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Haydar Alí Isfahání

by Moojan Momen

published in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Volume 12
New York: Columbia University, 2004
ḤAYDAR ʿALI EṢFAHĀNI, Ḥājji Mirzā, Bahāʾi polemicist (b. Isfahan, ca. 1830; d. Haifa, 7 December 1920). Ḥaydar ʿAli’s father, a merchant who followed the Šayḵi school, took him as a young boy to Kerman to become a personal attendant to the Šayḵi leader Moḥammad Karim-Ḵān. Ḥaydar ʿAli states that, after becoming disappointed by what he found there, he soon returned to Isfahan. After meeting some Bābis he became a follower of the new religion. In about 1866, he traveled to Edirne where he met Bahāʾ-Allāh and became his devoted follower.

Ḥaydar ʿAli was sent by Bahāʾ-Allāh to Istanbul and Cairo. He was arrested by the Persian Consul, Mirzā Ḥasan-Ḵān Gerānmāya, in Cairo in January 1868, together with six other Bahāʾis. The Persian consul succeeded in persuading the Egyptian authorities that the Bahāʾis were dangerous revolutionaries, and in getting them sentenced to exile in Khartoum. While in Khartoum Ḥaydar ʿAli was able to earn a living through his skill in calligraphy and handicrafts. When General Charles Gordon became governor of Khartoum in 1877, Ḥaydar ʿAli presented him with an engraved mirror and was able in this way to bring his case to the governor’s attention. As a result, he was freed in about 1880 and traveled to Akka, where Bahāʾ-Allāh had been imprisoned.

On Bahāʾ-Allāh’s instructions, Ḥaydar ʿAli spent the next decades traveling extensively, mostly in Iran. Professor E. G. Browne, who met him in Isfahan in 1888, writes of the great respect in which he was held by the Bahāʾis: “I had plenty of time to observe his countenance attentively, and to note the combination of decision, energy, and thoughtfulness which it expressed. His manners were pleasing, and his speech, when he spoke, persuasive. Altogether he was a man whom one would not readily forget, even after a single interview, and on whose memory one dwells with pleasure” (Browne, 1926, p. 229).

After the passing of Bahāʾ-Allāh, Ḥaydar ʿAli remained loyal to ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ. He traveled to Egypt, India, and the Caucasus on missionary activities, and made further journeys in Iran. Finally in 1903, at ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾs invitation, he settled in Haifa to live out his last years there. He is frequently mentioned in accounts by Western Bahāʾis visiting ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ, to whom he was known as the “Angel of Carmel.” He is buried in the Bahāʾi cemetery in Haifa.

Bibliography: Works of Ḥaydar ʿAli. A polemical work, Dalāʾel al-ʿerfān, Bombay, 1312/1895; an unpublished biography of Mirzā Abu’l-Faẓl Golpāye-gāni (a photocopy of the manuscript which had belonged to Mirzā Mahdi Rašti, ʿAmid-al-Aṭebba, is held in the Afnan Library, Tonbridge); and an autobiography, Behjat al-ṣodur, lithograph, Bombay, 1913; repr., Hofheim-Langenhain, 1982; tr. and abridged by A. Q. Fayżi as Stories from the Delight of Hearts, Los Angeles, 1980.

Other sources. Hasan M. Balyuzi, Eminent Bahā’is in the time of Bahāδu’llāh, Oxford, 1985, pp. 237-50. Edward G. Browne, A Year amongst the Persians, Cambridge, 1926. Moojan Momen, The Bābi and Bahā’i Religions: some Contemporary Western Accounts, Oxford, 1981, pp. 257-64. A. Solaymāni, Masābiḥ-e Hedāyat, Tehran, 104 B.E./1948, I, pp. 4-55. F. Māzandarāni, Ẓohur al-ḥaqq, Tehran, 132 B.E./1975, VIII, pt. 2, pp. 1117-22.

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