The Baha'i community in Iran has been under almost constant pressure from persecution since its inception in the Babi movement of the mid-nineteenth century After the more dramatic and violent episodes associated with the Babi period, there followed a half-century in which continuous pressure and harassment were punctuated by frequent outbursts of violence. Not surprisingly many of the Baha'is chose to migrate either internally within Iran or to other countries. This was followed by a further half-century in which very little migration occurred until the mid-1950s when the migrations began again, this time far a variety of reasons. In this paper we shall be examining the causes of the migrations, the patterns that the migration took and trying to establish the reason why the migrations took these particular patterns.
In addition, the leadership of the Baha'i movement has from the start been in exile isolated from the main bulk of the Baha'is in Iran. This inevitably caused problems for those Baha'is who wished to visit the leadership, as well as those who wished to write to or sent their financial contributions to the leadership. We shall be looking at how this logistical problem was overcome so that close communications could be maintained between the Baha'i community in Iran and the leadership in exile.
This paper will not deal with the exiles following the recent Iranian
Revolution. Insufficient information is available regarding this group
to make any statements.
The Persecutions: the Cause of the Migrations
Sayyed 'All Mohammad, the Bab, first put forward his claims in the year
1260 A.H. (Qamari)/1844 A.D. Within a year, there had already been episodes
of opposition and persecution of his followers from the 'ulama in Najaf
and Kerman and from the secular authorities in Shiraz.(1)
This opposition intensified and the persecutions became more violent culminating
in the Babi upheavals at Zanjan, Shaikh Tabarsi in Mazandaran and Nayriz
in 1848-50 (Nabil, 1962: 324429, 465-499, 527-581; Nicolas, 1905: 289-364,
386-424). There was a further intensification of the persecutions in 1852
following an unsuccessful attempt by a small group of Babis to assassinate
the Shah (Nabil,
1962: 595-688; Nicolas, 1905: 425-452). After this the Babi movement was violently suppressed and effectively driven underground.
It was to be about two decades before the movement was to re-emerge in the 1870s as the Baha'i movement By this time however there was a heavy atmosphere of hate and suspicion against the religion. Europeans found that:
In Persia it is impossible to speak of the Babis or to learn something about their affairs. The terror which this name awakens is such that no one dares to speak, or even to think of it. The Italians whom I found in Tehran, and who proved extremely kind in every way, wanted to tell me little or nothing about the Babis... Nicolas [first Dragoman of the French Mission in Tehran] started to speak to me about them only after we passed the Persian frontier... Gobineau would narrate to me episodes about this sect. Gathering material for the history of the Bab... was fraught with danger in the heart of Persia even for a Minister of the French Emperor.(2)E. G. Browne experienced a similar phenomenon when he tried to find out about the new religion two decades later.(3) If Europeans' despite the powerful protection offered by their respective governments, experienced such fear and difficulties, it can be imagined what enormous pressures the Baha'is themselves lived under, particularly the more prominent ones who were publicly known as Baha'is. There was no way that the Baha'i movement could operate openly in Iran and therefore there was no way in which it could publicly state its case. This situation created favourable conditions for the proliferation of every type of rumour and accusation about them. The generality of the Iranian population was not even aware that over 90% of the Babis had become Baha'is and d continued to use the old name until about forty years ago.
Those Baha'is whose religious affiliation became known or who chose to openly identify themselves as such were at all times under a great deal of pressure. They were subjected to persistent abuse towards themselves and their families, dismissal from employment, trade and commercial boycott, and not infrequent beatings and looting of property.
In addition to this background level of harassment, from time to time,
there would be a major outburst of persecution during which one or more
Baha'is would be killed and all the Baha'is in the locality would be threatened
and their property looted. The murderers and looters would plead that as
apostates from Islam, Baha'is could be killed or despoiled with impunity.
There are almost no examples of anyone being punished by the authorities
for any actions taken against Baha'is, even where this involved murder.
When there was a major outburst of persecution, this would have consequences
not only in the town where it occurred but also in other towns where the
news of the occurrence would encourage some to try to extort money from
the Baha'is on the threat of stirring up similar trouble. There is not
the space in this paper to give an exhaustive
List of persecutions but, as an example, Table 1* lists episodes in Isfahan and the surrounding villages from 1874 to 1921.
A brief examination of the Baha'i attitude towards the Shi'i institution of religious dissimulation is relevant here Although it has frequently been asserted that the Baha'is practise the Shi'i institution of taqiyya, this is in fact forbidden in the Baha'i writings (Baha'u'llah, 1984: 221; trans. 1949: 342-3). But this statement requires some further explanation. If a Shi'i is threatened with injury, loss or death, he is allowed to deny being a Shi'i or even a Muslim in order to save his life. This course of action is not open to Baha'is. However this does not mean that a Baha'i is obliged to openly proclaim his or her adherence Indeed Baha'is are enjoined to exercise wisdom in order to prevent open confrontation or conflict (Baha'u'llah, 1984: 221; trans. 1949: 342-3).
With the advent of a stronger central government after the accession of Reza Shah Pahlavi, a great deal of the petty local harassment diminished. However, a new form of institutionalized persecution emerged as for example throughout 1934-38 when following orders issued by the central government, all the Baha'i schools were closed; Baha'i centres and other buildings were taken over and closed; and thousands of Baha'is were harassed by the police over such matters as census returns, marriage certificates, and birth registrations; hundreds of Baha'is were imprisoned and many others dismissed from government employment A new feature was the way in which what had formerly been localized episodes of persecution could, through the medium of newspapers and later radio, become of national importance. For example, the murder of three Baha'is in Shahrud and the subsequent acquittal of their confessed murderers in 1944, led to numerous attacks on Baha'is throughout the rest of Iran as a result of the large amount of publicity given to the story.
With such severe and persistent persecution going on for decade after
decade, it is not surprising that many Baha'is found it impossible to continue
living at one locality and moved elsewhere. Sometimes it was possible to
take some property and wealth to the new location. But not infrequently,
those moving had been made completely destitute by the persecutions.
The Pattern of the Migrations: Internal Exile 1844-1921
During the initial Babi period, we do not read in the sources of any great amount of migration. One may speculate that the Babis were not yet sufficiently a cohesive community for members to be able to move from one location to another and expect to receive support from the Babis in their new locality Also, in the mid-nineteenth century, Iran was still more a collection of cities than a nation and it may simply not have occurred to Babis facing persecution in one locality to move to another.(4)
The next major period begins with the re-emergence of the movement in
the 1870s under the leadership of Baha'u'llah and now more properly called
*The tables are at end of the paper.
The next major period begins with the re-emergence of the movement in the 1870s under the leadership of Baha'u'llah and now more properly called Baha'i. The renewed vigour of the movement triggered renewed persecutions. The persecutions continued with frequent major outbursts in various localities until approximately the fall of the Qajar dynasty from effective power in 1921.
The pattern of the majority of the internal migration movements of the Baha'is during this period was from centres of high persecution to places of relative safety. For not all places in hen were of equal danger for Baha'is. A wide variety of local factors led to varying levels of persecution in different localities.
The most intense persecutions were in the regions of Isfahan and Yazd. In Isfahan, the bitter enmity of the leading 'ulama, Shaikh Mohammad Baqer and his son Aqa Najafi, and the complicity of the Governor for a large part of this period, Zel as-Soltan, led to major outbursts of persecution every few years from the 1879s onwards. In Yazd, the intense persecutions began somewhat later, the last decade of the nineteenth century' but were even more intense leading to many more deaths than in any other locality In Iran The renowned fanaticism of the population (Malcolm, 1908: 44-54) was probably the major factor that led to permanent pressure against the Baha'is and numerous murders of Baha'is.
The Baha'is of a number of other localities were however relatively free from persecution. Tehran was about as far as the direct authority of the central government ran in these years and thus the city was kept in reasonable order. In Azarbaijan, the Crown Prince, Mozaffar al-Din Mirza, was not unsympathetic towards the Baha'is and a number of Baha'is occupied leading positions in the province: Mirza 'Abdollah Khan was farrash-khalwat (valet-de-chambre) to the Crown Prince; Mirza 'Enayat 'Aliyabadi was also part of the Crown Prince's court; Mirza 'Abdollah Khan Sar-reshteh-dar was wazir maliyyeh (finance minister) of the province; Mirza Mohammad 'Ali Khan, Rokn al-Wozara, worked for the Foreign Ministry in Tabriz (Mazandarani, n.d.: 5-8; 1974: 5, 74-6). In Shiraz, the Emam-Jom'eh, Shaikh Abu-Torab and his son and successor, Hajji Shaikh Yahya, protected the Baha'is as far as possible (Balyuzi, 1980: 108). Mazandaran also was relatively free of persecutions.
Between these two extremes (i.e. Isfahan and Yazd where there were heavy
persecutions and Tehran, Azarbaijan, Fars, and Mazandaran where there were
few persecutions), there are a number of places where the level of persecutions
were intermediate. In Khorasan, the Baha'is enjoyed a certain amount of
protection initially through the influence of a number of high-ranking
officials: Mir Mohammed Hosain Khan 'Emad al-Molk, Governor of Tabas, was
a Baha'i as was his son and successor, 'Ali Akbar Khan; in Sabzewar, the
leading cleric, Hajji Mirza Ebrahim Shari'atmadar, was sympathetic to the
Baha'is, and according to some accounts a secret convert, having met the
Bab in Isfahan; throughout the province many of the mostaufis (Government
financial controllers) were Baha'is including the most important of them,
Mirza 'Ali Moharnmad Khan, Mo'tamen al-Saltaneh; Shoja' al-Dauleh, the
Governor of Quchan was very sympathetic to the Baha'is and his son, Hasan
'Ali Khan, was a
Baha'i (Mazandarani n.d.: 65, 78; 1974: 204, 230). Later, however, as this generation of protectors died out' the level of persecutions increased. In Kerman, the enmity of the Shaikhi leaders in that town was countered by the protection of Sayyed Jawad Shirazi, the Emam-Jom'eh, a relative of the Bab and, according to some accounts, a secret convert (Balyuzi, 1973: 32-33). In Hamadan and Kermanshah, where the Baha'is did not become established until quite late and then mainly through Jewish converts, there was some opposition from the Rabbis.
It is difficult to quantify these migrations in any definitive manner but some indications can be seen from an analysis of the movements of some of the leading Baha'is. The Iranian Baha'i scholar known as Fazel-e Mazandarani in the sixth volume of Zuhur at-Haqq, his history of the Baha'i Faith, gives short biographical accounts of the prominent Baha'is of the time of Baha'u'llah (i.e. 1854-1892). For Isfahan, an area of intense persecution, of 82 prominent Baha'is listed, 44 (i.e. 54%) migrated. For Azarbaijan, an area of less persecution, of 146 prominent Baha'is listed, 24 (16%) migrated. Table 2 is an analysis of the pattern of the migration of the prominent Baha'is listed for the Isfahan area. Some of these migrated to an intermediate destination where they stayed sometimes for years before finally settling elsewhere. These intermediate destinations are also shown in Table 2.
There are two points of caution to bear in mind when considering these figures. Firstly, the figures for the proportion of prominent Baha'is migrating cannot automatically be transferred to the rest of the Baha'i community because, undoubtedly, these prominent Baha'is came under more pressure of persecution than other Baha'is and also probably had more opportunity to migrate. On occasions however, the intensity of the persecutions caused all the Baha'is in a locality to migrate. We read, for example, of the migration of the whole of the Baha'i population of Daulatabad (near Isfahan) to Tehran after a particularly severe episode of persecution in 1312 A.H. (A.D. 1894-5; Mazandarani, n.d.: 284). The second caution regards those listed as migrating to Akka. Mazandarani's text makes it cleat that the very fact of migrating to Akka was a sufficient cause to be included among his list of prominent Baha'is. Thus his list of prominent persons contain some who would not have been listed had they not been migrants to Akka. Therefore this list overemphasises the numbers going to Akka. With these two provisos, however, the information here presented does enable us to confirm the main trends.
The pattern is clearly for migrations to occur from areas of intense persecution such as Isfahan and Yazd to the relative greater safety such as Tehran, Azarbaijan and some towns of Khorasan such as Sabzewar. Of these locations for internal exile by far the most popular was Tehran. So many Baha'is fled there that there were soon two areas of the town, Sar Qabr Aqa and Darwazeh Qazwin, which were well known as the "Babi" mahallehs and these consisted mainly of migrants from other parts of Iran. Since most of these migrants had lost all their possessions in the course of their forced exile, the Baha'is of Tehran were also amongst the poorest inhabitants of the town.
It cannot of course be stated categorically that all of the migrations
were on account of pressure or persecution. There may well have also been
considerations of the commercial opportunities in such places as Ashkabad.
However, an analysis of the biographical notices of the migrants for the
Isfahan area (i.e. those in Table 2) shows that of the 44 migrants from
this area, there is mention of particular episodes of persecution, either
general or specific to the person concerned, causing the migration in 23
(i.e. 52%). When some members of a family moved because of persecutions,
others followed. It is probable that a proportion of the remainder also
migrated on account of the persecutions even though this is not stated
External Exile: 1852-1921
After the general upheaval caused by the attempted assassination of Naser al-Din Shah in 1852, however, a substantial number of Babis, including several leading figures went into exile in Baghdad. This group included Babis from all parts of Iran: Tehran, Kashan, Isfahan, Shiraz, Mazandaran. Among the Babis in Baghdad were Mirza Yahya Nuri known as Sobh-e Azal, who had been nominated to leadership of the Babi community by the Bab. That his leadership was not universally recognised is shown by the fact that from the very earliest days there were a number of others who put forward leadership claims. Some of these also lived for varying lengths of time in Baghdad: Molla Mohammad Zarandi (Nabil); Mirza Asadollah Kho'i (Dayyan); Hajji Mirza Musa Qommi, Hajji Molla Hashem Naraqi and Mirza Esma'il Kashani (Zabih). However, over the years, effective leadership of the Baghdad exiles fell to Mirza Hosain 'Ali Nuri Baha'u'llah, although he had not in fact put forward any claim at this time. From this period onwards, the Babi/Baha'i community was to function with its leadership in external exile.
With this concentration of Babi leaders in Baghdad, many of the Babis of Iran travelled to this city either to visit and return or to stay. It is not possible to say how many Babis were in Baghdad at this time. The British Consul's estimate of "two to three thousand men"(5) was almost certainly more a reflection of the growing prestige of Baha'u'llah than a true assessment of the Babi numbers. There were probably however a few hundred Babis in Baghdad and Kazemain. In 1868, after the departure of Baha'u'llah, the Baha'is of Baghdad were exiled by the Governor of Baghdad to Mosul (Momen, 1981: 265-7). This led to the setting up of an important Baha'i colony there until the late 1880s.
A small group of about twenty followed Baha'u'llah on the subsequent stage of his exile to Edirne (1863-1868) and this town also acted as a focus for migrations but to a lesser extent than Baghdad because of its remoteness.
From the late 1870s onwards, those Baha'is choosing external exile had
two main choices (see Table 2). Some 72 persons had been exiled to Akka
with Baha'u'llah by the Ottoman authorities in 1868. These were joined
from about the mid-1870s onwards by an increasing number of migrants moving
because of a combination of a desire to be closer to the religious leadership
and a feeling that there was no future for them in Iran. By 1889, some
three hundred persons had chosen to move to the Haifa-Akka area (Baha'u'llah,
n.d.: 27). These settled
and became traders and craftsmen in the town and surrounding areas; a substantial number began to farm in Galilee.
The second major choice for external exile was Ashkabad. This was a
new town built by the Russians close to the Iranian border and was the
new capital of the province of Transcaspia. Baha'i migrations to this town
began in the l880s but the episode of the murder of Hajji Mohammad Reza
Isfahani proved a critical turning point. This man was one of the most
prominent Baha'is of Ashkabad and in 1889 fell prey to a plot laid by a
large group of the Iranian Shi'is of the town. He was murdered in the main
thoroughfare of the Bazaar in broad daylight. Despite considerable pressure
from the Iranian authorities, the seven main perpetrators were brought
before a military tribunal and given severe sentences This episode which
was the first occasion on which persecutors of the Baha'is had received
their due punishment had a great effect upon the Iranian Baha'is. The numbers
migrating to Ashkabad increased enormously. By the outbreak of the First
World War there were some 4,000 Baha'is there (probably representing some
4% of the total world Baha'i population). Here most of the Baha'is were
engaged as either skilled craftsmen (asnaf), shop-keepers and petty-commodity
traders (kasabeh) and wholesale merchants (tojjar). (Momen,
This phase of intense persecutions passed in the 1920s when the Qajar dynasty was deposed and Reza Shah Pahlavi came to power. The period from 1921 until 1950 was a time when there was comparatively little movement among the Baha'is. The persecutions although still occurring were of a lesser order. The stream of Baha'is coming to Tehran continued. This was, however, no longer primarily for reasons of persecutions but for the advantages in commerce and education that the capital offered. Towards the end of this period, there was a small number of Baha'is moving in the opposite direction from the cities to the provinces as part of a deliberate plan to spread the Baha'i Faith among the villages and remoter parts of Iran.
The numbers of Baha'is migrating outside the country also decreased considerably. The flow of Baha'is to Ashkabad and the Haifa-Akka area ceased completely for political reasons. Small numbers migrated to the countries surrounding Iran - Iraq, the Gulf states and Afghanistan - again as part of a plan to spread the Baha'i Faith. Some travelled to Europe and North America for educational purposes but these usually returned upon the completion of their studies.
Indeed the net flow of Baha'is was probably into rather than out of
Iran in this period due to two events. The first of these was the increasing
persecutions of the Baha'is in the U.S.S.R. from 1928 onwards. In Ashkabad
and other centres, Baha'i activities were curtailed and individual Baha'is
arrested. This culminated in 1938, with the arrest of almost every male
Baha'i left in Ashkabad. Since the majority of these had retained their
Iranian citizenship, they
were deported to Iran. Several thousand Baha'is returned to Iran in this way. The second event was the dispersal of the Baha'i community in the Haifa-Akka area. A large number of Baha'is lived in the area of the mandate territory of Palestine. As the Arab-Jewish conflict there became more and more violent, it became increasingly difficult for the Baha'is to remain uninvolved and therefore, Shoghi Effendi, the leader of the Baha'i Faith, instructed these Baha'is to leave Palestine. Many returned to Iran.
From the mid-1950s onwards, the Baha'is began to migrate out of Iran again. This was for a number of reasons.
Firstly, there was the outburst of persecutions against the Baha'is in 1955 instigated by a popular preacher Falsafi with the backing of Ayatollah Borujirdi and the tacit support of the Iranian government. This reminded many Baha'is that although the persecutions had abated for a number of years, it was always potentially there simmering under the surface awaiting a suitable pretext.
Secondly, since the beginning of the century, many of the Baha'is had managed to rise from being amongst the poorest families in such cities as Tehran to being among the rising numbers of middle-class professional and commercial families. This was probably due to a combination of the strong community spirit and the great emphasis on education among the Baha'is. This increased wealth gave many Baha'is the opportunity of sending their children abroad for education. The Baha'is were probably marginally more active in this respect than other middle-class Iranians because of the great emphasis on education among the community, the encouragement of the leadership, the support received by the students from the Baha'is of the West and the fact that the Baha'is were not encumbered by the traditional Shi'i notion that all non-Muslims are ritually impure (najes). The great difference lay in the fact that whereas other Iranians would usually return to Iran after completing their education, the Baha'is, faced with the prospect of persecution and harassment in Iran, would often choose to settle permanently abroad.
Thirdly, from the 1940s onwards, small numbers of Iranian Baha'is began to settle in neighbouring countries. Then in 1953, the Baha'i leader, Shoghi Effendi, launched an international plan for the spread of the Baha'i Faith throughout the world. The aim of the plan was to spread the Baha'i Faith to most of the parts of the world where it was not present and in addition to strengthen the community in those parts of the world where it already existed. Each existing Baha'i community was given goals to be achieved. Iran was assigned 13 countries and territories to be "opened" and 14 countries and territories to be "consolidated". Shoghi Effendi announced that the title of "Knight of Baha'u'llah" would be given to all those who "opened" new territories during this plan. 42 of the 247 (17%) persons eventually named as "Knights of Baha'u'llah" were Iranians.(6)
Therefore for a variety of reasons, there was a large outflow of Iranians,
starting in the 1950s and increasing throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Most
of these Baha'i migrants moved to the countries of Europe and North America.
In Europe they often became the largest component in the Baha'i
communities there. In some countries of Europe, the Iranian Baha'is still constitute up to 60% of the Baha'is. In the U.S.A., however, there was already a substantial Baha'i community which, during the 1960s and 1970s, was itself growing rapidly. Therefore the new Iranian Baha'is probably represent no more an 10% of the Baha'i community even despite the large influx since 1979.
It is of some interest that many of these migrations of the Baha'is
were referred to by the Baha'is using terms that had conveyed a religious
charge. Those migrating to Ashkabad are referred to as Mohajerin,
a term closely connected with the Hijra of the Prophet Muhammad.
Later the same term was applied to those moving from one place to another
for the purpose of spreading the religion, although the noun used in connection
with this activity is
Mohajerat and not Hijra. Those migrating
to the Haifa-Akka are referred to as Mojawerin, again a term associate
with Muhammad's mission (Mojawerin were those living within and
protected by a haram area such as at Mecca or Medina). The international
plan to spread the Baha'i Faith launched by Shoghi Effendi in 1953 was
referred to as a jihad (holy war; the corresponding English term
''crusade" was used in the West).
Problems of Communications
The fact that the leadership of the Babi-Baha'i movement was, for most of this period, in exile and at some considerable remove from the main bulk of its followers, posed substantial problems. The mechanisms through which these problems were overcome at a time when the movement itself was harassed and persecuted are of interest.
From the year 1847, the Bab was kept imprisoned in effective internal exile in a remote corner of Azarbaijan first at Maku and then at Chehriq. This set up a logistics problem for the new movement in terms of communications with their leader. The problem was overcome in two ways. Firstly there were a number of Babis from all parts of Iran who came to Maku and Chehriq for a short period to visit their leader and would recturn with letters and messages from him to the Babis in their region and along their route of travel. Secondly there was one individual Mirza 'All Sayyid who became a full-time courier. He would take the letters and "revelations" of the Bab to Molla 'Abd al-Karim Qazwini, who was usually resident in Qazwin or Qumm. The latter would transcribe these and make numerous copies which would be distributed throughout Iran. In this manner the Babis kept in effective although not close contact with their leader.
Much the same system was used during later periods. When the Babi leadership
was in Baghdad, there was a constant flow of Babis from all parts of Iran
visiting and then returning.(7) A number
of Babis also became couriers travelling through Iran keeping the community
in touch with the leadership in Baghdad.(8)
These methods appear to have been reasonably effective. We know for example
that Baha'u'llah's book Ketab-i Iqan achieved wide distribution
and was highly thought of by the Babis within a short time of its composition
(in c. 1862) and before its author had put forward any claim (Haydar 'All,
Later, during the Baha'i period, with the leadership very remote in Edirne and Akka, the communications became even more problematic. The solution however, used basically the same formula: a combination of visiting Baha'is and specialized couriers. In the atmosphere of fear and suspicion in which most of the Iranian Baha'is lived, it was something of a problem for those wishing to visit Akka to explain their prolonged absence (usually for several months) to their neighbours and acquaintances. This problem was solved by using the annual Hajj pilgrimage as a cover for visiting Akka. For Baha'is living in the south of Iran, the easiest route was to join the Hajj traffic to the Hejaz by sea from Bushehr to Jeddah; to perform the rites of pilgrimage and then join the Damascus caravan of pilgrims leaving the Hejaz. This took them to within easy reach of Akka. Baha'is from the north-west of Iran would use the overland route via Mosul and Aleppo.
The return journey for all travellers would usually be through Beirut, Aleppo and Mosul. This is because, from 1868 to 1885. there lived in Mosul, Molla Zayn al-'Abedin Najafabadi, known as Zayn al-Moqarrebin, who transcibed numerous copies of the letters from Baha'u'llah that the visitors to Akka would be taking back with them, thus ensuing a wide distribution of these communications (Browne 1926: 522-3; Momen, 1987: 115-69).
Although the overland route via Mosul and Aleppo was the shortest in distance, it was also the most dangerous and troublesome and was therefore avoided by most of those wishing to visit Akka. During a later period, from about 1885 onwards, the Baha'is in the north and cast of Iran preferred to travel via Ashkabad, Baku, and Batum by rail and thence by sea via Istanbul, and Alexandria or Beirut; while it was not uncommon for those in the south to travel by steam-ship to Bombay and thence via-the Suez Canal and Alexandria. It was only after the First World War that the direct land route became e common.
These visitors would usually be the bearers of numerous letters to Baha'u'llah from other Baha'is of their home town. This together with the replies from Baha'u'llah, and at a later date 'Abd al-Baha, was the principle means of communications.(9) Once again the term used for visiting Baha'u'llah, ziyarat also carries a religious charge for Shi'is being the term used for visiting the shrines of the Shi'i Imarns and their families.
Another measure that appears to have been established at an early date was the necessity for Baha'is to obtain permission from Akka to visit there, firstly before setting off and again in Beirut or Alexandria at the last stage before arrival. This allowed the Baha'i leadership some control over the number of Baha'is arriving, which was of some importance considering that the Baha'i leaders were still technically prisoners of the Ottoman Government.(10)10 In one of his writings dated 1889, Baha'u'llah sets out the conditions for those wishing to come to Akka, ziyarat: fitness of temperament and health for the journey; sufficient finances and other means for the journey; receipt [from Akka] of permission to travel, being the most important condition; and even if all of these
factors were present, it was not permissible to travel if wisdom decreed otherwise (Baha'u'llah, n.d.: 27). E. G. Browne records something of the procedure for Baha'i visitors to Akka in the course of describing his own visit via Beirut (Browne, 1891 xxvii-xxix).
By the late 1880s, the organization of visits to Akka had reached a considerable degree of sophistication. A number of Baha'is were stationed along the usual routes of travel who would act as guides and hosts to those setting out to visit Akka. These guides were stationed at Batum, Tiflis and Istanbul for those using the northern route and later there were even Baha'i travellers' hospices (mosafer-khaneh) at Ashkabad and Baku (Mazandarani n.d.: 9, 20, 22; 1974: 73, 92). But the most important Baha'i agents were the two stationed at Beirut and Alexandria. These two places were the last major staging posts prior to arrival at Akka and the Baha'i agents in those places were responsible for obtaining final permission for the travellers to proceed to Akka.
Apart from these visitors to Akka, the other main means of communication was by means of courier. The two most important couriers were Shaikh Salman Hendejani,(11) who was primarily responsible for taking letters backwards and forwards to Akka, and Hajji Abu'l-Hasan Amin, who was primarily responsible for collection of the Hoquq Allah (a religious tax) although be would also take letters with him. The latter had appointed a number of assistants resident in various parts of Iran and at Ashkabad who helped him in his work (Mazandarani, n.d.: 9, 21, 1974: 120).
It was always very difficult for the Baha'is to use the postal facilities. Quite apart from their unreliability, there was a high chance that post addressed directly to the Baha'is in Akka would be intercepted by Iranian Post Office officials. Some use was made of intermediaries such as Baha'is resident in Egypt and Beirut. The most successful use of the postal service was however made by Mirza 'Ali Haidar Shirwani, who was a merchant in Tehran. Being a Russian subject, the Iranian government did not dare to interfere with his mail and, by this means, he became a major route for communications between Akka and Iran (Mazandarani, n.d.: 468).
From the early decades of the twentieth century, it became increasingly easy to use the postal facilities and also the telegraph for letters and other communications, while direct overland travel from Iran to Akka became much easier. Financial transactions were increasingly made through the international banking system. Direct communications were also established between the Baha'is of Iran and the growing Baha'i communities in the USA and Europe. Only the two world wars caused problems with the ease of communication. The land route to Akka was however closed with the formation of the State of Israel.
Until the 1920s, the major communication had been between the leader
of the Baha'i Faith and individual Baha'is. However as the Baha'i administration
was gradually established, the communications that occurred became increasingly
between Shoghi Effendi, the head of the Baha'i Faith, and the Baha'i national
and local assemblies. These assemblies then took on the responsibility
for disseminating the communications received from Shoghi Effendi to the
Baha'i community. The laborious process of copying by hand was of course
gradually replaced by printing. Printing of Baha'i books within Iran was
not possible due
to the banning of this by the authorities, although a certain amount
of publication by jellygraph did occur. The earliest printing of Baha'i
books took place in the 1880s through a press established by the Afnan
family (relatives of the Bab). Later, Shaikh Farajullah Kurdi in Cairo
became the principle Baha'i publisher in the East.
The Baha'i community of Iran has been subjected to almost continuous persecution and harassment since its inception as the Babi movement in the mid-nineteenth century. One tactic, among others, that it has used for coping with this persecution has been exile, whether internally to another part of the country or externally. The internal exile has benefited from anonymity in his new surroundings and usually moved to a part of the country where the level of persecution was lower. The external exile was usually seeking complete religious freedom. Both forms of exile were often accompanied by considerable financial loss (although perhaps no more than staying at home and having one's property destroyed or looted) and external exile led to socio-cultural dislocation. However, through communal solidarity and a strong commitment to education, these disadvantages have been overcome with time.
One of the problems of a leadership in exile is that of maintaining
communications with the mass of their followers. In the case of the Baha'i
community, this problem was overcome through encouraging individual Baha'is
to visit the leadership in exile and through using a system of letters
carried by these visitors and more particularly by full-time couriers.
Table 1: Persecutions of Baha'is in the Isfahan Area, 1874-1921
|1874:||Twenty or more Baha'is arrested in Isfahan|
|1875 (A.H. 1292):||'ulama roused a rabble against the Baha'is in Sedeh; several arrested and imprisoned in Isfahan|
|1877:||Execution of Molla Kazem of Talkhoncheh|
|1879:||Execution of Hajji Sayyed Mohammad Hasan and Hajji Sayyed Mohammad Hosain. two prominent merchants|
|1888:||Execution of Mirza Ashraf|
|I889:||Baha'is of Sedeh end Najafabad beaten and driven into Isfahan where they took sanctaury with the Governor, some leave for Tehran to petition the Shah|
|1890:||Seven killed as they attempt to return to their homes in Sedeh|
|1894-5:||Severe persecution in Daulatabad causes all Baha'is there to leave and migrate to Tehran|
|1899:||Baha'is arrested and homes looted in Najafabad|
|1901:||Gholam-Reza killed in Najafabad|
|1903:||Persecution of Baha'is causes a large number to take sanctuary. These are then beaten as they leave leading to the death of one Baha'i|
|1905:||Hajji Kalb-'Ali killed in Najafabad|
|1909:||Hajji Haydar killed|
|1910:||Mohammad Ja'far Sabbagh killed in Najafabad|
|1914:||Baha'is of Ardistan arrested, beaten and fined|
|1917:||Baha'is arrested and beaten; Baha'i graves desecrated|
|1920:||Baha'i graves desecrated|
|1920:||Genenal anti-Baha'i agitation in Jaz|
|1921:||General anti-Baha'i agitation in Isfahan|
Sources: Momen, 1981: 269-289, 376-385, 426-438; Mazandarani n.d. 285.
Table 2: Migrations of Prominent Baha'is From the Isfahan Area
During the Time of Baha'u'llah (1854-1892)
|Place of Destination||Intermediate Destination||Final Destination|
|Other (Quchan, Zanjan, Iskandarun, Shiraz, India)||5|
1. For details of the Bab's claims and how these were venously interpreted. see Momen, 1982: 140-142; regarding the opposition of the 'ulama of Najaf and Karbala, see Momen, 1982: 116-140; regarding the opposition in Kerman, see Nabil, 1962: 180-1, 187; Nicolas, 1905: 228-9; regarding the opposition of Hosain Khan govemor of Pars, see Nabil, 1962: 145-151.
2. Michele Lessona, I Babi, translated by U. Giachery; see Momen 1981 27.
3. See for example the reaction of his Iranian informant in Tehran when he tried to enquire about the Baha'is, Browne, 1926: 165; also in Momen, 1987: 17.
4. Napier Malcolm commenting on the insularity of the Yazdis in 1898-1905 stated that most Yazdis identified themselves with their town and not at all with their country. This probably applied to most Iranians in the mid-nineteenth century (Malcolm, 1908: 3843).
5. Arnold Burrowes Kemball in a dispatch dated 9 June 1858, Public Record Office, quoted in Momen, 1981:181.
6. Baha'i World Centre, 1970: 449-457. There were in fact probably a greater number of Iranians than this since the names of a number of persons who moved to sensitive areas were not disclosed.
7. Numerous examples of this arc mentioned fin various
texts, gee, for example, references to 'Ali Mohammad ebn-e Asdaq, Molla
Mohammed Taqi Boshru'i, and Molla 'Ali Bajistani in Mazandarani, n.d.:
34, 63, 95; Haydar 'Ali, 1980 12.
8. Among those who performed this function were Molla Mohanmad Nabil Zarandi and Mirza Aqa Monir Kashani; see Balyuzi, 1980: 131, 479.
9. The Baha'i World Centre in Haifa recently announced that their collection of these letters of Baha'u'llah numbered some 15,000; and of 'Abd al-Baha some 27,000; Baha'i World Centre, 1983: 22
10. In 1873, for example, when there were difficulties in Akka for the Baha'is, permission
for pilgrims to proceed was cancelled; see Balyuzi, 1980: 347.
11. E. G. Browne met this man in Shiraz; see Browne,
1926: 527-8; also Momen, 1987: 118-9.
Baha'i World Centre
1970 The Baha'i World, vol. 13, 1954-63, Haifa: Bahah'i World Centre
1970 The Seven Year Plan, Haifa: Baha'i World Centre
n.d. Alvah Mubaraka Hadrat Baha'u'llah; Iqtidarat wa chand lawh digar,
[Tehran: Mu'ssisa Matbu`at Amri]
1949 Gleanings from the Writings
of Baha'u'llah (trans. Shoghi Effendi).
London: Baha'i Publishing Trust
1984 Montakhabati az athar
Hadrat Baha'u'llah Hofheim-Langenhain:
1973 The Bab, Oxford: George Ronald
Browne, E G.
1980 Baha'u'llah, the King of Glory Oxford: George Ronald
1981 A Traveller's Narrative
written to illustrate the Episode of the Bab,
Cambridge: University Press, vol. 2
1926 A Year among the Persians, Cambridge University Press
Haydar 'Ali, Haji Mirza
1980 Stories from the Delight of Hearts (trans. and abridged A.Q. Faizi), Los
Angeles: Kalimat Press
1908 Five Years in a Persian Town, London: John Murray
n.d. Tarikh-e Zohur al-Haqq, vol. 6, undated manuscript, photocopy in
Afnan Library, London
1974 Tarikh-e Zohur al-Haqq,
vol. 8, pt 1, Tehran: Mu'assisa Matbu'at Amri,
1981 (ed.), The Babi and Baha'i Religions 1844-1944; some contemporary
Western accounts, Oxford: George Ronald
1982 "The Trial of Mulla
'All Bastami: a combined Sunni-Shi'i
fatwa against the Bab", Iran, 20: 113-143
1987 (ed.) Selections
from the writings of E. G. Browne on the
Babi and Baha'i Religions, Oxford: George Ronald
1990 "The Baha'i Community
of Ashkabad; its social basis and importance in
Baha'i History", Central Asia: Tradition and Change (ed. S. Akiner),
London: Keegan Paul International, forthcoming
1962 The Dawn-Breakers:Nabil's Narrative of the early days of the Baha'i
Revelation (trans. and ed. Shoghi Effendi), Wilmette, Illinois: Baha'i
1905 Seyyed Ali Mohammed dit le Bab, Paris: Dujarric
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