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The Bábí-Bahá'í Community in Khorasan

by Minou Foadi

published in Encyclopaedia Iranica
New York: Columbia University, 2022
Khorasan, the largest province in the northeast of Iran, is of special significance in the history of the Babi-Bahai religions. The first convert to Babism (q.v.) and the provincial Babi leader in Khorasan was Mollā Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Bošruʾi (q.v., 1814-49), a Shaikhi (see SHAIKHISM) from Bošruya (in southern Khorasan). His influence on clergy, fellow Shaikhis, acquaintances, and relatives was considerable, which led Khorasan to have one of the largest and most active Babi communities in Iran during 1844-48 (A. Amanat, pp. 273, 369).

On Mollā Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Bošruʾi’s first visit to Mashhad in 1844, he created, in collaboration with Mollā Mirzā Moḥammad Bāqer Qāʾeni, the first center for the Babi activities, known as the Bābiya. A small house belonging to Qāʾeni in the neighborhood of Bālā Ḵiābān, it became a base for Mollā Moḥammad-Ḥosayn’s teachings and a frequent gathering place of the Babi disciples in Khorasan. The main concentration of the Babis of Khorasan was in three areas. Central Khorasan in the area known as Qohestān, on the edge of the highlands that surround the Khorasan desert, and the triangle between Torbat-e Ḥaydariya, Bošruya, and Qāʾen contained the largest concentrations of Babis in Iran. Second, on the northwestern side of the borderlands of Māzandarān, particularly on the northern route to Khorasan in Besṭām (q.v.), Mayāmay, and Biārjomand, there were also sizable Babi communities. And, third, there were a number of converts in cities such as Mashhad, Sabzavār, and Nishapur (A. Amanat, pp. 273-74).

Notable in the early period was the conversion of a number of leading jurists (mojtaheds): Mollā Ṣādeq Moqaddas Ḵorāsāni (q.v.), Mirzā Sayyed Aḥmad Azḡandi, Mollā Mirzā Moḥammad Bāqer Qāʾeni, Shaikh Aḥmad Moʿallem from Nāmeq, Ḥāji ʿAbd-al-Majid from Nishapur, Mirzā Moḥammad Foruḡi, and other senior shaikhis, such as Mollā Ḵāleq Yazdi. These individuals preached the Babi faith openly and occasionally from mosques (A. Amanat, pp. 277-84; Foʾādi Bošruʾi, p. 72). The influence of Babi teachings spread to high-ranking officials, military personnel, and Qajar princes in Khorasan.

One of the possible reasons for the success of the Babi movement (see BABISM i.) in Khorasan was its heterodox background with notable Ismaʿili (see ISMAʿILISM), Shaikhi and Sunni converts, and places where the influence of theologians (ʿolamāʾ) and oṣuli jurists (mojtaheds) was reduced, and anti-Babi incitement often ignored. Non-Bahai sources report a wider heterodoxy. In 1844, the Jewish Christian missionary, Joseph Wolff (1795-1862), on his way to Bukhara, noticed that many people in Mashhad requested copies of the Bible, and he was invited to an open discussion with a local cleric (A. Amanat, pp. 275-76). Travelogues of Khorasan in the mid-1870s describe non-adherence to strict Islamic laws and non-observance of the traditional fasting rules in Ṭabas and Bošruya (Eʿteṣām-al-Molk, p. 266).

Women played a significant role in the early Babi communities. Mollā Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Bošruʾi’s sister, Bibi Kučak, held meetings for both sexes in Mashhad, which led to conversions (Arbāb, p. 49). His mother and sisters, and Qāʾeni’s wife and female relatives, were reportedly knowledgeable in Islamic studies (Foʾādi Bošruʾi, pp. 346-48).


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