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This article was published in Iranian Refugees and Exiles Since Khomeini (edited by Asghar Fathi, Department of Sociology, University of Calgary), Mazda Publishers, Costa Mesa, California, 1991, pp. 21-36. The layout is as in the book. This article has been scanned and may contained errors due to the process of scanning and optical character recognition. Mirrored with permission from

The Bahá'í Community of Iran:
Patterns of Exile and Problems of Communication

by Moojan Momen

published in Iranian Refugees and Exiles Since Khomeini, ed. Asghar Fathi, pages 21-36
Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers, 1991
The Bahá'í community in Iran has been under almost constant pressure from persecution since its inception in the Babi movement of the mid-nineteenth century After the more dramatic and violent episodes associated with the Babi period, there followed a half-century in which continuous pressure and harassment were punctuated by frequent outbursts of violence. Not surprisingly many of the Bahá'ís chose to migrate either internally within Iran or to other countries. This was followed by a further half-century in which very little migration occurred until the mid-1950s when the migrations began again, this time far a variety of reasons. In this paper we shall be examining the causes of the migrations, the patterns that the migration took and trying to establish the reason why the migrations took these particular patterns.

In addition, the leadership of the Bahá'í movement has from the start been in exile isolated from the main bulk of the Bahá'ís in Iran. This inevitably caused problems for those Bahá'ís who wished to visit the leadership, as well as those who wished to write to or sent their financial contributions to the leadership. We shall be looking at how this logistical problem was overcome so that close communications could be maintained between the Bahá'í community in Iran and the leadership in exile.

This paper will not deal with the exiles following the recent Iranian Revolution. Insufficient information is available regarding this group to make any statements.

The Persecutions: the Cause of the Migrations

Sayyed 'All Mohammad, the Bab, first put forward his claims in the year 1260 A.H. (Qamari)/1844 A.D. Within a year, there had already been episodes of opposition and persecution of his followers from the 'ulama in Najaf and Kerman and from the secular authorities in Shiraz.(1) This opposition intensified and the persecutions became more violent culminating in the Babi upheavals at Zanjan, Shaikh Tabarsi in Mazandaran and Nayriz in 1848-50 (Nabil, 1962: 324429, 465-499, 527-581; Nicolas, 1905: 289-364, 386-424). There was a further intensification of the persecutions in 1852 following an unsuccessful attempt by a small group of Babis to assassinate the Shah (Nabil,

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1962: 595-688; Nicolas, 1905: 425-452). After this the Babi movement was violently suppressed and effectively driven underground.

It was to be about two decades before the movement was to re-emerge in the 1870s as the Bahá'í movement By this time however there was a heavy atmosphere of hate and suspicion against the religion. Europeans found that:

In Persia it is impossible to speak of the Babis or to learn something about their affairs. The terror which this name awakens is such that no one dares to speak, or even to think of it. The Italians whom I found in Tehran, and who proved extremely kind in every way, wanted to tell me little or nothing about the Babis... Nicolas [first Dragoman of the French Mission in Tehran] started to speak to me about them only after we passed the Persian frontier... Gobineau would narrate to me episodes about this sect. Gathering material for the history of the Bab... was fraught with danger in the heart of Persia even for a Minister of the French Emperor.(2)
E. G. Browne experienced a similar phenomenon when he tried to find out about the new religion two decades later.(3) If Europeans' despite the powerful protection offered by their respective governments, experienced such fear and difficulties, it can be imagined what enormous pressures the Bahá'ís themselves lived under, particularly the more prominent ones who were publicly known as Bahá'ís. There was no way that the Bahá'í movement could operate openly in Iran and therefore there was no way in which it could publicly state its case. This situation created favourable conditions for the proliferation of every type of rumour and accusation about them. The generality of the Iranian population was not even aware that over 90% of the Babis had become Bahá'ís and d continued to use the old name until about forty years ago.

Those Bahá'ís whose religious affiliation became known or who chose to openly identify themselves as such were at all times under a great deal of pressure. They were subjected to persistent abuse towards themselves and their families, dismissal from employment, trade and commercial boycott, and not infrequent beatings and looting of property.

In addition to this background level of harassment, from time to time, there would be a major outburst of persecution during which one or more Bahá'ís would be killed and all the Bahá'ís in the locality would be threatened and their property looted. The murderers and looters would plead that as apostates from Islam, Bahá'ís could be killed or despoiled with impunity. There are almost no examples of anyone being punished by the authorities for any actions taken against Bahá'ís, even where this involved murder. When there was a major outburst of persecution, this would have consequences not only in the town where it occurred but also in other towns where the news of the occurrence would encourage some to try to extort money from the Bahá'ís on the threat of stirring up similar trouble. There is not the space in this paper to give an exhaustive

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List of persecutions but, as an example, Table 1* lists episodes in Isfahan and the surrounding villages from 1874 to 1921.

A brief examination of the Bahá'í attitude towards the Shi'i institution of religious dissimulation is relevant here Although it has frequently been asserted that the Bahá'ís practise the Shi'i institution of taqiyya, this is in fact forbidden in the Bahá'í writings (Bahá'u'lláh, 1984: 221; trans. 1949: 342-3). But this statement requires some further explanation. If a Shi'i is threatened with injury, loss or death, he is allowed to deny being a Shi'i or even a Muslim in order to save his life. This course of action is not open to Bahá'ís. However this does not mean that a Bahá'í is obliged to openly proclaim his or her adherence Indeed Bahá'ís are enjoined to exercise wisdom in order to prevent open confrontation or conflict (Bahá'u'lláh, 1984: 221; trans. 1949: 342-3).

With the advent of a stronger central government after the accession of Reza Shah Pahlavi, a great deal of the petty local harassment diminished. However, a new form of institutionalized persecution emerged as for example throughout 1934-38 when following orders issued by the central government, all the Bahá'í schools were closed; Bahá'í centres and other buildings were taken over and closed; and thousands of Bahá'ís were harassed by the police over such matters as census returns, marriage certificates, and birth registrations; hundreds of Bahá'ís were imprisoned and many others dismissed from government employment A new feature was the way in which what had formerly been localized episodes of persecution could, through the medium of newspapers and later radio, become of national importance. For example, the murder of three Bahá'ís in Shahrud and the subsequent acquittal of their confessed murderers in 1944, led to numerous attacks on Bahá'ís throughout the rest of Iran as a result of the large amount of publicity given to the story.

With such severe and persistent persecution going on for decade after decade, it is not surprising that many Bahá'ís found it impossible to continue living at one locality and moved elsewhere. Sometimes it was possible to take some property and wealth to the new location. But not infrequently, those moving had been made completely destitute by the persecutions.

The Pattern of the Migrations: Internal Exile 1844-1921

During the initial Babi period, we do not read in the sources of any great amount of migration. One may speculate that the Babis were not yet sufficiently a cohesive community for members to be able to move from one location to another and expect to receive support from the Babis in their new locality Also, in the mid-nineteenth century, Iran was still more a collection of cities than a nation and it may simply not have occurred to Babis facing persecution in one locality to move to another.(4)

The next major period begins with the re-emergence of the movement in the 1870s under the leadership of Bahá'u'lláh and now more properly called


*The tables are at end of the paper.

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The next major period begins with the re-emergence of the movement in the 1870s under the leadership of Bahá'u'lláh and now more properly called Bahá'í. The renewed vigour of the movement triggered renewed persecutions. The persecutions continued with frequent major outbursts in various localities until approximately the fall of the Qajar dynasty from effective power in 1921.

The pattern of the majority of the internal migration movements of the Bahá'ís during this period was from centres of high persecution to places of relative safety. For not all places in hen were of equal danger for Bahá'ís. A wide variety of local factors led to varying levels of persecution in different localities.

The most intense persecutions were in the regions of Isfahan and Yazd. In Isfahan, the bitter enmity of the leading 'ulama, Shaikh Mohammad Baqer and his son Aqa Najafi, and the complicity of the Governor for a large part of this period, Zel as-Soltan, led to major outbursts of persecution every few years from the 1879s onwards. In Yazd, the intense persecutions began somewhat later, the last decade of the nineteenth century' but were even more intense leading to many more deaths than in any other locality In Iran The renowned fanaticism of the population (Malcolm, 1908: 44-54) was probably the major factor that led to permanent pressure against the Bahá'ís and numerous murders of Bahá'ís.

The Bahá'ís of a number of other localities were however relatively free from persecution. Tehran was about as far as the direct authority of the central government ran in these years and thus the city was kept in reasonable order. In Azarbaijan, the Crown Prince, Mozaffar al-Din Mirza, was not unsympathetic towards the Bahá'ís and a number of Bahá'ís occupied leading positions in the province: Mirza 'Abdollah Khan was farrash-khalwat (valet-de-chambre) to the Crown Prince; Mirza 'Enayat 'Aliyabadi was also part of the Crown Prince's court; Mirza 'Abdollah Khan Sar-reshteh-dar was wazir maliyyeh (finance minister) of the province; Mirza Mohammad 'Ali Khan, Rokn al-Wozara, worked for the Foreign Ministry in Tabriz (Mazandarani, n.d.: 5-8; 1974: 5, 74-6). In Shiraz, the Emam-Jom'eh, Shaikh Abu-Torab and his son and successor, Hajji Shaikh Yahya, protected the Bahá'ís as far as possible (Balyuzi, 1980: 108). Mazandaran also was relatively free of persecutions.

Between these two extremes (i.e. Isfahan and Yazd where there were heavy persecutions and Tehran, Azarbaijan, Fars, and Mazandaran where there were few persecutions), there are a number of places where the level of persecutions were intermediate. In Khorasan, the Bahá'ís enjoyed a certain amount of protection initially through the influence of a number of high-ranking officials: Mir Mohammed Hosain Khan 'Emad al-Molk, Governor of Tabas, was a Bahá'í as was his son and successor, 'Ali Akbar Khan; in Sabzewar, the leading cleric, Hajji Mirza Ebrahim Shari'atmadar, was sympathetic to the Bahá'ís, and according to some accounts a secret convert, having met the Bab in Isfahan; throughout the province many of the mostaufis (Government financial controllers) were Bahá'ís including the most important of them, Mirza 'Ali Moharnmad Khan, Mo'tamen al-Saltaneh; Shoja' al-Dauleh, the Governor of Quchan was very sympathetic to the Bahá'ís and his son, Hasan 'Ali Khan, was a


Bahá'í (Mazandarani n.d.: 65, 78; 1974: 204, 230). Later, however, as this generation of protectors died out' the level of persecutions increased. In Kerman, the enmity of the Shaikhi leaders in that town was countered by the protection of Sayyed Jawad Shirazi, the Emam-Jom'eh, a relative of the Bab and, according to some accounts, a secret convert (Balyuzi, 1973: 32-33). In Hamadan and Kermanshah, where the Bahá'ís did not become established until quite late and then mainly through Jewish converts, there was some opposition from the Rabbis.

It is difficult to quantify these migrations in any definitive manner but some indications can be seen from an analysis of the movements of some of the leading Bahá'ís. The Iranian Bahá'í scholar known as Fazel-e Mazandarani in the sixth volume of Zuhur at-Haqq, his history of the Bahá'í Faith, gives short biographical accounts of the prominent Bahá'ís of the time of Bahá'u'lláh (i.e. 1854-1892). For Isfahan, an area of intense persecution, of 82 prominent Bahá'ís listed, 44 (i.e. 54%) migrated. For Azarbaijan, an area of less persecution, of 146 prominent Bahá'ís listed, 24 (16%) migrated. Table 2 is an analysis of the pattern of the migration of the prominent Bahá'ís listed for the Isfahan area. Some of these migrated to an intermediate destination where they stayed sometimes for years before finally settling elsewhere. These intermediate destinations are also shown in Table 2.

There are two points of caution to bear in mind when considering these figures. Firstly, the figures for the proportion of prominent Bahá'ís migrating cannot automatically be transferred to the rest of the Bahá'í community because, undoubtedly, these prominent Bahá'ís came under more pressure of persecution than other Bahá'ís and also probably had more opportunity to migrate. On occasions however, the intensity of the persecutions caused all the Bahá'ís in a locality to migrate. We read, for example, of the migration of the whole of the Bahá'í population of Daulatabad (near Isfahan) to Tehran after a particularly severe episode of persecution in 1312 A.H. (A.D. 1894-5; Mazandarani, n.d.: 284). The second caution regards those listed as migrating to Akka. Mazandarani's text makes it cleat that the very fact of migrating to Akka was a sufficient cause to be included among his list of prominent Bahá'ís. Thus his list of prominent persons contain some who would not have been listed had they not been migrants to Akka. Therefore this list overemphasises the numbers going to Akka. With these two provisos, however, the information here presented does enable us to confirm the main trends.

The pattern is clearly for migrations to occur from areas of intense persecution such as Isfahan and Yazd to the relative greater safety such as Tehran, Azarbaijan and some towns of Khorasan such as Sabzewar. Of these locations for internal exile by far the most popular was Tehran. So many Bahá'ís fled there that there were soon two areas of the town, Sar Qabr Aqa and Darwazeh Qazwin, which were well known as the "Babi" mahallehs and these consisted mainly of migrants from other parts of Iran. Since most of these migrants had lost all their possessions in the course of their forced exile, the Bahá'ís of Tehran were also amongst the poorest inhabitants of the town.

It cannot of course be stated categorically that all of the migrations were on account of pressure or persecution. There may well have also been

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considerations of the commercial opportunities in such places as Ashkabad. However, an analysis of the biographical notices of the migrants for the Isfahan area (i.e. those in Table 2) shows that of the 44 migrants from this area, there is mention of particular episodes of persecution, either general or specific to the person concerned, causing the migration in 23 (i.e. 52%). When some members of a family moved because of persecutions, others followed. It is probable that a proportion of the remainder also migrated on account of the persecutions even though this is not stated specifically.

External Exile: 1852-1921

After the general upheaval caused by the attempted assassination of Naser al-Din Shah in 1852, however, a substantial number of Babis, including several leading figures went into exile in Baghdad. This group included Babis from all parts of Iran: Tehran, Kashan, Isfahan, Shiraz, Mazandaran. Among the Babis in Baghdad were Mirza Yahya Nuri known as Sobh-e Azal, who had been nominated to leadership of the Babi community by the Bab. That his leadership was not universally recognised is shown by the fact that from the very earliest days there were a number of others who put forward leadership claims. Some of these also lived for varying lengths of time in Baghdad: Molla Mohammad Zarandi (Nabil); Mirza Asadollah Kho'i (Dayyan); Hajji Mirza Musa Qommi, Hajji Molla Hashem Naraqi and Mirza Esma'il Kashani (Zabih). However, over the years, effective leadership of the Baghdad exiles fell to Mirza Hosain 'Ali Nuri Bahá'u'lláh, although he had not in fact put forward any claim at this time. From this period onwards, the Babi/Bahá'í community was to function with its leadership in external exile.

With this concentration of Babi leaders in Baghdad, many of the Babis of Iran travelled to this city either to visit and return or to stay. It is not possible to say how many Babis were in Baghdad at this time. The British Consul's estimate of "two to three thousand men"(5) was almost certainly more a reflection of the growing prestige of Bahá'u'lláh than a true assessment of the Babi numbers. There were probably however a few hundred Babis in Baghdad and Kazemain. In 1868, after the departure of Bahá'u'lláh, the Bahá'ís of Baghdad were exiled by the Governor of Baghdad to Mosul (Momen, 1981: 265-7). This led to the setting up of an important Bahá'í colony there until the late 1880s.

A small group of about twenty followed Bahá'u'lláh on the subsequent stage of his exile to Edirne (1863-1868) and this town also acted as a focus for migrations but to a lesser extent than Baghdad because of its remoteness.

From the late 1870s onwards, those Bahá'ís choosing external exile had two main choices (see Table 2). Some 72 persons had been exiled to Akka with Bahá'u'lláh by the Ottoman authorities in 1868. These were joined from about the mid-1870s onwards by an increasing number of migrants moving because of a combination of a desire to be closer to the religious leadership and a feeling that there was no future for them in Iran. By 1889, some three hundred persons had chosen to move to the Haifa-Akka area (Bahá'u'lláh, n.d.: 27). These settled

p. 26

and became traders and craftsmen in the town and surrounding areas; a substantial number began to farm in Galilee.

The second major choice for external exile was Ashkabad. This was a new town built by the Russians close to the Iranian border and was the new capital of the province of Transcaspia. Bahá'í migrations to this town began in the l880s but the episode of the murder of Hajji Mohammad Reza Isfahani proved a critical turning point. This man was one of the most prominent Bahá'ís of Ashkabad and in 1889 fell prey to a plot laid by a large group of the Iranian Shi'is of the town. He was murdered in the main thoroughfare of the Bazaar in broad daylight. Despite considerable pressure from the Iranian authorities, the seven main perpetrators were brought before a military tribunal and given severe sentences This episode which was the first occasion on which persecutors of the Bahá'ís had received their due punishment had a great effect upon the Iranian Bahá'ís. The numbers migrating to Ashkabad increased enormously. By the outbreak of the First World War there were some 4,000 Bahá'ís there (probably representing some 4% of the total world Bahá'í population). Here most of the Bahá'ís were engaged as either skilled craftsmen (asnaf), shop-keepers and petty-commodity traders (kasabeh) and wholesale merchants (tojjar). (Momen, 1990).

Migrations: 1921-Present

This phase of intense persecutions passed in the 1920s when the Qajar dynasty was deposed and Reza Shah Pahlavi came to power. The period from 1921 until 1950 was a time when there was comparatively little movement among the Bahá'ís. The persecutions although still occurring were of a lesser order. The stream of Bahá'ís coming to Tehran continued. This was, however, no longer primarily for reasons of persecutions but for the advantages in commerce and education that the capital offered. Towards the end of this period, there was a small number of Bahá'ís moving in the opposite direction from the cities to the provinces as part of a deliberate plan to spread the Bahá'í Faith among the villages and remoter parts of Iran.

The numbers of Bahá'ís migrating outside the country also decreased considerably. The flow of Bahá'ís to Ashkabad and the Haifa-Akka area ceased completely for political reasons. Small numbers migrated to the countries surrounding Iran - Iraq, the Gulf states and Afghanistan - again as part of a plan to spread the Bahá'í Faith. Some travelled to Europe and North America for educational purposes but these usually returned upon the completion of their studies.

Indeed the net flow of Bahá'ís was probably into rather than out of Iran in this period due to two events. The first of these was the increasing persecutions of the Bahá'ís in the U.S.S.R. from 1928 onwards. In Ashkabad and other centres, Bahá'í activities were curtailed and individual Bahá'ís arrested. This culminated in 1938, with the arrest of almost every male Bahá'í left in Ashkabad. Since the majority of these had retained their Iranian citizenship, they

p. 27

were deported to Iran. Several thousand Bahá'ís returned to Iran in this way. The second event was the dispersal of the Bahá'í community in the Haifa-Akka area. A large number of Bahá'ís lived in the area of the mandate territory of Palestine. As the Arab-Jewish conflict there became more and more violent, it became increasingly difficult for the Bahá'ís to remain uninvolved and therefore, Shoghi Effendi, the leader of the Bahá'í Faith, instructed these Bahá'ís to leave Palestine. Many returned to Iran.

From the mid-1950s onwards, the Bahá'ís began to migrate out of Iran again. This was for a number of reasons.

Firstly, there was the outburst of persecutions against the Bahá'ís in 1955 instigated by a popular preacher Falsafi with the backing of Ayatollah Borujirdi and the tacit support of the Iranian government. This reminded many Bahá'ís that although the persecutions had abated for a number of years, it was always potentially there simmering under the surface awaiting a suitable pretext.

Secondly, since the beginning of the century, many of the Bahá'ís had managed to rise from being amongst the poorest families in such cities as Tehran to being among the rising numbers of middle-class professional and commercial families. This was probably due to a combination of the strong community spirit and the great emphasis on education among the Bahá'ís. This increased wealth gave many Bahá'ís the opportunity of sending their children abroad for education. The Bahá'ís were probably marginally more active in this respect than other middle-class Iranians because of the great emphasis on education among the community, the encouragement of the leadership, the support received by the students from the Bahá'ís of the West and the fact that the Bahá'ís were not encumbered by the traditional Shi'i notion that all non-Muslims are ritually impure (najes). The great difference lay in the fact that whereas other Iranians would usually return to Iran after completing their education, the Bahá'ís, faced with the prospect of persecution and harassment in Iran, would often choose to settle permanently abroad.

Thirdly, from the 1940s onwards, small numbers of Iranian Bahá'ís began to settle in neighbouring countries. Then in 1953, the Bahá'í leader, Shoghi Effendi, launched an international plan for the spread of the Bahá'í Faith throughout the world. The aim of the plan was to spread the Bahá'í Faith to most of the parts of the world where it was not present and in addition to strengthen the community in those parts of the world where it already existed. Each existing Bahá'í community was given goals to be achieved. Iran was assigned 13 countries and territories to be "opened" and 14 countries and territories to be "consolidated". Shoghi Effendi announced that the title of "Knight of Bahá'u'lláh" would be given to all those who "opened" new territories during this plan. 42 of the 247 (17%) persons eventually named as "Knights of Bahá'u'lláh" were Iranians.(6)

Therefore for a variety of reasons, there was a large outflow of Iranians, starting in the 1950s and increasing throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Most of these Bahá'í migrants moved to the countries of Europe and North America. In Europe they often became the largest component in the Bahá'í

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communities there. In some countries of Europe, the Iranian Bahá'ís still constitute up to 60% of the Bahá'ís. In the U.S.A., however, there was already a substantial Bahá'í community which, during the 1960s and 1970s, was itself growing rapidly. Therefore the new Iranian Bahá'ís probably represent no more an 10% of the Bahá'í community even despite the large influx since 1979.

It is of some interest that many of these migrations of the Bahá'ís were referred to by the Bahá'ís using terms that had conveyed a religious charge. Those migrating to Ashkabad are referred to as Mohajerin, a term closely connected with the Hijra of the Prophet Muhammad. Later the same term was applied to those moving from one place to another for the purpose of spreading the religion, although the noun used in connection with this activity is Mohajerat and not Hijra. Those migrating to the Haifa-Akka are referred to as Mojawerin, again a term associate with Muhammad's mission (Mojawerin were those living within and protected by a haram area such as at Mecca or Medina). The international plan to spread the Bahá'í Faith launched by Shoghi Effendi in 1953 was referred to as a jihad (holy war; the corresponding English term ''crusade" was used in the West).

Problems of Communications

The fact that the leadership of the Babi-Bahá'í movement was, for most of this period, in exile and at some considerable remove from the main bulk of its followers, posed substantial problems. The mechanisms through which these problems were overcome at a time when the movement itself was harassed and persecuted are of interest.

From the year 1847, the Bab was kept imprisoned in effective internal exile in a remote corner of Azarbaijan first at Maku and then at Chehriq. This set up a logistics problem for the new movement in terms of communications with their leader. The problem was overcome in two ways. Firstly there were a number of Babis from all parts of Iran who came to Maku and Chehriq for a short period to visit their leader and would recturn with letters and messages from him to the Babis in their region and along their route of travel. Secondly there was one individual Mirza 'All Sayyid who became a full-time courier. He would take the letters and "revelations" of the Bab to Molla 'Abd al-Karim Qazwini, who was usually resident in Qazwin or Qumm. The latter would transcribe these and make numerous copies which would be distributed throughout Iran. In this manner the Babis kept in effective although not close contact with their leader.

Much the same system was used during later periods. When the Babi leadership was in Baghdad, there was a constant flow of Babis from all parts of Iran visiting and then returning.(7) A number of Babis also became couriers travelling through Iran keeping the community in touch with the leadership in Baghdad.(8) These methods appear to have been reasonably effective. We know for example that Bahá'u'lláh's book Ketab-i Iqan achieved wide distribution and was highly thought of by the Babis within a short time of its composition (in c. 1862) and before its author had put forward any claim (Haydar 'All, 1980: 8).

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Later, during the Bahá'í period, with the leadership very remote in Edirne and Akka, the communications became even more problematic. The solution however, used basically the same formula: a combination of visiting Bahá'ís and specialized couriers. In the atmosphere of fear and suspicion in which most of the Iranian Bahá'ís lived, it was something of a problem for those wishing to visit Akka to explain their prolonged absence (usually for several months) to their neighbours and acquaintances. This problem was solved by using the annual Hajj pilgrimage as a cover for visiting Akka. For Bahá'ís living in the south of Iran, the easiest route was to join the Hajj traffic to the Hejaz by sea from Bushehr to Jeddah; to perform the rites of pilgrimage and then join the Damascus caravan of pilgrims leaving the Hejaz. This took them to within easy reach of Akka. Bahá'ís from the north-west of Iran would use the overland route via Mosul and Aleppo.

The return journey for all travellers would usually be through Beirut, Aleppo and Mosul. This is because, from 1868 to 1885. there lived in Mosul, Molla Zayn al-'Abedin Najafabadi, known as Zayn al-Moqarrebin, who transcibed numerous copies of the letters from Bahá'u'lláh that the visitors to Akka would be taking back with them, thus ensuing a wide distribution of these communications (Browne 1926: 522-3; Momen, 1987: 115-69).

Although the overland route via Mosul and Aleppo was the shortest in distance, it was also the most dangerous and troublesome and was therefore avoided by most of those wishing to visit Akka. During a later period, from about 1885 onwards, the Bahá'ís in the north and cast of Iran preferred to travel via Ashkabad, Baku, and Batum by rail and thence by sea via Istanbul, and Alexandria or Beirut; while it was not uncommon for those in the south to travel by steam-ship to Bombay and thence via-the Suez Canal and Alexandria. It was only after the First World War that the direct land route became e common.

These visitors would usually be the bearers of numerous letters to Bahá'u'lláh from other Bahá'ís of their home town. This together with the replies from Bahá'u'lláh, and at a later date 'Abd al-Baha, was the principle means of communications.(9) Once again the term used for visiting Bahá'u'lláh, ziyarat also carries a religious charge for Shi'is being the term used for visiting the shrines of the Shi'i Imarns and their families.

Another measure that appears to have been established at an early date was the necessity for Bahá'ís to obtain permission from Akka to visit there, firstly before setting off and again in Beirut or Alexandria at the last stage before arrival. This allowed the Bahá'í leadership some control over the number of Bahá'ís arriving, which was of some importance considering that the Bahá'í leaders were still technically prisoners of the Ottoman Government.(10)10 In one of his writings dated 1889, Bahá'u'lláh sets out the conditions for those wishing to come to Akka, ziyarat: fitness of temperament and health for the journey; sufficient finances and other means for the journey; receipt [from Akka] of permission to travel, being the most important condition; and even if all of these

p. 30

factors were present, it was not permissible to travel if wisdom decreed otherwise (Bahá'u'lláh, n.d.: 27). E. G. Browne records something of the procedure for Bahá'í visitors to Akka in the course of describing his own visit via Beirut (Browne, 1891 xxvii-xxix).

By the late 1880s, the organization of visits to Akka had reached a considerable degree of sophistication. A number of Bahá'ís were stationed along the usual routes of travel who would act as guides and hosts to those setting out to visit Akka. These guides were stationed at Batum, Tiflis and Istanbul for those using the northern route and later there were even Bahá'í travellers' hospices (mosafer-khaneh) at Ashkabad and Baku (Mazandarani n.d.: 9, 20, 22; 1974: 73, 92). But the most important Bahá'í agents were the two stationed at Beirut and Alexandria. These two places were the last major staging posts prior to arrival at Akka and the Bahá'í agents in those places were responsible for obtaining final permission for the travellers to proceed to Akka.

Apart from these visitors to Akka, the other main means of communication was by means of courier. The two most important couriers were Shaikh Salman Hendejani,(11) who was primarily responsible for taking letters backwards and forwards to Akka, and Hajji Abu'l-Hasan Amin, who was primarily responsible for collection of the Hoquq Allah (a religious tax) although be would also take letters with him. The latter had appointed a number of assistants resident in various parts of Iran and at Ashkabad who helped him in his work (Mazandarani, n.d.: 9, 21, 1974: 120).

It was always very difficult for the Bahá'ís to use the postal facilities. Quite apart from their unreliability, there was a high chance that post addressed directly to the Bahá'ís in Akka would be intercepted by Iranian Post Office officials. Some use was made of intermediaries such as Bahá'ís resident in Egypt and Beirut. The most successful use of the postal service was however made by Mirza 'Ali Haidar Shirwani, who was a merchant in Tehran. Being a Russian subject, the Iranian government did not dare to interfere with his mail and, by this means, he became a major route for communications between Akka and Iran (Mazandarani, n.d.: 468).

From the early decades of the twentieth century, it became increasingly easy to use the postal facilities and also the telegraph for letters and other communications, while direct overland travel from Iran to Akka became much easier. Financial transactions were increasingly made through the international banking system. Direct communications were also established between the Bahá'ís of Iran and the growing Bahá'í communities in the USA and Europe. Only the two world wars caused problems with the ease of communication. The land route to Akka was however closed with the formation of the State of Israel.

Until the 1920s, the major communication had been between the leader of the Bahá'í Faith and individual Bahá'ís. However as the Bahá'í administration was gradually established, the communications that occurred became increasingly between Shoghi Effendi, the head of the Bahá'í Faith, and the Bahá'í national and local assemblies. These assemblies then took on the responsibility for disseminating the communications received from Shoghi Effendi to the Bahá'í community. The laborious process of copying by hand was of course gradually replaced by printing. Printing of Bahá'í books within Iran was not possible due

p. 31

to the banning of this by the authorities, although a certain amount of publication by jellygraph did occur. The earliest printing of Bahá'í books took place in the 1880s through a press established by the Afnan family (relatives of the Bab). Later, Shaikh Farajullah Kurdi in Cairo became the principle Bahá'í publisher in the East.


The Bahá'í community of Iran has been subjected to almost continuous persecution and harassment since its inception as the Babi movement in the mid-nineteenth century. One tactic, among others, that it has used for coping with this persecution has been exile, whether internally to another part of the country or externally. The internal exile has benefited from anonymity in his new surroundings and usually moved to a part of the country where the level of persecution was lower. The external exile was usually seeking complete religious freedom. Both forms of exile were often accompanied by considerable financial loss (although perhaps no more than staying at home and having one's property destroyed or looted) and external exile led to socio-cultural dislocation. However, through communal solidarity and a strong commitment to education, these disadvantages have been overcome with time.

One of the problems of a leadership in exile is that of maintaining communications with the mass of their followers. In the case of the Bahá'í community, this problem was overcome through encouraging individual Bahá'ís to visit the leadership in exile and through using a system of letters carried by these visitors and more particularly by full-time couriers.

p. 32

Table 1: Persecutions of Bahá'ís in the Isfahan Area, 1874-1921

1874: Twenty or more Bahá'ís arrested in Isfahan
1875 (A.H. 1292): 'ulama roused a rabble against the Bahá'ís in Sedeh; several arrested and imprisoned in Isfahan
1877: Execution of Molla Kazem of Talkhoncheh
1879: Execution of Hajji Sayyed Mohammad Hasan and Hajji Sayyed Mohammad Hosain. two prominent merchants
1888: Execution of Mirza Ashraf
I889: Bahá'ís of Sedeh end Najafabad beaten and driven into Isfahan where they took sanctaury with the Governor, some leave for Tehran to petition the Shah
1890: Seven killed as they attempt to return to their homes in Sedeh
1894-5: Severe persecution in Daulatabad causes all Bahá'ís there to leave and migrate to Tehran
1899: Bahá'ís arrested and homes looted in Najafabad
1901: Gholam-Reza killed in Najafabad
1903: Persecution of Bahá'ís causes a large number to take sanctuary. These are then beaten as they leave leading to the death of one Bahá'í
1905: Hajji Kalb-'Ali killed in Najafabad
1909: Hajji Haydar killed
1910: Mohammad Ja'far Sabbagh killed in Najafabad
1914: Bahá'ís of Ardistan arrested, beaten and fined
1917: Bahá'ís arrested and beaten; Bahá'í graves desecrated
1920: Bahá'í graves desecrated
1920: Genenal anti-Bahá'í agitation in Jaz
1921: General anti-Bahá'í agitation in Isfahan

Sources: Momen, 1981: 269-289, 376-385, 426-438; Mazandarani n.d. 285.

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Table 2: Migrations of Prominent Bahá'ís From the Isfahan Area
During the Time of Bahá'u'lláh (1854-1892)

Place of Destination Intermediate Destination Final Destination
Akka 16
Tehran 3 10
Ashkabad 6
Sabzevar 3 2
Mosul 1 3
Baghdad 1 2
Other (Quchan, Zanjan, Iskandarun, Shiraz, India) 5
Total 8 44


1. For details of the Bab's claims and how these were venously interpreted. see Momen, 1982: 140-142; regarding the opposition of the 'ulama of Najaf and Karbala, see Momen, 1982: 116-140; regarding the opposition in Kerman, see Nabil, 1962: 180-1, 187; Nicolas, 1905: 228-9; regarding the opposition of Hosain Khan govemor of Pars, see Nabil, 1962: 145-151.

2. Michele Lessona, I Babi, translated by U. Giachery; see Momen 1981 27.

3. See for example the reaction of his Iranian informant in Tehran when he tried to enquire about the Bahá'ís, Browne, 1926: 165; also in Momen, 1987: 17.

4. Napier Malcolm commenting on the insularity of the Yazdis in 1898-1905 stated that most Yazdis identified themselves with their town and not at all with their country. This probably applied to most Iranians in the mid-nineteenth century (Malcolm, 1908: 3843).

5. Arnold Burrowes Kemball in a dispatch dated 9 June 1858, Public Record Office, quoted in Momen, 1981:181.

6. Bahá'í World Centre, 1970: 449-457. There were in fact probably a greater number of Iranians than this since the names of a number of persons who moved to sensitive areas were not disclosed.

7. Numerous examples of this arc mentioned fin various texts, gee, for example, references to 'Ali Mohammad ebn-e Asdaq, Molla Mohammed Taqi Boshru'i, and Molla 'Ali Bajistani in Mazandarani, n.d.: 34, 63, 95; Haydar 'Ali, 1980 12.

p. 34

8. Among those who performed this function were Molla Mohanmad Nabil Zarandi and Mirza Aqa Monir Kashani; see Balyuzi, 1980: 131, 479.

9. The Bahá'í World Centre in Haifa recently announced that their collection of these letters of Bahá'u'lláh numbered some 15,000; and of 'Abd al-Baha some 27,000; Bahá'í World Centre, 1983: 22

10. In 1873, for example, when there were difficulties in Akka for the Bahá'ís, permission

for pilgrims to proceed was cancelled; see Balyuzi, 1980: 347.

11. E. G. Browne met this man in Shiraz; see Browne, 1926: 527-8; also Momen, 1987: 118-9.


Bahá'í World Centre
1970 The Bahá'í World, vol. 13, 1954-63, Haifa: Bahah'i World Centre

1970 The Seven Year Plan, Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre

n.d. Alvah Mubaraka Hadrat Bahá'u'lláh; Iqtidarat wa chand lawh digar,
[Tehran: Mu'ssisa Matbu`at Amri]

1949 Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh (trans. Shoghi Effendi).
London: Bahá'í Publishing Trust

1984 Montakhabati az athar Hadrat Bahá'u'lláh Hofheim-Langenhain:
Bahá'í Verlag

Balyuzi, H.M.
1973 The Bab, Oxford: George Ronald

Browne, E G.
1980 Bahá'u'lláh, the King of Glory Oxford: George Ronald

1981 A Traveller's Narrative written to illustrate the Episode of the Bab,
Cambridge: University Press, vol. 2

1926 A Year among the Persians, Cambridge University Press

Haydar 'Ali, Haji Mirza
1980 Stories from the Delight of Hearts (trans. and abridged A.Q. Faizi), Los
Angeles: Kalimat Press

Malcolm, N.
1908 Five Years in a Persian Town, London: John Murray

Mazandarani, Fazel
n.d. Tarikh-e Zohur al-Haqq, vol. 6, undated manuscript, photocopy in
Afnan Library, London

1974 Tarikh-e Zohur al-Haqq, vol. 8, pt 1, Tehran: Mu'assisa Matbu'at Amri,
131 badi'

p. 35

Momen, M.
1981 (ed.), The Babi and Bahá'í Religions 1844-1944; some contemporary
Western accounts, Oxford: George Ronald

1982 "The Trial of Mulla 'All Bastami: a combined Sunni-Shi'i
fatwa against the Bab", Iran, 20: 113-143

1987 (ed.) Selections from the writings of E. G. Browne on the
Babi and Bahá'í Religions, Oxford: George Ronald

1990 "The Bahá'í Community of Ashkabad; its social basis and importance in
Bahá'í History", Central Asia: Tradition and Change (ed. S. Akiner),
London: Keegan Paul International, forthcoming

Nabil [Zarandi]
1962 The Dawn-Breakers:Nabil's Narrative of the early days of the Bahá'í
Revelation (trans. and ed. Shoghi Effendi), Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá'í
Publishing Trust

Nicolas, A.L.M.
1905 Seyyed Ali Mohammed dit le Bab, Paris: Dujarric

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