Biographies of two enslaved Africans in Iran, Haji Mubarak and Fezzeh Khanum, the servants of The Bab. A history of slavery in Iran can be written, not only at the level of statistics, laws, and politics, but also at the level of individual lives.
published in UCLA Historical Journal, 26:1, pages 17-38 2015
Little scholarly research has been undertaken on the history of African slavery in Iran in the
nineteenth century. What has been written focuses, almost by necessity, on statistical information
or on the lives of the wealthy and powerful. Haji Mubarak and Fezzeh Khanum offer a rare
opportunity for historians of Iran to reconstruct the biographies of two ordinary slaves. Because
they were the slaves of the Shirazi merchant, Mirza ‘Ali-Muhammad, the founder of Babism,
surviving Babi and Baha’i chronicles (and oral traditions) include them in their pious histories
and record at least part of their lives. At the same time, these histories erase these persons by
steadfastly refusing to acknowledge any significance in their presence.
This paper will demonstrate that the recovery of the history of slavery in nineteenth-century Iran,
even at the level of individual biographies, is possible. It will also argue that the significance
of large numbers of African slaves in Iran during this time has been erased from contemporary
Iranian national history. Similarly, the presence of African slaves at the genesis of the Babi religion
has been erased from contemporary Baha’i histories.