Baha’is view the Bab as a Messenger of God, who had a role that can be likened to John the Baptist (who told of the coming of Christ) in heralding the coming of the latest Manifestation of God: Baha’u’llah.
The events surrounding the declaration of the Bab have been told in many ways, but perhaps the most widely read is the account in The Dawn-Breakers: Nabil’s Narrative of the Early Days of the Baha’i Revelation. This book was written by Nabil, and chronicles the early days of the revelation of the Bab and Baha’u’llah.
The story begins in 1783, when a learned man named Shaykh Ahmad-i-Ahsa’i (1743-1826) began, at the age of 40, to travel through Persia teaching that the advent of a great day was drawing near, the day that would see the advent of the Qa’im, the Promised One of Islam. During this time, there was great discontent in the East as certain prominent clerics practiced disunity and behaved in a way that was damaging Islam. As he spread this message, his knowledge and wisdom impressed many, who were eager to learn from him. Among these was a gifted young man named Siyyid Kazim-i-Rashti (1793-1843), who became Shaykh Ahmad’s favoured pupil and eventual successor.
After his teacher’s death in 1826, Siyyid Kazim continued to spread the word of the advent of the Promised One, but opposition to the message was rising. In an effort to enlist the voices of some well-respected authorities, he therefore sent one of his pupils, Mulla Husayn, to relate these teachings to the authorities and answer their questions. In this task, Mulla Husayn was successful. Yet opposition to his message grew and caused him considerable hardship as his enemies used every means at their disposal to discredit him and if possible put his life in jeopardy. Throughout this time, however, he continued to steadfastly announce the coming revelation, although when pressed to reveal the identity of the Promised One, he always refused, often adding that even if he did reveal this secret, none would be able to accept it. Shortly before his death in 1843, he instructed his students to go out and search for the Promised One, saying He was about to be revealed.
It was this quest that led Mulla Husayn, his brother, and a nephew to the city of Shiraz on May 22, 1844. Having traveled far in his search, Mulla Husayn sent his companions to the mosque to await him while he wandered awhile, promising to rejoin them for evening prayers. While walking outside the gates of the city a few hours before sunset, he was unexpectedly greeted by a young man. Mulla Husayn thought this man must be a disciple of Siyyid Kazim who had heard of his arrival in Shiraz and had come to welcome him. Even so, the manner of the greeting was astonishing. He described the expressions of affection and loving kindness as well as the gentle and compelling manner in which the young man (the Bab) spoke to him.
He accompanied the young man to his house, where tea was served and preparations begun for the evening prayer. Mulla Husayn then relates the astonishing occurrences that followed.
Overwhelmed with His acts of extreme kindness, I arose to depart. “The time for evening prayer is approaching,” I ventured to observe. “I have promised my friends to join them at that hour in the [mosque].” With extreme courtesy and calm He replied: “You must surely have made the hour of your return conditional upon the will and pleasure of God. It seems that His will has decreed otherwise. You need have no fear of having broken your pledge.” His dignity and self-assurance silenced me. I renewed my ablutions and prepared for prayer. He, too, stood beside me and prayed… It was about an hour after sunset when my youthful Host began to converse with me. “Whom, after Siyyid Kazim,” He asked me, “do you regard as his successor and your leader?” “At the hour of his death,” I replied, “our departed teacher insistently exhorted us to forsake our homes, to scatter far and wide, in quest of the promised Beloved. I have, accordingly, journeyed to Persia, have arisen to accomplish his will, and am still engaged in my quest.” “Has your teacher,” He further enquired, “given you any detailed indications as to the distinguishing features of the Qa’im?” “Yes,” I replied, “He is of a pure lineage, is of illustrious descent, and of the seed of Fatimih. As to His age, He is more than twenty and less than thirty. He is endowed with innate knowledge. He is of medium height, abstains from smoking, and is free from bodily deficiency.” He paused for a while and then with vibrant voice declared: “Behold, all these signs are manifest in Me!” (The Dawn-Breakers, p. 55-77)
The young man, whose name was Siyyid Ali Muhammad, proceeded to demonstrate that each of the signs given by Siyyid Kazim were indeed applicable to Him. Yet Mulla Husayn was unsure. He had prepared two tests for anyone claiming to be the Promised One, and decided to place them before Siyyid Ali Muhammad in order to prove the matter one way or the other. Those tests were as follows:
The first test was to produce an in depth treatise (detailed commentary) regarding concealed teachings of Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim. The second was to unravel the mysteries of the Súrih of Joseph (Yusuf) .This was a chapter of the Quran. (However he only uttered the first test to the Bab)
Mulla Husayn recounted the following:
I had previously requested Siyyid Kazim, in private, to write a commentary on that same Surih, which he refused, saying: “This is, verily, beyond me. He, that great One, who comes after me will, unasked, reveal it for you. That commentary will constitute one of the weightiest testimonies of His truth, and one of the clearest evidences of the loftiness of His position.” (The Dawn-Breakers, p. 59)
So Mulla Husayn asked his Host to comment on the treatise he had written. The result of that request only further astonished him:
He graciously complied with my wish. He opened the book, glanced at certain passages, closed it, and began to address me. Within a few minutes He had, with characteristic vigour and charm, unravelled all its mysteries and resolved all its problems. Having to my entire satisfaction accomplished, within so short a time, the task I had expected Him to perform, He further expounded to me certain truths which could be found neither in the reported sayings of the Imams of the Faith nor in the writings of Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim. These truths, which I had never heard before, seemed to be endowed with refreshing vividness and power… He then proceeded to say: “Now is the time to reveal the commentary on the Surih of Joseph.” He took up His pen and with incredible rapidity revealed the entire Surih of Mulk, the first chapter of His commentary on the Surih of Joseph. (The Dawn-Breakers, p. 59)
Mulla Husayn described that the Bab did not pause once until the entire Surih of Mulk was completed. Finally when he begged leave to depart he recounted the following:
“This night,” He (the Bab) declared, “this very hour will, in the days to come, be celebrated as one of the greatest and most significant of all festivals. Render thanks to God for having graciously assisted you to attain your heart’s desire, and for having quaffed from the sealed wine of His utterance.” (The Dawn-Breakers, p.62)
From that day forward, Siyyid Ali Muhammad referred to Himself as the Bab (the Gate) and Mulla Husayn became His first disciple. Although the Bab was indeed the Promised One foretold by Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim, He taught that He was but the Herald of another Messenger (Baha’u’llah) who would appear very soon after Him, and the power of whose revelation would far exceed any previously sent down by God. The day the Bab declared His mission is now, as He had promised, celebrated by Baha’is around the world as “one of the greatest and most significant of all festivals.”