Persecutions of Babis in 1888-1891 at Isfahan and Yazd
by Varioustranslated by E.G. Browne
published in Materials for the Study of the Babi Religion
original written in Persian.
The persecutions at Si-dih and Najafábád near Isfahán took place in the latter part of 1888 and beginning of 1889; Mírzá Ashraf of `Abáda was put to death at Isfahán in October, 1888; and the Yazd persecutions took place in May, 1891. Of Mírzá Ashraf's martyrdom I published an account in the J.R.A.S. for 1888, pp. 998—9, and concerning the Yazd persecution I received several letters at the time from `Akká, enclosing one from Yazd, of which I shall here give the translations. First, however, I shall quote extracts from three letters received during the autumn of 1889 and the spring of 1890 from English residents in Persia, which throw some light on the persecutions of Si-dih and Najafábád.
Julfá, Isfahán; September 6, 1889.
other in Najafábád. In Si-dih, where the Bábí community is small, their houses were burned and their wives and children ill- treated. The men saved themselves by flight to Tihrán, and I am told that about 25 of them have just returned to Isfahán and are in the Prince's stables in bast1. In Najafábád there are about 2000 Bábís. They tried the same game with them, but some hundreds of them took refuge in the English Telegraph Office in Julfá, and the Prince took their part and banished from Najafábád to Karbalá the Mujtahid who persecuted them, so the result is that they are freer now than they have ever been. I took very great interest in the poor people, not only for their own sakes, but for the sake of Persia also; as, if liberty is gained for them, it will be a great step towards breaking the power of the Mullás and getting liberty for all. Just before the last persecution of the Bábís the Mujtahids in Isfahán, especially Hájji [sic] Najafí, tried a persecution of Jews also, and threatened Christians with the same. The 13 rules (of `Umar I believe, at least most of them may be traced to him) were enforced for a short time: (1) that no Jew should wear an `abá2; (2) that they should wear a mark on their dress; (3) not to ride any beast of burden in the city; (4) not to leave their houses on a wet day3; (5) not to purchase merchandize [sic] from a Muslim; (6) that when a Jew meets a Muslim he is to salute him and walk behind him; (7) not to return abuse; (8) not to build a house higher than a Muslim neighbour; (9) not to eat in the presence of a Muslim during Ramazán, etc, etc."
1 i.e. sanctuary.
Tihrán, December 12, 1889.
"The spread of Bábism of late in Persia, particularly its development during the Sháh's absence, has caused much surprise, and is likely to give us trouble. But the question is, what are the real ideas of most of those professing Bábism. Do they look upon themselves as followers of a new religion, or as the members of a society for political and social reform?..."
British Legation, Tihrán, April 13, 1890.
reference to the young Bábí who brought Bahá's letter to the Sháh1, without, I am sorry to say, finding any notification at all of the event, but I am told that it was in the summer (about July) of 1871 or 1872, and have still hopes of getting an authentic date fixed. Had such an event occurred under our present Minister it would most undoubtedly have been recorded, but in those days Persia was not so well known as it is now, and affairs were conducted less minutely....
"You have doubtless heard of the late Bábí massacre at Isfahán, and I will only therefore tell you, in case you have not, the principal points. They are inhabitants of a district called Si-dih, and last summer a large number of them, owing to constant persecution, left their villages and came to Isfahán, whence after a time they returned home, with the exception of a certain number who came to Tihrán. On the return of these men to their homes about six weeks ago they were met and attacked by a mob headed by a man called Áqá Najafí, and seven or eight of them were killed and their bodies burnt with oil. They then took refuge at the Telegraph Office, and finally, after persistent representations from this Legation, have been received by the Deputy Governor. It is hoped that on the Zill[u's-Sultán]'s return in a few days they will be able to go home. Áqá Najafí has been summoned to Tihrán and well received. Of course they are said to be Bábís, though there seems to be no real proof that they are of that persuasion. When the murders took place they were under the care of an escort which was intimidated by the mob and left them."
Concerning the Yazd persecution I received four letters in Persian, of which translations of the relevant portions here follow.
1 i.e. Mirza Badi`. See pp.262—4 supra and footnote to p. 262.
1 See my Persian Revolution, pp.
liberty. So the government determined to attack them, thinking to extirpate and crush them. The partisans of Malkom Khán and Jamálu'd- Dín devised a plan to alarm, intimidate, and greatly disturb the government by involving the Bábís also in suspicion, and wrote pamphlets so worded that it might appear that there was an alliance between these and themselves. To be brief, they arrested Malkom Khán's brother with your friend the Mírzá of Hamadán1 and several others, and also two Bábís, and the government officials, without any enquiry or investigation, began on every side to persecute this oppressed community, although these poor innocents, as I swear by God's Might, knew absolutely nothing of this agitation and disturbance, non-interference in political matters being required by their creed.
"No sooner did this news reach Isfahán that the Prince [Zillu's-Sultán], one of whose confidential advisers had been accused and arrested, considered it expedient, for the exculpation of himself from all suspicion of complicity in this plot and for the concealment of his own evil deeds, to inaugurate a violent and cruel persecution of the Bábís. So he entered into correspondence with [his son] Prince Jalálu'd-Dawla, and a persecution was set on foot in the city of Yazd and the surrounding villages, where such cruelties and injustices were perpetrated as are unparalleled in the history of the world.
"Amongst other instances, with chains and fetters, swords and scimitars, they dragged seven men, to whose purity, nobility, excellence, and virtue all bore witness, who had
1 A former attaché at the Persian Legation in London. He was recalled to Persia when Mírzá Malkom Khán was dismissed from the post of Minister. Some time afterwards, in the early part of this year (1891), he was arrested, cast into prison, and, I believe, narrowly escaped death.
never in their lives injured even an ant, and against whom nothing could be alleged save that they were Bábís, before a few ignorant wretches like unto Annas and Caiaphas who account themselves learned, and commanded them to disavow their connection with this creed. When they refused to do this, and indeed confessed and admitted it, they beheaded each of these poor oppressed ones in a public thoroughfare, affixed them to gibbets, dragged their bodies with ropes through the streets and bázárs, and at length cut them in fragments and burned them with fire. Some others they spirited away, and it is not known what sufferings were inflicted upon them. About a thousand persons have fled from Yazd into the wilderness and open country, some have died from thirst in the mountains and plains, and all their possessions have been plundered and spoiled. Oppression and tyranny have so destroyed and uprooted these poor oppressed people that for several days the families and wives and children of the murdered men were weeping, sorrowing, and shivering, hungry and thirsty, in underground cellars, unable even to ask for water; none had any pity for them, but only blows; and indeed the common people, incited and goaded on by the clergy and the government, strove to injure them in every way, in which endeavour they showed neither ruth nor remission. Only after some days certain Christian merchants who were passing through Yazd brought bread and water for the children of the victims; but the poor unfortunates were so filled with fear and apprehension that they would not open the door. That night all the townsfolk decorated and illuminated the city and made great rejoicings that so signal a victory and so glorious a triumph had been accomplished, not seeing in their ignorance that in truth they are striking the axe on their own roots and rejoicing thereat, and overthrowing the foundations of
their own house and accounting it eternal life. Moreover they fail to see that the tears of the oppressed are a rising torrent and the sighs of the victims a kindling fire!..."
"The appearance of afflictions and calamities in the Land of Yá (Yazd). The eye of Justice weepeth: Equity waileth! O God! In Persia men glory in cruelty, oppression, ruthlessness, and the attributes of beasts of prey! The wolves of the islands of ignorance and folly have torn God's lambs. Grievous loss they account great gain. To-day lamentation arises from all things in the Land of Yá, and the moans and mourning of the Josephs of the Spirit rise up from the pit of the seat of the oppressors. A grievous wound hath been inflicted on the bosom of Justice, and a sore blow hath fallen on the frame of Equity. The hunters of hatred lie in ambush for the gazelles of the plains of love and purity, and shameless unblushing tyrants pursue after babes in their cradles. In place of Justice and its hosts stand Oppression and its troops. Mercy has become in Persia like the Phoenix, a mere name without substance, and equity like the Philosopher's Stone1, heard of, but not seen!
"On the evening of the 23rd of Ramazán2 a mighty dust and smoke of spirit rose up from the hatred and malice of the unbelievers and scoffers, in such wise that it obscured the radiance of the luminary of Justice, nay, blotted it out.
1 Kibrít-i-Ahmar, lit.
Without cause of reason they seized two poor friendless victims, Áqá `Alí and Áqá `Alí Asghar (upon whom be the Splendour of God and His Grace), in the mosque of Shaykh Hasan of Sabzawár, and carried them in the custody of Hájji [sic] Na'ib before the Prince with every kind of indignity. Then they inflicted on them all manner of punishments, and afterwards imprisoned them. They took from them, as is related, all the money they could get and then released them.
"After this another smoke arose from the well-springs of wickedness and sin, and that seizure of saintly souls was at another time. They arrested seven, amongst them being Mullá `Alí of Sabzawár and likewise Mullá Mahdí (upon whom be the Splendour of God and His Grace). The Prince said to one, `Recant, that I may release thee.' That truly devoted man replied, `For forty years I have been awaiting this day: praise be to God that to-day I have attained to it!' Another, as he was being dragged through the streets, cried to the executions, farráshes, and spectators, `O people! The Chief of martyrs said, "Is there anyone who will help me (yansuru-ní)?" But I say, "Is there anyone who will look upon me (yanzuru-ní)?"'
"At all events, in such wise the fire of persecution kindled that the pen is unable to portray it. These two saintly souls, together with the others, laid down their lives with the utmost steadfastness. The blood of these it is which now causes the people of Persia to hear somewhat of the matter and maintain silence, or even acquiesce. The people of Persia have held no intercourse with strangers because (God is our refuge!) they regarded them all as unclean, and accounted it unlawful to converse with them. Now, by the Grace of this Most Mighty Manifestation, the gates of Wisdom are opened, and these immoderate barbarisms,
these shunnings and repellings, are departing from their midst, while He hath gladdened them with the good tidings of friendly converse and association, and caused them to attain thereunto. The blood of lovers hath wrought miracles throughout the horizons and hath driven away the causes of isolation with the scourge of the Bayán, substituting in their place an approach to peace and quietude, so that now most of them [i.e. the Persians] hold friendly and familiar intercourse with all nations of the world. In truth there hath been made manifest a love for all mankind which seemed to human eyes an impossibility. Blessed is the Beneficent One, the Lord of great bounty! Now all have become eyes to see and ears to hear. The hosts of confession have driven denial from the field. Think on the influence of the Supreme Pen and the power of the Most High Word, how great a change they have wrought and how they have brought night [what seemed unattainable].
"To return, however. They martyred those of whom we have spoken with the worst torments in the world. One they strangled to death with the bow- string, and after him they slew and carried away the rest. Some with stones, some with sticks, some with chains, and some with weapons of war, they tore in pieces those holy frames. Afterwards they set fire [to their bodies] and cast their bones into pits. According to the accounts received, a thousand persons have fled into the wilderness, neither is it known whither they have gone or what has become of them. And in those days none enquired after the widows and children of these wronged ones nor went near them, through fear and dread, and the unfortunate ones remained without food. But, as has been heard, some of the followers of His Holiness the Spirit1
1 Rúhu'lláh, i.e. Jesus Christ.
(may God Strengthen them!) went with the utmost secrecy and without the knowledge of any man and succoured them, sending them daily provision. O spiritual friend! to-day [sic: l/c in original] lamentation arises from the very pebbles in the deserts and wailing goes up from the trees! On the night of that day by command of the government the people held high festival and made great rejoicing, as though they had captured a kingdom."
there. Then they came out thence with trumpets and drums and many other instruments of music, accompanied by a great multitude shouting and clamouring. At the back of the Telegraph Office they tried to make Mullá Mahdí of Khawírak (an old man about eighty years of age) curse the Báb. He answered, `For forty years I have been expecting this day.' So they cut his throat even where he stood, and ere he was dead ripped open his belly and cast stones at him. After that they carried away his body and set fire to it. They next beheaded Áqá `Alí (a man of about thirty years of age) opposite to the gate of Jazíra-i-Mullá, stuck the head on a spear, and stoned the body. Mullá Alí of Sabzawár they brought to the door of Shaykh Hasan of Sabzawár. He cried out, The Imám Husayn, the Chief of martyrs, said to the people, "Will any help me?" but I say, "Will any look upon me?"' Him also they beheaded and cast stones at his body. And his age was about thirty-five. Then they beheaded Áqá Muhammad Báqir at the door of the Sadr's house. He also was about thirty-five years old. Two others, brothers, they carried to the Maydán-i-Sháh. According to some accounts they bound Áqá Asghar (aged about twenty-five) to a tree, first cut off his hands, then beheaded and stoned him. The other brother, Áqá Hasan, aged twenty years, they beat and chased about, saying, `Revile the Báb!' He answered, `What should I say? Do what you are commanded.' One of those present cried out, `Let every one who loves `Alí strike a blow at him.' A man thrust a sword into his side, and the rest then cut his body to pieces with their daggers, while another drove a spear into his breast. Then the executioner severed his head from his body, stuck it on his knife, and carried it to Shaykh Hasan of Sabzawár, famed for his learning, from whom he receive a present of ten tumans (£3). The body,
as it would seem, was burned, while the head was paraded through that quarter of the town. Some of the bodies they dragged in the dust round the bázárs, while the people pelted them with stones, or struck them with sticks. Afterwards they carried away what was left of the bodies and cast them all together into a well. Then, by the Prince's command, they illuminated and decorated the city. For two nights the populace continued their rejoicings, and shut up all the shops in the bázárs. One can easily imagine what took place at such a time: the people congratulated one another, and played music at the doors of the murdered men, while their poor widows and children shut themselves within and none dared bring anything for them, neither did they dare to go out. Some paid fines and were suffered to go forth, and some were cast into prison. At length after all this they seized a saintly old man named Hájjí Mullá Muhammad Ibráhim Mas'ila-gú, who had always been noted for his learning, virtue, and piety, and had afterwards become a Bábí, and imprisoned him. Some Europeans made intercession for him. At length the Prince said, `I will not kill him; I will send him to Tihrán.' But, as it would appear, traces of his mangled limbs and body were afterwards seen outside the city, and in all probability he too was secretly put to death.
"Since the utmost tumult and disorder prevail, it is impossible to obtain an accurate account of all that took place. I have written it very briefly: the full details far exceed this. We have no certain account of the cruelties and indignities suffered by Hájjí Muhammad Ibráhím. The greater part of what happened I have not written, and much is not know. According to later information quiet has been restored and the arrests have ceased. Since that we have had no further news."
"Three days after their release, Prince Jalálu'd-Dawla again demanded them at the hands of the Farrásh- báshí, who set himself to discover them. One Mahdí by name, the son of Ustád Báqir the druggist, offered his services to the Farrásh-báshí, saying, `I know where they are, and will point them out to you.' So he accompanied the Farrásh- báshí, together with ten farráshes, as a guide, and led them to the house of Ustád `Abdu'r-Rahím Mushkí-báf, where they arrested these two men and five others who were with them in the house. The seven they seized and brought before the Prince-governor, Jalálu'd-Dawla, striking them
often on the way about the face and head, and finally casting them into prison. The names of the other five prisoners were, Mullá `Alí of Sabzawár, Asghar, Hasan, Áqá Báqír, and Mullá Mahdí. "Next day Prince Jalálu'd-Dawla summoned them before him and interrogated them, bidding them curse and revile [the Báb], that he might set them free. They refused to do this, and frankly avowed that they were Bábís.
"The clergy, who have ever been mischief-makers and are always eager to provoke trouble and bloodshed, hastened to avail themselves of this opportunity, and urged Prince Jalálu'd-Dawla to kill these seven men. So far as can be ascertained, the Prince wrote his consent and desired the clergy to ratify it with their seals and signatures. So they agreed to make these seven pass beneath the sword of cruelty and injustice. While the Prince was interrogating them, some of his own attendants who were in his presence were filled with wonder and amazement, saying to themselves, `These have done nothing for which they deserve to incur wrath and punishment!'
"On the morning of Monday the 9th of Shawwál (May 18, 1891) the following members of the clergy, Shaykh Hasan of Sabzawár, Shaykh Muhammad Taqí of Sabzawár, Mírzá Sayyid `Alí Mudarris, Mullá Hasan of Ardakán, and Mullá Husayn of Ardakán came to Prince Jalálu'd-Dawla's palace. They were concealed behind a curtain, and the seven Bábís were then brought in. The Prince said to them, `I wish to set you free. Now by my head I conjure you to tell me truly whether you are Bábís or not.' ` Yes,' they replied, `we are Bábís,' confessing and acknowledging it. The clergy who were concealed behind the curtain of deceit heard their avowal, and at once wrote
out and sealed the warrant for their death. The executioner was summoned forthwith and ordered to slay them. `Ali Asghar was strangled with the bow-string in the Prince's presence in the most cruel manner. The other six were led through the bázárs with music and beating of drums to the market-place, where they were killed one after another. The rabble of the people mobbed them, striking them with sticks, spitting on them, reviling them and mocking them. As the throat of each one was cut, the mob tore open the body to look at the heart, saying, `How bold they are in the presence of death and the death- warrant and the headsman! With what strength of heart do they yield up their life, while no word of cursing or reviling escapes their lips! We must see what sort of hearts they have.'
"When they had slain all the seven, they poured tar over their bodies and set fire to them. Never before this day have such behaviour, such malevolence and wickedness, been seen in any people as are seen amongst these Shí`ites in Persia. One of the Bábís (he who was named Asghar) they bound to a tree in the market-place, cut off his hands with the sword, then ripped open his belly, and finally beheaded him. Another, Hasan, they wounded in the head with swords and sticks, driving him about the market-place and bidding him curse and revile [the Báb]. `What should I say?' he answered, `do whatever is commanded you.' So they cut him in pieces.
"Till sunset of that day the bodies of these seven were in the hands of the roughs and rabble of the populace, and they brutally pelted them with stones, set fire to them, and burned them. After they had killed them and burned their bodies they asked permission of Prince Jalálu'd-Dawla to illuminate the city, and he give [sic] them permission for two nights, but such was the disorderly conduct of the roughs and the
exultation of the clergy on the first night that permission for the next night was withdrawn. "The widows and children of these seven men dared not, for fear of the mob, leave their houses or enter the bázárs even to obtain food and drink, and so remained without water or food until at length some Christian merchants of the Dutch nation sent provisions to them.
"After the blood of these seven had been shed, a Bábí named Hájjí Mullá Muhammad Ibráhím Mas'ila-gú, who had gone to a place ten hours distant from the city towards the mountains, was followed and arrested by Hájjí Ná'ib the Farrásh- báshí, severely beaten, brought back with every indignity to the city, carried before Prince Jalálu'd-Dawla, and cast into prison. His wife and children went to the Dutch merchants and entreated them to intercede and deliver him from the cruel clutches of his persecutors. These accordingly went before the Prince, but he would not admit their mediation, and declared that he had already sent the man to Tihrán. On the following night he slew him with his own hands and had the body cast into a well.
"By reason of these events many persons have fled into the surrounding country, and a strange commotion and disquietude prevail. The authorities have made it a pretext for extorting money, and have fined and mulcted many persons. They have also arrested several more, who are still in prison. They seized one named Áqá Husayn, a silk-merchant, who had in his possession nearly five hundred túmáns' (£150) worth of silk belonging to himself and others, all of which they took from him. The clergy and Prince Jalálu'd-Dawla have made this thing a means of obtaining money, and have extorted large sums from all [the Bábís], leaving their wives and children without bread.
"Never before has such injustice been seen. Why
should loyal and obedient subjects, who have been guilty of no offence, and who seek but to reform men's morals and to increase the welfare of the world, be subjected to such cruel persecutions by order of the foolish ones of the earth who show themselves under a garb of knowledge? Why should they be compelled to flee as outlaws and to wander as beggars from door to door, or be scattered abroad in mountains and deserts? Loyalty forbids us to appeal to foreign Powers, and we can but cry in our anguish, `O God! We submit with patience and resignation to what we suffer at the hands of these godless, merciless and cruel people!' Thus do we tell our sorrow to our God, praying Him to take away from us the wickedness and oppression of the froward and ignorant ones of the earth. We have no helper but God, and none to support and succour us save Him.
"This which has been written is a full account of the events of these days and the tyranny of the clergy and Prince Jalálu'd-Dawla. We do not complain of the cruelty of the common folk, for they are completely under the control of the clergy and Prince Jalálu'd-Dawla. The city is now in a most disturbed state, and the roughs and rowdies act as they please; whatever they do no one hinders them. Several other persons were cast into prison, but it is not known what they will do with them. I have nothing further to add."