On a spring evening on May 22rd, 1844, Siyyid Ali-Muhammad announced that He was the bearer of a Divine Revelation whose aim was to prepare the world for “Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest,” a Messenger of God known as Baha’u’llah. Baha’is refer to Siyyid Ali-Muhammad by His title, the Bab, which is Arabic for “the Gate,” and that eventful evening is celebrated every year by Baha’is around the world.
The Other Witnesses: Khadijih Bagum and Haji Mubarak at the Declaration of the Bab
When picturing the scene of the Bab’s Declaration, I think of His house in Shiraz, quiet and dark during a spring night in 1844. I think of an upper room where He converses with Mulla Husayn, revealing His spiritual mission as the Promised One and the Prophet-Herald of a new Manifestation of God, Baha’u’llah. My mind does not travel beyond that upper chamber to explore the house’s other rooms.
But let us wander. We will discover that two other inhabitants are awake physically and spiritually that fateful night: the Bab’s wife, Khadijih Bagum, and servant, Haji Mubarak. Let us meet these two.
At 22, Khadijih Bagum (1822–1882) has been married to the Bab for two years, but she has known Him all her life. They grew up as childhood playmates, enjoying camaraderie as neighbors and kin. Like the Bab, Khadijih Bagum traced her ancestry to the Prophet Muhammad. Early on, she sensed the Bab’s spiritual endowments; in a dream she had as an adolescent, she saw Him “in a verdant plain, with flowers in profusion,” praying toward Mecca, wearing an outer coat “on which Quranic verses were embroidered with threads of gold. His face was radiant.” 1 She later recounted, “I could see by His behaviour, His words, His tranquillity, and dignity that He was a great person. But I never imagined that He was the Promised Qa’im.” 2
Like Khadijih Bagum, Haji Mubarak (circa 1815–1855) 3 has been a close associate of the Bab since His childhood. Haji Mubarak was purchased by the Bab’s relatives as a child — domestic slaveholding was common in Persia at the time — and he became a servant in the Bab’s household. 4 He played a special role in the Bab’s upbringing. In a prayer, the Bab refers to Haji Mubarak as “him who raised me on Thy behalf, whose name is Mubarak.” 5 The Bab praises Haji Mubarak for making Him a precious toy, a bow and arrow, during His childhood. When the Bab was older, Haji Mubarak helped Him with business affairs.
Now it is an evening in late May 1844. Khadijih Bagum sees that the Bab’s “whole being [is] ablaze.” He tells her, “Tonight, we will entertain a dear guest.” 6 The night that followed must have reminded her of an earlier one.
That earlier night, upon noticing the Bab’s absence, Khadijih Bagum climbed the stairs and saw “the upper chamber of the House immersed in light.” She realized that this light was not physical but spiritual. Looking into the room, she saw the Bab “standing in the middle of the room with His hands raised heavenward.” Staring at the “dazzling light emanating from His Being,” she became frightened; she wanted to leave but could not move. Perceiving her state, the Bab told her, “Go back.” Hearing these words, she could depart. After returning to her room, she supplicated God, asking, “What is the wisdom in your revealing to me that effulgent Sun? Is He my Siyyid Ali-Muhammad? Will I henceforth be able to live with that luminous Sun? Nay, nay, the rays of this Resplendent Sun will consume me, and will reduce me to ashes. I possess not the power to withstand it.” 7
By morning, she still felt awed by her Husband. As she struggled to have breakfast with Him, she asked, “What was the condition I saw you in?” He responded, “Know thou that the Almighty God is manifested in Me. I am the One whose advent the people of Islam have expected for over a thousand years. God has created Me for a great Cause, and you witnessed the divine revelation. Although I had not wished that you see Me in that state, yet God had so willed that there may not be any place in your heart for doubt and hesitation.” 7
Now, in May 1844, Khadijih Bagum is again poised to witness divine revelation, as is Haji Mubarak.
When the Bab brings Mulla Husayn to His house, Haji Mubarak answers the door. Later, he serves dinner; as Mulla Husayn later recounts, “I could not but marvel at the manners and the devoted attentions of that Ethiopian servant whose very life seemed to have been transformed by the regenerating influence of his Master.” 8 As the conference between the Bab and Mulla Husayn continues, Haji Mubarak stays nearby. According to Abu’l-Qasim Afnan, “It was none other than Mubarak who, throughout that night, the night of the revelation of the Bab’s station, waited, sleepless and vigilant, outside the chamber, ready to serve when called upon.” 9
Khadijih Bagum is likewise sleepless and vigilant, as from another room she listens to the Bab speaking to Mulla Huysan. “I remained awake all night and could hear His blessed voice until the morning, conversing with the Babu’l-Bab, chanting verses, and presenting proofs and arguments,” she later recounted. “What an extraordinary night that was!” 10
Both Khadijih Bagum and Haji Mubarak accept the revelation of the Bab wholeheartedly, which transforms their lives. Several months later, Haji Mubarak accompanies the Bab and Quddus on the Hajj. In later decades, after suffering the loss of her Spouse, Khadijih Bagum becomes a Baha’i and yearns to meet Baha’u’llah.
endnote: I extrapolated these dates based on Abu’l-Qasim Afnan’s statement in Black Pearls: Servants in the Households of the Bab and Baha’u’llah that Haji Mubarak was about 40 years old when he accompanied the Bab’s mother to Iraq (p.18) — around 1854, according to Baharieh Rouhani Ma’ani (p.21) — and he died shortly thereafter.[↩]
Abu’l-Qasim Afnan, Black Pearls: Servants in the Households of the Bab and Baha’u’llah p.3–5[↩]
Layli invites you to read more of her essays on https://layli.net. She lives with her husband, Sergey, in Alabama, where she works at Auburn University. In moments when she’s not writing, she most enjoys taking strolls with Sergey, during which they admire the region's natural beauty, from its year-round verdure to its abundant bugs.