prayers, fasting, marriage, divorce, inheritance, burial of the dead, and the use of opium and alcoholic beverages; the issue and circulation of certificates of birth, death, marriage and divorce, at the direction and under the seal of recognized Bahá'í Assemblies; the translation into Persian of "The Bahá'í Laws affecting Matters of Personal Status," first published by the Egyptian Bahá'í National Assembly; the cessation of work on all Bahá'í Holy Days; the establishment of Bahá'í cemeteries in the capital as well as in the provinces, designed to provide a common burial ground for all ranks of the faithful, whatever their religious extraction; the insistence that they no longer be registered as Muslim, Christian, Jew or Zoroastrian on identity cards, marriage certificates, passports and other official documents; the emphasis placed on the institution of the Nineteen Day Feast, as established by Bahá'u'lláh in His Most Holy Book; the imposition of sanctions by Bahá'í elective Assemblies, now assuming the duties and functions of religious courts, on recalcitrant members of the community by denying them the right to vote and of membership in these Assemblies and their committees--all these are to be associated with the first stirrings of a community that had erected the fabric of its Administrative Order, and was now, under the propelling influence of the historic judicial sentence passed in Egypt, intent upon obtaining, not by force but through persuasion, the recognition by the civil authorities of the status to which its ecclesiastical adversaries had so emphatically borne witness.
That its initial attempt should have met with partial success, that it should have aroused at times the suspicion of the ruling authorities, that it should have been grossly misrepresented by its vigilant enemies, is not a matter for surprise. It was successful in certain respects in its negotiations with the civil authorities, as in obtaining the government decree removing all references to religious affiliation in passports issued to Persian subjects, and in the tacit permission granted in certain localities that its members should not fill in the religious columns in certain state documents, but should register with their own Assemblies their marriage, their divorce, their birth and their death certificates, and should conduct their funerals according to their religious rites. In other respects, however, it has been subjected to grave disabilities: its schools, founded, owned and controlled exclusively by itself, were forcibly closed because they refused to remain open on Bahá'í holy days; its members, both men and women, were prosecuted; those who held army or civil service appointments were in some cases dismissed; a
ban was placed on the import, on the printing and circulation of its literature; and all Bahá'í public gatherings were proscribed.
To all administrative regulations which the civil authorities have issued from time to time, or will issue in the future in that land, as in all other countries, the Bahá'í community, faithful to its sacred obligations towards its government, and conscious of its civic duties, has yielded, and will continue to yield implicit obedience. Its immediate closing of its schools in Persia is a proof of this. To such orders, however, as are tantamount to a recantation of their faith by its members, or constitute an act of disloyalty to its spiritual, its basic and God-given principles and precepts, it will stubbornly refuse to bow, preferring imprisonment, deportation and all manner of persecution, including death--as already suffered by the twenty thousand martyrs that have laid down their lives in the path of its Founders--rather than follow the dictates of a temporal authority requiring it to renounce its allegiance to its cause.
"If you cut us in pieces, men, women and children alike, in the entire district of Ábádih," was the memorable message sent by the fearless descendants of some of those martyrs in that turbulent center to the Governor of Fárs, who had intended to coerce them into declaring themselves as Muslims, "we will never submit to your wishes"--a message which, as soon as it was delivered to that defiant governor, induced him to desist from pressing the matter any further.
In the United States of America, the Bahá'í community, having already set an inspiring example, by erecting and perfecting the machinery of its Administrative Order, was alive to the far-reaching implications of the sentence passed by the Muslim court in Egypt, and to the significance of the reaction it had produced in the Holy Land, and was stimulated by the courageous persistence demonstrated by its sister-community in Persia. It determined to supplement its notable achievements with further acts designed to throw into sharper relief the status achieved by the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh in the North American continent. It was numerically smaller than the community of the Persian believers. Owing to the multiplicity of laws governing the states within the Union, it was faced, in matters affecting the personal status of its members, with a situation radically different from that confronting the believers in the East, and much more complex. But conscious of its responsibility to lend, once again, a powerful impetus to the unfoldment of a divinely appointed Order, it boldly undertook to initiate such measures as would accentuate the independent character of a Revelation it had already so nobly championed.
The recognition of its National Spiritual Assembly by the Federal authorities as a religious body entitled to hold as trustees properties dedicated to the interests of the Faith; the establishment of Bahá'í endowments and the exemption obtained for them from the civil authorities as properties owned by, and administered solely for the benefit of, a purely religious community, were now to be supplemented by decisions and measures designed to give further prominence to the nature of the ties uniting its members. The special stress laid on some of the fundamental laws contained in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas regarding daily obligatory prayers; the observance of the fast, the consent of the parents as a prerequisite of marriage; the one-year separation between husband and wife as an indispensable condition of divorce; abstinence from all alcoholic drinks; the emphasis placed on the institution of the Nineteen Day Feast as ordained by Bahá'u'lláh in that same Book; the discontinuation of membership in, and affiliation with, all ecclesiastical organizations, and the refusal to accept any ecclesiastical post--these have served to forcibly underline the distinctive character of the Bahá'í Fellowship, and to dissociate it, in the eyes of the public, from the rituals, the ceremonials and man-made institutions identified with the religious systems of the past.
Of particular and historic importance has been the application made by the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Chicago--the first center established in the North American continent, the first to be incorporated among its sister-Assemblies and the first to take the initiative in paving the way for the erection of a Bahá'í Temple in the West--to the civil authorities in the state of Illinois for civil recognition of the right to conduct legal marriages in accordance with the ordinances of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, and to file marriage certificates that have previously received the official sanction of that Assembly. The acceptance of this petition by the authorities, necessitating an amendment of the by-laws of all local Assemblies to enable them to conduct Bahá'í legal marriages, and empowering the Chairman or secretary of the Chicago Assembly to represent that body in the conduct of all Bahá'í marriages; the issuance, on September 22, 1939, of the first Bahá'í Marriage License by the State of Illinois, authorizing the aforementioned Assembly to solemnize Bahá'í marriages and issue Bahá'í marriage certificates; the successful measures taken subsequently by Assemblies in other states of the Union, such as New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin and Ohio, to procure for themselves similar privileges, have, moreover, contributed their share in giving added prominence to the independent religious status of the Faith. To these must
be added a similar and no less significant recognition extended, since the outbreak of the present conflict, by the United States War Department --as evidenced by the communication addressed to the American Bahá'í National Spiritual Assembly by the Quartermaster General of that Department, on August 14, 1942--approving the use of the symbol of the Greatest Name on stones marking the graves of Bahá'ís killed in the war and buried in military or private cemeteries, distinguishing thereby these graves from those bearing the Latin Cross or the Star of David assigned to those belonging to the Christian and Jewish Faiths respectively.
Nor should mention be omitted of the equally successful application made by the American Bahá'í National Spiritual Assembly to the Office of Price Administration in Washington, D.C., asking that the chairmen and secretaries of Bahá'í local Assemblies should, in their capacity as officers conducting religious meetings, and authorized, in certain states, to perform marriage services, be eligible for preferred mileage under the provisions of the Preferred Mileage Section of the Gasoline Regulations, for the purpose of meeting the religious needs of the localities they serve.
Nor have the Bahá'í communities in other countries such as India, Iraq, Great Britain and Australia, been slow to either appreciate the advantages derived from the publication of this historic verdict, or to exploit, each according to its capacity and within the limits imposed upon it by prevailing circumstances, the opportunities afforded by such public testimonial for a further demonstration on their part of the independent character of the Faith whose administrative structure they had already erected. Through the enforcement, to whatever extent deemed practicable, of the laws ordained in their Most Holy Book; through the severance of all ties of affiliation with, and membership in, ecclesiastical institutions of whatever denomination; through the formulation of a policy initiated for the sole purpose of giving further publicity to this mighty issue, marking a great turning-point in the evolution of the Faith, and of facilitating its ultimate settlement, these communities, and indeed all organized Bahá'í bodies, whether in the East or in the West, however isolated their position or immature their state of development, have, conscious of their solidarity and well aware of the glorious prospects opening before them, arisen to proclaim with one voice the independent character of the religion of Bahá'u'lláh and to pave the way for its emancipation from whatever fetters, be they ecclesiastical or otherwise, might hinder or delay its ultimate and world-wide recognition.
To the status already achieved by their Faith, largely through their own unaided efforts and accomplishments, tributes have been paid by observers in various walks of life, whose testimony they welcome and regard as added incentive to action in their steep and laborious ascent towards the heights which they must eventually capture.
"Palestine," is the testimony of Prof. Norman Bentwitch, a former Attorney-General of the Palestine Government, "may indeed be now regarded as the land not of three but of four Faiths, because the Bahá'í creed, which has its center of faith and pilgrimage in Akká and Haifa, is attaining to the character of a world religion. So far as its influence goes in the land, it is a factor making for international and inter-religious understanding." "In 1920," is the declaration made in his testament by the distinguished Swiss scientist and psychiatrist, Dr. Auguste Forel, "I learned at Karlsruhe of the supraconfessional world religion of the Bahá'ís, founded in the Orient seventy years ago by a Persian, Bahá'u'lláh. This is the real religion of `Social Welfare' without dogmas or priests, binding together all men of this small terrestrial globe of ours. I have become a Bahá'í. May this religion live and prosper for the good of humanity! This is my most ardent desire." "There is bound to be a world state, a universal language, and a universal religion," he, moreover has stated, "The Bahá'í Movement for the oneness of mankind is, in my estimation, the greatest movement today working for universal peace and brotherhood." "A religion," is yet another testimony, from the pen of the late Queen Marie of Rumania, "which links all creeds ... a religion based upon the inner spirit of God... It teaches that all hatreds, intrigues, suspicions, evil words, all aggressive patriotism even, are outside the one essential law of God, and that special beliefs are but surface things whereas the heart that beats with Divine love knows no tribe nor race."
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