by Moojan Momenpublished in Encyclopaedia Iranica
New York: Columbia University, 2013
“Pioneer” (in English) and mohājer (in Persian: migrant, pl. mohājerin) are terms used in Bahai literature to designate those who leave their homes to settle in another locality with the intention of spreading the Bahai faith or supporting existing Bahai communities.
The Bahai faith does not have any professional religious leaders. Therefore all of the functions normally undertaken by these individuals, including missionary activities, are the responsibility of ordinary Bahais. In the Bahai community, ordinary Bahais move to a new area where they find employment or set up their business and then seek out converts in their new locality. This movement may be to a different area in the same country or to a foreign country where there are no Bahais, or it may be to an area where the existing Bahai community is weak. This activity and those doing it are called mohājarat (migration) and mohājerin (migrants) respectively in Persian and pioneering and pioneers in English. The pioneer is supposed to remain in that place until the Bahai faith is firmly established among the native people of that area and its institutions are functioning properly (Horby, comp., p. 578).
The Bāb instructed his first eighteen disciples, called “the Letters of the Living” (ḥoruf al-ḥayy), to disperse and take his message throughout Iran and the neighboring countries. There are also many instances where Bahāʾ-Allāh directed Bahais to travel to a foreign country (e.g., India), in order to spread the Bahai faith there (Momen, 1999-2000), or among the Baḵtiāri and the tribes of Kermanshah (Raʾfati, p. 96). But such a person would usually be a traveling teacher (moballeḡ) and would not remain in the area for long. In the time of ʿAbd-al-Bahaʾ, there is more evidence of his instructing Bahais to settle in various places; for example he asked some of the Turkish-speaking Bahais of Azarbaijan to move to towns in Anatolia (Fāżel Māzandarāni, pp. 62, 98).
In 1916-17, ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ wrote a series of letters to the North American Bahais, known as Farāmin-e tabliḡi (in Eng., Tablets of the Divine Plan; lit. Missionary commands) in which he gives instructions about various places around the world where Bahais are to settle. Although there was little response to this call in his lifetime, these letters were regarded by Shoghi Effendi in later years as the charter and ground plan for the expansion of the Bahai faith. However, the spread of the Bahai faith was largely by happenstance up to the 1930s. A Bahai might move to a new area because of his/her work or might be converted in one area and then return to his/her home town or village and start spreading the Bahai faith there. The spread of the faith in an area may also be the result of persecution somewhere else, such as the establishment and growth of the Bahai community of Ashkhabad (see Bahaism vi) by Bahais escaping persecution in Iran (Momen, 1991).
Shoghi Effendi spent the first fifteen years of his leadership of the Bahai community building up the institutions of the Bahai administration. Then in 1937, he began to implement the instructions given by ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ in the Farāmin-e tabliḡi, creating systematic plans for the expansion of the Bahai community and asking National Spiritual Assemblies (Maḥfel-e Ruḥāni) to send Bahais to areas where there were no Bahais. It was at this time that Shoghi Effendi first began to use terms in Persian that linked this activity to the early history of Islam, by calling a person who moved to a new area mohājer, implicitly linking this activity to those who moved from Mecca to Medina with the Prophet Moḥammad. A person who first moved to a country that did not have any Bahais was called a fāteḥ (opener, conqueror), using the term that designates those who, in early Islamic history, opened up new areas to Islamic rule.
Read the rest of this article online at iranicaonline.org/articles/bahaism-xiii-pioneers.