Baha’is believe in the power of prayer and you’ll find Baha’is and their friends, throughout the world, getting together to pray. This is often referred to as a ‘devotional gathering’ or ‘devotional meeting’, and they happen in diverse settings, whether in cities or villages.
On July 9th 1850, the Bab, the forerunner to Baha’u’llah, was executed in Tabriz, Persia by a firing squad of 750 men. The Bab, which means “the Gate” in Arabic, was a Messenger of God whose role was to herald the coming of the latest Manifestation of God: Baha’u’llah. In 1909, after being hidden away for more than half a century, the Bab’s remains were finally interred on Mount Carmel, Israel.
The significance of the Bab’s station and of His martyrdom is beyond what my mind can grasp. Shoghi Effendi tells us that this event can “be rightly acclaimed as unparalleled in the annals of the lives of all the Founders of the world’s existing religious systems.” 1
In an attempt to study and meditate on the station of the Bab and the historical meaning of His execution, I found myself thinking of Anis Zunuzi, the youth who shared the crown of Martyrdom with the Bab on July 9th, 1850. 2 Reflecting on Anis’ life and his deeds, as someone intoxicated with love for the Bab, may help me understand and better commemorate the Bab’s life.
Anis’ story is recounted in several places. For example, you can read about it in Shoghi Effendi’s translation of Nabil’s The Dawn-Breakers, Hasan Balyuzi’s The Bab, and William Sears’ Release the Sun – an excellent book, particularly for youth or younger readers. The retelling of Anis’ story is included in Midsummer Noon: A Narrative of the Life of the Bab, a dramatic audio recording produced by Jack Lenz (and available for purchase or download from 9StarMedia) which never fails to bring tears to my eyes. The details of his story are few, but here are some key points worth reflecting on.
Anis was a youth whose full name was Muhammad-Aliy-i-Zunuzi. He heard of the Bab’s message in Tabriz and was filled with the desire to meet Him. But Anis’ stepfather was a notable. Embarrassed and ashamed by Anis’ behaviour, he locked Anis in their house and would not let him leave. This anguished Anis’ heart, as was noted by a fellow-Babi who visited him. On one visit, however, Anis beamed with happiness and offered these words of explanation:
[…] one day, as I lay confined in my cell, I turned my heart to Him and besought Him in these words: ‘Thou beholdest, O my Best-Beloved, my captivity and helplessness, and knowest how eagerly I yearn to look upon Thy face. Dispel the gloom that oppresses my heart, with the light of Thy countenance.’ What tears of agonizing pain I shed that hour! I was so overcome with emotion that I seemed to have lost consciousness. Suddenly I heard the voice of the Bab, and, lo! He was calling me. He bade me arise. I beheld the majesty of His countenance as He appeared before me. He smiled and He looked into my eyes. I rushed forward and flung myself at His feet. ‘Rejoice,’ He said; ‘the hour is approaching when, in this very city, I shall be suspended before the eyes of the multitude and shall fall a victim to the fire of the enemy. I choose no one except you to share with Me the cup of martyrdom. Rest assured that this promise which I give you shall be fulfilled.’ 3
From that point onward, Anis was joyful and serene. His stepfather released him from confinement. The Dawn-Breakers attests that his behaviour towards his family and kinsmen was such that “on the day he laid down his life for his Beloved, the people of Tabriz all wept and bewailed him.” 4
Two years after recounting his vision of the Bab, Anis, haggard, barefoot, disheveled, and unafraid of the consequences, pushed his way through the fierce crowd around the Bab and threw himself at His feet. He was seized, along with a few others who followed his example, and imprisoned with the Bab in Tabriz’s barracks. Siyyid Husayn, the Bab’s amanuensis, recounted this experience that further demonstrates Anis’ love and devotion to the Bab:
‘Tomorrow,’ [the Bab] said to us, ‘will be the day of My martyrdom. Would that one of you might now arise and, with his own hands, end My life. I prefer to be slain by the hand of a friend rather than by that of the enemy.’ Tears rained from our eyes as we heard Him express that wish. We shrank, however, at the thought of taking away with our own hands so precious a life. [Anis] suddenly sprang to his feet and announced himself ready to obey whatever the Bab might desire. ‘This same youth who has risen to comply with My wish,’ the Bab declared, as soon as we had intervened and forced him to abandon the thought, ‘will together with Me, suffer martyrdom. Him will I choose to share with Me its crown.’ 5
I grew up hearing these details but there is one detail of this story that I did not know until now: Anis’ stepfather attempted to save his life by encouraging him to recant his faith. While I knew that Anis was a youth, I did not realize he was a father. His young child, a little boy, was brought to him in the hopes it would convince him to change his mind. But Anis remained unshaken, and placed his trust in God that the child would be cared for and protected. 6 Now that I am a parent myself, this detail pierces by heart and gives me a glimpse of Anis’ steadfastness and how great his love for the Bab was.
At one point while on pilgrimage and offering prayers at the Shrine of the Bab, I realized that Anis must be buried there too. The historical accounts tell us how, under the rain of bullets, the flesh of the Bab and His disciple were united, and ultimately hidden in a casket until they were befittingly buried on Mount Carmel by Abdu’l-Baha. The beauty and majesty of the Shrine of the Bab are also allusions to the greatness of His station but the fact Anis is also buried there, without tombstone or engraving except the story of his unwavering love, is a testament of the greatness of His beloved.
In her innermost heart, Sonjel is a stay-at-home parent and a bookworm with a maxed out library card but professionally she is a museologist with a background in English Literature. She currently lives on Prince Edward Island, an isle in the shape of a smile on the eastern Canadian coast. Sonjel is a writer who loves to listen to jazz when she's driving at night.