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Title: Five Years in a Persian Town
Author: Malcolm, Napier
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Five Years in a Persian Town" ***

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[Illustration: YEZDI TYPES.

The numbers are from the left.

1. A _qan’at_ maker. This is the man who digs the tunnels by which the
water is brought from the base of the hills to the towns in the plain.
The leather bag on his arm is a bucket.

2. A Parsi _raiyat_, or agriculturist, with his spade.

3. A porter.

4. A _charvadar_ (muleteer) from Lāristān. These very big men often come
to Yezd with caravans.

5. A Jew, who is divining from his book for the charvadar. The Jew has
his boy with him.

6. An oil-seller. He carries the oil in gourds.

7. A _darvish_, or religious mendicant.

8. An Arab. These are sometimes seen in Yezd, but like the Lari
_charvadar_ they do not really belong to the town.]

                               FIVE YEARS
                            IN A PERSIAN TOWN

                            BY NAPIER MALCOLM

                                NEW YORK
                        E. P. DUTTON AND COMPANY

                       _Printed in Great Britain._


I feel that this short sketch of a Persian town needs an apology. It will
not improbably be mistaken for a book of travel. Stopping five years in
one place is not travelling, and the experience of such a stay is not
a traveller’s experience. The descriptions that will be found in this
volume refer to a very small area, and consequently a good deal of minute
work has been attempted that would have been out of place in the painting
of a larger sphere.

Then, again, this is not a book upon mission work. There is comparatively
little about the very interesting work which is being carried on in Yezd
by the Church Missionary Society, but there is a great deal about the
circumstances under which missionaries work, for the book is really
a description of a Persian town from the missionary point of view.
This will explain why certain details, such as the dress and food of
the people, are left out altogether; for, although there may be some
connection between these things and the kind of way in which missionary
work ought to be conducted, it is not at present apparent to the writer.
On the other hand, the general effects of house, street, and desert,
which meet the Yezdi’s eye at every turn, have been rather elaborately
described, for scenery and scenic surroundings have much effect on
character, and the study of character is essential in missionary work.

In most of the descriptions I have taken special care to preserve the
true proportion between good and evil, so far as I have been able to
estimate it in the thing described. I have specially done this in the
necessarily incomplete sketches which I have drawn of the Yezdi’s
character and religious beliefs. But in dealing with the Persian
Government I have consciously deviated from this practice. Consequently,
I must ask the reader to regard all references to the Government as going
no further than the actual statements. I have also, as far as possible,
avoided alluding to political problems; for, in a country like Persia,
for a man engaged in serious missionary work abstention from politics is
almost a _sine qua non_.

It will, perhaps, be felt by some that more ought to be made of the
points in common between Islam and Christianity. The fact is that when
people come to the missionary they do not want to find agreement but
disagreement, and consequently the missionary gets to think not so much
of what they know as of what they do not know. So a missionary writer is,
perhaps, inclined to pass over common points, whatever religion he is
writing about. In the case of Islam there are really not many to note,
and in support of this statement I may relate a story told by an officer
of Indian troops. One day a Mohammedan, in the course of a conversation,
said to him: “Of course, Sahib, your religion and ours are very near
together. Your Christ is one of our prophets.” My friend replied: “What
do you mean? Of course Christ is one of your prophets, but to us He is
more than a prophet; He is the Son of God and the pattern of our lives.
Besides there is hardly a single practical point where Mohammedans and
Christians are not entirely at issue.” The man looked up and said:
“Sahib, you have read the Quran, and you have read your Bible. I always
make that remark to Christians: I made it to a padre the other day: and
they almost always say, ‘Very true; Mohammedanism has a great deal in
common with Christianity.’ Well, Sahib, when they say that, I know that
they have not read the Quran and they have not read their Bibles.”

My best thanks are due to Miss MARY BIRD, whose name is well known
both in Persia and to all interested in that country, for the valuable
assistance that she has given me out of the wide and unique experience
that she possesses on the subjects handled in my book. I am also very
grateful to the Rev. G. FURNESS SMITH for several valuable suggestions.

I am indebted to the Rev. C. H. STILEMAN and to Mr PAUL PETER for some
of the photographs illustrating the book. The coloured prints and the
picture of the School are from drawings by a native artist, MIRZA ABU’L



                                CHAPTER I

    The Yezd district—Desert—Water supply—Villages—The town of
    of buildings—Built for heat—Hill villages—Effect of
    surroundings on intellect and character                         1-35

                               CHAPTER II

    Isolation and insularity—The town the geographical
    and political unit—Extension of citizenship to
    strangers—Bigotry—Oppression and persecution of
    Parsis—Improvement in their position—Position of
    Jews—Fanaticism largely non-religious—Position of European
    colony                                                         36-59

                               CHAPTER III

    Persian Mohammedanism—Mohammed—Founding of Islam—Shiahs
    and Sunnis—Laxity distinguished from infidelity—Central
    doctrines of Islam—The Divine Unity—The prophethood—Behāi
    view of the prophethood—The Bāb—The Behāullah—Behāīism—Its
    prospects—Islam—Predestination—Repentance—Savābs—Eating with
    unbelievers—Charge of pantheism—Effect of Islam on character  60-114

                               CHAPTER IV

    Results of Islam—Untruthfulness—Superstitions—Pilgrimages—
    Divining—Jins and Dīvs—The evil eye—Trivial commandments—
    Entertainments—Islam includes rather than controls the
    life—Two purposes better than one—Ceremonial uncleanness     115-135

                                CHAPTER V

    Character of the Yezdi—Systematised inconsistency—Loyalty
    to causes and individuals—Unreliability of
    evidence—Shame—Humour—Disregard of time—Language—Lack
    of initiative—Courage—The Yezdi soldier—Etiquette
    and manners—Triviality—Pride—Kindliness and
    cruelty—Dishonesty—Difficulty in obtaining anything—Tendency
    to fatalism—Latent strength of Persian character—Family
    ties—The _jus paternum_—Religious liberty—Open-handedness—
    Summary                                                      136-187

                               CHAPTER VI

    Difficulties in dealing with enquirers—Language—Argument—
    Parabolic interpretations—Distrust of evidence—Ignorance—
    Attachment to Islam as representing whole scheme of
    life—The problem of converts—Industrial missions—Employment
    by missionaries—Helpful points—Readiness for religious
    discussion—Quickness in grasping single points—Yezdi
    wants distinctive and systematic teaching—And a concrete
    example—Difficulties in accepting converts—Tests             188-216

                               CHAPTER VII

    Getting into touch with the natives—The missionary’s style of
    life—Visiting and receiving visitors—Philanthropic work—Poor
    relief—School work—Medical work                              217-255

    CONCLUSION                                                       256

    GLOSSARY                                                         265


    YEZDI TYPES                                            _Frontispiece_

    HUJJATABAD, THE FIRST STAGE FROM YEZD                 _To face p._ 6

    SWEET EATING IN A TALAR                                    ”      26

    DEHBALA                                                    ”      34

    SMALL SQUARE IN YEZD                                       ”      76

    CORPSES _EN ROUTE_ TO THE QUM CEMETERY                     ”     120

    SANDY DESERT NEAR YEZD                                     ”     120

    CARRYING THE NAKHL IN THE BIG SQUARE IN YEZD               ”     134


    A VIEW OF YEZD                                             ”     216

    SCENES IN YEZDI LIFE                                       ”     226

    THE SCHOOL                                                 ”     242

    MAP                                                      _at the End_



    The Yezd district—Desert—Water supply—Villages—The town of
    of buildings—Built for heat—Hill villages—Effect of
    surroundings on intellect and character.

In the very centre of central Persia there is a town called Yezd, which
in some ways may be uninteresting, but ought for a student of Persia to
have the greatest interest, for it possesses all the regular attributes
of a Persian town to an exaggerated degree. These Persian towns can be
better understood after some consideration of the country in which they
lie. Some one, I think, has said that Persia consists of two parts, the
salt desert, and the desert which is not salt; and though this is not
true of all parts of Persia, with regard to most of the interior of
Persia it is as nearly true as a reasonable man can expect an aphorism
to be. In the vast district where Yezd lies you find an archipelago,
with sand for sea, and towns and villages for islands. If you want to
know how big that desert area is, I can only tell you that we went to
Yezd, which lies in the very centre of Persia, from the southern shore
of the Caspian, which is the northern boundary of the country, and with
the exception of a belt of land at the extreme north about thirty miles
broad, and a patch round Teheran about twenty miles across, we literally
passed through nothing but desert.

But desert in Persia is of many kinds: even the salt desert is not all
the same. There are places where the ground is absolutely bare, except
for the thick crusts of salt that lie like snowdrifts streaking the
surface in every direction. There are also places equally salt where the
proximity of a certain amount of useless water produces a larger quantity
of plant life than in most parts of the ordinary desert. The ordinary
desert is good soil, and wherever water can be brought to it, it is
extremely fertile. Generally it has a hard but rather gravelly surface.
Sometimes it is flecked with dry brownish shrubs about the size of
bedding-out plants, sometimes it is quite bare. There is in parts a good
deal of scattered growth, but two plants never touch one another. In the
more favourable places shrubs may be found at an average of not more than
two yards apart, but, with one exception, I have never seen in the desert
plains of central Persia a place away from the hills with sufficient
natural growth to modify the colour of the distance.

Then there is the sandy desert. Here also, if the sand is scraped away
and water brought, the soil is good, but in appearance the sandy desert
is the most desolate of all. Absolutely nothing grows on it. It is like
the worst kind of salt desert, without the relief of the white patches.
Yezd lies in a big stretch of sandy desert. Sometimes the sand may be
broken by a large piece of gravelly plain, but such places are generally
as bare as the sands themselves, and form no real break in the dull

Of course there are oases; but what is called an oasis is not really
very different in character from the desert that surrounds it. It is the
same desert artificially cultivated. In the plains the water is brought
from a distance, and when it is applied the ground consents to nourish
exactly those seeds that have been sown. There are hardly any weeds,
no turf, no tangle, no hedges, and no waste green. Every blade in the
artificial wheat-field is an isolated unit, that may be pulled up without
disturbing its neighbour. Even in the fresher-looking gardens, enclosed
and concealed by high mud walls, there is the same meagre, bedded-out
appearance on every side. In spite of the possibility of three artificial
harvests in the year, one sees at a glance that the very roots will
inevitably be annihilated when the water is cut off, and of course this
happens pretty frequently. There are no wild trees at all, and those
that are reared are very small, and scanty in leafage. Such oases as
these go by different names, according to the quantity of water. Those
that can support a fairly large population are towns, those that can
support a smaller one are villages, those that can only support one or
two households are called cultivations, or _mazra’s_. But, however big or
however small, they are no interruption to the continuity of the desert.

In the hills and round their bases there is a trifle more plant life,
but there is no strong contrast to the barrenness below. Only high up
in the creases of the mountain sides, right above the cultivations and
villages, there are the narrowest strips of turf on either side of the
snow torrents. Here one may find small ferns nestling under the boulders,
and quantities of soft flowers, or an occasional wild barberry bush.
Away from the actual bed of the mountain streams one is again in desert
of a kind, though here, too, the scattered dry shrubs will be found
alternating with more succulent varieties of plants, and the landscape is
by no means entirely bare.

As soon as these streams reach ground that it is possible to level into
terraces, they are used for irrigation, and become the stalks of minute
_mazra’s_. Then come long hill villages with orchard trees and walnuts;
and lastly, if there is any water left at the real mountain base, there
will be a round irrigated patch of rather larger extent on the edge of
the plain.

In the middle of the plains water may be found about sixty yards
beneath the surface, a depth from which it may be drawn through wells
for drinking purposes, but not in large quantities for irrigation.
Consequently, if the snow torrents were the only source of water supply,
the centres of the Persian plains would be uninhabitable; for in
districts like that of Yezd the rainfall is so trifling that nine or
ten not over large falls of rain or snow in the twelve months constitute
a wet year. But water that is found at sixty, or even a hundred, yards
down at the base of the hills is by no means useless. From this point
to the centre of the plain there is a considerable, though very gradual
declivity. So when the original shaft has been sunk, and water has been
found, perhaps at three hundred feet below the surface, a long line of
similar shafts are sunk towards the centre of the desert, at distances
varying from twenty to forty yards, the line sometimes stretching for
more than thirty miles, until a point of desert has been reached that
lies as deep down as the original water-level. Then all the shafts are
connected at the bottom by burrows, just big enough to afford passage to
a man; the water is let in, and appears in an open ditch in the centre
of the desert. Of course conveyance of water by these _qan’āts_ as they
are called, which are often thirty or forty miles long, is by no means
inexpensive, so as a rule the water is used immediately it can be brought
to the surface. Consequently we find all through the barren Persian
plains two strange phenomena: little cultivations, fed by artificial
channels, standing all by themselves, leagues away from anywhere, in the
middle of a desolate and waterless expanse; and large towns such as Yezd,
situated far away from any natural water supply, in the barest spot to be
found in all the desert, the central hollow where the drifting sands have
collected and covered over even the faintest vestige of vegetable life.


Sandy desert, with qan’at pits in foreground.]

The typical Persian plain is very long, appearing to be comparatively
narrow, and certainly flat beyond conception. The plains through which
one approaches Yezd from Kashan or Kirman are probably on the average
about sixty miles broad. But the huge barren mountains, lying in long
jagged ranges to the right and left, show with such plainness of detail
from every point, that the traveller unused to the clear atmosphere of
the East can hardly credit the full size and distance. Mountains, plains,
foreground, and far perspective, everything, in the Yezd district at any
rate, is one neutral tint of brown, except for the snow lying on the
rocks of the mountain-top, the long flakes of salt scattered here and
there about the plain, or the continual moving mirage. Even at sunrise
and sunset, when the sky and distant hills put on a colouring of glorious
brilliancy, there is an utter absence of those soft tones in the
foreground which can only be given by sunlight in a humid atmosphere.

Near Yezd there rise into sight brown villages, excrescences of the same
material as that on which they stand, isolated separate objects with
sharp definite bounds. The scanty, hedgeless crops that surround them,
usually arranged in oblong patches like small allotments, seldom show
until the traveller is quite near; the few trees are wretchedly poor in
size and colour, and the walls and buildings are simply mud, of which
three parts are in ruins.

After a few of these villages we come to Yezd itself, equally isolated
from everything, and in other respects very much the same as the
villages. However, as we approach the town by most of the main roads,
there are no fields and no trees at all. Also there are sticking out
from the town a lot of high square air-shafts, looking like short
factory chimneys. Yezd, like the villages, is brown, but there are a few
patches of white. There are one or two very faintly tiled minarets and a
newer-looking green dome; but these things are not sufficiently striking
to modify the general brown effect.

Now we are among the _bāghs_.[1] A _bāgh_ is an enclosure, generally
oblong, consisting of mud walls twelve feet high, surrounding a planted
area. Very often a _bagh_ contains nothing but fields of farm crops.
The better class _baghs_, belonging to the richer Persians, have in the
centre a kind of summer dwelling-house with plenty of porticos, built on
a very open-air pattern. Such _baghs_ are well stocked with fruit trees
and rose bushes; there may also be a few small elms, or short poplars,
or perhaps some cypresses. There are not many flowers. Here, too, most
of the area is given up to farm crops. Everything is laid out after the
plan of a Dutch garden, but without the turf and thick foliage, and
also without the extreme trimness that we connect with such places. In
the better gardens there is always a small gutter of running water, and
generally an artificial tank with a stone border. This is the part of the
_bagh_ most highly prized by the natives. In Persia a small artificial
channel with a stream of water about two feet across seems to give that
air of distinction to a house which we expect from a well-kept lawn
with good flower-beds. From the road nothing can be seen of all this
greenery except the tops of the highest trees. In Yezd indeed only the
_baghs_ that lie some way out up the course of the _qan’ats_ show as much
as this. Just round the town nothing is to be seen but the bare walls
and the gateways of the gardens. The gateways have some brickwork about
them, and are sometimes partially whitened. They stand back from the
road. The tops of the mud walls are generally in bad repair, and here
and there we come across a jagged hole that has been made as a short cut
into the garden by the gardener. In such cases the pieces of mud and
sun-dried bricks, when they have been taken out, lie in the street. Where
the surface of the thoroughfare has not been taken up for bricks, which
by the way are left to bake in the sun in the middle of the road, it is
generally used for drying manure that has been kneaded with a modicum
of earth. The dyers also use the street for hanging up their cloths to
dry, and also for arranging their skeins of silk, which they twist round
wooden pegs stuck into the wall about forty yards apart. The road surface
is a little irregular, and occasionally it is made more interesting by
a shaft leading into a _qan’at_. As we approach the houses proper the
road narrows, for it is only the natural lane between enclosures, and
the house enclosures, which from the outside are exactly similar to the
_baghs_, lie closer together.

Occasionally, as we near the centre of the town, we come across open
squares with a small mosque on the one side. The wall of the mosque is
dirty white, and there is a little black lettering over the doorway,
but very little tile or brick. In the middle there may be a dilapidated
octagon with a flat top, about five feet high and six across, built of
mud covered with tiles rather the worse for wear. Round such squares
there are generally arched recesses, filled in at the bottom, so as to
make a ledge three feet from the ground. The bazaars are just the old
narrow lanes, covered by a succession of mud domes forming a continuous
but untidy roof. The goods are displayed on tiers of mud ledges, and
there is a mud room behind. Quantities of the wares are mud. Firepans,
barrels for grain, several kinds of toys, bread receptacles, and some
other household implements are simply clay, moulded into a rough
form, and dried in the sun. Water-bottles, various kinds of pitchers,
children’s money-boxes, and hookah-bowls are baked with fire, but
without the slightest glaze. The baker’s ovens are made of mud, down
to the very doors. Many of the Yezdis even eat mud, and develop an
unwholesome muddy complexion.

The cleverness of the Yezdi in manipulating mud is beyond belief.
Sometimes you may see men in the streets making barrels for storing
grain. First of all a smooth round slab of mud about an inch and a half
thick, is moulded on the ground. Then another piece of mud is kneaded
into a long sausage, and placed in a hoop upon the edge of the slab.
Sausage after sausage is added hoopwise, one on the top of the other,
until a height of about four feet has been reached. Each hoop, as it is
laid in position, is worked with the hand into smooth connection with
the hoop below, and when the barrel is completed there is not the least
vestige of a join. The whole is done without wheel or machinery of any
kind. A mud lid is added which is soldered on with mud when the barrel is

I have hardly yet succeeded in giving any adequate impression of the
untidiness of the streets. The central courtyard of the house is
generally a fair-sized garden. For reasons connected with the water
supply the inhabitants of the houses are continually altering the level
of these places, and large quantities of earth are emptied into the
street or carried out of it every day as occasion may arise. All along
the sides of the streets there are shallow holes for rubbish heaps; here
and there there are cesspools; and yet with all this the streets are so
well scavenged by dogs and children that, except in the Jewish quarter,
the thoroughfare is comparatively clean, while, thanks to the powerful
sun and the absolute absence of moisture in the atmosphere, almost the
only obtrusive smells from one end of the town to the other are those
that hang round the public baths and the places used by the dyers.

Let us now enter one of the doorways that leads into a better class
house. We find ourselves first of all in a round or octagonal porch,
covered by a small dome, which is generally pierced in the centre to
admit light. From this porch we go through a passage into one of the
court-yards. In a good house there are two, or even three court-yards.
The whole family live in the better compound, and the men receive their
visitors in the smaller one. Though this rule is not without exception,
the better class women in Yezd do not seem to have much to complain of
in the matter of housing.

In the court-yard there will be found an open tank and some flower-beds;
the rest is generally paved. The flower-beds are below the level of
the pavement, and are irrigated from the tank. Watering-pots are used
for watering the pavement only. Sometimes the whole garden is sunk to
the level of the cellar floor, so as to get nearer to the _qan’at_.
The house itself consists of two sets of buildings, chiefly one story,
with perhaps one or two upstairs rooms. The upper rooms, however, do
not really form a separate story, but are built over the lowest of the
ground-floor rooms, so as to bring the roof more or less to one level.
The roofs are generally paved with flat bricks of the shape of tiles, and
are surrounded by a low mud wall, so as to form a more or less secluded
and cool place, where the family may sleep in summer. Perhaps a dome may
partially project above the level of the rest of the roof. Also there is
the inevitable _bād-gīr_, or square air-shaft, running down to the back
of the big summer portico, or _tālār_, and furnished at the top with long
slits on all four sides to catch any air that may be moving. This _talar_
is the principal room on the summer side, which faces north. It is often
built in the form of a cross with very stumpy arms, or rather of an
oblong with the corners so taken off as to render it slightly cruciform.
The long side of the oblong faces the court-yard, and has no wall at all,
but there is a curtain of tent-cloth that moves up and down on pulleys.
To the right and left of this sun-blind are short walled-off passages,
which are used as entrances. Corresponding to the projecting front part
between the passages there is at the back a recess under the _bad-gir_,
completing the cruciform design. The roof is arched into a high dome.
The whole _talar_ is raised three feet above the level of the garden, so
as to give room for a two-foot upright grating, which is the window of
the cellar room underneath. For five months in the year these are the
only habitable rooms in a Persian house; and they are both furnished as
living-rooms. The rooms on either side of the _talar_ are so like the
winter rooms that it is unnecessary to describe them separately.

The whole structure of the place is quite different from that of an
English building. Except for enclosing a rough garden the Persian builder
hardly ever makes a blank wall. Sometimes the walls of the compound,
generally the walls of stables and outhouses, but always the sides of
rooms, passages, and porticos consist of a series of arches more or less
carefully moulded. In the house, unless they are intended for doors,
windows, or cupboards, these arched recesses are filled in to a height of
three feet; so that round every Persian room there is a series of ledges,
called _tāqchas_, about the size of a small mantelpiece, generally a span
deep, but sometimes very much deeper, and running in instead of running
out. If the height of the room will allow it, there is a line of straight
moulding above these arches, and above that a second row, usually much
shorter than the lower ones. Above that comes a second series of lines of
straight moulding, shelving into the arch of the roof, for the ceilings
are always constructed on the arch principle, although they are sometimes
flattened on the top when it is intended to build an upper room. These
arches are built of brick and mud only, without any wood or wooden
foundation; and indeed no wood is used in a Yezd house at all, except for
doors and windows.

You will find three styles of wall in Persian houses. Sometimes the rough
mud is coated over with a smoother surface, either clay and chopped
straw, or clay and sand, and the brown colour is left unchanged. In
fairly good houses this style is often thought good enough for the summer
portico. Very often the angles of the mouldings are pointed with white
gypsum, and when ornamental designs in the same fashion are added, the
effect is exceedingly pretty. But generally the living rooms in a Persian
house are entirely whitened with gypsum, and a moulded design, about an
eighth of an inch thick, is made in the centre of the ceiling. These
complicated and accurate geometrical designs are produced by the natives
with no better tools than a chisel and a bit of string. The formation
of the arches and straight mouldings without instruments is equally
wonderful, but though the appearance is geometrical two arches never
exactly correspond with one another if one comes to measure. Still the
construction of a Persian room, perhaps with a large dome, without any
better materials than clay, gypsum, and a small modicum of baked brick,
without any scaffolding or wooden basis, and with the help of none but
the very simplest tools, is a thing that may be accounted one of the most
extraordinary marvels of the East.

As in the summer, so in the winter side, the best room is generally
in the centre. The better rooms are almost invariably approached from
the side and not from the front, being separated from one another by
passages that run to the whole depth of the buildings. This enables the
entire frontage of the room to be given up to windows. Generally some of
the rooms have a large cupboard room at the back, which is frequently
used for sleeping in. As the floor of the house is three feet above the
level of the compound, the passages between the rooms are furnished with
steps, but they have no doors. Consequently, to shift one’s quarters in
such a house necessitates going into the open air. The smaller rooms are
generally approached from the front, and in this case they sometimes have
an _aivān_, or mud verandah. The winter rooms always take up the north
end of the compound, but are often built along the east or west side as

Rooms are generally named by the number of their windows, which is
usually three or five. A good five-windowed room will have a frontage of
five arches filled in with French windows. The semi-circular fanlight
consists of pieces of coloured glass fixed together in a wooden lattice.
The lattice at a distance resembles fret-work, but is really elaborately
pieced together. Some of the older windows contain exceedingly fine work,
but even when it is well done it is not very durable, and nowadays they
can only do very rough work. Some of the work that is forty or fifty
years old is marvellous, but could not be done at the present time for
love or money. The French window itself consists of two doors which
are supposed to meet in the middle. There are no hinges, but each door
has a wooden foot which turns in a mud socket. The arrangement of the
coloured glasses which forms the panes is extremely artistic. The same
sort of wooden lattice is used, but the pattern is rather larger than the
pattern of the fanlight. As may be supposed, it is extremely difficult to
keep these windows clean, for the panes, besides being very minute, are
simply caught into grooves in the wood; and, as the work is done without
any great accuracy, they very seldom fit. The doors are made after the
same design as the windows, but they have wooden panels. They are often
surmounted by a glazed fanlight. The wood of the doors and windows is
covered with a yellowish-brown paint, and warps very badly, as it is used
in an unseasoned state. Our cat could generally get in through a bolted

Of course there is no form of door fastening which can be used
from both sides, and in this way as in others a Persian house is
distinctly inconvenient. Still the style of building when fresh is
very pretty. These masses of French windows with their coloured panes
artistically arranged, the lines of white arches all along the sides,
and the high-arched ceiling with its curious mouldings give the room
an ecclesiastical appearance. At the back of the room there is not
infrequently a corresponding line of door-windows, leading to one of
those cupboard-rooms which I have before mentioned. This arrangement
increases the regularity of the general design.

Before passing on to describe the furniture I must mention that there is
one other totally different style of window, which lifts up in a sash,
without pulleys, and is supported when open by metal stays. Also it is
very common to find wooden lattices unglazed. Paper or calico is pasted
over these in the winter.

There are one or two other forms of ornamentation that are not uncommon.
Perhaps a line of painting, quaint but distinctly artistic, may run
round the room just below the _taqchas_, giving the effect of a dado.
Sometimes the roof is much more elaborately moulded, and is spangled
with little bits of looking-glass; when this is not overdone the effect
is pleasing. It is not uncommon to find very poor looking-glasses, about
twelve by six inches, let into the walls. There are in almost every room
rings attached to staples, which are intended to support the baby’s
hammock. Fireplaces are a European importation, but they are generally
to be found in at least one room of the better class houses. They are
almost always narrow, and comparatively high, so as to conform to the
arch design, and they are made in the wall without any metal. The metal
fittings of the room, such as hammock-rings, staples, and door and window
latches, are made of whitened iron curiously engraved; and nails of the
same material with very large heads, from one inch to three or four
inches across, are used freely by the Persians for ornamenting woodwork.

The movable furniture of a Persian room is very simple. Curtains are not
used very freely, and those that are used are rather scanty. Generally
they are hung up by the corners without any string. In the men’s
apartments they are used more for doors than for windows. The favourite
pattern is a very crude green or red with a large lozenge in the middle,
like the design on a watered silk.

The only really valuable things in a Persian room are the carpets. In
some cases these are laid right up to the walls, and a piece of drugget
something less than a yard wide is also laid along the walls, usually
on three sides of the room. In other cases there is a border of very
thick clumsy felts arranged round the carpet which occupies the centre
of the floor. The felts are self-coloured, with a small amount of
stamped pattern. They have not got cut edges, but are made in one piece,
consequently the shape is very inaccurate. They cost nearly as much as
good carpets, and are often protected with druggets in the same way.
In the place of honour, furthest from the door, is a mattress stuffed
with cotton, covered with some sort of chintz or cretonne, and furnished
with one or two very large round bolsters. In the winter there is also
occasionally a _kursī_ in evidence, but they are less common in Yezd than
in other Persian towns. The _kursi_ is a rough stool, about as high as a
milking-stool, and about eighteen inches square, completely covered with
cotton quilts and rugs, which trail on the ground on every side. Beneath
this an iron brazier of lighted charcoal is placed, and the family tuck
their legs underneath the wraps, and squat round the _kursi_ on the
floor. This, however, is not generally kept in the room except in the
coldest weeks. During the remaining seasons the brazier is often brought
in on a large copper tray, either for heating the room, or for keeping
the teapot warm and for opium smoking. All copper and iron utensils in
Persia, such as these trays and braziers, are carefully tinned.

Tables in Yezd are made in the roughest fashion, but the legs are nicely
turned, the Yezd carpenters being greatly inferior to the turners, who
are entirely distinct from them, and who produce very good work with
the simplest class of hand-lathe worked with a bow. The carpenter, on
the other hand, is incapable of putting up a shelf straight. He never
dovetails, and he disguises the inaccuracy of his joints with plentiful
deposits of clay.

Many of the Yezdis use little tables about three feet by two, and
standing about twelve inches high. These are used only for tea-things.
But tea is generally made by an inferior, standing at a tall table in
the corner of the room. These tables are rather larger, not less than
four feet by two. They stand as high as an English sideboard, and have a
rough border of curved or dog-tooth pattern falling down from the slab,
so that they very much suggest a rough dressing-table. They are often
brought in and out of the rooms as they are wanted. People who wish to be
thoroughly European in their manners sometimes have a larger table of the
same kind permanently in the room, surrounded by a few bentwood chairs,
which are brought up from Bombay, or folding-chairs with cane seats,
which I think they bring from Isfahān, and about which the less said
the better. Such a table is always covered by a white cloth, the most
fashionable variety being a Turkey bath-towel.

These chairs and larger tables are no real part of Persian plenishing,
while the tea-tables are being continually carried backwards and
forwards, and are not necessary to the equipment of the room.
Consequently the room does not present a very filled appearance. The few
utensils which it contains, other than those mentioned, are placed upon
the _taqchas_. On one of these _taqchas_ may be seen a pair of _lālas_.
The _lala_ is a spring candlestick with a globe, and is, I believe, made
in Europe. The candles are also imported. All lights in Persia have to
be carefully protected from the wind, as the house is not a continuous
building, but a series of outhouses. On another _taqcha_ will be found
a lamp, also of European manufacture. Persian lamps, which are simply
saucers of native vegetable oil with a floating wick, are used freely
about the house when a strong light is not required, but they have the
disadvantage of blackening the gypsum of the walls. With regard to the
imported lamps it is a curious thing that, although the lamps used are
of the cheapest variety, with stems and reservoirs of blue or white
glass, lamps with short stems, which might be brought into the country
at an infinitely less cost, do not seem to have come into fashion. On a
third _taqcha_ is sure to be found a specimen of the Persian hookah, or
_qaliān_. This is a most elaborate pipe, and is both made and bought in
sections. The large bowls, however, when they are made of glass, are, I
believe, imported; also some of the china heads.

Sometimes you will find on the _taqchas_ a pair of European vases. In
Yezd the pattern is almost always that of the hand rising up from a
stand and grasping a tapered vessel. Sometimes also you will find cheap
Continental oleographs, generally ladies’ heads. These are bought by the
pair, and you will find two copies of the same picture standing side by
side. Another European import to which the Yezdis are much attached is
a looking-glass. These are of the oblong shape, with varnished or gilt
frames. Perhaps also one will see on the _taqchas_ a covered glass vessel
with a long spout, containing rose-water.

In the women’s rooms there is occasionally a large wooden trunk for
clothes, covered with gold and silver paper, and of a very clumsy design.
The _taqchas_ may be covered with plush cloths, and this is sometimes
the case in the men’s apartments. The women are also fond of highly
ornamented trinket boxes.

[Illustration: SWEET EATING IN A _TALAR_.

This is the principal part of the summer buildings in a Persian house,
and the bottom of the picture is the level of the compound. The room
underneath is a living room, and is lighted by the grating under the
_talar_. It is only used in the heat of the day. The door to the cellar
staircase is seen on the right of the picture. The passage is the
approach to the _talar_ itself.

The three men are sitting in the ordinary Persian way round a tray of
sweets. The Yezd sweets are remarkably good and have no coarse flavour.
They eat them as we do cakes, but in rather larger quantities. This
_talar_ is a small one. The larger ones are generally cruciform in shape.
It has no _bad-gir_ (air-shaft) or front curtain.]

The better class Yezd houses are exceedingly clean, and so on the whole
are the people who live in them. In this Yezd is distinctly superior
to some other Persian towns. The houses of the rather poorer classes
in Yezd are dirtier, but they would compare favourably with those of
a corresponding class in many parts of Europe. The very poor class are
crowded together, many families to one house, and live in a condition
of filth as great as the dry atmosphere will permit. You must remember
that the native never removes his clothes for the night; indeed he only
removes his clothes or washes his body when he goes to the public bath.
The fee for admission is a mere trifle, but people do not go to the bath
unless they have an absolutely clean set of clothes to change into when
they have bathed. A few of the poor people take off their clothes on
arriving at the bath and wash them, staying in the bath until they are
dry enough to put on again. This, however, is exceptional, and generally
speaking the difference in the standard of cleanliness accepted by the
richer and poorer Yezdis is very large.

Houses that are not very new are always more or less tumble-down. The
mud ceilings crack very easily, and the white gypsum flakes off at the
slightest touch. The more essential parts of the structure are equally
undurable. But you must remember that no Yezdi wants his house to last
for ever. When the house is first of all built, a large chamber is made
below the surface to receive the drainage, and the size of this is
determined by the length of time the owner wishes his house to last,
which is generally forty to fifty years. When the chamber is full, the
rich occupants move to another house, and the house gradually falls to
pieces. To the Yezdi an old house means a bad house, and this idea is so
deeply rooted, that even in his _bagh_ he seems to prefer young trees
to those which have attained their full size. The idea of a residence
which bears the marks of natural growth, and is not simply artificial,
has never entered into the Yezdi’s mind; and the absence of this to us
familiar idea, has to be reckoned with in dealing with his character.
Also it must be remembered that two-thirds of a Persian town, and
three-quarters of a Persian village, is from various causes invariably in
ruins. I suppose that in an English climate the best-built Yezd dwelling
houses would remain standing for about a fortnight. In spite of their
palatial design they are really nothing but mud huts, and when you live
in them, or rather about them, for you are in the open air as often as
you are inside, you learn their imperfections to your cost. Nobody can
realise the immense amount of damage that can be done in a town like
Yezd by a really wet day. Some while ago we had twenty-four hours of
rain, which destroyed, I believe, about a couple of hundred roofs, and,
what is worse, caused the older _qan’at_ pits to fall in, blocking the
water supply in some parts of the town for three months. Is there any
other town in the world where a little extra rain causes a three months’
drought? There is a story in Tehran about a Dutch Ambassador, who was
so afraid of the roof falling down that in wet weather he invariably
slept under the table. However he was a very tall man, and, when the
catastrophe happened, he got his foot crushed.

Still the summer buildings in a Yezd house are really not bad. Generally
speaking, the Persian builds well for heat and badly for cold. Yet the
short Yezdi winter is a very severe one; and we, who are accustomed
to a longer cold season, are astonished to see the philosophic way in
which the Yezdi sets himself to endure the cold while it lasts, without
taking any particular precautions to defend himself from it. The long
window-front is a mass of spaces and cracks. Even when panes are not
missing, daylight is frequently to be seen between the glass and the
lattice, between the window and its frame, and sometimes between the
frame and the wall. This of course is not including the crack between the
two doors, which is often half an inch wide. Remember that every door
in the house is a front door, leading into the open air, and you will
get some idea of the provision made against the winter cold. The fact
is that the Persian only understands two kinds of winter requirements,
that of the hard living working-man who demands only the simplest shelter
against the cold, and that of the man who on cold days can devote himself
to keeping warm with a _kursi_ in an inner apartment. A man who wants to
do his work comfortably in any sort of weather is entirely beyond his
calculation. On the few days when snow falls the merchants’ offices are
practically deserted, and no one but the smaller tradesmen and artisans
goes to the bazaars.

The house, as I have said, is really built for a protection against heat.
When I first went to Yezd I was surprised to find how tremendously the
natives were affected by the hot weather. The native is certainly less
affected than the European by the direct rays of the sun; but although
something in the climate seems to tell on Europeans after two or three
years’ residence, I would back a fairly strong Englishman, furnished with
a sun-helmet, against the average town Yezdi, to get through a piece of
work on a hot day, or to keep up continuous hard work for a season or
two. Consequently every Yezdi who can afford it tries to get away from
town for at least two months of the year. The hill villages, which the
Persians call _yailāq_, or summer quarters, lie about thirty miles away
from the town. Every well-to-do Persian has a house in one or other of
these villages, and there is a fashion about them, some being resorts
chiefly patronised by the artisans, and some by the big merchants.

As most of the richer Persians have more than one house in the villages,
Europeans generally have no great difficulty in hiring a place to stay
at. The houses are left during the winter in charge of a villager, who
uses the lower rooms only, the upper ones being then uninhabitable from
the intense cold. Indeed the cold is so great that we were told that one
winter the animals had been dying of thirst, as the water was frozen
beyond the possibility of breaking the ice, and they had not fuel enough
to melt it. The whole building is much rougher than the town house,
though the roofs have to be made more carefully. The villages are very
small and isolated, and the winter population is quite trifling. There
is in these villages a little arable land, but the people depend chiefly
on root-crops, nuts, and dried fruit for their winter stores, and on
the produce of the sheep and goats. The animals are tended in summer by
the children. The little boys spend most of their time up the walnut
trees, throwing down leaves for them to eat, while the little ragged
shepherdesses carry a twelve-foot staff for whacking the walnut trees,
when they do not climb them in the same way as their brothers.

Those who go to the villages in the summer take with them everything
they need in the way of carpets, furniture, and cooking utensils, also
all groceries, and even wheat and charcoal; for the commonest things
of this kind are often absolutely unprocurable. A rich Persian has
stores frequently sent to him from Yezd during his stay. Even in Yezd
some necessary store or other is almost always running short, so that
something is generally at famine prices. This, of course, is due to the
great isolation of the town. But in the villages it is intensified.
Sometimes there will be no meat, at another time hardly any bread, and
some years ago we found it almost impossible to procure milk, and were
told by our Persian friends that they had the same difficulty. This
eighteen-hour journey, with all the paraphernalia of the home, is the
average Yezdi’s only experience of foreign travel; and for this reason I
have thought it necessary to give some account of what he sees and finds.

I have now done my best to describe in detail almost the whole of
the Yezdi’s surroundings, the furniture of his room, the pattern of
his house, the streets of his town, and the vast deserts by which he
is isolated from the world. When he gets up in the morning, he finds
himself in a room practically containing nothing but a carpet, the walls
and ceiling an expanse of white gypsum, and the _taqchas_ provided
with solitary objects upon which his eye can rest in turn without the
slightest diversion to anything else. There is no confusion, but at the
same time there is no arrangement. In such a room, with such furniture,
the necessity for arrangement never occurs to him. He goes out into his
court-yard; certainly there are flower-beds, but they are not cut like
English flower-beds in the middle of necessarily existing growth and
greenery. The shape of the beds and the nature of their contents has not
been chosen with the slightest view to their artistic surroundings; they
are simply artificial constructions in a waste of pavement which itself
conceals the desert which stands to the Persian in the place of the
natural world. Inside the beds each plant grows its own life, by itself,
untouched by its neighbour, and the eye unconsciously fixes itself upon
it as on an isolated unit. The Yezdi leaves his house and passes through
an absolutely dry and scentless atmosphere along streets which present
variety only in the matter of form. He goes for a journey across the
desert plains; to the right there is only one object to be seen, a range
of distant mountains, with a slight variety of jags along the top; to
the left there is a similar range. Every now and again he comes across a
shrub which attracts his eye by its hermit existence. Behind him is the
solitary city; every six miles, while he is in the neighbourhood of the
town, there is an equally solitary village, or perhaps a water-cistern
with a domed roof; for league after league he can see in front of him
his solitary _manzil_, where he intends to stay the night. Even when he
goes to the villages this sparseness of life and circumstance is scarcely
modified. Can you be surprised if this hourly contemplation of isolated
units produces a mind which it is impossible for the tangle-reared
European ever to fully understand? Can you be surprised if an intellect
is produced accustomed to almost unbelievable concentration upon single
and solitary ideas, but almost unreachable by minds that are accustomed
to complicated trains of thought, to careful evasions of contradictions,
and to systematic arrangements of their intellectual knowledge?

[Illustration: Diagram illustrating the use of the qan’at. Notice that
all the cultivation about the hills is irrigated from the snow torrent.
Yezd is irrigated by qan’at water, brought in some cases from a point 30
miles distant, for the qan’ats do not go straight to the centre of the
plain but make for a low part of the plain from wherever water is found.
The 300 ft. well in Yezd is useless for irrigation, there being no lower
point than Yezd.]

[Illustration: DEHBALA.

A hill village on one of the snow torrents.]


    Isolation and insularity—The town the geographical
    and political unit—Extension of citizenship to
    strangers—Bigotry—Oppression and persecution of
    Parsis[2]—Improvement in their position—Position of
    Jews—Fanaticism largely non-religious—Position of European

The population of Yezd can only be guessed at, but probably that of the
town proper is between thirty and forty thousand, and that of the town
and surrounding villages between fifty and sixty thousand. This little
community is insular beyond the insularity of islands. Within two hundred
miles there are three sizable cities, Shīrāz, Kirmān, and Isfahān, of
which Isfahan is slightly the nearest. When you send a letter to Isfahan
from Yezd, if your friend writes by return of post you may get back your
answer in a month; although a runner, taking the slightly shorter road
by the mountains, could go and return within the week. Travelling in the
ordinary way the journey takes eight days there, and eight back.

It is a great pity that within the last two years they have got rid
of the native telegraph line. During my journey up six years ago this
contrivance was a source of never-failing interest and surprise to me.
First of all there were the poles. They were rough sticks, exactly like
what a washerwoman in England uses for propping up her clothes-line: I
suppose, taking the good line with the bad, there was on the average
about one insulator to every three poles; this is without counting the
insulators which were hung midway between the poles, apparently by way
of ornament. The wire itself was at different levels: in a good many
places it lay on the ground, but at others it crossed the road about the
level of a horseman’s chin. One day in Yezd one of the European residents
wanted to send a telegram, and sent to the telegraph office to ask when
the line would be up. They sent back a very polite message to say that
the trouble was not that the line was down; it was always down: the
difficulty was that a camel had stepped upon it.

Of course they do repair the line: we saw a man repairing it. He had
a forked stick about half the length of one of the poles on which the
line was hung. With this he caught the wire and hitched it on to the
nearest fork of the telegraph pole, a procedure which had at any rate the
advantage of economy. I think I may say that telegrams by this line never
went faster than the post goes in England. The slightest fall of snow or
any other similar cause cut the communications altogether, sometimes for
a fortnight; and, on similar lines that were a little longer, if you sent
a telegram to your destination while you yourself were on a journey, it
was a quite common occurrence for the telegraph master at the next town
to ask you to carry it yourself as the quickest way of hastening its

Such an apparatus as this could hardly be expected to prove a great
connecting influence. As a matter of fact, the Yezdi regards the Isfahani
as a foreigner. When I was leaving Yezd I remember the sensation amongst
my servants when they heard that my successor, who was going to take on
most of them, wanted to bring an Isfahani butler. Yezdis hardly recognise
the bond of a common country at all. There are three connecting links
which appeal to them; the link of a common religion; the link of a common
family or business, for the family tie is of a character that includes
the relation between employé and employer; and lastly, the link of the
common town.[3] The bond of fellow-townsmanship is perhaps not considered
a very close one, but for all that it is a real link. However, if you
were to suggest to a Yezdi that he ought to have something in common with
a Bushīrī, irrespective of the question of religion, simply because they
both paid taxes to a common king, I very much doubt whether he would
understand what you meant, and, if he did, I am quite sure that he would
think that you were either joking or a lunatic.

In the vocabulary of the common people it is difficult to find an
intelligible word for _country_. There is a word for _empire_, but the
natural equivalent in the Persian mind to our expression _country_,
meaning fatherland, is _shahr_, which denotes a town, or _vatan_, which
is the home-district, and is used in very much the same way. “What is
your town?” is the Persian’s way of saying, “Where do you come from?”
and although he has been taught to call an Englishman _Inglīs_, he almost
invariably calls England _Landan_; indeed it is this which we put as an
address on all our English letters.

The Yezdi’s ideas on the regions beyond his very narrow horizon are
distinctly confused. If you begin to talk to him about other places, you
are met not by mere ignorance of geography, but by a conception of the
surface of the earth that is ludicrously impossible. It is difficult for
a European to conceive of a number of towns and villages, containing
several millions of people, bedded out over an enormous desert area
considerably larger than the whole of France. It is equally difficult for
the Yezdi to conceive of a natural and continuous land. Even those who
have travelled a little outside Yezd, and have been obliged to modify
slightly the Yezdi conception of the universe, have built up their
notions of the world’s surface upon what seems to us a most peculiar
first idea; and they have in most cases clung to far more of their
original views than we should believe possible.

The Yezdi’s idea of the town as the only geographical and political unit
is simply a generalisation from the circumstances of his own city. Yezd
is a solitary object rising abruptly out of a vast desert that is about
the nearest thing to a vacuum which Nature has yet produced. Then too,
the methods by which the Shah retains his half of the government of the
country—I say his half, for half of the real control of the people is
in the hands of the Mussulman clergy—is in some points similar to the
old Roman system of provincial government. The local governor, and not
the supreme sovereign, is the real ruler, and he rather than his people
is responsible to the head of the State. Of course he is only appointed
for a time, and is in constant expectation of recall. Still, while he
remains, his power is limited more by the power of the Mohammedan mullās
on the one hand, and by the strength and number of his subordinate
officials and guards on the other, and much less by the orders and
authority that he receives from Tehran. But it is true that the Yezdi
exaggerates the separateness of his town, for he hardly recognises the
actual limitations to the Governor’s power made and enforced by the
Shah. Of course it is thoroughly understood that the Governor only holds
his office by the Shah’s appointment; but it is very difficult for the
Yezdi to realise that that appointment, while it lasts, is to anything
short of autocracy. So to him the local Government is _the_ Government,
and the local Governor the real ruler of his country, that is to say of
the district surrounding his town; and it would puzzle him if you were
to tell him that there were people in this world, living together in
one sphere of government, who were not resident in one town, or in the
district that belonged to it.

It may be urged that I am speaking of the uneducated and ignorant class,
but there are very few in a town like Yezd who are not uneducated
and ignorant, and even those who have superadded a certain degree of
knowledge, have, in almost all cases, retained the majority of their
preconceptions. Persians are very slow in seeing a contradiction;
consequently, I believe that this conception of the universe, which is
certainly accepted by the ordinary Yezdi, is with small modifications
very general even among the slightly travelled or educated classes. Nor
should a student of the mental attitude of a people ignore the curious
ideas that are to be found amongst the women. One who had moved a
great deal amongst the women of Yezd, assured me that they were almost
invariably under the impression that the less familiar words occurring
in the Persian translation of the Scriptures were English, and that
it was a common thing for a woman who was accustomed to the European
pronunciation of Persian, to be referred to as knowing the language
of the Ferangis. Such people would, of course, fail to comprehend the
possibility of a linguistic barrier very much greater than the somewhat
considerable difference of dialect which separates them from their
neighbours in Isfahan. That such a state of mind would be equally
possible amongst the men I do not for a moment suppose, but if this
is the view of the women, one may be sure that there is a view of the
Ferangi stranger, more or less approximating to it, amongst many of the
ignorant hobbledehoys and young fellows, who contribute the largest share
to the character of a fanatical Persian crowd.

Now the people of Yezd are quite ready after a due interval to extend
the citizenship to strangers from other towns, provided that the
newcomers intend to stay, and are ready to enter into the life of the
community. The Kāshīs from Kāshān, the Shīrāzīs from Shīrāz, the Lārīs
from Lāristān, and the Rashtīs from Rasht, are all well-known Yezd
families, and are not by any means regarded as foreigners. Also the Yezd
community includes persons of three or four different religions. There
are in the town fourteen hundred Parsi houses, the inhabitants of which
are Zoroastrian. There is also a smaller colony of Jews. The remainder
are Mohammedans; but a considerable number of these belong to the Behāī
sect, and are considered rank heretics. The Parsis, though greatly
oppressed in the past, and still liable to some disabilities, have of
late years become wealthy and prosperous. The Jews are in some ways less
restricted than the Parsis; but, as they are still wretchedly poor, they
are really much more down-trodden. That religious bigotry still exists
among the Mussulmans in Yezd has only lately been made perfectly plain by
the ghastly massacre of the Behāīs in the summer of 1903; but Mohammedan
bigotry in Persia is by no means without limitations. It is spasmodic in
its action, nor does it entirely obliterate every other feeling.

A few years ago Yezd had the reputation of being one of the most bigoted
of the towns of Persia. The presence of the Zoroastrian remnant, who were
subject to the grossest persecution, served only to keep alive the fire
of religious hatred; and the community of Jews in a lesser degree had
the same effect. The stories of the way in which the Parsis were bullied
and persecuted are interesting, as showing, amongst other things, the
intense childishness of the Persian Mussulman. The atmosphere of the
town seems to have resembled, as indeed it still resembles, that of a
preparatory school for little boys. Up to 1895 no Parsi was allowed to
carry an umbrella. Even during the time that I was in Yezd they could
not carry one in town. Up to 1895 there was a strong prohibition upon
eye-glasses and spectacles; up to 1885 they were prevented from wearing
rings; their girdles had to be made of rough canvas, but after 1885 any
white material was permitted. Up to 1896 the Parsis were obliged to twist
their turbans instead of folding them. Up to about 1898 only brown, grey,
and yellow were allowed for the _qabā_ or _arkhālūq_ (body garments), but
after that all colours were permitted, except blue, black, bright red, or
green. There was also a prohibition against white stockings, and up to
about 1880 the Parsis had to wear a special kind of peculiarly hideous
shoe with a broad, turned-up toe. Up to 1885 they had to wear a torn
cap. Up to about 1880 they had to wear tight knickers, self-coloured,
instead of trousers. Up to 1891 all Zoroastrians had to walk in town,
and even in the desert they had to dismount if they met a Mussulman
of any rank whatsoever. During the time that I was in Yezd they were
allowed to ride in the desert, and only had to dismount if they met a big
Mussulman. There were other similar dress restrictions too numerous and
trifling to mention. Then the houses of both the Parsis and the Jews,
with the surrounding walls, had to be built so low that the top could
be reached by a Mussulman with his hand extended; they might, however,
dig down below the level of the road. The walls had to be splashed with
white round the door. Double doors, the common form of Persian door, were
forbidden, also rooms containing three or more windows. _Bad-girs_ were
still forbidden to the Parsis while we were in Yezd, but in 1900 one of
the bigger Parsi merchants gave a large present to the Governor and to
the chief _mujtahid_ (Mohammedan priest) to be allowed to build one.
Upper rooms were also forbidden.

Up to about 1860 Parsis could not engage in trade. They used to hide
things in their cellar rooms, and sell them secretly. They can now trade
in the caravanserais or hostelries, but not in the bazaars, nor may they
trade in linen drapery. Up to 1870 they were not permitted to have a
school for their children.

The amount of the _jazīya_, or tax upon infidels, differed according
to the wealth of the individual Parsi, but it was never less than
two _tomāns_. A _toman_ is now worth about three shillings and eight
pence, but it used to be worth much more. Even now, when money has
much depreciated, it represents a labourer’s wage for ten days. The
money had to be paid on the spot, when the _farrash_, who was acting as
collector, met the man. The _farrash_ was at liberty to do what he liked
when collecting _jaziya_. The man was not even allowed to go home and
fetch the money, but was at once beaten until it was given. About 1865
a _farrāsh_ collecting this tax tied a man to a dog, and gave a blow to
each in turn.

About 1891 a _mujtahid_ caught a Zoroastrian merchant wearing white
stockings in one of the public squares of the town. He ordered the man to
be beaten and the stockings taken off. About 1860 a man of seventy went
to the bazaars in white trousers of rough canvas. They hit him about a
good deal, took off his trousers, and sent him home with them under his
arm. Sometimes Parsis would be made to stand on one leg in a _mujtahid’s_
house until they consented to pay a considerable sum of money.
Occasionally, however, the childish mockery that pervaded the persecuting
ordinances enabled the Zoroastrians to evade the disabilities proposed.
For instance, as the Jews had to wear a patch on the _qaba_, or coat, the
_mujtahids_ in about 1880 tried to make the Parsis wear an obvious patch
on the shirt. Muhammad Hasan Khan was then Governor, and Mulla Bahrām of
Khurramshār, a Parsi, asked him to arrange that his people should have
three days’ respite to get the patches ready. During these three days the
Parsi women set to work, and made a neat embroidered border round the
neck and opening of the shirt. This the Parsis exhibited as the required
patch; and as it was very obvious, and was certainly an insertion, there
was really nothing more to be said. In Yezd a small score like this
counts for more than does a firman of the Shah.

In the reign of the late Shah Nāsiru’d Dīn, Mānukjī Limjī, a
British Parsi from India, was for a long while in Tehran as Parsi
representative. Almost all the Parsi disabilities were withdrawn, the
_jaziya_, the clothes restrictions, the riding restrictions, and those
with regard to houses, but the law of inheritance was not altered,
according to which a Parsi who has become a Mussulman takes precedence of
his Zoroastrian brothers and sisters. The _jaziya_ was actually remitted,
and also some of the restrictions as to houses, but the rest of the
firman was a dead letter.

In 1898 the present Shah, Muzaffaru’d Dīn, gave a firman to Dīnyār, the
present _Qalāntar_ of the Parsi _Anjuman_, or Committee, revoking all the
remaining Parsi disabilities, and also declaring it unlawful to use fraud
or deception in making conversions of Parsis to Islam. This firman does
not appear to have had any effect at all.

About 1883, after the firman of Nāsiru’d Dīn Shah had been promulgated,
one of the Parsis, Rustami Ardishīri Dīnyār, built in Kūcha Biyuk, one
of the villages near Yezd, a house with an upper room, slightly above
the height to which the Parsis used to be limited. He heard that the
Mussulmans were going to kill him, so he fled by night to Tehran. They
killed another Parsi, Tīrandāz, in mistake for him, but did not destroy
the house.

So the great difficulty was not to get the law improved, but rather to
get it enforced. When Manukji was at Yezd, about 1870, two Parsis were
attacked by two Mussulmans outside the town, and one was killed, the
other being terribly wounded, as they had tried to cut off his head. The
Governor brought the criminals to Yezd, but did nothing to them. Manukji
then got leave to take them to Tehran. The Prime Minister, however, told
him that no Mussulman would be killed for a _Zardūshtī_, or Zoroastrian,
and that they would only be bastinadoed. About this time Manukji enquired
whether it was true that the blood-price of a _Zardushti_ was to be seven
_tomans_. He got back the official reply that it was to be a little over.

The Yezd Parsis have been helped considerably by agents from Bombay, who
are British subjects, and of late years things have slightly improved.
About 1885, a _Seyid_, that is, a descendant of Muhammad, killed a
_Zardushti_ woman in Yezd. Ibrāhīm Qalīl Khān took him, and, by order of
the Zillu’s Sultān, Prince Governor of Isfahan, and elder brother of the
Shah, killed him before daybreak. When the Mohammedan mullas heard of it
in the morning, they gave orders for a general slaughter of the Parsis.
Many of the Parsis were injured, but none killed. Then in 1899 the
Sahāmu’l Mulk, at the commencement of his governorship of Yezd, killed a
Mussulman servant of the Mushīru’l Mamālik for a criminal assault upon a
Zoroastrian woman. This man was not a Seyid, which made the matter more
simple. Just before, when the Mushīru’l Mamālik was temporary Governor,
Isfandiār, the Parsi schoolmaster at Taft, one of the large Yezd
villages, and Salāmat, another Parsi, were killed by two _lūtīs_ (roughs)
without reason. One of these _lutis_ was a Seyid. Both were sent to
Tehran, and a _mujtahid_ went up with them to ask for their release. The
Shah ordered the Seyid’s release, but the fate of the other is not known.
That the Seyid was not much intimidated is certain, as in the August of
1901, when I was in Taft, he used to wander about with other _lutis_
quite openly.

During the last nine or ten years the governors in Yezd have been much
stronger, and they have, generally speaking, been friendly to the Parsis.
The Parsis are an industrious and intelligent people, and they have
become in Yezd a wealthy community. Also there is an extremely wealthy
Parsi in Tehran, Arbāb Jamshīd, who is probably more able to influence
the Persian Government in favour of his countrymen than are the Indian
Parsis from Bombay. Nowadays no governor who wants to remain in Yezd
can afford to leave the Parsi community out of his calculations. The
real advance made by the Parsi colony seems to date from the second term
of government of the Jalālu’d Daula, eldest son of the Zillu’s Sultān,
Governor of Isfahan. The Parsis themselves also put down a great deal of
the improvement in their circumstances to the spread of the Behāī faith,
and certainly, although a semi-secret sect, the Behāīs individually
plead openly for a general religious liberty and toleration. Naturally
such a movement has been of considerable assistance to the Parsis. As an
indication of the influence of the Parsis, it is interesting to notice
that during the late Behāī massacres, immediately there was talk of an
attack on the Parsi quarter, the Mussulman clergy applied themselves to
suppressing the movement.

Although the Jews are very much weaker and poorer, they have their place
in the social organisation of the town, and the contempt in which they
are held does not prevent the Yezdis from recognising their right to a
kind of citizenship. Their religion of course is held in much greater
respect than that of the Parsis, for they are people of the Book, and
although the Persian Shiahs granted the Zoroastrians a certain share in
this status, when they allowed them to continue in the country on the
same terms as Jews and Christians, the ordinary Yezdi of to-day hesitates
considerably before he allows that Zoroaster was in any sense a prophet.

I myself have met Mussulmans serving in a menial capacity in Parsi
houses; I have entertained Parsis of standing and Mussulmans of standing
together on public occasions; and I have no hesitation in saying that
even the bigoted Mussulman recognises the bond of common citizenship,
although it is certainly true that on most occasions he prefers the
bond of religion. Still, a Persian’s religious feeling, even when it
seems to amount to fanatical bigotry, is generally so connected with
self-interest, that, when it is disconnected from thoughts of profit, it
is difficult to know how much influence it will possess with him.

It is certainly a fact that a year or two ago, when an Isfahani Seyid
came and preached in the Yezd mosques against painted trays, Manchester
cottons, bank-notes, and Bibles, the Yezdi Mussulmans gave him the cold
shoulder, and treated him as a foreigner who had intruded himself into
their domestic concerns.

People were surprised at this happening in the city which a few years
before had been regarded as one of the most fanatical in the whole
of Persia. As a matter of fact, the so-called fanaticism of Yezd was
two-thirds of it non-religious in character. There was an element of
turbulency, produced by a series of weak governors; there was a real
religious element; and there was an element of insularity, utterly
unconnected with creed and doctrine. In spite of the smallness of the
Christian colony, which even at present consists of only eighteen
Europeans, to which may be added twenty-two Armenians (the households of
men in European employment), the people of the town which is after all
not large, had soon become familiarised with this little settlement as a
Yezd institution. Then the insular spirit came to be enlisted on the side
of the Ferangis, and, the turbulence produced by weak governorship being
eliminated, there was only the religious difficulty left.

There have only been Europeans in Yezd for some twelve years. The early
arrivals were a bank manager and a merchant’s agent. The work of the
Church Missionary Society has been established there for some six years,
and the English telegraph clerk has been there for about a year. Now all
the members of the colony have contributed something to the life of the
town, and all the Europeans have worked together with marked cordiality
and harmony. Both of these things have certainly had a great effect in
hastening the establishment of the colony in the town, and in winning
for it the support of the Yezdis’ insular prejudices. The merchants are
distinctly glad of the bank, and of the resident agent from a responsible
Manchester firm. The people have learnt to value the Medical Mission;
and the schools, though they appeal to a smaller class, appeal equally

Even the directly spiritual work of a Mission is granted an established
position in the town by the natives, if it is partially in connection
with the Christian community. Having granted a community right of
residence no Mohammedan would deny them the right of religious
observance. Indeed this would be expected to exist as a matter of course.

It is quite true that Christian missions in Persia do not possess the
treaty right to make converts from Mohammedanism. At the same time,
it must be remembered that Persians are much more inclined to regard
custom than law, nor are they used to the accurate observance of a fine
distinction. All that can be said is that, at present, the right of
a Christian missionary to baptize a Mussulman is in Yezd by no means
established, but that his right to live and work and preach in the
town as, primarily, the _mujtahid_ of the Ferangis, and secondarily,
an accepted Yezd teacher, is practically recognised by all. This point
seems to have been arrived at chiefly through the acceptance of the
entire European colony as unitedly Christian and as a real part of the
town. Things that have helped us to arrive at it have been the usefulness
of the various branches of work engaged in by the Europeans, their
general straightforwardness and honesty of life, combined with their
ready co-operation in Christian effort; also the extreme acceptability
of the work of the medical missions, and the linking of the clerical
work with the life of the town through the medium of schools. To these
must be added the smallness of Yezd, which makes it impossible for the
population consistently to ignore or refuse to assimilate any important
band of workers that can maintain a residence at all prolonged within its
walls, and the insularity which makes it impossible to refuse altogether
to champion what has become part of the town. Also we must not forget the
natural proneness of the Shiah to religious speculation, and the special
ferment of religious ideas at present prevailing throughout Persia. This,
however, is a matter that will be dealt with at length, later on.

A curious incident occurred in Yezd not long ago, that will perhaps serve
to point to the extraordinary way in which the Europeans have in the mind
of the Yezdi become an established part of the town population, with
rights and privileges similar to those possessed by the native section of
the townsfolk. One of the European residents had received a threatening
letter from a young Mussulman, whom he had dismissed from his employ;
and he had paid as little attention to the matter as it deserved. It so
happened that the next day he came to our house for a week’s visit, I
being a clerical missionary; and the dismissed servant then spread the
report through the bazaars that his master was frightened, and had taken
sanctuary with his _mujtahid_, this being a common Mussulman custom when
danger is apprehended either from _lutis_ or from the law. Not only was
the report believed, but one of the other Europeans was obliged to give
up a visit which he had intended to pay us, as he was a business man, and
his credit might have been temporarily shaken.

A similar story is told by Canon Bruce, of an experience in Isfahan.
Though in some ways more curious, it is, however, less convincing with
regard to the particular moral to which I am attempting to point, since
the Canon was then working largely amongst the Armenian Christians of
Julfa, who are a considerable colony, and subjects of the Shah. The Roman
Catholic Armenian priests, who were also working amongst the Armenian
Christians, got the chief Mussulman _mujtahid_ of Isfahan, of which
Julfa is a suburb, to summon Canon Bruce to his house. The _mujtahid_,
they said, was, after all, the chief religious authority in the place,
and Canon Bruce was as much a heretic in Christianity as the Babis were
in Islam. This quaint summons was actually issued, and the Mussulman
_mujtahid_ required Canon Bruce to defend himself against the charge
of preaching incorrect Christian doctrine. This, of course, was an
acceptance of Canon Bruce’s position; but the acceptance of the position
of a clerical missionary in a place where there were only eight or
nine households belonging to Christian races, European or Armenian, is
stranger still.

The possibility of such a thing ought, however, to encourage us with
regard to the future of missionary work in isolated and apparently
bigoted Persian towns, and also to make missionaries realise the immense
value of the co-operation of Christian residents, and the necessity of
attending fully to their spiritual needs.


    Persian Mohammedanism—Mohammed—Founding of Islam—Shiahs
    and Sunnis—Laxity distinguished from infidelity—Central
    doctrines of Islam—The Divine Unity—The prophethood—Behāī
    view of the prophethood—The Bab—The Behāu’llah—Behāīism—Its
    prospects—Islam—Predestination—Repentance—Savābs—Eating with
    unbelievers—Charge of pantheism—Effect of Islam on character.

We have seen that the Yezdis have long been accustomed to have in their
midst professors of three distinct religions, the Jewish, the Zoroastrian
and the Mohammedan. But as the Jews are neither numerous nor influential,
and the Zoroastrian Parsis, though more numerous than the Jews, are
nevertheless not more than a tithe of the population, the religion that
chiefly demands our attention is Mohammedanism, which is the established
faith of Persia. The Mohammedanism of Persia is not quite the same as
that of India or Turkey, and the Persians call themselves _Shiahs_ or
nonconformists. In Persia there is one creed of nonconformity which is
there accepted as orthodox, so those professing this creed will for the
future in these pages be called Shiahs without further qualification.

It must, however, be remembered that the name Shiah is not properly
confined to this one sect, and also that this sect itself, like other
nonconformist bodies, has always shown a great tendency to subdivide. In
Persia besides Shiahs, that is the more orthodox Shiahs, there has always
been one other smaller sect of Mohammedans attracting general attention.
At present the dissenting doctrine most widely taught is that of the
Behāīs, who have laid hold of the popular imagination, partly because of
their great steadfastness under the most terrible persecutions, partly
because of the somewhat popular nature of their teaching, but chiefly
because Persia is now being brought into rather closer touch with Europe,
and the people as a whole feel that the teaching of the Shiah mullas
needs to be modified if Islam is to be preserved. I think one may go
further, and say that there is at present in Persia a period of enquiry
and spiritual awakening, which gives a special opportunity, not only
to Mohammedan sectaries, but also to Christian missionaries. Later on
further allusion will be made to these Behāīs, but we must not forget
that our first task is not so much the study of the complex religious
systems of Persia, as the analysis of those religious influences to which
the Yezdi has been subjected.

The ordinary Yezdi Mussulman is descended partly from the original Aryan
inhabitants of Persia, and partly from their Arabian conquerors: but the
enormous difference in character that exists between him and the purely
Aryan Parsi is certainly due less to race and more to religion, for the
_jadīds_, or converts from Parsiism, often develop all the Mussulman
characteristics in a few generations, without the slightest admixture of
race. So before attempting to describe the character of the people, it
will be necessary to pay as much attention to the religious ideas that
have been brought to bear upon them as we have already paid to the nature
of their country and the seclusion of their town life. Some aspects of
the Yezdi’s religion will be left to a future chapter, and we must at
present content ourselves with trying to understand the essential nature
of Islam, particularly dwelling on those points of Mohammed’s teaching
and example which seem to have produced most impression on the Persian
mind. To do this we must divest ourselves of all pre-judgments of the
prophet’s life and doctrine, and simply study the facts of history,
remembering that the conception of Islam which is to be found amongst the
Sunnis of India and Turkey cannot be allowed to pass unchallenged, for
the Mohammedan world is by no means unanimous about it; and also that the
well-known European theory, that there was a difference in Mohammed’s
aims and objects in Mecca and Medina, and that the Meccan period rather
than the Medinan indicates the essential idea of Mohammedanism, is one
which no educated Mussulman would for a moment tolerate. As for the still
more favourable views that have been lately brought forward by European
authors, I can only pass on a story that was told me of an educated
Mussulman in India who had been shown such a treatise. “This gentleman,
Sahib,” he said, as he handed back the volume, “appears to know very
little about his own religion, and absolutely nothing about ours.”

I myself went to Persia with the intention of making the most of the
good points of the religious systems of the country. With regard to the
Parsis I was not disappointed. Like many other missionaries, I started
with the idea that I should find these people possessed of a great many
radically wrong notions about the nature and power of God, which were
essential to their religion. I now believe that I was wrong, and I have
never heard my right-hand man, Mihraban, who is himself a Parsi, and
also one of the most sincere and earnest Christians whom I have ever
met, speak one word against the real groundwork of Zoroastrianism. In
this religion it is not unteaching but teaching that is required to lead
the people to Christ; but, in Mohammedanism, in spite of its greater
pretensions, almost every apparent truth crumbles into mere truism or
actual falsity the moment that you try to make it the basis of anything
practical. Also the more I read of the life of Mohammed, the more
convinced I am that the radical rottenness of the system is due to his
original teaching. Perhaps this may be a confession of narrowness, but
one cannot be broad all round. Unless we are going to deny the iniquity
and wickedness of modern Islam, we shall have to believe that somebody
is to blame; and, if it is not Mohammed, I suppose it must be either
the mullas or the Mussulman laity. I do not know why we should expend
all our breadth on the big people: I myself have some sympathy with the
little ones: and I firmly believe that the difficulties in the Islam of
to-day are due rather to the essential wrongness of the system than to
its corruption by the masses.

Mohammed was born in Mecca towards the end of the sixth century. He was
a member of the important family who had charge of the Ka’aba, which
was a heathen temple that the Meccans had attempted to make a common
meeting-ground for the whole of Arabia, by including within its limits
the idols and symbols of worship that were respected by the different
tribes. Some of these tribes had adopted Christianity and Judaism; so
pictures even of Jewish and Christian saints were to be found within the
walls of the Meccan temple.

The Mussulman historians of Mohammed’s life tell us that there had
been in Arabia, for some years before the prophet came forward, a set
of reformers called _Hanīfs_, who seem to have been half political and
half religious, but to have been all of them convinced that some form of
religion, purer than that represented by the Ka’aba, was needed to unite
Arabia against its common foes. Some of these _Hanifs_ ended by adopting
Christianity or Judaism; others were inclined to the adoption of a more
essentially national form of monotheism, which should retain the Ka’aba
as its centre. The most notable of the latter party was Zaid ibn Amr,
a man so much admired by Mohammed that he declared him a prophet, and
in other ways professed his complete acceptation of his principles and

Mohammed by his marriage with Khadīja was certainly introduced into
this set of reformers. Waraka ibn Nawfal was one of the most prominent
_Hanifs_, and we have indisputable evidence that he was one of Khadija’s
most intimate friends, both at the time of her marriage, and also at the
time when her husband received his first revelation. Mohammed himself had
been from childhood of a hysterical disposition, and was subject to fits,
during which he saw visions, which on recovering consciousness he was
able to recollect; consequently while in this company he became convinced
that he was the expected prophet who was to bind Arabia together by a
politico-religious system.

In placing himself at the head of the _Hanif_ movement, Mohammed
probably gave more prominence to the political aspect than had most of
the former and less successful leaders. This is brought out by Koelle in
his life of Mohammed; and indeed it is obvious that the man who could
allow an unbelieving friend, even though a close relation, to play the
important part in the building of his church that Abbās played in the
second meeting on the eminence, was primarily a politician rather than a
religious reformer: for it was Abbas who on that occasion first proposed
the oath that may almost be called the basis of Islam. A critical study
of Mohammed’s early dealings with the Arabians brings us to a similar

Of the other stories collected by Koelle from Mussulman sources to prove
this point, perhaps the most forcible is that of the discussion between
the prophet, his uncle, Abu Tālib, under whose protection he was then
living, and Abu Jahl. Abu Talib called his nephew and said to him,
“Thou seest the nobles of thy people are assembled here to concede to
thee certain things, and, in return, to receive concessions from thee.”
Mohammed made this reply: “Well, then, give me a word whereby the Arabs
may be governed and the Persians subjugated.” Abu Jahl responded to this
request in the name of his fellow-elders by saying: “Thou shalt have ten
words.” But Mohammed setting him right, and indicating what kind of word
in his opinion could alone answer the purpose, rejoined: “Say, ‘There is
no God except Allah!’ and renounce what you worship besides Him.” This
story Koelle quotes from Ibn Ishāk, the earliest and most trustworthy

Certainly the movement from paganism to monotheism, which took place in
Arabia in those days, was in itself a fine thing; and it was accompanied
by much sincerity and religious zeal. It is also obvious that Mohammed
possessed a personality peculiarly attractive to the Arabian, and that
this, as well as his enthusiasm on the subject of his mission, had the
effect of attracting many to the cause.

But not only did Mohammed pay much more regard to politics than can be
possibly excused, he also accepted the religious and ethical teaching of
the _Hanifs_ only in the most superficial manner; and, under the cover
of verbal conformity, retained as much as possible of the original pagan
ideas in which he had been reared. The result is that his followers
are still to be found possessed of what seems at first sight to be
correct doctrine upon fundamentals, and yet are unable to advance by its
assistance along the path of light and progress.

The popular idea, that fanatical intolerance of all professors
of other religions is an essential and fundamental principle in
Mohammedanism, cannot be maintained. The paganism of Mecca was distinctly
latitudinarian, so Mohammed accepted in full the sacred books of the
Jews and Christians, as would have seemed natural to an Arabian of that
age, especially to a monotheistic teacher who was closely connected
with the Ka’aba. This does not mean that he in any way apprehended the
meaning of Judaism and Christianity. The doctrine of the perpetuity of
the moral law never seems to have entered into his mind, even in the
most elementary form. He wished to say that he had himself received a
revelation superseding all former ones by the mandate of God, and he did
not wish to make trouble by pronouncing other religions to be false,
without absolute necessity. His real object was to unite the Arabs by
a reformed religion, and at first he regarded his mission as a purely
national one. Whatever were his ultimate designs upon the Jews and
Christians in Arabia, he intentionally conveyed to them the impression
that, if they recognised him as a prophet to others, he would be content
without their accepting him themselves. Indeed, while he was still at
Mecca, he was even uncertain whether the idolaters who accepted him might
not be allowed to retain some of their idols as intermediaries between
themselves and Allah. He went so far on one occasion as to actually
effect a reconciliation on this basis; but as such a concession must have
greatly damaged his influence with those who were favourably disposed
to the _Hanif_ movement, he afterwards repudiated the transaction, and
declared that he had acted under the influence of the devil. His work
in Mecca was not very successful; and the opposition he encountered
was so strong that he had at last to begin to make attempts to start
work in some other place, and he was finally successful in making a
fresh beginning in Medina. Here he was able to take advantage of a
family connection with some of the principal citizens, and also of a
long-standing rivalry between Medina and Mecca. Although the movement
in Mecca had not been widely successful, Mohammed had gathered amongst
his followers several really prominent men. Consequently, the people of
Medina, although divided on the subject of his prophetic mission, were
unanimous as to the advisability of receiving him and his followers into
their town. Settled in Medina, Mohammed’s fortunes underwent a change.
The chieftancy of the tribe to which his grandmother had belonged fell
vacant, and, as most of the members of this tribe had become Mussulmans,
Mohammed had no difficulty in himself becoming their chief. Considering
himself restrained by no preconception or former revelation of the
moral law, he was able, without dropping for one moment his pretensions
to prophethood, to use every means of fraud and violence which seemed
conducive to his political end. As Koelle has pointed out, there is no
reason to suppose that his principles in any way changed, but under the
altered conditions and environment the utterly non-ethical theory of
revelation held by the prophet became more apparent. This is perhaps most
clearly brought out by his utterly unscrupulous dealing with the Jews,
and also by the story of Zaid and Zainab, in all which affairs Mohammed
professed himself to be acting under Divine direction, nor is it at all
obvious that he did not actually believe it. Finally, before his death,
he succeeded in establishing his religion and political system throughout
the whole of Arabia.

Of course it was impossible for a movement like this to take place
without rival prophets appearing in other parts of the country. Two of
these appeared during Mohammed’s lifetime, and he thought it best to
guard against future schisms of a similar kind by declaring himself the
last of the prophets. Exactly what he meant by this is not very clear: if
the almost universal voice of Islam is to be accepted, he did not mean
that he was the last divinely appointed teacher, for all Mussulmans look
forward to the coming of a Mehdi or Mahdi, who, together with Jesus, the
son of Mary, is to appear in the last days, and spread the doctrines of
Islam throughout the world. Orthodox Mussulmans, however, always look
upon Mohammed as the last great _sāhibi kitāb_, or book-bearer.

The ordinary Sunnis, who are the largest and best-known Mussulman
sect, assert that, as a matter of fact, since the time of Mohammed, no
divinely-appointed teacher has as yet appeared. The Khalīfs were in their
eyes simply appointed by the congregation, and the four great writers of
the _sunnat_, which is to them the only authoritative commentary upon the
doctrines of Islam, were only learned and saintly men. Now, they hold,
these doctrines can only be learnt from this book, and from the _Qurān_
itself; for the _mujtahid_ or high mulla, capable of giving authoritative
decisions on moot points, no longer exists.

The Shiahs have very different tenets. Mohammed according to their
teaching was the first of a hierarchic dynasty of thirteen, consisting
of himself and the twelve great Imāms, of whom the first was Ali, the
son-in-law of the prophet, and who were all as certainly divinely
appointed as Mohammed himself. Mohammed is only the last great
book-bearer, and therefore the founder of the present era. The last of
the Imams was the Mehdi, who according to the Sunnis has not yet been
born, but according to the Shiahs appeared long ago. This man did not
die, but disappeared, remaining at first accessible to his followers
through the medium of four successive Bābs, or gates of knowledge, who
were in touch with him during his concealment. Like the Imams, the Babs
came to an end, for the last of them refused to appoint a successor. All
this of course is very ancient history.

The Shiahs have their own traditionists, for they reject the _sunnat_
altogether. Between the traditions of the Shiahs and the Sunnis there is
not much to choose: there is a certain amount of historical fact embodied
in both, and there is also a great deal of absolute nonsense. However,
many otherwise orthodox Shiahs either reject the traditions altogether,
or interpret them allegorically. There is more freedom of interpretation
amongst the Shiahs than amongst the Sunnis: indeed many Shiahs believe
that some of the most objectionable chapters of the _Quran_ describing
the delights of heaven are entirely parabolic. Of course with _mujtahids_
(supposed to be able to pronounce authoritatively on moot points)
scattered all over Persia, the fixity of doctrine that prevails amongst
Mohammedans of Sunni countries would be impossible.

The tenets of the Shiahs are not derogatory to the mission of Mohammed,
or to the position of the _Quran_, but they make the solitary figure
of the prophet stand out much less prominently. For instance, if a
Persian is told that his religion possesses nothing corresponding to the
vicarious sacrifice of Christ, he will invariably reply by pointing to
the martyrdom of the Imam Husain. Also the Mehdi, or occult Imam, is not
the future, but the present ruler of Islam; and so he is in some ways as
important a personage as the original prophet. Not very long ago the Shah
of Persia used to pay rent for his palace to the Mehdi, the money going
to the _mujtahids_ as the representatives of the Imam: I do not know
whether this practice is still continued, but the theory on which it was
based is certainly not extinct. Again there is a common saying that the
Imam Ali is present in the heart of the true believer, but I think it is
only regarded by the ordinary Yezdi as a poetical expression. The point
to be noted is that the saying is always about Ali, not about Mohammed.
Shiahs invoke the Imams Ali and Husain very much more frequently than
they invoke Mohammed; and though the inscription over a Persian mosque
should be, “_Yā Ali, Yā Muhammad_,” that is, “O Ali! O Mohammed!” the
“_Yā Muhammad_” is often omitted and the “_Yā Ali_” left to stand alone.
The excuse is sometimes brought forward that Mohammed is too great for
constant invocation. Considering the way in which the Shiah uses the
name of God, this must, I think, be regarded as a mere excuse for a habit
due to wholly different causes.

This extreme attachment to the Imams is probably due to two things. In
the first place, there can be no doubt that the cause of Ali and his
sons was taken up in Persia as an outlet to national jealousy, for the
Aryan converts were not sorry when a pretext occurred for differentiating
themselves from the majority of their Arab conquerors. In the Shiah
religion the early Khalifs, who ruled Islam while the holy Imams were
still alive, are held up to the bitterest execration, and Omar in
particular, who, by the way, was the conqueror of Persia, takes much the
same place in the Shiah system that Judas Iscariot does in the Christian.

[Illustration: SMALL SQUARE IN YEZD.

To the left is a small Nakhl, and in the centre a mosque door with the
inscription “Ya Ali.”]

Secondly, the influence of sects of mystics, professedly Mohammedan but
having in their doctrines a distinctly pantheistic tendency, must be
remembered. Ancient Persia was full of pantheism, and when it became
Mussulman the inclination towards such teaching still continued, for
the broader views held by the Shiahs as to freedom of interpretation
in reading the _Quran_ gave a possible status in the country to very
heretical sects. These Persian mystics often preferred to make the
Imams, especially Ali, at least as prominent in their systems as
Mohammed, whose teaching was more difficult to bend to their purposes;
and although the ordinary Yezdi is certainly not a pantheist, they have
undoubtedly intensified his enthusiasm for the personalities of the
Imams, and through their poetry they have familiarised him with religious
expressions of a somewhat unorthodox character. This is in some ways an
advantage to the missionary, but he must beware that it does not give him
a false view of the progress that he is making.

As to the theory of the divinely appointed Imamate it might be urged
that the retention of the whole glory of the early sainthood for the
close relations and descendants of the prophet is an excess of zeal that
Mohammed would have greatly approved. However this may be, the doctrine
is not obviously opposed to Mohammedanism.

The Shiahs are certainly much laxer than the Sunnis with regard to
some of the commandments of the _Qurān_. Painting, and the making of
figures is considered by the Sunnis to be a violation of the law against
idolatry. There is, however, a regular school of Persian painting; and
clay models of men, animals and demons, as well as rag dolls, are given
to the children as toys. The protests made by the mullas against these
things are very faint. They are rather louder in their denunciations of
all forms of music, which amongst orthodox Mohammedans is supposed to
have no purpose but the exciting of the passions. As to the drinking
of wine and spirits, the avoidance of the regular Mohammedan fast in
the month of Ramazān, and the omission of the prescribed prayers, the
Shiah mullas take a view which is at least intelligible. To begin with,
such things do not amount to infidelity unless they are done wilfully
and consistently. A formal acceptation of the whole of the ordinances
is demanded. There must be no drunkenness in the streets, no eating in
Ramazan when anybody is near unless a legitimate excuse can be brought
forward, and if prayers have not been said men must say that they have
said them. Further than this external government does not go; and as a
matter of fact many irreligious Persians secretly drink themselves drunk
in their houses, forget to say their prayers regularly, and make up what
would, if true, be valid excuses for not keeping the fast in Ramazan.
Such people are well aware that they are liable to punishment, but they
also know that, unless they prove disloyal to Islam by accepting some
other faith, they are not in any great danger. It is true that every now
and again the mullas incite the people to join them in cleansing the land
of infidelity, and on such occasions sectaries like the Babis, and those
who are supposed to sympathise with them, may greatly suffer, but those
who have been merely lax in their observance of Islam are apt to make up
for their past deficiencies by a peculiar show of zeal.

It may be asked whether the mullas in Persia are justified in making no
more persistent efforts to enforce Mohammedan law, and whether their
winking at such irregularities is not in itself disloyalty to the system
of Islam. Probably it would be easy for them to show that they were
justified by the example of Mohammed himself. If Mohammed enforced a much
stricter discipline in the town where he was himself present—a matter
which I think is open to doubt—it would be almost impossible to maintain
that he caused such discipline to be enforced among the Arab tribes.
These tribes were generally accepted through the medium of their chief,
who usually came to Mohammed in person, had a short interview with him,
part of which was devoted to political subjects, and often went back to
his tribe on the same day. It is true that Mohammed made a distinction
between hypocrites—_munāfiqīn_, and true believers, but he generally
meant by hypocrites people who were not really on his side against
others, and here the ordinary Shiah is unimpeachable.

The fact is that Islam contains much more than an assortment of
commandments. Otherwise it would never have impressed its adherents in
so distinct and remarkable a manner with special characteristics. The
central idea of the religion is that we are all under the dominion of
an invisible and absolutely powerful God, Who has created all things,
and has willed and ordained everything both good and evil that is to be
found in the universe. It is true that there is a Shiah dogma against the
extreme predestinarianism which characterises the Sunni creed, but I do
not believe that it has in the least affected the fatalistic view of the
ordinary people. In Islam God may be called good because it is our duty
to accept as good whatever He does, and He may also be called by other
names according to the character of His known actions towards us; but
His own nature is absolutely different from that of man; consequently
nothing can be known of His moral character beyond the fact of certain
explicit actions. This God from time to time sends to the world prophets,
whose duty is to teach mankind the doctrine of His unity, the necessity
of worship, and the necessity of doing what is for the time being His
will. According to the popular opinion there have been a hundred and
forty-four thousand of these prophets, but of this number only a few have
been authorised to publish a new code of human duty. Those so authorised
are known as book-bearers, and Adam, Seth, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, David,
Jesus, and Mohammed were all of this class. The Behāīs add the name of
Behāu’llah after that of Mohammed. These book-bearers are always marked
by the possession of some sort of supernatural powers appealing to the
intellect, and also, in the case of the latter ones, by the fulfilment of
signs mentioned by the former prophets. Obedience to them is rewarded by
various degrees of bliss in Heaven, disobedience is punished by Hell. The
prophet must conform to previous revelations in the assertion of God’s
unity, invisibility and omnipotence, but it is not necessary that there
should be any coherence between the directions about human action as set
forth in successive dispensations, nor is any difference made between
ceremonial and moral commandments.

This central doctrine of Mohammedanism concerns God, the prophet, man
and creation; so we come across it under four names, giving the four
possible points of view. First of all there is the name of _tauhīd_, or
assertion of the Divine unity. The Mussulman means by this very much more
than the mere assertion that God is a single Being. He includes in it
the doctrine of the invisibility of God and of His absolutely separate
nature, and it appears to clash with the Christian conception in two
important particulars. There is an absolute denial of the statement,
upon which most Christians more or less consciously base their belief
in the perpetuity and absolute nature of the law of human morals, that
“in the image of God created He man.” Consequently we shall afterwards
find that in Islam there is no belief in the permanency of the moral
law, for nothing is thought by the Mussulman to be necessarily permanent
except things connected with the nature of God; and as our nature
differs entirely from that of the Creator the law given for it cannot
be necessarily permanent. There is also in reality a fundamental
contradiction of Christian doctrine in the Mohammedan’s rendering of
the statement that God is a single Being. This is best explained by a
simple illustration. Supposing a man were to say, “London is one place,”
it is conceivable that he might mean one of two things. Either he might
mean that the City of London was the only true London, and that there
was no other part of the town in Middlesex or Surrey that ought to be
called by the same name; or he might mean that the whole of those places
which go by the name of the County of London are in reality only one
place; and these two statements are not similar statements with a slight
difference, but they are absolutely contradictory. So the Christian says
there is only one God, by which he means to assert the unity of the
all-good Creator, the all-good Personality Who was revealed as the Son,
and the all-good Spirit Who is the only source of good in the heart. As
God to the Christian means the All-good, what he needs is a doctrine
that asserts the essential unity of the All-good wherever he finds it.
The Christian is of course not a pantheist, but his conception of the
one God has to be sufficiently inclusive to cover those Three Who, as
he knows, certainly possess the attributes of Deity. The Mussulman on
the other hand does not pretend to know anything about the attributes of
Deity, excepting that God is one, invisible and omnipotent. Consequently
he frames his definition of the Deity so as to purposely exclude what the
Christian with his larger knowledge knows to be the manifestation of the
same essence.

To pass on to the Mussulman’s conception of his religion as it relates
to the prophet. The _paighambarī_, or the bringing of messages from
the Deity, is in many ways a peculiar idea. Mohammed himself had very
little notion of his message being an advance on what had been given
before, and of the gradual growth of revelation he had no conception
at all. He was content to assert that his teaching was the religion
of Abraham, a phrase of which he frequently made use. It is true that
Mussulmans sometimes say that parts of God’s Word were revealed to former
_paighambars_, but that the complete commandment was given to Mohammed,
and although this is very different from the Christian doctrine of the
growth of revelation, it might possibly be regarded as a substitute for
it; but the fact is that, though it may be traceable to the prophet, it
is quite foreign to the essential system of Islam. We frequently find
such foreign ideas which have been imported into Islam, occasionally by
Mohammed but more frequently by his followers, simply to answer some
specific objection, or to maintain the superiority of the system over
all others. Such importations can as a rule be easily separated from the
essential doctrines of Islam, and in most cases they have not affected
the general character of the religion. This is due to the religion as
first conceived by Mohammed having been clear in its essential points,
and it is these points rather than the accretions that have left such a
strong mark upon the body of Mussulmans. The _paighambari_, more than
any other doctrine or expression of doctrine, brings out with intense
plainness the fundamental distinction between the Mussulman and the
Christian, that enormous divergence of view regarding the moral law which
lies at the root of almost all their differences in subordinate theories
and tenets. So when we are discussing the influence of Mohammedan ideas
upon character, it is well to remember that sects which do not hold this
theory of the _paighambari_ ought to be regarded separately.

There are in Persia sects which are only nominally Mussulman, and
which largely owe their origin to non-Mohammedan sources. The Sūfis,
for instance, are only half Mohammedan, and their philosophy is really
pantheistic. Sufis are to be found in Yezd, but there are not very many
serious ones, and the sect has largely lost its direct influence in the
country. But the Babis, of whom the Behāī branch is rapidly spreading
everywhere throughout the Persian towns, have been influenced by Sufi
ideas to a much greater extent than have the orthodox Shiahs, who, we
agreed, are not pantheistic. Perhaps some professing Behāīs are really
very near to the Sufis in ideas, but this is not the case with the more
orthodox, who, though they have modified the fundamental doctrines of
Mohammedanism in such a way as to remove the gulf between God and the
prophet, have not produced a theology which is free from the obvious
defects of that of Islam. The Behāī appears to hold that the superior
prophet, that is, the book-bearer, is in every case an incarnation of
the Deity, but he goes on to say that there is an absolute distinction
between the prophet and his people; for the book-bearer is God, and the
people are not God; nor are they, so far as I can understand, capable of
receiving the Spirit of God, either from the prophet or directly from God
Himself. They can only be impressed by the prophet as wax is impressed
by a seal. Whether this doctrine is really Behāu’llah’s or not, it was
certainly given to me by men who ought to have known the truth about the
Behāī faith.

The adherents of this sect in Persia are now exceedingly numerous, and
many people believe that in the end the whole country will become Behāī;
so the question whether the Behāīs are more reliable than the orthodox
Shiahs has become an important one. Certainly they teach a cleaner and
purer doctrine on points of ethics; but what Persia needs is not so
much a higher moral teaching, but rather a higher basis for morality. A
religion that puts the commandment not to steal on the same level as the
direction not to stew your dates but to fry them, will never produce the
high characters that are to be found in such communities as the Parsi. It
would be irreverent to compare such a faith with the religion given to us
by the Saviour.

During the late Behāī massacre, I had the opportunity of discussing
what was going on with a Behāī _muballigh_, that is, an authorised Behāī
teacher and missionary. I have no intention of unnecessarily dwelling on
the ghastly horrors that were then being perpetrated, but a few details
are unavoidable. The Behāī sectaries were not at that time being executed
before the _mujtahids_, but were being torn in pieces by the crowd. What
had excited the people was not simply religious feeling, but it was very
largely the statement by the clerical authorities that the goods of
the Behāīs were “lawful,” that is, that any one might plunder them who
cared to do so. The attacks were often made by men who had lived for a
long while in close companionship with the Behāīs, knowing them all the
time to be members of the sect, and yet consorting and eating with them
freely. Holes were bored in the heads of some of these poor wretches
with awls, oil was then poured into the hole and lighted. Other forms
of torture were used about which one cannot write. Women and children
were very seldom actually killed, but were fearfully ill-treated, and
sometimes left to die of starvation. It was reported that in one of the
villages Babi children died within full sight of the villagers, after
waiting for days under the trees where their murdered parents had left

The Behāī _muballigh_ with whom I was talking was certainly well aware,
in a general way, of what was going on; yet I could not get him to see
that these things, done in the name of religion to his own sect, were
in themselves wrong, and that man’s eyes had been opened, or could be
opened, to their essential wrongness. Of course he maintained that the
action of the Mussulmans was evil, but his reason was that, in the first
place, those persecuted were spiritually right, and, in the second
place, even had they not been so, the last book-bearer, the Behāu’llah,
had promulgated a Divine commandment that there was to be no religious
persecution. I then asked him if such persecution could again become
lawful if another book-bearer appeared and promulgated a different
commandment. He answered that it was impossible for another book-bearer
to appear for a long period. I then asked him if he would accept a new
book-bearer, who, besides satisfying the other conditions, exhibited a
text in one of the previously received Scriptures, stating that one day
in God’s sight is as a thousand years. He replied that, if such a verse
could be shown, and the other conditions were satisfied, such a man might
be accepted to-morrow, even although he taught a doctrine similar to that
of Mohammed about religious persecution and other matters of the same

Now there are three points to be noted by those who expect great things
of the Behāī movement. First of all, the Behāīs accept the whole of the
Jewish and Christian Scriptures, which, of course, include a verse of the
kind above mentioned. Secondly, they have already had three book-bearers;
the Bab, who was the original founder of the Babi sects, and who not
only exhibited a Divine book, but also claimed to be the resurrection of
Mohammed in the same way that Mohammed was the resurrection of Jesus;
Subhi Azal, whom for some years they recognised as the Bab’s successor;
and lastly, Behāu’llah, whom the Behāīs now hold to be the only major
prophet of the three. Thirdly, the Behāīs, in attempting to prove that
the Bab was a lesser prophet and a mere forerunner of the Behāu’llah, and
also that Subhi Azal was never a really great personage, have seriously
falsified their records. The reader who desires further information
on this subject cannot do better than consult Professor E. G. Browne’s
admirable introduction to his translation of the _Tārīkhi Jadīd_.

The Bab, who came forward rather less than a century ago, was a young
Shirazi Persian, a Seyid of the merchant class, whose real name was Ali
Mohammed. The Shaikhi sect were at that time predicting the appearance of
a great religious leader, and the Bab came forward claiming to be this
prophet. He called himself the Bab, or Gate of Knowledge, and was at
first supposed by his followers to be the Gate of Access to the Mehdi;
but he seems to have used these terms in a very broad and allegorical
fashion, and to have held the doctrine of the essential unity of all
book-bearers. He later declared himself to be the Mehdi, and also to be
the Gate of Access to One Whom God should manifest.

The movement caused a great deal of fighting in Persia, and though the
Babis were acting on the defensive, there is very little doubt that they
had harboured political designs. The Bab, however, differs from Mohammed
in having been, so far as we can judge, primarily a religious reformer,
and having done his best to make the movement as spiritual as possible.
His followers were treated with the most barbarous severity, and he
himself was after a few years put to death. Before this he appointed
Subhi Azal, one of his followers, to be his successor, and for a few
years this man was received as “He Whom God should manifest.” Later
on, Subhi Azal’s half-brother, the Behāu’llah, managed to get himself
accepted as head of the sect. Many of the followers of Subhi Azal
were assassinated, and the sect was re-organised with some important
differences. It now purports to be absolutely non-political, and the
teaching has become more simple and practical. The Behāīs are anxious
to retain the use of the _Quran_, so as to preserve their claim to
toleration, although they imagine that the law of the _Quran_ no longer
stands, its place having been taken by a later revelation. Partially to
avoid inconsistency in this matter, and partially to keep before the
minds of the Mussulmans the possibility of one really divine book being
replaced by another, they encourage the reading of all the Scripture
considered divine by Mohammedans, that is, not only the _Quran_, but
also the whole of the Christian Bible, nor do they generally call the
authenticity of the extant version in question.

Behāīism is obviously an attempt to adapt Islam to the exigencies of
modern circumstances, taking advantage of the special tenets of the
Shiahs. The North of Persia is being at present rapidly overrun by
Russia, and even in the South the Persian feels that he is on the eve
of political changes. The Behāīs consider that they have a creed which
enables them to meet the foreigner without continual jar and offence.
In this they are right, for they do not veil their women, they do not
consider infidels unclean, and they go further than does the broadest
Shiah in the matter of respect to other forms of faith. Some orthodox
Shiahs accept the Jewish and Christian Scriptures as they stand, without
pressing the story that the Jews and Christians altered their books to
suit their own purposes. Almost all Persians are open to argument on this
point, though most will say that to those possessed of the _Quran_ the
perusal of former Scriptures is unnecessary. But the Behāīs hold that,
unless started by a real prophet, no religion can possibly survive, and
consequently they allow to even the grossest forms of idolatry a divine
origin, and the possession of a certain substratum of truth.

In Persia there can never have been that almost impenetrable wall of
dogmatic assertion and self-assurance which seems to exist in many
Sunni lands, but something of the kind is to be found throughout Islam.
As the self-satisfaction of the Behāī is almost as strong as that of
the Sunni, and infinitely stronger than that of the Shiah, it seems a
paradox to say that Babiism has given us in Persia a prepared soil for
missionary work. The fact is that the field prepared is not amongst the
Babis themselves, but amongst the Shiahs who have been in touch with
Babis, and are nevertheless unconvinced. Consequently it is a field which
cannot be expected to last for ever, but of which advantage ought to be
taken immediately, for it is very seldom that we find so exceptional an
opportunity given to us for attacking Mohammedanism on its own ground.

In Yezd the Behāīs have attached to themselves many of the most
enlightened Mussulmans. The teaching of the sect about behaviour and
practice is not bad, though, in matters connected with women, there is an
inclination to adopt customs that are rather dangerous considering the
low moral atmosphere. The tendency to minimise the miraculous element
in religion is not altogether wholesome, and some professing Babis are
inclined to a rather crude rationalism, the end of which it is difficult
to foresee. This tendency is perhaps fostered by the peculiar manner of
interpreting the sacred books, a method difficult to describe, as it
fluctuates between the wildest flights of metaphor, and the lowest depths
of puerile literalism, the balance between the two being decided by a
very determined preconception of what ought to be. To give a specimen of
this, it was seriously urged in a Behāī pamphlet, reviewed and summarised
by the Rev. W. A. Rice in the _Church Missionary Intelligencer_, that
Isaiah xxv. 6-9, where God is described as making “unto all people a
feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of
marrow, of wines on the lees well refined,” refers to the entertaining
of visitors by Behāu’llah during his banishment at Acre. The “wines on
the lees well refined” are the tea, which Persians generally pour through
a small strainer. The passage also refers to the fact that God “will
swallow up death in victory,” and will “wipe away all tears from off all
faces; and the rebuke of His people shall He take away from off all the
earth.” To this part only a spiritual interpretation is given.

I tried before I left Persia to find out the impression that the sect
had made upon other Europeans, so as not to give a one-sided opinion
about them. Personally, I came to the conclusion that, in matters
even remotely connected with religion, they were less truthful than
the ordinary Shiah, but that in the ordinary affairs of life they
were a trifle more reliable. Some other missionaries had a lower
opinion of their truthfulness, and most of those who had had business
dealings with them considered that they were not more trustworthy than
ordinary Mussulmans. My conclusion is that, though they may succeed in
establishing their creed in Persia, and may even make the Persians more
easy to deal with, they will not greatly alter the moral character of
the people. They have not done so hitherto, and an examination of their
faith shows that they cling, in the main, to the Mussulman theory of the
_paighambari_, or at any rate have not changed it for a doctrine which
gives a man more cogent reasons for adhering to an approved line of
conduct in times of difficulty.

The name given in Mohammed’s system to the state of the true believer
is _Islām_, which means “Resignation to God.” By this the Mussulman
seems to understand that he must not criticise the prophet, whatever
he may do or teach, and that in the same way he must accept everything
that happens as the will of God. A waiving of personal responsibility,
and an acceptance of all occurrences as the Divine intention, is to the
Persian an undoubted virtue. The steadfast pursuit of a purpose which has
been thwarted will often appear to him actually vicious, although such
persistency might be justified in his eyes by its success, which would
prove it to have been in harmony with God’s will.

The word which expresses the duty of the believer being _Islam_, or
resignation, the corresponding word used by the Mussulman to describe
his theory of the course of events is _taqdīr_, or predestination. There
is, as I have said, in Shiah dogma an attempt to modify the extreme
predestinarian doctrines of the Sunni. But these doctrines are so much an
integral part of Mohammedanism that it is impossible for the Mussulman,
Shiah or otherwise, to be anything but a gross fatalist. This then
completes the list of names under which the essential and fundamental
conceptions of Islam are taught, _Tauhid_, _Paighambari_, _Islam_, and

There are also in Mohammedanism certain other doctrines which seem to
be part of the system, but which are not quite so fundamental as those
that have been stated. Some of these are not quite plain: it is very
difficult, for instance, to understand what was Mohammed’s teaching on
the forgiveness of sins, and there is great confusion of thought on this
point amongst his followers. Certainly an infidel becoming a Mussulman
has his sins forgiven, though he does not expect to receive any peculiar
strength for the future, but only a direction as to what God wants him to
do and to avoid. After this the motives of his actions will be _khauf u
jizā_, that is to say, the fear of Hell and the expectation of Heaven. He
will have to be punished in Hell for his sins according to their assessed
value, unless he has previously wiped them out, either by _savābs_, that
is, by works of merit, or by repentance. Repentance of a real kind is
supposed to have a certain value, though it is hard to state exactly
what that value is. Formal repentance, which does not in the mind of the
common Persian necessarily involve the giving up of such fruits of sin as
stolen articles, has also a certain value. But the most efficient way of
atoning for sin is by _savabs_. Finally no Mussulman, at any rate among
the Shiahs, would consider it justifiable to hold himself free from the
fear of Hell.

Punishment in Hell according to the Mussulman idea is not necessarily
everlasting, for most of the Persians believe that, by the intercession
of Mohammed, all his people will finally get to Heaven. But in Heaven
there are many grades, and the position of the individual will be
determined by the relative weight of his _savabs_ and sins. Properly,
a _savab_ is a work of supererogation considered as possessing merit;
but the word is often used less exactly for any action which will be
put to the account of a man as a good deed. I believe that Persian
Mohammedans when using this word almost universally accept the view that
the performance of a certain number of approved actions makes it less
necessary to adhere to the path of duty. Also, to put it crudely, the
good deed is not regarded as the gift of God to man, but as the gift
of man to God; and I feel convinced that the word is bound up with the
assumption that Heaven-seeking or the fear of Hell are the only possible
motives for right behaviour.

The ordinary Yezdi has no doubt that a non-Mussulman can do a _savab_,
especially if he benefits a Mussulman; and the belief that such a man if
he was a Jew or a Christian, could get to Heaven, would not be considered
very heretical.[4] Some Yezdis might allow that idolaters could get
to Heaven by _savabs_, but this would be considered a more dangerous
doctrine. The fact is that there was in Mohammed’s essential teaching a
very large amount of latitudinarianism, and this comes out in the common
ideas of Mussulmans who are not repressed by a system such as that of the

The merit of an action is decided by the intention of the doer and not by
its result. This is brought out by a native story, framed for the purpose.

“One day a traveller came to a well, where he dismounted, fastened his
animal to a pin, and satisfied his thirst. As he returned to his animal
it occurred to him that it would be a _savab_ to leave the pin behind,
for other travellers who might wish to tether their beasts. The next to
arrive at the well was a man on foot, who, being very thirsty and in a
hurry, fell over the pin. This man threw the pin down the well, so as
to prevent any one else from having a similar accident. A learned man in
the neighbourhood was asked which of the two did the _savab_, the man who
left the pin or the man who threw it away. He answered, ‘Both, for their
intentions were equally good.’”

That there is truth in this teaching is obvious, but the story ignores
the necessity of taking thought and pains, so that one’s impulses may
not do more harm than good. This is always ignored in Persia, and I
think I am right in putting it down to the teaching connected with the
use of the word. Large sums of money are given for the poor, and yet the
alleviation of poverty is very small; and the same sort of thing happens
in other branches of philanthropy. The gift once given, the donor loses
all interest in its bestowal; funds are squandered on the most paltry
objects, and the general effect seems to be that money given in this
way becomes money wasted. Charity is also much vitiated in Persia by
unpractical, and in many cases superstitious ideas. To give alms to a
Seyid is a greater _savab_ than to help an ordinary beggar, so a large
proportion of the philanthropy of Persia goes to support a begging class,
who are in every way a burden, and in some ways a danger to society. The
Seyids are also more lightly punished, and consider themselves outside
the reach of the very small amount of justice that exists. Again, it is
more meritorious to give on a Thursday, as the eve of the Friday holiday,
or on the eve of a feast, than on an ordinary day; and lastly, the people
expect that they will amass more merit by giving microscopic sums to all
comers than by giving more effective assistance to a limited number.

As I have said, the doctrine connected with _savabs_ acknowledges only
two motives of action, the fear of punishment and the expectation
of reward, and it is not allowed that any other motive can possibly
exist. Persian women are very inquisitive, and one day some of them
were questioning the ladies of the Yezd mission as to what they ate for
breakfast. When it transpired that the others ate eggs and one did not,
the remark was immediately made, “You see she is trying to get a higher
place in Heaven.” At another time when my wife was trying to explain to
some women that we do not look to works of merit to secure salvation, she
was met by the answer, “But the _Hakīm Khānum_ (lady doctor) does; or
why should she have taken all that trouble about the Seyid’s wife when
she was ill?”

Shiahs often consider that by letting others do a _savab_ for them
they confer a favour greater than they themselves receive. One might
imagine that this would only apply to benefactors who agreed with their
religious notions; but even if you can convince a Shiah that you do not
believe in the possibility of winning Heaven by _savabs_, he will reply,
very logically, that your want of faith does not prevent the fact being
true, and that it is absurd to expect him to be grateful because of
your unbelief in facts. I remember trying to make a very badly-behaved
youngster, who was in the school under my charge, see that we had some
reason to expect more gratitude from him, as we had really taken great
trouble with him, and Christians did not think it necessary to do such
things for the sake of their future welfare. His answer was that if we
did not consider that _savabs_ were necessary Mussulmans did.

_Savabs_ are not necessarily good actions, but almost all actions which
are directly kind are included in the term. So although the doctrine
connected with _savabs_ is not in every way a good thing, it still has
a certain value. Of course it is true that men who are anxious to do
big _savabs_ in order to wipe off the sins of very evil lives generally
choose non-ethical ones. During the late Babi massacre a soldier found a
Yezdi who was dragging about another man, and trying to make out whether
he was really a Behāī. “You see,” he said, “I have been a wicked man all
my life, and have never said my prayers or done any other _savabs_, so,
unless I can do a big _savab_, I shall certainly go to Hell. If this
man is a Babi, I mustn’t let him go, for if I kill an infidel of course
I shall go straight to Heaven.” Nevertheless the ordinary _savab_ is a
kind action, and in the idea of their efficacy we get something almost
corresponding to a moral principle. Sometimes indeed the Persian’s
conception of a work of merit tends to correct and check the worse
commandments of his code. For instance, although the killing of a Babi
as an infidel may be considered a _savab_, the saving of a life, even if
it is the life of the same Babi, may also be held a meritorious act of a
different kind.

That the Persian’s notions as to what constitutes an act of merit are a
saving clause in his religion I have no doubt at all. I am, however,
not quite certain whether this saving clause properly belongs to
Mohammedanism, for it bears on the face of it a family likeness to the
doctrines of superior systems, and it will not quite fit into the system
of Islam. The rest of the Shiah ideas about Heaven, Hell, the efficacy of
_savabs_, and repentance, seem to be really Mussulman, though everything
is not quite coherent. Perhaps the fact is that in these points Mohammed
was an opportunist, and taught any doctrine which he thought would make
people obedient to his law. He was careful not to expect too much, and,
while keeping his followers as long as possible in a state of uncertainty
as to their salvation, he tried never to shut the door on hope. So it is
questionable whether either the teaching of the Quran, or the ideas of
the Persians on these subjects, could possibly be presented in a quite
consistent form.

I have tried to enumerate in this chapter just those doctrines which form
the original philosophy or theology upon which everything in Islam rests,
and to show that not only does the ordinary Shiah Yezdi accept them _in
toto_, but that, with the one small exception that has been stated, all
his fundamental beliefs are to be found in this category. Of course
these ideas are a much more serious part of a religion than is a code of
commandments that is not believed to be permanent. Indeed it is quite
possible that greater laxity in the observance of such a code may be due
to a juster appreciation of the notions with which it was promulgated. To
say that Persia has not been greatly influenced by Mohammedanism because
the Persians get drunk in their houses, is shallow criticism. It is still
shallower to imagine that the fact that some of the Shiah ordinances are
in themselves laxer than the Sunni makes it plain that Persians are less
Mussulman than Turks and Indians.

For instance, the Shiahs have a custom of temporary marriages, according
to which it is lawful for a man, besides the four regular wives allowed
by Islam, to have as many inferior wives as he likes, contracting these
marriages for any length of time he pleases, from a few days upwards.
There is, however, a legal fiction by which these women are supposed
to be lowered to the rank of slaves, which ought to entirely remove
the Sunni objection; for, unless it can be proved that the temporary
ownership of a slave is impossible, it is very difficult to understand
why this evasion should not be considered quite legitimate according to
the undoubted principles of Mohammedanism. That there is a certain amount
of latitudinarianism in Shiah Islam is indisputable, but so there is in
the whole of Mohammed’s teaching and practice.

As a matter of fact his attitude towards Jews and Christians, and even
towards the idolaters, was largely opportunist. At one time he made
leagues with the Jews, promising that they should not be disturbed in
their religion; at other times he picked quarrels with them, and put
every one who would not accept Islam to the sword. This latitudinarianism
has found its way into the Quran itself, where a verse is to be found
telling Mohammedans that they may eat the food of “the people of
the book,” that is, of the people holding religions whose origin he
recognised as divine. The strict Shiahs in Yezd interpret this as meaning
dry food. They make a great distinction between wet and dry; only a few
years ago it was dangerous for an Armenian Christian to leave his suburb
and go into the bazaars in Isfahan on a wet day. “A wet dog is worse than
a dry dog.” Nevertheless, there are great differences of opinion on this
point, and most non-clerical Shiahs would take tea at any European’s
house. There was a Shiah woman who used to freely take tea at the house
of a Christian lady, the lady herself making it and pouring it out, but
she refused to use the tea-glasses used in the same house by Babi women.
Another Shiah lent a donkey for a Christian lady, but told her that he
could not use it again if she allowed her Parsi nurse to ride upon it.
And yet it is more easy to get the Mussulmans to eat food with the Parsis
than with the Jews, whose religion ranks higher than Zoroastrianism in
the popular regard, though they themselves are specially despised by
the Mohammedans. This curious mixture of breadth and bigotry is only
explicable on the assumption that the Shiah’s main ideal is exactly that
opportunist position which was taken up by Mohammed during his lifetime.

Perhaps we ought not to leave this subject without discussing rather
more fully the assertion which has been made about the Persian Shiahs,
that they have changed the doctrine of the unity of God for a loose
pantheism, and have dethroned the Quran for the utterance of Sufi poets.
That the Persians as a race have an extreme veneration for Sufi poetry,
which contains expressions of questionable orthodoxy, cannot well be
called in question; but before discussing the more serious part of the
allegation, it is necessary to thoroughly understand about whom it is
stated; for there are small Shiah sects, of whom it is quite true that
they are only half Mussulman, but these are very different from the sect
which is at present predominant in Persia, and which in Yezd at any rate
does not appear to lack veneration for the Quran. One point, however,
must be granted, and that is, that all Persian Mussulmans, orthodox or
otherwise, are often led to express acquiescence in a statement which
appears to be in itself correct, however opposed it may be to the general
tenor of their other beliefs. The fact is that they do not easily see
a contradiction, and this has made it possible for the Shiah to accept
poetry which he would otherwise have absolutely rejected. I do not myself
know a single Christian doctrine to which I could not get most Shiahs
to agree, if I was careful to state it in language with which they were
familiar, and not to dwell on its divergence from the Mussulman idea.

But doctrines so allowed to pass, whether Christian or Sufi, would have
no strength against the system of Islam, which most Yezdis have grasped
as an integral whole. The general plan of Mussulman doctrine, constructed
as it was for inhabitants of a desert, is peculiarly comprehensible to
people like the Yezdis, who are accustomed to isolated objects and ideas,
and are slow at grasping a too elaborately connected argument. For the
system of Islam is not elaborately connected: that there is a general
consistency in it, is true, but the consistency is like that of a certain
housewife’s accounts, in which a large number of items were entered
under the heading of “forgets.” The accounts were true and accurate, but
they were not highly instructive. Similarly in Islam a large variety
of commandments have been labelled, “commandments for the age of
Moses,” or “commandments for the age of Mohammed,” and the doctrine of
the _paighambari_ is so formulated as to make further systematisation
unnecessary. This being a scheme of arrangement which a Persian can
understand, it has laid hold of his mind to a peculiar degree. Phrases
and expressions that are opposed to it, he will often accept, but their
influence on his behaviour is exceedingly small. The thing which
dominates him, and will, unless explicitly resisted and combated, always
continue to dominate him, is Islam and Islam alone.

Before going on to discuss in another chapter some other important
aspects of the Yezdi’s religion, it will be well to consider how the
whole Mussulman theory has affected his character. First of all, it has
made him even more disposed to unconnected and disjunctive views of life
than he would otherwise have been. This becomes plain when we compare him
with his fellow-townsmen who have been in touch with other religions.
Secondly, we find that he possesses a very low view of the value of
morality, which in Mohammedanism has no unique place, but is only one
of the ways of attaining salvation. Another way is through accuracy of
religious observance, and, when a Persian takes to this, he generally
abandons any attempt to live straight. Residents in the country are well
aware of this, and are justly inclined to distrust a man who is very
particular about his prayers and ceremonial duties.

I must ask the reader to pardon me if I have said in this chapter
anything which appears disrespectful to Mohammedanism. In trying to
record facts and to correctly weigh impressions, one cannot avoid frankly
stating what has been forcibly brought before both mind and eyes, even
though the things stated may not be exactly what they are expected to
be. The fact is that Islam has ruined Persia; and it is not fair to the
real character of the people to underrate the effect that this religion
has produced on them. As to Mohammed, I believe that I have stated
nothing about him which is not a matter of common knowledge. Doubtless
the author who starts with the determination to write an interesting and
sympathetic book, will be able, by selecting his incidents, to convey a
more favourable impression, just as a criminal lawyer may be able to find
much in favour of even a guilty client; but the historical critic who
starts on the examination of Mohammed’s history without any pre-judgment
must necessarily find it difficult not to come to a very unfavourable
conclusion. The Arabian prophet headed a monotheistic movement which
had started without him, and which would have probably succeeded to a
very large extent whether he had touched it or not, and to this movement
he did a great deal of damage without making any serious ethical
contribution. It may be readily admitted that Mohammed was an attractive
person, and that he possessed other great gifts, one of which was unusual
eloquence. He seems to have been an enthusiast who in his worst moments
absolutely believed in himself and in his mission, and there is no doubt
that he drew into his company, both by persuasion and violence, men who
might have looked askance at a more spiritual leader. But those who want
to know what Islam does for a people who accept it had better compare
the Yezdi Mussulman with the Yezdi Parsi. The Parsis have a curious and
interesting religion, the main point of which seems to be the belief that
God has created all things of the four elements, and that He therefore
expects from all His creatures a reverential and sympathetic treatment
of one another. The religion is Gospelless, it is coated over with gross
superstitions, and it has the very great defect of being so elementary
in its teaching that there is a strong tendency amongst its professors
to deny revelation altogether, and to become simply rationalists. For
all this the Zoroastrian Parsi possesses, as a rule, a strong moral
character, which, when he becomes a Mohammedan, is almost always lost
in a few generations. Unfortunately, the Behāī movement is just now
attracting a large number of Zoroastrians, and is becoming a serious
danger; for the Behāī, whatever he may say to the contrary, is really
a Mussulman, and his system, in which opportunism takes the place of
the doctrine of the growth of the moral law, retains most of the more
serious defects of Islam. However, as the majority of the Yezdi Parsis
are not likely to become Behāīs, it is a matter for congratulation that
any European power that may have to solve the problem of establishing
good government in Southern Persia will find ready to hand a considerable
community of this intelligent and interesting people in at least one of
the Persian towns.


    Results of Islam—Untruthfulness—Superstitions—Pilgrimages—
    Divining—_Jins_ and _dīvs_—The evil eye—Trivial
    commandments—Entertainments—Islam includes rather than
    controls the life—Two purposes better than one—Ceremonial

It is now necessary for us to touch on some aspects of Mohammedanism
in Yezd with which it was impossible to deal fully while sketching the
essential system. In the last chapter we were primarily dealing with
the religious ideas that had been brought to bear upon the country as
influences, but in this chapter we shall speak rather more of their
results. First of all, I should like to give two stories. I give the
two, because one is the account of a conversation which I had with a
man who was not an orthodox Shiah; and, although I fancy I have heard
similar remarks made by men whose orthodoxy was unimpeachable, it is well
to be on the safe side. I had been challenged to give my reasons for
preferring Christianity to Mohammedanism, and in reply I gave an account
of a conversation I had had with another Mohammedan only a day or two
before. I had been trying to show him that lying was a sin, and he had
replied to me: “It’s all very well for Ferangis to say that; but the fact
is that they can’t tell lies, and we can.” I quoted this story simply
as bringing out very forcibly a common Persian idea, for Persians trust
Ferangis implicitly, not because they respect them, but because they
believe they have a constitutional difficulty in telling lies. Having
quoted it, I went on to say that as we all acknowledged in theory that
truth-telling was right, it was reasonable to infer that a religion which
had produced a mental constitution supposed to be incapable of falsehood,
was better than a religion which had produced the exact contrary. The
answer of the Mohammedan was that truth-speaking and honesty had nothing
to do with religion, but were purely a matter of climate. “In that case,”
I said, “the people of Persia ought to speak the truth very well, for
one of the Greek historians who lived before the Mohammedan era declared
that the Persians were famous for speaking the truth.” “But who does
not know,” said the Mohammedan, “that the climate of a country changes
entirely every two thousand years?”

At another time a Mohammedan of undoubted orthodoxy was answering a
similar position, only he was trying to explain away not only the
difference in honesty, but also in other matters. He said: “These facts
cannot be denied, but they prove the truth of Islam, and not its falsity.
If you find that thieves have broken the doors and windows of a house, do
you not conclude that there is something worth stealing inside?” I have
reason to believe that this is a well-known retort, for other Europeans
in other parts of Persia have been met by it. It is therefore well worth
examination. I myself find in it two assumptions which seem to me to
be peculiar features of Islam. First there is the assumption that the
possession of the treasure gives no safety to the doors and windows:
that is to say that the possession of true religion does not in any way
assist the keeping of God’s commandments. The fact is that Mohammed’s
commandment is not expected to be a source of spiritual strength, but
only a set of orders. Then there is the equally un-Christian assumption
that the keeping of the moral commandments of God is in no sense the
treasure, but something entirely extraneous to it, which is not essential
to the state of the treasure-holder. These two assumptions are to be
found running through the whole of Persian Islam, and producing the most
extraordinary results. Very few Mohammedans will hesitate to acknowledge
the low state of Mussulman morality as opposed to that of the Armenians,
or even of the Parsis, whom they regard as little better than idolaters.
If a Mussulman of the teacher class has anything to gain by confessing
or making it plain to an infidel that he has been guilty of gross sin,
he will not consider that he has in the least forfeited his claim to a
superior position by doing so.

Of course being non-ethical the religion becomes superstitious. The
Mohammedan considers that there is no known principle by which the
commands of the Deity can be connected and understood, consequently
he admits actions in his religious code which we should regard as
ridiculous. The whole theory of Mussulman pilgrimages is absurd, and
the practice is even more so. What can be more intrinsically foolish,
as well as heartless and cruel, than the custom of sending off the old
women, when they are past work, to some holy shrine, under the impression
that, if they die on the very difficult journey, as in a certain class of
cases they generally do, they will go straight to Heaven? It is rather
a ghastly custom to send vast quantities of bodies for interment in the
exceedingly inadequate space at Qum, over a country where there is no
vehicular transport. But the natural demand for a more easy set of roads
to Heaven has caused a multiplication of such practices as these far
beyond anything that was originally taught in the mosques. Things have
gone so far in this respect, that the most popular edition of the Quran
in Persia is a very minute round one in two parts, absolutely illegible,
and only suitable for wearing in a sewn-up case.

As in most superstitious countries, we find a number of superstitions
connected with divining; and these are largely sanctioned by the mullas,
who will divine with the Quran in a mosque for a fee. The commoner form
of divining is with a rosary, rather on the plan of “Two, four, six,
eight, Mary at the cottage gate.” Persians use this to an extent that is
hardly believable. They will consult the beads as to whether to send for
the doctor, and again, after he has come, to see whether they should buy
the medicine he prescribes, and finally, after buying it, they consult
them once more before deciding whether the patient shall take a dose.
At the same time it is quite permissible to “call threes.” A woman with
raging toothache got permission from the beads to send for a European
lady to extract the tooth, but on taking the beads for the extraction
after her arrival they were unfavourable, so arrangements were at once
made for divining with the Quran at a mosque, which would of course
overrule any result with the beads. A Persian will consider himself quite
justified in breaking a business engagement if the beads tell him he had
better avoid the interview; indeed very often he will not so much as fix
a date for the payment of a bill before he has consulted his almanac, and
discovered which are the lucky and which are the unlucky days.



The vast empty deserts which surround Yezd, and the huge mountain ridges
which form the horizon are to the Yezdi by no means empty. It is an
axiom of science that Nature abhors a vacuum, and it is a corresponding
psychological law that the human imagination cannot tolerate absolute
emptiness. So the Yezdi, like the Arabian, peoples his deserts with
_jins_ and _dīvs_ and devils, and wherever there is a space not filled
in he imagines strange forms of animal life. At the risk of being
considered superstitious myself I must own that I should like to see
some of the travellers’ tales of Persia more carefully investigated,
particularly those relating to the existence of very large lizards which
are dangerous to human life. One is familiar with the defences that are
being constantly brought forward for the fable of the sea-serpent; how
that the sea is after all an almost unknown waste, only crossed in a
very few places by well established water-roads that can be most easily
avoided; and although the desert cannot be said to afford as much cover
as the ocean, for it is not possible to plunge below the surface at any
point at any time, still its vast expanses are almost as untraversed and
unknown as the ocean wastes, and there are not a few places, especially
in the mountains, honeycombed with caves and clefts. This however is
a digression. In such a country as I have described, with its vast
and barren solitudes, it would be difficult for a people to exist and
maintain their reason, if they did not believe in something corresponding
to the _jins_ and _divs_. Consequently we find _jins_ in the keyholes,
_jins_ in the _qan’ats_, _divs_ in the mountains, _divs_ in the rocks,
anywhere, everywhere, a vast population filling up the huge interstices
left by Nature. Most of this population is malevolent; so naturally the
ordinary Persian is a mass of charms: nobody goes about without cold iron
in his pocket, and a large number of people wear either the sacred book
in its entirety, or large portions of it somewhere about their person.
Also they are terribly afraid of the evil eye; and numbers of their
charms, especially for the children, are directed against it. It is not
that they think the evil eye common: any Persian will tell you that very
few people have it, but they all know of at least one case, and they are
terribly afraid of it, sometimes refusing to admit strangers to their
house until they are satisfied they have not got it. If a mother sees
a dead body before the birth of her child, then, unless she takes the
precaution of placing some salt on the corpse, and afterwards putting a
little of it in the child’s eye, her child will inevitably have the evil
eye, and everything that is pleasing to its eye will be cursed. The evil
eye is likely to kill children of tender years, so very young children
are always hidden under the _chādar_ when carried in the street.

These superstitions are exceedingly general, and sometimes co-exist with
a certain amount of intelligence and education. I remember a man who
had obviously been in touch with some of the Persian mystics, and was
quite capable of discussing and more or less understanding complicated
ideas, telling me that he considered that the silkworm owners in the Yezd
district were exceedingly wise in refusing to admit strangers to see
the worms. He explained to me that they were creatures of such extreme
harmlessness and guilelessness that they were peculiarly susceptible to
malevolent influences from the outside world.

Superstitions of this kind will be found in all countries, and in most
lands there are in addition superstitions that seem to be more intimately
connected with the religion. The nature of the country fosters the
tendency in Persia, and the Parsis are nearly as superstitious as the
Mussulmans. But in Mohammedanism the peculiar difficulty is that there
is nothing to guide a man in separating the superstitious practices from
any connected with a central true idea. The whole religion is a medley
of trivialities. The history of Mohammed and his early admiration for
the Jews, with whom he must have been constantly in touch, explains
this. He saw the result of their ceremonial law and their national
religious customs, binding them together and making them a peculiar
people in every action of their household life; but of the parabolic
significance of this law, of the doctrinal system which governed it,
he saw and was taught very little or nothing. Nor did he want it: he
wanted simply the political result, and in getting this he was eminently
successful. He copied the system, but he gave to Islam a maximum of
ordinances containing a minimum of teaching. After his death the minutiæ
went on accumulating, until everything in the life of a Mussulman took
a religious colour. In Persia the very dress is supposed to be more or
less modelled on that worn by the prophet. The people not only kill
their animals and eat their food according to the precepts of the Quran,
but relying on their very extensive traditions they follow a prescribed
religious practice in attitude and language. Shiahs are particularly
scrupulous about certain of their washings, and think almost as much
about them as they do about the regularity of their prayers. “If I
become a Christian, when and how am I to wash myself?” This is one of the
commonest questions for an enquirer to put to a missionary. Another very
common one is, “How am I to dress?” The Mussulman hardly understands you
if you tell him that such points are left to the individual judgment.
I remember a Persian trying to prove to me that I could not possibly
consider all meats lawful and ceremonially clean, or I should eat cat.
It is very difficult to explain to the Yezdi that the drinking of wine
at meals is not a necessary Christian institution, and for this reason
the consideration of the necessity of maintaining Christian liberty is
in Persia rather an argument for total abstinence than against it. In
Yezd we are continually being asked whether the commonest peculiarities
of European custom, such as eating with a knife and fork, were ordained
by Christ. In one house they had to make away with some kittens, and the
servant was directed to dig a hole in the compound for their reception.
While he was doing so he asked his mistress, “Did your prophet direct
you to bury kittens?” But the extreme point of triviality was reached by
a man who had seemed a most intelligent enquirer, and had asked me to
explain the essential points of Christianity, to which he listened most
attentively, appearing to weigh them in his mind. When I had finished, he
paused to consider the whole position: “_Sahib_,” he said very slowly,
“_man mas’ala dāram_.”—“Sir, I have a religious question to bring before
you.” I said, “_Bifarmāyīd_.”—“Please proceed.” “_Āyā Masīh_,” he said
very deliberately, “_āvāz i sūtrā halāl dānist?_”—“Did Christ consider
humming lawful?” I reassured him on the point, and tried to explain the
spiritual nature of Christ’s teaching. I then left the room to get a
book, and, when I came back, he was humming to himself contentedly.

Religion also provides the Yezdi with his entertainments and excitements;
the place of the theatre is taken by the Muharram miracle play, and that
of the ordinary concert by the _rūza khānī_ or religious recitation,
while even street rioting is generally connected with the persecution
of people who do not agree with the religious opinions of the rioters.
All this serves to strengthen the attachment of the common people to
the religious system, which stands to them in the place of country,
standard of etiquette, habits of life and code of cleanliness. As a
matter of fact religion is not quite the right term for the Mohammedan
system, for religion means restraint, and the object of almost all of
the other systems called religions has been to present a predominant
idea which is to govern and restrain all other ideas and aspects of
life. In Mohammedanism there is the predominant idea of the _tauhid_
and _paighambari_, but this conception more resembles the central
doctrine of a philosophy than the governing principle of a religion.
To put it in other words, Mohammed sought by his theological teaching
rather to include everything than to control everything. Consequently
the Mussulman, who reflects the spirit of his master much more than is
generally allowed, is never satisfied with himself unless he is using
religious language. What he does matters comparatively little, but the
way in which he regards his action matters a great deal. If he forgets
to mention God’s name, he corrects himself; but to his mind there is
little or no blasphemy in connecting God’s name with any action of life,
important or trivial, good or bad. The result of this is that those who
are accustomed to religions possessing more influence over moral action
are amazed at the religiosity of the Mohammedan: but although this
religiosity is a fact, the whole wonder of it ceases when the religion is
carefully examined. Others are equally astounded at what they consider
the hypocrisy of the Mussulman; but this also is a misnomer: a Mussulman
is not hypocritical: rather he has taken up a position towards affairs
which renders hypocrisy unnecessary.

In Persia, at any rate, there is a further mistake which ought to be
guarded against. Islam is not mere worldliness sanctified by the use of
religious terms: it includes a great deal of unworldly thought, although
it combines all considerations, worldly or unworldly, with little if any
distinction. Still it must be owned that the worldly considerations are
apt to predominate, for the Persian Shiah seems to be a reflection of
Mohammed, who suggested that pilgrimages should be used for purposes of
trade, invited people to become Mussulmans for political reasons, and not
only winked at the making of converts by threats and terrorism, but laid
this down as one of the essential means for spreading the religion. It is
not sufficient to call such a system politico-religious, for it not only
includes matters of public expediency in the religious idea, but it also
sanctifies considerations of expediency that are purely personal. Yet
there is one thing that the missionary in such a land as Persia cannot
too fully realise; and that is that he is dealing with people who are not
in the least ashamed of doubleness of motive. In their view, two purposes
are better than one; and when it has been proved that their purposes are
worldly, it has still to be considered whether there is not an unworldly
purpose as well.

Men frequently come to enquire about Christianity, drawn by what seems
to us a strange mixture of motives. They naturally enough put their
more spiritual purposes first, for they realise that these are most
appreciated by those to whom they talk, and they also consider that
things like this ought to have a theoretical priority. Temporal needs
are, however, much more pressing, and these have just as much claim to
be satisfied by a new religion. Of course such a position is likely to
be fruitful, not only of the gravest difficulties, but also of the most
lamentable misunderstandings.

It will be readily understood that a system like this can easily be made
to cover ideas which appear inconsistent, and as a matter of fact, it is
very difficult to define some of the notions which Persian Shiahs hold
to a point of fanaticism. For instance, there is room for considerable
difference of opinion as to how far the Yezdi regards the foreigner as
unclean. The Mohammedan is taught to regard as unclean the eating of
certain kinds of food, contact with certain animals, and also contact
with the persons of people who have not been ceremonially cleansed. There
seem, however, to be degrees of uncleanness. Mohammed in one verse of
the Quran declared the food of the Christians and Jews, as well as all
food that had been properly prepared by a Mussulman, to be lawful; but
we cannot suppose that he regarded these different classes of food as
equally clean. Bigoted Persians sometimes ignore this permission of their
prophet’s, and declare that it refers only to dry food prepared by Jews
or Christians; but in this they are not consistent, for they eat dry food
prepared by pagans also.

The truth is that the attitude of the Persian towards the infidel is not
altogether decided by Mohammed’s direct teaching, but to a very large
extent it is based upon an elementary human feeling which can be found
in almost every country under the sun. Most people in England have a
physical shrinking from undue contact with other persons. We do not
care to drink out of a cup that other people have used, until it has
been washed; we should, very few of us, care to take alternate bites at
an apple with somebody else, and most Englishmen have a very similar
objection to kissing. We are much less particular about contact with the
hand, though here also we feel that a line has got to be drawn somewhere.
Within the family we are less particular. Of course in connection with
these things there is in England a great deal of talk about infection and
the laws of hygiene, but the instinct exists apart from any notion of
hygiene at all. Now in Persia you have got to remember that everything
takes a religious colour, and this has tended to slightly modify the
natural instinct, breaking down the wall of reserve within the boundaries
of Islam, and giving the feeling the colour of a religious prejudice
when applied to the outside world. Of course there are hundreds of Yezdi
Mussulmans who will eat freely with a European without the slightest
scruple, and a still larger number who do not allow their scruples to
make any practical difference: at the same time people who wish to get
into close touch with the natives should remember that the feeling of
_nijāsat_, or ceremonial uncleanness, is a somewhat complex one, and that
it will be more easy to overcome it if a certain discretion is observed.
Persians eating the food of a European are on the look out for anything
which is strange and peculiar, and if such peculiarities are observed
they naturally feel more strongly the difference between themselves and
their host. This not only renders them less approachable, but it also
makes them much more shy of adopting Christian ideas, and in the case
of enquirers, who, as I have said before, find it very difficult to
understand that our customs are not all regulated by religion, a feeling
may grow up that the state of Christianity is not possible to a native

As this book is not about Mohammedanism but about the Yezdi, I have
perhaps devoted as much space to the religion of Islam in Yezd as is
warranted by my choice of subject matter. At the same time there is
no doubt that I have left out a great deal that might have been said,
even without going into those details of doctrine and practice which
it has been my intention to avoid. I have tried to give some idea of
what Islam means to ordinary people in an ordinary Persian town, and
I have had to dwell rather more at length on points where there was
danger of misconception either through too precise a study of the
accurate doctrines of Islam, or through a too superficial view of the
result. In doing this I fear that I may have passed over too rapidly
the more familiar aspects of the religion, the intense excitement of
the spectators and actors at the Muharram games, the mourning for Hasan
and Husain, the frenzied fanaticism of the mob after a rousing sermon
at the mosques, and the close adherence of many Mussulmans to washing
and prayers. This is one side of Shiah Islam, but as it is better
known I have attempted to give the other. I cannot, however, leave the
subject without reminding those who have to do with Persians of two most
important things; first, that there is a real spiritual seeking amongst
Mussulmans, and that the presence of worldly motives does not preclude
it; secondly, that there is real enthusiasm for their religion in spite
of latitudinarian ideas. To the Mussulman, as has been before stated, the
system of Islam is everything, and he clings to it as dearly as to life
itself, for it represents to him every habit that he has formed, and its
cause is the cause of every motive that he acknowledges to be possible.

    The religious ceremonies which in Persia arouse the greatest
    enthusiasm and fervour are essentially Shiah. The yearly
    miracle play in the month of Muharram depicts the death of the
    Imam Husain, son of Ali and Fātima, and grandson of Mohammed.
    This is the occasion of the most violent exhibitions of emotion
    on the part of both players and spectators. Men lash their
    naked bodies with chains in an ecstasy of frenzy, and the whole
    crowd bursts into groans and tears of grief. Feeling runs so
    high, and becomes so unmanageable on these occasions, that
    the secular authorities have tried to keep the performances
    out of the larger towns. But the atmosphere which is created
    is not by any means anti-foreign in a general sense. The Imam
    Husain was done to death by his co-religionists, and tradition
    reports that a Ferangi ambassador interceded with Yazīd for
    the martyr’s life. This ambassador appears in the play, and
    Persians often try to borrow an English saddle for his horse
    from the European residents. At the performance at the big
    village of Taft, which is near Yezd, I think the ambassador
    was often dressed as a modern Englishman, but I cannot vouch
    for this. At Yezd itself, the miracle play was not acted; but
    the carrying of the Nakhl, a ceremony supposed to be fraught
    with the same kind of danger, took place yearly. The Nakhl is
    a huge wooden erection hung on one side with daggers, and on
    the other side with looking-glasses. There are several Nakhls
    in Yezd, and two are very large. This custom also is connected
    with the death of the Shiah martyrs. The Nakhl is supposed to
    be moved from its place in the square by the miraculous agency
    of Fatima; but a good many people take it on themselves to
    assist her. Lastly, there is a night set apart for the burning
    of Omar, the usurping Khalif, and the carrying of the effigy
    through the town is the occasion of extreme excitement. One
    cannot help being strongly reminded of Guy Fawkes’ day in
    England. Omar, it must be remembered, is a Sunni saint.



    Character of the Yezdi—Systematised inconsistency—Loyalty
    to causes and individuals—Unreliability of
    evidence—Shame—Humour—Disregard of time—Language—Lack
    of initiative—Courage—The Yezdi soldier—Etiquette
    and manners—Triviality—Pride—Kindliness and
    cruelty—Dishonesty—Difficulty in obtaining anything—Tendency to
    fatalism—Latent strength of Persian character—Family ties—The
    Jus Paternum—Religious liberty—Open-handedness—Summary.

If it were not absolutely essential to the purpose of a book like this
that there should be a more or less detailed analysis of the character of
the Yezdi, I should certainly shirk making such an analysis. The Yezdi’s
faults are numerous, glaring, and interesting. His virtues are not only
fewer, but there is much less to be said about them. In the concrete man,
these virtues show fairly prominently, the vices have their peculiar
humour, and the whole is not unlovable. On paper, while discussing the
different points of the Yezdi’s character one by one, it will be almost
impossible to convey the general effect made by the entire human being.

When one first becomes acquainted with the Yezdi, one is inclined to
regard him as so inconsistent in matters of morals as to be utterly
devoid of all principle, bad or good. There is the same uncertainty about
his actions that there is about the fall of an unloaded die. But just as
the fall of the die is regulated by the law of averages, so the actions
of the Yezdi are more or less consciously decided by what can only be
termed systematised inconsistency, a kind of law of balance which seems
to him to possess the merit of a principle. When he has done a certain
number of good actions, which it must be confessed is frequently the
case, then it is time for him to do some bad ones; and _vice versâ_,
when he has done enough bad ones, he comes back for a time to good ones.
This is partially the result of the theory of _savabs_; and the painful
thing about it is that it makes moral trustworthiness impossible. If
a man holds this pernicious theory as it was sketched in a previous
chapter, then the more he has done right in the past the more he will
feel justified in doing wrong in the future; and this in Yezd is no mere
nightmare, but the literal fact. A good many of the Yezdis are frequently
fair and straight in their dealings, but I do not know a single Mussulman
among them, with regard to whom it would be fairly safe to depend on his
doing the right thing on any particular occasion simply because he knew
it to be right. There are men whose ordinary habits are fairly good, but
to a man who considers that derelictions of duty can be absolutely paid
for by past or future acts of merit not necessarily involving very much
trouble, the temptation to yield to slightly increased pressure is very
strong, and is likely to frequently overcome the bias of habit.

On the other hand, Persians have very strong notions of loyalty both to
causes and to individuals. Nothing has brought this out more than the
history of the Babi movement, which has certainly exhibited the strength
of Persian character. Boys and young men have in this movement willingly
undergone the most terrible tortures in the service of their spiritual
teachers and the common cause. It ought to be understood that the motives
of the Babi martyr are not quite the same as those which have generally
influenced the Christians who have died for their faith. The Christian
martyrs have generally died rather than do some act which they felt to
be sinful, or leave undone something which they regarded as essential.
A large number of the Babi martyrs on the other hand have died because
they chose not to deny their faith, which according to their tenets was
perfectly permissible to do. Now I know of at least one man, a Persian
of high position, who was killed as a Babi, but who would have preferred
embracing Christianity. What was his connection with Babiism I cannot
say: he would, I believe, have embraced Christianity had it not been
that he shrank from a religion where a direct denial of one’s faith must
always be accounted sinful. Whatever he was, he certainly did not shrink
from making his divergence from orthodox Islam dangerously plain, and in
this way he met his death. My purpose in mentioning the fact is to show
that it is most difficult to induce a Mussulman to accept a very hard and
fast line. Of course the story is only an illustration and does not prove
the point, because there must have been other considerations which made
Babiism, or a degree of unorthodoxy which passed for Babiism, easier to
such a man than Christianity. It is not necessary to suppose that he was
only influenced by a dislike to unbending rules; for the inability to
ever deny his faith might have exposed him to petty insults, which would
have been to him worse than death. Also his position as a Christian would
have been, humanly speaking, a more solitary one. Still, when all has
been said, I am convinced that the constitutional dislike to a hard and
fast rule played at least some part in bringing the man to his decision,
and also that this dislike is more pronounced in the Mussulman Yezdi than
in the Yezdi Parsi.

A Persian who attaches himself to an individual will often prove himself
very trustworthy in all matters affecting that individual’s interest; and
generally speaking, attachment to a European would be likely to produce a
more dependable loyalty than attachment to another Persian. The feeling
that a European friend would always himself act in a certain manner
frequently leads a Persian to try and act in the same way towards him. I
remember a Persian servant once replying to my wife, who had expostulated
with him on the subject of some egregious falsehood that he had just told
in the bazaars, “Of course, Khanum, I don’t tell lies to you, for you
don’t like it; but these people expect me to lie, and one couldn’t tell
the truth to them.”

Perhaps one might go further, and say that the Yezdi Mussulman frequently
questions the virtue of keeping to an abstract principle, particularly
when by abandoning it one might do a good turn to a friend. Impartiality
is a thing which he absolutely fails to understand: indeed he considers
it simply another name for disloyalty, and here it is probable that most
other Easterns would agree with him.

It is impossible to treat the inconsistency of Yezdi Mussulmans as
simple weakness. It is rather the absence of such principles as Westerns
generally possess than the inability to keep to them; and indeed it is
often the result of other principles of a peculiar kind, diametrically
opposed to those to which we are accustomed. The Yezdis are a free-handed
folk, and they despise a man who does not spend freely. They like to
appear to live up to their incomes, and I think that some of them have a
feeling of the same kind about their debit and credit account with their
Creator. Also we must not forget that Persian inconsistency is not always
a deviation towards wrong, but equally often a deviation towards right.
Though in Persia it is never well to trust to a man’s character, it is
always advisable to appeal to high principles, even when dealing with
apparently the most abandoned. While we were in Yezd we were brought into
contact with three men in high position, whose names it is not necessary
to mention, but whom I would put down as the three worst prominent men
in Yezd. The first was an aristocratic official, the second a cleric,
and the third an official and a _nouveau riche_. Now each of these three
at some time or other made himself conspicuous by conduct that one was
bound to commend and approve. It is impossible to always analyse motives,
but in at least one case the action seemed to have been due to nothing
but a disinterested and unselfish impulse. In the other cases it is more
probable that expediency, or a conscious intention of paying for sins by
_savabs_, entered into the matter.

To trace this peculiarity of the Yezdi’s character to its source is not
easy. Sometimes it appears to be a species of hedging, for it is very
difficult to find out the truth in Persia, and a general disbelief in
everything may have led the Persian to feel that it is unsafe to stake
his all on one theory of the universe. The amount of lying that is done
in a town like Yezd baffles description. An Englishman when in doubt
tells the truth. A Persian when in doubt tells a lie. This would be more
tolerable were it not that a Persian is always in doubt. In Yezd security
is a thing unknown, and telling lies becomes part of the instinct of
self-preservation. Then again the lies are of a new kind. Lies in England
are generally told to deceive people in some particular; in Yezd they
are just as frequently told in order to make the very search for truth
impossible. When I have had to examine into cases of petty theft amongst
schoolboys, I have found that to get at the truth is an almost superhuman
task. English boys, if they do not tell the truth, will at least tell as
few falsehoods as possible, if for no other reason, to avoid being found
out. Persian boys will not only lie on the subject they wish to conceal,
but they will tell as many untruths as they can cram into the story, so
as to render any attempt at investigation futile. Of course you know that
they are lying, but, as they never imagine that you will suspect them of
telling the truth, they are not much deterred.

The result of this practice is that in the Yezd bazaars, taking together
all statements, even the most trivial, that are made by Mussulmans,
probably not less than one-third of the speeches made are falsehoods. I
do not think that the Persian beggar ever expects to be believed. A woman
once came to the house, asking for a quilt because she had none, and her
son was ill. To have no quilt, that is, to have no bed-clothes, is by
no means an unbelievable state of poverty, and there is no doubt that
the woman expected to have her words taken literally. It transpired that
her son was quite well, but was taking sanctuary to avoid being molested
for a debt. The woman had a perfectly possible quilt, but it was old and
patched. She actually brought it to us the next morning, not to prove
that after all they were very poor, but to show that in saying she had
none she had spoken the truth. Another woman once told me in the street,
that she had six orphan children and her husband was sick.

In a country like this it is not surprising that evidence is at a
discount, and that there are intelligent people absolutely convinced that
truth is unknowable. A man who is accustomed to act upon this theory in
the ordinary affairs of life, is naturally inclined to apply the same
principle to whatever religion or philosophy he possesses. So we get
men who are unwilling to stake everything on anything in particular. If
they have previously assumed that it is most advantageous to do what is
right, then it is well to perform just a few actions on the assumption
that it is more advantageous to do wrong. If they have hitherto acted on
the principle that it is better to do what is wrong, then it is well not
to put all their eggs into that basket either. And indeed I am inclined
to think that many of the Yezdis would apply the same philosophy to
their non-ethical ideas. If they have based most of their opinions on
the assumption that something is true, it is well to base others on the
assumption that the same thing is false. This, of course, sounds to us
mere nonsense, but once grant with many of the Yezdis that evidence is
valueless, and truth absolutely unknowable, and it at once becomes an
approximation to sense.

It is quite possible that some of my readers may ask whether this last
attempt to explain the inconsistency of the Yezdis is to be taken
seriously. To say that I do not know is rather a weak confession, but at
the same time it is true. I certainly do not pin my faith to it, yet it
seems to be the way in which the bewildering topsy-turvydom of Persia
is working. Never forget that the jokes of W. S. Gilbert are the facts
of Persia. For instance, in an isolated place like Yezd, the laws of
supply and demand operate so peculiarly that the ordinary custom of
discount on quantity is inverted; you will be able to get things usually
sold at three for a penny at perhaps thirty for a shilling. There was a
governor in Yezd, certainly not more than twenty years ago, who had men
bastinadoed for walking in the bazaars without treading down the heels of
their slippers. In such a country it is very difficult to say what is in
itself ridiculous and impossible. One can only judge from evidence, which
is, I think, in favour of the theory I have just suggested as a possible
explanation of undoubted facts. At the same time the unreliability of the
Yezdi is probably due to several causes, and there is one of these causes
about which one may speak with less uncertainty. This is the piecemeal
appreciation of ideas and circumstances, which I have already mentioned
as the result of the impression made on the Yezdi’s mind by the isolated
objects which continually surround him, and which is probably heightened
by a religion which was constructed under circumstances very similar to
those of the Persian deserts.

Shame is the feeling of vexation consequent upon the consciousness of
having fallen below an accepted standard of conduct, and where such a
standard is not to be found, shame does not exist. Consequently the
Yezdi, who has only the faintest idea of a moral standard that ought to
govern his whole life, is not susceptible to shame in this particular.
He has, however, a rather stronger idea of a general standard of
intelligence up to which he ought to live, so it is often a greater
deterrent to him to point out that a certain action will be regarded as
ignorant or silly than to show that it is less moral than his ordinary
behaviour. He also possesses a very keen appreciation of what he
considers to be the ethical proprieties of a particular occasion. We must
remember that what he lacks in breadth of view he makes up for in power
of concentration on the comparatively small field of ideas that can come
simultaneously within the range of his mental vision. For example, when
European missionaries have been in vain attempting to simplify a most
abstruse and metaphysical doctrine by spreading it over several easy
steps, they sometimes find that the Persian mind, though it utterly fails
to grasp the simpler train of reasoning, can without any assistance take
in the more difficult idea, so long as it is expressed with sufficient
brevity. In the same way the Yezdi, who seems to have little or no sense
of the proprieties of a lifetime, will have an appreciation of what is
right and fitting on a particular occasion stronger than that of the
European. This is what makes him so dignified at times and seasons, and
so undignified in his life. Although his sense of propriety does not
always work, where it does work it is so far from being weak that to
violate it seems to give him a sensation that is near akin to physical
pain. You cannot make a Yezdi apologise: if he has done an injury, he is
quite content to ignore it, or to assert that it has not taken place,
which is the ordinary substitute for an apology in Persia: but the man’s
sense of shame is too great to allow him to confess to such an action
before the man he has wronged. He has no objection to the man knowing
what has happened; but at the interview his denial must be accepted or
the injury ignored. This is the only way in which he can submit to the

The Yezdi has not a very fine sense of humour, but he is easily amused.
Perhaps it is worth while to instance an occasion which occurred during
our stay in Yezd when the natives seemed really tickled. A certain
Russian doctor resident in the town, who had not a very complete and
accurate knowledge of Persian, wanted to use bad language to his servant,
who had in some way offended him. As he knew no suitable expressions he
seized the dictionary and kept looking them out one after another, and
hurled them at the unfortunate man’s head as fast as this process would
permit. This story was retailed with very great appreciation by some of
the better class natives. I rather think it seemed to them very much more
funny than it does to us, and this for two reasons. Persians have a great
respect for literature, including dictionaries, and they would hardly
understand their being frivolously handled; also they are very particular
in adapting their language to the occasion, and it would strike them
as the height of absurdity to abuse a servant in book language, as the
doctor must have done, unless indeed the Russian publication he consulted
contained real specimens of colloquial abuse, which would have struck the
Persians as even more funny.

The story of Mulla Nāsiru’d Dīn and his mule is a very fair instance of
Persian humour at its best. The Mulla, who was a notorious wit, had
sent a mule to the market-place where such beasts were sold. People were
suspicious owing to the Mulla’s reputation, but nobody supposed that he
would let himself down by sending an unsaleable animal to the bazaars.
So first of all someone examined its forelegs, and got badly pawed;
then someone went to its hind-legs and got kicked; next they looked
at its mouth and got bitten; finally they tried to put saddle-bags on
to its back, and it threw them off immediately. Consequently when the
Mulla strolled down everyone laughed at him, and asked him if he really
expected anybody to buy it. “No, my friends,” said the Mulla, “I never
expected any of you to buy it; but I wanted you to know what I have to
put up with at home.”

One of the things that is most difficult for a European to tolerate in a
Yezdi is his extraordinary disregard of time. It is not only that he does
not care how long he takes over a thing, one might tell story after story
on this point, but this is a malady common in the East. What I was not
prepared for was that he should have no idea what time means. In Persia
a clergyman’s work consists more of seeing people in his own house, and
less of visiting; but the great difficulty in receiving visitors is that,
if one wants to see parties separately, a single reception is all one can
satisfactorily arrange in an afternoon. This is what happens. Two parties
send to ask when they can see you, and you reply by asking when it will
be convenient for them to come. Both messengers state with the most
absolute politeness that it makes no difference to their masters when you
say, and that they wish you to choose the time. If you are wise you will
tell one party to come two hours after noon, and the other to come at one
hour to sunset, which, supposing the sun to be setting at six, will be
five o’clock. They will both acquiesce, but you will have to be ready to
receive the party due at two at one o’clock, and you must not consider
them late if they arrive at three. Similarly you will prepare for the
second party at four, and not consider them late before six. But the
probabilities are that both parties will arrive at four, the favourite
visiting hour, having both decided on that time before sending to ask

Another great difficulty is the Persian language. Persian is a pretty
language with an extremely large vocabulary. What is more, every class
of Yezdi, that is, of the men, uses a very large number of words.
For all this it is almost impossible to accurately define an idea,
for the language largely consists of synonyms, which cannot be used
indiscriminately, but must be carefully selected according to the
occasion. Some of these synonyms really possess accurate meanings, but
if you choose your word according to the sense you wish to convey, you
talk bad Persian. To give an illustration of this, suppose in dealing
with the Incarnation you desired to bring out the Christian doctrine
that God is not only the Friend of man but also his close Companion. I
am quite certain that in ordinary Yezdi Persian there is no sufficiently
appropriate term for “companion,” that could be applied to God in such
a way as to bring out your meaning, without exposing you to a charge of
irreverence. As a matter of fact I once tried to convey this idea in a
Persian sermon, and was met with this difficulty. I afterwards tried
to get three or four native Christians, one of whom was a teacher of
Persian, to suggest a possible word, but the only expression they could
propose was the word I had used.

The words one uses in a letter in Persian, even for the commonest
objects, are almost entirely distinct from the words one uses
conversationally, and the words which one would use in an ordinary
prose history book are again different. Then it is almost impossible to
distinguish the tenses; the true future is hardly ever used, consequently
the present and the future are indistinguishable; and the preterite is
frequently used of action which was begun in the past but which is still
continuing. Lastly, the adjective is generally indistinguishable from
the substantive, and the link between an adjective and the term which it
qualifies is the same as the sign of the genitive. For instance the text,
“This is My beloved Son,” may be read in the Persian Bible, “This is the
son of My beloved” without the slightest violence to the grammar; nor,
indeed, is there any obvious way out of the difficulty. I have mentioned
these peculiarities of language because I think they are greatly
connected with the Yezdi’s inaccuracy of ideas, though which is the cause
and which is the effect is sometimes difficult to say.

There is no situation in which the Yezdi is so incalculable as that which
seems to demand a certain amount of daring. Sometimes the people seem
absolutely wanting in the power of taking the initiative, and expect
to be directed like children. They have an aversion to killing animals
except for food, even when there is danger to human life in allowing them
to live. One day an English lady asked why a dangerous dog which had
bitten several people was not killed. The answer was, “If you tell us
to kill it we will do so, but not otherwise.” The fact is no one minded
killing the dog, but they fancied the curse might lie with the initiator
of the movement. They will go on letting things be, or allowing them to
get more and more dangerous, until they have accustomed themselves to
an amount of risk to incur which would be accounted by a European mere
foolhardiness. In this they are largely influenced by predestinarian
notions. An English lady was one day standing by an open tank in a
Persian compound, into which one of the children had fallen that morning,
and she remarked on its extreme danger. “Yes,” said the mother, “I have
lost three children in that tank.” To build a small wall round such a
tank would be in Persia exceedingly easy. Perhaps the little power of
initiative that is left them by their predestinarianism is destroyed by
the insecurity of the country. People get in the way of making as few
improvements as possible, and of never exposing their capital more than
they can help. In fraudulent business, however, there is a great deal
of audacity, sometimes combined with a good deal of ingenuity. They are
exporting at present to China a quality of so-called opium in which there
is absolutely no morphia. The stuff is really an entirely different
substance, and very cheap, and it is tied up in bags steeped in a
solution of opium. It is, I believe, more harmful to smoke than the real

Passive courage the Yezdi possesses to a very high degree, but he must
have a cause for which he cares sufficiently, if this courage is to be
called out. If the terrible Babi massacres that have taken place from
time to time in Persia have proved nothing else, they have at least shown
that there is grit somewhere in Persian character. The way in which mere
lads in Yezd went to their death in that ghastly summer of 1903 was
wonderful. There was one boy whom they tried very hard to spare, for
sometimes the mob were moved by something akin to pity. They took him
to the _mujtahid_ first, and told him to recant, and he would not. Then
they took him to the open square, and held him up to give him one more
chance, if he would curse the Behāu’llah and the Behāīs. “The curse be on
yourselves,” was all he said; and then they tore him in pieces. The early
Babis showed good fighting qualities in the north of Persia, as well as
passive courage, and, as they were chiefly townsmen, we may presume that
there are military possibilities in the Persian people, even amongst
those who dwell in cities. But to look for military feeling in the kind
of soldier that we get in Yezd is not fair. He is, I believe, collected
by a sort of conscription from certain localities. When collected he is
taught about as much of the ordinary elements of drill as is considered
necessary in England for the national schoolboy. He is also assigned a
wage of a _toman_ a month, which if punctually paid would be insufficient
to cover anything but the barest food expenses. This mistake is, however,
generally remedied by his superior officers, who usually intercept so
much of his wages that he is bound to look for other means of support.
In this he is not discouraged. If he has a little ready cash he usually
sets up as a money-lender, his official position and possession of a
bayonet assisting him to collect his debts. Otherwise he steals shoes,
or takes up some other similar form of employment which does not demand
an extensive capital; sometimes he even makes shoes. Once a year he
is supposed to be supplied with a uniform, but, though the uniforms
are probably not worth more than a few shillings, they are very seldom
regularly supplied. He is, however, free to add to his uniform as well
as to his pay, and at certain times of the year there is very little
left of the original outfit except an old cap with a metal badge, and
possibly a belt. When on sentry duty he amuses himself by planting a
small garden, four inches by two, in front of his station, and he keeps a
heap of rose-heads to press into the hands of passers-by on the chance of
extracting odd halfpence.

During the latter days of the Babi massacres, a guard of four men, a
sergeant and three privates, was placed at the doors of the European
houses by the Governor. Every soldier came to us with a thing that looked
like a gun and certainly had a bayonet attached to it; but we heard that
at one house it became necessary to send down an extra weapon which
would shoot for the common use of the party. Of course the gun that would
shoot was withdrawn at the earliest possible opportunity. The higher
officers of this extraordinary force are surprisingly numerous, but as
there are among them, I believe, boys of about twelve who hold the title
of Field-Marshal, there is some excuse for a reduplication of officers.
It is only justice to add that some of these soldiers are in their way
very good fellows: the guard sent to our house were by no means a bad
lot; and I shortly afterwards met a military officer whom I would class
with the best Persians I know.

Nor does the courage of Persia come out very strongly in the high
official class, though here too there are honourable exceptions. Still,
as a general rule, amongst those who claim nobility there is very little
apprehension of the maxim “_noblesse oblige_.”

Of course there is in Yezdi manners and customs much that strikes the
outsider as intensely funny. For instance, the etiquette is distinctly
peculiar, and although very ceremonious, it does not always appear to
the European to be characterised by great politeness. When you come
into the room the first two minutes will be spent in phrases intended
to convey an exaggerated respectfulness. In upper middle-class houses
your host will take upon himself the menial offices of service, not only
making your tea himself, but going out of the room every two minutes
to supplement the crockery, or to fetch another lump of sugar. If you
have a servant with you, your host or his other visitors will discourse
freely with this man before your face as to your most trivial personal
affairs, and if there is a pause in the conversation they will make side
remarks to one another on the number of your virtues, and when they have
discovered a certain consensus of opinion, they will turn to you and give
you the benefit of it directly, by telling you that you are a very good
man. From this you must not infer that Persian friendliness is hollow:
all that can be said is that the etiquette is artificial. Even so it
means something; for when a man is anxious to pay you proper respect he
adheres to it closely, unless he has reason to suppose that you would
like him to adopt something of European manners, which some Persians
dealing with Europeans try to do. However the etiquette is too elaborate
and artificial for universal use, and generally speaking it is not much
used except in matters relating to visits and to letter-writing. On other
occasions Persians who have no intention of impoliteness are often a
little off-hand as compared with other Easterns, and those who intend to
be rude find plenty of opportunities for being so.

There is, I suppose, between the Persian and the European a difference
of opinion as to what constitutes puerility. One of the Governors of
Yezd once boasted to an English resident that it was no good trying to
hide things from him, as he knew what every European in the town had
for dinner. Then there is the custom of making absolutely worthless
presents with the most superb _empressement_. Once when I was in a big
village near Yezd with my wife and baby and mirza, a woman whom my wife
knew came in, and after greeting us presented us with four very crumpled
lettuce leaves, selecting the leaves according to her ideas of our exact
precedence with the utmost care and circumspection, and having in the
whole transaction very much the air of a maiden aunt giving a tip to
a schoolboy. Nor must it be supposed that these customs only obtain
amongst the women. A European banker once told me that if one of his
brokers gave him anything, the others always followed his example; and
that once at the bank one of them presented him with a rose-head, the
second at once plunged his hand into his pocket and produced an old
sweet, the third fumbled among his treasures, and at last found something
which looked like a lump of gum. He could not quite remember what the
fourth presentation was, but he fancied it was another sweet. Sometimes,
particularly in Parsi houses, presents of this sort will be elaborately
handed about, somewhat after the fashion of a round game, everybody
giving something to everybody, and finishing with exactly the same amount
as they had at the beginning. This game, however, is generally played
on a special occasion, and the presents of fruit and sprigs of myrtle
have a certain symbolical significance which gives grace and dignity to
the performance. Of course the interchange of presents which although
trifling have a positive value is one of the most striking features of
the social intercourse of Persia. This is a custom which needs to be
understood, and which soon degenerates into extravagance, but essentially
it is a good custom. A higher value is always placed on what are called
_saughāts_ or travellers’ presents, and Europeans either travelling or
residing in Persia should remember that a certain number of these will
be expected of them. When a Persian has done you a real civility, he
feels that to a certain extent he has introduced you to his home, and
any little European thing which you may give him he takes as a graceful
introduction to your separate life, and he values it from this point of
view much more than would be otherwise possible. The custom, however, has
its drawbacks; for it is the fashion in Persia always to present anything
which a visitor has admired, and this becomes a peculiarly hollow piece
of etiquette. Occasionally big Persians in dealing with inferiors use
this custom as a means of enriching themselves, but this of course is

When all has been said I think that we must admit that for some reason
or other the Persian is willing to expend his energies upon things
which seem to us to be absolute trifles. This was curiously illustrated
on one occasion by one of the Yezdi gentlemen who is supposed to have
advanced most in civilisation and culture. I was calling at his house
at the time, and he handed me a most elaborate atlas with charts and
diagrams illustrating all sorts of out-of-the-way things. Some of these
I did not feel myself competent to explain, but everything that I could
explain he understood at once, and he had obviously before my arrival
discovered the meaning of many of the diagrams. We passed on from
this to discuss several of the great inventions of the age, including
wireless telegraphy. In everything he showed a most intelligent interest,
and great quickness of perception. Finally, he produced a photograph
of a man who had been shown at an exhibition, I think at Paris. The
man had an enormous beard, some twelve feet long. My Persian friend
made no difference at all in his manner, but discussed this peculiar
phenomenon in exactly the same way. I cannot remember all the details
of this interview, or the exact amount of smile which my host allowed
himself when we were discussing the photograph, but I have attempted to
faithfully convey the general impression left on me by his manner. I
think I am right in saying that it all points to the fact that the great
difference between Persia and Europe is that the Persian tends to take
things piecemeal, and the European to regard ideas in their relation to
others. At the same time this is not always at once obvious. A European
is firmly convinced of the value of scientific knowledge, and will
decorate a man who has discovered all that is to be discovered about a
black beetle. Here the Persian will laugh at the European, as he also
will when the European rewards highly extreme excellence in the practical
trivialities of life. But it is obvious that these exceptions are more
apparent than real. The Persian is like a man who has got a pair of
glasses that give him a very clear view of a very small field of vision.
He does not view things absolutely piecemeal, but he generally regards
only a very small area at a time. A man who picks up shells with an idea
of adding to the general store of human knowledge is to him an imbecile;
but he is only willing to pay the same attention to an invention like
Marconi’s that he would to an improved hair-wash. The consequence is that
the Yezdi very soon adapts himself superficially to circumstances, and
it is very easy to veneer him, but he does not easily assimilate fresh
principles of action. In dealing with Persians it is well to realise
this, and not to build too much on their adaptability.

A Persian visitor, when he is behaving according to strict etiquette,
depreciates not only himself but all his belongings. It has been
suggested that the admiration which is frequently expressed for foreign
customs and ideas is really due to this etiquette, and similarly that
the belittling of Persia as a country that has gone to pieces is due to
the same cause. This suggestion is, I believe, entirely incorrect. A
Yezdi will belittle himself, his house, his relations, and the country
of Persia, because he regards the first three as purely personal, and
does not care the least bit about the fourth; but if he belittles his
town, his etiquette, or the foundations of his creed, he will make it
very plain that he expects you to understand that he simply does it out
of civility. There is one thing that a Yezdi puts before everything,
and that is the water-supply of his town. I personally got on very well
with the Yezdis, although I had to own that I did not admire Mohammed
or his religion. But another European, who openly stated that he did
not approve of their water, succeeded in absolutely alienating their
affections. These exceptions show that Yezdis are willing to exhibit
their pride in what they really love. They are also very proud of their
literature, their language, and their intelligence. As a matter of fact,
considering their extreme ignorance, they are not a conceited people, and
their willingness to adopt foreign things more or less points to the same
conclusion. Some of them, and these are generally the most ignorant, are
insufferably conceited, but as a rule their comparative freedom from this
vice makes them peculiarly likeable.

The nearest approach to a moral principle that I can find amongst the
Persians is their commendation of simple acts of kindness. As I have
before mentioned the idea of _savabs_ covers many actions which have no
ethical point, and it fails to cover in the Persian mind many actions
of a moral character where the benefit is not at once apparent. But
Yezdis are brought up to admire simple and direct acts of kindness, and
to enjoy doing them. Generally speaking, they are very good-natured,
and in nothing is this so obvious as in their conduct towards children.
Of course cases of gross cruelty to children come to one’s notice
occasionally, but they are after all the exception and not the rule,
and the children are more often spoilt by weak indulgence. The Yezdi’s
conduct towards animals very well illustrates his character. I believe
that there is less wanton cruelty, particularly towards wild animals,
than you would find in a European town. On the other hand, the cruelty
towards working beasts is beyond description, there being in this case
an ulterior object. Again, the dogs in the street, which are more or
less under the ban of the Mussulman religion, are treated in the most
extraordinary way. They are made the recipients of little acts of
good-natured kindness, perhaps under the impression that a _savab_, even
to a dog, cannot do any harm, perhaps because a Yezdi is often better
than his ideas. They are also treated on occasions with the most fearful
cruelty, and the cruelty in this case has no point but the satisfaction
of a religious prejudice. This is, after all, exactly the way in which
the Yezdi Mussulman treats the human being whom he considers unclean. He
has alternative principles which he chooses according to his mood and
circumstances. Sometimes the prejudice against killing animals gives rise
to very great cruelty. It is generally considered a sin to kill an animal
except in self defence or for food, but you may do anything to it short
of extinguishing life with your own hand.

To sum up, in the case of offences against the person Yezdis have an
inkling of an ethical principle, which is frequently at issue with the
more explicit teaching of their religion. This seems to me to be one
of the most hopeful points in Persian character, and one which the
missionary ought to most carefully study, trying to make it in many cases
the basis of his appeals. But we have to beware of trading too much
upon this very rudimentary principle. When we come to offences against
property, we shall find it applied much less frequently, and working with
much less force. There is no inclination to honesty in a Mussulman’s
character to correspond with the inclination to kindly action. If you
want to find anything of this kind you must go to the Parsis. On the
contrary, there is nothing that gives the Yezdi Mussulman such intense
satisfaction as the feeling that he has scored by his wits. He would
much rather steal one _kran_ than earn two by the same expenditure of
effort. A certain amount of dishonesty is recognised, and is not in any
way resented. The servants, for instance, expect to make a certain profit
upon all transactions. The extent of their profit is by custom left
entirely to the conscience of the servant, but everybody would confess
that taking more than a certain amount was wrong. You will frequently
catch less trustworthy servants trying to make over fifty per cent., and
sometimes over a hundred. As to the morality of this custom when the
lowest possible percentage is drawn I can only say that I am not wholly
convinced, as it appears to me that servants who are trying to live a
straight life never ask for it to be sanctioned, and sometimes certainly
give it up, at any rate in its direct form. But the point is that wages
are generally arranged on a scale that allows for a man taking very much
more than the minimum percentage. Nor is this sort of allowance for
dishonesty only made in servants’ wages. One day the cook of one of the
Europeans went to the bazaars for meat, and after the usual haggling the
price was fixed at twelve _krans_ a _man’_ (thirteen pounds), “But,” said
the cook, “you have got your thumb on the scale.” “And do you think,”
retorted the butcher, “that I am going to give you meat at twelve _krans_
a _man’_, unless I keep my thumb on the scale?” This shows you something
of Persian business principles, and indeed trickery is regarded by all
Persians as part of the ordinary routine of life. Our servant once asked
the milkman if he could sell us some cream, and the man replied quite
gravely, “No, if I take off the cream they will complain of the milk.” He
obviously thought that the natural way to supply us with cream would be
to skim the milk he sold us.

Passing to the merchant class the opium trade affords a good instance
of the most barefaced type of wholesale fraud. Indeed, the fraud of a
Persian town is beyond conception. We had a neighbour in Yezd who was
considered a fairly respectable man, and whose sole business was the
forging of seals. But the fact is that every class, from the highest to
the lowest, is thoroughly permeated by the leaven of dishonesty.

There is so little security for property in Persia that men do not
consider it worth their while to amass wealth by ordinary means.
Everybody in a town like Yezd is trying to effect a _coup_, either a big
one or a small one, and one of the results is the most extraordinarily
rapid shifting of social positions. In Persia the road from beggary to
princedom is a very short one, and the road from princedom to beggary is
not very lengthy; only in this return journey it is somewhat difficult to
prevent being assassinated, for when a big man is disgraced his life is
in extreme danger.

This inattention to ordinary and petty business enterprise has curious
results. When I first went to Yezd I found it almost an impossibility
to get the things I wanted from the bazaars. The European has to deal
with the bazaar through his servants, and it took my men about three
days to get the commonest articles other than necessary provisions.
Articles which I knew would need a little hunting for were sometimes,
if I insisted, procured within the month. This is absolutely without
exaggeration; and, although I believe I was unfortunate, other residents
and travellers in Persia have confessed to similar difficulties. You may
go into a town where the chief occupation is weaving, and declare that
you want some of the woven articles which it is their principal business
to make, and it is very possible that you may be unable to procure them,
or only able to get the most inferior specimens, if you are passing
through quickly. This is rather less true of the larger places on the
main roads, like Tehran and Isfahan, but in towns like Yezd there is the
greatest difficulty in getting what you want.

In an emergency it is frequently almost impossible for a European to
get what is needed, if the things required are not such as he has been
accustomed to buy at other times. To offer rather more than the price one
usually gives is not of much use, and frequently has the very reverse
effect to what is intended; for the seller in such a case may decide to
forego the profits of legitimate trading for the chances of effecting a
_coup_. But the real difficulty is rather that the retail trading of Yezd
is totally devoid of ordinary enterprise. When the trader moves out of
the ordinary rut of his every-day commerce he prefers to be fraudulent.
In his customary business the shop-keeper makes a fair profit, and
although his dealings may not be very extensive, there is always the
chance of something really good coming his way. Meanwhile he has a
position very much more dignified than that of the English shop-keeper.
In Yezd the seller, not the buyer, is the conferrer of the benefit, and
so far as the relation is concerned, the superior. When he sells very
small quantities, he often charges less than the usual price. When he
sells large quantities, he frequently charges something extra. Europeans
in an ordinary way have not much difficulty in getting regular supplies
when they become well known, though they have to pay more for them than
the natives do. An Armenian also has to pay more than a Yezdi, but less
than a European. I am inclined to think that the poorer natives suffer
from the difficulty of procuring on emergencies things which they do not
ordinarily buy quite as much as ourselves, though probably the richer
Persians have more facilities. This is just one specimen of the inertia
of Yezd. In matters of transport one is even more in the hands of other
people. It is extremely difficult to find transport at less than three
days’ notice, and one can seldom get off on a journey within two hours
of the time arranged. During the journey there is the same difficulty
in controlling affairs. Under such circumstances people naturally get a
tendency towards fatalism, and undue persistence even gets to be regarded
as a sin. Probably this has some effect on the religious conceptions of
the people, for, if a man who sticks to his point is not to be admired,
it is difficult to understand why we should consider unchangeableness
of purpose a necessary attribute of the Deity. Whatever may be the
orthodox doctrine of Islam upon the subject, there is no doubt that the
Yezdi fails utterly to understand why there should be any persistence or
consistency in the view taken by the Deity of human sin, for the Yezdi
himself would hardly feel justified as a father, or person in authority,
in taking a similar firm stand. One of the consequences of this doctrine
is that weakness is hardly accounted a sin at all. I remember two
conversations with Babi mullas in which this came out very forcibly.
They tried to argue that _taqīya_, that is, the custom of denying one’s
faith under the stress of danger, was sanctioned in the gospels by the
story of Peter’s denial. I have also found other Persians who have
disputed the sinfulness of Peter’s action, on the ground that he was the
victim of compulsion. But the most curious suggestion with regard to the
defensibility of weak conduct was made by another party of Babi mullas,
who considered that the difference between the forbearance of Christ
towards His enemies and the impatience exhibited by Mohammed was fully
accounted for by the respective lengths of their ministries.

One finds the marks of this want of persistence everywhere. I have seldom
seen a tombstone in Yezd that has been finished accurately, and there
is scarcely a building that has not got a rough, unfinished corner.
Similarly every one who has seen a Persian carpet knows that the design
is almost always broken in at least one place.

I suppose the _prima facie_ conclusion is that the Yezdi is the weakest
of weak beings, but I am very doubtful whether this conclusion is true.
Repose and weakness are two different things, and although we seldom
find the Yezdi putting out his strength, the condition of the country
is hardly such as to rouse him. Certainly in the sphere of morals the
Yezdi’s religion gives him very little inducement to a consistent life.
“The Light That lighteth every man that cometh into the world” is not
wanting in Persia. Sometimes it makes Mussulmans superior to their creed,
but, if I may be allowed to express an opinion, I think this Light
operates more in calling men out of Islam than in guiding them in it.[6]
I should hesitate to make a similar statement about the Parsis. It is not
my intention to discuss Zoroastrianism at length, but although it is a
religion without a gospel, almost all the essential ideas about God, and
right and wrong, and the bases of human action are undoubtedly true so
far as they go.

If one wants to know whether the Yezdi Mussulman is strong or weak, one
must examine his conduct when he is sure of his cause. I think he is
worthy of some praise for the self-restraint he habitually shows when he
is conforming to the by no means easy restrictions of an established and
elaborate etiquette. But, as I have previously said, the thing which has
opened people’s eyes to the enormous strength of Persian character under
partially favourable moral conditions, is the way in which the Babis have
exposed themselves to martyrdom, and have stood firm to their beliefs and
cause under tortures too horrible for description. It has been mentioned
that, although Yezdis, while they remain Mussulmans, do not show any
great enthusiasm for a distinction between right and wrong, they still
possess the greatest powers of loyalty both to causes and to individuals.
In their affection for those for whom they care they are anything but
weak, and when they really attach themselves to Christianity and realise
the personal presence of Christ, they develop an unexpected strength of
character. We must, however, beware of expecting an utter change of
constitution to take place at the time of conversion.

A Yezdi’s personal attachments do not run so closely along the lines of
duty and relationship as might be expected by people coming to Persia
from other Eastern countries. The family tie is not always a very strong
one, though it is sometimes exceedingly strong. Perhaps one reason for
this is the extreme looseness of matrimonial relations. A Shiah may
have four regular and permanent wives. When he marries, a settlement is
made on the woman, who may be divorced at any time if he cares to pay
the settlement. The woman may also divorce her husband, if she cares
to forfeit the settlement, that is if she is sufficiently mistress of
her own movements to be able to make the necessary arrangements. There
is no limit to the number of divorces and re-marriages, so long as no
man possesses at any time more than four wives. Besides these he may
have as many temporary wives as he likes. It is true that these wives
are theoretically only slaves, but this, after all, is simply a legal
quibble. They can be married either for a few days or for a few years.
Babis may only have one wife, and divorce is discouraged, though amongst
the less respectable Babis in Yezd divorce is as common as anywhere.
Some of the more respectable Mussulmans in Yezd openly profess a belief
that monogamy is the more respectable state, and among the better Yezdi
merchants it is very common. Girls are sometimes married extremely young,
for instance at nine or ten, but there is a growing feeling that to marry
a very young child is not altogether respectable, and some of the better
class merchants prefer not to let their girls be married before fourteen.
Of course this is an unsatisfactory state of things, but one must not fly
to the conclusion that there is no affection in Persian marriages. One of
the missionaries had a lad of about eighteen in his employment, and there
had been talk of a marriage between him and a child of ten or twelve.
Going home one evening for his night off, he found that he had landed in
the middle of his own marriage ceremony, which took place that night. He
was a good-natured lad, fond of children, and the little wife was devoted
to him and was terribly distressed at his not coming home the next night,
for she had got everything ready for him, and would not believe he was
not coming. When one of the ladies from the missionary’s house went to
call on her some days after she came very close up and whispered that she
wanted her husband to come home every night.

The women of the highest official class are kept very close in Yezd,
perhaps only going out once in six months, except to the bath; but the
merchants’ wives have considerably more liberty, and the commoner women
go about freely. Sometimes there is a great deal of real affection in
the home, at other times exceedingly little, especially when there is
more than one wife, and sometimes there is the grossest cruelty. The
fact is that Persians are led by impulse in these matters. They are very
slightly constrained by any feeling of principle. As a class perhaps
the old mothers are the worst treated, and an old woman generally
prefers going to her daughter rather than to her son. One of the richest
merchants in Yezd had an old mother who was very ill, and he refused
even to buy a chicken to make the broth the doctor had ordered. At last
a favourite black slave wheedled one out of him, and made the broth for
the old woman. Slaves in Persia are very valuable and are generally well
treated. On the other hand, another well-known merchant and landowner,
whose old mother-in-law was very ill, thought nothing too good for her;
he insisted on her having all she wanted promptly, and came himself to
her room at least once a day to enquire after her health. The same man
took a personal interest in seeing that every provision was made for
the comfort of his old cook when she was past work, and the general
tone of the household was one of affection and consideration. Another
big merchant, whose old mother had fallen off a roof, showed the very
greatest solicitude for her comfort in every possible way, spending hours
with her, and himself lifting her most carefully. At the same time the
old women as a class are not well treated, and in the better class houses
it is often difficult to distinguish them from the servants. The poorer
classes are generally no better. I remember that at one time my wife was
trying to explain to one of my servants’ wives what ingratitude meant.
The woman was very fond of her children, so my wife asked, “Would you
not think it very ungrateful, if, when you were old and poor, your boy
refused to do anything for you?” “No,” she said, “of course that is what
I expect. Our boys are always like that. We only say, ‘It is the will of
God.’” Several women present joined in the laugh at my wife’s ignorance.

Of course a great deal of cruelty goes on in the less respectable Persian
households, and the use of poison is not uncommon. It should be explained
that in Persia people who are not even professedly respectable are to
be found in every class, and in a commercial town like Yezd status goes
largely by wealth, and carries with it no obligation to keep up even a
superficial reputation. The organisation of the household is very largely
outside the operation of the ordinary law. I do not know what is the
exact legal limit of the _jus paternum_, but I am quite sure that it is
very difficult to bring to book the head of a household for murdering
any member of his family. Also in the case of a member of the family
leaving Islam, the matter would probably be primarily left to the head of
the household, although if the case was flagrant the matter might also
be taken up by outsiders. It is very necessary to understand this when
discussing the possibility of religious liberty in Persia. Religious
liberty, proclaimed by a firman of the Shah, would not have the enormous
value which is sometimes supposed. Indeed it would be almost entirely
without immediate value, unless the Persian government were considerably
strengthened, and a limitation put on the _jus paternum_. A decision by
leading _mujtahids_ that it was expedient to give such liberty either
to the individual or to the family, would probably have more immediate
effect, but, even were such a thing possible, it would be difficult to
say how long such a decision would remain unchanged if advantage was
really taken of it, and the precedent of the decision would on the whole
be rather a bad one.

Another conceivable form of religious liberty is that the right of
making converts from Islam should be secured by treaty to the European
missionary. This, however, would not put a stop to the persecution of
converts. There is so much injustice that is done in Persia as a matter
of course, that it would be very difficult to prove that Persian subjects
who were converts had been interfered with for religious reasons. One
of the difficulties that missionaries experience at present, is that
converts are always bringing forward instances of injustice which they
themselves believe to be due to their profession of Christianity, whereas
the missionary, who has considerable doubts on the subject, is often
afraid of calling down real persecution by using his influence on their

The subject of religious liberty is a very difficult one, and although
some people feel that an extension of treaty rights would be a good
thing, and others, that a firman of the Shah giving religious liberty to
his subjects would help the growth of sound and civilised ideas in his
domain, there can be no doubt that the primary want is strong and good
government. I have tried in this chapter not to discuss the government
of Persia more than is absolutely necessary. It is of course far from
perfect. At the same time, during my stay in Yezd, the governors of the
town, and notably the Jalālu’d Daula, showed great friendliness to the
whole European colony, and great fairness in their attitude towards the
mission. The strengthening of the Persian government is a clear gain
to the missionary, and seeing that strong government without religious
liberty could certainly do for us infinitely more than religious liberty
without strong government, I personally feel that the strengthening
of the Persian government, central and local, is at present the main
desideratum. At the same time, with God all things are possible, and I
should hesitate to press this view on other people.

One or two instances of the lengths to which crime can go in Persian
houses without arousing much notice from the authorities might be
recorded. There was in Yezd one man who stabbed his own child in
its mother’s arms, and remained absolutely unpunished. He was still
flagrantly ill-treating his wife and children while we were in the
town. In the Isfahan district, a man murdered his child-wife by pouring
paraffin over her and lighting it. The child died in the Julfa hospital.
If any punishment was inflicted it was a very light one. There was
another woman in Yezd dangerously stabbed by her son-in-law, but as she
did not die, even her family took very little notice of the matter. These
are a few typical specimens of the way in which the family is allowed to
manage, or mismanage, its own affairs.


Generally speaking, Yezdis are open-handed. They have not the least shame
about begging, and will show the greatest meanness in money-getting, but
this does not prevent their being themselves generous at times. The fact
is, that they regard beggary as a bargain; one man gets a coin, and the
other a _savab_. They accept kindnesses of any sort in this manner, and
consider that they give as good as they get, particularly if they are
Seyids; but for all this, they are frequently ready to take the other
side in the game. Probably not less than ten per cent of the population
are professional beggars, and as they do not starve, we may conclude
that a great deal of money is given away. But the open-handedness of the
Yezdi takes other forms besides the mere giving of money to those who ask
for it. He spends money freely upon his own pleasures: considering his
poverty he lives well: this is true of all classes: finally, he really
enjoys showing hospitality.

There is in Persian hospitality a great deal more than the observance of
etiquette. Even the inquisitiveness of the Yezdi is a kind of attempt
to get into real touch with his guest. In a word, he is essentially
human. Most Europeans who have lived in Persia find it rather difficult
to explain why they like the people. In the Yezdi there is certainly
much to lament, but there is something to admire, and very much more
to like. A people who are open-handed, good-natured, affectionate, not
always extravagantly conceited, and above all, intensely human, are
a people one cannot help getting to like when one lives among them
for any time. At the same time, their inquisitiveness, unpunctuality,
intense dishonesty, frequent ingratitude, and absolute want of principle
in everything, are, to say the least of it, very trying. As to their
exact position in the scale of civilisation, my personal opinion of
them greatly changed after living through the Babi massacre of 1903. To
find men, and women too, who had been to a certain extent influenced by
contact with Western ideas and standards, and who prided themselves on
representing the section of Persian Society most advanced in civilisation
and refinement, openly gloating over horrors that would pollute these
pages if I were to write them, seemed to us to be an indication of a more
radical difficulty than was evidenced by the horrors themselves. At the
same time, the behaviour of the Babis under persecution was sufficient
to convince any one that there is plenty of strength in the Persian
character, if only it can be called out.

My conclusion is that it is unfair to the Yezdi’s character to in any way
depreciate the evil effects of the circumstances among which he lives.
His want of principle, his ferocity, and other similar points in his
character can most of them be traced to a religious system which was
forced upon him by the sword; for we must remember that he is four-fifths
a Parsi, and only one-fifth an Arab. The good points in his character
are much less easy to trace to his religion. He is not indisposed to
reform, a fact which is proved by the success of the Babi movement, the
possibilities of which have been discussed already.

Under these circumstances one can hardly imagine a country where the
call to Christian missionary work was so peremptory, both because of the
need and because of the peculiar opening afforded. Missionary work must,
of course, be based rather upon the direct commandment of the Saviour
than upon human judgment. However, there is no doubt that God sometimes
accentuates His written commands by placing peculiar circumstances before
our eyes, and I cannot conceive places appealing more strongly to the
intelligent student of the missionary field than these isolated towns of
Persia, one of which I have attempted to describe.


    Difficulties in dealing with enquirers—Language—Argument—Parabolic
    interpretation—Distrust of evidence—Ignorance—Attachment to
    Islam as representing whole scheme of life—The problem of
    converts—Industrial missions—Employment by missionaries—Helpful
    points—Readiness for religious discussion—Quickness in
    grasping single points—Yezdi wants distinctive and systematic
    teaching—And a concrete example—Difficulties in accepting

From what has been previously said it will be understood that from the
missionary point of view there are, when dealing with the Persian,
certain peculiar difficulties, and also certain things which tend to
make missionary work more easy. We have to deal with a people whose
fundamental notions of God and of His dealings with men are absolutely
different from our own. I am not now so much speaking of those tenets on
which the Mussulman loves to dwell, but rather of those tenets of which
he does not think it necessary to speak, which are not so much the
objects of his faith, but rather indisputable facts which stand outside
the sphere of faith. The difficulty is not so much that the Persian
is repelled by our holding contrary ideas; he cannot believe that we
hold them; and indeed it is a serious difficulty that in accepting the
Persian language we often unconsciously admit the very Mussulman ideas
which we intend to attack, and give to the Persian premises upon which
he can build his whole argument. To give an illustration; a Persian
enquirer will say to the missionary, “Of course you allow that Moses
and David were prophets?” The missionary will probably admit this. Now
if the Persian has used the most ordinary term for such prophets, that
is, the term _paighambar_, he will naturally suppose that the missionary
has admitted the following: first of all, that God sends from time to
time men who are appointed by Him to reveal a new law of human action,
which, so far as the moral commandments are concerned, has no necessary
connection with previous revelation; secondly, that Moses and David gave
each of them a sufficient direction to the peoples of their day to enable
them to apprehend salvation. In all probability your Mussulman friend
will assume that you have granted even more; for instance, that Moses and
David were both of them commissioned to invite everyone they came across
to accept their religion; and I should be sorry to say that you would not
have been supposed to have made other still more impossible admissions.

I do not think that it would be possible to avoid this difficulty by
extreme scrupulosity in accepting terms. The result of such hesitation
would probably be to puzzle and perplex the sincere enquirer who was
genuinely anxious to find out what Christianity really meant. A more
possible way out of the difficulty is to take the first opportunity
of stating the difference between Mussulman and Christian belief upon
these subjects, and I shall perhaps be pardoned for suggesting that such
matters ought to be thoroughly thought out beforehand. There are a good
many terms that we use in the present day, such as “perpetuity of the
moral law,” and “continuity and growth of revelation,” which require very
careful analysis before they can be presented to minds which have not
been accustomed to the ideas they represent. I have previously compared
the mind of the Yezdi to a field-glass of very small range and high
power, and have pointed out that the man possessing such a glass sees
very clearly within a limited area. The Yezdi is utterly different from
the European. The latter looks for a generally consistent system, and,
knowing how difficult it is to get such a thing, he is content to find
certain points where the agreement has not been thoroughly worked out.
The typical Yezdi expects a much more clearly worked out conception of
that small number of points which are at one time presented to his range
of vision. But when he has turned his glasses in another direction the
first set of ideas is blotted out, and the second group as a whole may
be absolutely contradictory to the first, so long as it is consistent
in itself. The result is that he is absolutely untouched by criticism
which appears to the European crushing and final. Then the missionary
gets to regard him as an imbecile, and presents to him an idea which he
has not clearly thought out himself. The Persian turns the tables on
him in a moment, and frequently the missionary is greatly surprised.
The only way to meet this difficulty is both to prepare and select
your arguments carefully, and, generally speaking, you can never use
with the ordinary Shiah Mussulman an argument that contains more than
three steps. As to the difficulties of the language, some have been
previously mentioned, and to these must be added the entire absence of
words conveying certain important conceptions. Perhaps we are not quite
so badly off as the missionary to the Esquimaux, who has to explain our
Lord’s parables to people who know of hardly any domestic animals at
all, and who have never seen a tree; nor is the Persian so intensely
dull as the inhabitants of the Indian district where the mirzas declared
that the meaning of the “field to bury strangers in” could not possibly
be understood unless the strangers were described as dead; but to find
a people who are sufficiently advanced to have an elaborate system of
psychology, and yet have no term for conscience is a difficulty of almost
a new kind. Between this sort of deficiency on the one hand, and on the
other the impossibility of forming a sentence with an accurate meaning,
or of making the meaning understood when it is formed, the missionary is
sometimes inclined to wish the Persian language at the bottom of the sea.

A very similar difficulty is to be found in the absolute denial,
especially by the Babis, of any limitations to the use of parabolic
language. I can best explain this by instancing a very common Babi
argument, by which it is attempted to minimise the extraordinary nature
of Christ’s ministry, this being a preparatory step to the advancement of
the claims of Behāu’llah. Christ on one occasion said, “Let the dead bury
their dead.” In this text it is obvious that the word “dead” refers in
one case rather to spiritual than to physical death. Consequently, they
say, the miracles of raising the dead to life which are recounted in the
Gospels are not to be taken as referring to physical death either. The
obvious answer, that parabolic language, when used without any warning
and under circumstances that make it certain to be interpreted as literal
statement, is simply another name for falsehood, entirely fails to appeal
to the Persian mind, even though it is pointed out in addition that,
in the stories of the raising of the dead, local colour and special
circumstances are added in such a way that the details of the stories do
not admit of any intelligible allegoric interpretation.

In meeting this kind of position the difficulty is occasionally
increased by the Babi controversialist being aware that certain European
objectors hold a very similar opinion about our Lord’s ministry. I
think, however, that I am right in saying that no European critic has
ever attempted to take up what seems to us the impossible position of
accepting the absolute truth and inspiration of the New Testament, which
the Babi fully admits, while at the same time trying to explain away the
plain statements of the Gospels.

Another difficulty is that some, and those not always the least
intelligent, of the Yezdi enquirers mistrust absolutely all reported
evidence. This is after all only the logical result of life in a Persian
town. To say that a certain point, even the most elementary, such as
the fact of our Lord’s appearance in Palestine nineteen hundred years
ago, is a matter of history, or is universally acknowledged, means to
the Yezdi absolutely nothing. Sometimes, however, when you are able to
explain that historical criticism is not an impossibility in Europe, this
extreme scepticism partially subsides, particularly when you are able to
show that the demand for direct evidence is not altogether impossible to

Of course, too, there are difficulties in argument arising from the
intense ignorance of the Yezdi, and more particularly from his extremely
limited ideas of the size of the world. For instance, when he is
repeating the story that the text of the Bible was changed in the time
of Mohammed, the verses referring to the prophet being eliminated, it
is almost impossible to explain the enormous difficulty that would have
attended such a proceeding. This must of course be the case in other
places, but I venture to think that the peculiar nature of the Persian
desert towns makes this state of mind compatible with a greater degree of
intelligence than one would have believed possible.

When everything has been said, the strong attachment felt by the Yezdi
to Islam remains the greatest difficulty of all. It has been previously
shown that Islam is much more than a creed, and much more than a set
of commandments. Behind these things are a number of more or less
connected ideas upon the relations of God and man, which have not only
been accepted without question for generations, but are considered by
the Mussulman to be axiomatic and impossible to call in question. Also
around Islam there has grown up a system of domestic and social life
and of personal habit, which fills up every moment of the day. Habits of
personal cleanliness, the system of cooking food, the fashion of dress,
and the method of speech are all more or less connected with Islam. The
same thing is true of the more normal amusements of the Yezdi. There is
a certain amount of singing and playing which is in direct contravention
of Mohammedan law; but the things which in the life of the people take
the place of the concert-hall and of the theatre are the _ruza-khani_,
which is the recitation of religious poems by the Mohammedan mulla,
and the Muharram festival, which is entirely religious, being a
miracle-play depicting the martyrdom of the Imam Husain. Even the more
usual street shows, which are presented by story-telling dervishes, are
the property of a class possessing a peculiar religious status. Under
these circumstances who can wonder that to separate himself from Islam
without leaving the country seems to the enquirer almost impossible?
Further, he is inclined to say that, if it is possible, it is only to
be done by joining himself to the life of the Ferangi household. It is
very difficult to explain to the Mussulman that Christianity is not a
politico-religious system like Islam, but it is still more difficult to
make him understand that a certain amount of the Islamic system can in
any way remain lawful to him when he becomes a Christian.

The difficulty is really an enormous one. Men who would be ready to face
death, if death was in the air, are not always ready to face boycott
and petty persecution, their neighbours regarding them as unclean, and
their new co-religionists, though not refusing to associate with them,
having apparently no idea of providing them with a new home atmosphere.
Those, too, who are dependent on their professions or trades feel that as
Christians the friction with Islam will be so great that, even if they
are not treated as infidels and at once turned adrift, their seeking of
their livelihood will be a daily martyrdom, often extremely distressing
to their newly-awakened religious feelings.

All of the obvious solutions of this problem are almost as difficult as
the difficulty itself. First of all, it might be possible to create an
industrial mission, and to provide new employment and new circumstances
of life for the converts. Such a move would attract so much attention
in a town like Yezd that it might very possibly provoke a serious riot;
and, even if it did not do this, it would involve an enormous financial
loss. It would be impossible to get for such an enterprise the sympathy
of the Persian authorities. The undertaking would be attacked by a
continual succession of intrigues, and even without these disadvantages
it is doubtful whether Europeans who had to deal with Persians in matters
of trade without being primarily traders could possibly avoid bankruptcy
after a very short period. Besides this if any such plan was started, the
possibilities of the situation from the employé’s point of view would so
appeal to the Persian that numbers would come and profess conversion in
order to reap their share in the benefits. It cannot be too fully pointed
out that in Yezd the man who is not in earnest, and who is willing to
deny sincerity of motive, risks absolutely nothing, even though he may
consent to public or semi-public ceremonies.

Another solution of the difficulty is to employ converts in the
missionaries’ households, but after all this only provides for a certain
number, and those only of certain classes. If the less satisfactory
servants and employés were continually ousted to make room for converts,
a further very serious difficulty would be created, as there would be a
number of people in the town doing their best to stir up trouble. The
position is further complicated by the number of servants in a Persian
household being very much fewer than the usual number in an Indian one.
At the same time this solution of the difficulty, when it is possible,
is certainly the best one. Converts who are employed by Christians are
in South Persia a far from unsatisfactory class, particularly when they
have given up more remunerative work. When the converts are left too much
to fend for themselves the results are not always satisfactory, for even
when they pull through, a feeling of not having been properly treated
is sometimes left behind, which is not helpful to their Christian life.
Consequently, I feel that, at the present stage, converts should, when
possible, be drawn carefully into the organisation of the mission or the
mission households, which would also have the effect of increasing the
missionary staff. If it is due to our faith in Christ, as it most surely
is, to send out every European man or woman who comes forward for mission
work, and after prayerful and careful examination or training still
seems to be set apart for that work by God, surely in the Persian mission
under present circumstances we might receive as fellow-workers those who
after accepting the Gospel are thrown upon our hands by the same God.
Later on it may become possible to connect the Persian mission stations
with an industrial organisation at Bombay, or God may show some other
similar way out of the apparent _cul-de-sac_. But the whole difficulty
is so great, that perhaps it would be well to keep it in mind when we
are determining the organisation of missions, for some methods of work
tend to absorb natives of various classes, while others show no tendency
to do so. In spite of the immense difficulties in the way of regular
industrial missions, some Persian missionaries hold that they ought to
be started, under the charge of thoroughly competent men sent out for
the purpose. My personal opinion is that, if it was the main intention
that such work should lead to the formation of an industrial community of
converts earning their own living and paying their own expenses, there
would probably be a great deal of disappointment about the results.
If, however, such work was attempted it would have to be done in very
close conjunction with the strongest of the medical missions, and a
responsibility for backing it up would have to rest with the doctors
in charge. On the other hand, the establishment of industrial training
classes under competent teachers, not necessarily European, would not
be open to the same objections. It would really be a development of
school work, and the primary object would be the assistance of the native
population and the spreading of the Gospel message amongst them. Like
other branches of mission work it would be worked at as small a loss
as possible. But it would not be a settlement of the great difficulty,
though we might reasonably expect it to prove a step towards such a
settlement, for it would obviously put us in a position to consider
further steps as occasion offered. After all, missionary work is the
attempting of the impossible in dependence on the Almighty, and under
such circumstances to attempt to look too far ahead is absurd.

In the face of these difficulties it is really wonderful that missionary
work in Yezd should have gone so far forward. There are, of course,
certain elements in Yezdi character and ideas that have proved a
very great assistance to the missionary. Yezdis are always ready to
talk about religion, and they are thoroughly sociable. Then they are
always interested in new ideas, and are quick to adapt themselves to
circumstances. Further, the ordinary Shiah’s ideas about the Bible,
that is, the Law of Moses and the Gospel, are somewhat uncertain. He
generally regards it as the Word of God, for he does not consider that
the alterations which he believes to have been made in the text are
sufficient to rob the Book of its whole value. Altogether, his ideas are
much less stereotyped than those of the Sunni, and it is often possible
to convince him that the Book is correct throughout.

Then there is the extreme intelligence of the Shiah in grasping single
points. Some missionaries work upon this, and also on his essential
weakness, by teaching him Christian ideas, and not pointing out their
contradiction to those contained in Islam until he has had time to grasp
their value. I am inclined to think that although this method of teaching
may be possible with people who do not come primarily as enquirers, it
is not so suitable for the Yezdi who comes to you for discussion or
teaching on the Christian religion. If you want to gain a particular
point with a Persian, for instance if you wish to dissuade him from some
particular act of cruelty, do not use too long an argument, but put what
you want to say and your reasons for saying it as shortly as possible.
Even if he does not recognise your principle generally, he may very
possibly accept it for the particular occasion, if your argument is a
plain and short one; but when an enquirer after Christianity comes to
you, he comes to you as to a follower of Christ. He does not want your
advice about any particular part of his conduct; he wants to know why
you follow Christ rather than Mohammed. As a matter of fact you have to
teach him more, but the attempt to teach him less generally produces a
strange state of bewilderment, in which the man is not very likely to
obey any explicit direction you may have given him. The man wants, not
necessarily controversy, but teaching of a controversial nature, opposed
to Mohammedanism, that is to the doctrine of the supremacy of Mohammed’s
religion, and he generally wants such teaching to be based on some kind
of argument, and not on mere assertion. I think this last statement is
less true of the women. But in our early days at Yezd, when Dr White and
I were both struggling with the Persian language, and all of the teaching
had to be done by Armenian hospital assistants, who, although admirable
fellows, had perhaps not wholly grasped exactly what was wanted, we had
strong evidence of what I am now saying. For the moment I could speak the
language and began to see something of the people, man after man would
come to me, all with the same question, “We have heard a great deal; a
great deal of Christian teaching, and a great deal about Jesus Christ;
but Sahib, _matlab chīst?_” which may be translated, “What is the point
of it all?”

From what has been written it will be obvious that one of the most
essential points in dealing with Persian visitors is to understand
thoroughly who are enquirers and who are not. Those who are not primarily
enquirers may often be brought to Christianity almost as easily as those
who come as searchers after truth, for when you get to know Persians,
you can do much with them through personal influence, and indeed, when
all has been written about ways and methods, the thing most used of God
in Persia is the personality of particular missionaries. Curiously
enough, it is not always the popular personality by which the Persian is
most affected in big matters, but he is enormously affected by what we
call character. As to enquirers, it seems to me that no harm is done by
being very careful whom we accept as such. I must own that I have not
always worked on that principle, and there was a time when I was under
the impression that to refuse to see a visitor, or to keep him waiting
a quarter of an hour, would be to derogate from the importance of the
message that I had to give, and when I would plunge without hesitation
into the arguments for the Christian position with any one who asked me
to do so. Possibly at the time it was the best thing to do, for it was
not until I had pursued this plan that I gained any experience to enable
me to discriminate; but I should certainly hesitate to advise anybody
to follow my example. Unless a man professes some serious and practical
reason for wanting to know why he ought to become a Christian it is
not always advisable to tell him. Latterly, when I was approached on
the subject of Christianity, I always replied by asking the enquirer’s
reasons for searching, and also by asking of what he was in search, and,
if from his answer it was obvious that he was in search of something
which could be found outside Christianity, I always told him so. You
must remember that such a man naturally continues talking with you,
generally on religious subjects, and indeed you have then the opportunity
of explaining what Christianity really is, without the necessity of
controversially proving its truth. He is also just as likely to return
to your house as a man with whom you have entered into regular argument,
and I am quite convinced that he is not less likely to appreciate
Christianity at its true value than if you had allowed him to consider
that any one was a proper applicant for admission into the Christian

As a general rule, the thing which seems to me to succeed best with
Yezdi enquirers is controversial teaching of a systematic kind. Pure
controversy is sometimes necessary to remove particular objections to the
Gospel message, but it has to be followed by regular instruction. On the
other hand, instruction that does not bring out very clearly the contrast
between Islam and Christianity is liable not to be understood. Persian
enquirers seem as a rule to want help in understanding the meaning of
Scripture. Several Persian converts have been brought in through the
instrumentality of the Bible without the help of the missionary; but such
cases are not common.

Then one of the most important points that the missionary has to bear
in mind is that the Persian expects a concrete example of the Christian
life. He is much more able to understand what he sees than what he simply
reads, and he is anxious to know how the whole scheme works out, for he
wishes to understand how much of the practical teaching of Christianity
is really intended for everyday use. He is aware that in his own religion
a good deal can be explained away by the mulla, and also that rather
different conduct is expected from the clerical and non-clerical classes
respectively. It is true that in Islam this difference is not so great as
one would expect, but the Mussulman clerics as a class are certainly more
particular than the laity about prayers, fasts, and attendance at the
mosques. When a Persian sees the Christian colony entirely at variance
with the missionary households as to religious customs and ideas, he
naturally comes to the conclusion that as a Christian layman he will
have to conform much more to the practice of the laity than to the
practice of the clerical class, under which heading he will include all
missionaries. For this reason it seems to me that it is lamentable for
missionaries, clerical or otherwise, to separate themselves too much from
the social life of the European colony. Work in such towns as Yezd ought
to be primarily church extension, and when both missionaries and other
Europeans realise this fact, and do their best to show the native that
Christ is a real force in the concrete European life of the present day,
the hopefulness of mission prospects becomes increased a thousandfold.
But the task before the missionary is a rather more complex one, for his
duty is not only to present Christ as a living force in his everyday
life, but he ought also to try and avoid all conduct which he learns by
experience will seem to the native not to tally with the teaching of
Scripture. In other words, he must be ready to give up lawful things
which he is unable to justify to those whom he is striving to teach.
Such a determination will demand not only strength of purpose, but also
careful and prayerful Bible study; but unless the determination is made,
the work will inevitably suffer.

One unusually intelligent Behāī, who, I am glad to say, afterwards became
a Christian, once brought forward an objection to Christianity, which I
think is worth closely noting. He said, “You point to the comparative
prosperity of Europe as an evidence of the truth of Christianity. I,
who have been in India, do not doubt that Europeans have accomplished
something. But it seems to me that what has been done has been done by
the State organisation, which rests upon the law of retaliation, and
is therefore in direct opposition to the law of Christ. Consequently
these successes prove not the truth of Christianity, but rather the
power of work done on exactly opposite principles.” My answer, which was
accepted, was to point out that although Christ in the Sermon on the
Mount showed that the principle of retaliation was not to govern the
actions of individual Christians, Christ’s religion both as expounded by
Himself before Pilate, and as presented by His apostles in the Epistles,
recognises the power of the force-using governor as that of God’s
minister. I also pointed out that the best European State organisations
had only been made possible by the Church. However, the objection was
certainly one which a serious enquirer might be pardoned for advancing,
and it is interesting as showing the trend of the Persian’s mind when he
comes into contact with European customs and Christian ideas.

There remain several difficulties, connected rather with the acceptance
of converts than with the making of them. The Persian is exceedingly
impulsive, and a great many enquirers who are really in earnest ask to be
baptized without realising all that it will mean. This, I suppose, is a
difficulty one finds everywhere. A difficulty more peculiar to Persia has
already been mentioned in a previous chapter, namely, the feeling that
two motives are better than one, and that the desire for earthly as well
as spiritual gain only makes a man a more earnest applicant. In Yezd it
is impossible to treat people who have this feeling as radically unsound,
but of course they have to be taught that it is impossible to become a
Christian from the two points of view, and that if they intend to make
Christianity pay from the earthly point of view, they will lose the
spiritual benefit. The question may perhaps be asked, how is it that in
a Mohammedan country there can be supposed to be any temporal advantage
in becoming a Christian? The answer to this is that the Yezdi Persian
is accustomed not so much to religious as to politico-religious systems:
so he regards the whole European colony with their native servants,
Parsi and Mussulman, as all belonging to Christianity and under the
protection of the Christian authorities, and this idea is very largely
kept up by the servants themselves. Servants in a Christian household
will almost invariably join in any form of Christian worship, and it
would be impossible to explain to them that they did not to some extent
participate in the spiritual advantages of Christianity. They recognise,
however, a distinct difference between taking service and accepting
baptism. Probably in their heart of hearts they believe that taking
service is temporary, and accepting baptism permanent. Amongst people
who are accustomed to a view of the household largely corresponding to
the patriarchal view, such notions cannot be altogether eradicated. So
enquirers, when they first ask for baptism, do not necessarily see the
enormous danger, but only realise that they will be brought into close
touch with a community that seems to them to include other natives who
wear the same dress as themselves. Of course when the enquirers are
junior members of strict Mussulman households, or in other equally
unfavourable circumstances, they realise that their peril will be
extreme; but heads of households sometimes expect much less danger. Then
again, the Mussulman is accustomed to secret religions, for _taqiya_, the
denial of faith in times of danger, has always been considered lawful by
Shiahs, and it is used by the Babis. Although the enquirer learns at a
very early date that such conduct is regarded by the Christian as sin, it
takes him some time to realise the exact degree to which his Christianity
is likely to be public. Lastly, although he may be told that converts are
not under consular protection, in a country where law means so little and
custom so much he is not likely to understand how real are the boundaries
of treaty rights. This will perhaps give some idea of the amount of
misapprehension, both as to the meaning of Christianity and also as to
the danger of accepting it, which may possibly exist after a considerable
amount of talk and enquiry; nor would the dangers of embracing
Christianity be made altogether obvious by a single riot or martyrdom;
for the whole operation of Persian law, or want of law, is irregular and
spasmodic, and in a town like Yezd things which are foolhardy in January
are often attended with no more than ordinary risk in June.

Under these circumstances the question of the admission of professing
converts to baptism must necessarily be extremely difficult. In towns
where the mission work is in a pioneering stage it has to be primarily
settled by the European missionary; and not until the difficulty has
been by him sufficiently solved to admit of the foundation of a church,
can much of this burden be placed upon other shoulders. Sometimes he
may have the good fortune to have among his earlier converts a wholly
trustworthy man, who, from his greater experience of native character and
knowledge of what is going on in the town, can advise and counsel him,
but even then the main responsibility must rest with the European. The
difficulty is greatly enhanced by the fact that the missionary in Persia
does not really live amongst the people, and that the clerical missionary
usually sees enquirers only in his own house. Under these circumstances
it is perhaps well not to apply too many tests, for it is not easy to
get a test which is really sound. One test which is sometimes advocated
is the practice of keeping the catechumen waiting for a long period;
but the result of this is frequently to deter those who are weakly in
earnest, whereas a Persian who has a worldly end to serve is capable of
extraordinary patience. It is sometimes urged that an unsound convert
brings the whole band of native Christians and enquirers into extreme
danger; but I am inclined to think that, in the circumstances of our
pioneer missions as they at present exist, a totally unsound catechumen
may do almost as much harm as even an unsound convert. It is hard to
avoid the conclusion that the only way to deal with the situation is
to baptize all persons who after full instruction, not too hurriedly
given, profess conversion and demand baptism, and even after baptism
to observe a certain degree of caution towards the newly baptized. If
it is absolutely proved that such converts are behaving in a manner
that is not only weak but actively hostile towards Christ’s cause, they
must be excommunicated; but the most necessary point of all is that as
much attention should be paid to the instruction of converts as to the
instruction of catechumens. It is of course impossible to expect that
all points of character should be absolutely changed after baptism, and
nobody ought to be cut loose from the Church in a place like Yezd,
unless he is actively hostile; and, even when actual hostility has been
proved, an opportunity ought to be given for the man’s return.

As to the advisability of giving converts material help, a great deal may
be said against it in theory, but in practice it is at times absolutely
necessary. After all, it is impossible to avoid mistakes, and the attempt
to avoid all mistakes in detail is only too likely to lead to the more
general one of entirely failing to present Christ in any form whatsoever.

The conclusions which have been stated in this chapter are not intended
to be taken as the fully thought out summing up of an extremely complex
and difficult problem. They are the result of rather less than six
years’ experience of the mission-field. But just as there is a value in
first impressions of country, so there is a value in first impressions
of difficulties in work. At five and a half years first impressions of
country have passed away, and consequently the contents of the earlier
chapters of this book, which deal with country and surroundings, can
hardly be so characterised; but at this period the difficulties of
mission work are only just beginning to spread themselves out before
one’s eyes. So when we pass from country to character, from character to
opportunity, and from opportunity to suggestion, we pass from subjects
with which it is comparatively easy to become familiar to subjects which
need life-long and careful study. I have tried in writing this chapter
to eliminate from the style that consciousness of uncertainty which
is frequently so irritating to the reader; but in doing this I should
explain that I am fully conscious of the superficial nature of much
that I have written. At the same time, the view that I have gained of
mission work in Yezd is a full one compared with that which is possible
for people at a distance, and for that reason it may be considered worth

[Illustration: A VIEW OF YEZD.]


    Getting into touch with the natives—The missionary’s style of
    life—Visiting and receiving visitors—Philanthropic work—Poor
    relief—School work—Medical work.

In Persia the missionary has no right to teach and preach in public
places. He cannot take up his stand in the bazaars and proclaim the
Gospel. He can talk to the people who come to his house, and to a certain
extent he can talk with crowds in open caravanserais or in the villages,
but anything approximating to public teaching is only done on sufferance,
and without any established licence. So the ordinary evangelistic
missionary’s first task is to get on terms of social intercourse with
a sufficiently large number of natives to afford him a field for work.
Afterwards he may arrange for services, either in his own house or
in the house of some other European, and so his visitors will become
congregations and his talks sermons.

Now, although it is obvious that such work can only be carried on when it
is acceptable to the natives, the work may be accepted for very various
reasons. If the missionary knows enough of the Persian language, of
native ideas, and above all of the message he has come to deliver, he
will, in a town like Yezd, without the help of school or medical work,
attract a large number of people to his house. In Persia there is just
now a great seeking after truth, which, though due in part to traceable
causes, seems in its entirety to be simply one of those mysterious
movements which God evokes at certain seasons in all lands for the
furtherance of His Kingdom. One class attracted by such a man as I have
described would therefore be real enquirers, and with them would be mixed
a second class of people who have been called religious sightseers. These
men though not apparently so good a field for work as the first class,
would still, if properly handled and directed, prove a perfectly possible
sphere for serious missionary operations. So also would the third class
of callers, who would be men not primarily interested in religious
questions at all, but who would nevertheless follow the fashion of
calling on the newly-arrived foreigner, and would be generally willing
to follow any line of conversation that was agreeable to their host.
Of course a man who did not intend to engage in school or medical work
would naturally be careful to take full advantage of such contacts as
these, and of others that he would naturally make from time to time; he
would order his life in such a way as to get day by day into close touch
with the people of the town; and he would equip himself with a material
outfit that would enable him to exchange courtesies with natives of
various classes. I am not speaking of a man who elected to spend most of
his time itinerating in the villages: of such work as this I have little
experience: but I am convinced that a stationary missionary, fairly well
equipped at all points, does not in a town like Yezd absolutely need the
help of more elaborate aids to enable him to get into touch with his
work. To suppose this is to ignore the extraordinary preparation which
God has made in Persia for the preaching of the Gospel.

Before passing on to the very real demand for missionaries of a somewhat
different kind, it will be well to mention some points connected with
the life of the European missionary in the country. There are probably
very few men or women at present working in Persia, who have not at the
outset of their work felt doubtful whether the details of their household
life could not be simplified, so as to bring them into closer touch with
the poorer part of the population. It is hardly possible to write a
serious book on missionary conditions without expressing an opinion on
this question. There is, I think, no doubt that it is a great mistake for
a missionary in Persia to be known as one who is leading the life of a
wealthy man. It is considered by many of the enquirers to be absolutely
inconsistent with Christianity, and I am not sure that this judgment
is incorrect. Temporary advantages might sometimes be gained by such a
reputation, but in the end the work would suffer.

Generally speaking, however, it is the habit of missionaries in the
Persian stations to live as economically as is compatible with European
style, so far as their strictly personal expenses are concerned. Many
things which appear at first sight to be luxurious prove on closer
acquaintance to be mere substitutes for the ordinary necessaries of the
simplest English life. Other things prove to be absolutely essential
to health in a hot climate, while yet another class are not exactly
necessary, but they are comforts of the cheapest kind. People who are
economising seriously in Eastern lands have to put up with so much that
is really difficult that they make a great mistake if they unnecessarily
deny themselves small things which can be had for the asking, simply
because they have regarded such things as luxuries in England. But
although the existence of careful economies on European lines may be
sufficient to prevent an intelligent enquirer from thinking that the
missionary is untrue to his creed, such economies can never bring the
missionary into touch with the poor of the East in the same way that
living in a model lodging-house might under some circumstances bring a
home clergyman into close touch with the English poor. The real analogy
would be for the missionary to live as an Eastern dervish, or as a native
of the artisan class, and although this might be sometimes helpful
and advisable, the principle of its general advisability could not be
accepted. To begin with, it would be only possible for a bachelor, and,
in a country where no man can possibly give individual instruction to
women, the bachelor is at a great disadvantage. Secondly, it must not be
forgotten that, although the missionary living the life of an European
has been accepted in Persia, the missionary wearing Persian dress and
living like a native has not yet been accepted, and would probably find
himself not only at variance with the consular authorities but also
regarded with a great deal of suspicion by the natives themselves. In
a matter of this kind it is impossible to ignore apostolic precedent,
and one thing that cannot but strike the student of the missionary
methods of the period covered by the Acts of the Apostles is that the
apostles generally, and notably St Paul, seem never to have adopted a
method of missionary work which would have seemed to the inhabitants of
the district to be _outré_, when some more natural method of work was
equally possible. Nothing would strike the Persian as more _outré_ than
for the ordinary European to drop the form of life which is expected
of the Ferangi, and to adopt the manners and customs of the native of
Persia, particularly as he would probably have to periodically re-assume
European clothes. If he was going to work among the Mussulmans as a
Christian missionary, I suppose he would have to choose between life as
an Armenian and life as a Mussulman. Life as an Armenian would have this
advantage over the other, that he would not be supposed to be hiding his
religion. But the life of the Armenian in a town like Yezd is the life
of a stranger in a foreign town, and would not bring the missionary into
very much closer touch with the Mussulmans than life as a European. By
assuming the dress and manners of an Armenian of any class whatsoever,
one would simply forfeit the respect that is usually paid by the Persian
to the Ferangi, without gaining anything that could not have been
gained by other and more ordinary methods. On the other hand, life as a
Mussulman would be attended with serious difficulties. In a town where
there was a Ferangi colony wearing European dress, such a man would very
possibly be regarded as a soldier is regarded who attempts to mix with
the enemy without his uniform. I can conceive circumstances which might
make an experiment of this kind worth trying, but it would be madness for
any one to attempt it for missionary purposes, who had not extraordinary
experience of the country and a full mastery over the language.

I think then we must take it for granted that the kind of life which
missionaries are living in Persia at the present time will have to
be accepted, with such modifications as future events and further
experience may suggest, as the normal method for Europeans who wish to
carry on missionary work in the country. There are one or two tasks which
lie before the pioneer missionary which seem to be made more easy by the
possession of an ordinary European household. First of all, he has to be
prepared to work amongst the European colony. Secondly, it is well for
him to possess sufficient influence and standing in the town to be able
to help the converts or enquirers in time of trouble. Thirdly, he wants
to be in touch with all classes of natives, and this would probably only
be possible for a man who stood in the highest rank as a native, or for
one who stood outside native rank altogether.

Every missionary has to do a good deal of visiting. All visits have not
got to be returned, but a certain number must be. It is well not to
return all visits, for otherwise it is difficult to get secret enquirers
to come to your house, or people who are too poor to receive you in their
own houses. The usual Persian habit is never to pay a visit without
first of all asking leave, but though this rule has to be observed
towards others, it is best to make it clear that your own house is an
office, and only to insist on notice for visits of civility when they
are made by people who are likely to prove awkward. Paying visits to
Persian houses has a certain value to the missionary, as it introduces
him to Persian life and manners, and puts him on easier terms with the
natives, but it seldom affords the evangelistic missionary who is working
amongst men his best opportunity for direct missionary work. There is
too much publicity, and too many interruptions. The best missionary
work is usually done on one’s own premises; and in Yezd I have known
enquirers and visitors begin coming at six o’clock in the morning, and
go on almost without intermission till ten o’clock at night; but at that
time I was connected with scholastic work, which, although requiring only
superintendence, advertised my presence in the town to a considerable
degree. One of the things that is therefore most necessary in a place
like Yezd for the evangelistic missionary is an absolutely well-ordered
household. Everything ought to go by clockwork. Almost every visitor has
to be treated as an ordinary social guest, and unless the arrangements
are nearly perfect, either his attention or the missionary’s will be
called away from the conversation. A missionary in such a position
ought to pay close attention to the number and description of his
tea-cups and pipes. One class of visitors ought to be properly served
with silver-mounted hookahs and three tiny cups of very hot tea, brought
in at intervals of ten minutes, and this without any previous notice to
the servant. Another class of visitor ought to have a European cup of
tea holding about three times as much as the Persian cup, and a box of
cigarettes, so that he and his host may be able to talk without further
interruption till the end of the interview. A third class of visitor,
who has given notice, ought to be prepared for beforehand, and served
with iced sherbet. Then again, a decision has to be made according to the
status of the guest as to whether the missionary shall be served with tea
at the same time or not. All this requires the most careful training of
servants, and any inattention to detail may produce an atmosphere which
makes teaching exceedingly difficult. Further, the servants have to know
who should be shown into a private room, and who can be allowed to mix
with other guests. These are just a few of the minor points which are
nevertheless of real importance. To come to points which are obviously
more serious. Servants have to be procured who can act with firmness when
people attempt to take liberties, and who are at the same time absolutely
civil. Servants in a Christian household have to be good-tempered; and
in order to effect this they have to be kept well occupied without being
overworked, in a house where the chief work is meeting emergencies. They
have to be taught some consistent and systematic line that is to be
observed in dealing with the countless beggars who every day come to your
house. They have to be rendered as truthful as possible in every matter
connected with the missionary’s business. They have to be paid a rate of
wages which will make honesty and contentment possible, and which will
neither spoil the market, nor be incompatible with reasonable economy.
It is needless to say very much more about these matters; sufficient
has already been said to make it plain that the problem of household
arrangement is an exceedingly difficult one, particularly as the servants
sleep in their own houses at a distance, all but one, who stays for the
night; and they generally expect to go home for their mid-day meal. My
own impression is that as the evangelistic missionary’s house is almost
his parish, he may be excused if he thinks right to expend a very great
deal of time over its arrangements, and to consider this just as much
missionary work as the teaching of enquirers. If the missionary intends
to aim at anything that is likely to be satisfactory in this matter, he
certainly needs an enormous degree of faith, and will do well to make his
efforts in this direction the subject of very earnest prayer.

[Illustration: SCENES OF YEZDI LIFE.

The centre of these three pictures represents two men smoking opium.
Behind them is a _qalian_, or hookah, for tobacco; in front is a sherbet
bowl, and also a small tea-table with sweets underneath.

The picture on the left represents two men; one holding a rosary, and the
other holding a hookah.

The single figure on the right is a Jew, with his book for divining. The
Persians use the Jews as diviners a good deal.]

Another difficulty in seeing enquirers in the house is the arrangement of
times. Missionaries are sometimes blamed for not sufficiently consorting
with Europeans in the ordinary amusements of the colony, but there is one
great difficulty about this. The times when you naturally take exercise
in the East are the times when the native artisan or shopkeeper is off
work. Supposing that the evangelistic missionary is seldom at home at
such times as these, the more industrious Persians get to regard him as
inaccessible, and his enquirers begin to consist of people who for some
reason or other have very little to do. It is hardly necessary to enter
into the difficulties that may follow.

We have been hitherto speaking only of directly evangelistic methods
of missionary work; but almost all missionaries have something to do
with philanthropic work also. These philanthropic efforts are not solely
undertaken as means to an end. In most cases they are treated as an end
in themselves by the missionary, and generally speaking they are things
which could not well be left undone. Medical missionaries will tell you
that their standing orders are to heal the sick and preach the Gospel;
but I think we may say very much more generally that the presentation
of the Gospel without adequate and proportionate care for the minds and
bodies of those surrounding us, would be impossible. For the Gospel is
the message of our Saviour, and any message that was so delivered would
entirely fail to represent that Saviour’s attitude. I doubt whether any
one would call in question this aspect of the case, but when we come to
discuss how much philanthropic work is really necessary, we are face to
face with a difficult problem. In matters like this the decision must
depend not only upon the needs of the people with whom the missionaries
are brought in contact, but also upon the nature of the church or
congregation of Christians that supports them, and whose material as
well as spiritual force they are appointed to convey to the mission
field. There is a great difference between the position of a band of men
sent out by an infinitesimal body of earnest Christians who have the
greatest difficulty in subscribing the means of their support, and that
of a band sent out by an exceedingly wealthy Christian church.

Present-day missionaries sent out by the Church Missionary Society
have passed outside the conditions of the first class, but they cannot
be said to fully belong to the second. They are supported by a large
number of people, but those who give most are generally those whose
purses are least elastic. In the countries to which they go they are
treated with the greatest courtesy by British officials, and accepted as
representatives of the religion of England by their fellow-countrymen.
Naturally the native expects more from them than they are really able
to give, and this increases the difficulty when they have to decide
what they are bound to do as ministers of Christ and as representatives
of those who send them, for the people committed to their charge.
Naturally, and I think rightly, they do not wholly shut their eyes to
the attitude and expectations of the natives. But, unfortunately, the
Persians think that there ought to be no difficulty about anything. The
average native cannot get out of his head the idea that we are sent by
the Government, or, if not by the Government, by the whole nation under
its religious authorities. Those who know anything of English thought
and feeling realise that foreign missions are now well established in
the popular regard in England, and many Yezdis have a confused notion
that in our country education, medical attendance, and support in old
age are free to everybody, irrespective of class, and that as Christians
we are all anxious to extend this system as far as we can to other
nations. Of course views like this are variable, but it may be seen after
a moment’s consideration that in a country where the need for schools,
for hospitals, and sometimes for relief is very real, and where the
native is capable of believing such absurdities about the European as
have been stated, if the missionary does not to a large extent take up
the white man’s burden, he is likely to lose any influence which God may
have given him. Consequently I think we may say that the philanthropic
work of missionaries in Persia must not only be regarded as a means to
evangelisation, although this is an aspect which must largely determine
its importance. Primarily it is a spiritual necessity created by three
things, the comparative wealth of the Christians who send out the
missionaries, the comparative poverty of the natives who are ready to be
relieved, and the obvious commandment of Almighty God.

Philanthropic work in Yezd is of three kinds; medical work, school work,
and the work of poor relief. The last is of course not recognised or
supported by the Church Missionary Society. It is not within the scope of
this book to deal with either of these three provinces of work in detail.
All that I wish at present to explain is the way in which they seem to
strike the Persian mind, and contribute to the general campaign of the

Relief work is of all the three most absolutely necessitated by the
essential difference between the circumstances of the missionary and
his supporters on the one hand, and those of a certain section of the
natives on the other. But from an evangelistic standpoint it is the least
directly productive in effect; so we have never in Yezd used for this
purpose any funds not specially subscribed for it, and such money has
been collected almost entirely from the resident Europeans. There is a
very great deal of terrible poverty in Persia which is not touched by
the native charities. In Yezd, particularly towards the end of our stay
in the town, things were in a very bad way. Yezd is really an industrial
town, and not less than half of the grain supply comes from outside,
chiefly from the Shiraz district. Most of the people are silk weavers.
The silkworms used to be reared in the Yezd district, but the extreme
droughts rendered this source of supply very insecure, and after the
great famine that occurred some years ago there were not sufficient
trees left for the business to be continued in this way. Cocoons were
then brought from Rasht, and this system proved more satisfactory till
lately, when the Rasht cocoons were diverted to France and Italy. The
natural result was a great deal of poverty in Yezd, which was most felt
among the poor Jews, who since the famine year have had no looms but have
devoted themselves to winding and spinning the silk. Then again, after
the Babi massacre of 1903, something had to be done for the large number
of widows and orphans. In this work the Europeans were by no means alone,
for the sufferers were helped both by the Babi merchants and also by a
large number of the Parsis. The Parsis are generally very good in looking
after their own poor, but the Mussulmans give money so indiscriminately
that their charities cause more poverty than they relieve. Although the
work of poor relief is not as a rule the direct means of bringing in
converts, it helps the evangelistic work enormously by saving valuable
time. Before it could be organised the number of begging enquirers who
had the very smallest interest, if any, in the Gospel message, was so
large as to seriously impede more important work. It is much easier
and better to keep the two things more separate, and to be able to say
to a man, “If you want to read with me, well and good, but if you want
material help, then you must do so and so.” This does not necessarily
mean that the man who is relieved gets no chance of hearing the Gospel.
The Jews, who came in a body, used always to have a chapter of the Gospel
read to them by my mirza, and any man who showed a disposition to come
as a real enquirer after his case had been looked into and relieved
was thoroughly welcomed. But the practice of trying to earn a _kran_ by
wasting hours of the missionary’s time was effectually discouraged.

I think also that the practice of separating poor relief as much as
possible from the work with enquirers helps to explain to the native
our view of the Christian Church. That some explanation is necessary
is undoubted. During a severe famine in Kirman, over two hundred
respectable Mussulmans, chiefly shopkeepers, came into the courtyard of
the Consulate, and wanted to take protection under the British flag.
Major Phillott was then Consul, and they explained to him that the price
of bread was so prohibitive that they could not live any longer under
the regulations of the Persian officials. Their leader was a Seyid.
Major Phillott tried to explain that, although he sympathised with
them greatly, he could do nothing for them unless it was to give them
pecuniary help. He offered them a hundred _krans_, but they explained
that they were not beggars. They further said that they were quite ready
to become Christians if they could only get cheap bread. The end of the
whole business was that the Consul paid an unofficial visit to the
Governor, and got him to promise that bread should be lowered to a more
or less normal price by gradual reductions spread over a period of ten
days. It is easy to understand that people who could go to a Consul in a
famine and ask to be accepted as Christians in order to be able to buy
bread at a fair price, thinking I suppose that Consular pressure would
then be brought to bear upon the Governor on their behalf, might easily
get an absolutely wrong notion of what was going on, if circumstances
forced the missionary whose general business was seeing enquirers to use
funds for poor relief without carefully separating these two branches
of work. Even the practice of giving occasional relief to very poor
enquirers from one’s own purse is liable to great misinterpretation and
abuse. Men will frequently come to you and ask for support, so as to
enable them to leave their ordinary trades and listen to your teaching.
Myself, I think that there are occasions when poor people have come from
a distance and are certainly interested, where something of this kind
has to be done, the man if possible being made to work for his money;
but it is easy to see how extremely dangerous it would be to encourage
expectations, and how easily natives might get the idea that enquiry, and
still more Christianity, entitled them to payment. Consequently, even if
it could not be demonstrated that an actual saving of time was effected
by making of poor relief a distinct organisation, there would be still a
very great deal to be said for the practice.

To administer poor relief in a town like Yezd on anything approaching
to a sound system necessitates a great deal of reliance upon native
information, and also a certain amount of high-handed dealing. Any food
or clothing given must be of a class only acceptable to the very poorest,
for otherwise the candidates for relief would be too numerous to deal
with in even the roughest fashion. These considerations will explain two
things; first of all it will be readily understood that it is much easier
to give systematic relief to members of a native community which is more
or less down-trodden, such as the Jews or Babis; for although a certain
number of mistakes will be made in dealing with these peoples, they will
be much less resented, and will militate much less against the success
of the whole effort. Secondly, it will be obvious that such relief will
not call forth very much gratitude from the recipients. The very fact of
investigation gives the idea to the Persian mind that charity is given
grudgingly. Also it is impossible to handle a hundred screaming women in
a small compound without a certain amount of what appears to be stern
dealing, and after all in most instances the relief given is not as much
as we ourselves would like it to be. Added to this, most of the people
receiving relief are under the impression that we are simply dispensing a
small part of the large supplies sent to us for the purpose from abroad;
and the Jews, of whom nearly a hundred families were receiving relief
in Yezd last winter, believed that all that was given to them came from
their co-religionists in Europe. The Babis of course looked upon the
matter rather differently, but people who hold the theory of _savabs_
in the way in which Persians do, have always a feeling that anything
given to them means one for them and two for the giver. At the same time
Persians who are interested in Christianity, and who are not themselves
candidates for poor relief, see a great deal more in the system than do
those who are more intimately concerned with it. They often understand
that the willingness to take trouble in localising need, and the absolute
recklessness with which we incur as many curses as blessings in the
performance of our work, points to an utterly different ideal from that
which is accepted in Islam; and whether they are prepared to approve
it or not, anything which shows the native part of the fundamental
distinction between Islam and Christianity must in the end be of enormous
assistance in missionary work.

School work in Yezd is very greatly appreciated by a somewhat limited
class, but it means continual friction. The whole Mussulman clerical
class as a body are keenly opposed to it. More curiously it aroused the
greatest opposition from a small but not unimportant section of the
Parsis. The Parsis are a puzzling people. For though they are strong,
intelligent, thrifty, industrious, grateful, and comparatively honest,
they seem to have a tendency to produce in their community a sufficient
number of exceptionally disagreeable specimens of humanity to greatly
check their natural progress. I myself believe that this is due to
the prevalence of agnosticism amongst them, but, however that may be,
the result is that the Yezd community is always pestered by internal
intrigues. I do not think that the opposition to my school was religious,
for the _dastūrs_, that is the Zoroastrian priests, were always very
friendly. I have always put it down rather to internal intrigue.

My school work was originally undertaken at the explicit request of
the natives, and the boys came chiefly, but not wholly, from the upper
classes. It would be difficult, and very questionably advisable, to
start school work in a town like Yezd except under pressure from the
natives. Even when the work has been forced on one, it is very difficult
to maintain it. Not only is there still opposition from such quarters
as I have mentioned, but it is only with the greatest difficulty that
competent native assistance can be secured. If native assistance cannot
be secured, the missionary who has work with enquirers will have
difficulty in finding time even for short classes. Short classes may be
the best thing under certain circumstances, but in a town like Yezd they
do not meet the whole need. Boys are brought to you in Persia in most
cases primarily to be taught English, but this demand for English is
not the only requirement, nor is it the only need that is felt by the
Persians. Persians will frequently tell you that they bring their boys
to you for education in the largest sense; but we made it a practice in
Yezd only to accept boys who wished to learn English, and whose parents
could show that the knowledge of English was likely to be of some use to
them. Very frequently poor lads would come, under the impression that the
town was going to be occupied by Europeans, and that all who had learnt
English would get remunerative employment in Yezd. The only thing to do
under such circumstances was to explain the true state of affairs, and
then to insist on payment being made in advance for all books, and also
upon the payment of a six months’ fee. The first argument was generally
rather ineffectual, but supported by the second it always had the desired
result. If it could be shown that a poor boy was likely to reap advantage
from a knowledge of English, fees were always remitted, and in some cases
books were provided.

The ordinary fees were very small, but had to be paid in advance
for the half year. The education given comprised Persian subjects,
arithmetic, English, and elementary geography. The Bible was read in
Persian, night and morning, and the boys were expected to be present
during the Bible reading and prayers. Latterly the whole routine work
was put into the hands of natives, but I paid as much attention not
only to superintendence but also to conversational classes as my other
engagements would allow. Naturally there was a great difference in the
efficiency of the school at different times. At first it was with the
greatest difficulty that the work could be carried on at all, and what I
was able to do was of the most trivial character. In the end, owing to
the excellent work done by my Armenian assistants, and by Mihraban, my
Parsi mirza, the results were really excellent. On the whole, I think I
may say that the confidence reposed in the school system by the natives,
was greater than I could have expected, and in many things both boys and
parents proved excessively forbearing.

[Illustration: THE SCHOOL.

This was drawn when the school was quite small.

The figure on the left sitting in a chair is Mesak, my first Armenian
schoolmaster. I am on the right leaning against a desk. The thing in my
hand is a pointer and not an instrument of punishment. There is a wall in
front of me on which was hung the thing to which I was pointing. I should
perhaps mention that the square fire-place coming forward into the room
is not of a usual shape: fire-places are generally let into the wall. All
the boys in this picture are Mussulmans.]

In the matter of gratitude they showed discrimination, but the gratitude
that was shown me by the pupils who stuck to the school for any time,
and by their parents, was extraordinary. The lads themselves, both Parsi
and Mussulman, were on the whole intelligent and teachable. I had,
however, very much greater success in dealing with them when I had not
myself to undertake the routine work of the schoolmaster. Possibly this
was due partially to my not being suited for such work, but I am inclined
to think that in most cases elementary school work is not quite the
proper field for the European missionary in Persia. There is perhaps no
harm in the evangelistic missionary who has not yet perfected himself
in the language devoting more of his time to it; but, considering the
enormous value of the work from a spiritual point of view, there should
be no difficulty in getting funds to employ extra native assistants
where the European missionary feels himself in a position to organise
and superintend a school for native boys. These remarks do not apply to
schools for girls, for which properly qualified native teachers can only
be found with the greatest difficulty. My feeling is that not only can
the fully qualified European missionary be more usefully employed if
his time is not too largely given up to school work, but also much of
the actual work of the school is better done by natives under European
management, and the influence of the missionary with the boys may be
rather increased than checked by his not having to teach them their
ordinary lessons. It is, however, very difficult to separate what may
be taken as a general principle in Persia from what was true of our
particular circumstances in Yezd. I have before mentioned that I do not
consider myself very fitted for ordinary school work.

In the boys’ school in Yezd we had at first a custom of never admitting
a child until his father had been seen, and had thoroughly understood to
what extent he would receive religious teaching. I used to pledge myself
to teach nothing to the boy of Christian tradition apart from what could
be found in the _Kalāmu’llah_, that is, the Word of God accepted by the
Mohammedans, an expression which was thoroughly understood to include
the whole of the Christian Bible. This may seem at first sight to have
been merely a quibble, but it must not be forgotten in dealing with
the Mussulman, that he is afraid of something like Romanism which will
stand out in political as well as religious rivalry to Islam, and that
he knows very little of the special tenets of Protestants. My assurance
would at least have satisfied him that no attempt would be made to draw
the boy into a foreign politico-religious system. The fathers were
also told that the boys would be expected to attend prayers. Latterly,
as the school and its methods got better known, the necessity for these
precautions disappeared. However, when boys at the school came to me,
as they frequently did, and told me that they wished to know more about
Christianity, I invariably insisted that their fathers or guardians
should be informed before they received special instruction. Of course
they were always free to come to the Sunday School, which was held for
them by my Armenian assistant, and which was attended by a few boys from
other schools as well, and occasionally by one or two men. Many of the
boys also were extremely regular in their attendance at the services,
which we held at first in our houses, and afterwards in a chapel which
was built in the hospital.

Our school work in Yezd was in every way a thoroughly effective
evangelistic agency. It brought me into touch with scores of adults who
without it would never have entered my house. By increasing the general
business with which I was surrounded, it also greatly facilitated my
contact with those who came to me as regular enquirers. All this was
additional to the direct effects of the school work, which I have reason
to believe were exceedingly satisfactory. Altogether school work proved
in Yezd to be one of the most effective forms of missionary effort.

At the same time one or two things have to be borne in mind about it.
First of all, it is extremely difficult for the evangelistic missionary
to organise school work for the teaching of Persian subjects only that
will successfully compete with the native schools. Further, the need
for such work is not greatly felt by the natives. But the teaching of
English is one of those things which missionaries are distinctly asked to
undertake, and which they are able to undertake with great advantage. In
a short time I have no doubt that industrial education will be an even
more pressing need. The argument for schools as against classes is that
their effect upon the moral character of the boys is much greater, and
that the qualified missionary has by himself time for neither, unless
indeed the classes are to be very short ones, and the staff that would be
needed to properly undertake classes might just as well manage a school.

With regard to fees, it seems to me that when assistants are employed
fees should be charged; but to get fees that would really cover the
expenses would be impossible, and I personally think that the lower
the fee the more easy it is to enforce its payment, and to keep the
arrangements of the school entirely in one’s own hands. This, however,
is a matter over which there is plenty of room for difference of
opinion. Of one thing I am certain, and that is that in the up-country
towns educational work must begin amongst classes who can support the
missionary against Persian intrigues and the direct opposition of the
Mulla class. In starting a school in a Mussulman country the object
of the missionary must always be to get the establishment regarded as
a settled fact, consequently certain things which would otherwise be
unimportant become matters of extreme moment. For instance, if anything
should happen to the teaching staff, the school must be kept running,
even if the pupils cannot under the circumstances make great progress.
At one time I had to keep the school going when I was myself laid up in
a sick room, and had no assistant capable of teaching much more than the
primers. The day’s work for the first class was written out by my wife,
and sent into the school by a servant. However, the school survived,
and some while later, when it was again properly staffed, we saw the
effects of our persistence, for while the town was absolutely under mob
law, the school was never without a certain number of boys attending at
the regular hours. Again, when the position of the school is temporarily
assured, nothing can be better than some sort of public Speech Day,
which both advertises its existence, and makes people understand that
you regard its permanence as a matter of course. The fact is that in
Persia all opposition and persecution is spasmodic, and if you can manage
to go your own way for a sufficient time and then take your position
for granted, you will be allowed to do things which vastly exceed your
recognised rights and liberties.

Medical mission work in Persia has been described by those who have been
actively engaged in it. Under these circumstances I intend to speak very
much less about it than I have done about other methods of work, though
it is at least as important as any. It would be possible to divide the
provinces of medical work in several ways, but it seems to me to be best
treated under three heads: hospital work, dispensary work, and medical
visiting. The branch of medical work which is most obviously necessary,
and also perhaps least productive of direct spiritual results is the
work of the dispensary. A doctor settled in a Persian town is primarily
expected to see all comers and to provide them with medicines. Indeed the
Persian will come to the European for treatment whether he is a doctor
or not. The business of the dispensary affords an excellent opportunity
for giving an address on religious subjects, but comparatively little for
systematic teaching of individuals, though contacts may be made during
dispensary hours that may lead to further enquiry, and of course even
systematic teaching can be given during dispensary hours by a determined

Medical visiting is just what the missionary is able to make it. The
over-worked doctor with more visits than he can pay in the day has to
be content with a very occasional reading and a word here and there
as opportunity offers; but there is no doubt that the opportunity is
unique, and if time can be made during medical visits for more systematic
spiritual teaching, such teaching is likely for several reasons to carry
exceptional weight. Although perhaps medical visits give a better
opportunity to the doctor who wishes to himself follow up the work with
religious teaching, dispensary work affords a much better opportunity
for the bringing of other evangelists into such touch with the patients
as will make it possible to find out any serious enquirers and to rouse
others to further interest. The great difficulty in dispensary work
and medical visiting, regarded as evangelistic agencies in Persia, is
that the number of contacts is almost too large to handle. To begin
with, the staff of missionaries is inadequate, and the difficulty is
further increased by the peculiarities of the Persian, who in most
cases is almost untouched by any teaching that is not systematic, and
that does not go somewhat deeply into fundamentals. Of course these
kinds of medical work produce more contacts than does anything else,
but the difficulty in Persia is not to bring people within the hearing
of the Gospels, but to convey to them something of the meaning of the
Gospel. What makes the medical mission of the present time in Persia
all-important is not that it is absolutely necessary for the purpose of
bringing the evangelist into touch with the native, though in certain
times and places it may be still greatly needed for this purpose; but
the great point is that it has often explained the meaning of Christ
crucified to men and women who without it seemed unable to grasp the
Christian idea. This I believe to be true of all branches of medical
mission work that I have mentioned, but at the same time it must be
owned that the branch which has hitherto proved most satisfactory as a
direct evangelistic agency is that connected with the hospital. Nobody
can speak too highly of the potentialities of hospital work in Persia. It
is almost inconceivable what misunderstanding of the doctor’s attitude
is possible in out-patient work in a Mussulman country. He is a bad man
trying to work off his sins. He is sent out by the English Government at
a high salary. He is making a very good profit out of the work. He is an
instance of the subjection of the infidel to the Mussulman by the power
of God. All these notions gradually die away under the systematic life
and discipline of the hospital, with its atmosphere of trust and repose.
Day by day men meet the doctor and his assistants and learn to know them;
they see the quiet persistence of their kindness, and its penetration
into the smallest detail; best of all, they hear the Word of God day
by day brought into a connected story and an intelligible system of
salvation. In the best conducted hospitals the only misconception that is
likely to remain is the belief that the missionaries as a body are trying
to win a high place in Heaven by _savabs_. This dies very hard, and
all we can say is that the hospital system, perhaps partly by its more
definite discipline, tends to eradicate it. It is true that some workers
have produced similar results by importing the atmosphere of Christian
hospital work into the medical visit or the dispensary; but the point to
be noted is that what is natural in the Christian hospital has in other
forms of medical work to be deliberately and persistently fostered.
In these if the highest spiritual results are to be obtained, there
must be on the part of the worker a determination rather to guide the
organisation towards them, than to depend on its essential qualities as a
missionary force. It is not that hospital equipment is an essential for
a doctor who wants to preach the Gospel, but no matter what a missionary
may be, clergyman, lay evangelist, or medical, it is only by getting into
close touch with the native, and by systematic and persevering teaching,
that he can expect to extend Christ’s Kingdom in Persian towns.

Of course the position of the medical missionary who is invited to the
town by those in authority, as is frequently the case, is very different
from that of most other missionaries. There may be a real demand for
school teaching, but even when school work has been started and placed
on a satisfactory footing, it never appeals so generally to the interest
of all classes as to be superior to any intrigue that may arise, or to
bursts of fanatical bigotry. At the same time the medical missionary who
has gone to a new station finds that even when invited he is on trial.
When free medicines are given, as on some occasions they have been for
a short period, two-thirds of the people throw them away without using
them. Even those who have invited him are quite ready to turn against
him, at any rate behind his back. These difficulties, although real, are
minor ones, and there are very few European doctors, possessed of an
ordinary amount of common-sense and a good material equipment, who cannot
get over them in a short while. The real danger is lest the missionary by
regarding these difficulties as more serious than they really are should
become too absorbed in his efforts to overcome them. Medical work is
really an enormous power. It may make possible, under God’s providence,
steps and measures which would otherwise be utterly impossible. But if
it is to be fully used to God’s glory, these God-given powers must be
realised, and put forth to their full extent.

Medical and school work have one other advantage besides those that have
been mentioned, for they enable a class of men to participate in mission
work who as ordinary evangelistic missionaries would be useless. In
the first place, there is the newly-arrived European, who imperfectly
understands the language, and who yet may do more or less effective
work while he is still studying, if he is connected with a medical or
educational organisation. Secondly, if it were not for schools and
medical work it would be exceedingly difficult for the Persian missions
to employ natives, except in menial capacities or in positions attended
with the gravest peril. Here to my mind we have one of the greatest
arguments for medical and school work, and this from the directly
evangelistic standpoint.

This brings the subject of methods of work in Persian towns like Yezd to
a conclusion. It is not impossible to work as a simple evangelist, but
it needs certain qualifications and abilities. Generally speaking, the
ordinary missionary must be prepared to use both hands and both feet, and
to enter in whatever way seems most expedient into the life of the town.
There is no room for university work, and technical instruction has not
yet been tried, but elementary school work and medical work are both much
needed and much appreciated, and they further afford an abundant field
for directly evangelistic labour.


We have now seen something not only of the Yezdi’s life, of his
character, and of his mental attitude towards the missionary, but also
something of the way in which the modern missionary attempts to meet this
attitude. Of course it cannot be claimed that the estimate of the Yezdi’s
position that has been made in these pages is in any way final, or that
it is one with which all acquainted with the subject would certainly
concur. To have limited myself to the greatest common measure of opinion
on such a matter would have prevented me altogether from touching on
many questions, and would have left me very little to say on others. As
the book stands, I can claim that it is truthful in matters of fact, and
in other things sufficiently sound to form a basis for other people’s
corrections; and as many find it less easy to state their own views than
to combat those of other persons, I am not without hopes that it may be
useful, even if my conclusions should prove altogether unacceptable. Also
it may be pointed out that, though I have throughout spoken of the Yezdi
and of Yezd, these have been taken as special instances of a Persian and
his town. Other places in central Persia may differ in particulars, but
there will in most cases be a general similarity.

Perhaps a short summary of the points which have been noted in the
preceding pages may not be without value. We have seen first of all the
strange staccato effect of Persian scenery, particularly of that which
meets the eye of the Yezdi, and have noticed how this has influenced the
Yezdi’s mind. Then we have seen the extreme insularity of the town, and
how this has given rise to symptoms which resemble intense fanatical
bigotry, but on the other hand how this insularity may be utilised by
the foreigner when it is once understood. Then we have tried to discover
the essential system of Islam, and to decide whether or not the Persian
Shiah has been greatly influenced by the prophet’s life and teaching.
My own opinion is that Persia is most strongly Mohammedan, but seeing
that the point of this book is not so much to express opinions as to
give the facts that have led to their formation, I must not complain if
many of my readers do not agree with me. An attempt has also been made
to explain the religiosity of the Mohammedan, and to show that it is
neither hypocrisy, nor yet religion in the Western sense. Then there was
a chapter on the Yezdi’s character, and I think that in this my main
point was to show how superficial is the judgment that pronounces the
Persian thoroughly weak and effete. He really shows great strength of
purpose when he has a purpose, he has some peculiar abilities, and is at
bottom thoroughly likeable and loveable, but he is spoilt by the unhappy
circumstances of his existence and very specially by his creed.

After that there was an attempt to show the peculiar nature of the search
after truth that is just now going on in Persia, and very particularly in
Yezd. That this is God’s doing, intended to prepare the way for Christian
teaching, I have in my own mind no doubt at all; but I have tried to
describe it as a phenomenon, and sometimes to trace it to immediate
causes where such causes are easily discoverable. Lastly, I have tried
to show that towns like Yezd present a field, not only workable by one
class of missionary organisation, but approachable in many different ways.

I sincerely trust that those who have followed the argument of these
chapters will have come to my own conclusion, that, although there are
enormous difficulties in missionary work in Persia, there are also
enormous opportunities, and that there is great reason to expect that
in such a country things will one day come with a rush: further, that
when the barrier of Mohammedanism is removed, there are grounds for
hoping that Persian character will recover its equilibrium and the
nation prove by no means decadent. If in addition the spiritual force
of Christianity be brought to bear upon the people, Persia may prove in
the future the missionary power of the near East. Persia at this moment
is full of religious enquirers, willing to make immense sacrifices for
their convictions; and behind these there is a mass of simple people,
religiously minded and yet utterly dissatisfied with their present creed.
There are of course great prejudices still existing against Christianity,
but these prejudices have been by God’s blessing broken down in
individual instances, and when their nature is better realised they may
more generally disappear. It is not necessary to give actual statistics
with reference to converts: it is enough to say that the number of those
who have come forward in Yezd is sufficient to prove two things; firstly,
that God is willing to bless the work very fully, and secondly, that we
are not quite ready for His blessing.[7]

If any further proof were needed of God’s willingness to forward the work
of the Yezd mission, it would be found in the history of the Christian
institutions in the town. The medical work was founded by Dr Henry
White about six years and a half back, he having been in the Isfahan
district for about twelve months previous to his arrival in Yezd. There
is now not only a men’s hospital and dispensary in the town, but also
two dispensaries in the outlying villages, and a women’s hospital and
dispensary under Dr Elsie Taylor. In connection with the medical work one
can hardly help mentioning the name of Miss Bird, who really founded the
work amongst the women, and that of Dr Griffith, who did most valuable
work during the furlough of Dr White.

The site for the men’s hospital was given to the Society shortly after
Dr White’s arrival, by the late Mr Gudarz, a prominent Parsi merchant in
the town. The medical mission in Yezd may be said to be quite as firmly
established as the Government.

I myself came to Yezd six months later than Dr White, without any
previous experience of Persia. My successor, Mr Boyland, has now under
his charge a school of about sixty boys, Mussulmans, Babis and Parsis,
with a staff of native masters. The boys in spite of their religious
differences play football together. The religious teaching in the school
is given without the slightest concealment. There is also a school for
Parsi girls more lately established by Miss Brighty. In this school
religious instruction is also given. When I left Yezd the number of the
pupils was about forty.

I may also mention that in the chapel which we have built in the hospital
we often have congregations of over a hundred Persians. The chapel cost
something under a hundred pounds, and the funds were subscribed, all but
twenty-five pounds, by the members of the European colony.

It is a great mistake to regard such work as we have in Yezd as primarily
of a preparatory nature in view of some future opportunity. Babiism,
which is in some ways more opposed to Christianity than the religion
of the average Persian Mussulman, is fast gaining ground, and the
exceptional opportunity, which is occasioned by the preparation of the
soil by Babi missionaries who have not yet been successful in planting
their ideas, is fast passing away. It has been already pointed out that
there is not much hope of real religious liberty under native rule.

Some people think that there are shortly going to be changes in Persia
which will entirely deprive the British missionary of his opportunity.
If we take this view we ought to act quickly. Taking a second and more
hopeful view of the future, other political developments which might make
religious liberty in any sense a reality, would find us by no means in
a position to make the best use of them, unless we had a native church
gathered in time of stress and strain upon whose judgment to rely.

Consequently mission work in Persia is a matter which demands most
careful consideration, most unsparing effort, and most earnest prayer.
We ought not to lack recruits. That there are difficulties to be solved
is true, but when all has been said the overwhelming horror of modern
Mohammedanism, the intense hopefulness of Persian character, and last but
not least, the obvious preparation made by God in this country for human
evangelistic labours, all together present a situation which cannot but
appeal to the Christian Englishman.


[1] The author has, with a few exceptions, accentuated native words
_only_ where they first occur in the book.

[2] The dates given with regard to this persecution are approximately
correct; but, although reasonable care has been taken to find the exact
year in which the changes of restriction were made, the absolute accuracy
of some of these dates cannot be guaranteed.

[3] The Yezdi realises the link of a common language, but by this he
means a common dialect. Consequently I have included this idea in
fellow-townsmanship; it in no way takes the place of the bond of country.

[4] I was informed, however, by Dr Griffith that the Mussulmans of Kirman
welcomed his coming and the work of the medical mission on the ground
that his _savabs_, being the _savabs_ of an infidel, would be credited
not to him but to the account of the Mohammedans of the town, who stood
rather sorely in need of them.

[5] This only refers to visits of ceremony. When people found that they
could come to my house without notice, I often had a continual succession
of visitors throughout the day.

[6] Certainly the Light also operates inside Islam. During the Babi
massacre a number of women who had been horrified by the sights in the
streets said to my wife, “They say that we can’t be Mussulmans if we mind
these things, but cannot these things sicken even Mohammedans?”

[7] The opinion that Persia is changing its religion, or at least its
form of Mohammedanism, is not confined to missionary circles.


  _Aivān_               A kind of portico, or roofed recess.

  _Anjuman_             Assembly, committee.

  _Arkhālūq_            Under-coat.

  _Bābī_                Follower of the Bāb.

  _Bād-gīr_             Air-shaft.

  _Bāgh_                Enclosed cultivation.

  _Behāī_               Follower of Behāu’llah.

  _Chādar_              Sheet; especially the cotton shawl worn over the
                          head and whole body by the women.

  _Chārvādār_           Muleteer, or donkey caravan driver.

  _Dastūr_              Parsi priest.

  _Dīv_                 Demon.

  _Farrāsh_             Literally a carpet-sweeper. Really a servant,
                          chiefly outdoor.

  _Ferangī_             Frank, European.

  _Firmān_              Government order.

  _Islām_               Resignation to God. The name given by Mohammed to
                          his religion.

  _Jazīya_              Poll tax levied by Mohammedans on non-Mohammedan
                          monotheists living in their country.

  _Jin_                 Genius; a being composed of fire.

  _Kajāva_              A kind of wooden pannier with a hood.

  _Khān_                A hereditary title.

  _Krān_                A coin worth about 4½d., the tenth part of a tomān.

  _Kursī_               Wooden stool. Especially one used over a pan of
                          charcoal to support a quilt.

  _Lāla_                A spring candlestick with a globe.

  _Lūtī_                A rough; a bad character.

  _Man’_                A weight varying in different towns. In Yezd it is
                          about 13 lbs.

  _Manzil_              Halting-place.

  _Mazra’_              A piece of cultivated land.

  _Mirzā_               Clerk, secretary.

  _Muballigh_           A missionary. The word is generally used of the
                          Behāī missionaries in Yezd.

  _Mujtahid_            The highest class of the Mohammedan clergy.

  _Mullā_               A word very like our term “clerk.” It is generally
                          used of the clergy, but it is sometimes a mere
                          courtesy title, and sometimes means a man who
                          can read.

  _Mussulmān_, _Muslim_ A believer in Islam. One who is resigned to God.

  _Nakhl_               A religious implement.

  _Nijāsat_             Ceremonial uncleanness.

  _Paighambar_          Message bearer, prophet.

  _Paighambarī_         Prophethood.

  _Qabā_                Outer coat.

  _Qalāntar_            Head-man. The title is used in Yezd for the
                          head-man of the Parsis.

  _Qaliān_              Persian hookah.

  _Qan’āt_              Underground water-channel.

  _Raiyat_              Agriculturist, a tenant farmer who pays rent in
                          kind. It also means a subject.

  _Rūza khānī_          Religious recitation.

  _Saughāt_             A traveller’s present.

  _Savāb_               Work of merit.

  _Seyid_               A descendant of Mohammed.

  _Shiah_               Nonconformist. However, there is a Shiah sect held
                          orthodox in Persia.

  _Sunnat_              Ancient traditions and Commentary on the Quran
                          accepted by the Sunnis.

  _Sunnī_               A member of the Mohammedan sect accepting the
                          Sunnat, who are considered orthodox in Turkey,
                          India, and Africa, as opposed to the Shiahs of
                          Persia and elsewhere.

  _Taqdīr_              Predestination.

  _Taqīya_              Concealment of faith by denial in times of danger.

  _Tauhīd_              Assertion of the Divine Unity.

  _Tomān_               A sum of money, 10,000 dinars, equivalent to about
                          3s. 8d.

  _Yailāq_              Summer quarters, generally a village in the hills.

  _Zardūshtī_           Follower of Zardūsht or Zoroaster, the Parsi


  Abbās, 67

  Abu Jahl, 67

  Abu Tālib, Mohammed’s uncle, 67

  _Aīvan_, 18

  Ali, Imam, 75-77

  Ali Mohammed (Bab), 90, 91

  _Anjuman_, 49

  Arbāb Jamshīd, a wealthy Parsi at Tehran, 51

  Arches, 16

  _Arkhālūq_, 45

  Armenian Christians, 58, 107

  Aryan Parsis, 62

  Atmosphere, absence of moisture in, 13

  Bāb, gate of knowledge, 73

  ——, first book-bearer of the Behāīs, founder of the Babi sect, 90, 91

  Babis, the, 79, 86, 88, 91, 94, 108, 177, 187, 193, 212;
    massacre of, 104, 155-157, 186;
    martyrs, 138, 139

  _Bād-gīr_, 14, 15, 46

  _Bāgh_, 9-11

  Bazaars, 11

  Behāīs, the, 61, 81;
    massacre of, 44, 52, 87-89, 104;
    tenets of, 86, 90, 92-96, 104, 114

  Behaū’llah, first book-bearer of the Behāīs, 81, 87, 89, 90, 92, 95, 193

  Bigotry, in Yezd, 44

  Bird, Miss, 260

  Boyland, Mr, 261

  Brighty, Miss, 261

  Browne, Professor E. G., translator of the _Tārīkhi Jadīd_, 91

  Bruce, Canon, 58, 59

  Carpenters, of Yezd, 23

  Carpets, 22

  Caspian Sea, 2

  _Chādar_, 122

  Chairs, 24

  _Church Missionary Intelligencer_, 95

  Church Missionary Society, 55, 230, 232

  Cleanliness, of Yezdis, 26

  Converts, problem of, 196-198, 212-215

  Crime, indifference to, 184

  Curtains, 21

  Deserts, salt and sandy, 2, 3

  Dīnyār, _Qalāntar_ of the Parsi Committee, 49

  Divorce, 178

  _Dīvs_, 121, 122

  Doors, 19, 20

  Etiquette and Manners, of the Yezdis, 158

  European colony, in Yezd, 55

  Evil Eye, 122

  Fanaticism, of Yezdis, 54

  _Farrāsh_, 47

  Fireplaces, 21

  Fittings of houses, 21

  Flower-beds, 33, 34

  Forgiveness of sins, Mohammed’s teaching on the, 98

  Furniture, 21-26

  Gardens, 9

  Griffith, Dr, 100, 260

  Gudarz, Mr, a prominent Parsi merchant of Yezd, 261

  Gypsum, 17

  _Hakim Khānum_, lady doctor, 102

  _Hanifs_, reformers, 65, 66, 68, 70

  Hasan, Imam, 133, 134

  Heaven and Hell, Mussulman idea of, 98, 99

  Hill villages, 31, 32

  Hookahs, Persian, 25

  Houses, 13-33; built for heat, 29, 30

  Husain, Imam, 133, 134

  Huts, mud, 28

  Ibn Ishāk, the biographer, 68

  Ibrāhīm Qalīl Khān, 50

  Imam Ali, 75-77

  —— Hasan, 133, 134

  —— Husain, 133, 134

  Imams, the, 73, 76, 77

  Industrial missions—a suggestion, 197-201

  Infidels, Persian attitude towards, 130

  Insularity, of Yezd, 36

  Isaiah, quoted, 95

  Isfahan, 36

  Isfahanis, and Yezdis, 38

  Isfandiār, a Parsi schoolmaster at Taft, 51

  Islām, doctrine of, 64, 65, 80-82, 96, 97, 110, 132, 133;
    has ruined Persia, 112

  Isolation, of Yezd, 36

  _Jadīd_, a convert from Parsiism, 62

  Jalālu’d Daula, the, 52, 183

  _Jazīya_, 47, 49

  Jews, in Yezd, 44, 52;
    Mohammed’s dealings with, 71

  _Jins_, 121, 122

  Julfa, a suburb of Isfahan, 58

  _Jus Paternum_, in Yezd, 181

  Ka’aba, a heathen temple of the Meccans, 65

  Kāshān, 7, 43

  Khadīja, wife of Mohammed, 66

  Khalīfs, the, 72, 76

  _Khauf u jizā_, fear of hell and expectation of heaven, 98

  Kirmān, 7, 36

  Koelle, _Life of Mohammed_, 67, 68, 71

  Kūcha Biyuk, village, 49

  _Kursī_, 22, 30

  _Lāla_, 25

  Lamps, 25

  Language, Persian, 152

  Lāristān, 43

  Lattices, 19

  Ledges, 16

  Looking-glasses, 21

  _Lūtīs_, 51, 58

  Mahdi, or Mehdi, the last of the Imams, 72, 73, 75

  Mānukjī Limjī, Parsi representative in Tehran, 48, 50

  _Manzil_, 34

  Marriages, Persian, 178

  _Mazra’_, 4, 5

  Mecca, 63, 65, 69, 70

  Medical Missions, in Yezd, 55, 229, 248-254

  Medina, 63, 70, 71

  Mihraban, a Parsi, 64

  Miracle play, Muharram, 126, 134

  Missionary in Persia, the, his difficulties, 188-216;
    the problem of converts, 196-198, 212-215;
    his tasks and duties, 217-255;
    philanthropic work, 229-232;
    poor relief, 232-239;
    school and medical work, 239-254

  Missions, Christian, tolerated in Yezd, 55, 56;
    industrial, 197-201

  Mohammed, 63-72, 84, 85, 90, 91, 96, 97, 112, 113, 128, 130;
    his birth, 65;
    his wife, 66;
    head of the _Hanif_ movement, 67;
    his admiration of the Jews, 124

  Mohammedanism, Persian, 60, 64-114;
    aspects in Yezd of, 115-135

  Monogamy, 177, 178

  Mountain streams, 5

  _Muballigh_, teacher and missionary, 88, 89

  Mud, use of, 12;
    huts of, 28

  Muhammad Hasan Khan, Governor of Yezd, 48

  Muharram, 133

  _Mujtahid_, 46-48, 56, 58, 73-75, 88

  Mulla Bahrām of Khuramshār, a Parsi, 48

  _Munāfiqīn_, hypocrites, 80

  Mushīru’l Mamālik, the, 51

  Mussulman _v._ Armenian morality, 118

  Muzaffaru’d Dīn, Shah, 49

  _Nakhl_, 134

  Nāsiru’d Dīn, Shah, 48

  Nāsiru’d Dīn, Mulla, and his mule, story of, 149

  _Nijāsat_, 132

  Non-conformity in Persia, 61

  Oasis, 3, 4

  Omar, Khalīf, 76, 135

  Opium trade, 170

  Ornamentation, of houses, 17

  _Paighambarī_, 84, 85, 96, 110, 127

  Parsis in Yezd, oppression and persecution of, 44-52

  Pilgrimages, Mussulman, 118, 128

  Plain, a typical Persian, 7

  Polygamy, 177

  Poor relief, 232-239

  Postal arrangements, in Yezd, 36

  _Qabā_, 45, 48

  _Qalāntar_, 49

  _Qaliān_, 25

  Qum, 119

  _Qurān_, the, 73, 74, 76, 77, 92, 93, 105, 107-109, 119, 120, 124, 130

  Rainfall, 6, 29

  Ramazān, Mohammedan Fast, 78

  Rasht, 43, 233

  Rice, Rev. W. A., 95

  Rustami Ardishīri Dīnyār, a Parsi, 49

  _Rūza khānī_, 126, 196

  Sahāmu’l Mulk, 51

  _Sāhibi kitāb_, a book-bearer, Mohammed regarded as the last, 72

  Salāmat, a Parsi, 51

  Salt and sandy deserts, 2, 3

  _Saughāts_, 162

  _Savābs_, 98-105

  School work, in Yezd, 239-248

  _Seyid_, a descendant of Mohammed, 50, 101, 102

  Shaikhi sect, the, 91

  _Shahr_, a town, 39

  Shiahs, or nonconformists, 60, 73-78, 86, 87, 93-98, 103, 105-109, 124,
    128, 134, 177, 212

  Shīrāz, 36, 43

  Silkworms, 233

  Soldiers, Persian, 156

  Streams, mountain, 5

  Subhi Azal, second book-bearer of the Behāīs, 90, 92

  Sufis, sect of the, 86, 108

  Summer buildings, 15, 29

  _Sunnat_, 73, 74

  Sunnis, and their creed, 63, 72, 74, 77, 80, 94, 106

  Superstition, 121-123

  Tables, 23, 24

  Taft village, 51, 134

  _Tālār_, summer portico, 14, 15

  _Tāqchas_, ledges, 16, 24-26

  _Taqdīr_, 97

  _Taqiya_, 212

  _Tārīkhi Jadīd_, 91

  _Tauhid_, 127

  Taylor, Dr Elsie, 260

  Teheran, 2

  Telegraph line, native, 37

  Tīrandāz, a Parsi, 49

  _Tomān_, 47

  Trinket boxes, 26

  Turners, of Yezd, 23

  Uncleanness, degrees of, 130-132

  Untruthfulness of Persians, 116, 142

  _Vatan_, home-district, 39

  Villages, 8;
    hill-, 31, 32

  Walls, house-, 16

  Waraka ibn Nawfal, a prominent _Hanif_, 66

  Water system, 6

  White, Dr Henry, 204, 260, 261

  Windows, 19, 20

  Winter rooms, 18

  _Yailāq_, 31

  Yazīd, 134

  Yezd district, houses in, 1-35;
    its isolation and insularity, 36

  Yezdis, and Isfahanis, 38;
    their religion, 111, 120-126;
    character of the, 136-187;
    systematised inconsistency, 137;
    loyalty, 138;
    sense of shame, 147;
    humour, 148;
    their disregard of time, 150;
    difficulties of their language, 152;
    lack of initiative, 154;
    their courage, 155;
    etiquette and manners of, 158;
    their triviality, 160;
    pride, 165, 166;
    kindliness, cruelty, 166;
    dishonesty, 142, 168;
    lack of business habits, 171;
    fatalism, 173;
    latent strength, 176;
    their family ties, 177;
    _jus paternum_, 181;
    religious liberty, 181-183;
    indifference to crime, 184;
    open-handness, 184

  Zaid, 71

  Zaid ibn Amr, 66

  Zainab, 71

  Zardūshtī (Zoroastrian), 50

  Zillu’s Sultān, 50, 52

  Zoroastrians, in Yezd, 46-53, 113



By the Rev. Napier Malcolm.]

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