The Situation of Iran in the 19th Century as Reflected in the Baha'i Writings

By Vahid Rafati

Presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #146
Centre for Bahá'í Studies: Acuto, Italy
July 5–9, 2017
(see list of papers from #146)

    Taking into account the length of time and variety of events in 19th century Iran on the one hand, and on the other hand the vast amount of Baha'i writings which reflect the situation of Iran and Iranians, requires that we limit our study by focussing on the key events over this period.

    Broadly speaking, the major issues in Iran during the 19th century that are reflected in the Baha'i writings can be said to cover four major areas.

    1. Issues related to government / politics / institutions / leadership
    2. Issues related to religion, religious life, and Shi'i Clergy
    3. Issues related to science, culture, education and journalism
    4. issues related to social life, economic, ethics, and social relations.

    Writings of the Baha'i Faith regarding those issues are sometimes intended to be analytical in their nature. Sometimes they are reactions to, or evaluations of, the conditions and circumstances. The reflection of these issues in the Baha'i writings is at times to explain the difficulties and pains, to prescribe remedies, and to analyse the problems and the issues to show how to address them. One of the leading issues regarding Iran in the 19th century which is reflected in the Baha'i writings is the emphasis on corruption and backwardness in the country's political and social institutions. Tyranny, inequality of rights in society, power-seeking, the question of Marja-ye-Taqlid (Source of Emulation) in the religious life of the Shi'is, superstition, blindly following religious leadership, illiteracy, lack of science and technology and more than anything else the need for change and modernization in all four fields referred to above are major issues that have been dealt with in the Baha'i writings.

    In studying the issues of 19th Century Iran, the necessity for the separation of politics from religion, access to education, the removal of prejudice in all forms, the conduct of Jihad by words and by statements rather than weapons or force, the necessity for relations across faiths, the promotion of industry and innovation, adopting the modern sciences of the West, the pursuit of justice, and the need for equality between men and women are among those major issues that have been repeatedly and emphatically reflected upon in the Baha'i Writings. There are even some special works and treatises written to deal with these many problems. The emphasis in the Baha'i writings for resolving these problems is people's universal participation, common consultation, and accepting the responsibility of individuals.

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