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An Overview of Sources for the Study of

Shaykh Tabarsí

 

 

 

During the five-year period of 1848-53, on at least seven separate occasions, the Bábís of Iran were forced to take up arms against the Qajar state, often resulting in battles with the combined military and militia forces of the government. These events, coupled with the martyrdom of the Báb and most of the Letters of the Living, left that community almost completely destroyed, with only a small band of remnant believers left either in isolation, or in exile or in small disjointed groups. While these occurrences have been explored to some extent in well-known histories of the Bábís in English language, such as, The Dawn-Breakers, or Táríkh Jadíd, or Resurrection and Renewal, it is only recently that the various eyewitness accounts of these events are gradually coming to the notice of students of this period.

          The first of these events occurred in Shaykh Tabarsí in 1848-49. The second and the third incident were led by Siyyid Yahyá [Vahid] Dárábí, and took place in Yazd and Nayriz during the first half of 1850. The fourth armed clash was in Zanjan, and led by Mullá Muhammad-‘Alí [Hujjat] Zanjání. The fifth episode was in Tehran in 1852, resulting in Bahá’u’lláh’s imprisonment and the slaughter of many Babis of that town. The sixth uprising was orchestrated by Mirza Yahya Azal in Mazandaran in 1853, and the seventh known uprising against the authorities was undertaken by the Babis of Nayriz in 1853 as well.

          The key documents pertaining to the first event will be discussed below, while the various accounts pertaining to the Yazd and the two Nayriz events are translated and analyzed by the present writer in a separate volume.[1] Narratives regarding Zanjan have been analyzed by John Walbridge.[2] No eyewitness evidences have so far been made available in English pertaining to Tehran or Azal’s uprisings.

          The present monograph introduces and offers in translation (and also the original Persian) an eyewitness account of a Shaykh Tabarsí survivor. It is hoped that this volume will shortly be followed by monographs on two other remaining Bábí eyewitness accounts of the same event.

 

 

Sources for Study of Shaykh Tabarsí Conflict

Of the seven major incidents in Bábí history in which armed clashes occurred between the Bábís and governmental forces, there are more documentary materials available for Shaykh Tabarsí than others. These include eyewitness accounts and secondary sources, by both Bábí-Bahá’í and Muslim writers. In addition, there are western diplomatic sources which shed considerable light on this episode, though discussion of them is beyond the scope of the present study.[3]

The more important sources in the Persian language for Shaykh Tabarsí can be divided into the following groups:[4]

 

Eyewitness Bábí Narratives

Among the most important documents for this event are the eyewitness accounts written by three Bábí participants, who wrote their recollections independently of one another and at different times. Each of these chronicles has its own characteristics and offers a slightly different perspective. These accounts not only provide considerable firsthand details about the event, but also outline the general Bábí outlook and perceptions. They are briefly introduced below in their chronological order:

 

Narrative of Lutf-‘Alí Mírzá Shírází: The author was related to the Qajar royal family through the children of Husayn-‘Alí Farmán-Farmá, the governor of Fars.[5] It is not known when he became a Bábí, though according to his account, he joined Mullá Husayn and his march on 12 Ramadan 1264 AH [12 August 1848] near the boarder of Mazandaran in the village of Dih-Mullá. He was present throughout the Shaykh Tabarsí episode, survived the ordeal and eventually died a martyr’s death in August 1852 in Tehran, during the pogrom unleashed after the Bábí attempt on the life of Nasiri’d-Din Shah.

          His account covers in considerable detail events from the time that he joined the march until early April 1849, when the besiegers were suffering intense famine at the Fort about a month before the conclusion of the episode on 9 May 1849. According to a well-informed historian, Lutf-‘Alí Mírzá was composing his account in Tehran when his martyrdom prevented completion of this task.[6]

          This untitled narrative is almost certainly the earliest and the most extensive of the Bábí accounts, and even though the text itself does not bear the author’s name, another early account, known as Táríkh Mímiyyih, identifies the author and occasionally cites this narrative, which indicates that the text was in limited circulation among the surviving Bábís and early Bahá’ís.[7]

          Three copies of this narrative are in possession of the present translator, who will shortly make his translation available:

a.                            A copy transcribed by Muhammad-Báqir Tihrání in 1319 AH [1901-02]. At the beginning of this manuscript, Tihrání emphasizes that he copied the text from the original in the hand of the author and ensured that it was without any additions or deletions. This version is in 111 pages.

b.                           Cambridge collection: Browne Manuscripts, Oriental Folios (Or. F) 28, item 3. This version has been published at:  http://www2.hnet.msu.edu/~bahai/arabic/vol5/lutfali/lutfali.htm.

c.                            An undated copy made by ‘Atiyih Rúhí, a daughter of Ahmad Thamarih, the Misbahu’l-Hukamá, and a younger sister of ‘Inayatu’lláh Thamarih in Kirman.[8]

 

Narrative of Hájí Nasír Qazvíní: The eyewitness account of Hájí Nasír is shorter than the other two eyewitness accounts. From internal evidences it appears to have been written well after the events and as part of a larger autobiography, which is no longer extant. This text was published in the first printing of Táríkh Samandar va Mulhaqát, under the title, “Táriíkh Jináb Hájí Nasír Shahíd”.[9] For unexplained reasons it was removed from the subsequent printing of that book in 131BE [1974], though reference to it remained in the book’s introduction. The following comment by the original publisher of Táríkh Samandar appears on page 500 of that monograph:

 

This history was written in the hand of the illustrious martyred Hájí Nasír Qazvíní, may my spirit be a sacrifice unto his dust. He was present at the fort of Shaykh Tabarsí, ranked among the companions [there], and the Invisible Host protected [and saved] him. He devoted his entire life to the service [of the Cause], attained the presence of the Countenance of God[10] in ‘Akká, and eventually achieved martyrdom in 1300 A.H. [1881] in Rasht.

The original of this narrative was a book which was destroyed. This portion was discovered recently, and the late Samandar, upon him rest the Glory of God, has established its authenticity.

 

Of the original text, 14 pages were discovered by Shaykh Kázim Samandar and transcribed on 10 April 1927 by ‘Abdu’s-Samad Samadání. The accuracy of this transcription was confirmed by Tarazu’lláh Samandarí (later appointed as a Hand of Cause), as the secretary of the Spiritual Assembly approving the publication of Táríkh Samandar.[11]

 

Narrative of Mír Abú-Tálib Shahmírzádí: Mír Abú-Tálib’s father was among the Sádát of Samnán and was entrusted with the guardianship of Imám-Zádih Qásim, northeast of Sangar on the way to Shahmirzad. He was influential and respected in his native town, and while on a journey to Karbala came upon some of the Báb’s Writings, the perusal of which convinced him of the truth of the Báb’s claim. Before his passing, he declared, “Whoever can assist this Cause must arise to its triumph.”[12]

It must have been this advice that propelled his son, Mír Abú-Tálib, though not a Bábí at that time, to serve as a guide for three Bábís who were on their way to Shaykh Tabarsí. Upon encountering Mullá Husayn and other companions at the Fort, he declared his allegiance to the new Faith. He then returned to his native town of Shahmirzad to inform the population of the events and the Qá’im’s appearance. A number of people converted, and soon some of them joined Mír Abú-Tálih and his two brothers at Shaykh Tabarsí. The author indicates that inasmuch as his mother was old, she wrote a letter for Quddús stating that even though all believers were enjoined to hasten to the Fort to aid the defenders, she would keep the youngest of the four sons, Siyyid Muhammad-Ridá, for her needs.

Shortly after the arrival of these believers from Shahmirzad the battles with the Mazandarani forces commenced. The three brothers participated in the clashes and two of them were killed during those encounters. Mír Abú-Tálib states that miraculously he survived. That is, when he returned from their last battle, his garment was full of bullet holes, but on opening his belt, bullets fell to the ground, none of them having harmed him in the least.

In the final days of the siege, Quddús summoned Mír Abú-Tálib and gave him a sealed envelope for his mother. When all the Bábís were arrested, Mír Abú-Tálib found his way home without the least objection from the opposing soldiers. He gave the letter to his mother in which Quddús had stated, “She had acted generously by giving up her three sons in God’s path. But God was just and had taken two and allowed her to keep two,” namely, Mír Abú-Tálib and Siyyid Muhammad-Ridá.

          The narrative of Mír Abú-Tálib must have been commissioned by Bahá’u’lláh, Who instructed several individuals (such as Mullá Muhammad Shafí‘ Nayrízí) to write their recollections. This account starts with the meeting of the Sa‘ídu’l-‘Ulamá with the Bábís, and concludes with the massacre of the besiegers in May 1849. Along the way, the author takes various detours from the main story, which in some ways enriches the narrative. Later this account was the basis of Nabíl Zarandí’s section on Shaykh Tabarsí. Since this account includes various “miracle stories”, they must have been removed at the time of the composition of The Dawn-Breakers.

In addition to Nabíl’s account, Fádil Mázandarání has used this narrative in his Táríkh Zuhúru’l-Haqq, but his copy must have had some divergences with Nabíl’s (and also with the copies available to the present translator), as he cites passages unavailable in other copies.

Two copies of Mír Abú-Tálib’s narrative are known to the present translator:

a.     A copy in the author’s hand in 63 pages

b.    A transcribed copy in the hand of Muhammad-‘Alí Malik-Khusraví completed in March 1964.

It is hoped that the present translator’s annotated rendering of this narrative (a project sanctioned by the Bahá’í World Centre) will be published shortly.

 

Eyewitness Muslim Narratives

One of the earliest accounts of this incident, which has been largely overlooked by Bahá’í historians, appeared in the Mazandarani dialect.[13] While one cannot be certain that the author was indeed an eyewitness, it appears that this account was collected in Babul (former Barfurush) in 1860 by an informed Muslim contemporary. More recently, this narrative has been translated and published by Habib Borjian,[14] who remarks that it

 

was among Nikolai Khanykov’s manuscripts and notes kept in the Imperial Public Library at Saint Petersburg. Dorn, who provides also a German translation, published the text in 1865 in Perso-Arabic characters.[15] He states two reasons for publishing the text: (1) so that one can see the details recounted by a witness whose truth I do not advocate; (2) (the main reason) that the Manzandarani text be shown as a language.” For the sake of comparison, Dorn also provides a summary of the incident based on materials that had hitherto been published by Mirza (Aleksandr) Kazem Beg and Mirza Muhammad-Taqi Lisan-al-Mulk Sipihr in Násikh al-Taváríkh. Moreover, the text in Dorn’s edition carries the title min kalám Shaykh al-‘Ajam Mázandarání (From the words of Shaykh al-‘Ajam Mazandarani). The latter is the epithet of Amir Pazvari, the semi-legendary Mazandarani poet so much adored by Dorn, who seems to have used the title symbolically to allude to the Mazandarani language in general. The author of the text remains anonymous.[16]

 

          A close study of Borjian’s translation indicates that it is not without shortcomings and a more accurate rendering is being prepared by Adel Shafipour.

 

Other Important Bábí Accounts

Two Bábí accounts are particularly important as related to Shaykh Tabarsí and are briefly mentioned below:

 

Kitáb Nuqtatu’l-Káf: Based either mostly or in part on an account by Hájí Mírzá Jání of Kashan, this book is without doubt one of the earliest Bábí accounts, and enjoys a significant importance in any discussion of the Bábí histories. The section on Shaykh Tabarsí provides a few additional nuggets of information not otherwise available through eyewitness accounts. This book was published by Prof E. G. Browne and in collaboration with Muhammad Qazvíní[17]: Kitáb-i Nuqtatu’l-Káf, Leiden and London, 1910.[18]

 

Vaqá‘ih Mímiyyih [Events in the Land of Mím[19]]: This manuscript was commissioned by the mother and sister of Mullá Husayn who asked Siyyid Muhammad-Hasan Zavárih’í, titled Mahjúr, to compose a narrative of the episode at Shaykh Tabarsí. To a notable degree this account reflects the oral history of the Bábí survivors (known as Baqíyatu’l-Sayf) who are variously mentioned throughout the text. It also cites information from Lutf-‘Alí Mírzá’s account, without identifying its author (most likely unknown to Mahjúr). There is some controversy regarding the date of composition of this narrative, and Zabihi-Mughaddam is of the opinion that it was written around 1278 AH [1861]. The present translator is of the same mind.

          Two copies of this manuscript are known to the present translator, which offer slight differences:

a.      Browne, Oriental Manuscript Folio 28(1), in the author’s hand, published at: http://www.h-net.msu.edu/~bahai/arabic/vol5/mimiyyih/mimiyyih.htm

b.     A copy in the hand of Muhammad-‘Alí Malik-Khusraví in 146 pages.

 

Early Bahá’í Accounts

Narrative of Siyyid Muhammad-Ridá Shahmírzádí: Being nineteen years old at the time of his brothers’ departure for Shaykh Tabarsí, he did not participate in the events, but his account (which appears to have been composed rather late in life) contains various references to Shaykh Tabarsí and the condition and sufferings of the Bábís in various towns concurrent with the events at the Fort. A text of this narrative in the author’s hand was the basis of a translation completed by the present writer, which will be published shortly.

 

Narrative of Nabíl Zarandí: This is an extensive history of over 1000 pages, which was completed in 1891. The portion detailing the Bábí history has been published in an edited and abridged English translation under the title The Dawn-Breakers: Nabíl’s Narrative of the Early Days of the Bahá’í Revelation, translated and edited by Shoghi Effendi, Wilmette, 1932.

 

Narrative of Siyyid Husayn Hamadání: Composed in collaboration with Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl Gulpáygání, this account adds only slightly to the information on the Shaykh Tabarsí conflict available in the Kitáb Nuqtatu’l-Kaf. This narrative was translated and annotated by Prof E. G. Browne, The Táríkh-i-Jadíd or New History of Mírzá ‘Alí-Muhammad the Báb (Cambridge, 1893).

 

Accounts by Qajar Historians

Two official Qajar histories, Násikhu’t-Taváríkh by Mírzá Muhammad-Taqí the Lisánu’l-Mulk Sipihr, and Raudatu’s-Safá Násirí, vol. 10, by Ridá-Qulí Khán Hidáyat, contain very valuable details about Shaykh Tabarsí, often based on military dispatches and other governmental communications. They suffer, however, from certain limitations discussed elsewhere by the present translator.[20]



[1] Ahang Rabbani, The Bábís of Nayríz: History and Documents, eBook: 2007, Witnesses to the Bábí and Bahá’í History, Vol. 2, at: http://ahang.rabbani.googlepages.com/nayriz

[2] John Walbridge, “Document and Narrative Sources for the History of the Battle of Zanjan”, Occasional Papers in Shaykhi, Babi and Baha’i Studies, Vol. 2, No. 4 (May, 1998), e-published at: http://www.h-net.org/~bahai/bhpapers/vol2/nabilz.htm

[3] See Moojan Momen, The Bábí and Bahá’í Religions, 1844-1944: Some Contemporary Western Accounts, Oxford: George Ronald, 1981.

[4] See analysis of events leading to Shaykh Tabarsí and afterwards see, Siyamak Zabihi-Moghaddam, “The Babi-State Conflict at Shaykh Tabarsi,” Iranian Studies 35 (2002): 87-112; and Mohammad Ali Kazembeyki, Society, Politics and Economics in Mázandarán, Iran, 1848-1914 (London, 2003), pp. 116-125.

[5] Abú’l-Qásim Afnán, ‘Ahd-A‘lá, p. 475. Earlier Bahá’í historians (such as, Fadil Mázandarání, Táríkh Zuhuru’l-Haqq, vol. 3, p. 267) have incorrectly identified him as an Afshar Prince.

[6] Muhammad-‘Alí Malik-Khusraví, Táríkh Shuhadáy Amr, vol. 3, p. 274.

[7] Siyamak Zabihi-Mughaddam, Váq‘ih Qal‘ih Shaykh Tabarsí, Germany: ‘Asr-i-Jadíd, 2002, p. 57.

[8] This scribed lived in Tehran and indicates that she made a copy for the use of her brother in Kirman. Moojan Momen provides further identification on her (private communication, May 2007): “… this lady is the great-grand-daughter of Azal. My information is as follows: Azal > Mírzá Núru'lláh (a physician living in Rasht) > Mírzá Ahmad Amínu’l-Atibbá, who had two children, ‘Inayatu’lláh and ‘Atiyyih who married ‘Ali Ruhi (who was a member of Shaykh Ahmad Ruhi’s family in Kirman). ‘Atiyyih Ruhi was, incidentally the person who traveled to Cyprus and organized and paid for a shrine over the grave of Azal.”

[9] Shaykh Kázim Samandar, Táríkh Samandar va Mulhaqát, Tehran, n.d., pp. 501-520.

[10] Arabic Laqá’u’lláh, a reference to the Manifestation of God; Bahá’u’lláh for Bahá’ís.

[11] Shaykh Kázim Samandar, Táríkh Samandar va Mulhaqát, p. 520.

[12] Mír Abú-Tálib Shahmírzádí, untitled manuscript, p. 5.

[13] No reference to this manuscript in Bahá’í published books is known to the present translator, including Denis MacEoin, The Sources for Early Bábí Doctrine and History: A Survey; Leiden, 1992.

[14] Habib Borjian, “A Mazandarani Account of the Babi Incident at Shaikh Tabarsi”, Iranian Studies, 39:3, 381-400.

[15] Boris Andreevich Dorn, Morgenlandische bandschriften der kaiserlichen offentlichen bibliothek zu St. Petersbur. Nachtrage zu dem Verzeichniss dr in Jabre 1861 erworbenen Chayykove’schen Sammlung (St. Petersburg, 1865). Reprinted as “Nachtrage zu dem Verzeichniss der von der Kaiserlichen Offenlichen Bibliothek erworbene Chanykov’schen Handschriften und den da mitgetheilten Nachrichten uber die Baby und deren Koran,” in Mélanges asiatiques tirés du Bulletin de L’Académie Impériale des sciences de St.-Pétersbourg V. 1864-1868 (St. Petersburg, 1968), 377-419. [Habib Borjian]

[16] Habib Borjian, “A Mazandarani Account of the Babi Incident at Shaikh Tabarsi” p. 382.

[17] On Muhammad Qazvíní’s own admission to being a party in this book see, Ahang Rabbani, “‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Meetings with Two Prominent Iranians”, World Order, Fall 1998, Vol. 30, No. 1, 35-46 (available at: http://ahang.rabbani.googlepages.com/Rabbani_AbdulBaha_Meeting_Two_Promin.pdf).

[18] For a more detailed discussion, see Ahang Rabbani, The Bábís of Nayríz: History and Documents, Chapter 6.

[19] Mím is an abbreviation for Mazandaran.

[20] Ahang Rabbani, The Bábís of Nayríz: History and Documents, Chapter 8.