This began with a member of the Bahai-studies list who wrote:
> A while ago I was part of a Baha’i history discussion forum. To my
> surprise I found that there was full agreement from a number of
> prominent Baha’i scholars that the number of Babi/Baha’i martyrs was
> much less than the normal figure of 20,000, probably two or three
> thousand if I recall.
My reply, on November 23, 2007:
I think that is low: we can account for about 4000 I think, and
presume that there are a small number not counted, but not many. The
Babi-Bahai community was quite good at remembering its martyrs and
> the figure of 20,000 doesn’t just come from Baha’i individuals.
> Apparently ‘Abdu’l-Baha gave the figure, and Shoghi Effendi did.
In the Traveller’s Narrative, Abdu’l-Baha says:
Now in these years [A.H. one thousand two hundred and] sixty-six and
sixty-seven throughout all Persia fire fell on the households of the
Babis, and each one of them, in whatever hamlet he might be, was, on
the slightest suspicion arising, put to the sword. More than four
thousand souls were slain, and a great multitude of women and
children, left without protector or helper, distracted and confounded,
were trodden down and destroyed.
Abdu’l-Baha’s figure lines up very closely with the actual numbers
that can be counted – 4000 or a little more. But notice that he also says
that a multitude of women and children were left defenceless and destroyed.
Some may actually have died, some may simply have suffered so much that
they are to be considered martyrs. Iran at that time was subject to
famines, and in some regions many people died — particularly those
without a “protector or helper.” Weakened people die of disease, as well
as hunger. It is not impossible that the Babi community suffered losses of
around 20,000 people, and that the number actually executed — mainly the
adult men — was 4 to 5 thousand.
In the Will and Testament, Abdu’l-Baha says “Ten thousand souls have shed
streams of their sacred blood in this path, their precious lives they
offered in sacrifice unto Him,” and Shoghi Effendi echoes this in God
Passes By: “It is characterized by nine years of fierce and relentless
contest, whose theatre was the whole of Persia, in which above ten
thousand heroes laid down their lives” (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p.
So there is nothing “canonical” about the figure of 20,000 martyrs,
other figures are also given in authoritative Bahai texts. And there is
nothing surprising about a 4-fold variance between different counts, when
none of them specify exactly what is being counted, and some do not even
specify an exact period
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