FreedomThe world has known slavery since ancient times, but the divine work of its abolition belongs to the modern age.

Historically, world religions have permitted slavery for many centuries. It was not until 1873 that a world religion formally abolished slavery, when the Baha’i Faith became the first religion to explicitly forbid slavery as a religious law. In that year, Baha’u’llah, prophet-founder of the Baha’i Faith, abolished slavery by this decree:

It is forbidden you to trade in slaves, be they men or women. It is not for him who is himself a servant to buy another of God’s servants, and this hath been prohibited in His Holy Tablet. Thus, by His mercy, hath the commandment been recorded by the Pen of justice. Let no man exalt himself above another; all are but bondslaves before the Lord, and all exemplify the truth that there is none other God but Him. He, verily, is the All-Wise, Whose wisdom encompasseth all things. – Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 45.

Queen VictoriaWhile Baha’u’llah was probably the first religious figure to do so, historically, leaders in the secular world had already begun the process of outlawing slavery — first by banning slave-trading, then banning the ownership of slaves.  In 1870, Baha’u’llah wrote to Queen Victoria:

We have been informed that thou hast forbidden the trading in slaves, both men and women. This, verily, is what God hath enjoined in this wondrous Revelation. – The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 89.

Before Victoria, Baha’u’llah’s anti-slavery views go back much further. In fact. Baha’u’llah was raised in an aristocratic family in Persia, where slavery was common. There were slaves in the household, as Abdu’l-Baha recounts:

My grandfather [Baha’u’llah’s father] had many colored maids and servants. When the Blessed Perfection [Baha’u’llah] became the head of the family he liberated all of them, and gave them permission to leave or stay, but if they desired to remain it would, of course, be in a different manner. However, all of them, reveling in their new found freedom preferred to leave, except Esfandayar [Isfandiyar], who remained in the household and continued to serve us with proverbial faithfulness and chastity. — Star of the West, volume 9 (April 28, 1928), number 3, page 38.

Here, although “servants” are referred to, not “slaves,” the fact that Baha’u’llah “liberated all of them” suggests that they were, indeed, formerly slaves. Baha’u’llah’s father, Mirza Abbas-i-Nuri, more commonly known as Mirza Buzurg, died in 1839. Thus, according to Abdu’l-Baha’s account, Baha’u’llah’s desire to abolish slavery was set by his own personal act of freeing the household slaves in 1839.

Emancipated slaves who built the white house

Emancipated slaves who built the White House

I had a servant who was black; his name was Isfandiyar. If a perfect man could be found in the world, that man was Isfandiyar. He was the essence of love, radiant with sanctity and perfection, luminous with light. Whenever I think of Isfandiyar, I am moved to tears, although he passed away fifty years ago. He was the faithful servant of Baha’u’llah and was entrusted with His secrets. . . . For one month Isfandiyar went about in the streets and bazaars. He had things to sell, and from his earnings he gradually paid his creditors. In fact, they were not his debts but the debts of the court, for all our properties had been confiscated. Everything we had was taken away from us. The only things that remained were our debts. Isfandiyar paid them in full; not a single penny remained unpaid. Then he came to us, said good-bye and went away. . . . He was a point of light. – Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 426–427.

Where did Isfandiyar go? While Baha’u’llah was imprisoned in Tehran in late 1852, Baha’u’llah’s wife, Navvab, sent Isfandiyar to northern Persia (now Iran) for his own safety — because the Shah wanted to arrest Isfandiyar and extract from him, under torture, the secrets of the Babi movement. 

There, the Governor of Mazandaran, Mirza Yahya Khan, had given Isfandiyar shelter and protection, engaged Isfandiyar as his head servant, and placed him in charge of all the affairs of his household. Isfandiyar remained there for the rest of his life.

  

©2014 by Christopher Buck. 

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

7 Comments

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  • Stephanie
    Jan 27, 2014
    Did he stay in Mazindaran for the rest of his life? In the children's classes lessons for Grade 1, it states that he later asks Baha'u'llah if he may stay with him, but Baha'u'llah tells him to honor his obligation to the minister. After the minister's death Isfandiyar then goes to Baghdad where he serves Him and then the Master for the rest of his life...? Maybe I have the wrong servant...?
    • Christopher Buck PhD JD
      Apr 26, 2014
      Stephanie: Excellent question! Yes, this is a different Isfandiyar. I think you mean Abdu'l-Baha's coachman (carriage driver). From a Baha'i history, the late Baha'i scholar, Dr. Ahang Rabbani, translates:
      "Thereupon, Isfandiyár who had been trained by him [the Christian] was appointed the faithful coachman. He passed away in the blessed house [of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá] in Haifa during the ministry of the Guardian of the Cause of God."
      -- With ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Reminiscences of Khalíl Shahídí, Translated and Annotated by Ahang Rabbani, Witnesses to Bábí and Bahá’í History, Volume 9, p. 38.
      It would be nice to post an article about this ...other Isfandiyar as well. If someone can email me this information, then I can can write a short piece on him. I'm sure that others would appreciate knowing about this other Isfandiyar as well.
      Read more...
      • Stephanie
        Apr 26, 2014
        Thanks!
  • Alethinos95
    Jan 14, 2014
    Great piece. Thank you Christopher.
  • James Howden
    Jan 14, 2014
    Fascinating! Just when a "veteran" believer thinks maybe he kinda *knows* something, humility comes to call. This is all wonderfully new to me. Thanks, BT and CB!
  • Marty Flick
    Jan 13, 2014
    All one can say is "GREAT!!!!!"