The origins of the Bahá’í Faith go back to a religious movement founded in AD 1844 by a young Iranian merchant, Sayyid `Alí Muhammad Shírází (1819-1850), who took the title of the Báb (the gate). His followers were therefore called Bábís. In 1844, in Shiraz in the south of Iran, the Báb gathered around himself a group of eighteen disciples whom he named the “Letters of the Living.” Among these disciples was one woman who was given the title of Táhirih (the pure one). She was not present in Shiraz but the Báb accepted her as one of the Letters of the Living on account of a message of acceptance that she sent him. The Báb dispersed the Letters of the Living throughout Iran and surrounding countries to spread his message, while he himself set off towards the end of 1844 on the pilgrimage to Mecca.
In Mecca, the Báb announced his message, but was generally ignored. His plans for proceeding from Mecca to Karbala, a holy city in the south of Iraq, also came to nothing owing to the fierce opposition which one of his disciples had encountered there. The Báb returned to Shiraz and was detained and placed under house arrest by the governor of that city.
Despite these early setbacks, the message of the Báb spread throughout Iran. Many thousands of people became his followers including many religious scholars of Islam. The governor of Shiraz, fearing the growth of the movement, decided to arrest the Báb again in 1846. His officials carried out the arrest but the sudden appearance of cholera in the city threw everything into confusion and the Báb was allowed to leave the city. He journeyed to the city of Isfahan in central Iran. The governor of Isfahan was a Georgian Christian who had converted to Islam and risen to his present high position. He asked the leading Shi`i religious official in the city to accommodate the Báb.
Isfahan was then the leading centre of Shi`i Islam in Iran. Here the Báb wrote several of his most important works and discussed these with the religious scholars and students gathered there. His teachings convinced many including the governor of Isfahan. The latter offered to put his personal fortune at the disposal of the Báb and to arrange a personal interview with the Shah.
Reports from Isfahan and all over Iran were arriving at the capital about the new religious movement. They alarmed the Prime Minister, who sent orders to Isfahan for the arrest of the Báb. The governor of Isfahan hid the Báb for a time in one of his palaces, but in February 1847, this governor died. His successor had the Báb sent under guard towards Tehran.
The Prime Minister, whose own position was dependant on the religious influence that he wielded over the Shah, feared that the results of any meeting between the Báb and the Shah would lead to the loss of his own position. He, therefore, halted the progress of the Báb’s escort outside Tehran and diverted them to Maku in the extreme north-west of Iran. Here in a remote corner of the country and imprisoned among a hostile people, the Prime Minister hoped that the Báb would be isolated and his movement would gradually die away. The Prime Minister’s hopes were not, however, fulfilled. The Báb won over his prison warder in Maku and his teachings continued to spread through the towns and villages of Iran.
In 1848, several significant events occurred. Early in this year, the Prime Minister changed the place of imprisonment of the Báb from Maku to Chihriq in the hope of making him more isolated. Also in this year, the Báb issued the Bayán, his principal book of laws and teachings. This book made it clear that he was in fact inaugurating a new religious dispensation that abrogated the dispensation of Islam. This fact was then proclaimed in a conference of his followers held in the summer of that year in a village called Badasht on the road between Tehran and the north-east. At about the same time, the Prime Minister had the Báb brought from his imprisonment to Tabriz, the provincial capital of the north-west. There a mock trial was held before the crown-prince and an assembly of religious notables in the hope that the Báb would be humiliated. The Báb, however, conducted himself with a dignity that won him even more supporters. The trial also gave the Báb an opportunity to announce publicly his claim to be the Mahdi of Islam.
Between 1848 and 1850 there were several episodes in which the religious leaders in various localities around Iran stirred up the people against the Bábís;. When this resulted in civil unrest, the local authorities called upon the Shah’s army to attack the Bábís;s. These episodes culminated in several massacres of Bábís;s in different parts of Iran.
In the middle of the year 1850, the new Shah and his Prime Minister decided that the only way of stopping this religious movement would be to execute the founder. They therefore had the Báb brought to Tabriz again and suspended in a public square in front of a firing squad consisting of a regiment of soldiers. There then occurred what Bahá’ís consider to have been a miracle. All of the shots missed and the Báb seemed to have disappeared. He was eventually found dictating his last words to his secretary. The Báb was then brought back to the square, suspended again, and a new regiment was lined up (the first regiment having refused to carry out a further attempt). This time the shots succeeded and the Báb was killed. His body was rescued by some of his followers. After being hid in various places for fifty years, it was eventually interred in a shrine on the side of Mount Carmel in the city of Haifa. An imposing superstructure was then built over this shrine.
The persecutions of the Bábís continued over the next few years. Eventually in the summer of 1852, a small group of Bábís decided to obtain revenge on the Shah by assassinating him. Their plans were, however, poorly made and the plot was a failure. Although most of Bábís had not been involved in the plot, this event triggered an intense persecution that resulted in the execution of almost all of the remaining leading Bábís. Among those executed was Táhirih, the female member of the Letters of the Living.
Extracted from: A Short Introduction to the Bahá’í Faith.