BAḠDĀDI FAMILY

designation of an Arab family of a Bābi, Shaikh Moḥammad Šebl, and his Bahai progeny, his son Moḥammad-Moṣṭafā Baḡdādi, and the latter’s sons, Żiāʾ Mabsuṭ Baḡdādi and Ḥosayn Eqbāl.

 

BAḠDĀDI FAMILY, designation of an Arab family of a Bābi, Shaikh Moḥammad Šebl, and his Bahai progeny, his son Moḥammad-Moṣṭafā Baḡdādi, and the latter’s sons, Żiāʾ Mabsuṭ Baḡdādi and Ḥosayn Eqbāl.

Shaikh Moḥammad Šebl (d. Baghdad, 1 Ramażān 1266/11 July 1850) was a student of Sayyed Kāẓem Rašti, the head of the Šayḵi movement, and his personal representative (wakil) in Baghdad, where he had moved from Kufa in 1243/1827-28. There he taught theosophy (ḥekma elāhiya) on behalf of Sayyed Kāẓem. His father (Sayyed Darviš), grandfather (Sayyed Šebl), and great-grandfather, (Sayyed Šarif Kāẓemi) were all distinguished theologians (ʿolamāʾ) in Kufa. He was one of the very first Šayḵi leaders who adhered to Babism after being contacted by Mollā ʿAli Basṭāmi, one of the first followers of the Bāb. When Basṭāmi was imprisoned in Baghdad, Šebl visited him every day in prison. Through him, Basṭāmi succeeded in converting a large number of Šayḵis. Šebl was among those ulema summoned by the governor of Baghdad, Najib Pasha, to hold a court of inquiry for the trial of Basṭāmi. He left the city in disguise and started later with other Babis on a journey to visit the Bāb in Persia. When he learnt that the Bāb was banished to Māku in Azerbaijan, Šebl traveled on to Khorasan to meet Mollā Moḥammad-ʿAli Bārforuši, Qoddus (Baḡdādi: Resāla, pp.106 ff.).

During the period from Moḥarram 1260/January 1844 to Šaʿbān 1262/July 1262, when Ṭāhera Qorrat-al-ʿAyn was teaching in Karbala, Šebl was one of the leading Šayḵi dignitaries, the so-called Qorratiya, who supported her and disseminated her message (Nabil, p. 193). When Qorrat-al-ʿAyn was expelled to Baghdad, she resided about ten weeks in the house of Šebl, before she was sent to the house of the mufti of Baghdad, Maḥmud Alusi. It was in the quarters provided then by Šebl that Qorrat-al-ʿAyn generally taught unveiled and spoke of the necessity to abrogate the šariʿa, enraging a number of her students so much that they complained about her to the Bāb. Bāb’s tablet (lawḥ) confirming support of her and bestowing upon her the title of Ṭāhera, was read to the Bābi gathering of seventy people by Šebl (Baḡdādi, Resāla, pp. 109-10).

Šebl and his ten-year-old son Moḥammad-Moṣṭafā were among the group of about thirty armed Arabs who accompanied Qorrat-al-ʿAyn to Persia in Rabiʿ II 1263/March 1847 after her deportation. The expenses of the journey were defrayed by Šebl (ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ, Taḏkera, p. 299). In Kermānšāh, along with the public preaching by Qorrat-al-ʿAyn, he, together with Mollā Ebrāhim Maḥallāti and Shaikh Solṭān, translated into Persian the Bāb’s commentary (tafsir) to Surat al-Kawṯar (Qorʾān, chap. CVIII) and discussed it with the ulema who had assembled to cast doubt on it (Baḡdādi, Resāla, p. 111). He then followed her to Qazvin, where he visited her regularly. After one month, instructed by Qorrat-al-ʿAyn, Šebl traveled with his son and a small number of followers to Tehran to meet Mollā Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Bošruʾi, the first Bābi convert, who was on his way to Māzandarān. Thence they returned to Baghdad. Šebl spent the last years of his life disseminating the new faith and discussing with Christian clergymen, Jewish rabbis, and other dignitaries at his home, which was the meeting place for such gatherings. He died two days after receiving news of the Bāb’s execution.

Moḥammad-Moṣṭafā Baḡdādi (b. Baghdad, 1254/1838; d. Iskenderun, 27 Šawwāl 1328/1 November 1910; Figure 1) was an eminent early Arab Bahai and apostle of Bahā-Allāh. From childhood Moḥammad-Moṣṭafā accompanied his father in his activities and waited upon Qorrat-al-ʿAyn, transmitting her messages. In Qazvin he served as a courier between her and his father, delivering his father’s questions to her and transmitting to him her answers (Baḡdādi, Resāla, p. 119).

During Bahāʾ-Allāh’s exile in Baghdad and before his declaration in 1280/1863, Moḥammad-Moṣṭafā was among the few who recognized him as man yoẓheroho’llāh (He whom God shall make manifest) foretold by the Bāb and became his devoted followers. ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ designated him as “the leader among the friends in Iraq” (1971, pp. 131-32). Renowned for his strength and courage, many Bahais took shelter with him whenever they were harassed or in trouble. In 1872 he was attacked by an angry mob and nearly beaten to death. Two years later he was arrested along with other Bahais and banned to Mosul, where he spent eight months in prison (Ḥosayn Eqbāl, handwritten memoirs, private papers of Baghdadi and Ekbal families). Soon after he was released, he set out for ʿAkkā and, following Bahāʾ-Allāh’s advice, settled in Beirut. There he spent the following thirty years mainly assisting pilgrims on their way to Palestine and supporting the Bahai students at the American University of Beirut. He was the main link to the sultan and the political authorities of the Ottoman empire (Moʾayyad, pp. 11-12). His house became a meeting place for the mufti and other dignitaries and was visited on several occasions by the ladies of ʿAbd-al-Bahā’s family (Afruḵta, p. 538). It was in his house where the remains of the Bāb were laid out for twelve days in January 1899, on their way from Persia to Haifa, before they were brought to ʿAkkā according to the instructions of ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ. Moḥammad-Moṣṭafā was one of the eight people who carried the casket containing the remains from Beirut to the Holy Land, where it arrived on 31 January 1899. ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ praised him for this special service (ʿAbd-al-Bahā’, Majmuʿa, pp. 127-28). After the death of Bahāʾ-Allāh, he remained loyal to ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ, whom he represented in Beirut.

During his last years of life, Moḥammad-Moṣṭafā suffered from progressive loss of his eyesight. In 1910 he moved to Iskenderun (Alexandretta). He is the author of al-Resāla al-amriya al-tesʿ-ʿašariya, an account of early Bābi and Bahai history, and a divān of Arabic poetry in the rare form of five-liners (ḵomāsiyāt). Upon Edward Browne’s request he had sent him some of his poems, kept now at the Cambridge University Library (Momen, 1987, p. 492). Through him many on their way to Palestine received permissions to visit Bahā-Allāh and ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ. Browne alludes to Moḥammad-Moṣṭafā, whom he met on 22 April 1890 in Beirut, two days after his audience with Bahāʾ-Allāh in ʿAkkā. Browne was told that Moḥammad Muṣṭafā, “had as a child gone with his father to Persia “in the hope of seeing the Báb,” but that, since the Bāb was confined at that time in the fortress of Čehriq, he had instead gone to meet Mollā Ḥosayn Bošruʾi in Tehran (Browne, p. XLIII). This refers to the journey when he and his father, together with the group of armed Arab guards, had accompanied Qorrat-al-ʿAyn to Iran in 1847.

Moḥammad-Moṣṭafā died in 1910 and was survived by three sons: Ḥosayn Eqbāl (1864-1952), ʿAli Eḥsān (1874-1917), and Żiāʾ Mabsuṭ (1884-1937). He also had another son, named Amin Abu’l-Wafāʾ (1878-98), who died before his father and was mourned by him in many of his poems. Moḥammad-Moṣṭafā was designated by Shoghi Efendi as an apostle of Bahāʾ-Allāh. ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ wrote a lengthy elegy on the occasion of his death and personally instructed the setting of the tombstone and conveyed its epitaph (see Moʾayyad, pp. 12 ff.; Afnan, p. 10). Moḥammad-Moṣṭafā was the recipient of more than 150 tablets from Bahāʾ-Allāh, ten in his own hand, and the others in that of his amanuensis Mirzā Āqā Jān, making a volume of 591 pages, as well as 250 tablets from ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ, all in his own handwriting, bound in a volume of 314 pages (Bahā-Allāh, Majmuʿat al-alwāḥ; Abd-al-Bahā’, Majmuʿat al-alwāḥ, September 1933; Kamran Ekbal, 2001).

Moḥammad-Moṣṭafā’s youngest son, Żiāʾ Mabsuṭ Baḡdādi (b. Beirut, 1884; d. Augusta, Georgia, 11 April 1937; Figure 2) was a leading Bahai of the United States and editor of the Star of the West. As a child he had been brought to the presence of Bahā-Allāh, from whom he received both his name Żiāʾ (Light) and his nickname Mabsuṭ (Happy; “In Memoriam,”” p. 539). Żiāʾ used to travel each year to visit ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ in Haifa. He studied medicine at the American University of Beirut and then, in September 1909, on ʿAbd-al-Bahā’s advice, came to Chicago College of Medicine and Surgery, graduating in May 1911. In the same year he joined the editorial staff of the Star of the West, and he succeeded Aḥmad Sohrāb as its editor in December 1912, when Sohrāb returned to the East. In addition to his practice of medicine and surgery, he translated tablets of ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ to English, gave talks on the Bahai faith, and wrote the manuscripts for the Star of the West up to the fifth volume (1915).

When ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ visited the United States in 1912, Żiāʾ accompanied him most of the time. He was instructed by ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ to supervise the construction of the Bahai temple in Chicago, the cornerstone of which was laid down by ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ on the first day of May (Żiāʾ Baḡdādi, Reḥla I, fols. 137, 140, 204; II, fols. 141, 237; Zarqāni, I, p. 64). On 21 March 1921 he was given the privilege of digging the first shovelful of earth, commencing the actual construction work (Star of the West 12/2, 9 April 1921; his picture in “In Memoriam,” p. 538).

On 29 April 1914 Żiāʾ married Zinat Ḵānum, the daughter of Ḥasan Āqā Tabrizi, an attendant of ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ. He traveled with his family to Palestine in 1919 and stayed there from December 1919 through August 1920, engaged in the medical treatment of ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ and his family, translating for him, and writing letters on his behalf. He attended ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ when he was invested with the insignia of knighthood of the British Empire on 27 April 1920 and on many other occasions of historical significance and wrote his memoirs, al-Reḥla al-baḡdādiya (introduced with facsimiles, together with passages quoted and commented on, in Ekbal, 2012, pp. 109 ff.; idem, 2013). In 1929 he published the Treasures of the East, a book describing his birthplace, his travels, and memories of his audiences in ʿAkkāʾ. He also compiled in June 1931 Ketāb alwāḥ ḵuṣūṣiya wa rasāʾl barqiya, listing the tablets addressed to him by both Bahāʾ-Allāh and ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ, together with the letters and telegrams of the latter to Bahais of the United States and Canada.

After he became editor of the Star of the West in 1911, Żiāʾ played a leading role in the American Bahai community, serving on both the Chicago House of Spirituality (Maḥfel-e ruḥāni) and the Executive Board of the Bahai Temple Unity. When ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ started teaching the Bahais of America the significance of the covenant, it was Żiāʾ who expounded its meanings (“In Memoriam,” p. 538). In a historical presentation at the eighth session of the Baháʾí Congress in New York City on 30 April 1919, he elaborated this subject extensively. He was one of those few who provided a coherent statement of Bahai orthodoxy and a direct link with ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ. It was through him that Shoghi Efendi informed the American Bahais, on 29 January 1919, that nearly a hundred tablets had been revealed for them and would soon be sent (Balyuzi, 1972, p. 434).

During the so-called Chicago Reading Room Affair of 1917-18, which led to a deep national dispute among Bahais, Żiāʾ was credited, by an investigating committee nominated by ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ, as a conservator against waverers in Chicago. He also played a leading role in the race amity movement. During the “Red Summer” riots of 1919, which started in Washington, D.C. and Chicago, he was recalled as the one white man who went into the black districts and brought food and aid to the needy. Together with Louis Gregory, Żiāʾ, who was then a member of the Executive Board of Baháʾí Temple Unity, discussed the situation with the Board and put the blame on “the greed and schemes of certain white landlords in both cities,” who were trying to drive blacks back into the ghettos (Morrison, p. 130). He held public talks at universities and race amity meetings and conveyed words and remarks from ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ and letters from Shoghi Efendi on race prejudice. After the death of ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ, when Shoghi Efendi set about building the administrative order, Żiāʾ, who was now a member of the National Spiritual Assembly, was one of the leading Bahais who helped spread his organizational concepts.

The eldest son of Moḥammad Moṣṭafā was Ḥosayn Eqbāl (1864-1952). He too was the recipient of a large number of tablets from Bahāʾ-Allāh and ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ, which are part of the collection of the tablets being prepared for publication by the present author. He spent most of his life serving both, and after the passing of the latter in 1922, he served Shoghi Efendi in Haifa as his attendant and one of his secretaries until the end of his life.

In 1874, together with his father and other members of his family, Ḥosayn Eqbāl moved to Beirut and used to spend many months every year serving Bahāʾ-Allāh in ʿAkkā. As a child, Ḥosayn used to transmit the letters of his father to Bahāʾ-Allāh in ʿAkkā and bring back the tablets of the latter. In 1910, together with his younger brother, ʿAli Eḥsān, he moved to Iskenderun to establish the family enterprise, Le Grand Magazine (Askew); there he witnessed the deportation of the Armenian inhabitants of the city (Memoirs of Ḥosayn Eqbāl, unpub. private papers of the Baghdadi and Ekbal families). Upon the orders of ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ, he, together with ‘Ali Eḥsān, moved at the beginning of World War I to Adana, then to Damascus (1919), and eventually to Beirut (1923). The family name Eqbāl was bestowed upon him by Bahāʾ-Allāh in a tablet dated 27 Šaʿbān 1308/7 April 1891 (Bahāʾ-Allāh, Majmūʿa, p. 588). Upon Shoghi Efendi’s orders, he was buried in the Bahai cemetery of Haifa. The eldest son of Ḥosayn Eqbāl, ʿAbbās Adib Ekbal (1898-1975), was chief treasurer of the American University of Beirut and mentor of a group of Bahai students, who would meet regularly on weekly basis at the home of the Eqbāl family to study history and the principles of the faith (Figure 3; Faizi, A Gift of Love, p. 12). He was also the representative of Shoghi Effendi in the years preceding and following World War II, receiving and distributing his letters and messages to the members of the local Bahai community of Beirut. He too used to spend all summer vacations in the home of ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ. In his youth he was the bearer of monetary sums transmitted through his father to ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ and was addressed by him in some tablets as al-Amin, or al-Maʾmun, (the Faithful, the Trustworthy; Majmuʿa, Rajab 1351/November 1933, pp. 29, 87, 270). Both his first name as well as the title Adib were bestowed by ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ (Majmuʿa, Rajab 1351/November 1933, pp. 256, 274). His wife, Mokarram-al-Moluk Sarābandi, a Qajar princess, had studied at the Tarbiat School in Tehran and came in the early 1930s to Beirut, to study nursing at the American University there. After the liberation of Lebanon by British and French Free troops from the Vichy French government in June 1941, she voluntarily attended the wounded soldiers. She was decorated by General De Gaulle, and she received on 8 June 1945 a certificate of gratitude from the general commander of the 9th British Army (letter in private papers of the present author)—probably the only Persian lady of the time to have those experiences.

Moḥammad-Moṣṭafā’s second son, ʿAli Eḥsān (1874-1917), was also a recipient of many tablets from both Bahāʾ-Allāh and ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ and spent many months each year in the presence of both. Together with Ḥosayn Eqbāl, he also took care of the Bahai students of the American University of Beirut (Moʾayyad, p. 11). His son, Adib Rażi Baḡdādi (1905-1988) was the first Bahai pioneer to the Hadhramaut region in southern Yemen (1 December 1952) and was designated by Shoghi Efendi as “Knight of Bahāʾ-Allāh.” He was a founding member of the National Spiritual Assembly of Iraq, established in 1921, and served until the early 1960s as treasurer or secretary. In 1972 he became a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of Kuwait, and later a member of that of Lebanon.

Another of ʿAli Eḥsān’s sons, Jamil Baghdadi (1913-87), was for many years the secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of Iraq. Together with a group of other Bahais, he was imprisoned for six years (1973-79) after a ban had been issued by the Iraqi government on all Bahai activities and its administrative institutions had been dissolved. His younger brother, ʿAbbās Baḡdādi (1915-1975), professor of geology at the University of Baghdad (1961-71), was imprisoned with him and the other Bahais and died in prison on 20 January 1975.

 

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Ḥasan Ṣafā, “Mojmal-i dar bāra-ye Doctor Żiāʾ Baḡdādi,” Payām-e Bahāʾi 98, 1988, pp.18-19.

Carl Scheffler, “Breaking Ground for the Foundation of the Mashrequ’l-Aḏkār,” in Star of the West 12/2, 9 April 1921.

Peter Smith, “The American Baháʾí Community, 1894-1917: A Preliminary Survey,” in Momen et al., eds., 1982, pp. 85-223.

ʿAli Wardi, Lamaḥāt ejtemāʿiya men taʾriḵ al-ʿErāq al-ḥādiṯ II, Baghdad, 1971.

Idem: Hākaḏā qatalu Qorrat-al-ʿAyn, Köln, 1991.

Maḥmud Zarqāni, Ketāb-e badāʾeʿ al-āṯār: Travels of ʿAbdul-Bahá to the West, 2 vols., Bombay, 1914, repr. Hofheim-Langenhain, 1987.

(Kamran Ekbal)

Last Updated: January 24, 2014