Ouida Coley (center), Sarah Lee Owens (left), and Silvia Ioas (right). Baha'i International Conference, Panama Hilton Hotel, Panama City, Panama, 1967. Quida Flora ColeyOuida Coley (1939-2013) was a devoted member of the Baha'i Faith for well over 50 years. She had...
Baha’i Property, Isfahan, Iran
This property has since been confiscated or destroyed
Isfahan, the capital and major city of Eṣfahān province, is located on the main north–south and east–west routes crossing Iran. It was once one of the largest cities in the world. It flourished from 1050 to 1722, particularly in the 16th and 17th centuries under the Safavid dynasty, when it became the capital of Persia for the second time in its history. This led to the Persian proverb “Esfahān nesf-e- jahān ast” (Isfahan is half of the world). Situated on the north bank of the Zāyandeh River, the city is one of the most important architectural centers in the Islamic world. In 1979 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Over the course of the city’s history, various religious minorities have flourished in Eṣfahān. A number of Armenian churches, including the Vank Cathedral (built in the mid-17th century), may be found in the city. The churches, some of which date from Ṣafavid rule, are a reflection of the Armenian community that has long inhabited Eṣfahān’s Jolfā district. Armenians were gathered there during the rule of ʿAbbās I and were encouraged to continue practicing their religion and engaging in commerce.
The city also bears significance for Baha’is: in the 1840s the Bāb, one of the three central figures of the Bahá’i faith, arrived in Eṣfahān and there composed some of his major works. A Bahá’i community flourished in the city in the late 1800s.
Bábí & Baha’i Communities
“The foundations for the conversion of the Bábís of this area to the Bahá’í Faith were laid through those Bábís who visited Bahá’u’lláh during his exile in Baghdad. The Book of Certitude (q.v.) was greeted with enthusiasm when copies of it began to arrive in Isfahan. Many of the prominent Bábís of the area became Bahá’ís, such as Mullá Zaynu’l-`Ábidín of Najafábád (known to Bahá’ís as Zaynu’l-Muqarrabín, q.v.), Mírzá Ashraf of Najafábád, Mírzá Muhammad `Ali Nahrí (see “Nahrí family”), Mírzá Haydar `Alí Ardistání, Sayyid Ismá`íl Dhabíh Zavári’í and others. A number of important figures in this area, however, became Azalís (q.v.): Mullá Rajab-`Alí Qahír (whose sister had married the Báb while he was in Isfahan), his brother Mullá `Alí Muhammad Siráj, and Mírzá Hádí Dawlatábádí. To these figures was added Mírzá Nasru’lláh Maliku’l-Mutakallimín, an important figure in the Constitutional movement. As a consequence, a number of the Bábís in the area also remained Azalís, especially in the villages of Sidih, Tár, Tarq, and Dawlatábád.”
“This area saw numerous episodes of persecution instigated by the leading `ulamá: Hájí Mullá Muhammad Báqir Isfahání (q.v.; named by Bahá’u’lláh “the Wolf”), his son Mullá Muhammad Taqí (q.v., Áqá Najafí), and Mír Muhammad Husayn Imám-Jum`ih (q.v.; named by Bahá’u’lláh Raqshá, she-serpent); and by the governor Zillu’s-Sultán (q.v.), who ruled the province from 1874 to 1907. During the time of Bahá’u’lláh, there were seven major outbursts of persecution in the Isfahan area, including the execution of several prominent Bahá’ís, including Sayyid Muhammad Hasan and Sayyid Muhammad Husayn, the King and Beloved of Martyrs (see “Nahrí family”) in 1879 and Mírzá Ashraf in 1888. In the villages around Isfahan there were also numerous episodes of persecution and some martyrdoms: in Najafábád in 1864, 1889, 1899, and 1910; in Sidih in 1890; and in Zavárih in 1926.”
“As a consequence of the persecutions, many of the Bahá’ís of Isfahan migrated to other areas. Some, like the merchant Hájí Muhammad Ridá, went to Sabzivár and then on to Ashkhabad (see “Turkmenistan”), while others moved to the Haifa-Akka area.”
“Despite the persecutions, the number of Bahá’ís in the area grew both in Isfahan itself and in villages such as Sidih where three well-known poets, Mírzá Na`ím, Nayyir, and Siná, became Bahá’ís in about 1297/1879-80. In towns such as Ardistán where there had been conversions in the Bábí period, there was continued growth with the number of Bahá’ís reaching some 300 by the time of `Abdu’l-Bahá. There was also some geographical diffusion in that the religion was introduced to some new villages. Near Ardistán, a large number from the village of Bábu’r-Ruhá became Bahá’ís after the conversion of the landowner there, Mírzá Fath-`Alí (Fath-i-A`zam). The Bahá’í Faith also spread among the nomadic tribes in this area. In particular, among the Búyir Ahmad section of the Kúh-Galú tribes there were several hundred conversions during the time of `Abdu’l-Bahá. There were also converts in Burújin in Bakhtiyárí country.”
“Surprisingly, in view of the intense persecutions of the Faith in this region, a number of prominent citizens managed to remain Bahá’ís. For example, Mírzá Asadu’lláh Khán was the finance minister of the province from about 1878 to 1908.”
“The Bahá’í community of the small town of Najafábád has been a particularly large and important one. A Bahá’í school was established at Najafábád, and when this was closed down by the government in 1934, Mr. Abu’l-Qásim Faizi (q.v.) went to the town to act as tutor to the four hundred Bahá’í children affected by the closure.”
“In 1933 Keith Ransom-Kehler (q.v.) died in Isfahan while on a tour of Iran. She was buried next to the graves of the King and Beloved of Martyrs. Shoghi Effendi referred on several occasions to these three graves and they became a site frequently visited by Bahá’ís.”
For further information on events after 1921, see “Iran“.
A Story With More Than Words
We arrived in Isfahan and made our way to the location of the Baha’i center properties that housed the activities of the local Baha’i community. It is here that schools once flourished, and religious training, community events and other exercises were held. These have now ceased to avoid exciting the local Moslem religious authorities and possibly additional attacks on the Baha’i community. While waiting for our guide we met the office attendants and tea was served.
The gentlemen seen above greeted us and explained that it would be his duty to guide us around the property, explain its history, and answer any questions we might have. He showed us the result of damages from by past atrocities and repairs made, and those most recent by local invaders. The Baha’i community in Isfahan has been under repeated attacks dating back to its inception, and prior to then those made on followers of the Bab. See references below to learn more about Babi/Baha’i history in Isfahan.
Note: This posting is incomplete as there are many more photographs to document this event. However, they along with journaled accounts are in storage and currently not available. It is my hope to expand this narrative when opportunity and time permit. It will also include information about my host, the Maboobi family in Tehran.
The Babi Movement
“Babism was a 13/19th-century messianic movement in Iran and Iraq under the overall charismatic leadership of Sayyed ʿAlī-Moḥammad Šīrāzī, the Bāb (1235/1819-1266/1850). Babism was the only significant millenarian movement in Shiʿite Islam during the 13th/19th century and is of particular interest in that, unlike other Islamic messianic movements of approximately the same period, it involved, in its later stages, a wholesale break with Islam and an attempt to establish a new religious system.”
“Although the Babi movement as such was rapidly crushed and rendered politically and
rapidly crushed and rendered politically and religiously insignificant, the impetus towards the proclamation of a post-Islamic revelation was continued in Bahaism which began as a Babi sect in competition with that of the Azalī Babism during the 1860s. The relative success of Bahaism inside Iran (where it constitutes the largest religious minority) and in numerous other countries, where it claims the status of an independent religion, gives renewed significance to its Babi origins; indeed, Babi history and doctrine live on, albeit in a much revised form, in the literature and self-image of the modern Bahais.” Ref. BABISM. The Babi movement.
Baha'i Property in IsfahanSlide Presentation
Baha'i Holy Places
Holy places associated with the stay of the Báb in Isfahan include the house of the Imám-Jum`ih; the palace of Manúchihr Khán at Chihil Sutún; the house of Mírzá Asadu’lláh Vazír where the remains of the Báb were kept for a short time; and the house and tombs of the King of Martyrs and Beloved of Martyrs, together with the adjacent tomb of Ransom-Kehler. Keith Ransom-Kehler (February 14, 1876–October 27, 1933) was an American Bahá’í and Hand of the Cause of God. She is believed to have been the Bahá’í Faith’s first American martyr.
Bibliography. History of the Bahá’í Faith in Isfahan (author unknown), photocopy of mss. in Afnán Library; Áqá Husayn `Alí Núr, memoirs written in 1346, photocopy of mss in Afnán Library, partially published as Khátirát-i-Muhájirí az Isfahán dar zamán shahádat-i-Sultánu’sh-Shuhadá va Mahbúbu’sh-Shuhadá, Mu’assisih Millí Matbu`át-i-Amrí, 128/1971; ZH 3:89-105; 6:137-300; 8a:121-174. M. Momen, “Social Basis of the Bábí Upheavals in Iran (1848-53): a preliminary analysis”, International Journal of Middle East Studies 1983, 15:157-183.
The origins of the Bahá’í Faith go back to a religious movement founded in AD 1844 by a young Iranian merchant, Sayyid `Alí Muhammad Shírází (1819-1850), who took the title of the Báb (the gate). His followers were therefore called Bábís. In 1844, in Shiraz in the south of Iran, the Báb gathered around himself a group of eighteen disciples whom he named the “Letters of the Living.” Among these disciples was one woman who was given the title of Táhirih (the pure one). She was not present in Shiraz but the Báb accepted her as one of the Letters of the Living on account of a message of acceptance that she sent him. The Báb dispersed the Letters of the Living throughout Iran and surrounding countries to spread his message, while he himself set off towards the end of 1844 on the pilgrimage to Mecca.
In Mecca, the Báb announced his message, but was generally ignored. His plans for proceeding from Mecca to Karbala, a holy city in the south of Iraq, also came to nothing owing to the fierce opposition which one of his disciples had encountered there. The Báb returned to Shiraz and was detained and placed under house arrest by the governor of that city.
Despite these early setbacks, the message of the Báb spread throughout Iran. Many thousands of people became his followers including many religious scholars of Islam. The governor of Shiraz, fearing the growth of the movement, decided to arrest the Báb again in 1846. His officials carried out the arrest but the sudden appearance of cholera in the city threw everything into confusion and the Báb was allowed to leave the city. He journeyed to the city of Isfahan in central Iran. The governor of Isfahan was a Georgian Christian who had converted to Islam and risen to his present high position. He asked the leading Shi`i religious official in the city to accommodate the Báb.
Isfahan was then the leading centre of Shi`i Islam in Iran. Here the Báb wrote several of his most important works and discussed these with the religious scholars and students gathered there. His teachings convinced many including the governor of Isfahan. The latter offered to put his personal fortune at the disposal of the Báb and to arrange a personal interview with the Shah.
Reports from Isfahan and all over Iran were arriving at the capital about the new religious movement. They alarmed the Prime Minister, who sent orders to Isfahan for the arrest of the Báb. The governor of Isfahan hid the Báb for a time in one of his palaces, but in February 1847, this governor died. His successor had the Báb sent under guard towards Tehran.
The Prime Minister, whose own position was dependant on the religious influence that he wielded over the Shah, feared that the results of any meeting between the Báb and the Shah would lead to the loss of his own position. He, therefore, halted the progress of the Báb’s escort outside Tehran and diverted them to Maku in the extreme north-west of Iran. Here in a remote corner of the country and imprisoned among a hostile people, the Prime Minister hoped that the Báb would be isolated and his movement would gradually die away. The Prime Minister’s hopes were not, however, fulfilled. The Báb won over his prison warder in Maku and his teachings continued to spread through the towns and villages of Iran.
In 1848, several significant events occurred. Early in this year, the Prime Minister changed the place of imprisonment of the Báb from Maku to Chihriq in the hope of making him more isolated. Also in this year, the Báb issued the Bayán, his principal book of laws and teachings. This book made it clear that he was in fact inaugurating a new religious dispensation that abrogated the dispensation of Islam. This fact was then proclaimed in a conference of his followers held in the summer of that year in a village called Badasht on the road between Tehran and the north-east. At about the same time, the Prime Minister had the Báb brought from his imprisonment to Tabriz, the provincial capital of the north-west. There a mock trial was held before the crown-prince and an assembly of religious notables in the hope that the Báb would be humiliated. The Báb, however, conducted himself with a dignity that won him even more supporters. The trial also gave the Báb an opportunity to announce publicly his claim to be the Mahdi of Islam.
Between 1848 and 1850 there were several episodes in which the religious leaders in various localities around Iran stirred up the people against the Bábís;. When this resulted in civil unrest, the local authorities called upon the Shah’s army to attack the Bábís;s. These episodes culminated in several massacres of Bábís;s in different parts of Iran.
In the middle of the year 1850, the new Shah and his Prime Minister decided that the only way of stopping this religious movement would be to execute the founder. They therefore had the Báb brought to Tabriz again and suspended in a public square in front of a firing squad consisting of a regiment of soldiers. There then occurred what Bahá’ís consider to have been a miracle. All of the shots missed and the Báb seemed to have disappeared. He was eventually found dictating his last words to his secretary. The Báb was then brought back to the square, suspended again, and a new regiment was lined up (the first regiment having refused to carry out a further attempt). This time the shots succeeded and the Báb was killed. His body was rescued by some of his followers. After being hid in various places for fifty years, it was eventually interred in a shrine on the side of Mount Carmel in the city of Haifa. An imposing superstructure was then built over this shrine.
The persecutions of the Bábís continued over the next few years. Eventually in the summer of 1852, a small group of Bábís decided to obtain revenge on the Shah by assassinating him. Their plans were, however, poorly made and the plot was a failure. Although most of Bábís had not been involved in the plot, this event triggered an intense persecution that resulted in the execution of almost all of the remaining leading Bábís. Among those executed was Táhirih, the female member of the Letters of the Living.
Extracted from: A Short Introduction to the Bahá’í Faith.
Office of the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Isfahan
Image of Abdu’l-Baha placed within embroidery.
Dedicated to the Twin Shining Lights (see below)
Núrayn-i-Nayyirayn (Arabic: نورين نيّرین, meaning “twin shining lights”) are two brothers who were followers of Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith, a global religion of Persian origin. The two were natives of Isfahan, and both were rich and highly endowed with trading acumen. They were beheaded in the city of Isfahan in 1879 as a result of being Bahá’ís. Numerous letters and tablets were written in their honour by Bahá’u’lláh, who gave them the titles which they are commonly known as: the King of Martyrs and the Beloved of Martyrs.
Sultánu’sh–Shuhada’ (King of Martyrs)
Mahbúbu’sh–Shuhadá’ (Beloved of Martyrs)
On the right is the older brother, Mírzá Muhammad-Husayn, given the title Mahbúbu’sh–Shuhadá’ (Beloved of Martyrs). His brother, Mírzá Muhammad-Hasan, was given the title Sultánu’sh–Shuhada’ (King of Martyrs). The latter was identified as one of the nineteen Apostles of Bahá’u’lláh.”
This dastardly act against the brothers was influenced by three persons: Mir Muhammad-Husayn, the Imám-Jum’ih of Isfahan; Shaykh Muhammad-Baqir, another influential Muslim cleric of Isfahan; and Sultán-Mas’úd Mírzá, the son of Násiri’d-Dín Sháh, who governed Isfahan during the time.” Images below show the ornately designed home in which the two brothers lived. For additional information click on Wikipedia
A grievous event of great consequence occurred in Isfahán during the last few months of Bahá’u’lláh’s residence in the Mansion of Mazra’ih. This was the martyrdom of two distinguished followers of Bahá’u’lláh, the ‘twin shining lights’ Mírzá Muhammad-Hasan and his elder brother Mírzá Muhammad-Husayn, surnamed respectively by Bahá’u’lláh ‘Sultánu’sh-Shuhadá’ (King of the Martyrs) and ‘Mahbúbu’sh-Shuhadá’ (Beloved of the Martyrs). Reminiscent of the martyrdom of Badí,* this tragic event caused the Pen of the Most High to lament their loss for several years. In no less than one hundred Tablets He recounts their story, discloses their exalted station and praises their virtues.
In a Tablet, to one of the Afnáns, Bahá’u’lláh, in the words of Mírzá Áqá Ján His amanuensis, makes a statement that can be described only as astounding. He states that the martyrdom of these brothers made a greater impression, exerted more influence and was more heart-breaking than the Martyrdom of their Lord, the Báb, whom they served and worshipped.
The King of the Martyrs and Beloved of the Martyrs were born to a noble family in Isfahán. They were nine and ten years of age respectively when the Declaration of the Báb took place in 1844.
Their two illustrious uncles, Mírzá Hádí and Mírzá Muhammad-‘Alí (the father of Munírih Khánum, the wife of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá) had embraced the Faith of the Báb in the early days of its Revelation. They both took part in the Conference of Badasht. But their father, Mírzá Ibráhím, was not a believer at the time; he recognized the truth of the Faith later. He was engaged in the service of Mír Siyyid Muhammad, the Imám-Jumi’h* of Isfahán, as manager of his financial affairs. When the Báb went to that city He stayed part of the time as a guest in the home of the Imám-Jumi’h.
Because of his close association at that time with the Báb, Mírzá Ibráhím, though not a believer, entertained Him one day in his home. On that occasion the two young brothers and their uncles† attained the presence of the Báb. This meeting left an abiding impression on the two youths, who became ardent believers through the efforts of their uncles, especially Mírzá Muhammad-‘Alí who later accompanied them to Baghdád where they attained the presence of Bahá’u’lláh. As a result of their meeting with Him, they became aware of His exalted Station and were filled with the spirit of faith and certitude. The splendours of the Face of their Lord brightly illumined their beings and they returned home radiant as shining lights.
In those days merchants occupied an important position in the community. The King and the Beloved of the Martyrs were held in high esteem as merchants of note by the inhabitants of Isfahán. These two brothers had established a very prosperous business there, but they were not attached to earthly possessions. Through their generous support they were able to alleviate some of the hardships which Bahá’u’lláh and His companions had to endure in the course of His successive exiles and confinements. They also spent much of their enormous wealth on the poor, and lovingly harboured the distressed and the needy at all times. For example, they provided food and other necessities for a great many starving people during a famine in Isfahán. In their dealings with people they were renowned for their trustworthiness, honesty, compassion, loving-kindness and generosity. They were shining embodiments of all Bahá’í ideals. Their love and devotion for Bahá’u’lláh knew no bounds. The praise that Bahá’u’lláh has lavishly showered upon them is ample testimony to the loftiness of their station, the nobility of their character and the purity of their souls. Reference: The King and Beloved of the Martyrs.
All photographs were taken by Terry Nelson during 1970-71. The exception is images of the two brothers known as “Twin shining lights” from Wikipedia
Eminent Bahá’ís in the time of Bahá’u’lláh. Balyuzi, H.M. (1985). The Camelot Press Ltd, Southampton. ISBN 0-85398-152-3.
Memorials of the Faithful. `Abdu’l-Bahá (1971)
Persecution and Resilience: A History of the Baha’i Religion in Qajar Isfahan
The Dawn-Breakers: Nabíl’s Narrative of the Early Days of the Bahá’í Revelation
Baha’i Historical Facts
The Baha’i Faith in Iran/Three Clerics and a Prince of Isfahan: Background to Bahaullah’s Epistle to the Son of the Wolf
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