Bahá'í PersecutionsEncyclopaedia Iranica, Volume 3
New York: Columbia University, 1989
Bahai persecutions were a pattern of continuing discriminatory measures against adherents and institutions of the Bahai religion, punctuated by outbreaks of both random and organized violence against individuals and property. Although Bahai accounts conflate earlier episodes involving Babis with those concerned with Bahais in the proper sense, there are good grounds for avoiding this approach in analyzing what are really quite distinct phenomena. At the same time, it is worth observing that much of the original animus against Bahais was rooted in fears roused by Babi militancy between 1848 and 1853.
Persecution in the late 19th and 20th centuries was ostensibly motivated and justified by religious considerations, whereas in recent decades anti-Bahai polemic has become heavily politicized, even under the Islamic Republic. Nevertheless, social and economic factors cannot be discounted in the earlier period any more than simple religious prejudice in the later. The earliest anti-Bahai activities were essentially continuations of previous attacks on Babis and took the form of isolated beatings, expulsions, lootings, or killings; such incidents were almost always initiated by individual ʿolamāʾ or local government officials for whom they were expedient. From the 1920s, however, physical attacks gave way on the whole to general civil and religious discrimination, representing a broader consensus of anti-Bahai feeling at all levels of society. Even then, the potential for actual violence was never far beneath the surface, as demonstrated by the events of 1955 and the 1980s.
The main accusations leveled against the Bahais may be found in the extensive anti-Bahai polemical literature published in Iran since the last century (see the bibliography). Religiously, Bahais are considered koffār (unbelievers) in that they claim a book and prophet chronologically posterior to the Koran and Moḥammad, regard the Islamic šarīʿa (canonical law) as abrogated and replaced by that of their own faith, and seek to convert Muslims to their beliefs. More recently, however, it has become customary to condemn Bahaism precisely because it is “not a religion” but a political movement working in conjunction with royalist, Zionist, American, British, or other agencies for the subversion of Islam and the Iranian nation. It is perhaps worth placing on record here that no convincing evidence has ever been presented for Bahai involvement with British, Israeli, or American intelligence or with SAVAK (the state security agency): the real reasons for Bahai unpopularity must be sought on deeper social and psychological levels.
Among incidents in the Qajar period, the following may be noted: the execution of three Bahais in Tabrīz in 1283/1867, following the murder of an Azalī Babi by one of the accused; several outbreaks of trouble in the Isfahan region, including a wave of arrests in 1291/1874, the executions of two wealthy Bahai merchants in 1296/1879, and mass expulsions in Najafābād and Sedeh in 1306/1889—in these and other incidents, major roles were played by Shaikh Moḥammad-Bāqer Eṣfahānī, his son Shaikh Moḥammad-Taqī (Āqā Najafī), Mīr Sayyed Moḥammad, the emām-e jomʿa of Isfahan, and Solṭān-Masʿūd Mīrzā Ẓell-al-Solṭān; the arrest of some 50 Bahais, including several leaders of the movement, in Tehran in 1300/1883; the murder of 5 Bahais in Torbat-e Ḥaydarī in 1314/1896; the murder of Ḥājī Moḥammad Tabrīzī in Mašhad in 1315/1898, leading to a prolonged wrangle between the prime minister (Amīn-al-Dawla) and the authorities in Mašhad; further disturbances in Najafābād in 1316-17/1897, involving a bast (seeking the protection of an inviolate location) of some 300 people at the British telegraph office; the execution of 7 Bahais in Yazd in 1308/1901, on the orders of Solṭān-Ḥosayn Mīrzā Jalāl-al-Dawla; and a series of disturbances in 1321/1903, in Rašt, Isfahan (where 3 Bahais were killed and some 4,000 sought bast in the Russian consulate), and Yazd (where about 100 Bahais were put to death). (For details of these and other incidents, see in particular Momen, Bābí and Baháʾí Religions; Nicolas, Massacres; Browne, Materials, chap. 7; Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, pp. 198-203, 296-99.)
In the course of these and other outrages against Bahais, frequent representations were made to the Iranian government by the British and Russian legations, but at no time were serious measures taken to proceed against the guilty parties or to prevent further outbreaks. The Bahai incidents may thus be considered as particular foci for foreign concern about issues of civil liberties and the enforcement of law and order in Iran at this period.
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