Category Archives History

A Tribute to Agnes Alexander

Hand of the Cause of God Agnes Baldwin Alexander (1875-1971). Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community.

In this article, I’d like to share a little of what I’ve learned about Hand of the Cause of God Agnes Alexander from when she first heard about the Baha’i Faith, to her efforts to deepen herself in its teachings, to how she established a Baha’i community in Japan. I’d like to share some lessons I’ve learned from her life.

Agnes was born in Hawaii in 1875. Her parents were Christian missionaries who moved to Hawaii from the mainland United States. Although her family was not wealthy, she was able to travel and studied at Berkeley in the United States in the 1890s.

In 1900 Agnes visited Europe and while staying with an aunt in Rome she met an American Baha’i, Charlotte Dixon, who had recently been on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. She gave Agnes a prayer, but did not actually mention the Baha’i Faith, as many Baha’is in those days did not feel comfortable talking about the Baha’i Faith without knowing if someone was genuinely interested. After having a spiritual dream Agnes asked her for more information, and after discussing it together, she came to believe in the teachings and principles of the Baha’i Faith. As was the custom at the time, she sent a letter to Abdu’l-Baha to declare her belief and received a Tablet in reply which encouraged her to establish the Baha’i Faith in Hawaii. Here is an excerpt:

Be, therefore a divine bird, proceed to thy native country, spread the wings of sanctity over those spots and sing and chant and celebrate the name of thy Lord, that thou mayest gladden the Supreme Concourse and make the seeking souls hasten unto thee as moths hasten to the lamp and thus illumine that distant country by the Light of God.

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Remembering ‘Milly’ – A Tribute to Amelia Collins

Amelia Engelder Collins (7 June, 1873-1 January, 1962). Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community.

The very first time I heard of Amelia Collins was when I was a child, maybe five or six, visiting the Holy Land with my family. We were walking along the wide path in Bahji, the only sound our footsteps on the white pebbles, and before us towered a beautiful wrought-iron gilded gate, leading to the Shrine of Baha’u’llah.

‘This is the ‘Collins Gate’’, my mother whispered to me. ‘Named after Amelia Collins.’

In my child’s mind’s eye, Amelia Collins too, was a figure who towered above me like this enormous gate. When I finally saw photos of her, it surprised me that, as described by Hand of the Cause Mr Abu’l-Qasim Faizi, she was, in fact, quite small – ‘a slender, white-haired, very upright, elderly lady.’ When I began to read about her life, however, I realised that this incredible woman was, indeed, like this gate: strong, upright and truly a spiritual giant. Mr Faizi goes on to describe the gate itself as standing ‘silently…as a loving remembrance of the one who adored the Guardian of the Faith – Shoghi Effendi.’ Continue reading

21 Resources Relating to the 100th Anniversary of the Baha’i Faith in Australia

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Baha’i Faith in Australia, so in celebration, we thought we’d bring together 21 resources that honor this historic occasion! Some of the resources listed are our own content, written or created by the Baha’i Blog team of collaborators, some are from Baha’i institutions, and some are individual initiatives that we’ve showcased and curated on Baha’i Blog.

Whether you’re Australian or not, we hope you find this list helpful and inspiring, and for our Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander friends, before you scroll any further, a warning that some of the resources listed below feature photographs of people who have since passed away.

Now on with the list! Continue reading

Following in the Footsteps of Emeric Sala

Emeric Sala (12 November 1906 - 5 September 1990). Photo courtesy of lona Sala Weinstein.

A snapshot of the Romanian Baha’i Community in the early ’90s would be quite a busy picture: the Baha’is, particularly youth, were very busy around the clock with casual conversations and public meetings on the principles of the Baha’i Faith, as well as offering firesides and deepenings to study and discuss these principles in detail. In Bucharest and around the country, the Baha’i youth in Romania were busy!

All those youth truly deserve recognition and celebration. What a narrative that would be! But the life of one special youth from Transylvania, a youth from a much earlier generation of Romanians, was so ground-breaking that it was depicted on stage. That is how Flight to a New World was conceived and performed in 2016 in Santiago, Chile on the occasion of the dedication of the Mother Temple of South America. I know this sounds confusing: what does the story of a young man from Romania have to do with the Mother Temple of South America? And what does it all have to do with me? Here’s how the story unfolds:

I was pulled into the act in the fall of 1991 at the busy Baha’i Centre in Bucharest. People interested in hearing about the Baha’i Faith were gathering for a meeting and I happened to welcome a witty gentleman in his mid ’70s. He said: “Everyday I go by your sign downstairs. Today I decided to come up and ask some questions”. You can imagine my excitement. In response to my invitation to join the meeting, he replied: “I know everything about the Faith. I am here for something else. I have a long-lost friend from my town and I thought you may be able to tell me where he is.” Intrigued, I asked: “Who is your friend?” “Emeric Sala!” he replied. Continue reading

Breaking the Chains: New Animation About Historical Role Baha’is Played in Bringing Education to Girls in 1900s Iran

We’re excited to share a new animation called ‘Breaking the Chains: The Story of the Girls School in Iran‘, an animated short film which tells the historical role Baha’is played in bringing education to girls in Iran in the early 1900s. The animation explains how in the early 1900s, only 5% of the population of Iran had access to basic writing skills, and knowledge of the sciences were kept exclusively to men. Breaking this cycle of oppression was no small feat, and that’s when Tahirih and Abdu’l-Baha come into the story.

The animation is in both English and Persian/Farsi, and it was made by my dear Brazilian-Persian friend, Director and Producer Flavio Azm Rassekh, in collaboration with PersianBMS.

I caught up with Flavio to find out more about it, and here’s what he shared: Continue reading

A Tribute to Robert Hayden

Robert Hayden: 4 Aug 1913 - 25 Feb 1980. (Photo: US National Baha'i Archives)

Poetry and the literary arts hold special significance in the Baha’i writings. Some early Baha’is sent poetry to Abdu’l-Baha and here is an excerpt of a Tablet sent in reply:

O thou maid-servant of God! Thy poetry was received. The context was elegant. The words were eloquent and the theme, the Manifest Light. Consequently, it was highly appreciated. Endeavor, so far as it is possible for thee, that day by day thou mayest string the pearls of poesy with sweeter rhythm and more eloquent contents, in order that it may become conducive to the perpetuity of thy name in the spiritual meetings. Upon thee be greeting and praise!

In this article I attempt to pay tribute to a Robert Hayden, a Baha’i who made outstanding contributions to the art of poetry. Continue reading

Some Native American Prophecies and the Baha’i Faith

The Americas – North, Central and South America – are the home to over 980 Indigenous Nations, and these Nations all have different languages, traditions, clothing, housing, diets, etc. I am for instance from the South-western United States, but am part Apache, part Pueblo, and part Yaqui, but most people would just see me as a ‘Native American’ without much thought to the diversity of culture which exists within Indigenous America. Continue reading

175 Years of Persecution: A Book About the History of the Babis & Baha’is of Iran

Oneworld Publications has released a book detailing the persecution of the Baha’is called 175 Years of Persecution: A History of the Babis & Baha’is of Iran by Fereydun Vahman. The book recounts how Iran’s largest religious minority has been persecuted by the state since its inception to the present and such a comprehensive study has never been published before. Baha’is and Babis have been made scapegoats for the nation’s ills, branded enemies of Islam and denounced as foreign agents. Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 Baha’is have been barred from entering the nation’s universities, more than two hundred have been executed, and hundreds more imprisoned and tortured.

Fereydun Vahman writes that Iran is now at a turning point. A new generation has begun to question how the Baha’is have been portrayed by the government and the clergy, and are calling for them to be given equal rights as fellow citizens. Continue reading

Ellsworth Blackwell and His Commitment to Justice

Ellsworth Blackwell (August 1, 1902 – April 17, 1978). Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community. Source: Baha'i World, Vol. 17.

Ellsworth Blackwell (1902 – 1978) was an African-American Baha’i who was dedicated to sharing the principles of the Baha’i Faith in America, Haiti, Madagascar, and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). In this article I would like to share a challenge he faced when confronted with racism within the Baha’i community, and how his commitment to justice, combined with wholehearted co-operation with the governing or administrative bodies of the Baha’i Faith, allowed this instance of prejudice to be resolved while maintaining a unified spirit.

Ellsworth became a Baha’i in 1934, and in 1937 he decided to serve at the Wilmette House of Worship (the Temple was not entirely completed until the 1950s, but it was open to visitors and Baha’is volunteered as tour guides). He had the capacity to be a tour guide, but was informed that it was “policy” that African-Americans could not be tour guides. This example of discrimination was of course not in keeping with the Baha’i teachings on the elimination of prejudice. This quotation from Abdu’l-Baha amply elucidates the Baha’i view:

… as to religious, racial, national and political bias: all these prejudices strike at the very root of human life; one and all they beget bloodshed, and the ruination of the world.

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A Tribute to Ethel Dawe

Early Australian Baha'i Ethel Dawe (1902-1954) Photo courtesy of the the Australian National Baha'i Archives.

The first generation of Australian and New Zealand Baha’is included a number of extremely capable women, who excelled at sharing the teachings of the Baha’i Faith through public speaking and writing, and who also learnt about the administration of the Baha’i Faith by serving on and establishing Spiritual Assemblies and committees, from local to national levels. They included Hilda Brooks, Margaret Dixson, Emily Axford, Maysie Almond, Dulcie Dive, Thelma Perks, and Gretta Lamprill. In celebration of the centenary of the Baha’i Faith in Australia, this essay reviews the life of yet another of these early heroines, Ethel Dawe.

Ms Dawe was born in Kadina, South Australia on October 17, 1902. She was educated at the Methodist Ladies College, was an accomplished pianist and singer, and her recitations, as well as her participation in Adelaide society, was regularly mentioned in the newspapers’ social columns. In 1931 Ethel heard of the Baha’i teachings from her mother’s aunt, Maysie Almond – who together with her husband Perce had been the first South Australians to accept the Baha’i Faith after hearing Hyde Dunn speak in Adelaide in 1924. Continue reading