An historical analysis of critical transformations



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AN HISTORICAL ANALYSIS OF CRITICAL TRANSFORMATIONS

IN THE EVOLUTION OF THE BAHA’I WORLD FAITH

A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of

Baylor University

in Partial Fulfillment of the

Requirements for the Degree

of

Doctor of Philosophy



by

Vernon Elvin Johnson

Waco, Texas

December 1974


ABSTRACT
AN HISTORICAL ANALYSIS OF CRITICAL TRANSFORMATIONS

IN THE EVOLUTION OF THE BAHA’I WORLD FAITH


Vernon Elvin Johnson

Baylor University


Chairman: James Leo Garrett, Jr.
The Baha’i World Faith, originating in Persia in 1844 and now

extending around the world, has undergone extraordinary changes in its

evolution to its present stage of development. Baha’is freely acknow-

ledge the evolutionary character of their religion, which results in

periodic outdating of previous teachings and practice. Edward G. Browne,

Cambridge University, wrote in 1910 that “few religions have undergone

so rapid an evolution ….” No less spectacular have been the develop-

ments in the religion since Browne made that statement.


The dissertation focuses on the major transformations which have

occurred in the religion during the faith’s 130-year history with a view

toward ascertaining the religion’s character and its present slate of

development, giving particular attention to the opposition each transfor-

mation aroused, the tensions in the faith it produced, and the adjustments

it necessitated. These transformations were affected by the successive

leaders in the faith, and each transformation was of a critical nature,

producing a majority who accepted and a minority who rejected each


transformation. The study has particular relevance concerning the reli-

gion’s claim that, unlike other religions, it is protected from schism.


Briefly defined, the transformations dealt with are the following:

(1) Baha’u’llah’s transformation of the Babi religion into the Baha’i faith;

(2) ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s transformation of the faith into a more Western and

socially oriented religion with Christian overtones; (3) Shoghi Effendi’s

transformation of the religion from its loosely organized, inclusive, and

universal character into a tightly organized, exclusive, and narrowly defined

religions and (4) a final transformation from a religion under the guardian-

ship of an appointed, living descendant of Baha’u’llah to a religion directed

by a body of nine elected officials whose term of office is temporary.
The study is divided into three parts. Part I deals with introduc-

tory matters, a general introduction (Chapter I) and a review of previously

written histories on the Babi-Baha’i movement to which references are made

in later sections of the dissertation, giving attention to the different

perspectives from which they are written and their relative values in pro-

viding accurate information about the faith’s history (Chapter II). Part II

on the birth and early history of the Babi-Baha’i movement covers the minis-

tries of the Bab (Chapter III), Baha’u’llah (Chapter IV), and ‘Abdu’l-Baha

(Chapter V) and the transformations of the faith effected within their

ministries. Part III deals with “modern Baha’i,” the faith as an institu-

tionalized religion, treating the ministries of Shoghi Effendi (Chapter VI)

and the Universal House of Justice (Chapter VII) and their transformations.


Appended to the dissertation are two letters discovered in the

course of the research, both dated March 31, 1901, from Muhammad ‘Ali and

Badi‘u’llah to the recently formed “Society of Behaists” and to the “presi-

dent of the House of Justice.”


To Dee

in appreciation for your

love, faith, and sacrifice

during the years of graduate study


PREFACE
My first awareness of the Baha’i World Faith was in reading a

question and answer section of the Catholic Digest (“What Would You Like

to Know about the Church?”) in the January, 1964, issue while I was a

student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. A reader had asked

how the Baha’i religion compared with Roman Catholicism, particularly in

their views of revelation. Included in the answer was a brief statement

of the history and teachings of the Baha’i faith. I immediately was

impressed with the faith’s broad concept of revelation that God had

revealed himself successively through the founders of most of the major,

living religions. I made no further inquiry into Baha’i, however, until

I enrolled in the graduate program in religion at Baylor University and

again encountered the religion as one of a number of religious movements

treated in a course I took in the spring, 1965, taught by Dr. James K.

Wood. Jr., who became my major professor. With Dr. Wood’s encouragements,

I began research into the Baha’i faith.
My first meeting with Baha’is was in the home of Mr. and Mrs.

Gordon Dobbins, Fort Worth, Texas. I later visited the Baha’i temple in

Wilmette, Illinois, on my way to and from a session at Davison Baha’i

summer school, Davison, Michigan (August 15-19, 1966). These were the

first of various personal contacts with Baha’is. I also attended the

Bridgeport Baha’i summer school, near Fort Worth, in the summer, 1970.

As research into the faith progressed, the need for deciding on

a particular topic of inquiry concerning the faith became more pressing.

The subject of the present dissertation on the transformations in the

faith’s evolution has undergone its own evolution. I first planned to write

on “the Baha’i Concept of Unity” and even prepared a “pilot study” for a

class on this projected topic. I felt later that I should narrow this sub-

ject to “the Baha’i Concept of the Unity of Mankind.” But the more I studied

the religion the more fascinated I became with its history and with an emerg-

ing pattern in the religion’s development. I became aware of a series of

“transformations” which had occurred in the religion. The most obvious was

Baha’u’llah’s transformation of the Babi movement into the Baha’i religion,

but J. R. Richards, who wrote a book on Baha’i in 1932, spoke also of a

transformation under ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’u’llah’s son and successor. A

study of the religion’s later history revealed that transformations also

had taken place in the latter two stages of the religion’s evolution. I

proposed at this point to write on “Critical Transformations of the Baha’i

Religion through Its Successive Leadership.” To define more the nature of

the dissertation and to give more emphasis to the evolutionary aspect of

the faith, I finally decided on the present topic, which was approved by

the faculty of the department of religion.


In the meantime, my major professor, Dr. Wood had accepted a

position as executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public

Affairs, Washington, D.C., and Dr. James Leo Garrett, Jr., became editor

of Journal of Church and State at Baylor and assumed other responsibili-

ties previously held by Dr. Wood. Dr. Garrett also assumed responsibility

as director of the present dissertation.

To both Dr. Wood and Dr. Garrett is due appreciation, to Dr. Wood

for encouragements and directing of the dissertation during the research

stage and to Dr. Garrett for directing the dissertation during its actual

writing. The other dissertation committee members, Dr. Bruce C. Cresson

and Dr. E. H. Duncan, with Dr. Garrett made various suggestions for the

correcting and improvement of the written text.


I owe a special debt of gratitude to numerous Baha’is whom I have

met who have aided me in some way in the research and in understanding the

religion which they espouse. The Gordon Dobbins family holds a special

place in my memory and appreciation for arranging my first meeting with

Baha’is. Mrs. Dobbins, especially, always most kind, offered various

encouragements and leads in the research.


The Baha’is whom I met at Davison Baha’i summer school provided me

with stimulating insights into their faith. Among those I met at the Davi-

son school, I owe particular gratitude to Albert James, member of an auxi-

lary board to the hands of the cause, Kathleen Javid, who lectured on the

life of Baha’u’llah at the school, and to Dr. S. P. Raman, each of whom read

my original “pilot study,” offering their corrections and comments, and with

whom I held a number of enlightening discussions.
Appreciation is due also to Florence Mayberry, a member of the

continental board of counselors for North America, for her lectures and

discussions at the Bridgeport school, to Stanwood Cobb, a Baha’i author,

for letters of explanation; to the National Spiritual Assembly for informa-

tion; and especially to Tarazu’llah Samandari, hand of the cause, with whom

I was granted an interview in Fort Worth in January, 1968, during his North

American teaching tour. Samandari was present at Bahji with Baha’u’llah,

the Baha’i prophet after whom the religion is named, before his “ascension”

(death) in 1892. Samandari fell ill during his teaching mission and passed

away in his ninety-third year on September 2, 1968.


For much of the information in Chapter VII, derived from letters

and materials, I am indebted to Mason Remey, regarded by his followers as

the faith’s second guardian, who passed away February 4, 1974; to Charley

O. Murphy, Remey’s associate in the United States; to Joel B. Marangella,

who claims the third guardianship; to A. S. Petzoldt; and to the National

Bureau of the Orthodox Baha’i Faith of the United States and Canada through

its secretary, Franklin D. Schlatter.
Last but by no means least, I mention my great debt to William

McElwee Miller, author of a new took on Baha’i, which is a revision and

updating of his earlier volume published in 1931. Rev. Miller served from

1919 to the end of 1962 an a Presbyterian missionary in Iran, where Baha’i

originated. Rev. Miller read my original “pilot study,” offered helpful

comments, loaned me some materials from his personal library, and provided

leads for further research. During the course of writing the dissertation,

he also kindly made available to me the manuscript of his new book, which

was therefore accessible to me as I wrote the latter chapters. Some

references to Miller’s new book were inserted in the revisions of the

earlier chapters.
To all of the above mentioned persons, whose kind assistance

helped make possible the present dissertation, and to numerous other

unnamed persons who aided directly or indirectly in the research and

production of the dissertation, I offer my sincere gratitude.

To avoid confusion, mention should be made that the reader will

encounter in the dissertation various spellings of names and terms due

to differences among writers in transliterating Persian and Arabic words.

For example, Baha’u’llah is written variously as Beha Ullah, Baha Ullah,

Baha-O-Llah, Baha’o’llah, Bahaullah, etc.
Baha’is today follow a uniform system of transliteration. This

system is given in Marzieh Gail’s Baha’i Glossary, which I have followed

for the most part in transliterations in the text of the dissertation.

In quotations from other material, however, I have spelled words as they

appear in the texts being quoted. I refer in the bibliography to Mirza

Abu’l-Fadl as Abul Fazl since the latter spelling appears on the title

page of his work, but in the text of the dissertation the former spelling

is used since it is the preferred spelling by Baha’is today.


To be consistent with this transliteration, ‘Akka and Tihran are

so spelled in the text rather than with more familiar spellings as Acre

and Tehran or Teheran. The reader will discover other variations between

words spelled in the dissertation’s text and as spelled in quoted material,

especially in quotations from earlier literature.
A few comments concerning style may be necessary. The dissertation

follows as a general guide Kate L. Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Term



Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, third edition, revised (1967), which

was specified for use when I began composing and typing the dissertation.

On points not explicitly covered in Turabian’s Manual, as in the capitali-

zations of words, the dissertation follows the University of Chicago’s



A Manual of Style, twelfth edition, revised (1969).
Quotations from the Qur’an are from Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall’s

The Meaning of the Glorious Koran unless otherwise indicated.
TABLE OF CONTENTS

PREFACE iii


PART I. INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY OF THE BAHA’I FAITH
Chapter

I. INTRODUCTION 1


Definition of the Baha’i Faith (3)

Reasons for Studying the Baha’i Faith (6)

Reasons for Studying the Baha’i Transformations (29)

Plan of Work (36)


NOTES TO CHAPTER I 40
II. STUDIES ON THE BABI-BAHA’I MOVEMENT 49
Gobineau’s History (49)

Histories Edited by E. G. Browne (51)

Christian Apologies (93)

Later Baha’i Histories (100)


NOTES TO CHAPTER II 104
PART II. THE ORIGIN AND EARLY DEVELOPMENT OF THE

BAHA’I WORLD FAITH


III. THE BAB AND THE ABROGATION OF THE QUR’ANIC DISPENSATION 115
The Religious Background of the Baha’i Faith (115)

‘Ali-Muhammad, the Bab (127)

The Teachings of the Bab (152)

The Transforming Character of the Babi Religion (161)


NOTES TO CHAPTER III 164
IV. BAHA’U’LLAH AND THE SUPERSESSION OF THE BABI DISPENSATION 173
The Period before Baha’u’llah’s Declaration (173)

Baha’u’llah’s Declaration of His Mission (196)

The Period after Baha’u’llah’s Declaration (199)

Baha’u’llah’s Transformation (204)


NOTES TO CHAPTER IV 2024
V. ‘ABDU’L-BAHA AND THE PREROGATIVES OF “THE SERVANT” 235
Sketch of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Life (236)

Opposition to ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Leadership (241)

‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Transformation (251)
NOTES TO CHAPTER V 267
PART III. MODERN BAHA’I: THE FAITH AS AN

INSTITUTIONALIZED RELIGION


VI. SHOGHI EFFENDI AND THE INSTITUTIONALIZING OF THE FAITH 276
Shoghi Effendi’s Appointment as Guardian (278)

Shoghi Effendi’s Transformation (278)

Opposition to Shoghi Effendi’s Transformation (306)
NOTES TO CHAPTER VI 322
VII. THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE AND THE QUESTION OF THE

GUARDIANSHIP 330


The Faith under the Leadership of the Hands (332)

The Transformation by the Universal House of Justice (337)

Mason Remey’s Opposition to the Transformation (342)

Baha’is under the Universal House of Justice (354)

Developments in the Orthodox Baha’i Faith (362)

The Emergence of a Third Guardian (371)


NOTES TO CHAPTER VII 381
CONCLUSION 391
Summary of the Transformations (391)

Critical Nature of the Transformations (393)

Seeds of the Transformations (402)

Tensions Created by the Transformations (404)

The Transformations and the Question of Schism (410)

A Final Transformation? (416)


NOTES TO THE CONCLUSION 418
BIBLIOGRAPHY 422
APPENDIXES
I. LETTER FROM MUHAMMAD ‘ALI AND BADI‘U’LLAH TO THE PRESIDENT

OF THE HOUSE OF JUSTICE 434


II. LETTER FROM MUHAMMAD ‘ALI AND BADI‘U’LLAH TO THE SOCIETY

OF BEHAISTS 439


PART I

INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY OF THE BAHA’I FAITH
CHAPTER I
INTRODUCTION
Geoffrey Parrinder, in his book The Christian Debate: Light

from the East, makes this surprising comment:
Christian theology teaches that the Incarnation is unique, in

the sense that Christ came ‘once for all’. But the Epistle

to the Hebrews which invented this phrase, places Christ firm

in the succession of prophets and angelic messengers. …

And according to the New Testament, the human life of Christ

is not the only time that he will appear. … It could at

least be suggested that at his next coming Christ will be as

hard to recognize as he was before.1


The Baha’is maintain that this is precisely what has happened. Christ,

they say, has returned! The ancient message which the early Christians

proclaimed across the known world of their time, that the long awaited

Messiah had come, is being reasserted with all its original fervor in

the Baha’i announcement that the expected Christ of the Christian faith

has now appeared. Baha’is insist, moreover, that Christians, by their

denial of Baha’u’llah, are making the same mistake, and often for similar

reasons, which the Jews made in refusing to accept Jesus Christ.


Baha’is not only say that Baha’u’llah is the returned Christ of

the Christian faith but also make the astounding claim that their pro-

phet, Baha’u’llah, is the expected deliverer hoped for in all the revealed

religions; he is the expected Lord of Hosts of the Jewish religion, the

Fifth Buddha of Buddhism, the Shah Bahram of Zoroastrianism, the “Great
Announcement” of Islam, and the return of Krishna for the Hindus.2

Since Baha’u’llah fulfills the hopes of all the world’s true religions,

Baha’is believe that the adherents of the diverse religions may at last

be united in Baha’u’llah by one common devotion.


The Baha’is claim is be a uniting influence among the diverse

peoples of the world finds some verification in actual practice, for

is Baha’i gatherings one may find converts from Judaism, Christianity,

Islam, Hinduism, and other religions, worshipping and serving together

in their common loyalty to Baha’u’llah.
If Baha’u’llah is the return of Christ, if he is the expected

deliverer of all the world’s religions, if he is the hope for world

peace and unity, then his appearance in the world is an event of

unsurpassed importance, and to ignore him would be tantamount to a

betrayal not only of one’s own religious heritage but of all humanity.
The present study will examine the new religion which centers

around Baha’u’llah and which is named after him—the Baha’i faith—in

as attempt to trace its historical development at the points of its

major alterations from previous forms, to clarify certain issues and

focus on others which need clarification, and hopefully to lay the

basis for profitable dialogue between Baha’is and non-Baha’is and in

particular between Baha’is and Christians.
Certain preliminary questions will be dealt with in this

introductory chapter: What is the Baha’i faith, why study this new

religion, and why study the particular aspect of the faith selected

for the present inquiry?


DEFINITION OF THE BAHA’I FAITH
Since the word “Baha’i” is not frequently used in many

vocabularies, and since the present study will deal almost in its

entirety with the Baha’i religion, some definition of Baha’i, it would

seem, is in order, and one of the best definitions of the faith by a

Baha’i is that given by Arthur Dahl:
The Baha’i World Faith is a new independent universal

religion, whose goal is to revitalize mankind spiritually, to

break down the barriers between peoples and lay the foundation

for a unified society based upon principles of justice and love.3


Each of the four words at the beginning of Dahl’s definition—“new

independent universal religion”—is important.


The Baha’i faith is a new religion. It originated a little

more than a hundred years ago, in 1844, in Persia (or Iran), the

birthplace of another great religion, Zoroastrianism, as well as of the

lesser known movements of Manichaeism and Mazdakism.


The faith is an independent religion. Sometimes Baha’i is

treated as a sect of Islam. It originated out of Shi‘ah Islam in Persia,

as Christianity originated within the context of Judaism and Buddhists

within the framework of Hinduism, but as these religions in time

became distinguished from their parent religions, so the Baha’i faith

may now be distinguished from its parent faith, Islam. The Baha’i

religion claims to be independent of Islam, and Islam refuses to

recognize the Baha’i faith as having any connection with it.

Therefore, it is best to see the Baha’i faith as the independent

religion it claims to be and which, in fact, it is. Edward G. Browne,

a leading authority on the early Babi-Baha’i movement, remarks:
The Babis are Muhammadans only in the sense that the Muhammadans

are Christians or the Christians Jews; that is to say, they recog-

nize Muhammad (Mohomet) as a true prophet and the Qur’an (Koran)

as a revelation, but they deny their finality.4


Samuel Graham Wilson, in one of the earlier extensive studies on the

Baha’i faith, argued that the Baha’i faith is a distinct religion from

Christianity and further maintained: “It is not even a sect of Islam.

It abrogates and annuls it.”5 Hamid Algar, in a more recent study, holds

similarly that “Babism, at all stages of its doctrinal development, was of

necessity opposed to Islam, for its claim to validity presupposed the

supersession of Islam.”6 The Baha’i faith, which arose out of the Babi

movement, should be seen properly as an independent religion.


The Baha’i faith, moreover, is a universal religion. It calls

itself the Baha’i World Faith, and it has a right to this designation for

at least three reasons: (1) it is located in centers around the world;

(2) it concerns itself with world issues, as the equality of the sexes,

international language, education for all; (3) and it has a world vision,

aspiring to unify all races, nations, and creeds of men into one world

brotherhood.7
The Baha’i faith is a religion. Some have seen the faith as

being basically a social, ethical, or humanitarian movement and have

failed to regard it as a religion. For example, John C. Wishard, who

served as the director of the American Presbyterian Hospital in Tihran,

says of the Baha’i faith: “It is an ethical teaching, and not a reli-

gion.”8 That the faith inculcates high ethical principles within its

members cannot be denied, and that the religion has definite social

aims is clearly evident in the following Baha’i principles which are

set forth as Baha’u’llah’s teachings for this new age:
1. The oneness of mankind

2. Independent investigation of truth

3. The common foundation of all religions

4. The essential harmony of science and religion

5. Equality of men and women

6. Elimination of prejudice of all kinds

7. Universal compulsory education

8. A spiritual solution of the economic problem




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