In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Babi Movement

  • Introduction
  • Babi History
  • Writings of Early Babis
  • Anti-Babi Polemics
  • Babi Doctrine

Islamic Studies The Babi Movement
Farshid Kazemi, Armin Eschraghi
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0227


The Babi movement, or Babism (Babiyya) was a post-Islamic religion that emerged from the matrix of Shaykhism in 19th-century Iran and derives its name from the Iranian prophet, Sayyid ʿAli Muhammad Shirazi (b. 1819–d. 1850), the Bab (Arabic: Gate). The movement began amidst a milieu of profound messianic expectation for the Hidden Imam (Qaʾim), whom the Twelver-Imami-Shiʿa believe had miraculously gone into occultation (ghayba) in the year 260/870, and who would return at the end of time (akhir al-zaman) to redress the wrongs suffered by the Shiʿa faithful and to fill the world with justice. Some of the Bab’s doctrines had resonances with the so-called Shiʿa heterodoxies of the past (batinis, ghulat, Isma’ilis, Nusayris, etc.). However, the Bab went radically beyond them by not only abrogating Islamic law (Sharia) but actually replacing it with a new religious and ritual law code. The Bab’s messianic claims seems to have gone through several stages during his short-lived life and ministry, such as the bab to the Hidden Imam, the Imam himself, and finally the Manifestation of the Godhead (mazhar). Through an allusive and esoteric style, the Bab early on in his first scriptural texts deployed the well-known technique of arcanization (taqiyya) to veil his messianic self-conception, a fact that the head of the Kirmani Shaykhis Karim Khan gleaned from the text and which led him to brand the Bab a heretic in several scathing polemical tracts. The writings of the Bab, often collectively called Bayan (exposition) (his two law books in Arabic and Persian are also called Bayan specifically), were couched in enigmatic and arcane locutions as they were phrased in the mystical and esoteric lexicon of its Shiʿi-Shaykhi milieu, but with the distinctiveness of a new authorial voice claiming divine revelation (wahy). The Bab often deliberately created out of his oeuvre a kind of messianic cryptogram to be properly decoded by the Babi messianic figure, namely, “Him whom God shall make manifest”’ (man yuzhiruhuʾllah), whom the Baha’is consider to be Mirza Husayn-ʿAli Nuri (b. 1817–d. 1892), better known as Baha’u’llah. This claim was rejected by his half-brother and head of the Babi community Yaha Azal (b. 1831–d. 1912), resulting in a split, with the majority of the Babis siding with Baha’u’llah whilst a minority sided with Yahya Azal. The former group metamorphosed into the Baha’i faith and the latter into Azalis or Bayanis. The Bab’s claim to be the bearer of a new divine message had both religious and sociopolitical implications and was deemed heretical by the Shiʿa clerical establishment. The movement destabilized the status quo and created mass upheavel in Qajar society. Several regions of the country witnessed massacres and violent suppression of the new faith. The Bab was subsequently tried for heresy before a court of clerics and executed by the Qajar state in 1850.

Babi History

The standard academic history of Babism is the foundational work Amanat 1989. Browne 1890–1901 is a condensed history of the Bab’s life and his religious movement. MacEoin 2009 is a historical critical academic volume on the Bab and the various stages of Babi history and doctrine. Hamadani 1893 is an early and important primary source on the early history of the Babi movement. Alkan 2008 provides one of the only studies that cover the history of the Babis in the Ottoman regions. Mohammad-Hosseini 1995 is a Baha’i hagiographical historiography in Persian and Afnan 2000 is an important volume of primary sources on the life of the Bab. Al-Hasani 1957 is an Arabic history of the Babis and Baha’is from an Iraqi academic. Kashani 1910 also represents an important early primary source on Babi history with a textual history that has been checkered with controversy.

  • Afnan, Abu’l-Qasim. ‘Ahd-i A’la: Zindigani-yi Hazrat-i Bab. Oxford: One World Publications, 2000.

    The volume is written by a descendent of the Bab’s family, and chronicles the life of the Bab, and draws from the author’s own private manuscript library. It is written from a Baha’i perspective.

  • al-Hasani, ‘Abd al-Razzaq. Al-Babiyun wa-ʼal-Bahaʼiyun fī hadirihim wa-madihim: Dirasah daqiqah fi ʼal-kashfiyah wa-ʼal-shaykhiyah wa-fi kayfiyat zuhur ʼal-Babiyah fa-ʼal-Bahaʼiyah. Ṣaydā, Lebanon: Maṭbaʻat ʼal-ʻIrfān, 1957.

    An early Iraqi scholar, al-Hasani provides a largely neutral treatment of the history of the Babis and Baha’is.

  • Alkan, Necati. Dissent and Heterodoxy in the Late Ottoman Empire: Reformers, Babis and Baha’is. Istanbul: ISIS, 2008.

    One of the few scholarly works that explore the history of the Babis in the Ottoman Empire.

  • Amanat, Abbas. Resurrection and Renewal: The Making of the Babi Movement in Iran, 1844–1850. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989.

    The standard academic history of the life of the Bab and the development of his movement into a religion.

  • Browne, E. G. “Babism.” In Religious Systems of the World: A Contribution to the Study of Comparative Religion. By E. G. Browne, 333–353. London: Swann Sonnenschein, 1890–1901.

    Browne is one of the earliest western scholars to have studied the Babi movement. His work has left an indelible mark on subsequent scholarship on Babism. This article demonstrates Browne’s intimate understanding of the history of the Babi movement, couched in an engaging prose that vibrates with a poetic enthusiasm.

  • Hamadani, Mirza Hosayn. Tarikh-i jaded, or the New History of Mīrzá ʿAlí Muḥammed, the Báb. Translated by E. G. Browne. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1893.

    This work is also called Tarikh-i Badi’-i Bayani (“The new history of the Bayani religion”). It is one of the early primary sources on the history of the Bab and Babism.

  • Kashani, Haji Mirza Jani. Kitab-i Nuqtat al-Kaf. Edited by E. G. Browne. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1910.

    Some details of the provenance, transmission, and authenticity of this account have been subject to much scholarly debate, but it is generally considered an important early primary source on the history of the Babi movement.

  • MacEoin, Denis. The Messiah of Shiraz: Studies in Early and Middle Bābīsm. Vol. 3. Iranian Studies. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2009.

    Contains MacEoin’s scholarship on Babism written over thirty years, such as his PhD dissertation “From Shaykhism to Babism” (written in 1979) and a number of articles on Babi history and thought, largely written in the 1980s and 1990s.

  • Mohammad-Hosseini, Nosratollah. Hadrat-i Báb. Dundas, ON: Institute for Baha’i Studies in Persian, 1995.

    A history of the life of the Bab and his writings and teachings from a Baha’i perspective.

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