Translations of Shaykhi, Babi and Baha'i Texts, No. 8 (October, 1997)

Juan R. I. Cole, Trans.

"A Letter from `Abdu'l-Karim Qazvini to Sayyid Javad Karbala'i, dated August, 1851, concerning Mirza Husayn `Ali Nuri, Baha'u'llah" Text, Translation, Commentary"

The excellent Baha'i Persian magazine `Andalib, published in Canada,
carried in vol. 16 (Spring 1997):30-31 a reproduction and transcription of
part of a letter written by the Bab's former amanuensis, `Abdu'l-Karim
Qazvini, to Sayyid Javad Karbala'i about Baha'u'llah, which the editors date
to 1851. Since the letter mentions that he has been in Iraq for a few days
(literally "a few mornings"), it must have been written early in August, 1851.

Of Qazvini, Amanat in Resurrection and Renewal, p. 384 reports:

"Mulla `Abd al-Karim (Ahmad) Qazvini Katib (the scribe) was the Bab's chief
link to the Babis of Tehran and the bearer of the Bab's Dala'il-i Sab`a to
a number of Qajar princes and state officials. Repenting his earlier
defection from the Babi ranks in 1261/1845, he became the Bab's close
companion in Isfahan. On his last visit to Chihriq in 1266/1850, shortly
before the Bab's execution, he was entrusted with certain "tablets" to be
delievered to Mirza Husayn `Ali Nuri (Baha'u'llah) and his brother, Mirza
Yahya Nuri Subh-i Azal. The tablets were later interpreted by both the
Baha'is and the Azalis as proof of the Bab's delegation of the leadership to
the rival Nuri brothers. `Abd al-Karim was instrumental in bringing to the
Bab's attention the necessity of appointing a successor, a task deemed ever
more urgent as it became clear his days were numbered."

Amanat cites Fadil Mazandarani, Tarikh-i Zuhur al-Haqq, p. 370, for some of
this information, and Mu`in al-Saltanih, MS, pp. 237-40 for the rest.

See also John Walbridge. " "Mulla `Abdu'l-Karim Qazvini (Mirza Ahmad Katib)." Research Notes in Shaykhi, Babi and Baha'i Studies no. 9 (October, 1997)

Sayyid Jawad Karbala'i was a Shi`ite cleric, grandson of `Ali Tabataba'i
Bahru'l-`Ulum, the great mujtahid of the late 18th century, and was close to
the Afnan family before his conversion. He was later claimed by both the
Azalis and the Baha'is as an adherent, but he was certainly closer to the

It is wonderful that `Andalib has published part of this letter in both
facsimile and transcription. As a historian, I wish that the editors had
identified the provenance of the letter (in which collection does it
survive?). They also do not give proof of the date they ascribe to the
letter. I hope the entire letter will be published, since partial documents
always leave historians open to misinterpreting the evidence. There has
been, for instance, a tendency among some Baha'i writers such as Taherzadeh
to suppress texts and passages by early authors that speak well of Azal or
reveal how popular he was in the late 1850s and early 1860s. Although the
present letter lauds Baha'u'llah, without seeing the entire text we cannot
know whether it equally lauds other leaders of the time (the Babi leadership
tended to share in a "pleroma" of theophanic fullness expressed through
hyperbole that seems to have been liberally shared around; even the Nuqtat
al-Kaf waxes poetic about Baha'u'llah's divine effulgences at one point).

The magazine's editors only transcribed into legible
print a small part of the letter that they printed in facsimile on the
opposite page. I only translate the transcribed portions. I will try
to transcribe the entire letter and translate it later. Also, I do not
know if the entirety of the letter was printed in facsimile, or only part of it.
The passages, being fragmentary and without context, and
expressed in informal Babi Persian, are sometimes
difficult to interpret, so the translation may contain minor errors. Wa' llahu A`lam.

The letter is a call to the Babis not to provoke any more trouble after the
rebellions in Mazandaran, Zanjan and Nayriz, and not to speculate
coquettishly about Baha'u'llah's station, which might get him in big
trouble. (That is, Baha'u'llah clearly was among the post-Bab leaders of
the movement, but the Babis should be careful about drawing the government's
attention to him). The emphasis here, on building respect for a post-Bab
leader; on avoiding shining the spotlight on him; on underlining his
gentle disposition; and on political quietism, seems prophetic about the
future course of the movement.

In the portion of the letter translated below, Qazvini seems to say a
number of things. First, that the Bab's other major scribe, Aqa Sayyid
Husayn Katib, had also been in on the secret (of who the Bab's successor
was?), and had commanded everyone who respected him to keep it a complete
secret. Second, that the secret has nevertheless been widely divulged by
Babis going back and forth from various places, and in their
correspondence. Third, that Baha'u'llah has requested that there be no
further speculation about his station (he is obviously one of the persons
around whom the rumors swirled, that he was the Bab's successor). It seems
to be implied that since it is only a year after the Bab's execution, such
speculation is unseemly. (I should think that, given what happened to the
Bab, it was also rather dangerous for the object of speculation).

`Abdu'l-Baha says in A Traveller's Narrative that Baha'u'llah wished to
hide from the world the secret that he was the Bab's successor, so as to
avoid close scrutiny by the authorities, and for that reason agreed to
promote his half-brother, Mirza Yahya Subh-i Azal, in his stead, and that
`Abdu'l-Karim Qazvini was in on this secret. It certainly seems to be the
case that Qazvini was an early partisan of Baha'u'llah.

But it should also be remembered that in this period there were many Babis
who were being looked to by the rank and file for leadership, including
Sayyid `Uluww in Karbala, Sayyid Basir-i Hindi, `Azim Turshizi, Dayyan, and
Azal, to name only a few. In such a situation, that Baha'u'llah should have
also had early partisans is not surprising, and that Qazvini was one of
them is also not surprising. Note that this letter does not really tell us
much about Baha'u'llah's own state of mind, except that he didn't want
people speculating about his station at that point.

I suppose the question is whether Qazvini's apparent advocacy of
Baha'u'llah takes on special significance given that he was the scribe of
the Bab. But this letter does not seem to me ever to say that the Bab
himself appointed Baha'u'llah to anything. I personally do not believe that
the Bab directly appointed anyone, though he showed favor to certain
disciples in winter-spring 1850 before his execution, perhaps as an
indication of their eligibility. `Azim, Baha'u'llah and Azal all appear to
fall into this category. Baha'u'llah also says, in the Lawh-i Siraj, that
the Bab appointed no vicar (vasi), and that after his death there were only
Mirrors (implying that all the Mirrrors were more or less equal, though
earlier he seems to have acquiesced in Azal being treated as primus inter
pares or first among equals).

Anyway, although many Babi letters survive in private hands, especially
with the Afnan family, few primary documents about the Babis from 1851 have
heretofore been published, and this seems an important one. Its full
significance, however, won't be apparent until the entire letter is
transcribed and translated (and if only a portion of it has appeared,

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