October 9, 2018

Brief History of Mashriqu’l-Adhkar in America - by Corinne True

“O people of the world! Build ye houses of worship throughout the lands in the name of Him Who is the Lord of all religions. Make them as perfect as is possible in the world of being, and adorn them with that which befitteth them, not with images and effigies. Then, with radiance and joy, celebrate therein the praise of your Lord, the Most Compassionate. Verily, by His remembrance the eye is cheered and the heart is filled with light.” (Baha'u'llah, ‘The Kitab-i-Aqdas’)

Having heard enthusiastic reports of the building of the first Mashriqu’l-Adhkar in Ishkabad, Russia, the members of the spiritual committee of the Chicago Assembly were inspired to supplicate to the Center of the Covenant, ‘Abdu'l-Baha, to grant permission for the second Mashriqu’l-Adhkar to be built in America.

On Jane 7, 1903, a Tablet was revealed in Acca by ‘Abdu’l-Baha saying "Now the day has arrived in which the edifice of God, the divine sanctuary, the spiritual temple, shall be erected in America."

The following words from the pen of ‘Abdu’l-Baha clearly indicate the erection of a material building: "The Mashriqu’l-Adhkar, though outwardly a material foundation, is possessed of spiritual effect and causes the union of hearts and the gathering of souls... Praise be to God! The erection of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar has a great effect in all grades (or states). It was tested in the east and so evidently and plainly was it proved good (that) even when in a village a house was called the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar, it possessed a different effect. How much more its building and organization."

Furthermore, He says, “The Mashriqu’l-Adhkar is the most important matter and the greatest divine institute. Consider how the first institute of His holiness Moses, after His exodus from Egypt was the 'Tent of Martyrdom' which He raised and which was the travelling temple. It was a tent which they pitched in the desert wherever they abode, and worshipped in it. Likewise, after His holiness Christ - may the spirit of the world be a sacrifice to Him - the first institute by the disciples was a Temple. They planned a church in every country. Consider the Gospel (i.e. read it) and the importance of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar will become evident. I hope that all the beloved of God, collectively, on the continent of America, men and women, will strive night and day until the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar is erected in the utmost solidity and beauty."

And again: "Today, the establishment of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar is of paramount importance, but hereafter it shall not be so. This is the beginning of organization; it is like unto the first church founded in Christianity; it is an expression of the elevation of the Word of God."

While in London, on His first European trip, ‘Abdu'l-Baha told Mr. Charles Mason Remey that "its building is the most important of all things. This is the spiritual foundation, for that reason it is the most important of all foundations; from that spiritual foundation will come forth all manner of advancement and progress in the world of humanity. Therefore, how great is its importance." 

To Mrs. Helen S. Goodall and Mrs. Ella G. Cooper, ‘Abdu'l-Baha said: "To have it built is most important. Some material things have spiritual effect, and the Mashriqu'l- Adhkar is a material thing that will have great effect upon the spirits of the people. Not only does the building of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar have an effect upon those who build it, but upon the whole world." "In the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar, services will be held every morning and the words of Baha’u’llah only are to be read." 

While in Ramleh, Egypt, Abdu’l-Baha assured Mr. Percy Woodcock that "The most important thing in this day is the speedy erection of the edifice. Its mystery is great and cannot be unveiled as yet. In the future it will be made plain."

During the sojourn of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Haney in the prison home of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, He said: "When the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar, with its accessories, is established in the world, aside from its religious or spiritual influence, it will have a tremendous effect upon civilization. Aside from the religionists, who will feel its influence, materialists will not be exempt therefrom. Moreover, it contains divine wisdoms, spiritual effects upon the intellects and thoughts. Subsequent to its erection these will become evident."

This important point was made clear to a pilgrim visiting Him, namely, that "The organization of worshipping places is not simply for drawing near to God, but it is to concentrate the word or spirit of God and cause the power of unity and oneness among the people."

Regarding the locating of this edifice of God, ‘Abdu’l-Baha wrote to the friends of New York City: "Concerning the erection of the temple; now all the believers must become united so that the temple may be built soon in one place. For should the believers undertake (the erection of the temple) in many places, it will not become completed anywhere; and, as in Chicago they have preceded every other place to plan the erection of the temple, undoubtedly to cooperate and help them is nobler and necessity. Then when it is built in one place it will become erected in many other places. God willing in all the states of America, in the future, there will be erected temples, with infinite architectural beauty and art, with pleasing proportions and handsome and attractive appearances, especially in New York."

Also to Dr. Edward Getsinger, ‘Abdu’l-Baha wrote: "Regarding the building of the temple in Chicago, both of you (Dr. and Mrs. Getsinger) display the utmost effort in encouraging and inspiring the believers and the maid servants of God, so that they may assist in the matter with generosity, and thus soon this temple will be erected. This matter is of great importance." (''Utmost importance" in ‘Abdul Baha's own handwriting.)

When Eshet'al-Ebn Kalanter wrote regarding a Mashriqu’l-Adhkar on Monsalvat (Green Acre, Maine), ‘Abdu'l-Baha replied: "Concerning the building of a Mashriqu’l-Adhkar on Monsalvat: It is certain that before long this shall be built; and this is an ordained (or fixed) matter; but in Chicago it is two or three years since a number of people are making efforts. Now while the building of this temple is not yet started or engaged in, if there be the founding of a second temple undertaken, neither of the two would be accomplished, and this failure would weaken the Cause."

Mr. Mountfort Mills received a Tablet from ‘Abdu'l-Baha saying: "The Mashriqu’l-Adhkar of Chicago is of the greatest importance. This is a Baha’i temple, a supreme house of worship, a place of spiritual gathering and of the manifestation of divine mysteries. The friends of God must endeavor with all their hearts and souls that this structure may be raised and completed."

The Center of the Covenant has written: "One must first grasp those affairs which will make growth (in the Cause) and also be in time and season."

From the foregoing quotations it is manifest that the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar is founded on the ''Rock of Ages," the eternal Word of God, as to its object, location and appropriate time for its erection.

A brief sketch of the work accomplished may prove interesting:

In the spring of 1907 while Messrs. Chase, Agnew and Scheffler were in the prison home of ‘Abdu'l-Baha, He said to them: ''Concerning the temple, the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar, it is a very important matter, the most important thing row in America is the building of the temple. You and your friends must endeavor in this matter. This building will be the cause of the confirmation of the believers. It has a great effect because it is the beginning of the foundation. After centuries it is not so important as it is now but now it is very important. At first they build the temple and worship in it and grow. In past times they could rot build it so outwardly. This building will be the cause of unity arid prosperity of the Cause. The unity comes; from every part the believers will assist. This is a heavenly society and also it will be the cause of strength. The believers will get blessings and bounties. It cannot be compared with the church of the old time. You have only to begin, everything will be all right.''

When this message was brought back to America a new activity in the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar resulted throughout the country and contributions from various assemblies and individuals were received. A convention was called for November26, 1907, to be held in Chicago. This was the first Mashriqu’l-Adhkar convention, regarding which ‘Abdu'l-Baha wrote to Mr. Charles Sprague: "Thou last written concerning the organization of a council for the building of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar. This news brought much spirit and fragrance, for the nine delegates sent by the various assemblies gathered in that meeting and consulted concerning the building of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar."

Several possible tracts of land on both the south and north sides of the city had been investigated, ‘Abdu’l-Baha had said to a pilgrim that it must be near the lake. The morning of the day of November 26, 1907 the delegates visited the south side tract, noting carefully the surroundings, returning to the home of Mrs. Grace Foster for a sumptuous (Thanksgiving Day) feast prepared in the name of the Center of the Covenant by the Chicago maid servants. It was at first feared that such a feast of good things had incapacitated the delegates to visit the north shore tract in the afternoon but it made them stronger for the trip, both spiritually and physically. That evening a spirited meeting was held over the location and it was unanimously voted that the north shore tract was most desirable. Miss Gertrude Buikema took the minutes of this meeting. Upon closer investigation the north shore tract (now the site of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar) was found to consist of fourteen lots.

The spiritual meeting of the Chicago Assembly, after bringing the matter before the assembly for approval, took title to two of the lots in the name of the treasurer of the assembly, Mr. Carl Scheffler, and arose to obey the Center of the Covenant when lie said, "You have only to begin, everything will be all right." The sum of $2,000 was paid for those two lots on April 9, 1908.

On Jane 19, 1908, a Tablet was revealed by ‘Abdu'l-Baha and translated by His daughter Munnavar Khanum, in which He wrote, "Ask every spiritual meeting in the other cities that they will each select one and send Him, and from these selected ones and with those who are selected from the Chicago meetings, establish a new meeting for the provision of the needs of the temple. If this be established with perfect fragrance and joy, it will produce great results. In this new meeting, especially for the establishment of the temple, women are also to be members.”

In compliance with these instructions from ‘Abdu’l-Baha, the House of Spirituality of the Chicago Assembly called the second [1] Mashriqu’l-Adhkar convention for March 22 and 23, 1909, the proceedings of which were accurately recorded by Miss Gertrude Buikema and Mr. Charles foes, duly elected to act as secretaries, and afterwards printed. Thus the tiny mustard seed of nine delegates grew in the two intervening years to four times nine.

The Baha’i Temple Unity resulted, as an organization, with full power and authority to provide ways and means for the erection of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar. A constitution was presented and adopted and the first executive board of Baha’i Temple Unity was elected and authorized by the convention to close and complete the purchase of the land, recommended by the first convention, 1907, of which two lots had been bought and paid for, with an option secured on the remaining twelve lots.

Immediately after the close of the convention the newly appointed executive board went into session, selecting its officers in accordance with the constitution. The treasurer of the Chicago Assembly, Mr. Scheffler, in whose name the title to the two lots was held, turned over to the Baha’i Temple Unity all official documents and all monies held by him for the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar, as follows:

Monies on hand $3,666.44
Land values $2,000.00
Total:  $5,666.44

When the two lots had been purchased, Mr. C. E. Brush, one of Chicago's architects, kindly made a plat of the tract and its surroundings, which was sent to Abdu’l- Baha. A beautiful Tablet flowed from his pen, "To the friends and maid servants," saying that on the anniversary of the declaration of His holiness the Supreme, the Báb, the map of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar had been presented, that "great joy was obtained thereby and with the greatest care it was considered;" that "it is indeed a delightful spot worthy of this edifice and building." (Date of this Tablet July 4, 1908)

The members of the Executive Board of Baha’i Temple Unity appointed Messrs. Mills, Hall and Jacobsen, a committee to attend to the land negotiations, and an offer of $32,500 for the remaining twelve lots was made and accepted with a contract providing for the payment of $5,000 every six months, with interest, commencing July 1, 1909. A religious corporation was effected under the laws of Illinois in the name "Baha’i Temple Unity," and the title to the land secured.

The third Mashriqu’l-Adhkar convention convened in Chicago, April 25 and 26, 1910. Report of the work done during the year was given by the secretary Mr. Jacobsen, and the financial secretary’s report showed contributions for the fiscal year:

From the Orient: $7,092.85
From America and Europe: $7,638.66
Turned over by Mr. Scheffler: $5,666.44
Total: $20,397.44
($2,000 of this being land)

Contributions had come from India, Persia, Turkey, Syria, Palestine, Russia, Egypt, Germany, France, England, Canada, Mexico, Hawaiian Islands, and a little island far out in the Indian Ocean, Mauritius. Besides from sixty different American cities. The words of the Center of the Covenant had literally been fulfilled: "You have only to begin everything will be all right."

The fourth Mashriqu'l-Adhkar convention was held in Chicago, May 1 and 2, 1911. A command having come from Acca to hold the convention during the Ridvan days. During the fiscal year April 23, 1910, to April 29, 1911, the total contributions were:

The Orient and Europe: $1,190.83
America: $9,210.76

The fifth convention in Chicago, April 29 to May 1, 1912, will eternally wear the glorious crown of bestowal because of the presence of the Center of the Covenant and His dedication of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar grounds on May 1, 1912.

During this fiscal year the lake shore tract of 293 feet frontage had been contracted for and payment made on it, the purchase price being $17,000. The contributions for the year having been $7,292.45

The sixth convention was entertained by the friends of New York City, April 28 and 29, 1913. Regarding this wonderful convention ‘Abdu’l-Baha wrote Mr. Wilhelm, saying:

"Praise be to God that the New York believers became confirmed in the accomplishment of a great service and held in that city the consultation convention for the erection of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar. They displayed the utmost of effort until that convention was inaugurated with infinite perfection. They exercised the greatest of love and kindness towards all the delegates who had come from the different states. They united and entertained the delegates in their homes. With perfect affection they spread before them the banquet of hospitality. Every one became grateful and happy. This event will adorn an important and blessed page in the Baha’i history."

At this convention the commemoration of the ninth day of every month as Mashriqu'l-Adhkar day was proposed and afterward confirmed by ‘Abdu'l-Baha and has proved a very great impetus to the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar work. The friends of other countries join with us in observing the day; very beautiful are the letters from our four American sisters in Tehran telling of their holding this ninth day with us.

The first contribution for the fiscal year April 30, 1912, to April 19, 1913, was a gift from the Center of the Covenant at the closing session of the previous convention in Chicago. Also this year marked the completion of the payment on the site dedicated by ‘Abdu'l-Baha and an indebtedness of $9,000 on the Lake Shore tract remained only, its entire liquidation being urged before the expiration of 1913. The contributions for the year having been $14,206.42.

Another year soon rolled around and Chicago was again blest with a Mashriqu'l-Adhkar convention, which was the seventh convention. It also marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Baha’u’llah.

At the close of the year 1913 the money came literally rolling in for the cancellation of all land debts and a cablegram was sent to ‘Abdu’l-Baha announcing that the Baha’i Temple Unity had completed its land obligations. Thus the new year, 1914, dawned free of any clouds for the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar work so that the building fund might be started. The financial secretary reported contributions for the year $13,503.79 and the Unity entirely out of debt with land holdings for which $51,500 had been paid and which was worth almost double the price paid. Complete uinty arid harmony marked the sessions of this seventh convention.

And now the eighth Mashriqu'l-Adhkar convention and first Baha’i congress has convened in San Francisco. Thus our conventions held in the United States of America have travelled from coast to coast.

Almost immediately after the second convention, when the Baha’i Temple Unity resulted, the president of the first Executive Board, Mr. Mountford Mills, of New York City, visited the Center of the Covenant who was still a prisoner of the Turkish Government, though liberated in July of that same year, 1908. Mr. Mills wrote: "At the temple convention, He seemed most pleased and satisfied and assured us that the future would see many more, constantly increasing in numbers, attending and bringing together representatives from all parts of the world. He said that these gatherings would be to the spiritual body of the world what the inrush of the spirit is to the physical body of man, quickening it to its utmost parts and infusing a new light and power."

One of the most touching gifts to the building fund was a check for $1,000 addressed to "the Baha’i Temple of Peace" and saying in the letter, "In Europe, fathers and brothers have been torn from their wives and little children and many left at home are in want of dire necessities. Our beloved ones are not facing mutilation, acute suffering and death. I send this as a thanksgiving offering, though it seems minute in deed to express what I feel."

During the fiscal year beginning April 27, 1914, the monthly contributions have been as follows:

April 27 to May 11: $258.00
May: $388.00
June: $351.09
July: $483.31
August: $344.22
September: $1,533.88
October: $557.99
November: $519.50
December: $614.66
January: $768.72
February: $247.10
April 1 to April 18: $251.82

Total, to April 18, 1915:  $6,597.65
Total receipts of subscriptions from August, 1907, to April, 1915:
First Convention: $5,666.44
Second Convention: $14,731:51
Third Convention: $10,401.59
Fourth Convention: $7,292.45
Fifth Convention: $14,206.42
Sixth Convention: $13,503.79
Seventh Convention: $6,597.65
Grand Total: $72,399.85

Of the above amount $11,158.75 was from countries other than United States, as follows:

England: St. Ives, Cornwall; Springfield,  Broadway; Manchester; London; Sussex, Brighton; Warwicke Clifton, Bristol.
Ireland: Warrington, County Down.
France: Paris; Dinan, Brittany.
Germany: Berlin; Stuttgart; Esslingen; Zuffenhausen. Italy: Sienna; Iravenna, Ravenna; Erba.
European Turkey: Constantinople;
Palestine ; Acca; Haifa.
Russia, Baku; Ishkabad.
Persia ; Teheran; Esphahan; Gangelie; Shiraz; Yahrormi;
 Resht; Kermanshah; Sanstan; Meshed; Tiflis; Yazd; Arabeil.
India: Rangoon; Bombay; Mandalay.
Egypt Cairo; Port Said; Alexandria.
South Africa: East Rand; Transvaal; Capetown.
New Zealand: Davenport; Aukland.
Brazil: Sao Paulo.
Canada: Montreal; Brockville; St. John's, W. B.
Islands of the Sea: Isle of Pines; Isle of Mauritius; Hawaiian Islands.

Respectfully submitted,

Corinne True,
Financial Secy.,
Baha’i Temple Unity
(Star of the West, vol. 6, no. 7, July 13, 1915)
[1] More often referred to as the first convention because it was the first general gathering of Baha’is in convention. (Star of the West Editors)