BĀB (1)

“door, gate, entrance,” a term of varied application in Shiʿism and related movements.


BĀB “door, gate, entrance”: a term of varied application in Shiʿism and related movements. It is applied differently in several sects to a rank in the spiritual hierarchy, either as conceived in transcendent terms or as actually manifested in the religious system on earth. Thus, the Ismaʿili hierarchy of ḥodūd al-dīn includes the bāb as fourth in rank after prophet, asās, and emām (Hollister, p. 260), while under the Fatimids bāb came to be used as a title for the chief ḥojja, immediately under the imam and responsible for the organization of the daʿwa (Lewis, “Bāb”). In the Noṣayrī system, the bāb is the third element in the hierarchy after maʿnā and esm, in which the maʿnā is the equivalent of the Ismaʿili “silent” (ṣāmet) imam, the esm the equivalent of the “speaking (nāṭeq) imam, and the bāb the gateway to the imam. The names of the abwāb are given for the first seven cycles and for the cycle of Islamic imams, beginning with Salmān al-Fāresī (with ʿAlī and Moḥammad). (For lists of these names, see Massignon, “Nuṣairī.”) In 245/859-60, Ebn Noṣayr proclaimed himself bāb of the tenth Shiʿite imam, ʿAlī al-Naqī. The Druzes apply the term to the embodiment of the ʿaql al-koll who stands as the first of the hierarchy of five agents below the divinity; thus, Ḥamza b. ʿAlī, their founder, claimed to be the bāb as the last incarnation of universal reason (Carra de Vaux, “Druzes”).

Among the Twelver Shiʿites, the term is applied in a variety of ways to the imam, who is spoken of in traditions as bāb Allāh, bāb al-hodā, bāb al-īmān, and so forth, in which capacity he is the means of access to the knowledge of God and an intermediary for the passage of prayers and grace between the divine and human worlds (for numerous traditions on these themes together with Koranic verses interpreted accordingly, see Kermānī, Mobīn I, pp. 227-31; for commentary on the application of the term abwāb al-īmān to the imams in the zīāra al-jāmeʿa al-kabīra, see Aḥsāʾī, Šarḥ I, pp. 78-85; for discussion of this theme in general, see Kermānī, Eršād I, pp. 338-69; idem, Feṭra II, pp. 198-213). ʿAlī is described in one tradition as the gate of the prophet, the latter being “the gate of God” (Kermānī, Mobīn I, p. 228), while a well-known ḥadīṯ (extant in several versions) ascribes to Moḥammad the words “I am the city of knowledge (madīnat al-ʿelm) and ʿAlī is the gate; will you enter the city other than by its gate?” (ibid., pp. 229-30). Shiʿite interpretation of Koran 2:58 and 7:161 identifies the imams with the bāb through which the Children of Israel are to pass after saying “ḥeṭṭa” (for traditions, see Kermānī, Mobīn I, p. 229; for commentary, see Aḥsāʾī, Šarḥ II, pp. 227-31; Šabestarī, Šarḥ, pp. 148-49).

The term also came to be used among the Imami Shiʿites to designate the representatives of the imam and is best known in its application to the four abwāb believed to have acted as intermediaries for the twelfth imam during his lesser occultation: Abū ʿAmr ʿOṯmān b. Saʿīd ʿOmarī, his son Abū Jaʿfar Moḥammad (d. 305/917), Abu’l-Qāsem Ḥosayn b. Rūḥ Nowbaḵtī (d. 326/937), and Abu’l-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. Moḥammad Sāmarrī (d. 329/940). (On these, see Maškūr, Tārīḵ-eŠīʿa, pp. 137-42; Hussain, Occultation, chaps. 4-7.) Other claimants to this rank appeared during the same period (ibid., pp. 142-46), but in the end the system of bābīya was abandoned in favor of the theory of the greater occultation. During the nineteenth century, a section of the Shaikhi school (q.v.) came to regard Shaikh Aḥmad Aḥsāʾī and Sayyed Kāẓem Raštī as gates of the imam, a belief which led to the emergence of Babism following the application of the term bāb to Sayyed ʿAlī Moḥammad Šīrāzī (see BĀB, ʿALĪ MOḤAMMAD ŠĪRĀZĪ).



J. N. Hollister, The Shīʿa of India, London, 1953.

B. Lewis, “Bāb,” in EI2 I. L. Massignon. “Nuṣairī,” in EI1 III. B. Carra de Vaux, “Druzes,” in EI1. Ḥājj Moḥammad Khan Kermānī, al-Ketāb al-mobīn, 2nd ed., 2 vols., Kermān, 1354 Š./1975-76.

Ḥājj Moḥammad Karīm Khan Kermānī, Eršād al-ʿawāmm, 4th ed., 4 vols. in 2, Kermān, 1380/1960-61.

Idem, al-Feṭra al-salīma, 3rd ed., 3 vols. in 1, Kermān, 1378/1958-9.

Shaikh Aḥmad Aḥsāʾī, Šarḥ al-zīāra al-jāmeʿa al-kabīra, 4th ed., 4 vols., Kermān, 1355 Š./1976.

Ḥojjat-al-Eslām Ḥājī Sayyed Moḥammad Ḥosaynī Šabestarī, Šarḥ-e zīārat-e jāmeʿa-ye kabīra, Tehran, 1333 Š./1954.

M. J. Maškūr, Tārīḵ-eŠīʿa wa ferqahā-ye Eslām tā qarn-e čahārom, Tehran, 2535 = 1355 Š./1976.

J. M. Hussain, The Occultation of the Twelfth Imam, London, 1982.

D. M. MacEoin, “Hierarchy, Authority and Eschatology in Early Bābī Thought,” in P. Smith, ed., In Iran: Studies in Bābī and Bahāʾī History III, Los Angeles, 1986, esp. pp. 113-14.

(D. M. MacEoin)

Originally Published: December 15, 1988

Last Updated: August 18, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. III, Fasc. 3, pp. 277-278

Cite this entry:

D. M. MacEoin, “BĀB,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, III, Fasc. 3, pp. 277-278, available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/bab-door-gate-entrance (accessed on 30 December 2012).