Published in: Iran im 19.Jahrhundert und die Enstehung der Baha'i Religion (ed. Christoph Burgel and Isabel Schayani) Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1998, pp. 33-51. The version published here corrects some of the copy-editing and typographical occurs that are in the published version. The published version has footnotes on each page.



Moojan Momen

The Bahá'í community of Iran emerged gradually out of the Bábí movement that had convulsed Iran in the middle of the nineteenth century.(1) Most of the leadership of the Bábí movement, including the Báb himself, perished in the bloody suppression of the Bábís that occurred in 1848-53. The movement was driven underground in Iran, but several of the most prominent Bábís gathered in Iraq which, being in Ottoman territory was outside the reach of the Iranian government.

Among the leading Bábís gathered in Baghdad was Mírzá Yahyá Azal who claimed the leadership of the Bábí community on account of a letter of authority that had been sent to him by the Báb. But Azal proved ineffective as a leader and it was Mírzá Husayn`Alí Núrí Bahá'u'lláh who, over the course of a decade, assumed the effective leadership and began to reorganize the Bábí community in Iran.

Privately in 1863 in Baghdad and publicly in 1866 in Edirne, Bahá'u'lláh advanced the claim that he was the messianic figure "He whom God shall make manifest (man yuzhiruhu'lláh), who had been prophesied by the Báb. This claim superseded Azal's position and the latter refused to accept it. As the split between the two became known, it was to Bahá'u'lláh that the overwhelming majority of the Bábís in Iran turned. Most of the Bábí remnant became Bahá'ís, with only a small number continuing to follow Azal and hence becoming known as Azalís.

Modes of Conversion

The basis of the emerging Bahá'í community in Iran was the Bábís. However before an effective Bahá'í community could be built up, two changes were needed. [p. 34] The Bábís had to be convinced of Bahá'u'lláh's claim and their disorganised and demoralised state (the result of the intense persecutions to which they had been submitted) had to be remedied. Bahá'u'lláh tackled the second of these two changes first. During the Baghdad period, he sent emissaries to Iran to pick up the threads of the shattered community. Numerous Bábís came to Baghdad while others were encouraged through correspondence and through reading the books that Bahá'u'lláh was writing.

Then from about 1867 onwards, Bahá'u'lláh put forward his claim to be "He whom God will make manifest", the messianic figure prophesied in many of the Báb's writings. He sent further emissaries to Iran to propagate this claim among the Bábís. Such persons as Nabíl Zarandí, Mírzá Ahmad Yazdí, and Mírzá Muníb Káshání travelled throughout Iran. Nabíl in particular is credited with having brought Bahá'u'lláh's claim to a large number of Bábí communities. Hájjí Abu'l-Hasan Ardikání (Hájjí Amín) had married into the prominent early Bábí family of Mullá Rajab-`Alí. Once he became convinced of Bahá'u'lláh's claim, he travelled through Iran using his wife's family contacts to reach the old Bábí families in each city.(2) Several persons are mentioned as having been attracted to the person of Bahá'u'lláh through his writings even before he had advanced any claims.(3)

Apart from the efforts of these travelling teachers and the results of the writings and correspondence of Bahá'u'lláh, the other main way in which Bábís were converted into Bahá'ís was through meeting Bahá'u'lláh himself. Large numbers of Bábís visited Bahá'u'lláh especially during the time he was in Baghdad. Although Bahá'u'lláh had not put forward a claim at this time and the journey to Baghdad was often made in the hope of meeting Mírzá Yahyá, nevertheless many who made this journey became sufficiently attracted to Bahá'u'lláh that when he later advanced his claim, they accepted immediately.(4) In later years, the distance to Edirne and Akka [p. 35] was greater but many still made the journey in order to ascertain the truth for themselves. Some even went to both Akka and Famagusta in order to meet both Bahá'u'lláh and Mírzá Yahyá and decide for themselves.(5)

In all, it would probably not be far wrong if we were to agree with Lord Curzon's estimate that nineteen-twentieths of the Bábís became Bahá'ís.(6) A small number remained uncommitted to either Bahá'u'lláh or Mírzá Yahyá, and were called Kullu'sh-Shay'ís,(7) while the rest were Azalís.

But beyond the conversion of the Bábí community, the Bahá'í community made many converts from the rest of the population of Iran. Although the rate of increase was not as great as during the Bábí period, there were nevertheless many conversions in this period. In comparison to the Bábí period, these conversions were from a much broader range in terms of social class, minority groups, and geographical distribution. We will discuss the conversion of minority groups below. Here we will concentrate on the majority Shí`í population.

The main means of attracting others and converting them was personal contact. Other means such as public addresses and publication of material was effectively barred to the Bahá'ís, except in a small number of instances, because of the fierce persecutions. Individual Bahá'ís would speak to anyone whom they saw was open-minded and might respond to the new teachings.

This process of teaching personal contacts was carried out even in the most surprising and dangerous of settings. In Isfahan for example, the leading opponents of the Bahá'ís were the two leading Muslim clerics, Mír Muhammad Husayn the Imám-Jum`ih and Shaykh Muhammad Báqir the Shaykhu'l-Islám. Both caused the death of numerous Bahá'ís. And yet a number of prominent Bahá'ís who were very close to these two figures continued to teach their religion. Mírzá Muhammad Hasan Sultánu'sh-Shuhadá and Mírzá Muhammad Hasan Mahbúbu'sh-Shuhadá, for example, were agents and financiers to the Imám-Jum`a. Khurshíd Bagum Shamsu'd-Duhá was a cousin of Shaykh Muhammad Báqir and had been brought up in that household after her own father's death. Despite their closeness to these two fierce oppo-[p. 36]nents, these Bahá'ís continued to teach anyone whom they thought would listen. This teaching was even carried on inside the household of these two opponents of the Bahá'í Faith. Hájjí Áqá Ibráhím of Tún was visiting Isfahan and since he knew the Imám-Jum`a, he stayed at the latter's house. Here he said some words that indicated that he was seeking answers to his religious quest. Mírzá Muhammad Hasan Sultánu'sh-Shuhadá learnt of this and did not hesitate to approach Áqá Ibráhím even in the Imám-Jum`a's house.(8) Of course these activities were extremely dangerous and both Sultánu'sh-Shuhadá and Mahbúbu'sh-Shuhadá eventually paid for it with their lives.

Those contacted personally by Bahá'ís were often invited to meetings at which a prominent Bahá'í teacher would be present to answer more complicated questions. Towards the end of this period, these teachers became a more established part of the Bahá'í community and were known as muballighs.

Some were converted to the Bahá'í Faith by reading the writings of Bahá'u'lláh. Karbalá'í Muhammad `Attár of Marághih had been a follower of Muhammad Karím Kirmání, theShaykhí leader. He became a Bahá'í through reading the Kitáb-i-Iqán and comparing this with the writings of Karím Khán.(9) Hájjí Áqá Ibráhím of Tún, mentioned above, became a Bahá'í after studying the Iqán in Isfahan.(10)

Unfortunately estimates of the total number of Bahá'ís at particular localities are rare. We find mention of 150 Bahá'ís in Qá'in(11), 100 in Naráq(12), and 70 in Qumm(13), but no estimates of the numbers in cities such as Tehran or Shiraz where there were much larger communities.

Persecution and Protection

The persecution of the Bábí community in Iran was extended to the Bahá'ís. There were not the dramatic episodes similar to the upheavals at Shaykh Tabarsí and Zanján in the Bábí period but rather a relentless continuing persecution that meant that no member of the community could feel safe. Such was the atmosphere of hate and suspicion against the Bahá'ís that even European diplomats, despite the power-[37]ful protection which they enjoyed, were wary of speaking openly about the movement.(14)

In addition to the general background level of abuse and petty harassment, there would also be periodic outbursts during which a few Bahá'ís might be killed and all of the Bahá'ís in a town would be threatened and their property looted.

There were however a small number of places in Iran where due to the protection of a few highly-placed officials, the Bahá'ís were able to enjoy some degree of safety for varying periods of time. In Adharbayjan, for example, the Crown Prince, Muzaffaru'd-Dín, was inclined to look favourably upon the Bahá'ís. He himself was much influenced by Shaykhí thought and a number of persons in his court in Tabriz were Bahá'ís (Mírzá `Abdu'lláh Khán and Mírzá `Ináyat `Alíyábádí). In Khurasan, a number of high government officials (Mu'taminu's-Saltanih, for example) as well as governors (`Imádu'l-Mulk, governor of Tabas) were Bahá'ís. A number of other high-ranking Qajar officials are reported to have been favourable to the Bahá'ís although not themselves converts. Claims of this sort have been made about Mírzá Yúsuf Khán Ashtiyání Mustawfiyu'l-Mamálik(15), `Alí-Asghar Khán Amínu's-Sultán(16), Mírzá Husayn Khán Mushíru'd-Dawlih(17), and Husayn-Qulí Khán Nizámu's-Saltanih(18).

There was therefore a tendency for Bahá'ís during this period to migrate from areas of high persecution such as Yazd and the Isfahan area to areas of relatively less persecution such as Tehran, Adharbayjan and Khurasan. Many also went into exile outside Iran, especially to Ashkhabad, the Caucasus, and to the Haifa-Akka area.

As an example of this phenomenon of migration, we may look at Yazd, an area of high persecution. There are 100 persons named as leading Bahá'ís of Yazd in the time of Bahá'u'lláh. Of these, 64% migrated away from Yazd; 25% are specifically stated to have moved as a direct result of persecution, and most of the rest probably moved as an indirect result of the persecutions; 14% migrated to the Haifa-`Akka area; 22% migrated to Ashkhabad. Migration was however a feature of all parts of the Bahá'í community, and even from a comparatively safe province such as [p. 38] Adharbayjan, 29 of 145 listed for Bahá'u'lláh's period of leadership (20%) migrated, mostly to Ashkhabad (12), the Caucasus (7), and the Haifa-`Akka area (4).

I will not go into any further detail on this theme of persecution and migration here as a more detailed examination of this has been presented elsewhere.(19)


With Bahá'u'lláh in distant exile and the community in Iran under constant persecution, the development of an effective system of communications was vital to the cohesion and progress of the Bahá'í community. A system for effective communications involved the Bahá'ís in virtually setting up their own postal system. Individual Bahá'ís, in particular Shaykh Salmán and Hájjí Amín,(20) used to travel through the various communities in Iran, collecting both letters and gifts to take to Bahá'u'lláh. These letters included reports of activities, requests for instructions regarding specific situations and as well as general requests for benedictions. They would then travel to `Akka and deliver these. They waited in `Akka until replies had been dictated for all of the letters. They then took the replies to Mosul where Zaynu'l-Muqarrabín would transcribe several copies of each in order to facilitate their distribution. These were then distributed throughout Iran at the same time as the next collection of letters was being made. In later years a small amount of publishing of Bahá'í books was carried out in Bombay by the Bahá'ís there.

This system of communications was supplemented by the large numbers of Bahá'ís who made the journey from Iran to `Akka often taking with them numerous letters from their fellow-Bahá'ís and returning with many letters. The numbers of these pilgrims increased markedly over the last decade of Bahá'u'lláh's life. There exists a listing of those who came in just two years, 1304-5 (1886-8). 154 pilgrims came in that time, of whom 137 were from Iran.(21) These came from every part of Iran and are distributed fairly evenly through the year. [p. 39]

In the early years, the usual route to `Akka involved joining the Muslim pilgrims to Mecca (the Hajj also formed a convenient reason for the Bahá'ís to be absent from home). From Mecca they would join the Hajj caravan to Damascus. `Akka was then a short diversion from the route of this caravan. In later years, the Bahá'ís in the north of Iran preferred to use the route through Ashkhabad, Baku, by sea to Istanbul, and thence to Egypt and `Akka; while the Bahá'ís in the south would often travel by steamship to Bombay and thence again by steamship through the Suez Canal.

As the years passed, the system for the pilgrims became increasingly sophisticated with the establishment of travellers' hospices at the key points of travel and agents for Bahá'u'lláh at Beirut and Alexandria who would supervise the last stages of travel.(22)

The official postal system was but poorly developed, especially at the beginning of this period. And in any case, letters addressed directly to Bahá'u'lláh or to anyone in the Haifa-`Akka area would probably have been intercepted by the postal authorities. For a time however, it became possible to transmit a small amount of correspondence through Áqá `Ali Haydar Shírvání in Tehran. This Bahá'í was a Russian citizen and when, on one occasion the authorities did interfere with his post, he complained to the Russian Minister in Tehran who protested strongly to the Iranian government.(23)

Thus by a combination of these means, there would have been several opportunities each year for almost every Bahá'í in Iran to communicate with Bahá'u'lláh and to receive the writings of Bahá'u'lláh. It was slow and not completely reliable but it appears to have been effective in keeping the community cohesive and forward-looking under circumstances in which they could easily have become introverted and demoralised.

Communal and Institutional Development

Rebuilding communal cohesion after the devastation of the Bábí period of persecutions was undoubtedly a difficult task. There was the factionalism of the Azalí split and other smaller groups to be dealt with as well as the natural reluctance of some former adherents to associate themselves again with the movement. This initial phase of the rebuilding of the community appears however to have been [p. 40] well under way by the early 1870s. Rev. Bruce writing from Isfahan in 1874, report that the "sect of Baabis which is now increasing in Persia is that called Bahai.(24)" Soon there were regular meetings being held in all of the larger Bahá'í communities. Some of these were meetings at which prayers and the sacred writings would be read; others were meetings to which non-believers were invited and where their questions were answered. As early as 1287/1870, it appears that some Bahá'í communities were holding commemorations of the Ridván festival(25).

Although the presence of Bahá'u'lláh in Akka provided a strong central leadership of the Bahá'ís, the distance and problems of communication did encourage a certain amount of institutional development. When copies of Bahá'u'lláh's book of laws, the Kitáb-i Aqdas, reached Tehran, the Bahá'ís put the personal laws into effect immediately but it was difficult to carry out the social laws in view of the environment of persecution. The Aqdas refers to the establishment of "Houses of Justice" in every locality, but there are no specific instructions regarding the manner of formation and composition of the body. In 1294/1877, one of the Bahá'ís, Mírzá Asadu'lláh Isfahání, called a meeting of eight of the eminent Bahá'ís of the capital and proposed to them that his house be called "the House of Justice" and that they be considered the members of it, forming an "Assembly of Consultation" (Majlis-i Shawr). They adopted a formal constitution in 1297/1879.(26) . They consulted about the affairs of the community but they were a self-appointed body and even kept their existence a secret from the main body of the Bahá'ís (presumably for security).

In about 1304-5/1887, Bahá'u'lláh designated four individuals as Hands of the Cause.(27) He wrote urging them to consult about the affairs of the Bahá'í community. When Ibn Abhar returned to Iran from `Akka, he asked Bahá'u'lláh as to where he should take up his residence. Bahá'u'lláh replied that he should consult with the Bahá'ís about this matter.(28) The full development of this institution of the Hands of the Cause did not however occur until after the period with which we are concerned in this article. [p. 40]

The arrangements regarding communications with Haifa have been described above. Communications between the various Bahá'í communities occurred in much the same way using a network of travelling teachers who moved from one place to another. By the end of this period, this arrangement had become more-or-less institutionalised with these teachers, called muballighs, taking a leading role in the propagation of the Bahá'í Faith. They were usually itinerant and several became full-time in this occupation.

In the Kitáb-i Aqdas, Bahá'u'lláh instituted a religious tax called the Huqúqu'lláh. Hájjí Sháh Muhammad Amínu'l-Bayán and after him, Hájjí Amín, were designated as the trustees of the Huqúqu'lláh. They also formed part of the network of communications, travelling from one community to another, taking with them letters, news and the donations to the Huqúqu'lláh. Towards the end of this period this was beginning to become more institutionalised with the appointment of a number of persons as local representatives of Hájjí Amín as trustee of the Huqúqu'lláh.(29)

Social and Economic Development of the Bahá'í Community

The intense persecutions of the Bahá'ís often led to the forced migrations. These people had usually had their houses sacked and had lost all of their possessions during the persecutions. Thus they would arrive at their destinations destitute. Probably the favorite town for such migration was Tehran. Thus the Bahá'í community in Tehran was for the most part very poor. Some such as the poet Na`ím could only obtain work copying manuscripts for other Bahá'ís. However, their communal cohesion proved to be a great asset and laid the framework for a great advance in communal undertakings and in their individual social position in subsequent years.

In a few villages where a large proportion of the population were Bahá'ís, a start was made on social development. In Mahfurúzak in Mazandaran, for example, Mullá `Ali Ján and his wife `Alaviyyih Khánum were instrumental in instituting agricultural reforms and a co-operative for selling the cotton they produced. They set up elementary schools for both boys and girls.(30)

The opposition and persecution that they encountered, however, prevented the Bahá'ís from making much progress in this area during this period. [p. 42]

Social Location of Bahá'í Community of Iran (1853-1892)

To try to obtain an accurate assessment of the total numbers of Bahá'ís in Iran during this period or to try to gauge distribution within Iran or their precise location within the spectrum of Iranian society is obviously an impossible task. Not only is there inadequate information about the Bahá'í community but our knowledge of the population and social distribution of Iranian society is itself only rudimentary. This does not however mean that we cannot try to make a provisional appraisal of these matters, acknowledging that further information in future years will probably allow us to further refine our estimates.

Total Numbers of Bahá'ís

It is of course impossible to obtain any reliable figures for the total numbers of Bahá'ís in Iran. No accurate figures were kept and we have only a few rough estimates for a number of the smaller communities in Iran. By the end of the period with which we are concerned here, all of the major towns in Iran had Bahá'í communities varying in numbers from several hundred to several thousand. The distribution among the small towns and villages of Iran was much more patchy with some having large Bahá'í populations and some, especially among the villages having no Bahá'ís at all. Villages where the majority of the population were Bahá'ís could be found, particularly in the northern half of the country, Adharbayjan, Mazandaran, and Khurasan.

It is probable that the number of Bábís at their peak in about 1848 was of the order of 100,000(31). After the intensive persecutions, there was undoubtedly a fall in numbers with many being killed, others recanting due to the pressures of the persecutions and still others being disillusioned by the apparent failure of the movement and the factionalism that ensued in the post-1852 era. The numbers may well have plummeted to less than 50,000 by the mid-1850s. Then as Bahá'u'lláh rebuilt the community and gave it a fresh direction under his leadership, there was a period of expansion. Smith has proposed that the total number of Bahá'ís in Iran in the 1880s was of the order of 100,000. With the population of Iran being between 5 and 8 mil-[p. 43]lion, this represented 1-2% of the population.(32) This would seem a reasonable estimate.

Geographical Distribution of Bahá'ís in Iran

There are no means of assessing the geographical distribution of Bahá'ís as there exist no lists or censuses of Bahá'ís from this period. The closest that can be managed is to make an assessment of the leading Bahá'ís of the period. This has been done using the names of the leading Bahá'ís of this period as listed in the sixth volume of Fádil Mázandarání's Zuhúr al-Haqq(33) - see Table 1. The assumption underlying this analysis is that the larger a particular Bahá'í community, the more likely it is to produce more leading Bahá'ís. Therefore the rest of the Bahá'ís of Iran probably follow the same pattern as the leading Bahá'ís in terms of geographical distribution (see Table 1 below).

Although there are no precise figures to work from, one receives the definite impression, from the numbers of leading Bahá'ís from each provinces and from the references to villages where the majority of the population were Bahá'ís, that there were many more Bahá'ís in total in the northern provinces of Adharbayjan, Mazandaran, and Khurasan, than in the southern provinces such as Kirman, Fars and Khuzistan. However, this may not necessarily mean that the Bahá'ís were more concentrated, as a proportion of the total population, in the north as compared to the south. This is because the northern provinces were in any case more populous than the drier, more barren southern provinces.

Distribution of Bahá'ís by Occupation and Social Class

As with geographical distribution, there are no means of assessing the distribution of Bahá'ís by occupation and social class. Again we can make an assessment of the leading Bahá'ís of the period from the names of the leading Bahá'ís of this period as listed in the sixth volume of Fádil Mázandarání's Zuhúr al-Haqq - see Table 1. Of course, the rest of the Bahá'ís of Iran cannot be assumed to follow the pattern of the leading Bahá'ís in social occupations and class. But given that the analysis of leading Bahá'ís produces a distribution across all sectors of Iranian urban society, this is some evidence that the whole of the Bahá'í community was evenly distributed through urban Iranian soci-[p. 44]ety. This table can be compared with a similar table published elsewhere for the Bábí leadership.(34)

[p. 50]


  1a 1b 1c 2a 2b 2c 2d 3 4 5 6 7 8 Tot
Tot in Prov %
& Simnan
8 36 1 1 12 4 9 21 4 9 0 0 0 105 134 16
& Gurgán
2 3 0 0 1 2 1 0 0 1 0 1 5 16 19 2.3
GILAN 0 1 0 0 0 6 1 14 4 4 0 0 0 30 32 3.9
ADHARBAYJAN 0 23 2 0 9 3 0 16 15 5 1 4 0 78 146 18
QAZVIN & KHAMSIH 3 6 4 0 0 3 0 9 4 7 0 0 1 37 49 5.9
TEHRAN 1 6 2 3 6 5 0 8 6 13 1 1 0 52 66 8
1 13 0 0 2 3 3 11 1 41 8 1 0 84 106 13
ISFAHAN 1 16 2 0 1 3 4 13 3 11 2 1 1 58 82 9.9
(Burújird, Sultánábád)
3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 7 10 1.2
0 1 1 0 4 1 0 2 2 13 0 0 0 24 29 3.5
FARS 0 9 0 0 1 2 4 3 2 9 1 1 1 33 37 4.5
YAZD 4 13 3 0 0 0 1 14 6 27 5 4 0 77 100 12
KIRMAN 0 2 1 0 0 0 2 4 1 3 0 0 0 13 14 1.7
(Khuzistan & Luristan)
0 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 4 4 0.5
TOTALS 23 133 16 4 36 33 25 115 48 145 18 13 9 618 825
        Total of those with known occupation 618    
        Total of those named in each province   825  
Percentage of those with known occupations 4 22 3 1 6 5 4 19 8 23 3 2 1      

[p. 51]
1a - Major `Ulama - these include six described as mujtahids, one qádí, one Imám-Jum`ih, three described as having religious leadership in a town or village, one head of a madrissih in Tehran.

1a - Minor `Ulama - those with the prefix of mullá before their name but with no indication that they were of any particular prominence; religious students (tulláb); rawdih-kháns;

1c - Sufi darvishes

2a - Nobility, members of the royal court, major Qajar princes, governors

2b - High government officials and military commanders of rank of sartíp and above

2c - Minor government officials and soldiers

2d - Major landowners, landowning farmers, and factory-owners (sáhib-kár)

3 - Wholesale merchants (tujjár) and financiers (sarráf)

4 - Retail merchants, shop-keepers, petty commodity producers, and agents for tujjár.

5 - Skilled Urban Workers - (usually ustád, master craftsman) and traditional service workers (tabíb)

6 - Unskilled Urban Workers - labourers and those in apprenticeship to an ustád.

7 - Peasant and rural workers

8 - Tribal peoples

ZH - Fádil Mázandarání, Zuhúr al-Haqq, vol. 6 (ZHvi), incomplete photocopy of a manuscript in Haifa; ZHviiia - vol. 8, part 1, published, Tehran, 131 B.E./1974

[p. 44 contd]

Religious and ethnic minorities

One of the developments of the Bahá'í community during this period that is of great significance in view of the later world-wide expansion of the religion was the enrolment into the community of members from the minority religious and ethnic groups of Iran. The Bábí community had been drawn almost exclusively from the Shí`í majority in Iran.

The two most important religious groups that were enrolled were the Zoroastrians and Jews. Both of these groups had been oppressed minorities in Iran. Both groups had resisted over many centuries with varying degrees of success the relentless pressure put upon them to become Muslims. In the last two decades of the Nineteenth Century, appreciable numbers of both minority groups began to convert to the Bahá'í Faith. These conversions had their roots in the Kashan Bahá'í community. The first Zoroastrian convert was a merchant in Kashan who witnessed the martyrdom of a Bahá'í and was so moved by this that he made enquiries about the new religion and eventually converted. He in turn spoke to another Zoroastrian, Mullá Bahrám, who was working in his shop. The latter moved to Yazd where one of the largest Zoroastrian communities in Iran is based and contacted the Bahá'ís. He was converted and there began a large number of conversions among the Zoroastrians in Yazd and the surrounding villages. It has been postulated that a number of factors were responsible for the attraction of these Zoroastrians to the Bahá'í Faith. First, they had sufficiently imbibed the Iranian Shi`i culture to regard the suffering and martyrdom of the Bahá'ís as evidence of the truth of the Bahá'í Faith. Second they were much attracted to the fact that Bahá'u'lláh was a descendent of the ancient Zoroastrian Iranian Kings and thus, in their eyes, a suitable person to fulfil the prophesies of the Zoroastrian scriptures of the advent of a saviour, the Saoshyant or Shah Bahram. The advanced and enlightened social principles of the Bahá'í Faith also appealed to the younger, more educated elements of the Zoroastrian community who were preponderant among the early converts.(35) Conversions also occurred in [p. 45] Tehran and Qazvin. But interestingly there were comparatively few conversions from among the important Zoroastrian community in Kirman.

Although there had been one or two individual conversion from among the Jews in Iran in the Bábí period, it was in Hamadan and Kirmanshah that large numbers began to convert towards the end of nineteenth century.(36) Two Kashání brothers had moved to Hamadan and through them, Hakím Áqá Ján, a Jewish physician was converted. A substantial number of the Jews in Hamadan and Kirmanshah became Bahá'ís. Other Jews in Tehran, Kashan, and Gulpaygan were converted as were a number of Jews who had been forcibly converted to Islam in such places as Mashhad and Turbat-i Haydarí(37). Again the pattern of conversions was somewhat patchy with few conversions among some large Jewish communities such as the one in Shiraz.

Habib Levy, a Jewish historian, has suggested that it was the poverty and oppression of the Jewish community that caused conversions to the Bahá'í Faith.(38) Stiles however considers this unlikely in that it was not the more oppressed and poor Jewish communities in such places as Yazd who converted, but the more affluent communities in Hamadan and Kirmanshah. Nor was it likely that Jews converted to escape persecution as Levy has suggested. When they became Bahá'ís they were just as likely to be persecuted by the Muslim population but now they faced an additional problem of persecution at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders.(39) Fischel, another Jewish historian, has suggested that it was the ignorance and backwardness of the Jews of Iran that predisposed them towards becoming Bahá'ís.(40) But again there are problems with this view in that those who became Bahá'ís were often very knowledgeable about their own scriptures. More likely is the suggestion of Fischel that these conversions were the result of the universality demonstrated by the Bahá'ís who, contrary to the Shi`i Muslims, were willing to show the Jews kindness and tolerance.(41) [p. 46]

Stiles has suggested that both Jews and Zoroastrians in Iran had absorbed the dominating Shi`i culture and thus came to place a great deal of emphasis on the importance of suffering and martyrdom as evidence of the truth of a cause - as the Shi`is emphasise this of the cause of the Imams. Thus the combination of the persecution of the Bahá'ís, its tolerance and universality as well as its concurrence with the modern world made it very attractive to these minorities.(42)

A few conversions are noted from among the Christians of Iran(43) but they are a very small number compared with the Jewish and Zoroastria converts. Stiles has suggested that the Christians in Iran were able to identify with the powerful European states, who often acted to protect them, and this gave them a sense of pride and self-respect. This was in contrast to the oppressed and demoralised state of the Jewish and Zoroastrian communities, who identified only with the cultural norms of their Shi`i oppressors.

There were a few conversions from among other religious groups. From among the `Aliyu'llahis, a number converted at Ilkhichí in Adharbayjan,(44) in Isfahan(45) and Tehran(46). From among the Sufis, the most important convert was Hájjí Qalandar Hamadání. He wandered around Iran and was responsible for converting many other Sufis including Hájjí Mu'nis and Hájjí Tavangar of Qazvin.(47) From among the prominent Sufi shaykhs of this period, Ustád Ghulám Ridá Shishihgar was favourable towards the Bahá'í Faith and had dealings with several of the leading Bahá'ís. On the other hand, Hájjí Mírzá Hasan Safí-`Alí Sháh, the head of the one faction of the Ni`matu'lláhí order, wrote a refutation of Bahá'u'lláh's Kitáb-i Iqán.(48) [p. 47]

With regard to the ethnic minorities in Iran, Bahá'ís were well represented among the Adharbayjani Turks but there appear to have been relatively few among the Kurds of West Iran, the Arabs of Khuzistan and the Baluchis of the South-east. Among tribal groups in general there were few Bahá'ís among the nomadic tribes, except among the Búyir Ahmad, some of whom had converted. There were however more converts among the more settled tribes. In Adharbayjan, many from the Chádúlú tribe from around Malik-kandí were converted(49). In the Qazvin area, a leader of one tá'ifa (clan) and two leaders of another tá'ifa of the Jalílú tribe were converted(50). A number of the Lúrí tribesmen who had migrated to Mazandaran during the famine of 1288 also converted.(51)


The Bábí movement had already shown some indication of movement towards an improvement in the social position of women. Bahá'u'lláh's teachings took this trend forward with a number of specific statements in his writings.(52) In parallel with this, there were significant developments in the Bahá'í community of Iran. The first important evidence for this comes from the Bahá'ís own self-perception. For this we have evidence from E.G. Browne's account of his journey in Iran. He met the Bahá'ís in Isfahan in 1888 and records one of them as saying:

"With you Christians especially we have sympathy . . . the ordinances enjoined upon us are in many respects like those which you follow. We are recommended to take to ourselves only one wife, to treat our families with tenderness and gentleness . . . Further we believe that women ought to be allowed to mix more freely with men, and should not be compelled to wear the veil. At present, fear of the Muhammadans compels us to act as they do in these matters."(53)
The second evidence comes from the statements of Europeans who observed that the Bahá'ís were much more open in attitude to women. Pastor Christian Kozle, a German missionary in Urumiyyih who died in 1895, writes that: "The Bábís [p. 48] set great store by the education of the children, as much for the girls as for the boys"(54). There are other statements confirming the improved position of women by the Polish traveller, Jablonski;(55) and the British doctor, Dr Cormick.(56)

The third piece of evidence comes from the activities of the Iranian Bahá'í women themselves. While no women achieved the same fame in the histories as Táhirih in the Bábí period, there are many examples of individual women who took an important role in the propagation of the Bahá'í Faith in Iran. One or two were even called Mullá to indicate the extent of their learning. Mullá Zahrá at Shishván in Adharbayjan taught the Bahá'í Faith to the local prince and landowner, Imám-Qulí Mírzá.(57) Khadíjih Bigum Káshániyyih, known as Mírzá Bájí, settled in Tehran and was instrumental in converting many.(58) In Bushrú'iyyih, there was a group of Bahá'í women who were very active. Prime among these was Varaqatu'l-Firdaws, the sister of Mullá Husayn Bushrú'í. Another was Bíbí Rúhániyyih, whose Bahá'í activities became so famous that they reached the ears of Násiru'd-Dín Shah, who urged `Imádu'l-Mulk, the governor of the area, to have her killed. But the latter, who was secretly a Bahá'í, managed to divert the king's attention away from this question.(59) Another was Ummu'dh-Dhabíh, the daughter of a mujtahid of Bushrú'iyyih, who was very learned and converted many.(60) Among those taught by Varaqatu'l-Firdaws was the wife of Mullá Ghulám-Ridá Harátí of Shahrud who in turn converted her husband.(61) Hamídih Khánum, known as `Alaviyyih Khánum, together with her husband Mullá `Alí Ján, were responsible for the conversion of some 1,500 of the population of Máhfurúzak in Mazandaran. Nor did their efforts stop there, for they also strove to improve social conditions in the village and instituted education and agricultural reforms.(62) In Jasb near Qumm, after the death of Mullá Ja`far, the leading Bahá'í, his wife Mullá Fátimih and her brothers assumed the leadership of the community. [p. 49]

In Tehran, there were a number of prominent Bahá'í women. Ummu'l-Awliya, the daughter of Rahím Khán, the farrásh-ghadáb (royal executioner), helped the Bahá'ís of Tehran through the famine of 1288;(63) Shams-i Jahán known as Hájjiyih Sháhzádih and by Bahá'ís as Varaqatu'l-Ridván, a grand-daughter of Fath-`Alí Shah, had become a Bábí through meeting Táhirih when she was imprisoned in the house of Mahmúd Khán Kalántar. She married Hájjí Káshí on the condition that he took her to Baghdad, where she met Bahá'u'lláh.(64) Fatima Sultan, the daughter of Muhrim Big, a military commander, married Hájjí Faraj, a Bahá'í, and was herself converted. Since she was well connected with the military families, she was able to help the Bahá'ís who were frequently imprisoned in Tehran and on some occasions retrieve the bodies of those who had been executed.(65) More prominent still was `Ismat Khánum, known as Tá'irihKhánum. Her father was a government official (in charge of the finances of the military) while her mother worked in the andarún of the Shah. She became a Bahá'í through her uncle. Although strongly opposed by her husband, after his death, she was able to teach the Bahá'í Faith to many of the notables of Tehran. She was also a pioneer in promoting gatherings of Bahá'ís where the men and women intermingled freely.(66)


In all it would appear that the Bahá'í community in Iran in the nineteenth century was well dispersed both socially and geographically throughout the whole of Iranian society. It had widened the basis of the former Bábí community both geographically and by recruiting members of Iran's religious minorities. This latter development was to be of great significance since the last decade of the nineteenth century was to see the Bahá'í Faith being taken to North America and Europe, the first stage in its dispersion to a global religion. Also among the Bahá'ís in Iran, the first steps were being taken towards the organization of the Bahá'í community and the development of schools and other instruments of social development, changes which would, in the first part of the twentieth century, increasingly distinguish the Bahá'í community from the Iranian matrix from which it sprang.


1. On the Bábí movement, see Abbas Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal: The Making of the Babi Movement in Iran, 1844-1850, Ithaca, N.Y. and London: Cornell University Press, 1989; Peter Smith, The Babi and Baha'i Religions: From Messianic Shi'ism to a World Religion, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987, pp. 5-56; Hasan M. Balyuzi, The Báb, the Herald of the Day of Days Oxford: George Ronald, 1973; A.-L.-M. Nicolas, Seyyèd Ali Mohammed dit le Bâb, Paris: Dujarric, 1905. Husayn Hamadání, The Táríkh-i-Jadíd, or, New History of Mírzá `Alí Muhammad the Báb (trans. E. G. Browne), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1893; Moojan Momen, The Bábí and Bahá'í Religions, 1844-1944: Some Contemporary Western Accounts, Oxford: George Ronald, 1981, pp. 69-174.

2. Zuhúr al-Haqq, vol. 6, manuscript in Afnan Library, London (henceforth abbreviated as ZHvi), p. 744

3. See for example Hájjí Mírzá Haydar `Alí's account of the arrival in Isfahan of Bahá'u'lláh's Kitáb-i Íqán; Bihjat as-Sudúr, Bombay, 1331, p. 23; translation: Stories from the Delight of Hearts (trans. A.Q. Faizi), Los Angeles, 1980, p. 8; and Mullá Muhammad Ridá Muhammadábádí's coming to a belief in Bahá'u'lláh as "He Whom God shall manifest" through reading the Qasídih `Izz Varqá'iyyih, Zuhúr al-Haqq, vol. 6, p. 732

4. There are numerous examples of those who went to Baghdad hoping to meet Mírzá Yahyá, were disappointed in this, but met Bahá'u'lláh and became supporters of him so that when he later advanced his claim they accepted immediately: Áqá Muhammad Hasan of Kashan (ZHvi, p. 651), Hájjí Muhammad Yazdí (ZHvi, p. 651), Hájjí Mírzá Kamálu'd-Dín Naráqí (ZHvi, p. 679), Áqá Muhammad Kázim Isfahání (ZHvi, p. 169), Zaynu'l-Muqarrabín (ZHvi, pp. 201-2, Balyuzi, Eminent Bahá'ís in the time of Bahá'u'lláh, Oxford, 1985, p. 274), Áqá Muhammad `Alí Pushtíbáf of Kashan (ZHvi, p. 651), Áqá Sha`bán-`Alí Charmíbáf of Kashan (ZHvi, p. 652); Mullá Muhammad Taqí and four others from Bushrú'iyyih (Fu'ádí Bushrú'í, "Manázir táríkhí-yi Amr Bahá'í dar Khurásán," manuscript in Afnan Library, London, p. 374).

5. See accounts of Mírzá Yahyá Sarráf of Qazvin (ZHvi, p. 540, Taríkh Samandar, Tehran, 131 B.E./1974, pp. 272-89); Áqá `Abdu'lláh of Dawlatábád (ZHvi, p. 282); Hájjí Mullá `Alí Mamaqání (in the time of `Abdu'l-Bahá, Zuhúr al-Haqq, vol. 8a, Tehran, 131 B.E/1974, p. 67). The latter two, although they had intended to visit both Akka and Cyprus, decided after going to Akka that they would not bother with the Cyprus stage of the journey.

6. Persia and the Persian Question, London, 1892, vol. 1, p. 499.

7. See Browne, Materials for the Study of the Bábí Religion, Cambridge, 1918, p. 233.

8. ZHvi, p. 74

9. Áqá Mírzá Haydar `Alí Uskú'í, "Taríkh Adharbayjan," manuscript in Afnan Library, p. 38.

10. ZHvi, p. 74

11. ZHvi, p. 102

12. ZHvi, p. 678

13. ZHvi, p. 621

14. See for example the account by Michele Lessona quoted in M. Momen, The Bábí and Bahá'í Religions (1844-1944): Some Contemporary Western Accounts, Oxford, 1981, p. 27; and Browne's experiences in Iran A Year among the Persians Cambridge, 1926, p. 17.

15. See The Dawn-Breakers: Nabíl's Narrative, (trans. Shoghi Effendi) Wilmette, Illinois, 1974, p. 592; H.M. Balyuzi, Bahá'u'lláh, the King of Glory. Oxford, 1980, p. 446.

16. Balyuzi, Eminent Bahá'ís, pp. 124-6.

17. Balyuzi, King of Glory, pp. 212-214, 441-44.

18. ZHvi, 557.

19. M. Momen, "The Bahá'í Community of Iran: Patterns of Exile and Problems of Communication", in A. Fathi (ed.), Iranian Refugees and Exiles since Khomeini, Costa Mesa, California, 1991, pp. 21-36.

20. Others such as Hájjí Qalandar also appear to have played a role in this respect. It is probably the latter to whom E.G. Browne is referring in A Year among the Persians, p. 527 (Selections from the Writings of E.G. Browne on the Bábí and Bahá'í Religions, ed. M. Momen, Oxford, 1987, p. 118)

21. Manuscript list of pilgrims that came to `Akka in 1304-5, copy in Afnan library; original in Haifa. In fact the list contains the beginnings of 1306 as well but appears then to have been discontinued. As the list for 1306 is incomplete, I have just counted for the two complete years.

22. This question of communications is dealt with in more detail in a separate paper - see note 19.

23. ZHvi p. 468

24. Moojan Momen, "Early Relations between Christian Missionaries and the Bábí and Bahá'í communities," in M. Momen (ed.), Studies in Bahá'í and Bahá'í History, Los Angeles, 1982, vol. 1, p. 63

25. ZHvi, p. 813

26. In about 1297/1880, the composition of this meeting was: Ibn Asdaq, Hájjí Mírzá Haydar `Alí, Mullá `Alí Akbar Shahmírzádí, Mírzá `Alí Naqí (Sádát-i Khams of Rasht), Sayyid Abu Tálib, Áqá Muhammad Kázim Isfahání, Áqá Muhammad Karím Máhútfurúsh, Mírzá Asadu'lláh Isfahání and one other. Ruhu'llah Mihrabkhani, "Maháfil-i Shawr dar `ahd-i Jamál Aqdas Abhá" Payám Bahá'í (Paris) no. 28, Feb. 1982, pp. 9-11; no. 29, March 1982, pp. 8-9

27. These four were Hájjí Mírzá `Alí Akbar Shahmírzádí, Ibn Abhar, Ibn Asdaq and Mírzá Hasan Adíb. `Abdu'l-`Ali `Alá'í, Mu'assisa Ayádí Amru'lláh, Tehran, 130 B.E./1973, pp. 424-5.

28. `Abdu'l-`Alí `Alá'í, Mu'assisa Ayádí Amru'lláh, pp. 425-6

29. Mashhadí `Alí Akbar Mílání was appointed the representative of Hájjí Amín in Tabriz. ZHvi, p. 21.

30. ZHvi, p. 980.

31. This figure is given by the Báb himself and by the British and Russian Ministers in Tehran independently. For the Báb, see Dalá'il-i Sab`ih, quoted in MacEoin, "The Babi concept of Holy War", Religion, vol. 12, 1982, pp. 118. For Sheil, see M. Momen, Bábí and Bahá'í Religions 1844-1944, p. 7n (report dated May 1850). For Dolgorukov, see ibid, p. 71 (report dated March 1849).

32. Peter Smith, "A Note on Babi and Baha'i numbers in Iran," Iranian Studies, vol. 17, nos. 2-3, 1984, pp. 295-301.

33. A photocopy of a manuscript of this work that is in the archives of the Bahá'í World Centre in Haifa was used. This photocopy is deficient in a few places but I would estimate that no more than a dozen names have been omitted as a consequence.

34. Peter Smith and M.Momen, "The Bábí Movement in Iran: a Resource Mobilization Perspective," in Peter Smith (ed.), In Iran, Studies in Bábí and Bahá'í History, vol. 3, Los Angeles, 1986, pp. 33-93; the Table is on p. 74. See also "Iran" in Bahá'í Encyclopedia, forthcoming.

35. S. Stiles, "Early Zoroastrian Conversions to the Bahá'í Faith", in From Iran East and West (ed. J.R. Cole and M. Momen), Los Angeles, 1984, pp. 67-93

36. Many years before, Táhirih had passed through Hamadan and converted some of the Jews of the town but these conversions were unrelated to the later conversions. Táhirih was however an influence on the conversion of Hakím Masíh, the first Jewish convert to the Bahá'í Faith in Tehran. He had met Táhirih as a young man in Baghdad and this meeting had awakened in him a desire to find out more about the new religion; he later attended Mullá Sádiq Muqaddas in prison in Tehran and was converted.

37. ZHvi, p. 133, 476-7, 674-8, 695, 702-710, 714-719.

38. Habib Levy, Taríkh-i Yahúd-i Iran, vol. 3, p. 657, cited in S. Stiles, "The Conversion of Religious Minorities to the Bahá'í Faith", unpublished paper presented to Los Angeles Bahá'í History Conference, 5-7 August 1983, p. 9.

39. Levy, op cit, pp. 626-31, cited in Stiles, "Conversion of Minorities", p. 10

40. W. Fischel, "The Jews of Persia", Jewish Social Studies, vol. 12, (April 1950), p. 156, quoted in Stiles, "Conversion of religious minorities", p. 11.

41. Fischel, op cit, p. 154, cited in Stiles, "Conversion of Religious Minorities", p. 12-13.

42. Stiles, "Conversion of Religious Minorities", p. 13.; Stiles, "Zoroastrian Conversions", p. 74-5.

43. Ibrahim, an Assyrian (Nestorian) priest, in Adharbayjan converted; ZHvi, p. 11. Some of the reports of the Christian missionaries in Iran indicate that the Bahá'ís were having some successes in converting some Christians; see M. Momen, "Early Relations between Christian Missionaries and the Bahá'í Faith" in Studies in Bábí and Bahá'í History, vol. 1, pp. 72-3; see in particular the report that one Bahá'í teacher in a Christian school had succeeded in converting the whole of his class of pupils.

44. ZHvi, p. 15

45. ZHvi, p. 195 - the Tunbakú-furúsh family and others

46. ZHvi, p. 475. Hájjí Mírzá `Abdu'lláh Tunbakú-furúsh was the first to convert and through a number of others were also converted.

47. ZHvi, p. 554-6

48. ZHvi, pp. 484-6; ZHviiia, pp. 513-7. Safí-`Alí Sháh's book is entitled Najmu'l-`Irfán; see Núru'd-Dín Mudarrisí-Chahárdihí, Sayrí dar Tasawwuf, Tehran, 1359/1940, p. 14. For `Abdu'l-Bahá comments on Safí-`Alí Sháh; see Má'idi-yi Ásmání, Tehran, 9 vols., 121-29 B.E./1964-72, vol. 5, pp. 703-6. Interestingly, Safí `Ali Sháh accuses one of the rival claimants to the leadership of the Ni`matu'lláhí order, Hájjí Muhammad Kázim Isfahání Sa`ádat-`Alí Sháh Táwus al-`Urafá, who founded what became the Gunábádí section of the Ni`matu'lláhís, of being much influenced by Bábí and Shaykhí thought; Mas`úd Humáyúní, Táríkh-i Silsila-há-yi Taríqi-há-yi Ni`matu'lláhí dar Írán, Tehran?, 1358 Sh/1978, p. 201

49. ZHvi, p. 15.

50. ZHvi, p. 550.

51. ZHvi, pp.986-7

52. See article Danishpuzhúh, "Pasukhí bar aghlát va ishtibáhát-i yik maqáli-yi Dariratu'l-Ma`árif-i Írání dar barih ta`álím hadrat-i `Abdu'l-Bahá", `Andalíb (Canada), Sept. 1982, pp. 30-32

53. Browne, Year among the Persians, Cambridge, 1926, pp. 236-7; cited in M.Momen, Selections from the writings of E.G. Browne on the Bábí and Bahá'í Religions, pp. 34-5; see note on p. 23 that identifies the speaker of these words as Javád Áqá or Mírzá Javád, a relative of Mishkín Qalám.

54. Account translated from F.C. Andreas, Die Babis in Persien, p. 67-8; in M. Momen, "Early Relations between Christian Missionaries and the Babi and Baha'i Communities," Studies in Babi and Baha'i History, vol. 1, p. 74

55. See his article "Babyzm: Spoleczno - religijny ruch w Persyi. Nowe stanowisko kobiety" (Babism: Socio-religious movement in Persia. New Position of Women) Gazeta Polsksa, nos 222, 223, 225, and 226, Warsaw, 27, 28, 30 September and 1 October 1875.

56. See Browne, Materials for the Study of the Bábí Religion, p. 262. It is not clear when this account by Dr Cormick was written and he may in fact have been referring to the Bábí movement.

57. ZHvi, p. 14

58. ZHvi, p. 672.

59. ZHvi, p. 65

60. ZHvi, p. 61-2

61. ZHvi, p. 318

62. ZHvi, pp. 980, 982-4

63. ZHvi, p. 406-7.

64. ZHvi, p. 412-3

65. ZHvi, p. 444-50.

66. ZHvi, pp. 457-63