With the passing of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá the first century of the Bahá’í era, whose inception had synchronized with His birth, had run more than three quarters of its course. Seventy-seven years previously the light of the Faith proclaimed by the Báb had risen above the horizon of Shíráz and flashed across the firmament of Persia, dispelling the age-long gloom which had enveloped its people. A blood bath of unusual ferocity, in which government, clergy and people, heedless of the significance of that light and blind to its splendor, had jointly participated, had all but extinguished the radiance of its glory in the land of its birth. Bahá’u’lláh had at the darkest hour in the fortunes of that Faith been summoned, while Himself a prisoner in Ṭihrán, to reinvigorate its life, and been commissioned to fulfil its ultimate purpose. In Baghdád, upon the termination of the ten-year delay interposed between the first intimation of that Mission and its Declaration, He had revealed the Mystery enshrined in the Báb’s embryonic Faith, and disclosed the fruit which it had yielded. In Adrianople Bahá’u’lláh’s Message, the promise of the Bábí as well as of all previous Dispensations, had been proclaimed to mankind, and its challenge voiced to the rulers of the earth in both the East and the West. Behind the walls of the prison-fortress of ‘Akká the Bearer of God’s newborn Revelation had ordained the laws and formulated the principles that were to constitute the warp and woof of His World Order. He had, moreover, prior to His ascension, instituted the Covenant that was to guide and assist in the laying of its foundations and to safeguard the unity of its builders. Armed with that peerless and potent Instrument, ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, His eldest Son and Center of His Covenant, had erected the standard of His Father’s Faith in the North American continent, and established an impregnable basis for its institutions in Western Europe, in the Far East and in Australia. He had, in His works, Tablets and addresses, elucidated its principles, interpreted its laws, amplified its doctrine, and erected the rudimentary institutions of its future Administrative Order. In Russia He had raised its first House of Worship, whilst on the slopes of Mt. Carmel He had reared a befitting mausoleum for its Herald, and deposited His remains therein with His Own hands. Through His visits to several cities in Europe and the North American continent He had broadcast Bahá’u’lláh’s Message to the peoples of the West, and heightened the prestige of the Cause of God to a degree it had never previously experienced. And lastly, in the evening of His life, He had through the revelation of the Tablets of the Divine Plan issued His mandate to the community which He Himself had raised up, trained and nurtured, a Plan that must in the years to come enable its members to diffuse the light, and erect the administrative fabric, of the Faith throughout the five continents of the globe.
The moment had now arrived for that undying, that world-vitalizing Spirit that was born in Shíráz, that had been rekindled in Ṭihrán, that had been fanned into flame in Baghdád and Adrianople, that had been carried to the West, and was now illuminating the fringes of five continents, to incarnate itself in institutions designed to canalize its outspreading energies and stimulate its growth. The Age that had witnessed the birth and rise of the Faith had now closed. The Heroic, the Apostolic Age of the Dispensation of Bahá’u’lláh, that primitive period in which its Founders had lived, in which its life had been generated, in which its greatest heroes had struggled and quaffed the cup of martyrdom, and its pristine foundations been established—a period whose splendors no victories in this or any future age, however brilliant, can rival—had now terminated with the passing of One Whose mission may be regarded as the link binding the Age in which the seed of the newborn Message had been incubating and those which are destined to witness its efflorescence and ultimate fruition.
The Formative Period, the Iron Age, of that Dispensation was now beginning, the Age in which the institutions, local, national and international, of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh were to take shape, develop and become fully consolidated, in anticipation of the third, the last, the Golden Age destined to witness the emergence of a world-embracing Order enshrining the ultimate fruit of God’s latest Revelation to mankind, a fruit whose maturity must signalize the establishment of a world civilization and the formal inauguration of the Kingdom of the Father upon earth as promised by Jesus Christ Himself.
To this World Order the Báb Himself had, whilst a prisoner in the mountain fastnesses of Ádhirbáyján, explicitly referred in His Persian Bayán, the Mother-Book of the Bábí Dispensation, had announced its advent, and associated it with the name of Bahá’u’lláh, Whose Mission He Himself had heralded. “Well is it with him,” is His remarkable statement in the sixteenth chapter of the third Váḥid, “who fixeth his gaze upon the Order of Bahá’u’lláh, and rendereth thanks unto his Lord! For He will assuredly be made manifest…” To this same Order Bahá’u’lláh Who, in a later period, revealed the laws and principles that must govern the operation of that Order, had thus referred in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, the Mother-Book of His Dispensation: “The world’s equilibrium hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this Most Great Order. Mankind’s ordered life hath been revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous System, the like of which mortal eyes have never witnessed.” Its features ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, its great Architect, delineated in His Will and Testament, whilst the foundations of its rudimentary institutions are now being laid after Him by His followers in the East and in the West in this, the Formative Age of the Bahá’í Dispensation.
The last twenty-three years of the first Bahá’í century may thus be regarded as the initial stage of the Formative Period of the Faith, an Age of Transition to be identified with the rise and establishment of the Administrative Order, upon which the institutions of the future Bahá’í World Commonwealth must needs be ultimately erected in the Golden Age that must witness the consummation of the Bahá’í Dispensation. The Charter which called into being, outlined the features and set in motion the processes of, this Administrative Order is none other than the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, His greatest legacy to posterity, the brightest emanation of His mind and the mightiest instrument forged to insure the continuity of the three ages which constitute the component parts of His Father’s Dispensation.
The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh had been instituted solely through the direct operation of His Will and purpose. The Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, on the other hand, may be regarded as the offspring resulting from that mystic intercourse between Him Who had generated the forces of a God-given Faith and the One Who had been made its sole Interpreter and was recognized as its perfect Exemplar. The creative energies unleashed by the Originator of the Law of God in this age gave birth, through their impact upon the mind of Him Who had been chosen as its unerring Expounder, to that Instrument, the vast implications of which the present generation, even after the lapse of twenty-three years, is still incapable of fully apprehending. This Instrument can, if we would correctly appraise it, no more be divorced from the One Who provided the motivating impulse for its creation than from Him Who directly conceived it. The purpose of the Author of the Bahá’í Revelation had, as already observed, been so thoroughly infused into the mind of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, and His Spirit had so profoundly impregnated His being, and their aims and motives been so completely blended, that to dissociate the doctrine laid down by the former from the supreme act associated with the mission of the latter would be tantamount to a repudiation of one of the most fundamental verities of the Faith.
The Administrative Order which this historic Document has established, it should be noted, is, by virtue of its origin and character, unique in the annals of the world’s religious systems. No Prophet before Bahá’u’lláh, it can be confidently asserted, not even Muḥammad Whose Book clearly lays down the laws and ordinances of the Islamic Dispensation, has established, authoritatively and in writing, anything comparable to the Administrative Order which the authorized Interpreter of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings has instituted, an Order which, by virtue of the administrative principles which its Author has formulated, the institutions He has established, and the right of interpretation with which He has invested its Guardian, must and will, in a manner unparalleled in any previous religion, safeguard from schism the Faith from which it has sprung. Nor is the principle governing its operation similar to that which underlies any system, whether theocratic or otherwise, which the minds of men have devised for the government of human institutions. Neither in theory nor in practice can the Administrative Order of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh be said to conform to any type of democratic government, to any system of autocracy, to any purely aristocratic order, or to any of the various theocracies, whether Jewish, Christian or Islamic which mankind has witnessed in the past. It incorporates within its structure certain elements which are to be found in each of the three recognized forms of secular government, is devoid of the defects which each of them inherently possesses, and blends the salutary truths which each undoubtedly contains without vitiating in any way the integrity of the Divine verities on which it is essentially founded. The hereditary authority which the Guardian of the Administrative Order is called upon to exercise, and the right of the interpretation of the Holy Writ solely conferred upon him; the powers and prerogatives of the Universal House of Justice, possessing the exclusive right to legislate on matters not explicitly revealed in the Most Holy Book; the ordinance exempting its members from any responsibility to those whom they represent, and from the obligation to conform to their views, convictions or sentiments; the specific provisions requiring the free and democratic election by the mass of the faithful of the Body that constitutes the sole legislative organ in the world-wide Bahá’í community—these are among the features which combine to set apart the Order identified with the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh from any of the existing systems of human government.
Nor have the enemies who, at the hour of the inception of this Administrative Order, and in the course of its twenty-three year existence, both in the East and in the West, from within and from without, misrepresented its character, or derided and vilified it, or striven to arrest its march, or contrived to create a breach in the ranks of its supporters, succeeded in achieving their malevolent purpose. The strenuous exertions of an ambitious Armenian, who, in the course of the first years of its establishment in Egypt, endeavored to supplant it by the “Scientific Society” which in his short-sightedness he had conceived and was sponsoring, failed utterly in its purpose. The agitation provoked by a deluded woman who strove diligently both in the United States and in England to demonstrate the unauthenticity of the Charter responsible for its creation, and even to induce the civil authorities of Palestine to take legal action in the matter—a request which to her great chagrin was curtly refused—as well as the defection of one of the earliest pioneers and founders of the Faith in Germany, whom that same woman had so tragically misled, produced no effect whatsoever. The volumes which a shameless apostate composed and disseminated, during that same period in Persia, in his brazen efforts not only to disrupt that Order but to undermine the very Faith which had conceived it, proved similarly abortive. The schemes devised by the remnants of the Covenant-breakers, who immediately the aims and purposes of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá’s Will became known arose, headed by Mírzá Badí‘u’lláh, to wrest the custodianship of the holiest shrine in the Bahá’í world from its appointed Guardian, likewise came to naught and brought further discredit upon them. The subsequent attacks launched by certain exponents of Christian orthodoxy, in both Christian and non-Christian lands, with the object of subverting the foundations, and distorting the features, of this same Order were powerless to sap the loyalty of its upholders or to deflect them from their high purpose. Not even the infamous and insidious machinations of a former secretary of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, who, untaught by the retribution that befell Bahá’u’lláh’s amanuensis, as well as by the fate that overtook several other secretaries and interpreters of His Master, in both the East and the West, has arisen, and is still exerting himself, to pervert the purpose and nullify the essential provisions of the immortal Document from which that Order derives its authority, have been able to stay even momentarily the march of its institutions along the course set for it by its Author, or to create anything that might, however remotely, resemble a breach in the ranks of its assured, its wide-awake and stalwart supporters.
The Document establishing that Order, the Charter of a future world civilization, which may be regarded in some of its features as supplementary to no less weighty a Book than the Kitáb-i-Aqdas; signed and sealed by ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá; entirely written with His own hand; its first section composed during one of the darkest periods of His incarceration in the prison-fortress of ‘Akká, proclaims, categorically and unequivocally, the fundamental beliefs of the followers of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh; reveals, in unmistakable language, the twofold character of the Mission of the Báb; discloses the full station of the Author of the Bahá’í Revelation; asserts that “all others are servants unto Him and do His bidding”; stresses the importance of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas; establishes the institution of the Guardianship as a hereditary office and outlines its essential functions; provides the measures for the election of the International House of Justice, defines its scope and sets forth its relationship to that Institution; prescribes the obligations, and emphasizes the responsibilities, of the Hands of the Cause of God; and extolls the virtues of the indestructible Covenant established by Bahá’u’lláh. That Document, furthermore, lauds the courage and constancy of the supporters of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant; expatiates on the sufferings endured by its appointed Center; recalls the infamous conduct of Mírzá Yaḥyá and his failure to heed the warnings of the Báb; exposes, in a series of indictments, the perfidy and rebellion of Mírzá Muḥammad-‘Alí, and the complicity of his son Shu‘á‘’u’lláh and of his brother Mírzá Badí‘u’lláh; reaffirms their excommunication, and predicts the frustration of all their hopes; summons the Afnán (the Báb’s kindred), the Hands of the Cause and the entire company of the followers of Bahá’u’lláh to arise unitedly to propagate His Faith, to disperse far and wide, to labor tirelessly and to follow the heroic example of the Apostles of Jesus Christ; warns them against the dangers of association with the Covenant-breakers, and bids them shield the Cause from the assaults of the insincere and the hypocrite; and counsels them to demonstrate by their conduct the universality of the Faith they have espoused, and vindicate its high principles. In that same Document its Author reveals the significance and purpose of the Ḥuqúqu’lláh (Right of God), already instituted in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas; enjoins submission and fidelity towards all monarchs who are just; expresses His longing for martyrdom, and voices His prayers for the repentance as well as the forgiveness of His enemies.
Obedient to the summons issued by the Author of so momentous a Document; conscious of their high calling; galvanized into action by the shock sustained through the unexpected and sudden removal of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá; guided by the Plan which He, the Architect of the Administrative Order, had entrusted to their hands; undeterred by the attacks directed against it by betrayers and enemies, jealous of its gathering strength and blind to its unique significance, the members of the widely-scattered Bahá’í communities, in both the East and the West, arose with clear vision and inflexible determination to inaugurate the Formative Period of their Faith by laying the foundations of that world-embracing Administrative system designed to evolve into a World Order which posterity must acclaim as the promise and crowning glory of all the Dispensations of the past. Not content with the erection and consolidation of the administrative machinery provided for the preservation of the unity and the efficient conduct of the affairs of a steadily expanding community, the followers of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh resolved, in the course of the two decades following ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá’s passing, to assert and demonstrate by their acts the independent character of that Faith, to enlarge still further its limits and swell the number of its avowed supporters.
In this triple world-wide effort, it should be noted, the rôle played by the American Bahá’í community, since the passing of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá until the termination of the first Bahá’í century, has been such as to lend a tremendous impetus to the development of the Faith throughout the world, to vindicate the confidence placed in its members by ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá Himself, and to justify the high praise He bestowed upon them and the fond hopes He entertained for their future. Indeed so preponderating has been the influence of its members in both the initiation and the consolidation of Bahá’í administrative institutions that their country may well deserve to be recognized as the cradle of the Administrative Order which Bahá’u’lláh Himself had envisaged and which the Will of the Center of His Covenant had called into being.
It should be borne in mind in this connection that the preliminary steps aiming at the disclosure of the scope and working of this Administrative Order, which was now to be formally established after ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá’s passing, had already been taken by Him, and even by Bahá’u’lláh in the years preceding His ascension. The appointment by Him of certain outstanding believers in Persia as “Hands of the Cause”; the initiation of local Assemblies and boards of consultation by ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá in leading Bahá’í centers in both the East and the West; the formation of the Bahá’í Temple Unity in the United States of America; the establishment of local funds for the promotion of Bahá’í activities; the purchase of property dedicated to the Faith and its future institutions; the founding of publishing societies for the dissemination of Bahá’í literature; the erection of the first Mashriqu’l-Adhkár of the Bahá’í world; the construction of the Báb’s mausoleum on Mt. Carmel; the institution of hostels for the accommodation of itinerant teachers and pilgrims—these may be regarded as the precursors of the institutions which, immediately after the closing of the Heroic Age of the Faith, were to be permanently and systematically established throughout the Bahá’í world.
No sooner had the provisions of that Divine Charter, delineating the features of the Administrative Order of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh been disclosed to His followers than they set about erecting, upon the foundations which the lives of the heroes, the saints and martyrs of that Faith had laid, the first stage of the framework of its administrative institutions. Conscious of the necessity of constructing, as a first step, a broad and solid base upon which the pillars of that mighty structure could subsequently be raised; fully aware that upon these pillars, when firmly established, the dome, the final unit crowning the entire edifice, must eventually rest; undeflected in their course by the crisis which the Covenant-breakers had precipitated in the Holy Land, or the agitation which the stirrers of mischief had provoked in Egypt, or the disturbances resulting from the seizure by the Shí‘ah community of the House of Bahá’u’lláh in Baghdád, or the growing dangers confronting the Faith in Russia, or the scorn and ridicule which had greeted the initial activities of the American Bahá’í community from certain quarters that had completely misapprehended their purpose, the pioneer builders of a divinely-conceived Order undertook, in complete unison, and despite the great diversity in their outlook, customs and languages, the double task of establishing and of consolidating their local councils, elected by the rank and file of the believers, and designed to direct, coordinate and extend the activities of the followers of a far-flung Faith. In Persia, in the United States of America, in the Dominion of Canada, in the British Isles, in France, in Germany, in Austria, in India, in Burma, in Egypt, in ‘Iráq, in Russian Turkistán, in the Caucasus, in Australia, in New Zealand, in South Africa, in Turkey, in Syria, in Palestine, in Bulgaria, in Mexico, in the Philippine Islands, in Jamaica, in Costa Rica, in Guatemala, in Honduras, in San Salvador, in Argentina, in Uruguay, in Chile, in Brazil, in Ecuador, in Colombia, in Paraguay, in Peru, in Alaska, in Cuba, in Haiti, in Japan, in the Hawaiian Islands, in Tunisia, in Puerto Rico, in Balúchistán, in Russia, in Transjordan, in Lebanon, and in Abyssinia such councils, constituting the basis of the rising Order of a long-persecuted Faith, were gradually established. Designated as “Spiritual Assemblies”—an appellation that must in the course of time be replaced by their permanent and more descriptive title of “Houses of Justice,” bestowed upon them by the Author of the Bahá’í Revelation; instituted, without any exception, in every city, town and village where nine or more adult believers are resident; annually and directly elected, on the first day of the greatest Bahá’í Festival by all adult believers, men and women alike; invested with an authority rendering them unanswerable for their acts and decisions to those who elect them; solemnly pledged to follow, under all conditions, the dictates of the “Most Great Justice” that can alone usher in the reign of the “Most Great Peace” which Bahá’u’lláh has proclaimed and must ultimately establish; charged with the responsibility of promoting at all times the best interests of the communities within their jurisdiction, of familiarizing them with their plans and activities and of inviting them to offer any recommendations they might wish to make; cognizant of their no less vital task of demonstrating, through association with all liberal and humanitarian movements, the universality and comprehensiveness of their Faith; dissociated entirely from all sectarian organizations, whether religious or secular; assisted by committees annually appointed by, and directly responsible to, them, to each of which a particular branch of Bahá’í activity is assigned for study and action; supported by local funds to which all believers voluntarily contribute; these Assemblies, the representatives and custodians of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, numbering, at the present time, several hundred, and whose membership is drawn from the diversified races, creeds and classes constituting the world-wide Bahá’í community, have, in the course of the last two decades, abundantly demonstrated, by virtue of their achievements, their right to be regarded as the chief sinews of Bahá’í society, as well as the ultimate foundation of its administrative structure.
“The Lord hath ordained,” is Bahá’u’lláh’s injunction in His Kitáb-i-Aqdas, “that in every city a House of Justice be established, wherein shall gather counsellors to the number of Bahá (9), and should it exceed this number, it doth not matter. It behoveth them to be the trusted ones of the Merciful among men, and to regard themselves as the guardians appointed of God for all that dwell on earth. It is incumbent upon them to take counsel together, and to have regard for the interests of the servants of God, for His sake, even as they regard their own interests, and to choose that which is meet and seemly.” “These Spiritual Assemblies,” is ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá’s testimony, in a Tablet addressed to an American believer, “are aided by the Spirit of God. Their defender is ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá. Over them He spreadeth His Wings. What bounty is there greater than this?” “These Spiritual Assemblies,” He, in that same Tablet has declared, “are shining lamps and heavenly gardens, from which the fragrances of holiness are diffused over all regions, and the lights of knowledge are shed abroad over all created things. From them the spirit of life streameth in every direction. They, indeed, are the potent sources of the progress of man, at all times and under all conditions.” Establishing beyond any doubt their God-given authority, He has written: “It is incumbent upon every one not to take any step without consulting the Spiritual Assembly, and all must assuredly obey with heart and soul its bidding, and be submissive unto it, that things may be properly ordered and well arranged.” “If after discussion,” He, furthermore has written, “a decision be carried unanimously, well and good; but if, the Lord forbid, differences of opinion should arise, a majority of voices must prevail.”
Having established the structure of their local Assemblies—the base of the edifice which the Architect of the Administrative Order of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh had directed them to erect—His disciples, in both the East and the West, unhesitatingly embarked on the next and more difficult stage, of their high enterprise. In countries where the local Bahá’í communities had sufficiently advanced in number and in influence measures were taken for the initiation of National Assemblies, the pivots round which all national undertakings must revolve. Designated by ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá in His Will as the “Secondary Houses of Justice,” they constitute the electoral bodies in the formation of the International House of Justice, and are empowered to direct, unify, coordinate and stimulate the activities of individuals as well as local Assemblies within their jurisdiction. Resting on the broad base of organized local communities, themselves pillars sustaining the institution which must be regarded as the apex of the Bahá’í Administrative Order, these Assemblies are elected, according to the principle of proportional representation, by delegates representative of Bahá’í local communities assembled at Convention during the period of the Riḍván Festival; are possessed of the necessary authority to enable them to insure the harmonious and efficient development of Bahá’í activity within their respective spheres; are freed from all direct responsibility for their policies and decisions to their electorates; are charged with the sacred duty of consulting the views, of inviting the recommendations and of securing the confidence and cooperation of the delegates and of acquainting them with their plans, problems and actions; and are supported by the resources of national funds to which all ranks of the faithful are urged to contribute. Instituted in the United States of America (1925) (the National Assembly superseding in that country the institution of Bahá’í Temple Unity formed during ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá’s ministry), in the British Isles (1923), in Germany (1923), in Egypt (1924), in ‘Iráq (1931), in India (1923), in Persia (1934) and in Australia (1934); their election renewed annually by delegates whose number has been fixed, according to national requirements, at 9, 19, 95, or 171 (9 times 19), these national bodies have through their emergence signalized the birth of a new epoch in the Formative Age of the Faith, and marked a further stage in the evolution, the unification and consolidation of a continually expanding community. Aided by national committees responsible to and chosen by them, without discrimination, from among the entire body of the believers within their jurisdiction, and to each of which a particular sphere of Bahá’í service is allocated, these Bahá’í National Assemblies have, as the scope of their activities steadily enlarged, proved themselves, through the spirit of discipline which they have inculcated and through their uncompromising adherence to principles which have enabled them to rise above all prejudices of race, nation, class and color, capable of administering, in a remarkable fashion, the multiplying activities of a newly-consolidated Faith.
Nor have the national committees themselves been less energetic and devoted in the discharge of their respective functions. In the defense of the Faith’s vital interests, in the exposition of its doctrine; in the dissemination of its literature; in the consolidation of its finances; in the organization of its teaching force; in the furtherance of the solidarity of its component parts; in the purchase of its historic sites; in the preservation of its sacred records, treasures and relics; in its contacts with the various institutions of the society of which it forms a part; in the education of its youth; in the training of its children; in the improvement of the status of its women adherents in the East; the members of these diversified agencies, operating under the aegis of the elected national representatives of the Bahá’í community, have amply demonstrated their capacity to promote effectively its vital and manifold interests. The mere enumeration of the national committees which, originating mostly in the West and functioning with exemplary efficiency in the United States and Canada, now carry on their activities with a vigor and a unity of purpose which sharply contrast with the effete institutions of a moribund civilization, would suffice to reveal the scope of these auxiliary institutions which an evolving Administrative Order, still in the secondary stage of its development, has set in motion: The Teaching Committee, the Regional Teaching Committees; the Inter-America Committee; the Publishing Committee; the Race Unity Committee; the Youth Committee; the Reviewing Committee; The Temple Maintenance Committee; the Temple Program Committee; the Temple Guides Committee; the Temple Librarian and Sales Committee; the Boys’ and Girls’ Service Committees; the Child Education Committee; the Women’s Progress, Teaching, and Program Committees; the Legal Committee; the Archives and History Committee; the Census Committee; the Bahá’í Exhibits Committee; the Bahá’í News Committee; the Bahá’í News Service Committee; the Braille Transcriptions Committee; the Contacts Committee; the Service Committee; the Editorial Committee; the Index Committee; the Library Committee; the Radio Committee; the Accountant Committee; the Annual Souvenir Committee; the Bahá’í World Editorial Committee; the Study Outline Committee; the International Auxiliary Language Committee; the Institute of Bahá’í Education Committee; the World Order Magazine Committee; the Bahá’í Public Relations Committee; the Bahá’í Schools Committee; the Summer Schools Committee; the International School Committee; the Pamphlet Literature Committee; the Bahá’í Cemetery Committee; the Ḥazíratu’l-Quds Committee; the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár Committee; the Assembly Development Committee; the National History Committee; the Miscellaneous Materials Committee; the Free Literature Committee; the Translation Committee; the Cataloguing Tablets Committee; the Editing Tablets Committee; the Properties Committee; the Adjustments Committee; the Publicity Committee; the East and West Committee; the Welfare Committee; the Transcription of Tablets Committee; the Traveling Teachers Committee; the Bahá’í Education Committee; the Holy Sites Committee; the Children’s Savings Bank Committee.
The establishment of local and national Assemblies and the subsequent formation of local and national committees, acting as necessary adjuncts to the elected representatives of Bahá’í communities in both the East and the West, however remarkable in themselves, were but a prelude to a series of undertakings on the part of the newly formed National Assemblies, which have contributed in no small measure to the unification of the Bahá’í world community and the consolidation of its Administrative Order. The initial step taken in that direction was the drafting and adoption of a Bahá’í National constitution, first framed and promulgated by the elected representatives of the American Bahá’í Community in 1927, the text of which has since, with slight variations suited to national requirements, been translated into Arabic, German and Persian, and constitutes, at the present time, the charter of the National Spiritual Assemblies of the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada, of the British Isles, of Germany, of Persia, of ‘Iráq, of India and Burma, of Egypt and the Sudan and of Australia and New Zealand. Heralding the formulation of the constitution of the future Bahá’í World Community; submitted for the consideration of all local Assemblies and ratified by the entire body of the recognized believers in countries possessing national Assemblies, this national constitution has been supplemented by a similar document, containing the by-laws of Bahá’í local assemblies, first drafted by the New York Bahá’í community in November, 1931, and accepted as a pattern for all local Bahá’í constitutions. The text of this national constitution comprises a Declaration of Trust, whose articles set forth the character and objects of the national Bahá’í community, establish the functions, designate the central office, and describe the official seal, of the body of its elected representatives, as well as a set of by-laws which define the status, the mode of election, the powers and duties of both local and national Assemblies, describe the relation of the National Assembly to the International House of Justice as well as to local Assemblies and individual believers, outline the rights and obligations of the National Convention and its relation to the National Assembly, disclose the character of Bahá’í elections, and lay down the requirements of voting membership in all Bahá’í communities.
The framing of these constitutions, both local and national, identical to all intents and purposes in their provisions, provided the necessary foundation for the legal incorporation of these administrative institutions in accordance with civil statutes controlling religious or commercial bodies. Giving these Assemblies a legal standing, this incorporation greatly consolidated their power and enlarged their capacity, and in this regard the achievement of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada and the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of New York again set an example worthy of emulation by their sister Assemblies in both the East and the West. The incorporation of the American National Spiritual Assembly as a voluntary Trust, a species of corporation recognized under the common law, enabling it to enter into contract, hold property and receive bequests by virtue of a certificate issued in May, 1929, under the seal of the Department of State in Washington and bearing the signature of the Secretary of State, Henry L. Stimson, was followed by the adoption of similar legal measures resulting in the successive incorporation of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of India and Burma, in January, 1933, in Lahore, in the state of Punjab, according to the provisions of the Societies Registration Act of 1860; of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Egypt and the Sudan, in December, 1934, as certified by the Mixed Court in Cairo; of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Australia and New Zealand, in January, 1938, as witnessed by the Deputy Registrar at the General Registry Office for the state of South Australia; and more recently of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the British Isles, in August, 1939, as an unlimited non-profit company, under the Companies Act, 1929, and certified by the Assistant Registrar of Companies in the City of London.
Parallel with the legal incorporation of these National Assemblies a far larger number of Bahá’í local Assemblies were similarly incorporated, following the example set by the Chicago Bahá’í Assembly in February, 1932, in countries as far apart as the United States of America, India, Mexico, Germany, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Burma, Costa Rica, Balúchistán and the Hawaiian Islands. The Spiritual Assemblies of the Bahá’ís of Esslingen in Germany, of Mexico City in Mexico, of San José in Costa Rica, of Sydney and Adelaide in Australia, of Auckland in New Zealand, of Delhi, Bombay, Karachi, Poona, Calcutta, Secunderabad, Bangalore, Vellore, Ahmedabad, Serampore, Andheri and Baroda in India, of Tuetta in Balúchistán, of Rangoon, Mandalay and Daidanow-Kalazoo in Burma, of Montreal and Vancouver in Canada, of Honolulu in the Hawaiian Islands, and of Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., Boston, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Kenosha, Teaneck, Racine, Detroit, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Winnetka, Phoenix, Columbus, Lima, Portland, Jersey City, Wilmette, Peoria, Seattle, Binghamton, Helena, Richmond Highlands, Miami, Pasadena, Oakland, Indianapolis, St. Paul, Berkeley, Urbana, Springfield and Flint in the United States of America—all these succeeded, gradually and after submitting the text of almost identical Bahá’í local constitutions to the civil authorities in their respective states or provinces, in constituting themselves into societies and corporations recognized by law, and protected by the civil statutes operating in their respective countries.
Just as the formulation of Bahá’í constitutions had provided the foundation for the incorporation of Bahá’í Spiritual Assemblies, so did the recognition accorded by local and national authorities to the elected representatives of Bahá’í communities pave the way for the establishment of national and local Bahá’í endowments—a historic undertaking which, as had been the case with previous achievements of far-reaching importance, the American Bahá’í Community was the first to initiate. In most cases these endowments, owing to their religious character, have been exempted from both government and municipal taxes, as a result of representations made by the incorporated Bahá’í bodies to the civil authorities, though the value of the properties thus exempted has, in more than one country, amounted to a considerable sum.
In the United States of America the national endowments of the Faith, already representing one and three-quarter million dollars of assets, and established through a series of Indentures of Trust, created in 1928, 1929, 1935, 1938, 1939, 1941 and 1942 by the National Spiritual Assembly in that country, acting as Trustees of the American Bahá’í Community, now include the land and structure of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár, and the caretaker’s cottage in Wilmette, Ill.; the adjoining Ḥazíratu’l-Quds (Bahá’í National Headquarters) and its supplementary administrative office; the Inn, the Fellowship House, the Bahá’í Hall, the Arts and Crafts Studio, a farm, a number of cottages, several parcels of land, including the holding on Monsalvat, blessed by the footsteps of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, in Green Acre, in the state of Maine; Bosch House, the Bahá’í Hall, a fruit orchard, the Redwood Grove, a dormitory and Ranch Buildings in Geyserville, Calif.; Wilhelm House, Evergreen Cabin, a pine grove and seven lots with buildings at West Englewood, N.J., the scene of the memorable Unity Feast given by ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, in June, 1912, to the Bahá’ís of the New York Metropolitan district; Wilson House, blessed by His presence, and land in Malden, Mass.; Mathews House and Ranch Buildings in Pine Valley, Colo.; land in Muskegon, Mich., and a cemetery lot in Portsmouth, N.H.
Of even greater importance, and in their aggregate far surpassing in value the national endowments of the American Bahá’í community, though their title-deeds are, owing to the inability of the Persian Bahá’í community to incorporate its national and local assemblies, held in trust by individuals, are the assets which the Faith now possesses in the land of its origin. To the House of the Báb in Shíráz and the ancestral Home of Bahá’u’lláh in Tákur, Mázindarán, already in the possession of the community in the days of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá’s ministry, have, since His ascension, been added extensive properties, in the outskirts of the capital, situated on the slopes of Mt. Alburz, overlooking the native city of Bahá’u’lláh, including a farm, a garden and vineyard, comprising an area of over three million and a half square meters, preserved as the future site of the first Mashriqu’l-Adhkár in Persia. Other acquisitions that have greatly extended the range of Bahá’í endowments in that country include the House in which Bahá’u’lláh was born in Ṭihrán; several buildings adjoining the House of the Báb in Shíráz, including the house owned by His maternal uncle; the Ḥaẓíratu’l-Quds in Ṭihrán; the shop occupied by the Báb during the years He was a merchant in Búshihr; a quarter of the village of Chihríq, where He was confined; the house of Ḥájí Mírzá Jání, where He tarried on His way to Tabríz; the public bath used by Him in Shíráz and some adjacent houses; half of the house owned by Váḥid in Nayríz and part of the house owned by Ḥujjat in Zanján; the three gardens rented by Bahá’u’lláh in the hamlet of Badasht; the burial-place of Quddús in Bárfurúsh; the house of Kalantar in Ṭihrán, the scene of Ṭáhirih’s confinement; the public bath visited by the Báb when in Urúmíyyih, Ádhirbáyján; the house owned by Mírzá Ḥusayn-‘Alíy-i-Núr, where the Báb’s remains had been concealed; the Bábíyyih and the house owned by Mullá Ḥusayn in Mashhad; the residence of the Sulṭánu’sh-Shuhadá (King of Martyrs) and of the Maḥbúbu’sh-Shuhadá (Beloved of Martyrs) in Iṣfahán, as well as a considerable number of sites and houses, including burial-places, associated with the heroes and martyrs of the Faith. These holdings which, with very few exceptions, have been recently acquired in Persia, are now being preserved and yearly augmented, and, whenever necessary, carefully restored, through the assiduous efforts of a specially appointed national committee, acting under the constant and general supervision of the elected representatives of the Persian believers.
Nor should mention be omitted of the varied and multiplying national assets which, ever since the inception of the Administrative Order of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, have been steadily acquired in other countries such as India, Burma, the British Isles, Germany, ‘Iráq, Egypt, Australia, Transjordan and Syria. Among these may be specially mentioned the Ḥaẓíratu’l-Quds of the Bahá’ís of ‘Iráq, the Ḥaẓíratu’l-Quds of the Bahá’ís of Egypt, the Ḥaẓíratu’l-Quds of the Bahá’ís of India, the Ḥaẓíratu’l-Quds of the Bahá’ís of Australia, the Bahá’í Home in Esslingen, the Publishing Trust of the Bahá’ís of the British Isles, the Bahá’í Pilgrim House in Baghdád, and the Bahá’í Cemeteries established in the capitals of Persia, Egypt and Turkistán. Whether in the form of land, schools, administrative headquarters, secretariats, libraries, cemeteries, hostels or publishing companies, these widely scattered assets, partly registered in the name of incorporated National Assemblies, and partly held in trust by individual recognized believers, have contributed their share to the uninterrupted expansion of national Bahá’í endowments in recent years as well as to the consolidation of their foundations. Of vital importance, though less notable in significance, have been, moreover, the local endowments which have supplemented the national assets of the Faith and which, in consequence of the incorporation of Bahá’í local Assemblies, have been legally established and safeguarded in various countries in both the East and the West. Particularly in Persia these holdings, whether in the form of land, administrative buildings, schools or other institutions, have greatly enriched and widened the scope of the local endowments of the world-wide Bahá’í community.
Simultaneous with the establishment and incorporation of local and national Bahá’í Assemblies, with the formation of their respective committees, the formulation of national and local Bahá’í constitutions and the founding of Bahá’í endowments, undertakings of great institutional significance were initiated by these newly founded Assemblies, among which the institution of the Ḥaẓíratu’l-Quds—the seat of the Bahá’í National Assembly and pivot of all Bahá’í administrative activity in future—must rank as one of the most important. Originating first in Persia, now universally known by its official and distinctive title signifying “the Sacred Fold,” marking a notable advance in the evolution of a process whose beginnings may be traced to the clandestine gatherings held at times underground and in the dead of night, by the persecuted followers of the Faith in that country, this institution, still in the early stages of its development, has already lent its share to the consolidation of the internal functions of the organic Bahá’í community, and provided a further visible evidence of its steady growth and rising power. Complementary in its functions to those of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár—an edifice exclusively reserved for Bahá’í worship—this institution, whether local or national, will, as its component parts, such as the Secretariat, the Treasury, the Archives, the Library, the Publishing Office, the Assembly Hall, the Council Chamber, the Pilgrims’ Hostel, are brought together and made jointly to operate in one spot, be increasingly regarded as the focus of all Bahá’í administrative activity, and symbolize, in a befitting manner, the ideal of service animating the Bahá’í community in its relation alike to the Faith and to mankind in general.
From the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár, ordained as a house of worship by Bahá’u’lláh in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, the representatives of Bahá’í communities, both local and national, together with the members of their respective committees, will, as they gather daily within its walls at the hour of dawn, derive the necessary inspiration that will enable them to discharge, in the course of their day-to-day exertions in the Ḥaẓíratu’l-Quds—the scene of their administrative activities—their duties and responsibilities as befits the chosen stewards of His Faith.
Already on the shores of Lake Michigan, in the outskirts of the first Bahá’í center established in the American continent and under the shadow of the first Mashriqu’l-Adhkár of the West; in the capital city of Persia, the cradle of the Faith; in the vicinity of the Most Great House in Baghdád; in the city of ‘Ishqábád, adjoining the first Mashriqu’l-Adhkár of the Bahá’í world; in the capital of Egypt, the foremost center of both the Arab and Islamic worlds; in Delhi, the capital city of India and even in Sydney in far-off Australia, initial steps have been taken which must eventually culminate in the establishment, in all their splendor and power, of the national administrative seats of the Bahá’í communities established in these countries.
Locally, moreover, in the above-mentioned countries, as well as in several others, the preliminary measures for the establishment of this institution, in the form of a house, either owned or rented by the local Bahá’í community, have been taken, foremost among them being the numerous administrative buildings which, in various provinces of Persia, the believers have, despite the disabilities from which they suffer, succeeded in either purchasing or constructing.
Equally important as a factor in the evolution of the Administrative Order has been the remarkable progress achieved, particularly in the United States of America, by the institution of the summer schools designed to foster the spirit of fellowship in a distinctly Bahá’í atmosphere, to afford the necessary training for Bahá’í teachers, and to provide facilities for the study of the history and teachings of the Faith, and for a better understanding of its relation to other religions and to human society in general.
Established in three regional centers, for the three major divisions of the North American continent, in Geyserville, in the Californian hills (1927), at Green Acre, situated on the banks of the Piscataqua in the state of Maine (1929), and at Louhelen Ranch near Davison, Michigan (1931), and recently supplemented by the International School founded at Pine Valley, Colorado Springs, dedicated to the training of Bahá’í teachers wishing to serve in other lands and especially in Latin America, these three embryonic Bahá’í educational institutions have, through a steady expansion of their programs, set an example worthy of emulation by other Bahá’í communities in both the East and the West. Through the intensive study of Bahá’í Scriptures and of the early history of the Faith; through the organization of courses on the teachings and history of Islám; through conferences for the promotion of inter-racial amity; through laboratory courses designed to familiarize the participants with the processes of the Bahá’í Administrative Order; through special sessions devoted to Youth and child training; through classes in public speaking; through lectures on Comparative Religion; through group discussion on the manifold aspects of the Faith; through the establishment of libraries; through teaching classes; through courses on Bahá’í ethics and on Latin America; through the introduction of winter school sessions; through forums and devotional gatherings; through plays and pageants; through picnics and other recreational activities, these schools, open to Bahá’ís and non-Bahá’ís alike, have set so noble an example as to inspire other Bahá’í communities in Persia, in the British Isles, in Germany, in Australia, in New Zealand, in India, in ‘Iráq and in Egypt to undertake the initial measures designed to enable them to build along the same lines institutions that bid fair to evolve into the Bahá’í universities of the future.
Among other factors contributing to the expansion and establishment of the Administrative Order may be mentioned the organized activities of the Bahá’í Youth, already much advanced in Persia and in the United States of America, and launched more recently in India, in the British Isles, in Germany, in ‘Iráq, in Egypt, in Australia, in Bulgaria, in the Hawaiian Islands, in Hungary and in Havana. These activities comprise annual world-wide Bahá’í Youth Symposiums, Youth sessions at Bahá’í summer schools, youth bulletins and magazines, an international correspondence Bureau, facilities for the registration of young people desiring to join the Faith, the publication of outlines and references for the study of the teachings and the organization of a Bahá’í study group as an official university activity in a leading American university. They include, moreover, “study days” held in Bahá’í homes and centers, classes for the study of Esperanto and other languages, the organization of Bahá’í libraries, the opening of reading rooms, the production of Bahá’í plays and pageants, the holding of oratorical contests, the education of orphans, the organization of classes in public speaking, the holding of gatherings to perpetuate the memory of historical Bahá’í personalities, inter-group regional conferences and youth sessions held in connection with Bahá’í annual conventions.
Still other factors promoting the development of that Order and contributing to its consolidation have been the systematic institution of the Nineteen Day Feast, functioning in most Bahá’í communities in East and West, with its threefold emphasis on the devotional, the administrative and the social aspects of Bahá’í community life; the initiation of activities designed to prepare a census of Bahá’í children, and provide for them laboratory courses, prayer books and elementary literature, and the formulation and publication of a body of authoritative statements on the non-political character of the Faith, on membership in non-Bahá’í religious organizations, on methods of teaching, on the Bahá’í attitude towards war, on the institutions of the Annual Convention, of the Bahá’í Spiritual Assembly, of the Nineteen Day Feast and of the National Fund. Reference should, moreover, be made to the establishment of National Archives for the authentication, the collection, the translation, the cataloguing and the preservation of the Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh and of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá and for the preservation of sacred relics and historical documents; to the verification and transcription of the original Tablets of the Báb, of Bahá’u’lláh and of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá in the possession of Oriental believers; to the compilation of a detailed history of the Faith since its inception until the present day; to the opening of a Bahá’í International Bureau in Geneva; to the holding of Bahá’í district conventions; to the purchase of historic sites; to the establishment of Bahá’í memorial libraries, and to the initiation of a flourishing children’s Savings Bank in Persia.
Nor should mention be omitted of the participation, whether official or non-official, of representatives of these newly founded national Bahá’í communities in the activities and proceedings of a great variety of congresses, associations, conventions and conferences, held in various countries of Europe, Asia and America for the promotion of religious unity, peace, education, international cooperation, inter-racial amity and other humanitarian purposes. With organizations such as the Conference of some Living Religions within the British Empire, held in London in 1924 and the World Fellowship of Faiths held in that same city in 1936; with the Universal Esperanto Congresses held annually in various capitals of Europe; with the Institute of Intellectual Cooperation; with the Century of Progress Exhibition held in Chicago in 1933; with the World’s Fair held in New York in 1938 and 1939; with the Golden Gate International Exposition held in San Francisco in 1939; with the First Convention of the Religious Congress held in Calcutta; with the Second All-India Cultural Conference convened in that same city; with the All-Faiths’ League Convention in Indore; with the Arya Samaj and the Brahmo Samaj Conferences as well as those of the Theosophical Society and the All-Asian Women’s Conference, held in various cities of India; with the World Council of Youth; with the Eastern Women’s Congress in Ṭihrán; with the Pan-Pacific Women’s Conference in Honolulu; with the Women’s International League for Peace and with the Peoples Conference at Buenos Aires in Argentina—with these and others, relationships have, in one form or another, been cultivated which have served the twofold purpose of demonstrating the universality and comprehensiveness of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh and of forging vital and enduring links between them and the far-flung agencies of its Administrative Order.
Nor should we ignore or underestimate the contacts established between these same agencies and some of the highest governmental authorities, in both the East and the West, as well as with the heads of Islám in Persia, and with the League of Nations, and with even royalty itself for the purpose of defending the rights, or of presenting the literature, or of setting forth the aims and purposes of the followers of the Faith in their unremitting efforts to champion the cause of an infant Administrative Order. The communications addressed by the members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada—the champion builders of that Order—to the Palestine High Commissioner for the restitution of the keys of the Tomb of Bahá’u’lláh to its custodian; to the Sháh of Persia, on four occasions, pleading for justice on behalf of their persecuted brethren within his domains; to the Persian Prime Minister on that same subject; to Queen Marie of Rumania, expressing gratitude for her historic tributes to the Bahá’í Faith; to the Heads of Islám in Persia, appealing for harmony and peace among religions; to King Feisal of ‘Iráq for the purpose of insuring the security of the Most Great House in Baghdád; to the Soviet Authorities on behalf of the Bahá’í communities in Russia; to the German authorities regarding the disabilities suffered by their German brethren; to the Egyptian Government concerning the emancipation of their co-religionists from the yoke of Islamic orthodoxy; to the Persian Cabinet in connection with the closing of Persian Bahá’í educational institutions; to the State Department of the United States Government and the Turkish Ambassador in Washington and the Turkish Cabinet in Ankara, in defense of the interests of the Faith in Turkey; to that same State Department in order to facilitate the transfer of the remains of Lua Getsinger from the Protestant Cemetery in Cairo to the first Bahá’í burial-ground established in Egypt; to the Persian Minister in Washington regarding the mission of Keith Ransom-Kehler; to the King of Egypt with accompanying Bahá’í literature; to the Government of the United States and the Canadian Government, setting forth the Bahá’í teachings on Universal Peace; to the Rumanian Minister in Washington on behalf of the American Bahá’ís, on the occasion of the death of Queen Marie of Rumania; and to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, acquainting him with Bahá’u’lláh’s summons issued in His Kitáb-i-Aqdas to the Presidents of the American Republics and with certain prayers revealed by ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá—such communications constitute in themselves a notable and illuminating chapter in the history of the unfoldment of the Bahá’í Administrative Order.
To these must be added the communications addressed from the world center of the Faith as well as by Bahá’í national and local assemblies, whether telegraphically or in writing, to the Palestine High Commissioner, pleading for the delivery of the keys of the Tomb of Bahá’u’lláh to its original keeper; the appeals made by Bahá’í centers in East and West to the ‘Iráqí authorities for the restoration of the House of Bahá’u’lláh in Baghdád; the subsequent appeal made to the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, following the verdict of the Baghdád Court of Appeals in that connection; the messages despatched to the League of Nations on behalf of Bahá’í communities in the East and in the West, in appreciation of the official pronouncement of the Council of the League in favor of the claims presented by the Bahá’í petitioners, as well as several letters exchanged between the International Center of the Faith, on the one hand, and that archetype of Bahá’í teachers, Martha Root, on the other, with Queen Marie of Rumania, following the publication of her historic appreciations of the Faith, and the messages of sympathy addressed to Queen Marie of Yugoslavia, on behalf of the world-wide Bahá’í Community, on the occasion of the passing of her mother, and to the Duchess of Kent following the tragic death of her husband.
Nor should we fail to make special mention of the petition forwarded by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of ‘Iráq to the Mandates Commission of the League of Nations, as a result of the seizure of Bahá’u’lláh’s house in Baghdád, or of the written messages sent to King Ghází I of ‘Iráq by that same Assembly, after the death of his father and on the occasion of his marriage, or of its condolences conveyed in writing to the present Regent of ‘Iráq at the time of the sudden death of that King, or of the communications of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Egypt submitted to the Egyptian Prime Minister, the Minister of the Interior, and the Minister of Justice, following the verdict of the Muslim ecclesiastical court in Egypt, or of the letters addressed by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Persia to the Sháh and to the Persian Cabinet in connection with the closing of Bahá’í schools and the ban imposed on Bahá’í literature in that country. Mention should, moreover, be made of the written messages despatched by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Persia to the King of Rumania and the Royal Family on the occasion of the death of his mother, Queen Marie, as well as to the Turkish Ambassador in Ṭihrán enclosing the contribution of the Persian believers for the sufferers of the earthquake in Turkey; of Martha Root’s letters to the late President Von Hindenburg and to Dr. Streseman, the German Foreign Minister, accompanying the presentation to them of Bahá’í literature; of Keith Ransom-Kehler’s seven successive petitions addressed to the Sháh of Persia, and of her numerous communications to various ministers and high dignitaries of the realm, during her memorable visit to that land.
Collateral with these first stirrings of the Bahá’í Administrative Order, and synchronizing with the emergence of National Bahá’í communities and with the institution of their administrative, educational, and teaching agencies, the mighty process set in motion in the Holy Land, the heart and nerve-center of that Administrative Order, on the memorable occasions when Bahá’u’lláh revealed the Tablet of Carmel and visited the future site of the Báb’s sepulcher, was irresistibly unfolding. That process had received a tremendous impetus through the purchase of that site, shortly after Bahá’u’lláh’s ascension, through the subsequent transfer of the Báb’s remains from Ṭihrán to ‘Akká, through the construction of that sepulcher during the most distressful years of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá’s incarceration, and lastly through the permanent interment of those remains in the heart of Mt. Carmel, through the establishment of a pilgrim house in the immediate vicinity of that sepulcher, and the selection of the future site of the first Bahá’í educational institution on that mountain.
Profiting from the freedom accorded the world center of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, ever since the ignominious defeat of the decrepit Ottoman empire during the war of 1914–18, the forces released through the inception of the stupendous Plan conceived by Him could now flow unchecked, under the beneficent influence of a sympathetic régime, into channels designed to disclose to the world at large the potencies with which that Plan had been endowed. The interment of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá Himself within a vault of the Báb’s mausoleum, enhancing still further the sacredness of that mountain; the installment of an electric plant, the first of its kind established in the city of Haifa, flooding with illumination the Grave of One Who, in His own words, had been denied even “a lighted lamp” in His fortress-prison in Ádhirbáyján; the construction of three additional chambers adjoining His sepulcher, thereby completing ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá’s plan for the first unit of that Edifice; the vast extension, despite the machinations of the Covenant-breakers, of the properties surrounding that resting-place, sweeping from the ridge of Carmel down to the Templar colony nestling at its foot, and representing assets estimated at no less than four hundred thousand pounds, together with the acquisition of four tracts of land, dedicated to the Bahá’í Shrines, and situated in the plain of ‘Akká to the north, in the district of Beersheba to the south, and in the valley of the Jordan to the east, amounting to approximately six hundred acres; the opening of a series of terraces which, as designed by ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, are to provide a direct approach to the Báb’s Tomb from the city lying under its shadow; the beautification of its precincts through the laying out of parks and gardens, open daily to the public, and attracting tourists and residents alike to its gates—these may be regarded as the initial evidences of the marvelous expansion of the international institutions and endowments of the Faith at its world center. Of particular significance, moreover, has been the exemption granted by the Palestine High Commissioner to the entire area of land surrounding and dedicated to the Shrine of the Báb, to the school property and the archives in its vicinity, to the Western pilgrim-house situated in its neighborhood, and to such historic sites as the Mansion in Bahjí, the House of Bahá’u’lláh in ‘Akká, and the garden of Riḍván to the east of that city; the establishment, as a result of two formal applications submitted to the civil authorities, of the Palestine Branches of the American and Indian National Spiritual Assemblies, as recognized religious societies in Palestine (to be followed, for purposes of internal consolidation, by a similar incorporation of the branches of other National Spiritual Assemblies throughout the Bahá’í world); and the transfer to the Branch of the American National Spiritual Assembly, through a series of no less than thirty transactions, of properties dedicated to the Tomb of the Báb, and approximating in their aggregate fifty thousand square meters, the majority of the title-deeds of which bear the signature of the son of the Arch-breaker of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant in his capacity as Registrar of lands in Haifa.
Equally significant has been the founding on Mt. Carmel of two international Archives, the one adjoining the shrine of the Báb, the other in the immediate vicinity of the resting-place of the Greatest Holy Leaf, where, for the first time in Bahá’í history, priceless treasures, hitherto scattered and often hidden for safekeeping, have been collected and are now displayed to visiting pilgrims. These treasures include portraits of both the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh; personal relics such as the hair, the dust and garments of the Báb; the locks and blood of Bahá’u’lláh and such articles as His pen-case, His garments, His brocaded tájes (head dresses), the kashkúl of His Sulaymáníyyih days, His watch and His Qur’án; manuscripts and Tablets of inestimable value, some of them illuminated, such as part of the Hidden Words written in Bahá’u’lláh’s own hand, the Persian Bayán, in the handwriting of Siyyid Ḥusayn, the Báb’s amanuensis, the original Tablets to the Letters of the Living penned by the Báb, and the manuscript of “Some Answered Questions.” This precious collection, moreover, includes objects and effects associated with ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá; the blood-stained garment of the Purest Branch, the ring of Quddús, the sword of Mullá Ḥusayn, the seals of the Vazír, the father of Bahá’u’lláh, the brooch presented by the Queen of Rumania to Martha Root, the originals of the Queen’s letters to her and to others, and of her tributes to the Faith, as well as no less than twenty volumes of prayers and Tablets revealed by the Founders of the Faith, authenticated and transcribed by Bahá’í Assemblies throughout the Orient, and supplementing the vast collection of their published writings.
Moreover, as a further testimony to the majestic unfoldment and progressive consolidation of the stupendous undertaking launched by Bahá’u’lláh on that holy mountain, may be mentioned the selection of a portion of the school property situated in the precincts of the Shrine of the Báb as a permanent resting-place for the Greatest Holy Leaf, the “well-beloved” sister of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, the “Leaf that hath sprung” from the “Pre-existent Root,” the “fragrance” of Bahá’u’lláh’s “shining robe,” elevated by Him to a “station such as none other woman hath surpassed,” and comparable in rank to those immortal heroines such as Sarah, Ásíyih, the Virgin Mary, Fáṭimih and Ṭáhirih, each of whom has outshone every member of her sex in previous Dispensations. And lastly, there should be mentioned, as a further evidence of the blessings flowing from the Divine Plan, the transfer, a few years later, to that same hallowed spot, after a separation in death of above half a century, and notwithstanding the protests voiced by the brother and lieutenant of the arch-breaker of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant, of the remains of the Purest Branch, the martyred son of Bahá’u’lláh, “created of the light of Bahá,” the “Trust of God” and His “Treasure” in the Holy Land, and offered up by his Father as a “ransom” for the regeneration of the world and the unification of its peoples. To this same burial-ground, and on the same day the remains of the Purest Branch were interred, was transferred the body of his mother, the saintly Navváb, she to whose dire afflictions, as attested by ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá in a Tablet, the 54th chapter of the Book of Isaiah has, in its entirety, borne witness, whose “Husband,” in the words of that Prophet, is “the Lord of Hosts,” whose “seed shall inherit the Gentiles,” and whom Bahá’u’lláh in His Tablet, has destined to be “His consort in every one of His worlds.”
The conjunction of these three resting-places, under the shadow of the Báb’s own Tomb, embosomed in the heart of Carmel, facing the snow-white city across the bay of ‘Akká, the Qiblih of the Bahá’í world, set in a garden of exquisite beauty, reinforces, if we would correctly estimate its significance, the spiritual potencies of a spot, designated by Bahá’u’lláh Himself the seat of God’s throne. It marks, too, a further milestone in the road leading eventually to the establishment of that permanent world Administrative Center of the future Bahá’í Commonwealth, destined never to be separated from, and to function in the proximity of, the Spiritual Center of that Faith, in a land already revered and held sacred alike by the adherents of three of the world’s outstanding religious systems.
Scarcely less significant has been the erection of the superstructure and the completion of the exterior ornamentation of the first Mashriqu’l-Adhkár of the West, the noblest of the exploits which have immortalized the services of the American Bahá’í community to the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh. Consummated through the agency of an efficiently functioning and newly established Administrative Order, this enterprise has itself immensely enhanced the prestige, consolidated the strength and expanded the subsidiary institutions of the community that made its building possible.
Conceived forty-one years ago; originating with the petition spontaneously addressed, in March 1903 to ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá by the “House of Spirituality” of the Bahá’ís of Chicago—the first Bahá’í center established in the Western world—the members of which, inspired by the example set by the builders of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár of ‘Ishqábád, had appealed for permission to construct a similar Temple in America; blessed by His approval and high commendation in a Tablet revealed by Him in June of that same year; launched by the delegates of various American Assemblies, assembled in Chicago in November, 1907, for the purpose of choosing the site of the Temple; established on a national basis through a religious corporation known as the “Bahá’í Temple Unity,” which was incorporated shortly after the first American Bahá’í Convention held in that same city in March, 1909; honored through the dedication ceremony presided over by ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá Himself when visiting that site in May, 1912, this enterprise—the crowning achievement of the Administrative Order of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh in the first Bahá’í century—had, ever since that memorable occasion, been progressing intermittently until the time when the foundations of that Order having been firmly laid in the North American continent the American Bahá’í community was in a position to utilize the instruments which it had forged for the efficient prosecution of its task.
At the 1914 American Bahá’í Convention the purchase of the Temple property was completed. The 1920 Convention, held in New York, having been previously directed by ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá to select the design of that Temple, chose from among a number of designs competitively submitted to it that of Louis J. Bourgeois, a French-Canadian architect, a selection that was later confirmed by ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá Himself. The contracts for the sinking of the nine great caissons supporting the central portion of the building, extending to rock at a depth of 120 feet below the ground level, and for the construction of the basement structure, were successively awarded in December, 1920 and August, 1921. In August, 1930, in spite of the prevailing economic crisis, and during a period of unemployment unparalleled in American history, another contract, with twenty-four additional sub-contracts, for the erection of the superstructure was placed, and the work completed by May 1, 1931, on which day the first devotional service in the new structure was celebrated, coinciding with the 19th anniversary of the dedication of the grounds by ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá. The ornamentation of the dome was started in June, 1932 and finished in January, 1934. The ornamentation of the clerestory was completed in July, 1935, and that of the gallery unit below it in November, 1938. The mainstory ornamentation was, despite the outbreak of the present war, undertaken in April, 1940, and completed in July, 1942; whilst the eighteen circular steps were placed in position by December, 1942, seventeen months in advance of the centenary celebration of the Faith, by which time the exterior of the Temple was scheduled to be finished, and forty years after the petition of the Chicago believers had been submitted to and granted by ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá.
This unique edifice, the first fruit of a slowly maturing Administrative Order, the noblest structure reared in the first Bahá’í century, and the symbol and precursor of a future world civilization, is situated in the heart of the North American continent, on the western shore of Lake Michigan, and is surrounded by its own grounds comprising a little less than seven acres. It has been financed, at cost of over a million dollars, by the American Bahá’í community, assisted at times by voluntary contributions of recognized believers in East and West, of Christian, of Muslim, of Jewish, of Zoroastrian, of Hindu and Buddhist extraction. It has been associated, in its initial phase, with ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, and in the concluding stages of its construction with the memory of the Greatest Holy Leaf, the Purest Branch and their mother. The structure itself is a pure white nonagonal building, of original and unique design, rising from a flight of white stairs encircling its base; and surmounted by a majestic and beautifully proportioned dome, bearing nine tapering symmetrically placed ribs of decorative as well as structural significance, which soar to its apex and finally merge into a common unit pointing skyward. Its framework is constructed of structural steel enclosed in concrete, the material of its ornamentation consisting of a combination of crystalline quartz, opaque quartz and white Portland cement, producing a composition clear in texture, hard and enduring as stone, impervious to the elements, and cast into a design as delicate as lace. It soars 191 feet from the floor of its basement to the culmination of the ribs, clasping the hemispherical dome which is forty-nine feet high, with an external diameter of ninety feet, and one-third of the surface of which is perforated to admit light during the day and emit light at night. It is buttressed by pylons forty-five feet in height, and bears above its nine entrances, one of which faces ‘Akká, nine selected quotations from the writings of Bahá’u’lláh, as well as the Greatest Name in the center of each of the arches over its doors. It is consecrated exclusively to worship, devoid of all ceremony and ritual, is provided with an auditorium which can seat 1600 people, and is to be supplemented by accessory institutions of social service to be established in its vicinity, such as an orphanage, a hospital, a dispensary for the poor, a home for the incapacitated, a hostel for travelers and a college for the study of arts and sciences. It had already, long before its construction, evoked, and is now increasingly evoking, though its interior ornamentation is as yet unbegun, such interest and comment, in the public press, in technical journals and in magazines, of both the United States and other countries, as to justify the hopes and expectations entertained for it by ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá. Its model exhibited at Art centers, galleries, state fairs and national expositions—among which may be mentioned the Century of Progress Exhibition, held in Chicago in 1933, where no less than ten thousand people, passing through the Hall of Religions, must have viewed it every day—its replica forming a part of the permanent exhibit of the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago; its doors now thronged by visitors from far and near, whose number, during the period from June, 1932 to October, 1941 has exceeded 130,000 people, representing almost every country in the world, this great “Silent Teacher” of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, it may be confidently asserted, has contributed to the diffusion of the knowledge of His Faith and teachings in a measure which no other single agency, operating within the framework of its Administrative Order, has ever remotely approached.
“When the foundation of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár is laid in America,” ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá Himself has predicted, “and that Divine Edifice is completed, a most wonderful and thrilling motion will appear in the world of existence … From that point of light the spirit of teaching, spreading the Cause of God and promoting the teachings of God, will permeate to all parts of the world.” “Out of this Mashriqu’l-Adhkár,” He has affirmed in the Tablets of the Divine Plan, “without doubt, thousands of Mashriqu’l-Adhkárs will be born.” “It marks,” He, furthermore, has written, “the inception of the Kingdom of God on earth.” And again: “It is the manifest Standard waving in the center of that great continent.” “Thousands of Mashriqu’l-Adhkárs,” He, when dedicating the grounds of the Temple, declared, “…will be built in the East and in the West, but this, being the first erected in the Occident, has great importance.” “This organization of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár,” He, referring to that edifice, has moreover stated, “will be a model for the coming centuries, and will hold the station of the mother.”
“Its inception,” the architect of the Temple has himself testified, “was not from man, for, as musicians, artists, poets receive their inspiration from another realm, so the Temple’s architect, through all his years of labor, was ever conscious that Bahá’u’lláh was the creator of this building to be erected to His glory.” “Into this new design,” he, furthermore, has written, “…is woven, in symbolic form, the great Bahá’í teaching of unity—the unity of all religions and of all mankind. There are combinations of mathematical lines, symbolizing those of the universe, and in their intricate merging of circle into circle, and circle within circle, we visualize the merging of all the religions into one.” And again: “A circle of steps, eighteen in all, will surround the structure on the outside, and lead to the auditorium floor. These eighteen steps represent the eighteen first disciples of the Báb, and the door to which they lead stands for the Báb Himself.” “As the essence of the pure original teachings of the historic religions was the same … in the Bahá’í Temple is used a composite architecture, expressing the essence in the line of each of the great architectural styles, harmonizing them into one whole.”
“It is the first new idea in architecture since the 13th century,” declared a distinguished architect, H. Van Buren Magonigle, President of the Architectural League, after gazing upon a plaster model of the Temple on exhibition in the Engineering Societies Building in New York, in June 1920. “The Architect,” he, moreover, has stated, “has conceived a Temple of Light in which structure, as usually understood, is to be concealed, visible support eliminated as far as possible, and the whole fabric to take on the airy substance of a dream. It is a lacy envelope enshrining an idea, the idea of light, a shelter of cobweb interposed between earth and sky, struck through and through with light—light which shall partly consume the forms and make of it a thing of faery.”
“In the geometric forms of the ornamentation,” a writer in the well-known publication “Architectural Record” has written, “covering the columns and surrounding windows and doors of the Temple, one deciphers all the religious symbols of the world. Here are the swastika, the circle, the cross, the triangle, the double triangle or six pointed star (Solomon’s seal)—but more than this—the noble symbol of the spiritual orb … the five pointed star; the Greek Cross, the Roman cross, and supreme above all, the wonderful nine pointed star, figured in the structure of the Temple itself, and appearing again and again in its ornamentation as significant of the spiritual glory in the world today.”
“The greatest creation since the Gothic period,” is the testimony of George Grey Barnard, one of the most widely-known sculptors in the United States of America, “and the most beautiful I have ever seen.”
“This is a new creation,” Prof. Luigi Quaglino, ex-professor of Architecture from Turin declared, after viewing the model, “which will revolutionize architecture in the world, and it is the most beautiful I have ever seen. Without doubt it will have a lasting page in history. It is a revelation from another world.”
“Americans,” wrote Sherwin Cody, in the magazine section of the New York Times, of the model of the Temple, when exhibited in the Kevorkian Gallery in New York, “will have to pause long enough to find that an artist has wrought into this building the conception of a Religious League of Nations.” And lastly, this tribute paid to the features of, and the ideals embodied in, this Temple—the most sacred House of Worship in the Bahá’í world, whether of the present or of the future—by Dr. Rexford Newcomb, Dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Illinois: “This ‘Temple of Light’ opens upon the terrain of human experience nine great doorways which beckon men and women of every race and clime, of every faith and conviction, of every condition of freedom or servitude to enter here into a recognition of that kinship and brotherhood without which the modern world will be able to make little further progress … The dome, pointed in form, aiming as assuredly as did the aspiring lines of the medieval cathedrals toward higher and better things, achieves not only through its symbolism but also through its structural propriety and sheer loveliness of form, a beauty not matched by any domical structure since the construction of Michelangelo’s dome on the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome.”