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.
Born in Shiraz, Iran on 20 October 1819, Siyyid Ali-Muhammad would become known to the world as the Bab (meaning “the Gate” in Arabic). The Bab was the symbolic gate; it was His mission to herald the coming of this promised Manifestation of God whom we know to be Baha’u’llah. In the Baha’i calendar, the Birth of the Bab and the Birth of Baha’u’llah are celebrated one after the other in one festival referred to as the “Twin Holy Days”.
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.
“I Am the Promised One”: A Contemplative Music Video for the Birth of the Bab
Celebrations for the anniversaries of the Births of the Bab and Baha’u’llah are coming up on 26 and 27 October. Many articles have already been posted about these Twin Holy Days (Baha’i Blog has a special collection dedicated to both the Birth of the Bab and the Birth of Baha’u’llah). For the Birth of the Bab, I would like to explore a beautiful song composed by a dear Baha’i friend in Alaska, David Bowen: I am the Promised One. David selected three different passages from the words and Writings of the Bab and wove them together beautifully. We sang his song at the 2019 Australia Baha’i Choral Festival but I thought it would be nice to create a contemplative music video so that friends around Australia and the world can use it in their Feasts, Holy Days, and other community-building activities.
The song begins with multiple repetitions of the words which were spoken by the Bab at a gathering in Tabriz: “I Am, I Am, I Am the Promised One.” 1 In the song, this mighty claim is repeated several times with the top three voices singing together (this is called a homophonic texture) after which all four voices split and sing their own independent parts (this is called counterpoint, or a fugue). I think David Bowen was trying to emulate the feeling of that powerful repeated statement. In the book The Dawn-Breakers, Nabil said that gathering “enabled the Bab to set in the presence of the most illustrious dignitaries assembled in the capital of Adhirbayjan, the distinguishing features of His claim.” Nabil recounts that after the Bab spoke these words at the gathering in Tabriz, “a feeling of awe seized those who were present” 2 and the news of His claim “spread rapidly throughout Persia and stirred again more deeply the feelings of the disciples of the Bab.” 3
This gathering of the most illustrious dignitaries originated in part with a dervish in India who saw the Bab in a vision:
“He gazed at me and won my heart completely. I arose, and had started to follow Him, when He looked at me intently and said: ‘Divest yourself of your gorgeous attire, depart from your native land, and hasten on foot to meet Me in Adhirbayjan. In Chihriq you will attain your heart’s desire.’” 4
This dervish at once travelled to Chihriq, met the Bab and immediately accepted the truth of His Mission. The dervish, name Qahru’llah by the Bab, had such a warm and charming personality that those who met him admired him for his tenacity in his new convictions and honoured the power of his new faith. His enthusiasm seems to have attracted more people to the Bab, which caused consternation to the religious leaders of Iran. Nabil continues:
“The news of the turmoil which that lowly dervish had been able to raise among the Kurdish leaders in Chihriq reached Tabriz and was thence communicated to Ṭihran. No sooner had the news reached the capital than orders were issued to transfer the Bab immediately to Tabriz in the hope of allaying the excitement which His continued residence in that locality had provoked.” 5
Nabil’s narrative continues a few pages later to describe that momentous meeting:
“Upon His arrival, the Bab observed that every seat in that hall was occupied except one which had been reserved for the Vali-‘Ahd. 6 He greeted the assembly and, without the slightest hesitation, proceeded to occupy that vacant seat. The majesty of His gait, the expression of overpowering confidence which sat upon His brow—above all, the spirit of power which shone from His whole being, appeared to have for a moment crushed the soul out of the body of those whom He had greeted. A deep, a mysterious silence, suddenly fell upon them. Not one soul in that distinguished assembly dared breathe a single word. At last the stillness which brooded over them was broken by the Nizamu’l-‘Ulama’ [i.e., the prince’s tutor]. ‘Whom do you claim to be,’ he asked the Bab, ‘and what is the message which you have brought?’ ‘I am,’ thrice exclaimed the Bab, ‘I am, I am, the promised One! I am the One whose name you have for a thousand years invoked, at whose mention you have risen, whose advent you have longed to witness, and the hour of whose Revelation you have prayed God to hasten. Verily I say, it is incumbent upon the peoples of both the East and the West to obey My word and to pledge allegiance to My person.’” 7
I can barely imagine being in that room where a powerful and kingly personage makes the claim of being the Promised One awaited for a thousand years. I love knowing the context of those wondrous words and I hope the reader will keep this story in mind as they listen to the song.
The next words that David selected for his piece are taken from a prayer by the Bab: “I have arrived at Thy gate, seeking Thy shelter,” 8 which is then repeated by an adaption of that sentence with the words “I have arrived at Thy gate, seeking Thy peace.” This is a beautiful passage that must have multiple meanings, especially since the name the Bab means the Gate. So, in effect, the Bab, or the Gate, is praying to God Himself about arriving at God’s Gate.
David Bowen then selected this short sentence from the Writings of the Bab which encapsulates His Mission to announce the coming of “Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest”, a reference to Baha’u’llah:
“Fix your gaze upon Him Whom God shall make manifest in the Day of Resurrection, then firmly believe in that which is sent down by Him.” 9
After that passage, there is a short section with the syllables “Da, da, da…”, which feels to me like an interlude where we are given time to reflect on the majesty of the Bab’s words and His Mission.
If we give a letter to each section, we find that the song is laid out in very powerful way that enhances the text: A-B-A-C-D-B-A where the following sections are:
Section A: I Am, I Am the Promised One…
Section B: I have arrived at Thy gate, seeking Thy shelter…
Section C: Fix your gaze upon Him Whom God shall make manifest…
Section D: Da, da, da…
By ending the song with a repetition of Section A, or “I Am the Promised One”, we are left with a feeling of awe similar to that which was first felt in 1844, 178 years ago.
Footnotes & Citations
The Dawn-Breakers: Nabil’s Narrative of the Early Days of the Baha’i Revelation, p. 315[↩]
Lorraine is a passionate advocate for sacred choral music as well as music education and firmly believes that we can all develop our inner musicianship to our heart’s content. Her favourite activities are conducting choirs, dabbling in writing choral music in English and French, and reading about the science of music. She is trying to write a book about it, but often gets side-tracked into writing shorter articles or making short videos. Born in Montreal, she now lives in Melbourne with her husband, Alan, and together they love doing anything music-related, in addition to dreaming about moving up to Queensland to bask in warmer weather. Lorraine holds a Master’s Degree in Vocal Pedagogy, a Bachelor's Degree (Hons.) in Music and a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications.