Autobiography and Silence: The Early Career of Shaykhu'r-Ra'is Qajar
By: Juan R.I. Cole
Department of History, University of Michigan
When the dying Muzaffaru'd-Din Shah signed the first Iranian Constitution, joyous crowds gathered before the seat of the National Assembly, celebrants wept and hugged one another, the city was illuminated for two whole nights, and commemorative poems were penned by Shaykhu'r-Ra'is and others. So we are informed by E.G. Browne, who gleaned these scenes from contemporary Persian newspapers published at the beginning of the year 1907. Browne does not, however, tell us more about this last figure, the major littérateur and opponent of absolutism, Abu'l-Hasan Mirza Shaykhu'r-Ra'is (1848-1920). This thinker has left behind a brief autobiography that discusses his intellectual and political formation in the years from his childhood to 1894, when it was written. Unfortunately, it is characterized by an elliptical style, the suppression of much relevant information, and a reticence about his subjective impressions and his motivations for his actions. The book in which the autobiographical sketch appears contains also specimens of letters and poetry, into which much of the subjective dimension of his life is displaced. Thus, his report of an incident often tells us little about what he felt about it, but his poetry on the same event is more expressive. Much of his account, and his poetry, however, can only be understood at a deeper level if one is aware of Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's affiliation with proscribed and persecuted religious movements, including the Babi and Baha'i religions. The millenarian themes of these new religions, which saw the advent of their Manifestations of God, the Bab and Baha'u'llah, as a world-historical turning point, are important for understanding Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's later development into a constitutionalist revolutionary. As Christopher Hill argued for the seventeenth-century English Revolution, in times of social crisis "millenarian doctrines become equivalent to social revolution." The task of recovering the chiliastic dimension of Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's thought is expedited insofar as the Iranian Baha'i community retained memories of Shaykhu'r-Ra'is and developed a distinctive exegetical approach to his poetry, which aims at filling in his profound silences, and transforming the void into fullness.
I wish here to examine the early career of this prince, clergyman, millenarian and constitutionalist in the triple light of his autobiographical sketch, his poetry, and the Baha'i historiographical tradition about him, employing as well mainstream Qajar historical sources. This task is complicated by the refusal of his descendants to make available his papers, so that we must work from printed works by and about him. This silence from beyond the grave is surely because of the Babi and Baha'i references in those papers, which would be extremely embarrassing, if not dangerous, to his great-grandchildren in contemporary Khomeinist Iran, where nearly two hundred Baha'is have been judicially murdered for their faith since 1979. The embarrassment extends to Iranian modernism as a whole, insofar as he became an important figure in the constitutionalist movement. His major mainstream biographer, Ibrahim Safa'i, has gone so far as to deny altogether Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's affiliation with the Baha'is.
In assessing the role of strategic silence in the writings of Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, it must be kept in mind that Qajar Iran was an authoritarian state wherein free expression of idiosyncratic views could be punished by death. Francis Bacon, who lived in a similar sort of society, suggested three degrees of self-concealment. The first was secrecy, the second dissimulation ("when a man lets fall signs and arguments, that he is not that he is"), and the third simulation, the act of pretending to be what one is not. It is the second degree, of teasing and partial unveiling, that creates the ambiguities with which we are concerned here. As Leo Strauss argued, a person who holds to heterodox truths in such a society need not be completely silent, but does have to employ a measured ambiguity. "He can even utter them in print without incurring any danger, provided he is capable of writing between the lines."  Strauss emphasized the technique of positive implication, the one the dissident prince employed in his poetry. But in his prose remarks on his own life he resorted to a different approach, that of silence and excision (Bacon's first degree). Both sorts of text, characterized by artful indirection, need to be read against one another for fuller understanding.
That Shaykhu'r-Ra'is possessed multiple identities and so left behind many diverse images of himself should come as no surprise. As Nikki Keddie demonstrated, Sayyid Jamalu'd-Din "al-Afghani" dissembled his Iranian origins and his Shi`ite beliefs while in Sunni cities such as Cairo and Istanbul (and contemporary Arab intellectuals, who see him as having authorized Islamic modernism, still insist that he was a Sunni Afghan in the face of all Keddie's extensive evidence). Keddie pointed to a background in the ideas of Islamic philosophy that might help explain such dissimulation, wherein truths reserved for the elite were not thought suitable for sharing with the laity. I would, however, prefer to see intentional ambiguity as a universal human response to heavy censorship and political or religious persecution. After all, so foundational an author for Western thought as Shakespeare produced his work under a censorship regime. I will argue that one important dynamic in Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's multiple roles and identities was his affiliation with the Baha'i faith, recognition of which will allow a more nuanced reading of the millenarian passages in his literary works.
Early Life and Education
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's childhood was shaped by his having been born into the household of a prince, but of a disgraced prince under house arrest. Minor, sometimes disgraced royalty, suffered the same dissatisfactions in Qajar Iran as they did in ancien régime France, and in both places their disgruntlement could turn into political radicalism. Shaykhu'r-Ra'is might have been royalty, but he was doomed to be far from the levers of power. Moreover, his immense attraction to literature and a life of the mind led him away from a military or bureaucratic career and fostered in him a capacity for social and political criticism that gradually alienated him from most of the other members of his social class.
His father, Muhammad Taqi Mirza, the Husamu's-Saltanih, the son of Fath-`Ali Shah (r. 1798-1834) had a more prominent early career than many Qajar princes (of whom there were then perhaps as many as 150). He participated in military operations aimed at defending the Khurasan border from incursions by the Khan of Khiva in 1817; by the early 1830s he was governor of Burujird; in 1834 his father the shah sent him to Fars to collect four years' worth of arrears in taxes, as part of a power struggle between Tehran and Fars governor Farman-Farma. When Fath-`Ali Shah died later in 1834, however, a succession struggle broke out. Muhammad Mirza, the son of `Abbas Mirza and grandson of Fath-`Ali Shah had been designated as heir apparent, and he won the throne (with British military help). Husamu's-Saltanih appears to have backed Husayn `Ali Mirza Farman-Farma, the prince-governor of Fars, and he and and ten other princes were imprisoned as rebels by the new monarch in the fortress of Ardabil. After four of the princes escaped and sought asylum in Russia, the other seven were brought to Tabriz and kept under strict surveillance.
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's mother, Khurshid Begum, was the daughter of Suhrab Khan, a Georgian notable made captive by the first Qajar shah, Agha Muhammad Shah. Khurasani Baha'i sources assert that Khurshid Begum admired the Babi movement and later instilled a love for this religion in her sons, Shaykhu'r-Ra'is and Muhammad Hashim Mirza. The Babi religion was begun in 1844 by Sayyid `Ali Muhammad, a young Shirazi merchant who ultimately claimed to be the Mahdi or Islamic messiah and an intermediary ("Bab") between humans and the divine. He was exiled to fortresses near Tabriz in 1848, and remained in the area till his execution in 1850, and he appears to have gained adherents during this imprisonment in Azerbaijan. Babism, with its millenarian promise of a radically changed society and of at least some improvements in the position of women, attracted a number of accomplished women, including the poet Tahirih Qurratu'l-`Ayn and the Qajar princess Shams-i Jahan Fitnih. If Khurshid Begum did indeed have a positive view of the Bab, this may have been her private protest against the Qajar system, which had made her princely husband virtually a prisoner in his house. Tabriz in the 1850s held many horrors for even a secret Babi, from the execution of the Bab at the beginning of the decade to the fierce anti-Babi pogroms and executions after the failed 1852 Babi attempt on the life of Nasiru'd-Din Shah.
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is reports that he was born in 1848 in Tabriz. He describes his mother as highly intelligent and remarkably well educated, able to speak eloquently with nobles and clergymen, and to support her points with citations from the Qur'an or classical Persian poetry. She also carried on a lively correspondence, and she ably ran the large noble household of her husband, who gave its management into her hands. It is difficult to read this passage about his mother without concluding that Shaykhu'r-Ra'is felt his literary abilities owed a great deal to Khurshid Begum's own linguistic gifts. That they secretly shared a millenarian fervor might further explain his obvious feelings of closeness to her. His father, Husamu's-Saltanih, also wrote poetry, under the name of "Shawkat," but oddly enough Shaykhu'r-Ra'is does not refer to his father's literary forays. The young prince did not have a happy childhood, quite aside from being in a household under surveillance, which was only gradually lifted by Nasiru'd-Din Shah after his accession in 1848. He suffered a debilitating case of smallpox, which left him blind in one eye for some time. Then plague struck Tabriz, infecting him. His parents, panicking, assumed he would not survive and left him with a nursemaid as they fled the city. He recovered from the plague, however, and in the process regained his sight, which left him with a conviction that even apparent disasters can ultimately be harbingers of God's benevolence. Still, we must wonder about how his knowledge of his parents' abandonment of him, which he states matter-of-factly and with no elaboration, affected his personality and his attitude toward such authority figures. Did he, as a child hearing this story, feel betrayed by the central authority figures in his life? At the age of six he was sent to Qur'an school, to study with Mulla `Abdu'l-`Ali, who taught all the princes. Shaykhu'r-Ra'is finished the Qur'an in a relatively short period of time, then proceeded to calligraphy and Persian books, making what he says was almost miraculous progress, so that he quickly surpassed the other students and his own older brothers. He found even difficult grammatical problems easy. In 1859, when he was aged 11, he accompanied his father when the shah called him to Tehran. There he continued his education at the seminary of Mulla Aqa Rida, where he pursued his studies of grammar and logic with Mulla `Ali Damavandi. He says he was able to learn in a week what took others a month. When he had newly learned Arabic, he composed a bit of simple verse, "The youngest of the children/ Is the most learned of them." His older brothers, outraged, retaliated with curses and beatings, and reported him to the teacher for egotism and arrogance. He says that he had many such stories, and this section of the autobiographical sketch is replete with references to the quranic account of how Joseph was treated by his siblings, suggesting that he felt long-term grievances toward some of his older brothers.
In 1862, his aged father, having grown weary of his monitored life in the capital, was granted permission by Nasiru'd-Din Shah to permission to settle in Mashhad and spend the rest of his days in the precincts of the shrine of Imam Rida. Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, aged 14, accompanied his father and the rest of the family to Mashhad, where his father became ill. On his deathbed, the patriarch gathered around the family members and gave each of them his last counsel. To Shaykhu'r-Ra'is he said, "Son, become a mullah." This was unusual advice, since no other prince had followed such a path, but it shows that the father had recognized in his son a genuine intellectual. It may also indicate his disaffection with the royal estate. Husamu's-Saltanih died and was buried in the vicinity of the Imam's shrine. On the family's return to Tehran, the question arose of whether Shaykhu'r-Ra'is should follow his father's recommendation. The extended family and close friends in royal circles were apparently appalled at the thought, and insisted that he should join the other princes at the military academy. Khurshid Begum, against her own better judgment, acquiesced, and contacted Muhammad Khan Qajar, the Iranian army chief of staff, who obligingly arranged for the young man's acceptance into the military academy in the capital. For nearly two years, Shaykhu'r-Ra'is studied engineering, accounting, and military drills. Every day he spent time marching in formation in the main square with a heavy rifle on his shoulder. He could not, however, muster any of the youthful martial enthusiasm felt by his fellow cadets, and instead found himself bored to tears. In his spare time, he sought out Shaykh Ja`far Turk, with whom he enthusiastically discussed and studied literature and literary technique.
Around 1864, when he was about 16, his mother decided to go and live in the environs of the shrine of Imam Rida, and she offered him the opportunity to accompany her. He leapt at the chance to escape any further rifle drill, and with his brother, Muhammad Hashim Mirza (who became assistant to the supervisor of the Imam's Shrine, "Mu`inu't-Tawliyih"), they set out. In 1863, `Ali Akbar Qavamu'l-Mulk had been appointed supervisor of the shrine of Imam Rida in Mashhad. This old patrician from Fars province had lost a power play with his rivals in Shiraz and been summoned to Tehran by Nasiru'd-Din Shah, and this appointment, which was a prerogative of the shah, seems likely to have been a way of symbolically honoring him while removing him from the political scene in the south. Qavamu'l-Mulk felt he owed the family of the late Husamu's-Saltanih, and the grandsons of Fath-`Ali Shah, a debt of gratitude. He therefore helped Shaykhu'r-Ra'is as though he were his own son, arranging a large gathering in which he presented the young man for the first time in the dress of one of the ulama rather than that of a prince. Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, interestingly, characterizes the robe and turban of the clergyman as the costume of knowledge and "azadigi." The latter word literally means freedom, and might here signify nobility, its premodern connotation. But by 1894 when Shaykhu'r-Ra'is was writing, it also had taken on the more modern connotation of political "liberty," and this may be part of what Shaykhu'r-Ra'is meant by the word, since many Iranians of his generation saw the Muslim clergy as potential allies of the progressives. Qavamu'l-Mulk then arranged for Shaykhu'r-Ra'is to be taught literature and Islamic disciplines by Mulla Muhammad Taqi Mazinani. With Mirza Nasru'llah Shirazi Mudarris he studied mathematics and the elements of theology (kalam). Qavam also took an interest in the young man's poetry, encouraging him in his literary pursuits; Shaykhu'r-Ra'is took the pen-name Hayrat (Bewildered), and began writing in the various Persian verse forms.
In summer, 1865, Qavamu'l-Mulk died, and thereafter Shaykhu'r-Ra'is developed an interest in metaphysics and philosophy, studying such works with Mulla Ibrahim Hakim-i Sabzavari. This man, a disciple of the eminent philosopher Mulla Hadi Sabzavari, was well-qualified to teach the latter's works. In the late 1860s, Shaykhu'r-Ra'is had the opportunity to travel to Tehran, where he lived for two years, studying Shi`ite philosophy with Aqa `Ali Mudarris-i Hakim [Zunuzi], particularly concentrating on The Four Journeys (al-Asfar al-Arba`ah) of Mulla Sadra (d. 1641). As Seyyed Hossein Nasr has pointed out, the philosophy of Mulla Sadra was more cultivated in Qajar Iran than ever before, despite the lingering conviction of legalistic ulama that his thought was somewhat heretical, and the opposition to him of the strict Avicennian peripatetic philosophers. Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's participation in this Sadra revival, and his training with some of its major exponents, signals his interest in heterodox, non-scriptural sciences. When a group of students came to him wishing to study Maybudi's gloss on the medieval philosophical work by Abhari, Hidayat al-Hikmah, he refused on the grounds that the approach of this gloss was based on traditional texts (naqli) rather than being rationalist (`aqli). Mulla Sadra wrote a gloss on the same work, which presumably was more to Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's taste. Although educated as a Shi`ite clergyman, his center of gravity was poetry, philosophy, and the ethical thought that was central to sermonizing.
On his return to Mashhad, Shaykhu'r-Ra'is spent some time studying traditional Greco-Islamic medicine, especially the writings of Avicenna. Thereafter he turned to Islamic law, working through major works in Shi`ite principles of jurisprudence with Mulla Muhammad Rida Mujtahid-i Sabzavari and Mirza Nasru'llah Mujtahid. He was introduced to the legal thought of Murtada al-Ansari (d. 1864), the leading Shi`ite jurisprudent of the 1850s and early 1860s, by one of his disciples, Mulla Abdu'llah Mujtahid-i Kashani, then residing in Mashhad. In addition to his Islamic studies, Shaykhu'r-Ra'is devoted much of his energy to literature, and developed many literary friends in Mashhad, among them Muhammad Kazim Saburi (1853-1904). Shaykhu'r-Ra'is said he once asked the great poet Mirza Shuhrat Shirazi whether, when he came to Khurasan in the late 1850s, he had spotted any major poets there. Shuhrat replied, "I saw no poet, but one child of a merchant of silk cloth (sha`r-baf), who had begun to spin poetry (shi`r-baf), had an agreeable disposition and a lively literary taste. Soon he will be the foremost poet in Iran." Shuhrat was speaking of Saburi, whose father, a merchant, had come to Mashhad from Kashan. When Nasiru'd-Din Shah formally bestowed on Saburi the title of Maliku's-Shu`ara' (King of Poets), it was Shaykhu'r-Ra'is who did the calligraphy for the firman. Having immersed himself in philosophy and literature, as well as Islamic law and other seminary disciplines, Shaykhu'r-Ra'is had by the end of the 1870s (when he was in his early 30s) probably exhausted the educational potential of Mashhad, having mastered the most difficult and abstruse disciplines at the hands of the city's acknowledged authorities.
There were reasons for any intellectual to be somewhat dissatisfied with the Qajar state in the 1870s. The government responded with gross inadequacy to the Great Famine of 1869-1873, and the governor, Sultan Murad Mirza Husamu's-Saltanih, admitted that 120,000 died in Khurasan alone. The Russian advance on nearby regions of Central Asia was also worrying to Iran's elite, especially in Mashhad. But Shaykhu'r-Ra'is had other reasons for disaffection, as well. Although he, of course, says nothing about it in his memoirs, throughout the late 1860s and the 1870s Shaykhu'r-Ra'is was close to prominent Baha'is in the city. In 1863, Mirza Husayn `Ali Nuri Baha'u'llah had declared himself to a handful of close disciples as the promised one of the Babi religion, and from about 1865 he began making the assertion publicly. Soon most Babis in Iran had accepted him and become Baha'is. The cornerstone of the new religion, along with its universalist messianism, was liberal social principles such as the unity of the world religions, the unity of humankind, an improved status for women, the need for a form of world government, the need to reduce armaments and promote peace, and the desirability of elected, accountable government. Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, raised by his mother as a secret Babi, also accepted Baha'u'llah. Several sources attribute his interest in the Baha'i faith to his association with two eminent Baha'i brothers, Mirza `Ali Rida Mustawfi and Mirza Muhammad Rida (who rose to the rank first of Mustashar al-Mulk and then of Mu'taminu'd-Dawlih), both originally from Sabzavar. Mirza `Ali Rida had become a Babi through the Bab's disciple Mulla Husayn Bushru'i in the 1840s. His younger brother, Mirza Muhammad Rida Mu'taminu's-Saltanih (d. 1890), also a Babi and then Baha'i, became a long-time chief minister (vazir) of Khurasan province. From 1873 the former foreign minister Mirza Sa`id Khan Mu'taminu'l-Mulk was made supervisor of the shrine of Imam Rida, until 1880 when he was recalled as foreign minister. His period in Mashhad may be seen as one of political exile, during the ascendancy in Tehran of the reformer Mirza Husayn Khan Mushiru'd-Dawlih. Baha'i sources maintain that Mirza Sa`id Khan had repented of his earlier hostility to the Baha'i faith and his role in having Baha'u'llah exiled from Baghdad to Istanbul, and now looked with favor upon Baha'is.
In the decade of the 1870s, several key works of Baha'u'llah with a bearing on political change circulated among Baha'is in Iran. Baha'u'llah's 1869 Tablet to Queen Victoria praised her for putting the reins of consultative government into the hands of the people. In his 1873 Most Holy Book, he addressed Tehran, predicting "Ere long will the state of affairs within thee be changed, and the reins of power fall into the hands of the people" (literally, "affairs within you will undergo a revolution (yanqilibu) and a democracy (jumhur) of the people (an-nas) will rule over you"). In his 1869 Lawh-i Fu'ad Baha'u'llah had strongly denounced Ottoman despotism and predicted that God would "lay hold" of Sultan `Abdu'l-`Aziz, a prediction that seemed fulfilled by his deposition and suicide in 1876, followed by the implementation of an Ottoman constitution and the election of the first Ottoman parliament. From the point of view of the conservative Qajar elite, the Baha'i religion's approval of parliamentary governance and constitutionalism would have made it appear quite radical. If, as seems likely, he saw these texts of Baha'i scripture, and followed the news of the 1876 Ottoman Constitutional Revolution, these developments would have piqued Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's interest in, and given him a positive image of, what we would now call democracy. He is, again, silent about all these developments.
Despite the power of the patrician Baha'is of Mashhad, trouble broke out there in 1879. Another prominent local Baha'i was Mirza `Abdu'l-Majid Nishapuri, a wealthy merchant who had also accepted Babism from Mulla Husayn in the 1840s. He had fought government troops at the Babi fort at Shaykh Tabarsi in 1848-49, and survived when he and his coreligionists were defeated and enslaved. He managed to regain his freedom and to resume his commercial activities in Mashhad. In 1869, his teenaged son, Badi`, dared deliver Baha'u'llah's Tablet to the Shah (Lawh-i Sultan) to Nasiru'd-Din Shah, and met torture and execution as a result. Thereafter he was proudly known as Aba Badi`, the father of Badi`, the martyr. In 1876 he journeyed to `Akka to see Baha'u'llah, and was the first to bring back to Khurasan a copy of the latter's new book of laws, the Most Holy Book (al-Kitab al-Aqdas). Aba Badi`, already in his late eighties, had a falling out with his own brother and sister over his heterodoxy, and in 1877 they reported him to a local mujtahid, Shaykh Muhammad Taqi Bujnurdi, who issued a fatwa against the old man, making the taking of his life lawful. Two years later, in 1879, Shaykh Muhammad Baqir of Isfahan visited Mashhad, after having that same year been involved in the persecution and judicial murder of two prominent Baha'i merchants in his home city, Sayyids Muhammad Hasan and Muhammad Husayn Nahri. He was told of the issue of Aba Badi`, whom he summoned for an interrogation. When the latter refused to appear, Shaykh Muhammad Baqir convinced local mujtahids such as Bujnurdi to petition the governor of Khurasan, Muhammad Taqi Khan Ruknu'd-Dawlih, to execute him. Bowing to this clerical pressure, Ruknu'd-Dawlih had Aba Badi` arrested, but was reluctant to put him to death. Shaykh Muhammad Baqir, impatient, contacted the shah, who in turn pressured the governor to act unless Aba Badi` would recant. Ruknu'd-Dawlih made one last effort to save the old man, sending Mirza Sa`id Khan and Shaykhu'r-Ra'is to him to attempt to convince him to practice pious dissimulation, denying Baha'u'llah with his lips while affirming him in his heart. Shaykhu'r-Ra'is and his fellow emissary pointed out that they had practiced "wisdom" (hikmat) to preserve themselves from the evil of the wicked, especially the mujtahids, and advised him to do the same so that he could live to accomplish further great works for his religion. Aba Badi`, an old man near death anyway, saw himself as being offered the opportunity to attain martyrdom. He refused to recant, and in the end was executed.
In 1880 (1297), Shaykhu'r-Ra'is left Mashhad for the Shi`ite shrine cities of Iraq. In his memoirs he says he did so in order to escape the necessity of emulating a more learned clergyman in matters of religious law, by achieving the status of independent jurisprudent (mujtahid) through higher studies. It seems likely, however, that the execution of Aba Badi` raised questions about the continued safety of the heterodox in the city, and that his departure was at least in part a reaction to the old man's martyrdom. It may also be that he saw the power of the mujtahids and felt that by attaining that rank himself he might increase his own security. The suppression in his memoirs of any mention of his role in the negotiations with Aba Badi` or of the latter's execution helps him present his departure for Iraq as merely symptomatic of a thirst for further Islamic knowledge. The motive he does admit, of not wanting to have to blindly obey (taqlid) the rulings of other clergymen, teases more than explains. He does not, in any event, appear to have left under overt political pressure.
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is spent six months in Karbala, then four months in Najaf, studying with the great teachers of that era. He then moved to Samarra and began pursuing the studies that would make him a mujtahid with Mirza Hasan Shirazi, who was then emerging as the most respected legal thinker in the Shi`ite world. In his memoirs, Shaykhu'r-Ra'is lionizes his teacher, calling him "the perfect man" (insan-i kamil), a Sufi term for a realized master. On his part, Mirza Hasan Shirazi had a reputation for showing special regard to any of his students who demonstrated great spirituality, even if he were a tyro, and we know that Shaykhu'r-Ra'is had a mystical side. Shaykhu'r-Ra'is also studied with Shirazi's main local disciples, spending nearly two straight years in Samarra.
Around the end of 1882 Shaykhu'r-Ra'is went on pilgrimage to Mecca, during which he was greatly honored by the Amir of Jabal, Muhammad b. Rashid, for whom he wrote an Arabic ode of praise. On his return he passed the better part of another year in Samarra, attaining the status of mujtahid and emerging briefly as one of Mirza Hasan Shirazi's more promising students. As unlikely as it might seem, even these studies in Samarra have a Baha'i connection. Mirza Hasan Shirazi was a relative of the Bab, and according to cousins such as Habibu'llah Afnan, he secretly maintained an admiration for the Babi-Baha'i movement, which he claimed he tried to protect from persecution by working behind the scenes. Shaykhu'r-Ra'is and Mirza Hasan Shirazi appear to have become close enough to share their secret esteem for the Baha'i faith with one another, as the Baha'i scholar `Abdu'l-Hamid Ishraq-Khavari has argued. The main evidence here is a poem that Shaykhu'r-Ra'is wrote in honor of his teacher on the day observed by Shi`ites as the birthday of the Qa'im or promised one, which is laced with Baha'i terminology. It begins, for instance, with a reference to the "Garden of Ridvan," the garden of Necip Pasa in Baghdad where Baha'u'llah first declared himself a manifestation of God in 1863. He wrote, "The earth has through today's bliss become a Garden of Ridvan,/ The heavens of the world by gladness have become a rose bower." Another revealing hemistich is "The beauty of `the earth shall shine with the light of its Lord' has appeared." Baha'u'llah was called by his followers "the Blessed Beauty" (Jamal-i Mubarak), and the Qur'an verse quoted is 39:69, referring explicitly to the advent of the Judgment Day and the second blowing of the Trump (the allusion is probably to the Bab being the first trumpet blast, and Baha'u'llah the second, referred to in Qur'an 39:66-69). These verses are unmistakably Baha'i in character to anyone familiar with the technical terminology and use of Qur'anic imagery employed in that religion, but they remained opaque to most other Iranians. Mirza Hasan Shirazi, as a relative of the Bab and of the Baha'i Afnan clan of Shiraz, certainly knew enough to recognize this poem for what it was, and that he did not denounce his student is some evidence for his having at the least no animus against Baha'is.
From precocious young prince to independent jurisprudent, Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's educational formation was remarkable. His social background might have guaranteed him some degree of advancement in the military or the bureaucracy, but it was of no particular help, and may have been a liability, in his being recognized as a great Shi`ite scholar. His remarkable accomplishments were his own. His studies with Zunuzi in Tehran, and with the disciples of Mulla Hadi Sabzavari in Mashhad, gave him a firm foundation in logic and metaphysics, and his stint in Samarra acquainted him with the vanguard of Shi`ite legal thought. Up until this point, his life is all one of secrecy and simulation. Still, signs of future trouble loomed on his horizon. His affiliation with the heterodox Baha'i religion put him, potentially, at odds with the central Iranian government and with the clerical hierarchy at Mashhad. He must have been shaken by the cold-blooded judicial murder of Mirza Abdu'l-Majid "Aba Badi`" Nishapuri, and must have known he could easily meet the same fate. Therein may lie one important impetus to dissidence. We can only speculate about the impact on his thought of living in the Ottoman empire for nearly four years in the early 1880s. He certainly would have been exposed to the Tanzimat reforms, which attempted to rationalize education, the bureaucracy and tax collection. And the newspapers of Baghdad would have been full of accounts of the `Urabi revolution in Egypt during 1881-1882, where one of the major demands of the revolutionaries was the calling of the Egyptian parliament and the drawing up of an organic law defining the powers of the various branches of government. The parliament was elected in the fall of 1881 and met into the winter. This experiment in constitutional monarchy was, however, thwarted by British and French intervention, ending with the British invasion of Egypt in August-September 1882. Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, by virtue of residing in the Ottoman vilayet of Baghdad, was certainly more aware of these events and their dynamics than he would have been had he remained in Mashhad. His autobiography, however, never lifts its gaze from the Shi`ite study circles in the shrine cities, so that we would hardly know he was living abroad in turbulent times.
From Mashhad to Istanbul
It was apparently with some reluctance that Shaykhu'r-Ra'is returned to Mashhad in the autumn of 1883, since he says that in doing so he had to give up the happiness he had found in Samarra. He found a post as a teacher at the Fadiliyyih Seminary and as a sermonizer, speaking after Friday congregational prayers in its mosque. He was made head of the library of the Imam Rida Shrine. It is likely during this period that Shaykhu'r-Ra'is first met Aqa Khan Kirmani, the progressive Babi thinker who had come to study in the library of the shrine. Unlike some Baha'is, Shaykhu'r-Ra'is had an ability to get along with Azali Babis, who supported Baha'u'llah's half-brother Mirza Yahya Subh-i Azal, concentrating on the progressive ideas the two groups had in common and remaining silent about their differences. He wrote a warm appreciation of Aqa Khan Kirmani's erudition, marvelling at his mastery of the Greek philosophers and his deep knowledge of both Shi`ite and Sunni Islam, and his familiarity with Babi and "other" texts.
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's heterodox associations began to cost him political capital. When Nasiru'd-Din Shah visited Mashhad in November and December of 1883, he removed Shaykhu'r-Ra'is as head librarian and gave the post symbolically to one of his own wives. I`timadu's-Saltanih visited with him on 9 December 1883, and found him depressed as a result of his demotion. Nasiru'd-Din Shah may have been displeased at the rumors of heterodoxy swirling around his learned cousin. The anecdote was told by Sayyid `Abbas `Alavi that on one of Nasiru'd-Din Shah's visits to Mashhad, Shaykhu'r-Ra'is was among those assembled to greet him. As the shah passed the prince-mujtahid, he is said to have muttered under his breath "This man has disgraced two estates." This story, if it is not true, should be.
He was nevertheless apparently a popular preacher, and was backed by his coreligionist, the chief minister of Khurasan, Mirza Muhammad Rida, whom the shah had just promoted to the rank of Mu'taminu's-Saltanih ("The Guarantee of the State"). The prince-mujtahid's growing eminence, he says, was met with jealousy on the part of some ulama, who began to make trouble, which he attempted to ignore. Safa'i says his sermons were extremely attractive, employing the logical rigor of philosophy and the striking imagery of poetry, in both of which fields he had immersed himself. It is suggested by the Baha'i historian Fadil Mazandarani that the ulama objected to the content of some of his sermons, into which he had woven Baha'i themes. To make matters worse, Ruknu'd-Dawlih was at that point succeeded by Mirza `Abdu'l-Vahhab Khan Shirazi, newly entitled the Asafu'd-Dawlih. Shirazi began his career in the Foreign Ministry, and was posted to Tabriz for a while. He later served as chief of customs and then minister of commerce. He has been accused of using men such as the successive foreign ministers, Mirza Sa`id Khan and Mirza Husayn Khan Mushiru'd-Dawlih, to climb the ladder of success and of then turning on them. In late summer, 1884 (Dhu'l-Qa`dah 1301) he arrived in Mashhad as governor of Khurasan and Sistan. His short term, of less than two years, was marked by turmoil, and he was perceived by local notables as unduly harsh and dictatorial. He attempted to force a prominent local notable, Abu'l-Qasim Khan, to sell him some of his lands. When Abu'l-Qasim refused, transferring them to someone else and taking refuge (bast) in the Imam Rida Shrine, Asafu'd-Dawlih ignored Mashhad's reverence for the shrine by ordering the recalcitrant landlord dragged from it. He also rusticated from the capital some of his local opponents, and dismissed Mirza Muhammad Rida Mu'taminu's-Saltanih as chief minister. Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, with his close ties to the chief minister and to other Mashhad notables, fell out with the governor, and wrote unflattering poetry and prose about him. He said, "O crazed Asaf, if your temperament is bellicose,/ Do not wage war with such as me; what noisy drum is this?"
Without Mu'taminu's-Saltanih's help, the sharp-tongued poet was in an exposed position. Realizing that he was about to be seized and exiled from Mashhad himself, Shaykhu'r-Ra'is anticipated the governor and departed to the northwest for the frontier city of Quchan, one of several tribally dominated settlements near the Russian border created as buffers by the Safavid shahs by the transportation there of Kurds. Quchan's ruler was the Kurdish chieftain Amir Husayn Shuja`u'd-Dawlih. This city had the benefit for the refugee prince of being less firmly under the central government's control than was Mashhad. In a letter to Prime Minister Aminu's-Sultan written from Quchan, Shaykhu'r-Ra'is writes, "Your telegraph saying that as long as I am in Khurasan I am under the authority and good-pleasure of Asafu'd-Dawlih arrived." This phrase indicates that he had attempted to have the central government recognize his princely prerogatives with regard to a commoner governor, and had failed. He protests that he had lived for many years in Khurasan and never took a step against the provincial government, nor had one ever shown displeasure with him. "But," he adds in the same letter, "Asafu'd-Dawlih has an entirely immoderate temperament. To be under his authority and pleasure is beyond my ability to bear and beyond that of all reasonable persons." He declares his intention of returning to Samarra, where he says he will occupy a corner and pray for the shah.
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is resided in Quchan for a year, and was given the patronage of its khan or governor, Amir Husayn Khan Shuja`u'd-Dawlih, the hereditary chief of the Za`faranlu Kurdish tribe, who showered the refugee prince with honor and gifts. Shuja`u'd-Dawlih was not by all accounts a particularly devout man, but he did have an interest in religions, and appears to have known something of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Like a handful of other independent-minded Khurasani notables, he increasingly inclined toward the Baha'i Faith, and his son became a prominent member of the Khurasani Baha'i community. Shaykhu'r-Ra'is presumably knew this when he chose the city for his refuge. The chieftain arranged for him to teach Islamic disciplines locally and to give sermons. The poet composed many odes in praise of his patron while in Quchan. He also associated with the small Baha'i community, and wrote some verse with Baha'i allusions. "Everywhere his visage is reflected/ Look at a single countenance in a thousand mirrors," Shaykhu'r-Ra'is wrote, presumably referring to Baha'u'llah's manifestation. Some sources allege that during his year there in 1884-1885, he received a Tablet (letter) from Baha'u'llah, which sent him into mystical ecstasy. If so, however, its text has not been identified. That he met with Shuja`u'd-Dawlih and other Baha'is to discuss mystical poetry about the movement is hinted at when he says,
While residing in Quchan one day in the presence of Shuja`u'd-dawlih, the great tribal chieftain of Khurasan, someone quoted verses of love and of divine ecstasy. Immediately, those present in that sublime gathering threw down a challenge, saying that no one else could author poetry in this unprecedented (badi`) and new style.
The word badi`, "new," or "original," was frequently employed by Baha'is to refer to their religion. The new script developed by some of them was referred to as the khatt-i badi` or "innovative script." Mazandarani informs us that this discussion in fact concerned some verses written by Baha'u'llah's disciple Nabil-i A`zam Zarandi, which began: "The beauty of the Friend has appeared,/ snap your fingers, snap your fingers;/ That very divine beloved, that coral cheek,/ snap your fingers, snap your fingers."
Taking up this challenge, Shaykhu'r-Ra'is produced one of his most celebrated poems, "Walk and Behold," one of the verses of which reads, "An ecstasy, while we were in Quchan,/ Descended upon us from the land of souls." In this poem Shaykhu'r-Ra'is came closer than in any other piece of his public writing to declaring openly his Baha'i belief, and it caused him much trouble later in life when his enemies among the mullas printed it and distributed it to fanatical mobs to incite them against him. He speaks of the return of Christ (a spiritual station claimed by Baha'u'llah), and of the succession of prophets. "Sometimes he came upon an ass,/ Sometimes he rode on camel-back,/ Sometimes he came on a wild stallion to the Friend:/ Walk and behold." The references are to Jesus, Muhammad and Baha'u'llah (who rode through Mazandaran as a young noble in his youth). He says of Baha'u'llah without naming him, "The world is drunk with his wine,/ Given reason by his Word,/ His arising has brought the Resurrection,/ Walk and behold." He speaks of the advent of a "new creation" (khalq-i jadid), a Qur'an-derived term with a technical sense in the thought of Ibn `Arabi and Mulla Sadra that Baha'u'llah had employed to describe the community of belief he was creating. He says the "distant Return" has occurred, referring to the Shi`ite doctrine that during the end-time past figures of sacred history would reappear (it is this theory that underpinned Baha'u'llah's assertion that he was the return of the Imam Husayn and of Jesus Christ). He adds, "An earth full of justice and of good will,/ God in the temple of a human being,/ has appeared in this form,/ Walk and behold." This verse alludes to the Baha'i doctrine of the prophet as a manifestation of God (mazhar-i ilahi), and to the Muslim tradition that when the promised Mahdi comes he will fill the world with justice. Again, the autobiography reveals nothing of this bonhommie among coreligionists or the true subject of the Quchan-era poetry, which is barely vague enough to keep it from being proof of heresy.
For his part, Asafu'd-Dawlih thundered against Shaykhu'r-Ra'is among his contacts in Tehran. Some Iranian progressive thinkers, such as Muhammad `Ali Sayyah Mahallati, criticized Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's position and took Asafu'd-Dawlih's side, on the grounds that he was trying to make government more honest and the real reason local notables were pillorying him was because he would not take bribes to allow them to overtax the people. The evidence given by Bamdad, some derived from the archives of the Imam Rida Shrine, however, shows that Asafu'd-Dawlih mulcted Mashhad landlords of their land and took it for himself.
Nasiru'd-Din Shah supported his governor, making Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's position less and less tenable and putting Shuja'u'd-Dawlih in danger for harboring him. Once before, the government had sent troops to punish the Kurdish chieftain for insubordination, and he would not have wished to risk such an attack again. The prince therefore responded as disgruntled nobles frequently did when faced with political setbacks. Early in 1885 he announced that he would set out on pilgrimage for Mecca. From Ashkhabad in Russian Transcaspia, some say, he sent a poem via Kamran Mirza Na'ibu's-Saltanih for Nasiru'd-Din Shah in which he wrote, "Na'ibu's-Saltanih, say to the good-intentioned Shah/ That one of the people of Khurasan did write you this letter;/ May Asaf and the kingdom and Khurasan be of small value to you;/ We have chosen the path of love, whether in the mosque or in the fire-temple." Nasiru'd-Din Shah, who dabbled in poetry himself, is said to have replied in verse: "Na'ibu's-Saltanih, say to the rude Khurasani/ That the king of kings has in this letter replied to you:/ Let Asaf and the province of Khurasan be of little value to me;/ In the end, everyone reaps the harvest that he sows." Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's conventional Sufi imagery (echoing a line from Hafiz), of one who has chosen the path of ascetic, divine love, giving up all worldly goods and even a close identification with orthodox Islam, takes on a different connotation when we remember his Baha'i inclinations. His phrase "whether in the mosque or in the [Zoroastrian] fire temple" was heartfelt. If, as suggested above, the shah by this time knew of his Baha'i affiliation, that might help to explain his very harsh reply, since Nasiru'd-Din Shah made no distinction between Babis and Baha'is and he hated Babis with a passion.
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is proceeded from to the Caucasus and Istanbul, then to the Hijaz, accompanied by his boon companion Mulla Muhammad Qa'ini. Also present on this pilgrimage was Mirza Musa, son of the Baha'i `Ali Rida Mustawfi, the former chief accountant of Khurasan, who was also a refugee from Asafu'd-Dawlih. In August, 1885, at the tomb of the Prophet in Medina Shaykhu'r-Ra'is composed a long ode of complaint, praising Muhammad, castigating his persecutors, and speaking of his homesickness for Khurasan. His experience of what he and his fellow Khurasanis perceived as tyranny at the hands of Asafu'd-Dawlih, for which there was no redress through consultation with the central government, must be accounted one element in his formation as a revolutionary. He was very bitter about having been exiled, and had lost any trust he had earlier reposed in the government in Tehran.
He then returned to Istanbul, where he resided for two years, preaching in a Shi`ite mosque for some of the 17,000 Iranians then resident in that city. Mirza Muhammad Husayn Farahani saw him sermonize there late in 1885 when he broke his journey home after the same pilgrimage. In a passage concerning the Iranian ambassador to Istanbul, Mu`inu'l-Mulk, he wrote:
Mo`in ol-Molk seemed to be a very sociable, good-natured person, an eloquent conversationalist and good company. I observed his affairs to be in order and understood his actions and deeds to be reasonable. I had the opportunity to visit with [him] at numerous meetings; for example, in the Mosque of the Valedeh Khan (which is especially for Iranians). The merchants were holding a rowzeh-khvani there. Abu'l-Hasan Mirza, known as Shaykh or-Ra'is-e Khorasani, was in the pulpit. Mo`in ol-Molk had come to the mosque in order to propagate the Shi`ite religion and to honor Shaykh or-Ra'is. One must pardon [me] for not being able to write bits of praise or reproach of people according to their merits. It is not possible to write or talk about everyone and everything one knows.
The puzzlement of Farahani's translators about his clear dislike of Shaykhu'r-Ra'is is easily resolved once we know that the latter was widely rumored to be a Baha'i. Farahani, a conservative Qajar notable, found it ironic that Mu`inu'l-Mulk should attempt to "propagate the Shi`ite religion" by honoring someone most Shi`ites would consider a heretic.
To have a dissident Qajar prince resident in Istanbul was an unpleasant prospect for Tehran, for such persons had frequently in the past become tools of Ottoman interference in Iranian politics. Tehran therefore ordered the ambassador, Mu`inu'l-Mulk, to induce Shaykhu'r-Ra'is to return to Iran in 1887. The ambassador told the poet-mujtahid that his (Mu`inu'l-Mulk's) own honor was at stake if he could not persuade him to go back, and this plea proved convincing. Shaykhu'r-Ra'is wrote later that he was fully aware that the various promises that he would be treated differently this time were worthless, and that he nevertheless plunged into the ensuing disaster.
His expulsion from Khurasan by Asafu'd-Dawlih had been a defining moment in Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's life. His principles and local loyalties had forced him to make a stand for the first time in his life against duly constituted authority. He did not take his own advice, given only five years previously, to Aba Badi`, to acquiesce outwardly while keeping one's own counsel privately and working secretly for one's beliefs. Perhaps he felt his princely status would cause Tehran to support him; if so he was rudely disabused of this idea. His declaration that not only he, but any rational person, would find life under Asafu'd-Dawlih's rule to be unbearable, placed the individual conscience above the corporate demands of the state, and placed reason above monarchical authority. Shrewdly aware of his own propaganda value as a Qajar prince, he took refuge in Istanbul, Tehran's rival, as a way of stating his individual worth. In contrast to the entire secrecy and simulation of his early life, he had now revealed himself politically, and had begun dropping hints in his poetry (and in the company he kept) as to his religious heterodoxy. Political forthrightness and religious ambiguity characterized him for the rest of his life.
Tobacco Revolt and Imprisonment
Khurasan in the late 1880s was racked by local disturbances, especially those associated with Turkmen tribespeople, and Iran itself was on the brink of its first modern national dissident movement, the revolt against a British monopoly on the marketing of Iranian tobacco. Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, whether as a result of temperament or of conviction, was to become embroiled in the province's turbulence once again.
He travelled by way of Rasht to Tehran, where he found the prime minister, Aminu's-Sultan, a gracious host who gave him one of his own ornate mansions in which to reside during his stay in the capital. It was decided at length that Shaykhu'r-Ra'is should return to Mashhad. (The prince may have accepted this suggestion in part because his patron and coreligionist, Mirza Muhammad Rida Mu'taminu's-Saltanih, had been returned as Khurasan chief minister in September of 1887). Aminu's-Sultan bestowed on his princely guest a diamond-studded ring as a going-away present, and he drew up strict orders for the governor of Khurasan, Mirza Taqi Khan Ruknu'd-Dawlih, instructing him to extend his protection to the prince. Shaykhu'r-Ra'is ruefully observes that these firmans meant nothing, given that "the custom of implementing governmental decrees had never arisen in Iran" and personal inclination over-ruled all other laws. This flash of ironic wit is perhaps the closest his prose comes to revealing a heated emotion, here profound frustration with the lack of anything resembling a rule of law in Iran.
He must have arrived in Mashhad around 1888, where he again took up a post sermonizing. The governor, Ruknu'd-Dawlih, at first showed him great kindness. It may be in this period that he also became supervisor of the hospital attached to the shrine of the Imam Rida Shrine. Rumors began to circulate, however, that Aminu's-Sultan had privately assured Shaykhu'r-Ra'is that he would like to ease him into the prestigious post of supervisor of the shrine of Imam Rida. Organized opposition emerged to the prince's continued presence in Mashhad, and Shaykhu'r-Ra'is says he then experienced "a thousand inconveniences." Over the next year or two, the movement grew more and more turbulent. The minister of publications, Muhammad Hasan Khan I`timadu's-Saltanih, recorded in his diary for 8 September 1890 (23 Muharram 1308), "[Mushiru'd-Dawlih] relates that Khurasan is in turmoil. By order of the government they have arrested Shaykhu'r-Ra'is." We are not told the nature of the turbulence, or what Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's role in it was. On 20 November 1890 his patron, Mu'taminu's-Saltanih the chief minister of Khurasan, died on a visit to Tehran (some say poisoned by the shah's order), depriving him of a powerful advocate. It is not clear how long Shaykhu'r-Ra'is remained in custody, or whether it was the entire period till his departure from Mashhad in 1892.
In the spring of 1890 the Iranian government announced its intention to award a monopoly for the marketing of Iranian tobacco to a British speculator. The deal was confirmed late in 1890, and by the spring of 1891 revolts had begun breaking out in protest against this concession. Outraged Iranian merchants, landlords and even small farmers protested vehemently, in what became the first nation-wide challenge to the Qajar state. A ruling attributed to (and later affirmed by) Mirza Hasan Shirazi, the supreme exemplar for Shi`ites in matters of law, forbade the smoking of tobacco until the concession was revoked, and it is said that Nasiru'd-Din's own wives put away their water pipes for the duration. Shaykhu'r-Ra'is had been close to Mirza Hasan Shirazi and was probably identified with him in Mashhad, so that the provincial government had yet another reason to question his loyalty. Moreover, he wrote some millenarian poetry on the Tobacco Revolt. He said,
They mounted a blockade like smoke rings
When turmoil arose throughout Iran.
The smoke of this apocalyptic commotion
Like manifest fumes overtook the world.
The poem ends with the couplet, "The fumes stood up in the midst and said,/ `A day when heaven shall bring a manifest smoke.'" The last line gives the Islamic date of the revolt if the letters are read numerically, and it quotes Qur'an 44:9, referring to the Judgment Day when God will chastise the people with this palpable smoke for not recognizing the prophets he has sent to them. As a Baha'i, Shaykhu'r-Ra'is believed that the Judgment Day was a metaphor for the cyclical renewal of religion through the advent of a new Manifestation of God, in this instance Baha'u'llah. The latter was "a clear Messenger" who "already came to them, then they turned away from him." (Qur'an 44:13-14). During the Tobacco Revolt, in several instances warehouses containing the crop and belonging to the new British monopoly were set afire, producing billowing clouds of smoke in cities such as Isfahan. This poetry playfully paints the revolt as the fulfillment of one of the Qur'an's prophecies about occurrences in the Last Days, thus supporting Baha'u'llah's assertion of messianic status.
Baha'u'llah, as well, responded to the Tobacco Revolt from Palestine in his 1891 Tablet of the World (Lawh-i Dunya). There he denounced Qajar tyranny, especially the killing of seven Baha'is under Jalalu'd-Dawlih in Yazd, called for a return of Iran to the apex of civilization it had scaled in ancient times, criticized the Iranian government for having no agricultural policy to speak of, reaffirmed that Great Britain's constitutional monarchy was the best form of government, and said that Nasiru'd-Din Shah could only quell the revolt by calling a national assembly. As in all periods of turmoil, the government scapegoated "Babis" (mainly in fact Baha'is) as fomentors of unrest, and the constitutionalist emphases of the Tablet of the World would have been alarming to any Qajar officials who saw a copy. Shaykhu'r-Ra'is tells us nothing of this period in his memoirs, but his double identification, as a disciple of Mirza Hasan Shirazi and as a secret Baha'i, can only have caused him to be viewed dimly indeed by the Khurasan authorities, especially given the apocalyptic imagery he employed in his poetry about the revolt. It has not been possible for me to determine whether Shaykhu'r-Ra'is watched the entire Tobacco Revolt from Ruknu'd-Dawlih's prison, or whether he was intermittently free during it and possibly took part in it. He makes no reference to this arrest in his memoirs, though he does include in The Priceless Selections poetry written while he was kept at the Nadiri fortress, some 70 miles due north of Mashhad, and this is (as Ishraq-Khavari says) presumably where he was imprisoned in the early 1890s. The provincial government appears to have maintained the polite fiction that he had been put in protective custody to safeguard him from hostile mobs. Other Baha'is were arrested shortly thereafter, in 1891-92, including Ibn Abhar in Tehran, `Ali Akbar Shahmirzadi and Abu'l-Hasan Ardikani in Qazvin, and the Baha'i preacher Mirza Muhammad Furughi in Khurasan; the latter was also sent to the Kalat-i Nadiri and his stay may have overlapped with that of Shaykhu'r-Ra'is.
While much is murky about Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's role in Khurasan in 1888-1892, it seems clear that it was controversial. He faced opposition from other ulama to his bid to become supervisor of the Imam Rida shrine. He appears to have gradually fallen out with the governor, Ruknu'd-Dawlih, and by the summer of 1890 he was involved in public turmoil. In September of that year he was arrested and confined in the Nadiri Fortress, perhaps for as many as eighteen months. He saw the Tobacco Revolt as a sign of the last days, and was freed to depart Khurasan only once it had wound down.
Istanbul and Pan-Islam
Subsequent events were to thrust Shaykhu'r-Ra'is into the maelstrom of expatriate radical politics in Istanbul, but also into the vortex of a profound spiritual crisis. Denied the sort of prominent political role he had sought in Khurasan, humiliated and imprisoned, he had good reason to be bitter against Nasiru'd-Din Shah and Ruknu'd-Dawlih. His religion's liberality and ecumenical spirit made the conception of pan-Islam congenial to him, and he found himself able to write in favor of it on behalf of the idea's chief sponsor, Sultan `Abdu'l-Hamid II. But he could not in the end gain the full protection of the Ottoman state, so that he was cast adrift, a royal refugee, yet again.
In January of 1892 Nasiru'd-Din Shah finally bowed to public pressure and cancelled the Tobacco monopoly he had granted Colonel Talbott, after which the political turmoil in the country gradually subsided. Shaykhu'r-Ra'is was allowed to depart from Mashhad with his entire family on 10 April 1892, heading for Ashkhabad in Russian territory. In the years since he had last visited Transcaspia, Ashkhabad had with the help of the railroad grown into a flourishing town of 12,000, possessing an increasing Iranian population, and a significant Baha'i community had developed there. He was lionized by the latter, and given a respectful welcome even by the Shi`ites and Sunnis (most of whom were probably ignorant of his heterodoxy). He travelled around the Emirate of Bukhara and Russian Turkestan, visiting Samarqand, Bukhara and Chaharju, and traversing the Turkmen desert. Shaykhu'r-Ra'is demonstrates his nationalist sentiments in poetry he wrote during this journey, when he saw regions that had once been under Iranian suzerainty and had now passed to the Russians or their ally, the Khanate of Khiva. His quatrain ended with the plaint: "Why should the enemy have made away with such pleasing lands?"
In May of 1892 he departed Ashkhabad for the Caucasus, and there he says he was welcomed by "acquaintances and by the Friends (ahbab)." The last term is one used among Baha'is to refer to one another, rather as the Quakers call each other "Friends." In Tblisi (Tiflis) he was graciously hosted by the great merchant Haji Muhammad Baqir Tajirbashi-yi Tabrizi, and by Mu`tamadu's-Sultan Mirza Rida Khan Mu`inu'l-Vizarih, with both of whom he carried on memorable conversations. Secretly he met with the Baha'i community in Tblisi, as well, and may have discovered from them that Baha'u'llah had died on 29 May, having appointed his eldest son, `Abdu'l-Baha, to head the Baha'i community after him.
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is proceeded with his family to Istanbul, from which he wanted to make another pilgrimage, though he wished to reside in the Ottoman capital upon his return. There he was welcomed by the 17,000-strong Iranian community of expatriates, especially, he says, by the Azerbaijanis (Shaykhu'r-Ra'is had spent his childhood in Tabriz and spoke the Azeri as well as the Qajar Turkic dialects). He says that he found Haji Muhammad Taqi Tahbaz, the great merchant and the defender of the rights of all Iranian nationals in the Ottoman capital, especially warm. It may be that the Iranian expatriates felt that having a Qajar prince among them would improve their political leverage, both with their Ottoman hosts and with Tehran. He also had friendly meetings with Asadu'llah Khan Tabataba'i Nazimu'd-Dawlih, who had been the Iranian ambassador to the Sublime Porte since the spring of 1891. Shaykhu'r-Ra'is prepared for his pilgimage (again, this journey served as a political protest against his imprisonment in Mashhad), but faced a family problem. His youngest son, Husamu'd-Din Mirza, was still a suckling child, and could not be separated from his mother. His friends forbade Shaykhu'r-Ra'is to leave the baby with a nursemaid, but on the other hand he did not wish to risk exposing it to the heat of a Hijazi summer. He performed divination (istikharih: typically one opens at random a page of the Qur'an or of the Divan of Hafiz and follows the advice gleaned from the verse upon which one's eyes first fall). He frankly admits, however, that it did not help him resolve his problem. Finally he did leave the baby with a nursemaid, and he and the rest of the family performed the pilgrimage. His admission that divination was no help, and his unwillingness to trust to fate or to the blessedness of the Hijaz in trying to protect his child, show an at least somewhat secular sensibility.
He stayed in Istanbul for one year upon his return, till the fall of 1893, during which time Nazimu'd-Dawlih wrote back to Iran on his behalf (without success). Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's return to Istanbul coincided with arrival there of Sayyid Jamalu'd-Din al-Afghani from London to join the sultan's circle. `Abdu'l-Hamid II was still interested in promoting the notion of Pan-Islam or the unity of all Muslims, Sunni and Shi`ite, under his religious leadership. Such an ideology would help strengthen his authority in the largely Shi`ite provinces of what is now Iraq and Eastern Arabia, and might also give him a toehold inside Iran. Nikki Keddie found and translated the account of what happened, presumably in fall or early winter, 1892, given by Afdalu'l-Mulk Kirmani, the brother of the Azali figure Aqa Khan Kirmani:
The Ottoman Sultan came to believe in the unity of the different Islamic groups and asked Sayyed Jamal ed Din to write to the Shi`ite ulama in Iran and Iraq and call them to unity. The late Sayyed Jamal ed Din . . . said if he had the power of the sultanate and the necessary money . . . he could accomplish this great work with the help of a circle of patriotic (mellat parast) intellectuals. The Ottoman Sultan gave guarantees and obligations for this. The Sayyed formed a society of Iranian and other Shi`ite men of letters who were in Istanbul. This Society was made up of twelve men: Novvab Vala Hajj Sheikh ol Ra'is, Feizi Efendi Mo'allem Irani, Reza Pasha Shi`i, Sayyed Borhan ed Din Balkhi, Novvab Hossein Hindi, Ahmad Mirza (who had just come from Iran to Istanbul), Hasan Khan (the Iranian Consul General), Mirza Aqa Khan Kermani, Sheikh Ahmad Ruhi, myself (Ruhi's brother), Abdol Karim Bey and Hamid Bey Javaherizadeh Esfahani . . .
In 1892-93 members of a group, including Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, carried on a series of discussions with Ottoman officials aimed at laying the groundwork for a thoroughgoing ideology of pan-Islam. Later, in 1894, some members of the group began a letter-writing campaign directed at the Shi`ite ulama in Iraq and Iran, attempting to secure their loyalty on a pan-Islamic basis for the Sultan. Nasiru'd-Din Shah reacted so vehemently that he succeeded in having the Iranian expatriate group broken up, with the sultan retreating before injured Iranian pride.
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, however, probably did not remain in Istanbul long enough to be part of the letter-writing effort. He did carry on serious discussions of pan-Islamic principles with Ottoman officials, and he penned a manuscript setting forth his ideas in this regard, entitled The Unity of Islam (Ittihad-i Islam), which was later printed in Bombay. His Shi`ite-Sunni ecumenism was probably sincere, and accorded with the emphasis in Baha'i scripture on the unity of religions and the need to avoid religious disputes and polemics. In his poetry, Shaykhu'r-Ra'is argued that all the great religions and prophets taught the same message:
Turmoil in the world comes from whom?
What is the source of all this wrangling?
When only one Word exists:
There is no god but God . . .
He who speaks of three Persons,
If you disregard the fancy therein,
In three words is one meaning:
There is no god but God . . .
The Hindu comes walking gravely
Making mention of "Ram, Ram;"
By this saying the intent is:
"There is no god but God."
Zarathustra went to the desert,
His fire in his fist;
Striking flames from each finger:
There is no god but God.
For a Shi`ite mujtahid to admit the underlying monotheism of Christianity, Hinduism and Zoroastrianism makes little sense, whereas this is a well-known Baha'i teaching. A mere concord between two branches of Islam was in comparison a relatively minor affair.
While in Istanbul, probably through his renewed contact with Aqa Khan Kirmani, Shaykhu'r-Ra'is began taking an interest in the work of Mirza Malkum Khan. Malkum had been a long-time reformist thinker and had served in the foreign ministry, but more than once suffered the shah's wrath, as in 1862 when he was exiled for having founded an Iranian form of freemasonry. While Iranian ambassador in London in 1889 he sold a lottery concession to British speculators, but this was cancelled by the prime minister (because he did not receive a kickback?) and Malkum, after fraudulently pocketing some of the concession payments, was dismissed as ambassador. Perhaps as a way of redeeming himself, he then broke decisively with Nasiru'd-Din Shah and began a dissident newspaper, Qanun (The Law), which argued for a rule of law, supported the Tobacco Revolt, and from 1892 began calling for parliamentary governance in Iran. Malkum had been influenced by Saint-Simonian and Masonic ideas about human unity, and also began a "League of Humanity" (Majma`-i Adamiyyat). Algar tells us that Malkum's Qanun reported the prince-mujtahid's presence in Istanbul: "Now Shaykhu'r-Ra'is has joined him [Sayyid Jamal ud-Din], and it is said that he is attempting with the support of the Sultan, to become the supreme manifestation (mazhar-i a`zam)." As Algar notes, the meaning of the latter phrase is unclear, but probably has some reference to a Babi or Baha'i idea of spiritual progress (Baha'u'llah, e.g., spoke of the spiritually perfected human being as the "supreme talisman" (tilism-i a`zam) and considered human beings manifestations [sing. mazhar] of the attributes of God). While in Istanbul, Shaykhu'r-Ra'is not only deepened his knowledge of Malkum's League of Humanity, but he also joined a Masonic lodge.
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's second stay in Istanbul saw him drawn into a number of progressive intellectual and political networks. His activities on behalf of pan-Islam arose out of conviction, but also allowed him to take revenge on Nasiru'd-Din Shah for his humiliating imprisonment at the Nadiri Fortress. Although his ex-Azali associates and Sayyid Jamalu'd-Din had no use for the Baha'i religion, many of their reformist social ideas were close to its, and this shared modernism formed a basis upon which Shaykhu'r-Ra'is could ally himself with them. He was drawn in the same way to Malkum Khan and his Qanun, and to enlightened freemasonry. He was, however, in a far less stable position than he imagined, and his association with the pan-Islamic circle (itself disbanded under Iranian pressure only two years later) proved short-lived.
The Pilgrimage to `Akka and the Visit to India
The Ottoman government abruptly withdrew Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's permission to reside in Istanbul in fall of 1893, for reasons that remain obscure. It is possible that the Iranian government was extremely alarmed at Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's presence in Istanbul, and put enormous pressure on the Ottomans to deny him asylum. Ishraq-Khavari maintains that he was in any case increasingly unhappy with Sayyid Jamalu'd-Din's intrigues against Nasiru'd-Din Shah, into which he was in danger of being drawn, but does not cite any source for this contention [and I can now refute it decisively; they were on excellent terms]. Whatever its roots, the Ottoman decision created a spiritual crisis for Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, and he announced his resolve to settle in the Shi`ite shrine cities of Iraq. On the way, however, he secretly intended to make a pilgrimage to Baha'u'llah's grave (as he had earlier visited the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad), perhaps in hopes that exposure to its blessedness make his path clear. In October, 1893, Shaykhu'r-Ra'is set out with family and friends.
He announced to his Muslim friends, upon reaching Port Said, that he had decided to visit Jerusalem, which he did. Jerusalem, however, was a code word for `Akka, to which he next proceeded. When he first arrived in this small port city on the coast of Palestine, which the Ottomans used as a place of exile for political prisoners, he made a quiet visit to Baha'u'llah's resting-place on its outskirts, at the mansion of Bahji. He then stayed with the local Ottoman governor (mutasarrif) as his guest. The sultan had sent telegrams to his officials in Palestine instructing them to treat Shaykhu'r-Ra'is with honor. His host arranged for a great gathering of the local notables, at which Shaykhu'r-Ra'is was asked to give a speech. He paused every once and a while during his discourse to smoke a water pipe. `Abdu'l-Baha arrived during the presentation, and in Baha'i eyes Shaykhu'r-Ra'is committed several improprieties. He continued to sit and speak, and continued to smoke, even in the presence of his religion's supreme head. This behavior is in keeping with Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's practice of pious dissimulation, since for him to act in any other way would have betrayed his Baha'i affiliation to the Ottoman and Muslim authorities. It may also be that he had been devoted to Baha'u'llah as a spiritual guide but had not yet decided on his attitude to his successor. After a short time, `Abdu'l-Baha left. One or two days later, Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, on the pretext that it was rude not to return a visit, went to `Abdu'l-Baha's house. A number of other Baha'is were also present. `Abdu'l-Baha suggested that the two go for a walk and have a private conversation. The Baha'is observed that as they strolled along and `Abdu'l-Baha discoursed, Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's demeanor changed markedly. At first he walked abreast of `Abdu'l-Baha, but slowly began to hang back a bit, showing deference. The content of their conversation, which occurred out of earshot of the others, is unknown, and Shaykhu'r-Ra'is himself appears never to have spoken of it. The witnesses saw him break down and weep copiously, and one said that by the time he left his eyes were so red from crying that they looked like two cups of blood. On subsequent visits, when in `Abdu'l-Baha's presence he stood and and refrained from smoking.
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is developed a powerful devotion to `Abdu'l-Baha, whom he supported against his rival, another of Baha'u'llah's sons, and in his sermons later on he frequently wove references to the Baha'i leader into his sermons. Since Shi`ites revered "Hadrat-i `Abbas," the half-brother of the martyred Imam Husayn, and `Abdu'l-Baha's given name was `Abbas, he could employ double entendre by appearing to refer to the former but actually alluding to the latter. He wrote poetry while in `Akka wherein he announced, "I attained to the cup of intimacy in the precincts of Jerusalem," speaking of an experience of mystical intoxication. In his autobiography, he speaks cryptically of his spiritual experiences in the Holy Land, writing, "I made my pilgrimage to all the holy spots in that land that has produced prophets and been the site of Revelation, and things were disclosed to the heart (inkishafat-i qalbiyyih) and revelations from the unseen (futuhat-i ghaybiyyih) appeared." Palestine's long sacred history served as a camouflage for his Baha'i experiences, since it was associated with David, Solomon and Jesus as well as with Baha'u'llah, and most of his readers would assume he was referring to the biblical/qur'anic prophets. In 1899, when `Abdu'l-Baha succeeded in having the remains of the Bab brought to Haifa from Iran, with the intention of establishing a mausoleum for the martyred prophet, Shaykhu'r-Ra'is composed a commemorative poem. He also penned verse supporting `Abdu'l-Baha against his rebellious younger brother, Mirza Muhammad `Ali. When E.G. Browne published the Babi chronicle, Nuqtatu'l-Kaf, Shaykhu'r-Ra'is wrote a ditty dismissing it as an Azali forgery. This poetry survives only in Baha'i sources.
He spent several days in `Abdu'l-Baha's company. Mazandarani says that `Abdu'l-Baha warned him against continuing to associate with Sayyid Jamalu'd-Din Afghani, a man who had after all attacked the Babi-Baha'i movement, and had, through his activities during the Tobacco Revolt, incurred the undying enmity of Nasiru'd-Din Shah. This is plausible, and Mazandarani was in a good position to hear from Baha'i pilgrims then present their accounts of the later discussions between the two (which might have been less private than the first).
A tension exists in Baha'u'llah's writings, between his devotion to what was then radical constitutionalist change and his desire for peace, social order, and a strong Iran with law-abiding citizens. It is difficult to see how both could be attained, except perhaps over the very long run. The Qajar shahs would clearly not acquiesce in the establishment of a constitution and parliament, unless popular protests forced them to do so, and their censorship apparatus impeded the use of liberal discussion as a tool to promote participatory ideals. Sometimes Baha'u'llah emphasizes the radical side of his proposals, and sometimes he underlines the need for loyalty to the state. I would suggest that his 1891 Tablet to the World exhibits the more radical side of his teachings, for therein he condemns the Qajars as tyrants and appears largely to take the side of liberal reformers during the Tobacco Revolt, going them one better in calling again for an Iranian parliament. His Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, written during his last year of life, on the other hand, quotes St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans in recommending acceptance of the secular government's authority.
`Abdu'l-Baha, upon his accession as head of the religion in late May of 1892, developed the patriotic and anti-imperialist themes more than he did the democratic ones. The same year he wrote and circulated his Treatise on Politics (Risalih-'i Siyasiyyih), which forbids Baha'is to take any part in the Tobacco Revolt (which had wound down, in any case, with the January, 1892 revocation of the concession by the shah). He argues that such popular movements against Middle Eastern governments held the danger of weakening them and of inviting foreign intervention, and he cites the failure of the 1876 Ottoman Constitutional Revolution, foiled by the Russo-Ottoman war of 1877-78, as an example (he might have instanced Egypt's `Urabi revolt, as well). Despite his cosmopolitanism, `Abdu'l-Baha in the early 1890s was moving toward a more patriotic position wherein he felt it was important to strengthen the indigenous state. In 1894, he had Mirza Abu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani, one of the greatest of the Baha'i learned men, write to Iran with his instructions that Baha'is should obey the government as a way of restoring Iran to its former greatness, and criticizing the Shi`ite clergy's belief in the illegitimacy of the secular state. `Abdu'l-Baha more than once shifted somewhat away from this policy, as in his early endorsement of the constitutionalist movement in Iran in 1905-1907, so it must be seen as policy rather than principle. Support for the state could not, moreover, take complete precedence over other Baha'i ideals such as the desirability of parliamentary governance, as enunciated by Baha'u'llah. But this pro-state patriotism, with its undertone of anti-imperialism, is presumably the sort of position `Abdu'l-Baha conveyed to Shaykhu'r-Ra'is in 1893.
Baha'i sources say that `Abdu'l-Baha also advised him to go to India as a resolution of his problems, and there to preach the Baha'i Faith. It is difficult to know how much of this is true. British India had relative cultural freedom, Bombay was a major center for Iranian merchants and other expatriates, and Baha'u'llah and `Abdu'l-Baha did send Baha'is to India as missionaries. On the other hand, in another context `Abdu'l-Baha appears to have approved of Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's virtual dissimulation of his religion, saying that prominent persons such as he must exercise great wisdom (hikmat), and it is not clear that he would have suggested that Shaykhu'r-Ra'is openly announce himself and become a circuit preacher. I suspect that `Abdu'l-Baha did suggest that he go to Bombay, where he could continue to make his point to Tehran as an expatriate, that he was disgruntled, and where the threat that he might prove useful to the British would be apparent to the shah. `Abdu'l-Baha may also have seen him as someone who could add support, if only in a subtle way, to the Indian Baha'i community.
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is reports in his autobiographical sketch that he was led to go India via the Suez Canal by a divination he performed, and after a stormy and fatiguing passage he arrived in Bombay in early January of 1894. There, he appears to have suffered what we would now call a profound culture shock. India, with its teeming cities, its panoply of gaudy deities, its spicy food and complex social system, has not always been found congenial by visitors from other climes. Shaykhu'r-Ra'is expresses his disorientation in typically apocalyptic language, saying that what he saw there made him think that the fabled wall of Alexander had crumbled, the Day of Judgment had arrived, and the hordes of Gog and Magog been set loose. He remained only a few months in Bombay, meeting with local notables such as the great Iranian merchant Hajji `Abdu'l-Husayn Aminu't-Tujjar and preaching sermons to the expatriate Iranian community. He travelled in the Presidency of Bombay, for instance to Poona. According to Ishraq-Khavari, he associated with the Baha'is in India only with the utmost discretion. He arranged with friends to have published the collection of his literary works upon which this chapter has so heavily depended, the Priceless Selection (Muntakhab-i Nafis), as well as his book on pan-Islam. Shaykhu'r-Ra'is while in India began corresponding with Malkum Khan, praising his efforts and employing the terminology of the latter's League of Humanity. For instance, he calls Malkum "Adam," implying that he is the archetype of the new humanity, and he finds playful support for Malkum's idea of the rule of law (qanun) in Qur'an verses that begin with that word's Arabic roots (qaf and nun). Aqa Khan Kirmani knew of his plans to go from India to the shrine cities and perhaps to return to Mashhad, and counted on him to distribute Qanun in those places: "in Khurasan [we have] Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, who is at the moment still in Bombay, and from there will go to the shrine cities and on to Mashhad." While in India Shaykhu'r-Ra'is joined the circle of the Isma`ili leader Aqa Khan III, Sultan Muhammad Shah, whom he praises and who bestowed on him his patronage. His choice of patrons is perhaps the final clue to his heterodoxy. Here his biographical sketch comes to an end, and the silences interspersed throughout it finally become dominant. Aside from possibly surviving papers in family hands, we have nothing from his own pen describing his Shiraz period (1894-1902), his participation in the Constitutional Revolution (1905-1908), his arrest and near execution in 1908, or the somewhat listless last twelve years of his life, passed mostly in Tehran, during which he was yet again expelled from Mashhad.
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is engaged in all three degrees of self-concealment outlined by Bacon. He attempted to keep his heterodox beliefs secret from fellow clergymen, and simulated the life of a Shi`ite sermonizer. Yet, in his poetry and sermons, he also engaged in what Bacon called dissimulation, the dropping of broad hints that he was not what he seemed. This partial unveiling of the self helped block his career, denying him the supervision of the Imam Rida Shrine, and leading to his expulsion from Shiraz in 1902 as a result of being branded a Baha'i by fellow clergymen who saw through the allusions in his sermons.
The autobiographical sketch left to us by Shaykhu'r-Ra'is is an act of self-censorship, which practices secrecy more than simulation. It tells us relatively little about how he became a dissident. It does not mention his mother's alleged admiration for the Babis, or the possible influence of Baha'u'llah's democratic millenarianism on his social thought. It says nothing about his activities, if any, during the Tobacco Revolt, and omits all mention of his arrest and period of imprisonment. He is silent about his association in Istanbul with Sayyid Jamalu'd-Din al-Afghani, Aqa Khan Kirmani and Shaykh Ahmad Ruhi, or what points of agreement or difference he had with their political views. Rather, the image that emerges from the autobiographical sketch is an old-fashioned one, almost a classical Islamic one, of the poet and intellectual mistreated by his patrons. His victimization at the hands of Asafu'd-Dawlih in Mashhad in 1884-85 is not represented as hinging upon issues in philosophy of government or reform, but as a personal vendetta by a belligerant and rapacious governor. (His letters to Tehran on the subject do forthrightly condemn Asafu'd-Dawlih for having alienated his subjects, but few details are given). Sultan `Abdu'l-Hamid II is represented as a gracious patron, and by implication Nasiru'd-Din Shah is depicted as a niggardly or boorish one. Aminu's-Sultan, the Prime Minister, is likewise praised for his generosity, and it is implied that his ineffectuality is not his own fault but that of Qajar Iranian political culture (wherein government decrees were routinely ignored). Ruknu'd-Dawlih becomes a fickle sponsor, Aqa Khan III of Bombay a faithful one. This gallery of good and bad patrons owes much to the conventions of Persian literary biography, going back to Firdawsi's disgust with his piddling payment for the Shahnamih. The convention is clearly invoked, however, to exclude any open discussion of politics in the modern sense. The artful silences and the disclosure of patrons' faults, however, are merely a form of indirection, making Shaykhu'r-Ra'is an "unreliable narrator" in his autobiography, having adopted a voice meant to conceal rather than to reveal.
In politics, the correspondence included in The Priceless Selection is occasionally less opaque, particularly the condemnations of Asafu'd-Dawlih. On matters of religious belief, the poetry is characterized by extensive dis-simulation in the Baconian sense, by the dropping of broad hints throughout that the author has dimensions that do not appear on the surface. These hints, however, had to be ambiguous, in order to remain a species of self-concealment and not become the sort of self-revelation that would bring swift martyrdom (as with Aba Badi`). The few lines alluding to the Tobacco Revolt could be read as merely playful or as indicating that he felt it had a millenarian significance. One could read virtually all the poetry with no knowledge of Baha'i technical terminology and find it unexceptionable. The exegesis of Ishraq-Khavari and others, however, makes a plausible case that Shaykhu'r-Ra'is encoded in his verse his most profound millenarian beliefs, referring in a powerful way to Baha'u'llah and to his conviction that the world was being turned upside down. As Strauss also noted, "Persecution . . . gives rise to a peculiar technique of writing, and therewith to a peculiar type of literature, in which the truth about all crucial things is presented exclusively between the lines." But why drop such hints to begin with, why engage in positive implication? It is, surely, another sort of rebellion against the constituted order, a way of striking back at repression without risking all. In regard to politics, Shaykhu'r-Ra'is would throw off all self-concealment during the Constitutional Revolution; in regard to religion, he never let the outside world have more than a hazy glimpse of his heterodoxy.
How Shaykhu'r-Ra'is emerged, a decade after he finished his autobiographical sketch, as a major literary and political figure in the Constitutional Revolution, nevertheless now seems easier to understand. His father's long disgrace and house arrest, Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's abandonment to the plague as a child, his inability to save Aba Badi` from martyrdom, his outrage at Asafu'd-Dawlih's arbitrariness, his virtual exiles from Iran in 1885 and 1892, his lament about the absence of a rule of law in his homeland, his imprisonment by Ruknu'd-Dawlih at the Nadiri Fortress, his millenarian interpretation of the Tobacco Revolt, his acquaintance with the humanist ideas of Malkum Khan, and his association with the Pan-Islamic grouping in Istanbul, all show his evolution as a dissident. His underlying Baha'i belief that the world was on the verge of apocalyptic change, that various movements in Iran were manifestations of this transformation, and that "ere long . . . the state of affairs" in Tehran would be revolutionized, "and the reins of power fall into the hands of the people," must have contributed in a pivotal manner to his political formation. Its very centrality and interiority, as well as the dangers it carried of execution for heresy, caused him to bury it in poetic allusions and double entendres. The hidden and the apparent preoccupy Shaykhu'r-Ra'is the poet, and this too now becomes more intelligible.
A hidden sun has appeared
From a spiritual thunderbolt;
Come, O lights of divinity:
Walk and behold!
Author's note: I wish to express my gratitude to Dr. Vahid Ra'fati, Director, Research Office of the Baha'i World Centre, Haifa, for providing me with photocopies of inaccessible journal articles and other materials used in this chapter, and to Professor John Walbridge and Dr. Moojan Momen for providing photocopies of rare Baha'i manuscripts. Dr. Khazeh Fananapazir was kind enough to pass on family recollections of Shaykhu'r-Ra'is. Fananapazir, Amin Banani and Frank Lewis made extremely helpful comments on an early draft, especially in regard to the translation of Persian terms. John Curry, my research assistant, also went to great trouble to find Iranian journal articles for me.
E.G. Browne, The Persian Revolution of 1905-1906 (London: Frank Cass & Co., 1966 ), p. 133; citing, Nida-yi Vatan, 18 Dhu'l-Qa`dah 1324/3 Jan. 1907).
For the Baha'i religion, see Peter Smith, The Babi and Baha'i Religions: From Messianic Shi`ism to a World Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).
Christopher Hill, Puritanism and Revolution (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986 ), p. 311.
Ibrahim Safa'i, Rahbaran-i mashrutih, 2 vols. (Tehran, 1984 ), 1:561-591. Safa'i's account is riddled with errors of detail and chronology, as well, and I want to signal to others how unreliable it is when compared to Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's own writings and other primary sources.
Francis Bacon, Essays, in Works, ed. James Spedding, Robert Ellis and Douglas Heath, 2 vols. (New York, 1878), 2:96-99, cited in Perez Zagorin, Ways of Lying: Dissimulation, Persecution and Conformity in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990), p. 256.
Leo Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988 ), p. 24.
Nikki R. Keddie, Sayyid Jamalu'd-Din "al-Afghani": A Political Biography (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1972); Rudi Matthee, "Jamal al-Din Al-Afghani and the Egyptian National Debate," International Journal of Middle East Studies 21 (May 1989):151-169.
Nikki Keddie, "Symbol and Sincerity in Islam," Studia Islamica 19 (1963):27-63; but compare Annabel M. Patterson, Censorship and Interpretation: The Conditions of Writing and Reading in Early Modern England (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984) and Lev Loseff, On the Beneficence of Censorship: Aesopian Language in Modern Russian Literature, trans. Jane Bobko (Munich: Verlag Otto Sagner, 1984).
Hasan-e Fasa'i, History of Persia under Qajar Rule, trans. Heribert Busse (New York: Columbia University Press, 1972), pp. 157, 199, 228-232; Mihdi Bamdad, Sharh-i Hal-i Rijal-i Iran: dar qarn-i 12 va 13 va 14 Hijri, 6 vols. (Tehran: Kitabfurushi-yi Zuvvar, 1968-1975), 3:310-312; for more about princely survivors of the Fars revolt, see Roger Savory, "A Qajar Prince's Sojourn in England in 1836: Najaf Quli Mirza's Memoirs," paper presented at a conference on "Nineteenth Century Persian Travel Memoirs," University of Texas, Austin, April 8-9, 1994.
For Tahirih, see Abbas Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal: The Making of the Babi Movement, 1844-1850 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989), chapter 7; for Shams-i Jihan, see Mazandarani, "Tarikh-i Zuhur al-Haqq," 6:412-414 and Ni`matu'llah Bayda'i, Tadhkirih-'i shu`ara-yi qarn-i avval-i Baha'i, 4 vols. (Tehran: Baha'i Publishing Trust, 126 B.E./1969), 3:172-74, 185-87. Shams-i Jahan's memoirs survive in the form of an autobiographical poem, reproduced by Mazandarani, most of which Bayda'i printed and of which he gave a prose summary.
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, Muntakhab-i nafis, 2 vols. in 1 (Tehran: Mahmudi, repr. c. 1960 [Bombay, 1896]), 1:5.
Muhammad Taqi Mirza Husamu's-Saltanih was thought by Bamdad (Rijal, 3:312) to have died much earlier than this, because Sultan Murad Mirza was given the title Husamu's-Saltanih for his services in the siege of Herat in 1856, and the title should not have been devolved on him while its possessor was still alive. Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's memoirs make clear, however, that his father did not die until 1862, and it may be that a prince so long under house arrest on suspicion of treasonous intentions had no monopoly on his own title.
Fasa'i, History, pp. 348-350; Mihdi Bamdad, Sharh-i Hal-i Rijal-i Iran: dar qarn-i 12 va 13 va 14 Hijri, 6 vols. (Tehran: Kitabfurushi-yi Zuvvar, 1968-1975), 2:433-34.
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, Muntakhab, 1:8-9.
Seyyed Hossein Nasr, "The Metaphysics of Sadr al-Din Shirazi and Islamic Philosophy in Qajar Iran," in Edmund Bosworth and Carole Hillenbrand, ed., Qajar Iran: Political, Social and Cultural Change, 1800-1925 (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 1983), pp. 177-198, esp. pp. 190-91 for Mulla `Ali Muddarris Zunuzi; for Mulla Sadra's thought see Fazlur Rahman, The Philosophy of Mulla Sadra (Sadr al-Din Shirazi) (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1975); for an essay by Shaykhu'r-Ra'is on ontology see Muntakhab, 2:140-145.
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, Muntakhab, 2:100.
For Mirza Nasru'llah, see Muhammad Hasan Khan I`timadu's-Saltanih, Matla` ash-Shams, 3 vols. in 2 (Tehran: Intisharat-i Farhangsara, 1984-1984), p. 690; even this expert in Islamic law was also trained in philosophy by Mulla Hadi Sabzavari, so that Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's foray into law was not at the hands of a narrow specialist--though Mirza Nasru'llah did possess diplomas in law and the principles of jurisprudence.
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, Muntakhab, 1:10.
Ghulam Husayn Khan Afdalu'l-Mulk, Safarnamih-'i Khurasan va Kirman, ed. Qudratu'llah Rawshani Za`faranlu (Tehran: Intisharat-i Tus, 197?), pp. 70-76.
Henry W. Bellew, From the Indus to the Tigris (London: Trubner, 1874, repr. Karachi: Royal Book Company, 1977), pp. 362-365.
H.M. Balyuzi, Eminent Baha'is in the Time of Baha'u'llah (Oxford: George Ronald, 1985), pp. 52-59; Bamdad, Rijal, 3:404-406; a letter and some poetry from Shaykhu'r-Ra'is to Mirza Muhammad Rida when he was Mustasharu'l-Mulk and the chief minister in Khurasan survives in Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, Muntakhab, 1:36, 2:175-76.
Mazandarani, "Tarikh-i Zuhur al-Haqq," 6:39.
Baha'u'llah, The Most Holy Book: The Kitab-i-Aqdas (Haifa: Baha'i World Centre, 1993), p. 54; Baha'u'llah, al-Kitab al-Aqdas (Bombay: n.p., n.d.), p. 98; for the Tablet to Queen Victoria see Baha'u'llah, "Lawh Malikah Wikturiya," Alvah-i nazilih khitab bi muluk va ru'asa-yi ard (Tehran: Baha'i Publishing Trust, 1968), p. 131; tr. Baha'u'llah, Proclamation of Baha'u'llah, tr. Shoghi Effendi (Haifa: Baha'i World Centre, 1967), p. 33.
Juan R.I. Cole, "Iranian Millenarianism and Democratic Thought in the Nineteenth Century," International Journal of Middle East Studies 24 (1992):1-26.
Bujnurdi is noticed briefly in I`timadu's-Saltanih, Matla` ash-Shams, p. 690, where we are informed that he kept his distance from state officials.
Mazandarani, Tarikh-i Zuhur al-Haqq, 6:39; Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha'u'llah (Oxford: George Ronald, 1973-1986), 2:129-136.
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, Muntakhab, 1:11.
Safa'i, Rahbaran, 1:568, maintains that Ruknu'd-Dawlih banished Shaykhu'r-Ra'is on this occasion and says that it was in 1880 that Shaykhu'r-Ra'is was imprisoned in the Fortress of Nadir Shah. I have found no evidence for these assertions, and believe them to be incorrect. Shaykhu'r-Ra'is wrote in 1885 to Prime Minister Aminu's-Sultan that he had never previously had any altercation with the provincial government of Khurasan (Shaykhu'r-Ra'is/Aminu's-Sultan, Quchan [late 1884], in Muntakhab, 2:178), and more reliable sources put the incarceration in the Nadiri Fortress a decade later.
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, Muntakhab, 1:11-12. For Mirza Hasan Shirazi, see Roy Mottahedeh, Mantle of the Prophet (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985), pp. 214-215; and Aqa Buzurg Tihrani, Mirza-yi Shirazi, Persian trans. (Tehran: Vizarat-i Irshad-i Islami, 1984), esp. p. 56 for the passage about his treatment of students. Tihrani has excluded Shaykhu'r-Ra'is from his list of students of Mirza Hasan, presumably because of the prince's Baha'i adherence.
`Abdu'l-Hamid Ishraq-Khavari, Muhadarat (Hofheim-Langenhain: Baha'i Verlag, 1987), pp. 986-987.
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, Muntakhab, 2:9-12; Ishraq-Khavari, "Hayrat-i Qajar," pp. 261-263. The Garden of Ridvan has been a favorite theme for Baha'i poets. See, for example, Robert Hayden, "Baha'u'llah in the Garden of Ridvan," in Angle of Ascent (New York: Liveright, 1975), p. 117.
For the Fadiliyyih Seminary, see I`timadu's-Saltanih, Matla` ash-Shams, pp. 538-539.
Faridun Adamiyyat, Andishih-ha-yi Mirza Aqa Khan Kirmani (Tehran: Tahuri, 1967), pp. 6, 12. Adamiyyat mistakenly dates this visit to early 1303/fall 1885, but this is impossible because Shaykhu'r-Ra'is was by then in Istanbul.
Mirza Hasan Khan I`timadu's-Saltanih, Ruznamih-'i Khatirat, ed. Iraj Afshar (Tehran: Amir Kabir, 1971), p. 280 old/ 252 new.
Sulaymani, Masabih, 7:429.
Mirza Muhammad Rida was promoted from Mustasharu'l-Mulk to Mu'taminu's-Saltanih on 30 August 1883 according to the diary of I`timadu's-Saltanih, Ruznamih-'i Khatirat, p. 280 old/252 new.
I`timadu's-Saltanih, Matla` ash-Shams, p. 671; Bamdad, Rijal, 2:308-311; Mahmud Farhad Mu`tamad, "Nasiru'd-Din Shah va Shaykhu'r-Ra'is," Yaghma 3 (1329/1950-51):343-344; Sayyid `Ali Mirniya, Vaqayi`-i Khavar-i Iran (Tehran: Nashr-i Parsa, 1988), pp. 146-148.
Abbas Iqbal, "Mirza `Abdu'l-Vahhab Khan Asafu'd-Dawlih," Yadgar, vol 5, no. 4 (1327-28/1948-49):30; Bamdad, Rijal, 3:405. Mu'taminu's-Saltanih went to Tehran, where he was briefly a candidate for the prime ministership, but his enemies let it be known that he and his brother were Baha'is, damaging his reputation with Nasiru'd-Din Shah. Two years later, Ruknu'd-Dawlih and Mu'taminu's-Saltanih were reinstated as governor and chief minister respectively: I`timadu's-Saltanih, Ruznamih, p. 584 old/ 514 new, entry for 14 Dhu'l-Hijjah 1304/3 September 1887.
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, Muntakhab, 2:76.
The journal of his journey to Quchan has been published: Shaykhu'r-Ra'is Qajar, Bada'i` as-Samar wa Waqa'i` as-Safar, ed. Sayfu'llah Vahid-Niya (Tehran: Intisharat-i Vahid, 1352 s.); I am grateful to Elton Daniel for this citation. For Quchan see Kalimu'llah Tavahhudi, Harakat-i Tarikhi-yi Kurd bih Khurasan dar Difa` az Istiqlal-i Iran (Mashhad: Chapkhanih-'i Kushish, 1981), esp. pp. 376-453 for Shuja`u'd-Dawlih; see also I`timadu's-Saltanih, Matla` ash-Shams, pp. 161-162; for a Westerner's impressions of Quchan and of Shuja`u'd-Dawlih only a few years later see George E. Curzon, Persia and the Persian Question 2 vols. (London: Longman, Greens, and Co., 1892), 1:94-112; for the vassal system in place there see A.K.S. Lambton, "Land Tenure and Revenue Administration in the Nineteenth Century," The Cambridge History of Iran Volume 7, eds. P. Avery, G. Hambly and C. Melville (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 490-491.
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is/Aminu's-Sultan, Quchan , in Muntakhab, 2:178-179, this quote on 2:178; cf. Ishraq-Khavari, "Hayrat," pp. 283-284.
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, Muntakhab, 2:41; the poem is on 2:41-46.
Fadil Mazandarani, Tarikh-i Zuhur al-Haqq, vol. 8, pt. 1 (Tehran: Baha'i Publishing Trust, 1974), pp. 217-218. For another specimen of Baha'i poetry by Nabil-i A`zam Zarandi, see E.G. Browne, "Some Remarks on the Babi Texts edited by Baron Victor Rosen," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 24 (1892):323-35, appendix: "A Poem Attributed to Nabil."
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, Muntakhab, 2:46.
J. Cole, "The Concept of Manifestation in the Baha'i Writings," Baha'i Studies 9 (1982):1-38.
Muhammad `Ali Sayyah Mahallati, Khatirat-i Hajj Sayyah ya Dawrih-'i Khawf va Vahshat, ed. Hamid Sayyah (Tehran: Amir Kabir, 3rd edn., 1981), pp. 284-285.
Curzon, Persia, 2:101.
Mu`tamad, "Nasiru'd-Din Shah," p. 344; this version of the exchange appears to me better textually than the one given in Bamdad, Rijal, 1:43, though neither is sourced and they both could be apocryphal.
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, Muntakhab, 2:2-8; see also Mirza Mohammad Hosayn Farahani, A Shi`ite Pilgrimage to Mecca, 1885-1886, ed. and trans. Hafez Farmayan and Elton L. Daniel (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990), p. 192.
Farahani, A Shi`ite Pilgrimage, p. 298. The editors note that Shaykhu'r-Ra'is published a memoir of his stay in the Ottoman capital (Safarnamih-'i Istanbul), but that they could not find a copy.
For Mu`inu'l-Mulk's long tenure as ambassador to Istanbul, see Khan Malik Sasani, Yadbudha-yi Sifarat-i Istanbul (Tehran: Firdawsi, 1966), pp. 255-264.
I`timadu's-Saltanih, Ruznamih-'i Khatirat, p. 817 old/p. 715 new.
I`timadu's-Saltanih, Ruznamih-'i Khatirat, p. 827 old/ 724 new, attributes Mu'taminu's-Saltanih's death to diarrhea brought on by a medicine he took to deal with his impotence, given his recent marriage. Balyuzi, Eminent Baha'is, p. 59 alleges that he was secretly poisoned (given a cup of "Qajar coffee") at the behest of Nasiru'd-Din Shah, but gives no proof.
See Nikki R. Keddie, Religion and Rebellion in Iran: The Tobacco Protest of 1891-1892 (London, 1966); Ann K.S. Lambton, "The Tobacco Regie: Prelude to Revolution," Studia Islamica 22 (1965):119-57, 23 (1965):71-90; and Faridun Adamiyyat, Shurish bar imtiyaznamih-'i rizhi: Tahlil-i siyasi (Tehran, 1981).
Mazandarani, "Tarikh-i Zuhur al-Haqq," 6:39.
Baha'u'llah, "Lawh-i dunya," in Majmu`ih-'i az alvah-i Jamal-i Aqdas-i Abha kih ba`d az kitab-i aqdas nazil shudih, (Hofheim, 1980), pp. 47-53; trans. in Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah revealed after the Kitab-i-Aqdas, tr. Habib Taherzadeh (Haifa, 1978), pp. 84-90; for the persecution at Yazd in May of 1891, see the diplomatic reports in Momen, Babi and Baha'i Religions, pp. 301-305, which confirm the role of Mahmud Mirza.
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, Muntakhab, 1:15-16 and 2:32-33; Ishraq-Khavari, "Hayrat," p. 331; a visit to the Nadiri Fortress was undertaken by Curzon only a few months before Ishraq-Khavari says Shaykhu'r-Ra'is was confined there: Curzon, Persia, 1:113-147.
`Abdu'l-Hamid Ishraq-Khavari, Taqvim-i Tarikh-i Amr (Tehran: Baha'i Publishing Trust, 126 B.E.), pp. 112-113.
Moojan Momen, "The Baha'i Community of Ashkhabad: Its Social Basis and Importance in Baha'i History," in Shirin Akiner, Cultural Change and Continuity in Central Asia (London: Kegan Paul International, 1991), pp. 278-305.
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, Muntakhab, 1:16; Ishraq-Khavari, "Hayrat," p. 332, quotes this poem; another quatrain he wrote during this journey, for the headman of Miyami, is preserved in Afdalu'l-Mulk, Safarnamih-'i Khurasan, p. 34.
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, Muntakhab, 1:16; Ishraq-Khavari, "Hayrat," p. 332.
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, Muntakhab, 1:16-21.
From the appendix in Nikki R. Keddie, "Religion and Irreligion in Early Iranian Nationalism," Comparative Studies in Society and History 4 (1962):265-95, reprinted in Nikki Keddie, Iran: Religion, Politics and Society (London: Frank Cass, 1980), this passage on p. 43.
Keddie, Sayyid Jamalu'd-Din "al-Afghani", pp. 377-78; Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, "Mudhakkarat raji`ih bi ittihad-i Islam ba Jinab-i Cevdet Pasa," in Muntakhab, 2:110-123.
Ishraq-Khavari, "Hayrat," p. 333. The double entendres are confirmed in personal correspondence to me from Khazeh Fananapazir, 22 October 1993, reporting what his grandfather heard at a sermon given by Shaykhu'r-Ra'is in Isfahan early in the twentieth century: "Who says that `Abbas lost his hands? No, `Abbas's hands, through the strength given to them by Husayn, have become victorious in the West as well as the East." Baha'is would read `Abbas as `Abdu'l-Baha `Abbas and Husayn as Mirza Husayn `Ali Baha'u'llah.
Mirza Abu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani, Letters and Essays, 1886-1913, trans. Juan R.I. Cole (Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 1985), pp. 87-91; this book is based on Mirza Abu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani, Raqa'im va Rasa'il, ed. Ruhu'llah Mihrabkhani (Tehran: Baha'i Publishing Trust, 1978).
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is/Malkum Khan, 20 Safar 1312/23 August 1894, Supplément Persan, 1991, f. 50, cited in Algar, Mirza Malkum Khan, pp. 225-26.
Aqa Khan Kirmani/Mirza Malkum Khan, `Id al-Fitr [1311/7 April 1894], in Aqa Khan Kirmani, Namih-ha-yi Tab`id, ed. Huma Natiq and Muhammad Firuz (Cologne: Chap-i Ufuq, 1989) p. 150; Algar, Mirza Malkum Khan, p. 225, n. 93, cites an undated letter (Mirza Aqa Khan/Mirza Malkum Khan, n.d., Supplément Persan, 1996, f. 98) about Shaykhu'r-Ra'is's distribution of Qanun in the shrine cities, but places this just before his journey to India (is this the same `Id al-Fitr letter?). I do not believe Shaykhu'r-Ra'is would neglect to mention a visit to the shrine cities, and in his autobiographical sketch he clearly says he went straight to India from Palestine via the Suez Canal. I would therefore suggest that the letter is referring to his activities after leaving Bombay.
Shaykhu'r-Ra'is, Muntakhab, pp. 22-25; Ishraq-Khavari, "Hayrat," p. 334.