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- A BRIEF SURVEY OF THE LITERATURE OF THE BAHA’I FAITH IN ENGLISH
made a profound impression. When Miss Root realized thst she could not
live to write a synopsis of the book for Bahd’I World, volume eight, she requested that the work be assumed by Mrs. Marian Little.
The above commentary is in compliance with this request.
THE BAHA’I WORLD
Eyes” became a student of this Siyyid Kim; she corresponded with him and learned many things about questions which she had
longed to have answered. It was he who gave her the title of Qurratu’l-’Ayn. She journeyed to Karbilá to see him but the narrative tells
us that she arrived too late, that he had passed from this world only ten days before her arrival. Contemporary historians state that she
remained in Karbilã and took the great Siyyid’s place and began to teach his students. This was a most remarkable innovation at a
period when a woman’s voice was never permitted to be heard outside the harem. It was at this time that during the period of fasting
she had a dream. “One night she saw in a dream a young Siyyid standing in the air, then he knelt and prayed. She heard these prayers
and learned one by heart, which she quickly wrote down when she awoke.” (From ‘Abdu’l-Bahá,
Memorials of the Faithful).
The author quotes again from Nabil’s Narrative
The Dawn Breakers
the sequel to this dream: “It was Táhirih who, having
learned that her brother-in-law, Mirzá Mulsammad-’Ali, was departing from Qazvin, entrusted him with a sealed letter requesting him
to deliver it to the Promised One, Whom he was bound to meet in the course of his journey. ‘Say to Him for me,’ she added: ‘The
effulgence of Thy face flashed forth and the rays of Thy visage arose on high.’ Then speak the word: ‘Am I not your Lord?’ and ‘Thou
art, Thou art’ we will reply.”
. . .
The message was given to the Bãb, and He forthwith declared her one of the Letters of the Living. She
is the only one of the eighteen disciples of the Báb who never attained His presence in this world, but she was the first to recognize
Him and answer to His call in the realm of reality.
She was given the title of Zarrin-Táj, “One Crowned with Gold,” and was also addressed as Nuqih, “The Point.” These titles are most
significant for they reveal her station in recognizing the qualities which belonged to her. She was pure, she was beautiful, she was
illumined, her whole being was centered and this endowed her with the gift of the Holy Spirit.
In reading the life of Tahirih we find that
her most outstanding characteristic was this spiritual illumination; for this is the thing that makes her life a part of the
history of the Bahâ’i Faith. She lives once more in this narrative written by Martha Root; and we walk with her and
witness with her the many events and dramatic happenings which can only exist when Religion is reborn, when another
Messenger of God walks the earth and utters once more the creative words which are destined to regenerate the whole
world of all these things Táhirih was a part
—the heroic deeds of the followers of the
and in the end the frightful martyrdom of thousands who gave their
lives for the Cause they had embraced.
Táhirih was imprisoned in the house of Mahmfld Khán. She was summoned to the presence of Nasiri’d-Din Shah, who
urged her to deny the Bâb and again become a true Muslim, promising her that she could become his bride and thus
have an exalted place. To these requests she replied to the Shah in verse:
“Kingdom, wealth and ruling be for thee, Wandering, becoming a poor dervish
and calamity be for me
If that station is good, let it be for thee, And if this station is bad, I long for it,
let it be for me.”
The Shah was impressed with this answer and commented on her wonderful spirit and courage. In his own words, “So
far history has not shown such a woman to us.”
The wife of the kalantar in whose house Táhirih was imprisoned is quoted as relating a description of the last hours of
this heroine’s imprisonment. “One night, whilst
Tahirih was staying in my home, I was summoned to her presence and found that she was fully adorned, dressed in a
gown of snow white silk. Her room was redolent
with the choicest perfume. I expressed my surprise at so unusual a sight. ‘I am preparing to meet my Beloved,’ she
said, ‘and wish to free you from the cares and anxieties of my imprisonment.’ I was much startled at first and wept at
thought of separation from her. ‘Weep not,’ she sought to reassure me, ‘the time of your lamentation is not yet
TAHIRIH’S MESSAGE TO THE MODERN WORLD
come. I wish to share with you my last wishes, for the hour when I shall be arrested and condemned, to suffer martyrdom is fast
approaching. I would request you to allow your son to accompany me to the scene of my death and to ensure that the guards and
executioner into whose hands I shall be delivered will not compel me to divest myself of this attire. It is also my wish that my body be
thrown into a pit, and that the pit be filled with earth and stones.
. . .
Three days after my death a woman will come and visit you, to
whom you will give this package which I now deliver into your hands. My request is that you permit no one henceforth to enter my
chamber. From now until the time when I shall be summoned to leave this house, let no one be allowed to disturb my devotions. This
day I intend to fast
. . .
a fast which I shall not break until I am face to face with my Beloved.’”
“Sh was ready when they came for her that night. They took her to a garden. The executioners hesitated for a while to carry out the
orders issued for her death and even refused to do it. Then they found a negro slave who was drunk; he put a handkerchief into
Táhirih’s mouth and strangled her.
They cast her into a well in the garden and threw stones and rubbish on her.” (‘Abdu’lBahá’s Memorials of the
“Beauty and the female sex also lent their consecration to the new creed, and the heroism of the lovely but ill-fated
poetess of Qazvin, Zarrin-Táj or Qurratu’l-’Ayn, who throwing off her veil, carried the missionary torch far and wide,
is one of the most affecting episodes of modern history.” (Lord Curzon, Persia and the Persian People.)
There are many quotations from contemporary Oriental scholars, all of whom bear testimony to the greatness of Táhirih
and to the Cause to which her life was consecrated. Le comte .de Gobineau in Les Religions et Philosophies dans l’Asie
Centrale, Valentine Chirol in his The Middle Pastern Question, Sir Francis Younghusband in The Gleam, Dr. T. K.
Cheyne in The Reconciliation of Races and Religions.
Martha Root gives a touching account of her visit to Qazvin in 1930 and her interview with come of Táhirih’s
descendants who accompanied her to the palace where Tahirih was born; they showed her the quaint library where the
little girl studied, the child who was to become a poet and the
The Feast of the New Year being celebrated by the New York Bahã’is on “Naw-Rflz,” March 21st, 1939.
THE BAHA’i WORLD
first woman martyr for the education and equality of women.
Then again the author tells us of her visit to Tihran in the same year. “As I stood beside the well in a little garden in the heart of
Tihran, where her dear body was cast, I thought of the lines in the beautiful drama
written by Mrs. Laura Dreyfus
“Cease your profanations
. . .
weak of purpose. Do you think you can bury her there? She will reappear, and be ever before you all. You
have rendered her immortal in the minds of men, and her spirit
of love will be transmitted to millions of living hearts. You have undone your work and have established her fame.
Forever after, Tahirih will inspire courage and sincerity and truth!”
Since this book was written the author, Martha Root, has passed on. I cannot refrain here from saying a few words
about this saintly being who so selflessly carried the message of Bahâ’u’lláh to every continent in the world. She lived
and died for the Cause of God and was a true disciple, following in the footsteps of her illustrious sister, Tahirih the
A BRIEF SURVEY
OF THE LITERATURE OF
THE BAHA’I FAITH IN ENGLISH
WILLIAM KENNETH CHRISTIAN
EVERY great idea is reflected in a literature of its own. The concept of democracy has been discussed in many treatises and related
types of literature.
. . .
A literature has grown up about great historical personalities. Witness the almost unceasing publication of books
. . .
Certain cycles of stories and legends have been told and retold in different form. Thus we find a whole literature
built around the legends of King Arthur and his knights. Similarly, the great religions of the world have each produced a vast body of
literature, reflecting the myriad aspects in theory and application of the particular body of truth embodied in that faith.
The student approaching the Bahã’i teachings is amazed at the extensive bibliography of publications in English. The dates of
publication go back to the beginning of the century, and the bibliography reveals a varied and constant out-pouring of literature on the
It is the purpose of this brief survey to give some idea of the growth of that literature and to comment on the authentic material now
easily available to the student. To simplify the task of showing the historical development of Bahá’i literature in English, the
discussion will be divided categorically. Reference to the extensive bibliography, found elsewhere in this volume, will enable the
student to search more closely into specific books which could not be discussed within the limits of this survey. It should also be noted
that no claim is made for completeness. Only a few specific publications can be mentioned; it is hoped that they are representative.
1. THE FIRsT LITERATURE CSRCULATED
In the early days of the Bahá’i Faith in
America, i.e., about the year 1900 and immediately after, the few scattered believers exchanged typewritten copies of prayers and
tablets from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. As soon as a new tablet was received from Haifa, the believer receiving it would send copies to known
Bahá’is in different parts of the country. The early centers in the large cities became points of distribution for tablets to isolated
believers. We find many evidences of great earnestness and sacrifice in this period when the Bahâ’i teachings were first being
introduced into the United States. It is said that these early believers devoured each single paragraph and each tablet, no matter how
brief, in their great desire to satisfy a newly awakened spiritual hunger.
One of the early centers of distribution was New York City. Here the New York Bahã’i Board of Counsel sent out typed,
mimeographed, and printed pamphlets. In February, 1904, the Board of Counsel sent out a 128-page mimeographed folder of the
teachings. The contents were divided as follows:
Vol. 1. Long Tablets by the Manifestation
Vol. 2. Tablets to the Kings and short Tablets by the Manifestation
Vol. 3. Tablets from The M a s
e r, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
Vol. 4. Writings, lectures, etc., by Believ ers
News letters and information regarding the Cause
Difficult though many of the translations are in this early compilation, a great effort was being made to meet the need for a fuller
knowledge. If it were possible to compare this compilation with all the literature on the Bah&’i Faith available in English up to that
time, it would probably stand out as an historic effort.
THE BAHA’I WORLD
2. EARLY PAMPHLETS
Many of the early pamphlets were mere leaflets reproducing a Tablet from ‘Abdu’lBahá. Some of these recorded conversations
between American believers and ‘Abdu’lRaM. Most are undated and bear no reference to place of publication.
A deeply religious note concerning the “second coming” is reflected in a number of these leaflets. Three are headed, respectively:
Prophecies—Signs of the Coming of the
CSOn of Man.”
The contents in each case are a compilation of Biblical references and selections from the words of ‘Abdu’l-Baha.
Two of these state at the end: ,,5 seekers may address
. . .“
(An address in New York City follows).
Among the early pamphlets are a number of the Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh printed in leaflet form. A survey of this type of publication
would seem, however, to confirm the fact that the writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá were given more prominence until the period following
1921 when the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, began his series of masterly translations of the writings of Bahá’u’lláh. This emphasis at
that time is understandable when we realize that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was in constant correspondence with a number of American believers.
We must also. keep in mind the fact that an accurate as well as beautiful translation of the books of Bahá’u’lláh is an exceedingly
3. REPORTS OF PILGRIMS
Around the beginning of the century and until ‘Abdu’l-Raht’s release from prison in 1908, there was a steady stream of small parties
of Americans to the prison-city of ‘Akká. Many of those who made this seven thousand mile pilgrimage to sit at the feet of ‘Abdu’l-
Bahá wrote pamphlets and booklets concerning the experience. This part of Baht’i literature has come to be known as “pilgrim’s
Let us look at two samples.
A small 16-page pamphlet has a picture of a door on the cover and the verse from the New Testament: “Knock and it shall be opened
unto you” (Matt.
Inside are two brief, simply written accounts of visits
to ‘Abdu’l-Baht. Each records the great love, hospitality, and unity which always marked the home of the Master.
by Thornton Chase, the first American Bahá’i, is a small book of this type. Here is a much longer account of the visit of a
party of Americans to ‘Akká. The book is well illustrated with photographs of places in that vicinity associated with the lives of
Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’lBaht. Again there is reflection of the loving unity existent among the believers.
It is to be noted that the many pilgrims’ reports record conversation with ‘Abdu’lBahf. While this was a great aid in giving an
understanding of the teachings, ‘Abdu’lBahá Himself, and the Guardian after Him, insisted that only His written words and those of
His Father, Bahá’u’llth, were to be considered authentic. This is not an effort to minimize the importance of the pilgrims’ reports, but
to point out that they filled a great need and helped carry over until a sufficiently large body of the writings of Bahá’u’lláh and
‘Abdu’l-Baha had been translated.
Souitces op PUnLICATION
A number of the early pamphlets and books on the Baht’i Faith were published by non-Bahá’i publishers. An example of this is
Myron Phelps’ book,
The Life and Teachings of ‘Abbds Effendi,
published by Putnam and Sons.
Many individual Baht’is published pamphlets and books. We have already mentioned the leaflets published by “David.” Another
individual who published extensively over a period of years was Charles Mason Remey. Mr. Remey published books on the Temples,
lessons and lectures on the teachings, and many pamphlets. He also published accounts of teacbing trips in mimeograph form.
. . .
great efforts on the part of individuals represent a fine source of historical information and show the efforts made to produce an
adequate body of literature.
Various centers in the United States formed publishing groups. The Board of Counsel in New York City has already been mentioned.
Prior to 1908 a Bahá’i Publishing Society had been organized in Chicago.
A BRIEF SURVEY OF LITERATURE
With the coming of the administrative order under the Guardianship of Shoghi Effendi, publishing has been centralized under the
Bahá’i Publishing Committee, set up by the National Spiritual Assembly. This had made for efficiency, economy, and authenticity in
Bahá’i literature. We may set the date 1921 as approximately the beginning of authenticity in translation and publication of Bahá’i
literature. The importance of the work accomplished by this Committee can hardly be overestimated. Another committee of the
National Spiritual Assembly, the Reviewing Committee, was set up with the specific task of not only passing on the authenticity of all
publications, but also of setting as high a literary standard as possible.
In March, 1910, the first Bahá’i magazine was published in English. This was a small 20-page booklet bearing the name
It was edited by Albert R. Windust and Gertrude Buikema. The editorial page read, in part: “The need for a Bahã’i News
Service is apparent throughout the Occident. To meet this need this humble publication has stepped forth from nonexistence into the
court of existence
. . .“
This magazine was published nineteen times a year. During the course of the first year a Persian section was
added, in order to make more useful the circulation of the magazine among believers.
The magazine prospered, for the second year it increased in size and was named
Star of the West.
During this year, the contents
included not only news of Bahã’i activities, photographs, the Persian section, and translations of Tablets from ‘Abdu’lBahá, but also
occasional articles on various aspects of the teachings appeared. Volume three is of special historical interest because it chronicles so
much of the talks and incidents of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit to America. Slowly the
changed from a magazine designed
primarily for Bahá’is to a magazine for the general public as well. When the National Spiritual Assembly began to publish
for all the believers in December, 1924, it was no longer necessary to publish news in
the magazine. The name was changed to
Star of the West
as a sub-title. After a few years, however, the
sub-title was dropped entirely.
Tn 1935 the
was combined with
magazine to make the present
magazine. And in
this we find discussions of the relation of the Bahi”s Faith to all aspects of modern life and world problems.
The present-day literature of the Bahá’i Faith in English falls into three classifications: first, the actual translations of the teachings
and history of the Faith; second, commentaries on, and explanations of, the teachings; third, discussion of allied subjects and literary
expression of the Bahâ’i spirit.
Of the translations of the teachings, those translations by the Guardian stand out as monumental renderings of the prose of Bahá’u’lláh
into English. Rich in beauty and dynamic truth are his translations of
Prayers and Meditations by Bahd’u’lldh.
How much easier now for a student to approach
the spirit and teachings of Bahã’u’llãh!
. . .
Nor must we overlook the Guardian’s translation of
NabIl’s Narrative of the Early Days of the Baha”I Revelation.
Here, for the first time in English, we can appreciate the
glorious figure of the Báb, majestic predecessor of BahI’u’llIh. This volume provides a greater degree of completeness in
understanding the Bahá’i Faith. Not only is
The Dawn- Breakers
the most beautifully bound ]3ahá’i book ever published, but it is
by far the most scholarly and completely annotated.
And we must not overlook the volumes of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Tablets, His compelling
Mysterious Forces of Civilization,
books of His recorded lectures.
The writings of Shoghi Effendi himself constitute a special branch of Bahi’i literature dealing with the subject of world order. We
refer particularly to the series of long, general letters beginning in 1928 with
THE BAHA’i WORLD
In 1923 was published
a large compilation of the writings of RaM’u’lláh and the writings and
talks of ‘Abdu’lBahá. This was a noteworthy effort to bring together for the student the mass of Bahá’i literature then
available in English. The series of translations by the Guardian and continued scholarship have shown that many parts
of the volume are not accurate or adequate. It is proposed that a new edition be prepared to meet the need for a one-
Commentaries on and explanations of the teachings have been many. The best of these is Baha”u’lla’h and the New
E. Esslemont, a book now translated and published in over thirty languages. The most literary of these books is
Promise of All Ages
by Christophil, pen name of Archdeacon George Townshend of Dublin, Ireland. The pen of this
gifted writer has produced another book, The Heart of the Gospel, published in England, a few copies of which have
just reached this country as this article is written. In both these volumes, Townshend approaches the Bahá’i Faith from
the viewpoint of Christianity. He writes compellingly and convincingly, showing the Bahá’i Faith as the consummation
of the teachings of Christ.
The monthly issues of
magazine provide a forum for the discussion of subjects allied to the Bahá’i teachings. Here we find articles on world federation, race
relations, comparative religion and modern sociology. With a great amount of authentic literature now available, Bahã’i writers are
able to discuss accurately the wide implications of their Faith in meeting with the many individual and social problems of the modern
world. Here, too, in
are many poetic expressions of the Rahá’i spirit, evidence of a still small, but growing artistic
expression of Bahá’i ideals.
. . .
Perhaps the most noteworthy poetic effort is Howard Ives’ moving long poem,
In concluding this brief survey, mention should be made of the successive volumes of THE BAHA’f WORLD, of which this volume
is the eighth. Here is a chronological account of the growth of the Bahá’i Faith throughout the world. The volumes are filled with
articles, pictures, and reproductions of documents of great historic value. Included always are excerpts from the writings of
Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. To anyone wishing a good source for the study of Bahá’i literature, history, and presentday
administration, the volumes are invaluable.
JOHN EBENEZER ESSLEMONT, who passed away at Haifa November 22, 1925, was born May 19, 1874, the youngest son of John
E. Esslemont of Fairford, Cults, Aberdeenshire.
He received his preliminary education at Ferryhill public school and continued his studies at the Robert Gordon College and
ultimately at Aberdeen University, where he was graduated with honors in April, 1898, obtaining not only the medical degrees of
Bachelor of Medicine and of Surgery, but also a Philip Research Scholarship at the University. He spent the second half of 1899 at
Berne and Strasburg, at both of which places he wrote papers on his research work, which were published and considered valuable.
Returning to Scotland in December, 1899, Esslemont took up the position of assistant to Professor Cash at Aberdeen University,
which position he held until 1901, when he went to Australia, remaining there two years. During this residence in Australia, he
married on December 19, 1902.
Early in his life Esslemont’s health proved a cause of trouble and anxiety, and in 1903 he was obliged to leave Australia, returning to
Aberdeenshire, where he spent the summer, but found it necessary in the winter of that year to proceed to South Africa, the climate of
which country it was hoped would prove beneficial to his pulmonary ailment. He remained in South Africa for five years, returning to
1908, when he obtained the post of resident medical officer at the Home Sanatorium, Southbourne, Bournemouth, which he continued
to hold until 1923, when, owing to the death of the proprietor, the Sanatorium was closed and Esslemont found himself without
In 1924 he received a warm invitation from Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Bahá’i Faith, to spend the winter at Haifa, and early in
November he left London, proceeding direct to Port Said. Writing from Malta, the only port of call, November 15th, Esslemont spoke
of a delightful voyage and of feeling much improved in health. He spent a day or two in Port Said, where he was most warmly
received by the friends, and arrived at Haifa on November 2 1st. Here he at once devoted himself to the work of assisting Shoghi
Effendi in his multifarious correspondence, which work he continued to do in spite of ill-health until the end.
Such is a brief account of the material side of Esslemont’s life; it remains now to say something of the spiritual side, which continues
and will continue forevermore.
Whilst at Bournemouth in 1912 Esslemont, in arsociation with several other doctors, took up the question of state medical service and
in 1914 he read a paper on this subject before the British Medical Association at its meeting at Bournemouth, which by the attention it
aroused helped greatly the deliberations of the Advisory Committee on Public Health. The wife of one of
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