A Year Amongst the Persians: Isfahan



JULFA is, as I have said, situated at some distance from Isfahan, and to walk from the Mission-House to the bazaars requires the best part of an hour. Hence it happened that, although I remained a fortnight in this place, I did not visit the city more than five or six times, and then chiefly for business in the bazaars or caravansarays. Four or five days after my arrival, however, I accompanied Mr Aghanor, the British agent, into the town, and he kindly devoted several hours to showing me some of its more interesting features. Some of these I have already- noticed, and it only remains to say a few words about the rest.

      The first public building which we visited was the Madrasa, or College, built by Sultan Huseyn, in whose unfortunate reign (A.D. 1694-1722) the glory of the Safavi dynasty, and with it the glory of Isfahan, was brought to a disastrous end by the Afghan invasion. The Madrasa is built in the form of a hollow


but of these two-thirds are untenanted. In the centre of the spacious courtyard is a large tank of water, pleasantly overshadowed by plane-trees. The entrance to the college is through a corridor, now used as a small bazaar, furnished on the side towards the road with massive gates overlaid with exquisite brasswork, and adorned with Arabic inscriptions in the centre and Persian on the margin. The walls of the corridor are also ornamented with tiles bearing inscriptions.

      Leaving this, we proceeded to the Chabil sutun ("forty columns"), so-called because of a double row of plane-trees standing by the side of a stream which traverses the garden. The trees in question are only twenty in number, their reflections in the limpid water beneath constituting the other twenty "columns." At the farther end of this garden is the beautiful little palace called Hasht Bihisht ("Eight Paradises ). This had belonged to the Zillu's-Sultan's minister, Sarimu'd-Dawla, whose life had recently been brought to an abrupt close by an obscure and rapidly fatal disease which defied the skill of the physicians. Such was the official report received from the capital, where his decease had occurred: popular rumour, however, ascribed his death to a cup of "Kajar coffee," which had disagreed with the unfortunate nobleman. The walls of this palace are beautifully decorated, and adorned with six fine paintings representing scenes of battle or revelry. Concerning the latter, an old Seyyid, who was present, remarked with indignation that they were productions of a later age, since such scenes of dissipation never disgraced the court of the pious Safavis. Of the three battle scenes, one represented the rout of the Uzbegs by the Persian army; another, an engagement between the Persians and the Ottoman Turks under Selim I, and the third, one of the wars of Nadir Shah with the Indians. Besides these, and the two banquet scenes which had roused the indignation of the Seyyid, there was a picture representing Shah Tahmasp I receiving the fugitive emperor of Hindustan, Humayun.


      Signs of the prevailing vandalism were apparent alike in the palace and the garden. In the former, the beautiful mural decorations (except the pictures) were being covered with hideous brick-red paint. In the latter, the plane-trees were falling beneath the axes of a party of woodcutters. A remonstrance addressed to the latter merely elicited the thoroughly Persian reply, "Digar...hukm-ast" ("Well...it is ordered"). They seemed sorry to be engaged in destroying the relics of the glorious past, but--"digar"--what else could they do? They could no more refuse to carry out the Prince's wishes than they could venture to criticise his decision.

      In another room in a building at the other end of the garden were two portraits of a former governor of Isfahan, Minuchihr Khan, the Georgian eunuch, who died in A.D. 1847. He is described by Gobineau as a man "redoute et redoutable par ses talents et un peu aussi par sa cruaute," and was so powerful that it is related that on one occasion the king, Muhammad Shah, summoned him to Teheran and said to him, "I have heard that you are like a king at Isfahan," to which the wily old minister promptly replied, " Yes, your Majesty, that is true, and you must have such kings as your governors, in order that you may enjoy the title of 'Shahinshah' ('King of kings')."

      We passed through a portion of the palace and paid a visit to the Ruknu'l-Mulk, who was acting as deputy-governor during the absence of the Zillu's-Sultan. He was a fine-looking Shirazi, and received us with great urbanity, bidding us be seated, and ordering tea and kalyans to be brought to us. At his side sat the Munajjim-bashi, or Chief Astrologer. We presently asked if there was any news from the capital, whereupon he informed us, without any outward sign of the emotion which so startling an event must have produced in him, that a telegram had just arrived announcing that the Prince-Governor, the Zillu's-Sultan, had "resigned" all his extensive governments in Southern Persia, retaining nothing but the city of Isfahan. From what I have


already said in a previous chapter, it will be sufficiently evident that the term "resignation" was a euphemism.

      I took several walks round the environs of Julfa, and one of the first places which I visited was the Armenian cemetery. Here, after some search, I found the grave of the Swiss watchmaker who was put to death by the Muhammadan clergy two centuries ago, for having, in self-defence, killed a Musulman. He was a great favourite with the king, who exerted himself to save his life, but the only condition on which this was possible was that he should consent to embrace Islam, which he refused to do. The heavy oblong stone which marks the spot where his body rests bears the simple inscription " CY GIT RODOLFE." Round about this are the graves of a number of European merchants, for the most part Dutch or Swiss, who had been attracted to the then famous capital of the Safavis during the latter part of the seventeenth and earlier part of the eighteenth century. Of the few English tombstones which I discovered, one bore the following curious inscription:--



      I also ascended two of the mountains which lie beyond the cemetery to the south of Julfa. One of these, situated just to the west of the Shiraz road, is called Kuh-i-Sufi. On the northern face of this is a ruined building, whence I obtained a fine view of Isfahan, the size of which now became apparent, though the


miles of ruins which surround it show how much larger it was in former days. The whole of that portion of the plain in which the city lies was spread like a map at my feet. To the east was the ill-famed Hazar Dere, the fabled abode of ghuls and 'ifrits, a waste of conical hillocks; and near that side of it which bordered on the Shiraz road could be seen the single tree which marks the site of the "Farewell Fountain" (Chashme-i-Khuda-hafiz), the spot to which the traveller journeying towards the south is usually accompanied by his friends. Right across the plain from west to east meandered the Zayanda-Rud, spanned by its three bridges, and girt with gardens. On the farther side of this rose the domes and minarets of Isfahan; opposite the City, and on the south side of the river, lay the great Musulman cemetery, called Takht-i-Fulad; while on the same side of the river, but farther to the west, stretched the Christian suburb of Julfa.

      The other mountain which I ascended is called the Takht-i- Rustam, and forms the extreme western limit of the range which terminates to the east in the Kuh-i-Sufi above described. This mountain is crowned by a great crest of overhanging rocks, along the base of which I had to creep before I could ascend to the summit, where stands a small building of brick in a very dilapidated condition. From this point I could see'-far away to the west, in the direction of Char Mahall and the Bakhtiyari country, and a wild, forbidding landscape it was, hemmed in by black lowering mountains. Straight below me, on the farther side of the road leading to Char Mahall, was a remarkable mass of rock, which, seen from certain points of view, looks like a gigantic lion. It is often called "the Sphinx" by Europeans. Beyond this were gardens and walled villages on either side of the river, and beyond these a background of mountains, in the bosom of which lies the village of Najaf-Abad, one of the Babi strongholds. The exquisite clearness and purity of the atmosphere in Persia, enabling one as it does to see for an almost unlimited


distance, lends an indescribable charm to views such as the one which now lay before me, and I long gazed with admiration on the panorama to the westward. But when I glanced down into the dark valley to the south of the ridge on which I now stood, towards which the mountain fell away so rapidly that it seemed as if one might cast a stone into it without effort, a feeling akin to terror at its savage loneliness and utter isolation overcame me, and I was glad to commence the descent with all speed, lest some uncontrollable impulse should prompt me to cast myself down into this gloomy ravine.

      Another day I paid a visit to the celebrated, but somewhat disappointing, "shaking minarets" (minare-i-junban) situated to the west of Julfa, which were duly rocked to and fro for my entertainment. Beyond these is a curiously-shaped hill called the Atash-gah, on which, as its name implies, there is said to exist a ruined Fire-temple. To this, however, I had not time to extend my excursion.

      Thus passed the time I spent at the ancient capital, partly in walks and sight-seeing, partly in the genial society of Dr Hoernle and the other European residents. In the late afternoon we often played tennis, there being two very fairly good grounds in Julfa. Of Persian society I saw but little, and indeed for the first week I hardly had occasion to talk Persian at all except to the Mirza employed by the Mission--a man of considerable erudition, not devoid of a certain degree of scepticism in religious matters. I several times questioned him about the Babis, and begged him to put me in communication with them, or at least to obtain for me some of their books. Whether he could or would have done so I know not, for an occurrence which took place about a week after my arrival rendered me independent of such help, brought me into immediate contact with the proscribed sect which had hitherto eluded all my search, and gave an entirely new turn to the remainder of my sojourn in Persia. The event which thus unexpectedly enabled me to gratify to the full a curiosity which


difficulties and disappointments had but served to increase, was as follows.

      One afternoon, rather more than a week after my arrival, and the day after the ascent of the Takht-i-Rustam above described, I was sitting lazily in the sitting-room which overlooked the courtyard, wondering when I should again start on my travels, and turning over in my mind the respective advantages of Shiraz and Yezd, when two dallals (brokers, or vendors of curiosities), armed with the usual collection of carpets, brasswork, trinkets, and old coins, made their appearance. Rather from lack of anything else to do than because I had any wish to invest in curiosities which were as certain to be dear as they were likely to be spurious, I stepped out into the porch to inspect the strange medley of objects which they proceeded to extract from their capacious bags and to display before me. None of them, however, particularly took my fancy, and I accordingly refused to treat the prices which they named as serious statements, and offered only such sums as appeared to me obviously below their real value, hoping thereby to cause the dallals, of whose company I was now tired, to withdraw in disgust. The dallals did not fail to discern my object, and the elder one--an old man with henna-dyed beard--ventured a remonstrance. "Sahib," he said, "we have come a long way to show you our goods, and you have taken up a great deal of our time. You will not be dealing fairly with us if you send us away without buying anything." I was about to remind him that I had not asked him to come, and had only consented to examine his wares at his own request, and on the distinct understanding that by so doing I was not in any way binding myself to become a purchaser, when the younger dallal stepped up on to the platform where I was standing, put his mouth dose to my ear, and whispered, "You are afraid we shall cheat you. I am not a Musulman that I should desire to cheat you: I AM A BABI."

      To this day I am at a loss to account for the motives which prompted this extraordinary frankness. Perhaps some rumour


had reached the man (for rumours in Persia get about in the most unaccountable manner) that I was anxious to make acquaintance with the sect to which he belonged; perhaps he imagined that all Christians were better disposed towards the Babis than towards the Muhammadans; perhaps the admission was merely a random shot, prompted by the consideration that at least it was unlikely to expose him to any risk. Be this as it may, the effect produced on me by these words was magical. Here at last was the long desired opportunity for which I had waited and watched for four months. All my apathy was in a moment changed into the most eager interest, and my only fear now was that the dallals would take me at my word and go.

      "You are a Babi!" I said, as soon as my astonishment allowed me to speak. "Why, I have been looking for Babis ever since I set foot in Persia. What need to talk about these wares, about which I care but little? Get me your books if you can; that is what I want--your books, your books!"

      "Sahib," he said, "I will do what is possible to gratify your wishes: indeed I can promise you at least one or two books which will tell you about our beliefs. But how is it that you are so desirous of these? Where did you hear about us, if, as you say, you never yet met with one of our religion?"

      "I heard about you," I replied, "long before I came to Persia, or even thought that I should ever do so. A learned Frenchman who was living in Teheran soon after the Bab began to preach his doctrines, who witnessed some of the terrible persecutions to which his followers were exposed, and who was filled with wonder and admiration at their fortitude and disregard of death, wrote the history of all these things in his own language when he returned to Europe. This history I have read, and this wonder and admiration I share, so that I desire to know more of what you believe. Hitherto I have sought in vain, and met with nothing but disappointment. Now, please God, by means of your help I shall attain my object."


      "So the news of the 'Manifestation' has reached Firangistan!" he exclaimed. "That is indeed well! Surely I will do all in my power to assist you in your search for knowledge of this matter Nay, if you would desire to converse with one of us who is learned and pious and has suffered much for the cause, I will arrange that you shall meet him. He is our chief here, and once a fortnight he visits the house of each one of us who have believed, to assure himself that our households are maintained m a becoming manner, and to give us instruction and encouragement. I am but a poor ignorant dallal, but he will tell you all that you desire to know." Our whispered colloquy was now brought to an end, as the elder dallal began to manifest unmistakable signs of impatience. Hastily selecting a few small articles, I presented him with a sum of money sufficient to compensate him for his trouble and restore his good temper, and took leave of him and his comrade, entreating the latter by no means to fail in bringing me the books, which he promised to do, if possible, on the morrow.

      Next day, at about the same hour, my anxiety was brought to an end by the reappearance of the Babi dallal, who signified in answer to my look of enquiry, that he had brought the books I immediately conducted him to my room, but for some time I had to restrain my impatience owing to the presence of Haji Safar, who seemed possessed by a desire to inspect the wares brought by my new friend, which was as unaccountable as it was exasperating. I was afraid to tell him to go, lest I should still further arouse that curiosity which I had learned to regard as the dominant characteristic of Persians in general and Persian servants in particular, so I had to wait patiently till he chose to retire.

      No sooner was he out of the room than the Babi produced the books, telling me that he expected his companion momentarily, and that as the latter was a Musulman we should do well to make the best use of the time at our disposal, since his arrival would put an end to conversation on religious topics.


      The books in question were two in number: one was a manuscript copy of the Ikan ("Assurance"), which my companion declared to be an incontrovertible proof of the new faith, and by far the most important work to prepare me for a full comprehension of the Babi doctrines; the other was a small tract, written, as I afterwards learned, by 'Abbas Efendi (the son of Beha'u'llah, who is the present chief of the Babis and resides at Acre in Syria1) at the request of 'Ali Shevket Pasha in explanation of the tradition "I was a Hidden Treasure, and I desired to be known; therefore I created creation that I might be known"; which tradition, stated to have been revealed to David, constitutes one of the corner-stones of Sufi mysticism.

      The purchase of these books was soon effected, for I was pre- pared to give a much higher price than was actually demanded. Specimens of calligraphy were next produced, some of which were the work of one of Beha's sons, others of the renowned Mushkin-Kalam, who was one of the Babis exiled to Cyprus in A.D. 1868 by the Turkish Governrnent2, and who was, as I

1 He died since these words were written, on 16th May 1892, and was succeeded by one of his sons entitled Ghusn-i-Azam ("The Most Mighty Branch"). See Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society for 1892, pp. 706-10. 2 I cannot here repeat all that I have written elsewhere on the history, especially the later history, of the Babis. Those who desire full information on the subject I must refer to my papers in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, (July and October 1889; April, July, and October 1892), and to my translations of the Traveller's Narrative (Cambridge, 1891), and the New History (Cambridge, 1893). For the benefit of the general reader, I give the following brief epitome, which will suffice to render intelligible what is said in this book about the sect. The Bab, before his death (9th July 1850), had nominated as his successor a youth nineteen years of age named Mirza Yahya, and entitled Subh-i-Ezel ("The Dawn of Eternity"), who belonged to a noble family of Nur in Mazandaran. His succession was practically undisputed; and till 1866 he was recognised by all the Babis, including his half-brother Mirza Huseyn 'Ali, entitled Beha'u'llah ("The Splendour of God"), who was about thirteen years senior to him, as the Head of the Babi Church. In 1852, in consequence of the violent persecution of the Babis which followed the attempt on the Shah's life, the headquarters of the sect were transferred to Baghdad. There the Babi chiefs remained till 1862 or 1863, when, at the request of the Persian Government, they were transferred by the Turkish authorities to Constantinople (where they remained four months) and thence to Adrianople. While they were at Adrianople, Beha'u'llah announced himself to be "Him Whom God shall Manifest," that Great Deliverer and Fulfiller of the New Dispensation, whose advent the Bab had announced Most of the Babis admitted his claim, and became Beha'is; some few adhered to Subh-i-Ezel who vigorously contested it, and were henceforth known as Ezelis. Disputes and quarrels ensued, and finally, in the summer of 1868 the rivals were separated by the Turkish Government. Subh-i-Ezel, with his family and a few of Beha'u'llah's followers including Mushkin-Kalam, was sent to Famagusta, in Cyprus, where he still (1889) resides, being now a pensioner of the English Government. Beha'u'llah, with his family, a number of his followers and six or seven of the followers of Subh-i-Ezel, was sent to Acre on the Syrian coast. This is still the headquarters of the Beha'is (who constitute the vast majority of Babis at the present day) but Beha'u'llah himself, as stated in a previous note, died on 16th May 1892. After the occupation of Cyprus by the English, the surviving exiles there interned were given permission to depart if they so pleased. Of this permission Mushkin- Kalam availed himself. He left Cyprus in September 1886 for Acre where I met him in April 1890.


gathered, related in some way to my friend the dallal. Mushkin- Kalam's skill in calligraphy is a matter of notoriety amongst the Babis, and his writing is, indeed, very beautiful. Especially curious were some of his productions, in which the writing was so arranged as to take the form of a bird (Khatt-i-murghi). The dallal informed me that these would be eagerly sought after by Persians of all classes, were it not that they all bore, as the signature of the penman, the following verse:

As it was, the sale of these works of art was limited entirely to the Babi community.

      When the inspection of these treasures was completed, I asked the dallal whether he knew where the two Seyyids who suffered martyrdom for the Babi faith about the year 1879 were buried.

      "Yes," he replied, "I know the spot well, and will take you there if you wish it; but surely, Sahib, you who are so eager to obtain our books, who desire to visit the graves of our martyrs,


must be prompted by some motive beyond mere curiosity. You have been to Acre, you have been honoured by beholding the Blessed Countenance, you are yourself a Babi. Say, is it not so? There is no need to conceal anything from me."

      "My friend," I answered, "I am neither a Babi, nor have I been to Acre; yet I confess that I am actuated by something more than mere curiosity. I cannot but feel that a religion which has produced examples of such heroic courage and fortitude as yours, merits a careful examination, since that must needs contain noble thoughts which can prompt to noble deeds. In visiting the graves of your martyrs I would fain pay a tribute of respect to those who gave up wealth, ease, and consideration, nay, even life itself, for the faith which they held dearer than all else."

      At this point our conversation was interrupted by the entrance of the other dallal with a collection of pictures, articles of brass-work, and other curiosities, from which I proceeded to make a selection. It was proposed by myself, and readily agreed to by the dallals, that there should be no bargaining: they would state the price which they had actually paid for each of the articles in question, and I, if it appeared to me reasonable, would give it, together with a small percentage for their profit. In consequence of this, the transaction was one of the shortest and pleasantest I had ever effected in the East, where bartering and haggling about prices is usually inevitable; and, so far as I could judge, I obtained the full value of my money.

      Just as they were leaving, the Babi found an opportunity of whispering in my ear, "Do not forget next Saturday. I will make arrangements for someone to meet you at a given spot in the town; if I cannot find anyone else, I will come myself. Who- ever your conductor may be, you will recognise him by a sign, and will follow him: he will bring you safely to my house, and there you will meet our chief. I will see you again before then, and inform you of the spot determined on. May God be your keeper!."


      Saturday came at last, and at an early hour my friend the dallal appeared. After a brief consultation we agreed on one of the principal caravansarays in the city as the best rendezvous. I was to be in waiting there shortly after mid-day, and either my friend or his associate would come to meet me.

      At the appointed time I was in readiness at the spot designated, and I had not waited long before the elder dallal appeared, caught my attention, signed to me to follow him, and plunged once more into a labyrinth of the bazaars. Once assured that I was following him, he hardly looked back, till, after half an hour's rapid walking, we reached the house of the Babi, who welcomed me at the door, led me into the sitting-room, and, in the intervals of preparing tea for me and the distinguished guest he was still expecting, pointed out to me a number of his treasures. These included a photograph of the above-mentioned Mushkin-Kalam and his two sons, and another photograph of the graves of the "Martyrs of Isfahan," which he assured me had been taken by a European resident who was greatly attached to the murdered men.

      After a short while there came a knock at the outer door; my host hastened out and immediately returned, ushering in the Babi missionary, to whom he presented me. He was a grave, earnest-looking man of about forty-five years of age, as I should guess; and as he sat opposite to me sipping his tea, I had plenty of time to observe his countenance attentively, and to note the combination of decision, energy, and thoughtfulness which it expressed. His manners were pleasing, and his speech, when he spoke, persuasive. Altogether he was a man whom one would not readily forget, even after a single interview, and on whose memory one dwells with pleasure.

      The elder dallal, who had absented himself for a short time, soon returned, and with him another Babi, a tile-maker by trade. The presence of the former put some restraint on the conversation, so that I was unable to ask many questions. I learned, however,


that he whom I now beheld was one of the chief missionaries of the new faith, for which he had suffered stripes, imprisonment, and exile more than once. I begged him to tell me what it was that had made him ready to suffer these things so readily. "You must go to Acre," he replied, "to understand that."

      "Have you been to Acre?" I said, "and if so, what did you see there?"

      "I have been there often," he answered, "and what I saw was a man perfect in humanity."

      More than this he would not say. "You are leaving Isfahan, as I understand, in a few days," he remarked, "and opportunity is lacking to explain to you what you desire to know. I will, however, write to the 'Friends' at Shiraz, and Abade also if you wish, requesting them to expect your arrival, and to afford you all facilities for discussing these matters. Should you intend to visit other towns at a subsequent date, they will furnish you with all necessary recommendations and instructions. The 'Friends' are everywhere, and though hitherto you have sought for them without success, and only at last chanced on them by what would seem a mere accident, now that you have the clue you will meet them wherever you go. Write down these two names (here he gave me the names and addresses of two of his co-religionists at Abade and Shiraz respectively), and when you arrive enquire for them. Before your arrival they will be duly informed of your coming, and of your reason for desiring to converse with them. Now farewell, and may God direct you unto the truth."

      "Aka," said the dallal, "the Sahib desires to visit the graves of the 'King of Martyrs,' and the 'Beloved of Martyrs,' and I have promised to take him there. Will you not also accompany us, that we may beguile the way with profitable conversation?"

      "It is well that he should visit these graves," answered the other, "and we thank him for the good-will towards us which his desire to do so implies. Nevertheless, I will not come, for


I am perhaps too well known of men, and it is not wise to incur needless risk. Farewell!"

      Soon after the departure of the chief, I also, finding it later than I had supposed, rose to go. The tile-maker volunteered to guide me back to the caravansaray. There was but little opportunity for conversation on the way thither, nor would it have been safe to talk of those matters which occupied our minds in the open street. "You see, Sahib," whispered my companion, "what our condition is. We are like hunted animals or beasts of prey, which men slay without compunction; and this because we have believed in God and his Manifestation."

      On arriving at the caravansaray whence I had started, I bade farewell to my guide, and betook myself to the office of Messrs Ziegler's agents to conclude the arrangements for my journey to Shiraz. A muleteer was found, a native of the village of Khuraskan, called 'Abdu'r-Rahim, who agreed to furnish me with three animals at the rate of three tumans (rather less than 1 pound) a head, to convey me to Shiraz in fourteen marches, and to halt for one day at any place on the road which I might choose. Half the money was at once paid down, and, the bargain being satisfactorily concluded, I walked home to Julfa with Messrs Ziegler's agent, who had kindly assisted me in making these arrangements.

      Next day, early in the afternoon, my friend the dallal came to conduct me to the tombs of the martyrs. After a walk of more than an hour in a blazing sun, we arrived at the vast cemetery called Takht-i-Fulad ("the Throne of Steel"). Threading our way through the wilderness of tombstones, my companion presently espied, and summoned to us, a poor grave-digger, also belonging to the persecuted sect, who accompanied us to a spot marked by two small mounds of stones and pebbles. Here we halted, and the dallal, turning to me, said, "These are the graves of the martyrs. No stone marks the spot, because the Musulmans destroyed those which we placed here, and, indeed, it is


perhaps as well that they have almost forgotten the resting-places of those they slew, lest, in their fanaticism, they should yet further desecrate them. And now we will sit down for a while in this place, and I will tell you how the death of these men was brought about. But first it is well that our friend should read the prayer appointed for the visitation of this holy spot."

      The other thereupon produced a little book from under his cloak, and proceeded to read a prayer, partly in Arabic, partly in Persian. When this was concluded, we seated ourselves by the graves, and the dallal commenced his narrative.

      "This," said he, pointing to the mound nearest to us, "is the tomb of Haji Mirza Hasan, whom we call Sultanu'sh-Shuhada, 'the King of Martyrs,' and that yonder is the resting-place of his elder brother, Haji Mirza Huseyn, called Mahbubu'sh-Shuhada, 'the Beloved of Martyrs.' They were Seyyids by birth, and merchants by profession; yet neither their descent from the Prophet, nor their rare integrity in business transactions and liberality to the poor, which were universally acknowledged, served to protect them from the wicked schemes of their enemies. Amongst their debtors was a certain Sheykh Bakir, a mulla of this city, who owed them a sum of about ten thousand tumans (3,000 pounds). Now Sheykh Bakir knew that they were of the number of the 'Friends,' and he thought that he might make use of this knowledge to compass their death, and so escape the payment of the debt. So he went to the Imam-Jum'a of Isfahan, who was the chief of the clergy, and said to him, 'These men are Babis, and as such they are, according to the law of Islam, worthy of death, since they do not believe that Muhammad, the Apostle of God, is the last of the Prophets, but hold that Mirza 'Ali Muhammad of Shiraz received a new revelation whereby the Kur'an is abrogated. To my knowledge, also, they are very wealthy, and if they be slain for their apostasy from Islam, their wealth will be ours.' The Imam-Jum'a was easily persuaded to become a party to this design, and these two wicked men accordingly went to the


Zillu's-Sultan, the Prince-Governor, and laid the matter before him. He was by no means averse to a scheme which seemed fraught with profit to himself, but nevertheless hesitated to decree the death of those whose descent from the Prophet, apart from their blameless lives, appeared to entitle them to respect and consideration. At length he answered thus: 'I cannot myself command their execution, since they have committed no crime against the state. If, however, you, in the name of the sacred law of Islam, condemn them to death, I shall, of course, not interfere with the execution of the sentence.'

      "Sheykh Bakir and the Imam-Jum'a therefore withdrew, and summoned seventeen other mullas; and these, after a brief deliberation, unanimously signed the death-warrant of the two Seyyids, who were forthwith arrested and cast into prison. When this transpired there was great consternation and distress amongst all classes, including the European residents, to whom the uprightness and virtue of the doomed men were well known. Application for the remission of the sentence was made by telegraph to Teheran, and the request was supported by one of the European Ambassadors resident there. The Shah consented to grant a reprieve, and telegraphed to the Zillu's-Sultan to that effect, but too late to stop the execution of the sentence. The two Seyyids, having refused to purchase life by apostasy*, had their throats cut; cords were then attached to their feet, and their bodies were dragged through the streets and bazaars to the gate


of the city, where they were cast under an old mud wall, which was then overthrown upon them.

      "When it was night an old servant of the martyred men, who had marked the spot where their bodies were cast, came thither, and extricated them from the debris of the mined wall, the fall of which had scarcely injured them. He tenderly washed away the blood and dust which covered them with water from the Zayanda-Rud, and then bore them to the cemetery, where he buried them in two freshly-made graves.

      "In the morning the soldiers and servants of the Prince discovered the removal of the bodies. Suspicion fell on the faithful old servant, but he refused to reveal anything under the cross- examination to which he was subjected, so that eventually they were compelled to let him go, and the bodies of the martyrs were left in peace. But we cannot mark the spot where they are buried with a stone, for when one was put up, the Musulmans, whose malignity towards us is unbounded, and who know very well that we pay visits to these graves in secret, overthrew it. Our friend here" (pointing to his companion) "was brought to believe by means of these martyrs. Was it not so?"

      "Yes," answered the other, "some time after their death I saw in a dream vast crowds of people visiting a certain spot in the cemetery. I asked in my dream, 'Whose are these graves?' An answer came, 'Those of the "King of Martyrs" and the "Beloved of Martyrs." 'Then I believed in that faith for which they had witnessed with their blood, seeing that it was accepted of God; and since then I visit them continually, and strive to keep them neat and orderly, and preserve the spot from oblivion by renewing the border of bricks and the heap of stones which is all that marks it."

      "He is a good man," rejoined the dallal, "and formerly those of the 'Friends' who came to visit the graves used to rest for a while in the little house which he has near here, and partake of tea and kalyans. The Musulmans, however, found this out,


made a raid on his house, abused and threatened him, and, before they departed, destroyed his tea-things and pipes. He is very poor," he added in a whisper, "give him a kran for his trouble; it is an action which has merit."

      I accordingly gave a small present to our guide, who departed with expressions of gratitude. After sitting a little while longer we too rose to go, and, taking a last look at the graves, from each of which I carried away a small stone as a memento, we once more turned our faces towards the city. On our way towards the gate of the cemetery we again passed the poor grave-digger with his little boy, and he again greeted me with expressions of thankfulness and good wishes for my journey.

      I was much touched by the kindliness of these poor people, and communicated something of my thoughts to my companion.

      "Yes," he answered, "we are much nearer to you in sympathy than the Muhammadans. To them you are unclean and accursed: if they associate with you it is only by overcoming their religious prejudices. But we are taught to regard all good men as clean and pure, whatever their religion. With you Christians especially we have sympathy. Has it not struck you how similar were the life and death of our Founder (whom, indeed, we believe to have been Christ Himself returned to earth) to those of the Founder of your faith? Both were wise, even in their childhood, beyond the comprehension of those around them; both were pure and blameless in their lives; and both at last were done to death by a fanatical priesthood and a government alarmed at the love and devotion which they inspired in their disciples*. But besides this the ordinances enjoined upon us are in many respects like those which you follow. We are recommended to take to ourselves


only one wife, to treat our families with tenderness and gentleness, and, while paying the utmost attention to personal cleanliness, to disregard the ceremonials of purification and the minute details concerning legal impurity, of which the Musulmans make so much. Further, we believe that women ought to be allowed to mix more freely with men, and should not be compelled to wear the veil. At present, fear of the Muhammadans compels us to act as they do in these matters, and the same consideration affects many other ordinances which are not obligatory on us when their observance would involve danger. Thus our fast is not in Ramazan, but during the nineteen days preceding the Nawruz ('New Year's Day'*); we are now in this period, but I am not observing the fast, because to do so would expose me to danger, and we are forbidden to incur needless risk. Our salutation, too, is different from that of the Muhammadans; when we meet, we greet one another with the words 'Allahu abha' ('God is most bright'). Of course we only use this form of greeting when none but 'Friends' are present."

      "Can you recognise one another in any special way?" I asked.

      "I think we can do so by the light of affection," answered my companion, "and in support of this I will tell you a curious thing which I myself observed. My little boy, who is not ten years old, greeted Mirza Hasan 'Ali, whom you met in my house yesterday, with the words 'Allahu abha' the very first time he saw him, while I have never known him use this form of salutation to a Muhammadan."

      "Your doctrines and practices," I observed, "certainly seem to me very much better than those of the Musulmans, so far as I have understood them at present."

      "Their doctrines," he rejoined, "are as untenable as their actions are corrupt. They have lost the very spirit of religion,


while degrading symbols into superstitions. See, for example, what they say concerning the signs of the Imam Mahdi's coming. They expect Antichrist to come riding on an ass, the distance between the ears of which shall be a mile, while at each stride it shall advance a parasang. They further assert that each of the hairs on its body shall emit the sweetest melodies, which will charm all who allow themselves to listen into following Antichrist. Some of the mullas believe that this ass, the existence of which it is impossible to credit, if one reflects for a moment on the absurdity of the characteristics attributed to it is concealed in Yangi-dunya ('the New World,' i.e. America), which they say is 'opposite' to Isfahan, and that in the fullness of time it will appear out of a well in this neighbourhood. The absence of these impossible and imaginary signs was the excuse whereby they justified their disbelief in His Highness the Point (i.e. the Bab), and refused to see in him the Promised Deliverer whom they professed to be expecting. But we, who understand all these signs in a metaphorical sense, see very well that they have been already fulfilled. For what is Antichrist but a type of those who oppose the truth and slay the holy ones of God? What is the ass of Antichrist, striding across the earth, and seducing all those who will give ear to the sweet strains proceeding from it, but these same foolish mullas who support the temporal powers in attempting to crush the Truth, and please the natural inclinations and lusts of men by their false teachings. 'The possessions of the infidel are lawful unto you,' they proclaim. How easy a doctrine to receive, and how profitable! This is but one instance of these 'sweet strains' to which all whose eyes are not opened to the Truth of God, and whose hearts are not filled by the Voice of His Spirit, lend their ears so readily. In a similar manner do we understand all the symbols which they have degraded into actual external objects. Thus the Bridge of Sirat, over which all must pass to enter Paradise, which is 'finer than a hair and sharper than a sword,' what is it but faith in the


Manifestation of God, which is so difficult to the hard of heart, the worldly, and the proud?"

      Conversing thus, we arrived at the side of the river, just where it is spanned by the bridge called Pul-i-Khaju, a much finer structure than even the bridge of thirty-three arches which I had admired so much on my entry into Julfa. My companion suggested that we should sit here awhile on the lower terrace (for the bridge is built on two levels) and smoke a kalyan, and to this I readily consented.

      After admiring the massive piers and solid masonry of the bridge, and the wide sweep here made by the Zayanda-Rud, we resumed our way along the southern bank in the direction of Julfa. On our way we visited the deserted palace called Haft-dast ("Seven Hands"). Here was visible the same neglected splendour and mined magnificence which was discernible elsewhere. One building, the Namak-dan ("Salt-cellar"), had just been pulled down by one of the ministers of the Zillu's-Sultan to afford material for a house which he was building for himself. Another, called A'ine-khane ("the Chamber of Mirrors"), was nearly stripped of the ornaments which gave it its name, the remainder being for the most part broken and cracked. Everywhere it was the same--crumbling walls, heaps of rubbish, and marred works of art, still beautiful in spite of injuries, due as much to wanton mischief as to mere neglect. Would that some portion of that money which is spent in building new palaces in the capital, and constructing mihman-khane neither beautiful nor pleasant, were devoted to the preservation of the glorious relics of a past age! That, however, is as a rule the last thing an Oriental monarch cares about. To construct edifices which may perpetuate his own name is of far more importance in his eyes than to protect from injury those built by his predecessors, which, indeed, he is perhaps not sorry to see crumbling away like the dynasties which reared them. And so it goes on--king succeeding king, dynasty overthrowing dynasty, ruin added to ruin; and through


it all the mighty spirit of the people "dreaming the dream of the soul's disentanglement," while the stony-eyed lions of Persepolis look forth in their endless watch over a nation which slumbers, but is not dead.
Home ][ Sacred Writings ][ Bulletin board
Primary sources ][ Secondary sources ][ Resources
Links ][ Personal pages ][ Other sites

Google distinguishes accents, e.g. "Babi" and "Bábí"
return different results. See more search tips.