20,000 martyrs?

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20,000 martyrs?

Postby Irish » Fri Sep 15, 2006 5:27 am

In one of his articles for the "Religion" journal (From Babis to Baha'ism: militancy, quietism and conflation in the construction of a religion), Denis MacEoin has severely criticised 'Abdu'l-Baha and Shoghi Efffendi for claimed that there 20,000 Baha'i martrys. Part of the criticism is that most of the martrys viewed themselves as Babis, not Baha'is, and so the Baha'i Faith should not claim them as its martyrs. I think that Baha'is will obviously and reasonably discount this point, as it as fundamental principle of the Faith that the Bab was the Forerunner of Baha'u'llah.

The rest of MacEoins criticism is based on the premise that there simply were not 20,000 martyrs, even if you count the Babis. He thinks the figure to be in total less than 4000. Related to this point, he argues that Baha'i are in some confusion as to when the number of 20,000 was reached: he says that 'Abdu'l-Baha claimed that number as early as 1871 (I'm not so sure), that Shoghi Effendi used it right throughout his ministry (which is true) and that it is still the figure used in most modern Baha'i publications (which is also true).

Granted that this article was written in the 1980's, I presume that Baha'i scholars have developed as response to these criticisms. However, I have so far been unable to find such a response in the scholarly literature.
-Does any know where I can it?
-Also, has anyone carried out empirical studies to ascertain a minimum verifiable number of martyrs (of the Babi and Baha'i Faiths), from 1844 onwards, with a breakdown into various time-periods preferably?

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Postby Zazaban » Fri Sep 15, 2006 6:10 pm

Perhaps they mean true martyrs following true revelation in any religion.
Justice and equity are twin Guardians that watch over men. From them are revealed such blessed and perspicuous words as are the cause of the well-being of the world and the protection of the nations.
~ Bahá'u'lláh

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Postby Jonah » Sun Sep 17, 2006 5:51 pm

This issue has received quite a bit of attention, but little of it published in a place I can point you to. First, note that the original article by MacEoin in Religion was followed by 2 follow-ups from Hatcher/Afnan and one follow-up by MacEoin. Here are the citations:
<ul><li> Muhammad Afnan and William S. Hatcher, "Western Islamic Scholarship and Bahá'í Origins," Religion 15 (1985) 29 & 30</li><li>Muhammad Afnan and William S. Hatcher, "Note on MacEoin's 'Bahá'í Fundamentalism'" Religion 16 (1986) 191</li><li>Denis MacEoin, "Afnan, Hatcher and an Old Bone," Religion 16 (1986) 195</li></ul>
I also discuss the issue of Babi martyrdom, though not the actual numbers, at http://bahai-library.com/theses/dying/d ... tyrdm.html . In sum, the figure of 20,000 is acknowledged by most historians to have been an off-the-cuff round number which is not accurate, and the actual numbers are far less. I searched my email archives and found one response from 11 years ago, which I'll post here.

Date: Wed, 12 Jul 95 00:38:48 EZT
From: Sen Mcglinn
Subject: martyrs
To: talisman @ indiana.edu

Re the number of martyrs, and 'Abdu'l-Baha as historian, there are at
least two references that I know of. The one is in PUP:
The King of Persia, Nasiri'd-Din Shah, had killed twenty
thousand Baha'is, martyrs who in absolute severance and
complete willingness offered their lives joyfully for their faith.
(Promulgation of Universal Peace, page 203)

and the other in TN:
Now in these years [A.H. one thousand two hundred and]
sixty-six and sixty-seven throughout all Persia fire fell on the
households of the Babis, and each one of them, in whatever
hamlet he might be, was, on the slightest suspicion arising, put
to the sword. More than four thousand souls were slain, and a
great multitude of women and children, left without protector
or helper, distracted and confounded, were trodden down and
destroyed. And all these occurrences were brought about
solely by the arbitrary decision and command of Mirza Taqi
Khan, who imagined that by the enactment of a crushing
punishment this sect would be dispersed and disappear in such
wise that all sign and knowledge of them would be cut off. (A
Traveler's Narrative, pages 28-29 [p47 of the 1930 edition],
also cited in Nabil's narrative p 529 note 1)

The first is of course not authenticated: it is based on notes by Ester
Foster of an ad hoc translation. Also, the purpose of the talk was not
to present a history of the Faith, whereas the Traveller's Narrative is
intended to be a sympathetic history. If we had no independent
evidence, I would accept the four thousand figure on these grounds
alone. But there is a great deal of evidence to support the lower figure
- see for example Momen, 'the Social Basis of the babi upheavels in
iran, Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 15, 1983. At Shaykh Tabarsi
perhaps 550 died (54 known survivors, 540-600 participants; in
Nayriz first 82 (TN 257-8 ) and then again 180 (some of whom may
not have been Babis); in Tihran in 1850, 7, and in 1852, 40. This
gives 2659 confirmed deaths in the major incidents, plus we know of
several isolated incidents where singly or in twos or threes babis were
killed, and I suspect also that women, slaves and children killed in the
major incidents were not always recorded. So four thousand plus is
possible during these two or three years, which saw most of the
martyrdoms. MacEoin estimes 3,000-4,000 over the whole Babi
period (Handbook of Living Religions p 481). One the other hand not
all of those killed were Babis: see Momen, Babi and Bahai religions
p150 which cites Kembal, a British resident, on the second Nayriz
upheaval, who thought that most of the victims were not Babis.

The question then is where did the 20,000 come from? I think I've
seen an estimate of about that number by a western observer, but
can't remember where or from whom: can anyone help? Shoghi
Effendi cites Phelps as a source for an estimate of 10,000, in Nabil's
narrative p 605 n1: "The number of martyrdoms which have taken
place in Persia has been estimated at ten thousand. [This estimate is
conservative. Many place the number at from twenty to thirty
thousand.] Most of these occurred during the early history of the
faith, but they have continued with diminishing frequency, even
down to the present time." (M. H. Phelps' "Life and Teachings of
Abbas Effendi," introduction, p. 36.)

Just as interesting perhaps, why did 20,000 become such a magic
figure in popular Bahai histories. Was it the highest supportable
figure, or was it perhaps mentioned in a popular hymn? Research
project for someone...


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Postby Irish » Mon Oct 16, 2006 1:47 pm

Thanks, I have been able to find all those articles in my library. I've read them but Afnan and Hatcher don't mention the number the martyrs. They say that they have written an unpublished reply to MacEoin's "From Babism to Baha'ism", called "The Baha'i Faith and It's Critics". Do you know if that is available online, or in some other Baha'i journals.

So there were about forty Babis martyred in Tihiran in September 1853, right, after the assassination attempt? But what about in the rest of the country?

If there really were only less than four thousand marytrs, why do you think the Guardian would continue saying 20,000? Was is because he was relying on statements from 'Abdu'l-Baha? To account for an extra 16,000 martyrs between 1853 and 1920's would require over well over two hundred martyrs every single year. Now, I've not done any original research here, but from what I've read, there is no indications that the numbers were even remotely close to that. But that leaves the question, would not Shoghi Effendi have seen that!?!

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Postby Keyvan » Thu Oct 26, 2006 1:11 am

if anything the number is lowballed.

if we can only account for 4k, keep in mind that this is just what we have record of, and in no way does what we have record of mean that is all that happened.

think how closed doors it is to kill someone and dispose of the body. in the mid 1800's ..... this was social neighbor against neighbor persecution, not one army over another where you can count the bodies after the battle. though we DO have exceptions with tabarsi and such as mentioned; battles.

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Postby Irish » Sat Oct 28, 2006 6:05 am

Thanks Keyvan,

'Abdu'l-Baha mentioned twenty thousand martyrs in 1912 (PUP pg203). If we want to take that as fact, then there were at least 260 martyrs per year between 1852 and 1963 (260x60=15600), or else there was more than 4,000 between 1844 and 1852.

I do actually believe myself that the 20,000 could be right. Maybe there were more than 4000 killed before 1852 and more than 16,000 between 1852 and 1912. However, do you think that a non-Baha'i Iranologist is ever going to seriously propose a number this high, by saying that is probable that so many people disappeared without a trace.

If 20,000 is correct, 'Abdu'l-Baha could have known that only through his superhuman knowledge, because I doubt anyone had been keeping a tally. Shoghi Effendi seems to have based this number on 'Abdu'l-Baha's statements. If so, that would mean that he was interpreting them to be factually accurate. However, he didn't have any historical data to verify the statement, as Baha'is still do not today. Maybe we just need to be patient, until Baha'is have the freedom, time and resources to sift thought all the records and gather what evidence remains.

At the end of the day, it's fine for Baha'is to believe that it is underestimated, just because 'Abdu'l-Baha said it, and because it is almost impossible to disprove. However, the only logical argument that we have is, as you said, that we don't know what went on behind doors. Yet, I think it would be wise for us to start using a lower number, say 4000. For example, in the booklet brought out last year about the denial of education to Baha'i youth in Iran, the number 20,000 springs up. It is not hard to see why critics, people like Denis MacEoin, have a very easy job making it seem like it is a gross exaggeration, which harms the reputation of the Faith.

On the 1852 massacre, is there really no evidence that there were more martyrs thoughtout Iran, beside the 40 in Tehran?


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Postby Jonah » Sat Oct 28, 2006 6:33 am

BTW, I forgot to mention earlier that one of MacEoin's papers that mentions the topic is online at http://bahai-library.com/?file=maceoin_babism_militancy . Here's an excerpt. The footnotes won't work, for that you'll have to click on the above link. (Due to a software error, the HTML formatting of the quote won't work for you unless you're registered and logged in.)

As far as can be estimated, the number of Babis killed during the main upheavals between 1848 and 1850 was very small. According to Bahá'í sources, between 540 and 600 Babis in all were involved in the Shaykh Tabarsi episode, of whom about 300 were actually put to death or died from other causes in the course of the siege.<a name="fnB121" href="#fn121"><small><sup>[127]</sup></small></a> Estimates of the numbers involved in Nayriz in 1850 vary considerably,<a name="fnB122" href="#fn122"><small><sup>[128]</sup></small></a> but a figure of almost 1,000 would seem to be realistic,<a name="fnB123" href="#fn123"><small><sup>[129]</sup></small></a> of whom rather less than 500 were killed.<a name="fnB124" href="#fn124"><small><sup>[130]</sup></small></a> According to Zarandi, a total of about 350 Babis died during or after the later Nayriz disturbances of 1853.<a name="fnB125" href="#fn125"><small><sup>[131]</sup></small></a> Larger numbers were involved in Zanjan from 1850 to 1851, of whom between 1000 and 1800 were put to death.<a name="fnB126" href="#fn126"><small><sup>[132]</sup></small></a> The Tehran executions of 1852, following the attempt on Nasir al-Din Shah's life, and which Shoghi Effendi variously describes as 'a blood-bath of unprecedented severity,'<a name="fnB127" href="#fn127"><small><sup>[133]</sup></small></a> 'a holocaust reminiscent of the direst tribulations undergone by the persecuted followers of any previous religion,'<a name="fnB128" href="#fn128"><small><sup>[134]</sup></small></a> and 'the darkest, bloodiest and most tragic episode of the Heroic Age of the Bahá'í Dispensation,'<a name="fnB129" href="#fn129"><small><sup>[135]</sup></small></a> actually claimed the lives of only some 37 individuals.<a name="fnB130" href="#fn130"><small><sup>[136]</sup></small></a> The total number of Babis executed in the Iranian capital between 1847 and 1863, amounted, according to a recent Bahá'í account, to no more than 62 named individuals.<a name="fnB131" href="#fn131"><small><sup>[137]</sup></small></a> Even when we add to the above numbers the figures for Babis killed in isolated incidents during this period (which cannot amount to more than a few dozen all told), we are left with a total of not much more than 3000 martyrs at the outside or, if we take the lower figure of 1000 for Zanjan, something just over 2000 in all. Since there were no further incidents on the scale of Shaykh Tabarsi, Zanjan, or Nayriz, it is difficult to compute the number of Bahá'ís killed in Iran up to the present day in a number of small-scale outbreaks of violence. It would not, however, be far from the truth to speak of something under 300 altogether.<a name="fnB132" href="#fn132"><small><sup>[138]</sup></small></a><br><br> While accurate figures for individual incidents are available in Bahá'í publications, the general tendency is to speak of a single, rounded figure (usually 20,000), which is sometimes applied overall and sometimes only to the Babi period, with very little consistency between references. Probably the earliest 'official' figure is that of 'more than four thousand', which was, according to 'Abd al-Bahá', the number of Babis killed during the years 1266 and 1267 (1850-1851), following the death of the Bab.<a name="fnB133" href="#fn133"><small><sup>[139]</sup></small></a> Nevertheless, the same authority appears to have started speaking of 20,000 Babi martyrs in all as early as 1871,<a name="fnB134" href="#fn134"><small><sup>[140]</sup></small></a> and, in his later writings and talks, he fluctuates between 'thousands',<a name="fnB135" href="#fn135"><small><sup>[141]</sup></small></a> 'twenty thousand',<a name="fnB136" href="#fn136"><small><sup>[142]</sup></small></a> 'more than 20,000',<a name="fnB137" href="#fn137"><small><sup>[143]</sup></small></a> and 'twenty or thirty thousand'<a name="fnB138" href="#fn138"><small><sup>[144]</sup></small></a> in all; 'ten thousand, possibly twenty thousand'<a name="fnB139" href="#fn139"><small><sup>[145]</sup></small></a> or 'over twenty thousand'<a name="fnB140" href="#fn140"><small><sup>[146]</sup></small></a> Babis alone; and 'twenty thousand Bahá'ís' killed just in the reign of Nasir al-Din Shah (1848-1896).<a name="fnB141" href="#fn141"><small><sup>[147]</sup></small></a> There are examples of similar<br><br> <br> <hr><small>[page 237]</small><br><br> confusion in other Bahá'í references of this period. Thus, Amin Farid talked in 1911 of 'hundreds' of Babi martyrs,<a name="fnB142" href="#fn142"><small><sup>[148]</sup></small></a> while Diya Allah Baghdadi spoke in 1918 of '24,000 or more' Babi and Bahá'í martyrs together.<a name="fnB143" href="#fn143"><small><sup>[149]</sup></small></a><br><br> It might have been expected that Shoghi Effendi would attempt to end this confusion, but he himself appears to have remained as uncertain about the subject as his predecessor. At the beginning of <i>God Passes By</i>,<i> </i>he refers to 'above ten thousand' martyrs during the first nine years of the Babi period,<a name="fnB144" href="#fn144"><small><sup>[150]</sup></small></a> and at the end of the same book he speaks of 'a world community (i.e. the Bahá'í community of 1944)... consecrated by the sacrifice of no less than twenty thousand martyrs'.<a name="fnB145" href="#fn145"><small><sup>[151]</sup></small></a> The implication would seem to be that there were ten thousand Babi martyrs and a further ten thousand Bahá'ís, but Shoghi Effendi himself contradicts this when he writes of 'twenty thousand of his (i.e. the Bab's) followers' being put to death,<a name="fnB146" href="#fn146"><small><sup>[152]</sup></small></a> or, in the reverse sense, when he translates 'Abd al-Bahá's reference to 'thousands' who had 'shed streams of their sacred blood in this path' by the phrase 'ten thousand souls'.<a name="fnB147" href="#fn147"><small><sup>[153]</sup></small></a><br><br> Following Shoghi Effendi, however, a broad consensus of Bahá'í writing has favoured the round figure of 20,000, although no-one seems to be sure as to what it refers. Thus, we read of around 20,000 martyrs 'during the lifetimes of the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh',<a name="fnB148" href="#fn148"><small><sup>[154]</sup></small></a> or 'in the Heroic Age of His (i.e. Bahá' Allah's) Cause',<a name="fnB149" href="#fn149"><small><sup>[155]</sup></small></a> or for the 'Bahá'í Faith',<a name="fnB150" href="#fn150"><small><sup>[156]</sup></small></a> or even during the pogrom of 1852!<a name="fnB151" href="#fn151"><small><sup>[157]</sup></small></a> In some cases, writers give an impression of even more inflated figures, or refer to specific higher (but never lower) totals: thus, 'tens of thousands',<a name="fnB152" href="#fn152"><small><sup>[158]</sup></small></a> as a whole, or nearly 'thirty thousand' during the later part of Bahá' Allah's lifetime.<a name="fnB153" href="#fn153"><small><sup>[159]</sup></small></a><br><br>

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Postby brettz9 » Sat Oct 28, 2006 8:55 am

We really need to take the Promulgation of Universal Peace quotation with a grain of salt, as it may not be an authentic talk. For example, with another issue that has been used at this discussion board, there was talk about 'Abdu'l-Baha referring to the Torah having a law about cutting off the hand of a thief. At least one of these references was an English translation error, and the other talk mentioning it had no original Persian transcript: http://bahai-library.com/?file=uhj_lett ... uardian#s4 . Also, even if it were accurate, it is possible 'Abdu'l-Baha was using "exaggerated emphasis" or even perhaps might 20,000 be a standard unit in Persian for approximations?

Also, there is a possibility for some historical errors to occur in the Writings (see especially http://bahai-library.com/?file=uhj_infa ... y_guardian or possibly also http://bahai-library.com/?file=uhj_bible_errors_gpb ), . Nevertheless, I think we should be circumspect about confident assertions of scholars to the contrary.

The source that MacEoin cites (as far as only claiming the lives of some 37 individuals), in a wider context states, "The historic significance of this period cannot indeed be overestimated. For it was a hundred years ago that a Faith...was being subjected to still more painful ordeals...which caused it to pass through a reign of terror, and to experience a blood-bath of unprecedented severity, which inflicted on it one of the greatest humiliations it has ever suffered through the attempted assassination of the sovereign himself, and which unloosed a veritable deluge of barbarous atrocities in Tihrán, Mazindarán, Nayríz and Shíráz before which paled the horrors of the siege of Zanján..." (Citadel of Faith, p. 100).

Thus, as you, Mark, seemed to suspect, there is no indication that the "blood-bath of unprecedented severity" was limited to a tally of deaths in Tehran. God Passes By, in listing a number of other deaths (mentioned elsewhere by MacEoin?), does not limit this blood-path as referring to Tihran alone (and gives some additional numbers):

The violent conflagration kindled as a result of the attempted assassination of the sovereign could not be confined to the capital. It overran the adjoining provinces, ravaged Mazindarán, the native province of Bahá'u'lláh, and brought about in its wake, the confiscation, the plunder and the destruction of all His possessions. ...
The commotion that had seized Tihrán and had given rise to the campaign of outrage and spoliation in Mazindarán spread even as far as Yazd, Nayríz and Shíráz, rocking the remotest hamlets, and rekindling the flames of persecution. Once again greedy governors and perfidious subordinates vied with each other in despoiling the innocent, in massacring the guiltless, and in dishonoring the noblest of their race. A carnage ensued which repeated the atrocities already perpetrated in Nayríz and Zanján. "My pen," writes the chronicler of the bloody episodes associated with the birth and rise of our Faith, "shrinks in horror in attempting to describe what befell those valiant men and women.... What I have attempted to recount of the horrors of the siege of Zanján ... pales before the glaring ferocity of the atrocities perpetrated a few years later in Nayríz and Shíráz." The heads of no less than two hundred victims of these outbursts of ferocious fanaticism were impaled on bayonets, and carried triumphantly from Shíráz to Ábádih. Forty women and children were charred to a cinder by being placed in a cave, in which a vast quantity of firewood had been heaped up, soaked with naphtha and set alight. Three hundred women were forced to ride two by two on bare-backed horses all the way to Shíráz. Stripped almost naked they were led between rows of heads hewn from the lifeless bodies of their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers. Untold insults were heaped upon them, and the hardships they suffered were such that many among them perished."

(God Passes By, p. 79)

Some of these may have been tallied by him in referring to the latter incidents in Nayriz, and I frankly don't have the energy now to check all of these sources.

I believe the footnotes to the Dawn-Breakers may hold some additional information on such questions (actually the beginning chapters of God Passes By are heavily drawn from Nabil's Narrative).

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