Reflecting History – A Canon Ball and a Sword: The case of the missing stories

Haifa, Israel, the International Baha'i Archives

There are several stories from early Baha’i history that are quite compelling. One tells of the harrowing defense of the adhoc fortress at the Shrine of Shaykh Tabarsi. In order to defend themselves against the attack of marauding hoards of townspeople, and later against the Qajar dynasty’s professional army, this small band of early believers constructed several defensive walls around the run down shrine. Their succesful defense belies explaination beyond that of Divine intervention.

Sepehr Manuchehri analyzes the defense of the fortress is his paper “A Brief Analysis of the features of Babi Resistance at Sheikh Tabarsi,” which was presented at a Baha’i Studies Conference in Sydney, Australia in 1998. Here is an excerpt that describes the resistance:

Almost none of the Babis had witnessed or participated in any forms of conflict or battle prior to Sheikh Tabarsi. They did not even know the basics of one-on-one fights. There is virtually no accounts to suggest that any of them had committed murder or killed any person before coming to the battles. In other words, they were totally and utterly inexperienced and unfamiliar with military operations. There are numerous examples of the transformation of these people after the start of battles. Haji Mirza Jani remarks about a certain Reza Khan who hade developed an expertise in choping-off the heads of the cannon operators hiding behind the cannons. (2)

Another example is sighted of Mulla Hossien who chased after a particular soldier in one battle. The soldier retreated and hid behind a tree and used his rifle as his guard. Mulla Hossein quickly applied his sword and cut the tree, rifle and soldier in to six parts.

In modern militia uprisings, such lack of training and experience will quickly lead to a hasty defeat at the hands of the regular government troops. However, Babis at Sheikh Tabarsi held up the Royal Qajar Army for more than nine months despite lack of weaponry and basic necessities. If the purpose of Babi leadership was purely military, the resistance could have continued well beyond nine months. Waves after waves of the best and most competent Qajar officers and soldiers were time and time again mutilated and decimated by these former civilians…

The resistance appears particularly interesting when we consider that Bab never permitted Babis at Sheikh Tabarsi to conduct a Holy War [Jahad]. Mulla Hossein and Quddus constantly reminded Babis to only defend themselves. Every time Babis got the upper hand and appeared to change the balance of the military confrontation and exert a degree of offensiveness, Mulla Hossein would quickly order a retreat.”

This provides enough of the picture for the mystery that is longing to be told. In Haifa, Israel, the International Baha’i Archives houses two relics from this episode. One is a canon ball the army shot into the fort. The other is the sword which Mulla Husayn used in those attacks. The stories that are missing are about these artifacts journeys to the Holy Land.

A cannon ball from the fortress of Shaykh Tabarsi, and the sword of Mulla Husayn


I’d like to create a digital story with an interactive map and timeline that tells those stories, much the way the movie The Red Violin tells the story of a violin’s journey from its creation to the present day, through many people’s lives. The research involved would be extensive and would require some travel, but if Jonathan Harris can go to Bhutan than I can do this!

If you have any suggestions on how I might go about building such a map or timeline, let me know.  I have been thinking about using Our Story for the timeline, and Wayfaring for the map.  But it would be even cooler to find a good Flash programmer to work with to create something original. 

(Thanks to Alan Levine’s CogDogRoo for pointing me in the direction of some great tools!)


Reflecting Home

My home is the home of peace. My home is the home of joy and delight. My home is the home of laughter and exultation. Whosoever enters through the portals of this home, must go out with gladsome heart. This is the home of light; whosoever enters here must become illumined….

(From a reported utterance of `Abdu’l-Baha’, published in Star of the West, vol. 9, no. 3, 28 April 1918), p. 40)

In the early 1970’s, my grandmother challenged the City of Albuquerque, New Mexico to make city facilities accessible to those with mobility challenges, and won.  She raised seven children, five boys and two girls.  Her home was the defacto center for most Baha’is in central New Mexico, because there was no other meeting place.  That house on Carlisle was always filled with visitors, some looking for refuge, some looking for family far from home, some just coming to chew the fat.  Her home was a magnet…

And then, when I was eleven, she and my grandfather came to live with our family.  They had grown old, and their health was failing.  Though we lived in southern New Mexico, far from their old friends, my grandmother quickly went to work making new friends and transforming our home into a magnet. 

Many years later, I returned to New Mexico, following travels that had brought me a great deal of both joy and sorrow.  My grandmother had passed long before.  My only momento of her was a heart made of a pink stone which sat on her desk as a paper weight while she organized the multitude of projects she was involved in.  But her legacy followed me.  Soon after my return, I met and fell in love with a man who had been one of those who had both chewed the fat and sought refuge with my grandmother.  Her example became the model on which we built our home.

Grandma - Ruth Smith

What is most remarkable about my grandmother is not just her example of advocacy and hospitality, but that she accomplished so many things trapped in a body crippled with rheumatoid arthritis. As those who have  suffered from an immune disorder can tell you, it isn’t just about the pain.  The fatigue and exhaustion, the depression and lack of motivation can be debilitating, even in mild cases.  But  by the time she was thirty-five, she was confined to a wheel chair.  It was not a mild case. 

What gave my grandmother the impetus to accomplish so much?  I have to believe it was the Gift that was given to her by a woman named Rezi Sunshine when my father was young boy.  Many tell me that I am like my grandmother in tempermant- somewhat moody and sometimes overly dramatic.  I also have rheumatoid arthritis, though a much milder case, and currently in remission.  I know that my moodiness and histrionics come from a tendency towards depression and anxiety.  But my grandmother passed that Gift to me through my parents, and now it sustains me when I work in the world or open my home.

The Heart Stone – An Artifact Reflection

I have been wanting to tell the story of how my family first encountered the Bahá’í Faith.  This project gave me the opportunity to combine it with the story of how I received one of my most precious artifacts in a fictional tale.  The audience is my family, as they will most readily recognize the images that others may find obscure, such as the house in which Mulla Husayn first encountered the Bab, the Forerunner of the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, thus initiating its first era.  The artifact, a pink, heart-shaped stone that fits in the palm of one’s hand, was passed on to me after my grandmother’s death.  This stone sat on her mantle piece when I was a child.  Whenever I visited her, she had other visitors to whom she showed the greatest kindness.  Though neither of us knew it at the time, my future husband was one of those visitors. 

I wanted to evoke a sense of connection in our family to the history of our Faith in a whimsical way.  The dragon’s story just flowed out from the idea of “The Heart Stone.”  I decided to use Microsoft MovieMaker as an editor because it allowed me more flexibility in transitions and effects than PowerPoint does.  The greatest challenge was finding appropriate images, especially from the family photos. This has also proven to be the highlight, as I have had to connect with many family members to find the right photos.  I would like to work more on the project, take more time on it, and perhaps incorporate it in to a larger family history website, where the “real” story can be more completely explored interactively, with family members able to recall what their memories are, much in the way the website “Remembering Nagasaki” does.  There is a collection of memories of when people first became aware of nuclear weapons or the bombing of Japan, as well as a forum of comments from people with different perspectives about the bombing.  Though the subject matter is dramatically different, the format is suitable for a family history.  It could include a place for comments from people who have been touched by the Smith Family because of its relationship with the Baha’i Faith.

If you’d like to contribute to the creation of such a site, please comment.

Works Cited

The Exploratorium, IDG Films, and Rupert Jenkins. “Remembering Nagasaki.” Exploratorium: the Museum of Science, Art and Human Perception. The Exploratorium. Web. 29 Oct. 2010.