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TITLEHistoriography: Qajar Period and Babi and Bahá'í works
AUTHOR 1Abbas Amanat
VOLUMEVolume 12
TITLE_PARENTEncyclopaedia Iranica
PUB_THISColumbia University
ABSTRACTBrief excerpt, with link to article offsite.
NOTES The following is an excerpt of the article at
CONTENT ... [excerpt] ...

Babi and Bahai works. A different class of narratives were produced by the Babi and later Bahai writers, often eyewitnesses to the unfolding of the new religion. Most well-known and one of the earliest in this category is Noqṭat al-kāf, an apologia in support of the Bab’s mission, covering the early history of the movement. Written by the Babi merchant and martyr, Ḥāji Mirzā Jāni Kā-šāni, this work has been the subject of much scrutiny, first by Edward Browne who published a translation of some of its excerpts and later the entire Persian text, and then by Bahai apologists who tried, largely unsuccessfully, to challenge the authenticity of the text and prove later extrapolations (see, e.g., Abu’l-Fażl Golpāyagāni and Mehdi Golpāyagāni, Kašf al-ḡetāʾ ʿan ḥial al-aʿdā, Tashkent, n.d. [1919?]). The core of the controversy concerned the question of the Bab’s succession, which according to Noq-ṭat al-kāf, was arrogated to Mirzā Yaḥyā Nuri, Ṣobḥ-e Azal. Yet beyond the question of succession, Noqṭat al-kāf offered an insight into the early Babi community and motivations for conversion. Of special value are descriptions of the Badašt gathering, the Babi resistance in Ṭa-barsi in Māzandarān during 1848-49, and the crisis in leadership after the Bab’s execution in 1850. A group of early Babi narratives also provide unique insight into the lives of ordinary believers and their involvement in the movement, a departure from the formalities of elite-dominant narrative of the Qajar period. They present a movement with a diverse social base and a complex apocalyptic message of renewal. Among them are the yet unpublished Mahjur Zavāraʾi’s Tāriḵ-e mimiya and the incomplete journal of Mirzā Loṭf-ʿAli Širāzi on the events of Ṭabarsi, recollections of Mirzā Ḥosayn Zanjāni of the Babi resistance in Zanjān (tr. E. G. Browne as “Personal Reminiscences of the Babi Insurrection,” in JRAS 29, 1897, pp. 761-827). Later, the Babi-Bahai narrative of Moḥammad Nabil Zarandi (published only in abridged tr. by Shoghi Effendi as The Dawn-Breakers: Nabil’s Narrative of the Early Days of the Bahai Revelation, Wilmette, Ill. 1932) is of historiographical significance. The author, a steadfast supporter of Bahāʾ-Allāh, composed a narrative that incorporated a number of early oral and written accounts as well as the author’s own recollections. The implicit theme of Nabil’s narrative was to magnify Bahāʾ-Allāh’s place in the early history of the movement and hence give historical weight to his communal leadership and prophetic claim at a time when both were contested by Babi loyalists. In this process Zarandi made historical errors and mystifications and injected evident elements of the supernatural. His narrative, only available so far in an incomplete English translation that omits the events after 1852, is viewed as the official version of the birth of the Bahai Faith. Curiously devoid of an element of modernity embedded in the message of the Bahai Faith, Nabil’s outlook and methods are comparable with those of the official chroniclers of the period. In the early decades of the 20th century Bahai scholars also produced new historical compilations, of which the most well-known is Moḥammad Ḥasan Āvāreh’s (Āyati Tafti) al-Kawākeb al-dorriya fi maʾāṯer al-Bahāʾiya (2 vols., Cairo, 1342/1923), which was an attempt to fuse the Babi movement to the emergence of the Bahai faith (for assessment of the early Babi sources see Abbas Amanat, “Note on the Sources,” in Resurrection and Renewal, pp. 422-40).

Local histories. The Qajar period also produced a range of local histories, especially after the 1870s, offering a refreshing view from the periphery. They often accompanied geographical, ethnographical, urban, and other valuable details in the form of monographs commissioned by the central or local governments or written at the initiative of the authors. Mostly focused on individual cities and surrounding provinces and produced by informed urban notables and local officials, they were different in focus and tone, reflecting the outlook of urban and provincial groups. Chief in this group are two monographs on Fārs province—Ḥasan Fasāʾi, Fārs-nāma-ye Nāṣeri (2 vols. Tehran, 1312-13/1894-95) and Moḥammad Naṣir Ḥosayni Širāzi (Forṣat-al-Dawla) Aṯār al-ʿAjam (1314/1897); others include ʿAbd-al-Raḥim Kalāntar Żar-rābi, Merʾāt al-qāsān ([Tāriḵ-e Kāšān]; ed. I. Afšār, Tehran, 1962);Nāder Mirzā Qājār, Tāriḵ o joḡrāfi-e dār-al-salṭana-ye Tabriz (Tehran, 1323/1905);Ahmad-ʿAli Waziri Kermāni, Tāriḵ-e Kermān (Sālāriyā), and ʿAliqoli Baḵtiāri (Sardār Asʿad), Tāriḵ-e Baḵtiāri (Tehran, 1333/1914).

A few of the above accounts were part of a greater project on historical geography of Iran under Nāṣer-al-Din Shah mostly composed during the 1880s and generally known as Majmuʿa-ye nāṣeri. They were undertaken with a possible collaboration of the celebrated Pārsi representative in Tehran, Manakji Limji Huchang Hateria, and the minister of publication Moḥammad Ḥasan Khan Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana. Most monographs in this collection remain unpublished (for an account see A. K. S. Lambton, Landlord and Peasant in Persia, London, 1953, pp. xvii-xviii; Abbas Amanat, ed., Cities and Trade: Consul Abbott on the Economy and Society of Iran, 1847-1866, Oxford Oriental Monograph Series, no. 5, London, 1983, Introduction, pp. iii-v, xxvi-xxvii; Appendix II, pp. xxxvii-xxxix). Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana’s comprehensive but incomplete historical geography, Merʿāt al-boldān-e nāṣeri, is largely based on this collection and presumably modeled on traditional Persian geographical encyclopedias as well as European works of the author’s time.

Also of significance for the historiography of the period are a large number of memoirs, diaries, journals, travelogues, and other personal accounts produced predominantly by the Qajar elite and their associates. Though they are mostly concerned with contemporary events, domestic and foreign travel, and everyday activities, they are of some value in assessing the historiography of the period; for they make references to near-contemporary and biographical details essential for understanding of the Qajar period. As personal accounts they reveal the historical outlook of men of privilege and their perception of the past and the present. Important among them are the extensive secret diaries of Moḥammad Ḥasan Khan Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana as Ruz-nāma-ye ḵāṭerāt (ed. Iraj Afšār, Tehran, 1966) with valuable details on the Qajar past and the background of the elite of his time. Masʿud Mirzˊa Ẓell-al-Solṭān’s Tāriḵ-e sargozašt-e Masʿudi (Tehran, 1325/1907) containing an account on the origins of his tribe and royal family, and occasional historical details in the extensive diaries of Qaharamān Mirzā ʿAyn-al-Salṭana, a grandson of Moḥammad Shah, that covers the period between 1882 and 1945 (Ruz-nāma-ye ḵāṭerāt-e ʿAyn-al-Salṭana, ed. Iraj Afšār and Masʿud Sālur, 10 vols., Tehran, 1995-2001).

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