NABIL-E AʿẒAM ZARANDI, MOLLĀ MOḤAMMAD (ملّا محمد نبیل اعظم زرندی), Persian Bahai poet, teacher, and chronicler of Babi history (b. Zarand, 18 Ṣafar 1247/29 July 1831; d. ʿAkkā, Palestine, 10 Ṣafar 1310/3 September 1892).
Nabil converted to Babism around 1847 and in 1858 accepted the faith of Bahāʾ-Allāh. Born into a humble family in Zarand, he received traditional education in his childhood and worked as a shepherd in his youth, when he converted to Babism (Zarandi, p. 434). Later in his life, he studied the writings of the Bāb and became well versed in both Islamic and Bahai literature.
During his years as a Babi, Nabil traveled to Lorestan, Kermanshah, Tehran, and Khorasan; he met with the Babis and Babi leaders in those provinces to foster the Babi ideology and inspire the believers to arise, consolidate, and expand the new Babi communities. He also transcribed and distributed Babi literature among the rank and file of the society to promote the Babi faith. He was jailed in Sāva for four months because of his pro-Babi activities. In September 1854, he set out for Baghdad and Karbala, where he stayed until October 1856. During late 1856 to July 1858, he traveled to Hamadan, his hometown Zarand, and many major Babi communities in the capital province and returned to Baghdad on 19 July 1858 (Rafati, pp. 30-31).
Nabil was one of the Babi leaders who claimed to be the promised messianic figure according to the Bāb’s prophecies, but he withdrew his claim when he recognized Bahāʾ-Allāh’s status as the fulfillment of the Bāb’s predictions and the leader of the Babis (Taherzadeh, p. 202). Nabil became one of Bahāʾ-Allāh’s earliest followers, in 1858 in Baghdad.
Nabil’s life as a Bahai is summed up in his extensive travels throughout Iran, Iraq, Turkey, the Caucasus, Egypt, and Palestine. In his early travels as a Bahai, he met with the Babi communities to invite them to the Bahai faith; he attracted the Babi leaders to the recognition of Bahāʾ-Allāh as the fulfillment of the Bāb’s prophecies concerning the promised messianic figure and helped reinforce the belief of the new Bahais in the teachings and principles that were being advanced by Bahāʾ-Allāh. Through these activities, Nabil turned into an outstanding teacher, defender, and promulgator of the Bahai faith.
While Nabil was in Khorasan in spring 1866, at his suggestion, the greeting Allāho abhā (God is the most glorious) was adopted by the followers of Bahāʾ-Allāh, replacing the old salutation of Allāho akbar (God is the greatest), which was common among the Babis (Shoghi Effendi, p. 176). This was a significant action that gave group identity to the Bahais and was a sign of their independence from the Babis and the Azalis, a Bābi faction that considered Mirzā Yaḥyā Ṣobḥ-e Azal (d. 1912) as the legitimate successor to the Bāb.
Nabil was the first Bahai to perform pilgrimage (ḥajj) to the house of the Bāb in Shiraz in fall 1866, in accordance with the rites prescribed in the Surat al-ḥajj revealed by Bahāʾ-Allāh. He also went to Baghdad and performed the pilgrimage to the House of Bahāʾ-Allāh in spring 1867, according to another sura witten by Bahāʾ-Allāh for that purpose (Rafati, p. 36). Nabil’s pilgrimage to those two houses marked the inception of pilgrimage laws ordained by Bahāʾ-Allāh later in his Ketāb-e aqdas (Shoghi Effendi, pp. 176-77).
Another historic mission undertaken by Nabil under Bahāʾ-Allāh’s instruction was his travel to Egypt to appeal to the officials for the release of several Bahais who had been imprisoned in Cairo at the instigation of their enemies (Shoghi Effendi, p. 178). Nabil’s mission resulted in his own imprisonment for two months in Cairo in spring 1868 and then in the Alexandria jail for a few more months. After being released, Nabil traveled to Cyprus and Beirut, and then he joined Bahāʾ-Allāh’s exiled community in Acre (ʿAkkā) in late October 1869. He spent much of the last two decades of his life in Acre and its surrounding areas.
After the passing of Bahāʾ-Allāh in 1892, Nabil was chosen by ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ to prepare a text for recitation in his tomb (Shoghi Effendi, p. 222). Nabil selected four passages from Bahāʾ-Allāh’s own works and composed the text, which is known as the Ziārat-nāma (ʿAndalib 18/71, summer 1999, pp. 19-20). The impact of the passing of Bahāʾ-Allāh on Nabil was so great and inconsolable that he drowned himself in the sea at Acre circa 10 Ṣafar 1310/3 September 1892. He is buried in the Acre cemetery.
Nabil was the recipient of a number of Bahāʾ-Allāh’s best-known works, including Surat al-damm (1866), Surat al-ḥajj, for the house of the Bāb in Shiraz (1866), and Surat al-ḥajj, for the house of Bahāʾ-Allāh in Baghdad (1867).
When Shoghi Effendi (d. 1957) designated nineteen prominent early Bahais as the “Apostles [Ḥawāriyun] of Bahāʾ-Allāh,” Nabil was one of them (The Baháʾí World III, pp. 80-81). The title signifies the recognition of distinguished services that those nineteen loyal and devoted Persian Bahais have rendered to their faith.
Nabil’s works are in poetry and prose. He was a gifted, prolific poet, who devoted most of his poetry to the historical events in the Babi and Bahai faiths. His most famous poem in couplet form (maṯnawi) about the history of the Bahai faith was published as Maṯnawi-e Nabil Zarandi in Cairo in 1924 in 65 pages and reprinted in Langenhain in 1995. In this maṯnawi he describes major historical events from the early days of the Babi movement to the year 1869. His second maṯnawi, in 666 verses, deals with Bahāʾ-Allāh’s banishment from Edirne to Acre. Other historical poetry of Nabil consists of his maṯnawi titled “Maṯnawi-e weṣāl wa hejr” in 175 verses (pub. in Rafati, 2014, Chap. 6; Ḏokāʾi, p. 416) and his maṯnawi on the life of Āqā Moḥammad Nabil Akbar Qāʾeni in 303 verses (Ḵušahā-i az ḵarman-e adab wa honar 13, pp. 108-16). In addition to those maṯnawis, Nabil left behind a great collection of poetry in different forms, only a fraction of which has been published.
Nabil’s works in prose include a treatise on the Babi-Bahai calendar, a treatise on Bahai inheritance laws (Fāżel Māzandarāni, IV pp. 1, 214), and his account on the event of the passing of Bahāʾ-Allāh (Nabil Zarandi, Maṯnawi-e Nabil Zarandi, Langenhain, 1995, pp. 67-108). But Nabil’s most celebrated work is Maṭāleʿ al-anwār, an extensive historical narrative of the Babi faith, written in Acre in 1888-90, which was edited and translated into English by Shoghi Effendi as The Dawn-Breakers. The work was first published in the United States in 1932.
Maṭāleʿ al-anwār, the most authentic and the main primary source on the early history of the Babi movement in Iran, is regarded by the Bahais as the definitive account of the Bāb’s dispensation. The work has been translated into many languages, and it has played a major role in familiarizing the Bahais around the world with the historical background of their faith and helping them understand its link to the socio-religious climate of the Persian society in the early days of its development. The original Persian manuscript of Maṭāleʿ al-anwār, preserved at the International Bahai Archives in Haifa, comprises 1,014 pages of 22-24 lines.
ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ, Memorials of the Faithful, tr. and annotated Marzieh Gail, Wilmette, 1971, pp. 32-36.
Abu’l-Qāsem Afnān, Ḵušahā-i az ḵarman-e adab wa honar 7, 1996, pp. 58-75.
Bahāʾ-Allāh, Āṯār-e qalam-e aʿlā, Tehran, 1996, IV, pp. 59-67, 75-99.
The Baháʾí World: A Biennial International Record III, New York, 1928-30.
H. M. Balyuzi, Baháulláh the King of Glory, Oxford, 1991 (see index).
Idem, Materials for the Study of the Babí Religion, Cambridge, 1918, pp. 351-57. Neʿmat-Allāh Ḏokāʾi Bayżāʾi, Taḏkera-ye šoʿarā-ye qarn-e awwal-e Bahāʾi,” 4 vols., Tehran, 1970-73, III, pp. 410-35.
ʿAbd-al-Ḥamid Ešrāq Ḵāvari, Tasbiḥ wa taḥlil, Tehran, 1973, pp. 77-90.
Fāżel Māzandarāni, Amr wa ḵalq, Langenhain, 1986.
Hušang Goharriz, Ḥawāriyun-e Ḥażrat-e Bahāʾ-Allāh, New Delhi, 2001, pp. 176-91.
Ḵušahā-i az ḵarman-e adab wa honar 7, 1996, pp. 293-98.
Moojan Momen, “The Apostles of Bahāʾ-Āllāh” in H. M. Balyuzi, Eminent Baháís in the Time of Baháulláh: With Some Historical Background, Oxford, 1985.
Mollā Moḥammad Nabil Zarandi, Maṭāleʿ al-anwār: Tāriḵ-e Nabil Zarandi, ed. and tr. Shoghi Effendi, as The Dawn-Breakers: Nabíl’s Narrative of the Early Days of the Baháʾí Revelation, Wilmette, 1974, pp. 433-45.
Ṣadri Nawwābzāda Ardakāni, “Maṭāleb-i dr bāra-ye tāriḵ-e- Nabil Zarandi,” Moṭālaʿa-ye maʿāref-e Bahāʾi, Tehran, 1977.
Payām-e Bahāʾi, no. 126, May 1990, pp. 13-16.
Vahid Rafati, “Nabíl-e-Aʿẓam Zarandí,” Ḵušahā-i az ḵarman-e adab wa Honar 7, 1996, pp. 29-57. Idem, “Tāriḵ-e Nabil Zarandi,” ibid, pp. 76-87. Idem, “Maṯnawi-e Nabil-e Aʿẓam Zarandi: Dar šarḥ-e ḥālāt-e Janāb Āqā Moḥammad Nabil Akbar Qāʾeni,” Ḵušahā-i az ḵarman-e adab wa honar 13, 2002, pp. 107-19. Idem, ed., Yād-nāma-ye Ešrāq Ḵāvari / Remembrance of Ishráq Khávarí, Madrid, 2014. Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, Wilmette, 1999.
Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baháulláh, Oxford, 1974, pp. 202-6.
Originally Published: June 29, 2016
Last Updated: June 29, 2016Cite this entry:
Vahid Rafati, “NABIL-E AʿẒAM ZARANDI, MOLLĀ MOḤAMMAD,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2016, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/nabil-zarandi (accessed on 29 June 2016).