The hallmark of prophets divinely appointed prophets and messengers is that they were taught directly in the divine school - they did not have any human teacher who taught them the nuances of knowledge or introduced worldly sciences to them. This is a defining characteristic of true prophets and messengers.

Allah testifies to this facet of divinely appointed representatives in the Holy Quran when He narrates the incidents of Hazrat Isa (as) and the Holy Prophet of Islam (pbuh)

For the Holy Prophet (pbuh), He says,

وَمَا يَنطِقُ عَنِ الْهَوَى إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا وَحْيٌ يُوحَى

"Nor does he speak of his own desire. It is no less than inspiration sent down to him"
(Ref: Holy Quran, chapter of Najm, verses 3-4)

About Hazrat Isa (as), Allah gave glad tidings to Hazrat Maryam through angels,

وَيُكَلِّمُ النَّاسَ فِي الْمَهْدِ وَكَهْلاً وَمِنَ الصَّالِحِينَ

"And he shall speak to people when in the cradle and when of old age, and (he shall be) of the good ones"
(Ref: Holy Quran, chapter of Ale' Imran, verse 46)

This aspect is one amongst many which distinguishes true prophets from imposters. For the benefit of my readers, some of the other differentiating characteristics are the performance of miracles and the knowledge of the unseen (ilmul ghayb). One must pay attention to these characteristics to ensure that the divine leader is truly inspired by the divine and that his thoughts and religion are not fashioned by others.

Abdul Baha too acknowledges this fact. He writes, "It is incumbent on every prophet that he gains knowledge from Allah alone and not from any human being and such is the practice of all prophets like Prophet Ibrahim, Hazrat Mohammed, Hazrat Bab and Bahaullah. All of them did not study in any school because the one who owes his knowledge to human schools cannot be a divine representative."
(Ref: Khutubat-e-Buzurg, page 8)

We agree completely with Abdul Baha. However, in the case of Bab and even Bahaullah, we find that this is not true. Both were educated in their childhood by teachers. Their parents or guardians, as is their wont, sent them to a school so that they may be educated in religion, languages and other branches of knowledge.

For now, we will focus our treatise on the Bab. Several historical references are available which clearly indicate that the Bab attended school as a child. Later on, as a young man entering adulthood, he also attended the lectures of Sayyed Kazim Rashty. Given the overwhelming evidence in this regard, it is indeed surprising to read in Some Answered Questions - the much celebrated book of Abdul Baha statements to the contrary.

Abdul Baha writes in his chapter on the Bab, "It was universally admitted by the Shiites that He had never studied in any school and had not acquired knowledge from any teacher; all the people of Shiraz bear witness to this."
(Ref: Abdul Baha, Some Answered Questions, page 13)

At the outset, the above statement is absolutely untrue. Why would the Shiites admit that Bab had not studied in any school when all the facts available point to the contrary? As opposed to sweeping statement, the Shiites would definitely like to see any references to the above.

We have the Bab himself who acknowledges the contribution of his teacher. He writes, Thus wrote my leader (Sayyidi), my firm support (Mutammadi) and my teacher (Muallimi), al-Hajji Sayyed Kazim Rashty may God extend his specified eternality...
(Ref: Risala fil-Suluk, Bab)

Also, one can refer to the trial of the Bab in Tabriz. I hope to cover this aspect of Babi history in detail. However for now one can focus on the following statement of the Bab, "I studied grammar as a child but have forgotten it."

Indeed, the Bab went to elementary school and learnt grammar from his teacher. However he "forgot" it - which is fine. It happens to all of us. However it never ever happens to a divine representative.

We can now turn our attention to the following reports from leading Bahai historians and leaders - all of which indicate that the Bab was sent to school and that he was exposed to the doctrines of the Shaykhi sect at an early age.

  • Mirza Ali Muhammad was in the ordinary course of things sent to school, but he seems not to have remained there long. His removal thence may have been occasioned by the cruelty of his teacher, at whose hands he seems to have suffered much.
    (Ref: Babism, By Edward G. Browne, page 335. This is the chapter from the book Religious Systems of the World: A Contribution to the Study of Comparative Religion (London: Swann Sonnenschein), pp. 333-53. The book was first published in 1889; this was written for a later edition in 1890 [and published again in 1901)

  • Few concrete facts are known about the childhood of Sayyed Ali Muhammad, the Bab (1819-1850), the founder of the Babi movement and the only son of the Shirazi merchant Sayyed Muhammad Rida (several references exist to the effect that the Bab's father was Mirza Reza and not Sayyed Reza. I hope to tackle this issue in a further article) and Fatima Begum. It is clear though that he began his elementary studies as a boy of about five under the tutelage of a certain Shaykhi teacher variously known as Shaykh Zaynul-Abidin (Abid), Shaykh Muslim, Shaykh Anam, Shaykh Muhammad, and Shaykhuna (d.c.1846-7) in a school situated in the Bazare' Murgh (poultry market) of Shiraz.
    1. Cf. Abbas Amanat, "The Early Years of the Babi Movement: Background and Development" (Ph.D. Thesis, Oxford University, 1981) p. 100f.
    2. See Hasan Balyuzi, The Bab: The Herald of the Day of Days (Oxford: George Ronald, 1973) pp. 32ff, 230 note 4.

  • He (the Bab) proceeded at some time antecedent to the year A.H. 1259 (in which year Sayyed Kazim died) to Karbala, where he resided for some time (two months, according to the Taarikhe' Jadid), occasionally attending the lectures of Haji Sayyed Kazim of Resht
    (Ref: E.G. Browne, Notes in the Traveller's Narrative)

  • One day the circle of those who sat at the feet of Sayyed Kazim was augmented by a fresh arrival. The new comer, who took his seat modestly by the door in the lowest place, was none other than Mirza Ali Muhammad, who, impelled by a pious desire to visit the Holy Shrines, had left his business at Bushire to come to Karbala. During the next few months the face of the young Shirazi became familiar to all the disciples of Sayyed Kazim, and the teacher himself did not fail to notice and appreciate the earnest but modest demeanor of the youthful stranger.
    (Ref: Babism by E G Browne in Religious Systems of the World, pp. 335).

  • The young boy was sent to a local teacher named Shaykh Abid for six or seven years for a private education (there being no public schools in Shiraz at the time). The teacher was a Shaykhi, as were the members of the Bab's family, which suggests that the Bab was exposed to Shaykhi interpretations of Islam from a young age. The Bab very much disliked school, apparently acquired little book learning, and regarded much of the education he received as irrelevant.
    (Ref: Some notes on The Bab, Robert Stockman)

  • Abdul Baha's wife, Munirih Khanum quotes her uncle in her biography stating: We had often heard in the course of his lectures Haji Sayyed Kazim stating the fact that the day of the Manifestation was drawing nigh. He admonished us at all times that we must be searching, and be in a state of quest, because the Promised One was living amongst the people, was associating with them; but unfortunately the people were veiled and lived in a state of negligence.

    When we saw the Bab standing with such humility before the Shrine of Imam Hussein, we often wondered if perhaps, he was not the invisible Promised One, who had come to visit the Shrine of his ancestors.

    During his seclusion in Karbala, he attended now and then the classes of Haji Sayyed Kazim, with a shining and luminous countenance. Whenever he entered the class, Haji Sayyed Kazim would show him the greatest respect and honor.
    (Ref: Munirih Khanum's uncle quoted in Episodes in the Life of Moneereh Khanum, pp. 11-12)

  • While in Karbala the Bab visited Sayyed Kazim-i-Rashti and attended his discourses. But these occasional visits did not and could not make Him a pupil or disciple of Sayyed Kazim. His adversaries have alleged that He sat at the feet of Sayyed Kazim for months on end to learn from him.
    (Ref: H.M. Balyuzi, The Bab - The Herald of the Day of Days, p. 41)

  • Ali Muhammad Bab was born in a family of businessmen and traders. When he was about fifteen years of age he went into business with his uncle. As regards his education, "since he was born in a trader family, his education had been mainly confined to arithmetic necessary for book-keeping, as was the case in India for some time, and as continues to be the case in Iran even now. It is likely that this education also included the learning of the Holy Quran by heart, as was usually the case in most old-fashioned families.
    (Ref: Baha'ullah ki Ta'limat, page 4 and Risalatul Tis'a 'Ashari'a, page 28)

  • Amanat presents arguments for and against the Bab being a student of Sayyed Kazim. On the one hand Mulla Sadiq Muqaddas states that "...Mir Ali Muhammad Shirazi (the Bab) a student of Sayyed Kazim..." and that he (Muqaddas) was introduced to Sayyed Kazim by the Bab. On the other hand, another contemporary, Qatil Karbalai, who later became a Babi, states that the Bab attended Sayyed Kazim's lectures only two or three times. Amanat argues that the Bab was not in Karbala long enough to fully grasp Sayyed Kazim's teachings; in fact, Muqaddas himself states that once in Karbala, he was asked to teach the Bab, and that he was also determined to convert the Bab to Shaykhism. Amanat asserts that the Bab's reference to Sayyed Kazim as "the revered scholar and my intimate teacher" is a symbolic acknowledgement of their spiritual affinity and not a literal fact.
    (Ref: Resurrection and Renewal, Abbas Amanat, page 140-141)

While the above statements of Mr. Balyuzi and Mr. Amanat may appear to support the claim of the Bahais, there is no doubt that the discourses of Sayyed Kazim Rashty fashioned the thought process of the Bab. One need only read the doctrines of the Bab on the spiritual nature of Heaven and Hell to understand the extent to which the Bab was influenced by the lectures.

Also for Mr. Amanat, his opinion of the schooling of the Bab needs to be understood as that only - simply his own opinion. When the Bab unequivocally refers to Sayyed Kazim as "the revered scholar and my intimate teacher", we must accept it as that unless the Bab informs us otherwise. None of us were present when Bab attended the lectures, least of all Mr. Amanat. So his interpretation is his own and not that of the Bab. It is clear that the Bab learnt sufficiently from his teachers to acknowledge their contribution to his learning.

To conclude, the Bab was schooled as many of us are in his childhood. He was also influenced as many of us are by the teachers whose discourses he attended and these fashioned his thoughts. However "many of us" do not claim to be the representatives of God. Bab did - without having the pre-conditions of a divine representative in place. This initial history of the schooling of the Bab negatively affects his claims of being a divinely appointed representative and sets the tone for future articles on this subject.

The Bab - Life and Times

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