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Debunking the Myths

Countering Allegations Against Bahá'ís as Agents of

Foreign Powers, Zionism, and the Shah's Regime
by Adib Ma'sumian
July 7 08

The Bahá'í Faith was born in Persia (today's Iran) in 1844. Today, according to the 2004
Encyclopedia Britannica statistics of "Worldwide Adherents of World Religions," the Bahá'í
Faith has about 7.5 million adherents in 218 countries, making it the second most widespread
religion in the world, next to Christianity. [1] In sheer numbers, the Bahá'í Faith is still small
compared to other world religions, but in geographical spread, amazingly, it is outdoing
Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.

Animosity against the Bahá'ís has been particularly strong among Shi'a Muslims. Generally,
Muslims do not accept any revelation after Muhammad. This is not a new phenomenon in
Abrahamic religions. Jews do not expect any revelation outside of Judaism (thus their
rejection of Christianity, Islam, and other religions as invalid), and most Christians don't
accept any revelation after Jesus (thus their rejection of Muhammad and Islam). Therefore,
Muslim rejection of the Bahá'í Faith should be viewed as a continuation of the old tradition of
the preceding Abrahamic religion refusing to accept the validity of the newer one.

Since its early days, the Bahá'í Faith and its predecessor, the Bábí religion, experienced rapid
growth in Persia. This alarmed both the government and the ecclesiastical leaders. They began
searching for ways to stop the growth of this Faith, which they saw as a threat to their power
and authority. One of the methods the clerics decided to utilize was to fabricate myths against
the Bábís and Bahá'ís, including ties to foreign powers. A quick glance at the early history of
these religions and the fate of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh should put these allegations to rest.

The Russian and British Ties

It is a historical fact that the Russian and British governments had a formidable presence in
the 19th-century Persia, all the way to the Qajar court. During the reign of different Qajar
kings, both Russia and Britain competed for influence in Persia. Many court officials were
often accused of being either agents of Russia or Great Britain. Opponents of the Bahá'í Faith,
particularly Muslim clerics, used this atmosphere to allege that the Bábí and Bahá'í religions
were also products of Russian and British governments who were striving to weaken Islam
and create divisions among the faithful. Over the years, they accused both the Báb and
Bahá'u'lláh of being agents of foreign powers. Yet, to this day, those claims remain
unsubstantiated. In fact, the lives and fates of both the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh belies any serious
attempts at presenting them as "agents" of foreign powers.

Before the Báb made any religious claims, he was a successful merchant. Yet, at the young
age of 25, His decision to proclaim a religion after Muhammad essentially sealed His fate.
The remaining six years of His life witnessed the loss of His material possessions, being
branded a heretic by both the government and the clerics, a series of severe persecutions
including incarceration in two notorious prisons in the mountains of Persian Azerbaijan, and
eventually execution by a firing squad; hardly a type of life aspired by any "agent!" The Báb's
life after His proclamation, His sufferings, and His cruel end begs an obvious question. Why
would a successful merchant with a bright future decide to become "a paid foreign agent" and
in the process, sacrifice everything he had, including his family and his life? While "agents"
of foreign powers normally engage in treacherous activities for material gains, the Báb was in
no need of financial help. Also, during the turbulent six years that marked his ministry and
climaxed in His execution, there is no record of either the British or Russians ever trying to
extend any help to Him.

The accusation of connection with foreign powers is also made against Bahá'u'lláh, the
founder of the Bahá'í Faith. Allegations, particularly connecting Bahá'u'lláh to the Russian
government have been rampant. As evidence, opponents, especially Muslim clerics, point to
the support that prince Dolgorukov (also known as Dolgourki), the Russian minister in Tehran
between 1845-1854 extended to Bahá'u'lláh after he was imprisoned as a Bábí leader in 1852
following an assassination attempt on the Persian King by three overzealous Bábís who were
angry at the execution of the Báb. [2] The King escaped with minor injuries, but a Bábí
bloodbath ensued. Many of their leaders, including Bahá'u'lláh who had no role in the attempt
and later severely condemned it, were arrested in a sweep.

When Bahá'u'lláh was jailed by the Shah, his family went to Mírzá Majid Ahi who was
married to a sister of Bahá'u'lláh. Mírzá Majid was working as the secretary to the Russian
Legation in Tehran. Bahá'u'lláh's family asked Mírzá Majid to go to Prince Dolgorukov and
ask him to intercede on behalf of Bahá'u'lláh who was imprisoned without a shred of evidence
against Him. Prince Dolgorukov agreed. In addition, Bahá'u'lláh's family sought help from
Mírzá Áqá Khán-Núrí, the Grand Vizier of Persia, who was a distant relative. Both families
were from the district of Núr in the northern Province of Mázandarán. Bahá'u'lláh had also
helped Mírzá Áqá Khán on several occasions when the latter had fallen on hard times during
the premiership of Hájí Mírzá Áqásí.

When both Prince Dolgorukov and the Grand Vizier pressured the King to either produce
evidence against Bahá'u'lláh or release Him, Nāṣiri’d-Dīn Shah agreed to free Bahá'u'lláh and
spare His life, but decreed that He be banished from Iran. [3] Prince Dolgorukov offered
Bahá'u'lláh and His family to migrate to Russia but Bahá'u'lláh refused. Instead, He chose to
go to Iraq where there was a significant Shi'a Muslim population.

In short, Bahá'u'lláh had no ties to the Russian government and the intercession of Prince
Dolgorukov on His behalf was only due to the request by one of his employees, Bahá'u'lláh's
brother-in-law, who was a Muslim. Inferring any connection between the Bahá'í Faith and
Russian government based on the above does not seem logical. However, this did not stop
Muslim clerics from fabricating a memoir by the Russian Prince in which he "confesses" to
inventing both the Bábí and Bahá'í religions. The memoir was replete with historical errors to
the point that many scholars, including those with polemical works against the Bahá'í Faith,
later called it a forgery. [4]
Secondly, there is the claim of Bahá'í ties to British Imperialism. This myth originated in the
knighting of `Abdu'l-Bahá in 1920 by the British Mandate of Palestine - an act that
antagonists claim to be a lurid manifestation of political relations between the Bahá'í Faith
and Great Britain. The flaw in this claim, however, lies in the fact that `Abdu'l-Bahá received
the knighthood for his philanthropic efforts during World War I (1914-1918). During the
period, Palestine was hit by a famine which was caused by Ottoman government's
mismanagement as well as a major attack by locusts. [5] In response, `Abdu'l-Bahá had
encouraged his followers in the region to cultivate, store, and distribute grain to the famine-
stricken Palestinians. The British knighthood of `Abdu'l-Bahá was an acknowledgment of his
efforts for saving countless lives, mostly Muslims, in the area.

Bahá'ís as Agents of International Zionism

Bahá'ís have also been accused of ties to Zionism, an international political movement that
was formed to support the re-establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine.

A common way in which adversaries of the Bahá'í Faith buttress this claim is by pointing out
that the most sacred shrines and holy places of the Bahá'ís are located in Israel. Yet the
historical context for this fact is ignored. Bahá'u'lláh was exiled from his native land by
Nāṣiri’d-Dīn Shāh the King of Persia who was a Muslim. Thus, the original decision to leave
Persia was not his, but that of a Muslim king. His first place of exile was Baghdad, a
predominantly Muslim city. Bahá'u'lláh lived there between 1853-1863. As his influence
began to grow among the Muslim population of Baghdad, the Persian king asked his Ottoman
counterpart, Sultan 'Abdu'l-'Aziz, another Muslim ruler, to send Bahá'u'lláh deeper into the
Ottoman territories and farther from Persian borders. Thus, the Sultan first exiled Bahá'u'lláh
to Constantinople in 1863, then to Adrianople (Edirne) later that same year, and eventually to
`Akká in 1868. At the time, `Akká was a prison city in Palestine. Bahá'u'lláh died in `Akká in
1892. Thus, over a 40-year period, two Muslim kings corroborated to send Bahá'u'lláh from
his native land of Persia to a series of exiles that ended in the Palestinian town of `Akká
where Bahá'u'lláh died in 1892. Naturally, his resting place is now in the same town. The state
of Israel was not formed until 1948, almost 60 years after Bahá'u'lláh's death. Bahá'u'lláh did
not willingly choose to establish residence in that area of the world. He was forced there by
two Muslim rulers. Following his death, Bahá'u'lláh's son `Abdu'l-Bahá took over the
leadership of the Faith until his passing in 1921. He also was buried in a "Palestinian" city
(Haifa) 27 years before the state of Israel came to existence. `Abdu'l-Bahá was buried in the
vicinity of the Shrine of the Bab, Bahá'u'lláh's forerunner, whose remains had gone through a
50-year ordeal in different parts of Persia until they were secretly transferred to Palestine and
buried in Haifa in 1908 (40 years before the formation of Israel).

Thus, historical events clearly demonstrate that the placement of the sacred shrines of Bahá'ís
was hardly a choice and that the burials took place decades before the state of Israel was
formed. Even today, if the Bahá'ís wanted to relocate the remains of their Central Figures to
Iran, the birthplace of those Figures, the Iranian government would not allow it as, to this day,
the Iranian government does not recognize the Bahá'í Faith as a religious minority in the land
of its birth.
Bahá'ís have also been accused of supporting the state of Israel because they send
contributions to their international headquarters located in Haifa. In reality, though, these
contributions are sent for the maintenance and upkeep of their sacred shrines and historical
sites as well as for the administrative affairs of their global community. Interestingly, the
Muslim and Christian communities also send contributions to Israel for the same aims-
maintenance of their holy sites, but they are not accused of supporting the state of Israel.

Bahá'ís as Agents of the Shah's Regime and its Secret Police

Another often-repeated accusation against the Bahá'ís is that they were in cahoots with the
Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi's regime and collaborated with its secret police, the feared
SAVAK (Sazmane Amniyyat Va Attela'ate Keshvar / Ministry of Security and Intelligence of
the Country). This assertion partly stems from the fact that, before the Islamic Revolution of
1979, the Bahá'ís refused to join forces with anti-government revolutionaries. They did so in
observance of Bahá'u'lláh's injunction to his followers that they should be obedient to the
government of the land. They continue to adhere to this principle today in Iran and throughout
the rest of the world.

In reality, the Bahá'í principle of non-involvement in partisan politics prohibited them from
collaboration with the Shah's regime. Under the Pahlavis, the Bahá'ís were actually more a
“political pawn” than a collaborator. The Reza Shah’s government toleration of Bahá'ís in the
early 20th-century was more a sign of secular rule and an attempt at weakening the clerical
influence than a signal of favor for the Bahá’ís. In fact, it was Reza Shah’s government that
ordered the closure of Bahá'í schools, such as Tehran’s Tarbiyat (Education) schools for boys
and girls in the 1930s.

The situation of the Baha’is worsened during the reign of Reza Shah’s son, however. When
Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi’s government was politically weak and in need of clerical
support, it did not hesitate to withdraw protection of Bahá’ís. This often resulted in active
persecutions. Two clear examples of this occurred in 1953 and 1955. During the first episode,
the Pahlavi monarch needed clerical support to bring down the popular government of the
then Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadeq. Two years later, the Shah’s government needed
to distract the general population when it decided to join the Baghdad Pact under pressure
from the British and American governments. In both cases, the Pahlavi government allowed
attacks against the Bahá’ís. The 1955 attacks were particularly venomous and widespread due
to an orchestrated campaign by the government and clergy who utilized the national Iranian
radio station and its official newspapers. During the month of Ramadan in 1955, a popular
Muslim preacher by the name of Shaykh Mohammad Taqi Falsafi started perhaps the highest-
profile anti-Bahá'í propaganda plans in Iran. He received permission from the regime to
include anti-Bahá'í rhetoric in his noon radio sermons throughout the month and encouraged
other clerics to join him in the the campaign and include anti-Bahá'í materials in their
sermons. These led to widespread mob violence against Bahá'ís. Bahá'í properties were
destroyed, their gathering places were attacked and looted, and their cemeteries were
desecrated. Many Bahá'ís were killed, some hacked to pieces. Bahá'í women were abducted
and forced to marry Muslims. Some Bahá’ís were expelled and dismissed from schools and
government employment. During the third week of Falsafi’s sermons, the National Bahá'í
Center in Tehran was actually occupied by the Shah’s military. Later, its dome was destroyed.
Falsafi personally participated in the destruction of the Tehran's Bahá'í Center (as shown in
the picture). Eventually, the Minister of the Interior, Amir Asadollah Alam, had to intervene
and put a stop to further sermons when the country was dragged to the edge of disaster.

The accusation that some of the high profile government and SAVAK officials were Bahá’ís
and took measures to promote the Bahá'í Faith in Iran is also baseless. For instance, it is often
said that the Prime Minister Amir ‘Abbas Hoveyda was a Bahá'í when in fact he never was.
Mr. Hoveyda’s grandfather was a Bahá’í throughout most of his adult life and his father was
also a Bahá'í until he became politically active, married a Muslim woman in 1918 and
gradually left the Bahá'í Faith. Mr. Hoveyda himself was brought up a Muslim. His SAVAK
profile also showed his religious association as Islam. Despite this, his family’s past ties to the
Bahá’í Faith forced him to take measures to distance himself from the Bahá'ís. Beginning in
1964 and with the approval of SAVAK and the clerics, he started an anti-Bahá'í campaign that
resulted in the firing of all Bahá'ís from the Iranian petroleum industry, banning of Bahá'ís
from certain governmental jobs, and disallowing Bahá'í students from entering schools of

Mr. Parviz Sabeti, a prominent figure in SAVAK was also accused of being a Bahá'í while he
was not. His parents were Bahá’ís but SAVAK’s own records as well as Mr. Sabeti's personal
testimony confirms that he considered himself a Muslim.


Muslim opponents of the Bábí and Bahá’í religions often level a series of accusations against
these religious traditions. Among these are tying their roots to foreign powers such as Russian
and British governments and affiliation with political movements such as Zionism. However,
there is ample historical evidence to the contrary. Bahá’ís have also been accused of
collaboration with the Pahlavis and enjoying favoritism during the reign of Reza Shah and his
son while, in reality, they were subjected to numerous persecutions and frequent abuse during
those years. Today, the Bahá’ís continue to be subjected to outbursts of threats and violence
in Iran. Seven of their leaders were arrested in May of 2008. They are still in prison with no
access to legal help.


[1] Encyclopedia Britannica Online

[2] H.M. Balyuzi, Bahá'u'lláh The King of Glory, Oxford, England: George Ronald,
Publisher. p. 74.
[3] Ibid, p. 99
[4] See http://newsgroups.derkeiler.com/Archive/Talk/talk.religion.bahai/2006-
[5] H.M. Balyuzi, `Abdu'l-Bahá, Oxford, England: George Ronald, Publisher. p. 418.