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Nabil-i A'zam (Mulla Muhammad Zarandi)

by Vahid Rafati

published in Encyclopaedia Iranica
New York: Columbia University, 2016
NABIL-E AʿẒAM ZARANDI, MOLLĀ MOḤAMMAD (ملّا محمد نبیل اعظم زرندی), Persian Bahai poet, teacher, and chronicler of Babi history (b. Zarand, 18 Ṣafar 1247/29 July 1831; d. ʿAkkā, Palestine, 10 Ṣafar 1310/3 September 1892).

Nabil converted to Babism around 1847 and in 1858 accepted the faith of Bahāʾ-Allāh. Born into a humble family in Zarand, he received traditional education in his childhood and worked as a shepherd in his youth, when he converted to Babism (Zarandi, p. 434).  Later in his life, he studied the writings of the Bāb and became well versed in both Islamic and Bahai literature. 

During his years as a Babi, Nabil traveled to Lorestan, Kermanshah, Tehran, and Khorasan; he met with the Babis and Babi leaders in those provinces to foster the Babi ideology and inspire the believers to arise, consolidate, and expand the new Babi communities.  He also transcribed and distributed Babi literature among the rank and file of the society to promote the Babi faith.  He was jailed in Sāva for four months because of his pro-Babi activities.  In September 1854, he set out for Baghdad and Karbala, where he stayed until October 1856. During late 1856 to July 1858, he traveled to Hamadan, his hometown Zarand, and many major Babi communities in the capital province and returned to Baghdad on 19 July 1858 (Rafati, pp. 30-31).

Nabil was one of the Babi leaders who claimed to be the promised messianic figure according to the Bāb’s prophecies, but he withdrew his claim when he recognized Bahāʾ-Allāh’s status as the fulfillment of the Bāb’s predictions and the leader of the Babis (Taherzadeh, p. 202).  Nabil became one of Bahāʾ-Allāh’s earliest followers, in 1858 in Baghdad.

Nabil’s life as a Bahai is summed up in his extensive travels throughout Iran, Iraq, Turkey, the Caucasus, Egypt, and Palestine.  In his early travels as a Bahai, he met with the Babi communities to invite them to the Bahai faith; he attracted the Babi leaders to the recognition of Bahāʾ-Allāh as the fulfillment of the Bāb’s prophecies concerning the promised messianic figure and helped reinforce the belief of the new Bahais in the teachings and principles that were being advanced by Bahāʾ-Allāh.  Through these activities, Nabil turned into an outstanding teacher, defender, and promulgator of the Bahai faith.

While Nabil was in Khorasan in spring 1866, at his suggestion, the greeting Allāho abhā (God is the most glorious) was adopted by the followers of Bahāʾ-Allāh, replacing the old salutation of Allāho akbar (God is the greatest), which was common among the Babis (Shoghi Effendi, p. 176).  This was a significant action that gave group identity to the Bahais and was a sign of their independence from the Babis and the Azalis, a Bābi faction that considered Mirzā Yaḥyā Ṣobḥ-e Azal (d. 1912) as the legitimate successor to the Bāb.

Nabil was the first Bahai to perform pilgrimage (ḥajj) to the house of the Bāb in Shiraz in fall 1866, in accordance with the rites prescribed in the Surat al-ḥajj revealed by Bahāʾ-Allāh.  He also went to Baghdad and performed the pilgrimage to the House of Bahāʾ-Allāh in spring 1867, according to another sura witten by Bahāʾ-Allāh for that purpose (Rafati, p. 36).  Nabil’s pilgrimage to those two houses marked the inception of pilgrimage laws ordained by Bahāʾ-Allāh later in his Ketāb-e aqdas (Shoghi Effendi, pp. 176-77).


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