The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience


See also:

Making the Crooked Straight - Reviewed by Denis MacEoin posted on H-Bahai, 2001

See also Cole on Denis MacEoin

From: Juan Cole <>
Subject: Re: Book recommendation
Date: Friday, July 09, 1999 5:31 PM

Denis MacEoin is from a middle class background in Belfast.  He became a
Baha'i around 1965 and quickly emerged as a rising young star in the
movement.  He was among the active youth invited to the Holy Land in
1968 for the commemoration of Baha'u'llah's advent there and the
revelation of the Tablet of the Kings.  Denis thereafter asked the
Universal House of Justice whether it would be better if he went
pioneering or went into the academic study of the faith.  That first
House of Justice, bless their souls, wrote him back that both were
valuable to the cause and the choice was his.

Denis did an MA in Islamics at Edinburgh, then a Ph.D. in Persian at
Cambridge.  He wrote a magnificent dissertation, *From Shaykhism to
Babism*, which was foundational for academic studies of the religion for
the subsequent generation.  He learned near native fluent Persian and
good Arabic, and was poised to become a major figure in Middle East and
in Baha'i studies.

However, as Denis became more and more knowledgeable about the
historical realities of the faith, he began to question fireside
pieties.  The tiny UK Baha'i community of only a couple thousand, then,
was extremely conservative (in all senses of the world--those people
mainly voted Thatcher later), and they began attacking Denis for not
repeating the same-old same-old party line.  He co-taught a summer
school with A.Q. Fayzi, where the latter, whose family are mostly mullas
in the seminary city of Qum in Iran, was outraged by Denis's academic
approach and attacked him viciously.  Finally David Hoffman and Ian
Semple of the UHJ met with Denis and were "harsh" to him;  I presume he
was threatened with ostracism, as have been most Baha'i academics who
went into Middle Eastern studies and who dared actually write something

Denis went off to Morocco in 1980-81, and while there became so filled
with despair about the secretive cult-like aspects of the faith, which
had led to the attacks on him merely for thinking and researching, that
he resigned from it while there.  The Saudis later had him fired from
his academic position at Newcastle, because of his Baha'i background and
interests, so his career was twice martyred for the Faith, once by Haifa
and once by Riyad.

He became a fine novelist, writing as Daniel Easterman and Jonathan
Aycliffe, and continues with that role today.  His unfortunate
experiences with the Dark Side of the Baha'i faith, its extreme
anti-intellectualism and prejudice against thinking people, deprived him
of his faith altogether, in the end.

He did continue to publish some excellent scholarship on the Babi and
Baha'i movements, of which *Rituals* is possibly the best.  The rituals
MacEoin discusses are those prescribed by Baha'u'llah, even though it is
true most Westerners don't practice them.

There are several complete ignoramuses among the Baha'is running around
Europe claiming the title of "Members fo the Institution of the Learned"
who don't know a hundredth what Denis MacEoin knows about the Baha'i
faith.  He was the truly learned one.  And he was made to drink the
hemlock for it, by the narrow-minded, which is the fate of most thinking
persons who become active in the Baha'i community.

cheers   Juan

Juan Cole, History, U of Michigan
Buy *Modernity & Millennium: Genesis of Baha'i*

Sent via
Share what you know. Learn what you don't.