The Birth of Baha’u’llah and the Spirit of the Age

Shut your eyes to estrangement, then fix your gaze upon unity… This span of earth is but one homeland and one habitation. -Baha’u’llah (1817-1892)

What possible connection could a Persian prisoner in a culturally stunted corner of the 19th century mideast have with the progressive spirit of our age? The spirit of a beaten mankind arising, phoenix-like, from the ashes of pride and prejudice to the glory of unity and brotherhood. Well, everything.

Biased though I may be, as a Baha’i I also embrace wholeheartedly the inspiration of every visionary that has called for a wider appreciation of humanity. Thoreau, Tolstoy, Gandhi and Dr. King come readily to mind. Today Baha’is everywhere gather to commemorate the 196th anniversary of the birth of Baha’u’llah. It would be only befitting to pause and glance at the quiet revolution of human consciousness brought about by this serene child prodigy born on 12 November, 1817 to one Khadijih Khanum and Mirza Buzurg. Continue reading

Shoghi Effendi: A Bridge to the World

Shoghi Effendi, 1 Mar, 1897 – 4 Nov, 1957. (Photo: Baha’i Media Bank)

The year was 1922, and a young Iranian man, only 24 years old, had arrived at the foot of the Swiss Alps. His face was round and young, but his eyes were old and heavy with worry.

His name was Shoghi Effendi, and just weeks earlier, he had learned the news that his beloved Grandfather had died, and it now fell to him to lead a nascent, embattled religion. He had come to the Alps to, in his words, “conquer, himself that is, to come to terms with the end of the sort of life that most of us are familiar with, before taking up the mantle of authority of the most precious institution the world had ever known. Continue reading

Illustrated Prayer Books: An Interview with Constanze von Kitzing

As a new mother and a life-long bibliophile, I get giddy when new Baha’i books for children hit the shelves – in these early days of the Faith, they are so preciously few! You can imagine my excitement when I discovered Constanze von Kitzing’s works. She is a German illustrator of children’s books, and both the American and German Baha’i publishing trusts have already printed her illustrated prayer book for children and her edition of Blessed is the spot….

A book of excerpts from the sacred writings, entitled Pearls of Wisdom, will be available in the near future and I am grateful that my daughter will grow up with Constanze’s playful images in her hands when we share family devotions. Her art is joyful, colourful and delightful. I was intrigued and wanted to find out more about Constanze and she graciously agreed to tell me about herself and her craft. Continue reading

To Live to Teach: Keith Ransom-Kehler

Keith Ransom-Kehler (February 14, 1876 – October 23, 1933)

After returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Shrines and the beloved Guardian in 1926, Keith Ransom-Kehler, penned a letter to the National Convention of the Baha’is of the United States and Canada. She had witnessed first hand the terrible burden with which the Guardian was weighed down in the form of hundreds of letters from the American Baha’is expressing criticism of each other. She wrote, “Any one of us is ready to die for [Shoghi Effendi]” and then asked rhetorically, “but can we conscientiously number ourselves among those who are willing to live for him?”

Shoghi Effendi would later write, “The Cause at present does not need martyrs who would die for the faith, but servants who desire to teach and establish the Cause throughout the world. To live to teach in the present day is like being martyred in those early days. It is the spirit that moves us that counts, not the act through which that spirit expresses itself; and that spirit is to serve the Cause of God with our heart and soul.”

Keith Ransom-Kehler would come to be one of those who could indeed “conscientiously number [herself] among those who are willing to live for him”. Thus, though she died quietly in Isfahan, Iran, of illness and exhaustion at the age of 57, she was declared by the Guardian to be the first American martyr to give her life for the Faith. Additionally, on the day after her death, on 24 October 1933, she was elevated to the rank of Hand of the Cause of God. She was the first woman so appointed. Continue reading

Being Wary of False Dichotomies


For the past few days I’ve had the pleasure of re-reading what I think is one of the best works of history ever: Baha’u’llah: The King of Glory by Hand of the Cause of God Hasan M. Balyuzi.

There are many outstanding qualities of Baha’u’llah that shine through in this monumental narrative, and one that particularly struck me from His youth was the way in which He would resolve complicated questions with simple and elegant solutions. At the age of 15, Baha’u’llah would be in discussions with learned divines who were tying themselves into knots with complicated theological discussions, and He would stun them with answers that were straightforward yet profound. Continue reading

Awakening: A History of the Babi and Baha’i Faiths in Nayriz

Many Baha’is are familiar with the events described in the book The Dawnbreakers, where followers of the Bab were under attack and siege by the Persian army, but aside from these descriptions in the Dawnbreakers, very little is known about the many events which took place during this turbulent period of our Faith’s early history. That is why the new book Awakening: A History of the Babi and Baha’i Faiths in Nayriz by Dr. Hussein Ahdieh and Hillary Chapman is so important.

Now for the first time, many of the gaps in the history of our Faith during that period have been filled, as one of Dr. Ahdieh’s ancestors, a young boy named Shafi, was one of the few male survivors who had witnessed the horrific events which took place around him in the Persian town of Nayriz. At the request of Baha’u’llah, Shafi documented these events in his diary, and it is this diary which played an important role in the research for this book.

Besides being a Baha’i Historian and an author, Dr. Hussein Ahdieh is also a good friend of mine and I was able to spend some time with him while I was visiting New York recently. We spoke about this wonderful new book and he agreed to tell me and our Baha’i Blog readers more about Awakening. Continue reading

The Bab’s Revelation

Photo: tiffa130 via flickr

One of my favorite questions to ask friends over dinner is: what convinced you of the truth of this Cause? Was it the social application of the teachings? Or the beauty of the Writings? The tribulations suffered by the Manifestations? Or a dream?

Every soul has a different response to this question and historical accounts of early believers are filled with their answers. One of the proofs of the Bab’s station that fascinates me is the sheer speed with which He revealed the Word of God. Consider the following account of the spiritually thunderstruck Mulla Husayn when the Bab declared His mission: Continue reading

The Baha’i Covenant: A Brief Overview

Photo: Courtesy PamelaB via flickr.

One of the topics of the Faith Baha’is are consistently encouraged to study and deepen their understanding of is the topic of the ‘Covenant of Baha’u’llah’, also known as the ‘Baha’i Covenant’.

In order to discuss the Baha’i Covenant, we first need to understand what a covenant is. Conventionally speaking, a covenant is a pact or binding agreement, but in the religious sense, it’s more than that. As the Universal House of Justice wrote:

A Covenant in the religious sense is a binding agreement between God and man, whereby God requires of man certain behaviour in return for which He guarantees certain blessings, or whereby He gives man certain bounties in return for which He takes from those who accept them an undertaking to behave in a certain way.

Wonderful! Now we have a primer for the word “covenant” as it applies to religious discourse. So, what is the Baha’i Covenant? Continue reading

Luminous Journey: A Documentary about Abdu’l-Baha in America

After being exiled and imprisoned from the age of eight, Abdu’l-Baha at the age of 67 set sail in 1911 and travelled to Europe and North America to visit the Baha’i communities and to share the teachings of Baha’u’llah with others.

Abdu’l-Baha spent a good portion of this trip traveling from coast to coast in North America – 239 days to be exact – sharing the message of peace and unity amongst the thousands of people He met, including President Theodore Roosevelt, inventor Alexander Graham Bell, explorer Admiral Peary, reformer W.E.B. DuBois, and poet Kahlil Gibran.

This important chapter in America’s history has now been brought to the screen by Tim and Anne Perry in a wonderful two and a half-hour documentary film titled: Luminous Journey: Abdu’l-Baha in America, 1912.

Aimed at general audiences, Luminous Journey brings to light the events which took place and the people Abdu’l-Baha encountered during His visit to the US and Canada. After watching the film, one of the viewers Roland Maddela wrote: “It was like I was travelling, too, with the Master and felt the excitement on His arrival in every city and the sadness when He left. The settings and costumes captured the spirit of the 1900s. The music and the narrations are superb.”

I managed to get a hold of Anne and Tim Perry to find out more about this important and inspiring documentary: Continue reading

What is a Baha’i?

What is a Baha’i? An obvious question for a person who has just come across the Baha’i Faith, but likewise a question that people who have already professed their belief in Baha’u’llah should perhaps regularly ask themselves. And for others who may not profess acceptance of Baha’u’llah and His claims, but who chose to behave in an upright manner, the question obtains equal importance. In the Arabic Hidden Words, Baha’u’llah states:

O SON OF BEING! Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds.

An examination of the Baha’i Sacred Texts amply provides us with detailed information on what it means to be a Baha’i, and regular contemplation and application of this guidance will provide a light and a guide in which a person can place their deeds. Likewise, it provides a means of aiding one to set goals for improvement in behaviour and attitude. It must be made clear at the start, however, that the question asks not “who”, but “what” is a Baha’i. And in the light of the guidance in the Baha’i Sacred Texts, even the question of “who” cannot be assumed to be one who has recognised Baha’u’llah as the Manifestation of God for this day. An instance in point are these statements from Abdu’l-Baha: Continue reading