The Bahá'í Faith: Its History and Teachings
Author: William McElwee Miller
Publisher: William Carey Library, S. Pasadena, CA, 1974; 358 pages, appendices, index
Review and commentary by: Douglas Martin
"We are dealing ... not with what we would like to believe, but with
historical facts established beyond a doubt which we cannot but accept."
William McElwee Miller is a man with an obsession. Although by profession a
Presbyterian clergyman, and for forty years employed in that Church's missions
in Persia, Rev. Miller has focused a great part of his energies as a writer and
as a public lecturer on the subject of the Bahá'í Faith. The two books he has
written are both on that topic
, as are a third work on which he collaborated
with the Reverend E. E. Elder,
and a number of articles published in the
religious press. His most recent book, THE BAHA'I FAITH: ITS HISTORY AND
may be fairly regarded as the final flowering of this lifetime
To say this should not suggest that Rev. Miller regards his subject with any
affection. He briefly acknowledges that the Bahá'í Faith has become a
worldwide religious force to be taken seriously. In speaking of The Bahá'í
World, the fourteen-volume summary of the Faith's activities since 1925, he
says: "Whoever peruses [these volumes] ... will be impressed by the fact that
the Bahá'í Faith is indeed a world Faith." He groups it in this respect with
Christianity and Islam, whose "field is the world." Such a judgement is in
itself no small admission. In his initial assessment, written in 1931, Rev.
Miller dismissed the Bahá'í Faith as "a dying movement," a minor "sect" which
was on the point of disappearing entirely from the world scene: "It is only a
matter of time until this strange movement ... shall be known only to students
of history." His latest book would, therefore, have benefited greatly from
even a brief explanation of so startling a change of mind.
What has not changed is Rev. Miller's very negative view of the youngest
addition to the world's religions. Essentially, the Bahá'í Faith which he
pictures for his readers is a product of a century-long conspiracy conceived by
persons of the basest character and motive. Its present-day followers (whose
own spiritual life Rev. Miller assesses as in no way distinguished) are
entirely deceived as to their Faith's real nature. Its laws and teachings are
either superficial, harmful, or irrelevant to mankind's needs. Its
administrative order is "a dictatorship."
To be sure, Rev. Miller does not advance these opinions as succinctly or as
candidly as they are summarized above. In all of his writings he has earnestly
sought to present his views as a detached commentary on a body of neutral
"facts" gathered by a dispassionate "scholar" through years of patient
research. The concluding effort of his career is no exception. The book
begins with an assertion that it was written "for the purpose of presenting in
a concise and orderly fashion the facts which have been established by [Edward
G.] Browne and other trustworthy scholars ..." It ends with the measured
question "can the Bahá'í World Faith be an adequate religion for the world
today, and for the millennium to come?, and the magisterial judgement that the
answer is "decidedly negative."
No one who has read Rev. Miller's earlier writings will be distracted even
momentarily by the introduction of these academic conventions. The author's
highly partisan opinion of the Bahá'í Faith was formed over forty years ago and
was expressed in his first major publication on the subject, written at that
time. To what extent those views then represented the results of a study of
objective reality and to what extent they were the spontaneous reaction of a
Protestant missionary in the barren fields of the Islamic Middle East against
what he saw as a successful rival faith is impossible for anyone to know. What
does emerge clearly in this final work is an effort to deal with the entirely
unexpected developments of the intervening decades and to draw together
whatever materials have been turned up in the same period which might be used
to reinforce the original argument. The purpose, presumably, is to counteract
the demonstrated capacity of the Bahá'í community to attract growing numbers of
adherents in nominally Christian lands.
In this aim the book may enjoy a measure of success over the short run. The
very scope suggested by the title, together with the historical approach that
is taken, the photographs, and the accompanying narrative detail, give the work
an air of thoroughness and authority. Where matters of belief and religious
practice are discussed, the author's own opinions are closely woven into the
fabric of quotation and reference. The most damning conclusions are presented
in a tone of surprise and regret. Throughout, the book is heavily footnoted,
drawing on an apparently wide range of sources. While a degree of animus that
was much less apparent in Rev. Miller's earlier writings has now become
unmistakable, the author also pays an occasional conventional tribute to the
sacrifices which Bahá'ís have made for beliefs which he himself regards as
misguided or positively dangerous. No doubt the fact that the author is a
Presbyterian clergyman will also lend the book special weight with Christian
readers who can be expected to assume that such a profession is itself a
guarantee of moral credentials.
When Rev. Miller's work is examined at closer range the carefully
constructed scholarly illusion begins to rapidly fall apart. The most serious
shortcoming, indeed the fatal one, is the use which is made of the sources.
The problem takes several forms, the first of which appears in the opening
pages of the Introduction. As has already been indicated, Rev. Miller presents
his book as an attempt to provide "in concise and orderly fashion the facts
which have been established by Browne and other scholars." Had such an effort
been undertaken it would have had a rich body of material on which to draw.
The rise of the Bahá'í Faith very early attracted an impressive group of
scholars and observers: Joseph Arthur Comte de Gobineau, A.L.M. Nicholas,
Clement Huart, E.G. Browne, Alexander Tumansky, Baron Victor Rosen, Mirza Kazem
Bek, and Hermann Roemer, to mention only the most important.
Rev. Miller is obviously familiar with the names of most of these writers,
as he lists several of them in his Introduction. Apart from E.G. Browne,
however, whose work is extensively used, and occasional rather ill-digested
references from Gobineau, the author elliptically confides that he has not
"been able to benefit" from direct knowledge of these sources. Who, then,
are the "scholars" to whom he refers?
The source on whom Rev. Miller most depends is the late Jelal Azal, a
descendent of the notorious Mirza Yahya, Subh-i-Azal. Contrary to Rev. Miller's
suggestion, Mr. Azal was not a recognized scholar, nor was he in any sense
independent. Rather, he was a person who had long been engaged in a personal
vendetta against the religion he is alleged to have been "studying." His
tendentious unpublished "notes," endorsed by Rev. Miller as "the results of ...
scholarly research," are used as the basis for some of the most important
passages of the author's thesis. Fortunately, Rev. Miller has provided a
detailed index of these notes and documents on which they are purportedly
based, and he has deposited copies of much of the material in the library at
Princeton University. There, in time, it will no doubt be subjected to such
careful examination as circumstances may warrant. For those familiar with the
history of the Bahá'í Faith, however, the entire performance has a depressing
air of deja vu. The long series of exposures of forgeries and
misrepresentations perpetrated by an earlier generation of Azali writers places
the onus squarely on any modern writer who seeks to make use of such sources,
to demonstrate their reliability beyond any possible doubt. Rev. Miller,
on the contrary, places himself entirely in the hands of Mr. Azal, especially
so far as the post-Babi period of his narrative is concerned, reproducing quite
uncritically whatever his correspondent sent him, and turning large sections of
his book into little more than an Azali tract. The result is a work in
which gross errors of fact undermine the value of every chapter.
Where responsible sources are drawn upon, the use which is made of them
often seems remote from the accepted methods of historical writing. Edward
Granville Browne suffers particularly in this respect. Professor Browne, a
Cambridge orientalist, travelled extensively in the Middle East during the
latter part of the nineteenth and the first decade of the twentieth century,
met many of the early Babis and Bahá'ís, and produced a number of translations
and scholarly commentaries as a result of his several years' research.
These are extremely valuable documents and have been heavily used by various
scholars, both Bahá'í and non-Bahá'í, in succeeding decades. As a professional
scholar, however, Professor Browne himself would have been the first to
recognize that his work would inevitably be subject to revision, as later
generations freed themselves from the particular political and cultural context
in which he was working, and as further historical evidence surfaced. Indeed,
the process of revision has been recognized as an integral part of the writing
of history ever since historiography moved out of the nineteenth century's
naive belief that it could write "scientific history," "history as it really
The most through and recent revisionist work on the writings of Professor
Browne related to the Bahá'í and Babi Faiths is a critique by Mr. H.M. Balyuzi,
EDWARD GRANVILLE BROWNE AND THE BAHA'I FAITH (London: George Ronald, 1970).
Entirely apart from the meticulous scholarship of his study, Mr. Balyuzi treats
his subject with a courtesy and respect which could well serve as a model for
writing of this nature. It is, therefore, astonishing to note Rev. Miller's
reaction to the Balyuzi critique: "It is indeed regrettable that now after
sixty years, when Edward Browne is no longer able to defend himself, his
competence as a scholar, and even the integrity of his character, should be
thus called into question."
This, of course, is humbug. If taken seriously it would suggest that a
scholarly study like that of Professor Browne should be seen not as a building
block in the gradual erection of a comprehensive and many-sided view of a major
historical development, but rather as a kind of talisman which endows a
particular contemporary point of view with authority and which is itself exempt
from examination. So simplistic a view of the nature and function of
historical writing has no place in serious study, and its persistent use in the
work in question neither advances the author's argument nor does credit to the
source thus misused.
The failure of the book to come to terms with the Balyuzi critique makes it
impossible for the uninformed reader to consider intelligently and
dispassionately Professor Browne's own use of the sources available to him at
the turn of the century. Professor Browne leaned heavily, one could say safely
preferentially, on the views of a small band of men who at the time were
involved in a bitter and protracted campaign to destroy the influence of
Bahá'u'lláh. These men were Azalis, nominally supporters of Bahá'u'lláh's
younger half-brother Mirza Yahya Subh-i-Azal. Unlike the mass of their fellow
believers they had rejected Bahá'u'lláh's claim to be "He Whom God Will
Manifest," Whose advent the Bab had promised. Professor Browne himself
estimated their number to be no more than three or four in every hundred Babis,
all the remainder having recognized in Bahá'u'lláh the signs of the Bab's
Against the virtually unanimous voice of the followers of the Bab, who knew
the circumstances and the central personalities in the dispute at first hand,
Professor Browne gave preference to the statements of the Azalis. What is the
explanation for such a departure from historiographical methods and standards
to which Professor Browne had earlier demonstrated his commitment?
He himself does not tell us. He presents no evidence from independent
sources which would support the Azali claims, and he makes it clear that he has
an equal measure of respect for the integrity of both parties. Obviously, some
very powerful influence had intervened. Thus one of the invaluable
contributions of Mr. Balyuzi's recent work is that it has identified this
influence, with the help of documentation which has since come to light.
The Babi Revelation did not exercise only a spiritual and emotional
influence on Professor Browne, powerful as that effect obviously was. Beyond
this, Professor Browne insisted on seeing the new movement in the context of
Victorian democratic and nationalistic hopes. He loved Persia, and he ardently
looked to the Babis to become the chief force in the political liberalization
of the country. Persia was at the time in the grip of a protracted struggle
between the reactionary elements supporting the feudal autocracy of the Shah
and a combination of somewhat ill-assorted radical and revolutionary elements
temporarily united under the title "Constitutionalists." Naively seeing in
the latter a kind of Persian equivalent of the British Liberal and Labor
Parties, Professor Browne made himself one of their leading spokesmen in
Britain and worked ardently to mobilize Western opinion in their support.
Perhaps even more important than his liberal ideals in impelling Professor
Browne along this course were nationalistic convictions which held almost the
force of a religion for him. Persia in the nineteenth century had become the
key to one of the great international power struggles of the late nineteenth
century, the contest of British and Russian empires for control of the land
route to India and the Orient. Each side sought clients on the Persian
domestic political scene. As Tsarist Russia increasingly supported the
congenial despotism of the Qajar monarchy, English patriots like Professor
Browne began to urge on their government the potential value of the
Constitutionalists as British allies.
To Professor Browne's intense disappointment the Babi community, the most
vital, disciplined, and progressive element in Persian society, refused to be
drawn into either the domestic or the international conflict. The reason was
Bahá'u'lláh's assumption of His Prophetic role and His refusal to compromise
the universal nature of His message for political ends. Professor Browne's
reaction may be read in his own commentary on Bahá'u'lláh's oft-quoted
statement on the oneness of mankind:
Bahá'ísm [sic], in my opinion, is too cosmopolitan in its aim to render
much direct service to that revival [i.e., of Persian political life]. "Pride
is not for him who loves his country," says Bahá'u'lláh, "but for him who loves
the world." This is a fine sentiment, but just now it is men who love their
country above all else that Persia needs. [emphasis added]
Only one small handful of Babis were prepared, indeed eager, to assume the
political role which Professor Browne had envisioned for them. These were the
Azalis, who had by this time abandoned their erstwhile leader, Mirza Yahya, to
his lonely exile on Cyprus, and had suddenly metamorphosed into political
ideologists, journalists, and underground agents. In the process they entered
into intimate correspondence with Professor Browne and became his trusted
collaborators. It was from these men, intensely ambitious for public careers,
and blocked by Bahá'u'lláh from utilizing the Bab's legacy to this end, that
Professor Browne received the "documents" and commentaries which Mr. Balyuzi
has convincingly exposed.
The only other non-Bahá'í sources whose assistance Rev. Miller acknowledge
are an improbably collection of avowed opponents of the Bahá'í Faith, including
several Protestant missionaries, a number of individuals who were at one time
or another expelled from Bahá'í membership (and whose various reflections on
one another's integrity is an aspect of their view not touched on in Rev.
Miller's highly selective citations from their writings), and two amateur
American polemicists who lack even these modest credentials. Most of these
persons are presented as independent "inquirers," and only a very careful
reading of the book reveals that, in fact, they represent a group of persons
with varying grievances against the Bahá'í Faith, several of whom have long
maintained a close correspondence on the congenial subject of attempts to
"expose" its claims. In no sense can any of them be regarded as independent,
nor their writings as scholarly. One is left to assume that the explanation
for the failure of the book to draw on the works of any of the recognized
scholars, except for Browne and, in a small way, Gobineau, is Rev. Miller's
ignorance of European languages other than English. Whatever the cause may be,
the lack cannot explain the similar neglect of several basic Bahá'í sources
which are available in the latter language. Limitations of space prevent a
through examination of the subject, but one or two of the more glaring examples
will illustrate the magnitude of the gap.
It is impossible that any responsible examination of the Babi era could be
undertaken without making extensive use of THE DAWN-BREAKERS: NABIL'S
NARRATIVE, the detailed history of that period written by the one person who
was both a firsthand observer and a recognized historical writer. For
those events which he did not personally witness, Nabil provides in exhaustive
detail, the identity of the observers from whom he received the accounts and
very often the circumstances surrounding the transmittal. To understand the
significance of such a work one would have to imagine the importance to
Christian history of a similar, meticulously annotated record kept by one of
the immediate companions of Jesus Christ, and covering all the significant
events of the latter's ministry. This unique body of primary documentation is
dismissed by Rev. Miller without further explanation as not "reliable."
In its place, the principal source used for this period (apart from Mr.
Azal) is an extraordinary manuscript produced by unknown writers some time
between 1852 and 1863, under the title NUQTATU'L KAF. In his study on the
work of Professor Browne, Mr. Balyuzi has demonstrated the unreliability of
this strange melange of historical narrative, superstition, nihilistic thought,
and naive partisan propaganda. He also rescues the reputation of Mirza Jani,
the merchant and Babi martyr whose name and memoirs were misused by the
compilers of the work. For a modern writer to discuss the subject,
therefore, would again have required coming to grips with the argument
contained in the Balyuzi critique. The challenge is particularly acute for
Rev. Miller, as the thesis of the section of his book which deals with the Babi
period rests squarely on the authenticity of the KAF manuscript. Rev. Miller
seems aware of the seriousness of the problem, but the one lengthy footnote
which he devotes to the Balyuzi study is both superficial and essentially off
the topic. Ignoring the obstacle, he simply attributes the manuscript to
Mirza Jani and asserts that it is "the earliest and best history" of the Babi
Rev. Miller's presentation of the period dominated by the ministry of Shoghi
Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Cause (1921-1957), suffers from a similarly
unacceptable neglect of major sources. As with the Babi era, there is one
detailed, comprehensive source, this time provided by the person who, next to
Shoghi Effendi himself, had the most intimate knowledge of the events of those
thirty-six years. The book is THE PRICELESS PEARL, the biography of the
Guardian written by his widow and long-time secretary, Ruhiyyih Khanum, the
former Mary Maxwell of Montreal, Canada, and published two years before Rev.
Miller's book went to press. It is, by any standard, an extraordinary
achievement in biography, in which an intricately crafted structure gives form
and balance to the wealth of detail and documentation provided for every phase
of the subject's life and work. It is not merely that THE PRICELESS PEARL is
the best account of the events with which it deals. It is the only
comprehensive account in existence. One is free, if one wishes, to regard it
as "official history" (to use Rev. Miller's disparaging phrase), but to
disregard it is to demonstrate either an ignorance of the role of the
Guardianship in Bahá'í history or a purpose so partisan as to produce the same
To be precise, Rev. Miller does not entirely disregard Ruhiyyih Khanum's
writings. Rather, he extracts brief excerpts from moving, personal accounts
which the author gives of her marriage and Shoghi Effendi's death. These
fragments lend color and an appearance of authenticity to Rev. Miller's
presentation of the writer (who in contrast to the male writers quoted is
tastelessly referred to merely by her first name, "Mary") as an emotional woman
whose range of understanding and even interest goes little beyond a personal
attachment to the man who was her husband.
Apart from these highly misleading references, the invaluable biographical
work which Ruhiyyih Khanum has contributed to an understanding of one of the
most critical periods in the development of the Bahá'í Faith, the period of its
global expansion, is passed over in silence. Yet the next chapter of Rev.
Miller's book finds space for nearly a dozen pages of quotations from the
writings of Charles Mason Remey, formerly a figure of prominence in the Bahá'í
Faith, who was expelled when he attempted to set himself up as "the hereditary
Guardian" of the Faith in 1960. From an objective point of view, and
particularly in the light of subsequent events, on which Rev. Miller had fully
informed himself, Mr. Remey's role in Bahá'í history could hardly be regarded
as a major one. His unsuccessful efforts to create a rift in the membership of
the Faith is no doubt relevant to any comprehensive discussion of modern Bahá'í
history, but could have been more than adequately dealt with in a paragraph,
illustrated by an extract from one of Mr. Remey's statements, if that seemed
necessary to the writer's argument.
To present a figure of this kind as a major historical source is
unacceptable in any serious work. Mr. Remey was an aged man at the time he
produced the writings in question, one whose condition made him a pathetic
figure and whose mental state could not have been unknown to anyone in even
limited contact with him. His statements throw no light whatever on the
extraordinary expansion of the Bahá'í Faith in the past four decades, which had
caused Rev. Miller so completely to revise his estimate of the Faith's
capacities. Indeed, Mr. Remey wrote very little on this subject.
Inevitably, introduction of such material embroils its user in serious
problems. After a lengthy review of Mr. Remey's pronouncements, Rev. Miller
suddenly asks, "Did it ever occur to Mr. Remey that in claiming to be the
Guardian [of the Bahá'í Faith] he was himself violating the Will of
Abdu'l-Bahá", which required that the successor of the Guardian be 'the first
born of his [Shoghi Effendi's] lineal descendants,' ..." The point seems
so obvious that one wonders why it is included at all. Few people, either
within the Bahá'í Faith or outside, took seriously Mr. Remey's pretensions, and
he died in his hundredth year, at about the time Rev. Miller's book was going
to press, bereft of supporters or attention. Having given the subject
extensive space, however, Rev. Miller seems to lose entirely the thread of his
argument. Nine pages after the statement just quoted, the Hands of the Bahá'í
Cause are criticized for having failed to "create a new Guardian," a step for
which, as had just been noted, there was no authority in the Writings of their
Faith. Rev. Miller's judgment is most severe:
Unabashed ... and undeterred by the appeals of the Hand of the Cause and
President of the First International Bahá'í Council, Mason Remey, to continue
the Guardianship, the remaining Hands of the Cause proceeded with their plans
[to arrange for the election of the Universal House of Justice].
A discussion of Rev. Miller's use of sources is rendered extremely difficult
by the fact that except for the brief opening chapters on Islam, he fails to
provide a bibliography. Next to Nabil-i-Azam and Ruhiyyih Khanum, the most
serious omissions that are readily apparent are the biographies of the Bab and
Abdu'l-Bahá which have been produced by Mr. Balyuzi (London: George Ronald,
1971 and 1973, respectively). Both books deal in some detail with a number of
the most complex and contentious issues taken up by Rev. Miller. Both are
extensively documented and make use of archival material which has only come to
light in recent years. So far as THE BAHA'I FAITH: ITS HISTORY AND TEACHINGS
is concerned these two most current and basic texts might as well not exist.
Where Rev. Miller does use Bahá'í sources, his editorial comments on them are
uniformly hostile and unfair. The writings of Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi
especially suffer in this respect. In marked contrast long-time enemies of the
Faith are treated with elaborate deference.
Although a wholesale misuse of sources is the book's most serious flaw, it
is by no means the only one. Where congenial sources fail, Rev. Miller leans
heavily on the "it is not too improbably to suggest" narrative method.
Throughout the book, major gaps are filled in with this insubstantial
connective. The far from impressive result is worth a moment's attention
because of the revealing glimpse it provides of the historiographical methods
and objectives underlying the book. Without exception, these glosses, none of
which is supported by a reference to the usual "documentation," depreciate the
significance of some important event or personality of Bahá'í history.
Occasionally, they are even used to force some unrelated Christian theological
message into the narrative.
The Bab's teachings on kindness, for example, are attributed to the
influence on Him of the Christian scriptures: "It is probable [emphasis
added] that in order to save his life Bahá denied he was a babi, as the Bab had
ordered his disciples to do at the time of his execution. This is not
Bahá'u'lláh's assumption of His divine mission is attributed to a
recognition on His part of certain practical necessities within the Babi
movement: "Bahá ... probably [emphasis added] realized that the Babi Cause
in order to survive needed stronger leadership than his brother Azal was able
Not even Muhammad escapes, although in His case, the vast body of existing
scholarly comment imposes a greater degree of caution in the use of the method:
It was probably, in part at least [emphasis added], as a result of
this contacts with them [Jews and Christians] that a strong conviction came to
Muhammad ... that he had been appointed by Allah. . . . Therefore, in the
Koran, in accordance with the supposed pattern of the books of previous
prophets, ... we find regulations for marriage and divorce, ... The Prophet of
Arabia probably [emphasis added] took Moses as his model of what a prophet
should be and say and do, for he knew more of him than he did of Jesus.
The results of this wholesale manufacturing of history are unedifying and
occasionally grotesque. One of the most firmly established facts of Bahá'í
history is the Bab's recognition of the title which Bahá'u'lláh chose for
Himself and those which He conferred on His fellow Babis. Nabil, who had the
details at first hand from those present describes the scene at the conference
Upon each He [Bahá'u'lláh] bestowed a new name. He Himself was
henceforth designated by the name of Bahá' upon the Last Letter of the Living
was conferred the appellation of Quddus, and to Qurraty'l-'Ayn was given the
title of Tahirih. To each of those who had convened at Badasht a special
Tablet was subsequently revealed by the Bab, each of whom He addressed by the
name recently conferred upon him.
The Bab's recognition of the title of Bahá'u'lláh (Glory of God) was
particularly significant since He had used precisely this term in the Bayan to
allude to the promised "Him Whom God Will Manifest." On the eve of His
departure for Tabriz where He was executed the Bab reiterated this recognition
in a remarkable Tablet which He forwarded to Bahá'u'lláh. Nabil, who was
himself a witness of the transmittal, describes the document as:
...a scroll of blue paper, of the most delicate texture, on which the
Bab, in His own exquisite handwriting, which was a fine shikastih script, had
penned, in the form of a pentacle, what numbered about five hundred verses, all
consisting of derivations from the words "Bahá." ... So fine and intricate was
the penmanship that, viewed at a distance, the writing appeared as a single
wash of ink on the paper. We were overcome with admiration as we gazed upon a
masterpiece which no calligraphist, we believed, could rival.
The scroll was duly delivered to Bahá'u'lláh at Tihran. The most cursory
research would have cleared up any question which a modern student of the
Bahá'í Faith might have on the subject. Instead, Rev. Miller ignores Nabil's
account in favor of an entirely fictitious version of events in which the Bab
Himself, in some fashion not explained, conferred titles on all the other
Badasht participants except Bahá'u'lláh. The latter then undertook a sedulous
search through the Christian and other Scriptures for a title which would
advance His own plans: "Mirza Husayn Ali [Bahá'u'lláh] no doubt
added] spent many hours searching for this beautiful word in all the sacred
In the same fashion Shoghi Effendi's exercise of the unique ministry
conferred on him in the Bahá'í Writings, a ministry for which he alone had the
authority, is attributed to a psychological insecurity on his own part: "It
seems that [emphasis added] he [Shoghi Effendi] did not know how to delegate
tasks to others ..."
The freedom with which this device is used betrays an ignorance on the part
of the author of basic and readily available information on his subject. The
Comte de Gobineau, for example, the first Western scholar to study the facts at
first hand, says of the Babi heroine, Tahirih: "I have never heard anyone
among the Muslims cast any doubt on the virtue of so unusual a person"
Presumably lacking a thorough knowledge of Gobineau's work, and having
objectives other than historiographical ones, Rev. Miller's discussion of the
subject casts a slur on the character of this unique woman, whose personal life
is regarded by Bahá'ís as the very model of moral purity: "her freedom of
travelling about the country with the Babi chiefs scandalized many people, and
there was probably [emphasis added] some ground for criticism of his
disregard for convention." The writer then quotes an obscure reference from the KAF manuscript and asserts that Tahirih "was on intimate terms" with
one of her male colleagues. The implication is clear.
A similar shadow is cast on the reputation of Abdu'l-Bahá. Howard Colby
Ives, himself a Christian clergyman, fully acquainted with the details of
Abdu'l-Bahá's Western trip, makes a particular point of the fact that one of
the many things which confirmed him in his recognition of Bahá'u'lláh was
Abdu'l-Bahá's refusal to accept assistance with his personal expenses from
Western believers. The funds which were raised by well-meaning friends were
courteously returned to them.
... He constantly refused the slightest remuneration, and even when
entertained by solicitous and generous hosts He was punctilious in seeing to it
that gifts to both hosts and servants of the household far outweighed what He
Mr. Ives' book is a commonplace item in any Bahá'í library, and although a
number of other sources make precisely the same point, Rev. Miller casually
creates an entirely fictitious version of events: "in the spring of 1912
Abdu'l-Bahá no doubt
[emphasis added] at the invitation and the expense
[emphasis added] of the believers in America, set forth on a journey which
lasted nearly two years."
Almost no aspect of Bahá'í history escapes this treatment. A well-to-do
philanthropist like Mrs. W. Sutherland Maxwell of Montreal, and professional
people such as Keith Ransom-Kehler and Dr. Susan Moody, whose dedication of
their funds and skills to the work of the Bahá'í Faith was an inspiration to
their coreligionists all over the world, are described as "paid pioneers."
The open and emphatic declaration of her faith as a Bahá'í by Queen Marie of
Rumania, in letters to newspapers and to the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith (some
of which were published with her consent in photostat form in Volumes VI and
VIII of The Bahá'í World) is passed over in silence, and a letter from
the Queen's daughter, a member of a Christian religious order, is used to raise
doubt about the "alleged" conversion of the Queen. Countless other
examples could be cited.
Moral insensitivity, indeed, is another glaring weakness of the entire work.
The shortcoming is unfortunately one which requires some attention here, if for
no other reason than the fact that moral sensitivity is so important a
requirement in anyone who seeks to write on matters as central to human
conscience as is faith. It is also an attribute to which Rev. Miller lays
formal claim by virtue of his profession. A single example will perhaps stand
for the numerous lapses which tarnish every chapter of his book. It concerns
the character of Mirza Yahya, Subh-i-Azal, the half-brother and persistent
enemy of Bahá'u'lláh, and a figure whom Rev. Miller's book presents in the most
favorable possible light as an unworldly soul, utterly devoted to the memory of
the Bab, and incapable of any form of self-assertion. The picture is one
which would have astonished the nineteenth-century Babis who knew Azal at first
hand over a period of many years and whose assessment of his character is most
clearly demonstrated by the fact that almost without exception they came to
despise him. As his character steadily deteriorated under the influence of
a consuming ambition and the manipulation of a former student of Muslim
theology, Siyyid Muhammad, who was his closest associate, no single piece of
grossness on Azal's part so revolted those in contact with him as did his
treatment of the widow of the Bab. The Bab had prescribed the marks of respect
due her and had explicitly forbidden any man to presume to seek her in marriage
after the Bab's own death. In the turmoil which followed the martyrdom of the
Bab and the dispersal of the Babi community, Azal surpassed his other infamies
to that date when he first took this lady as one of his several wives and later
"gave" her to Siyyid Muhammad. Rev. Miller's incapacity to understand the
nature of the events which he is discussing is nowhere more clearly revealed
than in the complacent passing reference which he makes to a subject which
Bahá'í historians regard with abhorrence: "The blame for the opposition of
Subh-i-Azal to Bahá's claims has been laid by the Bahá'ís on Siyyid Muhammad of
Isfahan, who had been an intimate friend of the Bab, and had married the Bab's
A parallel shortcoming is Rev. Miller's ignorance of Bahá'í thought itself.
It is not to be expected that a Presbyterian clergyman would be sympathetic
with theological concepts central to a Faith that he considers to be false. If
he chooses to write a book on the subject, however, it is reasonable to expect
that he will at least understand these concepts and, as a result of such
understanding, presumably make a creditable effort at refuting them in a work
written for that purpose.
That Rev. Miller does not understand what the Bahá'í Faith teaches on
subject which are absolutely central to its message becomes apparent as soon as
he moves from his historiographical pastiche to conceptual questions. The
problem affects his efforts to deal with almost every major issue, including
the nature of God, the nature and function of revelation in history, the role
of the Messenger of God, the Bahá'í view of the station of the Bab, life after
death, and the relationship of each revelation to those which precede and
follow it. The subject is far beyond the scope of this review, but one example
will perhaps illustrate the seriousness of the problem.
The Bahá'í Faith teaches that religion is progressive. Islam is a fuller
revelation than Christianity, and those revelations since Muhammad, the Babi
and Bahá'í Faiths, incorporate and develop the elements which appeared for the
first time in Islam, as well as unfolding yet other aspects of the divine
purpose. What sets the latter three Faiths apart from Christianity is that they
include moral teachings which relate to the organization of society as well as
those which govern purely individual conduct. Far from leaving unto Caesar "the
things that are Caesar's," Islam contained a wide range of moral instruction
related to the state's administration of human affairs. The extraordinarily
beneficial effect of such moral instruction on the conduct of governments was
repeatedly demonstrated by the marked contrast between the way in which Islamic
and Christian societies carried on warfare, conducted diplomacy, encouraged
intellectual advancement, and administered the daily life of the peoples
entrusted to their care, throughout the several centuries in which these two
religious cultures were locked in their great historic struggle.
It is not surprising in this context, therefore, to find that the Writings
of both the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh contained extensive teachings directed at the
conduct of institutions and states, teachings which necessarily differ greatly
from those intended to guide the life of the individual believer. Bahá'u'lláh
states that mankind has now entered the era of "divine justice," and that it is
the duty of governments of the world to administer justice, in accordance with
divine principles. Similarly, He creates institutions for the administration
of the life of the Bahá'í community and provides these institutions with
specific guidance designed to enable them to mold a community which can provide
a practical example for the organization of man's social life. While making it
clear that loyalty to government and the strict avoidance by Bahá'ís of
involvement in any kind of political activity are fundamental principles of His
Faith, He insists that all forms of human organization are today under the
judgement of God and will rise or fall depending on whether they conform their
philosophies of government and patterns of behavior to the central principle
that the time has come for the unification of humankind in one race and one
On the individual believer, however, the divine command lays the duty of
acting with love, mercy, forbearance and forgiveness. Going one step beyond the
so-called "Golden Rules" of earlier stages in mankind's moral evolution,
Bahá'u'lláh calls upon the individual to "prefer others" to himself and teaches
that such a standard is the only basis upon which the Bahá'í principle of
"unity in diversity" can be realized, with all its implications for the
protection of individual identity.
Few if any of the Christian missionary writers who have chosen to attack the
Bahá'í Faith over the past several decades have shown the patience to try to
grasp this fundamental distinction. For them faith is essentially an
individual matter. The individual is saved alone, and society as such is
irredeemable. The "coming of the Kingdom" is an event outside history, so far
outside indeed as to occur in another world entirely. To be sure, these basic
elements of Christian theology have been so muddied by conflicting sectarian
interpretations and by twentieth-century attempts to create a "social gospel"
that they probably have little relevance for the average member of most
Christian churches. Yet Pauline theology itself has not changed. However
weakened or inarticulate, it continues to appear in habits of thought and in
assumptions which reveal their presence when a mind conditioned by them tries
to grapple with new elements in religious truth.
Rev. Miller is a victim of these limitations. While ostensibly aware that
the Bahá'í Faith has dimensions other than those related to the moral life of
the individual, he clearly has not grasped the implications. In discussing
the ministry of the Bab, he sketches briefly the kinds of authority which the
Babi Scriptures gave to the Babi state, in preparation for the coming of "Him
Whom God Will Manifest." Although inadequate and distorted, the discussion
touches on such subjects as regulations governing military activity, the rights
of the state in private property, the rights of citizens who have embraced the
new Revelation, and one or two related subjects. The passage then
It is not clear how these regulations about conquest of countries and
divisions of booty [sic] were to be reconciled with other commands in the Bayan
[the Babi Scriptures], such as: "No one is to be slain for unbelief, for the
slaying of a soul is outside the religion of God ... and if anyone commits it
he is not, and has not been, of the Bayan."
The explanation, of course, lies in the distinction which the three Faiths
under discussion make between the moral responsibilities of states (or
institutions) and those of the individual soul. The extent to which Rev.
Miller has failed to understand the distinction is demonstrated by the fact
that the chapter which he devotes to the teachings of the Bab indiscriminately
mixes up laws and principles which fall into these two very different
The same conceptual problem handicaps Rev. Miller's efforts to understand
the emphasis which Bahá'u'lláh, Abdu'l-Bahá, and the Guardian of the Bahá'í
Cause (Shoghi Effendi) placed on the integrity of the community entrusted to
them. One of the most impressive achievements of the Bahá'í Faith is its
success in maintaining its unity during the first critical century of its
existence, the period in which schism has divided every religious movement in
the past. Rev. Miller seems to some extent appreciative of this achievement,
as he devotes considerable attention to the various efforts made over the years
to introduce schism into the ranks of the Bahá'í community without at any point
coming to grips with the implications of the Faith's success in overcoming this
age-old enemy of men's efforts to work together in harmony.
the factor responsible for the achievement has been the conveyance of
authority known as the "Covenant," by which Bahá'u'lláh and Abdu'l-Bahá endowed
the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice with the powers necessary to
govern the community which They had brought into existence. At each stage
in the development of the Bahá'í Faith this conveyance of authority was
challenged by various elements who sought to advance parties or objectives of
their own. These challenges were successfully surmounted only because of the
firmness with which the central institutions of the Faith insisted upon the
authority established under the Covenant, called upon the entire community to
unite in support of one single program, and where necessary did not hesitate to
expel from the ranks of the community those few persons who refused to accept
the conditions which Bahá'u'lláh Himself had placed upon membership in His
Faith. One is at liberty, if one chooses, to criticize this element in the
building of a global community, but any such criticism must be founded on an
understanding of the theory involved and of the distinction between these
principles of social organization and those which relate to the spiritual life
of the individual.
Rev. Miller's inability to grasp the distinction inevitably leads him into a
tangle of argument which misses entirely one of the most interesting and
important features of the development of the religion he is attempting to
describe. In his chapter on the teachings of Abdu'l-Bahá, for example, he
quotes the latter as saying:
You must love humanity in order to uplift and beautify humanity. Even
if people slay you, yet you must love them. ... We are creatures of the same
God, therefore we must love all as children of God even though they are doing
Rev. Miller then goes on to introduce the question of Abdu'l-Bahá's
vigorous denunciation of those who attempted to break the Covenant established
by Bahá'u'lláh, to which they had committed themselves:
After reading these beautiful words it is disappointing to discover in
other utterances of Abdu'l-Bahá that he found it impossible to love certain
people. It appears that he to the end of his life cherished great bitterness
toward the "Covenant-breakers," the leader of whom had been his own brother
Mirza Muhammad Ali.
In fact, one of the features of the lives of both Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi
Effendi which profoundly impressed those in close contact with them and served
as a powerful example to the conduct of the members of the Faith at large, was
the patience and forbearance which they demonstrated as individuals in the face
of almost daily harassment from those whose personal ambitions they had
Conceptual weaknesses of such dimensions are difficult to understand in a
writer whose professional training is in the field of theology and who holds
distinguished credentials in this highly specialized discipline. Questions of
prejudice aside, they arise presumably from a failure to take seriously the
intellectual foundations of the Faith being studied. There is no more risky
lapse in the examination of beliefs other than one's own.
Certainly there is evidence that Rev. Miller frequently flagged as his
pursuit of his private white whale carried him on through growing masses of
information. Taken as a whole, the book is uneven. While some sections are
closely argued and demonstrate the author's command of a large body of detail,
other betray signs of hasty writing and a very superficial familiarity with the
sources used. In some cases Rev. Miller's material seems entirely to escape
his control. An example is his treatment of the subject of the powerful
impression which Bahá'u'lláh made on persons of capacity who met Him. Rev.
Miller seems to resist coming to terms with this incontrovertible fact of the
history he is recounting. In an apparent effort to reduce the problem to more
manageable proportions, he introduces an explanation which Muslim theologians
and other opponents of the Bahá'í Faith early developed to account for the
extraordinary impact of the Messenger of God upon human consciousness. Rev.
Miller paraphrases their explanation in his introduction of the story of the
interview which Bahá'u'lláh granted to Professor Browne:
Each visitor was carefully prepared for his audience with the
Manifestation of God. He was told that what he saw when he came into the
Divine Presence would depend on what he was himself—if he was a material
person he would see only a man, but if he was a spiritual being he would see
God. When his expectations had been sufficiently aroused, the pilgrim was led
into the presence of Bahá'u'lláh and was permitted to gaze for a few moments
upon "the Blessed Perfection" ...The almost magical effect of such visits is
seen in the account which Professor Browne has given of his experience in Akka
The explanation is nothing if not ingenious, and taken by itself would no
doubt seem quite persuasive to persons who lacked any other information on
Bahá'u'lláh's life. Almost immediately afterward, however, Rev. Miller quotes
the memorable words of Professor Browne's own version of events. Describing
his entrance in Bahá'u'lláh's room, Professor Browne says:
Though I dimly suspected whither I was going and whom I was to behold
(FOR NO DISTINCT INTIMATION HAD BEEN GIVEN TO ME) [emphasis added], a second or
two elapsed ere, with a throb of wonder and awe, I became definitely conscious
that the room was not untenanted. In the corner where the divan met the wall
sat a wondrous and venerable figure ... The face of him on whom I gazed I can
never forget, though I cannot describe it. Those piercing eyes seemed to read
one's very soul; power and authority sat on that ample brow ... No need to ask
in whose presence I stood, as I bowed myself before one who is the object of a
devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain!
Since the explanation had been introduced to account for the impact of
Bahá'u'lláh's personality on Browne, and since Browne himself states that, far
from being told whom he was to se, he had only inferred himself that he might
be entering the room of Bahá'u'lláh, one can only conclude that this section of
the book, like a number of others, represents a very hasty assembling of
material gathered from contradictory sources and quite unintegrated in the
writer's own mind. Ironically, the passage of Professor Browne's writings
which immediately precedes the section quoted by Rev. Miller is devoted to
the kind of story which Rev. Miller has carelessly
Finally, some attention must be given here to one further theme, if for no
other reason than the weight of emphasis placed on it by Rev. Miller. This is
the charge, brought against the Bahá'ís by Azalis and subsequently picked up by
others of their enemies, that the success of the Bahá'í Faith was secured in
large part by the murder of persons who opposed it. The Founders of the Faith
are accused, if not of initiating these crimes, at least of conniving at
The charge derives much of what force it possesses from a tragic incident
which tarnished the name of the Faith early in Bahá'u'lláh's imprisonment in
Akka, and which caused Him intense indignation and grief. The full story
is given in Shoghi Effendi's GOD PASSES BY and has long served as an object
lesson to a persecuted community of the importance and the implications of
Bahá'u'lláh's teachings on nonviolence. At the same time, Bahá'í writers
have insisted that similar charges which Azalis and other opponents hastened to
heap on top of this incident have no basis whatever in fact. Professor Browne,
although he sought to avoid discussing the subject, appears to have accepted at
least some of the charges leveled against the early Bahá'ís by his Azali
acquaintances. At no time were any of the charges supported by independent
evidence, nor were they pursued by Ottoman civil authorities who eagerly took
advantage of every excuse to persecute the new religion. In retrospect it is
obvious that the charges were conceived not simply to blacken the reputation of
the Bahá'ís, but to provide an explanation for Bahá'u'lláh's success which had
so precisely fitted the assurances of the Bab and which had created an
inescapable dilemma for Azal and his supporters.
These charges have since been taken up and given wide currency by the
several Christian missionaries who have written against the Bahá'í Faith. For
the most part these missionaries have contented themselves with simply
advancing the charges on the basis of the otherwise unsupported statements of
the Azalis. Against this background it is interesting, therefore, to examine
how Rev. Miller handles the subject.
The most complete treatment of one such incident occurs in his chapter on
the life and work of Abdu'l-Bahá. It concerns a certain Mirza Yahya, who had
abandoned his pledge under the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh and had become the agent
of Muhammad Ali in the latter's efforts to set up a party of his own. For
this, Yahya was severely rebuked by Abdu'l-Bahá and warned in the strongest
language that God would defend the unity of His Faith and that unless Yahya
desisted he would suffer in both this world and the next. Undeterred, Yahya
continued his activity. The following is the account of his subsequent death
as written by his father-in-law, Haji Mulla Husayn, and reproduced together
with other related documents by Professor Browne in his 1917 work MATERIALS FOR
THE STUDY OF THE BABI RELIGION. The Haji felt he had witnessed a
fulfillment of "prophecy" and was writing to share the details with a friend:
Touching the Tablet which was vouchsafed from the Land of Heart's Desire
[i.e. Akka, the home of Abdu'l-Bahá], in truth if anyone should possess the eye
of discernment, these same Blessed Words which were thus fulfilled are a very
great miracle... I read the Tablet to Mirza Yahya and he listened. ... Then he
rose up and departed to his own house. A few nights later towards the dawn one
knocked at the door of my house. "Who is it?" I cried. Then, seeing that it
was a maid-servant, I added, "What wilt thou?" She replied, "Mirza Yahya is
done for." I at once ran thither. Hajji Muhammad Baqir also was present. I
saw that blood was flowing from his (Mirza Yahya's) throat, and that he was
unable to move. By this time it was morning. I at once brought thither an
Indian doctor. He examined him and said, "A blood-vessel in his lung is
ruptured. He must lie still for three days and not move, and then he will
recover." He then gave him some medicine. The hemorrhage stopped for two
days, and his condition improved. In spite of this he was not admonished to
return to the Truth. After two days there was a second flow of blood from his
throat and he was nearly finished. The doctor came again and gave him
medicine, but ultimately it profited him nothing. Twice again he vomited
undiluted blood, and then surrendered his spirit. ...
Rev. Miller provides an abbreviated excerpt from the above account, the only
document in the series published by Professor Browne which he quotes. He
entirely omits, however, that section of the passage that describes the
summoning of the doctor, the diagnosis which the latter gave, and the details
of the remissions and final hemorrhage which killed Yahya.
provides a brief summary of the contents of Abdu'l-Bahá's letter to Yahya and
the efforts of the latter's father-in-law to admonish him, concluding: "A few
nights later Mirza Yahya was found in the house in a serious condition with
blood flowing from his throat, and after several days he died."
Even more startling is the use which Rev. Miller makes of the fact that
Professor Browne has translated and reproduced the document: "Not only did
Abdu'l-Bahá and his followers not remain silent, they went beyond angry words.
Browne has published EVIDENCE WHICH PROVES CONCLUSIVELY [emphasis added] that
at least in one instance the old Babi method of assassination was resorted to
by Abdu'l-Bahá to get rid of a dangerous enemy."
In sum, we are told by Rev. Miller that Mirza Yahya was murdered in a
particularly horrendous manner (presumably by having his throat cut), that
Abdu'l-Bahá, acting in the traditions of his Faith, had ordered this odious
crime, and that the authority for all these charges is Edward Browne who
subsequently published his findings. Not one of these allegations is true.
For anyone with some direct experience of the subject, THE BAHA'I FAITH:
ITS HISTORY AND TEACHINGS conveys the impression of a rather ill-tempered
amateur theatrical group plodding resentfully through a performance of HAMLET
in which no one has been assigned the title role. For what is almost totally
absent from the book is the Bahá'í Faith itself. Only a mere shadow, a kind of
ghost of Denmark's murdered king, is present on stage to utter the occasional
muffled protest from under the masses of trivia, misrepresentation, and
personal prejudice in which Rev. Miller has literally burned his subject.
One searches in vain for a presentation of the great body of ethical and
devotional literature which makes up the bulk of Bahá'u'lláh's Writings, and
which have exercised so powerful and positive an effect on the lives of
millions of persons. Its place is taken by a labored effort to paraphrase and
summarize precisely the one of Bahá'u'lláh's books which its Author Himself
states must be understood in the light of a vast body of supplementary Writings
to most of which Rev. Miller had no access, and of the expositions of those who
were named to book's sole interpreters.
The persons of Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, as Rev. Miller presents them,
must be virtually unrecognizable to those who knew them at first hand. There
is no trace of the great humanitarianism of Abdu'l-Bahá, which won Him
universal respect from government and public alike and which, at the time of
His passing in 1921, evoked the greatest demonstration of public grief from the
many religious, ethnic, and cultural communities in Haifa that modern Palestine
has witnessed. Nor is there any recognition of the reputation of integrity
which Shoghi Effendi built up over the thirty-six years of his Guardianship,
which made him the sole public figure in Haifa whose independence was
spontaneously respected by all sides in the bitter civil wars that ravaged the
country after the 1948 partition, and which made it possible for him to
establish through processes of civil law which he had not himself initiated
every smallest public detail of the trust which Bahá'u'lláh's Covenant had
conferred upon him.
One will search in vain, too, for an adequate presentation of the
extraordinary global expansion of the Bahá'í community over the past forty
years. The statistics of this expansion must be among the most impressive of
any religious development in the past century. Only fragments of the story
appear in two of the later chapters, in both cases hedged about by comments
which depreciate the importance of the development being described. Since
this phenomenon of expansion presumably caused the startling reversal in Rev.
Miller's own assessment of the Bahá'í Faith's capacities and provoked the years
of industry represented by this new book, the absence of an adequate treatment
of the subject is all the more remarkable.
But what is most strikingly absent from THE BAHA'I FAITH: ITS HISTORY AND
TEACHINGS is any effort to communicate the spirit which, for over a century,
has evoked self-sacrifice on a scale seldom equalled in religious history and
which has produced the expansion already mentioned. It would be unrealistic
and unfair to expect a Protestant clergyman to admire the beliefs which
inspired such devotion, or even to appreciate adequately the devotion itself.
The phenomenon nevertheless exists and is the feature of the Bahá'í Faith which
has most deeply impressed every disinterested observer who has come in contact
with it for over a century. It is almost tangible in the writings of such
independent scholars as Browne and Gobineau, neither of whom himself became a
believer nor felt his reputation diminished by his recognition of this
spiritual force as a fact of history. In an address on "the Babi Religion" to
a scholarly audience at the South Place conference on comparative religions in
1891, Professor Browne attempted to convey something of the power of this
spirit as he had experienced it at first hand. He described the Babi-Bahá'í
movement as "an heroic struggle which I do not hesitate to call the greatest
religious movement of the century," and he concluded:
I trust that I have told you enough to make it clear that the objects at
which this religion aims are neither trivial nor unworthy of the noble
self-devotion and heroism of the Founder and his followers. It is the lives
and deaths of these, their hope which knows no despair,, their love which knows
no cooling, their steadfastness which knows no wavering, which stamp this
wonderful movement with a character entirely its own. For whatever may be the
merits of demerits of the doctrines for which these scores and hundreds of our
fellow-men died, they have at least found something which made them ready to
"leave all things under the sky, And go forth naked under sun
It is not a small or easy thing to endure what these have endured, and
surely what they deemed worth life itself is worth trying to understand. I say
nothing of the mighty influence which, as I believe, the Babi faith will exert
in the future, nor of the new life it may perchance breathe into a dead people;
for, whether it succeed or fail, the splendid heroism of the Babi martyrs is a
thing eternal and indestructible.
and rain, And work and wait and watch out all their years."
But what I cannot hope to have conveyed to you is the terrible
earnestness of these men, and the indescribable influence which this
earnestness, combined with other qualities, exerts on any one who has actually
been brought in contact with them. That you must take my word for. ...
What is the strange defect in the ecclesiastical form of religious
organization, which so often prompts its members to seek to destroy the faith
of other men? It is a vice which, to one extent or another, has characterized
the priestly caste of virtually every religion in recorded history. To our
shame here in the West, it has especially stained the record of the religion of
Jesus Christ, the religion of which we have been preeminently the trustees.
The indecent and grossly unfair slanders against Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam,
which for centuries were impressed upon the populations of Christian lands by
those whom they trusted as their spiritual mentors have done incalculable harm
to human relations and to the cause of world peace. If an accounting were ever
to be demanded (and one of Bahá'u'lláh's persistent themes is that in this day
God and history are demanding just such an accounting), Judaism alone could
present the major Christian churches with a billing which none of them is in
any moral state to meet.
In recent decades, with a vast increase in education and the simultaneous
breakdown of ecclesiastical authority, the open vilification of earlier ages
has given way to caution. Rev. Miller's book can fairly be considered a
representative example of the new trend. But the spirit and the essential
methods have not changed. Nor has the aim, which is to attack and create
contempt and aversion for beliefs which differ from one's own.
The perennial explanation is that truth must be served, whatever the cost to
human sensitivities. It would obviously be pointless and unseemly to dignify
such arguments with any serious attention in the face of the methods by which
earnest polemicists such as Rev. Miller seek to serve their conception of
What is especially difficult to understand is that attacks such as that of
Rev. Miller against the Bahá'í Faith originate with men whose own spiritual
ancestors suffered cruelly and unfairly from the same abuse. For the first
two centuries after Christ the civilized Roman world was exposed to a picture
of the Christian faith which was a mockery of truth, as horrifying as it is
unrecognizable. In it Jesus was presented as the illegitimate offspring of a
transient mercenary soldier. As the story grew, new details were invented,
including a name for this entirely fictional parent. The disciples were
pictured as a band of fanatical cutthroats who mixed political conspiracy with
highway robbery and casual mayhem. Jesus' entry into Jerusalem was portrayed
as a lunatic scheme to take over the civil government. Innocently allegorical
statements in the Gospels were wrenched out of context and used to hint at
obscene and cruel practices. Finally, it was charged that the story of this
wretched backwater uprising had then been used to manufacture a new universal
religion that would appeal to the educated "Westerners" of the day, the Greeks
These calumnies against Christianity did not originate with pagan tyrants
like Nero and Domitian. The original perpetrators were clergymen, the heirs of
Abraham and Moses. To their fellow Jews these priests no doubt seemed models
of traditional piety and learning. Yet they collaborated with Roman civil
authorities whom they considered both godless and corrupt and made use of the
"testimony" of apostates like Judas whose moral character they despised.
In the long run the chief result of this effort was to awaken the curiosity
of the spiritually hungry. Even before the conversion of Constantine
one-twentieth of the population of the empire had already embraced the faith of
Bahá'ís can perhaps, therefore, afford to regard Rev. Miller's effort to
discharge his lifelong obsession with their Faith, with a certain degree of
equanimity. Whatever interest it may arouse must inevitably excite a wider
discussion of their Founder's message. If at the same time it stimulates His
followers to a deeper study of the implications of that message, they will
surely have derived the maximum benefit from an experience which believers in
all ages before them have had and which the gradual but unmistakable
disappearance of the ecclesiastical profession around the world seems likely to
deny to their spiritual descendants.
William McElwee Miller, BAHA'ISM: ITS ORIGIN, HISTORY, AND TEACHINGS
(Fleming H. Revell Co., 1931); William McElwee Miller, THE BAHA'I FAITH: ITS
HISTORY AND TEACHINGS (South Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library, 1974).
 Mirza Husayn Ali Bahá'u'lláh, AL-KITAB AL-AQDAS OR THE MOST HOLY BOOK
(London: The Royal Asiatic Society, 1961): an English translation of
Bahá'u'lláh's Kitab-i-Aqdas with an introduction by W.M. Miller.
 Miller, BAHA'I FAITH, pp. 349-50.
 Miller, BAHAISM, p. 9.
 Miller, BAHA'I FAITH, p. xi.
 Ibid., p. 358.
 E.G. Browne provides a valuable bibliography on the Babi and Bahá'í
Faiths prior to 1917 in two of his works: A TRAVELLER'S NARRATIVE WRITTEN TO
ILLUSTRATE THE EPISODE OF THE BAB, trans. Edward G. Browne (Cambridge, England:
The Univ. Press, 1918), pp. 175-243.
 Miller, BAHA'I FAITH, p. xvi. Except where otherwise indicated, further
references to Rev. Millers work are taken from THE BAHA'I FAITH: ITS HISTORY
 Mirza Yahya was the younger half-brother of Bahá'u'lláh and like Him a
follower of the Bab. The central theme of the Bab's Teachings was that He had
come to prepare the way for a Universal Messenger of God, "He Whom God Will
Make Manifest." The time of the advent of this figure was known to God alone,
but the Babis were commanded to await it eagerly. At the height of the
persecutions of the Babis in the late 1840s the Bab named Yahya as titular head
of the community and commanded him to set an example of fidelity. Instead,
Yahya fled in disguise as soon as the persecution of the Babi community began.
When Bahá'u'lláh publicly proclaimed Himself to be the Promised Messenger,
Yahya at first temporized and then refused to submit. He was promptly
abandoned by virtually the entire Babi community. His subsequent attempts on
Bahá'u'lláh's life failed and deepened the abhorrence in which his former
coreligionists had come to hold him. In 1867 the Ottoman government exiled
Yahya and his immediate family to Cyprus where he died in 1912, abandoned even
by those few Babis who had originally followed him. Yahya named one of his
surviving sons, Ahmad, as his successor, but the latter eventually repudiated
his father, sought Abdu'l-Bahá's forgiveness for his part in the family's
misdeeds, and lived the remainder of his life as a steadfast Bahá'í. Rev.
Miller seems unaware of this aspect of the Azal's family story, as he is under
the impression that Yahya did not name a successor (Miller, p. 107). Jelal
Azal was a younger brother of Ahmad. apparently resenting the circumstances in
which he found himself, he began a lifelong effort to reverse the verdict of
history by reviving the Azali charges against Bahá'u'lláh and attempting to
interpret events in a fashion which would restore his father's reputation. The
notes and documents which he gave to Rev. Miller are the fruit of this
campaign. The subject has been dealt with in detail by Shoghi Effendi in GOD
PASSES BY (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Pub. Trust, 1944), Chapters VII-XII passim,
and by Browne in TRAVELLER'S NARRATIVE, Introduction and Notes U, V, and W; in
MATERIALS, Introduction and Sections I, VIII, IX; and in Mirza Huseyn of
Hamadan, TARIKH-I-JADID OR NEW HISTORY OF MIRZA ALI MUHAMMAD THE BAB, trans.
Edward G. Browne (Cambridge, England: The Univ. Press, 1893), passim.
 Rev. Miller states: "While engaged int he task of rewriting a book
which was published many years ago [BAHA'ISM] ..., the author was most
fortunate i becoming acquainted through correspondence with another scholar
[Mr. Azal] who was uniquely qualified to supply new historical material and to
throw fresh light on many of the doctrines and the events of the Babi-Bahá'í
movement. ...Mr. Azal most generously made available to the author the results
of his scholarly research, having supplied more than 1100 pages [of notes and
documents] ..." (p. xvi). In fact (so far as the first century of Bahá'í
history is concerned), it is not exaggerating the case to say that the bulk of
the new primary material which distinguishes this book from Rev. Miller's
earlier effort can be credited to Mr. Azal.
 See, for example, Hasan Balyuzi's discussion of three Azali
contributions in EDWARD GRANVILLE BROWNE AND THE BAHA'I FAITH (London: George
Ronald, 1970): the "Hasht Bihisht," pp. 19-21, 33-34, 80-84; the NUQTATU'L-KAF,
PP. 70-88; and the Persian Introduction to the latter, pp. 70, 73-88. Mr.
Balyuzi mentions various errors of fact in Azali manuscripts, whose authorship
had been concealed and which had earlier been pointed out by Mirza Abu'l-Fadl.
Rev. Miller takes note of at least one of these flaws, although he fails to
identify the source of the insights. (Cf. Balyuzi, pp. 72-73; Miller, p. 73).
Re. Miller also blandly notes the Azali authorship of the "Hasht-Bihisht"
(Miller, p. 102) without a suggestion of recognition that the Azalis had
attempted to pass it off as the work of one of the Bab's leading disciples,
Haji Siyyid Javad. (Cf. Balyuzi, p. 20, citing Browne, J.R.A.S., n.s., vol.
xxiv, p. 684.)
 The kind of distortion which this influence produced in Rev. Miller's
narrative is particularly apparent in those sections where he attempts to
discuss Bahá'u'lláh's claim to be "He Whom God Will Manifest." The Bab had
repeatedly stated that the central purpose of His own mission was the
preparation of mankind for the advent of this universal divine Messenger. He
had stated that the time of the advent was known to God alone but had assured a
number of His close disciples that they would in their own lifetimes recognize
and serve "Him Whom God Will Manifest." (Shoghi Effendi, GOD PASSES BY, p. 28).
Rev. Miller notes the reports of both Professor Browne and the Comte de
Gobineau that in the anarchy which followed the martyrdom of the Bab and the
massacres of many thousands of His followers, several of the more excitable
Babis had come to believe that they were the Promised Deliverer (see Miller,
pp. 75-77). Indeed, the unknown authors of the NUQTATU'L-KAF sought to claim
the title for Mirza Yahya (see Miller, p. 73). The Bab, however, had assured
His followers emphatically in the Bayan (see Miller, p. 54) that no one could
falsely claim to be "He Whom God Will Make Manifest," and succeed in such a
claim. Bahá'u'lláh's complete triumph, therefore, and the humiliating collapse
of Yahya's pretensions (see Miller, p. 98) were extremely embarrassing to the
Azali apologists. Their efforts to escape the dilemma centered on an attempt
to argue that a cryptic reference in the Bayan to the word "Ghiyath," whose
numerical equivalent according to one method of reckoning is 1511, indicated
that the Promised One was not to appear until at least fifteen hundred and
eleven years had passed. Much more explicit references by the Bab to "the year
nine" and "the year nineteen" were entirely ignored.
Rev. Miller takes up this arcane argument and makes it the organizing
principle of his discussion of the relationship between the Babi and Bahá'í
Revelations. The entire presentation is far removed from the methods and
purposes of historiography.
 See notes (7) and (9) above. Browne's A YEAR AMONGST THE PERSIANS
(Cambridge, England: The Univ. Press, 1893) is also extremely valuable as are a
number of papers published under the auspices of the Royal Asiatic Society.
Interested readers are also referred to Browne's Introduction to Myron Phelps'
LIFE AND TEACHINGS OF ABBAS EFFENDI (New York: G.P. Putnam's, 1903) and the
text of a lengthy address delivered in 1889 at the South Place Institute under
the title "Babism" and published in THE RELIGIOUS SYSTEMS OF THE WORLD: A
CONTRIBUTION TO THE STUDY OF COMPARATIVE RELIGIONS, ed. Wm. Sheowring and
Conrad W. Thies (London: Swann Sonnenschien & Co., Limited, 1902), pp. 333-53.
 Miller, p. 113, n. 44
 Browne, "Babism," in RELIGIOUS SYSTEMS, p. 351, TARIKH-I-JADID. p.
xxiv; TRAVELLER'S NARRATIVE, p. xvii, MATERIALS, pp. xv-xvii.
 Browne, THE PERSIAN REVOLUTION OF 1905-1909 (Cambridge, England:
Cambridge Univ. Press, 1910) and THE PERSIAN CONSTITUTIONAL MOVEMENT (London,
1918). Both works reflect the hopes which Browne placed in the Babis, and the
latter especially reflects his disappointment, as does MATERIALS, pp. xv-xx.
 I am also indebted for these insights into the nationalistic aspects of
Professor Browne's motivations to Professor Firuz Kazemzadeh. See his RUSSIA
AND BRITAIN IN PERSIA, 1864-1914: A STUDY IN IMPERIALISM (New Haven, Ct.: Yale
Univ. Press, 1968), p. 247, n. 16.
 English Introduction to NUQTATU'L-KAF, cited by Balyuzi, EDWARD
GRANVILLE BROWNE, p. 88.
 THE DAWN-BREAKERS: NABIL'S NARRATIVE OF THE EARLY DAYS OF THE BAHA'I
REVELATION, trans. and ed. Shoghi Effendi (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Pub. Trust,
1932). This massively documented tome runs 668 pages and is supplemented by
over two hundred photographs, maps, sketches, and charts, as well as an
Appendix, a Glossary, and an index.
 Miller, p. 303.
 The title means literally "The Point of Kaf," (that is, the letter
"K"). It is no longer possible to determine the reason why this strange title
was given to the manuscript.
 In his TARIKH-I-JADID, published in 1893, Professor Browne had included
a translation of excerpts from the writings of the noted Persian scholar Mirza
Abu'l-Fadl, who had studied an original copy of the memoirs of Mirza Jani. Mr.
Balyuzi now published the further statement of Mirza Abu'l-Fadl that the
manuscript which appeared in an English translation in 1910 under the title
KITAB-I-NUQTATU'L-KAF was a forgery (Balyuzi, EDWARD GRANVILLE BROWNE, pp.
 Miller, pp. 111-13, n. 44. The note includes the extraordinary
statement: "Whether, therefore, the book published by Browne [i.e., the
NUQTATU'L-KAF] was written entirely by Mirza Jani before his death in 1852, or
whether others wrote the book after the death of Mirza Jani and gave his name
to it, the NUQTATU'L-KAF is by far the earliest account in our possession.
 Miller, p. 21.
 Ruhiyyih Rabbani, THE PRICELESS PEARL (London: Bahá'í Pub. Trust,
 Miller, pp. 295-99.
 Miller, pp. 311-23.
 Mr. Remey was honored by the Guardian of the Bahá'í Cause by
appointment as a Hand of the Cause of God in 1951. Subsequently, in
preparation for the eventual election of the Universal House of Justice Shoghi
Effendi created an advisory body to assist him in his work, to which he gave
the name the International Bahá'í Council. Mr. Remey was appointed President
of the Council, although what may be considered to be the ranking position,
"liaison with the Guardian of the Faith," was assigned to Ruhiyyih Khanum. Mr.
Remey later stated that the Council's role was purely honorary (Miller, p.
292), although he subsequently attempted to use his position in it to advance
his bizarre claim to be the "hereditary Guardian" of the Faith.
 Miller, p. 318.
 The position of the Hand of the Cause of God was created by Bahá'u'lláh
to distinguish certain believers who possessed unusual capacity in the field of
Bahá'í service. Abdu'l-Bahá defines their role in his WILL AND TESTAMENT
(Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Pub. Trust, 1944), and Shoghi Effendi relied heavily on
them to assist him with delicate and important missions and as formal
representatives of the Faith at major functions. He also named them "Stewards"
of the Faith, thus enabling them to make the necessary preparations for the
election of the Universal House of Justice, following Shoghi Effendi's death in
 Miller, p. 327.
 Ibid., p. 62.
 Ibid., p. 80.
 Ibid., p. 81.
 Ibid., pp. 2-4.
 Nabil, DAWN-BREAKERS, p. 293.
 Ibid., p. 505.
 Miller, p. 120. As is the case so often throughout his book Rev.
Miller advances an alternative explanation, without any attempt to resolve the
contradiction or indeed even any clear indication that he recognizes the
problem it creates for his argument. In the case of Bahá'u'lláh's title,
Tahirih is alleged (p. 119) to have given it to Him "to comfort him."
Bahá'u'lláh is pictured as "hurt" because alone of all the participants at
Badasht He had been ignored by the Bab.
 Ibid., p. 298.
[40) "Je n'ai jamais entendu personne parmi les musulmans mettre en doute la
vertu d'une personne si singuliere." Joseph Arthur Comte de Gobineau, LES
RELIGIONS ET PHILOSOPHIES DANS L'ASIE CENTRALE (Paris: Perrin, 1865), p. 155.
 Miller, p. 31.
 Howard Colby Ives, PORTALS TO FREEDOM, rev. ed. (London: George Ronald,
1962), p. 135.
 Miller, p. 204.
 Ibid., p. 285.
 The full text of most of these letters can be found in Volume 8
(Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Pub. Committee, 1942), pp. 595-98, including those
printed at Queen Marie's request in the TORONTO STAR (May 4 and Sept. 28, 1926)
and the PHILADELPHIA EVENING BULLETIN (Sept. 27, 1926). In addition to her
several public declarations of faith, Queen Marie arrived in Haifa in March of
1930 to make a pilgrimage to the Shrines of the Bab and Abdu'l-Bahá. She was
prevented from doing so by intense political pressure, and subsequently wrote
(June 28,1931) to Martha Root: "Both Ileana [her daughter] and I were cruelly
disappointed at having been prevented going to the holy shrines and of meeting
Shoghi Effendi, but at that time we were going through a cruel crisis and every
movement I made was being turned against me and being exploited politically in
an unkind way." (cited in PRICELESS PEARL, p. 115). Ruhiyyih Khanum quotes the
full texts of most of the letters in Chapter IV of THE PRICELESS PEARL.
 Miller, pp. 304-05, n. 41.
 Ibid, pp. 71, 75, 82.
 Shoghi Effendi, GOD PASSES BY, Chapter X; Browne TARIKH-I-JADID, p.
 Miller, p. 98.
 Interested readers are referred to Shoghi Effendi's THE WORLD ORDER OF
BAHA'U'LLAH: SELECTED LETTERS, 2d rev. ed. (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Pub. Trust,
1974) and THE PROMISED DAY IS COME, rev. ed. (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Pub.
Trust, 1961) for a complete development of the theme. Both works quote
extensively >from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh and Abdu'l-Bahá.
 Miller. p. ???
 Ibid., pp. ???
 Ibid., p. ???
 For a complete discussion of the subject see Shoghi Effendi, WORLD
ORDER OF BAHA'U'LLAH, pp. 143-57.
 Miller, p. 229.
 See, for example, H.M. Balyuzi, ABDU'L-BAHA: THE CENTRE OF THE COVENANT
OF BAHA'U'LLAH (London: George Ronald, 1971), Chapters IV and V, Ruhiyyih
Khanum, PRICELESS PEARL, Chapters V and VI; Phelps, LIFE AND TEACHINGS OF ABBAS
EFFENDI, passim; Adib Taherzadeh, THE REVELATION OF BAHA'U'LLAH: BAGHDAD, Vol.
I (Oxford: George Ronald, 1974), Appendix I, Shoghi Effendi, GOD PASSES BY,
Chapters IV, XVII, XXIII.
 Miller, p. 126.
 Ibid., p. 127, quoted from TRAVELLER'S NARRATIVE, p. xiii and
MATERIALS, p. 4, n. 1.
 The charges may be found in the writings of such Christian
ecclesiastics as Samuel Graham Wilson, BAHAISM AND ITS CLAIMS: A STUDY OF THE
RELIGION PROMULGATED BY BAHA ULLAH AND ABDUL BAHA (New York: Fleming H. Revell
Company, 1915); John Richards Richards, THE RELIGION OF THE BAHA'IS, the
Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (London: The Macmillan Co., 1932);
William M. Miller, BAHA'ISM; Robert P. Richardson, various articles published
in OPEN COURT: "The Persian Rival to Jesus, and His American Disciples," 29
(Aug. 1915), 460-83; "The Precursor, the Prophet, and the Pope," 30 (Oct.
1916), 617-37; "The Rise and Fall of the Parliament of Religions at Greenacre,"
46 (Mar. 1931), 129-66.
 "My captivity can bring on Me no shame. Nay, by My life, it conferreth
on Me glory. This which can make Me ashamed is the conduct of such of My
followers as profess to love Me, yet in fact follow the Evil One.":
Bahá'u'lláh, cited by Shoghi Effendi, GOD PASSES BY, p. 190.
 Ibid., pp. 189-90.
 See, for example, TARIKH-I-JADID, p. xxiii. Browne, however attributes
the "murders" to the actions of "too zealous Beha'is" and exempts the Founders
of the Faith from complicity, though he reports the Azali charges on the latter
 See note 12 above.
 Mirza Yahya was no relation to the Mirza Yahya Subh-i-Azal referred to
extensively above. Muhammad Ali was a half-brother of Abdu'l-Bahá. Following
the death of Bahá'u'lláh he rebelled against the authority conferred on
Abdu'l-Bahá in Bahá'u'lláh's Will and attempted to usurp the leadership of the
Bahá'í Faith. He briefly enjoyed some success, attracting to his side various
members of the household as well as Ibrahim Khayrullah, who had been the
leading exponent of the Bahá'í Faith in America and who also fretted under the
authority of Abdu'l-Bahá. The organization which Khayrullah attempted to
establish perished with him. Muhammad Ali died in 1936 having failed in his
efforts to created a sectarian group of his own.
 Browne, MATERIALS, pp. 155-???
 Ibid., pp. 165-66.
 Miller, p. 184.
 Ibid., pp. 183-84.
 The Universal House of Justice, governing body of the Bahá'í Faith, has
continued the codification of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, which was begun by Shoghi
Effendi. The first stage of this vast program was the publication of A
SYNOPSIS AND CODIFICATION OF THE KITAB-I-AQDAS: THE MOST HOLY BOOK OF
BAHA'U'LLAH, Ycomp. Universal House of Justice", (Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre,
1973). Contrary to Rev. Miller's suggestions (Miller, pp. 143-44, 323-26) the
Bahá'í world has had constant access to the Aqdas through the translations of
various sections as well as the extensive interpretations and commentaries
provided by Abdu'l-Bahá (and after him, Shoghi Effendi). This was the mode of
access prescribed by Bahá'u'lláh. A labored translation which is often
misleadingly inaccurate was produced by Rev. E.E. Elder and is now reproduced
by Rev. Miller as an Appendix to his present book. It seems unlikely to add
anything of value to mankind's appreciation of this unique work. Perhaps in an
effort to overcome the lack of interest which has been shown in the Elder
translation (in which he himself collaborated) Rev. Miller provides an
endorsement by the ubiquitous Mr. Azal: "The translators ... are to be
congratulated on their excellent work." (Miller, pp. 326.
 Balyuzi, ABDU'L-BAHA, Chapter 24.
 Ruhiyyih Khanum, PRICELESS PEARL, Chapters XI and XII.
 The details of the expansion can be traced in volumes VII through XIV
of THE BAHA'I WORLD, covering the period from 1937 to 1968, and in the several
statistical summaries of the successive Plans published by the World Centre of
the Bahá'í Faith in 1953, 1963 and 1968: THE BAHA'I FAITH: 1844-1952
(Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Pub. Committee, 1953); THE BAHA'I FAITH: 1844-1963
(n.p.: n.d.); and the Universal House of Justice; THE BAHA'I FAITH: STATISTICAL
INFORMATION (n.p.: 1968).
 In the second of these two chapters (pp. 336-41) Rev. Miller publishes
the results of what was apparently a personal survey he undertook by
correspondence. The burden of his "findings" is that the Bahá'í Faith is not
as widely known or well established in certain countries as its own
publications assert. Rev. Miller opens this strange sequence with the
statement: "the author sought information from NON-BAHA'IS [emphasis added] in
a dozen different countries..." (Miller, p. 336). These ostensibly
independent sources are then introduced one by one: "A correspondent who
has...travelled widely, in all the North African countries"; "an authority on
the religious situation in Burma"; "A long-time resident of Korea"; "A person
well acquainted with East Pakistan"; "long-time residents in Japan, India,
Yucatan, Indonesia, Lebanon and other lands" (this latter list of addressees
failed to respond). Footnotes give the names of the respondents: "Mr. H.W.
Stalley"; "Dr. Paul Clasper"; "Dr. F. Dale Bruner"; "Dr. Samuel Moffett"; "Mr.
Waren Webster"; and so on. There is no suggestion as to the professions of
these gentlemen or as to the nature of their connection with Rev. Miller. The
question inevitably arises as to whether in fact they, too, are Christian
missionaries, and if indeed they are, why Rev. Miller did not forthrightly
state this fact so that the degree of the disinterestedness of their
contributions could be examined by his readers.
 Browne, "Babism," in RELIGIOUS SYSTEMS, p. 350.
 Ibid., pp. 352-53.