed the break with past customs. It would appear, especially from subsequent events at Níyálá (Dawn- Breakers 298300) that the two groups by themselves represented extreme tendencies, neither of which were wholly in accordance with Bábí teachings. With regard to the outcome of the conference, Nabíl writes, "the obsolete conventions which had fettered the consciences of men were boldly challenged and fearlessly swept away. The way was clear for the proclamation of the laws and precepts that were destined to usher in the new Dispensation" (Dawn-Breakers 298).
The Prophetic Raising of the Black Standard
Mullá H.usayn was planning to lead of number of believers from Mashhad to the holy city of Karbilá when word reached him that Quddús had been arrested. The Báb directed Mullá Husayn to raise the "Black Standard" and set out to assist Quddús who was then confined in the village of Sárí in the home of its leading Muslim doctor of religious law. The act of raising the Black Standard had great significance to Muslims owing to the Muslim tradition that Muhammad, the Prophet of God, had stated: "Should your eyes behold the Black Standards proceeding from Khurásán (the province from where Mullá Husayn began his journey to Karbilá), hasten ye towards them, even though ye should have to crawl over the snow, inasmuch as they proclaim the advent of the promised Mihdí, the Vicegerent of God" (Dawn-Breakers 351, see also 290, 324, 328, 406407). According to Nabíl, "That standard was unfurled at the command of the Báb, in the name of Quddás, and by the hands of Mullá H.usayn. It was carried aloft all the way from the city of Mashhad to the shrine of Shaykh Tabarsí. For eleven months (from July 21, 1848, to AprilMay, 1849) . . . that earthly emblem of an unearthly sovereignty waved continually over the heads of that small and valiant band, summoning the multitude who gazed upon it to renounce the world and to espouse the Cause of God" (Dawn-Breakers 351). On route, the Bábís were, however, attacked and forced to take shelter in a shrine dedicated to Shaykh Tabarsí. From there, Mullá H.usayn sent a message that resulted in the release of Quddús who then joined his fellow Bábís. At the shrine of Shaykh Tabarsí they built fortifications. The government besieged the Bábís for months and following assurances of safety, the Bábís surrendered and were massacred. Although the Bábís never reached Karbilá, the events at Shaykh Tabarsí were a symbolic reenactment of the sacrifices that gave Karbilá its importance many centuries before in Islamic history.
The Martyrdom of Quddús
The conflict at Shaykh Tabarsí claimed the lives of many Bábís including some of its ablest leaders. The greatest of these was Quddús. It was he who recognized the Báb's station without question, who accompanied the Báb on His pilgrimage to Mecca, who suffered with Mullá S.ádiq in Shíráz, who played a central role in events at the conference of Badasht, and who led the Bábís during the siege at Shaykh Tabarsí. According to Nabíl's narrative, Quddús, like Jesus, forgave his oppressors who tortured him before they finally executed him. Quddús saw his suffering and imminent death as a mystical step toward a sacred marriage with the divine (Dawn-Breakers 183, 413). He was only 27 when he was martyred on May 16, 1849, five years after he embraced the message of the Báb in Shíráz. Quddús was in many ways, according to the providence of God and a special outpouring of the holy spirit, leading the Bábí community in the absence of their imprisoned Leader, the Báb (see Dawn-Breakers 261267). In the course of his narrative, Nabíl attributes many prophetic insights to Quddús, including a foreknowledge of his own martyrdom. 'Abdu'l-Bahá also points out the significance of Quddús in his explanation of the Book of Revelation. According to 'Abdu'l-Bahá's interpretation, Quddús, together with the Báb, is one of the two witnesses foretold in the Book of Revelation (Rev., chap. 11. See Some Answered Questions 54).
The Martyrdom of The Báb
The scene occupying the central portion of the upper half of the artwork is a symbolic representation  of the martyrdom of the Báb in Tabríz in 1850, six years after His ministry began. The words, "I am come into this world to bear witness to the glory of sacrifice" are words of Nabíl attributed to the Spirit of the Báb in a larger beautiful eulogy to the Báb (see Dawn-Breakers 140).
The illustration is a conflation of various aspects of the episode as described in Nabíl's narrative. The following is a portion of Nabíl's account:
The martyrdom of the Báb took place at noon on Sunday, July 9, 1850. The remains of His body, along with those of His companion, were recovered by two Bábís, Hájí Sulaymán Khán and Hájí Alláh-Yár, and later taken to Palestine, where they were placed in a Shrine on Mount Carmel.
The attempt to assassinate the Sháh
Although so many Bábís laid down they lives as willing sacrifices for the Cause of God, a few Bábís were so distressed by the execution of the Báb that they conceived a plot to assassinate the Sháh of Persia in 1852. This evil act brought great suffering upon the Bábí community. It led to a massacre of the Bábís, including the death of Táhirih, and gave fuel to the accusation that the religion was politically oriented and subversive. It led to the arrest and imprisonment of Bahá'u'lláh in the infamous dungeon known as the Síyáh-Chál and to His eventual exile from Persia. Whereas all the attacks on the Faith had provided the believers with opportunities to demonstrate through sacrifices the Faith's transforming power, this one misguided deed tended to discredit the community in the eyes of many. This was the darkest moment before the new dawn of Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation.
In addition to the narrative illustrations and symbolism explained above, there are two other features used to signify the Báb in this artwork, the Arabic letter "b" and the predominance of the color green.
At the top of the arch (see Figure above), the Arabic letter "b" is positioned. In the preceding miniature, The Coming of the Day of God, the letters "b" and "e" are joined together to form the word "be"--signifying the creative power of the Word of God. Here the Arabic letter "b" alone is used to signify the Báb, Who embodies this Word of God. According to an Islamic mystical interpretation, the essence of the Revelation of the Qur'án is expressed in the opening verse preceding each of the Surahs or sections of the Qur'án, that is, the words, "In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate," or in Arabic, "bi-smi'lláhi'l-rahmání'l-rahím." The mystical interpretation also holds that the essence of this opening verse (called the "bi-smi'lláh") is contained in the first letter, the "b." This Arabic letter is composed of two elements, a curved horizontal stroke with a dot or point placed underneath (the dot is not an extra diacritical mark, but an actual part of the letter). It is further believed that the essence of the letter "b" is contained in this point or dot under the horizontal stroke-hence the Báb referred to Himself as the "Primal Point" (see Dawn-Breakers 93).
With regard to the color green, it is given prominence here because the Báb wore both a green sash and turban, customary emblems of lineage, signifying that He was a descendent of the Prophet Muhammad. This fact had prophetic significance (see Dawn-Breakers 25, 38, 148, 325).
1. Qá'im means literally, to stand, arise, erect, firm, persevering, as in the quranic verse, "Is then He Who standeth [qá'im] over every soul (and knoweth) all that it doth (like any other)? (Holy Qur'an, 13:33; trans. Yusuf Ali). It refers to the One who was to come at the end of the age, fulfilling prophecy, and ushering in a time of judgement. The prophetic sense of the term can be observed even in the Bible, such as in the Book of Daniel's vision of the end times, "At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people" (Dan. 12:1), and in Psalms, "Arise, O God, judge the earth; for You shall inherit all nations" (Psalm 82:8). The servant of God "stands" before Him as an expression of dedication, allegiance, and servitude and has a station determined by the one before whom he stands (e.g., Elijah; 1 Kings 17:1, 18:15). This is the main messianic term used by Muslims of the Shí'ah sect of Islam to refer to the Promised Deliverer. Traditionally, almost all Muslims believed that when the Day of Judgement came, Jesus and the Prophets would come forth as witnesses before God (Qur'án 39:6869). Muslims of the Shí'ah sect use two main terms to refer to their expected Deliverer, "al-Qá'im" and "al-Mihdí," both of which they use to refer to the legendary twelfth Imám whom they believe will return. Sunní Muslims also await the Mihdí but do not associate Him with the twelfth Imám, some assuming, depending on the traditional sources cited, that He is none other than Muh.ammad or Jesus. In Bahá'í theophanology, all Prophets are one in their divinity (whether "supreme Manifestations" or minor Prophets) and, therefore all such names and titles are applicable to them all. According to Nabíl, the great mystical teacher, Siyyid Kázim, indicated that there would be another Messenger after the Qá'im (or Mihdí) when the Siyyid preached that "after the Qá'ím the Qayyúm will be made manifest" (Dawn-Breakers 41). Qayyúm is here understood as a reference to Bahá'u'lláh. The term means literally, eternal or everlasting, as in the quranic verse, "(All) faces shall be humbled before (Him)-the Living, the Self-Subsisting, Eternal [qayyúm] . . ." (Holy Qur'an, 20:111; trans. Yusuf Ali). This claim conforms to, and is a logical deduction from, quranic eschatology (cf. Rev. 21:3), but the Arabic letters of the word qayyúm also have the numerical equivalent of the letters composing the name "Joseph," (i.e., the biblical Joseph, son of Jacob) a name used in a special prophetic (typological) way by the Báb to indicate what would befall Bahá'u'lláh before His ultimate triumph, hence, the "Everlasting Name," (literally, the title of the Báb's greatest work, the Qayyúmu'l-Asmá') signifies Joseph, that is, Bahá'u'lláh (see Dawn-Breakers 70, see also pp. 31, 59, 61, 120).
2. Technically speaking, there are only seven narrative illustrations in the composition. The illustration of the Letters of the Living is purely symbolic. There is no known time when all nineteen Letters of the Living were gathered together in one place.
3. The significance is not derived from the fact that He gave His life, but rather from the fact that He was the Promised One Who gave His life, i.e., that One so great and innocent as He would give His life in this manner for the salvation of others.
4. See Bahá'u'lláh, Kitáb-i-Íqán, p. 256.
5. The actual outward appearance of the nineteen Letters of the Living is not provided in Nabíl's narrative, apart from a few basic details. Nine were previously Mullás and may therefore have worn turbans in the customary manner of Mullás. One disciple, Táhirih, was a women; one disciple was from India; and it is said that Quddús dressed in an unconventional manner (Dawn-Breakers 145). In 1844, Quddús had a beard, but he may have given this up following an incident in Shíráz where Husayn Khán, the governor, ordered that his beard be burned (Dawn-Breakers 146). The age of some of the disciples is also known. In 1848, both Mullá H.usayn and Quddús would begin wearing green turbans given to them by the Báb (Dawn-Breakers 324, 400). A Persian manuscript, titled Rawz.atu's.-S.afá, mentions that the Bábís at Shaykh Tabarsí wore white (see E.G. Browne's notes to Traveller's Narrative, p. 189), a fact suggested in Nabíl's narrative-but Nabíl does not state when this practice was adopted or the extent of adherence. Nabíl's description of Mullá Mihdí at Shaykh T.abarsí states that he wore a long white shirt after the manner of the Arabs, and a white kerchief around his head (Dawn-Breakers 397). Similarly, Nabíl mentions that Mírzá Qurbán-'Alí wore a white tunic after the manner of the Arabs, cloaked in a coarsely woven 'abá (a cloak: black?), and a the head-dress similar to that worn by the people of 'Iráq. (Dawn-Breakers 450). However, Nabíl states that H.ájí Sulaymán Khán wore a small turban and the white tunic, but he concealed the tunic under a black 'abá (Dawn-Breakers 614). Beyond such vague details, it is worth keeping in mind that Persia was a multi-ethnic country composed of various peoples, tribes, and minorities, including Arabs, Persians, Kurds, Africa free slaves, persons of Russian descent, and so on. The individual appearance of the Letters of the Living could have, therefore, reflected a number of ethnic and social influences.
6. No explanation of the term "Remnant of God," appears in Nabíl's narrative. The term appears repeatedly in the Báb's book, the Qayyúmu'l-Asmá', and there is one passage that suggests a specific quranic context, "This Remembrance is indeed the glorious Remnant of the Light of God, and He will be best for you if ye in very truth remain faithful to God, the Most Exalted" (The Báb, Selections 71). The word "remnant" or "baqíyah" appears in a number of quranic verses (see Qur'án 2:248/249, 11:86, 11:116/118). However, the words "He will be best for you" suggest verse 11:86: "That which is left [baqíyah] you by God is best for you." The outward meaning of this verse is that the best we can have is what God leaves us in accordance with His law and plan, and not what can be gained through any other means. Other verses in the Qur'án add to the rich spiritual significance of this term. In verse 2:248, it refers to the relics or remnants of the Ark of the Covenant (especially the Tablets of Moses containing the Law) and is associated with the Jewish Mystical term, the "Shekhinah" which signifies the glory of God (or presence of God) that resided over the Ark of the Covenant, in verse 11:116 it refers to the balanced judgement of those who are righteous, and in other verses the term "Báqí" (active participle) means to remain or abide (see Qurán 16:96, 20:73, 42:36), as in the abiding presence of God.
7. Throughout Nabíl's narrative the Báb is referred to frequently as the Qá'im (meaning the promised One who arises on the Day of Judgement, see for example, DawnBreakers 14, 41, 589, 66, 112, 166, etc.), and although He is also regarded as the Mihdí, this term is never applied explicitly to the Báb in Nabíl's narrative (possible exception Dawn-Breakers 351, cf. p. 406). It is, however, a special sign of Quddús' great station and the degree to which he reflected the light of the Báb, that the term "Mihdí" is used in connection with Quddús, who fulfills a prophecy concerning the Mihdí (Dawn-Breakers 352).
8. The depiction is symbolic and combines (or conflates) different aspects of Nabíl's account into one image. It is not a technical illustration of the location, costumes, or how flintlock rifles discharge. Viewed from the vantage point shown, little, if anything, would have been visible of the soldiers, as much of the smoke would have formed around, and obscured, the soldiers-the smoke coming, as it would, from the flintlock that is just above the rifles' trigger and not away from the guns.
'Abdu'l-Bahá. Some Answered Questions. Trans. Laura Clifford Barney. Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1987.
--. Traveller's Narrative. Trans. E.G. Browne. New York, N.Y., Bahá'í Publishing Committee, 1930.
Báb, The. Selections from the Writings of the Báb, Comp. by the Research Dept. of the Universal House of Justice. Trans. Habib Taherzadeh and a Committee at the Bahá'í World Centre. Haifa, Israel: Bahá'í World Centre, 1976.
Bahá'u'lláh. Kitáb-i-Íqán (The Book of Certitude). Trans. Shoghi Effendi. 2d ed. Wilmette, IL: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1950.
Bible, New King James Version. New York: Thomas Nelson, 1982.
Nabíl-i-A'z.am (Muhammad-i-Zarandí). The Dawn-Breakers: Nabíl's Narrative of the Early Days of the Bahá'í Revelation. Trans. Shoghi Effendi. Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1974.
Qur'an, Holy. Trans. and comp. A. Yusuf 'Alí. 2d ed. n. c.: American Trust Publications for the Muslim Student's Association, 1977.
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