[PROVISIONAL TRANSLATION FROM PERSIAN]

 

[Translator’s notes appear in square brackets]

[Personal information has been redacted.]

 

[Magazine:] Payam-e Baha’i

[Date:] January 2003

[Issue No.:] 278

[Page:] 17-23

 

HISTORY OF THE BAHÁ’Í FAITH IN THE VILLAGE OF IVEL

By Ali Ahmadi

This article is a summary of a detailed account written about the history of the Faith in the village of Ivel (Mazandaran) and shows how the Bahá'í Faith started and spread in that village as well as the grave events that surrounded the followers of the Greatest Name there.

To create this article the writer has used both oral and written research, which includes a study of 40 books and interviews with 50 people.  This history begins with an account of the establishment of Ivel and how the first residents came to occupy it.  Then the history of the first believer and the conversion of half of the residents to the Faith is explained.  Following that, the incidents that occurred after the Islamic revolution that resulted in the expulsion and homelessness of the friends of Ivel in 1362 [1983] are detailed.  The writer was a witness to the recent persecutions, but is hopeful for the future of the Faith in Ivel according to the following prophecy:

“At present the state of affairs is in turmoil, tribulations are manifold and the authorities have launched attacks from every direction.  However, the invisible Hand of God is at work and the wrathful Avenger is watching over the oppressed community of the righteous and the pious.”

[Shoghi Effendi, Compilations, Fire and Light, p. 36)

During the early days of the ministry of the Báb, with the conversion of Mulla Mohammad Ali Barfurushi, Mazandaran was illumined with the belief in the Faith of God.  Sometime later, owing to the travels of Bahá'u'lláh in Nur and its environs, a group of those who were ready were attracted to the Faith.  The events at Fort Tabarsi and the steadfastness and sacrifice of the followers of Hazrat-i-Quddus spread the fame of the Faith in Mazandaran.  Among the survivors of Tabarsi were two brothers, Aqa Seyyed Abo Taleb and Aqa Mohammad Reza Shahmirzadi, who continuously travelled in Mazandaran and its surrounding villages to teach the Faith; this resulted in the spread and strengthening of the Faith in that region.  The belief in the Faith by Mulla Ali Jan Mahfuruzaki, the martyr during the time of Bahá’u’lláh, had a strong influence on his friend Mulla Hosein-Ali Ayyubi Hezarjaribi.  Mulla Hosein-Ali started to teach and was able to bring the light of the Faith to the hearts of half of the farmers of Ivel.  In this way Ivel became famous in Chahardangeh and Hezarjarib.

Where is Ivel and who was Mulla Hosein -Ali?

Hezarjarib is one of the sectors of Mazandaran which is a mountainous area in its southern region spreading from east to west like a bow.  It is situated at the borders of Savadkuh and Gorgan and is divided into two sections of four and two dangs [six shares of real estate].  The four dang section is divided into three parts:  Chahardangeh Surtichi, Chahardangeh Mas`udu’l-Mulk and Chahardangeh Shahriyari.  The village of Ivel is situated in Chahardangeh Surtichi, situated southeast of the city of Sari.  The reason for calling this section Chahardangeh Surtichi is related to the participation of Aqa Abdollah Surtichi in the early confrontations with the fighters of Tabarsi by the order of Nasirid-Din Shah.  He was killed in the fighting and as a reward for the shedding of his blood Nasirid-Din Shah named this section for him.

The geographical latitude of Ivel is 36 degrees and 14 minutes and its longitude is 53 degrees and 41 minutes.  Its altitude is about 1700 meters and it is situated 90 kilometers from Sari.  Ivel in earlier days was the summer residence of sheep farmers who gradually started farming there and in the 16th century it was converted from the migrating camp of shepherds to their permanent residence.  They were the serfs of owners and after the land reform [by the Shah], the lands of Ivel were divided among the residents of Ivel, some of whom, in addition to farming, started working in carpentry.

There were some scholars among the people of Ivel, including a man named Mulla Hosein-Ali, known as Alishah.  He had written several books, among them a commentary on the Quran in 1209 A.H.  Alishah had a grandson who was named after him and from childhood signs of genius were apparent in him.  He had a beautiful voice.  Mulla Hosein-Ali lived in the same religious chamber with Mulla Alijan Mahfuruzaki and they were close friends. After finishing his studies, Mulla Hosein-Ali became a performer of special sermon called Rowzeh [Recitation of the sufferings of holy martyrs] in Ivel and its surroundings.  Soon he became so well-known in Hezarjarib that not only ordinary people, but Khans and wealthy people of Mazandaran invited him to perform Rowzeh.  When he became so well-known, his friend Jenab-e Mulla Alijan gave him the title of Nightingale of Religious Eulogists.

In one of his travels Mulla Hosein-Ali heard that his friend had become a Bábí and became very upset.  Because of his affection for his close friend, he went to Mahfuruzak to guide and warn him.  However, after hearing the proofs expounded by his friend, the light of faith burned in his heart and he returned to his home.  After a while Mulla Alijan travelled to Ivel and presented his friend with some sacred texts.  After reading them Mulla Hosein-Ali was confirmed in his faith and succeeded in gradually teaching a number of the farmers of Ivel.

The first person to oppose Mulla Hosein-Ali was his father-in-law.  He informed the ‘Ulama of Hezarjarib and they collectively complained about the situation of Mulla Hosein-Ali and his teaching the Faith, and with about 300 signatures and stamps sent it to Nasiri’d-Din Shah, asking him for a strong order.  Following this action by the ‘Ulama, Mulla Hosein-Ali and his sister, Umme-Layla, and 15 other men and women, most of them elderly, were arrested and sent to the Kiyasar, the central city of Chahardangeh, 17 kilometers from Ivel.  They were treated harshly during this detention but by presenting proofs, particularly the speech of Umme-Layla in the presence of the Shah’s representative, the ‘Ulama and a great number of other people, their abjectness was turned to honor and the ‘Ulama decreed their acquittal.

When the Center of the Covenant heard this news, He wrote a Tablet in honor of Mulla Hosein- Ali and encouraged him to give talks for the friends to strengthen them in the Divine Covenant.  The sapling of the Faith of God was planted in Ivel by Mulla Hosein-Ali and its branches and offshoots covered the village; so much so that half the population of Ivel embraced the new Faith.  Visits by Hands of the Cause of God Jenab-e Tarazollah Samandari, Ali-Akbar Furutan, Jalal Khaze` and scholars of the Faith—particularly Aqa Seyyed Mohammad Reza, Aqa Seyyed Abo Taleb Shahmirzadi, Nayyer , Sina, Mirza Haydar-Ali Isfahani, Mirza Hasan Noushabadi, Mulla Mohammad Malmiri and others—caused the strengthening and establishment of the Faith of God in this region.

A short time later, the semblance of calm ended and events occurred that led to the grave incident of the year 1320 [1941/1942].   In the midst of World War II and simultaneous with the arrival of Allied forces in Iran, great chaos appeared in many parts of Iran.  In Mazandaran government forces abandoned their bastions and sold their ammunition and firearms to the rabble at a cheap price.  Thus, groups of ruffians were formed who roamed around and plundered and pillaged the belongings of the villagers.  In the autumn of 1320 [1941], thirty armed ruffians entered Ivel and, with the cooperation of local agitators and trouble makers, started to persecute the Bahá’ís.  At first they arrested five well-known Bahá’ís and imprisoned them in the barn of Ivel’s village leader and beat them up.  The hapless Baha’is gave whatever they possessed to the oppressors to gain the freedom of arrested friends.  However, not only did the ruffians not release them but they increased their persecution to force them to deny their faith.  Two days and nights passed in this way and as they did not succeed, the friends were banished to a village seven kilometers away from Ivel.  After this banishment, they attacked the homes of the friends and by beating and force dragged the owners out of their houses to roam in the desert, then plundered all their belongings.

While the Bahá’ís of Ivel were homeless in jungles and deserts in the cold air of autumn, the ruffians returned the prisoners from Kordmir to Ivel and three days later, , released all of them except Mirza Aqajan  Jazbani.  He, like his friends, had been so badly beaten with wooden rods and the handles of rifles that he could not walk.  His wife carried him away from the prison.  A few minutes later armed ruffians barred the way of the husband and wife; one of them, known as Nemat, pointed his gun to the chest of Mirza Aqajan and shot him in front of his astonished wife.  His wife, witnessing the martyrdom of her husband, wailed on his body and immediately suffered a pain in her waist and became bowed.  To the end of her life, for nearly thirty years, she could not straighten her body.  In a letter addressed to her the beloved Guardian wrote, “The recent tragic event and new incident in the village of Ivel was the source of increasing sadness and grief … Soon the oppressors will see the fruits of what they planted and its punishment; and they are in manifest loss [I could not find this verse in the Quran.]  Solace the relatives of that oppressed one and give them the good news of the nearness of the morrow of comfort and prosperity and promised glory.’

When the news of this tragedy reached the friends of Sangsar they rose up and were able to return the homeless friends to their houses.  Nine months later, at the instruction of the beloved Guardian, the grounds of the Gulistan-i-Javid were ready and the remains of the martyr were transferred to the new cemetery.

With the semblance of calm, a Bahá’í school was established in Ivel for the education of children.  The first person to take action for this important enterprise was Mirza Abdol-Ali Shahab Shahmirzadi, who dedicated  two years of his life to the education and training of local residents, particularly the youth and children, whether Bahá’í or non-Bahá’í, and with his efforts the Local Spiritual Assembly of Ivel was established.  After Jenab-e Shahab other friends such as Mirza Avaz Mohammad Jazbani, who was martyred in Shahrud, and then two brothers of Ivel, Mirza Farajollah and Mirza Zolfaghar Naimi, and later Lotfollah Farsiyan, Fazlollah Thabetiyan and Mohammad Movafaqi, all friends residing in Ivel, continued the work.  In 1325 A.H [1946/1947]. The government school was established in Ivel with 20 pupils in four classes.  After a while, by the efforts of Mirza Naim Naimi, the number of pupils was increased to 120 in six elementary classes, serving seven nearby villages.

Among other activities of the local population was the establishment of a bath house with the assistance of Jenab-e Ali-Mohammad Nikaein and the changing of the bath house reservoirs with showers in compliance with the text of the Aqdas.[sic.] This was completed in the year 1340 [1961/1962] when it became available for use.

After the uprising of the year 1320 [1941/1942] until the Islamic revolution, the oppressed friends of Ivel were sporadically faced with persecution but they found strength in the travels of Bahá’í teachers and scholars and the activities of their administrative order and did not pay attention to [difficult] incidents.

Among the important events of this time was the travel of a member of Hujjatiyeh, known as Abdollahi, to Ivel.  He tried hard to create doubts and tear the bonds of unity between the friends, but he did not succeed.  When he did not get any results from his actions, he transferred his attention to the animals.  Usually, cows belonging to Muslims and Bahá’ís would graze together every day.  According to the decree of Abdollahi, the cows of Muslims and Bahá’ís had to be separated so that the law of cleanliness and avoidance of Nejasat [being unclean] could be observed.  For a few days the cows of Bahá’ís were confined in their barns and the cows of Muslims went to the pasture.  The friends repeatedly referred to the village head and talked about compassion for animals.  As a result the decision was made that cows would enter the pasture from opposite sides so that they would not mingle together and the great decree of Abdollahi would not be broken.  For a while, efforts were made for the separation of the cows, but their natural instincts were against the decree and finally Abdollahi [was unsuccessful].  The cows were delivered from Abdollahi’s decree and continued to graze together in one pasture.

Following the Islamic revolution in Iran, the land of the martyr Mr. Jazbani which had been endowed to the community and the Gulistan-i-Javid was confiscated by the government, and the efforts of the friends for its return remained fruitless.  Comings and goings of agitators and trouble makers to Ivel emboldened the Muslims and persecutions started.  The first group of Bahá'ís of Ivel faced with persecution were the innocent children of the government elementary school in Ivel.  The agitator and founder of this sedition was the teacher of the school, Furuzandeh, who was supposed to teach the children love and unity.  He encouraged the Muslim children to harm their peers and in front of Bahá'í children cursed the sacred leaders of the Faith.  For this reason, the Bahá’í children would cry and shun the school.  Actions of the parents of Bahá’í children lessened the activities of Furuzandeh in the school, but he started other intrigues such as not giving marks to Bahá’í children and failing them.

The difficulty started from the school and resulted in inspections, mischief, eavesdropping and creating trouble on the roads and on farms.  Finally the Muslims decided that either the Bahá’ís should recant their belief or leave the village.  To arrive at this goal they increased persecutions day by day.  After a while they denied the Bahá’ís the things as apparatus for grain-cleaning, school, and health clinics. Although all these institutions had been established with the efforts of the Bahá’ís.  Following these awful attacks against the Bahá’ís of Ivel, Muslims started to have discourse meetings and when they did not get any results they warned the friends against their steadfastness.

The evil activities of the foolish people reached a point where some of the Muslim elders raised their voices to say, ‘Why are you persecuting these people and depriving them of their comfort?  They are our relatives and from the same families.  Our living quarters are the same.  For long years we have lived in this place together and from now on also we need each other’s assistance.”  However, the persecutions did not cease and they reached a point where if the friends did not go the discourse meetings they would force them and pull them out of their houses and drag them to the venue without their shoes. They thought in this way the Bahá’ís would be forced to recant their faith.

The month of Ramadan 1362 [June 1983] arrived; the Muslims who had been defeated in all their efforts to force the friends to recant, decided to expel them from Ivel.  For this purpose they asked the neighboring villages for help.  On the 13th of Ramadan, three thousand people from nine villages gathered in Ivel to gain the bounty of participation in the actions.  On 7 Tir 1362 [28 June 1983] Muslims formed two security groups of men and women and while the security groups walked in front, the mass of people walked behind them.  Shouting slogans, they went to every single Bahá’í home and dragged out the members of the families, whether children or elderly, and locked the doors of the houses.  The friends faced the group and with meekness said a few words or a poem that explained their situation to awaken the rabble to realize what they were doing.  However these expressions did not have any effect in those ignorant people who seemed as if they had filled their hearts with enmity.

One of the friends recited a poem saying, ‘I sacrificed the bricks of this mortal building for eternal life.  I sacrificed my honor and comfort for the curses of my enemies.’

An old lady who walked with a cane with great difficulty moaned, ‘we children have no one today; we are poor and strangers and have no rescuers; God is our refuge.’

Another person sang, ‘See what ignorance has done to us and has created disunity among people of the world.’  And, as though he had been invited to a feast, he continued, ‘The era of civilization is renewed, we offer thanks; the fame of Iran is spreading, we offer thanks.’

When the Muslims made certain that all the friends were driven out of their homes, they took them a kilometer away from the place and like cattle herded them into a bus and sent them to the city of Sari.  The authorities in Sari expressed sorrow about these acts and ordered that officers return them to their town and leave them back in their homes.

The bus carrying the Bahá’ís returned to Ivel at midnight and let them out.  Two police vehicles with 15 soldiers were now returning in the dark, cold and rainy dead of night, accompanying the elderly and sick and small children who were carried on the shoulders of some of the friends.   When informed of the return of the Bahá’ís, residents of the village poured out of their homes and, close to the Muslim cemetery, blocked the Bahá’ís from returning to their homes.  No requests or implorations affected those stone-hearted people.  Finally they were taken to the Ivel religious courtyard, Takiyeh[1], and were locked up.  There was no place to rest or light or fire to keep them warm.

While they were entering the Takiyeh the Muslim people threatened them saying, ‘You went and brought us officers? We will cut the heads off each of you.”  Thus, the Bahá’ís of Ivel who had been attacked on the morning of Tuesday by their fellow citizens, were now imprisoned by the same people at 2:00 a,m of Wednesday of 8 Tir, 1362 [29 June 1983], in the Takiyeh of Ivel so that the next morning their situation could be investigated.  A few hours after the detention of the Bahá’ís, Muslims started a fast with the sound of Adhan [call to Prayer], to receive the bounty of their actions.

For a few days the friends were kept in the Takiyeh.  From far and near ‘Ulama and officials and the mass of people gathered in Ivel to try to make the Bahá’ís recant their faith and supposedly cleanse Ivel.  However, they did not succeed and their impotence in confrontation with the steadfastness and strength of the Bahá’í farmers of Ivel was proven.  With the decree issued by the ‘Ulama that were present in Ivel, Bahá’ís were released from the Takiyeh to return to their homes; when they came out the door, those whose hearts were dark with prejudice, attacked and injured them.  The friends who were seeking shelter ran to whatever safe place they could find.  Some could evade the attackers and ran to the desert and some went to the closest houses of the Bahá'ís or hid in barns.

With the fear and anxiety that had occurred, soldiers found themselves confronted with the wrath of Muslims and ran away.  Even ‘Ulama and officials who feared for their lives ran away.  Only Bahá’ís were left in the clutches of their enemies.  Muslims took some of the Bahá’is to the bath house and, in their understanding, poured recantation water on their heads and let them leave.  Later on they observed them to see if they were pursuing Muslim rites.  The Bahá’ís who had fallen into the trap of the Muslims, soon found ways to free themselves from Ivel’s cage and left for other realms.  Thus Ivel was left without any Bahá’ís.

Conclusion:

The sapling planted by Mulla Hosein-Ali at the time of Bahá’u’lláh grew into a huge tree in such a way that the winds of the events of life could not damage it.  In the year 1362 [1983], although Ivel was empty of Bahá’ís and apparently the enemies had succeeded in extinguishing the light of the Faith of God in that region, they did not realize that their actions had caused the spread of awareness of the Faith not only in that region but in far-off lands.

Today the ruins and demolished homes of Bahá’ís tell all who see them a story of their steadfastness in the Faith.  The Bahá’ís of Iran are grateful to the Blessed Beauty that they were able to sacrifice all they had in the path of the Loved One of the world and to have a morsel from the bounty that has been spread in His sacred land.

The Bahá’ís of Ivel are confident that they will return to their homeland with the Will of God and will turn it to a center of activity for the Faith in Hezarjarib and Mazandaran.  And each one of them, according to the statement of Abdu’l-Bahá, will arise to serve like Mulla Hosein-Ali.

“Take the cup of the Testament in thy hand; leap and dance with ecstasy in the triumphal procession of the Covenant! Lay your confidence in the everlasting bounty, turn to the presence of the generous God; ask assistance from the Kingdom of Abha; seek confirmation from the Supreme World; turn thy vision to the horizon of eternal wealth; and pray for help from the Source of Mercy!”

(Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha'i World Faith - Abdu’l-Bahá Section, p. 351)

 

 

[1] Takiyeh: a gathering places for religious commemoration of passing of Imams such as Imam Hussein, and a temporary residence [hostel] for travelers. It is used as a local Mosque in small villages. In the past, it was use only as a place of worship by Sufis.