Author: Mirza Abu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani
Published by: Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 1998
Review by Devin Stewart
published in Middle East Studies Association Bulletin, summer 2002
Reprinted here, with a new introduction, is an article originally published in 1912 by the Bahá'í News Service in Chicago in response to a Christian missionary's polemic attack on the Bahá'í faith published the year before. Rev. Peter Z. Easton, whose "Bahá'ísm-A Warning," appeared in the British magazine Evangelical Christendom, had served as a missionary in Azerbaijan for many years beginning in 1873, and was angered at the warm reception afforded Abd ul-Baha, the son of the founder of the Bahá'í faith, by an Anglican minister at St. John's Church in Westminster on 17 September 1911. Easton's piece, included in the work as an appendix (pp. 73-80), characterizes the Bahá'í faith and Babism, the movement from which it sprang, as the latest manifestation of "Persian pantheism," a tradition including, in his view, the movements of al-Muqanna', Babak, the Qaramitah, and the Assassins, "who for 170 years, from 1090 on, inaugurated a reign of terror compared with which the French Revolution was child's play" (p. 78) They are based, he holds, on the utter and unquestioning obedience of the devotee (murid) to the guide (murshid). Baha himself, the founder of the faith, is called a "betrayer, assassin, and blasphemer." In short, Easton characterizes Babism and Bahaism as anathema and the adherents to the faith as violent and satanic fanatics.
In Beirut later that year, Easton's article was presented to Mirza Abu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani (1844-1914), a Twelver Shiite jurist who had converted to the Bahá'í faith and become one of its most prominent scholars. He immediately authored a Persian refutation under the title Burhan-e lami' and had it sent to the United States, where 'Abd ul-Baha had it published along with an English translation. The refutation addresses Easton's attack under four rubrics: 1) accusations against Baha'ullah, 2) pantheism, 3) attitude toward despotic government, and 4) distinctive or superior features of the Bahá'í faith. Gulpaygani dismisses Easton's accusations against Baha'ullah as slanderous and berates him for listening to the evidence of Baha'ullah's enemies alone. Bahá'ísm is not, he argues, pantheistic, but rather monotheistic, rooted in the Abrahamic faiths and based on their successive prophecies. Baha'ullah, rather than supporting despotic government, urged the establishment of popular consultative and representative institutions. Finally, ten features of Bahá'í faith are presented as distinctive and improvements over other religious doctrines: 1) rejection of oral tradition in favor of established texts, 2) rejection of divisive interpretation of God's word, 3) emphasis on the unity of mankind and avoidance of divisive doctrines, 4) prohibition of slavery, 5) considering work in allowable professions as a form of worship, 6) mandatory education of both sexes, 7) prohibition of cursing, insults, swearing, and blasphemy, 8) prohibition of arms except in extreme circumstances, 9) establishment of local Houses of Justice, parliaments, and constitutional governments, and 10) a new fractional inheritance system. This short work provides an interesting view of the Bahá'í faith and its adherents' struggle for acceptance in the early twentieth century.