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1942 (The early 20th Century) Bahá'í Scholarship

The publication in 1865 of the Comte de Gobineau’s (1816-1882),Les Religions et Les Philosophies dans l'Asie Centrale created an interest in Europe. A scholar that was inspired by Gobineau was E.G.Browne. He travelled to Iran and also visited Bahá’u’lláh in Akka in the latter days of His life. He translated two histories of the new religion and published two other books as well as a number of articles. He also made an important collection of manuscripts that he gave to Cambridge University Library. Bahá'ís have criticized Browne's work for being too sympathetic to Azal, Baha'u'llah's half-brother and implacable enemy. A.L.M. Nicolas (1864-1939) was a French consular official in Iran who researched and wrote a biography of the Báb as well as translating three of the Báb's major works into French.

     Just as the Báb was the centre of the scholarly interests of Gobineau, Browne and Nicolas, some Russian scholars who were more interested in Bahá'u'lláh. Baron Viktor Rosen (1849-1908), the director of the Oriental Department of the University of St. Petersburg was assisted by Aleksandr Tumanski (1861-1920). He spent a great deal of time with the Bahá'í community of Ashkhabad and with Mirza Abu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani. Although he did not write as much as Browne or Nicolas, what he did write was derived from a very deep and thorough investigation.

     There was much interest in scholarship in the early days of the Faith because almost all of the most important disciples of the Báb were Islamic religious scholars, as were many of the leading converts to the Bahá'í Faith in later years. The most important of these was the above mentioned Mirza Abu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani (1844-1914). He was learned in the Zoroastrian and Jewish scriptures and spent some time in the Christian West at the request of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá prior to His visit.

     During the 1930s to 1960s, a second generation of Iranian Bahá'í scholars, such as Fadil Mazandarani (1881-1957), 'Abdul-Hamid Ishraq-Khavari (1902-1972), and 'Azizu'llah Sulaymani (1901-1985) systematized Bahá'í theology and law, developed aids for scholars such as dictionaries of Bahá'í terminology, and wrote histories and biographies. This was of course a more traditional style of scholarship than is current in the West, but it continues to be useful to all present scholars.

     The above-described initial flurry of interest in the Bábí and Bahá'í religions in the West was not sustained and from the 1920s to the 1970s, there were no Western scholars who were as deeply engaged as the above-named ones and only a handful of studies that can be said to have done much to advance knowledge. From the 1970s onward, there gradually emerged a new stream of scholars who can be said to be a fusion of the above two groups, the Western and the Bahá'í scholars. This new generation of scholars mostly began as Bahá'ís, although some have subsequently left the religion. They use Western academic methodology and most operate from within Western universities but they have access to insider information and resources. Apart from these individuals, the Bahá'í Faith has been very little studied by Western scholars of religion.

     A word must also be said about what passes for scholarship on the Bahá'í Faith in Iran and to a lesser extent in the rest of the Middle East. Bahá'ís have been persecuted in many Middle Eastern countries and rejected by Islamic leaders, and one form of this discrimination has involved the manipulation of information. For most of the last 100 years, deliberately distorted or falsified information and documents have been created mostly by some within the Islamic religious establishment and then distributed as though these were facts about the Bahá'í Faith. Since the Bahá'ís have had no ability to respond to this material in the Middle East, these distortions have gradually become accepted in the Middle East as the truth. One example is the forged memoirs of Count Dolgorukov, the Russian ambassador to Iran in the 1840s to 1850s. This and other contradictions were so clearly spurious that even some Iranian scholars debunked them when they were first published in the 1940s. But despite this, they are often regularly cited by Middle Eastern writers up to the present day as though they are a reliable source for the history of the religion.

     Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, this manufacturing of disinformation and forged material has increased greatly with programs in the media, articles, and books appearing on a frequent basis, especially in the government-run media. The result is that there is almost nothing published in the Middle East that has reliable information about the Bahá'í Faith in it. A little of this sort of scholarship has also appeared in the West; some Christian missionaries, notably Reverend William McElwee Miller(1892-1993)(Also see WOB83) have written anti-Bahá'í material and ex-Bahá'ís have published academic work that is calculated to make the Bahá'í community resemble a cult as portrayed in the anti-cult campaigns that were carried out in the Western media in the 1980s. [The above was copied from the website Patheos and has been edited for brevity. It was contributed by Dr. Natalie Mobini]

  • See as well the publication of Der Bahā'ismus, Weltreligion der Zukunft?: Geschichte, Lehre und Organisation in Kritischer Anfrage (Bahá'ísm-Religion of the Future? History, Doctrine and Organization: A Critical Inquiry) by Francesco Ficicchia under the auspices of the Central Office of the Protestant Church for Questions of Ideology in Germany.
  • Bahai Scholarship; Comte de Gobineau; E.G. Browne; A.L.M. Nicolas; Baron Viktor Rosen; Alexander Tumansky; Mirza Abul Fadl Gulpaygani; Fadil Mazandarani; Abdul Hamid Ishraq Khavari; Azizullah Sulaymani; Reverend William McElwee Miller; Francesco Ficicchia; Baron Viktor Rosen; Z****
    1971 (In the year) In Germany, Hermann Zimmer resurrected the claims of Ruth White in a small book published in 1971 (English translation in 1973), A Fraudulent Testament devalues the Bahá'í Religion into Political Shogism.
  • In Switzerland, Francesco Ficicchia wrote a comprehensive attack aimed mainly at the Bahá'í administration,
  • Der Bah'ismus Weltreligion der Zunkunft? (Evangelische Zentralstelle für Weltanschauungsfragen, Quell Verlag, Stuttgart, 1981).
  • Both of these works were financed and distributed by Evangelical Protestant organizations in Germany. [The Covenant and Covenant-breaker by Moojan Momen]
  • Information on the "Free Baha'is" available at their website Free Baha'i Faith.
  • Germany; Switzerland Covenant-Breakers; Hermann Zimmer; Ruth White; Francesco Ficicchia; Charles Seeburger; Free Baha'is; Jack McLean

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