Why did Denis MacEoin leave the Baha'i Faith?
Denis M. MacEoin (born 1949, Belfast, Northern Ireland) has been editor of Middle East Quarterly since June 2009. A former lecturer in Islamic studies, his academic specializations are Shia, Shaykhism, Bábism, and the Bahá'í Faith, on all of which he has written extensively. MacEoin is also a novelist, writing under the pen names Daniel Easterman and Jonathan Aycliffe. He and his wife live in Newcastle upon Tyne in northern England.
Denis MacEoin is the incoming editor of the Middle East Quarterly, an international journal devoted to the study of modern politics, religion, and society in the region. He has recently written a full-scale report on Islamic hate literature found in Britain, The Hijacking of British Islam. His study for Music, Chess, Segregation, Integration, and Muslim Schools in Britain, is about to be published in hard copy and online
Denis MacEoin did not withdraw from the Bahaism; he was chased out by powerful Baha'i fundamentalists who were deeply threatened by the implications of his historical work. Denis became a Baha'i in North Ireland around 1965 and quickly emerged as a Baha'i youth leader. He was chosen to come to Haifa to commemorate the 1968 anniversary of Bahaullah's Letters to the Kings!
He then wrote the House saying he did not know whether to serve the Faith by becoming an academic scholar of the Middle East or by going pioneering. They wrote back that either path would be praiseworthy. (They later stabbed him in the back about this). He therefore, entered graduate school at Edinburgh in Middle East Studies, then went on to Cambridge University for his Ph.D. He was the first academic to study the Babi movement with all the tools of modern scholarship, and his findings were groundbreaking.
Denis made the mistake of continuing to be an active Baha'i. Since the community is so heavily dominated by aggressive fundamentalist fanatics, if a genuine academic wants to be a Baha'i s/he has to keep a low profile. Denis did not! He gave summer school talks. He was once viciously attacked by Abu al-Qasim Faizi. His new ideas were upsetting the conservative British Bahai community. He objected when the Baha'i authorities supported dictators like Pinochet and Bokassa. He corresponded with the Los Angeles Study Class and some of his letters were published in their newsletter (a newsletter that the Baha'i authorities later closed down).
Around 1980, fundamentalist UHJ members Ian Sample and David Hoffman called Denis to a meeting and told him he would have to fall silent. Hoffman was especially harsh. Denis declined to fall silent, and ultimately withdrew from the Faith. He was pushed out by anti-intellectual bigots who had risen high in the Baha'i hierarchy and become Infallible. Denis's works on the Babi and Baha'i movements are some of the few pieces of solid scholarship that exist. Instead of being grateful to him for sacrificing all those years living in penury, as a graduate student, studying Arabic and Persian, traveling to a dangerous Middle East, all for the service of Bahaullah, the community could think of nothing better to do than viciously attack him and throw him in the gutter of infamy.
Following his departure from the Baha’i Faith, Denis MacEion became involved in a series of debates with Baha’is as a result of certain articles he wrote after leaving the Baha’i Faith over the issues of Baha’i scholarship and “Western” views of academics and historical analyses. The essence of these debates revolved around the difference of views between the reliance of Western academics solely on historical documents without any context or reference to the authoritative texts and Writings of the religion. (See for example the 1982 and 1983 exchanges between Dr. Momen and Denis MacEion regarding this issue Response to MacEoin's "Problems of Scholarship" and "A Critique of Moojan Momen's Response,".See also Muhammad Afnan and William Hatcher, “Western Scholarship and Baha'i Origins,” Religion [15 (1985): 29-49] and MacEion’s response in the same publication in 1986, Bahá'í Fundamentalism and the Academic Study of the Babi Movement for the initial debates.
Denis's story is the story of most thinking people who have anything serious to do with the Baha'i faith. Either they adopt a cult-like mindset of true believers and covenant breakers, in which case they gradually cease being thinking persons, or they get chased out by the wild-eyed. A few people manage to avoid either fate by not drawing attention to themselves. The Baha'i Extreme Orthodox are like the Borg in Star Trek. They want to assimilate you, but might leave you alone if you stay quiet.