Ashkhabad (Ashgabat), Bahá'í Community of
by Vahid Rafatipublished in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Volume 3
New York: Columbia University, 1989
Attracted by religious freedom and economic opportunities unavailable to them in Iran, Iranian Bahais began to settle in Ashkhabad (ʿEšqābād) around 1884; the community prospered and reached its peak during the period 1917-28.
The first Bahai settlement in Ashkhabad dates back to 1300/1882 when Moḥammad-Reżā Arbāb b. Moḥammad Kāẓem Eṣfahānī and Ḥājī ʿAbd-al-Rasūl Yazdī b. Moḥammad-ʿAlī Yazdī made their way there from Iran. During the next two years, they were followed by Ostād ʿAlī-Akbar Bannāʾ Yazdī, Ostād Moḥammad-Reżā Ḵorramšāhī, members of their families, their friends and others. The early Bahai settlers of Ashkhabad were principally contractors and traders; also present, but fewer in number, were craftsmen, artisans, and simple laborers.
The community’s early years were marked by rapid physical and economic growth and religious tolerance on the part of Ashkhabad’s non-Bahai inhabitants. The arrival of the respected Bahai scholar Mīrzā Abu’l-Fażl Golpāyegānī on 15 July 1889 greatly enhanced the intellectual life of the community (R. Mehrābḵānī, Šarḥ-e aḥwāl-e Abu’l-Fażāʾel Golpāyegānī, Tehran, 1974, p. 161).
An event that affected the early history of the community occurred on 12 Moḥarram 1307/8 September 1889 when a well-known Bahai leader, the seventy-year-old Ḥājī Moḥammad-Reżā Eṣfahānī, was stabbed to death in the Ashkhabad bāzār. His murder was engineered by fanatical Shiʿites who could not tolerate the increasing prosperity of the Bahai community. Immediately after Ḥājī Moḥammad-Reżā’s murder, the conspirators were arrested, and a special court was convened. The court sentenced two of the Shiʿite assassins to death and five others to exile and/or imprisonment for terms ranging from sixteen months to fifteen years; but, through the intercession of the Bahai community, the sentences were commuted. This act of forgiveness enhanced the prestige of the Bahais and earned them, for the first time, government recognition and protection (A. ʿAlīzād, Tārīḵ-eamr-e mobārak dar madīna-ye ʿEšqābād, ms., Haifa: Bahai International Archives, MR 2403, I, pp. 32-34)....
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