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Báb, The: The Herald of the Day of Days, by H.M. Balyuzi:
Review

by L. P. Elwell-Sutton

published in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, page 67
1975
The Bab: The Herald of the Day of Days
Author: H. M. Balyuzi
Publisher: Oxford, George Ronald, 1973. pp. xiv, 256, £1.60
Review by: L.P. Elwell-Sutton


    Mr. Balyuzi has now completed his trilogy on the three major figures of the Bahá'í faith - the Bab, Baha'ullah, and Abdu'l-Bahá' (reviewed in JRAS, 1973, 166-8) - though we are promised revised and expanded editions of the two last. The first of the three, the "John the Baptist" of Bahá'ísm, makes his appearance in a volume which, for the historian, is the most interesting and the best written. Mr. Balyuzi has to a large extent avoided the temptation (rather noticeable in the two earlier volumes) to ridicule and slander the opponents of his faith, and to shower excessive adulation on the heroes of his stories. As a result his narrative carries (for the outsider) a conviction that was lacking in his other works. We have a balanced account drawn from a wide variety of sources, relying heavily (as the notes show) on Nabil-i A'zam's The dawn-breakers, and to a lesser extent on the reports of British consular officials in the Foreign Office archives, but including a number of documents not hitherto known. Among the more important new sources is a MS autobiography by Hajji Mirza Habibullah, a relative of the Bab; Mirza Abu'l-Fazl's "unpublished writings" (p. 231); "a short autobiography" by Aqa Muhammad Mustafa Baghdadi published in Cairo without date (pp. 60, 232); and a variety of letters and other documents, of which few details are given, but most of which are evidently from sources connected with the family of the Bab. These are certainly the most interesting, if only because the least known, of the materials used in the compilation of this book, and readers who have already acquired some familiarity with Bahá'í history through such works as The dawn-breakers and God passes by would doubtless have welcomed a fuller treatment of them. But this would have been to restrict the purpose of Mr. Balyuzi's book, which is evidently to provide an up-to-date and comprehensive account of the first stage of the rise of this new faith.

    Apart from these new materials, the book does not add a great deal to what has already been written, nor - being a frankly hagiographic work - does it do much to explain the underlying factors behind the Babi movement, though there is a useful prologue summing up the religious and historical developments of the preceding 40 years. Above all, we are still no closer to understanding the violent manifestations of Babism, as contrasted with the strongly pacifist nature of the final stage of the movement, Bahá'ísm. But as a straightforward account of an historical phenomenon as important for the understanding of 19th-century Persian history as it is for its religious implications it cannot be faulted.

    Points to criticize are on the whole few. There is a plethora of footnotes, some occupying the foot of the page, others relegated to an appendix, without any very obvious distinction between the two groups. The eccentricities of transcription remain, but one cannot blame Mr. Balyuzi for this, as they are apparently officially prescribed by the Bahá'í authorities. And although this is a far less polemical book than either of its predecessors, there are occasional unwarranted distortions. What are we to make, for example, of the footnote on p. 6 offered in explanation of the term "Geramee" applied in a British consular despatch to leaders of the anti-Bab faction in Kerbela in 1843: "Probably 'yaramaz', meaning 'good-for-nothing'"? How can Mr. Balyuzi have failed to recognize the well-known Persian word girami "honoured, respected"?

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