Babism, the doctrines of a Mohammedan sect which originated in Persia about 1843. Its founder appears to have been Mirza Ali Mohammed, a native of Shiraz, who, after making a pilgrimage to Mecca, undertook to form a new religion from a mixture of Mohammedan, Christian, Jewish, and Parsee elements. He took the name of Bab-ed-Din, "the gate of the faith," which he afterward abandoned, calling himself the "Point," or creator of the truth, claiming to be not merely a prophet, but a personal manifestation of the Divinity, while the title of Bab was conferred upon one of his followers. He sent out missionaries in various directions, the most celebrated of whom was a young woman, known in the sect as Gurret-ul-Ayn, or "Consolation of the Eyes." She was the daughter of Hadji Mullah, a distinguished jurist, and is said to have been remarkable for her personal beauty and intelligence. She set the example of appearing in public unveiled, and after preaching against polygamy and other Mohammedan practices, she finally left her husband and family, and devoted herself to the propagation of the new religion. Her purity of character was never questioned by either party. The adherents of the Bab soon became numerous.
The late shah did not molest them, but on the accession of Nasir-ed-Din in 1848, apprehending a persecution, they took up arms, announcing the advent of the Bab as universal sovereign. Two large armies sent against them were routed, but the insurrection was at last crushed, and the Bab, who had held aloof from the revolt, was arrested. After 18 months' imprisonment he was put to death with one of his disciples in 1850. This gave a new impetus to his doctrines. At an assembly of the leaders in Teheran a young man of 16, Mirza Gahara, son of the governor of the city, was recognized as Bab and took the name of "Eternal Highness." He ordered his followers not to take up arms again until he should give the signal. An attempt of three Babists, however, to assassinate the shah in 1852 led to a new persecution. Numbers of the believers were simultaneously executed at Teheran with horrible tortures, and among the victims was Gur-ret-ul-Ayn. She was treated at first with respect, being of noble rank, but finally, after being forcibly veiled, was sentenced to be burned alive. The executioner, however, smothered her before setting fire to the pile. The Bab himself was not captured.
Since that time the Babists, as a secret sect, are supposed to have made great progress in Persia, India, and a part of Turkey. - The Babist doctrine asserts the unity of the Godhead, but upon this it engrafts many of the doctrines of the Gnostics and Brahmins. All beings are emanations from the Deity, and all will at the day of judgment be reabsorbed into the divine personality. The Bab has not revealed the whole truth, but will be followed by a successor who will complete the revelation. The Bab is superior to Mohammed, as Mohammed was superior to Jesus. The number 19 is sacred, for the original unity of the Deity consisted of 19 persons, of whom the Bab was the chief. At the death of a prophet or saint, his soul does not quit the earth, but joins itself to some other soul still in the flesh, who carries on his work. Babism enjoins few prayers, and only upon fixed occasions. Women are to discard veils, and share in the intercourse of social life. Concubinage and divorce are forbidden, and polygamy is discountenanced, though not absolutely prohibited. - See Les religions et philosophies dans VAsie centrale (Paris, 1866), by Gobineau, who gives a translation of "The Book of Precepts," the sacred book of the Babists.