Courage & Sacrifice: Haji Sulayman Khan

The body of a newly martyred Bábí (an early Bahá’í) is proudly shown at the entrance to a village in Iran about 1850.  Courtesy


“Let there be no compulsion in religion.”    Qur’an (2:256/257)


In August 1852, two obscure and irresponsible young men, followers of the recently executed Báb, frustrated by years of unrelenting and barbaric persecution by a clergy and government provoked only by the expression of religious beliefs, foolishly tried to assassinate the Shah of Persia. The attempt was not well planned and could not have succeeded. However, it gave the clergy and government an opportunity to unleash the hatred in their souls for the new and astonishingly successful religion of the Báb, He who had proclaimed Himself to be the successor to the Prophet Muhammad and the precursor of one Whom He identfied as He Whom God shall make manifest (Bahá’u’lláh). What ensued was a bloodbath of persecution throughout Persia. Here is the story of one of those martyrdoms. It reveals the complete devotion to their Lord and detachment from the ephemeral things of this earth held by so many of the early Bábís and Bahá’ís.

The Story of the Joyous Martyrdom of Haji Sulayman Khan

from The Dawn-Breakers

by Nabil-A’zam

Translated and edited by Shoghi Effendi

Among those who, in the midst of the general confusion, were seized and thrown into prison was Haji Sulayman Khan, the circumstances of whose martyrdom I now proceed to relate. The facts I mention have been carefully sifted and verified by me, and I owe them, for the most part, to Aqay-i-Kalim, who was himself in those days in Tihran and was made to share the terrors and sufferings of his brethren. “On the very day of Haji Sulayman Khan’s martyrdom,” he informed me, “I happened to be present, with Mirza Abdu’l-Majid, at a gathering in Tihran at which a considerable number of the notables and dignitaries of the capital were present. Among them was Haji Mulla Mahmud, the Nizamu’l-‘Ulama, who requested the Kalantar to describe the actual circumstances of the death of Haji Sulayman Khan. The Kalantar motioned with his finger to Mirza Taqi, the kad-khuda who, he said, had conducted the victim from the vicinity of the imperial palace to the place of his execution, outside the gate of Naw. Mirza Taqi was accordingly requested to relate to those present all that he had seen and heard. ‘I and my assistants,’ he said, ‘were ordered to purchase nine candles and to thrust them, ourselves into deep holes we were to cut in his flesh. We were instructed to light each one of these candles and to conduct him through the market to the accompaniment of drums and trumpets as far as the place of his execution. There we were ordered to hew his body into two halves, each of which we were asked to suspend on either side of the gate of Naw. He himself chose the manner in which he wished to be martyred. Hajibu’d-Dawlih had been commanded by Násiri’d-Dín Sháh to enquire into the complicity of the accused, and, if assured of his innocence, to induce him to recant. If he submitted, his life was to be spared and he was to be detained pending the final settlement of his case. In the event of his refusal, he was to be put to death in whatever manner he himself might desire.


“‘The investigation of hajibu’d-Dawlih convinced him of the innocence of Haji Sulayman Khan. The accused, as soon as he had been informed of the instructions of his sovereign, was heard joyously exclaiming: “Never, so long as my life-blood continues to pulsate in my veins, shall I be willing to recant my faith in my Beloved! This world which the Commander of the Faithful has likened to carrion will never allure me from my heart’s Desire.” He was asked to  determine the manner in which he wished to die. “Pierce holes in my flesh,” was the instant reply, “and in each wound place a candle. Let nine candles be lighted all over my body, and in this state conduct me through the streets of Tihran. Summon the multitude to witness the glory of my martyrdom, so that the memory of my death may remain imprinted in their hearts and help them, as they recall the intensity of my tribulation, to recognize the Light I have embraced. After I have reached the foot of the gallows and have uttered the last prayer of my earthly life, cleave my body in twain and suspend my limbs on either side of the gate of Tihran, that the multitude passing beneath it may witness to the love which the Faith of the Báb has kindled in the hearts of His disciples, and may look upon the proofs of their devotion.”


“‘Hajibu’d-Dawlih instructed his men to abide by the expressed wishes of Haji Sulayman Khan, and charged me to conduct him through the market as far as the place of his execution. As they handed to the victim the candles they had purchased, and were preparing to thrust their knives into his breast, he made a sudden attempt to seize the weapon from the executioner’s trembling hands in order to plunge it himself into his flesh. “Why fear and hesitate?” he cried, as he stretched forth his arm to snatch the knife from his grasp. “Let me myself perform the deed and light the candles.” Fearing lest he should attack us, I ordered my men to resist his attempt and bade them tie his hands behind his back. “Let me,” he pleaded, point out with my fingers the places into which I wish them to thrust their dagger, for I have no other request to make besides this.”


“‘He asked them to pierce two holes in his breast, two in his shoulders, one in the nape of his neck, and the four others in his back. With stoic calm he endured those tortures. Steadfastness glowed in his eyes as he maintained a mysterious and unbroken silence. Neither the howling of the multitude nor the sight of the blood that streamed all over his body could induce him to interrupt that silence. Impassive and serene he remained until all the nine candles were placed in position and lighted.


“‘When all was completed for his march to the scene  of his death, he, standing erect as an arrow and with that same unflinching fortitude gleaming upon his face, stepped forward to lead the concourse that was pressing round him to the place that was to witness the consummation of his martyrdom. Every few steps he would interrupt his march and, gazing at the bewildered bystanders, would shout: “What greater pomp and pageantry than those which this day accompany my progress to win the crown of glory! Glorified be the Báb, who can kindle such devotion in the breasts of His lovers, and can endow them with a power greater than the might of kings!” At times, as if intoxicated with the fervour of that devotion, he would exclaim: “The Abraham of a bygone age, as He prayed God, in the hour of bitter agony, to send down upon Him the refreshment for which His soul was crying, heard the voice of the Unseen proclaim: ‘O fire! Be thou cold, and to Abraham a safety!But this Sulayman is crying out from the depths of his ravaged heart: ‘Lord, Lord, let Thy fire burn unceasingly within me, and suffer its flame to consume my being.'” As his eyes saw the wax flicker in his wounds, he burst forth in an acclamation of frantic delight: “Would that He whose hand has enkindled my soul were here to behold my state!” “Think me not to be intoxicated with the wine of this earth!” he cried to the vast throng who stood aghast at the sight of his behaviour. It is the love of my Beloved that has filled my soul and made me feel endowed with a sovereignty which even kings might envy!”


“‘I cannot recall the exclamations of joy which fell from his lips as he drew near to his end. All I remember are but a few of the stirring words which, in his moments of exultation, he was moved to cry out to the concourse of spectators. Words fail me to portray the expression of that countenance or to measure the effect of his words on the multitude.


“‘He was still in the bazaar when the blowing of a breeze excited the burning of the candles that were placed upon his breast. As they melted rapidly, their flames reached the level of the wounds into which they had been thrust. We who were following a few steps behind him could hear distinctly the sizzling of his flesh. The sight of gore and fire which covered his body, instead of silencing his voice, appeared to heighten his unquenchable enthusiasm. He could still be heard, this time addressing the flames, as they ate into his wounds: “You have long lost your sting, O flames, and have been robbed of your power to pain me. Make haste, for from your very tongues of fire I can hear the voice that calls me to my Beloved!”


“‘Pain and suffering seemed to have melted away in the ardour of that enthusiasm. Enveloped by the flames, he walked as a conqueror might have marched to the scene of his victory. He moved through the excited crowd a blaze of light amidst the gloom that surrounded him. Arriving at the foot of the gallows, he again raised his voice in a last appeal to the multitude of onlookers: “Did not this Sulayman whom you now see before you a prey to fire and blood, enjoy until recently all the favours and riches the world can bestow? What could have caused him to renounce this earthly glory and accept in return such great degradation and suffering?” Prostrating himself in the direction of the shrine of the Imam-Zadih Hasan, he murmured certain words in Arabic which I could not understand. “My work is now finished!” he cried to the executioner, as soon as his prayer was ended. “Come and do yours!” He was still alive when his body was hewn into two halves with a hatchet. The praise of his Beloved, despite such incredible sufferings, lingered upon his lips until the last moment of his life.’


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1 Comment(s)

  1. On Sep 29, 2017, Mark Townsend said:

    It should be mentioned that it was Haji Sulayman Khan who protected the body of the Bab, and who consulted with Baha’u’llah and Aqay-i-Kalim to send a messenger to Tabriz for the purpose of transferring the bodies to the capital. Like the prophet Isaiah, the Haji was sawed in half for his faith. -marko

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