Sobhi, Fazlollah Mohtadi
by Moojan Momenpublished in Encyclopaedia Iranica
New York: Columbia University, 2015
ṢOBḤI, FAŻL-ALLĀH MOHTADI (b. Kashan, 1276 Š./1897; d. Tehran, 17 Ābān 1341/8 November 18 1962), Persian school teacher, who is best known as a children’s storyteller, collector of folktales, broadcaster, and Bahai apostate (photographs at Anonymous, Bolukbāši, and Zia).
Ṣobḥi was born in Kashan to a Bahai family. His paternal grandmother, Ḥājiya ʿAmma Ḵānom, was the paternal aunt of Bahaʾ-Allāh’s third wife and had been a Bābi from the earliest days of that movement. She was forced to leave Kashan and move to Tehran when it became known that she had gone to ʿAkkā (Acre) to visit the Bahai leadership there. The rest of her family also moved to Tehran. There, Ṣobḥi’s father Moḥammad-Ḥasan Mohtadi and his mother, whom he does not name, separated, and Ṣobḥi was very unhappy subsequently with his stepmother. He attended the Bahai Tarbiat school in Tehran. In about 1916-17, he assisted Mirzā Mahdi Aḵawān Ṣafā on a journey propagating the Bahai faith in Azerbaijan, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, following which he lived in Ashkhabad for a time before returning to Tehran in 1918. In late 1919, Ṣobḥi travelled to Haifa to visit ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ. Bahai accounts write of him at this time as a rather immature and rude young man who had the temerity, for example, of arguing with and abusing Ebn Aṣdaq, a senior Bahai, on the journey to Haifa (Solaymāni, p. 110; Fāżel Māzandarāni, p. 860). ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ asked him to remain and be a secretarial assistant. He acted in this capacity for two years alongside several other secretaries (monši) and secretarial assistants (kāteb), until his actions caused his services to be terminated, and he left for Iran a short time before ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ’s death in 1921 (Ṣobḥi, Ḵāṭerāt, 2005, pp. 169-33, 275-386; Fāżel Māzandarāni, p. 871-73).
Ṣobḥi was strongly opposed to Shoghi Effendi’s leadership of the Bahai community and began to speak out about this among the Bahai community in Iran. This, as well as his association with ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Āyati, a Bahai apostate, led to warnings from the Bahai elected council in Iran and eventually to his expulsion from the Bahai community in the spring of 1928 (Ṣobḥi, Ḵāṭerāt, 2005, pp. 200-91; Shoghi Effendi, pp. 48-49). For the next three or four years, he made a number of approaches to be readmitted to the community but never fulfilled the conditions of a public repentance that were laid down for this. Shortly afterwards, in 1933, he published the first of his refutations of the Bahai faith, Ketāb-e Ṣobḥi, and over twenty years later, in 1956, he published another anti-Bahai tract, Payām-e pedar, which repeats much of the material in the first book. In both of these books, he provides little in the way of substantive intellectual or doctrinal arguments against the Bahai faith. Rather, he bases his rejection of the religion on the accusation that the leading adherents of the religion that he met did not live up to the teachings that they propagated to others. He accuses many of them of vices and moral failings. It is notable that he largely exempts the Bahai leader ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ from his accusations.
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