NABIL-E AKBAR, title of Āqā Moḥammad Qāʾeni, a prominent Bahai author and apologist (b. Now Ferest [Razmara,Farhang IX, p. 428], a village near Qāʾen, 23 Ramaḍān 1244/29 March 1829; d. Bukhara, 13 Ḏu’l-ḥejja 1309/6 July 1892).
Mohammad Qāʾeni, also known as Fāżel-e Qāʾeni, received the title Nabil-e Akbar from Bahāʾ-Allāh. He was the son of an influential and popular cleric, Mollā Aḥmad, from a family of mojtaheds. He studied traditional Islamic sciences with his father before going to Sabzavār, where he studied theology and the philosophy of illuminationism (ḥekmat-e ešrāq) with the foremost philosopher of the time in Persia, Ḥājj Mollā Hādi Sabzavāri (q.v.) for five years. On his way to Najaf in 1852 for further studies, he met Sayyed Yaʿqub, a Bābi convert, in Tehran, who gave him the writings of the Bāb, which led to his conversion to the Bābi movement (Solaymāni, pp. 435-42). In Najaf, he studied Islamic jurisprudence with eminent mojtaheds of the ʿOṣuli School, in particular with Shaikh Mortażā Anṣāri, from whom, upon submitting a resāla, he received the license of ejtehād after six years, despite being suspected of being a Bābi. His mastery of both the illuminationist philosophy and Islamic jurisprudence made him a notable scholar of religion (ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ, tr., pp. 1-5; Solaymāni, pp. 428-29; Rafʿati, p. 110; Balyuzi, pp. 112-15).
Shortly before leaving for Persia in 1859, Shaikh Ḥasan Rašti, a Bābi convert, persuaded Nabil to visit Bahāʾ-Allāh in Baghdad. He stayed in Baghdad as a guest of Bahāʾ-Allāh and seems to have been one of the few to acknowledge Bahāʾ-Allāh’s mission before it was declared in 1863. Upon Bahāʾ-Allāh’s instruction, he returned to Persia to promulgate the Bābi religion. He is reported to have been initially received in Persia with respect, and the governor of Qāʾen, Hešmat-al-Molk Amir ʿAlam Khan, admired him and valued his company. This aroused the resentment of local ulema, who arranged a debate between him and Mollā Ebrāhim, a learned cleric of Qāʾen (Solaymāni, p. 452; Rafʿati, p. 111). The debate revealed Nabil’s mastery of Islamic sciences, and from then on he was invited to preach from the pulpit (menbar). Preaching in mosques, however, did not prevent him from promoting the Bābi movement privately, and some inhabitants of the region embraced Babism. His missionary activities eventually antagonized the local ulema, who persuaded the governor to have him arrested (Foʾādi Bošruʾi,forthcoming; Solaymāni, pp. 454-55). He was imprisoned and tortured for two months in nearby Birjand and then returned to Qāʾen, where he remained under house arrest for two years before being banished to Mašhad. The governor of Mašhad, Solṭān Morād Mirzā Ḥosām-al-Salṭana, respected Nabil and offered him protection, and after one year he returned to Qāʾen as a free man.
During the year that he was in Mašhad, Mollā Moḥammad-ʿAli Zarandi (Nabil-e Aʿẓam) informed him of Bahāʾ-Allāh’s public declaration of his mission. Nabil wrote a letter to all Bābis in the region, encouraging them to accept Bahāʾ-Allāh’s claim. Local ulema, in particular Sayyed Abu Tṟāleb, a cleric in Qāʾen, wrote letters to eminent ulema lobbying for a death sentence. Finally Nabil was sent in exile to Tehran in 1870 by the royal order (Foʾādi Bošruʾi, forthcoming; Solaymāni, p. 456).
Nabil could no longer wear the turban denoting his profession and had to wear layman’s hat instead, but this did not stop him promulgating the Bahai religion in Tehran for the next three and half years. He left Tehran for Qazvin in 1874 (Samandar, 1976, p. 325) and shortly afterwards visited Bahāʾ-Allāh in Acre and received from him the title of Nabil-e Akbar. In his honor, Bahāʾ-Allāh also penned the Lawḥ-e ḥekmat, a philosophical text that forms the central part of Bahāʾ-Allāh’s writings (Shoghi Effendi, p. 219).
After a year in Acre, he returned to Persia and, despite the danger, continued preaching the Bahai religion privately and publicly. He traveled to major cities, including Tehran, Tabriz, Isfahan, Shiraz, Yazd, Kerman, Mashad, Zanjan, and Qazvin, meeting with local ulema and other notables. Some converted to the Bahai religion through him, such as Mirzā Ḥasan Adib, a prominent early Bahai. The threat to his life and the lives of those associated with him continued, and the Bahais felt unable to protect him (ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ, tr., p. 3; Solaymāni, p. 480). So, in 1890, he left for Ashkabad, in the company of his nephew Shaikh Moḥammad-ʿAli. He was arrested in Sabzavār on the way to Ashkabad, but the governor of the city was so impressed with him that he helped him escape. Nabil settled in Ashkabad, continued his missionary activities, and contributed to the establishment of a large, resourceful Bahai community there (Solaymāni, pp. 480-85; Meḥrāb-ḵāni, p. 226; Momen, pp. 286-87). In 1890-91, he and Mirzā Abu’l-Fażl Golpāyegāni assisted in the establishment of Bahai communities in Bukhara and Samarqand (Shoghi Effendi, p. 195). Shortly afterwards, Nabil died in Bukhara and was buried there.
ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ, Bahāʾ-Allā’s son and the leader of the religion since 1892, wrote a ziārat-nāma (prayer recited at the time of entering a shrine) for Nabil and instructed the local Bahais of Ashkabad to send an annual delegation of nine believers on his behalf to visit Nabil’s grave and recite this text. Twenty years later, ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ instructed Shaikh Moḥammad-ʿAli, Nabil’s nephew, to transfer his remains to the Bahai cemetery in Ashkabad, where they remain. He also instructed Moḥammad-ʿAli Zarandi to compose a versified biography of Nabil, which he did in the form of a maṯnawi (Rafʿati, pp. 107-19).
Nabil has been described by ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ as a man “of wide learning, at once a mojtahed, a philosopher, a mystic, and gifted with intuitive sight, he was also an accomplished man of letters and an orator without a peer” (tr., p. 5; Balyuzi, pp. 112-15; Samandar, pp. 317-27; Taherzadeh, pp. 91-95). In recognition of his contributions to the Bahai cause, he was posthumously given the title of “Hand of the Cause” (see AYĀDI-E AMR-ALLĀH), an honorific title given to eight Bahais during Bahāʾ-Allāh’s lifetime, and referred to as one of the nineteen “Apostles of Bahāʾ-Allāh” by Shoghi Effendi (Balyuzi, p. 261).
Works. His major work is his Resāla (1858) a versified treatise in Arabic on the fundamental tenets of Islam, for which he received the license to practice ejtehād (Solaymāni, pp. 444-45; Ešrāq Ḵāvari, pp. 133-50); copies exist in private collections. Qaṣida-ye ṭāʾiyya is a poem in 445 Arabic verses emulating al-Ṭāʾiya al-kobrā, the classic mystical masterpiece of Ebn al-Fāreż. It was composed in Iraq in 1859, probably influenced by Bahāʾ-Allāh’s Qaṣida-ye warqāʾiya. It is a description of Nabil’s mystical search for truth and his eventual belief in Bahāʾ-Allāh (publ. in photocopies of Nabil’s own handwriting; see Ešrāq Ḵāvari, pp.133-50; Roḥāni, pp. 73-106). Other works include: an incomplete qaṣida in 65 Arabic verses, discussing Islamic eschatology, in particular the Bahai proofs for the causes of Bāb and Bahāʾ-Allāh (Āyati, I, pp. 421-26); Šab o ruz, a Persian poem in couplet form of 378 lines (partly publ. in Ḏokāʾi Bayżāʾi, pp. 279-83); a versified letter of 31 distiches in Persian addressed to a certain ʿAli-Moḥammad Varqā (Solaymāni, pp. 539-42); and a collection of mainly apologetic letters, written in Persian and Arabic to government officials, religious leaders, and friends (Solaymāni, pp. 464-78, 501-42).
In addition, Nabil edited Mirzā Ḥosayn Hamadāni’s Tāriḵ-e Badiʿ-e bayāni (1883-84), on the history of the Bābi faith, at the behest of Bahāʾ-Allāh. Based on the noticeable stylistic variation, it is thought that the later sections dealing with the proofs of Babism were written by Nabil (Forqāni, pp. 56-72); a copy is held in the International Bahai Archives, Haifa. Other, unpublished works by Nabil remain in private collections, such as a resāla in Persian titled Tohfa-ye Nāṣeriya, a Bahai apologetic (ṟFoʾādi Bošruʾi, forthcoming; Solaymāni, pp. 494).
ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ, Taḏkerat al-wafāʾ fi tarjamat ḥayāt qodamāʾ al-aḥebbāʾ, tr. with annotations Marzieh Gail as Memorials of the Faithful, Wilmette, 1971.
ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Āyati (Āvāra), al-Kawākeb al-dorriya fi maʾāṯer al-bahāʾiya, 2 vols., Cairo, 1914.
B ahāʾ-Allāh, “Lawḥ-e Ḥekmat (Tablet of Wisdom),” in idem, Tablets of Bahāʾu’llāh Revealed after the Kitāb-i Aqdas, Wilmette, 1984.
Hasan M. Balyuzi, Eminent Baha’is in the Time of Bahaδu’llah with Some Historical Background, Oxford, 1985, p. 261.
Neʿmat-Allāh Ḏokāʾi Bayżāʾi, Taḏkara-ye šoʿarā-ye qarn-e awwal-e Bahāʾi IV, Tehran, 1973, pp. 251-89.
ʿAbd-al-Ḥamid Ešrāq Ḵāvari, “Qaṣida-ye ṭāʾiyya, Janāb-e Nabil-e Akbar Āqā Moḥammad Fāżel Qāʾeni,” in Sāl-nāma-ye javānān-e Bahāʾi-e Irān, Tehran, 1965.
Minou Foādi, “Zendagi-nāma-ye Nabil-e Akbar Āqā Moḥammad Fāżel Qāʾeni,” in Ḵušahā-i az ḵarman-e adab wa honar XIII: dawra-ye Nabil-e Akbar, Darmstadt, 2002, pp. 17-44.
Ḥasan Foʾādi Bošruʾi, “Manāẓer-e tāriḵi-e nahżat-e amr-e Bahāʾi dar Ḵorāsān,” in Tāriḵ-e amri-e Ḵorāsān, forthcoming. B. Forḡāni, “Negāhi be Āṯār-e janāb-e Nabil-e Akbar Qāʾeni,” in Ḵušahā-i az ḵarman-e adab wa honar XIII: dawra-ye Nabil-e Akbar, Darmstadt, 2002, pp. 56-72.
R. Meḥrāb-ḵāni, Zendagāni-e Mirzā Abu’l-Fażl Golpāyegāni, Langenheim, 1988, p. 48.
Moojan Momen, “The Bahaʾi Community of Ashkhabad; Its Social Basis and Importance in Baha’i History,” in Shirin Akiner, ed., Cultural Change and Continuity in Central Asia, London, 1991, pp. 286-87.
V. Rafʿati, “ Maṯnawi-e Nabil Zarandi dar bāra-ye šarh-e ḥālāt-e Aqā Moḥammad Nabil-e Akbar Qāʾeni,” in Ḵušahā-i az ḵarman-e adab wa honar XIII: dawra-ye Nabil Akbar, Darmstadt, 2002, pp. 107-19.
N. Roḥāni, “ Rāhāvard-e ešq: Moruri bar tāʾiya-ye Hażrat-e Nabil-e Akbar Qāʾeni,” in ibid., Darmstadt, 2002, pp. 73-106.
Kāẓem Samandar, Tāriḵ-e Samandar wa molḥaqāt, Tehran, 1976.
Shoghi Effendi, God Passes by, Wilmette, 1987.
ʿAziz-Allāh Solaymāni, “Janāb-e Āqā Moḥammad Qāʾeni,” in idem, Maṣābiḥ-e hedāyat I, Tehran, 1947, pp. 425-542.
Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahā’u’llah I, Oxford, 1974.
(No non-Baha’i sources are available on Nabil-e Akbar)
Originally Published: July 20, 2005
Last Updated: July 20, 2005