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Mírzá Yaḥyá Núrí, Ṣubḥ-i-Azal, photo by Captain Arthur Young, 1888
|Born||Mírzá Yahya Núrí
Tehran, Persia (present-day Iran)
|Died||April 29, 1912 (aged 80) (In the lunar calendar he would have been about 82-3.)
Famagusta , Ottoman Empire (present-day Cyprus)
|Known for||Founder of Azali Babism|
Born in the year 1831, he was orphaned at a very young age and taken into the care of his stepmother, Khadíjih Khánum. In 1850, when he was just a teenager, he succeeded 'Ali Muhammad Shirazi, known as the Báb, assuming leadership of the Bábí religious community.
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Subh-i-Azal was born in 1831 to Kuchak Khanum-i-Karmanshahi and Mírzá Buzurg-i-Núrí, in the province of Mazandaran, and a younger-half-brother of Bahá'u'lláh. His father was a minister in the court of Fath-Ali Shah Qajar. His mother died while giving birth to him, and his father died in 1834 when he was three years old. His father is buried at Vadi-al-Islam in Najaf. He was committed to the care of his stepmother Khadíjih Khánum, the mother of Bahá'u'lláh.
Becoming a Bábí
In 1844, at about the age of 14, Subh-i-Azal became a follower of the Báb.
Early activities in the Bábí community
Subh-i-Azal met Tahirih, the 17th Letter of the Living who had, upon leaving the Conference of Badasht, traveled to Nur to propagate the faith. Shortly thereafter, she arrived at Barfurush and met Subh-i-Azal and became acquainted once again with Quddús who instructed her to take Subh-i-Azal with her to Nur. Subh-i-Azal remained in Nur for three days, during which he propagated the new faith. 
During the Battle of Fort Tabarsi, Subh-i-Azal, along with Bahá'u'lláh and Mirza Zayn al-Abedin endeavoured to travel there to assist the soldiers. However, they were arrested several kilometers from Amul. Their imprisonment was ordered by the governor, but Subh-i-Azal escaped the officials for a short while, after which he was discovered by a villager and then brought to Amul on foot with his hands tied. On the path to Amul he was subject to harassment, and people are reported to have spat at him. Upon arriving he was reunited with the other prisoners. The prisoners were ordered to be beaten, but when it came time that Subh-i-Azal should suffer the punishment, Baha'u'llah objected and offered to take the beating in his place. After some time, the governor wrote to Abbas Quli Khan who was commander of the government forces stationed near Fort Tabarsi. Khan replied back to the governor's correspondence, saying that the prisoners were of distinguished families and should not be harassed. Thus, the prisoners were released and sent to Nur upon orders of the commander.
Appointment as the Báb's successor
Shortly before the Báb's execution, a follower of the Báb, Abd al-Karim, brought to the Báb's attention the necessity to appoint a successor; thus the Báb wrote a certain number of tablets which he gave to Abd al-Karim to deliver to Subh-i-Azal and Bahá'u'lláh. These tablets were later interpreted by both Azalis and Bahá'ís as proof of the Báb's delegation of leadership. Some sources state that the Báb did this at the suggestion of Bahá'u'lláh.
In his history, Mirza Jani states the following:
So he [i.e. Báb] sent his personal effects, such as pen-cases, paper, writings, his own blessed raiment [i.e. his clothing], and his holy rings, according to the number of the Unity [Wáhid = 19], that the outward form might correspond with the inward reality. Now the mystery of his bestowing his effects on [Subh-i-Azal] according to the number of the Unity is perfectly evident, namely that he intended the inner meaning thereof, that it might be known to all his followers that after himself [Ṣubḥ-i-Azal] should bear the Divine influences.
Some state that Subh-i-Azal's claim to successorship is obvious; others state that the Báb, for the purposes of secrecy, when corresponding with Bahá'u'lláh would address the letters to Subh-i-Azal. After the Báb's death Subh-i-Azal came to be regarded as the central authority in the movement to whom the majority of Bábís turned as a souce of guidance and revelation.
During the time that both Bahá'u'lláh and Subh-i-Azal were in Baghdad, Bahá'u'lláh publicly and in his letters pointed to Subh-i-Azal as the leader of the community. However, since Subh-i-Azal remained in hiding, Bahá'u'lláh performed much of the daily administration of the Bábí affairs. Then, in 1863 Bahá'u'lláh made a claim to be Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest, the messianic figure in the Báb's writings, to a small number of followers, and in 1866 he made the claim public. Bahá'u'lláh's claims threatened Subh-i-Azal's position as leader of the religion since it would mean little to be leader of the Bábís if "Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest" were to appear and start a new religion. Subh-i-Azal responded to these claims with severe criticism, but his attempt to preserve the traditional Bábísm was largely unpopular, and his followers became the minority.
Subh-i-Azal's leadership was controversial. He generally absented himself from the Bábí community spending his time in Baghdad in hiding and disguise; and even went so far as to publicly disavow allegiance to the Báb on several occasions. Subh-i-Azal gradually alienated himself from a large proportion of the Bábís who started to give their alliance to other claimants. Manuchehri states that Subh-i-Azal remained in hiding because he was primarily concerned with personal safety, due a statement from the Báb in his will and testament that Subh-i-Azal should protect himself.
MacEoin further states:
Bahá'í polemic has made much capital out of Azal's behaviour at this period, attributing it to a mixture of incompetence and cowardice. But it is clear that he actually continued to identify himself as the head of the Bábís, to write books, reply to letters, and on occasion meet with other leaders of the community His behaviour seems, therefore, to have been dictated less by cowardice than by the adoption of a policy of taqiyya [dissimulation]. Not only was this an approved practice in Shi'ism, but there was particular sanction for it in the seclusionist policies of the last Imams and, in particular, the original ghayba [Occultation] of the Twelfth Imam, who went into hiding out of fear of his enemies.
In 1852, Subh-i-Azal was involved in an uprising in Takur, Iran, which was planned to coincide with the assassination attempt on the life of the Shah. Following the attempt, he and other Babis chose to go into exile in Baghdad. In Baghdad he lived as the generally acknowledged head of the community, but he kept his whereabouts secret from most of the community, instead keeping in contact with the Babis through agents, termed "witnesses", in Iran and Iraq to routinize the charismatic authority of the movement, and echoing "the supposed appointment of agents by the twelfth Imam during the lesser occultation." One of the most important "witnesses of the Bayán" who represented Subh-i-Azal in Baghdad was Sayyid Muhammad Isfahani. Apart from Isfahani, Subh-i-Azal had written to six other individuals naming them all "witnesses of the Bayán." These witnesses are as follows: Mulla Muhammad Ja'far Naraqi, Mulla Muhammad Taqi, Haji Sayyid Muhammad (Isfahani), Haji Sayyid Jawad (al-Karbala'i), Mirza Muhammad Husayn Mutawalli-bashi Qummi, and Mulla Rajab 'Ali Qahir.
The appointment of witnesses routinized charismatic authority within the religion, however, this move was not met with widespread acceptance. Some sources report that one of the witnesses apparently laid claim to be Him Whom God shall make manifest MacEoin reports that one probable witness made similar claims, Haji Mirza Musa Qummi, who apparently later became a follower of Bahá'u'lláh.
The most serious challenge to the authority of Subh-i-Azal came from Mirza Asad Allah Khu'i "Dayyán," whose activities incited him to write a lengthy refutation titled "Mustayqiz." The Hasht Bihisht refers to Dayyán as "the Judas Iscariot of his people." Following the Báb's death, Dayyán, who had a deep interest in the study of the occult in regards to such areas as alchemy and gematria, began to advance his own claims to be Him Whom God shall make manifest. MacEoin reports that Mirza Muhammad Mazandarani, a follower of Subh-i-Azal murdered Dayyan for his claims in response to a order by Subh-i-Azal for him to be killed. Azali sources state that Dayyan was killed on the orders of Baha'u'llah.
In 1863 most of the Babis were exiled by the Ottoman authorities to Adrianople. In Adrianople, Bahá'u'lláh made his claim to be the messianic figure of the Bayan public, and created a permanent schism between the two brothers. Subh-i-Azal responded to these claims by making his own claims and resisting the changes of doctrine which were introduced by Bahá'u'lláh. His attempts to keep the traditional Babism were, however, mostly unpopular. During this time there was feuding between the two groups. According to Balyuzi and some other sources, Subh-i-Azal was behind several murders and attempted murders of his enemies, including the poisoning of Bahá'u'lláh. Some Azali sources re-apply these allegations to Bahá'u'lláh, even claiming that he poisoned himself while trying to poison Subh-i-Azal.
Finally the feuding between the two groups lead the Ottoman government to further exile the two groups in 1868; Bahá'u'lláh and the Baha'is were sent to Acre, Palestine and Subh-i Azal and his family, along with some followers were sent to Famagusta in Cyprus.
According to Browne, Mirza Yahya had several wives, and at least nine sons and five daughters. His sons included: Nurullah, Hadi, Ahmad, Abdul Ali, Rizwan Ali, and four others. Rizvan Ali reports that he had eleven or twelve wives. Later research reports that he had up to seventeen wives including four in Iran and at least five in Baghdad, although it is not clear how many, if any, were simultaneous. According to Azali sources, Subh-i-Azal had five wives in total.
There are conflicting reports as to whom Subh-i-Azal appointed as his successor. Browne reports that there was confusion over who was to be Subh-i-Azal's successor at his death. Subh-i-Azal's son, Rizwán `Ali, reported that he had appointed the son of Aqa Mirza Muhammad Hadi Daulatabadi as his successor; while another, H.C. Lukach's, states that Mirza Yahya had said that whichever of his sons "resembled him the most" would be the successor. None appear to have stepped forward. MacEoin reports that Subh-i-Azal appointed his son, Yahya Dawlatabadi, as his successor, but notes that there is little evidence that Yahya Dawlatabadi was involved in the affairs of the religion, and that instead he spent his time as that of secular reformer. Shoghi Effendi reports that Mirza Yahya appointed a distinguished Bábí, Aqa Mirza Muhammad Hadi of Daulatabad (Mirza Hadiy-i-Dawlat-Abadi) successor, but he later publicly recanted his faith in the Báb and in Mirza Yahya. Mirza Yahya's eldest son apparently became a Bahá'í himself. Miller quoting a later source states that Yahya did not name a successor. Miller relied heavily on Jalal Azal who disputed the appointment of Muhammad Hadi Daulatabadi.
MacEoin notes that after the deaths of those Azali Babis who were active in the Constitutional Revolution in Iran, the Azali form of Babism entered a stagnation which it has not recovered as there is no acknowledged leader or central organization. Current estimates are that there are no more than a few thousand.
It was common practice among the Bábís to receive titles. The Báb's Will and Testament addresses Mirza Yahya in the first verse:
- "Name of Azal, testify that there is no God but I, the dearest beloved."
Manuchehri (2004) notes that Mirza Yahya was the only Bábí with such a title as "Azal".
However, the Báb appears to mention him only occasionally, if ever, specifically as "Subh-i-Azal", while attributing others with the title. He appeared to prefer calling him "Thamaratu'l-Azaliyya" and "'Ismu'l-Azal", while in early books he is called "Hadrat-i-Azal". This has led certain academics to doubt its origin, although they cite error, rather than deception as a motive. There are also references to the titles al-Waḥīd, Ṭalʻat an-Nūr, and at-Tamara.
- 110 Prayers
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- 1001 Haykals, vol. iii
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- A Collection of Tablets
- A Succinct Account of the New Manifestation
- Book of Aqsa
- Book of Azha
- Book of Commune/Congregation
- Book of Elegy
- Book of Light
- Book of La'ali va Majali (Manuscript 1)
- Book of La'ali va Majali (Manuscript 2)
- Book of Living
- Book of Moments
- Book of Musta'n
- Book of Radiations
- Book of Spirit
- Book of Unity
- Commentary on the Letter Ha
- Conduct of the Heads of States (Treatise on Kingship)
- The Ethics of the Spirituals
- Persian Homilies
- Responding to Questions
- Tablet of Joy
- Sanctity of Azal
- Seven Worlds and Seven Senses
- The Book of Splendour
- The Book of Vajh
- The Mirror of Bayán
- The Most High Kingdom
- The Most Mighty Path of Truth
- Invoking the Seven Worlds (English)
- Untitled Writings, vol. i
- Untitled Writings, vol. ii
- Volume Two of the Commentary on Qur'an's Surat al-Baqara
- Works of Eternity (Arabic)
- Works of Eternity (Persian)
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- Nicolas, A.L.M (1933). Qui est le succeseur du Bab?. Paris: Librairie d'Amerique et d'Orient. p. 15.
- Cole, Juan. "A Brief Biography of Baha'u'llah". Retrieved 2006-06-22.
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- Mirza Aqa Khan Kirmani made this claim later in his Hasht-Bihisht. This book is abstracted in part by Edward G. Browne in "Note W" of his translation of A Traveller's Narrative(`Abdu'l-Bahá 1891).
- Browne 1897
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- `Abdu'l-Bahá (1868). Browne, E.G. (Tr.), ed. A Traveller's Narrative: Written to illustrate the episode of the Bab. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press (published 1891). pp. (See Browne's "Introduction" and "Notes", esp. "Note W".).
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"Most of the movement's [Babism's] survivors turned to the religion of Baha Ullah (the Bahai Faith) in 1863, but others stayed loyal to Ali Muhammad's designated heir, Mirza Yahya (or Subbh-i Azal, d. 1912), and this group of Babis became known as Azalis. Azali Babism survived a period of exile in Iraq and Turkey, and its adherents participated in the Iranian Constitutional Revoluion of 1906. A very small number of Babis survive today in the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan."
- Cole, Juan (2000). "Baha'u'llah's Surah of God: Text, Translation, Commentary". East Lansing, MI: H-Bahai.
- Frigerio, Fabrizio (2001). "Un prisonnier d'État à Chypre sous la domination ottomane : Soubh-i-Ezèl à Famagouste". Πρακτικά του Γ Διεθνούς Κυπρολογικού Συνέδριου (Proceedings of the III International Cyprological Congress). Nicosia, Cyprus. 3: 629–646.
- Effendi, Shoghi (1944). God Passes By. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-87743-020-9.
- Hamadani, Huseyn (1893). Browne, E.G. (Tr.), ed. The Tarikh-i-Jadid, or New History of Mirza 'Ali Muhammad The Bab. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. (See Browne's "Introduction" and "Appendix II" (pp. 327–396).
- Kashani, Jani (Attrib.) (1910). Browne, E.G., ed. Kitab-i Nuqtat al-Kaf: Being the Earliest History of the Babis. Leiden, The Netherlands: E.J. Brill.
- MacEoin, Denis (1994). Rituals in Babism and Bahaism. London: British Academic Press.
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- Salmání, Muhammad-`Alíy (1982). My Memories of Bahá'u'lláh. Kalimát Press, Los Angeles, USA.
- Schaefer, Udo; Towfigh, N; Gollmer, U (1995). Making the Crooked Straight: A Contribution to Bahá'í Apologetics. Oxford, UK: George Ronald (published 2002). ISBN 0-85398-443-3.
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- Taherzadeh, Adib (1976). The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, Volume 1: Baghdad 1853-63. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. ISBN 0-85398-270-8.
- Taherzadeh, Adib (1992). The Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. ISBN 0-85398-344-5.
- Varnava; Coureas; Elia (2009). The Minorities of Cyprus: Development patterns and the identity of the internal-exclusion. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 362. ISBN 978-1-4438-0052-5.
- Zanjání, `Abdu'l-Ahad (1897). E.G. Browne (tr.), ed. "Personal Reminiscences of the Babi Insurrection at Zanjan in 1850, written by Aqa `Abdu'l-Ahad-i-Zanjan". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. v. 29: 761–827.
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