Dedication


 

To my Baha段 friends,

from whom I received more than I gave


 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Preface

 

The Babi and Baha段 religions are historical religions, born in the full light of history, situating themselves in history, and drawing justification and inspiration from their own histories, the histories of the religions that came before them, and the great historical events of their own times. Moreover, Baha段s share a sense that the stories of their three great leaders葉he Bab and Bahaullah, their two prophets, and 羨bd al-Baha, who began the process of making the Baha段 Faith into a world community用rovide much of the meaning of the Baha段 Faith. The teachings of the Baha段 Faith, admirable though they are in themselves, find their context and power for the believers in the epic story of the religion and its founders. Shoghi Effendi, the great-grandson of Bahaullah and the leader of the Baha段 Faith from 1921 to 1957 four times attempted to express the historical spirit of the Baha段 Faith: first in his translation of Nabil痴 Dawn-Breakers, by which he hoped to expose the Western Baha段s to the spirit of the Babis; second in The Promised Day Is Come, a sort of theodicy in which he correlated the events of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with the emergence of the Baha段 Faith; and finally in his two centennial histories of the Baha段 Faith, the English God Passes By and the Persian Lawh-i Qarn (田entennial tablet). In recent years, the debates about methodology and authority that have riven the Baha段 academic community have almost always involved issues of historiography.

Baha段s and Babis have felt an obligation to preserve their history, in particular the stories of their martyrs, of the companions of their leaders, and of the early believers in each place. This, of course, has Islamic roots, since for cultural reasons of their own Muslims alone among the great civilizations have made the biographical dictionary a major literary and religious genre. The Western Baha段s brought a new direction to Baha段 historiography, the search for context. Unlike their Middle Eastern coreligionists, the Western Baha段s typically knew nothing about the cultural environment assumed in traditional Persian Baha段 historiography. They needed to understand the strange Arabic and Persian words and names, the Islamic practices referred to, and the places in which these events happened. This interest resulted at first in such things as glossaries and elementary introductions to Islam, written either by Middle Eastern Baha段s living in the West or by autodidact Western Baha段 scholars, then later in more ambitious interpretations of the Persian Baha段 scholarly tradition, such as the works of Adib Taherzadeh and especially Hasan Balyuzi. In the last generation, it has produced a school of genuine academic scholarship on the Baha段 Faith and a number of major works.

The present work belongs to a more modest school of Baha段 historiography than the works of Balyuzi and Shoghi Effendi: the historical miscellany. The following chapters collect a series of investigations, mostly biographical, of Babi and Baha段 history. Like the articles that comprise my Sacred Acts, Sacred Time, Sacred Space (Oxford: George Ronald, 1996), most were originally written for an encyclopedia on the Baha段 Faith that has not appeared. In some cases, as in the chapters on Zanjan and Turkey, they form a collected whole. In others, there is a looser connection. In some cases, despite my best efforts, the encyclopedic origin of the articles is painfully apparent, although I trust the information they contain will be useful to some readers and interesting or diverting to a few more. Some sections, like the account of Iranian history and culture with which this volume begins and a later section on Ottoman Turkey, really are not about the Baha段 Faith at all, but are intended to provide intermediate background for readers familiar with Baha段 history but unfamiliar with the history and culture of the Middle East. As in my earlier work, my central operating principle is the belief that cultural context and detail illuminates Baha段 history. In general, I have written for an intelligent reader who is well read in the English literature of the Baha段 Faith but who does not have special knowledge of Iran, the Middle East, or Islam庸or example, the reader who wishes to know more about the people mentioned in Bahaullah痴 last major work, The Epistle to the Son of the Wolf. I have not tried to make the book or its constituent parts relevant to readers unfamiliar with the Baha段 Faith. Nonetheless, I think there is a fair amount here that will be of use to scholars who happen to want to know something about the history and thought of the Babis and Baha段s. The reaction to Sacred Acts encourages me to hope that the present work will be useful to some readers.

The transliteration system is, with slight modifications, the Library of Congress customarily used by scholars of Islam writing in English. It should be transparent enough to readers familiar with the slightly different system customarily used by Baha段s.

In sections on general topics, such as the chapter on Iranian history and culture with which this work begins, references are minimal and confined to documenting direct quotes and making suggestions for further reading. In sections representing specific research, I have given full documentation, although usually at the end of sections.

For the most part, the original articles were written between 1987 and 1991 and have not been revised. It would, of course, have been better to update them in the light of a considerable amount of primary and secondary material on the Babis and Baha段s that has appeared since, but that would have delayed their appearance further. I hope that in their present form they will spur others to new research.

Most of the articles that comprise the present work were written while I was an employee of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha段s of the United States, and I wish to gratefully acknowledge the commitment of that body to the development of Baha段 scholarship. I also would like to acknowledge the assistance of the Baha段 World Centre, which supplied some of the source materials used in this work. I would also like to acknowledge the editors of the journal Iranian Studies, with whose permission I have used the article on Zanjan originally published there. I owe a great deal to my former colleagues on the Editorial Board of the Baha段 Encyclopedia, with whom I worked for eleven years, especially to Will. C. van den Hoonaard and B. Todd Lawson. Juan R. I. Cole has been a constant friend and source of information for many years, and I am particularly indebted to him for his assistance on the chapter relating to the Baha段 Faith in Turkey. It was also he who encouraged me to publish this material as a book through the H-Bahai web site. H-Bahai in turn is part of the H-Net family of listservs and is underwritten by the National Endowment for the Humanities, who thus have underwritten the electronic publication of this work. Finally, I would like to thank my family, whose patience has been long tried by my scholarly interests, and particularly my wife Linda.

 

John Walbridge

Lahore

February 2001

 

 

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