By Dr. Majid Naficy
Editor’s Note: The following is part 2 of Dr. Naficy’s cogent article, translated by Iran Press Watch.
Author’s Biography: Before Dr. Naficy’s article is presented, we offer the following brief biography of the learned author: Majid Naficy was born in Iran in 1952. He published poetry, critical reviews and an award-winning children’s book in Iran. During 1970s, Dr. Naficy was a political activist against the Shah’s regime. After the 1979 Revolution, as the new regime began to suppress the opposition, his first wife, Izzat Tabaian and his brother Sa’id were among the many to be executed. He fled Iran in 1983 and eventually settled in Los Angeles with his son Azad. He has since published six volumes of poetry in English and Persian, as well as numerous other books on literary criticism. He holds a doctorate in Near Eastern languages and cultures from the University of California in Los Angeles. His doctoral dissertation, Modernism and Ideology in Persian Literature: A Return to Nature in the Poetry of Nima Yushij (University Press of America) was published in 1997. Dr. Naficy is also the co-editor of Daftarhaye Kanoon, a periodical in Persian published by the Iranian Writer’s Association in Exile.
Baha’is Need Justice! (Part 2)
By Dr. Majid Naficy
3. From Tahirih to Izzat
From 1964 to 1981, occasionally I associated with Baha’is, and heard good things about them from my friends. For example, I heard about Bahram Sadeq, a renowned storywriter from Najafabad who was a Baha’i.
However, it was on September 17, 1981, when I felt I had the same destiny as Baha’is. It was over two years since the revolution in Iran. The government was based on a new footing. Fundamentalist militant rulers were violently persecuting and executing members of the Iranian National Front and Communist Parties. These groups were the ones that had played a crucial role in uprooting the Pahlavi regime and bringing the Khomeini regime to power.
On September 16, my wife and colleague, Izzat Tabaian, left the house. That night, she phoned a friend and hurriedly told him that while being chased by the Islamic Militia, she had fallen and broken her pelvic bone. My wife asked him to contact me and tell me to quickly destroy all incriminating evidence in the house. The next day, the same friend asked if I had a safe place to spend the night, knowing that our home would not be spared from attacks. When I replied that I had nowhere to go, he suggested a large house on Lashkar square that belonged to his old aunt. I knew his aunt was a Baha’i, and her house would not be a safe place either. However, after knocking at the doors of a few acquaintances, we had no choice but to go to his aunt’s house. A deft servant opened the door and led us in. The old aunt told us how Islamic forces had arrested the last members of the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Tehran. She was worried about her own safety as well.
That night, I had the strange feeling that Tahirih, the courageous Babi Poetess, was talking to me from the edge of the well into which she had been thrown after being strangled, 150 years before. I was seeing a connection between Tahirih and the painful fate of my wife in the claws of her tormentors. A few years later on September 18, 1986, I wrote a poem, printed in the compilation Raftam Golat Bechinam [I went to take your flower] in memory of my wife Izzat, and the old Baha’i woman who offered me her home as refuge:
I have fled from the altar of sacrifice of a communist
To seek refuge in the altar of sacrifice of a Baha’i
Yea, is it a learning lesson for me?
In an abandoned yard
Where vine leaves rustle
And the wayward fish swim in murky water
A secret is revealed to me
The bloody body of Zarrin Taj [Tahirih]
Is still hanging from the edge of the well
I am pulled back
Have you seen my Ishmael?
In the old house,
I only hear my own voice.
Izzat and Tahirih had the same destiny. On January 7, 1982, Izzat and another leftist woman, along with fifty leftist men, faced the firing squad. Their bodies were dumped in the Khavaran cemetery located southeast of Tehran. Two months before that, I had gone to the same cemetery with my wife to visit the grave of a relative, Sadeq Okhovat, who had faced the firing squad. At that time, there were perhaps fewer than 30 graves at Khavaran. The second visit was for my wife, and I was accompanied by my brother-in-law, Husayn Okhovat. However, when Husayn was executed a few weeks later, I could not bring myself to visit the Khavaran cemetery again.
Later I learned that three days before my wife was executed — that is, on January 4, 1982 — six members of the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Tehran had been executed and their bodies had been dumped in the same cemetery.
On January 2009, this cemetery was demolished by the Islamic Government of Iran. It was the resting place of 50 Baha’is, and thousands of other freedom-seeking Iranians.
4. The Test of the Broadmindedness of Iranians
I know about the sufferings endured by Baha’is not only from books, but also from seeing it first hand in my own day-to-day life. Their sufferings date back to the time of the Shah of Iran, particularly in the 1950s ,when with the Shah’s approval and using the national radio, Muhammad-Taqi Falsafi would deliver blistering sermons which provoked mobs to attack Baha’i holy places.
This trend has continued under the present reign of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has been governing for the past 30 years, and has executed over 200 Baha’is solely on the ground that they were Baha’is. Baha’is do not have the slightest basic human or civil rights as Iranian citizens. This inspired to me write an article in 2004 about Shirin Ebadi, freedom of conscience, and human rights. In that article, I recognized:
Defending the Baha’is must be considered a litmus test for any intellectual Iranian claiming that they honor human rights. In the Islamic government of Iran, there is no place for any Baha’i, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, or the like. This is because according to Article 13 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic, the only recognized religious minorities are Zoroastrian, Jewish, or Christian Iranians.
Among the many minority groups that are legally deprived of their right to freedom of conscience, the situation of the Baha’is has been in particular the bleakest. From the inception of this religion, dating back to the era of Muhammad Shah Qajar, the Iranian Shiah clergy have been leading open attacks on this community [i.e. Babis and Baha’is]. The clergy imagined that the appearance of the Bab robbed them of their messianic claim to the expected Hidden Imam, Who is suppose to appear at the “end of time” to fill the world with justice. They believe that the appearance of the Bab took away from them the raison d’etre of Shi’ism.
During the final decade of the Shah’s regime, rumors began to be spread by fanatical groups known for their anti-Baha’i stance, aimed at provoking Iranian’s mentally-sick view and hatred against the Baha’is, that Baha’is were supporters of the Shah. These false rumors became so widespread that even after the 1979 revolution, when in 1981 the regime began to intensely suppress the Baha’is, Iranian intellectuals hesitated to defend the Baha’is against oppression – even when they could see perfectly well that Baha’is were being imprisoned, tortured, and executed merely for being Baha’i.
It is for this reason that I consider the single most important quality of a democratic-minded Iranian is to be a supporter of the right of Baha’is to their religion and not heed the fictitious excuse that “Baha’is are members of a political party and not a true religion”.
5. The Test of the Broadmindedness of Baha’is
After the publication of my article on Shirin Ebadi and the freedom of consciousness referred to above, I was asked: if the test of broadmindedness of an Iranian is in his defense of the rights of Baha’is, then what defines the broadmindedness of a Baha’i?
In my opinion, a democratic Iranian Baha’i must not only defend the rights of all heterodox thinkers in Iran, but must first and foremost defend the rights of the followers of Azal who call themselves by the name Bayani. Only then can a Baha’i be worthy of the title of free and democratic.
To make this matter more clear, I will explain something that happened in 1987 in Los Angles. I was invited to a poetry night, and recited the poem raftam golat bechinam, which was quoted above. Among the attendees was a Baha’i couple. At that time, in this poem I had used the word Babi instead of Baha’i. Afterwards, the Baha’i woman asked, “Why did you use the word Babi? Today there are no Babis and they all have become Baha’is.”
Her question and comment not only demonstrated the narrow-mindedness and exclusivity of some Baha’is towards the minority group of the Babi-Azalis, but it also illustrates the narrow-mindedness of many Iranian leftists, of which I had been one, as well.
At this point is it necessary to briefly look at the history of the emergence of the Babi movement and the divisions that took place within it.
[Published on Thursday, March 12, 2009, at http://fa.shahrvand.com/2008-07-14-20-49-09/2008-07-14-20-49-46/2284-2009-03-12-17-58-08. Translation by Iran Press Watch.]
April 10, 2009 5:36 am
“Her question and comment not only demonstrated the narrow-mindedness and exclusivity of some Baha’is towards the minority group of the Babi-Azalis, but it also illustrates the narrow-mindedness of many Iranian leftists, of which I had been one, as well.”
I don’t understand the reference to the Babi-Azalis. Are they Babis who did not or have not recognized Baha’u’llah? I will google the subject, but if anyone could offer some background information, I would greatly appreciate it.
April 10, 2009 6:11 am
AZALIS/BABIS? I ASKED THE QUESTION FROM A MEMBER OF THE BAHA’I RELIGION. APPARENTLY THE TWO ARE NOT THE SAME. BABIS ARE FOLLOWERS OF THE BAB, WHO MOSTLY CONVERTED TO BAHA’ISM AFTER THEIR PROPHET BAHA U LAH DECLARED HIS STATION. NOW THE POPULATION OF BAHA’IS FORMS THE BIG MAJORITY. OF BABIS VERY FEW ARE LEFT. AND FROM WHAT I HAVE GATHERED, BAHAI’S HAVE A TREMENDOUS REPECT AND LOVE FOR THE BAB WHO WAS THE FORERUNNER OF THE BAHA’I MOVEMENT. HIS GRAVESITE IN AKKA, ISRAEL IS NEXT TO THAT OF BAHA AND HIS SON ABBAS AFFANDI, KNOWN AS ABDUL BAHA AND IS A HOLY PLACE OF PILGRIMAGE FOR ALL BAHA’IS .
AZAL WAS THE HALF BROTHER OF BAHA U LLAH WHO REPLACED BAB FOR A SHORT WHILE BUT EVIDENTLY HAD NO LEADERSHIP SKILLS, HARRASSED HIS BROTHER TO THE POINT OF INTENDING TO MURDER HIM AND EVENTUALLY FLED TO CYPRESS WITH A FEW OF HIS FOLLOWERS.
MY BAHA’I FRIEND EMPHASIZED THAT ALTHOUGH BAHAI’S DO NOT AGREE WITH THE IDEAS OF THE AZALIS, THEY DO NOT WISH THEM ILL OR HARM. THEY BASICALLY LEAVE THEM ALONE, WHILE AZALIS ARE THE ONES WHO ARE ALWAYS ALWAYS ON THE OFFENSE.
DUDES, READ THE HISTORY OF THESE MOVEMENTS; IT IS FASCINATING STUFF.
ALSO,WHEN A BAHA’I OBJECTED TO DR. NAFISI FOR USING THE NAME BABI, WELL WHAT DOES THAT REMIND YOU OF???? THIS IS WHAT IT REMINDS ME: THEY HAVE HAD A GOOD TRAINING SESSION UNDER THE RELIGOUS CULTUR OF PERSIA WITH ITS EMPHASIS ON OVERZEALOUSNESS.
April 10, 2009 10:44 am
As far as I can judge your information is mostly correct, and the history is indeed fascinating, thanks for sharing! One discrepancy is that according to my information Azal (Mirza Yahya) did not flee to Cyprus but was sent into exile there by the Ottoman government, when Baha’ullah was sent to prison in Akka.
And yes, Tahirih was a Babi – Baha’is obviously did not exist by that name at that time. The issue is that Baha’ullah (a friend and protector of Tahirih) considered his mission to be organically linked to that of the Bab (they are called the ‘Twin Manifestations’ in the Bahai Faith). Hence Babi history is part of Baha’i history, and the Bahai Faith places its origin at the declaration of the Bab in 1844. Still, I do not think Baha’is should call Tahirih a Baha’i, to respect those (like Bayani’s) who do not share the Baha’i interpretation of Babi-Bahai history.
PS Mohammad, please don’t use all capitals, it reads like someone is shouting ;-)
April 10, 2009 10:49 am
Yes, Babi-Azalis, also called Azalis or Bayanis, recognize the Bab but not Baha’ullah. I have read they are still around but I have no further information (there is at least one website I believe). I assume they accept Mirza Yahya as leader after the Bab, but do not know if they still have a leaders.
April 10, 2009 12:10 pm
Martin is correct, Sub-i-Azal, younger half- brother of Baha’u’llah, was sent by the Ottoman government to Cypress. Although Sub-i-Azal curried favor with Ottomans, apparently he tried their patience one too many times with his plots and schemes against Baha’u’llah. Azal was named nominal head of the Babi movement by the Bab. It is seen by Baha’is as a way of drawing attention from the obvious leader of the harrassed and diminished Babis after the Bab was executed and the movement was in disarray. Azal is infamous among Baha’is for his subterfuge, weakness and constant dissimulation.
It is critical to understand that the primary teaching of the Bab was the expectation and imminent appearance of “He Whom God Shall Make Manifest”.
Therefore, the Bab’s Teachings were ,in Baha’i understanding, preparatory to a divine Revelation even greater the Bab’s. This Teaching of the Bab is responsible for the nearly wholesale embrace of Baha’u’llah by the surviving Babis who lived through the terrible persecutions of 1852.
“O King! I was but a man like others, asleep upon My couch, when lo, the breezes of the All-Glorious were wafted over Me, and taught Me the knowledge of all that hath been. This thing is not from Me, but from One Who is Almighty and All-Knowing. And He bade Me lift up My voice between earth and heaven, and for this there befell Me what hath caused the tears of every man of understanding to flow. ”
– Bahá’u’lláh, Lawh-i-Sultán
April 10, 2009 1:13 pm
To the majority of Bahá’ís don’t like to call only Babis to the Azali Babis. Nevertheless, the Bahá’í Faith recognizes the civil rights and the freedom of conscience of all the men.
April 10, 2009 4:35 pm
I appreciate the learning here. Thanks to Dr. Naficy we are enjoying shared education through dialog; and this relates to the situation concerning the Baha’is in Los Angeles who made an incorrect assumption, that the Babis all became Baha’is and that they no longer exist as a religion, which is not true.
I offer that narrow-mindedness is ignorance as it reflects a stage of the human condition [and a real opportunity for growth]. We all go through the same shortcomings often enough, since we are not perfect but are compelled, within our souls, to strive for excellence. Baha’u’llah states (“Gleanings,” p. 260) “Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.”
When we blessed to recognize ignorance as an opportunity to encourage other people’s growth, and enabled to respond with compassion, we may impart accurate information with kindness and a smile, thereby endeavoring to support the friend(s). Sometimes silence is right at the time. Either way, accepting one another for our shortcomings is what Baha’u’llah admonishes to us because it benefits everyone, while it promotes the harmony and unity of mankind.
Thank you for the opportunity to participate. GB
April 10, 2009 9:30 pm
This is very interesting history, and Grace, I like how you expanded on the issue of ignorance being an opportunity for learning with the text from Gleanings. I realize that you write in capital letters because you have poor eyesight, Mohammad. Do you wear corrective lenses and if you wear corrective lenses, is the visual problem something that could be improved with surgery? I am practically blind without my high index refractive lenses, and I am just curious because maybe there are people who could help you including people who are reading this blog.
April 11, 2009 5:39 am
Thank you all for your insights and comments!
For Mohammad- You can adjust the font in your browser so that you can see what you are typing. On a Mac, it is done by pressing the command key and the + sign to make it larger.
April 11, 2009 7:18 am
In response to two comments by Mr. Martijn Rep:
>I have read they [the Bayanis/Azalis] are still around but I have no further information
Azalis are still around, though *very* few in number. You can really only find them in Iran (my grandmother knew one Azali family in Isfahan, for instance), but I wouldn’t be surprised if some live in the Haifa/Akka area as they might be descendants of Baha’u’llah.
>I assume they [the Bayanis/Azalis] accept Mirza Yahya as leader after the Bab, but do not know if they still have a leaders.
Right: Mirza Yahya/Azal would indeed be considered the next Babi leader, but I think after that point, some people have been divided on this issue. There are basically two arguments:
1. After Hadi Dawlatabadi, an Azali preacher from Isfahan, passed away, Mirza Yahya named Hadi’s son, Yahya Dawlatabadi (no blood relation to Mirza Yahya), the next successor to Babism.
2. Or that the above statement has not been proven and that, in reality, there is no proof as to whether or not Mirza Yahya ever appointed a successor.
#2 is the more commonly held belief of the two, i.e. that Mirza Yahya never actually appointed a successor. His own grandson, Jalal Azal, apparently testified to this, according to Dr. Moojan Momen’s “The Cyprus Exiles”:
I have also heard that Mirza Yahya’s own son – Ridvan Ali, who later converted to Christianity and changed his name to Constantine – also agreed with belief #2.
But with regard to this day and age, Denis MacEoin notes:
“With the deaths of those Azalis who were active in the Constitutional period, Azali Babism entered a phase of stagnation from which it has never recovered. There is now no acknowledged leader nor, to the knowledge of the present writer, any central organization.”
(MacEoin, “Azali Babism”, Encyclopedia Iranica; http://www.iranica.com/newsite/articles/v3f2/v3f2a070.html)
Hope that helps
April 11, 2009 2:17 pm
My comment is toward the beautiful article by Dr. Naficy, a great man, and a great hero. However, it makes me wonder that among billion other great tests to determine the broadmindedness of Baha’is, Dr. Naficy has chosen only the comment by the Baha’i woman said in 1987 in Los Angeles. To clear this a very simple example may suffice. Despite all the facts that how many Baha’is were murdered, their properties and businesses were confiscated, their children were deprived of education, We as Baha’is in the United States and abroad still defend the religion Islam when we hear something negative about it from a non-Baha’is, and surprisingly mostly our Moslem friends. The reason is We all know that Islam is a religion of peace, but what the fenatics do in the name of Islam is far and separate from Islam. Any body else believes that after all these prosecutions to us “Baha’Is”, have we still kept our openmindedness?.
April 11, 2009 6:02 pm
I would like to thank everyone for the information you have shared, and especially for the graciousness and compassion that you have shown in this thread. My prayer is that the entire world will communicate from place of compassion and grace instead ego-centered indignation and an unwillingness to learn from others. All of you have provided a template for what our world could have instead of the constant bickering between people all of races, beliefs nationalities and backgrounds.
April 11, 2009 11:24 pm
MR. MARK AND OTHERS,
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUGGESTIONS RE FIXING MY EYES. I AM AN AGING PERSON. THESE SURGERIES WILL BE INAPPROPRIATE FOR ME. HOWEVER, IF THERE IS A WAY TO USE A LARGER FONT ON PC (NOT MAC), I AM OPEN TO IT.
April 11, 2009 11:55 pm
Mohammed, thank for your article and I also enjoyed reading the comments.
on a pc to enlarge font size in Firefox you go to “view” on the menu above
then scroll to “zoom” and then click on Zoom In, the shortcut is while holding down the ctrl key to tap the + key and tap it again it will continue to increase. To decrease hold down the ctrl key and tap – (the key to the right of the +)
in IExplorer you choose “view” and then “Text size” and then one of the possible size settings.
Then you can stop using captitals, I hope.
They are harder for me to read.