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To Dedicate a Temple of Bahá’í on Chicago’s North Shore

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To Dedicate a Temple of Bahai on Chicago's North Shore
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January 7, 1912
Chicago, IL

ABDU’L-BAHA ABBAS is coming to America. His followers are anticipating his presence in Chicago during the annual Bahá’í convention that meets early in May to accelerate the project out in Wilmette of the Mashrak-El-Azkar (Dawning Point of Prayer), a house of worship, that is to be the outward symbol of the universal teaching of Bahá’u’lláh, which ‘Abdul-Bahá will proclaim.

He has been in London and Paris, his first visit to the West; during a life of exile and imprisonment. Press, pulpit, people, all races, all creeds united to do him honor. Greetings were sent to him on his arrival by the London Bahá’ís, the Theosophical Society of Bristol, the “Christian Commonwealth.” Reverently welcomed him the Theosophical Society of London, the Brahma Sohmaj Center and many social settlements.

Dr. Campbell invited him to address his congregation at the City Temple. Canon Wilberforce extended to him the courtesy of St. John’s Westminster. London accorded him a continuous reception. The lord mayor asserted the city was honored by his presence. Americans crossed the Atlantic to greet this simple man of the East. Paris extended to him the same cordial welcome.

Nearly twenty years ago a group of men and women met in one of the clubrooms of the Masonic Temple - that hive of cult and creeds - to listen to a soft-voiced Persian elucidating the principles of a religion he defined as Bahá’í. A few of those who heard him grasped the idea and held fast to it. Through the intervening years they have gathered strength and numbers until now they have united in the purchase of a tract of ground on the north shore, where they are planning to build a temple, which they hope that Abbas Effendi, head of Bahá’ísm [unreadable text] for the laying of the corner stone when he comes to Chicago in the spring. For Abbas Effendi ‘Abdul-Bahá, is touring the western world.

A Religion Without Priests.

What is Bahá’ísm? And who is Abbas Effendi?

Thousands of native-born Americans would be able to answer offhand and at length these questions that would be Greek to the average reader. For in the last two decades Bahá’ísm has spread through the United States with amazing celerity, considering that it is a religion without priest, creed or definite form of worship. The followers of the religion define Bahá’ísm as a spirit of religion rather than a cult. Bahá’ísm is an embracing belief, claiming love and unity as its only principles and uniting on them followers of other religions. There are assemblies in New York, Boston, Washington, Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle and in Kenosha. But Chicago, ever inclusive of new forms of religious belief, heads the country in the number and strength of the Bahá’í.

Who is ‘Abdul-Bahá Abbas? What is the compelling power that draws men to him?

Abdul-Bahá is the center of the Bahá’í movement, the movement that is accomplishing the unification of religions, universal peace and brotherhood. He is “the center of the covenant,” Bahá’ís say. He is the spiritual guide of millions who strive to follow him though from afar. He is, by his own statement, “the servant of Bahá” - Servant of the Ineffable Splendor. After all attempts at definition and analysis, ‘Abdul-Bahá remains the great mystery.

The story of the Bahá’í movement has been often and variously told. There arose in Persia, May 22, 1844, a young man, Mirza Ali-Muhammad, who proclaimed himself the “Báb,” or “door,” the forerunner of the great spiritual teacher of the world, “him whom God should manifest” soon to appear for the regeneration of men. Teachings so pure flowed from the lips of the Báb that the established religion was threatened.

Naturally the Muhammadan mullahs resented the invasion of their prerogatives. And so to exterminate both the Báb and his cause they persecuted him: drove him from town to town, imprisoned him, and finally, July 9, 1850, they martyred him in the old Barrack Square in Tabriz.

The Báb left behind him a book, the Persian Beyan, which continuously insists upon the coming of the Great One. “All the splendor of the Beyan is ‘He whom God shall manifest.’” It was but preliminary to the perfected law, the great revelation: “The whole Beyan revolves around the saying of ‘Him whom God shall manifest.’” “I swear by the Most Holy Essence of God (glorious and splendid is He!) that in the day of the manifestation of Him whom God shall manifest, if one should hear a single verse from Him and recite it, it is better than that he should recite the Beyan a thousand times. Blessed is he who will gaze upon the arrangement of Bahá’u’lláh, for, verily, He shall inevitably appear.”

Persecution Increased Fervor.

At the scheduled hour appeared the great world teacher - Mirza Hussein Ali of Teheran, called Bahá’u’lláh - the Glory of God. After the execution of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh gathered the confused Bábis, guided them and taught them and transformed a local into a universal movement. They recognized in him the marvelous power and wisdom of a great spiritual teacher, and upon the personal declaration of his station they accepted him as the “One whom God should manifest.” Henceforth they were known as Bahá’ís.

Now the history of the Bahá’í movement becomes a thrilling tale of persecution, exile, imprisonment of leader and followers beginning with the arrest and imprisonment of Bahá’u’lláh in 1852 and terminating with the liberation of ‘Abdul-Bahá by the new Turkish government in the summer of 1908.

Nowadays many know the external facts of the story, how Bahá’u’lláh with his family and followers were exiled in 1852 to Bagdad; in 1862 to Constantinople, then to Adrianople, where they remained five years, and in 1868 to the penal town of Acca, on the coast of the Mediterranean in Syria; how for two years they were imprisoned - seventy men, women and children - in the military barracks under most harrowing conditions; then how they left the prison, though by official edict Bahá’u’lláh was compelled to remain within doors for nine years, and then how the freedom of Acca and the surrounding country was granted him until his death on May 22, 1892.

Persecution, torture, martyrdoms - more than 20,000 of them - only increased the fervor and number of the followers. Bahá’ís are found in almost every country in the world. In Europe and America the cult is spreading swiftly. And Persia, the instigator of the original persecutions, has suffered so complete a tour de force that she is today more than one-third Bahá’í.

During the exile and imprisonment of Bahá’u’lláh he was giving utterance to teachings for the illumination and guidance of men, that men may cease theorizing about the essential truths of life and put them into practical expression. These utterances insist upon the oneness of God; the one divine source of all religions, and hence their unity; the manifestation of the word of God through great messengers, Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Jesus, Mohammed, Bahá’u’lláh; universal peace; a universal language, the equality of men and women, and equal educational advantages.

Before the death of Bahá’u’lláh he revealed the Kitab’l’Ahd - the Book of the Covenant - creating Abbas Effendi, his eldest son, the center of the covenant. Always there has been a peculiar bond of [unreadable text] ‘Abdul-Bahá [unreadable text] the long journey with Bahá’u’lláh of exile and imprisonment that ended with the “Most Great Prison” of Acca. He never attended school. From his father he received instruction, and early he acquired the power he manifests today of meeting people of every race and class and creed. Early, too, came evidences of the boundless knowledge and wisdom that impresses men today, whether or not they recognize his spiritual station.

Abbas Effendi, the Prophet.

Abbas Effendi, for forty years a prisoner and released less than four years ago, he converted a third of the Persian nation to his belief and has spread his doctrine to scattered gatherings throughout the world. To his house in Haifa come pilgrims from all over the world, but it is declared that even while he was jailed scores of Americans came to visit him. He is described as a wonderful old man, so highly respected even among the more fanatical Mohammedans that many Mohammedan ecclesiastics of distinction have stopped at Haifa on their journeyings to Mecca to pay him visits of respect.

Abbas Effendi is declared a prophet, although he refuses to set store by the gift of prophecy, declaring that the spirit is the essential point of religion. His father ordered burned a book which proclaimed the supposed miracles of the Báb, insisting that its publication might prove cause for later superstition. Abbas Effendi, who has aroused the interest of London, the only city that excels Chicago as a cherisher of cults and creeds, seems to be able to impress nearly all those who meet him with his power of personality.

Travelers to Acca have been coming back year after year with tales of the potent personality of Abbas Effendi. So great was his magnetic power that no governor of Acca was allowed to remain in that district more than a year. The government feared that continued residence near the Effendi would undermine the Mohammedanism of the very men whom it sent to represent it. One of the most vivid descriptions written of the Effendi is that given by Professor Edward Granville Brown of Oxford, who visited him while he was still a prisoner at Acca.

Seldom have I seen one whose appearance impressed me more,” he wrote of him. “A strongly built man, holding himself straight as an arrow, with white turban and raiment, long locks reaching almost to the shoulders, broad, powerful forehead, indicating a strong intellect, combined with an unswerving will; eyes keen as a hawk’s and strongly marked but pleasant features - such was my first impression of Abbas Effendi - the master.”

An American who visited Acca in 1892 described the man and his surroundings in more extended detail. “Imagine that we are in the ancient house of the still more ancient city of Acca. The room in which we are faces the opposite wall of a narrow paved street, which an active man might clear at one bound. Above is the bright sun of Palestine; to the right a glimpse of the [unreadable text] sea wall and the blue Mediterranean. As we sit we hear a singular sound rising from the pavement thirty feet below, faint at first and increasing. It is like the murmur of human voices. We open the window and look down. We see a crowd of human beings, with patched and tattered garments.

Many of these men are blind, many more are pale or emaciated or aged; some are on crutches, some are so feeble that they can hardly walk. Most of the women are closely veiled, but enough are uncovered to cause us well to believe that if the veils were lifted more pain and misery would be seen. Some of them carry babes with pinched and yellow faces. There are perhaps a hundred in the gathering, besides many children. They are of all the races one meets in these streets - Turks, Syrians, Arabs, Ethiopians and many others.

These people are ranged against the walls or seated on the ground, apparently in an attitude of expectation. A door opens and a man comes out. He is of middle stature and strongly built; he wears flowing, light colored robes. On his head is a light buff fez with a white cloth bound around it. He is perhaps 60 years of age. His long hair rests on his shoulders. His forehead is broad, full and high; his nose slightly aquiline; his moustache and beard, the latter full though not heavy, are nearly white. His eyes are gray and blue, large, and both soft and penetrating. His bearing is simple, but there is grace, dignity, and even majesty about his movements.

A Friend of the Poor.

He passes through the crowd, and, as he goes, utters words of salutation. We do not understand them, but we see the benignity and kindliness of his countenance. He stations himself at a narrow angle of the street and motions to the people to come toward him. They crowd up a little too insistently. He pushes them quietly back and lets them pass one by one. As they come, they hold their hands extended. In each open palm he places some small coin. He knows them all. He caresses them with his hands on the face, on the shoulders, on the head. Some he stops and questions.

An aged negro who hobbles up is greeted by him with some [unreadable text] query. The old man’s broad face breaks into a sunny smile, his white teeth glistening against his ebony skin as he replies. He stops a woman with a babe and fondly strokes the child. As they pass, some kiss his hand. To all he says, Marhabbah! Marhabbah! (Well done! Well done!)

This man, who gives thus freely must be rich, you think. No, far otherwise. Once his family was the wealthiest in Persia. For fifty years, however, he and his family have been exiles and prisoners, but even his jailers have become his friends and honor and respect him as though he were their brother. For to this man it is the law to do good to those who injure him, and no one wants to injure him when he comes to know him”

An American woman, Miss Ethel Stefana Stevens, has written of the Effendi of Haifa:

Almost any afternoon you can see him for yourself if you will stroll in the streets of Haifa, that half-Syrian, half-Teutonic village, where ragged Turkish roustabouts load cargo from a pier which was built for the German emperor to land on. This servant of Bahá is a man with shrewd, kindly, courteous eyes that seem to look into you instead of at you, but that instinctively make you like them, and all that goes with them. A keen, sun-tanned, friendly face framed as in silver by his long, white hair and beard; an expression that is alert, intelligent and serene; a walk that is dignified without being conscious; a carriage that is peculiarly commanding. In him you see an Old Testament patriarch personified. Always he wears the snowy turban, the robe of plain white linen, and the gray wool undergarment peculiar to all Persians of high standing, while behind him, at the distance prescribed by respect, walks a group of his disciples with folded hands.

Regard him well, my friends,” she continues, “for in him you behold one of the most significant figures in the religious world of today; one who is perhaps doing more for the uplifting of the Oriental than any other force; one who has actually suffered for his faith, one whom nearly two millions of people hold in greatest reverence as the Light in the Lantern, the Knowledge within the Gate.”

The religion of Abbas Effendi, which was brought to this country by a few returning American tourists and a few Persian disciples of the Bahá, has been gaining force in Chicago for several years. Mrs. Marshall Roe, well known for her work as a volunteer probation officer and as the originator of the tag day idea for the children’s charities, is one of the original [unreadable text] of the Bahá’í in Chicago. Mrs. Roe’s charity work in behalf of the neglected children of the city is part of her conception of Bahá’ísm. For charity is one of the watchwords of the Bahá’í faith.

Love is the fundamental spirit of Bahá’í,” says Mrs. Roe. “Bahá’í is not a cult in that those who become Bahá’ís must give up any other creed or religion with which they are associated. Bahá’ísm is inclusive. Love is the beginning and end of all. All religions are lights on the path toward perfection. Bahá’ísm is the all-pervading religion. Sympathy, unselfishness, love for God and love for man, a divine thought of humanity are the essentials of Bahá’í.

To Build Temple in Chicago.

The Bahá’í faith has no cult, no set creed, no priests, no fixed order of prayers. Bahá’u’lláh has written a book of beautiful, inspirational prayers, but these are not a fundamental part of Bahá’í. The best prayer is the thought of others with a love that seeks service for them, an all-pervading kindliness.

The temple which we hope to have built soon in Chicago and for which we have already purchased the ground north of Devon avenue, is to be a symbol of our faith. Bahá’í [unreadable text] no temple, except in the heart. The aim of the Bahá’ís is to establish an earthly kingdom of love, where the only law shall be the law of love one another.”

Bahá’í is a universal religion, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has set in this [unreadable text] religious conceptions of every creed prescribes the existence of a medium between man and God. The spiritual teachings of these divine mediums, whether Hebrew, Moslem or Christian, have been essentially alike: the word of God, whether transmitted by Moses, Christ, Mohammed - what after all, are these but names? And what do names, mere words, matter? Yet people quarrel and even kill each other over those names. The true object of religion is to make every soul reflect the divine.

That is the mission of the Bahá’í. We must obey Abbas Effendi in working for the service of humanity. Love is the beginning and the end of all life. The triumph of humanitarian love would end all human disputes. All the great religions of the world have preached love, some in greater, some in less degree. Abbas Effendi hopes for the time when nations will no longer war with each other, when the provincial prejudice which is called patriotism will be replaced by a higher ideal of good to all, when a universal language will be taught and when genius will be directed not toward destruction, but toward alleviation of the sufferings of men.

To be Bahá’í means to have attained to the spirit of love for others. Love for God must be shown in love for mankind. The Bahá’ís try to serve humanity and to work for the universal peace and the universal brotherhood of man.”

The Teaching of Bahá’u’lláh.

The revelation of Bahá’u’lláh is the exaltation of the simple, rational life, and ‘Abdul-Bahá is its exemplification. What he utters as the servant of his father is of vital interest.

Love,” he declares, “is the beginning [unreadable text] saying that many of that material problems should be solved first to prepare the way for the reception of spiritual truth.”

Such people,” said ‘Abdul-Bahá, “are doing the work of true religion.” Then he went on to say that a new order of things must come, but it must have a solid foundation, and that no foundation was solid save religion, which was the love of God. When this unshakable basis of the love of God was established in the world, then inevitably would the structure of a new social justice rise, and a new individual love and [unreadable text].

Often the question is asked, What is the Bahá’í’s attitude toward the theosophied teaching of reincarnation? And ‘Abdul-Bahá replies: “In the teaching of Bahá’u’lláh the reincarnation of the spirit in successive bodies is not taught.” But ‘Abdul-Bahá emphasizes the harmonies rather than the differences between the Bahá’í revelations and other systems of philosophy and other religious expressions - its “real oneness with all that is true and good in every progressive movement,” for as one adherent to the faith explains: “Bahá’ísm is pure and unadulterated universalism, such as was the prophetic spirit of all religions.”

Upon woman a high station is conferred by the revelation of Bahá’u’lláh. There is no limit to her attainment. She will come into her own spiritually and intellectually.

In Paris, when the news came of the battle of Benghazi, ‘Abdul-Bahá was greatly distressed, and to those assembled about him he said:

I am not happy this morning. I am full of sadness. The news which the paper brought us was such as must fill one with anguish.

Animals fight, and when they fight it is for a cause, an end to be gained. Men are fighting now, for what? For the ground, our sepulcher, our tomb, our cemetery!

This earth is the first and lowest of terrestrial things created by the Divine Will - and it is our tomb, our sepulcher, our cemetery: our death, not our life - and these men are fighting not for liberty or an ideal, and brotherhood among men [unreadable text] while these men are creating death, you think life; while they are guilty of cruelty, you think tenderness; while they make destruction, you think construction; while they create war, you think peace.

We must hope, we must not despair. We must look forward to the time when war and dissension will disappear, when love and unity will reign, and the light of God will shine upon all banners and into all hearts, and unite them to one another and to Him.”

[picture caption: The House of ‘Abdul-Bahá Outside of Acca.]

[picture caption: Mt. Carmel Frequented by Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdul-Bahá.]

[picture caption: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Abbas, “Servant of the Ineffable Splendor”, Head of the Bahá’í Movement.]

[picture caption: Door of ‘Abdul-Bahá’s Prison House.]

[picture caption: Courtyard in the Prison Home of ‘Abdul-Bahá at Acca.]