E.G. Browne's Misconceptions

By Nicola Towfigh

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #8
Newcastle, England
December 8–10, 1995
(see list of papers from #8)

    When thinking of the well-known British orientalist Edward Granville Browne (1862-1926), Baha'is in the West usually remember the wonderful description of his impressions when he had an audience with Baha'u'llah in Bahji. Thus many Western Baha'is believe that Browne was an admirer and supporter of the Baha'i Faith, which is not at all the case: Browne did not remain an objective spectator and scholar but took more and more the Azalis's side. He adopted Azali views and statements, and developed theories in their support.

    One main theory concerns Mirza Yahya Azal's character and station. It is true that Mirza Yahya was the Bab's nominee and recognized chief of the Babi community, but he was not His successor or vicegerent. Browne saw in him a peace-loving, contemplative and gentle person designated by the Bab to be His vali and successor. Browne not only misjudged Mirza Yahya's character and personal integrity, but also his function. Other misconceptions are related to this central misunderstanding. Browne tried to prove Azal's unrestricted leadership by saying it was he who first came to Baghdad whereas Baha'u'llah followed him, or it was he who ordered Baha'u'llah's return to Baghdad after His retirement to Kurdistan. Of course, both are not the case. He also adopted the Azali theory of the numerical significance of the words Ghiyath and Mustaghath, assuming that the Promised One of the Bab would not appear before a lapse of 1511 to 2001 years.

    Browne's publication of Kitab-i-Nuqtatu'l-Kaf, which he himself regarded as a strong Azali weapon of attack, once more showed his tendency to support the Azalis. Attributing its authorship to an early Babi believer called Haji Mirza Jani Kashani, he described the book as most interesting and regarded it as a valuable and authentic work. As the book speaks highly of Mirza Yahya Azal and his station, Browne even accused the Baha'is of having intentionally tried to supersede and suppress it by spreading Tarikh-i-Jadid.

    Another misunderstanding concerns the date of Baha'u'llah's declaration as a Manifestation of God. Browne mentioned different dates and finally drew the conclusion that the declaration must have happened in 1866-67 rather than in 1863.

    This paper will deal with all these misconceptions, with their origins traced out and refuted.

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