Orientals Meeting in the West: Foes Become Friends

By Mina Yazdani
Submitted to Session P2491 ('Abdu'l-Baha in America, 2010 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
When 'Abdu'l-Bah- 'Abb s, the son of the founder of the Baha'i faith, travelled to Europe and North America in 1911-1913, many of his father's followers, from both 'East' and 'West' showered him with devotion befitting the current head of their religion. At the same time, several other prominent Iranian travelers who had a history ranging from negative attitudes towards Baha'is to all-out opposition also sought audiences with him. The accounts of these visits describe mutually respectful interactions. His famous Iranian visitors included scholars and Qnjlr princes. Among them were Munammad Qazv nh, a well-know scholar who had collaborated with British Orientalist, Edward Browne, to publish materials that undermined the claims of Baha'u'llah and supported those of his rival brother Mirza Yahy ; Mhrz Mahd Khtn Za'im al-Dawlah Tabrzz?, the author of a major anti-Bah 'a polemical work who visited 'Abdu'l-Baha on his return from Europe in 1913; and Mas'ld Mhrz Zill al-Sult n, the son of N1sir al-Din Shah, and his own son Jalul al-Dawlah, both of whom had persecuted and ordered the execution of Baha'is back in Iran.

Investigating primary sources, including memoirs (e.g. those of Mutammad Qazvina in the periodical Yadigmr), chronicles (mainly Maymmd ZarqznZ's two-volume Baddyi' al-dsg'r), and newspaper clippings (Star of the West from the years 1911-1913), this paper posits explanations for the noticeable change in attitude evinced by these formerly antagonistic visitors toward 'Abdu'l-Bah . These Iranian travelers observed the admiration showered upon him by his 'Western' followers, and refashioned their own attitudes towards him accordingly, while they struggled with their perceived inferiority in 'the West.' Futhermore, 'Abdu'l-Bah 's charisma and his way of conduct seemingly effaced the sense of alterity in face to face encounters. Such coming together of Orientals and Occidntals was unusual, if not unprecedented. This study therefore sheds light on significant aspects of Iranian modernity that have not been properly studied by scholars