Friday 25 February 2011

Free Audiobook Version of A Year Amongst the Persians Now Available!

Edward Granville Browne (1862 - 1926) in Persian dress

A group recording of A year amongst the Persians; impressions as to the life, character, and thought of the people of Persia, received during twelve month's residence in that country in the years 1887-8 has now been completed! The whole length of the audiobook is 29 hours, 8 seconds and is divided into 46 sections. I was the Book Coordinator (BC) for this project. Leni was the Meta Coordinator (MC). The book was read by four readers: myself, antinomy, hefyd and Nasseem. The dedicated proof listener was mim@can. The book may be downloaded from this site:

It can also be listened to directly at the Internet Archive page:

Edward Granville Browne (1862 – 1926), born in Stouts Hill, Uley, Gloucestershire, England, was a British orientalist who published numerous articles and books of academic value, mainly in the areas of history and literature. His works are respected for their scholarship, uniqueness, and style. He published in areas which few other Western scholars had explored to any sufficient degree. He used a language and style that showed high respect for everybody, even toward those whom he personally did not view in positive light.

Map of Persia, from "the Dawn-Breakers" (originally published in 1932)

In A Year Amongst the Persians (1893) he wrote a sympathetic portrayal of a Persian society which few Westerners had ever seen, including a frank account of the effects of opium. It did not attract the attention it deserved at the time of its initial publication, but after his death in 1926 it was reprinted and became a classic in English travel literature. A Year Amongst the Persians includes moving accounts of the Bahá’í community in Iran. Concerning his meetings with the Bahá’ís of Iran, Browne writes: “The memory of those assemblies can never fade from my mind; the recollection of those faces and those tones no time can efface. I have gazed with awe on the workings of a mighty Spirit, and I marvel whereunto it tends”. The work contains many conversations between Browne and Bahá’ís, in which they demonstrate the proofs of their Faith through rational arguments. Browne didn't always agree with this arguments, but that may be because he didn't understand them fully.

Bahá’ís laying the foundation stone for the Bahá’í Temple in Ashkabad, Turkmenistan

The following is part of one of Browne's conversations with the Bahá’ís of Shiraz (pp. 336 - 340):

"I have already said that what is incumbent on every man is that he should believe in the 'manifestation' of his own age. It is not required of him that he should discuss and compare all previous 'manifestations.' You have been brought up a follower of Christ. We have believed in this 'manifestation' which has taken place in these days. Let us not waste time in disputing about intermediate 'manifestations.' We do not desire to make you believe in Muhammad but in Behá. If you should be convinced of the truth of Behá's teaching you have passed over the stage of Islám altogether. The last 'manifestation' includes and
sums up all preceding ones. You say that you could not accept Islám because its laws and ordinances are harsher, and, in your eyes, less perfect than those laid down by Christ. Very well, we do not ask you to accept Islám; we ask you to consider whether you should not accept Behá. To do so you need not go back from a gentle to a severe dispensation. Behá has come for the perfecting of the law of Christ, and his injunctions are in all respects similar; for instance, we are commanded to prefer rather that we should be killed than that we should kill. It is the same throughout, and, indeed, could not be otherwise, for Behá is Christ returned again, even as He promised, to perfect that which He had begun. Your own books tell you that Christ shall come 'like a thief in the night,' at a time when you are not expecting Him."

"True," I [Browne] replied, "but those same books tell us also that His coming shall be 'as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven and shineth unto the other part under heaven.'"

"There can be no contradiction between these two similes," answered the Bábí [Bahá’í]; "and since the phrase 'like a thief in the night' evidently signifies that when Christ returns it will be in a place where you do not expect Him, and at a time when you do not expect Him--that is, suddenly and secretly--it is clear that the comparison in the other passage which you quoted is to the suddenness and swiftness of the lightning, not to its universal vividness. If, as the Christians for the most-part expect, Christ should come riding upon the clouds surrounded by angels, how could He be said in any sense to come 'like a thief in the night'? Everyone would see him, and, seeing, would be compelled to believe. It has always been through such considerations as these that men have rejected the prophet whose advent they professed to be expecting, because He did not come in some unnatural and impossible manner which they had vainly imagined. Christ was indeed the promised Messiah, yet the Jews, who had waited, and prayed, and longed for the coming of the Messiah,rejected Him when He did come for just such reasons. Ask a Jew now why he does not believe in Christ, and he will tell you that the signs whereby the Messiah was to be known were not manifest at His coming. Yet, had he understood what was intended by those signs, instead of being led away by vain traditions, he would know that the promised Messiah had come and gone and come again. So with the Christians. On a mountain close by Acre [Mount Carmel] is a monastery peopled by Christian priests and monks, assembled there to await the arrival of Christ on that spot as foretold. And they continue to gaze upwards into heaven, whence they suppose that He will descend, while only a few miles off in Acre He has returned, and is dwelling amongst men as before.

Mount Carmel as it looked in 1894, before the establishment of the Bahá’í World Centre on the Mountain

"O be not blinded by those very misapprehensions which you condemn so strongly in the Jews! The Jews would not believe in Christ because He was not accompanied by a host of angels; you blame the Jews for their obstinacy and frowardness, and you do rightly. But beware lest you condemn yourselves by alleging the very same reason as an excuse for rejecting this 'manifestation.' Christ came to the Jews accompanied by angels--angels none the less because they were in the guise of fishermen. Christ returns to you as Behá with angels, with clouds, with the sound of trumpets. His angels are His messengers; the clouds are the doubts which prevent you from recognising Him; the sound of trumpets is the sound of the proclamation which you now hear, announcing that He has come once more from heaven, even as He came before, not as a human form descending visibly from the sky, but as the Spirit of God entering into a man, and abiding there."

"Well," I replied, "your arguments are strong, and certainly deserve consideration. But, even supposing that you are right in principle, it does not follow that they hold good in this particular case. If I grant that the return of Christ may be in such wise as you indicate, nevertheless mere assertion will notprove that Behá is Christ. Indeed, we are told by Christ Himself that many will arise in His name, saying, 'See here,' or 'See there,' and are warned not to follow them."

"Many have arisen falsely claiming to be Christ," he answered, "but the injunction laid on you to beware of these does not mean that you are to refuse to accept Christ when He does return. The very fact that there are pretenders is a proof that there is a reality. You demand proofs, and you are right to do so. What proofs would suffice for you?"

"The chief proofs which occur to me at this moment," I replied, "are as follows:--You admit, so far as I understand, that in each 'manifestation' a promise has been given of a succeeding 'manifestation,' and that certain signs have always been laid down whereby that 'manifestation' may be recognised. It is therefore incumbent on you to show that the signs foretold by Christ as heralding His return have been accomplished in the coming of Behá. Furthermore, since each 'manifestation' must be fuller, completer, and more perfect than the last, you must prove that the doctrines taught by Behá are superior to the teaching of Christ--a thing which I confess seems to me almost impossible, for I cannot imagine a doctrine purer or more elevated than that of Christ. Lastly, quite apart from miracles in the ordinary sense, there is one sign which we regard as the especial characteristic of a prophet, to wit, that he should have knowledge of events which have not yet come to pass. No sign can be more appropriate or more convincing than this. For a prophet claims to be inspired by God, and to speak of the mysteries of the Unseen. If he has knowledge of the Unseen he may well be expected to have knowledge of the Future. That we may know that what he tells us about other matters beyond our ken is true, we must be convinced that he has knowledge surpassing ours in some matter which we can verify. This is afforded most readily by the foretelling of events which have not yet happened, and which we cannot foresee. These three signs appear to me both sufficient and requisite to establish such a claim as that which you advance for Behá."

"As regards knowledge of the future," replied Haji Mirza Hasan, "I could tell you of many occasions on which Behá has given proof of such. Not only I myself, but almost all who have been at Acre, and stood in his presence, have received warnings of impending dangers, or information concerning forthcoming events. Some of these I will, if it please God, relate to you at some future time. As regards the superiority of Behá's doctrines to those of Christ, you can judge for yourself if you will read his words. As regards the news of this 'manifestation' given to you by Christ, is it not the case that He promised to return? Did He not declare that one should come to comfort His followers, and perfect what He had begun? Did He not signify that after the Son should come the Father?"

Such conversations were typical of Browne's encounters with Bahá’ís. All of Browne's objections have been answered and fully explained in numerous works of Bahá’í literature. The proofs that Browne seeks have been provided in many works, such as the numerous writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the Báb's Seven Proofs, Bahá'u'lláh's Kitáb-i-Íqán and Gems of Divine Mysteries, The Brilliant Proof by Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl-i-Gulpáygání, Christ and Bahá'u'lláh by George Townsend, The Prophecies of Jesus by Michael W. Sours, Understanding Christian Beliefs by Michael W. Sours, Understanding Biblical Evidence by Michael W. Sours, Thief in the Night: The Case of the Missing Millennium by William Sears, The Proofs of Bahá'u'lláh's Mission, The Challenge of Bahá'u'lláh by Gary L. Matthews, He Cometh With Clouds by Gary L. Matthews, Preparing for Christ's New Name by Alex Gottdank, Promises Fulfilled: Christianity, Islam and the Baha'i Faith by Nabil I. Hanna, among many, many others in English, Arabic, Persian and other languages.

Edward G. Browne referred to Bahá’ís as Bábís, but this was a mistake on his part. Siyyid ‘Alí-Muhammad-i-Shírází (1819-1850), known as the “Báb”, which is Arabic for “Gate”, proclaimed that He was the Promised One of Islám. He declared His mission in 1844 and was executed by the Persian government in 1850. His followers were known as Bábís. The Báb also proclaimed that He was the Gate, Herald and Forerunner of an even greater Manifestation of God who would come after Him, the Promised One of all religions and Return of Christ in the Glory of the Father.

In 1863, Mírzá Husyan-‘Alí-yi-Núrí (1817-1892), known as Bahá’u’lláh (Arabic for “The Glory of God”), proclaimed that He was the Promised One foretold by the Báb. By the time Browne arrived in Iran, most Bábís had already accepted Bahá’u’lláh as the Promised One and were now known as Bahá’ís. A small group of Bábís, led by Mírzá Yahyá Núrí, known as Azal, who was Bahá’u’lláh’s younger half-brother, rejected these claims. Azal is notorious for poisoning his own Brother (i.e. Bahá’u’lláh) as well as trying to assassinate other enemies on numerous occasions. While the Báb had made Azal His nominal successor, this was only until the Promised One were to appear, upon which time Azal’s authority was supposed to cease. Most Bábís realised Azal’s depravity and turned to Bahá’u’lláh, whose character and spirituality were unsurpassed. Browne was sympathetic to Azal’s claims but was also impressed by the spirituality of the Bahá’í community. The followers of Azal (sometimes spelled Ezel) were known as Azalís.

In 1890, Browne journeyed to Cyprus (where he met Azal) and then onto 'Akká (Acre) in Palestine, where he met both 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Bahá'u'lláh. He later recorded this journey in the Introduction to A Traveller's Narrative. I have previously posted about the audio version of A Traveller's Narrative, which doesn't include the introduction. I have now recorded the introduction as part of the Short Nonfiction Collection Vol. 020. In the Introduction (p. xxxvi.), Browne described 'Abdu'l-Bahá as “a tall strongly-built man holding himself straight as an arrow, with white turban and raiment, long black locks reaching almost to the shoulder, broad powerful forehead indicating a strong intellect combined with an unswerving will, eyes keen as a hawk's, and strongly-marked but pleasing features… One more eloquent of speech, more ready of argument, more apt of illustration, more intimately acquainted with the sacred books of the Jews, the Christians, and the Muhammadans, could, I should think, scarcely be found even amongst the eloquent, ready, and subtle race to which he belongs”.

'Abdu'l-Bahá, "The Master"
He described his meeting with Bahá'u'lláh in the following words (pp. xxxix. - xli.):

"Of the culminating event of this my journey some few words at least must be said. During the morning of the day after my installation at Behjé one of Behá's younger sons entered the room where I was sitting and beckoned to me to follow him. I did so, and was conducted through passages and rooms at which I scarcely had time to glance to a spacious hall, paved, so far as I remember (for my mind was occupied with other thoughts) with a mosaic of marble. Before a curtain suspended from the wall of this great ante-chamber my conductor paused for a moment while I removed my shoes. Then, with a quick movement of the hand, he withdrew, and, as I passed, replaced the curtain; and I found myself in a large apartment, along the upper end of which ran a low divan, while on the side opposite to the door were placed two or three chairs. Though I dimly suspected whither I was going and whom I was to behold (for no distinct intimation had been given to me), a second or two lapsed ere, with a throb of wonder and awe, I became definitely conscious that the room was not untenanted. In the corner where the divan met the wall sat a wondrous and venerable figure, crowned with a felt head-dress of the kind called táj by dervishes (but of unusual height and make), round the base of which was wound a small white turban. The face of him on whom I gazed I can never forget, though I cannot describe it. Those piercing eyes seemed to read one's very soul; power and authority sat on that ample brow; while the deep lines on the forehead and face implied an age which the jet-black hair and beard flowing down in indistinguishable luxuriance almost to the waist seemed to belie. No need to ask in whose presence I stood, as I bowed myself before one who is the object of a devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain!

The Room where E.G. Browne met Bahá'u'lláh

"A mild dignified voice bade me be seated, and then continued:- "Praise be to God that thou hast attained!... Thou hast come to see a prisoner and an exile.... We desire but the good of the world and the happiness of the nations; yet they deem us a stirrer up of strife and sedition worthy of bondage and banishment.... That all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religion should cease, and differences of race be annulled - what harm is there in this?... Yet so it shall be; these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the 'Most Great Peace' shall come.... Do not you in Europe need this also? Is not this that which Christ foretold?... Yet do we see your kings and rulers lavishing their treasures more freely on means for the destruction of the human race than on that which would conduce to the happiness of mankind.... These strifes and this bloodshed and discord must cease, and all men be as one kindred and one family.... Let not a man glory in this, that he loves his country; let him rather glory in this, that he loves his kind...."

"Such, so far as I can recall them, were the words which, besides many others, I heard from Behá. Let those who read them consider well with themselves whether such doctrines merit death and bonds, and whether the world is more likely to gain or lose by their diffusion.

"My interview lasted altogether about twenty minutes, and during the latter part of it Behá read a portion of that epistle (lawh) whereof the translation occupies the last paragraph on p. 70 and the greater part of p. 71 of this book."

This pen-portrait is famous among Bahá’ís and remains one of his lasting legacies to the community which he studied for so long. While Browne’s sympathetic views on Azal were misguided, he made a great contribution to Bahá’í studies through his translations of historical works and his accounts of the Bahá’í community. Amongst Persians, at a time when nearly the whole nation was highly suspicious of foreigners, and in particular of any British or Russian person due to the political dynamics of that time, Edward Browne was well accepted by the people who knew him and his works. He is well remembered today, and a street named after him in Tehran, as well as his statue, remained even after the Iranian revolution in 1979.

LibriVox is a tremendous way of producing public domain, freely accessible Bahá'í literature. One needs only find a public domain Bahá'í text (and there are many at Internet Archive, Google Books, H-Net, etc.), create an account at the LibriVox forum, read the Newbie Guide to Recording, submit a 1-minute test  (to check one's settings are correct) and then one can begin to bring the world of Bahá'í literature to life in an audio format, so that the waiting masses of humanity can hear and appreciate the Word of God and the Divine Teachings. This is a great service to the Faith, that any Bahá'í can do.

If you like this recording, you will also like my recordings of:

Talks by Abdul-Baha Given in Paris by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
A Traveller's Narrative Written to Illustrate the Episode of the Báb by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
The Myserious Forces of Civilization by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
Introduction to A Traveller's Narrative Written to Illustrate the Episode of the Báb by E. G. Browne (Sections 7 and 8 of the Short Nonfiction Collection Vol. 020)
The Bahai Revelation by Thornton Chase
In Galilee by Thornton Chase
The Universal Religion: Bahaism - Its Rise and Social Import by Hippolyte Dreyfus-Barney
The Brilliant Proof (Burhäne Lämé) in reply to an attack upon the Bahai Revelation by Peter Z. Easton by Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl-i-Gulpáygání
The Revelation of Baha-ullah in a Sequence of Four Lessons by Isabella D. Brittingham
Persian Self-Taught (in Roman Characters) with English Phonetic Pronunciation by Shaykh Hasan

For more Bahá'í recordings which I have completed, see: My Audiobooks