Category Archives History

Zaynab and the Women of Zanjan

The image above is a drawing of the city walls of Zanjan, Persia, by French orientalist, Eugène Flandin. The drawing would have been done some time around the mid-1800s, a time when members of the Babi faith faced severe persecution. [Image copyright: Public Domain]

From their earliest years, generations of Baha’is have prayed: “Make of me a shining lamp and a brilliant star.” Shining lamps and brilliant stars are only necessary, and only visible, in times of darkness. The women of Zanjan, a city in north-west Persia, who recognised the truth of the claim of the Bab, shone as brilliant stars through the darkness of the “most violent and devastating” of “the great conflagrations” which consumed the followers of the Bab in the East, South, West, and capital of Persia in the middle of the 19th century. Through the long months that came to be recognized as one of the most remarkable episodes in the history of the Babi Revelation, they struggled side by side with the Babi men, serving, sacrificing, suffering. The sole purpose of the men, as repeatedly stated by their leader Hujjat, was to preserve inviolate the security of the women and children from the attacks heaped upon them for their beliefs. At the same time the sole purpose of the women was to provide the means by which the men could continue to defend the community. They were part of one heroic interdependent whole.  Continue reading

Martha Root’s Speeches and Social Discourse: Cosmic Education for a Universal Age

Hand of the Cause of God Martha Root sitting front and center, with a group of women in Melbourne, Australia, c. 1924. Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community

A century ago, on July 22, 1919, Martha Root embarked on a 20-year journey to destinations in Europe, Australia, Asia, the Americas, and Africa. These travels were motivated by a desire to share Baha’u’llah’s teachings with diverse audiences through public speaking and writing. Before setting out, she had honed her rhetorical skills during her career as a journalist, performer, and teacher. You can learn more about Root’s purpose-driven life from this earlier Baha’i Blog article.

Root is a role model for participating in the discourses of society; she wrote countless articles and speeches applying Baha’i teachings to a host of issues, including new media (radio), intercultural communication, women’s rights, international relations, and economic inequality. For a research project, I studied 25 of her speeches. I was particularly struck by “Culture and World Peace” (also titled “What Is Culture?”), which she delivered during her final trip around the world. Between 1938 and 1939, Root gave this talk to audiences including college students in India and women’s organizations in Australia. When you read the speech (below), you will observe that she appealed to these audiences by discussing women’s role in society and higher education, among other themes.  Continue reading

Who Were the Letters of the Living?

The Letters of the Living is the title given by the Bab to His first 18 followers. The Bab was a merchant from Shiraz, Persia. His name was Siyyid Ali-Muhammad Shirazi, but He is known to the world as the Bab, which means “the Gate” in Arabic, and Baha’is believe that He was the symbolic gate between past ages of prophecy and a new age of fulfilment for humanity. When the Bab was 25, He proclaimed to be both a new Prophet, and the herald to “Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest”, Baha’u’llah. Continue reading

An Introduction to ‘The Dawn-Breakers: Nabil’s Narrative’

Many Baha’is have a copy of The Dawn-Breakers: Nabil’s Narrative of the Early Days of the Baha’i Revelation on their bookshelf. What is this book, and what is its purpose? Why is it important to Baha’is? Who was Nabil? When did he write his narrative, and when was it translated into English? This article provides basic answers to these questions, drawing primarily from Shoghi Effendi’s introduction to the English translation.  Continue reading

When the West Comes to the East: Laura Barney’s Lessons from Persia

Laura Dreyfus-Barney (30 November, 1879 - 18 August, 1974). This portrait of Laura was done by her mother, Alice, and is courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

May 16, 1909, New York City: a group has gathered to hear Laura Clifford Barney speak. Her name is familiar to the audience from Some Answered Questions, which was published last year. This book brought Abdu’l-Baha’s commentary on subjects ranging from the New Testament to criminal justice to the newborn Baha’i community in the United States. Barney, the book’s compiler and translator, has spent most of the past decade far from this, her homeland, living in Paris and Akka. But now she has returned to visit—and to share what she has learned from her sojourns with Baha’is in the Middle East. One audience member has a pen poised above a stack of lined paper, ready to transcribe Barney’s words. Thanks to this anonymous scribe, we have a record of Barney’s comments that day, divided into two talks: the first, on her journey to Persia, and the second, on her observations of Abdu’l-Baha.

Barney had a long, productive life, which you can learn about in this Baha’i Blog article on her relationship with Hippolyte Dreyfus, whom she married in 1911. I’ll focus on her efforts as a young woman to build a bridge between continents.  Continue reading

The Journey West Podcast: Exploring Abdu’l-Baha’s Travels to the West

The Journey West podcast is an audio initiative which explores and celebrates the centenary of Abdu’l-Baha’s travels to Egypt, Europe and North America in 1911-1913. Each episode features a reading of one of Abdu’l-Baha’s talks, as well as dramatized stories and historical accounts. You can also hear discussions of the talk that was featured, and some personal thoughts on how the ideas discussed in the talk are applicable today.  Continue reading

“What I Saw of Abdu’l-Baha”: Vignettes by Laura Barney

Abdu’l-Baha on the steps of 7 Haparsim Street, His home in Haifa, May 1921. Photo: courtesy of the Baha'i International Community

May 16, 1909, New York City: a group has gathered to hear Laura Clifford Barney speak. Her name is familiar to the audience from Some Answered Questions, which was published last year. This book brought Abdu’l-Baha’s commentary on subjects ranging from the New Testament to criminal justice to the newborn Baha’i community in the United States.

Barney, the book’s compiler and translator, has spent most of the past decade far from this, her homeland, living in Paris and Akka. She lived for months at a time in Abdu’l-Baha’s household—a “village” bustling with Baha’is of all ages, as she fondly recalls—from 1904 to 1906, when she compiled Some Answered Questions. During these Akka sojourns, she had many opportunities to interact with and observe Abdu’l-Baha.

“It is not what I think [that] is of much importance but what I saw…of the characteristics and habits of Abdu’l-Baha,” she tells her New York audience. One attendee has a pen poised above a stack of lined paper, ready to transcribe Barney’s words. Thanks to this unnamed scribe, we have a record of Barney’s comments that day. For this post, passages have been arranged by topic: first, anecdotes of Abdu’l-Baha; second, reminiscences of life in His household; and third, reflections on His attributes and guidance. These excerpts have been lightly edited for readability.  Continue reading

The Tablet of Ahmad: Who Was Ahmad?

Many Baha’is around the world, myself included, recite the Tablet of Ahmad when in times of difficulty or grief. This Tablet, as well as the Obligatory Prayers and the Long Healing prayer,

[…] have been invested by Baha’u’llah with a special potency and significance, and should therefore be accepted as such and be recited by the believers with unquestioning faith and confidence.

I recently found out who Ahmad was and what he did to deserve receiving this Tablet from Baha’u’llah, and now I feel totally different when I recite it! What a blessing to get to know about him and understand why this Tablet was revealed to him! I hope that sharing some details of his story will also inspire you and will enrich your supplications when chanting this unique and powerful Tablet.  Continue reading

The Other Witnesses: Khadijih Bagum and Haji Mubarak at the Declaration of the Bab

When picturing the scene of the Bab’s Declaration, I think of His house in Shiraz, quiet and dark during a spring night in 1844. I think of an upper room where He converses with Mulla Husayn, revealing His spiritual mission as the Promised One and the Prophet-Herald of a new Manifestation of God, Baha’u’llah. My mind does not travel beyond that upper chamber to explore the house’s other rooms.

But let us wander. We will discover that two other inhabitants are awake physically and spiritually that fateful night: the Bab’s wife, Khadijih Bagum, and servant, Haji Mubarak. Let us meet these two.  Continue reading