Babaism

Bâbism was formed in Persia in 1844 by Mirzâ Ali Muhammad (1819-1850), the Bdb, or "the portal" (to the Deity). Bdb, or Bdbtl, standing for "avatar," is of course the title by which the Cult of Angels refers to the major reincarnations of the Haq, or the Universal Spirit. A native of Shirâz in Persia, Bdb became a follower of Shaykh Ahmad Ahsâ'i, who had settled in Kirmân in southeast Persia from Ahsd. Ahsd (the medieval Lahsâ, the eastern coastal regions of modern Saudi Arabia) was a bastion of the socioreligious movement of Qarmatites, which was strongly influenced by the Cult of Angels, particularly the Mazdakite movement. (From Ahsd also came in the 15th celftury the mystic Muhammad Nurbakhsh, whose connection with the Cult of Angels has already been set forth in the section on Sufi Mystic Orders.)

Shaykh Ahmad, and hence the Cult of Angels, had a profound influence on Mirzâ Ali Muhammad Bâb. In fact, Shaykh Ahmad Ahsâ'i was in Kirmdnshâh in southern Kurdistan, the ancient heartland of the Cult, when he announced the reincarnation of the Spirit in Bâb as his new avatar. This was on the occasion of the death of his own son Ali, when Shâykh Ahmad told his disciples: "Grieve not, 0 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" (Nabil-i A'zam 1932). Bâb was born in the same year, supposedly carrying the soul of the Shaykh's son as well as his name. Bâb was the bearer of the name and soul of the Shi'ite imam and the primary avatar of the Second Epoch, Ali. The later inclusion of Muhammad in his first name also brought Bâb to the exact station of the primary avatar in Alevism, Alimuhammad (see Alevism).

The Bâbis, particularly the Kurdish B5bis, believed in the transmigration of the soul, as do followers of the Cult of Angels. They did not mourn the dead, as they believed the soul of a dead Bfibi, after spending a few days in a transitional stage, enters the body of another B4bi, usually a newborn. The transmigrations were believed to have started long ago, particularly the souls of the religious leaders, which were supposed to have resided in the bodies of the Shi'ite saints and martyrs of earlier times. The Bâbis too were accused of engaging in communal sex, in the "candle blown out" ceremony (see Cult of Angels) and were persecuted in Persia with such severity that by comparison the savage repressions of the Yezidis by the Ottoman Empire seem relatively benign.

The involvement of the ethnic Kurds in Babism was relatively strong. One of the earliest major Bâbi communities was Kurdish, numbering about 5000 and inhabiting the area between Bâsh Qala and Qotur in Hakkâri in north-central Kurdistan on the PersoOttoman border. However, in July 1850, when the Persian Qajar king Nâsir al-Din ordered the execution of the Bâb in Tabriz, it was the Shiqhqi Kurdish and Armenian troops who carried out the order.

Bâbism soon evolved into the universalist Bahâ'ism under the direction of Mirzâ Husayn Ali, Bahâ'u'llâh ("the Glory of God"). For two years before his proclamation of the new religion and his mission in April 1863, Bahâ'u'llâh lived in the Kurdish city of Sulaymânia (less than 30 miles from Barzanja, the legendary birthplace of the Cult of Angels), earning his livelihood by providing Muslim religious services to the local people under the pseudonym Dervish Muhaminad. Many of the coins he gave to people as festival presents are still cherished for their healing power. In one of his books, Iqân, Bahâ'u'lâh paints a vivid and interesting picture of his retreat in the "wilderness" of Kurdistan.

A Kurdish Bahâ'i, Muhammad Zaki al-Kurdi, established the first Kurdish publishing house in 1920 in Cairo. He took over the publication of the first Kurdish newspaperljournal, Kurdistan (published first in Istanbul in 1898 without his involvement) after it moved to Cairo after the start of World War 1. Some of the most important works of Bahâ'i literature, such as J.E. Esslemont's Bahâ'ullih and the New Era have been translated into the dialects of Sorâni (by Husein Jawdat) and Gurani (anonymous).

Bahâ'ism has done much to distance itself from the militancy of Babism. In the form of a new world religion, it has also tried to shed itself of the Shi'ite Islamic and Cult of Angels (particularly, Yarsanist) influence so apparent in Babism. Minorsky preserved and translated in 1920 just one Baha'i polemical tract directed against the Yarsans. Several paramount aspects of the Cult, however, remain apparent in modern Bahâ'ism: 1) universalism, that is the belief that other religions are an extension of a same original idea of faith, and that all are equally respectable; 2) the belief that all prophets and holy figures of other religions are manifestations of the same supreme Deity or Spirit, from Buddha and Zoroaster, to Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad; 3) the belief that the Word and, supposedly the soul, is conveyed to these prophets through an intermediary archangel(s); 4) the practice of a mandatory ritual communal gathering at Mahfels, similar to the ceremony of jam in the Cult, but every 19th day; 5) social and class liberalism, and a high status of women, including their right to serve on high religious councils. The de facto female avatar of the Bâbi cycle of primary incarnations, Tâhira Qurratu'l Ayn, removed her veil in public in 1849 to "signal the equality of women with men as a basic principle of the new Bâbi religion".

With its attention directed to the world level, little Bahâ'i proselytization has been conducted in Kurdistan-a naturally fertile ground for this new religion that carries such fundamental affinities with Kurdish religious and social values and tradition. There are only a few thousand Kurdish Baha'is, spread over southern and central Kurdistan today. Of the number of Babis, if there are any left, even an educated guess is hazardous.

Further Readings and Bibliography: Muhammad Zarandi Nabd-i A'zam, The Dawn-Breaker5, Nabil's Narrative of the Early Days of the Baha'i Revelation, trans. and ed. Shoghi Effendi, (New York, 1932); J.E. Esslemont, Baha'u'llilh and the New Era (Wilmette, Illinois: Bahâ'i Publishing Trust, 1980, reprint of the 1923 original); E.G. Browne, A Traveller's Narrative switten to illustrate the Episode of the Bab, 2 vols. (London, 189 1); E.G. Browne, Materials for the study of the Babi Religion (London, 1918); E.G. Browne, "BAbis of Persia," Journal of Royal Asiatic Society xxi (1898); Abbas Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal: The Makitig of the Babi Movement in Iran, 1844-1850 (Ithaca: Cornefl University Press, 1989); V. Minorsky, "Notes sur la secte des Ahl-i Haqq," Revue du Monde Musulman 40-41 (1920 and 192 1).

 

Sources: The Kurds, A Concise Handbook, By Dr. Mehrdad R. Izady, Dep. of Near Easter Languages and Civilazation Harvard University, USA, 1992