In order to better understand the role of dissident confessional groups in Qajar urban life, I have chosen to compare and contrast developments among the Bahai religious minority in two cities, Shiraz and Tehran. The two settings were, of course, quite different. The first was a small provincial capital near the Persian Gulf in the southwest of the country, where the largely male leadership of the religion was mostly drawn from merchant and artisan families. The second was the capital of the entire country, a large city in the north-central area of Iran where government officials and elite women were much more important among adherents, along with some shopkeepers. Both might be seen as holy cities for Bahais. Shiraz was the birthplace of the Bab, Sayyid `Ali Muhammad Shirazi (d. 1850), recognized by them as the promised Mihdi or messiah of Islam, and the house of the Bab became an important shrine and one of the places to which pilgrimage was ordained in the Bahai Most Holy Book (al-Kitab al-Aqdas). In the twentieth century, Shiraz came to be the city with the largest Bahai population in the country, numbering in the thousands, with Tehran in second place. Tehran, on the other hand, was the birthplace of Mirza Husayn `Ali Nuri Bahaullah (1817-1892), the founder of the Bahai religion that developed from Babism, and the sites associated with his life were treasured by his followers.
A key question here must be how the Bahai religion managed to establish itself at all, given that the Qajar ruling class on the whole hated "Babism" and feared it as a manifestation of commoners' insurgency, and that the Shi`ite clergy likewise abhorred the movement as a loathsome heresy. Following the lead of British sociologist Peter Smith, I believe that sociological theories about the way resources are successfully mobilized can shed some light on the progress of the Bahai faith in nineteenth century Iran, though such theories cannot account for the subjective, spiritual dimension of religious change and can therefore tell only part of the story. It is, however, a significant part. The important questions here have to do with networks of recruitment, social and demographic bases, societal infrastructures, fund-raising, and organizational development.
Building on the enthusiasm generated by the messianic Babi movement of the mid-century, the Bahai religion had gained around 100,000 adherents in Iran by the end of the nineteenth century, in a population of some nine million. It was founded in 1863 by Bahaullah (the "Glory of God"), a follower of the Bab who was exiled in 1852 from Iran to the Ottoman Empire and subsequently maintained under surveillance or in prison by the Sublime Porte in Baghdad (1853-1863), Edirne (1863-1868) and Akka (1868-1892). Both the Babi and the Bahai religions were mass movements, encompassing diverse social classes and strata throughout Iran. In the twentieth century, a branch of the Boir Ahmadi tribe near Isfahan embraced the Bahai religion, but in the nineteenth century the religion appears to have encompassed few members of tribes. Substantial numbers of adherents lived in village settings. Yet clearly the urban communities played a central role in developing institutions and culture (both popular and literate), in acting as clearing-houses for letters from the Bahai leadership in exile and for other information.
It must be kept in mind that the Bahai religion was very different in the nineteenth century from what it became in the twentieth. From the 1930s Bahais began withdrawing altogether from politics, avoiding membership in political parties and eschewing high government posts, and their leaders built up a system of prepublication censorship that discouraged adherents from writing about politically charged issues. In nineteenth century Iran, in contrast, the Bahais were a radical-reformist group advocating banned ideas such as parliamentary elections, some of their members held high political office, and they had not been forbidden to join political groupings or (later) parties. Although Bahaullah discouraged violence on their part, and recognized a separation of religion and state, he did not hesitate to denounce Ottoman and Qajar tyranny or to advocate liberal, reformist principles that were anathema to these absolutist monarchies. Ironically, in sociological terms the Bahai faith was probably more church-like early in its history, becoming more sectarian and withdrawn from mainstream Iranian society in the course of the twentieth century.
The Bahai scriptures written by Bahaullah taught the unity of the world-religions, the unity of humankind, the need for parliamentary governance in individual countries and for a world government on the global level, the need to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor and to end the arms race among nations, an improved status for women, and the desirability of modern science and technology. What is striking about these ideas is their modernity, and the likelihood of their appeal to Iranians making the transition from old-regime feudalism to agricultural (or peripheral) capitalism. It would not be entirely fair to see these principles as simply bourgeois ideology, as some Marxists have. While some of them might have been congenial to the urban bourgeoisie, others (such as the emphasis on amelioration of the condition of the poor or strong state intervention in the economy, both local and global) were not. Moreover, the ideas were congenial to others than simply merchants: The vast majority of those who became Bahais were peasants or urban workers and artisans. Admittedly, for many of the illiterate working-class Bahais, the attractions of the religion may have lain more in its millenarian promise of a bright new future, in its being an authentic, indigenous Iranian response to the onslaught of European modernity, or in the dread the religion inspired among the feudal nobility (so that joining it was a means of "silent" protest against their exploitation by the Qajar, Shi`ite Establishment).
Urban artisans and workers who had become Bahais surely helped shape the tone of the religion, and the "option for the poor" and insistence on social justice in Bahai writings of this period must be seen in the context of the existence of substantial numbers of the working poor in the community. For example, a large clan of Kaziruni tailors began becoming Bahais in Shiraz around 1865-66. In Kashan "there were many Bahais whose profession was weaving," and in the late 1880s "there were not many customers for such handwoven goods, [and] the friends were very poor." In the nature of the case, the ideas and culture of working-class urban Bahais are now very difficult to recover, since, being illiterate, they left few records of their lives. This paper will therefore focus on elite urban Bahais, about whom a great deal information has survived, though it has been little drawn upon by historians.
The urban elites consisted mainly of merchants and of government officials (though both groups were investing heavily in land in this period, becoming landlords and blurring the distinctions among them). The merchant class in Iran underwent development and differentiation in conjunction with the vastly increased significance, 1850 to 1900, of cash-cropping for the world market. Late Zand and early Qajar societies were characterized by many practices that it is difficult to regard as anything but "feudal"--especially the assignment of land and of tax-farming rights to officials and officers in return for high service to the state. Although a capitalist sector existed in medieval Iran, consisting of circulating merchant capital, it was oriented toward long-distance trade in luxury goods such as silk, and remained small in comparison with the agricultural output (much of it for subsistence). The advent of cash-cropping on a large scale in the nineteenth century transformed the old-style traders of the bazaar into a more capitalist, modern sort of import-export merchant. The importance of Bahai merchants raises Weberian sorts of questions. Was there a special involvement by Iranian religious minorities, such as the Bahais, Armenians and Jews, in the rise of agricultural capitalism? If so, what accounts for it? Did it have to do with ideology, or the structural situation of these minorities?
In this same period, the nature of urban and national governance was changing. Whereas Fath-`Ali Shah (r. 1798-1834) was still a relatively mobile ruler on horseback with a small bureaucracy of scribes, by the later nineteenth century some persons were entering government service having been educated in Europe or at the Tehran Polytechnic College (Dar al-Funun). The urban patriciate of local high functionaries increasingly arranged such new training and education for its children, and also formed alliances with the import-export houses. Capitalist rationality was coming, slowly and unevenly, to Iran, displacing or transforming the old bazaar pedlars and shopkeepers, and the old government scribes ministering to tribal warriors.
In order to understand the history of the Bahais of Iran, it is important to recognize that the religion's advent coincided with this transition of the country from a sort of tribal feudalism to agricultural capitalism, and that these social changes were important for urban elites who adopted the new religion. Again, in so saying I do not wish in any way to reduce the spiritual experiences, the emotion, heroism and intellectual life, of those who adopted the Bahai religion to a matter of economics. I wish only to say that the converts were embedded in a social matrix, and that their religious decisions had social contexts and consequences as well as subjective ones.
Among what groups did the Bahai religion find adherents in nineteenth century Shiraz? What institutional and other steps allowed them to establish a new religion in this hostile, conservative Shi`ite setting? Of course, in some ways the Bahais simply built upon some achievements of the earlier Babi movement. Shiraz had been the site of important events in the early history of the Babi movement. There, in the spring of 1844, `Ali Muhammad Shirazi declared himself the "Bab," or divine intermediary, to Mulla Husayn Bushru'i, and sent his disciples forth to spread his word. There the Bab was arrested and forced to practice pious dissimulation (taqiyyih) by appearing to recant his claims. His disciples, such as Mirza Sadiq "Muqaddas" Khurasani of the ulama class, preached the faith publicly in Shiraz's mosques before they were ostracized. The Bab's messianic claims appear to have been popular in the bazaars of Shiraz, and to have attracted some artisans and merchants. Among the Babi artisans was a clan of cobblers, two of whom had attended Qur'an school with the Bab. The Bab's execution in 1850 in Tabriz, the suppression of Babi uprisings in Zanjan, Mazandaran and Nayriz (the last not far from Shiraz), and the widespread anti-Babi pogroms from 1852 in response to the failed assassination attempt against Nasir al-Din Shah, left the Babi community devastated, frightened, and underground where it continued to exist at all. The cobblers and other Babi artisans in Shiraz appear to have kept a low profile in the 1850s and early 1860s.
Three social strata played a predominant role in reacting to the rise of the Bahai religion in Shiraz from about 1865. The first was the high government officials resident in the city, the nawkar class, including the governor of the province, the governor of the city, and other influential bureaucrats. These officials may be divided into a national elite of Qajar functionaries and a local patrician stratum. The second was the Shi`ite clergy or ulama, especially the leaders of Friday prayers and other popular figures. The third was the bazaaris or burghers, i.e. the merchants and artisans, with their loose corporate identities, their clans and guilds. Both the government officials and the clerics levied such harsh taxes on artisans and merchants of small property, in return for relatively few services, that it is hard to see this expropriation of resources as anything other than a form of exploitation. Of course, some bazaaris voluntarily contributed to the religious institution, but not all did. In nineteenth century Iran the ulama employed seminary students and luti street gangs to collect from the recalcitrant. Attitudes to government taxation were no doubt less ambiguous, and given the tax-farming prevalent in, and low level of services offered by the state, most bazaaris probably saw it as parasitical.
Shiraz was one of only twelve Iranian cities in the late 1860s with a population of 25,000 or more, and it had long occupied an important place as a commercial and cultural center. It was sacked and pillaged by the Afghans in 1729, leaving it a shadow of its former self. In the late eighteenth century it became the capital of Iran under the Zands, who undertook important public building works there that shaped the modern city, including the Vakil bazaar and mosque, and this period contributed to its recovery. We have estimates by Western travellers for its population in the early nineteenth century, of between 12,000 and 18,000. By mid-century it may have grown to about 25,000. In 1852-1853, as a result of an abortive attempt on the life of the shah by Babi leaders in Tehran, the Qajar state conducted a country-wide pogrom against Babis in which hundreds and perhaps thousands died. Babism began in Shiraz and had many adherents there, and their persecution can only have added to the travails of the annus horribilis of 1853, when a great earthquake struck the city and a the locust plague produced widespread famine in Fars province. These disasters may have reduced the population of the city by as much as half. By the late 1860s, when our story begins, Shiraz had recovered from the calamities of the 1850s, reaching a population of about 25,000. Thereafter it grew modestly, attaining only 30,000 in 1913. Only in the twentieth century did it become a large city. The city was ethnically diverse, attracting settlers from nearby villages and towns like Zarqan, Ardikan and Kazirun, and members of pastoral groups such as the Turkic-speaking Qashqa'is. A Zoroastrian community existed, much smaller than at Yazd and Kerman. About fifteen percent of the population in the nineteenth century was Jewish, though the symbolic dominance of Shi`ism was underlined by disabilities placed on Jews, forced conversions (some 3,000 were converted to Shi`ism around 1827, including silk merchants in the Vakil Bazaar), and major pogroms, as in 1910. It was also a center for heterodox Shi`ite Sufi orders such as the Ni`mat-Allahis and the Zahabis.
Shiraz served as the central distribution point for commercial goods and services in Fars province, especially the import-export trade of the Gulf port of Bushire (Bushihr). It was, as well, the recipient of provincial tax monies. In the range of services it offered, it was nonpareil as the "central place" of the region, with its government offices, courthouse, seminaries, Friday prayer mosques, extensive bazaar, and, in the late 19th century, large telegraph station. Shiraz was small compared to cities such as Tabriz, Isfahan, Tehran or Mashhad. Still, the tax revenues generated by Fars in 1867 were a respectable 380,000 tumans, eclipsed only by the districts of Azerbaijan (620,000 tumans), Gilan (440,000 tumans) and Isfahan (420,000 tumans). Fars was apparently more prosperous than many provinces with capitals that were larger or about the same size, probably as a result of its lucrative cash crops, such as opium, cotton, dried fruit, and tobacco. Because of a skewed distribution of wealth, high inflation, and population growth, however, a good deal of poverty existed among peasants and especially among urban artisans.
The second half of the nineteenth century witnessed certain economic developments that greatly changed the economy of Fars. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 cut thousands of miles off the sea journey from Bushire to Europe, and allowed the extensive import into southern Iran of inexpensive European factory-made goods, either directly from Europe or via India. Although the individual consumer benefitted from cheap textiles and other made goods, Iranian artisans, especially textile workers and shoe makers, suffered horribly as their labor-intensive, high-cost techniques made it impossible to compete with imported manufactures. Moreover, Iranian merchants increasingly faced a balance of trade deficit, making it difficult for them to finance these imports. The export trade to India, which had a growing appetite for longtime South Iranian products such as grain and fruits, took on a new significance and volume. More important, farmers in unprecedented numbers began planting cash crops such as opium poppy, tobacco, and cotton. Opium poppy cultivation spread throughout Fars and Yazd, and, in addition, farmers there grew grain, tobacco, and cotton, as well as grapes (for raisins, juice, and Armenian and Jewish wines) and fruit for drying and exporting. Cash crops such as opium poppy were not unproblematic, since they displaced foodstuffs and created discontent among peasants during food shortages and famines (though they probably did not cause the famines); nevertheless, throughout the late nineteenth century they were produced by Fars in ever greater volume. Peasants began learning to store some food against shortages, and to guard against planting too little barley. In the 1890s, opium constituted a quarter of Iran's visible exports, but the trade declined precipitously in the opening decade of the twentieth century. The crisis in the Iranian silk industry as a result of a silkworm epidemic in the 1860s, from which it only partially recovered thereafter, also contributed to this diversification of the export economy. Iranian farmers and agricultural brokers had already begun turning to other cash crops before the silkworm epidemic, but it did exacerbate their balance of trade problems. The late nineteenth century was in any case a period when Iran became much more firmly integrated into the world economy, though as a peripheral producer of raw materials, with much of the external trade and capital (with the exception of the opium business) in the hands of Europeans.
Many of these export crops passed through Shiraz on their way to the Gulf. Iranian long-distance merchants from Fars developed marketing networks for these commodities, establishing trading houses in Bombay, Calcutta, Port Said, Istanbul and even Hong Kong. The encounter with European colonial institutions, and with local reformist and independence movements, made these Iranian expatriates more cosmopolitan than the majority of their compatriots. Within Iran, those merchants who proved successful in the opium trade grew fabulously wealthy and politically influential, as did the government officials, such a Qavam al-Mulk, who sponsored it and taxed it. As we shall see below, one of the important Iranian export houses (with an outpost in Hong Kong) was operated by the Afnan clan, Bahais and relatives of the Bab.
Let us turn now to the rise of the Shiraz Bahai community. The leadership of the Babi movement after the Bab's death in 1850 was highly contested, with a number of Babis arising unsuccessfully to claim the station of "He whom God shall make manifest," a messianic figure prophesied by the Bab. A key such figure was Bahaullah, who, however, for the most part kept his claims concealed from the Babi public until the mid-1860s. In the meantime, Bahaullah's younger half-brother, Mirza Yahya Nuri, "Subh-i Azal," came to be recognized by many Babis as the leader of the community. He went into voluntary exile in Baghdad, joining his older half-brother Bahaullah, who had been expelled there from Iran by the authorities. The mother of the Bab, deeply in mourning and a strong believer in her son, went to live in the shrine cities of Iraq, as well. The Bab's widow, Khadijih Begum, lived after his martyrdom with her Shi`ite relatives in Shiraz and tried to keep the faith of the Bab alive (most of the Bab's clan had not accepted him). The city's indigenous Babi community probably consisted at this point of a handful of artisan families. In addition, a few Babi families were established in Shiraz by government decree. In the 1850s, Babis captured at Nayriz were brought to Shiraz, and although most were executed, some women and male children were allowed to live. In addition, the family of the Babi martyr Hujjat of Zanjan was brought to Shiraz and put under the guardianship of the local notable Mirza Abu al-Hasan Khan Mushir al-Mulk, a man who frequently served as chief minister of Fars province. Mushir al-Mulk eventually married Hujjat's daughter, and Hujjat's son Mirza Husayn became a servant in his household. Hujjat's daughter seems to have retained some feelings for the Babi religion, and kept in contact with Khadijih Begum. Her husband, Mushir al-Mulk, as will be seen, was not above scapegoating Babis and Bahais for political purposes, until he experienced a change of heart toward the end of his life.
Khadijih Begum received letters from Bahaullah, who was beginning in the late 1850s to put forth oblique signals that he was the promised one of the Bab, "He Whom God shall make Manifest." He carried on a lively correspondence with Khadijih Begum (and with many other prominent Babis). Khadijih Begum, in the meantime, convinced her thirteen-year-old nephew, Aqa Mirza Aqa Nur al-Din to believe in the Bab. He in turn eventually won his mother, Zahra Begum, and his father, the great merchant Mirza Zayn al-`Abidin, over to Babism, in the opening years of the 1860s. The leader of this merchant clan was the maternal uncle ("Khal-i Akbar") of the Bab, Sayyid Muhammad Shirazi, and his newly Babi relatives now urged him to investigate his martyred nephew's claims by going to speak with the Bab's mother, and with Azal and Bahaullah, in Iraq. He did in fact undertake this journey, in 1862, and while in Baghdad Bahaullah responded to his written questions by penning in only three days a long theological and mystical treatise entitled The Book of Certitude (Kitab-i Iqan), often known at this time as the "Treatise for the Uncle." This book, which is characterized by a crisp, straightforward style of argumentation, persuaded Sayyid Muhammad Shirazi to become a Babi. He in turn brought his relatives Haji Mirza Muhammad `Ali, Haji Mirza Muhammad Taqi, and Haji Mirza Buzurg into the faith. Gradually, a significant number of the Bab's relatives, most of them engaged in import-export trade, became Babis. They kept their conversion as secret as possible, even from their servants. Many of them risked corresponding with Azal and Bahaullah, however.
Bahaullah was brought from Baghdad to Istanbul by the Ottoman authorities in 1863, probably as a result of pressure from the Iranian government to have him removed from Baghdad, which was near to the Shi`ite shrine cities, and from which he could keep in close contact with the Babi community in Iran. When he proved uncooperative in the capital, Sultan `Abd al-`Aziz further exiled him to Edirne, from late in 1863 till the summer of 1868. In Edirne, Bahaullah and Azal gradually fell out with one another. Bahaullah had begun putting forth messianic claims before he left Baghdad, and continued to do so in Edirne. Clearly, if he was the Babi messiah, then Azal's position as the Bab's vicar was not worth much. Although the date is not yet established with any certitude, it appears to be in mid-1865 (1282 A.H.) that Bahaullah began sending letters and emissaries to Iran with open proclamations of his claims. As a result, Azal attempted and failed to poison him, then tried to convince his barber and bath attendant to murder him in his bath. This scheme, too, failed, owing to the loyalty of the barber to Bahaullah. In March of 1866 Bahaullah withdrew from the Babi community, and from any relationship with Azal. In September, 1867, he challenged Azal to a divine test at the Selimiye Mosque, and when the latter neglected to show up, he lost face. The Babi community became split between Azalis and Bahais, with the Bahais emerging as the majority. In 1868, Bahaullah was exiled yet again, to Akka on the Syrian coast, and Azal was sent to Cyprus.
My guess is that it was sometime between December, 1865 and February 1866 that Bahaullah's emissary, Muhammad "Nabil-i A`zam" Zarandi, came to Shiraz. A major disciple of Bahaullah, as well as a poet, historian and eloquent preacher, he stayed at the house of Aqa Mirza Aqa Nur al-Din, and the Babis flocked to see him there. He then asked that a meeting be held in which they all brought their copies of the Writings (nivishtijat, i.e. the writings of the Babi, Azal and Bahaullah). They held the gathering in the house of Aqa Mirza `Abd al-Karim. Nabil ordered these in piles. He announced that the first pile consisted of Tablets (alvah) from the Bab. The second derived from Him Whom God shall make Manifest, whom the Bab had foretold to his followers, on whose good-pleasure he had made the acceptance of his (the Bab's) own Tablets. Nabil said the Bab had predicted his coming would be soon, and had mentioned the year Nine (i.e. 1852, the year of Bahaullah's epiphany while imprisoned for heresy in the shah's dungeon). He then swept up the third sheaf of papers (those from Azal) and declared that they were hellish writings; he tossed them in the stove, burning them up. This action produced an uproar, and Haji Sayyid Muhammad Shirazi, the Bab's maternal uncle and the clan patriarch, leapt to his feet shouting, "What game is this?" Aqa Mirza Aqa Nur al-Din pointed out that the Bab himself had at first been rejected, and that it was after all Bahaullah whose Book of Certitude had brought them into the faith. They agreed to investigate the matter and Nabil left for Isfahan.
Khadijih Begum came to hear Nabil from "behind a curtain," and reported that "as soon as I heard him say that the Blessed Beauty [Bahaullah] was `He Whom God shall manifest', promised in the Bayan, I experienced the same feeling I had that night" when the Bab declared himself. The Bab's widow was greatly respected, and had wide contacts in the Babi community; she reports that "believers travelling to Shiraz always came to pay me a visit and I received them in the home of Mirza Aqa [Nur al-Din], my nephew." Her endorsement of Bahaullah's cause was therefore very important. Aqa Mirza Aqa Nur al-Din also quickly threw his lot in with Bahaullah, predictably agreeing with his beloved aunt, and he convinced several of his cousins to join him. He was at a disadvantage, however, insofar as they considered him a peer and gave his words no special weight. A Bahai intellectual, Haji Muhammad Ibrahim Yazdi, had a sister who had married into the Afnan family in Yazd, and this combination of learning and relatedness lent him some authority. Through him many of the Afnan clan became Bahais. Indeed, all the members of the clan resident in Shiraz did so.
Most Babis in Fars province accepted Bahaullah rather quickly. Among the prominent dissenters was one Shaykh Muhammad Yazdi, who had had a long standing grudge against Bahaullah, and who insisted that the Bab's laws could not be abrogated before they had even been implemented. Babis with sympathies toward Bahaullah had earlier been restrained by Aqa Mirza Aqa Nur al-Din from acting against him. Now they came to him, asking permission to kill him. Bahaullah's own teachings, of course, encouraged peace and forbade murder, but these Babis-turned-Bahais had scarcely had time to imbibe his new ethic. Aqa Nur al-Din would only agree that Shaykh Muhammad needed to be taught some manners. In the meantime, the latter heard about their intentions toward him and fled Shiraz for Istanbul. This anecdote shows that once the vast majority of the Babis in a community had adopted the Bahai faith, the position of the minority who clung to the old religion became difficult or even untenable, not only because of active Bahai hostility but also because they would have been denied community resources, support and patronage, becoming isolated in a hostile Shi`ite society.
Haji Muhammad Ibrahim Yazdi, the Bahai intellectual whose word carried so much weight with the Afnan clan, also was responsible for bringing many others into the Bahai faith in 1865 or 1866, including a clan (silsilih) of Kaziruni Babi tailors, who came to about sixty individuals, male and female. Aqa Mirza Aqa Nur al-Din helped them out materially (import-export merchants dealing in textiles, indigo and other goods could clearly offer some preferential deals to tailors who were coreligionists). The Babi cobbler (Kharraz) clan, some of whom had seen Bahaullah on trips to Baghdad, also became Bahais. These Bahais, both wealthy merchants and less well-off artisans, met in Aqa Nur al-Din's large house, where the artisans made an impression as gregarious and boisterous. Meanwhile, Haji Muhammad Ibrahim Yazdi's successes in proclaiming the new religion came to the attention of local Shi`ite ulama, and he was forced to return to Yazd. This involuntary homecoming proved an opportunity for Yazdi to teach the faith to the Afnans in that city. The younger members of the clan there insisted that the patriarch, Mirza Sayyid Hasan, accept it first. When after great efforts Haji Muhammad Ibrahim succeeded in convincing the elder, the rest of the clan became Bahais, as well.
When Yazdi left Shiraz, his place among the Bahai ulama class there was taken for sixteen months by Nabil-i Akbar Qa'ini, the renowned Bahai philosopher and mujtahid who had been graduated from the course given by Shaykh Murtaza al-Ansari of Najaf, the leading Shi`ite religious leader of his time. Qa'ini stayed at the mansion of Aqa Nur al-Din, and his eloquent discourses, backed up by such weighty Shi`ite diplomas, helped convert many to the Bahai faith. Of course, at this point the Bahai religion had relatively little new content (the Babis had considered Bahaullah's earlier works, such as the Hidden Words and The Book of Certitude, part of the Babi corpus anyway). A few of Bahaullah's post-declaration Tablets, such as the Surat al-Ashab (Surah of the Companions), did contain some ethical precepts, such as the need to avoid useless wrangling and controversy. But in 1866, a "Bahai" was simply a Babi who had declared allegiance to Bahaullah.
The nascent Bahai community first became an issue in local Shirazi politics sometime between May, 1866 and May, 1867 (A.H. 1283), and continued to be one intermittently thereafter, culminating in a major episode of persecution in the early 1870s. In the mid-1860s, two prominent rivals for local political power in Fars were Abu al-Hasan Khan Mushir al-Mulk and Mirza `Ali Muhammad Khan Qavam al-Mulk. Abu al-Hasan Khan, one of the largest landowners in Fars, wanted the vizierate, whereas Qavam al-Mulk was mayor (kalantar) of Shiraz and tax-agent of the city's guilds. The Qavam al-Mulk family was part of a Shirazi patriciate, an urban elite generated locally, with which the national government cooperated. The family's origins as part of the elite go back to the early eighteenth century, when a merchant named Haji Mahmud accumulated vast wealth. His son, Haji Hashim, became ward boss of five of Shiraz's city quarters. The next in the line, Haji Ibrahim, helped the Qajars come to the throne, but subsequently fell from favor and was killed (along with all but one of his sons) by Fath-`Ali Shah. Because of his local popularity, the surviving son, `Ali Akbar Khan, was appointed by the shah to be the mayor of Shiraz in 1812, a post he held till his death in 1865, gaining in the meantime the title Qavam al-Mulk. He was succeeded by his son, `Ali Muhammad Khan.
The second Qavam al-Mulk had therefore only been in office a year or so when Mushir al-Mulk threw down the gauntlet. Both were competing for the favor of the newly-installed Qajar governor of Fars, Sultan-Murad Mirza Husam al-Saltanih. Qavam al-Mulk appears to have been an important patron of the Afnan merchants, and their adoption of Babism and then the Bahai faith made them vulnerable. Mushir al-Mulk, who had married into the family of the Babi martyr Hujjat-i Zanjani, had good information about the Bahai community in Shiraz, and knew of this vulnerability. He therefore contacted a leading cleric, Shaykh Husayn Nazim al-Shari`ah, suggesting they begin a campaign of Bahai-baiting. The cleric was given an extensive list of Bahais, including prominent members of the Afnan clan, two converts from the ulama class, and a number of artisans (cobblers, butchers, a stirrup-maker, and of course several Kaziruni tailors). The list was handed over to Husam al-Saltanih, the governor, who in turn called Qavam al-Mulk on the carpet for allowing traitors to proliferate so rapidly in Shiraz and for not suppressing enemies of the crown.
Qavam al-Mulk is said by the Afnan chronicler to have grown fearful of the ire of the prince, and to have offered him a hubbly-bubbly to calm him down. He pointed out to the governor that the list contained the names of several leading merchants, and that their inclusion might be inaccurate. These individuals took the lead in hosting Muharram celebrations, which the governor and Mushir al-Mulk had themselves attended and by which they had been impressed. Qavam al-Mulk appears to have been subtly reminding the governor of the merchants' Sayyid status, and of their relationship to the bazaar and the lutis, and the potential for trouble should the state move against them. Shiraz had had a great deal of such trouble in previous decades, and had experienced a major urban revolt in 1865, which led to the fall of the Fars vizier and the execution of two high officials at the order of Nasir al-Din Shah. The allusion was therefore a powerful one. He is reported to have concluded, "These are not ordinary persons whom I can take into custody because of the designs of some, and throw the city into turmoil." He is even said to have threatened to resign as mayor should the prince insist on this course. Husam al-Saltanih at length agreed to back down in the case of the merchants, but said he wanted the others arrested. Eventually, Qavam al-Mulk was able to convince him to drop the entire matter.
Troubles flared up again four or five years later, around 1870-71 (A.H. 1287). One of the artisan Bahais, Aqa Mirza Aqa Rikabsaz ("stirrup-maker"), developed marital problems. His estranged wife, encouraged by his enemies, went to Shaykh Husayn Nazim al-Shari`ah and complained to him that her husband was a Bahai. Since Rikabsaz was a loyal attender at Friday prayers and even unrolled and then rolled up the shaykh's prayer-rug at the mosque, he was loathe to accept the woman's testimony. Eventually her persistent complaints resulted in Rikabsaz's arrest, on charges of being a Bahai and of copying out Bahaullah's works. Shaykh Husayn demanded from Rikabsaz that he curse the Bab and Bahaullah, but the latter refused, so he was imprisoned. At this point Mushir al-Mulk went to the Prince-Governor with the earlier list of accused Bahais, and demanded their arrest, as well. The governor gave in, and some of the Bahai artisans and ulama were arrested and imprisoned. Apparently Qavam al-Mulk was able to keep the Afnans out of jail. After a time Mulla `Abdallah Fazil, Mulla `Abdallah Buka', Haji Abu al-Hasan, Karbala'i Hasan Khan Sardistani, and Muhammad Khan Baluch were released. In late 1874 (1291), after Husam al-Saltanih had returned as governor, three remaining Bahais were executed for heresy, including Aqa Rikabsaz, Muhammad Nabi Khayyat, and Ja`far Khayyat.
Despite the vulnerability of such artisan Bahais who dared challenge the Qajar Shi`ite Establishment by adopting the new religion, the strong position of the Afnan clan as great merchants in Shiraz, and their ties of clientelage with patricians such as Qavam al-Mulk, appear to have been under most circumstances enough to protect them from major persecution. Qavam al-Mulk proved a good choice of patron; in the 1870s, he was "able to use the increased revenue gained from his role in the opium trade to extend his control over nearly all the land around Shiraz," and he succeeded in creating the Khamseh tribal federation for his own purposes. The Afnan clan's flourishing import-export house can only have cemented their relations with this patron, who knew he needed them and other members of the new bourgeoisie like them.
Qavam al-Mulk was not the only sponsor the Bahais were able to find from among the government officials. Ironically enough, at some point Mushir al-Mulk himself became a Bahai. In 1877 the prince-governor Farhad Mirza had abruptly charged Mushir al-Mulk with corruption, dismissed him as Fars chief minister, and had him bastinadoed and imprisoned. Mushir al-Mulk regained his freedom by offering Farhad Mirza a large bribe, and thereafter retired to his estates, which he managed as a private subject until his death in December, 1883. His sister's son, Nasir al-Mulk, took his place in government service. In his last six years of life, Mushir al-Mulk spent a great deal of time in his private garden, passing his days with friends such as Haji Sayyid Isma`il Azghandi (a Bahai). He at some point married the daughter of Mulla Muhammad Riza "Razi al-Ruh" Manshadi, a prominent Bahai preacher. Through discussions with his in-laws and with Azghandi, Mushir al-Mulk accepted the new religion, and sent an exquisite pen-case and 1,000 tumans to Bahaullah in `Akka with Azghandi. Bahaullah returned the money to Azghandi, but kept the pen-case and wrote out a tablet in honor of Mushir al-Mulk. Thereafter, this patrician proved an invaluable aid to the Bahais. Mushir al-Mulk's ironic conversion raises many questions that the sources do not allow us to answer. Was he guilty about the three Bahais whom he had helped have executed? Even given that he had a profound change of heart, was becoming a Bahai in some part a way of taking revenge on Nasir al-Din Shah and his son, who had used him so badly after decades of service? Iranian nobles often devoted their last years to spiritual pursuits, taking up Sufism or patronizing Shi`ite ceremonies, so that Mushir al-Mulk's devotion to Bahaullah does not seem implausible.
The backbone of the Shiraz Bahai community, however, was the artisans and merchants. The merchants benefitted from a number of advantages, including their mobility and the international character of their commerce. Bombay served, not only as a center of trade, but also as a place where Bahai culture could begin to be developed more freely. In the late 1880s the Afnan clan established a printing press in Bombay, where they printed several volumes of Bahaullah's writings and smuggled them back into Iran for distribution throughout the country through clandestine Bahai networks. Should any of the Afnans become controversial, they could always send him to one of their commercial outposts (thus, they dispatched Aqa Nur al-Din to Bombay in 1879 in the wake of the judicial murder on charges of heresy of his business associates, Hasan and Husayn Nahri in Isfahan). In the 1880s, the Afnan families of Shiraz and Yazd were influential in founding a Bahai community in Ashkhabad, under the tsarist Transcaspian administration not far from the Iranian border, which served as a refuge for some Bahais from persecution and as a further commercial opportunity, in the tea trade. That portion of the international trade conducted by the Afnan family consisting of opium became problematic in strict Bahai terms when Bahaullah, around 1890, added a final verse to his Most Holy Book condemning opium and other intoxicants. The sources do not indicate whether they felt any cognitive dissonance about trading in a substance forbidden by their religion, but which they themselves did not use. The ethic of the Iranian merchant class on the whole was to find ways of reconciling their commercial pursuits with the religious law; thus, most Shi`ite merchants were involved in interest-taking on loans, and paid mujtahids well for casuistic rulings and juristic fig-leafs under which they could do so. Bahai merchants were at least spared that particular inconvenience, since the Bab and Bahaullah allowed fair interest to be taken on loans.
Mazandarani lists prominent Shirazi Bahais outside the Afnan clan, as well, taking note of a few merchants (named bazzaz, indicating dry goods dealers) and ulama. In the main, however, these pillars of the community were artisans, mainly tailors, but also cobblers, bakers, and milliners. Many of these groups were suffering from the impact of imported European manufactures and from high price inflation, and the Bahai faith almost certainly meant something different to them than it did to the Afnans. Bahais believed in having a parliament, a poke in the nose at Qajar absolutism, believed in egalitarian fashion that the little people could be better because of their belief than the great lords, and believed that Bahaullah's advent was a harbinger of dramatic, millenarian change in the world. We do not know how the artisans' allegiance to these ideas, which they apparently tried to keep secret but with little success, affected their standing and activities in the guild structures, but they appear not to have formed a separate, identifiable group in this period. Most Bahais still attended Friday prayers and joined in Muharram commemorations, in effect practicing Shi`ism while believing in Bahaism. Khadijih Begum complains in her memoirs that there were relatively few women Bahais in Shiraz, so it appears to have been primarily a semi-clandestine male club (one wonders if, after the martyrdom of Aqa Rikabsaz, some Bahai men actually kept their conversion from their wives). The gender imbalance in Shiraz was righted later on. In Bahai communities in other major cities women were often eminent, numerous and influential.
The nineteenth-century Bahais of Iran maintained the division into social orders typical of Qajar Iran, so that they recognized a "class" of "ulama," learned men trained originally in Shi`ite seminaries who became Bahais. Some Bahai ulama dissimulated their new faith and continued to be employed in mosque or seminary. Others declared themselves and were forced to either to adopt a new profession or to live an itinerant life as they were expelled from one town after another by their alarmed colleagues among the Shi`ite clergy. Two prominent Bahai ulama played an important cultural role in the city. Mulla `Abdallah Fazil was among those released from prison in 1871, having pled that he was simply a seeker after truth, sampling Sufism, philosophy, and other things. Shiraz was an important center for both the Dhahabi and Ni`mat-Allahi Sufi orders, and this slightly less dangerous form of heterodoxy clearly offered a camouflage for some Bahais. A brilliant philosopher, mystic and theologian, he actually managed to continue teaching at the Mansuriyyih seminary, interspersing allusions to the Bahai faith among his lessons. The head of the seminary managed to get him fired for a while, but in the late 1890s he was reinstated through the influence of the Bahai prince-mujtahid, Shaykh al-Ra'is. Mulla `Abdallah Buka', a renowned reader of elegies for the Imam Husayn who reduced his audiences to tears, was known also as a mystic and expert in law. The Bahai merchants valued the Bahai ulama, as has been seen, often offered them their houses to live in for months at a time, and paid for their missionary travels, as, for instance, Jinab-i Dihqan of Shiraz supported Mirza Haydar `Ali Isfahani.
The only important institutional development the chronicles mention is the refurbishment of the House of the Bab in the early 1870s. Khadijih Begum sent a request to Bahaullah that the work be undertaken, and he agreed, ordering it done. The repairs were completed in 1873 or 1874 (1290 A.H.). The Bab's widow took up residence there. From 5 October 1876 Farhad Mirza Mu`tamid al-Dawlih became governor of Fars, and he determined to demolish the Bahai shrine. Khadijih Begum was forced to move out for a few months. In the meantime, the chief secretary (munshi-bashi) of Fars, Mirza Abu al-Hasan, and Mirza Zayn al-`Abidin Khan Aliyabadi, both of them members of the prince-governor's court, and both Bahais, succeeded in intervening to prevent the destruction of the Bab's house. With its continued existence secured, and its refurbishment, the house of the Bab became for the Bahais in Shiraz and surrounding areas a valued and authentic shrine, making it a holy city for them. The travelling, pilgrimage and gathering associated with such a shrine must have contributed to community cohesion.
The recruitment networks for Bahais in Shiraz included mercantile and artisanal clans, linked with one another by ties of patronage and business interactions. They also reached into the Shi`ite religious institutions, so that some ulama, seminary teachers, preachers, and reciters of Muharram elegies became Bahais. At least one member of the local patrician class, Mushir al-Mulk, adopted the new religion. Provincial officials such as Mirza Abu al-Hasan, the chief secretary of Fars, also joined, and were able to influence the decisions of the Qajar authorities concerning the Bahais. Among the merchant clans, it was especially important that their patriarch, such as Sayyid Muhammad Shirazi "Khal" in Shiraz, or Mirza Sayyid Hasan in Yazd, be willing to accept the new religion. The devotion to Bahaullah by the Bab's widow, the Afnan matriarch Khadijih Begum, was no doubt also important for the spread of his religion among her relatives, and especially so among women. Because of egalitarian feelings among cousins within the clans, notable Bahai converts called upon Bahai ulama and intellectuals, such as Nabil-i A`zam Zarandi, Nabil-i Akbar Qa'ini, and Shaykh Muhammad Ibrahim Yazdi, to preach to their relatives. The latter lost no face in accepting the religion from such eminent outsiders.
Both the great merchants and the artisans brought advantages to the maintenance and propagation of their adopted faith. The former provided significant monetary contributions to community development and missionary work, as well as being able to call upon the help of their state patrons in the Shirazi patriciate (patrons they had gained because of their heavy involvement in the lucrative commodity export market). Their far-flung import-export business, with outposts in Bombay and Hong Kong, made available to Bahais their communications and transportation infrastructures, such as the mail service on steamers that plied the Karun river and the Gulf routes to India, or the Afnan-owned printing press in Bombay. Those commercial entrepots were also ideal postings for family members whose heterodoxy became too notorious in Shiraz itself. The merchants' large homes constituted suitable meeting-places for the entire community, including its poorer members, where face-to-face interaction could occur that contributed to group cohesion. That the Afnan merchants were Sayyids, recognized descendants of the Prophet, also lent them both religious and social charisma, and helped protect them against harsh punishment by the state. Between 1863 and 1892, very few Bahai Sayyids were executed, most notably Sayyids Hasan and Husayn Nahri in Isfahan (the “King” and “Beloved” of “martyrs” in Bahai parlance), in 1879, at the hands of Zill al-Sultan. Ironically such persecution by the religious and secular authorities contributed to the cohesion of the Bahai communities, who tearfully commemorated their martyrs and derived from the tales of their sufferings a spiritual uplift and vigor. The artisans, in their turn, could offer each other mutual support, and could invoke the help of their own guilds and neighborhood religious clubs (hay'at). The artisans, badly hurt by the competition of inexpensive European imported goods, and taxed heavily by the Qajar officials, may have derived a certain amount of satisfaction from the fear they were able to inspire in the ruling class by their simple adoption of the new religion. Without the artisans' greater numbers, the Bahai merchants would have been much more isolated and vulnerable.
The Bahai community in Tehran also included merchants and artisans, but its leadership contained more members of the elite governmental (nawkar) class, who were, perhaps, especially interested in the political reforms advocated by Bahaullah. As with the patronage of patrician families in Shiraz, the excellent government connections of the Tehran Bahais allowed them to survive, despite continued harassment and major outbreaks of persecution. Although the community lacked any single woman with the stature of Khadijih Begum, it benefitted from the presence of several outstanding female leaders, and so became an early center of Bahai feminism.
Tehran underwent much more growth and change in the late nineteenth century than did Shiraz. It was a small village when the Qajars adopted it as their capital in the late eighteenth century, but as it came to host a large bureaucracy and bazaars catering to its many princes, nobles and officials, its population mushroomed. Statistics are notoriously unreliable for Qajar Iran, and the range of estimates for Tehran varies widely. Still, it seems that Tehran had about 85,000-100,000 inhabitants in 1867, and about 150,000 in 1913. Tehran was, like Shiraz, affected by the vast increase in cash-cropping, and among its elite can be counted many absentee landlords become agricultural capitalists. Tehran also profited from being athwart trade routes from the east and south toward the Caspian and the Russian and Ottoman empires, allowing it to collect octroi taxes on the transit. And, of course, it was the center of the national state, the recipient of tax monies from all across the country, the site of the main bureaucracies and of military forces like the Cossack brigade. Some of the nobles and government officials resident there sent their sons abroad for their education, and the cosmopolitan merchant and foreign service elite had their influence on the capital. On the other hand, the state itself appears to have lacked the means to tax efficiently the new sources of wealth, so that its employees' salaries were frequently in arrears and its soldiers were sometimes reduced to earning a living as artisans. Tehran also housed the main institution of secular higher learning, the Polytechnic College (Dar al-Funun). Secular elementary and high schools also began opening from 1887, and Ettahadieh found a drop in the number of religious elementary schools, mosques, and Sufi convents in Tehran from 1853 to 1903, suggesting that the capital was at this time a secularizing city. Such a trend away from traditional religion might have helped the modernist, liberal Bahais.
Tehran had been an important Babi center before 1852, but the community there was even more devastated by the pogroms of that and subsequent years than elsewhere. The hostility of Nasir al-Din Shah, the capital's most renowned resident and the object of the assassination attempt launched by `Azim Turshizi and other Babi leaders in the capital in retaliation for the execution of the Bab, made life difficult for Babis and later Bahais there. The shah's son, Kamran Mirza, was the governor of the city and its environs, and he, too, bore the Babis and Bahais great antipathy. Further, the Shi`ite clergy of the capital were numerous and influential, and wished the Babi-Bahai movement to be destroyed. Every year, the chronicler says, brought news of some new killing or imprisonment. Still, a Babi community survived into the 1860s. Tehran in particular received visits, short and long-term, from Bahai ulama and missionaries (muballighin).
As in Shiraz, a merchant family served as an anchor for the Tehran community. Haji Mirza Muhammad `Attar maintained a retail establishment in the Chahar-Suq Bazaar, and had become a Babi in the 1840s, incurring the enmity of the ulama. These complained about him to the government, and he was imprisoned, then released and expelled from the city for some time. When Bahaullah became renowned, in the late 1850s, `Attar hastened to Baghdad and met with him. He then returned to Tehran. His wife, Havva', was a pillar of faith and was especially honored by Bahaullah, and given by him the epithet Umm al-Awliya' (Mother of the Saints). Their sons were Aqa Muhammad Karim, Haji Muhammad Rahim, Aqa Fath Allah, and Haji Shukr Allah, all of whom became eminent in the community. Aqa Muhammad Karim maintained an inn, and hosted Bahais passing through the capital, and his commercial establishment was a center for the dissemination of Bahai news. His store was burned down twice in the late 1800s by enemies (such arson and vandalism plagued many Bahai merchants, and Bahai farmers as well). In 1888 Aqa Muhammad Karim made the pilgrimage to see Bahaullah in Akka.
This Bahai merchant family employed marriage alliances to expand their commercial network and to gain important contacts in the government. Aqa `Ali Haydar Shirvani, from the Caucasus, had been a follower there of Sayyid `Abd al-Karim. Presumably as a result of tsarist persecution of Caucasus Muslims, Shirvani came to Tehran around 1880 and set up a shop. He received a good return from a small amount of capital. Mirza Haydar `Ali Isfahani, the famed Bahai missionary who had been imprisoned in Sudan, came to Tehran and brought Shirvani into the Bahai faith around 1885. Shirvani combined his trading thereafter with serving his new religion, faithfully observing the new Law; for instance, he gave Amin Ardikani 700 tumans in Bahai tithes (the huquq Allah, or Right of God, equalling 19 percent of net profits on certain transactions). Because Bahais were carrying on a lively correspondence with Akka, there was much danger from government spies should their letters be opened. Shirvani held Russian citizenship, and his correspondence was protected by the Capitulations, so the Bahais used his name to send and receive letters. Shirvani maintained a good reputation with the Russian embassy and its foreign ministry. He married a daughter of Haji Muhammad Rahim `Attar, thus joining the Bahai commercial elite in the capital; at least two of his four brothers-in-law, Aqa `Ali Bey and Aqa Mashhadi `Ibad, were also merchants. When Bahaullah died in 1892, it was to Shirvani that Abdul-Baha telegraphed the announcement.
Shirvani's father-in-law, Haji Muhammad Rahim `Attar, had married the daughter of a high government official, Rahim Khan Farrash-Ghazab, the executioner who waited upon the shah in his royal antechamber. This official, Rahim Khan, was also from the Caucasus, and had a reputation for great bravery. His daughter, having married into a Bahai merchant family, herself adopted the new religion, causing many dilemmas for her deeply committed, tradition-bound Shi`ite father, who was close to the Babi-hating Nasir al-Din Shah. Rahim Khan nevertheless faithfully protected and served the Bahais. During the great famine of 1869-72, when perhaps a tenth of the Iranian population died and another tenth emigrated, the state set up special bakeries in four quarters of Tehran under Rahim Khan's authority, and he in turn sought help from his son-in-law, Muhammad Rahim `Attar, in distributing bread equally to all the people. At this time, because of the enmity toward Bahais on the part of Shi`ite commoners, they were ineligible to receive the famine relief and were threatened with starvation. Muhammad Rahim `Attar had bread distributed to the Bahais at night, asking those who could afford it to pay for it, and handing it out to the rest gratis. He and his family at that time are said to have scrimped on their meals, and to have given some of their share to starving Bahais. Khanum `Attar's attention to famine relief for Bahais came to Bahaullah's attention, whence his bestowal on her of her epithet.
The importance of the `Attar women and men as community organizers and hosts is underlined by Mirza Haydar `Ali Isfahani, who lived in Tehran for several years. He wrote,
The only ones who were well off among the friends in Tihran were Aqa Muhammad Karim `Attar and his brother, Haji Muhammad Rahim. These two believers and their sisters were all devoted to the Cause of God. Whenever the friends desired to have a sumptuous meal, they would sent them a message, and the family would comply with their wishes and send Persian rice and roast meat. One night the brothers themselves attended such a banquet, and the delicious food was followed by fresh fruit.
In the mid-1870s, Muhammad Rahim `Attar became known as a Bahai and was ostracized from the capital, despite the protest organized by Umm al-Awliya', involving 200 of her powerful relatives. After five years in Baghdad he returned, but the surveillance of his house by Shi`ite enemies caused him to have to take refuge in his father-in-law's mansion for two months, until the uproar died down. In the early 1880s, Rahim Khan received a posting abroad, and during his absence enemies of the Bahais orchestrated a major round-up. In 1882, Kamran Mirza Na'ib us-Saltanih, the governor of Tehran, arrested and condemned to death some fifty Bahais, `Attar among them. The prisoners were engaged by some of the royal family and clergy in more than one debate. Umm al-Awliya' saw to the feeding of the prisoners in the meantime, and also undertook to plead with a leading Shi`ite mujtahid that they should be spared, but without success. When Rahim Khan returned to the capital, he exercised his good offices on behalf of his son-in-law, and after nineteen months of harsh imprisonment, the government released all the arrested Bahais (who included the cream of the Bahai intelligentsia of the time, such figures as Mirza Abu al-Fazl Gulpaygani and Akhund Mulla `Ali Akbar Shahmirzadi). The `Attar family continued to play a central role in the Tehran community thereafter.
Another important family in Tehran was a princely one, that of Shams-i Jahan Fitnih, a Qajar princess and granddaughter of Fath-`Ali Shah. Of a religious disposition, she had been excited by the news of the Bab's charismatic claims in the 1840s. Sayyid Muhammad "Fata al-Malih" Gulpaygani, a sometime travelling companion of the Babi disciple and poet Tahirih Qurrat al-`Ayn, was earning his living in Tehran as a tutor to the wealthy around 1850, and he gained employment in Shams-i Jahan's household. There he won her adherence to the faith of the Bab, and encouraged her to meet the female disciple of the Bab and famed poet, Tahirih, then under house arrest at the home of Mahmud Khan Kalantar, the Tehran chief of police. Shams-i Jahan became an ardent Babi and having heard that Azal was the leader of the movement she determined, around 1858, to visit him in Baghdad. Like many other pilgrims, she found it impossible to see Azal, and instead she sent her questions to Bahaullah. The answers were brought to her early the next morning by Mirza Aqa Jan Kashani, Bahaullah's amanuensis. He told her that the figure "He whom God shall make manifest" promised by the Bab, was Bahaullah. But he said that for the moment she must keep this secret to herself and reveal it to no one. She returned to Tehran, meeting on the way with other Babis who were convinced that Bahaullah was their messiah. She writes that she was quite prepared when, around 1865-1866 (1282), Ahmad Yazdi arrived in Tehran with the news that Bahaullah had revealed himself as the promised one of the Bab. She brought her brother, Tahmasp Mirza Mu`ayyid al-Dawlih, into the Babi-Bahai faith, as well. She visited Bahaullah again, in Edirne, and died at Tabriz on her way back.
Her brother, Tahmasp Mirza, associated with and helped financially support Bahai ulama such as Muqaddas Khurasani, Nabil-i Akbar Qa'ini, and Mirza Muhammad Furughi. Tahmasp's son, Muhammad Mihdi Mirza, studied at seminary and became a Shaykhi for a while, but when he lost a public debate with Mirza Abu al-Fazl Gulpaygani in Hamadan in 1888 (1305), he reentered the Bahai faith. He thereafter went to Akka and met Bahaullah, and this family remained devoted Bahais in the next generations. Muhammad Mihdi Mirza's son, Muhammad Husayn Mirza, became head of the telegraph office in Isfahan and then Tehran, and during the counter-revolution of 1908 he served as head of Muhammad `Ali Shah's consultative council, incurring the enmity of the revolutionaries (among them, ironically, another Bahai prince, the fiery constitutionalist Shaykh al-Ra'is). He fled to Ottoman territories when Muhammad `Ali Shah was overthrown, but eventually was able to return to Iran, where he wrote defenses of the Bahai faith.
A government-connected member of the Bahai elite was Haji Faraj Khan, the son of Colonel `Abdallah Khan. His father had been among those charged with killing Babis in the pogroms of 1852, and young Faraj, then 15, witnessed some of the executions. He was affected by some of the last words of one of the Babis. His father died in 1857, and around 1863 he began arguing with his mother about the Babis. Sometime later he gathered up his money, packed his clothes, and left Tehran, informing his mother and relatives that they would never see him again. He went to Baghdad, where Mirza Javad (Karbala'i?) brought him into the Babi religion and taught him to believe that the Imam Husayn had returned (a station claimed by Bahaullah). Around 1872, Haji Faraj hastened to Akka, where Bahaullah was imprisoned, and succeeded in visiting him. Bahaullah asked him to return to Tehran to bring his mother into the faith, and Faraj set out for the capital with a group of other Bahais. His mother and brother were delighted to see him, and his mother promptly had him engaged to a sixteen-year-old named Fatimih Sultan, the daughter of Muharram Bey (a graduate of the military academy). Haji Faraj brought his fiancee a literate Bahai woman as a tutor, and in the course of the lessons she embraced the new religion. Fatimih Sultan and Haji Faraj married and maintained a mansion near the telegraph station and the Royal Garden, which became a site for the comings and goings of the Bahais. Haji Faraj was the paternal nephew of Amin al-Sultan, who served as Prime Minister late in Nasir al-Din's reign, and he was forced to observe caution. Among his relatives, only his mother knew he was a Bahai. When Bahais were imprisoned, Haji Faraj interceded for them with Amin al-Sultan. His wife, Fatimih Sultan Khanum, also attempted to succor arrested Bahais and their families, using her high status as a woman of two prominent military families to approach Kamran Mirza and Nasir al-Din Shah with petitions for the release of her coreligionists, sometimes with great success. When Mulla `Ali Jan Mazandarani was killed, she paid his burial expenses. When local Shi`ite toughs continued to bother Mazandarani's widow, the family brought in men from the palace (da'irat al-Sultani) to beat up them up.
In addition to Umm al-Awliya' and Fatimih Sultan Khanum, there was another strong woman leader from the government-official class in Tehran, `Ismat Khanum Ta'irih. Born there in 1861, she was the daughter of Mirza Isma`il Khan Ashtiyani Mustawfiy-i Nizam, a man of high status. Her mother was Hasinih Khanum Zahrih, an extremely accomplished woman and a poet. `Ismat Khanum's maternal grandfather, a skilled Babi doctor and prolific author, had been physician to the prince Husam al-Saltanih (probably Muhammad Taqi Mirza). `Ismat Khanum and her brother `Isa were orphaned in 1868, when their father died. They were raised for a while by their grandfather, and then for a while by their maternal uncle, Faraj Allah Khan, the inspector-general (sar-ila' bashi) of the capital's buildings. He hired tutors for them, and had them taught polite Persian letters and Arabic. At one point little `Ismat is said to have been in the presence of the shah, and attracted a comment from him on her boldness. When their uncle died, their mother struggled on with them. In 1877, at the age of sixteen, `Ismat was married off to Mihr `Ali Khan, the deputy imperial bodyguard of the shah, and a fierce persecutor of Bahais who often brought them as prisoners to his own house.
`Ismat's maternal uncle, Abu al-Barakat, was a Bahai who, in order to escape persecution, adopted the life of a dervish and went to India. On his return to Tehran he stayed with his niece and gradually brought her into the Bahai faith. `Ismat Khanum now began treating the Bahai prisoners who were brought to her house with compassion. Her husband and brother, however, discovered her new adherence, and her attempts to help the Bahais resulted in her being badly and repeatedly beaten by her husband. She remembered once going outside in the snow to sit on the steps after being battered one winter evening, and leaving the snow around her dyed red. She nevertheless persevered, and taught her daughters the faith, as well as finally convincing her brother, `Isa Khan, to join. In the mid-1880s, her husband died, releasing her from her nearly decade-long captivity. `Ismat received a generous state stipend for Mihr `Ali's orphaned daughters, and her wealthy brother `Isa Khan helped his sister out, so that she was able to maintain an independent household thereafter. She threw herself into Bahai and cultural activities. She began holding classes for Bahai students in the capital. She wrote poetry under the pen-name of Ta'irih. She was known as a free-thinker (hurrat al-afkar), and worked for women's emancipation (hurriyyat al-nisvan). She moved in the highest society of elite Qajar women, including that of princesses, serving as a story teller and moral preacher and also subtly spreading Bahai ideas. She not only taught girls informally, incurring much criticism from conservatives, but at length managed to establish a girls' school. When the press became freer during the Constitutional Revolution, she published articles on women's emancipation. She died in 1911.
Other families were important in Tehran. The children of Mirza Hashim Tafrishi split, some becoming Azalis (a daughter, Badri Jan, married Azal), and some Bahais. Among the Bahais was his daughter, Hajir, who married a court astrologer, Mirza Muhammad Husayn Munajjim-Bashi. Their many children became Bahais. Her brother, Mirza Faraj Allah, married the daughter of the famous Bahai missionary to India, Jamal Effendi Tunukabuni (born Sulayman Khan, a very wealthy man of high status who had served at one point as governor of Tunukabun). Faraj Allah's son, Dr. `Ata' Allah Khan, was educated at the Polytechnic College and took a medical degree, and he later helped found the first Bahai school in Tehran. Dr. `Ata' Allah Khan may have inaugurated a major tradition, that of the modern Bahai physician. Not only was one of the shah's astrologers a Bahai, but one of his more eminent court musicians, Mirza `Abdallah (1843-1918), was, as well.
Despite the importance of the government-official class, clearly they constituted a small proportion of the community. Interestingly, in Tehran the religion spread beyond the confines of Shi`ite Islam and Babism, attracting members of religious minorities. Examples are Hakim Masih and Hakim Haqq-Nazar, Jewish physicians trusted by Nasir al-Din's court who became Babis and then Bahais. Another such figure was Mirza Ayyub Hakim, the son of Muhammad Shah's court physician, who was in his turn also close to the court. From a Jewish background, he became a Bahai in 1873 through Haji Muhammad Isma`il Zabih. A number of Jews, especially members of his immediate family, attempted to dissuade him. He, however, persevered, and went to see Bahaullah in Akka. On his return he helped bring his brothers and then a large number of other Tehrani Jews in the Bahai faith. In the early 1890s, Curzon reports that 150 Tehrani Jews became Bahais in a single year. The association of Bahais with the Zoroastrian school in the capital, as well, resulted in some conversions among that religious minority. For these minorities to embrace the new religion was particularly courageous, since in so doing they gave up their protected status as recognized communities, putting themselves beyond the pale.
Tehran at one time or another hosted a number of important Bahai ulama, as well. These included Mirza Abu al-Fazl Gulpaygani, a mujtahid who taught at the seminary of the shah's mother in the citadel at Tehran in the mid 1870s, and who became a Bahai in 1876 after long discussions with Bahai ulama (his first encounter with the religion came at the hands of an iron smith who confounded him). He lost his position at the seminary and was hired as secretary by the Zoroastrian agent in the capital, Manakji Sahib, a Parsee from Bombay who had opened a school for Iranian Zoroastrians. After his arrest and in imprisonment in 1882-83, he adopted a peripatetic style of life, travelling widely throughout Iran and eventually abroad. He went on to become the foremost Bahai thinker of the first generation in Iran. Among the large number of other important ulama who lived for some time in Tehran were Mirza Haydar `Ali Isfahani, Akhund Mulla `Ali Akbar Shahmirzadi, and Aqa Jamal Burujirdi (who was jailed in the early 1870s and conducted a lively debate with the Shi`ite ulama, and who returned later to live in the capital despite his notoriety). Ibn-i Asdaq, son of the famous Babi-Bahai preacher Mirza Sadiq "Muqaddas" Khurasani, also maintained a residence in Tehran after his marriage. Ibn-i Asdaq married a minor Qajar princess, `Uzra' Khanum, a great-granddaughter of Muhammad Shah, who embraced her husband's religion. Her sister, in turn, was married to an official, Intizam al-Saltanih, who became a devoted Bahai himself. This Bahai member of the ulama class, like the `Attar merchants, was able through marriage alliances to gain the patronage of persons in the Tehran government-official stratum. The very large numbers of Qajar princes and princesses produced in the massive harems of the shahs made even royal alliances entirely possible.
To historian Ruhullah Mihrabkhani we owe an important and fascinating account of the institutionalization of the Bahai religion in Tehran, based on a rare nineteenth-century manuscript that he unearthed, the memoirs of Mirza Asad Allah Isfahani. In 1877 or 1878 (1294) a copy of Bahaullah's Most Holy Book came into the possession of Mirza Asad Allah Isfahani, an important Bahai missionary and a brother-in-law of Abdul-Baha, Bahaullah's eldest son. It had been written in 1873, but only gradually circulated in Iran; insofar as it formally encoded a new holy law, aimed at abrogating and supplanting the Muslim shari`ah or revealed law, it was an extremely dangerous book. The Qajar authorities construed possession of it as a sign of apostasy from Islam, a capital offense. Isfahani, then residing in Tehran, read with interest Bahaullah's command that a house of justice (bayt al-`adl) be established in every Bahai community, with nine or more members. Although the Bahais had ulama, it was Bahaullah's intention that they not achieve the sort of ecclesiastical authority they had in Shi`ite Islam, and he therefore created these lay steering committees. During this period, of the 1870s, lay committees were also frequently being set up among Ottoman millets, which challenged the authority of the clerical leaders, and in Iran the Zoroastrians similarly had steering committees or anjumans on which bourgeois members of the community served, in contradistinction to the priests or mobeds. The call for the establishment of Bahai houses of justice therefore came at a time of greater laicization of minority religious communities generally, a time when agricultural capitalism was contributing to the rise of a new, literate middle class unwilling to cede all religious power in the community to the clergy.
Mirza Asad Allah writes in his memoirs of 1877-1880 that he secretly called a meeting in his house of eight prominent Bahai elders from Tehran, who began organizing the community's affairs. They sent missionaries to nearby villages, for instance, and attempted to help believers who were victimized by persecution. The rest of the community had no idea where these initiatives were coming from. Mirza Asad Allah was initially discouraged by the relative disinterest among the other members in committee work, and complained that if he did not call a meeting none was held. Then Mirza Haydar `Ali Isfahani and Ibn-i Asdaq came to Tehran, in 1879 or 1880 (1297), and these two very active Bahai preachers and missionaries agreed enthusiastically to serve. The rest of the membership floated, and remained a secret cabal of elders. They called the building where they met a house of justice, but referred to the administrative body itself as a consultative assembly (mahfil-i shur). This terminology appears to indicate an interest, on the local level, in democratic movements and thought, since the constitutionalist writers of the time employed the word shur or mashvirat, both meaning consultation, to refer to parliamentary sorts of governance. Bahaullah, of course, also advocated parliamentary government at the national level, but most Bahais were not in any position to pursue that goal practically. In their own institutions, they could, however, strive for a more collective sort of leadership, though Isfahani's secret council of elders was hardly at this point very democratic. Ultimately the assembly members would be chosen by secret ballot by universal adult suffrage in the local community.
The Tehran consultative assembly drew up an important list of goals for Bahais who wished to spread the faith and encourage the implementation of the laws of the Most Holy Book, including the wide establishment of further consultative assemblies. This list gives great insight into the thinking of Bahai urban leadership in the late 1870s. Such travellers were to attempt to establish in each city, town or village houses of justice where consultative assemblies would be convened. The assemblies were to discuss all matters concerning the welfare of the friends and to implement the decisions taken. They were to set up philanthropic investment trusts (mahall al-barakih) with capital raised from the community. Some of the profits from the investments made would be returned to the owners of the capital, and the rest spent on philanthropical projects such as succoring the Bahai poor and subventing the expenses of missionaries. The administration of the trust fund was to be in the hands of a committee known as the "trustees" (umana'). Bahaullah himself encouraged these institutions in numerous Tablets, writing, "God willing, the investment trust [mahall al-barakih] will be radiant and illumined among treasuries (buyut al-amwal), and the dawning-place of trustworthiness and piety." He also called the trustees "blessed." The third goal was the establishment of regular dawn prayers (mashriq al-azkar), either in private homes or in a building purchased for this purpose; in some instances Bahais bought land and constructed their own building for worship on it, gathering at dawn in accordance with the text of the Most Holy Book. The fourth goal was the institution of the nineteen-day Feast, which at this time had no administrative content or purposes. Rather, every nineteen days Bahais were to invite coreligionists to an evening meal, after which the prayers and writings of Bahaullah were chanted. In one town, nineteen Bahai hosts took turns offering a meal each night of the nineteen-day Babi-Bahai month, so that believers met virtually every evening. The final goal was to encourage the payment by Bahais of the huquq Allah or "Right of God," the 19 percent tax on net profits from certain economic activities. These monies were thought to belong to the sahib-i amr, which is to say, to the head of the religion, Bahaullah. The tax seems to be a form of the Muslim khums, a twenty percent payment owed initially on booty to the Prophet Muhammad, which Shi`ites continued to pay (on profits from some trade) to the Sayyids or the Prophet's descendants. In the Most Holy Book, Bahaullah made it clear that in future these revenues were not to be owed to his descendants, but rather to the houses of justice. Many Bahais paid the tax by donating property to the Bahai faith as a religious endowment (waqf). They sent the revenues generated by the property to Bahaullah in Akka or donated them to causes inside Iran such as spreading the religion or caring for the indigent.
At one point the assembly included Mirza Asad Allah Isfahani, Ibn-i Asdaq, Mirza Haydar `Ali Isfahani, Akhund Mulla `Ali Akbar, Aqa Mirza `Ali Naqi, Aqa Sayyid Abu Talib, Aqa Muhammad Kazim Isfahani, and Aqa Muhammad Karim [`Attar] the broadcloth seller. Interestingly, these members were mostly drawn from the ranks of the Bahai ulama, and at this point do not appear to include the Bahai government officials who play such a prominent role in Mazandarani's history of the community. Only one of the great merchants was a member. Another prominent Bahai preacher was then in the capital, Aqa Jamal Burujirdi, the scion of a distinguished family of mujtahids and himself at this time one of the major Bahai ulama. The Tehran house of justice decided to invite him to join, but he said he would agree only if he would be the chairman of the body. The members responded that the Most Holy Book had said nothing about there being a chairman. Because of his insistence on leadership (he is reported to have said one vote of his should equal six of anyone else's), Aqa Jamal ended up being excluded from membership. He in his turn began a campaign against the whole idea that the time had come to set up such consultative assemblies. The dispute was ultimately submitted by both sides to Bahaullah. He in reply first sent a letter to Aqa Jamal Burujirdi, asking him to go to Mosul to preach the faith there. Then he sent a letter to the consultative assembly, saying he was pleased with their work and encouraging them to continue. In essence, he ruled against Aqa Jamal, but arranged things so as to avoid humiliating the great mujtahid.
Although Mirza Asad Allah, author of the memoirs upon which this account is based, blames Aqa Jamal for overweening egotism, the issues here go beyond individual ambition. In the Usuli Shi`ite system, the mujtahid or trained jurisprudent was recognized as having a unique professional competency to settle questions in Islamic law, and the laity were commanded to obey his rulings implicitly. Aqa Jamal envisioned the continuation this role for the ulama in the Bahai religion. The other members of the consultative council and Bahaullah himself, however, clearly had a more lay, egalitarian vision of community governance. A Bahai mujtahid on a consultative assembly only had the same vote that Aqa Muhammad Karim the seller of broadcloth did.
The advent of the consultative assemblies, indeed, spelled the beginning of the end of the power of the Bahai ulama, as Aqa Jamal Burujirdi perhaps had the prescience to see. The Bahai ulama, being preachers dedicated to spreading the religion, tended to become well known as Bahais in any city where they resided much more quickly than did the urban notables or artisans. They often attempted to continue to make their living within the framework of Shi`ite religious institutions, the only livelihood for which they were trained. The Shi`ite clergy, clearly, took an extremely dim view of these Bahai ulama, who had all the rhetorical and literary skills of their Shi`ite counterparts, and they acted forcefully against them wherever they could. Bahai ulama therefore were much more peripatetic than the lay notables, being exiled from city after city. Over the long term, this mobility, implicit in their style of life, told against their ability to remain in control of the consultative assemblies. Moreover, once the Bahai religion became a recognized phenomenon, associated with particular families, the ulama class became extremely difficult to reproduce. A Bahai young man could not easily go off to study for years in a Shi`ite seminary. The secular schools being set up in Tehran to train professionals such as physicians and attorneys looked a great deal more inviting, in any case. Bahai religious meetings had no place for sermons, and therefore the community had no strong incentive to systematically hire or support Bahai preachers. Ideology, structures of authority, and liturgical practice within the religion, and the increasing inaccessibility of Shi`ite seminaries without, ensured that the Bahai ulama would die out as an identifiable social stratum. The Bahai religion became increasingly laicized, anticlerical, and even somewhat anti-intellectual, as the assemblies, staffed by merchants and professionals, gained a hammerlock on community power. As a dissident religion with a strong emphasis on individual ethics and subjective spirituality, whose meetings for worship lacked a sermon or professional preacher, the Bahais resemble some Western dissident groups such as the Anabaptists and Quakers (also not particularly noted for their scintillating intellectualism). Aqa Jamal Burujirdi and a handful of other Bahai ulama rebelled against Bahaullah's chosen successor, his eldest son Abdul-Baha, in the 1890s after the founder's death. Excommunicated, they found they had backed the wrong horse and sank into obscurity. This temporary and ultimately minor schism if anything increased the distrust among the urban notables in control of the consultative assemblies toward Bahai ulama and hastened the ultimate demise of this group.
As in Shiraz, so in Tehran, the bazaar formed one crucial site for the recruitment of believers. The `Attar family with its various branches represented one of the major proponents of the Bahai faith in the city. Mazandarani does not supply us with names of the numerous artisans in the capital who became Bahais, but mentions that large numbers of working-class Bahais were in danger of starving in the early 1870s. We do know the name of Ustad Husayn Na`lband Kashi, the iron smith who pointed out contradictions in Shi`ite traditions to the learned cleric Mirza Abu al-Fazl Gulpaygani, first setting him to thinking about the Bahai religion. Many such workers are known to us in Shiraz because they were arrested or targeted for arrest in 1870, whereas the mass arrest of fifty Bahais in Tehran in 1882 was directed against the elite and the ulama.
The nawkar, or government-official class, was more important as a source of Bahai converts in Tehran than in Shiraz. An impressive number of these were women--`Ismat Khanum Ta'irih, Umm al-Awliya', Fatimih Sultan Khanum, and others, who clearly played an essential role in the spread and development of the religion. Bureaucrats such as Ta'irih's brother, `Isa Khan, military men such as the nephew of Amin al-Sultan, as well as minor royalty such as Shams-i Jahan Fitnih, her brother and his children and the wife of Ibn-i Asdaq, joined the new movement. The `Attar clan even managed to marry into the nawkar class at one point, winning over the daughter of the shah's executioner! The willingness of these government-connected individuals to adopt a religion hated by their sovereign and most of their relatives and peers is something of a puzzle. Clearly, the Bahai faith is an attractive religion, able to inspire large numbers of Iranians to take the considerable risks associated with embracing it. But in some instances we can see how its attractiveness might have been enhanced by structural conflicts within the government class. Haji Faraj appears to have been having a deep conflict with an absent father who killed Babis for a living and then died young, leaving Faraj a rebellious orphan ridden with guilt and resentment. `Ismat Khanum Ta'irih, a battered wife, became a Bahai even though it was her husband's job to imprison and execute Bahais, in clear defiance of her violent mate. It should also be remembered that the government class, despite its status privileges, faced severe difficulties in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Those who were not successful in going into private landholding faced lengthy arrears in receiving their state salaries and stipends, because of the high indebtedness and virtual bankruptcy of the mismanaged Qajar state. The shahs' practice of maintaining harems as large as 200 and producing immense numbers of children created a huge group of royals, many of whose ambitions could not be accommodated, some of whom became ulama or merchants. A few of these disgruntled royals adopted dissident religions such as the Bahai faith, apparently in part as a protest against their marginalization (though it is true that some mainstream royals adopted such heterodoxies as Shaykhism and Sufism, perhaps in rebellion against the increasing hegemony of the Usuli mujtahids). Thus, generational and gender conflicts, as well as discrepancies between ascribed status and achieved class standing, may have created discontents with the status quo that contributed to the successes of the dissident Bahai faith among this stratum.
In contrast to Shiraz, a significant number of Tehrani Jews adopted the Bahai faith, many of them traditionally-trained physicians. Some Zoroastrians became Bahais as a result of Mirza Abu al-Fadl's and others' friendly relations with Manakji Sahib and his Zoroastrian school. Compared to Shiraz, the Tehran community was therefore far more diverse in the religious backgrounds of its adherents. In nineteenth-century Iran, these religious minorities faced many disabilities and were considered ritually unclean by many Shi`ites, in sharp contrast to the universalist and open attitude toward them of Bahais from a Shi`ite background. As Smith notes, "for Iranian Jews and Zoroastrians to be treated as fellow and equal human beings by members of the dominant culture was doubtless an experience of profound significance for them."
The way in which these various segments of the community interacted to reinforce community loyalties is demonstrated by the story of Haji Muhammad Rahim `Attar's famine relief efforts during the crisis of 1869-71. Because he had married into the government-official class and because as a merchant he knew the bazaar, he was appointed by his father-in-law to help distribute bread to the indigent in the capital. He used his position to help poor Bahais, as well. These links of patronage in an emergency form a species of vertical integration, wherein the middle class burghers could distribute the fruits of their clientelage with government figures to members of the Bahai working class. The Tehran community appears to have been exceptionally well-organized, and to have possessed perhaps the first consultative council. Run initially for the most part by the Bahai ulama, along with a merchant or two, this body established an investment fund with which to pay for a more continuous sort of poor relief within the community, as well as to support Bahai missionary work. The assembly saw itself as modeled on instructions in Bahaullah's Most Holy Book, and helped other cities set up similar committees and investment funds. Its ethic mixed a commitment to egalitarianism (it was a committee of equals) and consultative or parliamentary discussion (mashvarat) with paternalism. It was not elected, but formed by a network of self-appointed elders, and was wholly male. In time, these institutions came to be elected and they came to include women, but this was not the case in the nineteenth century. The consultative assembly's mild paternalism differed starkly, however, from the hierarchical and authoritarian leadership style of some Bahai ulama, such as Aqa Jamal Burujirdi. The assemblies clearly had advantages, of organization and scriptural authorization, which allowed them to win out over the ulama not affiliated with them. This form of organization probably helps account for the concerted spread of the faith and the smooth functioning of the urban community. Bahaullah's command that a substantial religious tax, the Right of God, be paid to these institutions, and then increased through wise investment, helped fund the assemblies at an impressive level. The attention of Bahais such as Ta'irih and Dr. Ata' Allah to establishing schools for Bahai boys and girls (as mandated in the Most Holy Book) also helped consolidate the community in the long run.
The contrast of the rise of the Bahai faith in Iran (1865-1892) with the rise of the Babi movement (1844-1852) could not be more stark. The Babis were perceived as an intolerable threat to the state and to the Shi`ite religion, and were willing to fight for what they saw as the right. As a result of this polarization, major battles broke out in some provincial sites--Zanjan, Nayriz, the shrine of Shaykh Tabarsi in Mazandaran. The failed Babi attempt to assassinate the shah, in 1852, resulted in a severe countrywide pogrom against the Babis. While the Bahais, themselves largely from a Babi background, suffered some continued stigma because of this association, their movement met with quite a different response. Although the state and the clergy occasionally attempted to use coercion to harass and slow the progress of the religion, there was nothing like a military siege of an entire quarter or village where Bahais clustered. Rather, the Bahais achieved an uneasy coexistence with Shi`ite society, characterized by continuous informal vandalism and discrimination against members of the new religion and occasional major episodes of persecution, but also by frequent acquiescence on the part of the state in its de facto spread and importance.
Minor members of the Qajar royal family adopted the religion, as did state officials who served as high functionaries (e.g. Mushir al-Mulk in Shiraz; also, it should be noted that the chief minister (vizier) of Khurasan and the governor of Bushire at some point were both Bahais). Non-Bahai patricians such as Qavam al-Mulk offered their patronage to important Bahai commercial clans such as the Afnans, and this is paralleled by Rahim Khan, the shah's executioner, protecting the `Attar merchants and their clients in Tehran. The punctuated equilibrium of state-Bahai relations is partially accounted for by the reformist ideology of the Bahais, which aimed at parliamentary, consultative government, low taxes, universal education, adoption of Western science and technology, a limited military, an improved status for women, and steps toward a world government and society. While some of these Bahai goals were anathema to many quasi-feudal Qajar nobles, the Bahais advocated them peacefully and quietly, showing that they were not an immediate challenge. Reformist high officials, such as the sometime prime minister, Mirza Husayn Khan Mushir al-Dawlih, even looked upon the new religion positively once they understood its social program. One source of Bahai success, in both Shiraz and Tehran, was therefore a relatively low level of state intervention against the religion (in each city there was only one major episode of large-scale arrest in our period, resulting in three judicial murders in Shiraz, while all the other detainees were released--though other executions of individual Bahais in the two cities took place). This relative reluctance to intervene reflected the reformist rather than revolutionary stance of the Bahais, rendering them no immediate threat to the state, as well as the divided opinions within the state about the movement and its lack of resources to mount another major, country-wide pogrom even had it so desired.
The Bahai community, despite its majority of impoverished artisans and villagers, possessed substantial monetary resources. Great merchants such as the Afnan and `Attar clans (as well as the Nahris of Isfahan and the Baqiroffs of Qazvin and Rasht) were among the chief beneficiaries of economic developments in the late nineteenth century. The Afnan's import-export house profited from the new cash crops, and the `Attars appear to have retailed British manufactured broadcloth to Tehranis. The government officials who became Bahais, as well, often brought substantial wealth to the community. More important, high officials who were sympathetic to or actually embraced the new religion were in a position to benefit it enormously by their patronage. In Tabas the governor, a Bahai, "chose a very beautiful building as the place where the Bahai meetings were to be held," and attracted many important people locally to the religion. Bahai sources attribute to Qavam al-Mulk and to Rahim Khan the ability at some points to ward off hostile action against the Bahais on the part of other officials or the clergy.
One is struck by the centrality of the rise of agricultural capitalism as a context for the development of the Bahai faith in Shiraz. There may, in fact, be a parallel between the pivotal role played in the development of early modern capitalism by confessional groups such as Calvinists and Mennonites in Lutheran and Catholic Germany, and the role played by Iranian religious minorities (Jews, Zoroastrians, Armenians, Babis and Bahais) in developing capitalist institutions in late nineteenth-century, Shi`ite Iran. This link between religious minority status and an active role in capitalist innovation may have had something to do with specific religious ideologies, but I see it more as an outcome of structural, social tensions. Religious minorities, in both instances, had the advantage of being on the whole barred from openly taking an active part in high politics, so that they were encouraged to focus on commerce. Moreover, they suffered great vulnerability locally, leading them to seek strenuously the security offered by liquid wealth. The Afnan and `Attar clans' ideological attraction to a dissident religion like the Bahai faith may have been wrought up with an image of themselves as heroic entrepreneurs fighting off the rapaciousness of parasitical feudal nobles and of the predatory foreign joint-stock companies that were coming to dominate Iranian economic life. The Bahai faith may have had the virtues, for them, of being both recognizably modern in its values and its social gospel, and authentically Iranian.
In another way, the phenomenon of the rise of great Bahai commercial houses parallels wider developments in Qajar society. Iran in this period was increasingly characterized by a situation of "weak state, strong society." Whereas merchants and officials could profit enormously from the commodity export trade, the state lacked the power and organization to tax this sector efficiently, sinking into royal and bureaucratic penury. Urbanization and religious pluralism, it has been suggested, are conducive to greater religious participation, and although pluralism was limited in Qajar Iran by the state's alliance with Shi`ism as the official religion, the weakness of the government allowed more pluralism than might have appeared on the surface. The new Bahai religion, and especially its bourgeois stratum, was an emblem of the strong society in the face of the weak state.
To conclude, then, the Bahais gained the adherence of thousands of urban artisans and rural peasants, whose popular culture was less under surveillance and less amenable to control by the state and the clergy than was that of the literate strata. They attracted some important members of the commercial and government elites. Both elite and working-class women embraced the new religion, which was in theory substantially less patriarchal than Shi`ite Islam, and gender segregation in Iranian society left women leaders free to make a powerful impact among female networks. Prominent Bahais from the Sayyid "caste" (such as the Afnan family), recognized as descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, could often employ their religious charisma to protect themselves and other community members. Bahais from the ulama class preached and wrote effectively, employing all the considerable tools gained from their training in Shi`ite seminaries in the service of the new faith. Internally, Bahais organized consultative assemblies and sophisticated investment funds, staffed by Bahai ulama and merchants, to increase the solidarity of the community through charity work and to spread the religion through concerted missionary efforts. They could accomplish all this because the conflicts in Qajar Iran between the clerics and the state, and between some government officials and their rivals, created slippages in official Shi`ite authority, spaces of culture and power in which Bahais could maneuver, survive, and sometimes even flourish.
* I was provided with rare manuscript
material, without which this paper would have been much poorer in detail, by
Ruhullah Mihrabkhani, Moojan Momen, John Walbridge and Richard Hollinger. I
am, needless to say, exceedingly grateful to them for their kindness and generosity.
John Walbridge and Susan Stiles Maneck made important comments on an early draft,
but the errors that remain are my own.
 For the Babi movement see Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal: The Making
of the Babi Movement in Iran, 1844-1850 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press,
 Fredy Bemont, Les villes de l'Iran, 3 vols. (Paris: the Author,
 The standard account of the whole sweep of this religion
is Smith, The Babi and Bahai Religions: From Messianic Shi`ism to a World Religion
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987). The sudden emergence of a liberal
group from a much more conservative one has happened elsewhere; after all, Unitarianism
developed out of Calvinist, Puritan Congregationalism in early 19th century
New England, though admittedly without the messianic element characterizing
 Tilly, From Mobilization to Revolution; Zald and McCarthy, eds.,
The Dynamics of Social Movements; idem., eds., Social Movements in an Organizational
Society ; the virtues of this approach to the study of the Babi and Bahai movements
was first suggested by Peter Smith of Mahidol University, Thailand; see Smith
and Momen, "The Babi Movement: A Resource Mobilization Perspective," in Smith,
ed., In Iran: Studies in Babi and Bahai History Volume 3, pp. 33-93.
Bahai social thought in the nineteenth century see Juan R. I. Cole, Modernity
and the Millennium: The Genesis of the Bahá'í Faith in the Nineteenth Century
Middle East (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998); idem.,"Iranian Millenarianism
and Democratic Thought in the Nineteenth Century," International Journal of
Middle East Studies 24 (1992):1-26; for Bahaullah see Balyuzi, Bahá'u'lláh.
 An overview of artisans in this period is Heinz-Georg Migeod, Die persische
Gesellschaft unter Nasiru'd-Din Sah (1848-1896) (Berlin: Klaus Schwartz Verlag,
1990), pp. 195-210; Thomas Philipp, "Isfahan 1881-1891: A close-up view of Guilds
and Production," Iranian Studies 17 (1984):391-411; and Willem Floor, "Guilds
and Futuvvat in Iran," Zeitschrift der deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft
134 (1984):106-114; for non-violent forms of subaltern resistance, see James
Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1990).
 Isfahani, Stories from the Delight of Hearts,
 For Iranian merchants in this period see Migeod, Die persische Gesellschaft,
pp. 179-194; and W.M. Floor, "The Merchants (tujjar) in Qajar Iran," Zeitschrift
der deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft 126 (1976):101-135.
 For the
nature of the state bureaucracy in this period see A. Reza Sheikholislami, "The
Patrimonial Structure of Iranian Bureaucracy in the Late Nineteenth Century,"
Iranian Studies 11 (1978):199-258.
 Fazil Mazandarani, "Tarikh-i Zuhur al-Haqq,"
Vol. 6, MS., uncatalogued copy in Afnan Library, London, pp. 861-62. Mazandarani
was a towering scholar of the Iranian Bahai community who lived in the first
half of the twentieth century. His nine-volume "History of the Manifestation
of the Truth" is an invaluable chronicle (including many original documents)
of the history of the Babi and Bahai religions, 1844-1921. Only volumes 3 and
8 have been published, and contemporary Bahai authorities have refused to allow
adherents to publish the remaining volumes.
 Mazandarani, "Tarikh-i Zuhur,"
6:855; H. M. Balyuzi, Khadijih Bagum: The Wife of the Bab (Oxford: George Ronald,
1981), p. 30.
 Willem Floor, "The Political Role of the Lutis in Iran,"
in Michael E. Bonine and Nikki R. Keddie, eds., Modern Iran: The Dialectics
of Continuity and Change (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1981),
 John I. Clarke, The Iranian City of Shiraz, Research Papers Series
no. 7 (Durham: Department of Geography, University of Durham, 1963), pp. 10-11;
for a contemporary poem describing the earthquake, see Hasan Imdad, Shiraz dar
Guzashtih va Hal, (Shiraz: Ittihadiyyih-'i Matbu`ati-yi Fars, 1960), pp. 45-46.
 Thomson/Alison, Tehran, April 20, 1968, "Report on Persia," Accounts and
Papers presented to the House of Commons, 1867-68, 19, in Charles Issawi, ed.,
The Economic History of Iran, 1800-1914 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1971), p. 28; Sabotinski, Persiya (St. Petersburg, 1913), in ibid.
D. Loeb, Outcaste: Jewish Life in Southern Iran (New York: Gordon and Breach,
1977), esp. ch. 3.
 See Imdad, Shiraz dar Guzashtih, pp. 504-515 for some
nineteenth century mystical figures.
 For the idea of a "central place"
in Iran, see Michael Edward Bonine, Yazd and its Hinterland: A Central Place
System of Dominance in the Iranian Plateau (Marburg: Geographischen Institutes
der Universitat Marburg, 1980).
 Thomson in Issawi, Economic History of
Iran, p. 28.
 Roger T. Olson, "Persian Gulf Trade and the Agricultural Economy
of Southern Iran in the Nineteenth Century," in Bonine and Keddie, eds., Modern
Iran, pp. 173-189; Bemont, Villes, 2:146-147; Vahid F. Nowshirvani, "The Beginnings
of Commercial Agriculture in Iran," in Abraham Udovitch, ed., The Islamic Middle
East, 700-1900: Studies in Economic and Social History (Princeton: The Darwin
Press, 1977), pp. 547-591; Gad Gilbar, "Persian Agriculture in the late Qajar
Period, 1860-1906," Asian and African Studies 12 (1978):312-365. An overview
of the period from a Wallersteinian, dependency-theory point of view is John
Foran, Fragile Resistance: Social Transformation in Iran from 1500 to the Revolution
(Boulder: Westview Press, 1993), pp. 107-151; while this approach has much to
recommend it, one must guard against downplaying local dynamics and overemphasizing
the role and impact of Europe. External trade is seldom more than 15 percent
or so of an economy like that of Qajar Iran.
 Olson, "Persian Gulf," p.
 A major secondary source on this family is Muhammad `Ali Fayzi, Khandan-i
Afnan, Sidrih-'i Rahman (Tehran: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 127 B.E./1971); for
our period, this source mostly replicates information available in the primary
account, Mirza Habib Allah Afnan, "Tarikh-i Amri-yi Shiraz," copy of uncatalogued
Persian MS, Afnan Library, London, and I will keep most citations to the latter.
 Balyuzi, Khadijih Begum, p. 30; Mihdi Bamdad, Sharh-i hal-i rijal-i Iran,
6 vols. (Tehran: Zavvar, 1968-1974), 1:39-40.
 Habib Allah, "Shiraz," pp.
153-168; Mazandarani, "Tarikh-i Zuhur," 6:856; a biography in English of Aqa
Mirza Aqa Nur al-Din is Hasan M. Balyuzi, Eminent Bahais in the Time of Bahaullah
(Oxford: George Ronald, 1985), pp. 216-236.
 Habib Allah, "Shiraz," pp.
169-174; Mazandarani, Tarikh-i Zuhur, 6:857.
 Khadijih Begum, quoted in
Balyuzi, Khadijih Begum, pp. 30-31.
 Ibid., p. 31.
 Habib Allah, "Shiraz,"
p. 177; Mazandarani, Tarikh-i Zuhur, 6: 857.
 Habib Allah, "Shiraz," pp.
 Mazandarani, Tarikh-i Zuhur, 6:861-62.
 Habib Allah, "Shiraz,"
 Ibid., p. 183; Mazandarani, "Tarikh-i Zuhur," 6:857.
Juan R.I. Cole, "Bahaullah's `Surah of the Companions,' An early Edirne Tablet
of Declaration (c. 1864), Introduction and Provisional Translation," Bahai Studies
Bulletin 5, no. 3 (June 1991): 4-74.
 William Royce, "The Shirazi Provincial
Elite: Status Maintenance and Change," in Bonine and Keddie, Modern Iran, pp.
292-295; Olson, "Persian Gulf," in Bonine and Keddie, p. 417.
 Hasan-e Fasa'i,
History of Persia under Qajar Rule
[Farsnamih-yi Nasiri], trans. Heribert Busse
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1972), pp. 350-351.
 Habib Allah,
"Shiraz," pp. 184-190, quote on p. 190; Mazandarani, "Tarikh-i Zuhur," 6:857-858;
for Husam al-Saltanih see Husayn Sa`adat Nuri, Rijal-i Dawrih-'i Qajariyyih
(Tehran: Intisharat-i Vahid, 1364 s.), pp. 24-25.
 Habib Allah, "Shiraz,"
pp. 191-220; Mazandarani, "Tarikh-i Zuhur," 6:858-861; Mazandarani gives the
date of the arrests as 1287/ 1870-71, but identifies the prince who ordered
the arrests as Husam al-Saltanih; at this time Zill al-Sultan was governor of
Fars (Fasa'i, Persia, p. 386). Mazandarani gives the date of the executions
as 1288/ 1871-72; but this appears to be an error. British intelligence reports
on southern Iran say three "Babis," who had been imprisoned for some time, were
executed between 14 December 1874 and 16 January 1875 (`Ali Akbar Sa`idi Sirjani,
ed., Vaqa'i`-i Ittifaqiyyih
[Tehran: Nashr-i Naw, 1982], p. 26); Husam al-Saltanih
was reinstated as governor of Fars early in 1874. It seems likely, then that
the arrests were made in 1870 or 1871 at the order of Zill al-Sultan, but that
the executions were carried out at the order of Husam al-Saltanih, probably
late in 1874 (1291).
 Olson, "Persian Gulf," p. 186.
 Muhammad Tahir
Malamiri, Khatirat-i Malamiri (Langenhain: Bahá'í Verlag, 1992), pp. 96-98,
 Moojan Momen, "The Bahai Community of Ashkhabad: Its Social Basis
and Importance in Bahá'í History," in Shirin Akiner, ed., Cultural Change and
Continuity in Central Asia (London: Kegan Paul International, 1991), pp. 278-305.
 Balyuzi, Khadijih Begum, pp. 31-32.
 Mazandarani, "Tarikh-i Zuhur,"
6:862-864; Isfahani, Delight, p. 97.
 Habib Allah, "Shiraz," pp. 225-230;
Balyuzi, Khadijih Begum, p. 33.
 Balyuzi, Khadijih Begum, pp. 33-34.
Gurney, "The Transformation of Tehran in the later Nineteenth Century," in C.
Adl and B. Hourcade, eds., Tehran: Capitale Bicentenaire (Paris and Tehran:
Institut Francais de Recherche en Iran, 1992), pp. 51-71.
 Here I am following
mainly Bemont, Villes, 1:117-118; these are close to the figures given by Zandjani,
"Tehran et sa population," in Adle and Hourcade, Tehran, p. 252; other, differing
estimates are given in Mansoureh Ettehadieh, "Patterns in Urban Development:
The Growth of Tehran (1852-1903)," in Edmund Bosworth and Carole Hillenbrand,
eds., Qajar Iran (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1983), pp. 199-200,
and Issawi, Economic History, pp. 26-28. The official census gave a population
for the capital of 210,000 in 1922, which it seems to me is a useful benchmark
for the earlier period.
 Ettehadieh, "Tehran," p. 203.
"Tarikh-i Zuhur," 6:404.
 Ibid., 6:404-406.
 Ibid., 6:468-469.
For this famine see S. Okazakis, "The Great Persian Famine of 1870-71," Bulletin
of the School of Oriental and African Studies 49 (1986):183-192.
Delight of Hearts, tr., p. 81.
 Mirza Abu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani, Letters and
Essays, 1886-1913 (Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 1985), pp. 81-82.
"Tarikh-i Zuhur," 6:406-411; Ali Asghar Bahá'í, "Tarikh-i Zawza'-i Tihran, 1300,"
Uncatalogued Persian MS, 61 foll., National Bahai Archives, Wilmette, Illinois;
United Kingdom, Public Record Office, Foreign Office 60/453, Thomson/Earl Granville,
Tehran, no. 33, 17 Mar. 1883; Thomson/Earl Granville, Tehran, no. 62, 15 May
1882, reprinted in Momen, ed., The Babi and Bahai Religions, 1844-1944: Some
Contemporary Western Accounts (Oxford: George Ronald, 1981), pp. 292-295.
Mazandarani, Tarikh-i Zuhur, 6:412-414; Ni`matu'llah Bayza'i, Tazkirih-'i shu`ara-yi
qarn-i avval-i Bahai, 4 vols. (Tehran: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 126 B.E./1969),
3:172-74, 185-87. Shams-i Jahan's memoirs survive in the form of an autobiographical
poem, reproduced by Mazandarani, most of which Bayza'i printed and of which
he gave a prose summary.
 Mazandarani, Tarikh-i Zuhur, 6:441-442.
 Ibid., 6:457-462. See Tairih, "Namih-ha va Nivishtih-ha va
Ash`ar," in Afsaneh Najmabadi, ed., "Recasting Women and Femininity in Qajar
Iran," Nimih-i Digar, vol. 2, no. 3 (Winter, 1997): 146-195; for remarks about
her feminist journalism in Iran-i Naw see Janet Afary, The Iranian Constitutional
Revolution, 1906-1911: Grassroots Democarcy, Social Democracy, and the Origins
of Feminism (Columbia: Columbia University Press, 1996), pp. 197, 202. According
to Richard Hollinger, who has seen the original text of Charles Mason Remey's
travel diary, this is the figure whom Remey met on his trip to Tehran in 1908,
whom he describes as working to get Bahai women to unveil and to eschew gender
segregation at Bahai meetings: Remey, Observations of a Bahai Traveller, pp.
106-109. For `Ismat Khanum's context, see Mahdavi, "Women and Ideas in Qajar
Iran," Asian and African Studies 19 (1985):187-197.
 Mazandarani, "Tarikh-i
 Margaret Caton, "Bahai Influences on Mirza `Abdallah,
Qajar Court Musician and Master of the Radif," in Juan R. I. Cole and Moojan
Momen, eds., From Iran East and West: Studies in Babi and Bahai History Volume
2 (Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 1984), pp. 31-64.
 Ibid., 6:442-443.
Ibid., 6:464; George N. Curzon, Persia and the Persian Question, 2 vols. (London:
Longman, Greene, and Co., 1892), 1:500; cf. PRO, FO 60/510 Sidney Churchill,
Memorandum, 30 Jan. 1890, enclosed in Wolff/Salisbury, no. 33, 4 February 1890,
repr. in Momen, Babi and Bahai Religions, pp. 248-49.
 Susan Stiles, "Early
Zoroastrian Conversions to the Bahai Faith in Yazd, Iran," in Cole and Momen,
eds., From Iran East and West, pp. 67-93.
 Ruhu'llah Mihrabkhani, Zindigani-yi
Mirza Abu'l-Fadl-i Gulpaygani (Langenhain: Bahá'í Verlag, 1988, 2nd rev edn.).
 Balyuzi, Eminent Bahais, p. 171-176.
 Mihrabkhani, "Mahafil-i shur
dar `ahd-i Jamal-i Aqdas-i Abha," Payam-i Bahai 28 (Feb. 1982):9-11; 29 (Mar.
1982):8-9; based on Mirza Asad Allah, Yad-Dashtha, Persian Ms., xerox copy kindly
provided to author by Mr. Mehrabkhani.
 Mihrabkhani, "Mahafil," 28:9-10.
 Mihrabkhani, "Mahafil," 29:9.
 Mihrabkhani, "Mahafil," 28:10-11, 29:8.
 Burujirdi's biography is given in Mazandarani, "Tarikh-i Zuhur," 6:300-314.
 Smith, Babi and Bahai Religions, p. 97.
 For Mirza Muhammad Rida Mu`taman
al-Saltanih, the longtime vizier of Khurasan, see Balyuzi, Eminent, pp. 52-59;
the Bushire official in question was Sa`d al-Mulk; his brother, Nizam al-Saltanih,
also advanced in government despite his Bahai adherence: PRO, FO 60/493, Ross/Wolfe,
25 Aug. 1888, encl. in Wolff/Salisbury, no. 178, 8 September 1888, repr. in
Momen, Babi and Bahai Religions, pp. 246-47. Other figures who might have been
Bahais are mentioned in some sources. Mirza Husayn Khan Abadih'i was appointed
the superintendant (mubashir) of Abadih, where there was a large Bahai population.
In April of 1887, however, he was removed from this post, imprisoned, bastinadoed,
and sent to Isfahan with his brother, on charges of being a Bahai (Babi). It
seems likely that the government's displeasure with him had other origins, but
that when it was decided to move against him, the fact of his adherence to the
Bahai faith made it easier: Sirjani, ed., Vaqa'i`-i Ittifaqiyyih, p. 286 (dispatch
of 19 Rajab 1354/13 April 1887, report for British of local events in southern
Iran, in Persian). Since malcontents were often accused of Babism in Qajar Iran,
however, it is difficult to be sure that persons such as Abadih'i were actually
 Isfahani, Delight of Hearts, p. 119.
 Max Weber, The Protestant
Ethic; trans. Talcott Parsons (New York: Scribner's, 1958); Heinz Schilling,
Religion, Political Culture and the Emergence of Early Modern Society (Leiden:
E.J. Brill, 1992), esp. pp. 176-187.
 Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, "Religious
Economies and Sacred Canopies: Religious Mobilization in American Cities, 1906,"
American Sociological Review 53 (February, 1988): 41-49.