An account of the persecution of Bahá'ís by followers of an imaginary Imam
Abadeh is a town located in the Fars province, south central Iran. Positioned approximately 80km to the north of Shiraz it was the trade centre for the surrounding grain and fruit-growing regions. Sesame oil and castor oil were also produced there. During the Qajar years it was considered to be an important regional town located en-route from Shiraz to Isfahan.
One of the early Bahá'ís in Abadeh was Aqa Mirza Qabil Abadeh'i who was a dedicated travel teacher of his time. Having declared his faith Bahá'u'lláh in Abadeh he was forced to leave his birthplace by the local clerics and set out to introduce the Cause to Yazd and the surrounding townships. He is credited with sowing the seeds of the faith in Abadih and Yazd.
Aqa Mirza Qabil Abadeh'i later compiled a detailed history of Abadih and other towns/villages he visited. Known as "Tarikh-e Abadeh va Tababi" ("history of Abadeh and surrounding"), his history of Abadeh stretches from the time of the Bab through to the end of Abdu'l-Bahá's ministry. Relying on the recollections of himself and other senior local Bahá'ís, Aqa Mirza Qabil Abadeh'i has created a magnificent piece of historiography impressing the reader with the minute details concerning the events at Abadeh and surrounding villages.
Carefully dated and recorded are graphic accounts of more than twenty episodes of persecutions against the Bahá'ís by the local clerics, government officials or other local clans.
The following episode is recorded as the Ninth episode of the persecution of Bahá'ís in Abadeh and occurred in 1901.
- Sepehr Manuchehri
Shah Abdu'llah and the Bahá'ís of Abadeh
In the year 1319 AH (AD 1901) a certain Asadu'llah Big Chegini from the Qashqai clan initiated a series of rumours concerning the appearance of a certain Shah Abdu'llah. Through the issue of conspiracy theories and collusion with his co-conspirators, he floated the idea that the Shah Abdu'llah is none other than the Deputy to the Hidden Imam Mahdi. Asadu'llah Big Chegini claimed to be his nominated representative with exclusive access to the imaginary Shah Abdu'llah.
He instigated other rumours about his alleged powers in performing miracles and succeeded in convincing the less informed turks in the surrounding districts that Shah Abdu'llah was indeed the forerunner to appearance of the Hidden Imam. This idea became popular with the turks and caused a great deal of commotion. A significant number of people rallied around him and donated substantial amounts of cash and gifts to him.
Gradually the number of Shah Abdu'llah's nominated representatives increased. Calling themselves the Caliphs, they based their activities in the town of Husayn Abad located 14km outside of Abadeh and gathered in a local shrine known as Imamzadeh Ahmar. From there they invented more rumours concerning the alleged miracles of their Imam, created wild stories and managed to attract the ignorant masses. As a result approximately 5,000 men and women from the larger Shire of Abadeh congregated in that shrine to follow their cause.
Every hour they instigated a new story about the performance of a hundred major miracles. One (Caliph) claimed to have seen His Excellency Imam Husayn together with His Holy family pass by and rest on the dome of the shrine. Another claimed to have witnessed His Excellency Imam Reza riding on a camel followed by a deer on the dome of the shrine. Some claimed to have seen Prophet Muhammad wearing a green turban on top of the shrine and others allegedly saw Imam Ali riding on his favourite horse - Doldol - on top of the dome holding his famous sword - Zolfaqar - on one hand. One claimed to have spotted Asadu'llah Big at a secret location where he visited Shah Abdu'llah and some had allegedly witnessed a former Mulla who had initially expressed doubts about the miracles of Shah Abdu'llah turn in to a mule, being used by people to carry loads of stone.
Through dissemination of numerous falsities and rumours they succeeded in attracting a large crowd to the Imamzadeh (Ahmar) in Husayn Abad. Men and women came as far away as Qamshih and the surrounding villages. The congregation of the superstitious crowd and the prevailing false imaginations resulted in the conversion of the Imam Jumh'a of Abadeh. Followed by his male and female followers, he set out towards Husayn Abad and camped outside the gate of the shrine and confirmed the utterings of the Caliphs.
The new convert repeatedly stated: "Praise be to God and His people that the ocean of celestial grace finally caused the unveiling of the secrets resulting in the appearance of the forerunner to the Promised One, effectively shaming the Bahá'ís and informing the world that the Shirazi Sayyid Bab made a false claim and his followers are clearly in the wrong."
This and similar statements were often aimed at provoking the mob to kill and loot the Bahá'ís. They were preparing the crowd for the final annihilation of the Bahá'ís. The Caliphs were repeatedly requested to issue orders to kill the Bahá'ís. Up on hearing the news, the unstable Muslims in the surrounding villages became organised, held banners and marched in [towards Abadeh] to attack the Bahá'ís and confiscate their belongings. After rushing in to the city streets, they began beating on their chest and shouting "Husayn, Husayn". Then they branched off to every alleyway, shouting "Ali, Ali" and hurling abuse and obscenities at the Bahá'ís. They targeted a number of Bahá'ís, beating them severely resulting in injuries. The uprising erupted in to anarchy in Abadeh and the surrounding townships. The local Muslims were practically ready to attack and murder the Bahá'ís.
In the mean time various tradesmen, farmers and labourers abandoned their jobs/farms and rushed towards the Imamzadeh. The disparate Arab, Turk & Tajik clans were now united in their vain imaginings. The local ruler Prince Montaser'ul Dowlah became alarmed and ordered two of his officers - Mulla Aminu'llah Nazim'ul Shari'at and Haji Khan - to go to the Imamzadeh in order to investigate the matter. These two went to Husayn Abad and realised the truth of the situation. However as they held the Bahá'ís in emnity, they joined hands with the mob and agreed to send incorrect reports to confuse the Prince.
Defection of Karbalai Hasan Khan
During the upheavals the Bahá'ís remained steadfast and [the community] began preparing to protect and defend the defenceless believers.. The friends were openly advised that the prevalence of such idle fancies is like a mirage and will eventually pass to the detriment of the government officials and the people of Islam.
However, from their ranks a certain Karbalai Hasan Khan was overcame with fear and anxiety. He was a senior believer from the locality of Vazir Abad aged about 80 and worked in a farm. Stress and fear caused him to become mentally unbalanced. One day he rushed outside of his house, filled his shoes with sand and hung it on his neck. He then held his hands behind his neck pretending to be dragged by an invisible force. Openly weeping and in a strange manner he cried out "Ya Shah Abdu'llah" regularly.
In this state of mind he hurried towards the Imamzadeh (Ahmar). His defection was an exception compared to the resolve and strength shown by the general Bahá'í community in Abadeh and the surrounding districts. [The Bahá'ís] questioned his self-inflicted ignorance and insanity. When asked by the general public about his destination, Karbalai Hasan Khan would respond by saying: " I am not going by myself, I am being taken away".
The superstitious locals viewed this insanity as a miracle with many people following him with banners, beating on their chest and setting out towards the Imamzadeh. Up on his arrival, Karbalai Hasan Khan stood before the caliphs, lifted his hands from behind his neck and bowed his head before their hands and feet shouting: "Repentance, repentance".
Nevertheless a number of fanatical Muslims immediately attacked him, gave him a severe beating and inviting others to join in saying "Beat the old mischievous fox, he is dissimulating, he is a true Babi". In the midst of the beatings Karbalai Hasan Khan would shout "Ya Shah Abdu'llah". Finally one of the Caliphs came to his rescue and openly advised: "Your repentance is accepted. No one is allowed to hurt you". He then took the old man to another room with him and closed the door. The behaviour of the old fox further fanned the flames of hatred towards the Bahá'ís. They became bolder in their faith in Shah Abdu'llah.
The new attitude of the Imam Jumh'a and his followers made the situation even more acute. Now women came to pay homage to the holy Caliphs and others became their mere subjects.. The number of men and women camped out near the Imamzadeh reached ten thousand. One would faint, another would have a fit and go in to a coma. Once out of coma they would declare: "We were guilty of sins and now Shah Abdu'llah has forgiven us".
Thereby the commotion increased and the situation picked up momentum. Tribesmen from the Bakhtyari clan would come from as far away as Faraqih, a distance of about 70 km, by foot and horse, carrying weapons. They came to the Imamzadeh giving their allegiance to the Caliphs and ready to loot and kill the Bahá'ís of Abadeh.
The Bakhtyari chiefs urged the Caliphs to write a letter to Aqa Mirza Ali Khan Kushkiki [a respected Bahá'í in the locality of Kushkik] asking him to handover the Bahá'ís in that locality. The leader of the Caliphs, Aywaz Turk then picked up a pen and wrote the following letter to Aqa Mirza Ali Khan:
"In the Name of God, the All forgiving, the All merciful.
This is a letter from the Lord of the faithful, the Anchor of the heavens and earth, Asad'ullah the Victor .. to Mirza Ali Khan Baha'I Kushkiki.
At present there are seventeen Bahá'ís in the locality of Kushkik. You must round them up, put them in chains and forward them to the Imamzadeh. If you obey this command, I will forgive your sins. If you fail however, I will order the celestial army to arrest and bring you to the Imamzadeh."
Aqa Mirza Ali Khan was astonished by the contents of this letter and concluded that the Caliphs and their followers are truly insane. He quickly dispatched the above letter to Prince Montaseru'l-Dowlah. The Prince likewise forwarded this letter along with his views on the matter to Prince Shoau'l-Saltanah, the Governor of Fars in Shiraz.
After receiving the above mentioned letter, the Governor sent the following telegraph to Mirza Ali Khan Kushkiki:
Mirza Ali Khan - Do not listen to the words of the Caliphs and be assured that they will soon be punished. This is our instruction.
Soon afterwards, Prince Zarqamu'l Dowlah Ilkhani Qashqa'i was charged with the task of suppressing the Caliphs and dispersing the crowd gathered at the Imamzadeh. Ilkhani set out from Shiraz with a group of armed soldiers and arrived at the Najaf-Abad district of Abadeh. Once there, he commissioned ten of his men to go to the Imamzadeh and address the Caliphs and their followers. The soldiers arrived and advised the crowd that "Ilkhani has been instructed by Shah Abdu'llah to eradicate the Bahá'ís of Abadeh and will arrive here in one hour".
As the soldiers conveyed this news to the crowd, thousands of joyous screams were heard coming mainly from the female followers. They brought out a carpet, made tea and offered sweets. The soldiers sat down to eat. The crowd were ecstatic.
At this time one thousand armed soldiers acting on orders from Ilkhani surrounded the Imamzadeh. Scuffles then broke out between the armed soldiers and the crowd stationed inside. Some soldiers made their way in to the Harem, removed the veil from the faces of girls/ women and arresting them. Others began to loot the place. Amidst the mayhem and controversy the Imam Jum'ha begged out loud: "O armed soldiers! For the sake of God have mercy. We are not Bahá'ís. What do you want from us?"
The soldiers responded: "You are similarly followers of an imaginary Shah Abdu'llah and believers in a new Mahdi. This decree is specifically issued for you"
Subsequently the majority of men and women from the Imamzadeh were taken captive and forced to walk the desert barefooted and without sufficient clothes. Many riches were taken from that location and certain events took place which are simply too gruesome to describe..
The captives were forced to pay substantial sums of money to secure their freedom after three days in Shiraz. Afterwards they returned to Abadeh disgraced and embarrassed. Shah Abdu'llah was forever forgotten.
Ilkhani soldiers captured 17 of the wicked Caliphs and sent them to Shiraz. Some had their body parts mutilated. The Bahá'ís of Abadeh were now relieved of the threat posed by the people of superstition. The cause of Shah Abdu'llah was uprooted and his followers were shamed. Prince Montaseru'l Dowlah also jailed Hasan Khan Vazir Abadi and ordered him to pay a substantial fine.