From: "Millennialism in Modern Iranian History," in Abbas Amanat and Magnus Bernhardsson, eds. Imagining the End: Visions of Apocalypse from the Ancient Middle East to Modern America (London: I.B. Tauris, 2002), pp. 282-311.
(N.B. Digital copy of final draft; may differ slightly from published version.)
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The coming of a messiah and the advent of the Last Days, in which a sudden transformation of society would occur, have been an important set of themes in early modern and modern Shi`ite Islam, and these have been remarkably intertwined with Iranian rebellions, revolutions and state formation. Millennialism has had an especially significant career in Iran, which is all the more appropriate insofar as there is a sense in which ancient Iranians were among the first to invent and combine many of the basic motifs that go into this particular sort of movement. Social scientists have only recently explored these themes systematically. Bruce Lincoln argued that earlier, positivist, Marxist and structural-functionalist paradigms expected religion to be a pillar of order and actually to dampen revolutionary fervor, causing students of revolution to ignore religious movements. This paradigm of religion as always reactionary broke down in the 1960s and after, both because of research findings like those of the “Anglo-Marxist” school (Eric Hobsbawm, Christopher Hill), who looked at radical religious groups in the English Revolution, and because of the rise of liberation theology in Latin America. Lincoln proposed that there were religions of order favored by the elite (Confucianism, Anglicanism) and religions of the oppressed that could be employed for oppositional purposes (Taoism, Quakerism). He further saw oppositional religions as passive, active, and revolutionary.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> One question I want to raise is what the Iranian experience tells us about these distinctions.
Many academics posit that millennialist motifs are usually found in non-metropolitan communities (such as villages in rugged areas of Europe or in the colonized global South) where no distinction can be made between the religious and the political, and that adherents express political and normative goals without possessing the practical means to attain them, resorting instead to a belief in magic, healing powers, and supernatural transformation Another division is between those who have seen millennialist movements as an irrational form of politics and those who see it to be cultural and symbolic in nature and “rational” if one takes its premises into account. Eric Hobsbawm saw millennialists as oppressed peasants who resorted to “archaic” means doomed to failure (such as banding about a local prophet) to protest their exploitation, in contrast to the “modern” method of joining a political party.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Karen Fields in her study of the Watchtower in central Africa argued that Hobsbawm and other rationalists were mistaken in trying to draw such a distinction, showing that contemporary converts to the Jehovah’s Witnesses could not be seen as more “archaic” in their social action than most other communities of the time, or even than the colonial state officers in what is now Zambia, who often took seriously missionary warnings that heresy equaled social disorder. She also questioned the central antinomies that have structured debate about the nature of millennialism—rationality and irrationality, politics and culturally symbolic action.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> I shall come back after presenting the Iranian material to take sides in these debates.
Observers have often been concerned with weighting causes so as to pinpoint which ones are key in kicking off a major millennialist movement. Michael Barkun also asserted that disaster and dislocation lay behind the outbreak of millennialist movements, and some have maintained that European colonization has been among the chief such causes of dislocation.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Michael Adas put the main explanatory weight on the rise of what he called a “prophet” (and what those in the Weberian tradition would call a charismatic leader) whose attractive personality and ability to formulate an appealing message are central to the rise of the movement. Adas discounts social crisis and denies that class grievances play much of a role in millennialism given that it most often takes the form of as mass, multi-class movements.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Resource mobilization theorists do not appear to have been very often attracted to the study of millennialist movements per se, but they would put explanatory emphasis on the group’s ability to mobilize resources to achieve its aims. More recently, O’Leary has shifted the terms of the debate by focusing on rhetoric. That is, not exploitation nor social crisis nor charisma nor material resources are the determinative factor, but rather the ability of the leader to phrase millennialist themes in a convincing and appealing way for adherents. For O’Leary, apocalyptic rhetoric functions as a solution to the problem of evil, resolving it by positing an end to the present world of wickedness and a future utopia wherein saints are rewarded and the iniquitous scourged.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> In nice synchronization with the linguistic turn of the 1980s and 1990s, causality is now attributed not to structural factors such as social breakdown nor to personalistic ones such as the rise of a talented prophet, but rather to discourse itself. We shall come back at the end of this paper to some of these issues.
Leaving aside the question of causality for that of typology, for a moment, I maintain that millennialism is characterized by a number of distinct motifs that are present in varying degrees in the movements social scientists have so denominated. After Smith (who draws on the work of Peter Berger and of Anders Nygren), I define a religious motif as an attempt to employ “Weberian ideal typification” to provide a “means of description” of what is most significant about a particular religious movement, and to trace these clusters of attributes in their historical development.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Like Smith, however, I reject the essentialist overtones of the original Lund school notion of motif. Rather, I see millennialism as a set of premises, conventions and ways of reasoning, which are analogous to a genre in literature, with the motifs representing the equivalent of specific techniques to naturalize this symbolic and political form of culture and social action. These motifs are underpinned by shared texts and approaches to them, by a sort of intertextuality among adherents. I would like to plot social movements on a graph, as more or less millennialist according to whether five motifs are present, and as more or less activist depending on what sort of chiliastic action is taken. I will discuss the main motifs of millennialist movements under the headings of pessimism, prophecy, apocalypse, charismatic leadership, messianism, and utopia. The presence or absence of these motifs will help graph movements along one axis. The other axis is determined by the range of practical action, or praxis, i.e. the actions taken by the millennialist group before the end comes. Social movements can thus be high in millennialism and high in activism (which should predict severe tensions with mainstream society), or high in millennialism but low in activism (wherein tensions will be less severe and mainly matters of coding the millennialists as marginal).
To take the first motif, such groups are often characterized by extreme pessimism, a stark sense that the existing society is horribly flawed and, indeed, doomed. The pessimism often takes the form of dualism—though sometimes groups are sophisticated enough to demonize more than one Other. The vehemence of the millennialist critique of existing society and its near-celebration of an imminent cataclysm distinguish it from simple social critique. O’Leary finds prophecy a particularly compelling rhetorical device. Millennialists frequently believe that a time of divine requital has been set, and that it can be discerned by some method in scripture or in an ancient and valued text. The method employed is not a commonsense or rational one, but rather involves extracting premises from the texts that are not immediately obvious. Rather than analysis or contextualization, millennialist hermeneutics depend upon a cumulative, analogical or conspiratorial reading in which little is contingent and even seemingly mundane statements are read so as to cast light on the present and immediate future. Millennialists believe that the world is about to end or to suffer enormous damage. On the whole they do not believe that this transformation will take place by means of ordinary political or military changes, but rather that it will be sudden and supernatural. I would not wish, however, to make the supernatural element of the sudden change wholly determinative of whether a belief is millennial. In part this is because millennialists have often been quite willing to read what others would see as ordinary political or military events as possessing supernatural significance.
As Adas argues so forcefully, millennialists frequently gather around a charismatic leader to whom they impute supernatural knowledge and power, and to whom they are fervently devoted. In many instances this leader is felt to be a forerunner for the coming of the apocalypse or for the coming of an even greater figure, a messiah. Thus, another key motif in millennialism is messianism, the belief that a cosmic figure will shortly appear to reestablish order and restore justice. Among Iran’s Shi`ite majority in modern times, this figure is usually associated with the Hidden Imam, the twelfth in the line of succession after the Prophet Muhammad, who is held to have disappeared as a small child into a supernatural realm. Folk Shi`ism also awaited the return of the martyred Imam Husayn (the third Imam) and even of Jesus. Finally, I turn my attention to utopia, the vision elaborated by the group of the future, post-apocalyptic society. This future society can be in the afterlife, as with the Jehovah’s Witnesses saints, or it can be on earth, as with the thousand-year reign of Christ expected by some fundamentalists. As for praxis, some millennialist movements are quietist, others activist, some pacific, others militant.
Millennialism in Iran has a very long history, and there is a sense in which Zoroastrians invented many of its most salient motifs. If O’Leary is correct that millennialism is most of all a form of theodicy, an explanation for the existence of evil, then the more important features of this kind of theodicy were certainly formulated by the ancient Iranians, perhaps before anyone else. They believed, after all, in an epochal struggle between the good God, Ahura Mazda, and the evil demigod, Ahriman, which was to be determined in part by whether human beings gave their support to Ahura Mazda by living a life of good thought, good speech, and good deeds. Even to lie, in Zoroastrianism, was to defect to the enemy. The dualism frequently characteristic of millennialist pessimism thus pervades this religion. It saw the universe as having a beginning, as developing over time, and as experiencing a future renewal (frashkart). Zoroastrians in the period from about 600 B.C. believed not only in a prophet, Zarathustra, but also in a future savior, the Saoshyant, who would arise after three millennia. The last days are characterized by a struggle between the Azhi Dahaka (dragon or world-serpent), who escapes his imprisonment on Mt. Damavand, and who is fought by Thraetaona (Faridun) or Keresaspa.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
These beliefs about prophetic charisma, prophecy, a future savior, the renewal of the world, the final cosmic battle between good and evil, and the resurrection, did not disappear when Iran was conquered by the Arab Muslims from the seventh century, and as, over the four or five subsequent centuries, most Iranians adopted Islam. Rather, they were melded in Iranian folk culture with Islamic beliefs (many of them similar and quite likely influenced by Zoroastrianism directly or indirectly in the first place).<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Shi`ite Islam in any case had a strong millennialist tradition of its own. Twelver Shi`ites believed that the Prophet Muhammad should have been succeeded both politically and spiritually by his House or family, beginning with his son-in-law and cousin `Ali, and then the lineal descendants of `Ali and the Prophet’s daughter, Fatimah. They believe that the twelfth in the line of these Imams or vicars of the prophet, Muhammad b. Hasan al-Mahdi, went into supernatural Occultation as a young child, entering a supernatural realm from which he would someday return to restore the world to justice. The history of Shi`ism has been rife with millennialist movements, many of which had a major impact on society and state. The long-lived medieval Abbasid dynasty, for instance, which ruled both Iran and what is now the Arab world for centuries, was brought to power by such a movement in the middle of the eighth century. But our focus here is only on the ones occurring since 1500.
The first major movement with millennialist overtones in modern Iran was the Safavis, as has been argued with particular force by Said Amir Arjomand.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> The leaders of the Safavi Sufi order, based in the city of Ardabil in northwestern Iran, had been ordinary urban Sunni Sufis earlier in their history, though they probably innovated in allowing very large numbers of Muslims to be initiated. Sufism, an Islamic form of mysticism, began initially as a form of individual piety and asceticism, influenced by Syrian Christianity and (probably) Khurasani Buddhism. Sufism could often be individualist and form a vehicle for the promotion of heterodox beliefs.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> From about the twelfth century Sufis throughout the Muslim world began organizing themselves into orders or brotherhoods (Ar. sing. tariqah), with a hierarchy that descended from the inspired leader (shaykh or pir, both meaning “elder”), his “lieutenants” (sing. khalifah), often in other cities, and the mass of adepts or murids.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
In the fifteenth century the Safavi leaders intermarried with the White Sheep confederation that ruled western Iran, sought temporal power, and came to lead Türkmen tribespeople in holy war against Christian populations on the Black Sea and in the rugged Caucasus. As the Türkmen were displaced by the Ottoman bureaucratic state, which had been founded with the help of the tribes’ cavalrymen but which increasingly found them an embarrassment and source of disorder in eastern Anatolia, they moved east into the Caucasus. When their way north was blocked by effective resistance from Christian tribes of the mountains there, they moved into Iran. About half of Iran’s population consisted of pastoral nomads in the premodern period, with cities typically constituting of between ten and twenty percent of the population and the rest being peasants. Pastoralists had enormous military advantages over the sedentary population, insofar as their way of life made them a “natural” cavalry, but often they suffered from being divided against one another by clan feuds. Sufism and pastoralism were two major social formations in early modern Iran, but they had not usually been melded in the past, the one being largely urban and organized, with leaders who were frequently literate, the other being rural and illiterate and usually lacking much formal organization.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
The urban Safavis lent support to pastoralist practices of raiding in Christian areas by coding them as a form of struggle for Islam and identifying Sufis as fighters for the faith (ghazi). It seems that the heterodox beliefs of the Sufis were mixed with the shamanistic beliefs of the semi-Muslim Türkmen to produce a powerful new political and religious ideology. The leader of the Safavi Sufi order was no mere man who had thrown in with tribal forces. He was a manifestation of God himself. The Türkmen adepts went so far as to worship their new leaders, as Khunji tells us of the fifteenth-century Safavi leaders: “they openly called Shaykh Junayd ‘God’ and his son [Shaykh Haydar] ‘Son of God’ . . . in his praise they said “He is the Living one, there is no God but he . . .”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> The tone among the Safavis seems at this point closer to the ecstatic Bistami than to the “sober” Sufi traditions of their forebears. Moreover, they found that melding Bistami’s theopathic rhetoric with claims of political authority proved a heady brew.
The segmentary politics of the tribes, with their clan feuds, were overcome to some extent by the charisma of the Safavi God-Pir and by the hierarchical organizational framework of the Sufi order. So it came to pass that the Türkmen conquered Iran for their new Safavi chieftains, the most recent of which, Isma`il, had become a Twelver Shi`ite under the influence of his tutor while in hiding in Lahijan near the Caspian as a child. But while Isma`il was led to view urban, literate Twelver Shi`ism with favor, his own beliefs grouped him with what most Shi`ite ulama or clergymen would have called “ghulah,” or theological “extremists.” He exalted `Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet (whom Shi`ites regard as the latter’s rightful vicar after his death) as divine, and referred to himself in the same terms (even speaking of himself as “of the same essence” with `Ali). Isma`il asserted that he was a manifestation of God and demanded that his followers prostrate (sijdah) themselves before him (something most Muslims would do only when praying to God).<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> In similar religious and social movements of fifteenth century Iran, we know that the warriors who fought for their god-chieftain believed both him and themselves invulnerable when they went into battle, and there is some reason to think that the Türkmen warriors for the Safavids held this belief, as well, at least early on.
The fourteen-year-old Isma`il’s “sortie” from Gilan against the White Sheep forces, which eventuated in his conquest of Tabriz (1501) and ultimately of Iran, was spoken of by the chroniclers as a khuruj, a word usually employed to describe the advent of the Mahdi or guided one of Islam.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> The earliest chronicle of Isma`il’s wars says that before he attacked the ruler of Shirvan, he engaged in divination to discover the will of the Imams, and it was they who sent him against Shirvan.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> A later chronicler reported a prophecy allegedly spoken by astrologers to a White Sheep ruler about the Safavis, which said, “the sun will never set on their state until the advent of the Lord of the Age, at which time [Shah Isma`il] will ride in his train, wielding his sword;” and elsewhere the same source says, after describing the very young Isma`il’s conquest of Shirvan, that he was among the signs of the near advent of the Lord of the Age.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Even though this is a seventeenth century work, it seems reasonable to accept this information as authentic, since it is the sort of thing that later writers, living at a time of increased Shi`ite orthodoxy, might have more likely suppressed than invented. Isma`il’s own poetry gives further evidence for this belief, insofar as he wrote, “the heroic ghazis have come forth with crowns of happiness on their heads. The Mahdi’s era has begun. The light of eternal life has dawned upon the world” and goes on to represent himself as a “return” of the sixth and the eighth Imams (since he also said that in his person “God has come,” merely being the return of two of the Imams was no great difficulty). “Return” (raj`at) is a specifically Shi`ite doctrine that is not identical to reincarnation since, in Neoplatonic fashion, what returns is not the soul but the Idea of the holy figure (and this helps explain why one individual could simultaneously be the “return” of a number of holy figures of the past, embodying in himself more than one Platonic Form).
The Shi`ite Sufi tribespeople of the early Safavid period adopted a highly pessimistic view of the Ottoman and the White Sheep Sunni states that ruled eastern Anatolia and the western Iranian plateau. They despised Sunnis generally as vicious betrayers of the rights of the Prophet’s own family, and initiated what can only be called pogroms against members of this branch of Islam (who had constituted the vast majority of Iranians before 1500). Shi`ism gradually supplanted Sunnism in Iran. The utopia of the Türkmen was the theocratic state they erected, with their God-Pir as its ruler. It seems to me that the Safavid revolution has enough of the seven elements of millennialism to have a “family resemblance” to the phenomenon. Their praxis was tribal warfare, seeking first a jihad state in the Caucasus where they sought to subdue Georgians and others, and then embarking on the conquest of Iran, on which Isma`il imposed a high bureaucracy headed by Türkmen officials and staffed by Persian scribes taken over from pre-Safavid states. And so it was that some key elements of modern Iranian identity--Shi`ite Islam and a unified state ruling the entire Iranian plateau and its peripheries—derived from the advent of the Türkmen “millennium” at the beginning of the sixteenth century. In subsequent generations these embarrassingly heterodox origins of Iranian Shi`ism (which came in its more sober forms to predominate as the chief religion on the plateau) were downplayed. The God-Pirs were reduced to mere shahs, Sufi worship of them was discouraged, expectations of the end of the world declined, and in the end the Türkmen cavalry was shunted aside in favor of a standing army of slave soldiers from the marches of Georgia. Esoteric Shi`ism was replaced among urban elites by the bookish, learned Shi`ism that had developed earlier in Baghdad and Damascus. The state became an ordinary bureaucratic enterprise, a process helped along by major defeats by Ottoman artillery (e.g. Chaldiran in 1514) and at the hands of the Uzbek cavalries in the east.
The millennialist strain in Shi`ism was so strong that it hardly went away even at the height of later Safavid routinization. In his “Treatise on the Return” (Risalih-‘i Raj`at) of circa1679 a middle-aged Mulla Muhammad Baqir Majlisi (1638-1699), the Shaykhu’l-Islam of imperial Isfahan, dealt with the sayings of the Imams about the last days in two ways. First, he projected some of these events into Iran’s past and employed them to support Safavid legitimacy. Second, he projected the end-time into the next century. He quotes a saying attributed to an early Imam from Shaykh Nu`mani’s Book of the Occultation (Kitab al-Ghaybah) that says in part, “’When the Promised One (Qa’im) arises in Khurasan and conquers the land of Kofan and Multan . . . and from us a promised one (qa’im) arises in Gilan . . . then shall Basrah be destroyed and the commander of the Cause arise, and we shall relate a long tale.’ Then he said, ‘When thousands have been armed and the troops mustered in serried ranks and the ram has been slaughtered, there shall arise the last one and instigate a revolution that will destroy the unbeliever, and then the hoped-for Qa’im and the Hidden Imam—nobility and grace be his-- will arise, and he is of my progeny O Husayn.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Majlisi identifies the one who goes forth (khuruj) from Khurasan as the Mongols, and the qa’im of Gilan as Shah Isma`il Safavi. Majlisi sees other elements in the saying to refer to later Safavid monarchs such as Shah Safi.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> This prophetic motif with its implicit support of the Safavids (and even its extraordinary acknowledgment of the validity of the claims by Isma`il and his followers that he was a messianic harbinger of the return of the Twelfth Imam) does not lead him, however, to downplay millennialist hopes for the near future. He argues that the unconnected letters that appear mysteriously at the beginning of some chapters of the Qur’an contain dates that predict the rising of Husayn and the appearance of the Imam Mahdi, and concludes, “The unconnected letters give 1155 (circa A.D. 1742) as the date of the Mahdi’s appearance, 65 [lunar] years from this writing. But in fact the exact date cannot be accurately predicted. There are other sayings; and then, God may change his mind.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Majlisi envisages a “return” of Imams `Ali and Husayn together, such that they will right the wrongs of their previous lives, and will jointly prevail over the Umayyads this time. The End-Time will be an era in which the tragic scripts of Shi`ite history will be rewritten as ‘comedies’ (in the technical sense of narratives that integrate characters into society and in which they achieve their goals). Majlisi’s views were not so much millennialist as pre-millennial, lacking any immediacy and any focus on an actual charismatic leader. In this respect, Majlisi II’s Shi`ism was typical, insofar as that branch of Islam is characterized by the production and reproduction of chiliastic anxiety and expectation, on which leaders could capitalize.
The eighteenth century wrought disaster upon Iran, with its invasion by Afghan pastoralists who overthrew the Safavid dynasty in 1722 and who de-urbanized the plateau with their raids and looting, setting in train a decades-long period of political instability and economic turgidity. Although there was something almost apocalyptic about this turmoil, and although we know that millennialist ideas continued to exist among some Iranians, no major millennialist movement arose during the period of turmoil and weak states. Smith has suggested that this lack of a great millennialist movement in the disastrous eighteenth century may be explained by the very harshness of the conditions, which left people with no hope whatsoever.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> It might also be pointed out that the pastoralists’ disruption of trade and urban life made it far less likely that a sedentary movement could mobilize substantial resources in this period. Majlisi’s kind of premillennialism was probably widespread, but his date was pushed back, as 1742 yielded only further destructive campaigns by the adventurer Nadir Shah, whose ‘world empire,’ including Iran, was really better conceived as a vast Central and South Asian target for raiding and looting by the “monarch” and his tribal cavalries.
A different sort of premillennialism arose in the late eighteenth century, which came to be known as Shaykhism.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> I bring the movement up in this regard with some caution, because although it has tended to be painted as having strong millennialist tendencies, I do not believe that the founder, Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i (1753-1826), was particularly preoccupied with such matters, at least any more than a mainstream figure such as Majlisi II had been. His voluminous writings are mainly on issues of metaphysics, Shi`ite mysticism, and cosmic symbolism. Shaykh Ahmad’s one extended discussion of the Mahdi involves the refutation of the claims of a contemporary to messianic status, and he puts off the possibility of such an advent into the succeeding century, just as had Majlisi II. Al-Ahsa'i explains that in 1791, Shaykh Musa al-Bahrani wrote him from Kazimain mentioning that a person had come to him saying, “I am the representative (wakil) of the Lord of the Age.” This man alleged that he had visited many fabulous sites associated with the Shi`ite promised one—the Verdant Isle, the White Sea, the Darknesses, Jerusalem, Medina, Mecca, and “hidden” lands as big as the province of Baghdad dotted with many villages. Therein, the representative reported, is a mosque where they “went to perform the Friday congregational prayers with the Qa’im.” He prayed with them. His son, he averred, is ruler of those lands, where the people’s work is to guide the erring, and to aid the Qa’im and the believers. The “representative” lived in this fabulous land for nine years, until the Qa’im sent him back to tell others of it. Bahrani sought Shaykh Ahmad’s advice about this claimant, who he admitted led a pious and ascetic life, noting that the people were divided about whether to believe him or brand him a liar.
Al-Ahsa'i replied forcefully that the man’s followers had been deluded by their base passions, which had fooled their intellects into mistaking the bad for the good. It is difficult, he admitted, for the people to discern the rightly-guided from the atheist (mulhid). He branded this “representative of the Imam” as such an atheist, who used the rhetoric of Sufism and the techniques of figurative interpretation (ta’wil) to mislead. In such Sufi-tinged discourse, he says, the promised Qa’im is identified with the intellect, so that a claim to be the Qa’im simply means that he is one whose intellect has become sound such that his nature and body are filled with justice and equity. Likewise, when these Sufis speak of the antichrist (ad-Dajjal), they mean the untamed carnal self. The Verdant Isle where the promised one lives is heaven of the imagination. Shaykh Ahmad does not deny the validity of such figurative associations in and of themselves, but complains bitterly that Sufis go astray when they detach them altogether from the common sense reality recognized by ordinary folk. That is, he holds that whatever figurative signification the Qa’im might have, it cannot be completely ideal, lacking any tangible reality. As for his advent, Shaykh Ahmad cites a saying attributed to the Sixth Imam, Ja`far as-Sadiq, that appears to speak of the Mahdi coming, disappearing, and coming again: “He shall vanish on the last day of the year 1266 [A.H.; i.e. November 5, 1850] , and no eye shall behold him until all behold him.” This saying may be the basis on which many Shi`ites of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries believed the Qa’im would arise in 1260/1844, and it seems plausible from this text that Shaykh Ahmad, writing in 1791, agreed. But first he thought that many signs would appear, including 40 days of rain, the resurrection of some bodies, fear, hunger, loss of wealth and of persons, the red death and the white death (such that only one third of the people of the houses survive), the rising of the sun from the west, the murder of the Pure Soul, and the appearance of the evil Sufyani (a sort of antichrist figure). He notes, however, that “to attempt to limit these signs to the esoteric is invalid, and any attempt to confine them to a literal interpretation is clearly invalid, as well.” <![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Given all of Shaykh Ahmad’s metaphysical levels, however, it is more likely that he avoided a literal interpretation than an esoteric one. He appears to have focused on a level of reality below the Platonic Forms but above ordinary physicality. His letter gives evidence that millennialist claims were being put forward in the 1790s, and also that these were unsuccessful, attracting no great following and earning only the ridicule even of mystics like al-Ahsa'i.
As the Muslim year 1260 A.H. (A.D. 1844) approached, the thousandth anniversary of the Occultation of the Imam, there was widespread millennialist speculation about his advent. Even in Lucknow in India, where the Shi`ite-ruled post-Mughal successor state of Awadh had emerged with its many connections to Iran, an Englishwoman who had married an Indian Shi`ite reported in a book published in the early 1830s that many North Indian Shi`ites believed that the Twelfth Imam would return in 1260 A.H. They pointed to a prophetic passage in Majlisi II’s biography of the Prophet which said that “When the four quarters of the globe contain Christian inhabitants, and when the Christians approach the confines of the Kaabah, then may men look for that Emaum [Imam] who is to come . . .” Then, they thought, Jesus would descend from heaven to Mecca, there would be a bloody Armageddon, and finally a world with only one religion would emerge, with perfect peace and happiness throughout the world. She reports, “I have heard them declare it as their firm belief that the time was fast approaching when there should be but one mind amongst all men. ‘There is but a little more to finish;’ ‘The time draws near . . .’” (Ali 1978 :76, 80-81; Cole 1988:100-101).<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> At this point, Shi`ite millennialists have emphasized those elements in the sayings of the Imams which support anxiety about European colonialism in Muslim lands, provoked by the British conquest of India and subduing of Muslim-ruled states like the nawabate of Bengal, as well as increasing British naval dominance of the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, which certainly looked like an approach to the Muslim kaaba or the cube-shaped shrine around which Muslims circumambulate during pilgrimage. But when Majlisi himself engaged in millennialist speculations he had emphasized the Mongols and Safavids, not mentioning Europeans as such. Nineteenth century Shi`ites also saw the Christian Greek revolution against the Muslim Ottoman empire as a sign that the last days were approaching. That such anxieties arose among Shi`ites in British-ruled India is unremarkable. What Mrs. Mir Hasan `Ali’s report demonstrates, however, is that by the 1820s such millennialist expectations were widespread in the Shi`ite community. Thus, it is not only members of the Shaykhi school who had increasingly chiliastic expectations in the late 1830s, but a wide range of Shi`ites throughout Iran and even in India.
Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i was succeeded by Sayyid Kazim Rashti, who saw his predecessor as the initiator of a new cycle in sacred history. Upon Rashti’s death on about January 1, 1844, the Shaykhi school split into several factions. Conservative Shaykhis gradually coalesced around Haji Muhammad Karim Khan Kirmani, a Qajar noble and large landholder.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> A more progressive Shaykhi tradition, with fewer sectarian or cult-like attributes, gradually grew up in Tabriz, and Tabrizi Shaykhis ultimately played a role in supporting the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1911. A third group consisted of those Shaykhis convinced that the advent of the Imam or his representative was now nigh (1260 began January 22, 1844).<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Ultimately these millennialist Shaykhis gathered around Sayyid `Ali Muhammad Shirazi, a twenty five year old member of the Afnan merchant clan of Shiraz and Yazd who had studied briefly with Rashti in the shrine cities and who put forth some sort of claim to be some sort of representative (Bab or door) of the Twelfth Imam in spring-summer 1844. Gradually he let it be known that he was no mere representative, but was the return of the Imam himself. By 1848 he had gone further, beyond imamate to assertions that he was a messenger or “manifestation” of God on a par with Jesus and Muhammad, and he wrote out his own book of laws, the Bayan, which was to supersede the Qur’an. The Bab’s message spread quickly through Iran and Iraq, attracting urban artisans, merchants and younger or less prominent clergymen in particular, along with some peasants (but very few pastoral nomads, some one-third of the population).
Before the 1970s the little we knew of the Babi movement was still largely based on spadework done in the nineteenth century by pioneering researchers into Iranian millennialism such as E.G. Browne and Victor Rosen, though Soviet scholars like Ivanov had attempted a Marxist interpretation of it in the 1930s and the Baha’i leader Shoghi Effendi had in the same decade “translated” and published in part an important but late chronicle of the movement by Nabil Zarandi. A string of dissertations, studies and books produced by academics during the past twenty years, however, has drawn back the veil considerably.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> On the basis of this new work we can essay a few observations about Babism as a millennialist movement. First of all, it was certainly characterized by dualism and pessimism about the prevailing order. The Bab was extremely critical of what he saw as the religious laxity of the semi-feudal ruling classes and even of the bazaar, from whence most of his own support derived. Significantly, he attacked the imposition of extra-canonical taxes and imposts by the Qajar elite. He was suspicious of the motives of European merchants, and given his family’s commercial ties to Bombay and even Hong Kong he would have been well aware of the tendency for imperial conquest to follow in the wake of the European trading companies. He therefore restricted the Europeans to trading in only a few provinces of the country, preserving the rest for the indigenous merchants. Aware of the crucial importance of credit as a modern instrument of trade, he allowed the taking of interest on loans (not so much abolishing the de jure Muslim prohibition on interest as regularizing the widespread de facto practice of the Muslim merchants in taking interest on loans anyway). This pessimism is also clear in among the earliest extended Babi treatises by someone other than the Bab that now survives, the theological prolegomenon to the Point of Kashan (Kitab-i Nuqtat al-Kaf), written by Haji Mirza Jani Kashani. (The chronicle of the Babi movement that Kashani later appended to this treatise was extensively redacted and added to by subsequent authors and seems no longer to survive in its original 1851 form, but there is no reason to believe that the theological treatise at the beginning of this work does not go back to about 1848. Kashani complained bitterly about the division of the originally united Shi`ite community into many contending sects, and this religious strife, disagreement and disunity appeared to him as among the worst features of the premillenial world:
the people during the most great Occultation have not acted in accordance with the mandate of the Qa’im—peace be upon him—and for this reason, differences over the religion have arisen. With regard to both the essential principles of religion and secondary matters they have divided into several sects. With regard to the principles of religion, they separated into four sects: philosophers, mystics, Shaykhis and mainstream Shi`ites. With regard to secondary matters [of religious law], also, they have divided into four sects: Akhbaris, Usulis, legalists, and Illuminationists. These eight sects have general principles I common, but on every specific principle they are subdivided into several further sects. Since we are on the brink of almost pure contention, it has become necessary that the government of God appear, as [the Prophet] said, “The earth shall be filled with justice and equity” when the Cause of the Truth appears, for it is the one Cause of God, “after it was filled with tyranny and oppression.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
Disagreement, contention and disunity, then, are signs of the decadence of the old religious order and of the near appearance of the promised one.
Prophecy played an extremely significant role in the Bab’s movement. We have already seen that a new interpretation of the Shi`ite traditions had grown up pointing to an advent in 1844, coupled with anxiety about Christian European colonial conquests in the Muslim world. Babis continued even after 1844 to refer back to the vast Shi`ite corpus of oral sayings attributed to the Imams. The prediction that the Mahdi’s black flag would be raised in Khurasan, which was more than a millennium old and was used by those who made the Abbasid Revolution of the mid-eighth century, was resurrected by Babis based in Mashhad who were upset by the Bab’s imprisonment by the Qajar state, and who set out in 1848 to rescue him, prominently waving black banners as they proceeded from Khurasan. The reestablishment of contact with the Twelfth Imam, either through a Bab or through a person who was his mystical Return, was an event that in folk Islam pointed to the near advent of the end of time. Among the prophetic criteria for the one who lays claim to a Cause from God, according to Haji Mirza Jani Kashani, is that he should have been prophesied by holy figures of the past, and that when he ordains a new religious law, he be the first to implement it. He admits, however, that “some prophecies about his advent have an esoteric, inner meaning” and that others “are annulled by a change of the divine mind,” while still others, “though they are outwardly visible, only become manifest gradually, over the duration of the dispensation from its beginning to its end.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Such a subtle and flexible approach to the interpretation of prophecy (which even allows for abrogation of some predictions on the grounds of a change in the divine mind (called bada’ in Shi`ite theology), could be used to justify almost anything that occurred in the course of the Babi movement.
Shirazi himself provided the charismatic leadership for the movement, though the force of his very attractive personality could be projected in a direct way only briefly and to a limited number of followers in Shiraz 1844-1846, then for a while in Isfahan, before he was transferred to remote fortresses in the northwest of the country. Most ordinary Babis could not read the Bab’s esoteric Arabic treatises. His better-known Persian works, such as the Book of Justice and the Seven Proofs were not written and distributed till his movement was well under way.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Thus, the charisma of his major disciples, a second layer of leadership, was probably nearly as important as his own ability to persuade and attract. Mulla Husayn Bushru’i, the Shaykhi cleric from Khurasan, Fatimih “Tahirih Qurratu’l-`Ayn” Baraghani of Qazvin, the Bab’s fiery female disciple who was an accomplished theologian and poet; `Ali “Quddus” Barfurushi of Mazandaran, a young ecstatic mystic; and Hujjat, a rebellious cleric of the northern town of Zanjan, were among the more important. The significance of younger people, male and female, from prominent clerical families, seems obvious in this layer of discipleship, though the behind the scenes role of merchants in subventing and artisans in supporting the activities of the young intellectuals should not be forgotten. Tahirih Qurratu’l-`Ayn was among the most forceful proponents at the 1848 conference of Badasht for abolishing the Muslim shari`ah, a motion that triumphed after much wrangling and even the suicide of a conservative Babi who could not accept Tahirih’s unveiling.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
The Babi movement was certainly messianic. In its first phases the followers of Shirazi probably hoped that the Imam himself would return soon. When Shirazi began publicly asserting that he was the Imam, the Babis’ expectations turned to other figures. Shirazi himself spoke of “He whom God shall make manifest,” a future manifestation of God. With the Bab’s execution in 1850, Babis hoped for the return of Imam Husayn or of Jesus. Indeed, by the late 1840s it was an article of faith that revelation was progressive and every messenger of God foretold a successor: “Another sign is that one who lays claim to a Cause from God should prophecy about his successor and should command the people to obey, love and efface themselves in him; for there is no pause or cessation in the grace and manifestation of God” (Kashani in Anon. 1910:91). Expectation of an immediate and tangible messiah almost became institutionalized in Babism. While the Bab was alive, the Babis were not exactly theocrats in the sense that Geneva Calvinists were. The Bab addressed letters to Muhammad Shah, then monarch of Iran, and hoped he and other contemporary rulers would accept the new religion. After 1848, the Babi utopia appears to have been one wherein the king had accepted the Bab’s spiritual counsel and implemented the laws of the Bayan.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Non-canonical taxes would be abolished, merchants would be free to pursue modern techniques requiring bank interest and to operate in many provinces without competition from European merchants, and the position of women might be slightly improved, with somewhat bigger inheritance shares and a bit more freedom of movement. Babi leader Muhammad `Ali “Quddus” Barfarushi, is said by a later Baha’i historian to have written a letter from his encampment at Shaykh Tabarsi, saying “We are exceedingly adverse to enmity and discord, much more to actual strife and warfare, especially with His Majesty the King. Only those who dream of lordship and dominion deliberately seek war with established authority . . .”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
Babi praxis was various. Most converts to Babism probably changed their daily lives only slightly. Many practiced pious dissimulation, hiding their new faith. In 1844-1848, very little in the Bab’s teachings would have changed Babi practices much from their Shi`ite form. Even as of 1848 when his new book of laws, the Bayan, was promulgated from his Azerbaijan prison, it is unlikely that this elaborate work, most of the provisions of which were impracticable or idiosyncratic, could be copied quickly and securely enough to become very widely available to Babis before the Bab’s execution or that even those who managed to secure a copy could hope to implement many of its ordinances. Some Babis manifested their new faith by becoming hyper-observant of the smallest Shi`ite regulations, whereas others took the Bab’s advent as a justification for antinomianism and the abolition of religious restrictions altogether. (In disregard of the Bayan, many Babis took up the drinking of wine, or newly justified an old drinking habit). Only occasionally did Babis take an activist stance. Even a number of those that later historiography has designated as “Letters of the Living” or formal disciples appear to have simply lived out their lives in relative obscurity.
In a few cases, however, Babi praxis turned violent. The band that set out from Mashhad to rescue the Bab in 1848 moved into Mazandaran and there had a contretemps with a local Muslim community. As a result, they were forced to camp at the Shrine of Shaykh Tabarsi, and over time made it into a fort, being surrounded by hostile anti-adventist Shi`ites. Ultimately government troops were dispatched from Tehran for a long siege that ended with the defeat and massacre of the Babis, the survivors being sold into slavery. Conflicts also occurred in the city of Yazd and the two small towns of Zanjan (near Qazvin in the north) and Nayriz (near Shiraz) in the south.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> In each of the small towns, a prominent cleric became a Babi, bringing along with him his followers and even his entire city quarter. Since city quarters in Qajar Iran often engaged in faction fighting, with youth gangs and turf wars, the unacceptability of Babism to conservative Shi`ite leaders in the other quarters, and the enthusiasm of the new converts in their own, led to violence. This urban violence became so great as to alarm the state, which sent in troops on the side of the conservatives. In all cases the Babi factional violence led to a siege and ultimately to the conquest and sacking of the quarter, the killing of many males, and the enslavement of the survivors. The Babis do not appear initially to have planned out anything like a national revolt or rebellion, though once the uprising was in full swing in Zanjan the Babis seem to have become dedicated revolutionaries, and they minted coins in the name of the Lord of the Age. The Bab himself did acknowledge holy war as a principle in his religion, but he never appears to have proclaimed it. Babi violence is more usefully seen as local and as part of a larger tendency to faction fighting in Qajar urban quarters than as millennialist uprising. The possible exception here is the band of 400 seminarians and artisans who set out from Mashhad in 1848. If, this small force had revolutionary aspirations, they were wholly unrealistic. Still, that the Babi movement spread so quickly throughout the Qajar empire, and the simultaneous outbreak of violence in several parts of the country, allowed the first Iran-wide urban revolts of the modern era.
Something closer to a planned revolt occurred in 1852. It was planned jointly by Shaykh `Ali `Azim Turshizi, then the most widely recognized successor to the Bab in Tehran and Mirza Yahya Nuri (Subh-i Azal), a fiery young nobleman from Mazandaran and son of Mirza Buzurg Nuri, the former governor of Burujird and Luristan, The plot involved the assassination of Nasiru’d-Din Shah and a coordinated uprising in the Nur district near the capital, in which the Babis of Takur took up arms. The assassination plot went awry when the assassins hit with grapeshot but failed to kill their royal target, and the Qajar army crushed the uprising in Takur, nearly razing it and putting it under martial law and surveillance for the rest of the century.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Although the revolt in Nur was if anything strategically more important than the ones in Shaykh Tabarsi, Nayriz, and Zanjan, it has been suppressed in subsequent Babi-Baha’i historiography in part because its goal of regicide and perhaps its utter failure reflected badly on the Nuri family, which produced the two major successors to the Bab, Azal (who led the revolt) and his older brother Mirza Husayn `Ali “Baha’u’llah” Nuri (who opposed the revolt but was ignored).
Once the Bab was executed, many Babis appear to have become radicalized and the 1852 revolt suggests that some even contemplated attempting to take over the government and establishing a theocratic republic, since they attempted to assassinate the shah and to stage an uprising in Mazandaran without having any obvious successor to the throne in mind. Adas insists that millennialist revolts are not centrally about social class, being mass movements and involving all sorts of people from various walks of life, and Walbridge has also noted that he could not find clear evidence of specifically class conflict during the Babi revolt in Zanjan. Still, it seems to me also the case that many Babis of the urban middle and lower middle strata detested the Qajar high administrators, governors, big landlords, and high clergy, in part on class grounds. In return the Qajars viewed the Babis as rabble. The assassination plot and the Nur uprising were the Babis’ undoing, since the slightly wounded but extremely outraged Nasiru’d-Din Shah instituted a vast nation-wide pogrom against Babis and suspected Babis. MacEoin estimated that between 1848 and 1855 or so some 5,000 Babis perished. The rest mostly went underground or forsook the new religion to return to a safer Shi`ism. Later on, in the early twentieth century the few remaining Babis were among the most vociferous proponents of the Constitutional Revolution.
The Babi movement probably affected less than five percent of the then 6 million strong Iranian population, with adherents having constituted one percent to 1.5 percent at the height of the movement, and enemies and those directly affected by the revolts or pogroms making up the rest. The primary social base of the religion in the urban middle and lower middle strata made it extremely unlikely that it would succeed in gaining real power, because in the mid-nineteenth century military power still primarily rested with pastoralists and high state officers. The state still lacked much in the way of a modern, drilled, standing army, though it did possess some imported weaponry and most importantly artillery; it lacked railroads or telegraph. Had any significant number of tribal groups joined, the movement could have had a chance of taking over the country (as the pastoralist Qajars had in the 1780s and 1790s only a few decades earlier, and as had the somewhat millennialist and highly heterodox Safavids 350 years earlier), and it might have had similar temporal success if it had become the religion of the Qajar officer class. As it was, the most the Babis in their small towns and city quarters could have hoped for was to remain locally influential and for the government to treat them even-handedly. But events like the faction fighting in Zanjan, which disrupted the caravan trade between Tehran and Tabriz (Iran’s most important commercial city from which goods flowed to Istanbul and thence to Europe) made government intervention imperative. And the established alliance of the Qajars with the Shi`ite clergy of the rationalist Usuli school led them to side with the latter against heretic “rabble.”
The next significant millennialist movement in Iran, the Baha’i faith, grew out of a defeated and disconsolate Babism and centered on the person of Mirza Husayn `Ali Nuri, Baha’u’llah (“the Glory of God”), who proclaimed himself the promised one of the Bab in Baghdad in 1863, and who, in fact initially represented himself as the mystical “Return” of the Bab himself.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Baha’u’llah was thereafter exiled to Istanbul (fall, 1863), Edirne (winter 1863-summer 1868) and Akka on the coast of Ottoman Syria (1868-1892). The remaining Babis went over to Baha’u’llah very quickly in the late 1860s and through the 1870s, leaving the more militant Azali Babis who remained loyal to Mirza Yahya Subh-i Azal a small minority. Like Babism, for most of its history the Baha’i movement probably directly affected less than five percent of the Iranian population, with adherents seldom more than one or two percent (a possible exception is the late teens and early 1920s, when adherents and sympathizers are said to have amounted to a million persons in a population of around 13-15 million; but the numbers declined dramatically thereafter). In many ways, the Baha’i faith reversed the more salient features of Babism. It was what Smith has called a “promulgatory” millennialism, in which adherents were to proclaim the message rather than take any particular action, and the first thing Baha’u’llah did on making his declaration was to abrogate the law of jihad or holy war. He was relatively successful in imbuing the Babis with a new ethos, which is demonstrated by the low incidence of faction fighting between his adherents and the Shi`ites in the last third of the nineteenth century.
Baha’u’llah’s pessimism was the pessimism of a religious liberal about a reactionary society. He attacked absolute monarchy; arbitrary government; over-taxation (especially of peasants and the poor); militarism; nationalist chauvinism; religious dogmatism, and extreme forms of patriarchal domination of women. He was speaking to the political and social realities of the Ottoman and Qajar empires. This absolutist old world order was “lamentably defective” and about to be “rolled up.” He appealed to a wide range of prophetic passages in the world scriptures to demonstrate the truth of his claims to be the world-messiah, including the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, the Qur’an, the Bab’s writings, and even at one point implicitly the Bhagavad-Gita. Baha’u’llah’s writings are suffused with somewhat vague apocalyptic expectation. Sometimes he is more specific, as when he warns, "If carried to excess, civilization will prove as prolific a source of evil as it had been of goodness when kept within the restraints of moderation . . . the day is approaching when its flame will devour the cities . . ."<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Often his followers were less unspecific. Among the greatest Baha’i theologians, Mirza Abu’l-Fadl Gulpaygani (d. 1914), told one interlocutor that he expected “the Europeans to be completely annihilated” in accordance with 2 Peter, which promises swift perdition to any people among whom false teachers emerge (he probably meant to condemn secularists and Darwinists).<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
Baha’u’llah represents himself as the somewhat unwilling and hapless recipient of divine revelation and of a mission from God. He is a “manifestation of God,” the next stage in the evolution of the prophet, on a par with (indeed, in some sense the “return” of) Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, and the inaugurator of a new cycle in human history to be characterized ultimately by peace and harmony and unity on a global scale. In his 1873 al-Kitab al-Aqdas he abrogates both the Qur’an and the Bayan, saying that the divine will has revealed a new book of laws for humankind. He de-emphasizes the messianic motif that dominated Babism by proclaiming, right from 1863, that no further messengers of God would appear for at least a thousand years.
The Baha’i utopia changed over time, though it retained some key values. Baha’u’llah dreamed of a world in which ethnic and nationalist hatreds were supplanted by loyalty to the entire globe and solicitude for the whole human race, in which all spoke a common language; in which all belonged to a single religion or at least acknowledged the unity of the great world religions; in which small armies served mainly as border guards; in which collective security made war difficult or at least short and dangerous for the aggressor; in which religion and philosophy (including what we would call science) were handmaids of one another; in which the worst traits of modern, urban, industrial civilization—such as ever more powerful weaponry, costly wars that caused overtaxation of the poor, and perhaps forms of pollution, were eliminated. He spoke of the people’s rights (huquq), and his son and successor, `Abdu’l-Baha (1844-1921) praised the eighteenth-century achievement of freedom of conscience, religion and speech in the West.
Baha’i praxis was quietist, in which the old Babi scimitar was traded for wise and persuasive “utterance” (bayan). Like all good liberals, the Baha’is were to depend primarily upon convincing their interlocutors with their words. This turn is referred to as quietist primarily in contrast with Babi militancy, and it should be remembered that much in the Baha’i “utterance,” including praise for parliamentary democracy and denunciation of absolutism, was still radical in a Middle Eastern context. Baha’is were instructed to establish in each locality a body of nine trustworthy members to serve on the “house of justice,” which served as a steering committee for the community. Care for the poor, especially of the community, appears to have been a major preoccupation of the early “spiritual assemblies” or houses of justice.
Baha’u’llah foresaw the abolition of absolute monarchy in favor of constitutional monarchies and (less desirably from his point of view) republics, where elected parliaments would legislate and the rights of the people would be upheld. Baha’u’llah himself does not seem to me to forbid his followers from attempting to gain this objective by speaking for it, but he certainly does prohibit revolutionary or seditious activity. Later Baha’i leaders forbade even speech aimed at changing the political status quo, effectively leaving Iranian Baha’is no choice but simply to wait till a parliament dropped miraculously into their laps. Finally, Baha’u’llah foresaw a world in which religious leaders and institutions absented themselves from the governmental sphere, leaving politics to civil politicians. Although his separation of religion and state drew the lines differently than was common in the West (he still imagined the state administering some religious law), he did erect a wall between the two spheres as a way of ruling out of the question any form of theocracy, the old unrealized Shi`ite ideal and perhaps that of some Babis. Ironically, desire for theocracy was so great among Iranian Baha’is and their eventual Western co-religionists that ultimately the conservatives among them managed to resurrect this notion, dreaming of a world ruled by their houses of justice, in direct contradiction to Baha’u’llah’s own vision.
The make-up of the Baha’i community was urban and predominantly from the middle strata. The three major groups in the period 1866-1892, each with between a fifth and a quarter of the total, were merchants, skilled urban workman, and younger or less prominent members of the Shi`ite clergy; nearly ten percent were government workers.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Women also played a key role. Political power in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was shifting toward these sorts of groups and away from the pastoral nomads (by 1900 only a quarter of the population), and coalitions of merchants, artisans and ulama, along with a modern intellectual class, successfully mounted movements such as the Tobacco Revolt and the Constitutional Revolution. Because of the precarious position of Baha’is as heretics, they tended to be excluded from such coalitions unless they dissimulated, and their own ambivalence about direct political action and their millennialist expectations of sudden and miraculous change, tended to make them more passive than many in their social classes as the twentieth century wore on.
The Baha’i faith was the last great millennialist movement in modern Iran that manifested all seven of the major motifs identified above and which appealed directly to apocalyptic rhetoric for the purposes of theodicy. The Tobacco Revolt protesting the shah’s granting of a monopoly in the marketing of Iranian Tobacco in 1890-1892 to a British entrepreneur played out again the pattern of loosely coordinated urban revolts seen earlier in the Babi movement. But this time the telegraph was used by merchants and Shi`ite clergymen to achieve an immediate political goal for rational economic purposes, the revocation of the monopoly and the forestalling of massive British intervention in Iranian society and the economy. There were millennialists who saw these events to have greater cosmological significance, but the core of the movement was this-worldly and practical. No transcendent or even temporal transformation was dreamt of, only a return to the status quo ante of 1889, and that was what was achieved. Still, even this movement could be seen through a millennialist lens. Baha’u’llah in his 1891 “Tablet of the World” saw the Tobacco Revolt as a vindication of his call for the institution of an Iranian parliament and of further evidence of the apocalyptic turmoil abroad in the land. One of his followers, the prince, poet and constitutionalist Shaykhu’r-Ra’is, referred to the burning of warehoused tobacco by protesters:
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 final verses are , "The fumes stood up in the midst and said,/ `A day when heaven shall bring a manifest smoke.'" This last line (Qur'an 44:9), refers to the End-Time when God will reprove the people with this visible smoke because they had turned away from the prophets dispatched to them (in this case, the author implies that the Qur’an was referring to Baha’u’llah).<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
The Iranian Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1911, likewise, was largely a pragmatic affair, with concrete political agitation for achievable goals. Begun over economic and anti-imperialist grievances in 1905, it took a new turn when its leaders (especially big merchants and modern intellectuals) began demanding a parliament and constitution. Both were granted in the second half of 1906. The Azali Babi intellectuals, for whom the revolution was a confirmation of the Bab’s cosmic role in re-ordering Iran along more populist lines, played an important role in promoting its ideals as publicists, journalists and preachers.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Even more mainstream Shi`ite intellectuals such as Nazim al-Islam Kirmani depicted the Constitutional Revolution and such “signs” as new freedoms for women as harbingers for the end of time, citing sayings from the Imams. He asserted that those who died for the constitution were Muslim martyrs, for it would endure until the coming of the Mahdi.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> The Baha’i position was far more complex. By then the movement was led by Baha’u’llah’s eldest son `Abdu’l-Baha (1844-1921). He initially welcomed news of the Shah’s willingness to call elections for parliament and to sign a constitution as millennial confirmation of Baha’u’llah’s prophecies, saying to a correspondent:
You wrote a glorious letter saying that the time has arrived, of the most great glad-tidings that a national parliament [shura-yi milli] has been established in Iran and that arrangements are being made for a constitutional government that is in accord with the divine Law, in conformity with the explicit command of the Most Holy Book. I read what you wrote about the joy and delight of the American intellectuals and scholars at this life-giving good news, as well as the rejoicing at the glorious embassy. This became a cause for great happiness. The constitutional government is, according to the unequivocal divine Text, sanctioned by the revealed Law, and it is a cause of the might and prosperity of the State, to which allegiance is owed, and of the progress and liberty of the respected citizenry (`Abdu’l-Baha 1998b; cf. `Abdu’l-Baha 1998a).<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
Once the constitution had been signed, `Abdu’l-Baha urged Baha’is to attempt to elect some of their own religious leaders to the parliament.
One secret Baha’i, Shaykhu’r-Ra’is, was not only a speaker of parliament but the poet laureate of the Constitutional Revolution. In 1908 Muhammad `Ali Shah made a royal absolutist coup against the parliament and constitution, executing many of their supporters, including a number of Azali journalists, and he had Shaykhu’r-Ra’is imprisoned briefly. `Abdu’l-Baha at that point ordered the Baha’is to dissociate themselves from the constitutionalists and to return to political quietism, though his earlier pro-Constitutionalist stance suggests that here he was pragmatically attempting to prevent pogroms against the small and exposed Baha’i community, already considered heretical, than that he was instituting a principle of complete withdrawal from all “political” affairs. The latter interpretation came to be put on his words, however, as the twentieth century unfolded. `Abdu’l-Baha’s charisma and liberal principles attracted enormous numbers of Iranians in the opening two decades of the twentieth century, from all accounts, and an internal Baha’i census is said to have returned one million Iranian adherents and sympathizers in the early 1920s. In contrast, the Azalis continued to decline in numbers and influence, easily melding into the world of secular politics and culture, usually taking a left of center position. The Constitutional Revolution was the last time they played a significant role in Iranian history.
The subsequent reinstatement of the Iranian parliament in 1909 and its dismal performance as a weak and divided government open to foreign lobbying gradually undermined belief in parliamentary democracy among many Iranians. In 1925 Col. Reza Pahlevi swept away the constitutional system, abolished the Qajar monarchy, crowned himself the first king of the new Pahlevi dynasty, and instituted an authoritarian-populist dictatorship in Iran that attacked liberals and leftists alike. Almost in tandem, the new leader of the Baha’i movement from 1921, Baha’u’llah’s great-grandson Shoghi Effendi, moderated his predecessors’ high opinion parliamentary democracy and began speaking of “the ineptitude of the parliamentary system of government as witnessed by recent developments in Europe and America”,<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> as well as condemning the “foul stench of the foreign parties and factions of the West” and forbidding membership in political parties in Iran, which were in his view “originators of tumult and destroyers of the foundation of state and society.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> He briefly celebrated the hard line secularist policies of Reza Shah in the late 1920s and early 1930s, rejoicing that the “ignorant and tyrannical ulama” had been “defeated and were despondent and scattered,” and that “this is what we were promised in the prophecies.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> The shah later turned on Baha’i institutions, as well, however. Shoghi Effendi was convinced that a global catastrophe was scheduled for 1963, a century after Baha’u’llah’s declaration, in the aftermath of which the Baha’i religion would be sought out by the remnants of humankind.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> He forbade nominations and campaigning in Baha’i elections, transforming the spiritual assemblies into mysteriously elected soviets rather than democratic bodies, and discouraged public criticism of their policies and decisions. He expanded a system of internal Baha’i censorship, and in 1951 instituted a division of lay bishops he called “Hands of the Cause for Protection” who monitored Baha’is for signs of too much independent thinking, and who could recommend that such individuals be disfellowshipped or even shunned.
The increasingly regimented Baha’i communities of Iran under the unchallengeable sway of the newly undemocratic spiritual assemblies proved unattractive to most of the religion’s members and former admirers, who voted with their feet and deserted it in the hundreds of thousands. By 1978 there were less than 100,000 registered Baha’is in Iran, with perhaps another two hundred thousand ethnic Baha’is and close sympathizers. Even if the figure of one million adherents and sympathizers for the early 1920s is exaggerated, it seems clear that the history of the Baha’i millennialist religion in twentieth century Iran has resembled a bell curve. As the religion forsook generally liberal ideals for illiberal ones, and as Iranians became more educated and politicized, the Baha’i faith was less and less attractive to them, more especially as its leaders deserted the founders’ democratic commitments for a system that increasingly resembled nothing so much as a one-party system imposed on a community that otherwise valued peace, harmony, globalism and progress. Finally, Baha’u’llah’s vision of a world full of parliamentary democracies (albeit many of them constitutional monarchies) at peace with one another, with religious organizations forbidden to interfere in affairs of state, was gradually replaced by late twentieth-century rightwing Baha’i leaders with a millennialist hope for a world in which the spiritual assemblies or houses of justice will supersede civil governance altogether and institute a global theocracy.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> In short, the evolution of Baha’i millennialist ideology through the twentieth century ironically took it in a parallel direction to that followed by Shi`ite Islam.
Rinehart maintains that Iranian movements of the later twentieth century such as the Tudeh Communist party and Khomeinism are forms of millennialism in which expectations of a sudden and miraculous transformation of the world have been replaced with practical, political action of a rationalized and bureaucratic sort.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> I agree with him that Iranian communism demonstrates many millennialist features—the extreme (and as it turns out somewhat unwarranted) pessimism about capitalist society with its total condemnation of bourgeois institutions; its use of dialectical materialism to predict certain revolution when the conditions become ripe; its dream of a revolutionary, almost apocalyptic break with the past; its cult of personality around the party leaders and its exaltation of the party line to unchallengeable dogma; its cell organization and attempts to infiltrate the state, and its dream of an egalitarian utopia.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> But it seems to me that it is a different matter to identify millennialist features in a modern political movement than to call such a movement millennialism without further qualification. I am sensitive to Fields’ implicit critique of Hobsbawm for his stage-like theory of progression from “pure” millennialism to “modern” political action, with the former remaining “archaic” and ineffectual. As we have seen in the instance of Shah Isma`il, premodern millennialism is not always ineffectual. It does seem to me useful, however, to make the distinction in every time and place between millennialist movements with the sort of motifs and rhetorical properties I have identified, and other sorts of movement that only have a partial resemblance to millennialism. Communists’ attempts to know the future are a form of sociological speculation based on material cause and effect, unlike in their rhetorical form and premises Hal Lindsey’s or Pat Robertson’s use of biblical texts to situate the present and the future in sacred time. Practical revolution is not precisely identical to supernatural apocalypse. The resemblance is there, but it is insufficiently strong to place communism precisely in the “species” of millennialist movements.
Likewise, it would be my position that the Islamic Revolution of 1978-79 against the Pahlevi dictatorship had millennialist overtones but was not a millennialist movement.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> The Khomeinists’ pessimism about Pahlevi dictatorship, Iranian lopsided capitalism, and Western cultural forms and institutions was certainly total (though not everyone who opposed the shah and wanted change agreed with such a wholesale condemnation of the Iranian social forms of the day). Khomeini and his circle did not appeal explicitly to prophecy in order to bolster their claims, though some of their terms had what Amanat calls an apocalyptic overtone.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> It is true that many Muslims believed that at the beginning of each Islamic history a renewer would arise, and some held that Khomeini was the renewer for 1400 A.H..<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> But this is a rather weak sort of “prophecy” that is not notably millennialist in form; some of the figures to whom the status of renewer was attributed included pillars of the Muslim establishment like Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali (d. 1111) and Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi of seventeenth century Mughal India. The Khomeinists may have expected a Mahdist revolution in some ways, but they primarily looked forward to a practical change in government, with clerics replacing the shah’s technocrats. Among the strongest similarities to millennialism is Ruhu’llah Khomeini’s own charismatic leadership and the extraordinary authority he gained. Ultimately Khomeini’s “Islamic government” was seen as having the prerogative to set aside temporarily even basic elements of Islamic law. A certain millennialist aura was attributed to Khomeini by the ordinary folk, as Arjomand points out:
An unmistakably apocalyptic mood was observable during the fateful month of Moharram 1399 [December 1978] among the masses in Tehran . . . Khomeini’s face was allegedly seen in on the moon in several cities, and those who had been privileged to see it proceeded to sacrifice lambs. Intense discussions were reported as to whether or not Khomeini was the Imam of the Age and the Lord of Time. Those who answered in the affirmative were undoubtedly among the millions who massed in the streets of Tehran to welcome the returning Ayatollah in February 1979, and whose frenzy was to be televised across the globe. But even many of those who answered in the negative were ready to accept Khomeini as the precursor of the Mahdi.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
Arjomand also notes that Muhammad Rayshahri, a revolutionary prosecutor, wrote a book in 1981 on The Continuation of the Islamic Revolution of Iran until the Global Revolution of the Mahdi, and notes, “this belief bears striking similarity to the claim that the Safavid rule would continue until the advent of the Hidden Imam.” The Austrian anthropologist Reinhold Loeffler also found villagers who believed that the revolution had been predicted by the fifth imam, who “wrote over one thousand years ago that in the year 1400, which is the current year, there would be an Islamic revolution in Iran, 80,000 people would be killed, and there would be unrest for six years until Iran became victorious.” Another villager, however, dismissed Khomeini’s claim to have come in order to “prepare the way for the coming of the Last Imam.” <![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
Khomeini’s own claims and rhetoric were in fact distinctly pragmatic. Although, he says, “we are in the time of the Occultation of the Imam,” and so legitimate political and religious authority is in some sense absent, it is necessary that government-related ordinances of Islam be implemented to avoid anarchy. It is the practical threat of anarchy that is given as the impetus for a search for some legitimacy for government below the level of the Hidden Imam. And there is a solution, in Khomeini’s view. Just government depends on a ruler possessing knowledge of the revealed law and being upright (`adil). Since large numbers of Shi`ite clerics possess these attributes, “if they would come together, they could establish a government of universal justice in the world.” In particular, a single individual who possesses these two traits in an exemplary way could establish a government and then “he will possess the same authority as the Most Noble Messenger in the administration of society, and it will be the duty of all people to obey him.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Yet this form of reasoning is not millennialist nor even particularly premillennialist. The Imam is absent. The Imam will someday return. The question is, what shall we do in the meantime? And the answer is that in the meantime the Shi`ite clerics shall rule, and moreover they are perfectly capable of ruling in a fashion that forestalls anarchy and implements routine justice until such time as the Imam reappears. He rejected the idea that the ulama could wage holy war in the Imam’s absence, though he did look forward ultimately to an “Islamic World Government” which would come into being with the advent of the Imam.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> The implication seems to be, however, that his return is not all that urgent. Khomeini, like all Shi`ites, did believe in a return of the Twelfth Imam, but he demonstrates no millennialist impatience about it, and future messianism is a very weak element in his thought—whatever his followers thought in the heady days of the revolution. Nor is utopia a particularly millennialist affair for Khomeini. He foresaw a spread of Islam, especially of Shi`ism, to the peoples of the world, and famously (and bizarrely) had his eye on a geriatric and failing communist leadership in Russia as a potential source of converts. In this hope for a global Shi`ite theocracy he resembled his arch-enemies, those among the rightwing Baha’i leadership which also dreamed millennial dreams of their religious institutions taking over the world. But it appears to have been more important to Khomeini in the short and medium term that clerics rule than that they be Shi`ite clerics, and he seemed to think a Latin America ruled by Catholic priests would be a perfectly good thing. His praxis was to organize demonstrations from the mosques and engage in politics of an authoritarian-populist kind, outlawing, once he got the chance, other political parties and ideologies, and employing “revolutionary guards” rather as Mussolini did brownshirts. There was nothing very millennialist about this way of proceeding.
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As is clear from my adoption of the Berger-Smith “motif” approach and my acceptance of O’Leary’s argument for millennialism as a rhetorical means of explaining the existence of evil, I believe that millennialism is a set of fluid premises and rhetorical styles and conventions that can be adopted by very different sorts of actors on the stage of cultural politics and symbolic (and therefore practical) action. These premises and this rhetoric are not hurt by having an eloquent exponent or by a general feeling of discontent in the land. But neither disaster nor prophetic leadership is the absolute key here. A cultural tradition like Twelver Shi`ism that is deeply imbued with millennialist ideas seems to be especially important. There have been a few mahdis in modern Syro-Lebanese history. None of them has been nearly as important as their Iranian equivalents. And several of them arose among Shi`ites of one sort or another. The Twelver Shi`ite emphasis on the eventual return of the Imam, and Shi`ite discomfort with political authority in his absence gives millennialist leaders and their arguments a certain base of plausibility in large numbers of people.
Iranian millennialism challenges many of the stereotypes of such movements found in the literature. To the idea that milliennialist ideas flourish mainly in non-metropolitan settings such as backwoods villages, and that adherents foolishly attempt to substitute magic for modern politics in expressing their grievances and seeking their goals, we can certainly reply that the Iranian cases seem not to fit such a characterization. Shah Isma`il successfully promulgated his millennialism among the Türkmen tribal cavalry, among the finest fighting men in the region, enabling him to overthrow the White Sheep tribal-feudalist state and to conquer Iran--during a period when pastoralists where the force in society most likely successfully to found a state, more especially when they could be united by some over-arching loyalty or religious ideology. Belief in magic and the supernatural, when coupled with expert pastoralist fighters, could bolster morale and lead to actual victory. (The defeat in 1514 at the hands of Ottoman artillery gunners shook the Türkmen faith in Isma`il’s and their own invulnerability, but did not prevent the Safavid state from emerging). While the goals and institutions of the Babis may have remained a bit vague or impractical, their command of the tactics of urban faction-fighting and their willingness to resort to political assassination made them formidable enemies of the state who were by no means easily suppressed. Baha’u’llah’s millennialism posited pragmatic institutional mechanisms, such as parliamentary democracy, international collective security, and the consultative processes of the Baha’i “spiritual assemblies,” as mechanisms of political, cultural and religious reform. His adherents, although they included peasants, were primarily members of the urban middle strata and far from socially helpless.
It is not at all clear that the White Sheep or Qajar governments were less “archaic” than their millennialist opponents. Indeed, Baha’u’llah’s vision of global community, human unity and equality, and international collective security make a number of his contemporaries among European statesmen look rather savage. The millennialists who supported Imam Khomeini (many bazaaris or urban craftsmen, or slum dwellers recently arrived from the countryside) joined practical networks of revolutionary action coordinated from the mosques, engaged in street protests, and supported a status group, the ulama, who had the legitimacy and the popularity to take over the country through political revolution. They may have seen the Imam’s face in the moon and yearned for the soon advent of the Hidden Imam, but they were not thereby paralyzed from taking politically efficacious action. (In this latter case, of course, it could be argued that the basic political techniques were promoted by non-millennialist political groups, but the point is that the millennialists did not hesitate to adopt them, as well). Karen Fields suggests that millennialist protests in Central Africa had a real effect on a British colonial state that joined religion and government in an almost medieval fashion, because in some way the Jehovah’s Witnesses understood the state and the way they could have an impact on it.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> In the same way, we can see that Iranian millennialists in a wide variety of times and settings frequently did have make a significant impression on the state, because their millennialism addressed the realities of the political situation, in some cases quite successfully. And even where they failed, as with Babism, they were hardly inconsequential. I think I can concur wholeheartedly with Fields that it is hopeless and counterproductive to attempt to separate “political” from “culturally symbolic” action. Millennialism was cultural and political, symbolic and in its own way rational.
Nor has Iranian millennialism been particularly tied to issues in Western colonial domination. Indeed, the most millennialist of these movements, the Safavi and Babi, were least concerned with this issue, whereas the movement most focused on issues in neo-imperialism, the Khomeinist, was only marginally characterized by millennialist themes. I am unconvinced that “disaster” or “social crisis” provoked most of these movements. Societies are always in flux and social and material goods are always unequally distributed, so that I find disaster hard to operationalize, and I concur with resource mobilization theorists such as Charles Tilly that grievances you have always with you. It is true that the Türkmen were being displaced from eastern Anatolia by the Ottomans in the late fifteenth century, but they could just have wandered off in search of better pasturage elsewhere. The steppe is vast and pastoralists were not tied down or hemmed in by strong states to the East. The merchants and craftsmen of Iran may have been somewhat hurt by the competition of Western manufactured goods and of Russian imports with low tariffs (imposed by the Treaty of Turkomanchai in 1828 after a major Iranian loss to the Russians in the Caucasus). But it is unclear that the impact of such factors was greater in the 1840s than in other decades. In the 1890s after the Tobacco Revolt the world collapse of silver prices badly hurt the silver-based Iranian currency, but there was no millennialist uprising then.
And while there was high inflation in 1977-78 (partially as a result of the rise in petroleum prices) and economists have pointed to a number of economic discontents, including the shah’s anti-corruption campaign against shopkeepers that blamed them for the price rises, it has long struck me that these discontents seem incommensurate with the magnitude of the revolution made, and that many other petroleum states experienced similar problems but no revolution.
Obviously, Shah Isma`il, the Bab, Baha’u’llah, and Khomeini all attest to the importance of charismatic leadership, as Adas argued. But as a social historian I am unhappy with a Great Man theory of millennialist movements. Movements tend to have leaders, and to throw up leaders where they start with none. Isma`il was only a 14-year-old child when he set out against Shirvan, and it seems to me likely adult mentors were helping him “lead.” The Bab was in prison for a good deal of his short ministry, and often inaccessible when he was not. Likewise, Baha’u’llah was in distant Edirne and Akka, and exerted his influence in Iran mainly through letters and couriers. Khomeini, though widely respected in the late 1970s, was in Paris and not taken seriously as a leader by the vast majority of politically aware Iranians, most of whom hoped for the emergence of a constitutional monarchy or a democratic, secular republic with a freedom for religion that might make the old man happy. Workers, teachers, students, leftist guerrillas and bazaaris were the main actors in the revolution, with the ulama playing a lesser supporting role until Khomeini came back in February, 1979 and began the process of hijacking it.
I also believe that conflict among various social strata and conflict with at least one major faction in the power elite are generally key to these millennialist movements, even if the movements themselves end up being broadly based and drawing from a number of strata. Here I differ with Adas. Shah Isma`il’s movement united Türkmen pastoralists with urban Sufi and Shi`ite religious networks, but this town-tribe alliance cut out the peasants, who were to be sheared like sheep, and worked to challenge or overthrow the major states in the area—Shirvan, White Sheep, Ottoman. The Bab’s partisans were largely urban merchants, craftsmen, junior or low-ranking clergy, and a few peasants, and they had nothing but contempt for the Qajar state and the very large landowners who were its mainstay, nor had they any affinity with the tribal peoples and their leaders. This is not to say that no landlords adopted Babism (nor indeed that no members of the state bureaucracy did—the Nuris were only one such noble-administrative family who converted). But these few joiners often had their own conflicts with the Qajar state, and do not alter the balance of gravity within the movement. The Baha’is drew from the same urban middle and lower middle strata, but on the whole they forsook antipathy to the civil wing of the state, instead becoming moderate reformers, and channeling their hatred into a rather fierce anticlericalism instead of an anti-Shah feeling. Since the Shi`ite ulama or clergy staffed the Qajar judiciary and many of them received state stipends as notaries or prayer leaders, they could be seen as one wing of the state, and were certainly a wing that the Baha’is would like to have displaced (and which returned the hatred ten-fold). The Khomeinists despised the shah both because of his cultural politics of Iranian nationalism (with its exaltation of the pre-Islamic, Zoroastrian and Achaemenid heritage of Iran) and because of his complaisance toward Western political and cultural influence in the country. He had after all been put back on the throne in 1953 after a CIA countercoup.
The most striking conclusion we may draw from this macrohistorical survey is that religions in Iran have been extremely volatile and ever-changing along the spectrum that Lincoln posited, from religions of the establishment to religions of the oppressed, and from passive to active to revolutionary and back. Shah Isma`il and the Türkmen took a folk Twelver Shi`ism that functioned as the oppositional religion of Sufis and pastoralists and made it into the national religion of Iran that was, by the time of Majlisi II, a pillar of the establishment. And yet Imam Khomeini used its motifs for oppositional purposes and even made it revolutionary. Its main institutions and leaders are now settling once again into the role of supporters of the established order. The Babis began as passive millennialist oppositionists, until urban faction-fighting encouraged them to become activists, and in the end the way the state sided with their opponents helped turn them into revolutionaries. But Baha’u’llah took over the movement, reformed it, and made it passively oppositional and a vehicle for liberal and democratic ideas. By the 1960s, however, Shoghi Effendi’s introduction of authoritarian and hierarchical governance techniques, his amoral insistence that Baha’is support all established governments, and the class location of most Baha’is in the middle and upper strata, had transformed it into a minor prop for the Pahlevi status quo, which is one reason the Khomeinists hate the Baha’is so much. Admittedly, rightwing Baha’i “passive” hopes for a future Baha’i theocracy lend it a latent oppositional role, but such hopes are projected so far into the future as to almost entirely mute the opposition. If we compare the 1840s to the 1970s, then, we find an almost complete reversal. In the former decade Babi forebears of the Baha’is were revolutionary and the Shi`ite ulama supported the Qajar monarchy against them. In the latter the Baha’is were largely pro-Establishment and Khomeinist ulama had become anti-monarchical republicans! Lincoln’s suggestion that there are long-term, fixed religions of the establishment distinct from other movements that are religions of the oppressed, must therefore be modified. At any one time, the center of gravity of a religious movement may lie with the power elite or with the disprivileged, but this can change radically over time (and sometimes quite quickly). Religious ideologies are revealed as fluid and volatile, not as in some way fixed. In short, religious politics is still a kind of politics, with shifting alliances over time.
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<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>Bruce Lincoln, “Notes toward a Theory of Religion and Revolution,” in idem., ed., Religion, Rebellion (London: Macmillan , 1985), pp. 266-99.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Hobsbawm, Eric J. Hobsbawm, Primitive Rebels: Studies in Archaic Forms of Social Mement in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (New York: Norton, 1965).
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>Karen E. Fields, Revival and Rebellion in Colonial Central Africa (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985).
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Michael Barkun, ed., Millennialism and Violence (London: Frank Cass, 1996).
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Michael Adas, Prophets of Rebellion: Millenarian Protest Movements against the European Colonial Order (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979).
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Stephen D. O’Leary, Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millennial Rhetoric (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994)
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Peter Smith, “Motif Research: Peter Berger and the Baha’i Faith.” Religion 8 (1979):210-234.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Mary Boyce, A history of Zoroastrianism. 3 vols. (Leiden : Brill, 1975-1991).
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> John Walbridge, "A Persian Gulf in the Sea of Lights: the Chapter of Naw-Ruz in the Bihar al-Anwar,” Iran 35(1997):83-92.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Said Amir Arjomand, The Shadow of God and the Hidden Imam (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984).
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Carl Ernst, Words of Ecstasy in Sufism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985).
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> J. Spencer Trimmingham, The Sufi Orders in Islam (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971).
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> H. R. Roemer, “The Safavid Period,” in Peter Jackson and Laurence Lockhart, eds. The Cambridge History of Iran Volume 6: The Timurid and Safavid Periods (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986) , pp. 189-350.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Fadl Allah Ruzbihan Khunji, 1957. Persia in A.D. 1478-1490, trans. and ed. V. Minorsky (London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1957), pp. 65-67.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Arjomand, The Shadow of God and the Hidden Imam, p. 80.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> For the term khuruj see Abbas Amanat, “The Resurgence of Apocalyptic in Modern Islam,” in Bernard McGinn, John J. Collins and Stephen Stein, eds., The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism, 3 vols. (New York: Continuum, 1998), 3:237; for the young Isma`il see A. H Morton, “The Early Years of Shah Isma`il in the Afzal at-Tavarikh and Elsewhere,” in Charles Melville, ed., Safavid Persia (London: I.B. Tauris, 1996), pp. 27-51.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Rumlu, Hasan. 1931-34. Ahsan at-Tavarikh. Persian text ed. and Eng. trans. by C. N. Seddon. 2 volumes. Baroda: Oriental Institute, 1931-34), 1:32.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Anon., Jahangusha-yi Khaqan : (Tarikh-i Shah Isma‘il) : ta’lif dar 948-955 H., ed. and intro. Allah Datta Muztar. (Islamabad : Markaz-i Tahqiqat-i Farsi-i Iran va Pakistan, 1986), pp. 36, 128; Arjomand, Shadow of God, p. 81.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Muhammad Baqir Majlisi, Risalih-‘i Raj`at (Lucknow: Matba`-i Ja`fari, n.d.), p. 5.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Ibid., p. 6; Mulla Muhammad Baqir, Tadhkirah-i Mulla Majlisi (Lahore: Matba`-i Hindustan, 1911), pp. 28-29 (Urdu).
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Majlisi, Risalih-‘i Raj`at, p. 9.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Peter Smith, 1982. “Millenarianism in the Babi an Baha’i Religions,” in Roy Wallis, ed. Millennialism and Charisma (Belfast: Queen’s University, 1982), p. 251.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Juan R. I. Cole, "Rival Empires of Trade and Imami Shi`ism in Eastern Arabia, 1300-1800." International Journal of Middle East Studies 19 (1987):177-204; idem., “The World as Text: Cosmologies of Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i.” Studia Islamica 80 (1994):1-23; Mangol Bayat, Mysticism and Dissent (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1982); Corbin, Henry Corbin, En Islam iranien, 4 vols. (Paris: Gallimard, 1971-1972), esp. volume 4.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Ahsa'i, Shaykh Ahmad al-. Jawami` al-kalim. 2 vols. (Tabriz: Muhammad Taqi Nakhjavani, 1856-1859)., 1:235-236.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Ali, Mrs. Meer Hasan Ali, Observations on the Mussulmauns of India (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1978 ), pp. 76, 80-81; J. Cole, Roots of North Indian Shi`ism in Iran and Iraq (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1989), pp. 100-101.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Bayat, Mysticism and Dissent.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>Denis MacEoin, From Shaykhism to Babism (Ph.D. dissertation, Cambridge University, 1979); Abbas Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal: The Making of the Babi Movement in Iran, 1844-1850 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989).
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Major recent works include: Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal; Bayat, Mysticism and Dissent; Todd Lawson, “The Qur’an Commentary of Sayyid `Ali Muhammad, the Bab.” 2 vols. Ph.D. dissertation, McGill University, 1987; MacEoin, From Shaykhism to Babism;; idem., The Sources for Early Babi Doctrine and History: A Survey (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1992); idem., Rituals in Babism and Baha’ism (London: I.B. Tauris, 1994).
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Anon., Kitab-i Nuqtat al-Kaf: Being the Earliest History of the Babis. Ed. E. G. Browne (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1910; digitally reprinted Lansing, MI: H-Bahai, 1997), p. 89. Available on the World Wide Web at http://h-net2.msu.edu/~bahai/areprint/nk/nuqta.htm; for this work see 1998c. Juan R. I. Cole, "Nuqtat al-Kaf and the Babi Chronicle Traditions." Research Notes in Shaykhi, Babi and Baha'i Studies, Vol. 2, no. 6 (August 1998). Available on the World Wide Web at http://h-net2.msu.edu/~bahai/notes/vol2/babihist.htm
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Ibid., pp. 91-92.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Sayyid `Ali Muhammad "the Bab" Shirazi, Dala'il-i Sab`ih, (Tehran: 1950?; reprinted, Lansing, MI: H-Bahai, 1998), and available on the World Wide Web at http://h-net2.msu.edu/~bahai/areprint/bab/A-F/dalail/dalail.htm; idem., Sahifih-'i `Adliyyih (Tehran: 1950?; reprinted, Lansing, MI: H-Bahai, 1998) and available on the World Wide Web at http://h-net2.msu.edu/~bahai/index/bab/sahifadl.htm
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> The best account of Tahirih is Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Sayyid `Ali Muhammad "the Bab" Shirazi, Bayan-i Farsi (Tehran, 1946). Digitally reprinted (Lansing, MI: H-Bahai, 1999). Available on the World Wide Web at http://h-net2.msu.edu/~bahai/areprint/bab/A-F/bayanf/bayanf.htm
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Mirza Huseyn Hamadani, Tarikh-i-Jadid: The New History of Mirza `Ali Muhammad, the Bab, trans. E.G. Browne (Cambridge at the University Press, 1893; Amsterdam: Philo, 1975), p. 59.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>Moojan Momen, "'The Social Basis of the Babi Upheavals in Iran (1848-53)," International Journal of Middle East Studies 15 (1983): pp.157-83; ); John Walbridge, “The Babi Uprising in Zanjan: Causes and Issues.” Iranian Studies Vol. 29, nos. 3-4 (Fall/Winter 1996):339-362.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Juan R. I. Cole, Modernity and the Millennium: The Genesis of the Baha’i Faith in the Nineteenth Century Middle East (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), pp. 27-28; Abbas Amanat, Pivot of the universe : Nasir al-Din Shah Qajar and the Iranian Monarchy, 1831-1896 (Berkeley : University of California Press, 1997), pp. 204-218.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Cole, Modernity and the Millennium; Peter Smith, The Babi and Baha’i Religions: From Messianic Shi`ism to a World Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987)
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Baha’u’llah in Cole, Modernity, p. 46.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Juan R. I. Cole, "Muhammad `Abduh and Rashid Rida: A Dialogue on the Baha'i Faith." World Order Vol. 15, nos. 3-4 (Spring/Summer 1981):7-16. Available on the World Wide Web at http://h-net2.msu.edu/~bahai/diglib/articles/A-E/cole/abduh/abduh.htm
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Moojan Momen, “A Preliminary Survey of the Baha’i Community of Iran during the Nineteenth Century,” in C. Bürgel and I. Schayani, eds., Iran im 19. Jahrhundert und die Entstehung der Baha’i Religion (Zürich: Georg Olms Verlag, 1998), pp. 33-51, esp. p. 50.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Cole, Modernity, pp. 102-103.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Mangol Bayat, Iran’s First Revolution:Shi`ism and the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1911 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), esp. ch. 3.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Said Amir Arjomand, “Millennial Beliefs, Hierocratic Authority, and Revolution in Shi`ite Iran,” in idem., ed., The Political Dimensions of Religion, (Albany: SUNY Press, 1993), p. 227.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>`Abdu’l-Baha, "`Abdu'l-Baha Lauds the Establishment of the First Iranian Parliament, 1906," trans. Juan R. I. Cole. Translations of Shaykhi, Babi and Baha'i Texts vol. 2, no. 7 (October 1998). Available on the World Wide Web at: http://h-net2.msu.edu/~bahai/trans/vol2/abparl/abconst.htm
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>Shoghi Effendi Rabbani, World Order of Baha’u’llah (Wilmette, Ill.: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1938 [repr. 1970], p. 90.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>Shoghi Effendi Rabbani, "Tawqi`at-i Mubarakih-'i Hadrat-i Vali-yi Amru'llah, 1922-1933." Photocopy of MS. in Private Hands, pp. 616, 676
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Ibid., p. 767.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> A. E. Suthers, “A Baha'i Pontiff “ Moslem World 25 (January, 1935), pp. 27-35, esp. pp. 33-34; available on the World Wide Web at http://bahai-library.org/articles/bahai.pontiff.html.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Juan R. I. Cole, “The Baha’i Faith in America as Panopticon, 1963-1997,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Volume 37, no. 2 (June 1998):234-248.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> James F. Rinehart, Revolution and the Millennium (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1997).
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Ervand Abrahamian, Iran Between Two Revolutions (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982); Zabih, Sepehr, The Communist Movement in Iran (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1966).
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Abrahamian, Iran between Two Revolutions; idem., Khomeinism (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993); Amanat, “The Resurgence of Apocalyptic;” Said Amir Arjomand, Turban for the Crown (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988); Juan R. I. Cole and Nikki Keddie, eds., Shi`ism and Social Protest (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986); Nikki R. Keddie, Roots of Revolution (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982).
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Amanat, “Resurgence,” p. 256.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Arjomand, “Millennial Beliefs,” p. 230; Rinehart, Revolution and the Millennium, p. 139.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Arjomand, “Millennial Beliefs,” p. 230.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Reinhold Loeffler, Islam in Practice (Albany: SUNY Press, 1988)., pp. 230, 235.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>Ruhollah Khomeini, Islam and revolution, tr. Hamid Algar. Berkeley, [Calif.] : Mizan Press, 1980), pp. 61-62; Rinehart, Revolution, p. 138.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> See R.K. Ramazani, “Shi`ism in the Persian Gulf,” in Cole and Keddie, Shi`ism and Social Protest, pp. 30-54..
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Fields, Revival and Rebellion, pp. 273-275.
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