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
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.
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 (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, 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.
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
The Shrine of the Bab (photo credit: Baha'i World Centre)
The significance of the Bab’s station and of His martyrdom is beyond what my mind can grasp. Shoghi Effendi tells us that this event can “be rightly acclaimed as unparalleled in the annals of the lives of all the Founders of the world’s existing religious systems.”
In an attempt to study and meditate on the station of the Bab and the historical meaning of His execution, I found myself thinking of Anis Zunuzi, the youth who shared the crown of Martyrdom with the Bab on July 9th, 1850. Reflecting on Anis’ life and his deeds, as someone intoxicated with love for the Bab, may help me understand and better commemorate the Bab’s life.
Anis’ story is recounted in several places. For example, you can read about it in Shoghi Effendi’s translation of Nabil’s The Dawn-Breakers, Hasan Balyuzi’s The Bab, and William Sears’ Release the Sun – an excellent book, particularly for youth or younger readers. The retelling of Anis’ story is included in Midsummer Noon: A Narrative of the Life of the Bab, a dramatic audio recording produced by Jack Lenz (and available for purchase or download from 9StarMedia) which never fails to bring tears to my eyes. The details of his story are few, but here are some key points worth reflecting on. Continue reading
Mr. Thomas Breakwell (31 May, 1872 - 13 June, 1902)
I didn’t know who Thomas Breakwell was until recently, but once I heard his mysterious and heartbreaking story he became impossible to forget. He was born on May 31st, 1872 in Woking, England, became a Baha’i when he was 29 and passed away of tuberculosis when he was only 30. And yet, Abdu’l-Baha described him as “a lamp amid the angels of high Heaven”.
Thomas’ family immigrated to the United States and when he grew up he held a serious position in a Southern cotton mill that gave him a considerable income and so he spent his summer holidays in Europe. He was “of medium height, slender, erect and graceful, with intense eyes and an indescribable charm” and he was open minded and attracted to different religious ideas and philosophies. This thirst for knowledge of all things spiritual perked the ears of Mrs. Milner, whom he met on a steamer to France in the summer of 1901. Mrs. Milner had no interest in matters of the soul, but she was friends with May Bolles (who later became May Maxwell) who had found a truth that had given meaning to her life. Continue reading
On the evening of May 22, Baha’is throughout the world commemorate the Declaration of the Bab, which took place in the room pictured above in the Persian city of Shiraz in 1844 when the Bab met with and revealed His station to Mulla Husayn. The Bab announced there that His mission was to alert the people to the imminent advent of Him Whom God shall make manifest, namely, Baha’u’llah, the Founder of the Baha'i Faith. The observance takes place about two hours after sunset. To mark the Holy Day, Baha’is abstain from work on 23 May. The House of the Bab, where the Declaration occurred, was destroyed in 1979 during a wave of persecution that swept across the Baha’is in Iran following the Islamic revolution. (Photo: Baha'i World Centre)
In honour of the Declaration of the Bab, I have been thinking of that immortal hero who was the first to receive and embrace the truth of the Bab’s revelation: the young, pure-hearted, determined and devoted Mulla Husayn. We are indebted to Mulla Husayn because he left us with an account of that pivotal evening, unlike the Festival of Ridvan for which no historical records of the exact words or manner of Baha’u’llah’s declaration exists. In Release the Sun, William Sears tells us:
Never before in the history of religion have the exact words of such an unforgettable meeting been preserved by an eye-witness. Mulla Husayn, however, has left in everlasting language a memory of the first announcement by Ali Muhammad, the Bab. He could never forget the inner peace and serenity which he had felt in the life-creating presence of the Bab. He spoke often to his companions of that wondrous night.
What happened on that fateful evening and its impact on the world are sublime — attempting to comprehend it is like trying to imagine the size of the universe. Reflecting on Mulla Husayn’s story, however, helps me to get a better idea of the spiritual import of the Bab’s declaration. In thinking about Mulla Husayn, I am struck by 3 outstanding qualities that he demonstrated in the moments leading to and immediately following the birth of the Bab’s revelation: his purity of heart, his determination in pursuing his quest, and his devotion and faithfulness to the Bab, the object of his heart’s desire. Continue reading
In celebration of the centenary of the Tablets of the Divine Plan the Universal House of Justice released two joyous and love laden messages: one to the Baha’is of the World, and one to the Baha’is of the United States and Canada, the original recipients of Abdu’l-Baha’s Tablets of the Divine Plan.
These sweet letters are very fortifying and invigorating; they bolster my resolve to add my own personal herculean effort to teach the Cause in the coming Five Year Plan. One way in which these messages inspire me is by linking our current endeavours with the Tablets of the Divine Plan. This centenary is not a typical acknowledgement of something that occurred 100 years ago — it is a celebration of how much we have accomplished with them as a guide and inspiration, and an act of thanksgiving and praise for how much they will continue to impact and inform our work. In its letter to the Baha’is of the world, “acting under the mandate of Abdu’l-Baha”, the House of Justice opens with these words: Continue reading