“my country is the world, and my religion is to do good.”
—Thomas Paine, 1791 C.E.
1795. The sun burned above the high Iranian plateau, and its heat rolled over the land. It gave heat and only heat. It was a dark sun, for there were no eyes to see it. It burned upon the city of the blind; a city of people without eyes. All the eyes of the city had been plucked out and piled in the city square by the shah.
The shah destroyed the city, and the survivors among the blind scattered into the darkness around them.
This shah was the founder of a new dynasty, so he established a new capital city for his new dynasty. His chosen site was far to the north, near the holy mountain Damavand, out of whose heart the ancients said the evil Dahhak would rise at the end of the world.
Tehran has remained the capital of Iran ever since.
The creation of the new capital at Tehran was an economic bonanza for the locals, and many men from the surrounding villages profited. The modest town grew into a great city, and eventually became one of the most populous cities in the world.
In the heart of modern Iran’s highest mountains, just beyond the holy one, there is a river called Light, and the country that the river flows through is also called Light. In that high country lived a man named Abbas, who was to play a role in a great upheaval though he would not live to find out about it.
Abbas moved down from the mountains to seek his fortune in Tehran. He got work as minister to a prince, and then he was promoted to governor of two provinces. Abbas enjoyed substantial wealth until he made the mistake of criticizing the Prime Minister.
Abbas was stripped of his governorship. Having lost his livelihood, he had to sell most of his properties to support his large household. He died only five years after losing his government office.
Now the family that survived Abbas was not itself blacklisted by the government. We know that at least one of his eight surviving sons was offered an office in the ministry, but that son, Husayn, declined the offer, perhaps out of loyalty to his deceased father. It is not known what Husayn did do for a living in lieu of the ministry. He was known to have once said that a puppet show that he had seen as a child inspired him to live a life of detachment from the trappings of the world. On the other hand, we know that he had two wives and about six children by age 34, so we know for a fact that he failed to avoid that particular trapping. We might consider that as a young nobleman, he may not have had many marketable skills outside of the ministry. Maybe he had his sights on a political career. As a nobleman, he could possibly get a position in government if power were to change hands. Perhaps he could lead an opposition movement.
Five years after Abbas died, Husayn and his brother John joined the Gatebreaker uprising, a militant millenarian movement that shook Iran for many years. The violent aftershocks of the rebellion shake Iran to this very day.
The shah died and another shah took his place, but that change did not change the outlook for the rebellion. Husayn and John remained steadfast to the Gatebreaker cause, and being of the noble birth, both took positions of leadership in the movement. John was appointed to become the leader of the movement once its founder was executed. He was in command of the uprising by age nineteen.
The execution of the founder shook the movement but did not stop the uprising, rather it served to feed the flames of rebellion. Under John’s command, two Gatebreakers attempted to assassinate the new shah, and the royal reprisals began. Husayn was thrown into prison and John fled to Baghdad. Once released from prison, Husayn followed his brother and leader into exile.
John continued to lead the military campaign against the shah. He did so from hiding, disguised as a dervish. Husayn also went into hiding, leaving his wives and children and living as a mystic under an assumed name in the mountains of Kurdistan. Husayn, seemingly content with his peaceful, unentangled life among the Kurds, had no intention of ever returning to the Gatebreaker community in Baghdad. He could surely see that the militant movement was doomed, but he was eventually convinced to return. After his return, he tried to lead the Gatebreakers down a nonviolent path less antagonistic to the shah, but his brother, though growing less and less involved in the movement, would have nothing to do with nonviolence and alas, the damage was done. Husayn was unable to turn the tide that was about to carry him farther still from his home country.
In an attempt to mitigate the trouble that often arose around the militant Gatebreakers, the Ottoman Sultan moved the brothers and their families farther west to Constantinople, and then across the Bosphorus Strait into the European city of Adrianople.
Husayn saw that his attempts at effecting positive change were not bearing enough fruit. As the unofficial leader of the Gatebreakers, he lacked sufficient authority. Considering that his brother was undeniably the head of the movement—if only a figurehead, Husayn decided that he would have to stake a claim that would not contradict the title of his brother, so he leapfrogged John and declared himself the leader of a new movement and a new revelation. He claimed to be the Promised One whom the Gatebreakers had been fighting and dying for. That would make him the world-messiah; the Promised One, it followed, of all religions—at least the legitimate ones. He commanded the Gatebreakers to turn to him, and to obey him as sheep, and many did just that. His new flock adopted his name as theirs. He commanded them to be obedient to all authorities, to their parents and governments as well as to him. He commanded them to be peaceloving and nonviolent. He saw this as crucial for the survival of the movement.
John rejected Husayn’s claims and resisted his efforts, and matters between the brothers went from bad to worse.
In Adrianople, hard feelings and violence arose between the brothers, so they were separated from one another; one imprisoned on Cyprus and the other imprisoned in Palestine. Neither brother lived to see Iran again.