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TAGS: African diaspora; Bab, Life of (documents); Babi history; Bahaullah, Life of (documents); Criticism and apologetics; Isfandiyar; Research Department, Questions and answers; Servants; Slavery
LOCATIONS: Iran (documents)
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Whether or not the servants of the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh were slaves, and a list of relevant sources for further research.
Submitted by and name retained with permission of recipient.

Servants in the Households of Baha'u'llah and the Bab

by / on behalf of Universal House of Justice


To: The Universal House of Justice
From: Research Department
Date: 2 February 2000

The Research Department has considered the questions raised by Mr. Peter Terry, in his email message of 2 December 1999. Mr. Terry states that on some Internet discussion groups there is a discussion on the personal status of Mubarak, Isfandiyar and other Ethiopian servants in the households of the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh (and other believers). Mr. Terry ... states that "it has been alleged that the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice deliberately concealed" information on the status of the servants. Mr. Terry requests that he be sent information relevant to the above, or that a statement be prepared by the Research Department "in response to these allegations". We reply as follows.

By way of introduction, we note that, as Mr. Terry is no doubt aware, the Bahá'í Faith is the first religion to explicitly ban slavery in its Sacred Scripture. Bahá'u'lláh prohibited this practice in clear and un-ambiguous language. In the Kitab-i-Aqdas (paragraph 72), it is stated:
It is forbidden you to trade in slaves, be they men or women. It is not for him who is himself a servant to buy another of God's servants, and this hath been prohibited in His Holy Tablet. Thus, by His mercy, hath the commandment been recorded by the Pen of justice. Let no man exalt himself above another; all are but bondslaves before the Lord, and all exemplify the truth that there is none other God but Him. He, verily, is the All-Wise, Whose wisdom encompasseth all things.
Returning to Mr. Terry's questions regarding the lives of servants of African descent in the households of Bahá'u'lláh and the Bab, we note that very little is known on the subject, and the information available is highly fragmentary and anecdotal in nature. Currently, the only work on this subject is Abu'l-Qasim Afnan's Black Pearls: Servants in the Households of the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh (Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 1988). In addition, we have found references to servants of the Holy Family in the following works:
  • The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by 'Abdu'l-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912 (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1995). On pages 426-427, 'Abdu'l-Bahá recounts the services of Isfandiyar, and praises his character and his loyalty to the Holy Family.

  • The Dawn-Breakers: Nabil's Narrative of the Early Days of the Bahá'í Revelation (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1996). Several references to Mubarak are found in this work, including his role in the first days of the Declaration of the Bab and his services to the Bab during His pilgrimage to Mecca. See pages 53-54, 62, 66, 68, 96, 129, 132-133 and 148.

  • An article entitled "The Sterling Faithfulness of Esfandayar [sic], Story told by 'Abdu'l-Bahá: From the Diary of Mirza Ahmad Sohrab, October 25, 1913" appears in Star of the West, volume 9 (April 28, 1918), number 3 (pages 38-39), and recounts the services of Isfandiyar to the Holy Family, his character and the love of 'Abdu'l-Bahá for him.

  • The Chosen Highway (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1967) contains recollections of the Greatest Holy Leaf concerning the loyalty to the Holy Family of Isfandiyar and a woman of African descent (pages 41 and 43).

  • Mahmud's Diary: The Diary of Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani Chronicling 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Journey to America (Oxford: George Ronald, 1998) contains two remarks of 'Abdu'l-Bahá praising Isfandiyar (pages 367, 384).

  • A Gift of Love Offered to the Greatest Holy Leaf (Gloria Faizi, 1982), by Hand of the Cause Abu'l-Qasim Faizi, includes a brief summary of the character of Isfandiyar and his services to the Holy Family (pages 14-16).
Specifically, with respect to the "personal status" of the servants of the families of Bahá'u'lláh and the Bab, we note below, for the benefit of Mr. Terry, a few observations from a perusal of the sources mentioned above:
  • All the above accounts testify to the love and affection that existed between the families of Bahá'u'lláh and the Bab, on the one hand, and the servants in their households, and to the consideration shown to the servants. The relationship seems to transcend those ordinarily encountered in master-servant interactions.

  • The only reference to the legal status of the servants in the household of the Bab is in Black Pearls, where Abu'l-Qasim Afnan states that Mubarak and a female servant named Fiddih were acquired by the Bab (pages 4-5, 21). Afnan further states that "the bill of purchase" for Mubarak "still exists among the Bab's business accounts." We note that this document is not held in the Archives at the Bahá'í World Centre, and this matter will no doubt be researched further in the future.

  • We have found no indication that any of the servants in the household of Bahá'u'lláh were slaves. The only information we have found on this subject is the following extract from a talk of 'Abdu'l-Bahá published in Star of the West, mentioned above:
    My grandfather had many colored maids and servants. When the Blessed Perfection became the head of the family he liberated all of them, and gave them permission to leave or stay, but if they desired to remain it would, of course, be in a different manner. However, all of them, revelling in their new found freedom preferred to leave, except Esfandayar [sic], who remained in the household and continued to serve us with proverbial faithfulness and chastity.
          (Star of the West, volume 9 (April 28, 1928), number 3, page 38)
With regard to the suggestion that information on the servants in the households of Bahá'u'lláh and the Bab has been deliberately concealed: Of course, there can be no basis for such an allegation, which is so far removed from the teachings and spirit of the Faith. As Mr. Terry can well appreciate, the Research Department is not able to respond to such general allegations, without reference to any instances that may have given rise to the perception that information concerning the servants was withheld.
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