It has become common to link the emergence and expansion of the
Bábí movement to the wide-ranging social tensions and crises
experienced by mid-nineteenth-century Iranians. We would not dissent from this
view. We assert, however, that the nature of the linkage between the
Bábís and the social tensions of the 1840s is as yet far from
clear. Both the Bábí religion and the social structure of Iran in
the 1840s remain under-researched, particularly in terms of the specific local
situations and linkages which we believe are crucial to an understanding of the
As research proceeds, we believe that it is essential that the theoretical as
well as the substantive issues of explanation be made explicit. Such
theoretical issues are always implicit in any historical explanation of a
general nature, as with such assertions as that Babism represented an
expression of class discontent (Ivanov), or proto-nationalistic sentiment
(Avery, Ivanov, Keddie), regional antagonisms (Avery), political rebellion
(Bayat), or social crisis (Smith).
Only when the theoretical
assumptions underlying such theories are made explicit can they be adequately
In the present essay, we examine the Bábí movement in
terms of a sociological resource mobilization perspective.
doing, we are not seeking to provide a "total" theoretical framework.
Acceptance of one particular explanatory historical theory may lessen the
importance attached to other theories, but it does not necessarily invalidate
What distinguishes the resource mobilization perspective from much of the
other theoretical work on social and religious movements is that it is more
concerned with means than with meaning. It assumes that participation in social
movements is generally both normal and rational. It postulates that, given a
commitment to expansion on the part of the movement's original membership, an
effective system of organization, and a favorable social environment, the
growth of any social movement is relatively unproblematic. The central (and
more accessible) research questions from this perspective are concerned with
the investigation of the practical means by which such organizations are
constructed, rather than the putative reasons why human beings join them.
Specifically, it is unnecessary to explain the recruitment of followers to a
movement in terms of extraordinary motivations supposedly engendered by
individual or social crises. Such crises may well enhance a movement's
plausibility, but issues are defined, and may even be generated, by the
movement's leadership. Recruitment need not be highly motivated. Meaningful
social contact with the movement's partisans may of itself be sufficient to
secure initial conversion. Thereafter, progressive resocialization assures the
neophyte's continued commitment.
This is not to discount the importance of motivation.
Thus at a
minimal level, we would assert that the content of a movement's ideology must
be at least accessible and plausible to its potential recruits. More generally,
we recognize the importance of ideal and material interests in motivating a
movement's members. We would stress, however, that putative interests are
often highly complex and need to be related in some detail to the actual
contents and development of a particular movement. That recruitment to a
movement flows along preexisting lines of social cleavage, for example, need
not primarily indicate the articulation of specific class interests. It may,
rather, reflect the pattern of social networks, here held to be of crucial
importance in affecting recruitment.
Various component elements of the mobilization perspective may be identified.
In the present discussion, we shall deal with the following: (1) the social
that is, the structural characteristics of Iranian society
which defined and facilitated the emergence of Babism, the role of social
control and opposition, and the interactive process by which the religion's
political role came to be defined; (2) the organization of resources
secure the movement's objectives; (3) the pattern of recruitment
movement; and (4) the form and content of the movement's ideology
defined and promoted its growth. We will then provide a general
characterization of the social location and demographic importance of the early
Bábís. Finally, we will offer a list of twenty-five propositions
which we regard as basic elements for any future analysis of the social
significance and context of the Bábí movement.
EMERGENCE AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE BÁBÍ MOVEMENT
Let us begin, however, with a brief account of the emergence and development of
Shaykhism and Babism, thereby providing a base for our more theoretically
In terms of the subsequent discussion, it is of
particular note that the Bábí movement began as a sub-sect of the
Shaykhi school, in the specific context of the succession crisis of 1844. As a
religious movement, the early Bábí religion may be described as
having passed through two very distinct phases of development: an initial
"Islamic" phase (1844-48), and a later "radical"
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one (1848-53). We are not concerned, except incidentally, with developments
after the collapse of Babism as an organized movement.
Originating with the teachings of Shaykh Ahmad
al-Ahsá'í (1753-1826), Shaykhism became a powerful expression of
the tradition of theosophical Shi'i dissent.
Under the leadership
of Shaykh Ahmad's successor, Sayyid Kázim Rashtí (c.
1795-1843/44), it developed into a well-organized movement within
Ithná-'Ashari Shi'ism. Although clerically dominated, it gained a large
popular following throughout Iran and the Shi'i areas of Iraq. At a time when
the newly dominant Usúlí faction of the ulama was stressing the
importance of orthodoxy and the authority of the mujtahids,
represented an appealing continuation of speculative religious esotericism. It
gained, thereby, the increasing enmity of Usúlí orthodoxy.
Although careful to conceal their more heterodox teachings, the Shaykhi leaders
also promulgated the doctrine that the spiritual guidance of Shi'is depended on
the existence in the world of a "true Shi'i" to function as intermediary
between the Hidden Imam and the faithful. By implication, this was a function
performed by the Shaykhi leaders. Again, some Shaykhis at least were evidently
attracted by messianic expectation.
The succession crisis.
When Sayyid Kázim died, the Shaykhis were
thrown into confusion. No successor had been designated, and a number of
individuals contended for leadership. Chief among these came to be
Hájí Karim Khán Kirmání (1809/10-1870/71)
and Sayyid Ali Muhammad Shirází, the Báb (1819-1850).
There were also leadership contenders at Tabriz and Karbala. But these never
succeeded in gaining more than localized support, although Sayyid
Kázim's son gained the allegiance of most of the Arab Shaykhis in Iraq,
and the two leading
Shaykhis in Tabriz came to dominate the Azeri-speaking Shaykhi
communities of northwestern Iran.
In these latter cases, fragmentation of the movement simply proceeded along
established lines of social division, but the division between the followers of
Karim Khán and Ali Muhammad was more complex.
In terms of
leadership claims, both men continued the Shaykhi tradition of laying claim to
unique and supernaturally derived authority. Karim Khán, a
well-established cleric with considerable local political power in Kerman,
phrased his claim in the elusive esotericisms of Shaykhi doctrine. Ali
Muhammad, a relatively unknown merchant, soon advanced a more radical claim
which was generally understood as that of being the Báb
the direct intermediary between the Hidden Imám and the Shi'i
This was a claim, which had messianic import and was of
considerable potential interest to non-Shaykhis. Doctrinal differences between
Karim Khání and Bábí Shaykhism readily followed
from this difference in claims.
The Bábí movement.
During the emergence of Babism as a
sub-sect of Shaykhism, the movement remained strongly Islamic in its ethos.
Advocating a strict adherence to Islamic law, the Báb appeared merely to
accentuate the esoteric and millenarian motifs of traditional Shiism. This
accentuation was radical enough in itself, but it did not breach the
ideological confines of Shi'i Islam except in regard to the religious status
implicit in the Báb's claim to authority. Thus, while in his early
writings (1844-48) the Báb appeared only to claim that he was the agent
of the Hidden Imám, several of his closest disciples and fiercest
opponents perceived that a more direct claim to divine guidance was implicit in
the general style and content of his work.[8 ]
Leading Shaykhi and
Usúlí clerics began to condemn the movement as heretical. As
opposition to the movement mounted, many of the Bábís themselves
became more radical, advancing
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or revealing clearly heterodox interpretations of their doctrines, and
becoming more assertive in the prosecution and defense of their objectives.
Some Bábís became militant, and several violent incidents
occurred. The Báb himself was now imprisoned, and was increasingly
alienated from the Qájár regime. In 1848, he announced his higher
claims to authority, declaring himself to be the Hidden Imám and, even
more radically, to be the bearer of a new divine revelation which totally
abrogated Islam. Armed struggle and violent persecution followed (1848-53),
during which the Bábí religion was effectively destroyed as an
organized movement. The Báb (1850) and all of his leading lieutenants
RESOURCE MOBILIZATION: THE SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT
The expansion of any social movement occurs within an
existing social structure. Social networks, group interests, means of
communication, and systems of social control all form part of the given
environment. In the case of the Bábís, the relatively
unintegrated nature of Iranian society was of crucial importance. Three times
the size of France or California, divided by mountains and vast tracts of
semi-desert, and possessed in the mid-nineteenth century of no modern means of
communications, Iran was only nominally a unitary state. Centrifugal forces of
localism and of ethnic and religious diversity necessarily limited
Bábí expansion and led to considerable diversity of local
situations. Under the circumstances, though the Bábís were
largely confined to the peoples of Iran's Shi'i heartland, the construction of
a new, more or less unified, national religious movement during the course of a
few years was an impressive organizational achievement. The expansion of the
movement reflected existing social divisions and was variously related to
putative group interests. Existing networks of communication were efficiently
utilized. But when the movement
was proscribed, the Bábís' lack of communicative control rendered
them powerless to defend their public image in the face of the increasingly
hostile myth-making of their opponents.
Besides relative lack of societal integration, nineteenth-century Iran was
structurally conducive to the emergence of what Neil Smelser has termed
"value-oriented movements," that is, movements concerned not with reformist
change, but with the radical transformation of basic social values and
The characteristics of such structural conduciveness
included: (1) The close interconnections between the major social institutions,
and between these institutions and the prevailing value system. A challenge to
one part of the system thus readily became a challenge to all. Therefore, any
major religious movement readily assumed political significance (as did Babism)
regardless of its adherents' intentions. (2) The absence of means for most of
the population to express their grievances, which inclined them to support
movements which postulated total change. In such circumstances, economic and
political demands were easily joined to programs of religious change. Although,
in the case of the Bábís, the exact relationship between such
factors may remain controversial, their presence occasions no surprise.
Social control and opposition.
Social movements are most likely to
emerge when existing holders of power either encourage their emergence or are
unable to apply effective social controls.
Effective action can
prevent a movement from developing into a significant threat to the established
order, albeit that the costs of such action can be high. In the case of the
Bábí movement, no overall effective action was applied to prevent
the movement's emergence and initial expansion. Divided among themselves,
neither clerical nor secular authorities made any decisive move until the
Bábís were well established. As a result, the costs of
extirpation were correspondingly greater.
In the case of the religious authorities, the Shi'i ulama were weakly
structured to oppose any perceived heresy. In the absence of a unified national
hierarchy, individual clerical leaders made their own variant responses to the
new movement. Even in a single locality the response was often diverse. Only
when a cleric combined his antagonism with a secure local dominance—as did
Karim Khán in Kerman—was Bábí expansion
Elsewhere, the diversity of response worked in the
Bábís' favor. Even in the face of official condemnations for
unbelief, the continued sympathy or tolerance of some local clerics prevented
effective persecution. In Qazvin, the power of the vehemently anti-Shaykhi and
Haji Mullá Muhammad Taqi
Baraghani, was not sufficient to prevent the growth of an active (though
semi-secret) Bábí cell.
As for the secular authorities, their initial response was similarly diverse
and ineffective. When the Bábí missionaries were cautious in
their work and provoked no public disorder, local governors were generally
content to let them be. The underlying relationship between secular and
religious authorities was often antagonistic in any case. Even if a particular
official perceived the heterodox nature of Bábí teaching, he
might well relish the prospect of clerical discomfiture. Again, the patrician
politics of local elite might give the Bábís powerful friends as
well as important opponents, such that local opposition was ineffective (as in
Although severe opposition can crush a movement, opposition may also be useful
to a movement in increasing the commitment of its members and in attracting the
attention of the wider public.
Even when opposition leads to
members being killed, as long as the human and organizational resources of the
movement are not overwhelmed, such opposition is liable to facilitate movement
growth. Such, certainly, was the case with the Bábís.
Emerging in a religious culture which glorified heroic martyrdom, the
Bábís encountered a mounting force of ill-coordinated
opposition. Distinctions between the pious faithful and the ungodly were thus
reinforced, giving rise to a fervor of resistance, which was to terrify their
opponents at the conflicts of Tabarsi, Zanjan, and Nayriz. Only when these
lengthy struggles were concluded, and an extensive and bloody suppression of
the movement instituted, was that fervor finally overwhelmed.
The interaction between a movement and its wider
environment plays a crucial role in its development.
process, a movement's objectives and modes of action are rarely unchanged.
Thus, while any major millenarian movement in a premodern society bears an
implicit or explicit political dimension, the actual expression of that
political charge is not predetermined. Of note, however, is Smelser's
observation that harsh but ineffective repression of a movement engenders
The Báb's challenge to the existing
social order was itself interactive with the response of his potential
supporters and opponents. Successive rebuttals, at first by the
non-Bábí Shaykhis, then by other clerical leaders, and finally by
the government, shaped the nature of the continuing Bábí
challenge. Whatever the exact planning behind the summons to gather in Karbala
in 1845—which at least some Bábís took to be a call to arms, the
Báb at that point still accorded the Qájár regime at least
nominal legitimacy and sought to convert its chiefs to his cause.
The positive intervention of the governor of Isfahan on his behalf (1846-47)
marked the zenith of such hopes. Only after his exile to Azerbaijan were these
hopes dashed and the court declared to be the object of divine wrath and
The growth of Bábí radicalism and militancy was similarly
From the beginning, some Bábí
missionaries (such as Mullá Sádiq in Shiraz and Tahirih in
Karbala) were prepared to be quite provocative in the public presentation of
their cause. As clerical opposition hardened and the incidence of persecution
increased, many Bábís became increasingly intransigent
and radical in their attitudes. Some went further. In several towns
Bábís began to carry weapons openly and in Qazvin they began to
In this deteriorating situation, even quite
trivial incidents could provoke violent confrontations. Once such incidents had
occurred, the escalation and extension of violence became ever more likely. As
such escalation took place, government intervention against the
Bábís became virtually inevitable. In the resultant armed
struggles, the process of polarization was completed: the Bábís
dispatched their ungodly opponents "to hell," while the government leaders
readily and increasingly saw all Bábís as active
The wider purpose of these conflicts remains a matter of controversy. However,
whether or not they formed part of a carefully prepared insurrectionary
conspiracy—a view that the present authors would seriously question, the
conflicts should be viewed against the background of established patterns of
religious and urban violence in nineteenth-century Iran. Most Iranian towns
were divided into a number of rival and religiously defined district factions,
each with its own patrician patrons and local associations. Intercommunal
fighting was common. Large-scale conversions to the Bábí religion
reflected these divisions. Again, leading ulama were linked to the factions by
their patronage of groups of toughs (lútís
the increasing assertion of clerical power, interclerical disputes were thus
readily prosecuted by resort to street fighting and the physical intimidation
of opponents. The persecution of Bábís and their own resort to
violence were not abnormal in this regard.
What was abnormal was
the length and intensity of the resultant conflicts. The religious interests of
the rival parties were crucial here. Fervent in their commitment to their
cause, the Bábís confronted an increasingly assertive clergy
whose leaders perceived Babism as a dangerous heresy fundamentally inimical to
their own interests.
As to the actual outbreaks of violence, particular local factors
were also evidently crucial. Thus, despite the widespread expansion of
the movement, both violent confrontations (Qazvin, Mashhad) and major conflicts
(Barfurush-Tabarsi, Yazd, Nayriz, and Zanjan) were limited to a number of
particular towns and Bábí groups. Whatever the motivation of the
Bábís in these particular incidents, the local situations appear
to have been characterized by an unusual degree of tension. In Mash-had and
Yazd, Bábí violence took place against a background of wider
civil unrest; in Qazvin and Barfurush powerful and militant
anti-Bábí clerics confronted uncompromising groups of
Bábís; and in Zanjan and Nayriz the conversion of leading
religious notables led to large-scale Bábí conversions and
conditions of local political instability. Where these factors did not develop,
there were no Bábí upheavals.
RESOURCE MOBILIZATION: BÁBÍ ORGANIZATION
As organizations, successful social movements must achieve certain goals:
motivate, integrate, and direct their memberships; and maintain their
In the case of the Bábí movement, these
various objectives were closely interlinked, particularly as the full messianic
import of the movement became apparent. Shi'is believe that the anticipated
return of the Hidden Imám will revolutionize the whole world and usher
in the Day of Resurrection. The Bábís believed themselves to be
the elect who had recognized the lmám (or initially his agent) and were
thus charged with the recreation of the world. Their existence as a community
was itself an integral part of the process of transformation.
Given these revolutionary expectations and objectives,
the question of overall strategy naturally comes to the fore. The
Bábís wanted to establish a theocracy, initially in Iran and
ultimately in the whole world. How was this to be
accomplished? The traditional Islamic expectation was that the
Imám, returned as Mahdi, would wage holy war against the ungodly. This
view was initially reiterated by the Báb. Thus, in his early writings,
the faithful were summoned to prepare for the forthcoming "day of slaughter"
when they would slay the unbelievers and thus purify the earth for the Promised
Does this mean that the Bábís were consciously
and preparedly insurrectionary in intent, as Bayat, for example, has recently
As yet we remain unconvinced. In terms of formal doctrine, the Báb's
initial endorsement of the concept of holy war (jihad
was not a
call to his followers to straightaway engage in such a struggle. Moreover, as
the Báb retained for himself the exclusive right to call such a holy
war, none of his followers could legitimately have called one on his behalf.
Later, after 1848, Bábí doctrine changed. In the most systematic
of his later works, the Persian Bayán, the Báb made only passing
reference to holy war. He also stated that no one should be slain for
Again, although the Báb's attitude toward the state became more hostile
after his imprisonment, he evidently retained hopes that its chief officers
would voluntarily convert to his cause: an objective that was unlikely to have
been aided by mounting an insurrection. Even in the case of the armed
struggles, which occurred between 1848 and 1853, we would emphasize the
importance of local (and national) political interaction. Whatever strategic
considerations were involved, these conflicts were also (and perhaps
predominantly) tactical responses to particular situations.
We may be wrong, of course. The early years of Bábí expansion
may have masked the conspiratorial planning of an insurrection, but we are not
aware of any conclusive evidence, which might prove such a hypothesis. Our
understanding of human action and religious enthusiasm inclines us more to
the interactive processes of development and the unintended consequences
of action. Indeed, if the Bábís had made a plan of insurrection,
then, given their degree of organization, we would expect it to have led to a
far more coherent and coordinated campaign of action than in fact was the
If, as we maintain, the Bábís were not consciously and
preparedly insurrectionary, then what was their overall strategy? Indeed, did
they have one? For the present, we reserve judgment. Certainly, the
Bábí leaders were faced with strategic choices. But these were
concerned with immediate tasks and were usually linked to the general problem
of ensuring the movement's continued survival.
Survival and adaptation.
For the leaders of a social movement to
accomplish their objectives, it is generally necessary for them to ensure the
movement's survival. A key factor in that survival is the relationship which
develops between the movement and the wider society. Only when this
relationship is relatively stable and peaceful can the thought of external
threats to survival be ignored and the movement's membership concentrate on the
accomplishment of established goals.
Conversely, when the
relationship between the movement and its environment is turbulent and
uncertain, survival is liable to become the central concern for movement
leaders. The primary strategic task becomes the concern with learning to adapt
to change. Those movements whose leaders choose to ignore this task, or who are
unaware of the implications of environmental interaction, are unlikely to
survive. In those cases where actual conflict with the authorities has
occurred, non-survival may take the form of physical extirpation.
The relationship between the Bábís and the wider Iranian society
was evidently unstable and eventually conflictual. Although the movement was
finally destroyed by the authorities, most of its leaders seem to have been
aware of the implications
of environmental interaction and to have taken pains to ensure the
movement's survival. That they were unsuccessful in this objective is an
indication of the difficulty of successfully managing such interaction.
Certainly, in organizational terms the Bábís were flexible and
responsive to change.
Their leaders and missionaries were not
bureaucratic functionaries tied to static goals and methods, but rather
charismatic leaders who creatively responded to a variety of contexts and local
situations. Likewise, their followers were unlikely to have been involved in
the movement on a purely instrumental basis. Participation was necessarily its
own reward, and high levels of commitment were soon engendered.
Given this organizational flexibility, questions of strategic choice and
tactical management are central. Robert Lauer has suggested that movements are
differentiated in terms of three strategic choices, and by the degree of
consensus and persistence with which these choices are pursued.
Without leadership agreement as to strategy, a movement in an unstable
environment is liable to pass through a series of variant ideological and
strategic phases. Given the organizational flexibility of Babism, and its later
loss of communicative cohesion, this is precisely what occurred.
The framework of strategic choices outlined by Lauer is shown in Figure 1.
Given the Bábís' intention to establish the theocratic kingdom of
the Mahdi, their predominant target for change consistently remained that of
the social structure rather than the individual. Individual change was subsumed
under broader societal objectives. In Lauer's terms, the "educative" and "small
group" options were not relevant possibilities, and the strategic choices were
those concerning the use or non-use of violence, and of the location of
responsibility for affecting change (that is, whether the society as a whole or
the movement itself was expected to play the primary role). Consequently, the
movement's development may be described in terms of its leaders' changing
responses to these two strategic choices. Although it is difficult to
reconstruct the exact changes involved, under the pressure of events,
Bábí strategy appears to have changed from social bargaining, to
social disruption, and then (for a minority) to revolution.
Initially Bábí leaders eschewed the actual use of force (though
not the concept of its use) and were in clear expectation of the eventual
support of the wider society for the establishment of a Bábí
theocracy. Their strategy was one of "bargaining." When society proved
unsupportive and Bábís were attacked, a reconsideration of
strategic choices became vital. Tensions then developed within the movement
over the choice of strategy, the ideological division between
Bábí "conservatives" and "radicals" mirroring the strategic one.
In the changing circumstances of the time, the conservative option (the
continuance of nonviolence and the expectation that society would arise to
implement the desired change) proved increasingly untenable, however. More
radical strategies soon came to the fore.
The expectation of societal support was apparently stronger than the
commitment to nonviolence. The "separatist" choice of nonviolent sectarian
communitarianism seems never to have
been considered. Still perhaps hoping for a widespread uprising in their
favor (or perhaps divine intervention), the Bábí leaders were
drawn into disruptive action involving relatively limited use of violence.
Tabarsi became a spiritual pronunciamentio
for the cause of the Mahdi.
When this failed, and all hope of support was lost, effective strategic
coordination of the movement came to an end. In the absence of such
coordination, tactical responses to local situations tended to determine
events. Some of the remaining Bábí leaders (Subh-i-Azal, Shaykh
'Ali Turshizi, and Sulaymín Khan) unsuccessfully gave their support to
Thereafter, the movement was
As the wider social environment became more hostile, tactical management
became more constrained. This had several aspects. At the outset of the
expansion of their movement, the Bábí leaders were often able to
act with relatively little risk to their persons. Opposition was ill
coordinated, and the nature of the Bábí cause and even the name
of the Báb were unknown. Confrontations with clergy had the advantage of
surprise, and, if not physically restrained, a Bábí missionary
might well attract considerable interest in his master's teachings. Later,
opposition became more resolute and better coordinated. The risks of
Bábí membership, let alone of public declarations of faith,
became considerable. Concealment, secrecy, and covert proselytism became
necessary for all but those Bábís who were able to physically
Conflict management also became more difficult. During the early phase of the
movement, potentially conflictual situations could be avoided.
Bábí missionaries encountering opposition could move on. Indeed,
the Báb himself may well have determined to avoid appearing at Karbala
in 1845, after hearing of the scale of the hostility which his emissaries had
generated amongst the orthodox ulama.
Later, as Bábí
communities were established and hostility towards the Bábís
avoidance became increasingly difficult to accomplish. Even if some
Bábís had not themselves become more militant, the potential for
conflict had greatly increased.
For the early years of Bábí expansion, the
manifest goals of the movement were to win public support and gain adherents.
To mobilize public support, the Bábís needed to gain visibility
and legitimacy. Visibility was relatively easy to gain. Even the initial
declaration that the báb
of the Imám had appeared was
sufficient to attract widespread public attention. This was furthered by an
extensive missionary campaign, and the dispatch of letters from the Báb
to various religious and political leaders. A series of proclamatory events was
also planned. These included the Báb's public declaration of his mission
during his pilgrimage to Mecca, the gathering together of believers in Karbala
to await the Imám (January 1845), and the changing of the call to prayer
to include the name of 'Ali Muhammad. The public challenges
made by several Bábí
disciples to leading ulama also served this purpose, as did the resultant
denunciations and attacks which were meted out to them.
Legitimacy was far more difficult to attain. The Bábís might win
public attention, but they were relatively powerless to shape the public
definition of their movement. Apart from informal contacts and group
associations, communicative control of public opinion was dominated by the
ulama. Those Bábí converts who were prominent clerics were able
to exert influence, but in general the ulama closed ranks against the
Bábís and denounced them savagely from their pulpits. With the
initiation of bloody confrontation and persecution, the Bábís
became practically powerless to combat the malicious representation of their
motives and morals. In context, heroic struggle and martyrdom remained the only
means for the Bábís to demonstrate the truth of their cause.
Again, unlike the various clerical contenders for the leadership of
Shaykhism, the Báb had no established religious position on which to
base his claim to authority. Similarly, though some of his first disciples were
well-respected students of Sayyid Kázim, none of them were sufficiently
influential to secure the ready allegiance of others for their new master. Even
Mullá Husayn Bushrú'í (1814-1849), the first and initially
the most influential of the disciples, lacked the formal authority to possess a
following. Only with the later conversion of a few of the leading ulama were
the advantages of established position brought to the aid of the new movement.
These advantages were by then localized in nature and tangential to the overall
development of legitimacy claims promulgated by the Bábí
The Bábí leaders were restricted in their attempt to legitimate
their movement. In terms of the possible bases of legitimacy, the Báb's
claims were largely and necessarily charismatic in nature.
Ahmad and Sayyid Kázim had exercised their authority both on the basis
of their traditional roles as religious scholars and jurisconsults and on their
charismatic claims to privileged visionary access to the sacred knowledge of
Lacking any established religious position or
clerical training, the Báb's claim to authority was justified almost
solely on charismatic grounds. Ultimately, as he himself made clear,
legitimation of his authority rested in the believer's response to the sacred
power manifested in his person and his writings. Traditional or rational proofs
were not regarded as sufficient validations of his claims.
stance undoubtedly made public legitimation of the movement more difficult. But
for believers the implications were revolutionary, enhancing commitment and
facilitating the acceptance of radical changes in the movement's claims and
ethos during its later development.
To gain adherents to a movement requires the establishment of some sort of
organization. The Báb addressed written (and
unsuccessful) appeals for support to various religious and
political leaders (including the shah), but the main means of promulgating his
claim was the missionary apparatus established by himself and his first
eighteen disciples, the Letters of the Living (hurúf
It is of note that, in contrast to the clerical contenders for the
leadership of the Shaykhis, the Báb and his disciples had few of the
advantages of established position. They had limited access to existing
networks of higher clerical contacts and patronage relationships. They had no
circles of disciples or students to mobilize. They had no local political power
base to employ. They did, however, have access to the existing network of
mosques and local Shaykhi communities; they were able to utilize the commercial
network of the Báb's merchant uncles as a means of communication; and
they presumably had access to sufficient funds to further their immediate
Thus, while the Báb was on pilgrimage, or later
under house arrest, or otherwise restricted in his movements, his disciples
dispersed throughout the greater part of Iran, and also to Iraq and
Moving from town to town as itinerant propagandists, they
embarked on an intensive missionary campaign. Acting as the movement's primary
agents of diffusion, they established a network of Bábí groups
throughout the country. They secured and recorded conversions, disseminated the
Báb's writings, and in some instances engaged in public confrontations
with leading ulama. If and when they became more or less settled, they provided
leadership for the local Bábí groups.
No system of formal organization was adopted for the emergent network of
Bábí groups. The Báb would appear to have intended that
his followers should be grouped into units of nineteen (the numerical
equivalent of the word wáhid
"unity" was to consist of himself and the eighteen Letters of the Living.
Thereafter, successive groups of converts were to be formed into unities, and
the unities further grouped
into units of 361 (19x19), called kullu shay'
("all things," a
term with the numerical equivalence of 361). Beyond the first, or perhaps the
this cell-like structure in fact never appears to
have come into being. Perhaps the missionary enterprise was itself so
time-consuming and turbulent that the task of organization proved more
difficult than expected. In any event, no uniform organizational system
emerged. Where any of the Letters of the Living resided they provided a focus
for leadership, but elsewhere the local communities were led, if they were led
at all, by individuals of established social standing. Usually these were
Bábí clerics, but merchants, landowners, officials, and courtiers
might also act as informal leaders. In his later writings the Báb also
introduced a complex hierarchical system of spiritual ranks consisting of
various sequences of Mirrors (muráyá
Although several individuals were thus designated, no practical organizational
system appears to have emerged.
All voluntary organizations face the problem of
precariousness. Lacking the means of coercion, they depend for their existence
on the continuing support of their members. To this end an organization will
generally develop distinctive "commitment mechanisms" to maintain its
In the case of the Bábís
such mechanisms appear to have been mostly informal in nature. No conversion
experience was necessarily demanded. There was no ceremonial initiation or
requirement of public testimony of belief. Distinctive patterns of behavior
appear to have been voluntarily undertaken, rather than socially enforced. And,
in general, no vicinal or social segregation was demanded. Nevertheless, high
levels of commitment were maintained, as evidenced both by the willingness of
so many Bábís to die for their faith, and, more indirectly, by
Bahá'u'lláh's later reanimation of the movement after its seeming
total collapse under the pressure of persecution.
In the first instance, commitment appears to have been generated
primarily by the movement's ideology. For devout Shi'is, recognition of the
Imám (or his agent) was at the very center of religious meaning. To
become one of the elect who had attained such recognition in the age of the
Mahdi must, of itself, have constituted a powerful experience of commitment.
The ideological distinction between believer and unbeliever doubtless
reinforced this experience.
Beyond such ideological factors, there were initially no uniform commitment
mechanisms. The Báb called on his followers to perform various
supererogatory acts of piety—additional prayers and fasts, abstinence from
smoking, and the employment of distinctive rituals—but without social
enforcement the observance of such acts remained voluntary.
such acts were observed, however, they were associated with very high levels of
commitment. The group of zealots surrounding Tahirih in Karbala at one stage
even refused to eat from the (non-Bábí
they regarded it as ritually impure.
Again, where conversion was
closely linked to all-inclusive social networks—as in the Bábí
strongholds of Zanjan and Nayriz— levels of commitment became very high. Here,
"being a Bábí" became an inherent part of normal daily life and
not a voluntary commitment to be renewed or abandoned at will. Given the uneven
operation of such mechanisms, it is scarcely surprising that very different
levels of commitment existed within the movement. Indeed, in Karbala at least,
such differences contributed to an acrimonious division within the local
Elsewhere, it is likely that groups
of Bábís simply varied in their commitment and ethos. Recruitment
was to a particular local Bábí group and should not be thought of
as having been uniform in its implications.
The pattern of commitment mechanisms changed as the Bábí
movement became more radical. Ideological ties with traditional Islamic
expectations were broken as the movement's leaders asserted the reality of a
new divine revelation. Social
ties with non-Bábís were strained as the movement's
relationship with clerical and political authorities rapidly deteriorated.
Those Bábís who found the newly emerging ideological and social
context unacceptable presumably lost commitment or defected. Those who remained
were necessarily highly committed. The charismatic legitimation of
Bábí authority aided the acceptance of change. The constraints of
traditional legitimation were disregarded. Psychologically, the sense of a
separate identity is likely to have been enhanced. The abandonment of Islamic
law (the sharí'a
and participation in conflict with
unbelievers would have constituted definite bridge-burning acts. The experience
of persecution underlined Bábí separateness and stimulated
communal identity and action. In the large and close-knit Bábí
communities, social pressures to conform or depart may be assumed to have
increased. Heroic martyrdom provided a powerful validation of
Bábí claims in Shi'i terms. Eventually, external definition by
non-Bábís reinforced the sense of separate identity and in some
cases may have made even defection difficult to accomplish.
Integration and control.
Given that recruitment to a social movement is
to a particular local group, the leaders of any larger movement face problems
of integration and control if they wish to preserve the movement's unity. Of
course, in certain cases, segmentation can be highly effective. As Gerlach and
Hine have argued, a movement which is strongly experiential in emphasis
(Pentecostalism, for example) may spread far more rapidly without centralized
organization. A sense of "conceptual community" provides the basis for
continuing interaction between a diversity of local groups.
movement which is based on a more restricted sense of charismatic authority
lacks this option. Thus in the case of Babism, the initial focal point for
belief was the doctrine that the agent of the Imám had appeared and was
summoning all people to his cause. A unified movement was clearly desirable.
The problems of integrating and controlling the
Bábí movement were immense, however. Effective communications
were of great importance. The mercantile network established by the
Báb's uncles initially played an important role in this regard. With
agents and offices in various parts of Iran and the Gulf, the Báb's
family and their business partners could be utilized to forward correspondence
between the Báb and his chief disciples. For example, when Mullá
Husayn reached Khurasan in 1844, he was able to send a report to the Báb
in Shiraz, via business associates of the Báb's uncle in Tabas and the family's office in Yazd.
This was probably not an ideal system. During the Báb's lifetime most
of his family remained unbelievers and would presumably have been unwilling to
devote too many of their resources to Bábí activities. Again, the
system was geared to the needs of wholesale trade, rather than to religious
proselytization. Thus as the size of the Báb's following grew, a new
system of communication evolved based on itinerant Bábí couriers.
Working eventually on a full-time basis, individuals such as Mullá
Ádí Ghuzal (Sayyáh, the "Traveler") made their way between
the Báb and the various Bábí groups, disseminating the
writings of the Báb and bringing back reports and messages to him.
Amanuenses in attendance on the Báb helped deal with this growing
correspondence. Elsewhere believers worked as copyists to distribute more
copies of the Báb's writings. The steady stream of Bábís
from all parts of Iran who journeyed to visit the Báb augmented this
communication. Even when the Báb was imprisoned in remote fortresses in
Azerbaijan (Maku and Chihriq), this system continued to function with
considerable efficiency. Only with extensive persecution was it disrupted, and
even so later Bábí and Bahá'í couriers, working
under the direction of Bahá'u'lláh, apparently found it
relatively easy to revive.
Efficient communications by themselves were not sufficient to ensure the
continued integration of the Bábí movement. As
the primary agents for the religion's expansion, the role of the leading
disciples were crucial. If they had asserted their own independence from the
Báb, the movement could have rapidly fragmented. Their continued loyalty
to their master ensured its unity. In formal terms, their authority derived
from him. As the movement developed, however, the nature of this authority
changed (albeit in ways that are not entirely clear). Although all of the
Letters of the Living were accorded a special status, initially it was only
Mullá Husayn—the Babu'l-Bab—
was generally regarded
as possessing any unusual authority within the movement, functioning
effectively as the Báb's deputy.
The intense relationships
which existed between Tahirih and her devotees in Karbala, and between Hujjat
Zanjani and his followers, appear to have been localized and exceptional. Only
after the movement had entered its second and more radical phase did this
situation change. Sequestered in the remote northwest, the Báb now
revealed his full claims. Whether or not in a strictly parallel development,
three of the disciples—Mullá Husayn, Tahirih, and Mullá Muhammad
'Aliy-I-Bárfurúshí (Quddus)—now came to be accorded
quasi-theophanic status. The three disciples shared something of the
Báb's charismatic authority: the two men at least symbolically reenacted
various of the prophecies relating to the coming of the Mahdi in the place of
their imprisoned leader.
This changing relationship between the Báb and his chief disciples was
rapidly brought to an end by the violent deaths of all four. Deprived of its
original charismatic focus, the movement rapidly fragmented. Individual claims
to charismatic authority proliferated, and in some respects the
Bábís began to resemble the segmented conceptual community
described by Gerlach and Hine. Only later, with the reintroduction of a
centralized organization and the general acceptance of a single charismatic
leader in the person of Bahá'u'lláh did Babism again become a
RESOURCE MOBILIZATION: RECRUITMENT AND CONVERSION
According to the resource mobilization perspective, the most salient
characteristic in the recruitment of the membership of most social movements is
prior social interaction.
Contact with a movement is normally
assumed to follow from significant interaction with its existing members.
Recruitment thus tends to follow preexisting and positively valued social
relationships, whether these are based on ties of kinship, patronage, or
vicinal proximity. Conversion occurs as a process of progressive
resocialization, the stereotype of sudden and dramatic personal transformation
The extent to which this model is applicable to the Bábí
movement is difficult to evaluate. Certainly there were a number of individual
Bábís who appear to have undergone sudden transformatory
conversions, whether as a result of visions, encounters with the Báb, or
perusals of his writings. It may well be of course that these conversions were
concentrated amongst the religious virtuosi
who comprised the movement's
On the other hand, that few such accounts are recorded
for rank and file Bábís may simply reflect the sparseness of
available historical sources. It is also possible, however, that normal
processes of compression and emphasis during oral transmission have transformed
some of these conversion accounts into idealized patterns.
Apart from the dramatic conversions of a number of prominent
Bábís, the evidence—though scanty—lends support to the use of
the mobilization model.
Thus, in the first instance, diffusion of the movement was strongly
concentrated within the existing network of the Shaykhi communities. (See Table
1, below.) Gathered together in Shiraz during the Báb's initial
declaration of his mission, the Letters of the Living then dispersed to various
parts of Iran, Iraq and India.
The initial expansion of the
from the missionary conversions gained by these disciples. Whether or not the
Báb had instructed them to concentrate their energies on the Shaykhi
communities, their initial contacts were largely confined to their fellow
sectaries. Several of them—notably Mullá Husayn—had already attained
some prominence as disciples of Sayyid Kázim and were doubtless able to
address their coreligionists with authority, as well as on the basis of
sectarian fraternity. Others were sent to their home areas, where they
presumably utilized their own existing social networks as a means of diffusing
the Báb's message. In some instances, entire local communities of
Shaykhis were converted.
In Kerman, by contrast, Karim
Khán's authority within the local Shaykhi community effectively
prevented the Bábí missionaries from gaining access to the social
networks which were most susceptible to their message.
Conversions also occurred following contact with the Báb himself. Thus
individual Shaykhis who had been particularly impressed by the young merchant
when they had met him in Karbala in 1841-42, (that is, prior to his putting
forward any claim), were later amongst the most devoted of his
Again, at least eighteen Bábís dated their conversions to their
experience of the Báb's public appearance in the Vakil Mosque in Shiraz
in 1845—supposedly made to recant his claim.
As the Báb's disciples went about their mission, news of the
Báb's claim soon began to spread before them. Despite the initial
concealment of the Báb's name, the messianic import of his claim
attracted attention well beyond the Shaykhi community. In several instances,
individuals set out for Shiraz or some other Bábí missionary
center to investigate the matter for themselves. Some were sent as delegates on
behalf of others. When such delegates converted, new social networks were
opened to Bábí expansion, and further conversions readily
followed. Thus when Shaykh Salman of Hindijan returned to his home town from
Shiraz, he succeeded in converting some seventy families of the Afshar
Again, MuIlá Muhammad Furúghí's
conversion was important in the expansion of Babism to the Turbat-Haydari area
The opening of new social networks was even more effective when leading ulama
were involved. Sayyid Yahya Darábi (Vahid) abandoned his associations
with the court in order to become an itinerant Bábí propagandist,
thereafter converting many of those who regarded him or his father as their
spiritual guides. His existing networks of contacts in both Yazd and Nayriz,
where he had houses, were especially important in this regard. Again, the
conversion of Shaykh Muhammad 'Ali, Hujjat Zanjani, was followed by the mass
conversion of those of the inhabitants of Zanjan who regarded him as their
In the case of Nayriz and Zanjan, the role of preexisting social networks in
determining conversion patterns depended on more than just relationships of
religious patronage and guidance. It was common in mid-nineteenth-century Iran
for even quite small towns to be divided into a number of mutually antagonistic
urban districts (mahallihs
each with its own intense
communalism and linkages to the web of partrician politics.
The conversion of a religious notable, such as Hujjat or Vahid, or Haji
Shaykh Abdu'l-'Ali —the Imám Jum'ih of the Chinár-Súkhtih
quarter of Nayriz, thus favored the conversion of the entire local community to
which they were related. Correspondingly, success in one urban district
disfavored success in rival districts. Within each town, these districts often
coalesced into two competing and largely endogamous urban factions defined in
terms of religious labels. Bábí expansion was inevitably molded
by these divisions, especially where Shaykhism had become a factional
identifier, as in Barfurush and Qazvin where all or part of the Shaykhi faction
simply converted to the Bábí Faith.
Shaykhism was not a factional label, support for the Báb was influenced
by community divisions. In Shiraz, support came predominantly from within the
Ni'mati faction, whilst those within the Haydari faction tended to be
Associational and class networks were also important as channels of
Bábí expansion. Prominent here were the linkages between the
members of the ulama. Although the most important formal linkages were between
the various leading ulama, and between each of these individuals and their own
students and the clients of their patronage, the whole body of the ulama
represented an informal grouping with considerable intercommunicative
potential. Though largely confined to the lower or middle ranks of the ulama,
the Bábí missionaries were well able to realize this
communicative potential. Identified as clerics by their distinctive dress and
their literacy, with ready access to the network of mosques and colleges, the
learned Bábís, like other members of the ulama, were able to
disseminate new ideas and form new social relationships with their fellows with
relative ease. Thus, even at a personal level, the Bábí challenge
could be directed with particular immediacy to the one social group which was
most able to further or retard the movement's progress.
The other associational networks which were important were those of the
bazaar. The wholesale merchants (tujjár
were the key
figures here. Educated, resourceful, and with a reputation for piety, the
merchants enjoyed close association with the upper- and middle-ranking ulama.
The two groups were also often related by intermarriage and business
associations. The Bábí ulama were thus able to gain an audience
among the merchants. Again, the merchants themselves by dint of their
occupation, had wide-ranging national linkages with their fellow merchants, and
local contacts with the craftsmen, shopkeepers, and petty traders who like them
worked in the bazaar. Artisanal and petit bourgeois elements were thus also
accessible to the Bábí preachers, and in Isfahan at least, the
guilded craftsmen (asnáf
of the bazaar became a major
network by which the movement spread.
Rural linkages in Bábí expansion are less clear. Iranian
peasants were socially interlinked in a variety of ways, but as yet we have
only been able to identify patronage relationships as an evident channel of
Bábí diffusion. This one factor may well account for the highly
uneven expansion of Babism into the rural areas, but more research into the
role of working and marketing relationships is needed.
Kinship linkages as a basis for conversion also need to be researched.
RESOURCE MOBILIZATION: BÁBÍ IDEOLOGY
Mobilization theory emphasizes the effect and form, rather than the specific
content, of the beliefs and doctrines propounded by a particular movement. This
approach to content reflects the belief that official ideology is not a good
guide to the reasons why individuals join particular movements. Mobilization
theory de-emphasizes the importance of motivation. It indicates that movement
members are often found to hold
a diversity of beliefs, to be variously motivated, and to hold beliefs
which are highly discrepant from those of their leaders.[6O]
a mobilizing factor, the significance of movement ideology is held to lie in
its adaptability and in its provision of conceptual certitude.
Certitude—which enhances commitment—is provided by an all-embracing meaning
system which eludes falsification. Such, certainly, the Bábí
movement appears to have had, though the intricacies of its validation
strategies have yet to be studied. Adaptability facilitates the coexistence of
a common rhetoric (to symbolize the movement's unity) with the diversity of
ordinary members' beliefs. If a set of beliefs is structured too tightly the
movement is exposed to the danger of schism.
Again, though the
diversity of Bábí popular belief has yet to be properly
evaluated, it is clear that beneath the unitary symbol of belief in the
Báb, there existed a great array of beliefs by which Bábís
expressed simultaneously the appeals of messianism, esoteric rationalism,
pietism, legalistic reformism, and popular thaumaturgy. The very diversity of
those who embraced the movement provides an adequate testimony to the
adaptability of its appeal. Adaptability can also find expression in a
In the case of Babism, this found formal
recognition in a distinct hierarchical structure of belief. The esoteric truths
accepted by the Bábí elite was only gradually revealed to the
rank and file.
If a movement lacks a distinctive ideology of its own it is unlikely to
preserve its unity and independent existence. Unity requires that there be a
clear locus of ideological authority beyond the individual adherent.
Independence requires that there be a distinction between adherents and
nonadherents. Among Bábís, the primary focus of authority was
provided by the person of the Báb. However diverse the interpretations
of Bábí doctrine, and in whatever manner the Báb's claims
may have been understood by his adherents, he himself stood at the center
of their system of meaning. He was the measure by which truth was to be
distinguished from falsehood. Those Bábís who relied on
alternative sources of authority found continued commitment to his cause
difficult to sustain. After the Báb had been executed, there was no
longer a point of unity and the movement rapidly fragmented.
As to the distinction between believers and unbelievers this again centered on
belief in the Báb. During the movement's Islamic phase, those who
rejected the Báb were thought to have ceased to be Muslims and were thus
ritually impure. They were assigned to hell. In practice, however, this belief
(and many others) was generally concealed by the provisions of the Shi'i
doctrine of pious dissimulation (taqiyya
Bábís might know themselves to be the true elect, but to outward
seeming they at first appeared to be Shaykhi sectaries, distinguished as much
by their pietistic legalism as by the radical nature of their religious
beliefs. As Gerlach and Hine have argued, in a hostile environment, ideological
ambiguity can play a crucial role in a movement's survival and successful
As against the more utilitarian statements of mobilization theory, we would
contend that the content of ideology—at least at a general level—is of
considerable significance. Religious innovation occurs within a preexisting
context of traditional belief. For adherents to be gained, a new religious
movement must at least possess ideological plausibility. Its doctrines must
possess an elementary accessibility to its potential membership. In this area
the Báb was eminently successful. Though heterodox in the eyes of the
custodians of religious orthodoxy, the Bábís articulated many of
the traditional concerns of popular Shiism and Shi'i dissent. The adaptability
and ambiguity of its ideology augmented its appeal. To Shaykhis and others in
this tradition of dissent, Babism reinterpreted the concerns of esoteric Shiism
with its ideas of true knowledge, perfect men, and prophetic evolution. To all
Shi'is, it reasserted the traditions of messianic
expectation, pietistic devotionalism, and charismatic leadership. Its
adherents came to witness to its truth with the blood of martyrdom, consciously
reenacting the traditions of Karbala. In an age which readily accepted the
miraculous, those who sought miracles from its grace found what they sought.
There is a clear continuity between many of the central teachings of Shaykhism
and those of Babism, especially during the period of its early development. Ali
Muhammad Shirazi may not have been a distinguished cleric, nonetheless he
forcefully reasserted the Shaykhi concern with charismatic leadership. Like the
Shaykhi masters, he laid claim to supernaturally derived authority, differing
from them only in the unambiguous uniqueness and openness of his claim. Like
them, he offered veracious knowledge from the Imams of guidance and the
unveiling of the inner meaning of scriptural truth. Again like them, but more
explicitly, he challenged the newly established scholastic orthodoxy of the
Usúlí school. As part of the continuing tradition of dissent, he
asserted the potency of divinely inspired knowledge.
In terms of motifs, he continued the powerful polar and esoteric concerns of
Shaykhism, thereby appealing directly to the now leaderless
When compared with the other claimants to Shaykhi
leadership, he gave more radical, and probably more popular, emphasis to these
motifs. As a non-cleric, his claim to supernaturally derived knowledge
represented a far more radical critique of the legalistic scholasticism of the
Usúlís. Unlike Shaykh Ahmad and Sayyid Kazim, a distinctly
anticlerical element entered his teachings. Unlike Karim Khán, he
asserted that access to religious truth did not require an elaborate array of
acquired knowledge. It required only the spiritual perception of the true
Such concerns had a general appeal beyond the Shaykhi circle. The quest for
charismatic authority was common to both official and popular
nineteenth-century Iranian religiosity.
Esotericism remained a
potent theme in Shi'i life. At a time
when the Usúlí establishment sought to regularize and control
these motifs, the Bábís vigorously reasserted them. Similarly,
Babism gave powerful expression to Shi'i millenarianism, giving it a further
linkage to the popular religiosity of the time. Though mahdist anticipation
remained normative in official Shiism, it presented a potentially unstable
enthusiasm which the ulama preferred to control. In announcing his mission in
the prophetic year 1260 A.H. (1844)—a full millennium after the concealment of
the Hidden Imám—the Báb directly addressed the popular
millenarian speculation of the time.
Moreover, as actual mahdist
expectation and enthusiasm were apparently mounting at this time—perhaps
particularly after the Ottoman sack of the holy city of Karbala in 1843—the
Bábí missionaries were able to directly address and interpret
popular sentiment in their own terms, and to considerable effect.
Indeed, it is notable that pre-Bábí Shaykhism itself appears to
have been affected by adventist speculation, and a definite tension between the
proponents and opponents of adventism seems to have emerged. Whether or not the
Bábís were correct in later attributing adventist themes to the
oral teachings of the Shaykhi masters, it is clear that a number of Shaykhis
had become adventists prior to 1844, and that these individuals were among
those who became Bábís. Correspondingly, those Shaykhis who had
been opposed to adventist expectation were amongst the Báb's chief
One further motif in early Bábí teachings which may be assumed
to have contributed to the movement's initial appeal was that of "pietistic
Despite the novelty of his claims and his ultimate
abrogation of Islamic law, the Báb at first advocated a strict
observance of the law. His followers were initially distinguished more by their
fervent devotionalism than by any obvious deviation from the accepted codes of
Islamic practice. Only with the radicalization of the movement did this
situation change, and the Bábís' heterodoxy become fully
As the radical nature of Bábí doctrine became more evident,
those who found its innovations reprehensible abandoned the movement, or
rose up in opposition. The Báb's failure to appear in Karbala in 1845,
the radical nature of the validation of his authority, the esoteric
interpretation of the messianic tradition, the Báb's later claims to be
a new divine messenger, and the abrogation of the Islamic holy law all broke
conceptual norms. This placed strains on the process of recruitment and
engendered defections from the movement. Some of these strains were lessened,
however, by the gradual progression in the Báb's claims. According to
the Báb's own account, his later and more extreme claims were initially
concealed as a matter of deliberate policy so that "men might not be disturbed
by a new book and a new Cause."
Certainly, this was the
sociological effect of this progressive revelation. When the Báb's more
radical claims became widely known, the Bábís were already
integrated into the movement. If the Báb's higher claims had been known
from the start, it is unlikely that he would have been able to gain so ready an
audience, or his disciples gain so many recruits.
At the same time, however, radicalization gave even greater emphasis to the
polar and millenarian motifs. Appearing now as a theophany, the Báb gave
potent expression to ideas of extreme charismatic legitimacy, which, while far
removed from orthodoxy, were not unknown in popular religious culture. More
specifically, as opposition mounted, the Bábís perceived the
antagonistic arrays of Shi'i apocalypticism come into being:
the hosts of the Mahdi confronted the forces of Antichrist. By the
Bábí doctrine of "return" (raj'a
the cosmic roles
of the fourteen Very Pure (Muhammad, Fatima, and the Imams) were reenacted in
the persons of the Letters of Living, while Karim Khan and Haji Mirza Aqasi
enacted the roles of their opponents—Dajjal and the hideous
Specific acts, such as the march of Mullá Husayn
and his companions out of Khurasan bearing a black standard, made literal
appeal to messianic prophecy.
Appeal was now also made to the Shi'i motif of pious martyrdom. The powerful
symbolism of blood sacrificed in the struggle against the enemies of true
religion was readily evoked. The Bábís saw themselves as being
like the Imám Husayn and his followers, cut down at the battle of
Karbala in 680 by the Umayyads. Shaykh Tabarsi was Karbala reenacted. The
Qajars had become latter day Umayyads seeking to extinguish God's religion.
This symbolism won sympathizers, even among the armies of the "latter-day
THE SOCIAL LOCATION OF THE BÁBÍ COMMUNITY
The social location and demographic significance of the Bábís
are central factors in any consideration of the religion's wider importance as
a social movement. As yet, our knowledge of this basic data remains
incomplete—a lacuna with serious implications for higher level theories of the
reasons for the emergence and expansion of the movement.
The demographic significance of Babism is particularly
difficult to discern.
Estimates for the total size and composition
of the Iranian population in the mid-nineteenth century vary widely and there
are no detailed records of the total number of Bábís. Both the
Báb and the Russian and British Ministers in Tehran refer to a total of
one hundred thousand Bábís. If this were the figure, then the
Bábís represented a significant element in the contemporary
Iranian population, perhaps between 1.7 and 2.2 percent of the total. Good
organization and a particular concentration of adherents in the towns would
have made this number of Bábís a formidable force in Iranian
But were there one hundred thousand Bábís? The figure of one
(100,000) is clearly a rounded figure, and may well simply have
been a synonym for "a large number." It is only too
easy to attribute a false facticity to figures employed without modern
statistical intent or exactitude. It may well be that there were markedly fewer
Bábís than one hundred thousand. Some sources refer to fifty
thousand, but again this may well have no real statistical base. Certainly,
given the considerable disincentives of membership and the very limited period
in which the Bábí missionaries were able to actively recruit
members, a lower figure for membership seems highly probable. A lower number
would also be commensurate with a recent reevaluation of the number of
Bábí martyrs, which reduces the commonly cited figure of twenty
thousand to approximately two or three thousand.
Whatever the total number of Bábís, it is clear that at least in
certain localities they attained a considerable importance. Indeed, it may well
be that what distinguished Zanjan and Nayriz, the two towns in which there was
sustained conflict between the Bábís and their opponents, was the
unusually high concentration of the Bábís in those localities.
Thus in Zanjan, an important town on the Tabriz to Tehran route, the
Bábís may have represented some fifteen percent of the local
population (perhaps 3,000 out of some 20,000). In Nayriz, the figure was even
higher, Bábís representing perhaps 43 percent of the population
(1,500 out of about 3,500).
Elsewhere the local concentrations of
Bábís undoubtedly varied quite considerably. Baghdad, for
example, may have had about 70 believers during the period of Tahirih's
residence, and Karbala perhaps the same. In Tehran, by contrast, there were
about 2,000 Bábís.
Nineteenth-century Iran was neither a unified nor
homogeneous society. Bábí expansion was thus inevitably
constrained by the existing patterns of religious, social and geographical
division. While we are not yet able to provide a precise description of
Bábí expansion in terms of these patterns, we feel that some of
the main characteristics are now more or less clear.
Besides impressionistic evidence, we employ two quantitative analyses. The
first of these, which has already been presented elsewhere, is an analysis of
the identified BAN participants at the Shaykh Tabarsi conflict (Table 2; N 365
out of c. 54Q).[79 ]
The second which is presented here for the first
time is an analysis of the biographical information of prominent
Bábís provided in the third volume of Fadil Mazandarani's
one of the standard Bahá'í accounts
of the period (Tables 1, 2, 3, and 4; N = 282). Individuals merely listed by
Mazandarani are assumed not to have been prominent and are excluded from the
analysis. We assume that in general those Bábís whom Mazandarani
describes in any detail constituted part of what we might term the "leadership
cadre" of the movement.
Most nineteenth-century Iranians were Shi'i
Muslims and the overwhelming majority of Bábís were drawn from
this grouping. Of the non-Muslim religious minorities—perhaps 3 percent of the
population—no Assyrian or Armenian Christians were converted, but there is
record of one Zoroastrian convert and several Jews.
non-Shi'i Muslims, no Sunnis appear to have been converted, but a few converts
were drawn from amongst the Ahlu'l-Haqq ('Aliyu'llahis.
Shi'i converts, most were initially Shaykhis. But as the movement expanded,
adherents were drawn from all schools of Shiism. Few members of Sufi orders
converted, but those that did included a Ni'matu'llahi leader
A few wandering ascetics (Qalandar dervishes) also
came to be associated with the movement.
It is of note that of the prominent Bábís mentioned by
Mazandarani at least a quarter were Shaykhis (Table 1). Indeed, of those known
to have converted during the early "Islamic" phase of Bábí
development (that is, prior to 1264 A.H. [1848 A.D.], at least half had been
Shaykhis. As the former religious identity of many of the individuals mentioned
is unknown, it is highly likely that both these figures represent
underestimates for the
proportion of Shaykhis. For example, it seems probable that most of those
converted by Mullá Husayn during his first missionary journey were
Shaykhis, but only a minority are explicitly identified as such.
Ethnicity and nomadism.
Perhaps one-third or more of the
mid-nineteenth-century Iranian population belonged to nomadic or semi-nomadic
Linguistic and religious divisions reinforced their
separation from the settled Shi'i population. Elements of some of these tribes
did become sedentary, however, and were drawn into settled society. Although we
know of no nomads who became Bábís, members of more settled
tribal groups did convert.
Prominent among these were some seventy
families of the Afshars of Hindijan (Fars), but a number of Kurds were also
Of prominent Bábís (Tables 2 and 3), five
were identified solely as tribesmen, and another two (a military officer and a
landowner; and the son of a courtier) were of tribal background. These
individuals included three Afshars (one a tribal leader), a Jaliki Kurd (a
tribal leader), and a Turkaman.
Among the settled population, ethnic divisions do not seem to have been a
significant barrier to Bábí expansion. Although most
Bábís were drawn from the majority Persian
ing) population, the movement spread readily amongst both
Azerbaijani Turks and Mazandaranis. Lack of success amongst Gilakis and Iranian
Arabs is likely to have been due solely to a lack of effective proselytism in
those areas. Arabs in Iraq were converted without any problem.
Nineteenth-century Iranian class divisions may be
described in terms of three socio-economic formations:
pastoral nomadism, peasant agriculture, and petty-commodity production and
Government officials and ulama represented distinctive
non-class groups. Bábí expansion was unevenly distributed within
these various classes and groupings,
the most obvious restriction being its confinement to the settled
Within the settled population it seems possible that, as between the urban and
rural sectors, the overall distribution of Bábís did not differ
significantly from that of the population as a whole.
most or at least a significant minority, of Bábís may have come
from the same rural and small town background which constituted the social
milieu of perhaps two-thirds of the settled population of Iran. Even among
prominent Bábís, some 37 percent were of this background (Table
It should be noted, however, that while Bábí expansion in the
urban sector was well distributed throughout the towns of the Shi'i heartland,
rural expansion was highly localized. Most rural areas were never effectively
proselytized. In terms of its
Zuhúru'l-Haqq, vol. 3. The list of towns given by Thompson in
Parliamentary Papers, vol. 69 for 1867-68, pp. 507-15 (reprinted by C.
Issawi, Economic History of Iran, p. 28) has been used for the large and
medium-sized towns. For the small towns and villages, we have used information
from the Gazetteer of Persia. It should be realized that this
information is very imprecise and it is impossible to determine the size at
that time of certain large villages such as Bushru'iyyih which has been
classified here under villages, but may well have had more than two thousand
NOTE: The seven Iraqis included in Tables 1, 2 and 3 have been excluded from
this table, hence the difference in totals.
social impact, Babism was predominantly an urban movement, but with a
significant rural constituency.
We must assume that the Bábís of rural origin were mostly
peasants. Unfortunately we are not yet able to say if they came from any
particular stratum within the peasantry, either in terms of wealth or degree of
independence. Given the distribution of power and education in Qajar Iran, it
is scarcely surprising that only 5 percent of the prominent Bábís
were peasants (Tables 2 and 3). These were mostly fruit-growers from Nayriz.
The Bábí religion may have succeeded in gaining a significant
peasant following, but it was not (except in certain localized instances) a
peasant movement. Bábí peasant conversions might follow that of
respected religious leaders (as at Nayriz), but it also followed that of the
peasants' own landlords (as in Mazandaran).
Within Qajar society, land ownership and the political office which such
ownership could support provided the most stable basis for power. This tiny
minority of notables was significantly represented within the
Bábí movement, constituting at least 8 percent of the prominent
adherents (Tables 2 and 3). Again, we are not able to specify the location of
these individuals in detail. But it is of note that most do not appear to have
been politically influential, though several moved in court circles, including
Mirza Rida Khan Turkaman, Rida Quli Khan Afshar, and Mirza Husayn 'Ali Nuri,
Bahá'u'lláh. The only exception to this observation was Manuchihr
Khan Mu'tamidu'd-Dawlih, the governor of Isfahan. Several of the (numerous)
Qajar princesses are also said to have been converted, as well as a number of
petty officials and government employees.
Apart from landowners and government officials, the other elite groups in Qajar
society were the wholesale merchants (tujjár
higher ulama. Both groups were well represented among the more prominent
Bábís, constituting respectively at least 12 percent and 7
percent of this grouping. Their total numbers were necessarily limited,
The merchants dominated the economic life of the bazaar. It was here that much
of the strongest support for the Bábí movement was gained,
perhaps particularly from the craftsmen and petty-traders who belonged to the
various guilds. These groups between them contributed some 29 individuals (10
percent) to the group of prominent Bábís. The extent of
Bábí representation amongst the unskilled workers and urban
peasants who comprised the invisible majority of the urban population is
unknown. None became prominent in the movement, but it is possible that a large
proportion of the Bábís in Zanjan came from these groups. It is
notable that, from the beginning, Hujjat Zanjani appears to have developed a
strong relationship with his poorer followers. When the conflict began, it was
these who followed him with greatest constancy, while some of his richer
followers defected to the Muslim side.
The ulama did not constitute a unitary social class as such, but rather a
distinctive series of groupings with varying economic interests. Although the
lesser ulama—especially theological students—dominated the Bábí
leadership (43 percent or more), a significant number of the prominent
Bábís (7 percent) were drawn from the higher ulama. Ulama were
also the largest single group identified at the fortress of Shaykh Tabarsi (136
out of 537).
Most prominent Bábís were men, and it is probably that the
majority of the Bábí rank-and-file were also men. Full
"familialization" of the movement probably only developed after its
transformation into the Bahá'í religion.
Nevertheless, 11 women were included in the category of prominent
Bábís. Given the extreme subordination of women in Iranian
society of the time, this is remarkable. Whatever the symbolic significance of
Tahirih's role as a Bábí leader for Iranian women of her own day,
the very fact of her prominence as one of the four leading Bábís
represents one of the most distinctive features of Babism as an Islamic
The geographical expansion of Babism reflected the
extent of missionary activity and the social composition of the movement 90
Bábí missionaries concentrated their attention on the Shi'i
shrine cities of Iraq and the Shi'i heartland of Iran. Areas with non-Shi'i
minorities (which also tended to be areas dominated by minority tribes)
received little or no attention. As a result there were no Bábís
in Baluchistan, the Gulf littoral, or most parts of the Western mountains.
Other areas, such as Shi'i Arabistan (Khuzistan), Sistan, and Gilan were
neglected for no apparent reason (other than perhaps their peripheral
location). The sustained opposition of Karim Khán in Kerman prevented
effective expansion there, but otherwise all the major cities and provinces of
Iran were reached. We have insufficient data to make any definite remarks about
the overall distribution of the movement. We note that, reflecting the
population distribution of the time, most of the prominent Bábís
at least were northerners. This observation contradicts the hypothesis that the
Bábí movement reflected southern discontent 91
ADDENDUM: TWENTY-FIVE PROPOSITIONS
In considering Babism as a social movement, we have resisted the temptation to
present high-level hypotheses as to origins and development. We will doubtless
succumb to this temptation elsewhere. But for the present we have sought to
establish some of the basic questions concerning how
developed, rather than address the more intractable issues of why
This is not to devalue these wider questions. We recognize their importance.
As a contribution to this work of theoretical analysis we present twenty-five
propositions regarding the religious, political and social significance of the
Bábí religion. We regard these propositions as basic elements in
the construction of higher level theories. We have and will write in support of
these propositions elsewhere. Some are supported in the present article. This
propositional form lends itself to ready falsification by those who would
disagree with us.
A. Religious Factors
1. The Bábí movement was a phenomenon within Shi'ism. It
made no significant impact beyond the confines of Shi'ism.
2. The movement carried a strong religious charge. It gave expression to a
number of powerfully evocative Shi'i motifs. Its leaders spoke to the religious
concerns of the day and presented (some) Bábí beliefs in a manner
that was accessible to religiously inclined contemporaries.
3. More controversial beliefs were initially concealed from both
non-Bábís and from the Bábí rank-and-file.
4. At a time of increasing emphasis on orthodoxy (as defined by the higher
ranking ulama), the movement gave voice to elements of the popular and
dissenting religious traditions.
5. The movement's leaders initially called for a religious reformation and
condemned clerical corruption.
6. Local variation in appeal was probably great.
7. The movement provided a comprehensive system of meaning and could
ultimately provide an alternative sense of identity to Shi'ism. Initially,
however, most Bábís probably saw themselves as true Shi'is rather
than as members of a separate religion.
8. There is little evidence for a contemporary crisis of meaning in Iran.
Other than the possible effects of repeated military defeat at the hands of the
infidel Russians, there had been no traumatic challenges to the indigenous
Shi'i religious tradition. The intellectual impact of the West was as yet
B. Political Factors
1. The Bábís were explicitly political in their demands.
The Báb's claim to Mahdihood challenged the legitimacy of all existing
institutions. Their attempt to establish a theocracy entailed the displacement
or co-option of the existing regime.
2. The government perceived the Bábís as insurrectionaries and
suppressed the movement accordingly.
3. Although there were individual Bábís who were
insurrectionary, it has not yet been established that the Bábís,
as a community, were consciously and preparedly insurrectionary. If they were,
then their attempt was poorly coordinated for such a well-organized
4. Both Bábí radicalism and militancy and the outbreak of
violence are best seen as part of a developing and interactive process.
5. Local factors were crucial. Where large Bábí communities
developed, they were inevitably drawn into the complex web of communal
6. Prepolitical discontent does not appear to have been a significant factor.
Nonreligious forms of political protest (such as insurrection) were readily
7. Anti-Qajar sentiment does not appear to have become a factor until the
Bábís had become alienated from the state.
8. There is no convincing evidence to support the thesis that Babism was
proto-nationalist in its appeal.
C. Socio-economic Factors
1. Differential recruitment to the Bábí movement
proceeded along social networks and along class lines. A wide cross-section of
urban social groups was included, and in certain areas village groups were well
represented. No effective contact was made with the nomadic tribes.
2. The thesis that Babism represented a form of bourgeois reformism is not
well supported. Bábí laws favoring merchant interests were a late
addition and do not appear to have contributed to the religion's appeal.
3. "Modernistic" social reform was not a central part of Bahá'í
teaching, albeit that there was some amelioration in the social laws regarding
4. The popular radicalism of the later Bábís may be seen as
reflecting eschatologically heightened, but traditional Islamic, ideas of
charity, equity, and the struggle against injustice.
5. The movement may have reflected opposition to the economic and political
powers of the higher ulama.
6. Divisions among Bábís between "radicals" and
"conservatives" proceeded on class lines. The more affluent laity and the more
established clerics were generally the more conservative.
7. Babism expanded throughout the Shi'i heartland of Iran. It was not an
expression of regional sentiment.
8. Mid-nineteenth-century Iran was experiencing a profound and multi-faceted
economic crisis, but in what manner this may have been linked to the emergence
of the movement remains unclear.
9. The Bábís were not anti-European. The Báb commended
the adoption of various aspects of European life and manners.
1. Avery, Modern Iran, pp. 52-58; Bayat, Mysticism and Dissent,
pp. 87-131; Ivanov, Bábídski Vostanii i Irane; Keddie,
"Religion and Irreligion in Early Iranian Nationalism", pp. 267-71; idem,
Roots of Revolution, p. 49; Smith, "Millenarianism in the
Bábí and Bahá'í Religions".
2. For an introduction to the resource mobilization perspective see McCarthy
and Zald, "Resource Mobilization in Social Movements," and Zald and McCarthy,
Dynamics of Social Movements. See also the slightly variant approaches
of Beckford, Religious Organization, and Gerlach and Hine, People,
3. For the distinction between the utilitarian and motivational
approaches to resource mobilization see Fireman and Gamson, "Utilitarian
Logic," and Perrow, "The Sixties Observed."
4. The best recent accounts of the development of Babism are provided by the
as yet unpublished doctoral dissertations by Amanat, "The Early Years of the
Bábí Movement," and MacEoin, "From Shaykhism to Babism." See also
the more general account by Smith, Bábí and
Bahá'í Religions, and idem, "A Sociological Study of the
Bábí and Bahá'í Religions."
5. For an account of the "tradition of dissent," see Bayat, Mysticism and
Dissent. For accounts of the general Shi'i context see Algar, Religion
and State in Iran, and Momen, Introduction to Shi'ih Islam.
6. See MacEoin, "Early Shaykhi Reactions to the Bib"; and idem, "From
Shaykhism to Babism," pp. 126-55.
7. On the term "báb" in Shi'i us age, see Momen,
Introduction to Shi'i Islam, pp. 162-64. For its Bábí
usage, see Amanat, "Early Years," p. 173. At least some Shaykhis appear to have
applied the term to Shaykh Ahmad and Sayyid KA4m (see, for example, the
al-Qatil ibn al-Karbala'i, cited in Mazandarani,
Zuhúru'l-Haqq, vol. 3, pp. 512-32 passim).
8. See Momen, "The Trial of Mullá Ali Bastami."
9. Smelser, Theory of Collective Behaviour, pp. 313-81.
10. Ibid., pp. 364-79.
11. Crucially, Karim Khan was also able to control the local Shaykhi
congregation and thus deny the Bábí missionaries access to its
local network. By contrast, antagonistic non-Shaykhi clerics, such as Muhammad
Taqi Baraghani in Qazvin, were not able to exercise such primary control.
12. Amanat, "Early Years," p. 280.
13. Gerlach and Hine, People, Power, Change, pp. 183-97.
14. On the interactive nature of social movement development, see Lauer,
"Social Movements," and Oberschall, "Protracted Conflict."
15. Smelser, Theory of Collective Behaviour, p. 367.
16. See MacEoin, "The Bábí Concept of Holy War", pp. 104-6.
17. See also Smith, Bábí and Bahá'í
18. MacEoin, "The Bábí Concept of Holy War." p. 112.
19. See further Smith, "Sociological Study," pp. 269-72. On the general role
of the lútís see Floor, "The Lútís." On
their role in Karbala in the 1830s and 1840s, see Cole and Momen, "Mafia, Mob
and Shi ism.
20. On organizational needs, see Burrell and Morgan, Sociological
Paradigms and Organizational Analysis, pp. 167-81.
21. MacEoin, "The Bábí Concept of Holy War," pp. 102-3.
22. Bayat, Mysticism and Dissent, pp. 93-94, 118-25.
23. Smith, "Millenarianism," pp. 243-48; idem, "Sociological Study," pp.
24. On the appropriate responses to stable and unstable environments see
Burrell and Morgan, Sociological Paradigms, pp. 171-79.
25. On the relevant desiderata, see ibid.
26. Lauer, Social Movements and Social Change, pp. 92-96.
27. On this group see Balyuzi, Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 74, 90;
Browne, Traveller's Narrative, vol. 2, p. 323.
28. Momen, "The Trial of MuIla 'Ali Bastami," p. 140. We are grateful to Mr.
R. Mehrabkhani for drawing to our attention an important passage in the
Báb's writings that refers to this episode. In this
passage, the Báb states that he had ordered the ulama to gather
at Karbala in order to await his return in order that the "Hidden Covenant" of
God be publicly revealed. But that, having heard in Mecca of the rejection by
the ulama of his message, he decided not to go that way in order to avoid
sedition and so that no one would be harmed. (See Mehrabkhani "Some Notes on
Fundamental Principles" in Bahá'í Studies Bulletin, p.
29. On mubáhalih challenges, see MacEoin, "The
Bábí Concept of Holy War," pp. 109-10.
30. We are following here Weber's distinction between traditional,
rational-legal, and charismatic bases of legitimacy. See Weber, Economy and
Society, pp. 212-45.
31. On the range of "charismatic options" in nineteenth-century Iranian
Shiism, see MacEoin, "Changes in Charismatic Authority."
32. On the Báb's validation of his claims, see Smith, "Sociological
Study," pp. 125-28; idem, Bábí and Bahá'í
33. The financial basis of Babism has not yet been researched.
34. On Shaykh Sa'id Hindi, the disciple who was delegated to proceed to
India, see Nabil, Dawn-Breakers, pp. 588-89. There is as yet no further
information as to this man's activities.
35. Nabil, Dawn-Breakers, p. 123. See MacEoin, "Hierarchy, Authority
and Eschatology," pp. 119-122. (This volume.)
36. MacEoin, ibid.
37. On commitment mechanisms, see Kanter, Commitment and Community.
See also Gerlach and Hine, People, Power, Change, pp. 99-158.
38. MacEoin, "Ritual and Semi-ritual Observances," pp. 4-7.
39. MacEoin, "From Shaykhism to Babism," pp. 205-6.
40. Ibid., pp. 203-5.
41. On the local nature of recruitment see Lofland and Jamison, "Social
42. Gerlach and Hine, People, Power, Change, pp. 33-78.
43. Nabil, Dawn-Breakers, p. 126.
44. The general role and status of the leading disciples are described in
Smith, "Sociological Study," pp. 130-33, 155-57; idem, Bábí
and Bahá'í Religions.
45. See for example Gerlach and Hine, People, Power, Change,
pp. 79-97; and Snow et al., "Social Networks and Social Movements."
46. Lofland and Skonovd, "Conversion Motifs."
47. See for example the accounts given by Nabil in Dawn-Breakers for
the Letters of the Living (pp. 52-71), Hujjat (pp. 178-79), and Vahid (pp.
48. For example compare the several accounts of Mullá Husayn's
conversion all purporting to derive from him: see Browne,
Taríkh-i-Jadíd, pp. 33-39; Muhammad, "Some New Notes on
Babism," pp. 447-49; Nabil, Dawn-Breakers, pp. 52-68.
49. For a description of the Báb's possible instructions to his
disciples see Momen, "The Trial of MuIIá Ali Bastami," p. 115.
50. MacEoin, "From Shaykhism to Babism." p. 187.
51. See for example statements regarding the conversions of Mullá
Ahmad Mu'allim, Haji Muhammad Isfaháni, Mirza Muhammad 'Ali Nahri, and
Mullá Zaynu'l-'Abidin Shahmirzadi (Mazandarani, Zuhúru'l-Haqq,
vol.3, pp. 158, 101, 97, 200 respectively). See also those of Mullá
Muhammad Sadiq Muqaddas (Nabil, Dawn-Breakers, p. 100), Haji
Rasúl Qazvini (Samandar, Taríkh, pp. 16-17), and Sayyid
Javad Karbala'i (Balyuzi, The Báb, pp.37-38). Karbala'í
had known the Báb since childhood.
52. Personal communication of material to be presented in a forthcoming book
by Abú'l-Qasim Afnán.
53. Mazandarani, Zuhúru'l-Haqq, vol. 3, p. 301.
54. Ibid., p. 155n.
55. On Vahid and Hujjat see Browne, Taríkh-i-Jadíd, pp.
135-41, 349-51; idem, "Personal Reminiscences," pp. 770-80; and Nabil,
Dawn-Breakers, pp. 171-79, 465-68, 475-81, 529-34.
56. For a recent account of these communal factions see Mirajafari, "The
Haydari-Ni'mati Conflicts in Iran."
57. Amanat, "Early Years," pp. 87-88, 303-305; Mazandarani,
Zuhúru'l-Haqq, vol. 3, pp. 406-7.
58. Amanat, "Early Years," p. 278-83.
59. Of the 53 Isfahanis identified as being amongst the participants of
Shaykh Tabarsi, 19 are known to have been asnáf. These
constituted almost half the asnáf at Tabarsi. (Momen, "Social
Basis," p. 162).
60. Marx and Wood, "Theory and Research in Collective Behaviour," pp.
61. Gerlach and Hine, People, Power, Change, pp. 159-82.
62. Borhek and Curtis, A Sociology of Belief, pp. 111-21; Snow and
Machalek, "Second Thoughts on the Presumed Fragility of Unconventional
Beliefs," pp. 31-35.
63. Gerlach and Hine, People, Power, Change, pp. 165-66.
64. Ibid., 169-71.
65. On these and other Shi'i and Bábí motifs, see Smith, "Motif
Research"; idem, "Sociological Study," pp. 96-102, 117-35, 169-83.
66. On the appeal of charismatic authority, see MacEoin, "Changes in
Charismatic Authority." On the popular religiosity of the time, see Amanat,
'Early Years," pp. 56-99.
67. Amanat, ibid., pp. 75-79. On Shi'i mahdist speculation in India in this
period see Cole, "Imámi Shi'ism," pp. 348-49.
68. On the sack of Karbala see Cole and Momen, "Mafia, Mob and Shi'ism in
69. Prominent Shaykhi adventists included Mullá Yússuf Ardibili
and Hájí Asadu'lláh Saysáni. Their opponents
included the Shaykhi leaders Karim Khan, Shaykh Hasan Gawhar and Mullá
Muhammad Mamaqani. See Mazandarani, Zuhúru'l-Haqq, vol. 3, pp.
70. Smith, "Sociological Study," pp. 118-19.
71. MacEoin, "Early Shaykhi Reactions," p. 18.
72. See Smith, "Sociological Study," pp. 172-74; idem, Bábí
and Bahá'í Religions.
73. Nabil, Dawn-Breakers, pp. 324-25.
74. Mazandarani, Zuhúru'l-Haqq, vol. 3, p. 42.
75. See Smith, "A Note on Bábí and Bahá'í Numbers
76. MacEoin, "A Note on the Number of Bábí and
Bahá'í Martyrs in Iran."
77. The estimates for the number of Bábís are taken from
Momen, "Social Basis," pp. 166-70. The population estimate for Zanjan (1867) is
taken from Issawi (ed.), The Economic History of Iran, p. 28. That for
Nayriz (1871) is taken from Lovett, "Surveys on the Road from Shiraz to
78. On numbers in Baghdad see Mazandarani, Zuhúru'l-Haqq,
vol. 3, p. 317. On those in Tehran see Momen, Bábí and
Bahá'í Religions, p. 6. By the 1860s some 6 percent of the
population of Tehran may have been Bábís (i.e., c. 5,000 out of
80,000, Gobineau, Religions et Philosophies p. 272).
79. Momen, "Social Basis." See also Smith, "Sociological Study," pp.
80. On the one Zoroastrian, see Mazandarani, Zuhúru'l-Haqq,
vol. 3, p. 395n. There were six Jewish converts in Turbat-i Haydari in
about 1850 and a number of Jewish converts in Baghdad. There may also have been
some Christian converts in Baghdad. The whole question will be dealt with in
more detail in a forthcoming Ph.D. thesis by Stephen Lambden at the University
of Newcastle, England.
81. Ahlu'l-Haqq converts included Muhammad Beg Chaparchi, the Báb's
escort from Isfahan to Tabriz (Browne, Nuqtatu'l-Káf, p. 124;
idem, Taríkh-i-Jadíd, p. 217), and three residents of
Qazvin, one a Kurdish tribal leader (Mazandarani, Zuhúru'l-Haqq,
vol. 3, pp. 385).
82. There are a wide range of variant estimates. See Momen, "Social Basis,"
p. 174; and Smith, "Sociological Study," p. 233.
83. This modifies an earlier research statement by Momen, "Social Basis," pp.
84. Mazandarani, Zuhúru'l-Haqq, vol. 3, pp. 301, 386.
85. For a more detailed account of these divisions see Smith, "Sociological
Study." pp. 231-37.
86. Momen, "Social Basis," pp. 173-75.
87. On the Qajar princesses, see Avarih, Kawtikibu'd-Durriyyih, vol.
1, pp. 114, 117-8.
88. Browne, "Personal Reminiscences of the Bábí Insurrection at
Zanjan"; Momen, "Social Basis," p. 170.
89. Smith, Bábí and Bahá'í Religions.
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