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Art. XXVI.—Personal Reminiscences of the Bābī Insurrection at Zanjān in 1850

  • Āqā Ἁbdu'l-Aḥad-i-Zanjānī and Edward G. Browne

Besides Ṡubḥ-i-Ezel and his family, there reside at Famagusta, in Cyprus, three Ezelīs, all natives of Zanjān, who have settled there in order to be near their master. Two of these, Ustā Maḥmūd and Sheykh 'Alī Bakhsh, are brothers, sons of a certain Hājī Muḥammad Ḥuseyn, who was one of the Bābīs put to death in cold blood by Amīr Aslān Khān after the suppression of the Bābī rising at Zanjān in the winter of 1850. The third, named Āqā 'Abdu'1-Aḥad, who is the author of the following narrative, is the most interesting personality of the three. Living alone in a small, bare lodging, surrounded by unsympathetic and suspicious Turks, and admitted to the presence of Ṡubḥ-i-Ezel (for whose sake he has thus cut himself off from his friends, his relatives, and his native land) only, perhaps, once in ten days or a fortnight, he nevertheless exhibits a constant cheerfulness of demeanour, a scrupulous neatness of apparel, and an uncomplaining resignation and patience which command one's respect. I first made his acquaintance, and that of his two fellow-townsmen, during the fortnight which I spent at Famagusta in the spring of 1890; but it was not until the spring of last year (March 18–25, 1896) that I had an opportunity of seeing him again, and only then did I learn that a suggestion which I had formerly made to him, that he should set down in writing his recollections of the siege of Zanjān and of the calamities which subsequently befell the Bābīs there, had actually led him to compile the interesting narrative of which I here offer a translation.

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page 769 note 1 See my translation of this work, p. 135 et seqq.

page 770 note 1 By “His Holiness the Martyr” Mullā Muḥammad 'Alī of Zanjān is throughout intended.

page 770 note 2 Zanjān is so called hy the Bābīa because it corresponds numerically with “Supreme.” Both words give the number 111, when the letters composing them are reckoned up by the abjad notation.

page 771 note 1 This verse, which appears to be from the Mathnavī, though I have been unable to find it, runs thus in the original:

page 772 note 1 Of course there is a double meaning in this title. Daqqu'l-Bāb means “rdquo;knocking at the gate,” and also “the smashing” or “breaking up of the Bāb.”

page 772 note 2 This couplet occurs near the beginning of Book ii of the Mathnavā (ed. 'Alā'u'd-Dawla, p. 106, 1. 6). In the original it runs—

page 779 note 1 As the Bābī takbīr, or cry of “Allāhu akbar”, corresponds to the Muḥammadan azān, so the Bāabī mukaibir is equivalent to the Muḥammadan mu'azzin.

page 779 note 2 That is to say, in the place of honour.

page 782 note 1 The MS. has—There seems to be an omission after which I have endeavoured to supply.

page 784 note 1 The MS. has—The third word must he emended to or and the latter emendation seems to me preferable. The meaning is “sanctimonious garb coloured with [the ideas, forms, and phraseology of] the previous [and now abrogated] dispensation.”

page 785 note 1 That is, with the isolation and purification which these necessitate according to Shi'ite Law. See Querry's, Droit Musulman, vol. i, pp. 1922 and 27. The minute legislation of the Shi'ite doctors on these and kindred matters is a constant butt of Bābī ridicule.

page 787 note 1 This is an error. The year should be a.h. 1266 [ = May 13, 1850]. See my translation ot the New History, p. 144 and n. 2.

page 790 note 1 The original text runs— I think that the words have been repeated through inadvertence, and should be omitted. If not, the meaning may be—“While his four fingers were split, and the sword stopped [or stuck] at the root of the four fingers.” It is not clear whether the words of the narrator here cited cease at this point or further on.

page 792 note 1 For from the East cornea the Dawn, the illumination both of hearts and horizons while in the West is the setting and declination. “The people of the right hand,” and “the people of the left hand,” in the Qur'ān as in the Gospels, signify the blessed and the damned (Qur'ān, lvi, 26 et seq.).

page 794 note 1 The name of the Khārijite who assassinated 'Alī.

page 795 note 1 I translate by ‘bogey.’ Concerning the popular superstitions about the nesnās prevalent in Persia, see my year amongst the Persians, pp. 165 and 267, as well as the dictionaries.

page 796 note 1 The word not to be found in the dictionaries, is explained by my friend Mīrzā Ḥuseyn-Qulī Khān as =

page 797 note 1 The torture in question consists in wounding the victim's flesh with knives, and inserting into each wound a lighted wick or candle, which, when it has consumed its own grease, feeds itself on the fat of the sufferer. Hājī Suleymān Khān suffered death on Sept. 15, 1852. See Vámbéry's, Wanderungen und Erlebnisse in Persien, p. 299; my Traveller's Narrative, pp. 326, 332–4; the New History, pp. 228–30.

page 797 note 2 Dīvān of Ḥāfiẓ, ed. Rosenzweig-Schwannau, , vol. i, p. 24, penultimate couplet.

page 798 note 1 I am uncertain as to the translation of this passage, which runs as follows: I am informed that

page 806 note 1 The MS. has: I think that the word has been accidentally omitted at the end of this sentence, and have supplied it in translating.

page 807 note 1 An Arab whose open-handedness has made him a proverb for generosity. Of course all this passage is bitter irony.

page 808 note 1 “His Holiness the Proof” is the title commonly given by the Babis to Mullā, Muḥammad 'Alī.

page 808 note 2 Lit. “the bank,” or “shore,” especially of the Euphrates; or, the part of the land of the Arabs that overlooks the cultivated regions of el-'Irāq; or, a place near Kūfa. See Lane's, Ar.-Engl. Lex., pt. v, p. 1858, s.v.

page 813 note 1 I do not know who is the author of this poem, but I presume that it is by Āqā 'Abdu'1-Aḥad himself. As it is an expression of sentiments, not a statement of facts, I give the original without a translation.

page 816 note 1 These words, evidently required from what follows, as well as to complete the tale, are omitted in the MS.

page 816 note 2 MS. . I am not sure that I have rightly apprehended the meaning of these words.

page 817 note 1 i.e. the relatives of the Imām Ḥuseyn, who were taken captive after the massacre of Kerbelā and brought before Yezīd at Damascus.

page 819 note 1 By “the Mīrzā the Ezelīs mean the late Mīrzā Ḥuseyn 'Ali, better known aa Behā'u'llāh, Ṣubḥ-i-Ezel's half-brother and rival. The Behā'ī Bābīs, whose qibla is Acre, are always called “Mīrzā'īs” by the Ezelīs residing in Cyprus.

page 819 note 2 i.e. was put to death.

page 822 note 1 According to the Bābī doctrine, all these things are to be understood allegorically or symbolically. The Resurrection is the Arising of the Promised Deliverer Hell-fire is denial; Heaven is faith and love; the Bridge of Ṣirāṭ, “finer than a hair and sharper than a sword,” is the difficult passage from unbelief to sure conviction, and so forth. See J.R.A.S., Vol. XXI, p. 930 et seqq.

page 822 note 2 For a parallel to this, see Gulistān, ed. Platts, , p. 34.

page 823 note 1 Qur'ān, ii, 29.

page 826 note 1 I think this is what is meant by the words though they may he interpreted as meaning, “and an appeal to the 'Ulamā.”

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