Before Baha'u'llah became a follower of the Báb, he had a home in the country, surrounded by many acres of land, and a palace in the city of Tihran which had beautiful gardens around it. To take care of all of this, many servants were needed, and one of these was an African by the name of Isfandiyar. He was very happy to work for Baha'u'llah and His family, and he did everything he could to please them. He was very fond of the children -- 'Abdu'l-Baha, who was then about eight years old; Bahiyyih Khanum, who was six; and the baby, Mirza Mihdi, who was only two. He was also devoted to Asiyih Khanum, the children's beautiful young mother.
When Baha’u’llah became known as a follower of the Báb, many people who had pretended to be His friends, but who really envied Him, turned against Him. They told the Shah that Baha’u’llah was his enemy, and that He was secretly planning to become King Himself. Other people were against Baha’u’llah because they thought that the teachings of the Báb were against their religion.
Finally Baha’u’llah was thrown into prison, although He had done nothing to deserve it. His palace was broken into, and most of the valuable furniture, rugs, pictures, and things were stolen. When this happened, all the relatives of the family and all of the servants ran away, for fear they might be attacked by the robbers, or that they might even be put into prison. The only one who stayed to help Asiyih Khanum and the children was Baha’u’llah’s brother, Mlrza Musa. He helped Asiyih Khanum to find a small house to rent in a different part of the city, where Baha’u’llah’s enemies would not be likely to find them, and they moved to it at night.
The enemies of Baha'u'llah tried to find Isfandiyar because they thought he knew all about Baha’u’llah and the Báb's other followers. They sent 150 policemen to look for him, but they did not find him.
One midnight Asiyih Khanum and the children were awakened by a loud knocking at the door. They opened it fearfully, for they never knew when their enemies would discover their hiding place. But there stood Isfandiyar!
Asiyih Khanum exclaimed, "How is it that you are still in the city? Do you not know that there are 150 policemen looking for you. Hurry away from the city as quickly as you can. If they find you, your life will be in danged."
But Isfandiyar smiled and answered, "No, I will not leave Tihran, even if a thousand policemen are after me. I am not afraid. I owe money to many shopkeepers and before I leave the city, I must pay off all my debts. I do not want the people to say afterward that the Negro servant of Baha'u'llah escaped without paying his debts."
Then Isfandiyar went away from the little house, and for a month and a half, he walked in broad daylight in the streets and markets, and finally succeeded in paying all his debts. All this time the policemen were looking for him, but they did not catch him.
One night he went to Asiyih Khanum again and said, "Now I have paid my debts and I can leave the city with a clear conscience."
Isfandiyar travelled a long way from Tihran to the province of Mazindaran, and there the governor, who was not a Bábi, engaged him in his service, and made him head of his stables, in which there were many fine horses. There Isfandiyar was safe from his enemies.
Many years went by, and the governor, who was a truly religious man, decided to make a pilgrimage to the holy city of Karbila. He took Isfandiyar with him, because he had grown so fond of his African servant that he did not want to be separated from him. On their way to Karbila, they passed through the city of Baghdad.
How joyful Isfandiyar was to learn that Baha’u’llah was living in Baghdad, and he hurried to the presence of his former master, Whom he loved greatly. He begged Baha'u'llah to accept him again as His servant, for he would much rather serve Him than the governor.
But Baha’u’llah said that, while He would be very glad to have Isfandiyar with him again, He could accept him only if the governor were willing to release him. He said, "You owe the governor a debt of deep gratitude, because at a time when your life was in danger, he gave you a position and protected you from those who wished to harm you. If he wishes you to stay with him, you must continue to serve him with the same sincerity and devotion as you gave to us in the past."
But unfortunately for Isfandiyar's hopes, the governor would not release him. He said, "It is impossible. I cannot find in this whole world another man as honest and faithful as yourself. I have grown to love you and will do everything I can to add to your comfort and happiness.”
Isfandiyar was heartbroken when the governor said this, but he knew that he must do what Baha’u’llah told him to do. So he went back to Mazindaran with the governor, knowing that he always had Baha'u'llah's prayers for his welfare.
When 'Abdu'l-Baha told this story of Isfandiyar to some Baha'is in Haifa, one of those who heard it said that the Master ended by saying:
"Isfandiyar was a king among men; I cannot sufficiently praise him. He was a glory and a jewel on the crown of the colored race, for his life was a noble record of achievement, and the whole world may learn a lesson from it."
(Child’s Way, May-June 1979, Adapted from a story in Star of the West by Dr. Genevieve Coy)