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A World Religion

A World Religion
The Christian Commonwealth
September 6, 1911

The Bahá’í Message.

By Harrold Johnson.

It has been my privilege during the past few weeks to come into close personal contact with representatives of a religious movement destined, I believe, to have a large influence in the world. I had read, and been deeply interested by, shortly after its appearance two years ago, a volume in John Murray’s “Wisdom of the East” series entitled “The Splendour of God,” by Mr. Eric Hammond, being an account of the origin and development of the Bahá’í religion, together with a considerable body of extracts (translated from the Arabic and the Persian) of its Sacred Writings. But I had not met an adherent of this religion until the First Universal Races Congress, held during the closing days of July in the University of London, furnished me with the befitting occasion. Since that congress closed several meetings of sympathisers with the Bahá’í movement have been held in London, and to these and to the scanty literature at present accessible in translation I owe the following particulars.

The Bahá’í religion claims to have the adhesion of at least one-third of the Persian people, and since it has already aroused remarkable interest in Egypt, India, the United States of America, and even in France, it is time that we, too, should pay some attention to so striking a phenomenon.

The Báb.

The John the Baptist, the forerunner, of the movement arose in Shiraz, Persia, in 1844. He is known as The Báb, or The Door. His mission was particularly addressed to Persia: his special message was a revised and spiritual rendering of the Koran, a “new theology,” if you will, of Islam. He came not to destroy, but to fulfil. His teaching, nevertheless, proved a cause of offence to the Mohammedan Mullahs, whose priestly prerogatives he disregarded by appealing directly to the hearts of his hearers, and, after four years of imprisonment, he was shot to death publicly at Tabriz in 1850. He left behind him an inner group of eighteen carefully chosen and instructed disciples and a large number of Persian followers. He also foretold the early appearance of a Great Prophet whose mission would far transcend his own, and through whose teachings not only would Persia be regenerated, but the spiritual unity of mankind would also be established.


The Báb’s death was succeeded by a wholesale and cruel persecution of his followers, over 20,000 being said to have willingly given up their property, families, and lives rather than recant their faith. Persecution continued right up to the beginning of the present century, for as late as 1901 we read “there were 170 martyrs at one time in the city of Yeza.” “The Red Ink, shed in my Path is more precious to me than all else,” wrote Bahá’u’lláh. The Book of Martyrs of Bahá’ísm has a roll of 10,000 names.

Bereft of their leader, and subjected to savage and relentless persecution, the Bábists (as they were called) passed through an anxious period, until they discovered another leader in Bahá’u’lláh, a young Persian nobleman, son of a Vizier and grandson of a Grand Vizier, who gave up all for the Bábist cause. Bahá’u’lláh soon found himself in prison and in chains at Teheran, where he had been born in a palace; his family estates and wealth were confiscated and appropriated. After a few months, however, he was released, and, together with his family and a number of followers, was exiled to Baghdad under the surveillance of the Turkish Government, where he resided for twelve years. The last two years of this period he spent in solitude in the mountains, in prayer and meditation, and finally, in 1863, he declared himself to be he whom the Báb had foretold. From Baghdad he was then exiled to Adrianople, and from thence to Acca (Acre), in Syria (not very far from Nazareth!), a penal colony north of Mount Carmel, where it was hoped by the authorities that the pestilential climate and the terribly unhygienic conditions under which he and his seventy followers were housed would speedily effect their complete and final dissolution. Bahá’u’lláh, however, wondrously survived, both spiritually and physically, and, indeed, remained at Acca till his death in 1892, having endured in all forty years of captivity, the latter years being rendered more agreeable by the extension of some few privileges and a certain measure of liberty.

Abdu’l-Bahá (Abbas Effendi).

Before his death he had designated his son, Abbas Effendi, as his successor. The latter remained in captivity at Acca until 1908, when he was released on the declaration of the Turkish Constitution. He resides now at Mount Carmel, and may be said to be the St. Paul of the movement of which Bahá’u’lláh is the Christ. Those who have come into personal touch with him speak with enthusiasm of the lofty moral beauty and profound spirituality of his life and conversation. Through his writings, too, he speaks with authority, and not as the scribes. The followers of the movement are now called, after Bahá’u’lláh, not Bábists, but Bahá’ís.

The Teachings.

The essential and ultimate aim of this World-Movement is the spiritual unity of mankind. The Bahá’í message differs from that of other religions in this, that whereas these are distinguished by that which differentiates them, the one from the other, the characteristic of Bahá’ísm is that it seeks to demonstrate the fundamental unity of all religions and to trace them all to one single Divine Source. Its message, in short, is not that of a new sect zealous for proselytes, but of a New Dispensation and great Reconciling Order eager to achieve unity through diversity by a deeper outpouring of the spirit into all forms. It bids us to remain intimately connected with the particular church in which we were nurtured (where are our racial, associational, and family ties), and to work continuously therein to purify, ennoble, enlarge, spiritualise, and merge in the larger Unity the expression of our particular faith adapting it to modern conditions and needs. To a Christian it is Christian; to a mystical Sufi it speaks in the mystical language of the Sufi. It is all things to all men if haply it may save some. I can make my meaning clearer to the Christian world if I quote here a Message of Abbas Effendi, communicated in 1910 “to a Worker in a Crowded City.”

Give to him my greetings. Tell him Christ is ever in the world of existence. He has never disappeared out of it. He is the Source still of Christian life. But, to find Him is difficult. To be nominally a Christian is easy; to be a real Christian is hard. The spiritual beauties we see around us to-day are from the breathings of Christ.

Bahá’ísm relies wholly on the operation of the spirit, and has faith that the ‘their own Brotherhood’ by the members themselves. It appeared that for some time there had been a desire to deepen the sense of unity, and to try and do something towards extending the influence of this society. How to effect this was the subject of the speeches. Union Chapel has a great history, as the scene of the ministry of the late Dr. Alex. McLaren. The first speaker was the hon. secretary, Mr. Best, who urged the necessity of making every man who joined feel he had a responsibility in doing all he could in helping the work. He defended the free discussion at all the meetings, holding that the unrestricted platform for all shades of opinion had tended to spread information on many present-day questions, and helped to form a healthier public opinion. The next speaker, Mr. Wilson, pleaded very earnestly for a right conception of the true inwardness of the meaning of Brotherhood, for unless the true spirit of brotherliness existed amongst the members themselves there could be no radiation of it to others. There was great need for new methods. The failure in the past to arouse an all-round enthusiasm could be remedied, he thought, by frequently taking the opinion of the whole of the men regarding the plans and aims they had in view. They needed the whole force of the members behind every effort. Such open meetings as the one that day would bring much latent talent to light. A great field of work lay close to their meeting place, where there were multitudes of alert men, who, if attached in some definite way to an organisation, could transform the city. Brotherhoods of an up-to-date character were needed more there than in the slums, where agencies often tumbled over one another. Every thinking man knew that a new social Gospel was required. A new spirit was abroad and demanded recognition. He hoped they would aim at meeting the needs of the times, and through that society it would be shown in a concrete way that this new spirit was capable of finding its expression. One speaker, referring to the fact that music halls were able to attract great numbers of men, wished to know how their own methods failed in that these same men were untouched by the Churches and Brotherhoods; another speaker believed that Brotherhood leaders were apt to sit on the fence and not to declare definitely any fixed policy of a bold character, either in regard to social or political work. The chairman, Rev. J. E. Roberts, M. A., B. D., is deservedly held in high esteem as one who consistently upholds a free hearing for every side of all the questions of the day. To an outsider the result of the meeting justified the experiment, the impression left being that the members present felt a new interest in the society because they were to take in the future a share in shaping its policy.”

New Bahá’í Centre, London.

Last Friday, at 37, Tavistock Place, W. C., the Bahá’í Community of London opened a new centre and reading-room, which will be open daily from 11 a. m. to 6 p. m. The friends present at the gathering hailed from Egypt, Syria, West Africa, United States, Mexico, Holland, etc. The opening of this centre is the direct outcome of the series of public meetings held at the Passmore Edwards Settlement and at Caxton Hall, at the time of the first Universal Races Congress. A study-circle is held every Friday at 4.45 p. m. All information may be had of the hon. sec. Miss Annet Hamminck Schepel.

The Unity Press.

47, Vicarage Road, East Sheen, S. W.

List of Publications, Post Free.

A Selection of Pamphlets dealing with the movement, Post Free, 6d.