ṢOBḤI, FAŻL-ALLĀH MOHTADI  (b. Kashan, 1276 Š./1897; d. Tehran, 17 Ābān 1341/8 November 18 1962), Persian school teacher, who is best known as a children’s storyteller, collector of folktales, broadcaster, and Bahai apostate (photographs at Anonymous,  Bolukbāši, and Zia).

Ṣobḥi was born in Kashan to a Bahai family.  His paternal grandmother, Ḥājiya ʿAmma Ḵānom, was the paternal aunt of Bahaʾ-Allāh’s third wife and had been a Bābi from the earliest days of that movement.  She was forced to leave Kashan and move to Tehran when it became known that she had gone to ʿAkkā (Acre) to visit the Bahai leadership there.  The rest of her family also moved to Tehran.  There, Ṣobḥi’s father Moḥammad-Ḥasan Mohtadi and his mother, whom he does not name, separated, and Ṣobḥi was very unhappy subsequently with his stepmother.  He attended the Bahai Tarbiat school in Tehran.  In about 1916-17, he assisted Mirzā Mahdi Aḵawān Ṣafā on a journey propagating the Bahai faith in Azerbaijan, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, following which he lived in Ashkhabad for a time before returning to Tehran in 1918.  In late 1919, Ṣobḥi travelled to Haifa to visit ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ.  Bahai accounts write of him at this time as a rather immature and rude young man who had the temerity, for example, of arguing with and abusing Ebn Aṣdaq, a senior Bahai, on the journey to Haifa (Solaymāni, p. 110; Fāżel Māzandarāni, p. 860).  ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ asked him to remain and be a secretarial assistant.  He acted in this capacity for two years alongside several other secretaries (monši) and secretarial assistants (kāteb), until his actions caused his services to be terminated, and he left for Iran a short time before ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ’s death in 1921 (Ṣobḥi, Ḵāṭerāt, 2005, pp. 169-33, 275-386; Fāżel Māzandarāni, p. 871-73).

Ṣobḥi was strongly opposed to Shoghi Effendi’s leadership of the Bahai community and began to speak out about this among the Bahai community in Iran.  This, as well as his association with ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Āyati, a Bahai apostate, led to warnings from the Bahai elected council in Iran and eventually to his expulsion from the Bahai community in the spring of 1928 (Ṣobḥi, Ḵāṭerāt, 2005, pp. 200-91; Shoghi Effendi, pp. 48-49).  For the next three or four years, he made a number of approaches to be readmitted to the community but never fulfilled the conditions of a public repentance that were laid down for this.  Shortly afterwards, in 1933, he published the first of his refutations of the Bahai faith, Ketāb-e Ṣobḥi, and over twenty years later, in 1956, he published another anti-Bahai tract, Payām-e pedar, which repeats much of the material in the first book.  In both of these books, he provides little in the way of substantive intellectual or doctrinal arguments against the Bahai faith.  Rather, he bases his rejection of the religion on the accusation that the leading adherents of the religion that he met did not live up to the teachings that they propagated to others.  He accuses many of them of vices and moral failings.  It is notable that he largely exempts the Bahai leader ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ from his accusations.

After his expulsion from the Bahai community, Ṣobḥi was employed by Yaḥyā Dawlatābādi as a teacher at the latter’s Sādāt School, and he later taught at the American High School in Tehran. In 1931, he visited the head of the Kowariya branch of the Neʿmat-Allāhi Sufi order, Moḥammad Ḥosayn Maḥbub ʿAlišāh, in Marāḡa and was initiated into this order.  In 1933, he began to teach Persian language and literature at the Higher Academy of Music (Honarestān-e ʿāli-e musiqi) in Tehran, where he remained until his death except for a short break in 1937-38, when he taught at the Law College (Dāneškada-ye ḥoquq).

On 26 April 1940, a few days after Radio Tehran (later named Radio Iran) began broadcasting, Ṣobḥi delivered the first of his children’s stories, which became a regular program at noon on Fridays (and sometimes also in the evenings).  He would often chant some verses from Rumi’s Matnawi and then proceed to tell a story.  The program was very popular with children (and many adults), and he continued with it for 22 years (until cancer of the larynx stopped him shortly before his death), thereby becoming one of the most well-known radio personalities in Iran.  At first, the main source of his stories was a collection compiled by Ṣādeq Hedāyat, whom he visited regularly.  There has been a debate about whether Ṣobḥi plagiarized Hedāyat’s work (see HEDĀYAT, ṢĀDEQ iii), but what is certain is that the two of them had a falling out in 1948 with Hedāyat stating that Ṣobḥi had launched a vitriolic attack on him (Hedāyat, p. 131).  Later, Ṣobḥi relied on his listeners to send him stories, and in this way he was able to collect a great deal of folklore from around the country.  On the back of this work, he became the first to publish collections of Persian folktales rewritten for children (see Bibliography), an endeavor which Ulrich Marzolph (p. 210) considers to have been valuable but not rigorous or academic.  His books contained illustrations by Layli Taqipur and Moḥsen Waziri Moqaddam.

Ṣobḥi did not marry and lived alone with a simple lifestyle that was described as “dervish-like” and in a simple, spartan room with a kaškul (an oval bowl carried by dervishes, suspended from the shoulder) and two tabarzins (halberd) attached to the wall against which he sat.  His storytelling for children on radio was continued after his death by Mawlud ʿĀṭefi and others, and then for 24 years after the Islamic Revolution of 1978-79 by Moḥammad-Reżā Saršār (i.e., Reżā Rahgoḏar), who also wrote a book about Ṣobḥi.  Ṣobḥi’s work in collecting folktales and broadcasting them on radio was also continued on a much more rigorous and academic basis by Abu’l-Qāsem Enjavi (d. 1993) and the Markaz-e farhang-e mardom (Center for popular culture) that he founded (see FOLKLORE STUDIES i. OF PERSIA), at Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting.




Afsānahā, 2 vols. Tehran, 1945-46. 

Ḥāji Mirzā Zolf-ʿAli, Tehran, 1947.

Dāstānhā-ye melal, Tehran, 1948.

Afsānahā-ye kohan, 2 vols., Tehran, 1949-52.

Dež-e hušrobā, Tehran, 1951.

Dāstānhā-ye divān-e Balḵ, Tehran, 1952; 2nd ed. with introd. ʿAbbās Eqbāl Āštiāni, Tehran, 1955.

Afsānahā-ye bāstān-e Irān wa Majār, Tehran, 1953.

Afsānahā-ye Bu ʿAli Sinā, Tehran, 1954.

ʿAmu Nowruz, Tehran, 1960.

Qeṣṣahā-ye Ṣobḥi, ed. Moʿin, 2 vols., Tehran, 2008 (collection of all his stories).

Anti-Bahai tracts: 

Ketāb-e Ṣobḥi, Tehran, 1933; 5th ed., as Ḵāṭerāt-e zendagi-e Ṣobḥi wa tāriḵ-e Bābigari wa Bahāʾigari, ed. with introd. Sayyed Hādi Ḵosrowšāhi, Tehran, 1975; reprs., Tehran, 2009 and 2011.

Payām-e pedar, Tehran, 1956, repr., 1977.  Both texts were published in a single volume titled Ḵāṭerāt-e enḥeṭāṭ wa soquṭ, ed, ʿAli Amir Mostowfiān, Tehran, 2005.

Studies and references (online resources accessed 22 April 2015).  

Anonymous, “Awwalin qeṣṣagu-ye radio,” at http://www.radiotehran.ir/gozaronazarview.php?ID=12

ʿAli Bolukbāši, “Baččahā Salām (be yād-e Ṣobḥi)” at  http://anthropology.ir/node/15051

Asad-Allāh Fāżel Māzandarāni, Tāriḵ-e ẓohur al-ḥaqq VIII, part 1, Tehran, 132 badiʿ/1976. 

Ṣādeq Hedāyat, Haštād o do nāma be Ḥasan Šahid Nurāʾi, 2nd ed., Nāṣer Pākdāman, Vincennes, France, 2000. 

Ulrich Marzolph, “Persian Popular Literature,” in A History of Persian Literature XVIII: Oral Literature of Iranian Languages: Kurdish, Pashto, Balochi, Ossetic, Persian and Tajik, ed. Philip G. Kreyenbroek and Ulrich Marzolph, London, 2010, pp. 208-39. 

Maḥmud Omidsālār, “Baččahā salām: Ṣobḥi wa folklor-e Irān,” in idem, Jostārhā-ye Šāhnāma-šenāsi wa mabāḥeṯ-e digar, Tehran, 2002, pp. 358-76. 

Moḥammad Qawām, “Taʿṭili-e sonnat-e qeṣṣaguʾi-e rādio-ye Irān,” at

http://www.bbc.co.uk/persian/arts/story/2006/09/060920_fb_mgh_radio.shtml. Reżā Rahgoḏar, Fażl-Allāh Mohtadi (Ṣobḥi): Gerdāvaranda-ye qeṣṣahā-ye ʿāmiāna wa awwalin qeṣṣagu-ye ẓohr-e jomʿa-ye Rādio Irān. Tehran, 1994. 

Shoghi Effendi [Rabbāni], Tawqiʿāt 1922-1948, Tehran, 130 badiʿ/1973. 

ʿAziz-Allāh Solaymāni, Maṣābiḥ-e hedāyat VII, Tehran, 129 badiʿ/1972. 

Djamileh Zia, “Sobhi, conteur d’histoires à la Radio d’Iran,” in La Revue de Téhéran, no. 43, June 2009, at http://www.teheran.ir/spip.php?article976.

(Moojan Momen)

Originally Published: April 27, 2015

Last Updated: April 27, 2015

Cite this entry:

Moojan Momen, "ṢOBḤI, FAŻL-ALLĀH MOHTADI," Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2015, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/sobhi-fazl-allah-mohtadi (accessed on 27 April 2015).