Category Archives History

The Journey West Podcast: Exploring Abdu’l-Baha’s Travels to the West

The Journey West podcast is an audio initiative which explores and celebrates the centenary of Abdu’l-Baha’s travels to Egypt, Europe and North America in 1911-1913. Each episode features a reading of one of Abdu’l-Baha’s talks, as well as dramatized stories and historical accounts. You can also hear discussions of the talk that was featured, and some personal thoughts on how the ideas discussed in the talk are applicable today.  Continue reading

“What I Saw of Abdu’l-Baha”: Vignettes by Laura Barney

Abdu’l-Baha on the steps of 7 Haparsim Street, His home in Haifa, May 1921. Photo: courtesy of the Baha'i International Community

May 16, 1909, New York City: a group has gathered to hear Laura Clifford Barney speak. Her name is familiar to the audience from Some Answered Questions, which was published last year. This book brought Abdu’l-Baha’s commentary on subjects ranging from the New Testament to criminal justice to the newborn Baha’i community in the United States.

Barney, the book’s compiler and translator, has spent most of the past decade far from this, her homeland, living in Paris and Akka. She lived for months at a time in Abdu’l-Baha’s household—a “village” bustling with Baha’is of all ages, as she fondly recalls—from 1904 to 1906, when she compiled Some Answered Questions. During these Akka sojourns, she had many opportunities to interact with and observe Abdu’l-Baha.

“It is not what I think [that] is of much importance but what I saw…of the characteristics and habits of Abdu’l-Baha,” she tells her New York audience. One attendee has a pen poised above a stack of lined paper, ready to transcribe Barney’s words. Thanks to this unnamed scribe, we have a record of Barney’s comments that day. For this post, passages have been arranged by topic: first, anecdotes of Abdu’l-Baha; second, reminiscences of life in His household; and third, reflections on His attributes and guidance. These excerpts have been lightly edited for readability.  Continue reading

The Tablet of Ahmad: Who Was Ahmad?

Many Baha’is around the world, myself included, recite the Tablet of Ahmad when in times of difficulty or grief. This Tablet, as well as the Obligatory Prayers and the Long Healing prayer,

[…] have been invested by Baha’u’llah with a special potency and significance, and should therefore be accepted as such and be recited by the believers with unquestioning faith and confidence.

I recently found out who Ahmad was and what he did to deserve receiving this Tablet from Baha’u’llah, and now I feel totally different when I recite it! What a blessing to get to know about him and understand why this Tablet was revealed to him! I hope that sharing some details of his story will also inspire you and will enrich your supplications when chanting this unique and powerful Tablet.  Continue reading

The Other Witnesses: Khadijih Bagum and Haji Mubarak at the Declaration of the Bab

The House of the Bab, where the Bab declared His mission on 23 May 1844 in Shiraz, Iran, before its destruction in 1979. Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community.

When picturing the scene of the Bab’s Declaration, I think of His house in Shiraz, quiet and dark during a spring night in 1844. I think of an upper room where He converses with Mulla Husayn, revealing His spiritual mission as the Promised One and the Prophet-Herald of a new Manifestation of God, Baha’u’llah. My mind does not travel beyond that upper chamber to explore the house’s other rooms.

But let us wander. We will discover that two other inhabitants are awake physically and spiritually that fateful night: the Bab’s wife, Khadijih Bagum, and servant, Haji Mubarak. Let us meet these two.  Continue reading

Women Inspiring Women in Baha’i History: Tahirih’s Lineage

On March 8th, we celebrate “the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women” and acknowledge the urgency of “accelerating gender parity.” As much as International Women’s Day is a celebration, it is also a monument to centuries of discrimination.

For as long as systemic discrimination has quashed individuals’ potential, some have refused to accept their assigned inferiority. Wherever sexism has caged women, resistance has arisen. Countless such efforts have gone unrecorded, lost to history, leaving humanity only scattered memories of women who spearheaded social transformation.

Yet, stirred by Baha’u’llah’s teachings on the equality of women and men, Baha’is have a tradition of recording women’s contributions. Thanks to the efforts of Baha’i historians, we can enjoy lengthy biographies of groundbreakers: Lua Getsinger: Herald of the Covenant, Martha Root: Lioness at the Threshold, and From Copper to Gold: The Life of Dorothy Baker. We can also read briefer portraits of prominent women like Hands of the Cause Keith Ransom-Kehler and Amelia Collins in collections such as A Love Which Does Not Wait and Portraits of Some Baha’i Women.

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Abdu’l-Baha’s Prayer for a Women’s College

At the 2017 celebration, Vida Rastegar, Mia Taylor Chandler, and Eugenio Marcano read passages from a talk by Abdu'l-Baha. (www.bahai.org/r/063559568) Credit: Ruijia (Rose) Wang

When Charlotte D’Evelyn stepped onto the bucolic campus of Mount Holyoke College in 1917, she was surely elated to join the faculty of the oldest institution for women’s higher education in the US. Looking around, maybe the hills of South Hadley, Massachusetts, reminded her of the steeper slopes of her hometown, San Francisco; perhaps the turrets of the Williston Memorial Library recalled the spires of buildings like the Bodleian at Oxford, where she had recently studied.

D’Evelyn devoted her research to the preservation and analysis of medieval English texts. Yet, she likely never suspected that 100 years hence, she would be celebrated at Mount Holyoke College for her role in preserving a letter that traveled to the United States from Palestine in 1919.  Continue reading

Edward Granville Browne: The Only European Historian Who Met Baha’u’llah

Edward Granville Browne (7 February 1862 – 5 January 1926), was a British orientalist who met Baha’u’llah.

You should appreciate this, that of all the historians of Europe none attained the holy Threshold but you. This bounty was specified unto you.

These words Abdu’l-Baha wrote to Edward Granville Browne about his interviews with Baha’u’llah in 1890. From one of these interviews emanated the description of meeting Baha’u’llah famous in the Baha’i community, which you can listen to here.

Foment in the Middle East—the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78—pulled Browne away from the course his family had set for him. Born in 1862 in Gloucestershire, England, Browne was the eldest son among nine children. His father hoped he would pursue the family business of shipbuilding and civil engineering. But Browne’s calling lay elsewhere. In college he studied Turkish, Arabic, and Persian, and in 1882, he ventured eastward, visiting Turkey for several months to pursue his research.

On 30 July 1886, Browne discovered a movement that would absorb his attention for the decades to come: the Babi Faith. He stumbled upon an account of the revolutionary religion in Count Gobineau’s 1865 Religions et philosophies dans l’Asie Centrale. In the words of scholars Sir Edward Denison Ross and John Gurney, “He was spellbound by the story of the courage and devotion shown by the Bab and his faithful followers, and at once resolved to make a special study of this movement.” He wrote admiringly of the Bab’s “gentleness and patience, the cruel fate which had overtaken him, and the unflinching courage wherewith he and his followers, from the greatest to the least, had endured the merciless torments inflicted on them by their enemies.” In the Bab’s Revelation, he recognized, as he put it, “the birth of a faith which may not impossibly win a place amidst the great religions of the world.” Browne resolved to extend Gobineau’s account, which ended with the 1852 massacre of Babis. Continue reading

William Sutherland Maxwell: Distinguished Architect

William Sutherland Maxwell, November 14th, 1874 - March 25th, 1952 (Photo: courtesy of the Baha'i International Community)

William Sutherland Maxwell was a distinguished soul whose life is best summarized in the words of Shoghi Effendi. The Guardian cabled the following obituary to the Baha’is of the world on March 26, 1952:

With sorrowful heart announce through national assemblies that Hand of Cause of Baha’u’llah, highly esteemed, dearly beloved Sutherland Maxwell, has been gathered into the glory of the Abha Kingdom. His saintly life, extending well nigh four score years, enriched during the course of Abdu’l-Baha’s ministry by services in the Dominion of Canada, ennobled during the Formative Age of Faith by decade of services in Holy Land, during darkest days of my life, doubly honoured through association with the crown of martyrdom won by May Maxwell and incomparable honor bestowed upon his daughter, attained consummation through his appointment as architect of the arcade and superstructure of the Bab’s Sepulchre as well as elevation to the front rank of the Hands of Cause of God.

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Stories of Baha’u’llah

A view of the Shrine of Baha'u'llah in Bahji, Israel. (Photo: courtesy of Chad Mauger)

In honour of the Birth of Baha’u’llah, I have been reflecting on my personal connection to Him. Shoghi Effendi described Baha’u’llah with these towering words:

preeminent in holiness, awesome in the majesty of His strength and power, unapproachable in the transcendent brightness of His glory.

There are many ways to connect the heart with Baha’u’llah and to begin to understand Shoghi Effendi’s words. For example, you can read and reflect on Baha’u’llah’s Writings, study the events of His life, or cherish stories about Him.  Continue reading