June 18, 2023 will mark 40 years since 10 Baha’i women were hanged in Shiraz. Their only ‘crime’ was their refusal to renounce their beliefs in a faith that promotes the principles of gender equality, unity, justice, and truthfulness. This collection highlights Baha’i Blog content relating to the ongoing persecution of Baha’is in Iran.
You should appreciate this, that of all the historians of Europe none attained the holy Threshold but you. This bounty was specified unto you. 1
These words Abdu’l-Baha wrote to Edward Granville Browne about his interviews with Baha’u’llah in 1890. From one of these interviews emanated the description of meeting Baha’u’llah famous in the Baha’i community, which you can listen to here.
Foment in the Middle East—the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78—pulled Browne away from the course his family had set for him. Born in 1862 in Gloucestershire, England, Browne was the eldest son among nine children. His father hoped he would pursue the family business of shipbuilding and civil engineering. But Browne’s calling lay elsewhere. In college he studied Turkish, Arabic, and Persian, and in 1882, he ventured eastward, visiting Turkey for several months to pursue his research. 2
On 30 July 1886, Browne discovered a movement that would absorb his attention for the decades to come: the Babi Faith. 3 He stumbled upon an account of the revolutionary religion in Count Gobineau’s 1865 Religions et philosophies dans l’Asie Centrale. In the words of scholars Sir Edward Denison Ross and John Gurney, “He was spellbound by the story of the courage and devotion shown by the Bab and his faithful followers, and at once resolved to make a special study of this movement.” 4 He wrote admiringly of the Bab’s “gentleness and patience, the cruel fate which had overtaken him, and the unflinching courage wherewith he and his followers, from the greatest to the least, had endured the merciless torments inflicted on them by their enemies.” 5 In the Bab’s Revelation, he recognized, as he put it, “the birth of a faith which may not impossibly win a place amidst the great religions of the world.” 6 Browne resolved to extend Gobineau’s account, which ended with the 1852 massacre of Babis. 4
Browne’s new passion whetted his eagerness to visit Persia. In 1887, he embarked on a yearlong sojourn there, during which he visited sites significant to the history of the Babi Faith: Tabriz, Zanjan, Isfahan, Shiraz, and the Fort of Shaykh Tabarsi. 7 In Shiraz, he learned of Baha’u’llah’s Revelation.
After his visit, he returned to England, where he generally remained until his death in 1926, excepting returns to the Middle East in 1890, 1896, and 1903. 8Yet, the year in Persia “lasted him throughout all the remaining years of his life; the fire which Persia kindled in his heart would prove inextinguishable,” as scholar A. J. Arberry puts it. 9 He collected and translated works on the Babi Faith including A Traveller’s Narrative, Written to Illustrate the Episode of the Bab, The New History of Mirza Ali Muhammad, the Bab, and Materials for the Study of the Babi Religion.
Scholars of the Baha’i Faith concur on the value of Browne’s research. H. M. Balyuzi, author of Edward Granville Browne and the Baha’i Faith, asserts that “Baha’is undoubtedly owe to Edward Granville Browne a deep debt of gratitude.” 10 According to Moojan Momen, “his record of his interview with Baha’u’llah remains one of the few pen-portraits ever made” of the Blessed Beauty. 3 In reviewing Momen’s 1987 book, Selections from the Writings of E. G. Browne on the Babi and Baha’i Religions, John Danesh comments that Browne’s “insights and contributions about Iran and the Babi and Baha’i religions remain relevant and important…. Perhaps apart from the writings of the French scholar A. L. M. Nicolas, no Western works exist which equal Browne’s in preserving the early history and doctrines” of the Twin Revelations. 11
Beyond the Baha’i Faith, Browne is recognized for his progressive contributions to the study of the Middle East. At the time E.G. Browne embarked on Persian studies, it was “an almost virgin field” in the West, according to scholar John R. Perry, who also comments that “as a scholar and an activist, he did much to present a sympathetic picture of Iran’s people and culture to a Western public, whose view of the Middle East was already being shaped chiefly by the dictates of geopolitics, and petroleum.” 12 His books such as A Year amongst the Persians, A Literary History of Persia , The Persian Revolution of 1905–1909, and The Press and Poetry of Modern Persia furnished a window—with exceptionally little distortion by the prejudice then common amongst Westerners—into Persian culture and politics for English speakers. 4 His work attracted fellow intellectuals to the field; he elevated the status of Middle Eastern studies at the University of Cambridge, where he was a professor, and he coordinated a wider network of European orientalists, managing the publication of 44 volumes in the discipline. 13
But perhaps the surest evidence of Browne’s efforts to forge bonds between the West and Near East comes in the accolades paid him by Persians. In 1900, the government honored him with the Imperial Order of the Lion and Sun; around 1910, his Persian Revolution was serialized in Iran; and in his elderly years, Persian notables sent him tributes. 144 In Tehran, Edward Browne Street still testifies to his renown. 154
Below is Baha’i Blog’s dramatic reading, performed by Ata Farhadi, of E. G. Browne’s meeting with Baha’u’llah:
Footnotes & Citations
H. M. Balyuzi, Edward Granville Browne and the Baha’i Faith (1970), p. 122[↩]
E. D. Ross, “Browne, Edward Granville (1862–1926),” revised by John Gurney, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004[↩]
Layli invites you to read more of her essays on https://layli.net. She lives with her husband, Sergey, in Alabama, where she works at Auburn University. In moments when she’s not writing, she most enjoys taking strolls with Sergey, during which they admire the region's natural beauty, from its year-round verdure to its abundant bugs.
Thank you 🙂
faran (July 7, 2017 at 7:29 AM)
Thank you for reading!
Layli Miron (August 8, 2017 at 8:02 PM)
Excellent vignette of an inspiring academic figure — a true gentleman.
Bo Salisbury (August 8, 2017 at 9:12 PM)
Thank you for reading, Bo!
Layli Miron (August 8, 2017 at 11:16 AM)