Iran: Province of Isfahan
by Moojan Momen1994
The city of Isfahan is situated in the center of Iran and was, under the Safavid dynasty, the capital of the country. The province of Isfahan is situated on the high semi-arid plateau of central Iran. Despite the dry conditions, there is, with the help of irrigation, much agriculture in the province. The city has the best architectural monuments of Islamic Iran and has been famous as a center of the textile trade and of many crafts.
Isfahan and the surrounding villages were Bábí strongholds, as evidenced by the fact that some 10% of the participants at Shaykh Tabarsí (q.v.), were from the area (Momen 164). The Báb was in Isfahan from October 1846 to March 1847. Since he was staying for part of the time in the house of the Imám-Jum`ih, many of the `ulamá and theological students of the city took the opportunity of meeting him and some were favorably impressed. It was while he was there that the Báb wrote his Commentary on the Qur'anic Súrih of Wa'l-Asr for the Imám-Jum`ih and his treatise on the specific prophetic mission of Muhammad (Nubuwat-i-Kháss) for the governor Manúchihr Khán (q.v.), who was to become his most prominent follower. A considerable number of converts was made, some from among the most influential sectors of the population.
The foundations for the conversion of the Bábís of this area to the Bahá'í Faith were laid through those Bábís who visited Bahá'u'lláh during his exile in Baghdad. The Book of Certitude (q.v.) was greeted with enthusiasm when copies of it began to arrive in Isfahan. Many of the prominent Bábís of the area became Bahá'ís, such as Mullá Zaynu'l-`Ábidín of Najafábád (known to Bahá'ís as Zaynu'l-Muqarrabín, q.v.), Mírzá Ashraf of Najafábád, Mírzá Muhammad `Ali Nahrí (see "Nahrí family"), Mírzá Haydar `Alí Ardistání, Sayyid Ismá`íl Dhabíh Zavári'í and others. A number of important figures in this area, however, became Azalís (q.v.): Mullá Rajab-`Alí Qahír (whose sister had married the Báb while he was in Isfahan), his brother Mullá `Alí Muhammad Siráj, and Mírzá Hádí Dawlatábádí. To these figures was added Mírzá Nasru'lláh Maliku'l-Mutakallimín, an important figure in the Constitutional movement. As a consequence, a number of the Bábís in the area also remained Azalís, especially in the villages of Sidih, Tár, Tarq, and Dawlatábád.
This area saw numerous episodes of persecution instigated by the leading `ulamá: Hájí Mullá Muhammad Báqir Isfahání (q.v.; named by Bahá'u'lláh "the Wolf"), his son Mullá Muhammad Taqí (q.v., Áqá Najafí), and Mír Muhammad Husayn Imám-Jum`ih (q.v.; named by Bahá'u'lláh Raqshá, she-serpent); and by the governor Zillu's-Sultán (q.v.), who ruled the province from 1874 to 1907. During the time of Bahá'u'lláh, there were seven major outbursts of persecution in the Isfahan area, including the execution of several prominent Bahá'ís, including Sayyid Muhammad Hasan and Sayyid Muhammad Husayn, the King and Beloved of Martyrs (see "Nahrí family") in 1879 and Mírzá Ashraf in 1888. In the villages around Isfahan there were also numerous episodes of persecution and some martyrdoms: in Najafábád in 1864, 1889, 1899, and 1910; in Sidih in 1890; and in Zavárih in 1926.
As a consequence of the persecutions, many of the Bahá'ís of Isfahan migrated to other areas. Some, like the merchant Hájí Muhammad Ridá, went to Sabzivár and then on to Ashkhabad (see "Turkmenistan"), while others moved to the Haifa-Akka area.
Despite the persecutions, the number of Bahá'ís in the area grew both in Isfahan itself and in villages such as Sidih where three well-known poets, Mírzá Na`ím, Nayyir, and Siná, became Bahá'ís in about 1297/1879-80. In towns such as Ardistán where there had been conversions in the Bábí period, there was continued growth with the number of Bahá'ís reaching some 300 by the time of `Abdu'l-Bahá. There was also some geographical diffusion in that the religion was introduced to some new villages. Near Ardistán, a large number from the village of Bábu'r-Ruhá became Bahá'ís after the conversion of the landowner there, Mírzá Fath-`Alí (Fath-i-A`zam). The Bahá'í Faith also spread among the nomadic tribes in this area. In particular, among the Búyir Ahmad section of the Kúh-Galú tribes there were several hundred conversions during the time of `Abdu'l-Bahá. There were also converts in Burújin in Bakhtiyárí country.
Surprisingly, in view of the intense persecutions of the Faith in this region, a number of prominent citizens managed to remain Bahá'ís. For example, Mírzá Asadu'lláh Khán was the finance minister of the province from about 1878 to 1908.
The Bahá'í community of the small town of Najafábád has been a particularly large and important one. A Bahá'í school was established at Najafábád, and when this was closed down by the government in 1934, Mr. Abu'l-Qásim Faizi (q.v.) went to the town to act as tutor to the four hundred Bahá'í children affected by the closure.
In 1933 Keith Ransom-Kehler (q.v.) died in Isfahan while on a tour of Iran. She was buried next to the graves of the King and Beloved of Martyrs. Shoghi Effendi referred on several occasions to these three graves and they became a site frequently visited by Bahá'ís.Holy places
Holy places associated with the stay of the Báb in this city include the house of the Imám-Jum`ih; the palace of Manúchihr Khán at Chihil Sutún; the house of Mírzá Asadu'lláh Vazír where the remains of the Báb were kept for a short time; and the house and tombs of the King of Martyrs and Beloved of Martyrs, together with the adjacent tomb of Ransom-Kehler.
History of the Bahá'í Faith in Isfahan (author unknown), photocopy of mss. in Afnán Library; Áqá Husayn `Alí Núr, memoirs written in 1346, photocopy of mss in Afnán Library, partially published as Khátirát-i-Muhájirí az Isfahán dar zamán shahádat-i-Sultánu'sh-Shuhadá va Mahbúbu'sh-Shuhadá, Mu'assisih Millí Matbu`át-i-Amrí, 128/1971; ZH 3:89-105; 6:137-300; 8a:121-174. M. Momen, "Social Basis of the Bábí Upheavals in Iran (1848-53): a preliminary analysis", International Journal of Middle East Studies 1983, 15:157-183.