Today followers of the Baha’i Faith celebrate the Birth of the Báb, the Faith’s founder and one its two great modern Prophets.
Báb means “The Gate”. The Báb was born on October 20, 1819, and no, he wasn’t born “The Báb.” He was born Siyyad Muhammad Ali in Shiraz, Persia, and was raised by his uncle after his father’s death. He worked in the family trading house.
Around the time of his birth, a movement developed among the dominant group of Shi’a Muslims known as Twelvers. Twelvers live by the Qur’an and Muhammad’s teachings as do all Muslims. But they also follow the teachings of the eleven great Imams, successors of Muhammad, beginning with Ali ibn Abu Talib (600-661 C.E.) and ending with Hassan ibn Ali (846-874 C.E.)
So why are they Twelvers if there are only 11 Imams?
The Twelfth Imam was the son of Hassan ibn Ali. He was about 4 years old at the time of his father’s death in the 9th century. Twelvers believe the boy was taken into hiding at that time, and would return when the time is right to save mankind. He is known as the Qa’im, the Shi’a Messiah.
The Báb grew up at a time when Shi’a clerics were preaching about the Qa’im’s imminent return to Persia.
Unlike Christianity’s Jesus, little is known about the circumstances of the Báb’s birth. But we do know that on May 23, 1844, at age 24, he first made his divinity known to a Twelver named Mulla Husayn in what is celebrated by followers of the Baha’i Faith as The Declaration of the Báb.