I wanted to preface the short essay I have written with a few remarks
about the project, it seems, I have been involved with my whole life.
That being my intention to compose a "Critique of Bahá'í Reason and Modern
Philosophical Methodologies" as an introduction to a Treatise on "Will,
Perception, and Being : A Modern Philosophy for this Age."
The seeds of these thoughts can be perused in the exercise below. I hope
the Friends will honor me with a few comments after reading this first
stumbling step on my path. If I live long enough I hope to accomplish
this daunting task in some form, God willing.
One finds the subject of Edward Granville Browne illustrative of a
particular, difficult to resolve, issue, often discussed on our forum.
Therefore, from an inquiry into the matter, the question arises: What is
the relationship of the academic to a or all religion/s? Probably as many
solutions as there are participants could be offered. IMO, however, Browne
is a special case in point. Hence, I thought I would write a short essay
describing some of the problems involved with integrating current
"Academic Standards" within a meaningful discussion of the Bahá'í belief
structure as it applies to a whole array of philosophic questions, that
Talismanists, of all stripes, grapple with. In order to accomplish this,
I feel, Browne offers a good model, from which to throw light, on such an
examination, and also define the difficulties our beloved H.M. Balyuzi
faced as a prominent scholar in the Faith wrestling with a subject he was
very close to--Edward Granville Browne--as an amplification of the idea
EMPIRICAL SELFLESSNESS should be at the forefront of any scholarly activity.
With this in mind, I feel I should point out the observation that, most Bahá'ís, I believe, and
also those outside the Faith familiar with Browne and his work have always considered him a
believer in some fashion, however oblique. I think, this was at least sub-consciously so, with
H.M. Balyuzi; and it is reflected in his analysis of Browne's works in his short critique
"Edward Granville Browne and the Bahá'í Faith". IMHO, the implicit thesis of Mr. Balyuzi's
work is: If the facts had been properly available to Browne and had he not made his unfortunate
contacts with Azal and other's he would have become a Bahá'í. I do not mean to say Mr. Balyuzi
necessarily believed this, but what I am saying, is, this thesis is the logical consequence of what
he didn't say. And that what is not said is often more revealing than what is. If this was the
case, in Mr. Balyuzi's judgment, I believe, this would not be entirely accurate. Thus, I will
proceed from the assumption that it was, his judgment, on the basis of an implicit statement,
and see how it informs his analysis.
As I was rereading the aforementioned book I began to notice a trend that seemed to imply that
Browne had simply been mislead--but not as a traditional historian, but rather, as a true
investigator, looking into the claims of the Bab, Bahá'u'lláh, and Azal. Unfortunately, there
doesn't appear to be, from what I have read of Browne, anything to indicate an interest on his
part in investigating the essential prophetic claims, or the inner aspects of the "Twin
Revelations". Browne, IMHO, was observing a movement that he considered historically
important, and personally intoxicating, which was possessed of progressive ideas but nothing
else. It is true that he wrote movingly of Bahá'u'lláh and the Master, as Mr. Balyuzi points out,
but I believe this was more in the way of human admiration, or possibly Browne was
responding rightly in spite of himself.
It may be of interest to the reader to notice where the distinguished Mr. Balyuzi writes, "Thus
died Shaykh Ahmad-i-Ruhi, (supposed participant in the authoring of the "Hasht Bihisht") who
was in large measure responsible for the course that Edward Granville Browne was to pursue."
(ibid, p.28) Here Mr. Balyuzi seems to be implying things might have been different if it
weren't for Browne's association with Shaykh Ahmad-i-Ruhi, and the clumsy work, the "Hasht
Bihisht". I believe his course was inevitable given his APPROACH, and that it would make no
difference (except that God decree otherwise) who he came into contact or associated with. But
that will be discussed more fully later.
I believe the course Browne followed was a logical one given he was interested in investigating
the circumstances of the Babi movement which had fired his imagination and in which he
invested his personal life struggle, metaphorically. The distinguished and beloved H.M. Balyuzi
says in his introduction, when elegantly summarizing his intent for the book; and remarking
upon Browne's erroneous scholarship: "But in the works of this renowned scholar (Browne)
Mirza Yahya is given a prominence which is misleading" (ibid p.6) One cannot help but
remark upon this "supposition"--that it is not really so; because Browne was not a Bahá'í.
Even from the Bahá'í standpoint it's not necessarily the case, as Azal is the foil to Bahá'u'lláh's
transcendent greatness and the inescapable shadow to His effulgent light. Moreover, to the
unenlightened historian, he was a very prominent figure, on his own merits, who to the
untrained eye, was being suppressed to some degree. Browne, it seems, due to his prejudice,
was struggling at times, as Mr. Balyuzi rightly points out, with a sifting of the facts and he was
torn by the academic ethics involved in standard historical research.
Along this line, Mr. Balyuzi quotes Brown in the appendices to his translation of a Traveller's
Narrative saying, "Yet no feeling of gratitude or friendship can justify the historian (whose sole
desire should be to sift and assort all statements with a view to eliciting the truth) in
suppression of any important document which may throw light on the object of his study. (
Hasht Bihisht) Such an action would be worse than ingratitude; it would be treason to the
truth". (ibid, p .33) I will discuss more about this tenet of academia later in my disquisition,
but let me note that this demonstrates the academic nature of his investigation rather than it
being a spiritual search on the part of Browne. Of course all of our lives are a spiritual
journey, but I am trying to distinguish between the fortunate circumstance Browne found
himself in, and the actuality of his motives.
Another example of Mr. Balyuzi's questionable analysis are his statements about Azal's role as
nominal head of the Babi community in relation to Browne and his analysis. To digress for a
moment, the question of Azal has always seemed like a controversial area, to some extent, among
Bahá'í historians; and various explanations have been given, by Nabil and others. But Mr.
Balyuzi seems torn on this issue, and of course no one seems to really know what Azal's status
was for certain. But there seemed to be a de facto agreement amongst the Babis, at least
initially, that he was the Bab's successor. This taken aside, Mr. Balyuzi quotes Browne again
where he says, "In my opinion it is proved beyond all doubt that the Bab ere his death chose him
(Azal) as his successor..." (ibid p. 37) Be that as it may- and I don't dispute Mr. Balyuzi's
assertion (ibid pp.37-41) that there is no proof for this. Nonetheless, for the historian, the
mere fact that the Babi community treated him as such, in conjunction with some documents
that Azal produced, led Browne to his conclusion. At any rate, I believe Browne was looking for
anything he could to turn back the tide of Bahá'u'lláh's ascension in the Babi community, as he
saw it. Browne never seemed to concern himself with Azal's behavior or fitness for the position
of leadership, and in my estimate, showed a decided lack of acuity in these matters, that can only
be explained by a predisposition to keep the Babi Faith as he remembered it from Count
Gobineau's account of the Bab in "Religions et Philosophies dans L'Asie Centrale".
Browne's errors, from my perspective as a Bahá'í scholar (which I don't feel separates me from
any other serious scholar) were not the result of the information he received but the fallacious
methodology he employed. He didn't approach things Scientifically, as his conclusions were
already present in his hypothesis. The modern scholar proceeds empirically and reports on
their findings without reference to how they would have liked an inquiry to have turned out. It
seems clear from Browne's obvious disappointment, chronicled in, "A Year Amongst the
Persians" with the fact that the Bab was no longer the center of interest among the believers
reveals that the conclusions he reached, were prejudicial; and his investigation was derailed
from that time onward. If he were a true investigator he would have approached things without
a European bias and Christian condescension. He [investigated the]
nature of the Bab's claims and proceeded from there. This, however, apparently, was never his
intention in the first place.
I believe Browne to be an excellent example of what the modern scholar should not do, if he
wishes to penetrate to the heart of the matter. It can never be enough to simply pay homage to
the forms of scholarly endeavor i.e. examining all the facts. Science has shown this to be a fools
paradise as the investigator through his examination alters the facts according to his
predispositions. This also seems to be the case even with, one, so renowned as H.M. Balyuzi,
who devoted a great deal of his research to a subject, but never seemed to grasp the nature of his
study , or at least the implicit message seems to show that flaw.
IMHO, Bahá'u'lláh and Abdu'l-Bahá have instructed us in a new form of scholarship that I
earlier characterized as Empirical Selflessness. This discipline requires, in addition to the
observance of rigorous scholarly methodology, also, the equally important aspect of self-
examination by the scholar and freedom from prejudice, superstition, and any other form of
self-indulgence. This form of scholarship reintroduces the idea that character, and a will to
learn enhance perception and ensure the best results for every scholarly or scientific project.
Something along the lines of quality control in manufacturing, but taken to the level of
"spiritual re-enforcement" for scholarly efforts. Otherwise a clear
examination cannot take
place and the veil of self will obscure the beauty of the scholar's