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Religion: Baha’i

5 minute read

Drama is essential to the launching of a new religion. Christian Science was the rare exception; Mary Baker Eddy started it in 1866 simply by having a revelation. Conforming to the rule is another latter-day faith, Baha’i, which commemorated last week with services in 65 cities in the U. S. Its drama, not unlike the Christian Good Friday, was a drama of martyrdom.

In the public square of Tabriz, Persia, 81 years ago last week, 31-year-old Mirza Ali Mohammad was stoned and shot to death with “a thousand bullets.” Known as the Bab (gateway), he had heralded the coming of a mighty world religious leader. Soon as Mirza Ali Mohammad was dead, Mirza Husayn Ali proclaimed himself the predicted leader, took the name of Baha’u’llah (Glory of God). He preached a simple all-inclusive creed, recognizing the divinity of the founders of the world’s other religions. His tenets were internationalism, universal peace, love and tolerance for all, education, work and equality for men and women. Persecution, next best thing to martyrdom for making a religion grow, followed Baha’u’l lah though it is difficult to see how his gentle faith should have bothered anyone. From jail to exile to jail he went, throughout the East. In the early years of Baha’i (as the faith came to be known) 20,000 of its followers were martyred.

To the International Congress of Religion at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 went one Ibrahim George Khayru’llah to spread Baha’i in the U. S. Founder Baha’u’llah had died the year before and his son Abdu’1-Baha (servant of Baha) had become Expounder & Promoter. Born in 1844 on the very day when the Bab was making his great prediction, Abdu’1-Baha began expounding and promoting late in life, but under his able leadership the faith gained world following. In 1912 he followed Ibrahim Khayru’llah to the U. S., spoke in churches, synagogs, D. A. R. meetings, visited the late William Jennings Bryan who pontificated: “The Baha’i movement is the only power able to revive the Islamic world.” Abdu’1-Baha, however, saw the movement serving a wider world. For Jews it could fulfill Old Testament and Talmudic prophecies; for Christians the visions of the Apocalypse; for Mohammedans the Redeemer, Imam-Mahdi.

Patriarchal, seamy-faced, sad-eyed, the Expounder & Promoter died in 1921, aged 77. He had insured the hierarchic succession (though never claiming divinity) by providing a grandson to carry on. Shoghi Effendi who now lives in Haifa, Palestine. He had designated the U. S. as a Baha’i centre by laying the cornerstone of a mammoth Temple of Light near where Chicago’s drainage canal flows out of Lake Michigan in Wilmette, Ill. This will serve the Baha’i’s in the western world—some 3,000 believers. Less pretentious but serving some 2,000,000 communicants are the three Eastern temples, at Haifa and Akka in Palestine, Ishquabad in Turkestan (this one was lately seized by the atheist Soviets).

Designed by the late Architect Louis Bourgeois, who died in his studio on its grounds, the Temple of Light has been called by Architect Harold Van Buren Magonigle “the first new idea in architecture since the 13th century.” Nine-sided, looking somewhat like a 161-ft. beehive, it is composed of two superimposed stories and a great Oriental dome. As yet incomplete, its concrete sides will be covered with fancy stonework, the dome filled in with translucent glass. Three-quarters of a million dollars, half of its eventual cost, have been expended upon it, but now Baha’i has no more money, and will ask for none. All contributions must be voluntary, from people to whom it represents an actual sacrifice. But Chicago rumor says that Mrs. Edith Rockefeller McCormick, who does not need to scrimp and sacrifice, was a large contributor to the building fund last year.

In the Temple last May met Baha’i’s 23d Annual Assembly. Quietly, with little ceremony, 95 delegates from 50 local Baha’i communities elected a board of nine directors for the year. Chairman and head of the U. S. and Canadian movement is Allen Boyer McDaniel, Washington engineer. The organization is simple; there is no proselytizing. People may join (and contribute money) of their own volition. Some who have shown interest are King Zog I of Albania; Count Ilya Tolstoy, son of the late great novelist; Mrs. Lewis Stuyvesant Chanler, wife of New York’s onetime Lieutenant Governor, whose daughter was married in a Baha’i ceremony (TIME, March 10, 1930); Solon Fieldman, onetime Socialist leader; Dowager Queen Marie of Rumania.

Across the street from the Temple of Light is the Sheridan Shore Yacht Club, a convivial organization which occupies the basement of Architect Benjamin Howard Marshall’s gay pink house. So quietly, bothering no one, does Baha’i meet, that last week’s celebration of the Bab’s martyrdom (with readings and prayers led by Mrs. Corrine True of Wilmette) went quite unnoticed by the yachtsmen.

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