Some Ottoman Documents about Babis and Bahá'í­s in the Ottoman Empire

By Necati Alkan

Presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #138
Centre for Baha'i Studies: Acuto, Italy
July 5–8, 2016
(see list of papers from #138)

    This talk will give an overview of some documents from the Ottoman Archives in Istanbul about various topics involving Bábís and Bahá'í­s, such as the Bábí disciple and poetess Tahirih "Qurratu'l-'Ayn" in Karbala, the death of Mirza 'Ali Maraghih'i, called "Sayyah", who was exiled with other three Bahá'í­s in the company of Mirza Yahya to Cyprus;Íž the "illegal" Bahá'í­ school in 'Akka, run by 'Abdu'l-Bahá; and about the first Western pilgrim group to `Akka.

    The only Ottoman document about Tahirih I found to date is a report of Necib (Najib) Pasha, then governor general of Baghdad, from February 1847 that mentions that Mullá 'Alí Bastámí had come to Karbala as "the deputy of the Mahdi" and "inciting mischief" and that in the same vein a woman called "Qurratu'l-'Ayn" was arrested and kept in custody because of "distributing mischief in the same region and attracting and inviting ignorant people to be her followers."

    The files concerning Mirzá 'Alí Sayyáh, who had been a courier of the Báb and was sent by the Ottoman authorities to Cyprus, are from 1871, and the documents in question contain one letter (23 July 1871) by Sayyáh in Turkish, petitioning the authorities that his wife and four children, who had been destitute in Baghdad and are now in Magosa (Famagusta) should be given a proper house and allowances; the other documents talk about the death of Sayyáh on 3 August 1871 and that his family should receive allowances and their journey back to Baghdad should be paid since they are impoverished.

    Other Ottoman documents from 1904 mention an unofficial "Bábí School" in 'Akka under the supervision of 'Abbás Effendí. The number of its pupils was increasing day by day.

    This was seen as a threat to Islamic schools in the region, as were other foreign schools, especially those run by Christian missionaries. This alarmed the authorities who tried to set up more Islamic schools in order to rectify the beliefs of the youth. According to communications between the Ottoman province of Beirut, the foreign ministry in Istanbul and the consulate in Washington a group of Bahá'í­s from America visited 'Abbás Effendi in March 1899. They faced difficulties based on false information by certain individuals who were hostile to 'Abbás Effendí. A translation of a letter by an unnamed "Bahá'í­ leader" ensures the Ottoman authorities that the group visiting 'Akka- Haifa and in fact all Bahá'í­s in America are loyal servants and well-wishers of the Ottoman sultan Abdulhamid II. He moreover states that the religion of all American Bahá'í­s is Islam and they believe in the prophet-hood of Muhammad, and do not interfere in the politics of any government. The "Bahá'í­ leader" also writes the names of the mischievous individuals: a certain Nikola Barbur (?Nicolas Barbour), Muhammad 'Ali and Badiyu'llah (sic). This episode refers to the intrigues of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's half-brothers Muhammad 'Alí and Badí'u'lláh to discredit Him in the eyes of the Ottomans.

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