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The events of Baha’i history are so close to us that we can easily be connected to those early heroic days–Rainn Wilson wrote about meeting a person who had met Baha’u’llah! I am fascinated by our history and how we are recording, capturing and preserving it for future generations. When I came across the Afnan Library Trust’s Facebook page and saw a photograph I had never seen before of the Greatest Holy Leaf, I was delighted and thrilled and I wanted to share some of that excitement with you (as well as the photograph, which can be seen below!). In this interview, Dr Moojan Momen, one of the Trustees of the Afnan Library, shares a little bit about this extraordinary institution:
Baha’i Blog: Hello Dr Momen! Thank you for taking the time to chat with us! To begin, could you please tell us a little about how the Afnan Library came to be?
Hand of the Cause of God Mr Hasan Balyuzi (himself an Afnan), in a codicil to his will, expressed a wish that his extensive collection of papers, books, manuscripts, photographs and newspaper cuttings become the basis to found and develop a research library ‘for the benefit of all who seek knowledge.’ The library was to be founded in the name of his father Muvaqqaru’d-Dawlih and mother Munavvar Khanum, to be dedicated to Khadijih Bagum, the wife of the Bab, and to be named the Afnan Library. To fulfil this wish, the Afnan Library Trust was established as an independent charity in 1985, with the National Spiritual Assembly of the United Kingdom as the fourth Trustee, as was the wish of Mr Balyuzi.
Baha’i Blog: How does this library differ from others?
The Afnan Library is the only accessible research library on the Baha’i Faith in the world.
In a letter to the Trustees, the Universal House of Justice wrote that it ‘views the final accomplishment of the wishes of the late Hand of the Cause as of the very greatest importance.’
Baha’i Blog: What is the scope of its collection? What are some items in its collection that you find particularly interesting?
The library presently contains some 10,000 books and vast quantities of manuscripts, handwritten letters, maps, documents, periodicals, photographs and unpublished items relating to the religion as well as books and materials relating to the history of Iran, the Middle East and major world religions.
The Trustees of the Library have attempted over the years to fulfil the wishes of Mr Balyuzi and develop the scope of the Library, adding to his own collection with books, manuscripts and other archival materials donated by many outstanding Baha’is, such that the Library today is now home to over 20 other individuals collections and photocopies of over 120 volumes of manuscripts from the Iran National Baha’i archives.
The main subject area of the Library is the study of all aspects of the Baha’i Faith. It also covers associated subject areas such as the history and culture of Iran and the Middle East, the study of religion and comparative religion.
Further to the books and papers we have a wide collection of Baha’i Journals and periodicals from around the world.
Of particular interest are books containing inscriptions and signatures of early western Baha’is, Hands of the Cause, and key figures from Baha’i history, plus the papers of Mr Balyuzi himself which provide an invaluable insight in to the early development of the British Baha’i Community and the Institution of the Hands of the Cause. Some of this material (as well as news about the library) can be found on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AfnanLibraryTrust/.
Baha’i Blog: Could you please tell us a little about what materials are available online and perhaps about what plans the Trust has for putting materials online?
This is still a work in progress for us as we are just beginning to upload material to our website, www.afnanlibrary.org. So far, we have uploaded a number of manuscripts, journals and published books in Persian, Arabic and English.
We are aiming to upload those items that are not easily accessed elsewhere for use by the scholars and researchers of the Faith, and other academics in the field. Researchers are of course welcome to come to the library by appointment, but we see the vital need for our materials to be made accessible around the world.
Baha’i Blog: What are the current needs of the library?
There are several ways in which people can assist with the work of the Library. Other than the obvious need for financial donations there is the donating of books, other printed materials and manuscript materials that relate to the subject areas covered by the library. In particular, the Library seeks to obtain rare Baha’i books and manuscripts and runs of Baha’i periodicals, such as national newsletters. Any donations need to be checked with us first as there are of coursed many titles that would be duplicates.
Another need of the Library is volunteers. We need qualified librarians and archivist (ideally being able to read both English and Persian), volunteers with IT skills for a variety of internal and remote work, and volunteers for translating our web pages into other languages.
Baha’i Blog: How has the library been used thus far?
We have been very happy to have received many visitors and researchers in the last few years and since the launch of the website we have been able to assist a number of individuals with their searches. As we said it is very early days and we are still in the process of unpacking the numerous boxes of books and papers that are revealing more and more treasures from the history of our Faith. Every new discovery is like a gift from the past and brings us closer to uncovering the magnitude of the body of work of the Baha’i world.
Baha’i Blog: The physical space looks beautiful! Could you tell us about the property?
The library is housed in an old Baptist chapel in the small market town of Sandy in Bedfordshire in the United Kingdom. The building was recently refurbished into an open plan office and the collection is stored on purpose built locally crafted wooden bookshelves over two storeys with work and meeting spaces. As an old chapel the building offers a very calm and dignified space for the library and a fitting tribute to the work and legacy of the Hand of the Cause of God, Mr Balyuzi.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you, Dr Momen, for sharing this with us!
If you’d like to know more about the Afnan Library Trust, or contact them about donations, or volunteering, check out their website: http://www.afnanlibrary.org/ You can also follow the Afnan Library Trust on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AfnanLibraryTrust/
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