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Iran, Bahá'í Community of

by Vahid Rafati

published in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Volume 3
New York: Columbia University, 1989
Origins. With the Declaration of the Bāb in 1260/1844, followed by his being accepted as the promised Qāʾem (the Hidden Imam) by a handful of early believers, the first Babi community was born in the city of Shiraz. As his claims spread and the missionary journeys of his earliest believers, known as Letters of the Living (Ḥorūf al-ḥayy), and other disciples intensified, more communities were formed, chiefly along the route taken by Mollā Ḥosayn Bošrūʾī (d. 1849) from Shiraz in the south, to Tehran in the north, and several locations in his home province, Khorasan. Qoddūs (d. 1849) and Moqaddas’s (d. 1889) activities in Kermān, Yazd, and other central cities, Bahāʾ-Allāh’s (d. 1892) visit to Māzandarān, and Ṭāhera’s (d. 1852) journeys from Karbalāʾ to Qazvīn, through western provinces, made enough converts to establish communities in all those provinces. The Bāb’s own journey from Shiraz towards the north (to Kolayn, several kilometers south of Tehran), and then to Tabrīz, via Qazvīn and Zanjān, strengthened, consolidated, and enlarged the communities that had already been established in those areas. By July, 1850, when the Bāb was executed in Tabrīz, there was no province in the entire country in which from a few up to ten Babi communities had not been established. These early Babi communities of Muslim converts, who were generally from Shaikhi background, had come from various strata of Persian society, although a few Jews and Zoroastrians had also joined the movement (Māzandarānī, 1943, p. 395; Samandar, p. 348).

The Bāb proclaimed the absolute truth of religious evolution, asserted the continuity of revelation, as opposed to its finality, a doctrine dogmatically held by the Muslims, brought a new Book and laid down laws and ordinances for a new religious order. He provided his believers with a motivation towards new standards of living, longing for advancement, and desire for change in their outlook. The spirit of the new day and order, enshrined in the writings of the Bāb, was sufficient to energize the communities to work in a collective unity for the creation of change towards improved private and social conditions.

The formation of the Babi communities in Iran was a direct result of intensified missionary activities of individual believers who attracted people to their cause. The conversion of a nobleman, a landlord, or a learned cleric provided an element of encouragement for large-scale conversion in some localities, while a sympathetic attitude on the part of some officials and religious authorities helped the rapid expansion of the community. A distinguishing feature of the early Babi communities was their eagerness to hold dawn prayers, listen to sermons, and attend study groups to read and discuss the writings of the faith. Meetings with non-believers to discuss religious matters, aimed at attracting them to the faith, and meetings with traveling teachers or passing believers were the most common social activities of the early communities. The strongest Babi communities in the rural areas, in terms of population and stability, were formed in Sangsar near Semnān, Najafābād near Isfahan, and Saysān near Tabrīz; however, numerous towns and cities also had large communities. The social life of the early communities was characterized by continuous interaction with the non-Babi populace, which was naturally hostile to the emergence of a new religion. The result, almost everywhere in the entire country, was social and religious conflict; persecution, restriction, banishment, and execution of the Babis.

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