The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan, by James Justinian Morier

Chapter lvi

Showing how the ambition of the mollah Nadân involves both him and his disciples in ruin.

Upon a closer acquaintance with my master, the mollah Nadân, I found that, besides his being the most covetous of men, he was also the most ambitious; and that his great and principal object was to become the chief priest of Tehran. To that he turned all his thoughts, and left nothing untried which might bring him into notice, either as a zealous practiser of the ordinances of his religion, or a persecutor of those who might be its enemies. He was the leader in prayer at the principal mosque; he lectured at the royal medresseh, or college; and whenever he could, he encouraged litigants to appeal to him for the settlement of their disputes. On every occasion, particularly at the festival of the No Rouz, when the whole corps of mollahs are drawn up in array before the king, to pray for his prosperity, he always managed to make himself conspicuous by the over-abundance of adulation which he exhibited, and by making his sonorous voice predominate over that of others.

By such means, he had acquired considerable celebrity among the people, although those who knew him better held him in no great estimation. An opportunity soon occurred which abundantly proved this, and which, as I will now narrate, gave an entire new turn to my fortunes.

The winter had passed over our heads, and spring was already far advanced, when reports reached the capital, that in the southern provinces of the kingdom, particularly in Lar and Fars, there had been such a total want of rain that serious apprehensions of a famine were entertained. As the year rolled on, the same apprehensions prevailed in the more northern provinces; and a drought, such as before was never known, gave rise to the most dismal forebodings. The Shah ordered prayers to be put up at all the mosques in the city for rain, and the mollah bashi was very active in enforcing the order.

My master Nadân had there too good an opportunity of manifesting his religious zeal, and of making himself conspicuous by his exertions, not to take advantage of it; and he lost not a moment in giving himself all the stir in his power. Conscious of the influence he had obtained over the populace, he went a step farther than his rival the chief priest, and invited an immense crowd of the lower orders to follow him to a large open space without the city, where he took the lead in prayer.

The drought still continuing, the Shah ordered all ranks of people to attend him, and join in the supplications which he had first commenced. He accounted this so great a triumph, that his zeal now knew no bounds. He caused all sects, Christians, Jews, and Guebres, as well as Mussulmans, to put up their prayers: still the heavens were inexorable; no rain came, the despair increased, and Nadân redoubled his zeal.

At length, one morning when the weather was more than usually sultry, he addressed a mob which he had purposely gathered round his house, in words something to this purpose:—

‘Is there nothing more to be done, O men of Tehran! to avert this misfortune which awaits the land of Irâk? ’Tis plain that the heavens have declared against us, and that this city contains some, whose vices and crimes must bring the Almighty vengeance upon us. Who can they be but the kâfirs, the infidels, those transgressors of our law, those wretches, who defile the purity of our walls by openly drinking wine, that liquor forbidden by the holy Prophet (upon whom be blessing and peace!) and by making our streets the scene of their vices? Let us go; follow me to where these odious wine-bibbers live; let us break their jars, and at least destroy one of the causes of the displeasure of Allah against us.’

Upon this a general stir ensued; and fanaticism, such as I never thought could be excited in the breasts of men, broke out in the most angry expressions, which were only the forerunners of the violence that soon after ensued. Nadân, putting himself at the head of the crowd, haranguing as he pressed onwards, and followed by me — who had become as outrageous a fanatic as the rest — led us to the Armenian quarter of the city.

The peaceable Christians, seeing this body of enraged Mohamedans making for their houses, knew not what to do. Some barricaded their doors, others fled, and others again stood transfixed, like men impaled. But they did not long remain in doubt of our intentions; for first they were assailed with volleys of stones, and then with such shouts of execration and abuse, that they expected nothing less than a general massacre to ensue.

The mollah entered the houses of the principal Armenians, followed by the most violent of the mob, and began an active search for wine. He made no distinction between the women’s apartments and the public ones, but broke open every door; and when at length he had found the jars in which the liquor was contained, I leave the reader to imagine what was the havoc which ensued. They were broken into a thousand pieces; the wine flowed in every direction; and the poor owners could do nothing but look on and wring their hands.

By the time that this ceremony had been performed in every house, the fury of the mob had risen to the utmost, and from the houses they proceeded to the church, which being forced open, they demolished everything within — books, crucifixes, ornaments, furniture — nothing was spared; and as there would not be wanting abundance of rogues on such occasions, it was soon discovered that whatever valuables the despoiled had possessed were carried away.

The ruin was now complete; and nothing more was left to the fury of the mob but the unfortunate sufferers themselves, who perhaps would next have been attacked, had not a king’s ferash appeared, accompanied by one of the principal Armenians, and their presence produced an almost instantaneous return to reason.

Apprehensive of the consequences of their conduct, all Nadân’s followers made a precipitate retreat, leaving that revered personage and myself to face the king’s officer. I presume our feelings will not be much envied when we heard him inform us, that the King of Kings demanded our immediate presence. The mollah looked at me, and I at him; and, perhaps, two bearded men never looked more like raw fools than we did at that moment. He endeavoured to temporize, and requested our conductor to accompany him to his house, in order that he might put on his red cloth stockings.

‘There will be no occasion for red cloth stockings,’ said the ferash, dryly.

This produced a universal tremor in the mollah, and I must own that it communicated itself to me in no agreeable manner. ‘But what have I done, in the name of the Prophet?’ exclaimed he:—‘the enemies of our faith must be overthrown. Is it not so?’ said he to the ferash.

‘You will see,’ returned the impenetrable man of blows.

We at length reached the palace, and at the entrance found the grand vizier, seated with the mollah bashi, in the chief executioner’s apartment.

As we stood at the window, the grand vizier said to the mollah Nadân, ‘In the name of Ali, what is this that we hear? Have your wits forsaken you? Do you forget that there is a king in Tehran?’

Then the mollah bashi exclaimed, ‘And who am I, that you should presume to take the lead against the infidels?’

‘Conduct them before the king,’ exclaimed the executioner, as he arose and took his staff of office in hand. ‘Do not keep the Centre of the Universe waiting.’

More dead than alive, we were paraded through the avenues of the palace, and then stepped through the small low door, which introduced us into the enclosed garden, where we found the king seated in an upper room.

As we approached, I perceived the august monarch twisting his mustachios, which is always esteemed a sign of wrath. I cast a glance at Nadân, and I saw him streaming from every pore. We took our shoes off, as soon as we had come within sight of him, and advanced to the brink of the marble basin of water. The party who stood before the king consisted of the mollah bashi, the chief executioner, the Armenian, Nadân, and myself.

The chief executioner then placed his staff of office on the ground, and making a low prostration, said, with all the prefatory form of words usual in addressing the Shah, ‘This is the mollah Nadân, and this his servant,’ pointing to me.

‘Say, mollah,’ said the king, addressing himself to my master in a very composed tone of voice, ‘how long is it since you have undertaken to ruin my subjects? Who gave you the power? Have you become a prophet? or do you perhaps condescend to make yourself the king? Say, fellow, what dirt is this that you have been eating?’

The culprit, who on every other occasion never wanted words, here lost all power of utterance. He stammered out a few incoherent sentences about infidels, wine, and the want of rain, and then remained immovable.

‘What does he say?’ said the king to the mollah bashi. ‘I have not learnt from whom he claims his authority.’

‘May I be your sacrifice,’ said the chief priest; ‘he says, that he acted for the benefit of your majesty’s subjects who wanted rain, which they could not get so long as the infidels drank wine in Tehran.’

‘So you destroy part of my subjects to benefit the remainder! By the king’s beard,’ said the king to Nadân, ‘tell me, do I stand for nothing in my own capital? Are a parcel of poor dogs of infidels to be ruined under my nose, without my being asked a question whether it be my will or not that they should be so? Speak, man; what dream have you been dreaming? Your brain has dried up.’ Then raising his voice, he said, ‘After all, we are something in our dominions, and the kâfirs, though such they be, shall know it. Here, ferashes’ (calling his officers to him), ‘here, tear this wretch’s turban from his head and his cloak from his back; pluck the beard from his chin; tie his hands behind him, place him on an ass with his face to the tail, parade him through the streets, and then thrust him neck and shoulders out of the city, and let his hopeful disciple (pointing to me) accompany him.’

Happy was I not to have been recognized for the lover of the unfortunate Zeenab. My fate was paradise compared to that of my master; for never was order more completely executed than that which had passed the Shah’s lips.

Nadân’s beard was ripped from his chin with as much ease by the ferashes as if they were plucking a fowl; and then, with abundance of blows to hasten our steps, they seized upon the first ass which they met, and mounted the priest, the once proud and ambitious priest, upon it, and paced him slowly through the streets. I walked mournfully behind, having had my mollah’s shawl torn from my head, and my hirkeh (cloak) from my back.

When we had reached one of the gates Nadân was dismounted, and with scarcely a rag to our backs, we were turned out into the open country; and it is worthy of remark, that no sooner had we left the city than rain began to pour in torrents, as if the heavens had been waiting to witness the disgrace of two of Persia’s greatest rogues, and to give the mollah Nadân the lie in favour of the poor, injured, and ruined Armenians.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58