THE SITUATION IN PERSIA (1896).
—Shrine of Shah Abdul Azim —Death of Nasr-ed-Din Shah —Jemal-ed-Din in Tehran —Shiahs and Sunnis —Islam in Persia.
The famous shrine and sanctuary of Shah Abdul Azim, about five miles from Tehran, is a very popular place of pilgrimage with the inhabitants of the town, and its close neighbourhood to the crowded capital makes it a great holiday, as well as religious, resort. This shrine has been specially favoured by many sovereigns, and particularly by those of the present dynasty. On the Mohammedan special weekly day of prayer and mosque services, Friday, called Juma, or the day of the congregation, Shah Abdul Azim is visited by great numbers of people.
On Friday, May 1, this sanctuary was the scene of one of the saddest events which has ever happened in Persia—the murder within its sacred precincts of Nasr-ed-Din Shah, a monarch who was about to celebrate the jubilee of a reign which will always be remembered, not only for its remarkable length, but also for its peaceful character and general popularity. The proof of this popularity is that Nasr-ed-Din Shah was able to leave his country on three occasions for visits to Europe, and returned each time to receive a welcome from his subjects. This in itself is unprecedented in Eastern history.
I little thought when I had the honour of conversing with him in October last that it was possible that a King so admired and loved by his people, and then looking forward with pride and pleasure to the celebration of his approaching jubilee, should perish in their midst by the hand of an assassin within five days of the event.
Passing over what in the early years of his reign, through the exigencies of the times and the pitfalls of intrigue, led to the shedding of blood, we see in his later years a reluctance to inflict capital or severe punishment which almost amounted to a serious fault. I remember an instance of this in the case of a notorious highway robber, guilty of many murders, who was spared so long, that it was only on the bad effect of leniency becoming prominently dangerous to traders and travellers that the extreme penalty was sanctioned. I have already mentioned how the people had learnt to put their trust in the late Shah’s desire to protect them against oppressive government in the provinces, and how he had made himself popular with the military and nomad tribes. The crime which has caused his death will undoubtedly be regarded as sacrilege, both with reference to the life which was taken and the sanctuary which it violated. And the abhorrence of the crime will strengthen what it was intended to end or weaken, viz., the influence and power of the Kajar dynasty. With the impressionable Persians there will be but one feeling, of shuddering horror that such a thing could be done by one of their own faith, who was a subject of their Sovereign.