|Bab’s Family (Notorious ‘Afnan’ Opium Traders)|
By Prof. Juan Cole
The export crops passed through Shiraz on their way to the Gulf. Iranian long-distance merchants from Fars developed marketing networks for these commodities, establishing trading houses in Bombay, Calcutta, Port Said, Istanbul and even Hong Kong. The encounter with European colonial institutions, and with local reformist and independence movements, made these Iranian expatriates more cosmopolitan than the majority of their compatriots. Within Iran, those merchants who proved successful in the opium trade grew fabulously wealthy and politically influential, as did the government officials, such a Qavam al-Mulk, who sponsored it and taxed it. As we shall see below, one of the important Iranian export houses (with an outpost in Hong Kong) was operated by the Afnan clan, Baha’is and relatives of the Bab.
The backbone of the Shiraz Baha’i community, however, was the artisans and merchants. The merchants benefited from a number of advantages, including their mobility and the international character of their commerce. Bombay served, not only as a center of trade, but also as a place where Baha’i culture could begin to be developed more freely. In the late 1880s the Afnan clan established a printing press in Bombay, where they printed several volumes of Baha’u’llah’s writings and smuggled them back into Iran for distribution throughout the country through clandestine Baha’i networks. Should any of the Afnans become controversial, they could always send him to one of their commercial outposts (thus, they dispatched Aqa Nur al-Din to Bombay in 1879 in the wake of the judicial murder on charges of heresy of his business associates, Hasan and Husayn Nahri in Isfahan). In the 1880s, the Afnan families of Shiraz and Yazd were influential in founding a Baha’i community in Ashkhabad, under the tsarist Transcaspian administration not far from the Iranian border, which served as a refuge for some Baha’is from persecution and as a further commercial opportunity, in the tea trade.
 A major secondary source on this family is Muhammad `Ali Fayzi, Khandan-i Afnan, Sidrih-‘i Rahman (Tehran: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 127 B.E./1971); for our period, this source mostly replicates information available in the primary account, Mirza Habib Allah Afnan, “Tarikh-i Amri-yi Shiraz,” copy of uncatalogued Persian MS, Afnan Library, London, and I will keep most citations to the latter.
 Moojan Momen, “The Bahai Community of Ashkhabad: Its Social Basis and Importance in Baha’i History,” in Shirin Akiner, ed., Cultural Change and Continuity in Central Asia (London: Kegan Paul International, 1991), pp. 278-305.
More detailed article on this topic in Persian can be found here :