Baha'i Library Online

See original version at

COLLECTIONSUnpublished articles, Biographies
TITLEZiba Khanum of Yazd: An Enslaved African Woman in Nineteenth-Century Iran
AUTHOR 1Anthony Lee
ABSTRACTIssues of race, gender, slavery, and religion as experienced by an Afro-Iranian family in the 19th and 20th centuries; historiography of African women in Iran; the Herati-Khorasani family tree.
NOTES This draft version posted to in 2017; later published in African and Black Diaspora: An International Journal, 2022. PDF below created from Microsoft Word document prepared by M. Thomas (2022), posted with permission.
TAGSGender; Genealogy; Iran (documents); Race; Slavery; Yazd, Iran
About: Ziba Khanum (d. 1932), an African woman, lived as a slave in the city of Yazd, in central Iran, in the second half of the nineteenth century. She bore her master a son, Ghulam-‘Ali (1871-1949), later known as Ghulam-‘Ali Siyah (the black). According to Islamic law (the shari’a), this would have changed Ziba Khanum’s legal status to umm-walad (mother of a son), meaning an enslaved concubine who cannot be sold and whose children are heirs to their father’s fortune. The master died in the late 1880s, when Ghulam-‘Ali was a teenager. For some reason, however, he inherited nothing from his father and soon left Yazd. Ziba Khanum remained in the household of her master after his passing as a dependent of the family. Ziba Khanum’s son became a successful merchant, traveling to Palestine, to India, and to Bandar Abbas in southern Iran. He returned to Yazd after some years as a wealthy and notable person. As a teenager Ghulam ‘Ali became a Baha’i, a member of a persecuted minority religion in Iran. Possibly his mother did also. Ziba Khanum lived in her son’s Baha’i household, after his return to Yazd, with his children and grandchildren until the end of her life. Some of the grandchildren now live in the United States and remember the oral history of the family.

This article discusses issues of race, gender, slavery, and religion as experienced by an Afro-Iranian family in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The article makes the hopeful discovery that a history of African women in Iran is possible, even at the level of individual biographies. An examination of Ziba Khanum’s life, as well as the lives of other enslaved women in the household, can begin to fill the gaps in our knowledge of African slavery, as well as issues of race, religion, and assimilation in twentieth-century Iran. (from

VIEWS731 views since 2022-07-08 (last edit 2023-01-05 16:01 UTC)
Home Site Map Links Tags Chronology About Contact RSS