July 9th is a Bahá'í Holy Day, commemorated at noon as the anniversary of the martyrdom of The Báb. Siyyid 'Alí-Muhammad, a merchant of Shíráz, declared himself to be The Báb, meaning Gate of God, the Promised One of Islam, on May 23, 1844.
This claim caused an uproar in a time and place where religious argument was the primary entertainment wherever men gathered in Persia, (now Iran). The Báb's teachings caused a sensation because He challenged cherished Islamic traditions, not to mention the clergy’s tight-fisted rule of law. Everybody had an opinion and was willing to take up sides and fight about it.
Remember the hoohah in the United States over the O.J. Simpson trial? Multiply that by a 100! It got so bad that daily business was interrupted, so the Shí’ih clergy investigated. They found that not only were large numbers of people attracted to The Báb and His teachings, but many of the distinguished clerics sent to interview Him were converting, as well. Clergy in the court of the Shah determined to use whatever measures were necessary to stamp out this heresy.
The Báb was arrested, interviewed by high Islamic courts and imprisoned when He refused to change his ways. Far from being warned off or frightened by interrogation, The Báb only became stronger and more outspoken in His claims. Being moved several times to more and more isolated prisons did not lesson the spread of His Religion, nor did the torture and execution of more than 20,000 of His followers.
So, it was decided to hold a public execution, to stop this new religion once and for all. The Báb was brought to Tabríz, then a western capitol of Persia, and paraded through the streets to announce the planned event, and also encourage and allow the populace to heap abuse upon Him. It was quite a spectacle, according to reports in both Eastern and Western media.
The Báb, Himself, remained calm and cheerful, having told His secretary a few days before that He was looking forward to the bounty of martyrdom. One of his converts had literally thrown himself at his Master’s feet in the streets of Tabríz and begged not to be parted from Him, so the guards obligingly arrested him, too.
Early in the morning of July 9th, The Báb was engaged in a confidential conversation with His secretary when the prison official in charge of the execution interrupted. The Báb rebuked him, saying, "Not until I have said to him all those things that I wish to say, can any earthly power silence Me. Though all the world be armed against Me, yet shall they be powerless to deter Me from fulfilling, to the last word, My intention."
The Báb was turned over to the colonel in charge of the firing squad, who was worried about calling down the wrath of God by executing a man whose behavior and teachings did not seem to merit the treatment He was receiving. According to records he said to The Báb, “I profess the Christian Faith, and entertain no ill will against you. If your Cause be the Cause of Truth, enable me to free myself from the obligation to shed your blood." "Follow your instructions," the Báb replied, "and if your intention be sincere, the Almighty is surely able to relieve you from your perplexity."
Meanwhile, 10,000 people had lined the rooftops overlooking the barracks square. Some expected to see if this fellow would fly up into the clouds, unharmed; others hoped to see the devil destroyed. It was the event of the season!
In order for the firing squad, an Armenian regiment of 750, to see their target, a nail was driven into the barracks wall and two ropes attached to it, from which the Báb and the young follower who had begged to stay with him were hung. Since this convert had also fervently begged to be hung so that his body shielded his Master’s, he was eventually suspended so that his head rested on the breast of the Báb. As soon as they were fastened, the soldiers ranged themselves in three files of 250. Each file was ordered to open fire in turn until the whole detachment had discharged its bullets. Now, the guns used were muzzle loading rifles, notoriously inaccurate and difficult to reload quickly, which is why they were usually fired this way, in a huge barrage, so that at least some bullets would find targets. Not surprisingly, the smoke from firing seven hundred and fifty rifles in an enclosed space obscured everything for a while.
When the smoke cleared, The Báb was gone and the young man who had been suspended in front of Him remained, alive and unhurt. The ropes had been cut to pieces by the bullets, but somehow their bodies remained untouched. Even their clothes were unmarked, despite the smoke.
There was pandemonium! Eventually, a frantic search found The Báb seated in the cell which He had occupied the night before, calmly completing His interrupted talk with His secretary. "I have finished My conversation with Siyyid Husayn," The Báb told the official who had come for him. "Now you may proceed to fulfill your intention."
That man was so shaken that he refused carry out his orders, left the scene and resigned his post. The colonel of the firing squad was equally stunned, ordered his men to leave the barracks immediately, and swore never to come back even if it meant his life.
A colonel of the barracks body-guard volunteered to carry out the order for execution and the process of suspending The Báb and his follower was completed again. The order was given to fire and this time their bodies were shattered and blended into one mass of mingled flesh and bone. The moment the shots were fired, a severe dust storm swept the city into darkness. Tabríz remained enveloped in that darkness from noon till night.