A Consideration of the Bahá'í religion, its Tenets, the Character of its Followers, and the Possibility of its Spread
Legation of the United States of America
January 8, 1925
Department of State Department of Near Eastern Affairs
The Honorable The Secretary of State,
I have the honor to submit for the information of the Department A CONSIDERATION OF THE BAHAI RELIGION, ITS TENETS, THE CHARACTER OF ITS FOLLOWERS, AND THE POSSIBILITY OF ITS SPREAD IN PERSIA AND ELSEWHERE.
A treatment of this topic at the present time appears to be particularly opportune owing to the fact that, as the Department is aware, Bahá'ísm formed the background of the Imbrie incident, and that the late Vice Consul's denunciation as a Bahá'í at the Sakha [sic] Khaneh probably resulted in his tragic death.
In discussing the matter with the Bahá'ís of Teheran, they have repeatedly stated that they consider Mr. Imbrie to have been a martyr to the cause. It is claimed that the Mohammedan clergy had prepared a list of more than one thousand Bahá'ís and designated them for massacre on the tenth day of Moharrem (August 12, 1924); and that the premature explosion of fanatical fury which resulted in the death of Mr. Imbrie relieved for the same time being the pressure upon them and doubtless saved their lives.
There is some reason to give credence to this statement of the Bahá'ís, owing to the incident with which Mr. Imbrie was connected in affording protection to Dr. Susan I. Moody, and ardent American Bahá'í, who has lived in Teheran for more than fifteen years. It appears from Dr. Moody's own story that, as a result of certain rumors which had reached her ears as to the intention of a certain fanatical group of Moslems to murder her upon July 12, she appealed to the American Voce Consul some days previously, requesting that he assure her adequate protection. Vice Consul Imbrie immediately addressed himself to the Chief of Police and requested that an ample guard be stationed in the neighborhood of Dr. Moody's house. During the night of July 12 a mob, estimated by Dr. Moody to exceed two hundred and fifty persons, gathered outside her door demanding her blood. Thanks, however, to the intervention of the police, who arrived in a flying column to her rescue, the mob was immediately dispersed and no damage was done. A significant phase of the affair was that the column was led by a prominent Bahá'í officer which doubtless accounted for its efficient action. In the succeeding days, and until the killing of Mr. Imbrie, Dr. Moody was constantly
threatened in the streets, and she heard even children remark "they are going to kill Dr. Moody".
The above mentioned incident raises the question which is an exceedingly difficult one, namely, of protecting American Bahá'ís in Persia. The Department will recall the unfortunate experience in 1913 of two American Bahá'í women, Dr. Sarah A. Clock, and Miss Lillian F. Kappes, the latter being at the time the Director of the Bahá'í Girls' School in Teheran, who were cruelly beaten and robbed.
Dr. Moody, despite her advanced years, appears to be a lady of unwonted courage, and seems even to thrive under the constant threats of violence made against her by the Mohammedan masses. Instead of living in discreet seclusion in some out of the way part of town, Dr. Moody has her office on the Nasserieh, one of the principle business streets leading to the bazaar, and over the drug-store of a prominent Persian Bahá'í. In this way she has scarcely been able to draw near her windows without attracting the attention of passersby below in the street who rarely fail to brandish their fists at her and threaten her with violence. She has been living for the past years with Miss Elizabeth H. Stewart, a Bahá'í trained nurse.
The Legation was much relieved when both ladies left Teheran last November to return to the United States, ostensibly only for a visit. It is hoped however that they will decide not to return to Persia inasmuch as it is extremely difficult to guarantee them adequate protection in this fanatical country. Like many converts to a new religion, Dr. Moody is a militant champion of her adopted faith, which she preaches with the energy of a Carrie Nation.
One of the most remarkable features of Bahá'ísm in this country has been the active interest evinced in its propagation by the Bahá'ís of American. Aside from Dr. Moody's medical activities, their principal efforts have been concentrated upon the Bahá'í Girls' School founded in 1907, and which has, until very recently, always had an American woman as its head. Miss Kappes was until her death in December 1920 the director of that turbulent institution, and during the summer of 1922, Dr. G. Coy, her successor, a young women of unusual scholastic attainments and enthusiasm for the cause, arrived to carry on the work. Owing to the constant friction with the Persian authorities and obstructions placed in her way she decided last year to return to America. I am informed that the Bahá'ís are at the present time negotiating with their American co-religionists for the dispatch to Persia of Miss Coy's successor.
As was to be expected, the activity of American Bahá'ís in Persia has aroused the bitterest antagonism of the American Christian missionaries in the country who regard the presence of their non-Christian compatriots in the country as damaging evidence to the Moslems of the lack of solidarity in the Christian world.
Before proceeding to a consideration of Bahá'ísm as such, which is the last of five purely Persian religious movements in the Persian Empire, during the period of three thousand years, it may well to refer in brief to the four preceding movements, two of which successfully invaded Europe.
From the point of view of religious inspiration, Persia remains incomparable among the nations of the ancient and modern world. Zoroaster, who was their first and greatest
prophet, was born in Urumia in about 660 B.C., and founded a religion which was destined to hold undisputed sway in Persia for a thousand years and to the persist even to the present day.
About a half century before the Christian era, a modified form of Zoroastrianism called Mithraism, whose followers worshipped Mithra, the god of Light and Prosperity as well as the protector of monarchs, made its appearance in Rome where it gained a considerable following among the common people. It interesting that, for more than a century, Mithraism and Christianity were bitter rivals for the religious conquest of Europe, and that the outcome of the struggle between these two faiths was at first by no means a foregone conclusion.
The third religious movement of Persian origin, and the second to make a successful invasion of Europe, was the cult founded by Mani, whose followers were styled Manichaeans. He was born in 215 A.D., converted the contemporary Persian monarch, Shapur, and acquired a considerable following in his own country. His religion has been styled a Christianized Zoroastrianism, although its outstanding feature was its rigid asceticism which prohibited marriage in the belief that the extinction of the human race and its reabsorption into the God-head was for the best of humanity.
Manichaeism spread eastward into Tibet, where it is still practiced, and westward into southern France where its followers were the Albigenses against whom a crusade for their destruction was led by Simonde Montfort in 1209.
The fourth great movement, this time religio-communist in character, was that of Mazdak, born about the middle of the fifth century, A.D., who, during the reign of King Kobad
in 487 of the Christian era, converted thousands to his doctrines. According to these, all men were born equal and had the right to maintain their equality through life. consequently property and women should be held in common. On the more spiritual side he taught abstemiousness, devotion and the sacredness of animal life.
King Kobad who had meanwhile been converted to the new cause, finally ordered the massacre of the Mazdakites in 523 A.D. owing to a conspiracy to depose him.
The founder of the Bahá'í religion, Seyid Ali Mohammed, the son of a grocer of Shiraz, was born in that city in 1820. Owing to his early piety and intelligence he was sent to Karbela, the sacred Shia city of Iraq, to be educated where, at the age of twenty-four, he proclaimed himself to be the "Bab" or Gate, a term doubtlessly intended to convey the idea that he was the Gate to Heaven and the expression of the Divine Will on earth. He shortly thereafter proceeded to Mecca, and upon his return to Persia began to preach the new faith at Bushire, where he rapidly acquired a considerable following. His success, as in the case of Christ, immediately aroused the alarm of the orthodox clergy who set a trap for him in order to be able to accuse him of heresy. He was asked to write down a statement of his claims, which he consented to do. When it was examined it was found to be illegible, so he was immediately seized and thrown into prison.
He was conveyed a prisoner to Maku, in the province of Azerbaijan, where he remained until his transfer to Chirik near Urumia. It was there that he declared himself to be the twelfth Imam whose coming the orthodox Mohammedans are
awaiting in the same fashion as do the Jews the Messiah and the Christians the Christ.
He was finally executed in Tabriz in the year 1850, and his remains were secretly borne to the Holy Land and inter red on Mount Carmel.
The Bab has always been regarded by the Bahá'ís as merely a forerunner of one greater than him who was to succeed him. He is the John the Baptist of the Bahá'ís.
He was succeeded by Mirza Yahya, a youth of nineteen, known as the Subh-i-Ezel (Morning of Eternity), who was apparently nominated by the Bab to be his successor. He appears to have held unquestioned away over the faithful until 1866 when his authority was disputed by his elder brother, Baháullah (Glory of God), born in Teheran in 1817, who succeeded in deposing him and in assuming full authority as the Bab's successor. Owing to the hostility of both the Shiah and Sunni Mohammedans, the latter was interred at Acre where he died in 1892.
Baháullah was succeeded by his son Abdul-Bahá, who was born in Teheran in 1844. During the greater part of his life he remained at Haifa in the holy Land. In 1912 however he made a tour of Europe and the United States and is said, during an address in California in October of that ye ar, to have prophesied in the following words the outbreak of the World War within two years:
"We are on the eve of the Battle of Armageddon referred to in the sixteenth chapter of Revelations. The time is two years hence, when only a spark will set aflame the whole of Europe. The social unrest in all countries, the growing religious scepticism antecedent to the millennium, and already here, will set aflame the whole of Europe as is prophesied in the Book of Daniel and in the Book (Revelation) of John. By 1917 kingdoms will fall and cataclysms will rock the earth."
A further interesting pronouncement of Abdul-Bahá was made in November of that year in Cincinnati when he is said to have foretold in the following words that America would be the instigator of the League of Nations:
"America is a noble nation, a standard bearer of peace throughout the world, shedding her light to all regions. Other nations are not untrammelled [sic] and free of intrigues like the United States , and are unable to bring about Universal Peace. But America, thank God, is at peace with all the world, and is worthy of raising the flag of brotherhood and International Peace. when the summons to International Peace is raised by America, all the rest o f the world will cry: `Yes, we accept.' The nations of every clime will join in adopting the teachings of Bahaullah, revealed over fifty years ago. In His Epistles He asked the Parliaments of the world to send their best and wisest men to an international world-parliament that should decide all questions between the peoples and establish peace. then we shall have the Parliament of Man of which the prophets have dreamed."
After the World War and the acquisition of Palestine by the British Abdul-Bahá was knighted in 1920 by the British Government and given the designation K.B.E. He passed away in 1921.
The first Bahá'í missionary to America appears to have been Arab Ebrahim Khairullah who went to the United States about thirty years ago and made nume rous converts at Chicago, which has remained the center of the American Bahá'ís since that time. He was later followed by a second Bahá'í missionary named Amirza Abdul Fazl who was accompanied by Ali Kuli Khan, Nabil-ed-Dowleh. The latter is doubtless known to the State Department as the Persian Charge d'Affaires in Washington responsible for the engagement in 1911 of the Schuster financial mission.
In addition to the United States where Bahá'ís have been most successful outside of Persia there have been considerable converts in Turkestan, India, Burmah, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and France.
Owing to the persecutions to which the Bahá'ís have been subjected in Persia, it is exceedingly difficult to estimate exactly their number here. They have been forbidden moreover by Baháullah to divulge the names of their fellow-Bahá'ís. It may be well however to quote so great an authority on Persia as Lord Curzon who, in his work "Persia and the Persian Question", published in 1892, the year of Baháullah's death, states:
"The lowest estimate places the present number of Babis in Persia at half a million. I am disposed to think, from conversations with persons well qualified to judge, that the total is nearer one million. They are to be found i n every walk of life, from the ministers and nobles of the Court to the scavenger or the groom, not the least arena of their activity being the Mussulman priesthood itself... If Babism continues to grow at its present rate of progression, a time may conceivably come when it will oust Mohammedanism from the field of Persia. This, I think, it would be unlikely to do, did it appear upon the ground under the flag of a hostile faith. But since its recruits are won from the best soldiers of the garrison whom it is attacking, there is greater reason to believe that it may ultimately prevail."
Bahá'ísm is an eclectic religion, which can, in my opinion, lay little claim to originality. Its universal and all-embracing character has however been of great advantage in proselytizing among the Jews, Zoroastrians, and Christians. This is expressed by Abdul-Bahá in the following words:
"It is not necessary to lower Abraham to raise Jesus. It is not necessary to lower Jesus to proclaim Baháullah. We must welcome the Truth of God wherever we behold it. The essence of the question is that all these great Messengers came to raise the Divine Standard of Perfections. All of them shine as orbs in the same heaven of the Divine Will. All of them give Light to the world."
The Bahá'ís have always contested the claim that their religion is primarily an oriental one and adapted only to
the needs of Eastern peoples. In refutation of this opinion, Abdul-Bahá stated:
"As to the meaning of the cause of Baháullah, whatever has to do with the universal good is divine, and whatever is divine is for the universal good. If it be true, it is for all; if not, it is for no one; therefore a divine cause of universal good cannot be limited to either the East or the West, for the radiance of the Sun of Truth illumines both the East and the West, and it makes its heat felt in the South and in the North - there is no difference between one Pole and another. At the time of the Manifestation of Christ, the Romans a nd Greeks thought His Cause was especially was especially for the Jews. they thought they had a perfect civilization and nothing to learn from Christ's teachings, and by this false supposition many were deprived of His Grace. Likewise know that the principles of Christianity and the Commandments of Baháullah are identical and that their paths are the same. Every day there is progress; there was a time when this divine institution (of progressive revelation) was in embryo, then new-born, then a child, then an intellectual youth;'
There is in Bahá'ísm a striking resemblance to Christian Science in the attitude of its adherents towards evil which they claim to be non-existent.
While there would appear to be little that is new in Bahá'ísm, it adheres to certain principles that have a ring of progress and modernity unknown to unreformed Islam. These outstanding features are that:
"Soon affairs will be changed in thee, and a republic of men shall rule over thee."
These words proved to be an effective weapon against the republican movement of 1924, and the accusation that the entire plan was a Bahá'í conspiracy was frequently heard. This led to a denouncement of Sardar Sepah as a Bahá'í and to the secret publication of a falsified photograph of him wearing the port rait and insignia of Baháullah. Realizing the danger of such propaganda among the fanatic populace, the Prime Minister instigated the Shiah clergy of Karbela and Nejaf to present him with a portrait of the Imam Ali, as reported in the Legation's despatch No. 815 of December 26, 1924.
I have been informed by prominent Bahá'ís in Teheran that the Prime Minister secretly cherishes a high regard for the cause, but that, owing to political considerations, he dares not express himself. It is said that at the time when he was a simple Cossack on duty at the Roshanee hospital, a Bahá'í institution, he was greatly impressed by the kindliness and humanitarianism of the Bahá'í attendants which he has never forgotten.
Be that as it may, the fact is that he has permitted Bahá'í officers of unquestionable ability to rise to high rank in the army. The outstanding of these are:
Colonel Ataollah Khan Alai, recently returned to Teheran from France where he was sent with the delegation of Persian officers sent to Saint Cyr.
Major Rahmatollah Khan Alai, Inspector.
Major Rouhollah Khan, Special Adjutant to the War Minister.
Ezzatollah Khan Alai, Department of Accounts, Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs.
Valiollah Khan Vargha, First Drogman, Turkish Embassy
Azizollah Khan Vargha, farmer.
Hass an Khan Ahiai, Imperial Bank of Persia.
integratiate [sic] himself with the corrupt Orthodox clergy. A recent evidence of this was his ostentatious visit to the holy shrines of Iraq after his campaign in Arabistan and his visit to the shrine of Sh'Abdul Azim outside Teheran before entering the city.
Even to the casual student of Islam it is obvious that Mohammedanism is in hopeless decay, more hopeless than was Catholicism before the Reformation. If it is to be saved at all, there must arise an oriental reformer who will denounce the Islamic `indulgences' as did Luther the Papal ones.
The disinterest of Bahá'ís, though in origin a Moslem sect, in the reform of Allah's faithful is a somewhat discouraging omen. Their striving for an all-expansive universality, though comprehensible, has so diluted their force in Persia as to diminish greatly their beneficent influence. One is constrained to remark that if they had concentrated less on Europe and America and more on morally bankrupt Persia their efforts would be more praiseworthy.
On the other hand, it must not be forgotten that Islam, a Semitic religion that has never been adapted to Aryan needs as has Judaism through the teachings of Christ, has always remained a misfit on this light-hearted, imaginative Aryan people, who, to escape the yoke of the Caliphate, created that absurd schism called Shiism.
Failing therefore the ideal remedy for Persia's present religious decadence, namely a national renaissance of their great historic religion Zoroastrianism, Bahá'ísm, in which there are signs of a Protestant Reformation, and
which after all is of purely Persian origin, may prove itself to be the best solution under the circumstances.
Your obedient servant,
(signed) W. Smith Murray