Iran Press Watch
Was Hoveida Ever a Baha’i?
June 5th, 2009
By Adib Masumian
The late Amir-Abbas Hoveida, who served as the Prime Minister of Iran from 1965 to 1977, has often been called a Baha’i. Antagonists of the Baha’i Faith make this allegation to demonstrate that Baha’is supposedly held positions of power in the Pahlavi dynasty of Iran (1925-1979) and greatly influenced it as a result. However, such an allegation is not only incompatible with history but also impossible in light of the fundamental verities of the Baha’i Faith. Many other members of the Shah’s cabinet have also been accused of being Baha’is, but Hoveida’s name is by far the most frequently mentioned among them. Thus, this essay only focuses on him, and will list the reasons why Hoveida could never have been a member of the Baha’i Faith. The essay will also deal with his personal life and beliefs.
1. Baha’i prohibition against involvement in partisan politics
The Baha’i Faith prohibits its adherents from engaging in partisan politics, for the simple reason that politics is divisive by nature and defeats the Faith’s central mission of unifying humankind:
By the principle of non-interference in political matters we should not mean that only corrupt politics and partial and sectarian politics are to be avoided, but that any pronouncement on any current system of politics connected with any government must be shunned. We should not only take sides with no political party, group or system actually in use, but we should also refuse to commit ourselves to any statement which may be interpreted as being sympathetic or antagonistic to any existing political organization or philosophy. The attitude of the Baha’is must be one of complete aloofness. They are neither for nor against any system of politics. Not that they are the ill-wishers of their respective governments but that due to certain basic considerations arising out of their teachings and of the administrative machinery of their Faith they prefer not to get entangled in political affairs and to be misinterpreted and misunderstood by their countrymen.
Therefore, it would not be possible for a Baha’i to attain the rank of Prime Minister and retain membership in the Baha’i community. Even if Hoveida had been a Baha’i up until his appointment as a prime minister (which he was not) he would have lost his administrative rights as a Baha’i when he accepted the position of Prime Minister.
2. No religious education
Hoveida was never a religious person and received no religious education as a child. In his well-known biography of Hoveida, The Persian Sphinx, the eminent historian Prof. Abbas Milani cites an account from Amir-Abbas Hoveida’s brother – Fereydoun Hoveida – where the latter states that “I was fourteen years old when I first heard the word ‘Baha’i’ and learned what it meant from a friend.” In fact, there is a history behind why Hoveida’s was never a Baha’i and received no Baha’i education at any time.
Hoveida’s grandfather, Aqa Reza Qannad Shirazi, was an early follower of the Baha’i Faith and a contemporary of Baha’u'llah, the founder of the religion. Hoveida’s father, Mirza Habib’u'llah, also grew up a Baha’i, served Abdu’l-Baha as his secretary and was a resident of Akka for many years. However, later he left Akka and went to Tehran, where he married Afsaru’l-Mulk, a relative of Nasiri’d-Din Shah. It appears that from this point he slowly began drifting away from the Baha’i community and moving ever closer towards political activities. In 1921, a year before Amir-Abbas was born, Mirza Habib’u'llah accepted the position of the Head Counsel in Damascus. When he refused to resign from this post in keeping with the Baha’i principle of non-involvement in politics, he was excommunicated. In a letter addressed to an individual Baha’i dated June 14, 1932, Shoghi Effendi – then head of the Baha’i Faith – makes it clear that Hoveida’s father was not considered a member of the Baha’i Faith by 1932.
There is yet another letter in regards to another Baha’i who was considering accepting a political appointment. Shoghi Effendi reminds the Baha’i to whom the letter was addressed that the aforementioned person should resign his political position or he would be subjected to the same decree as Hoveida’s father, the ‘Aynu’l-Múlk:
He is required to obey and resign; otherwise like the ‘Aynu’l-Múlk and … he will be rejected and separated from the Baha’i community.
In 1931, ten years after his appointment as the Persian Head Counsel in Damascus, Mirza Habib’u'llah accepted the same position in Beirut. Therefore, the acceptance of these offices and subsequent dismissal from the Baha’i community would explain why Hoveida was never raised with knowledge of the Baha’i Faith, and it is consistent with his own brother’s assertion that he had never heard of the religion until he was 14, and how even then he did not learn what it meant from his own family.
3. Hoveida and Freemasonry
Hoveida became a Freemason in 1960 when he joined the Foroughi Lodge, which harbored and produced many influential politicians of Iran’s modern era. Prof. Abbas Milani cites the late judge Sadeq Khalkhali’s indictment of Hoveida in his biography, wherein he has translated the eleventh charge leveled against Hoveida before his execution as follows: “Active member of Freemasonry in the Foroughi Lodge according to existing documents and the confession of the accused.”
For Hoveida to be a Baha’i and a Freemason at the same time would not have been possible, either. Shoghi Effendi has left two different statements about Freemasonry, the first of which was a cablegram dated December 22, 1954, addressed to the National Spiritual Assembly of the British Islands, which stated that:
“Any Baha’i determined [to] remain [in] membership [of] Freemasonry loses voting rights.”
A loss of voting rights means that the person may not attend any meetings involving the administration of the Faith, such as elections or the Nineteen Day Feast, and may not participate in other ways, such as by contributing to the Baha’i Funds or being married in a Baha’i marriage ceremony. This takes place when a community member insists on following a course of action that is deemed contrary to the teachings of the Faith.
The second pertinent statement, written on Shoghi Effendi’s behalf and dated February 17, 1956, is the following:
“Therefore, all the Baha’is everywhere have been urged to give up their old affiliations and withdraw from membership in the Masonic and other secret Societies in order to be entirely free to serve the Faith of Baha’u'llah as a united body….The Guardian wants the Baha’is to disentangle themselves from anything that may in any way, now or in the future, compromise their independent status as Baha’is and the supra-national nature of their Faith.”
4. Hoveida’s own insistence to the contrary
Due to his Baha’i parentage, Hoveida was repeatedly forced to deny he was ever a Baha’i. Yet, the rumors persisted and became so prevalent that even the Shah had to attempt to squelch them.
Eventually, Hoveida felt compelled to go to greater lengths to prove that he was not a Baha’i. He took several measures against Baha’is to publicly show that he had no sympathy towards them. For instance, documents from the Shah’s secret police (SAVAK) confiscated and made public after the 1979 revolution revealed that in 1967 he had ordered the firing of Baha’is from the Ministry of Petroleum. In the same year, Hoveida also ordered termination of all Baha’i students who were studying nursing and were affiliated with Iran’s Ministry of Petroleum.
In sum, Amir-Abbas Hoveida was one of several eminent Persian politicians who have been falsely rumored to be Baha’i for a long time. However, there is no proof to support this. In fact, the available evidence from Milani’s comprehensive biography of Hoveida as well as the Baha’i principle of non-involvement in politics clearly underscore the contrary: that Hoveida was never a Baha’i and could not have held the office of the Prime Minister of Iran and remained a Baha’i simultaneously.
 From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, March 2, 1934. Cited in Hornby, Helen. Lights of Guidance. New Delhi, India: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1983, #1468.
 Milani, Abbas. The Persian Sphinx: Amir-Abbas Hoveyda and the Riddle of the Iranian Revolution. Mage Publishers, 2000, p. 47.
 Nasiri’d-Din Shah was the King and Shah of Persia from September 17, 1848 to May 1, 1896, when he was assassinated.
 Velveleh Dar Shahr (Clamor in the City; Persian-language source), p. 105. Accessible online at: http://www.velvelehdarshahr.org/
 See note 2; p. 115.
 Effendi, Shoghi. Directives from the Guardian. India/Hawaii PDF edition, 1973, p. 129. Accessible online at: http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/se/DG/download.html
 It should be noted that a Baha’i who has lost his or her voting rights (also known as administrative rights) is still considered a Baha’i. However, this is not applicable to Hoveida’s father, who, as previously stated, was excommunicated, and was no longer considered a Baha’i.
 Hornby, Helen. Lights of Guidance. New Delhi, India: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1983, #836.
 Naraghi, Ehsan. From Palace to Prison: Inside the Iranian Revolution. London: I.B. Taurus & Co Ltd, 1994, p. 43.
 See note 4; p. 103.
Add your comment below...
Anahid | June 6th, 2009 - 10:24 am
Great essay, Adib.Thank you!
tooba | June 6th, 2009 - 5:17 pm
Thank you! Very good structure, and use of sources. Publish this in Persian as well.
John | June 6th, 2009 - 10:36 pm
Enjoyed your essay but am unclear what you meant by “head counsel.” Did you mean consul, a diplomatic/economic post, or counsel, in the sense of a lawyer? Neither is a political position — for example, Ali Quli Khan was a consul in New York for Persia and remained a Baha’i in good standing.
Adib | June 7th, 2009 - 6:43 pm
Thanks for bringing that up. I’ll check with the World Centre about this matter and let you all know when I get a response. Thanks for all of your praise; it’s much appreciated.
Best wishes, Adib
sb | June 8th, 2009 - 9:07 pm
Thank you heartily for making the matter of the late Amir-Abbas Hoveida’s upbringing and religious background clear to me. I have seen many rumor-like references on the web regarding him. Now I have a much better understanding of the context of his life and appreciate better why his rumored Baha’i identity has been a topic in the past. Clearly he was not a Baha’i, even though family members had once belonged to the Faith. Another wonderful thing about being a Baha’i; one can’t become a Baha’i by birth or association . . .only by sincere belief.
Dr. Addison | June 9th, 2009 - 5:45 pm
It seems that this discussion is MOST interesting, for someone like me. I’m an American Indian Baha’i living in my home state of Oregon where I was born and have lived most of my life.
As a believer in Baha’u'llah, I am grateful every day that I am a Baha’i. It is significant that someone mentioned being a Baha’i doesn’t come about by birth or association, “only by sincere belief.” and so I agree with this.
I have heard of Hoveida and the “rumors” of whether he was or was not a Baha’i. I am MOST grateful to know the whole story now.
Sami | June 10th, 2009 - 5:41 am
There is also this documentation from the Baha’i International Community issued in 1982 which adds and supports what Adib has shared:
Being born into a Baha’i family does, in fact, mean you will be granted membership in the Baha’i Faith after reaching the age of maturity. In the United States, the National Baha’i Office does not require any statement of “sincere belief” from any registered youth of Baha’i parents in order for them to be granted full membership in the Baha’i Faith when they reach age fifteen. This is true of Persian Baha’is as well as I well know. Maybe some have made a fair assumption that Hoveida was a Baha’i in part based on that Baha’i practice.
Ali | June 10th, 2009 - 11:08 am
As an adult Hoveida like the shah and all the members of his court, cabinet and family travelled to Mecca, became a Hajji and converted to Shi’a Islam from whatever belief (if any) they/he had. As far as I know by reading your history books and witnessing the events in Iran, you Baha’is rather die than to recant your Faith in Baha’u'llah. So my humble opinion is that history is clear on this issue about who is Baha’i and who is nuts.
Adel | June 11th, 2009 - 6:14 pm
Hovida never charged as Baha’i. I aslo remember on third day after the victory of Revolution. When Hovida was in Jail.He has been interviewed by Loumaunt Journalist. When he aske about his religion he sais Muslim _shiiah. He also said in his trial that he was beliving and thought by his mother Islam-Shiiah.It was very informative article. Thanks Adib