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Short biography of an Iranian Hand of the Cause of God.
Written for possible inclusion in The Bahá'í Encyclopedia. Posted with permission of both the author and of the editor of the Encyclopedia project. Mirrored with permission from

Akhund, Haji (Haji Mulla `Ali-Akbar Shahmirzadi)

by Moojan Momen

Akhund, Haji. Haji Mulla `Ali-Akbar Shahmirzadi (1258/1842-1910), known as Haji Akhund, a prominent Iranian Bahá'í who was named by Bahá'u'lláh as a Hand of the Cause (q.v.). In the tablets of Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá he is often addressed as "`Ali qabl-i-Akbar" (`Ali before Akbar)

Haji Akhund (the word Akhund means roughly the same as mulla, a cleric) was born in 1258/1842 in the village of Shahmirzad which is situated some thirty kilometers north of the town of Simnan, which is about one-quarter of the way along the road from Tehran to Mashhad. The village had been a stronghold of the new religion from the time of the Bab, and some of its inhabitants had been among the defenders of Shaykh Tabarsi (q.v.). Haji Akhund's father, Mulla `Abbas, had been a follower of Aqa Mir Muhammad `Ali, a prominent cleric of the area who had raised an adventist fervor among the people by prophesying the near advent of the Imam Mahdi. Mulla `Abbas had accompanied Aqa Mir Muhammad `Ali to Karbala and had become a Babi there. The defeat of the Babis at Shaykh Tabarsi, however, had put doubts into his mind and his ardor had cooled.

Haji Akhund thus grew up in a household in which there was some mention of the new religion. It was not, however, until he grew up, married his cousin, and went to Mashhad to further his clerical education that Haji Akhund learned more about the new religion. In Mashhad he enquired among many different religious groups: Sufis, Shaykhis, and the legal scholars. He eventually came across a copy of Bahá'u'lláh's Book of Certitude (q.v.) and, after discussions with Mulla Sadiq Muqaddas (q.v.) and others, he became a Babi in about 1861.

In Mashhad, Haji Akhund started to teach his new-found faith among his fellow students. Some were converted but most rejected and persecuted him. On his return to Shahmirzad, Haji Akhund again engaged the mullas of the area in religious debates about the new religion. This resulted in much antagonism towards him so that eventually he was forced to leave his home, his wife and child, and his possessions, and migrate to Tehran.

Haji Akhund's enemies in his home village did not leave matters alone, however, and wrote to Mulla `Ali Kani, one of the leading mujtahids of Tehran, who ordered Haji Akhund's arrest and imprisonment in 1868. He was eventually freed through the intervention of Mirza `Isa, minister to the governor of Tehran.

At about this time instructions came from Bahá'u'lláh in Edirne for Haji Akhund and Sayyid Jamal Burujirdi to remove the remains of the Bab from the shrine of Imamzadih Ma`sum where they had been concealed. This proved providential, as shortly afterwards the custodians of that shrine embarked on a program of reconstruction that would have led to the discovery of the remains. Haji Akhund and Sayyid Jamal took the remains to Shah `Abdu'l-`Azim but could not find a safe hiding-place there, and so they set off for Chashmih-`Ali. On the way, they came across the dilapidated buildings of the Mosque of Masha'u'llah, where they buried the casket under bricks in a niche in the wall. Unfortunately, they found on the next day that the hiding-place had been discovered and the casket tampered with. They therefore took the casket to Tehran and managed to get it in past the guarded gates of the city. They deposited the remains in the home of one of the Bahá'ís, Mirza Hasan Vazir. Haji Akhund rented a room in this house and lived there as custodian of the remains of the Bab for a period of fifteen months. It happened, however, that word of the presence of the remains of the Bab spread, and Bahá'ís began to arrive in large numbers to pay their respects. There was a danger of the remains being discovered and so Haji Akhund wrote to Bahá'u'lláh seeking guidance. Bahá'u'lláh sent Haji Shah-Muhammad Manshadi to remove the remains to another location that would be secret.

In Tehran, Haji Akhund lived in various Bahá'í households and was soon one of the focal points of the community there. He became one of the main channels through which the Bahá'ís communicated with Bahá'u'lláh and received his replies. He also became well-known to the authorities as one of the leading Bahá'ís and thus a target of persecution. `Abdu'l-Bahá writes that whenever the Haji heard of an outburst of persecution of the Bahá'ís, he would wrap his cloak around him and await the arrival of the guards to arrest him (MF 11). Over the years he succeeded in renewing his father's faith, as well as converting his two brothers and four sisters, and other inhabitants of his home village.

In about 1287/1870-71, Haji Akhund traveled to Akka to visit Bahá'u'lláh. During his absence, his wife died and, on his return to Tehran, Haji Akhund married in 1289/1872 Fatimih Bagum of Isfahan, a descendant of one of the Safavid kings. On only the third day of their marriage, government officers broke into their home and arrested the Haji on the orders of the governor of Tehran, Kamran Mirza Nayibu's-Saltanih. Haji Akhund spent seven months in prison, until one day the Shah ordered prisoners in the `Anbar prison of Tehran to be released as thanksgiving for his deliverance from serious injury in a fall from his horse. After staying in his home for about two months, Haji Akhund set off on a three-month tour of the Bahá'í communities in Mazandaran. After a further brief spell at home, Haji Akhund set off again for Akka, where he remained for six months.

At the end of 1882, Haji Akhund was again arrested as part of the general round-up of Tehran Bahá'ís that occurred on the orders of Kamran Mirza Nayibu's-Saltanih and at the instigation of the mujtahid Sayyid Sadiq Sanglaji. On this occasion, Haji Akhund remained in prison with his fellow-Bahá'ís for two years.

Haji Akhund was imprisoned on several further occasions. In 1305/1887 he was arrested together with a number of the Bahá'ís. He then traveled again to Akka and stayed for some time. It was at about this time that he was appointed a Hand of the Cause. In April 1891, when the Shah was trying to suppress the growing demand for reforms, he ordered the arrest of a number of the leading reformers. Among these, although they had no connection with the political agitation, were two Bahá'ís, Haji Akhund and Haji Abu'l-Hasan Amin (q.v.), who were kept in prison in Tehran and Qazvin for two years.

During this last imprisonment, Bahá'u'lláh had passed away and, when Haji Akhund was released, he departed for Akka in 1312/1894. He learned there of the rebellion of Mirza Muhammad `Ali (q.v.) against `Abdu'l-Bahá. With `Abdu'l-Bahá's permission, Haji Akhund met with Mirza Muhammad `Ali and tried unsuccessfully to persuade him to alter his stance.

Upon his return to Tehran, Haji Akhund began to emphasize the Covenant (q.v.) and moved to forestall the activities of the Covenant-breakers (q.v.). He acted in concert with the other Hands of the Cause in setting up a consulting assembly in Tehran in 1315/1897, which evolved into an elected Central Spiritual Assembly in 1317/1899. He died in Tehran on 4 March 1910 and was buried in the shrine of Imamzadih Ma`sum. He left behind one son and several daughters

Bibliography. MF 9-12. BKG 265-6. Biography by Shapur Rasikh in `Ala'i (ed.), Mu'assisih Ayadi Amru'llah 371-401. ZH 6:394-98; 8a:327-29. TS 233-6.

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