This is the first of three articles dedicated to a very unique window into the past which opens with the key Bábí historical figures namely Shaykh Ahmad, Siyyid Kazim, Mullá Husayn, and Quddus. This post focuses on a brief overview of Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim, the two luminaries who had great knowledge about Islam and devoted their lives to the advent of the Qá’im (He Who Arises) and the Mahdi (Rightly Guided One). Their role in announcing the advent of the Bab is similar to John the Baptist in announcing Jesus Christ. The Bab appeared in the historical context of Islam, the same as Jesus did in the context of Judaism.
The prophet founder of Islam, Muhammad, was succeeded by eleven Imams spanning 260 years. The first in succession was Imam Ali, His son-in-law. According to the Shiites, the 12th Imam went into hiding, and will reappear as the Mahdi expected by Sunni Islam, or the Qá’im expected by the Shiites, on the the Day of Resurrection. Shoghi Effendi confirmed in God Passes By (First edition: Page 57 and 58) that The Báb is the expected Mahdi and Qá’im.
In 1783 Shaykh Ahmad-i-Ahsá’í (1743-1826), hereafter referred to as ‘Shaykh Ahmad’ 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 Qá’im, the Promised One of Islám. This was at the darkest period in the history of Iran, a morally corrupt country ruled by greedy rulers. 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 Kázim-i-Rashtí (1793-1843), hereafter referred to as ‘Siyyid Kazim’, who became Shaykh Ahmad’s favoured pupil and eventual successor. Both were very active in teaching in the holy cities of Karbila and Najaf. They taught three revolutionary doctrines which corrected the common understanding of Muslims:
1. Resurrection is not of physical form but is of a spiritual nature
2. The Promised One or the Qá’im will appear after 1000 years have elapsed since the disappearance of the 12th Imam.
3. The continuity of the appearance of Messengers of God, also known as the Progressive Revelation of God.
Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim stated that the statement in the Quran that Muhammad was the ‘Seal of the Prophets’ means that there will be no more Prophets coming to prophesize. However this does not mean that He was the ‘Seal of the Messengers’, as God will continuously send His Messengers with His guidance to mankind. They promoted their teachings about the meaning of the Qu’ran to their followers to prepare for the coming of The Báb. Their doctrines were the true meanings of Islam’s holy words.
In 1819 Shaykh Ahmad grieved the loss of his son Ali. He comforted his mourning disciples with these words: “Grieve not, O my friends, for I have offered up my son, my own Ali, as a sacrifice for the Ali whose advent we all await. To this end have I reared and prepared him.” In that same year The Báb was born in the city of Shiraz; his name was Ali-Muhammad. His parents were both descendants of the Prophet Muhammad (Dawn Breakers, 1970 edition: Chapter 1, Page 14). During his last days Shaykh Ahmad appointed Siyyid Kazim as his successor to continue preparing hearts for the coming of the Qá’im. He passed away in 1826 at the age of eighty-one, and was laid to rest in the cemetery of Baqi’, the close vicinity of the resting place of Muhammad in the holy city of Medina. At that time, The Báb, was only 7 years old.
“Siyyid Kazim, the successor of Shakyh Ahmad had already, from his early boyhood, shown signs of remarkable intellectual power and spiritual insight. His piety, the gentleness of his character, and his humility were such that all who knew him, whether young or old, were profoundly impressed.” (Dawn Breakers, 1970 edition: Chapter 1, Page 10). Just like Shaykh Ahmad, he dedicated his life to expounding of the doctrines and convinced the hearts of the followers to the near advent of the Promised One.
Shaykh Hasan-i-Zunuzi, a follower of Siyyid Kazim relates the following event when the latter prepared for his first meeting with The Báb: “We went to the house of Siyyid Kazim, where we found him fully dressed, wearing his aba, and ready to leave his home. He asked me to accompany him. `A highly esteemed and distinguished Person,’ he said, `has arrived. I feel it incumbent upon us both to visit Him.’ The morning light had just broken when I found myself walking with him through the streets of Karbila. We soon reached a house, at the door of which stood a Youth, as if expectant to receive us. He wore a green turban, and His countenance revealed an expression of humility and kindliness, which I can never describe. He quietly approached us, extended His arms towards Siyyid Kazim, and lovingly embraced him. His affability and loving-kindness singularly contrasted with the sense of profound reverence that characterised the attitude of Siyyid Kazim towards him. Speechless and with bowed head, he received the many expressions of affection and esteem with which that Youth greeted him. We were soon led by Him to the upper floor of that house, and entered a chamber bedecked with flowers and redolent of the loveliest perfume. He bade us be seated. We knew not, however, what seats we actually occupied, so overpowering was the sense of delight, which seized us. We observed a silver cup which had been placed in the centre of the room, which our youthful Host, soon after we were seated, filled to overflowing, and handed to Siyyid Kazim, saying: `A drink of a pure beverage shall their Lord give them.’ Siyyid Kazim held the cup with both hands and quaffed it. A feeling of reverent joy filled his being, a feeling which he could not suppress. I too was presented with a cupful of that beverage, though no words were addressed to me. All that was spoken at that memorable gathering was the above-mentioned verse of the Qur’an. Soon after, the Host arose from His seat and, accompanying us to the threshold of the house, bade us farewell. I was mute with wonder, and knew not how to express the cordiality of His welcome, the dignity of His bearing, the charm of that face, and the delicious fragrance of that beverage. How great was my amazement when I saw my teacher quaff without the least hesitation that holy draught from a silver cup, the use of which, according to the precepts of Islam, is forbidden to the faithful. I could not explain the motive which could have induced the Siyyid to manifest such profound reverence in the presence of that Youth–a reverence which even the sight of the shrine of the Siyyidu’sh-Shuhada’ had failed to excite”. That Youth was none other than The Báb Himself. (Dawn Breakers, 1970 edition: Chapter 2, Page 27)
On 31 December 1843, Siyyid Kazim bade farewell to this world, leaving behind him a group of sincere and fervent disciples who, abandoned of all worldly desire, set out in their mission to find their promised Beloved. His sacred remains were interred within the precincts of the shrine of the Imam Husayn. Amongst his fervent followers was Mulla Husayn, of whom we will give a brief account of his life in the next post.