(p. vii) PREFACE
THIS book is the result of two visits to Persia, extending over a
period of about three years, during which I had considerable opportunities of
travel and of mixing with the inhabitants.
It was written with the idea of giving a popular description of Iran, but at
the same time I have striven to be accurate, and where I could not rely on my
personal knowledge I gratefully own my obligation to the works of Mr. Benjamin,
Professor E. G. Browne, Lord Curzon, Sir C. Markham, Sir W. Muir, Professor W.
Jackson, Sir L. Pelly, and Major Sykes among others.
I have been particularly fortunate in having had the benefit of the criticism
of Sir Mortimer Durand, formerly H.B.M.'s Minister at Tehran, his advice having
been most valuable.
Besides this, Major Sykes, Miss Bird, and two Persian gentlemen have supplied
useful information; Mr. H. R. Sykes has kindly allowed me to avail myself of
his large collection of photographs, and other illustrations are by Mr. Bourke
and M. Sevraguine, of Tehran.
(p. vii) I have tried to give a truthful picture of Persia as [...] chiefly on
those aspects which may be of interest to the general reader, and my principal
difficulty has been to compress all that I wanted to say within the limits of
one single volume.
If the public finds half as much pleasure as much pleasure in reading my book
as I have had in writing it I shall be more than rewarded.
ELLA C. SYKES
(p. 37) A BIRD'S-EYE VIEW OF HISTORY OF PERSIA
to the throne in 1907 he found a much-exhausted treasury.
Nasr-ed-Din Shah was assassinated in 1896 by a religious fanatic, said to be
one of the remarkable sect of Babis who had attempted his life during the early
part of his reign. The Shah was possessed of some literary talent, and the
diary of his experiences in Europe was published on his return to Persia, and
is interesting to read. He was also a keen sports-man and a good shot and
rider, and, according to his lights, did his best for his country.
His son, Muzaffer-ed-Din Shah, amiable but much out of health, began his reign
as an absolute monarch. Ideas of progress and liberty were, however, rife in
Persia, the people having watched the birth of the Russian Duma with interest;
and the sovereign, yielding to the national desire, granted a Constitution to
his subjects in 1906.
Upon his death in February, 1907 his son, Mohammed Ali Shah, ascended the
throne of Persia, and at his accession swore to uphold the Constitution. He did
not, however, appreciate the curtailing of his powers by the National Assembly,
or Majlis, and friction soon arose. In the December of 1907 he made an
unsuccessful attempt to suppress it by force, and early in the next year his
life was threatened with a bomb. Surrounded as he was by the Court camarilla,
he could not realise that the country had awakened to Western ideas of
progress, and in June, 1908, he took the extreme step of bombarding the Persian
Parliament out of existence.
Upon this the important commercial city of Tabriz flung off its allegiance to
the Shah, turned out the (p. 38) Royalist troops, and, under the leadership of
the bandit Sattar Khan, sustained a long siege.
Mohammed Ali's soldiers, sent to take the city, deserted to the Nationalist
party, and the monarch was obliged to have recourse to the wild Kurdish tribes.
Tabriz, however, held out until the April of I 909, when the Russian troops
raised the siege in order to protect the lives of the Europeans in the town.
Throughout the struggle between the Shah and his subjects it was noticeable
that the Persians proper did little material service to the Nationalist cause,
which was largely supported by revolutionaries from the Caucasus and by the
fighting hill-tribes. Chief among these later were the Bakhtiari, who first
took possession of the city of Isfahan and at last marched on Tehran.
The Shah, who was strongly urged by both the British and Russian
representatives to restore the Constitution, broke his solemn promises again
and again, and apparently entirely failed to grasp the situation until it was
The Sipahdar (Commander-in-Chief), who belongs to the Royal Family, cast in his
lot with the Nationalist party, and threatened Tehran from the north; while the
Sardar-i-Assad (brother of the chief of the Bakhtiaris) led his warlike
tribesmen up from the south to invest the capital. Mohammed Ali, perhaps warned
by the fate of the ex-Sultan of Turkey, did not await the result.. He took
refuge in the summer quarters of the Russian Legation outside the city, and by
this step virtually abdicated.
On July 16, 1909, he was formally deposed by the
ACCOUNT OF THE RELIGIONS OF PERSIA
bodies as they burst through the gates, the adherents of the
False Prophet having taken poison, and he himself having died on a funeral pyre
in order that the people might believe that he had left them but for a season,
and would reappear as he had foretold. Every legend about Al Mukanna speaks of
the mask, or veil, which he habitually wore to conceal a countenance of
surpassing ugliness; but the reason he himself gave was that he covered his
face in order not to dazzle his disciples with its effulgence.
There is also the tradition that he caused a "false moon "to rise from a
certain well, which was visited night after night by crowds of people anxious
to see this remarkable phenomenon. It gained for him hundreds of converts, and
the "Moon of Al Mukanna" is mentioned in two Persian poems, such an impression
did the Veiled Prophet and his dramatic death make on his own and succeeding
Sufism and Babism are the two heresies about which Europeans in Persia hear
The Sufis, or Mystics, are those who do not take the words of Mohammed
literally, but give them a so-called spiritual interpretation; and they came
into prominence in the time of Ismail Shah, the founder of the Sefavean
dynasty. Sufism is more a philosophy than a religion, and several of the most
celebrated poets of Iran, such as Hafiz, are supposed to be singing of divine
mysteries in their songs of love and wine. Though there are seekers after truth
in their ranks, yet many writers affirm that the Sufis use their mystical creed
as a veil for excess.
Professor E. G. Browne,1
however, speaks of them as
"A Year among the Persians."
akin to the Quietists and Quakers, and says: "It is indeed the eternal
cry of the human soul for rest; the insatiable longing of a being wherein
infinite ideals are fettered and cramped by a miserable actuality. It is in
essence an enunciation more or less clear, more or less eloquent of the
aspiration of the soul to cease altogether from self and to be at one with
The sect of the Babis is so remarkable that many hoped that it might vivify the
dry bones of Islam.
From the works of Lord Curzon1
and Professor E. G.
the latter of whom has made a special study of this
subject, we learn that the founder of Babism, Mirza Ali Mohammed, a native of
Shiraz, was given to religious meditation and went on pilgrimages from an early
age. At the age of twenty-four he proclaimed himself to be the Bab, or "Gate,"'
by which his followers might attain salvation; and throughout Persia he was
hailed as the Mahdi, the long-expected Twelfth Imam.
His doctrines spread so rapidly that the Government and priesthood became
alarmed, and imprisoned him at Shiraz. From that city he escaped to Isfahan,
where the governor protected him; but on the death of his patron he was again
consigned to a captivity which only ended with his death. On his way to the
fortress where he was to be immured, village after village on route poured
forth its inhabitants to greet him with the wildest enthusiasm; his adherents
arose at Yezd and in the province of Mazanderan; the inhabitants of Zanjan
defended their town against a Persian army with marvellous bravery. The
beautiful poetess Kurratu 'l-'Ayn spread his doctrines far and
2"A Year among the Persians," etc.
wide, until her tragic death at Tehran; and it seemed as if the
status of women would be raised, for they were to be considered equal with men,
were to throw off their veils, and polygamy and divorce were to be
The Bab, however, was shot at Tabriz in 1850. Strangely enough, he actually
escaped unhurt after the soldiers had fired at him, the bullets having merely
cut the cords that bound him; and the cloud of smoke concealed his flight. His
hiding-place was soon discovered, and he was dragged forth and done to death.
His adherents were suppressed with terrible cruelty, and their attempt to
assassinate the Shah resulted in sanguinary massacres in which, almost without
exception, they met death and torture with unflinching heroism.
If the Bab had escaped, in all probability Persia would have been converted to
his doctrines en bloc, and would have emerged from the petrifying influence of
Islam into a liberal atmosphere where progress was possible.
At his death his followers split up into two factions, one following Mirza
Yahya, whom the Bab had designated as his successor, and the other Beha Ullah
the half-brother of the new Gate. Beha soon asserted his claim to be "He whom
God shall manifest," and gave out that his revelations were superior to those
in the Bayan, or Bible, composed by the Bab during his imprisonment; and at the
present day his successor is regarded as the head of the Babi faith, and his
adherents visit him in his retirement at Acre.
Almost up to now the Babis have been persecuted at intervals, the last popular
outburst against them, (p. 143) engineered as usual by the priesthood,
occurring at Yezd in 1903, when many were slain.
It is difficult to know whether the movement is gaining ground or no, as its
followers naturally keep their faith a secret; but the standard it sets up is
so high that it is to be hoped that in time it may become a power in the
Many look upon the latest development of Babism, Behaism as it is called from
its founder, as one of the great religions of the world, and they affirm that
it numbers its adherents by millions.
Beha Ullah asserted that he was the last Manifestation of the Deity, and, as
such, included in his own person the teachings and powers of Zoroaster, Moses,
Buddha, Christ, and Mohammed. There is no ceremonial or priesthood in his
religion, which inculcates love toward all men, equality of the sexes, a
universal language, and peace throughout the world.
Beha Ullah himself died in 1892, but his son carries on his work, and at the
present day European and Oriental men of every nation and belief meet at Acre
to sit at the feet of Abbas Effendi, the Master, as they call him, and imbibe