Ali Tavangar, poet and scholar, was key in publication of much Baha'i literature

Ali Tavangar was a classical scholar and poet who edited, researched and wrote Baha’i-inspired and other books in Persian while in Iran and in the United States, and served on a national reviewing panel for Persian content.

He passed away November 9, 2012, at age 97. He had lived in Tredyffrin Township outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for more than a decade.

The Universal House of Justice, in a message to his family, praised his “long life of devoted service to the Faith” and added that “his contributions to the field of Persian Baha’i literature are warmly remembered.”

A letter of tribute from the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States said his “distinguished career” as “teacher, researcher, and writer was matched fully and in exemplary fashion by his lifetime of enthusiastic and energetic efforts to further the advance of Baha’u’llah’s unifying teachings, on many occasions sacrificially and with disregard for his personal safety.”

His family notes that he was known for his beautiful Persian calligraphy and his ability to recall, by memory, countless sacred writings and volumes of poetry.

Born in 1915 in Najafabad, a town in Iran that is now part of metropolitan Isfahan, Ali attended the primary school that the local Baha’i community had established for the town’s benefit. He achieved so highly that on graduating from sixth grade, he was hired to teach in the school for a year.

He continued to excel after seeking secondary education in Isfahan. As a high school student he boldly visited the governor there during a visit by the shah. His recitation of a poem by his father encouraged the shah to initiate building of the first improved road between Isfahan and Najafabad.

Serving for a time as a military officer in the 1940s, he later resumed his teaching career but was fired for being a Baha’i. For a little over four years afterward he volunteered to teach in a village where children had no schools available or had been expelled for being in Baha’i families.

Going back to his studies, on his way to earning a doctorate at the University of Tehran, Ali worked with a number of prominent scholars in Persian literature and Islamic studies. On teams with these scholars, he contributed to production of a 10-volume commentary on the Qur’an; a work tracing origins of stories and allegories in the 13th-century Masnavi by the poet Rumi; and a comprehensive Persian dictionary, Loghatnameh Dehkhoda.

Ali served the Faith over the years through work on various committees, coordination and teaching of children’s classes, research and writing on new Baha’i publications — a courageous undertaking, his family notes, in a time and place of limitations on free speech.

He was elected to serve on the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Tehran, then on returning to Isfahan he was a member of the Spiritual Assembly serving that city and later appointed as an Auxiliary Board member.

During his doctoral studies he married Ruha Boroumand, also an educator through the balance of their years in Iran. They brought up three boys and a girl.

In a remarkable act of courage during the Islamic Revolution in 1979, he and another Baha’i successfully persuaded a local ayatollah to allow 2,000 rural Baha’is back to their homes and farms after the ayatollah had originally ordered their removal from a village.

In 1980, while Ali and Ruha were in The Gambia visiting their oldest son, who was living there as a pioneer for the Faith, they received word that their property and bank accounts in Iran had been seized and a warrant was out for their arrest. Some of their friends and colleagues were put to death during that time.

Subsequently they were accepted into the United States as refugees, joining their other children who were students at the time.

Despite all this loss and while learning English, Ali maintained his scholarly pursuits, writing poetry, books and articles on such topics as poetry, mysticism and comparative religion. He served on the U.S. Baha’i reviewing panel for new Persian publications for several years until the late 2000s. 

His recent publications include a volume of selected poems by his father, Mirza Hussein Tavangar; and Roshanaie (Illumination), written in response to three books published in Iran aimed at attacking the Baha’i Faith. An upcoming volume containing the text of Gems of Divine Mysteries, a work by Baha'u'llah in Arabic, includes an annotated summary he wrote in Persian.

“He embodied the ideals he cherished,” a family eulogy states, “living with dignity and nobility, encouraging others, always seeing the deeper significance of life’s tests and challenges, speaking out for the oppressed, and appreciating beauty in all its forms.”

Dr. Ali Tavangar Najafabadi is survived by his wife, Ruha; a daughter, Nahid; three sons, Bozorgmehr, Behrouz and Jahangir; and 10 grandchildren.

 

Information from the Tavangar family and the National Baha’i Archives