Bahai News - Report on Baha'is of Iran, 1925
Report on Baha'is of Iran, 1925
W. Smith Murray, U.S. Embassy, Tehran
Legation of the United States of America
January 8, 1925
Department of State Department of Near Eastern Affairs
The Secretary of State,
I have the honor to submit for the information of the Department A
CONSIDERATION OF THE BAHAI RELIGION, ITS TENETS, THE CHARACTER OF ITS
FOLLOWERS, AND THE POSSIBILITY OF ITS SPREAD IN PERSIA AND ELSEWHERE.
A treatment of this topic at the present time appears to be
particularly opportune owing to the fact that, as the Department is
aware, Bahaism formed the background of the Imbrie incident, and that
the late Vice Consul's denunciation as a Bahai at the Sakha [sic] Khaneh
probably resulted in his tragic death.
In discussing the matter with the Bahais of Teheran, they have repeatedly
stated that they consider Mr. Imbrie to have been a martyr to the cause.
It is claimed that the Mohammedan clergy had prepared a list of more than
one thousand Bahais and designated them for massacre on the tenth day of
Moharrem (August 12, 1924); and that the premature explosion of fanatical
fury which resulted in the death of Mr. Imbrie relieved for the same time
being the pressure upon them and doubtless saved their lives.
There is some reason to give credence to this statement of the Bahais,
owing to the incident with which Mr. Imbrie was connected in affording
protection to Dr. Susan I. Moody, and ardent American Bahai, who has
lived in Teheran for more than fifteen years. It appears from Dr.
Moody's own story that, as a result of certain rumors which had reached
her ears as to the intention of a certain fanatical group of Moslems to
murder her upon July 12, she appealed to the American Vice Consul some
days previously, requesting that he assure her adequate protection. Vice
Consul Imbrie immediately addressed himself to the Chief of Police and
requested that an ample guard be stationed in the neighborhood of Dr.
Moody's house. During the night of July 12 a mob, estimated by Dr. Moody
to exceed two hundred and fifty persons, gathered outside her door
demanding her blood. Thanks, however, to the intervention of the police,
who arrived in a flying column to her rescue, the mob was immediately
dispersed and no damage was done. A significant phase of the affair was
that the column was led by a prominent Bahai officer which doubtless
accounted for its efficient action. In the succeeding days, and until
the killing of Mr. Imbrie, Dr. Moody was constantly
threatened in the streets, and she heard even children remark "they
are going to kill Dr. Moody".
The above mentioned incident raises the question which is an exceedingly
difficult one, namely, of protecting American Bahais in Persia. The
Department will recall the unfortunate experience in 1913 of two American
Bahai women, Dr. Sarah A. Clock, and Miss Lillian F. Kappes, the latter
being at the time the Director of the Bahai Girls' School in Teheran, who
were cruelly beaten and robbed.
Dr. Moody, despite her advanced years, appears to be a lady of unwonted
courage, and seems even to thrive under the constant threats of violence
made against her by the Mohammedan masses. Instead of living in discreet
seclusion in some out of the way part of town, Dr. Moody has her office
on the Nasserieh, one of the principle business streets leading to the
bazaar, and over the drug-store of a prominent Persian Bahai. In this way
she has scarcely been able to draw near her windows without attracting the
attention of passersby below in the street who rarely fail to brandish
their fists at her and threaten her with violence. She has been living
for the past years with Miss Elizabeth H. Stewart, a Bahai trained nurse.
The Legation was much relieved when both ladies left Teheran last November
to return to the United States, ostensibly only for a visit. It is hoped
however that they will decide not to return to Persia inasmuch as it is
extremely difficult to guarantee them adequate protection in this
fanatical country. Like many converts to a new religion, Dr. Moody is
a militant champion of her adopted faith, which she preaches with the
energy of a Carrie Nation.
One of the most remarkable features of Bahaism in this country has been
the active interest evinced in its propagation by the Bahais of American.
Aside from Dr. Moody's medical activities, their principal efforts have
been concentrated upon the Bahai Girls' School founded in 1907, and
which has, until very recently, always had an American woman as its head.
Miss Kappes was until her death in December 1920 the director of that
turbulent institution, and during the summer of 1922, Dr. G. Coy, her
successor, a young women of unusual scholastic attainments and enthusiasm
for the cause, arrived to carry on the work. Owing to the constant
friction with the Persian authorities and obstructions placed in her
way she decided last year to return to America. I am informed that the
Bahais are at the present time negotiating with their American
co-religionists for the dispatch to Persia of Miss Coy's successor.
As was to be expected, the activity of American Bahais in Persia has
aroused the bitterest antagonism of the American Christian missionaries
in the country who regard the presence of their non-Christian compatriots
in the country as damaging evidence to the Moslems of the lack of
solidarity in the Christian world.
Before proceeding to a consideration of Bahaism as such, which is the
last of five purely Persian religious movements in the Persian Empire,
during the period of three thousand years, it may well to refer in brief
to the four preceding movements, two of which successfully invaded
From the point of view of religious inspiration, Persia remains
incomparable among the nations of the ancient and modern world. Zoroaster,
who was their first and greatest
prophet, was born in Urumia in about 660 B.C., and founded a religion
which was destined to hold undisputed sway in Persia for a thousand
years and to the persist even to the present day.
About a half century before the Christian era, a modified form of
Zoroastrianism called Mithraism, whose followers worshipped Mithra,
the god of Light and Prosperity as well as the protector of monarchs,
made its appearance in Rome where it gained a considerable following
among the common people. It interesting that, for more than a century,
Mithraism and Christianity were bitter rivals for the religious conquest
of Europe, and that the outcome of the struggle between these two faiths
was at first by no means a foregone conclusion.
The third religious movement of Persian origin, and the second to make
a successful invasion of Europe, was the cult founded by Mani, whose
followers were styled Manichaeans. He was born in 215 A.D., converted
the contemporary Persian monarch, Shapur, and acquired a considerable
following in his own country. His religion has been styled a Christianized
Zoroastrianism, although its outstanding feature was its rigid asceticism
which prohibited marriage in the belief that the extinction of the human
race and its reabsorption into the God-head was for the best of humanity.
Manichaeism spread eastward into Tibet, where it is still practiced, and
westward into southern France where its followers were the Albigenses
against whom a crusade for their destruction was led by Simonde Montfort
The fourth great movement, this time religio-communist in character,
was that of Mazdak, born about the middle of the fifth century, A.D.,
who, during the reign of King Kobad
in 487 of the Christian era, converted thousands to his doctrines.
According to these, all men were bon equal and had the right to
maintain their equality through life. Consequently property and women
should be held in common. On the more spiritual side he taught
abstemiousness, devotion and the sacredness of animal life.
King Kobad who had meanwhile been converted to the new cause, finally
ordered the massacre of the Mazdakites in 523 A.D. owing to a conspiracy
to depose him.
The founder of the Bahai religion, Seyid Ali Mohammed, the son of a
grocer of Shiraz, was born in that city in 1820. Owing to his early
piety and intelligence he was sent to Karbela, the sacred Shia city of
Iraq, to be educated where, at the age of twenty-four, he proclaimed
himself to be the "Bab" or Gate, a term doubtlessly intended to convey
the idea that he was the Gate to Heaven and the expression of the Divine
Will on earth. He shortly thereafter proceeded to Mecca, and upon his
return to Persia began to preach the new faith at Bushire, where he
rapidly acquired a considerable following. His success, as in the case
of Christ, immediately aroused the alarm of the orthodox clergy who set a
trap for him in order to be able to accuse him of heresy. He was asked to
write down a statement of his claims, which he consented to do. When it
was examined it was found to be illegible, so he was immediately seized
and thrown into prison.
He was conveyed a prisoner to Maku, in the province of Azerbaijan, where
he remained until his transfer to Chirik near Urumia. It was there that
he declared himself to be the twelfth Imam whose coming the orthodox
awaiting in the same fashion as do the Jews the Messiah and the Christians
He was finally executed in Tabriz in the year 1850, and his remains were
secretly borne to the Holy Land and interred on Mount Carmel.
The Bab has always been regarded by the Bahais as merely a forerunner
of one greater than him who was to succeed him. He is the John the Baptist
of the Bahais.
He was succeeded by Mirza Yahya, a youth of nineteen, known as the
Subh-i-Ezel (Morning of Eternity), who was apparently nominated by the
Bab to be his successor. He appears to have held unquestioned away over
the faithful until 1866 when his authority was disputed by his elder
brother, Bahaullah (Glory of God), born in Teheran in 1817, who succeeded
in deposing him and in assuming full authority as the Bab's successor.
Owing to the hostility of both the Shiah and Sunni Mohammedans, the
latter was interred at Acre where he died in 1892.
Bahaullah was succeeded by his son Abdul-Baha, who was born in Teheran
in 1844. During the greater part of his life he remained at Haifa in
the holy Land. In 1912 however he made a tour of Europe and the United
States and is said, during an address in California in October of that
year, to have prophesied in the following words the outbreak of the
World War within two years:
"We are on the even [sic] of the Battle of Armageddon referred to in the
sixteenth chapter of Revelations. The time is two years hence, when only
a spark will set aflame the whole of Europe. The social unrest in all
countries, the growing religious scepticism antecedent to the millennium,
and already here, will set aflame the whole of Europe as is prophesied in
the Book of Daniel and in the Book (Revelation) of John. By 1917 kingdoms
will fall and cataclysms will rock the earth.".
A further interesting pronouncement of Abdul-Baha was made in November
of that year in Cincinnati when he is said to have foretold in the
following words that America would be the instigator of the League of
"America is a noble nation, a standard bearer of peace throughout the
world, shedding her light to all regions. Other nations are not
untrammelled [sic] and free of intrigues like the United States, and
are unable to bring about Universal Peace. But America, thank God, is
at peace with all the world, and is worthy of raising the flag of
brotherhood and International Peace. when the summons to International
Peace is raised by America, all the rest of the world will cry: `Yes,
we accept.' The nations of every clime will join in adopting the teachings
of Bahaullah, revealed over fifty years ago. In His Epistles He asked
the Parliaments of the world to send their best and wisest men to an
international world-parliament that should decide all questions between
the peoples and establish peace. then we shall have the Parliament of
Man of which the prophets have dreamed."
After the World War and the acquisition of Palestine by the British
Abdul-Baha was knighted in 1920 by the British Government and given
the designation K.B.E. He passed away in 1921.
The first Bahai missionary to America appears to have been Arab Ebrahim
Khairullah who went to the United States about thirty years ago and
made numerous converts at Chicago, which has remained the center of
the American Bahais since that time. He was later followed by a second
Bahai missionary named Amirza Abdul Fazl who was accompanied by
Ali Kuli Khan, Nabil-ed-Dowleh. The latter is doubtless known to the
State Department as the Persian Charge d'Affaires in Washington
responsible for the engagement in 1911 of the Schuster financial mission.
In addition to the United States where Bahais have been most successful
outside of Persia there have been considerable converts in Turkestan,
India, Burmah, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and France.
Owing to the persecutions to which the Bahais have been subjected in
Persia, it is exceedingly difficult to estimate exactly their number
here. They have been forbidden moreover by Bahaullah to divulge the
names of their fellow-Bahais. It may be well however to quote so great
an authority on Persia as Lord Curzon who, in his work "Persia and the
Persian Question", published in 1892, the year of Bahaullah's death,
"The lowest estimate places the present number of Babis in Persia at
half a million. I am disposed to think, from conversations with persons
well qualified to judge, that the total is nearer one million. They are
to be found in every walk of life, from the ministers and nobles of the
Court to the scavenger or the groom, not the least arena of their activity
being the Mussulman priesthood itself... If Babism continues to grow at
its present rate of progression, a time may conceivably come when it will
oust Mohammedanism from the field of Persia. This, I think, it would be
unlikely to do, did it appear upon the ground under the flag of a hostile
faith. But since its recruits are won from the best soldiers of the
garrison whom it is attacking, there is greater reason to believe that it
may ultimately prevail."
Bahaism is an eclectic religion, which can, in my opinion, lay little
claim to originality. Its universal and all-embracing character has
however been of great advantage in proselytizing mong [sic] the Jews,
Zoroastrians, and Christians. This is expressed by Abdul-Baha in the
"It is not necessary to lower Abraham to raise Jesus. It is not
necessary to lower Jesus to proclaim Bahaullah. We must welcome the
Truth of God wherever we behold it. The essence of the question is
that all these great Messengers came to raise the Divine Standard of
Perfections. All of them shine as orbs in the same heaven of the Divine
Will. All of them give Light to the world."
The Bahais have always contested the claim that their religion is primarily
an oriental one and adapted only to
the needs of Eastern peoples. In refutation of this opinion, Abdul-Baha
"As to the meaning of the cause of Bahaullah, whatever has to do with
the universal good is divine, and whatever is divine is for the
universal good. If it be true, it is for all; if not, it is for no one;
therefore a divine cause of universal good cannot be limited to either
the East or the West, for the radiance of the Sun of Truth illumines
both the East and the West, and it makes its heat felt in the South and
in the North - there is no difference between one Pole and another. At
the time of the Manifestation of Christ, the Romans and Greeks thought
His Cause was especially was especially for the Jews. They thought
they had a perfect civilization and nothing to learn from Christ's
teachings, and by this false supposition many were deprived of His
Grace. Likewise know that the principles of Christianity and the
Commandments of Bahaullah are identical and that their paths are
the same. Every day there is progress; there was a time when this
divine institution (of progressive revelation) was in embryo, then
new-born, then a child, then an intellectual youth;'
There is in Bahaism a striking resemblance to Christian Science in the
attitude of its adherents towards evil which they claim to be non-existent.
While there would appear to be little that is new in Bahaism, it adheres
to certain principles that have a ring of progress and modernity unknown
to unreformed Islam. These outstanding features are that:
(a) It is a religion of tolerance; Abdul-Baha has said that "any
religion which is not the cause of love and unity is no religion";
(b) It advocates the complete emancipation and equality of women;
(c) It espouses the cause of a universal language and calender [sic];
(d) It advocates the establishment of a League of Nations, the realization
of which was forecaste [sic] as early as 1875. Of the character of such a
League, the Bahaullah has to say:
"In such a universal treaty the limits of the borders and boundaries of
every state should be fixed, and the customs and laws of every government;
all the agreements and affaires of state and arrangements between the
governments should be propounded and settled in due form; the size of
the armaments for each government should likewise be definitely agreed
upon, because if in the case of any state there were to be an increase
in the preparation for war, it would be a cause for alarm to the other
states. The basis of this powerful alliance should be so fixed that, if
one of the states afterwards broke any of the articles of it, the rest
of the nations of the world would rise up and reduce it to submission.
Yea, the whole human race would band its forces together to overthrow
(e) It has preached the limitation of armaments in the following words
"By a general agreement all the governments of the world must disarm
simultaneously. It will not do if one lays down its arms and the others
refuse to do so. The nations of the world must concur with each other
concerning this supremely important subject, so that they may abandon
together the deadly weapons of human slaughter. As long as one nation
increases her military and naval budget other nations will be forced
into this crazed competition through their natural and supposed
(f) Though advocating non-resistance, it has consistently justified
righteous warfare, of which Abdul-Baha writes as follows:
"Even war is sometimes the great foundation of peace, and destroying
is the cause of rebuilding. This war may be essentially attuned to the
melodies of peace; and then verily this fury is kindness itself, this
oppression is the essence of justice and this war is the source of
reconciliation. Today, the true duty of a powerful king is to promote
universal peace; for verily this signifies the freedom of all the people
of the world."
(g) Finally, in discussing the struggle between capital and labor,
Abdul-Baha has advocated profit-sharing with the employees in order to
prevent wasteful strikes and lockouts. With regard to the latter, while
in Dublin, New Hampshire, in 1912, he spoke as follows:
"Now I want to tell you about the law of God. According to the divine
law, employees should not be merely paid by wages. Nay, rather they
should be partners in every work. The question of socialization is
very difficult. It will not be solved by strikes for wages. All the
governments of the world must be united, and organize an assembly, the
members of which shall be elected from the parliaments and the noble
ones of the nations. these must plan with wisdom and power, so that
neither the capitalists suffer enormous losses nor the labourers become
needy. In the utmost moderation they should make the law, then announce
to the public that the rights of the working people are to be effectively
preserved; also the
rights of the capitalists are to be protected, when such a general law
is adopted, by the will of both sides, should a strike occur, all the
governments of the world should collectively resist it. Otherwise the
work will lead to much destruction, especially in Europe. Terrible
things will take place. One of the several causes of a universal
European war will be this question. The owners of properties, mines
and factories, should share their incomes with their employees, and
give a fairly certain percentage of their profits to their
working-men, in order that the employees should receive, besides their
wages, some of the general income of the factory, so that the employee
may strive with his soul in the work."
During the reign of Mozaffer-ed-Din, Bahaullah prophesied in the
following words the establishment of a Persian republic:
"Soon affairs will be changed in thee, and a republic of men shall
rule over thee."
These words proved to be an effective weapon against the republican
movement of 1924, and the accusation that the entire plan was a Bahai
conspiracy was frequently heard. This led to a denouncement of Sardar
Sepah as a Bahai and to the secret publication of a falsified photograph
of him wearing the portrait and insignia of Bahaullah. Realizing the
danger of such propaganda among the fanatic populace, the Prime Minister
instigated the Shiah clergy of Karbela and Nejaf to present him with a
portrait of the Imam Ali, as reported in the Legation's despatch [sic]
No. 815 of December 26, 1924.
I have been informed by prominent Bahais in Teheran that the Prime
Minister secretly cherishes a high regard for the cause, but that,
owing to political considerations, he dares not express himself. It
is said that at the time when he was a simple Cossack on duty at
the Roshanee hospital, a Bahai institution, he was greatly impressed
by the kindliness and humanitarianism of the Bahai attendants which
he has never forgotten.
Be that as it may, the fact is that he has permitted Bahai officers of
unquestionable ability to rise to high rank in the army. The outstanding
of these are:
Colonel Shoa-ed-Din Khan Alai, Chief of Accounts, Ministry of War.
Colonel Ataollah Khan Alai, recently returned to Teheran from France
where he was sent with the delegation of Persian officers sent to Saint
Major Rahmatollah Khan Alai, Inspector.
Major Rouhollah Khan, Special Adjutant to the War Minister.
Owing to the fact that Bahaism is a proscribed religion in this
officially Islamic state, no professed Bahai can be a deputy in Parliament
or act as a member of the Cabinet. The most prominent Bahais moreover
are inclined to adhere to the admonition of Bahaullah that they withdraw
entirely from political activity. Owing to the high moral qualities and
ethical standards of the Bahais in contrast with the orthodox Mohammedans,
this withdrawal from public life is greatly to be regretted. Among the
leading Bahais outside the army are:
Nabil-ed-Dowleh, Ali Kuli Khan, and Madam Moraveh-os-Saltaneh (an American).
Ezzatollah Khan Alai, Department of Accounts, Ministry of Posts and
Valiollah Khan Vargha, First Drogman, Turkish Embassy
Azizollah Khan Vargha, farmer.
Hassan Khan Ahiai, Imperial Bank of Persia.
The Bahais, who had placed great hopes in the former religious liberalism
of the Prime Minister, have now lost all faith in him as a reformer.
Since the collapse of the republican movement his defection from their
cause has been complete, and he has left no stone unturned
in order to
integratiate himself with the corrupt Orthodox clergy. A recent evidence
of this was his ostanatious [sic] visit to the holy shrines of Iraq
after his campaign in Arabistan and his visit to the shrine of Sh.
'Abdul Azim outside Teheran before entering the city.
Even to the casual student of Islam it is obvious that Mohammedanism is
in hopeless decay, more hopeless than was Catholicism before the
Reformation. If it is to be saved at all, there must arise an oriental
reformer who will denounce the Islamic `indulgences' as did Luther the
The disinterest of Bahais, though in origin a Moslem sect, in the reform
of Allah's faithful is a somewhat discouraging omen. Their striving for
an all-expansive universality, though comprehensible, has so diluted their
force in Persia as to diminish greatly their beneficent influence. One is
constrained to remark that if they had concentrated less on Europe and
America and more on morally bankrupt Persia their efforts would be more
On the other hand, it must not be forgotten that Islam, a Semitic
religion that has never been adapted to Aryan needs as has Judaism
through the teachings of Christ, has always remained a misfit on this
light-hearted, imaginative Aryan people, who, to escape the yoke of the
Caliphate, created that absurd schism called Shiism.
Failing therefore the ideal remedy for Persia's present religious
decadence, namely a national renaissance of their great historic
religion Zoroastrianism, Bahaism, in which there are signs of a
Protestant Reformation, and
which after all is of purely Persian origin, may prove itself to be the
best solution under the circumstances.
I have the honor to be, Sir,
Your obedient servant,
(signed) W. Smith Murray
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