I read about the impending trial and all-too-likely execution of seven Bahais in Iran as I was reading about the outbreak of Babi/Bahai-killing in Iran a little over a century before. As I was wending my way through Mirza Yahya Dawlatabadi’s memoirs, Hayat-e Yahya, I came across a passage describing the mob violence let loose against these heretics in Yazd and Isfahan in 1903. The author, who was himself called by some historians a successor to the Babi movement, appears actually to have chosen the path of a Muslim reformer. His references in this passage to Babis and Bahais reveal a feigned or genuine ignorance about the difference between them.1
In the beginning of this passage, Mirza Yahya claims that the Bahais/Babis were under Russian protection, since their main base in Iran was in Astarabad (present day Gorgan), which is in the very north of Iran and thus well within Russian’s informal sphere of influence. Since the network of Bahais (as he now calls them) were active throughout the Qajar governmental administration, they were a powerful weapon in the hands of the Russians. The British saw it necessary to deprive the Russians of this weapon and so incited the clergy against the Bahais. It is not necessary to believe in this elaborate tale of international intrigue to appreciate that the rise of foreign domination of Iran would heighten tension between the Muslim majority and religious sectarians.2
As for Yazd, there were many catastrophes. Nor did they refrain from Violating the innocent women and children of those accused [of Babism/Bahaism]. They took the suckling babes from their cradles and brought their mouths to the nozzle of a boiling samovar so that the babe would think that it was his mother’s breast and open its mouth, but insteat of milk, it would imbibe boiling water until he lost his life. One of the people of Yazd, who came to Tehran after this event, expressed his piety and courage for the author by telling him, “It was said that a neighboring merchant’s child was a Babi. He had just married and had to leave town for some reason. I went to him, cut of his head, wrapped it in a kerchief, went back to town, and presented it to his newly-wedded wife.” It was also said that in Rabi I 1321 [June 1903], in the midst of Yazd’s Babi-killing troubles, they told the ignorant teacher in a newly-constructed school that the father of one of the students had been killed after being accused of Babism. The teacher turned to that students and said, “Praise be Allah, Lord of the worlds, that they have also sent your father to Hell.” The innocent child shook and wept and wailed out loud, wanting to leave the school and ask after his father. The teacher said, “It is clear that you are also a Babi.” He bound him to the pillory and beat him for a long while with sticks. News reached his family. His young sister rushed with all her might to the school and saw her little brother had passed out under the blows of sticks and threw herself on top of him. The people attacked the school on hearing this commotion. The siblings were both killed by being pummeled and stomped to death by the people. Many such tragedies occurred. Yes, riot is blind, not distinguishing between small and large, innocent [and guilty], especially when hatreds and intrigues are involved and particularly when, in the eyes of the fanatical people, the protection of piety is also bound up with it.3
Today, “the protection of piety” is tied to the manipulation of anti-Zionist sentiment by an unscrupulous regime. Mob violence is now taken over by the State, which satisfies the blood lust of what is left of the fanatical rabble.
Another story also came to mind. During the Islamic Revolution of 1979, there was a Bahai center and a mosque in reasonable proximity in one neighborhood. A mob went off to attack the Bahai center. The mosque’s janitor, a simple, illiterate Muslim with the tell-tale stubble on his cheeks who was known to one and all, got wind of this and threw himself in front of the Bahai house of worship and talked the rabble down.
Here are some links to sites about the looming trials and related sites regarding the persecution of the Bahais in the Islamic Republic:
1 He would be traveling down the same path as others who had had a brush with Babism, such as Mirza Aqa Khan Kermani and Haji Sheikh Ahmad Ruhi, who ultimately became fiery pan-Islamists. Compare Hayat-e Yahya, Chapter 19 and Ahmad Kasravi’s Tarikh-e Mashruteye Iran, p. 136 ff.
2 Kasravi considers the Babis to have been tools of the British and the Bahais to be tools of the Russians. For his reasoning, see Tarikh-e Mashruteye Iran, p. 291.
3 Hayat-e Yahya, p. 322