Nor can we fail to note the appeal addressed by Hujjat and his chief supporters to the Sháh, repudiating the malicious assertions of their foes, assuring him of their loyalty to him and his government, and of their readiness to establish in his presence the soundness of their Cause; the interception of these messages by the governor and the substitution by him of forged letters loaded with abuse which he dispatched in their stead to Ṭihrán; the enthusiastic support extended by the female occupants of the Fort, the shouts of exultation which they raised, the eagerness with which some of them, disguised in the garb of men, rushed to reinforce its defences and to supplant their fallen brethren, while others ministered to the sick, and carried on their shoulders skins of water for the wounded, and still others, like the Carthaginian women of old, cut off their long hair and bound the thick coils around the guns to reinforce them; the foul treachery of the besiegers, who, on the very day they had drawn up and written out an appeal for peace and, enclosing with it a sealed copy of the Qur’án as a testimony of their pledge, had sent it to Hujjat, did not shrink from throwing into a dungeon the members of the delegation, including the children, which had been sent by him to treat with them, from tearing out the beard of the venerated leader of that delegation, and from savagely mutilating one of his fellow-disciples.
Couched in bold and moving language, unsparing in its condemnation, this epistle was forwarded to the intrepid Hujjat who, as corroborated by Bahá’u’lláh, delivered it to that wicked minister.
It was He Who, through His correspondence with the Author of the newly founded Faith, and His intimate association with the most distinguished amongst its disciples, such as Vahíd, Hujjat, Quddús, Mullá Ḥusayn and Táhirih, was able to foster its growth, elucidate its principles, reinforce its ethical foundations, fulfill its urgent requirements, avert some of the immediate dangers threatening it and participate effectually in its rise and consolidation.
Unprecedented in both its duration and in the number of those who were swept away by its fury, this violent tempest that broke out in the west of Persia, and in which Mullá Muḥammad-‘Alíy-i-Zanjání, surnamed Hujjat, one of the ablest and most formidable champions of the Faith, together with no less than eighteen hundred of his fellow-disciples, drained the cup of martyrdom, defined more sharply than ever the unbridgeable gulf that separated the torchbearers of the newborn Faith from the civil and ecclesiastical exponents of a gravely shaken Order.
The pathetic scenes following upon the division of the inhabitants of Zanján into two distinct camps, by the order of its governor—a decision dramatically proclaimed by a crier, and which dissolved ties of worldly interest and affection in favor of a mightier loyalty; the reiterated exhortations addressed by Hujjat to the besieged to refrain from aggression and acts of violence; his affirmation, as he recalled the tragedy of Mázindarán, that their victory consisted solely in sacrificing their all on the altar of the Cause of the Sáhibu’z-Zamán, and his declaration of the unalterable intention of his companions to serve their sovereign loyally and to be the well-wishers of his people; the astounding intrepidity with which these same companions repelled the ferocious onslaught launched by the Sadru’d-Dawlih, who eventually was obliged to confess his abject failure, was reprimanded by the Sháh and was degraded from his rank; the contempt with which the occupants of the Fort met the appeals of the crier seeking on behalf of an exasperated enemy to inveigle them into renouncing their Cause and to beguile them by the generous offers and promises of the sovereign; the resourcefulness and incredible audacity of Zaynab, a village maiden, who, fired with an irrepressible yearning to throw in her lot with the defenders of the Fort, disguised herself in male attire, cut off her locks, girt a sword about her waist, and, raising the cry of Yá Sáhibu’z-Zamán!” rushed headlong in pursuit of the assailants, and who, disdainful of food and sleep, continued, during a period of five months, in the thick of the turmoil, to animate the zeal and to rush to the rescue of her men companions; the stupendous uproar raised by the guards who manned the barricades as they shouted the five invocations prescribed by the Báb, on the very night on which His instructions had been received—an uproar which precipitated the death of a few persons in the camp of the enemy, caused the dissolute officers to drop instantly their wine-glasses to the ground and to overthrow the gambling-tables, and hurry forth bare-footed, and induced others to run half-dressed into the wilderness, or flee panic-stricken to the homes of the ‘ulamás—these stand out as the high lights of this bloody contest.
No lesser tribute can be paid the memory of the glorious Báb, the immortal Quddús, the lion-hearted Mullá Ḥusayn, the erudite Vahíd, the audacious Hujjat, the illustrious seven martyrs of Ṭihrán and a host of unnumbered heroes whose lifeblood flowed so copiously in the course of the opening decade of the first Bahá’í century, by the privileged champion-builders of the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh during the present critical stage in the unfoldment of the Formative Age of His Dispensation, than a parallel outpouring of their substance by the builders of the most holy House of Worship laboring in the corresponding decade of the succeeding century.
For it was a hundred years ago that a Faith, which had already been oppressed by a staggering weight of untold tribulations; which had sustained shattering blows in Mázindarán, Nayríz, Ṭihrán and Zanján, and indeed throughout every province in the land of its birth; which had lost its greatest exponents through the tragic martyrdom of most of the Letters of the Living, and particularly of the valiant Mullá Ḥusayn and of the erudite Vahíd and which had been afflicted with the supreme calamity of losing its Divine Founder; was being subjected to still more painful ordeals—ordeals which robbed it of both the heroic Hujjat and of the far-famed Táhirih; which caused it to pass through a reign of terror, and to experience a blood-bath of unprecedented severity, which inflicted on it one of the greatest humiliations it has ever suffered through the attempted assassination of the sovereign himself, and which unloosed a veritable deluge of barbarous atrocities in Ṭihrán, Mázindarán, Nayríz and Shíráz before which paled the horrors of the siege of Zanján, and which swept no less a figure than Bahá’u’lláh Himself—the last remaining pillar of a Faith that had been so rudely shaken, so ruthlessly denuded of its chief buttresses—into the subterranean dungeon of Ṭihrán, an imprisonment that was soon followed by His cruel banishment, in the depths of an exceptionally severe winter, from His native land to ‘Iráq.
The perusal of but a page of the Qayyúmu’l-Asmá, brought by that messenger to Hujjat, sufficed to effect such a transformation within him that he declared, before the assembled ‘ulamás of his native city, that should the Author of that work pronounce day to be night and the sun to be a shadow he would unhesitatingly uphold his verdict.
The tempests that had swept Mázindarán, Nayríz and Zanján had, in addition to blasting to their roots the promising careers of the venerated Quddús, the lion-hearted Mullá Ḥusayn, the erudite Vahíd, and the indomitable Hujjat, cut short the lives of an alarmingly large number of the most resourceful and most valiant of their fellow-disciples.
Hujjat, another champion of conspicuous audacity, of unsubduable will, of remarkable originality and vehement zeal, was being, swiftly and inevitably, drawn into the fiery furnace whose flames had already enveloped Zanján and its environs.