Mulla `Abdu'l-Karim Qazvini (Mirza Ahmad Katib)
by John Walbridge
Date: Thu, 9 Oct 1997 21:59:49 -0600
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From: Negar Mottahedeh
Subject: Qazvini on Baha'u'llah, 1851, pt. 2
To: Multiple recipients of list H-BAHAI
Date: Thu, 09 Oct 1997 21:05:22 +0500
From: john walbridge
Subject: Re: Qazvini on Baha'u'llah, 1851, pt. 2
I am attaching [a revised version of] an article I wrote . . . for the
Baha'i Encyclopedia about this man, who is also known as Mirza Ahmad Katib.
Just a couple of things to emphasize. He was the intermediary for
Baha'u'llah's communications with the Bab and was under Baha'u'llah's
protection in Tehran after the Bab's death. He was also, in effect, Nabil
Zarandi's teacher, who was also a hanger-on of Baha'u'llah at this time.
Therefore, Nabil's account of him and of his role in the question of
succession should be given serious weight. (For whatever it is worth, I
think that Kalim was Nabil's other major source for Baha'u'llah's early
Mulla Abdu'l-Karim-i-Qazvini, a secretary of the Bab. Also called Mirza
Ahmad-i-Katib ("the Scribe") or Mirza Ahmad-i- Qazvini, he was a secretary
of the Bab, the teacher of Nabil-i-Zarandi, the historian, and a friend of
Baha'u'llah. Though of a merchant family, he studied law and theology in
his home city of Qazvin with Mulla Abdu'l-Karim-i-Eravani. When his teacher
proclaimed him a mujtahid, he doubted his worthiness. After a dream which
the Shaykhi merchant Haji Allah-vardiy-i-Farhadi explained as being of
Siyyid Kaz im-i-Rashti, he went immediately to Karbala with his brother
Abdu'l-Hamid and spent the winter in Siyyid Kazim's classes. After Naw-Ruz
Siyyid Kazim sent him back to Qazvin where he worked as a merchant for a
number of years. He was apparently married and had children.
Hearing of the Bab's proclamation, he set out for Shiraz--immediately and
on foot, according to one report. Hearing in Tehran that the Bab had
instructed his followers to meet him in Karbila, he went there, only to
find that the Bab had in fact gone to Bushihr and Shiraz. He joined the
party of Shaykhis seeking the Bab, waited for a time in Isfahan, and
finally met the Bab with the first group of believers allowed to enter
Shiraz. There he became a confirmed believer.
When his followers caused disturbances in the city, the Bab sent most of
the believers away but ordered Mulla Abdu'l-Karim to stay and make fair
copies of his writings as they were revealed, a task he shared with Shaykh
Hasan-i-Zunuzi and Siyyid Husayn-i-Yazdi. Just before the Bab was sent to
Isfahan, he sent these three ahead where they continued to act as his
secretaries, receiving letters from believers and transcribing the replies.
Later when the Bab was living secretly in the house of Manuchihr Khan, they
continued this task and were the only believers allowed to see him. After
the governor's death in 1847, he followed the Bab to Kashan, Qum, and
Kulayn, where he probably remained for the two to three weeks until the Bab
left. He did not see the Bab again.
Mirza Lutf-Ali (TSA 2:232-33) reports that Mulla Abdu'l-Karim tried to go
to the fort of Shaykh Tabarsi with AUqa Muhammad-Jafar-i- Tabrizi but that
they were detained in Shir-Gah. Hearing this, Mulla H usayn sent out a
party under Mirza Muhammad-Baqir-i-Hirati that brought them to the fort. A
few days later Mulla Husayn sent him to Sari to attend Quddus who was
detained there. Quddus in turn sent him away with instruction to personally
serve the Bab. Another report states that he took part in the disturbances
in Khurasan but did not reach the fort (Z H). Both versions are open to
doubt since they are not mentioned in Nabil, who otherwise has full
particulars on his activities.
Soon after, he settled in Tehran where he lived under the protection of
Baha'u'llah and worked as a scribe, spending his evenings making copies of
the works of the Bab, which he gave as gifts. In late 1848 a young Babi,
Nabil-i-Zarandi, arrived in Tehran and settled at the Madrasiy-i-
Daru'sh-Shifay-i-Masjid-i-Shah where Mulla Abdu'l-Karim was then living. He
befriended Nabil and introduced him to the leading Babis of Tehran,
including Baha'u'llah and his family.
It was through Mulla Abdu'l-Karim that Baha'u'llah corresponded with the
Bab after his return from Mazandaran. With him Baha'u'llah originated the
plan to proclaim Mirza Yahya as the Bab's successor while keeping him in
hiding--this in order to deflect attention from Baha'u'llah, who was well
known to the authorities and the people. (TN 37/67-68. MMA 174. RG 1:53-54,
During the persecutions of February 1850, Mulla Abdu'l-Karim took refuge in
the Masjid-i-Shah, the royal mosque adjacent to the madrasih in which he
was living. Warned by Baha'u'llah that the Amir-Nizam had ordered the
Imam-Jumih to arrest him in the sanctuary, he escaped in disguise to Qum.
>From about this time he was generally known as Mirza Ahmad-i-Katib "the
scribe"--a name given him by Baha'u'llah, probably as an alias rather than
as an honorific. In Qum, shortly before the Bab's martyrdom, he received a
coffer from the Bab containing the last of his writings and his pen-case,
seals, rings, and the famous pentacle tablet containing 350 derivatives of
the word Baha. He left the same day for Tehran, explaining that the Bab's
accompanying letter ordered him to deliver it to Baha'u'llah.
After the Bab's martyrdom he and Baha'u'llah brother, Mirza Musa Kalim,
received the remains of the Bab and his disciple. These they hid first in
the Imam-Zadih Hasan, then in the house of Haji Sulayman Khan in Tehran,
and finally in the Imamzadih Masum, where they remained hidden until
1284/1867-68 (DB 521, RB 3:424-25). In spring of 1851 Nabil found him
living incognito in Kirmanshah. During Ramadan in the summer of 1851
Baha'u'llah visited them and sent them both back to Tehran.
A letter survives from about August, 1851, soon after Baha'u'llah
had arrived in Karbala, from Mulla Abdu'l-Karim to Sayyid Javad
Karbala'i, in which he complains that a secret shared by himself
and the Bab's other major scribe, Aqa Husayn Katib, was
being widely divulged by the Babis. He says that the Babis should
cease discussing Baha'u'llah's station, according to the latter's own
wish, and identifies Baha'u'llah's good-pleasure with God's own: "He
said that first of all, tell absolutely everyone that his station should
not be divulged more than this. It is only fair that there
be a period of silence. God willing, this is incumbent today,
In one passage, Qazvini writes of Baha'u'llah, in Juan Cole's translation:
"But it is requested, according to his command,
that the friends should desist from hinting around
(shivih-ha) about him, as they had in the
past, in such a way that they provoked troubles
for the friends of God; and that they should avoid
bringing sorrow upon that gentleman, who is of gentle
disposition. Insofar as he has been in those parts for
several days, let them behave in such a manner that
he will not experience the dust of perturbation, and conduct
themselves in accordance with his good-pleasure,
which is, in truth, the good-pleasure of God Himself.
Let them not provoke investigations or cause the encounter
with God to become more distant, or become a veil of
chains and manacles between the servants and the Lord of
Lords any more than they already have been. For we have
wronged ourselves by virtue of our regrettable actions."
(`Andalib, vol. 16 (Spring 1997):30-31; see Juan R.I. Cole, "A Letter from `Abdu'l-Karim Qazvini to Sayyid Javad Karbala'i concerning Baha'u'llah in Iraq, dated August, 1851: Text, Translation, Commentary," Translations of Shaykhi, Babi and Baha'i Texts no. 8 (October, 1997).
Mulla Abdu'l-Karim spent the winter of 1851-52 living in a caravansary outside
the New Gate of Tehran where he spent his time copying the Bab's works.
When he and Nabil fell under suspicion once more, he fled to Qum. By summer
he was back in Tehran and was arrested at the time of the attempt on the
life of the Shah. His brother Abdu'l-Hamid, who had come to urge him to
return to Qazvin, was arrested with him. The two brothers were imprisoned
in the Siyah-Chal with Baha'u'llah until sometime between Aug. 22-26, when
both were hacked to pieces with sword by the artillerymen of the royal
bodyguard, probably in the present Maydan-i- Arg, adjacent to the
artillerymen's camp and the passage to the Siyah- Chal.
Mirza Ahmad was important as an authority on the writings of the Bab.
Several manuscripts in his hand of the Arabic and Persian Bayans survive.
He handled the private correspondence of the Bab, Baha'u'llah, and Mirza
Yahya with discretion. He was also one of Nabil's principal informants for
the inner history of the early Babi period. Modern Baha'is know him best as
the source through which Mulla Husayn's famous account of the Bab's
declaration reached Nabil.
The sincerity of his spiritual search is apparent from his own account
preserved in Nabil, from the trust placed in him by the Bab and
Baha'u'llah, and from his own actions: his contentment with the modest
stations of merchant and scribe when his learning and piety would have
given him an honored place among the ulama, his abrupt departures in search
of Siyyid Kazim and the Bab, and his refusal to rejoin his family in
Qazvin. He enjoyed the respect and affection of Baha'u'llah and his family
and the obvious devotion of Nabil. Sources: Dawnbreakers, xxxvii, lxiii, 52,
159-69, 176, 189, 192, 212, 214, 227-28, 331, 439, 504-6, 587-88, 592, 654.
TSA 2:232-33, 3:295-309. BBR 142.