An Azali (Persian: ازلی) or Azali Bábí is a follower of the monotheistic religion of Subh-i-Azal and the Báb. Early followers of the Báb were known as Bábís; however, in the 1860s a split occurred after which the vast majority of Bábís followed Mirza Husayn ʻAli, known as Baháʼu'lláh, and became known as Baháʼís, while the minority who followed Subh-i-Azal came to be called as Azalis.
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Azalis do not accept any of those who have advanced claims to be the Báb's promised one (known as "He whom God shall make manifest"). The most bitterly contested claim is that of Baháʼu'lláh in 1863. Azalis rejected his claim of divinity as premature, arguing that the world must first accept the laws of the Báb before "He Whom God Shall Make Manifest" can appear.
Writings of the Báb
The Azalis in Tehran have printed several volumes of works of the Báb, while the Bahá’ís in Iran have published a mere three volumes exclusively devoted to writings of the Báb. Azalí-produced manuscripts exist in large numbers in Paris, London, and Cambridge.
Former-Baha'i and scholar of the Bábi faith, Denis MacEoin says:
On the whole, the texts published by the Azalís are of much greater value than the Bahá’í productions, in that they represent complete works rather than selections made to present the Báb’s teachings from a partisan viewpoint.
Involvement in Persian secular and constitutional reform
With respect to the direction that Azali Bábism took immediately after the split, MacEoin said:
Azali Babism represents the conservative core of the original Babi movement, opposed to innovation and preaching a religion for a non-clerical gnostic elite rather than the masses. It also retains the original Babi antagonism to the Qajar state and a commitment to political activism, in distinction to the quietist stance of Baháism [sic]. Paradoxically, Azali conservatism in religious matters seems to have provided a matrix within which radical social and political ideas could be propounded.
After the split with the Baháʼís, some Azalis were very active in secular reform movements and the Iranian Constitutional Revolution (1905–1907), including Sheikh Ahmad Rouhi and Mirza Abd-al-Hosayn Kermani. However, the community was still suppressed as a heresy, and the accusation of being an Azali was often enough for most to believe it to be true. Coupled with the Azali practice of taqiyya (dissimulation), determining whether or not a particular figure in Persian politics was an Azali is difficult.
Taqiya ("dissimulation") was practiced by some Bábís. It was justified by some as a response to the often violent oppression the community faced. However, prominent Bábí leaders never encouraged individuals to practice it; and some who had practiced taqiyya later abandoned it, declared themselves openly, and were put to death.
Among Azalis, however, the practice became ingrained and widespread. One historian has noted:
The Azali Babis and in particular Mirza Aqa Khan Kirmani and Shaykh Ahmad Ruhi showed little hesitation in alteration and falsification of Babi teachings and history in their works. Azali Babis regarded taqiyyah as an imperative requirement.
In contrast the Azali Babis glorified taqiyyah in their literature. Taqiyyah was considered a virtue and classified into various levels of concealment. Prominent Azali leaders openly recanted their faith and even abused [the] Bab and Azal in the process.
Succession and aftermath
There was some dispute on the question over who was Subh-i-Azal's appointed successor. MacEoin states that Subh-i-Azal appointed Yahya Dawlatábádí as his successor in turn after the death of his (Yahya's) father, Mirza Hadi Dawlatábádí. However, this was disputed by Subh-i-Azal's grandson, Jalal Azal, indicating that this question was not entirely resolved.
MacEoin notes that, in any event, neither he (Yahya Dawlatábádí) nor anyone else arose to organize the affairs of the community, or produce significant writing to develop the religion. He goes on to say (writing in 1999):
With the deaths of those Azalis who were active in the Constitutional period, Azali Babism entered a phase of stagnation from which it has never recovered. There is now no acknowledged leader nor, to the knowledge of the present writer, any central organization. Members tend to be secretive about their affiliation, converts are rare, and association appears to run along family lines. It is difficult to estimate current numbers, but these are unlikely to exceed one or two thousand, almost all of whom reside in Iran.
- Browne 1890, pp. 351-352.
- Britannica 2011.
- MacEoin 2012.
- Amanat 1989, p. 384, 414.
- Barrett 2001, p. 246.
- MacEoin 1987.
- Barrett 2001.
- Browne 1890, p. 351].
- MacEoin 1992, p. 2. sfn error: no target: CITEREFMacEoin1992 (help)
- MacEoin 1992, p. 3. sfn error: no target: CITEREFMacEoin1992 (help)
- Manuchehri 1999.
- Browne 1918, pp. 312-314.
- Momen 1991, p. 106.
- Smith 2000, p. 54.
- ʻAbdu'l-Bahá (1891). A Traveller's Narrative: Written to illustrate the episode of the Bab. Browne, E.G. (trans.) (2004 reprint, with translator's notes ed.). Los Angeles, US: Kalimát Press. ISBN 1-890688-37-1. Retrieved 2020-12-26.
- Amanat, Abbas (1989). Resurrection and Renewal: The Making of the Babi Movement in Iran. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
- Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica (2011-09-28). "Azalī". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2021-01-03.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
- Browne, E.G. (1890) [Republished in 1901]. "Bábism". Religious Systems of the World: A Contribution to the Study of Comparative Religion. London: Swann Sonnenschein. pp. 333–53.
- Browne, E.G., ed. (1918). Materials for the Study of the Babi Religion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- MacEoin, Denis M. (1987-12-15) [Updated 18 August 2011]. "AZALI BABISM". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 2021-01-03.
- Manuchehri, Sepehr (1999). "The Practice of Taqiyyah (Dissimulation) in the Babi and Bahai Religions". Research Notes in Shaykhi, Babi and Baha'i Studies. 3 (3). Archived from the original on 2 December 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-29.
- Smith, Peter (2000). A Concise Encyclopedia of the Baháʼí Faith. Oxford, UK: Oneworld Publications. ISBN 1-85168-184-1.
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