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Hojjatieh (Hujjatiya)

by Mahmoud Sadri

published in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Volume 12
New York: Columbia University, 2004
ḤOJJATIYA, a Shiʿite religious lay association founded by the charismatic cleric Shaikh Maḥmud Ḥalabi to defend Islam against the Bahai missionary activities. Ḥojjatiya exerted considerable, albeit indirect and unintended, influence on the education and world-view of the lay elite leadership of the 1979 Islamic revolution. The association was founded in the aftermath of the coup d’état of 1953. The explicit goal of Ḥojjatiya was to train cadres for the “scientific defense” of Shiʿite Islam in the face of the Bahai theological challenge (author’s interview with Maḥmud Ḥalabi, July 1994). Bahai missionaries (moballeḡs) argued that Shiʿa’s awaited savior (Mahdi, also referred to as Hażrat-e Ḥojjat) had already emerged and that Islam had been superceded by the Bahai faith. Ḥojjatiya sought to defend the Shiʿite position based on both Islamic and Bahai texts. Ḥalabi’s own sensitivity to this controversy stems from a personal encounter. As a seminarian he and his colleague Sayyed ʿAbbās ʿAlawi had been approached by a Bahai missionary, who had succeeded in persuading the latter to convert. Alarmed by this experience, Ḥalabi abandoned the normal course of his studies and immersed himself in the study of Bahai history and original texts with the intention of composing a comprehensive Islamic response to the Bahai challenge. Ḥalabi’s original plan to train a group of seminarians to discharge these duties was rebuffed by the clerical establishment in Qom. Ḥalabi then embarked upon recruiting a corps of volunteer lay disciples adept at both substantive arguments and debating skills. This is the group that came to be known, after the Islamic revolution, as Anjoman-e ḥojjatiya.

Although the primary stages of Ḥalabi’s project evolved in his native Mašhad, he met with little enthusiasm there. It took him six months to recruit and train his first serious student (author’s interview with Maḥmud Ḥalabi, May 1978). Ḥalabi’s decision to move to Tehran proved a strategic success. The first circle of his students in Tehran were comprised of religious merchants and professionals (author’s interview with Ḥosayn Tājeri, June, 2002). They, in turn, succeeded in recruiting from a talented pool of ardent students from religious as well as secular high schools. By the late 1960s the second generation of Ḥojjatiya recruits had entered universities and embarked upon modernizing and standardizing the management of the association. Therefore, the early 1970s witnessed organizational reforms within the association that reflected increasing complexity and division of labor. Graduates of the basic instruction on Shiʿite and Bahai history and theology were recruited in specialist teams of operations. The latter included: The Guidance Team (Goruh-e eršād), that was charged with debating Bahai missionaries, persuading Bahais to return to Islam, and neutralizing the effects of Bahai missionary activity on those exposed to it. The Instruction Team (Goruh-e tadris) along with the Authorship Team (Goruh-e negā-reš) jointly worked to standardize instructional material and levels. These came to include basic instruction (pāya), the intermediary training (viža), and the graduate training (naqd-e Iqān). Most of the instructional material was distributed, in typed and copied form (poly-copy) in classes that met weekly in private homes across the country. They were retrieved within a week so that no copies would leave the provenance of the association. Students were instructed not to share or discuss the material with outsiders. The public speaking team (Goruh-e soḵanrāni) organized weekly public gatherings in various venues that featured trained Ḥojjatiya speakers discussing Shiʿite theology, critiquing Bahai positions, and fielding questions. The intelligence team, named the Investigation Team (Goruh-e taḥqiq) operated, in three distinct regiments, as a fifth column within the Bahai ranks and succeeded in thoroughly penetrating the Bahai hierarchy.

Unbeknownst to Bahai’s, some members of the Ḥojjatiya had advanced to the rank of prominent Bahai missionaries (author’s interview with Aṣḡar Ṣādeqi, June 2000). There were, also, smaller service-providing units within Ḥojjatiya such as the bureau of contact with foreign countries, bureau of libraries and archives, and bureau of publications. Thus, the most salient specialists in the association were known, in the jargon of Ḥojjatiya, as: polemical activists (mobārez), public speakers (soḵanrān), instructors (modarres), and intelligence operatives (mo-ḥaqqeq). Most full-fledged Ḥojjatiya members carried out at least two of the above duties in the course of weekly meetings. Bahais reacted to the emergence of Ḥojjatiya by adopting a more defensive and reserved posture and by avoiding open debates and confrontations. This response further emboldened the Ḥojjatiya members and reassured them of the effectiveness of their approach (author’s interview with Manṣur Pahlavān, August 2001). The organization steadily grew and by the early 1970s had spread throughout Iran and a few neighboring countries such as Pakistan and India. Indeed, in certain parts of Iran, Ḥojjatiya grew disproportionately to the Bahai threat and bred resentment among other Islamic organizations, that intended to mimic its success or to recruit from the same pool of talented religious youths (account of Hāšem Āqājari about his involvement with Ḥojjatiya).


Read the rest of this article online at www.iranica.com/articles/hojjatiya.

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