The Bab was born in Shiraz, Persia (Iran) on October 20, 1819. He was born into a middle class family of merchants and tradesmen who were known for their fairness and piety.
There are very few details known about the circumstances surrounding the birth of the Bab.
The Early Years of the Bab’s life
The Bab was born Sayyid Ali Muhammad and would during His lifetime make the Hajj, or pilgrimage, to the Holy City of Mecca, making Him a hajji. The “sayyid” in front of His name denotes that He was a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. He always wore a green turban to show that He was a sayyid. (Nowadays, “sayyids” wear a black turban.)
The Bab was not His birth name but rather His title that He gave to Himself in accordance with religious prophecy. The word “Bab” literally means “Gate” in Arabic.
The Bab’s father passed away when He was a toddler, so His maternal uncle took Him in and raised Him. This uncle was a very skilled merchant in Shiraz and so the Bab grew up being a merchant as well.
The Bab and Prophet Muhammad
The Bab’s life is almost identical to that of Prophet Muhammad’s: both of them were merchants or tradesmen and both were orphaned as toddlers, leading them to be raised by their uncles. The Prophet Muhammad was raised by His uncle Abu Talib (father of Imam Ali) and the Bab was raised by His maternal uncle, Haji Mirza Sayyid Muhammad.
Both the Prophet Muhammad and the Bab were known as very equitable merchants who always adhered to fair weights and fair measures. Both were also especially known for their rectitude of conduct, their charismatic personality, their piety and their good deeds.
A New Dispensation
The Bab took this title of “the gate” to signify Him being the herald of the Baha’i Faith and the symbolic gate to a new religious cycle.
The Babi Faith was founded by the Bab on May 23, 1844, approximately two hours after sunset at His home in Shiraz. On that night He declared to Mulla Husayn (His first believer) that He was the Promised One of Islam: The Mahdi, The Qa’im or the 12th Imam. That night He gave Mulla Husayn the title of “Bab’ul Bab” or “gate of the Gate” because he was the very first person to believe in the Bab.
The Bab was only 25 when He declared His station to Mulla Husayn, who was actually older than the Bab by six years. There would be many thousands more who would come to believe in the Bab.
The first eighteen who believed in Him were given the special title of “Huruf-e Hayy” or “Letters of the Living.” Each of these eighteen Letters of the Living found out about the Bab’s message independently and accepted it by his or her own free will. Just like the Twelve Apostles of His Holiness Jesus Christ and the “Ansar” or “helpers” of Prophet Muhammad, these Letters of the Living were pious people with open hearts, which enabled them to be receptive to—and ultimately accept—their Lord’s newest message to humanity.
Want to know more?
For some excellent accounts of the life of the Bab, read: The Bab by Hasan Balyuzi, The Dawnbreakers by Nabil-i-Azam and A Traveller’s Narrative by Abdu’l-Baha. There are also some brief accounts of the Bab by European travelers and writers, mainly: A.L.M. Nicolas and Lord Curzon.
You can also read a brief account of the life and martyrdom of the Bab in an article I wrote for Baha’i Blog earlier this year, reflecting on the similarities between the martyrdom of Jesus Christ and the martyrdom of the Bab. And don’t forget to check out Baha’i Blog’s trivia quiz on the life of the Bab!