East Africa, Bahá'í Communities in
by Will C. van den Hoonaardpublished in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Volume 7, pages 640-644
New York: Columbia University, 1996
East Africa: From early times monsoon winds have permitted rapid maritime travel between East Africa and Western Asia. Although large-scale Persian settlement in East Africa is unlikely Persian cultural and religious influences nonetheless were felt. The last period of Persian influence came in the 19th century, when Saʿíd bin Soltán (1806-56), the Omani ruler of Zanzibar, took two Persian wives.
The earliest contact of Persian Bahais with East Africa followed plans developed in 1950 by the then Guardian of the Bahai faith Shoghi Effendi (q.v.). The national Bahai community of Persia had direct responsibility for settling Italian Somaliland, one of twelve designated areas in East Africa, though Persian Bahais settled in other territories, including Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya, the first areas in the world to experience mass conversion to the Bahai faith. During the formative years of Bahai communities in East Africa, the area received eighty Bahai settlers, “pioneers,” forty of whom were Persians. Forty percent of the Persian Bahais were women. In 1993 there were an estimated 223,000 Bahais in East Africa and 1,268 Bahai local governing councils (“Statistical Table, Six-Year Plan Final Figures,” in The Bahá’í Encyclopedia).
The Ethiopian Bahai community was established as early as 1933 by an Egyptian Bahai, Ṣabrí Elyás. The Italian invasion of Ethiopia caused Elyás to leave the country, only to return in 1944 with his spouse, Fahīma Yakot; they remained until 1954 when they left for Djibouti. Between 1953 and 1963, a large influx of Bahais from Persia, Egypt, and the United States resulted in conversions sufficiently numerous to undertake active Bahai work in many parts of the country. The area, however, attracted only two Persian couples, namely the Monajjems and Dr. and Mrs. Farhúmand; the latter donated land and national and regional Bahai centers to the Bahais of Ethiopia. Formed in 1956, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of Ethiopia was legally incorporated in 1992. One finds Bahais in several hundred localities at present.
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