by Moojan Momenpublished in Encyclopaedia Iranica
New York: Columbia University, 2010
MAŠREQ AL-AḎKĀR (the Dawning-Place of the Remembrance [of God]), a Bahai term having three meanings. The first meaning is a gathering which is held, ideally at dawn, to say prayers and recite from scripture; the second meaning is a building to be constructed in every community in which this dawn gathering takes place; and the third meaning is a complex of edifices centered around the prayer building but including other auxiliary social and humanitarian institutions as well. In English usage, “House of Worship” and “Temple” are frequently used for the second meaning.
1. Concept. In the Ketāb-e Aqdas, Bahāʾ-Allāh (1817-92) gave general instructions that Mašreq al-Aḏkārs should be built “throughout the lands” (Ketāb-e Aqdas, v. 31, p. 27; trans., p. 29). He stated that any building in which people gather to worship is a Mašreq al-Aḏkār (Ketāb-e Aqdas, v. 115, p. 110; trans., p. 61). Establishing such buildings in Iran, however, was fraught with peril in view of the ongoing persecutions of the Bahai community. Writing in June 1883, Bahāʾ-Allāh counsels that establishing of such a building should be done with great prudence (ḥekmat), and, in one of his undated writings, he indicates that he has not permitted this in Tehran, Shiraz, and Yazd, but approved it in Khorasan (Bahāʾ-Allāh, 1964-77, VI, pp. 75-76; VII, pp. 275-76; ELMA, vol. VII, pp. 238-40; Māzandarāni, Amr va Ḵalq, IV, pp. 147-48).
At a later date, when conditions for the Bahais of Iran had improved a little, ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ (1844-1921) encouraged the Bahais to establish a Mašreq al-Aḏkār in every locality, whether a hamlet where only two Bahais lived, or a big city with a Bahai community. Furthermore, if persecutions made it necessary, it could even be located underground. This instruction appears to have meant that the Bahais should have at least established places for dawn prayers, if necessary in the home or cellar of one of them, but if possible they should have had a special building for the purpose. ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ gave much importance to this matter and stated that it had a great effect, created unity, and revitalized the community (ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ, Montaḵabāt, I, pp. 92-93; trans. pp. 95-96; Māzandarāni, Amr va Ḵalq, IV, p. 151). This instruction seems to have gone out in about 1900, and we find “the Hands of the Cause” (Ayādi-e Amr Allāh) and other Bahai traveling teachers (moballeḡs) quoting this instruction and encouraging Bahai communities to establish such buildings from about that time onwards; it is stated that the first such building was established by the efforts of Moḥammad-Taqi Ebn Abhar (1854-1919) in Qom in May 1901 (Soleymāni, IV, pp. 542-43; see also Idem, IV, p. 6; Anonymous, Tāriḵ-e Sangsar, p. 22). Thus, during ʿAbd-al-Bahā’s leadership, many Bahai communities in Iran, Central Asia, India, Burma, and North America designated ordinary houses or specially-built halls in their localities as Mašreq al-Aḏkārs, many of which were donated by wealthy local Bahais. Sometimes, as in the cities of Qom and Kermānšāh, these were houses that had already been considered holy: in the two mentioned cases, the remains of the Bāb (1819-50) had rested there for a time during their journey to ʿAkkā (Soleymāni, IV, pp. 542-43; Fayżi, pp. 302-5).
Almost simultaneously, however, ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ was developing plans for buildings with particular features that would be specifically erected to function as Mašreq al-Aḏkārs. The creation of the first of such buildings started in Ashgabat (Rus. Ashkhabat, Pers. ʿEšqābād) in Turkmenistan in 1902. Later, in a general letter to the Bahais of the East dated July 1925, Shoghi Effendi (1897-1957) directed that the buildings used as Bahai meeting-places and administrative headquarters, which had up to then been called Mašreq al-Aḏkārs, should now be designated Ḥaẓirat al-Qods, which is usually translated as “the sacred fold” and often referred to in English simply as “Bahai center” (Shoghi Effendi, 1973, pp. 247-48). From this time onwards, Mašreq al-Aḏkār was to refer exclusively to the buildings specifically erected with particular features and used only for worship, of which only two existed at that time, one in Ashgabat and another unfinished one in Wilmette, Illinois in U.S.A.
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