Many Baha’is are familiar with the events described in the book The Dawnbreakers, where followers of the Bab were under attack and siege by the Persian army, but aside from these descriptions in the Dawnbreakers, very little is known about the many events which took place during this turbulent period of our Faith’s early history. That is why the new book Awakening: A History of the Babi and Baha’i Faiths in Nayriz by Dr. Hussein Ahdieh and Hillary Chapman is so important.
Now for the first time, many of the gaps in the history of our Faith during that period have been filled, as one of Dr. Ahdieh’s ancestors, a young boy named Shafi, was one of the few male survivors who had witnessed the horrific events which took place around him in the Persian town of Nayriz. At the request of Baha’u’llah, Shafi documented these events in his diary, and it is this diary which played an important role in the research for this book.
Besides being a Baha’i Historian and an author, Dr. Hussein Ahdieh is also a good friend of mine and I was able to spend some time with him while I was visiting New York recently. We spoke about this wonderful new book and he agreed to tell me and our Baha’i Blog readers more about Awakening.
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little bit about the book?
Awakening is a history of the Babi and Baha’i Faiths in Nayriz. The book’s purpose is to bring to life, in words and images, the heroism and suffering of the early believers who resided there and to show the ultimate victories that grew from their sacrifices.
Epic historical books like The Dawn-Breakers by Nabil and God Passes By by Shoghi Effendi give a summary description of the persecution of the Nayriz Babis, and Awakening puts the reader in the middle of these events and highlights the heroes and villains.
Nayriz had three major conflicts. In 1850, Vahid declared the Bab’s mission from the pulpit of the Jumih Mosque in Nayriz. Many of the people responded to the announcement by swearing allegiance to the Bab and Vahid. The rest of the town considered them infidels and attacked them. The Babis under Vahid’s leadership took refuge in Fort Khajih and valiantly defended themselves for four weeks with inadequate arms against the overwhelming forces of the Persian Empire.
In 1853, a new wave of persecutions was unleashed on the surviving Babis. They took refuge in the mountains and again heroically defended themselves against overpowering forces. And this time the women participated, serving as lookouts and defending water supplies. The Babis were eventually defeated. Those taken prisoner, mostly women, children, and old men, were death-marched from Nayriz or Shiraz along with the decapitated heads of their menfolk and thrown into prison.
Again in 1909, during a period of chaos in Iran, another deadly campaign targeted the Nayriz Baha’i community and 18 Baha’is were killed.
The early believers in Nayriz knew their share of suffering. But they also experienced advances and victories. The surviving Babis and their children and grandchildren went on to build a flourishing Baha’i community in Nayriz. Three men from Nayriz were present in the Holy Land when the remains of the Bab were put to rest. Nayriz has sent forth many Baha’i teachers and produced great Baha’i scholars as well — among them Adib Taherzadeh and Ali Nakhjavani. The descendants of the Nayriz Baha’is have transplanted themselves on six continents, and so against all odds they have prevailed and prospered.
Awakening allows the reader to experience the pivotal moments in Nayriz Baha’i history. The book is written in a style accessible to a general audience. However it is also a historical record containing maps, photos, tablets, and over 700 references for future researchers. The book has been translated into Persian, Chinese, Spanish, French, Russian and Bulgarian.
Baha’i Blog: Can you share a couple of interesting things which were uncovered in the process of working on this book?
One of my ancestors, named Shafi, was on the death march from Nayriz to Shiraz. He was a young boy but remembered vividly the horrific events and later recorded them at the request of Baha’u’llah. For the last 150 years scholars and family members have been searching for this diary, which I found recently. As part of the research for the book, I translated it.
Also, my ancestors have received over forty tablets from Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha. I’ve had these tablets transcribed and provisionally translated. They can be found on the Website Nayriz.org.
Baha’i Blog: What role does this book play in the history of the Baha’i Faith?
There are few detailed accounts of Babi and Baha’i history in the West or accounts of Vahid, who was one of the foremost intellectuals of his age. Awakening has helped to fill that void.
Also Awakening was reviewed by Payam-i-Baha’i. This was a great honor for me. My hope is that all of the interest and publicity surrounding Awakening will encourage young Baha’is to appreciate the dedication and sacrifice of their biological or spiritual ancestors.
Baha’i Blog: Why was this book so important for you to write, and what was the experience of working with such emotionally painful materials from your ancestors like for you personally?
Like many Nayriz Baha’is, my ancestors embraced the Babi Faith and many fought alongside Vahid and were ultimately killed. I grew up hearing stories of their heroism and sacrifice. My reason for writing Awakening was to make sure that the suffering of the brave Babi and Baha’i men and women of Nayriz is not forgotten, and also to remember that the persecution of the Baha’i community in Iran is still continuing.
In fact, since Awakening was published, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, etc. have contacted me to share information about their ancestors or to obtain such information.
Baha’i Blog: What message do you have to other Baha’i writers and historians out there?
Pray, prepare, produce, promote, and be patient with your publisher. All kidding aside, writing and publishing a book, and doing it well, requires discipline and dedication. But the psychological and spiritual rewards are immeasurable.
Baha’i Blog: What are you working on now and what can we expect to see from you in the future?
Current projects are a book and a half-hour documentary on the life of Tahirih for the general public, shown in the context of female contemporaries in the West, as well as a book on the renowned Harlem Prep, an alternative school in New York, of which I was one of the co-founders.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you so much Dr. Ahdieh for taking the time to do this interview, and thanks to you and Hilary Chapman for contributing such an important historical book to our Faith’s early history.
You can find out more about Awakening and the events which took place in Nayriz from the book’s website, and you can purchase a copy of the book from your local Baha’i bookstore, or order it online here.
Also, below is a short video interview with Dr. Ahdieh about Awakening.