The Bahá’í Faith and the Iranian Constitutional Revolution (1905-1911)

The Bahá’í Faith and the Iranian Constitutional Revolution (1905-1911)

(Brief note on some sources)

Kavian S. Milani

The Bahá’í Faith has its origins in Persia, in the mid nineteenth century.  The founder of the religion Mirzá Husayn `Alí known as Bahá’u’lláh was born in Tehran, Iran in 1817 and passed away in Akka in modern day Israel in 1892 where he had been exiled due to the unconventional and unorthodox nature of his teachings such as the equality of women and men and the need for world peace.  While he spent the period of 1853-1892 in perpetual imprisonment in the hands of the two Ottoman and Persian Empires he wrote a large corpus of religious of writings that form the ideological and scriptural foundation of the Bahá’í Religion.  After his death in 1892 the leadership of the Bahá’í community fell to his eldest son `Abbás better known as `Abdu’l-Bahá (Servant of Bahá) until the latter’s passing in 1921.  The period under consideration (Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1911) was during the leadership of `Abdu’l-Bahá.

The historical roots of the Bahá’í Religion goes back to 1844 when an Iranian merchant named `Ali Muhammad (1819-1850) declared himself the promised Messiah of Shí`í Islam.  He was eventually arrested and was imprisoned for the duration of his ministry.  His ministry ended with a severe persecution of `Alí Muhammad who had meanwhile become known as the Báb (meaning the “gate”[1]) him and his followers by the Iranian religious authorities and state and he was eventually put to death by a firing squad in 1850.  From 1848 onwards and especially after his execution the Bábís (and especially the radicalized Bábís) attempted to challenge the Qájár State but these were unsuccessful.  The leaders of the religion all faced execution except two brothers, the older Mírzá Husayn `Alí (better known as Bahá’u’lláh) and the younger Yahyá (who became known as Subh-i Azal).  By 1863 Bahá’u’lláh had managed to attract a large number of Bábís to him and declared himself to have been the messianic figure whose advent had been prophesized by the Báb.  The Bábí Religion was transformed into a peaceful religion with universalistic goals.  The Azalí sect of Bábísm continued to exist for some time but it gradually receded in numbers.  The Cambridge Orientalist E.G. Browne (himself sympathetic to Azal) noted around 1909 that for every hundred Bahá’ís there were about three to four Azalís.[2]

The Iranian Constitutional Revolution is critical to an understanding of modern Iran.  In a highly unusual and uncharacteristic series of events the merchants (middle class), Islamic clergy (`Ulamá) and popular fronts came together to force the Iranian King in 1905-6 to grant a Constitution.  Shortly thereafter, in a dress rehearsal of the post 1905 events in Russia, the Iranian Monarch began to re-assert a despotic rule and eventually disbanded and annulled the constitution and bombarded the Parliament.  In the ensuing years the popular fronts formed an increasingly cohesive alliance and the King was deposed in 1909.  A second Parliament was then elected.

While the Bahá’ís have generally rejected partisan politics in favor of grassroots service and bringing about unity among differing factions the Bahá’ís did engage in some political activity in the aftermath of the Revolution.  Most significant was an attempt to have Bahá’ís represented by elected Bahá’í members in the Parliament.  This plan never officially materialized.  A study of the Bahá’í discourses on the Constitutional Revolution and the ensuing Bahá’í quietism is an issue that has not been addressed in any academic literature.  There is ample literature, for instance on the role of the Azalís in the Constitutional Revolution.[3] Browne, Bayat and Afary all devote much attention to the Azali involvement in the Constitutional Movement.  The Bahá’ís are, however, barely discussed.  This despite the fact that the Bahá’ís numbered between 50,000-100,000 during this period and the Azalís were probably only about three to four thousand.[4] The Bahá’ís also had much more receptivity to possibility and advantages of a Constitutional Movement as suggested by many of Bahá’u’lláh’s writings.[5] The lack of academic literature on this issue probably stems from the primary sources and has been carried over to the secondary Western sources.  This vacuum is the attention of this paper.  I will begin with the most general of sources and will analyze the most specific surveys later.  Not all sources are examined at the same level of detail, because the methodological approaches of some works require more discussion.

The major texts dealing with the events are either in Persian or English.  In general the Persian works are heavily based on primary materials, eyewitness accounts and archival material.  The English sources are based on the above primary sources as well as the Persian secondary sources.  The English sources, written by Western academics, are generally speaking more analytical, more informed with theoretical considerations, whereas the Persian secondary sources are extensive but rather undigested.  The interplay between the sources is very useful as the sources interact and complement each other very well.

Roots of the Revolution

Nikki Keddie

This is an introductory book with an overarching picture of the background of the Iranian Revolution drawn by the author in early 1980’s, i.e. in the early years after the Iranian Revolution of 1979.  Professor Keddie is a senior scholar at University of California at Los Angeles and she is one the most distinguished academicians in her field.  The book searches back for historical “roots” and accordingly has to comment and assess both the development of 19th century Bahá’í Faith in its Shi’ite milieu and the Constitutional Revolution.  Both treatments are introductory.  What is striking about her later book Roots of the Revolution is her subtle Marxist analysis, which can be contrasted with her earlier works assessed below.

Religion and Rebellion in Iran

Nikki Keddie

The immediate issue of analysis is the 1890-1891 Tobacco Revolt in Iran that was the forerunner of the upcoming Constitutional Revolution.  This is the second Keddie book examined in detail for the purposes of studying 19th century Iran.  It is also (by far) the clearest and better argued of the two books.  Her data is strong, her archival research very solid and her conclusions are very reliable and moderately voiced.  In all it is a superior book compared to the later Roots of the Revolution.  The difference between the two books may be that in the latter one Keddie has to argue (post hoc) for a revolution that was only one of a series of possible outcomes.  Accordingly her arguments appear “forced” in Revolution (see above).

Religion and Rebellion represents a very interesting analysis especially when compared with Ann Lambton’s chapter.  While they cover the same period Keddie is able to pull together her evidence in a more illuminating manner, and in fact she raises and answers very important questions.  The reader can see that the Tobacco Régie was the first occasion when many factions such as the clerics, small and large merchants and discontented intellectuals were able to unite and effectively force the adamant Monarch to back down from the concession.  The relationship between the intellectuals and clergy is explored (p.15), and root causes for the clerical opposition was investigated.  One may ask why is it that Tabriz (and to a lesser degree Shiraz) became centers of anti-Régie activity?  Two answers are provided by Keddie, one, that Tabriz was under Russian influence (p.74) due to its proximity (to Russia) and many of its officials were pro-Russian.  The other that the primary product of the province was tobacco and the Régie had the potential to decrease (and possibly eliminate) the tobacco margin of profit for the merchants.

Her comparison (p.7) of the Reuter concession with the Tobacco concession is very illuminating.  The comparison between the two movements of opposition is interesting, in the earlier case opposition stems from the reactionary quarters against a “reform” minded Prime Minister, whereas in the latter case the leading modernizers in the government had become leaders of opposition.  Great Britain also reacts differently in the two scenarios; in the earlier one she assumes an indifferent and passive role, whereas in the latter events she assumes an active role in support of the Shah and the Régie.  It is unclear whether the British were worried regarding to the possible destabilization of Persia or had financial concerns.  Of essential importance in the unfoldment of nineteenth century Iran (and twentieth century) was the strategic placement of the Usuli `Ulama within the Ottoman borders, in the `Atabat and far from the reach of the Qajar government (p.10).  This may have been a simple point but it is easy to gloss over.  The pro-Russian activities of Jamal ul-Din Afghani are also well analyzed, both here and in her other book An Islamic Response to Imperialism.  These are some issues raised and addressed especially well.

While less crude than Revolution she is still looking for a Marxist analysis.  To her credit she is probably correct in pointing out that the “mass of Iranians” (peasants) probably did not benefit from the “victory over the Tobacco Company.” (p.130-131) The peasants would have probably been better off with the Tobacco Company in that they would have received higher prices compared to what the Iranian merchants offered.  Her concern with the peasant population is a reflection of her subtle Marxist analysis.  She also makes an excellent point by stating, “a general lessening of foreign economic privileges, was not achieved.”  Applying Marxist thought to the Tobacco Régie makes one wonder, why did the peasants not rise up in its favor (if they would have been actually better off)?  Furthermore her use of the term “imperialist” or “imperialism” to describe events in 1890 is somewhat anachronistic.  These terms had not even been coined at the time and were actually coined by Bukharin and Lenin in the first decade of the next century.

The Evolution of Qajar Bureaucracy: 1779-1879

Middle Eastern Studies, Vol.7, no.2, May 1971

Professor Shaul Bakhash

This is one of the earliest modern studies of Qajar Iran bureaucracy.  It begins with the reign of Aqa Muhammad Khan (1779) and ends in 1879, about 25 years before the events of interest to the paper.  However the article by Bakhash is germane because it details the rise of the very bureaucracy that the Iranian Constitutional Revolution attempted to overthrow.  It is also the only historical work written before 1978 and hence it is pre-Orientalism and the Said critique.  It stands up very well to the Orientalism critique.[6] Primary and secondary sources are used and new insights and information is produced.  The item of particular interest is the complete suppression of any consultative endeavors by the elite (let alone any democratic participation!).  It does bring out the point also that there had been multiple reform movements in Iran (loosely based on the Ottoman Tanzimat reforms).

Mostashar od-Dowle and Akhundzade

Mehrdad Kia

The articles by Kia on Mostashar od-Dowle and Akhundzade examine the life, times and writings of two important reform minded Iranian intellectuals of the nineteenth century.  These two articles should be considered together because of the centrality and proximity of the two reformers in question.  While both figures were contemporaries and their discourse was directed against the same establishment (19th century Qajar Iran and especially its Government) they differed in their approaches and political writings.  Mirza Yusef Khan attempted to reconcile religion (Shi’ite Islam) with modernity and the rule of Law whereas Akhundzade showed a gradual, but definite dislike for (the Islamic) Qajar Iran, and eventually Islam and by extension all things `Arabic.

Methodologically Kia’s treatment of Yusef Khan is appropriate and his pointing out of discrepancies in his theories appears reasonable such as his inability to distinguish between the concept of consultation (Shawrá) in Islamic corpus and Western Democratic thought.  It would appear that Yusef Khan was rather “Eurocentric” in the sense that he studied and observed the West and attempted to implement its salient features in his philosophy.

Mirza Fath Ali Akhundzade was a far more interesting intellectual.  He was less compromising in his presentation of the problems plaguing 19th Century Iran.  His more radical discourse led him to break ties with all things Arab and Islamic very readily.  His career and life history in itself is very remarkable.  His poetry and other literary endeavors are other aspects of his intellectual life.  His attempt to simplify the Arabic script rendering it simpler to learn is yet another feature of his innovative thoughts.  These are all aspects of his counter-hegemonic thought.  His most intriguing discourse for this reader however is his “critique of autocracy and Islam.”  While like his friend, the Mostashar od-Dowle he has a “Eurocentric” approach and model in mind, his discourse against Arabs and Islam is innovative and novel.  According to Kia he compares the pre-Islamic era (regarded as era of power, peace, prosperity and justice) with the nineteenth century Iran (which he regarded as the embodiment of social injustice, economic stagnation, and dogmatism).  Akhundzade’s evidence for this is produced on page 433.

The Persian Revolution 1905-1909

Edward G. Browne

The Persian Revolution: 1905-1909 is a more or less contemporary account of the events of 1905-1909 that Browne maintained through his correspondence with the “active” elements within Persia.  The text is therefore on par with other classic accounts and in some sense may be seen as a “primary” source compilation by Browne.  This is attested by Amanat’s reference to this book and the Iranian classic Tarikh-i-Bidaryi- Iranian by Nazim ul’Islam.  In fact Amanat argues that “proximity” in content and perspective exists between the two, which he identifies as “intertextuality.”  The Persian Revolution: 1905-1909 is an excellent text with a wealth of information.  It should be critiqued at least from three perspectives.  One is the “Orientalism” charge that could potentially be leveled against Browne (as Said does in Orientalism 224).  The other is related to the first and concerns Browne’s Eurocentricsm.  Third, and also related to the first and second items is that Browne has close ideological and philosophical links to the liberal strand of the Persian Constitutional movement and not to the other two strong aspects of the movement, such as the Russian “Social Democrat” influences especially in the Azerbaijan and Gilan or the Shi’ite influences by the Ulama.  Therefore he seems to present an apology for the “liberal” strand (loosely defined) and attributes significant “agency” to their actions.

There is little doubt that Said has been over utilized and over analyzed especially in the area of Middle East studies.  Nevertheless it is useful to apply Said’s criticism to Browne (yet again).  In short Said essentializes Orientalism (and its modern day heir “area studies”) as colonial and imperialistic projects imposing discourses of power unto an inferior Orient.  Knowledge according to Said is utilized as power to sustain and advance itself.  No doubt Said’s discourse for the subaltern has definite benefits and allows for a richer analysis.  Nevertheless one wonders if the reader of The Persian Revolution: 1905-1909 can honestly accuse Browne of creating a discourse of “power” over the “Orient.”  Amanat successfully argues this point in his introduction to the new edition (X).  Clearly Amanat is dismissive of the Orientalism critique in general as he categorizes it as “negative stereotype” and “indiscriminate condemnation.”  Amanat’s misgivings about Said aside, his point is valid anyhow; that Browne in the text under consideration does not demonstrate the traits of Orientalism, with power using knowledge to advance itself.

The second point concerns Browne’s Eurocentric approach.  No doubt Browne is coming to his topic with a Western romantic master narrative.  The struggle of the late nineteenth century Iranians and the early twentieth century ones are part and parcel of the same master narrative that begins in Greece and Rome and travels westward to England and gives rise to the Magna Carta, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the United States Bill of Rights.  Browne sees the Iranians as driven by the rational and democratic spirit that is found in its most pristine form in the West.  This is acknowledged even by Amanat who suggests that “there was a moral undertone to Browne’s entire endeavor which appealed to Europeans” (X).  It is perhaps here that Browne is most susceptible to analytical errors.

The second point leads directly to the third point: No doubt Browne was highly sympathetic to the Western Liberal thread involved in the Constitution.  Accordingly he appears to dismiss other prominent “players” in the Constitutional Revolution.  Little is mentioned of the Russian Social Democrat connections among the revolutionaries, and especially the Azerbaijan and Gilan movements.  For instance it appears that he presented an attenuated picture of Taqizadeh.  Furthermore his correspondence and sympathy with the likes of Nazim ul-Islam (inadvertently) made him present a more favorable aspect of the Western inspired “liberal” revolutionaries.

There are also a series of inaccuracies in the book that are inadvertent.  These may also have been typographical such as the dating of the Reuter concession to January 1889 (31).  Browne also seems disinterested in social and economic analysis.  We don’t find out if the bourgeoisie was a strong one or was it fragmented and not unified.  What role exactly did the peasants play?  Did an intelligentsia exist with its own journalism?  In short, even though the book is excellent in that it preserves some firsthand data through correspondence and interaction with exiled revolutionaries it has significant analytical weaknesses compared to most modern works.

Iran’s First Revolution:

Shi`ism and the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1909

Mysticism and Dissent

Mangol Bayat

In her seminal text on the Iranian Revolution of 1905-1909 Mangol Bayat engages in a “new” interpretation of the Constitutional movement.  Her analysis is “new” in the sense that she further develops her “dissent” theory (advanced in Mysticism and Dissent) in order to present a cohesive interpretation of the Revolution.  Undoubtedly her analysis is important in that she takes a fresh look at many of the problems of the Persian historiography and manages to successfully identify three elements (or “revolutionary trends”); Shi`a radicalism, Western liberalism and Russian Social Democracy.  A corollary to her thesis is that the Shi`a mainstream Orthodoxy was the “least important” among the agents of change in society.

Ever since its publication Iran’s First Revolution has become one of the standard treatments of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution.  Bayat relies mostly on published (some primary and) secondary sources and relies on previous works for most of her primary data.  The strength of her argument does not come from any new material that she has unearthed, rather from her innovative analysis.  The two most frequently cited sources are the works of Kasravi and Nazem ul-Islam the latter comprising a primary source whereas the former is a secondary source.  The lack of specific research into archives or unpublished sources is one deficiency of the work.  However this deficiency would not be as problematic if new analytical models are offered opening new vistas and perspectives.

Bayat confines herself to the period 1905-1909, and so her narrative ends with the opening of the second Majlis and the end of the Istibdad-í saghir (the lesser despotism[7]).  While any author deserves the right to limit her study to a particular period in history one wonders if she should have extended her survey into December 24, 1911 and the coup by Nasser ul-Mulk and the dismissal of the Parliament.  It appears that the 1909-1911 period would have been ripe for analysis in light of the increasing factionalism among the groups contesting power.  On the issue of Azali-Babis one more point needs further elaboration.  The Azali Babis are a very heterogeneous group with a spectrum across time and ideology.  While some generalizations are acceptable, it does not necessarily follow that one could categorize Shaykh Ahmad Ruhi and Mirza Aqa khan Kirmani (d.1896) with Malek ul-Mutakalimin of decades later.  The spectrum of dedication to Azali-Babism, modernity or Western liberal democracy differed in most cases and perhaps needed more attention by Bayat.  It is also worth noting that she establishes the Azali-Babis as the “missing yeast” and the active ingredients of the political agitation.  However if one traces her “Shi`a dissident” tradition and identifies the essential features of their political ideology I am not convinced they would be any different that Western liberal modernizers, albeit from am Islamic milieu.  In other words Bayat has not produced any evidence to demonstrate that there was any essential political or theological difference between say Dehkhoda and Mirza Jahangir Khan Sur Israfil, one of whom was from tradition of “Shi`a dissent” and one who was a liberal.  This line of reasoning follows from her earlier work Mysticism and Dissent and was also treated in an unsatisfactory manner there.

Bayat is also perhaps too eager to locate religious “dissent” in her sources.  It should be noted that by 1905-1911 the Azalís she mentions had generally abandoned any serious attempt to propagate or advocate for Azali-Bábism, and had been largely assimilated back into their roots in Shí`í Islam.  Nor did Azal contribute any particular doctrinal or political impulse to the cause of democracy and the rule of law in Iran.

Nevertheless, both Bayat treatments of the Constitutional Revolution are seminal.  Neither one follows a straightforward Eurocentric master narrative.  Bayat’s treatment—in her latter book—is more complicated, and more innovative and she eventually raises more questions than she answers.  In this I feel indebted to Bayat as she has forced the reader to engage in theories and analysis that one would not have considered earlier.

The Iranian Constitutional Revolution, 1906-1911: Grassroots Democracy, Social Democracy, and the Origins of Feminism

Janet Afary

Janet Afary’s The Iranian Constitutional Revolution, 1906-1911: Grassroots Democracy, Social Democracy, and the Origins of Feminism presents a holistic view of the Iranian Revolution’s origins, events and its abrupt end (if not defeat) in December 1911.  One feels justified in describing the book as holistic because it does consider its subject from a variety of angles.  This book is clearly an important and innovative book with some unique methodological and analytical approaches.  The book examines the 1909-1911 period that was not covered by either Browne or Bayat.  Afary traces a number of currents such as grassroots democracy, the role of the SD parties, the Morgan Shuster factor, Azali-Babi activism and brings additional attention to the women activism.  She breaks new ground in all the above categories and the latter item that would have been her most original contribution to the field.

Afary’s analysis is ground breaking in many respects.  Even when she is dealing with issues such as Western democracy, Azali-Babi activism, Shí`í activism and the Russian SD influence, which have been dealt with by other authors such as Bayat, Browne, Kasravi and Nazem ul-Islam.  For example she is the first of these authors to examine suffrage rights in both early and late Constitutional periods.  Her source is Nazem ul-Islam, but none of the authors ever points out who got the right to elect or be represented in the Majlis.  It is of importance to Afary that women did not have suffrage.  It may have been less important to Browne and Kasravi for historical reasons, and to Bayat for analytical reasons.  To this reader the lack of voting rights for the soldiers in the first Majlis was also of paramount importance.  It is important historically because the government troops were to fight the revolutionary militia of Sattar Khan.  Would the outcome of the lesser despotism (or Muhammad-`Ali Shah’s coup –1907) been any different if soldiers were given suffrage by the first constitution.  One has to ask whether that would that have generated increased radicalism within the ranks of the soldiers bringing about a situation akin to the Provisional Government in Russia in 1917?  This particular question is important when one considers the obvious parallelisms between Iran 1906-1911 and Russia 1905-1921.  In both cases (Persia 1909 and Russia 1917) the conservative and institutional powers of the country were removed, leaving behind leftist groups and so called “moderates” who became the new “right”(I`tidáliyyún in Persia).  In Persia the moderate (but now “right”) forces consolidated themselves into a strong force, even though as Afary attests they had no progressive (if any) agenda.  They were there and their identity was derived from their resistance to the Ijtimá`iyyún (Social Democrats), who actually had a progressive agenda including universal education and land reform.  The question which needs further analysis is as follows: How come the Persian Revolution became more conservative leading to its eventual defeat (as Afary correctly points out) and what was different about Russia that (over) radicalized the Revolution into the Bolshevik fermentation?

Methodologically Afary exemplifies a refreshing diversity.  She is not bound by Marxist analysis but she uses it often (and appropriately so).  She treats Said and Fanon en passant without expressing much debt to either one of them.  Her most novel methodological contribution is her attention (and awareness) of the role of women.  She devotes one chapter to the Feminist issues (as well as scattered comments throughout) without distinguishing between the “women’s question,” “women’s movement” and the Feminist movement.  The three are related but they are very different, and in her book she is not able to define these clearly.  All three are presented as the “feminist” movement.  Arguably no significant feminist movement has occurred in Iranian history until the Diaspora Community was formed in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.  The proper terms for the Constitutional period would have been either women’s question (with historical agency resting with men) or women’s movement (with agency resting with women).  Despite such problems with nomenclature she still presents an important (and hitherto ignored) element of the Constitutional Revolution.

In short, the Afary book is an important one both content wise and analytically.  She presents the 1906-11 period in rich detail, and much to her credit the forest is not lost given the number of the trees.  Arguably it is a highly successful book that presents a balanced view of the events with which it is concerned.

Islam and Modernism: The Iranian Revolution of 1906

Vanessa Martin

The role of Shi’`í `Ulamá in the Iranian Constitutional Revolution has been debated ever since the early days of the Revolution.  Systematic attention has been given to the role of the `Ulamá by Algar, Martin and Bayat.  Algar has set up the modern debate by suggesting that there has been an inherent “tension” between the `Ulamá and the temporal rulers that predates the Qajar dynasty.  It was his thesis that given the political views of Shi’`í Islam true sovereignty rests with the Twelfth Imam (in Occultation) and in his absence the mantle of this sovereignty would fall on the `Ulamá.  Hence he argues for an active and politically conscious contestation of power culminating in increasing tensions with the Qajar State eventuating in the Tobacco Revolts (1890-91) and Constitutional Revolution (1906-1911).[8] Vanessa Martin in her Islam and Modernism: The Iranian Revolution of 1906 takes up the issue advancing a different thesis.  In short she seems to suggest that the Iranian Constitutional Revolution was really a bourgeois revolution with strict “agency” belonging to the tujjar (merchants) and not with the `Ulamá as a class.  She opines that most of the `Ulamá (with the exception of Tabátabá’í) had no truly democratic or reformist agenda, and were gradually forced into opposition with the autocracy over conflicts concerning personal gain and finances.  Of the `Ulamá, Martin states, only Shaykh Fadlu’lláh Nuri actually understood what was at stake and hence his vehement opposition to Constitutionalism and his adamant defense of autocracy.  Accordingly, the religious dissidents (of particular importance to Bayat) occupy little space in Martin’s narrative.

Martin is clear from the outset that the Iranian Revolution of 1906 was the result of the transformation of Iran from a feudal and backwards state to a modern and central state, consequent to the impact of European political thought (1).  However she somewhat contradicts her central thesis by repeatedly suggesting that it was the merchants who were interested in reform (out of financial necessity) and provoked the `Ulama.  Little evidence is provided for the intelligentsia’s influence except for Yek Kalameh influencing Tabátabá’í (82).  The Tujjar however are presented as historical actors who unleash the Constitutional Revolution as they “went in groups to the leading `Ulama to ask them to protest.”  Later on, it was the Tujjar who “used their influence in the bazaar to win widespread support for the bast” (90).  The Tujjar met with the Shah to inform him that it is “they” that “should determine who the members of the Majlis were, that is the Shah should have no say in who was chosen as a representative” (98).  Martin betrays this elsewhere by suggesting that in reality “the impetus did not come from Islam and the `Ulama were as much the guided as the guides” (87).  Martin argues that the `Ulama were also incapable of seeing that a nationalistic movement and a national parliament had been generated.  Of the `Ulama only Shaykh Fadlu’lláh Nuri was able to see the Constitutional Movement for what it was—a radical departure from Islam.  The rest of the `Ulama were following their own followers (and the merchants) who were pushing them into political confrontation and activism. Even Tabátabá’í was ignorant of the Mashrutiyyat According to Martin (82).

I remain somewhat unconvinced by her argument.  The `Ulama as a class and spectrum in society had no real reason to spearhead a constitutional movement if they were not (to some extent) genuinely interested.  It is true that some of the `Ulama did not favor constitutionalism.  Examples would include Aqa Najafi and Shaykh Fadlu’lláh Allah (in the late constitutional period).  But how can we make sense of the (albeit lukewarm) activism of Nuri in 1905-6.  He did have a close supporter and associate in the Prime Minister, and he nevertheless joined the constitutional movement in 1905.  His separation (and defection to autocracy) should be probably contributed more to the personal tensions he had with the other two clerics Tabátabá’í and Bihbahani, and he may have had serious reservations about the influence of Bábís and materialists.  Martin herself presents evidence that Tabátabá’í (as early as 1905) in letters to Nazim ul-Islam and in public speeches advocated for constitutionalism and spoke against autocracy (80-83).  She points out that Tabátabá’í “defined his council as one in which ‘shah and beggar would be equal according to the law’” (82).  Therefore it seems implausible to this reader that Tabátabá’í did not really understand “the conflict that might arise under the constitutional system between a law based on the word of God and one based on popular will” as Martin suggests (82).  A more likely possibility is that Tabátabá’í did foresee the tension between Islamic Canon and popular will but like Mirza Yusef Khan (author of Yek Kalameh) had to couch Western democratic ideas in guise of Sharí`a.  This is well supported by her argument in the chapter on Tabátabá’í (pages 82-83).

The Constitutional Movement is in fact a movement with a number of historical agents.  Martin is examining the role of the `Ulamá, but much of the historical agency is given to the merchants and to the Western influence.  The intelligentsias play a little (if any) role and the Social Democratic influence from Russia and the Caucasus is completely ignored even when analyzing the radical elements of the Movement and figures like Taqizadeh.  The heterogeneity of the Movement is therefore over-simplified into an interaction between the tujjar and `Ulama (both influenced by the West) against autocracy.  Therein lies Bayat’s greatest strength—in her bringing out of the intelligentsia, and the Social Democratic influence—accordingly painting a more heterogeneous and accurate landscape.

There are a number of other issues that while not directly linked to her thesis deserve some comment.  There are a number of misleading translations such as her rendition of Tawhid which is a theological term indicating the oneness of God as “unity” (121).  Nubuwwat also strictly speaking is prophet-hood and not “prophecy.”  Her transliteration of azadikhahan as azadikhvahan is also surprising as she transliterated a silent “v” (149).  Her comment about the presence of two political parties in the First Parliament—Azadikhvahan and the Mu`tadil (quoting Nezam Mafi) is also wrong.  There were no political parties in the First Parliament, with the exception of a small Social Democratic party (Ijtimá`iyyún `Amíyún) outside the Majlis according to Nezam Mafi (Majlis va Intikhábát 67).  Of particular interest in her sources is the use of anti-Bahá’í apologetics written by Christian apologists[9] as historical sources to the exclusion of works by academic historians such as Abbas Amanat.  She also gives 1843 as the origin of Babi Movement, which is incorrect, the correct being 1844 (21).

The Martin book is a well-researched book with a careful look at the role of the `Ulama (and the Tujjar) in the Constitutional Revolution.  The highlights of her analysis to this reader were in her exploration of the economic causes of the Revolution and the spectrum of political interest in the constitutional Cause.  The gist of her argument is directed against Algar and his thesis of Shi’`í illegitimacy of the secular State.  In her analysis the `Ulama in either camp held such ideas rather they were divided and debating over autocratic (and Islamic State) versus a more Western style democratic Movement.  The best exponents for each camp are Shaykh Fadlu’lláh and Tabátabá’í respectively.

Modernity & the Millennium: The Genesis of the Baha’i Faith in the Nineteenth-Century Middle East

Juan R.I. Cole

In the past two decades discourses on the Middle East have been influenced by the seminal work of Edward Said, and his multicultural critique of power.  Juan Cole notes his critique of “power as knowledge” as a means to exert power and dominate the subaltern in “Modernity and Millennium[10],” and other recent works.  Juan Cole is the editor of the major academic journal in Middle East studies, and is a professor of history at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor).  While his Modernity and Millennium has become a major contribution to the field and was well received some issues with regards to its methodology deserve additional comment.  As it stands my reading of Modernity and Millennium in the context of current historical discourses reflects a position of Western Eurocentricsm and hegemony, embodying the very traits of Orientalist discourse, which Said condemns.  In the context of his application of what I see as high-orientalism to his subject, i.e. the Bahá’í Faith, he undermines the (textual) self-understanding of Bahá’í Revelation and the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh in a number of critical ways.  I will pick up the thread of “agency” in this posting.

I thought that the book was an engaging read and was germane to the discourses concerning the Bahá’í Faith.  By this I mean the discourses (mostly internal) to Bahá’í scholarship both in print and electronic mediums (such as H-BAHA’I).  A feature of Orientalism is that it denudes its subject from “agency.”  The subaltern (or Orient) is the “passive reactor,” fixed in time and space ready to appease (and serve) the Occident.  It is to this lack of agency that I will first turn. Here is Said quoting Anwar Abdel Malek regarding the lack of agency:

This ‘object’ of study will be, as is customary, passive, non-participating, endowed with a ‘historical’ subjectivity, above all, non-active, non-autonomous, non-sovereign with regard to itself…(Orientalism 97)

Here is another example from Orientalism (108):

In a sense the limitations of Orientalism are, as I said earlier, the limitations that follow upon disregarding, essentializing, denuding the humanity of another culture, people, or geographical region.  But Orientalism has taken a further step than that: it views the Orient as something whose existence is not only displayed but has remained fixed in time and place for the West.  So impressive have the descriptive and textual successes of Orientalism been that entire periods of the Orient’s cultural, political, and social history are considered mere responses to the West.  The West is the actor, the Orient a passive reactor.  The West is the spectator, the judge and jury, of every facet of Oriental behavior.

Orientalist discourse is premised on such imposed lack of agency.  Accordingly, even if the Orient produces anything useful or worth attention, it is because it is “influenced” or “reacting” to the West, whether Western industrialization, technology, democracy or better yet the Rational Spirit.  The Bahá’í Faith accordingly is an Eastern “response to modernity.”  This argument is further developed in Modernity &Millennium (24):

‘The urgency of finding a resolution to the long-term problem of authority in a Shi`ism lacking an imam was greatly increased in the nineteenth century by the impact of modernity.’

The last Shí`í Imam (hereditary spiritual leader) had gone into occultation in the 9th century only to reappear at the eschatological end of time.  Since modernity has been a process in place since the 18th century one wonders how is it that the “vacuum” created by “the long-term problem of authority” (more than 900 years for Shí’í Muslims) became an “urgent” one in 1844.  Why was the vacuum different in 1800 versus 1810, or say, 1870?  How come the “impact of modernity” did not cause any other notable messianic movements in the Shí`í populations of modern-day Caucasus, Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq?  I am perfectly willing to concede that the emergence of European trade and industry had some impact on the Persian society, but I remain unconvinced that the Bábí-Bahá’í Movements can be reduced to responses to modernity based on the data Juan Cole presents.  Perhaps the main problem is one of “agency” and whether anything good can come out of the East.

Another example occurs worth noting is that Cole attributes Bahá’u’lláh’s interest in the poor, and their plight from the disparity between the rich and the poor during Bahá’u’lláh’s exile Constantinople in 1863 (Modernity 54).  It should be noted that a strong emphasis on the poor and the responsibilities of the rich and wealthy towards the poor has been an integral aspect of his pre-1863 teachings (and it remained an important one throughout his life).  The following example is from the Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh written in the mid-1850’s:


Tell the rich of the midnight sighing of the poor, lest heedlessness lead them into the path of destruction, and deprive them of the Tree of Wealth. To give and to be generous are attributes of Mine; well is it with him that adorneth himself with My virtues.          (The Persian Hidden Words)

In conclusion, while Juan Cole is a preeminent academician and the quality of his scholarship is generally very good he is somewhat open to Said’s critique of Orientalism.  While Modernity and Millennium is essential to any serious discourse on the subject his work nevertheless should be approached cautiously.

Iranian Millenarianism and Democratic Thought in the Nineteenth Century Middle East IJMES vol.24 (Feb 1992): 1-26

Juan Ricardo Cole

This article is the first published article in academic journals where Juan Cole addresses the issues of modernity, liberal democracy, and the ideological underpinnings of the Constitutional Movement.  Most of the material used in this article are further expounded and elaborated in his Modernity and Millennium.  This article is also based on a comprehensive and exhaustive amount of research.  Primary sources and mss not readily available to the students of the era are heavily relied upon and are well incorporated into the paper.  Methodologically the author is on surer ground in this article with no evidence that he is ready to essentialize his subject.  It is a compelling and thought-provoking article.


The traditional approach involving either marginalization of the Bahá’í role in the Constitutional Movement or ascribing anti-constitutional sentiments is not supported by a close examination of the data.  It appears that the Bahá’í discourses on the Revolution (as gleaned from Tablets translated in the following Appendix) would have been intended to regenerate national cohesiveness and mitigate the fractured Iranian society.  It can be said that the Iranian Bahá’í Community was unsuccessful in any long term and sustained generation of social cohesiveness.


Selected Tablets of `Abdu’l-Bahá on the Constitutional Movement

Translations that follow are from three letters (tablets) of `Abdu’l-Bahá to Iranian Bahá’ís.  They deal with significant issues pertaining to the Constitutional Revolution and the Bahá’í discourses in response to the Revolution and its aftermath.


The following Tablet by `Abdu’l-Bahá was probably written around 1908-1909 after the dissolution of the Lesser Despotism (Istibdád-i Saghír).  It was during this period that `Abdul-Bahá encouraged the Iranian Bahá’ís to obtain membership in the Majlis (Parliament).  At this point in Iranian history the country witnessed the vanishing of the autocratic rule (Istibdád).  The country was increasingly radicalized by a Social Democratic movement (referred to by `Abdu’l-Bahá as Inqilábiyyún, but known in Iran also as the political party “Ijtimá`iyyún”), which presented a generally progressive agenda with regards to education, individual liberties and land reform.  Consequently the moderates (referred to as I`tidáliyyún) became the new right.  The growing tensions between the “moderates” and the radicalized “revolutionaries” led to unfortunate developments in 1911 that led to the collapse of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution.

As an aside `Abdu’l-Bahá’s plans to have Bahá’ís (and in this Tablet the “Hands” specifically) represent the Bahá’í voice in the Second Majlis did not materialize when the Electoral Law (July 1, 1909) did not permit non-Muslims to either elect (Section II, 5, iv) or be elected (Section III, 7, i).[11] During the tenure of the Second Majlis a successful attempt was made to make the exclusive language less strict.[12] The law was changed to state that one’s abandonment of Islam must be proven in the presence of a sharí`a Judge (Mansoureh Ettehadieh, Majlis va Intikhábát 150-1).  This was clearly more difficult to prove.  The reason for this change was probably to protect the candidates of the Democratic Party from charges of abandoning religion and disqualification (as was the case to be with Taqizadeh).  This Tablet may have been written after a change in electoral law had been debated in the Parliament creating possibilities for Bahá’í candidates.  The best dating for this Tablet places it at Jammádí-uthThání 1329 (June 1911).[13]

The text of this letter makes it abundantly clear that `Abdu’l-Bahá desired that the Iranian Government and people become unified.  During this period the latent tensions within Iranian society had given rise to out and out factional infighting and was leading to a paralysis in the day-to-day affairs of the Country. Unfortunately for the Iranian nation the absence of the unifying presence of Bahá’ís caused increasing fragmentation and fractionation of the Iranian society until December 1911 when `Abdu’l-Bahá’s warnings of foreign intervention in Iran materialized when the Russian army invaded Iran and forced the annulment of the parliament.

Provisional translation by Kavian S. Milani

Makátíb-i `Abdu’l-Bahá 2: 257-63

O Son of the Eminent Martyr and Beloved of `Abdu’l-Bahá!

Your letter of 29 Rabí`uthThání has arrived and its informative details were noted.  Praised be God, you are flourishing in acts of service and are steadfast and confirmed in servitude to His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh.  In the opinion of `Abdu’l-Bahá you are highly esteemed and an intimate friend.

The Lord of the People, through grace and kindness, has honoured the temple of Iran with a robe and placed a diadem on the head of the Iranians whose jewels and ornaments shall illuminate centuries and ages to come, which is the appearance of this wondrous Revelation.  In as much as whenever a people become afflicted with ultimate degradation and oblivion it cannot emerge until a magnificent resurrection occurs.  Like an ill person with a chronic illness who will not improve with less potent medications, and is in need of more potent agents.  One should reflect on past history.  For example, once the Arab people fell into the abyss of waywardness, got accustomed to degradation and oblivion, and were deprived of the lofty heights of being, its advancement and vigor were impossible to achieve through policy and administration.  Policy would not have promoted a lowly Abú-Dhar to a command and rational thought would not have given `Ammár the Son of Yássir, the date-seller, a position of power.  The arguments and opinions of the intelligentsia[14] would not elevated the dwellers of the Arabian Peninsula to the summit of eternal glory, and would not have caused that lowly people to defeat the Roman Caesars and Persian kings.  However, spiritual powers interposed and the light of prophet-hood achieved splendor.  A great resurrection came to pass.  A potent ebullition appeared in every fiber.  Accordingly that dunce people were transported from the depth of abjectness to the heights of loftiness in a short time.  Iran and Turán were defeated, and the Roman Empire was disgraced and subdued.  Was such a marvelous transformation possible through policy and discourse?  Nay, and God is my witness! This is as clear as the sun.

Likewise is the current state of affairs in Iran.[15] It cannot be saved from this degradation through the clamour and uproar of the revolutionaries (Inqilábiyyún[16]) and the administrative schemes of the moderates (I`tidálliyún[17]) and the political skills and qualifications of statesmen.  However you will behold that through divine confirmations Iran will gush forth with such vigor that its life-giving waters will regenerate all regions of the world.  Alas, the Iranians are in utmost ignorance and not heedful of this great favor, such as has been said, “a child gives away a jewel for a loaf of bread.” Nevertheless, the Divine will is established and spiritual power has been generated in Iran.  This is a certain command and an unfailing promise.

Present this matter to the sublime personage; with all these contesting parties, divergent opinions, concealed corruptions and secret societies, constructive results are impossible. One should lay a foundation and raise a structure whose edifice transcends the heavens. One endowed with foresight should serve the celestial court as best as he can, so he could reach the palace of divine compassion. This means that one should awaken the Iranian people, so that they would hold fast to that which strengthens the foundation and seek eternal welfare. And this force shall empower it, much as the inanimate body is penetrated by the soul.  By this means the Iranian nation shall make rapid progress and achieve ascendancy over other nations.

Witness how two despotic governments-especially `Abdu’l-Hamíd- arose to suppress this banished one for many years. But this servant relied upon God and endured with all his strength and persisted.  Eventually their vast veranda was ruined, while, the humble foundation of this lowly one became established.  They lost the throne and the crown, and, despite large armies were defeated.  This servant was imprisoned in the fortress of Akka and was without any aid and helper, single and alone.  Nevertheless, Praised be God! -Through the power of the love of God such victories were achieved that while still a captive in a dark prison, America was opened to the Faith and its banner raised in foreign lands.  This may not be apparent now, yet it will become apparent in the future.  His Holiness the Messenger of God, may my soul be sacrificed for Him, when He was besieged in the Battle of the Trench and engaged in the digging of a defensive ditch encountered an unmovable rock that his companions were unable to move.  His blessed Personage appeared with all His companions to destroy the rock.  He had a staff in His blessed hand. At this moment He struck the rock with His staff and declared, “The Persian Empire has been conquered.” He struck again and said, “The Roman Empire has been defeated.” A company of hypocrites who were in attendance ridiculed this and said, “By God! What a strange utterance. The lowly tribes of Arabia besiege us. Even water and food have been cut off from us, and this person claims the conquest of the Persian and Roman Empires. What manner of speech is this?” Not long had passed that those same Arabs entered the palace of the Persian King and said, “ This is that which God and His Messenger had promised us, and the Messengers speak the truth.”

Now observe the doings of spiritual power. Specifically, the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, and the mysteries of this Cause and the foundation of this Revelation cannot be denied. The horizon of this world is like a fish thirsting for water, and the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh like a fresh stream. No injustice, no sword, no denunciation, no destruction, no oppression, no violence, no obligation. Its sword is a proclamation of oneness of humanity. Its world-embracing saber is the bestowal of divine compassion. Its army is the love of God. The laws and ordinances of its troops are the utterance of divine knowledge. Its general is the light of divine guidance. Its principles and rules kindness to all humanity, to the extent that all strangers are considered comrades, and non-believers are viewed as companions. Every foe is considered a friend, and every ill-wisher a well-wisher. And our behavior is a reflection of this view. Because as He saith to the world of humanity meaning all nations, “Ye are the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch.”

With regards to Áqá Mírzá Habíb ul-lláh[18], the son of Áqá Ridá[19], endeavor with the other friends in any manner to find an occupation for him, either in other provinces or in other countries.  This is an issue of importance to me due to the love I have for the eminent Áqá Ridá.  I have already responded to Mr. Mu’ayyad and it has been sent, and it must have been received by now.

With regards to the membership in the Majlis (Parliament) the friends must with all their might rise to the service of the government and the people and act with utmost honesty and well-wishing and purity and liberty.  The Hands of the Cause of God must at any cost become members of the Majlis (Parliament).

Show towards his eminence the Ímám the utmost love and kindness.

The Glory of the Most Glorious be upon thee.


This Tablet was revealed for Shaykh `Alí Akbar Qúchání- the martyr.  It is difficult to guess an exact date for this Tablet because the Má’idiyi-Ásmání (5) text is partially printed.  It was probably written after 191l as indicated from the reference to the Hand of the Cause of God, `Alí Akbar Shahmírzádí as deceased.  The recipient, Shaykh `Alí Akbar Qúchání had received his training and ijázih from Mullá Kázim Khurásání before he became a Bahá’í.  He was killed in 1914 (1233A.H) hence the epithet-the martyr.  Accordingly this Tablet must have been written between 1911-1914.

Reference is made to three of the `Ulamá in the text of this Tablet; Siyyid `Abdu’lláh (Bihbahání), Shaykh Fadlu’lláh (Núrí) and Siyyid Muhammad (Tabátabá’í).  It refers to the episode in the first Constitutional period (1905-1906) when the `Ulamá and some of their supporters had sat in bast (sanctuary with political aims) and had been successfully granted a Constitution.  Of the three mentioned the first and the last remained active in the conservative wings o the Revolution and became members of the Second Majlis (Parliament) in session from 1909-1911.  Bihbahání was assassinated in this period (1910), probably by Social Democratic sympathizers.  According to Háj Áqá `Aláqih-band-i Yazdi’s History of the Constitutional Revolution both clerics were responsible for the collapse of the armed resistance by the First Majlis against the Cossack troops (104, 114). The second cleric mentioned by `Abdu’l-Bahá became more conservative as the revolutionary movement spread, partially due to factional disagreements with the other two clerics mentioned and partially due to his belief in the sufficiency of Islamic Law (Sharí`a’).  Part of his anti-constitutional polemic was the reading to the public (in sermons) and through public posters the verses of Bahá’u’lláh in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas predicting a constitutional rule in Iran.  The Revolutionary militia hanged him after the conquest of Tehran in 1909.  `Abdu’l-Bahá uses a very harsh language predicting imminent death of (at least two) of the `Ulamá.  

Provisional Translation-Kavian Sadeghzade Milani

Má’idiyi-Ásmání 5: 196-7

Tablet of `Abdu’l-Baha to (the martyr) Shaykh `Alí Akbar Qúchání

In the early stages of the revolution `Alí Akbar (Shahmírzádí), who ascended to the seat of Truth before the Almighty Lord, wrote that the `Ulama have raised the call of  “Who is the sovereign in the land?”  The Prime Minister has gone to bring the `Ulamá back from Qum to Tehran, showing them utmost courtesy. The entire townspeople, even the grand princes and honored ministers rushed to receive and welcome them with drums and banners.  The people adorned and illuminated the city for three days and nights. Siyyid `Abdu’lláh (Bihbahání) says, “Glory is mine in both worlds.” Shaykh Fadlu’lláh (Núrí) says, “ The Kingdom is mine and a great sovereignty.”  Siyyid Muhammad (Tabátabá’í) says, “Verily I am the chief at the pinnacle of majesty and the necks are humble before me.”

This servant wrote in reply-and it is available in Tehran presently- that this majesty is like a vanishing shadow and it shall soon be changed into utmost misery. Degradation and poverty shall come upon them and they will be chastised through the wrath of God.  They have with their own hands, as well as with the hands of their faithful followers, destroyed their own houses and have laid the axe at their own root.  The eminent `Ulamá have seen the stable, however they have neglected to see the slaughter.  Soon will the jubilations of “Well it is with us” be transformed into cries of regret and anguish.  These were the most esteemed in Iran, now you have seen the state to which they are condemned.


In this Tablet `Abdu’l-Bahá addresses further issues with regards to the policies He implemented for the conduct of the Bahá’í Community in Iran.  It was most likely written during the period known as the “Lesser Despotism” (Istibdád-i-Saghír).  Assisted by the Cossack troops located in Iran Muhammad-`Alí Sháh took over control of the capital city Tehran via a coup in 1908 and disbanded the Majlis (Parliament).  The coup was successful for a little more than a year before Tehran fell to the revolutionary forces loyal to the Majlis, forcing the abdication of Muhammad-`Alí Sháh.

During the pre-revolutionary times, Iranian society had become a highly divided society.  The fragmentation of the society took many forms and along many lines.  The situation was worsened given a lack of an efficient bureaucracy.  Tensions often ran high between the center and periphery.  Additional lines of fissure would have been the `Ulama-Court axis which was disrupted since the Tobacco Revolt (1890-1891).  The `Ulama themselves proved a highly contentious group as later events demonstrated.  The Iranian society was also especially vulnerable to the absence of a real entrepreneur-inspired middle class.

`Abdu’l-Bahá envisioned a united and just Iranian State.  According to Him, “the government and the people should blend together like honey and milk otherwise deliverance and success are impossible.”  It becomes clear in this Tablet that `Abdu’l-Bahá had correctly predicted that if the Bahá’ís were to play a unifying and harmonizing role in Iranian politics the divisions and fissures between the state and people would be overcome.  He provides clear instructions that Bahá’ís should not cause the blood of any Iranian to be spilled.  Otherwise the radicalization of the masses and the conservative polarization of the government would cause the collapse of the Revolution and lead to foreign intervention that came about in 1911 when the Russian forces invaded Iran.  It is this date that is generally considered the end of the Constitutional Revolution.

Makátíb-i-`Abdu’l-Bahá 5:173-176

He is God!

O kind companion of `Abdu’l-Bahá!  Your letter written to his eminence Asad’u’lláh was read.  You had written of the agitations in Iran and of the Iranians.  Of course you recall that in the beginning of the Revolution, time and time again unambiguous expositions were delivered to both parties indicating that the government and the people should blend together like honey and milk otherwise deliverance and success are impossible.  Iran would be ruined and finally lead to intervention by neighboring countries.  Therefore the friends of God must endeavor to reconcile the government and the people, so that they can cause healing.  Should they fail they should withdraw altogether.  Beware lest you shed the blood of a single Iranian.  Moreover in private the parties were given utmost advice.  They utterly rejected it and intensified confrontations, disputes and the shedding of blood.  In as much as uninformed leaders and a company of the foolish intervened in the affairs.  The ignorant `Ulamá issued edicts one after another and the entire population followed suit.  Eventually Iran was ruined.  Security and peace disappeared and the invading foreign governments intervened under the pretense of protecting their interests.  Now all are perplexed.  They shall remain restless.  Everyday they shall devise a new scheme and make matters worse.  Refer to the Treatise on Politics, which was penned in 1310 (1892 A.D) in the early days of the Revolution and a year later (1311 A.H) was printed in Bombay, in the hand of Mishkín-Qalam and is universally available, and many copies are found in Tehran and share it with others.  In it the current events are listed unambiguously.  It is clearly written that if the clerics and theologians intervene in matters, it will be a repetition of the times of Sháh Sultán Husayn, Fath-`Alí Sháh and the events leading to the removal of Sultán `Abdu’l-`Azíz.  In the time of Sháh Sultán Husayn due to the meddling of the leading clerics Iran fell into the hands of Ottomans, Russians and Afghans.  During the reign of Fath-`Alí Sháh the intervention of the same reckless elements half of Azerbaijan and the Caspian Sea were lost and heavy indemnities were imposed.  In the `Abdu’l-Azíz affair interference of the `Ulamá and theologians and seminary students of Istanbul and the clamour of “We want war! We want war!” by the clerics in the streets half of Romalia was lost and large portions of Anatolia were taken.  Commotions came about in Egypt that results in the dissolution of the army.  Cyprus became separated.  Bulgaria obtained independent.  Bosnia and Herzegovina fell into Austrian hands.  Tunisia went to the French.  In short, in that Treatise these issues are elaborated in detail.  Peruse it that you may know that `Abdu’l-Bahá has not fallen short in counsel and guidance. However, the ears were deaf and the eyes were blind.  The ignorant were the leaders, and the populace was captive to the fool. Amidst this flame and blaze of sedition, desperation, and commotion, they still assaulted the oppressed ones (Bahá’ís).  In the pre-constitutional days, what oppression and tyranny was done in Námiq and Hisár, in Tabriz, Sangisar, and Nay`riz.  One month ago in the village of Ávih , in the vicinity of Sávih and Qum, they knocked the door of his eminence Mirza Baba Khán at midnight.  He invited them in with utter kindness, and treated them with utmost compassion and affection.  Suddenly, they made of him a target of bullets, and no one has inquired regarding it.  Even though the friends of God did not in any way get involved in this Revolution, and have avoided partisanship, yet in these very days, the company of Muhammad-`Ali Sháh martyred a number of souls. Is it possible for the dust not to spread despite such a whirlwind of tyranny?  It is certain that at the time of a blizzard and at the height of a storm, the sea will surge and tragic events will take place.  This is the way of God, and there is no alteration in the way of God.  In short, for now, the friends of God should at least awaken the slumberous, and guide them to the source of success and deliverance.

The Glory of the Most Glorious be upon thee!


`Abdu’l-Bahá.  Makátíb `Abdu’l-Bahá, Volume 5.  Iranian National Bahá’í Publishing

Trust, 132 B.E (1976).

—- Makátíb `Abdu’l-Bahá, Volume 2.  Iranian National Bahá’í Publishing Trust; nd.

—-Má’idiyyi Asmání, Volume 5, ed Ishraq Khavari. Tehran; Iranian National Bahá’í

Publishing Trust, 129 B.E (1973).

Afary, Janet.  The Iranian Constitutional Revolution, 1906-1911: Grassroots Democracy,

Social Democracy and the Origins of Feminism.  New York; Columbia University

Press, 1996.

Bakhash, Shaul.  International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies (1971) 7:2, 139-168.

Bayat, Mangol.  Iran’s First Revolution: Shi’ism and the Constitutional Revolution of

1905-1909. Oxford; Oxford University Press, 1991.

—-Mysticism and Dissent: Socioreligious Thought in Qajar Iran. Syracuse; Syracuse

University Press, 1982.

Browne, E.G.  The Persian Revolution 1905-1909.  Washington D.C; Mage Publishers,


Cole, Juan R.I.  Iranian Millenarianism and Democratic Thought in the Nineteenth

Century.  International Journal of Middle East Studies (1992), 24:1-26.

—-Modernity and the Millennium: The Genesis of the Bahá’í Faith in the Nineteenth

Century Middle East.  New York; Columbia University Press, 1998.

Keddie, Nikki R. Religion and Rebellion in Iran: The Iranian Tobacco Protest of 1891-

  1. 1892. London; Frank Cass & CO.  LTD, 1966.

—-An Islamic Response to Imperialism: Political and Religious Writings of Sayyid

Jamálad-Din “al-Afghání.” Los Angeles; University of California Press, 1983.

—-Roots of Revolution.  New Haven; Yale University Press, 1981.

Martin, Vanessa.  Islam and Modernism: The Iranian Revolution of 1906.  Syracuse;

Syracuse University Press, 1989.

Nizam Mafi, Mansoureh.  Majlis va Intikhabat.  Tehran; Nashr Tarikh Iran,1995.

Said, Edward.  Orientalism.  New York; Vintage Books, 1994.

[1] The term “gate” has important eschatological implications in Shí’a theology.

[2] See Juan Cole, Iranian Millenarianism and Democratic Thought in the Nineteenth Century Middle East, Int J Middle East Studies 24 (February 1992): 1-26.

[3] Yahyá Azal was the titular head of the Bábí Religion prior to the emergence of the Bahá’í Faith in 1863.  As discussed above during the period from 1863-1868 the Bábí Community was gradually divided into two divisions, the Azálís (followers of Yahya Azal) and the Bahá’ís, who followed Bahá’u’lláh.

[4] Data provided in footnote number 1.

[5] The Iranian intelligentsia of the nineteenth Century began to speak of mashrútiyyat (constitutional government) by the 1870’s.  As early as the mid-1860’s Bahá’u’lláh had praised the constitutional form of government and recommended its adoption.  In a Tablet addressed to Queen Victoria of England Bahá’u’lláh commends the Queen on the constitutional rule in England and in that a parliamentary system was in place.

We have also heard that thou hast entrusted the reins of counsel into the hands of the representatives of the people. Thou, indeed, hast done well, for thereby the foundations of the edifice of thine affairs will be strengthened, and the hearts of all that are beneath thy shadow, whether high or low, will be tranquillized. It behoveth them, however, to be trustworthy among His servants, and to regard themselves as the representatives of all that dwell on earth. This is what counselleth them, in this Tablet, He Who is the Ruler, the All-Wise… Blessed is he that entereth the assembly for the sake of God, and judgeth between men with pure justice. He, indeed, is of the blissful…. (Proclamation of Bahá’u’lláh 36).

[6] This critique will be presented later in the paper.

[7] This was a thirteen month period of despotic rule that followed the counterrevolutionary coup by Muhammad `Alí Shah in 1908.

[8] It goes without saying that this thesis has much explanatory power as it also explains the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979 using the same dialectic.

[9] See endnote 59; page 203 utilizing W. McElwee Miller The Bahá’í Faith.

[10] Columbia University Press 1998.

[11] Browne The Persian Revolution 386-87.

[12] Mansoureh Ettehadieh, Majlis va Intikhábát 150-1 gives Shavvál 1329 A.H (October 1911) for the debates on this issue in the Majlis.

[13] Memorandum from Bahá’í World Centre, Haifa, Israel dated May 3, 1998

[14] `Uqalá can alternatively be translated as either rationalists or wise men.  In this particular context `Abdu’l-Bahá is implying the deficiencies of intelligentsia in initiating and sustaining long-term reform.  Accordingly intelligentsia is an appropriate translation for `Uqalá.

[15] 1911 C.E

[16]Inqilábiyyún; literally “revolutionaries.”  A reference to the radicalized pro-constitution forces.

[17]I`tidálliyún; literally “moderates.”  A reference to the conservative coalition during the post 1909 years.

[18] The father of the late Iranian Prime Minister Huvayda.

[19] The grandfather of the late Iranian Prime Minister Huvayda who was a dedicated and devoted Bahá’í.

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