[Translator’s notes appear in square brackets.]

[Personal information has been redacted.]

[The excerpt below is from the section of the article that pertains to the Baha’i Faith]


[Adapted from website:] BBC Persian

[Date:] 24 Tir 1392 – 15 July 2013


Multi- voiced Resources Report on Babi Movement

Hosein Kamali – Lecturer at Barnard College of Columbia University

The most serious historians of contemporary Iran have discussed the history of the Babi movement that arose in Iran in the mid-nineteenth century: from Fereydun Adamiyat to Mahmoud Enayat; from Ahmad Kasravi to Ehsan Tabari ; from Morteza Chahardahi to Mohammad Reza Feshahi; from Abdolhossein Navaei to Abdollah Shahbazi (historians who have written in Persian) and from Abbas Amanat and Saied Amir Arjomand and Amin Banani to Mongol Bayat and Hamid Dabashi (historians who have written in English) and the others in other languages…

One thousand years after the minor occultation, Seyyed Ali Mohammad Shirazi known as “The Bab” (executed on 28 Sha’ban 1266 – 9 July 1850) declared himself to be the Promised Qa’im. In response to that claim, proponents and opponents from the four corners of the country have been in conflict now, for two or three generations.

What was the Bab’s Call? What did it mean? What developments did it go through? What appealed to his followers and opponents? What consequences did it provoke and who and how [did] some accept him; What did they do? With what accusations and justifications did the Naser al-Din Shah’s agents kill him in Tabriz and his supporters elsewhere? all of these topics created discussion and are controversial in many ways.

The differences between historians indicate the complexity of the historical issue. There are [illegible] and dogmatisms in both pros and cons, that have led to the multi-layered twist in the research work. But the main problem is not always fanatism. Wherever there is prejudice, history will be contaminated.


According to Ahmad Shamlou,

At the time of Sultan Mahmud reign, he was killed because he was a Shia.

At the time of Suleiman’s reign, he was killed because he was a Sunni.

At the time of Naser al-Din Shah reign, he was killed because he was a Babi

At the time of Mohammad Ali Shah reign, he was killed because he was a Constitutionalist

At the time of Reza Shah reign, he was killed because he was against Constitutional Monarchy

Only monologue accounts have remained from the incursions of Sultan Mahmud and from the suppression of the Mazdak and Babak movements, and they are often from the same source or sources—all exclusively from the point of view of the conquerors.

Contrary to these accounts, multi-voiced and inconsistent reports have been received about the Babi movement.

At least three different eyewitnesses have narrated the trial of the Bab in Tabriz with some variations; Naser al-Din Mirza, the prince, in a letter to his father Mohammad Shah; the prince’s teacher, Mirza Mahmoud Nezam al-Ulama who quoted for the official [Imperial] court historians and Sheikh Mohammad Mamaghani, the Leader of Akhbari Scholars / Sheikhi of Tabriz.

According to official historians of the Nasserite court, as it has been reported in; Nasikh al-tawarikh of Lesan al-Mulk Sepehr, Rawzat as-Safa of Hedayat, and in the book Al-mutenabbi of Etezadol-Saltaneh, that Naser al-Din Shah neither ordered nor insisted on killing the Bab. Rather, the insistence of Amir Kabir [the Prime Minister] and the fatwas of the Fundamentalist and Sheikhi clerics—against the will of the Shah—led to the execution of the Bab. This report paints a picture of an insightful wiseman of Naser al-Din Mirza—the sixteen-year-old Crown Prince living in Tabriz—who recognized the superficiality and narrow-mindedness of the Bab and forgave his bigger claim. And to deny his claim of Mahdism, attributed to him, he contends like this:

The (awaited Imam) has not appeared for a thousand years, so that when he appears, the people sometimes discipline him with a stick, and sometimes suffer him by putting him in a prison in Chehriq. I have come to know, that you tried to conquer the sun and in the summer of Bushehr and the heat of the ‘Atabat [Holy Shrines of Imams] in the sun, with your head naked, you spent your day and night, such that your intellectual powers were damaged and have been like a crazy man. So, I will not order your execution.

… The Treatise of [Namus-e] Naseri indicates that all those orders were issued by the King although historians of the time, who were not present in that meeting, have said that Mohammad Mamaghani issued the order. Sheikh Mahmoud, his son reminds us that “it was the King who sought refuge in religion and owed his life to Islam, and ordered the elimination of this perverse sect.”

… Mamaghani apologized to Nezam al-Ulama, Sepehr and Hedayat, but stressed that the organizer of the meeting and the narrator of the event, completely forgot his own facts which were the correct version of the events. In other words, whatever Nezam al-Ulama has said and the other two quoted him, was incorrect. Because there is a general “contrast between the written resolutions of that meeting and what has been narrated, such that it can be said that none of that has happened.”

The question is not whether Mamaghani’s narration or which of the other narrators is true or not. The point here is paying attention to the different sensitivities of history narrators and to the fundamental concerns of chroniclers, reflected in their statements or inconsistencies, fills the foyer of history with polyphonic echoes. Rejection of these differences is also evident in the secondary narratives taken from the narrator’s reports.

For example, the narration in the book of Qisas al-‘ulama of Tunikabuni, highlights the role of the [Shia] Fundamental Clerics, who are his heroes in crushing what he considered sedition.

In particular, he points to the response of Mojtahed[1] of Tabriz and without being present in the trial of the Bab, he had written to the prince, “From the collective writings of the trustees and considering the writings of this person [the Bab], his heresy and disbelief are brighter than sun and clearer than yesterday. After the testimony of witnesses, the claim of the plaintiff is not discussed again”.

On the other hand, the detailed narration in the study of “Matale al-Anwar” by Baha’i historian Mohammad Nabil—reflects the author’s sense of devotion and acknowledgment of Bab’s Call. He describes the course of events in a way that is always empathetic, although the credibility of the reports is not always consistent. Here too, the religious beliefs of the writer and the theme of the author’s historical narrative reflect each other.

About one hundred and sixty -seventy years ago, around the same time that the Babi movement had started, the great German historian Leopold von Ranke defined the function of history like this, “It is to report ‘whatever has truly taken place’.”

This ideal still guides true historians whose methods are separate from the distorters, and they who consider their function other than accepting the will of those in power or empowering their allies.

Another key idea that matured in the post-revolutionary generation and is now one of the structural pillars of modern historiography, is that language is not only involved in reporting “what actually happened” but also in shaping and constructing reality.

Examining the heterogeneity of sources reporting the Babi Movement is an attempt to shed light on the still darkened horizon of contemporary historiography, despite the passage of several generations.

It is crucial that historiography is left to the historians. True historians who know the past do more than capture moments and narrate and critique narratives. The prerequisite for true reporting is the training of the ears to distinguish, separate, and combine together the melodies, the pauses and the distances in the foyer of history, from the corners of which the reverberating mechanism of the people of centuries and millennia is intertwined, point by point.



[1] [Mojtahed:  Clergyman practicing religious jurisprudence]