The numerous curves of the rock-strewn pathway lessened noticeably as the weary traveler finally descended into the foothills of the Elburz mountains. Like so many others, he had left Tehran, nearly 460 miles to the southwest, to free himself of the suffering and anguish so frequently experienced by the Bahá'ís. His thoughts, however, were not of past agonies; he could think only of the wonders that lay before him. It was dusk but he did not consider stopping; he was too close to his long-sought goal.
Suddenly elation surged through him, for on the faraway horizon lay his destination: Ishqábád (meaning City of Love), a mecca of peace and safety for all Bahá'ís. As he gazed across the desert plain of Western Turkistán, the last rays of the sun darted amidst the distant buildings and danced about a large domed structure rising high above the city. Even from far away he knew that radiant dome was the goal of his seemingly endless journey: the first House of Worship ever raised in Bahá'u'lláh's Name.
As the moon began its steady climb into the evening sky and the traveler hurried toward the dim lights of the city, his thoughts turned to the events of the past which had established Ishqábád as a refuge of serenity. The year was 1910.
When the Bahá'ís first settled in the area during the early years of Bahá'u'lláh's Mission, all that existed were a few scattered mud huts. As the town grew the Bahá'ís became an integral but unobtrusive element, contributing selflessly to the well-being and prosperity of the community.
Then tragedy struck as a group of Moslems, fearing the steady growth of the Faith, hired two assassins who brutally murdered a prominent and learned Bahá'í in the middle of the bazaar. The Russian authorities responded swiftly, arresting all those involved.
"The Czar, Alexander III, sent a military commission from St. Petersburg to conduct the trial. The two assailants were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. Six others, proved to have been involved in the murder plot, were ordered transported to Siberia. Strenuous efforts were made to have the verdict altered, but to no avail. However, right at the foot of the scaffold it was announced that the Bahá'ís had magnanimously interceded for the murderers, who were banished to Siberia. Bahá'ís gained greatly in prestige. Furthermore, the ground was now prepared for the initiation of enterprises, such as the establishment of schools, libraries and the construction of a House of Worship ..."
H. M. Balyuzi, Abdu'l-Bahá (George Ronald, Oxford, 1971), p. 109.
During the early years of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's ministry, interest in building the first Mashriqu'l-Adhkár, as designated by Bahá'u'lláh, developed in many countries throughout the area that is now called the Middle East. The Master decided that Ishqábád should be the site for the first Temple and He sent Haji Mirza Muhammad-Taqi, also known as Jenab Afnan, to coordinate the historic undertaking.
Jenab Afnan, his features characterized by bright, smiling, blue eyes and a snowy-white beard, was a first cousin of the Bab. He and the Bab were close childhood friends and often played games together. It was for his father, the Bab's uncle, that Bahá'u'lláh revealed the Kitab-i-Iqan. Jenab Afnan sacrificed not only his time but also his wealth to raise the 'Ishqábád Temple.
The Mother Temple of Africa, dedicated Jan. 14, 1961, at Kampala, Uganda. The House of Worship is the central Edifice to which individuals should turn for spiritual revitalization; a place to acquire virtues and serve your fellow man.
After the project was completed, he would return to Haifa, continuing to serve the Master until his death at the age of 85. He would be buried near Elijah's grave on that same Mountain of God where the remains of his blessed cousin, the Bab, were laid.
Arriving at 'Ishqábád in the latter part of 1902, Jenab Afnan busied himself with securing a suitable design for the Temple and making preparations for construction. Trenches were dug and the foundation for a nine-sided structure was begun. Jenab Afnan, himself, laid the first stone.
Shortly after construction was started, the community received word that General Krupatikin, the governor-general of Turkistan, would lay a cornerstone for the building on behalf of the Czar.[*] The following account, written two days after the event, reveals some of the joy and excitement that must have been felt.
On the 11th of Ramazan the Governor of the State, escorted by a company of officers and soldiers together with the foreign Minister and the local Consul, all dressed in uniform and decorated with royal medals, came to the blessed grounds of the Mashrak-el-Azcar to express his congratulations. Three days before his coming the news was received and preparations were made for his reception. The grounds were especially adorned and the most exquisite rugs were spread. Shady arbors and bowers were erected, each having nine columns. In the parlors two tables were set, one of them covered with many kinds of sweetmeats, most luscious fruits and flowers of all kinds; on the other were placed the Holy Scriptures, the sketch of the Mashrak-el-Azcar, and both Russian and Persian translations of the history and the date of the building being newly erected ...
At half past three that afternoon the Government carriages approached, and, at the first gate of the grounds they stopped. They could have entered the grounds with carriages, but, through respect, they alighted at the gate. They walked over the beautiful rugs and came to where the believers were assembled. There were from six to eight hundred of the people of Baha and about the same number of Russians, Armenians ... (and other nationalities).
Then the Governor removed his overcoat and gloves, the officers all following his example, and came to the appointed place for his work ...
Then the silver box (containing a description of the construction methods and the materials to be used in the building) was brought and presented to the Governor who took it in his hand and began the work. While he was laying the corner stone he spoke the following words which were translated by the interpreter, word for word: 'It gives me great pleasure to realize the House of Worship of the Bahais is being erected in my days, and my hope is that I will see it when it is finished.'
Even though contributions were received from believers in Persia and other nearby countries, it was the tireless efforts of the local believers that made the completion of the project possible. Many thousands of stones were hand-carried to the site from the surrounding countryside while several masons labored month after month to raise the Temple's walls. When finished, about 1905, it was nearly five stories high, towering above all other structures in 'Ishqábád.
Located in the heart of the city, the Temple sat amid luxurious gardens bordered by four tree-lined avenues. Its main entrance, facing the Holy Land and flanked by minarets, was two stories high and opened into a graceful rotunda crowned by a hemispherical dome of exquisite beauty. Two series of balconies, called loggias, surrounded the rotunda and opened out upon the verdant gardens.
At the four corners of the gardens were dependencies: the Bahá'í schools, a medical dispensary and an inn for travelers. The Haziratu'l-Quds was located near the Temple while farther back lay a utilities building and the residence of the grounds keeper.
Over the years hundreds of believers made the long journey to the City of Love and many of them became part of the vibrant community. Expansion continued unabated in not only 'Ishqábád but many Russian cities; even after the Bolshevik Revolution there was no apparent opposition to the Faith as the Bahá'ís continued their teaching and publishing activities.
Then in 1922, the official gazette of the Soviet government published an article in which it said that the Bahá'ís were turning the thoughts of the Russian from Bolshevism to their own religion and beliefs (and) consequently their efforts should be stopped.
Although some inconveniences were experienced following the appearance of the article, little open hostility occurred until 1926 when believers in Moscow were detained and questioned, their books and papers were confiscated and, in some cases, their homes and other property were seized.
In 1928 the first Bahá'ís in Ishqábád were arrested. The activities of the Spiritual Assembly were severely restricted, publications were suspended, and mail was confiscated.
Late in the summer of 1928 the government decreed that all places of worship inside Russia were henceforth property of the Soviet Union. For three months the Temple's doors were barred while local newspapers carried government-placed advertisements offering to rent the building. The Temple was reopened only after the Bahá'ís agreed to sign a costly rental contract.
Calm then settled over the Bahá'í communities of Russia. The lease was renewed on the Temple in 1933. Two years later the government announced that religious structures were to be returned to their original owners, provided that specified major repairs could be completed within six months. Believers throughout Russia sacrificed their few remaining possessions to pay for the numerous repairs required on the Temple. The work was completed prior to the deadline and ownership was transferred back to the Bahá'í community.
Public meetings were resumed in 'Ishqábád and soon were being conducted twice weekly. A large sign was placed at the entrance to the Temple, proclaiming the principles of the Faith in four languages. The great Hall in the Haziratu'l-Quds again overflowed with Bahá'ís on Holy Days and other special events as melodious chanting and lyrical music filled the air.
The reprieve, however, was short-lived:
"On the eve of February 5, 1938, all the members of the Local Spiritual Assembly of 'Ishqábád, and a great number of the friends were arrested by order of the authorities and that same night the houses of the friends were searched, and all Tablets, Bahá'í records and other articles were confiscated. Some of the women, more active than the rest in Bahá'í administrative affairs, were also led away to prison."
For the final time the Temple was seized. A Soviet law, requiring that a religious community must consist of at least 50 members to be allowed to maintain a place of worship, was enforced as the Bahá'í' population of the City of Love, once numbering in the thousands, steadily fell.
"According to recently received information, the Soviet Government has taken over the Temple, has turned it into an art gallery, and is keeping it in its original condition. For there are no longer any Bahá'ís in 'Ishqábád."
The Temple, however, was not destined to be used for other than that which God intended.
"On August 25, 1963, The Universal House of Justice announced to the Bahá'í world that the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár in 'Ishqábád, the first Temple raised to the glory of Bahá'u'lláh, had been demolished by the authorities and the site cleared ... In 1948 violent earthquakes shook the whole town causing devastation and ruin. The building was seriously damaged. The only section which remained relatively secure was the central rotunda. Heavy yearly rains further weakened the structure to such a degree as to endanger the safety of houses in the vicinity. It was at this point that the authorities decided to demolish the remaining edifice and clear the site ... The Universal House of Justice appealed to Chairman Nikita Khrushchev to set aside the Temple ground as a public park and to agree to the erection of a suitable marker pointing out the significance of this site to the Bahá'ís of the world. It is not known whether any action was taken. The letter remains unanswered."
Even though Bahá'í communities throughout Russia suffered hardship and persecution for several years, that land will be remembered fondly by Bahá'ís of future generations. Not only will it be noted for the influence it exerted on behalf of the Blessed Beauty in securing His release from the Síyáh-Chál in 1853 when the Russian Minister to Persia left no stone unturned to establish the innocence of Bahá'u'lláh, but that it also provided an environment that allowed the believers of 'Ishqábád to accomplish far more than just the building of the first Bahá'í House of Worship. All of the glorious events associated with the history of the City of Love pale when placed alongside the believers' supreme achievement: the development of the institution of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár (the Dawning Place of the Mention of God) to a degree never before attained, thereby giving the Bahá'í world a foundation of experience invaluable to the present and the future.
Efforts of other Bahá'í communities during the early years of the Faith, however, cannot be dismissed lightly. Many localities in the land of Bahá'u'lláh's birth had special places, albeit often only simple houses, where the friends could gather for prayer. The early believers were committed to educating their children and to providing for their fellow man through a variety of social and humanitarian services, all appropriate elements of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár.
Significant strides were made in other countries as well. For example, Kunjan-goon, a small village nestled in the jungles of Burma where the Faith was embraced by hundreds of the villagers shortly after the turn of the century, quickly achieved remarkable standards. A school was built, an administrative agency was established and a special place for prayer was set aside; many of the activities the people engaged in were supportive of the concepts of the institution.
It is 'Ishqábád, however, that must be recognized for having achieved the first viable, cohesive, functional institution complete with several stately structures which served as dependencies and which will be characteristic of Mashriqu'l-Adhkárs in the future.
The institution of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár, ordained by Bahá'u'lláh, is the practical exemplification of the spiritual reality of our Faith. He revealed that God's purpose for man is "to know Thee and worship Thee" and declared that knowing and loving God is the "generating impulse and the primary purpose underlying the whole of creation." He called upon each individual to be of service to humanity and emphatically stated that all work done in the spirit of service is elevated to the station of worship.
'Abdu'l-Bahá stated that:
He is a true Bahá'í who strives by day and by night to progress and advance along the path of human endeavor, whose most cherished desire is so to live and act as to enrich and illuminate the world, whose source of inspiration is the essence of Divine virtue, whose aim in life is so to conduct himself as to be the cause of infinite progress. Only when he attains unto such perfect gifts can it be said of him that he is a true Bahá'í. For in this holy Dispensation ... true Faith is no mere acknowledgement of the Unity of God, but the living of a life that will manifest all the perfections and virtues implied in such belief.
It is the institution of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár that Bahá'u'lláh has provided specifically to support individuals in their efforts to become "a true Bahá'í'. The first requirement delineated by the Blessed Beauty is gaining knowledge of God's purpose for man. Educational institutions within the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár are intended to develop man's awareness of not only the physical but also the spiritual realities of our existence. Individuals become fully cognizant of the two specific obligations for which God has declared them responsible: that of acquiring virtues and that of being of service to their fellow man.
'Abdu'1-Baha teaches that our purpose in life is to acquire virtues — the attributes of God translated into human behavior. Shoghi Effendi confirms that the object of our lives should be to promote the oneness of mankind. Indeed, he says that the oneness of mankind is the pivot around which all of Bahá'u'lláh's Teachings revolve.
Bahá'u'lláh stated that: "It is incumbent upon every man of insight and understanding to strive to translate that which hath been written into reality and action". The process, beginning with acquiring knowledge, is complete only when that knowledge is manifested in action for the betterment of humanity. The transition is dependent upon volition, defined as "the action of consciously willing or resolving; the making of a definite choice or decision with regard to a course of action; the exercise of the will." Volition may be acquired primarily through the use of one of God's special gifts: prayer. By enabling us to free ourselves from all attachment to anything but God and by supporting our individual efforts to develop the essential qualities of perseverance and patience, prayer becomes an absolute necessity in translating that which we know into that which we do.
The Guardian explained that the very "core of religious faith is that mystic feeling which unites man with God. This state of spiritual communion can be brought about and maintained by means of meditation and prayer. And this is the reason why Bahá'u'lláh has so much stressed the importance of worship ...
"The believers ... should therefore fully realize the necessity of praying. For prayer is absolutely indispensable to their inner spiritual development, and this ... is the very foundation and purpose of the religion of God."
It is the "central Edifice" of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár, the House of Worship, to which individuals turn for spiritual revitalization; a haven in which to seek out spiritual power and energy. These structures, inspiring man to attain to new heights of artistic excellence, are incomparable in their beauty and majesty. Always domed, always nine-sided, always surrounded by breathtaking gardens, they irresistibly beckon man to enter and commune with his Father.
Shoghi Effendi, however, emphatically warned that:
But however inspiring the conception of Bahá'í worship ... , it cannot be regarded as the sole, nor even the essential, factor in the part which the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár, as designed by Bahá'u'lláh, is destined to play in the organic life of the Bahá'í community. Divorced from the social, humanitarian, educational and scientific pursuits centering around the Dependencies of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár, Bahá'í worship, however exalted in its conception, however passionate in fervor, can never hope to achieve beyond the meager and often transitory results produced by the contemplations of the ascetic or the communion of the passive worshipper. It cannot afford lasting satisfaction and benefit to the worshipper himself, much less to humanity in general, unless and until translated and transfused into that dynamic and disinterested service to the cause of humanity which it is the supreme privilege of the Dependencies of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár to facilitate and promote.
These dependencies, "... institutions of social service as shall afford relief to the suffering, sustenance to the poor, shelter to the wayfarer, solace to the bereaved, and education to the ignorant ... ", are arenas in which the finest fruits of man's science and technology as well as his spiritual understanding and insight will be applied. As focal points for action, they allow individuals to fulfill their God-given obligations by conscientious and deliberate integration of the attributes of God within their souls through service to humanity. Not only do they experience spiritual growth, but a life filled with meaning and contentment as well.
It should not be inferred, however, that the dependencies are the only places where spiritually motivated action can be released. If our goal is to serve humanity through the application of the attributes of God, then obviously it is appropriate to strive toward achieving that goal daily through every interaction with our fellow man. The institution of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár, embodying the physical application of spiritual principles, guides and supports us individually in these efforts.
Further, the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár, including the House of Worship and all of the dependencies — among them the Haziratu'l-Quds (The Sacred Fold), the administrative headquarters of the elected local and national institutions of our Faith — motivates man collectively to "carry forward an ever advancing civilization"15 and is therefore fundamental to the unification of the human race. It draws together people of diverse and often opposing backgrounds and elevates their purposes and standards to a level" far above the hatreds and prejudices so prevalent today. With their goals fixed upon lofty, noble aspirations, these individuals experience an inevitable transformation as their former animosities steadily assume less significance, while the achievement of their aspirations assists the concept of the oneness of mankind to move forward relentlessly.
The institution of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár is the "necessary agency capable of removing the ills that have so long and so grievously afflicted humanity ... "; therefore, it will be essential to mankind long before imposing, regal structures, such as those at Ishqabad, appear throughout the countryside. Initially, perhaps, existing structures in cities and towns everywhere will be called upon to shelter its social and spiritual activities, and thus "provide the essentials of Bahá'í worship and service, both so vital to the regeneration of the world."
The Guardian, commenting on its loftiness, its potency and its unique position, declared that the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár is "one of the outstanding institutions conceived by Bahá'u'lláh." Little wonder, then, that Bahá'ís will always marvel at the momentous achievements of those early believers of Ishqábád.
- Thornton Chase Papers, Collection M-4, Box 2, Folder 40, National Bahá'í Archives, Wilmette, III.
- Survey of Current Bahá'í Activities 1928-1930: Persecution Under the Soviet Regime," The Bahá'í World, vol. Ill, 1928-1930 (New York: Bahá'í Publishing Committee, 1930), p. 35.
- Survey of Current Bahá'í Activities in the East and West: Persecution and Deportation of the Bahá'ís of Caucasus and Turkistan, The Bahá'í World, vol. VIII, 1938-1940 (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Committee, 1942), p. 87.
- Ibid., p. 89.
- "The Razing of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár in Ishqábád," The Bahá'í World, vol. XIV, 1963-1968 (England: Broadwater Ltd., 1974), pp. 479-480.
- Bahá'u'lláh, "Short Obligatory Prayer," Bahá'í Prayers (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1970), p. 117.
- Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1963), p. 65.
- Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá'í Year Book, vol 1, 1925-1926 (New York: Bahá'í Publishing Committee), p. 12.
- Daniel C. Jordan, "Knowledge of God's Purpose for Man," Bahá'í Comprehensive Deepening Program: Knowledge, Volition and Action (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1973), pp. 5-6.
- Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 250.
- The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 3653.
- Shoghi Effendi, Letter dated December 8, 1935, to an Individual Believer, "Letters from the Guardian: 2. To Individual Bahá'ís," Bahá'í News, number 102 (August, 1936), p. 3.
- Shoghi Effendi, "The Spiritual Significance of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár," The Bahá'í World, vol. VIII, p. 513.
- Ibid., p. 511.
- Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 215.
- Shoghi Effendi, "The Spiritual Significance of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár," The Bahá'í World, vol. VIII, p. 514.
- Calkins adds: From 1890-1898, Kurokatkin was governor of the Transcaspian Region in Central Asia, based in Ashkhabad. In 1898 he was recalled to St. Petersburg to serve as Minister of War. At this point, Transcaspia became part of Tashkent rather than the Caucasus. He was actively involved in the Russo-Japanese War in 1904/5 including the lack of success of the Russian land forces at Sandepu and Mudken. He retired in 1907 and wrote his memoirs. He was reactivated at the beginning of WWI and in 1916 became Governor-General of the Turkestan Kraj with headquarters in Tashkent. Having the Russian War Minister represent the Russian government, and not merely the governor or a neighboring governor, at the laying of the cornerstone would, it seems, be a significant tribute, possibly indicating that someone quite high in the Russian government was aware of and sympathetic to the Faith.
In response to Calkins' note, Moojan Momen observes: While there are several Bahá'í histories that say Kurupatkin was at the laying of the foundation-stone of the Ishqabad Temple, including God Passes By it seems this is not correct. It was General Subotich, the governor-general of the province (in November 1904). [Both comments posted to the listserver tarikh, August 19 2012.]