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George Townshend was born in Ireland and was a well known writer and clergyman. He spent many years near Ballinasloe, County Galway, where he was incumbent of Ahascragh and Archdeacon of Clonfert. He later became the Canon of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. However, at the age of 70, Townshend renounced his orders to the Anglican Church and wrote a pamphlet to all Christians under the title “The Old Churches and the New World Faith” proclaiming his allegiance to the Bahá’í Faith.
“The mightiest proof of a Prophet has ever been found in Himself and in the efficacy of His word. Bahá’u’lláh rekindled the fires of faith and happiness in the hearts of men. His knowledge was innate and spontaneous, not acquired in any school. None could gainsay or resist His wisdom and even His worst enemies admitted His greatness. All human perfections were embodied in Him. His strength was infinite. Trials and sufferings increased His firmness and power. As a divine physician He diagnosed the malady of the Age and prescribed the remedy. His teachings were universal and conferred illumination on all mankind. His power has been poured forth more abundantly since His death. In His presence He stood alone and events have proved and are still proving its accuracy.
From The Mission of Bahá’u’lláh
John Estlin Carpenter was an eminent Unitarian biblical scholar, theologian and Oxford professor. Carpenter presided over a meeting on 31 December 1912 for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá at Manchester College, Oxford, where Carpenter was Principal.
“From that subtle race (the Persians) issues the most remarkable movement…The new faith declared that there was no finality in revelation, and while recognising the Koran as a product of past revelation, claimed to embody a new manifestaton of the divine Unity. Carried to Chicago in 1893…it succeeded in establishing itself in the United States; and its missionaries are winning new adherents in India. It, too, claims to be a universal teaching; it has already its noble army of martyrs and its holy books; has Persia, in the midst of her miseries, given birth to a religion which will go round the world?”
From Comparative Religion
The Reverend Peter Owen-Jones is an Anglican clergyman, author and TV presenter. He is the writer and presenter of The Battle for Britain’s Soul, Extreme Pilgrim and Around the World in 80 Faiths.
“Out of the biblical traditions of the Middle East, a new religion emerged in 19th century Iran which introduced a whole set of new ideas about our connection with the past. On the coast of Israel at Haifa, the followers of the Bahá’í Faith have built a garden at the Shrine of their Prophet known as The Báb. I wonder if this faith will offer a break from the hidebound views of the past I’ve experienced on my journey so far…
There’s one particular Bahá’í saying that I really do admire and it is the world is one country and we are all its citizens. That implies equal rights and an equal relationship with God – not fractured upon one belief system or another.
Having been here, I see Bahá’í is a religion which welcomes all religious perspectives. And I think – in a land of belligerent tribalism – this is such a wonderful, refreshing tonic. For me connecting with God means transcending the mundane facts of where we were born and in what tribe…
This isn’t dependent on being born into some tribe, born into your religion. This is inclusive, all-embracing monotheism and I hope, I hope that this is the future, I do.”
From Around the World in 80 Faiths, Episode 3 “The Middle East”
The Reverend John Tyssul Davis presided over the Theistic Church in London’s New Bond Street and later became a Unitarian Minister in Bristol. He was also the Principal of a Buddhist College in Ceylon for two years.
The Bahá’í religion has made its way . . . because it meets the needs of its day. It fits the larger outlook of our time better than the rigid exclusive older faiths. A characteristic is its unexpected liberality and toleration. It accepts all the great religions as true, and their scriptures as inspired. The Baha’ists bid the followers of these faiths disentangle from the windings of racial, particularist, local prejudices, the vital, immortal thread, the pure gospel of eternal worth, and to apply this essential element of life. Instances are quoted of people being recommended to work within the older faiths, to remain, vitalizing them upon the principles of the new faith. They cannot fear new facts, new truths as the Creed defenders must. They believe in a progressive revelation. They admit the cogency of modern criticism and allow that God is in His nature incomprehensible, but is to be known through His Manifestations. Their ethical ideal is very high and is of the type we Westerners have learnt to designate “Christlike.” “What does he do to his enemies that he makes them his friends?” was asked concerning the late leader. What astonishes the student is not anything in the ethics or philosophy of this movement, but the extraordinary response its ideal has awakened in such numbers of people, the powerful influence this standard actually exerts on conduct. It is due to four things: (I) It makes a call on the Heroic Element in Man. It offers no bribe. It bids men endure, give up, carry the cross. It calls them to sacrifice, to bear torture, to suffer martyrdom, to brave death. (2) It offers liberty of thought. Even upon such a vital question as immortality it will not bind opinion. Its atmosphere is one of trust and hope, not of dogmatic chill. (3) It is a religion of love. “Notwithstanding the interminable catalogue of extreme and almost incredible sufferings and privations which this heroic band of men and women have endured-more terrible than many martyrdoms-there is not a trace of resentment or bitterness to be observed among them. One would suppose that they were the most fortunate of the people among whom they live, as indeed they do certainly consider themselves, in that they have been permitted to live near their beloved Lord, beside which they count their sufferings as nothing” (Whelps). Love for the Master, love for the brethren, love for the neighbors, love for the alien, love for all humanity, love for all life, love for God-the old, well-tried way trod once before in Syria, trodden again. (4) It is a religion in harmony with science. It has here the advantage of being thirteen centuries later than Islam. This new dispensation has been tried in the furnace, and has not been found wanting. It has been proved valid by the lives of those who have endured all things on its behalf. Here is something more appealing than its logic and rational philosophy. “To the Western observer” (writes Prof. Browne), “it is the complete sincerity of the Bábís, their fearless disregard of death and torture undergone for the sake of their religion, their certain conviction as to the truth of their faith, their generally admirable conduct toward mankind, especially toward their fellow-believers, which constitute their strongest claim on his attention.”
“By their fruits shall ye know them! ” We cannot but address to this youthful religion an All Hail! of welcome. We cannot fail to see in its activity another proof of the living witness in our own day of the working of the sleepless spirit of God in the hearts of men, for He cannot rest, by the necessity of His nature, until He heath made in conscious reality, as in power, the whole world His own.
From A League of Religions
Alfred W.Martin was a Unitarian minister and writer on religion. He was the leader of the Ethical Culture Society and author of many books about comparative religion including Great Religious Teachers of the East, Psychic Tendencies of Today, Comparative Religion and Religion of the Future, and Objective Evidence for Life after Death.
“Inasmuch as a fellowship of faiths is at once the dearest hope and ultimate goal of the Bahá’í movement, it behooves us to take cognizance of it and its mission…. Today this religious movement has a million and more adherents, including people from all parts of the globe and representing a remarkable variety of race, color, class and creed. It has been given literary expression in a veritable library of Asiatic, European, and American works to which additions are annually made as the movement grows and grapples with the great problems that grow out of its cardinal teachings. It has a long roll of martyrs for the cause for which it stands, twenty thousand in Persia alone, proving it to be a movement worth dying for as well as worth living by.
From its inception it has been identified with Bahá’u’lláh, who paid the price of prolonged exile, imprisonment, bodily suffering, and mental anguish for the faith he cherished-a man of imposing personality as revealed in his writings, characterized by intense moral earnestness and profound spirituality, gifted with the self same power so conspicuous in the character of Jesus, the power to appreciate people ideally, that is, to see them at the level of their best and to make even the lowest types think well of themselves because of potentialities within them to which he pointed, but of which they were wholly unaware; a prophet whose greatest contribution was not any specific doctrine he proclaimed, but an informing spiritual power breathed into the world through the example of his life and thereby quickening souls into new spiritual activity. Surely a movement of which all this can be said deserves-nay, compels-our respectful recognition and sincere appreciation.
Taking precedence over all else in its gospel is the message of unity in religion…. It is the crowning glory of the Bahá’í movement that, while deprecating sectarianism in its preaching, it has faithfully practiced what it preached by refraining from becoming itself a sect…. Its representatives do not attempt to impose any beliefs upon others, whether by argument or bribery; rather do they seek to put beliefs that have illumined their own lives within the reach of those who feel they need illumination. No, not a sect, not a part of humanity cut off from all the rest, living for itself and aiming to convert all the rest into material for its own growth; no, not that, but a leaven, causing spiritual fermentation in all religions quickening them with the spirit of catholicity and fraternalism.
Who shall say but that just as the little company of the Mayflower, landing on Plymouth Rock, proved to be the small beginning of a mighty nation, the ideal germ of a democracy which, if true to its principles, shall yet overspread the habitable globe, so the little company of Baha’is exiled from their Persian home may yet prove to be the small beginning of the world-wide movement, the ideal germ of democracy in religion, the Universal Church of Mankind?”
Marcus Bach was an American writer and lecturer on religion, and founder and director of “The Fellowship for Spiritual Understanding.” At one point in his life, Dr. Bach set out to meet the five people of his time whom he felt best exemplified the teachings of Jesus Christ in their lives. He travelled 40,000 miles in pursuit of this aim, interviewing Helen Keller, Pope Pius XII, Albert Schweitzer,Therese Neumann, and Shoghi Effendi.
“I went to Israel recently, to the harbor city of Akka, for it was there that Baha’u’llah, banished from Baghdad, spent his years of exile. To this windswept land, where Francis of Assisi once walked, Baha’u’llah came in chains in 1865. I went to the old prison where he was held captive for 25 years and where his son, Abdul-Baha, was a prisoner for 40 years. As I poked around behind the old walls and peered into the dungeons, the Baha’i story came to life. Baha’u’llah, like Jesus, had a forerunner who called himself the Bab, which means “the Gate.” In the midst of the religious and political wrangling of Moslem, Christian and Jew, the Bab said in effect: “A plague on all your houses. You have all lost sight of your common origin.” He preached that God is the Father of all men and the Founder of all faiths, and that the time had come when heaven would personify this truth. Like John the Baptist, the Bab announced the coming of a messiah: Baha’u’llah, who proclaimed himself in 1863.
I went to Bahji, some six kilometers inland. Here is the sheik’s mansion where Baha’u’llah lived like a prince after his release from prison and where he died in 1892. Here is the holy spot where Christians, Jews, Moslems, Zoroastrians and Buddhists came to “lament the loss and magnify the greatness of the herald of God.” Baha’is even today do not speak of the death of Baha’u’llah but, rather, of his ascension. In reverence, I knelt beside the bier.
As I walked through the majestic rooms I was reminded that it was here, years ago, that the noted Cambridge University Orientalist, Edward G. Browne, visited Baha’u’llah. His impressions, widely quoted, are precious to every ardent Baha’i: “The face of him on whom I gazed I can never forget. Those piercing eyes seemed to read one’s very soul…. No need to ask in whose presence I stood, as I bowed myself before One who is the object of a devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain!”
This was Baha’u’llah whose power and grace Baha’is saw reflected in his successor, Abdul-Baha, and which they see mirrored today in the present leader, Shoghi Effendi, the eldest son of the eldest daughter of Abdul-Baha, and a distant relative of the Bab. This was Baha’u’llah who, as my minister friend insisted, “can never be sold to Americans; even his name is against him.”
But quietly in the heart of every Baha’i there lives a feeling that he and his fellows are children of destiny as well as children of light. Baha’u’llah assured them in his writings: “Be not dismayed! Arise to further my cause and to exalt my word among men….. We are truly almighty. Whoso hath recognized me will arise and truly serve me with such determination that the powers of earth and heaven shall be unable to defeat his purpose.”
I have met Baha’is in many parts of the world. They are all cut to the same pattern: heartfelt dedication to the cause and person of Baha’u’llah, zeal in the advancement of their ideals. They ask no salaries, want no honor, and are literally more interested in giving than in receiving. Typical were two Baha’i women I met in Chichicastenango. They had been in this Guatemalan village for two years and had won two converts among the Maya-Quichés. “Isn’t this slow progress?” I asked. “That all depends on how you figure it,” I was told. “Who knows the power or the value of one soul?”
The Baha’i faith may have been slow in getting started in America because of its ambitious and altruistic world-uniting program. It may have put the cart before the horse. It may have oversold Baha’u’llah on the basis of the oneness of all faiths. But a second look shows that by way of its devotion and the opening door, it may loose itself from captivity. It may also be that the minister was quite right when he said, “If these Baha’is ever get going, they may take the country by storm!””
Published in The Christian Century, Volume 74, Number 15 (April 10, 1957)
Major Wellesley Tudor Pole was a writer, philosopher and English mystic. He authored many pamphlets and books and was a life long pursuer of religious experiences and mystical visions, being particularly involved with spiritualism and the Glastonbury movement.
“The fundamental truths of life and conduct as proclaimed through Jesus have been reaffirmed in picturesque language by the Bahá’í leaders, this reaffirmation being worded to meet the needs of our complex modern “civilisation”. The Founders of both these Faiths possessed outstanding powers of healing and seership.”
“What is the special appeal voiced by Bahá’u’lláh and his son, which has resulted in so many of their followers the world over asserting that they are no longer Jews, Christians, Moslems or Buddhists, as such but have become Bahá’ís? The answer may well be that as each religious revelation becomes crystallised, dogmatic and formal, the need arises for Truth to be restated in terms that conform to the needs of the new hour.”
“The most abiding impression I received from intimate contact with him was his immense breadth of outlook, permeated with the spirit of deep and loving kindness. Whatever the topic under discussion – ranging from religion to the weather, from sunsets to the flowers, from ethics to personal behaviour, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá always struck the universal note, the note of Oneness as between the Creator and all His creation, great or small.”
“He was a man of great spiritual stature and prophetic vision and I shall always cherish the affection he bestowed upon me and the inspiration that his life and example have given to me ever since he first came into my life in I908…
Although of a little less than medium height, Abdu’l Bahá made an impression on all who met him by his dignity, friendliness, and his aura of spiritual authority. His blue-grey eyes radiated a luminosity of their own and his hands were beautiful in their grace and healing magnetism. Even his movements were infused with a kind of radiance.
His compassion for the aged, for children and the down-trodden knew no bounds. I remember once after he had visited a Salvation Army refuge near the Embankment, in London, tears came to his eyes. He could not understand how a wealthy nation like Britain could allow such poverty and loneliness in its midst. He spoke about this to Archdeacon Wilberforce of Westminster Abbey and to Dr. R. J. Campbell of the City Temple and he provided a sum of money through London’s Lord Mayor for the succour of the poor and derelict, then so prominent a feature of the London scene.
In speaking to me, he often referred to the need for providing food and sustinence for those in want, as a primary requisite to supplying moral and spiritual food for the heart and for the mind.”
“I well remember him, majestic yet gentle, pacing up and down the garden whilst he spoke to me about eternal realities, at a time when the whole material world was rocking on its foundations. The power of the spirit shone through his presence, giving one the feeling that a great prophet from Old Testament days had risen up in a war-stricken world, to guide and inspire all who would listen to hlm.”
“Though by no means a fanatic, I am bound to say that my visit to these places, sacred to Bahá’u’lláh and his son, have deepened my conviction that the Bahá’í movement has an important part to play in the religious regeneration of the world, and especially the Eastem world.”
From The Silent Road, 1960
“This, then, is our mission: that we who are made in the image of God should remember that all men are made in God’s image. To this divine knowledge we owe all we are, all we hope for. We are rising gradually toward that image, and we owe it to our fellow men to aid them in returning to it in the Glory of God… It is a celestial privilege and with it comes a high responsibility, from which there is no escape.
In the Palace of Bahjí , or Delight, just outside the Fortress of ‘Akká, on the Syrian coast, there died a few months since, a famous Persian sage, the Bábí Saint, named Bahá’u’lláh-the “Glory of God”-the head of that vast reform party of Persian Muslims, who accept the New Testament as the Word of God and Christ as the Deliverer of men, who regard all nations as one, and all men as brothers. Three years ago he was visited by a Cambridge scholar and gave utterance to sentiments so noble, so Christlike, that we repeat them as our closing words:
“That all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religions should cease and differences of race be annulled. What harm is there in this? Yet so it shall be. These fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the ‘Most Great Peace’ shall come. Do not you in Europe need this also? Let not a man glory in this, that he loves his country; let him rather glory in this, that he loves his kind.”
Spoken at the Columbian Exposition of 1893, Chicago.
R. J. Campbell was an English Congregational Minister, who, at the turn of the 20th century, occupied the pulpit of one of the most prestigious churches in England – the City Temple in London. From
this pulpit, Campbell began to articulate a doctrinal position which he termed “The New Theology”. Campbell invited ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to give His first ever public address at the City Temple in 10th September 1911.
(The Bahá’í movement) “is one of the most remarkable religious movements of this or any age, a movement which includes, I understand, at least three million souls… The Bahá’í movement, as it is called, in Hither Asia rose on that soil just as spontaneously as Christianity rose in the middle territories adjoining, and that faith – which, by the way, is very closely akin to, I think I might say identical with, the spiritual purpose of Christianity – that movement stands for the spiritual unity of mankind; it stands for universal peace among the nations. These are good things, and the man (‘Abdu’l-Bahá) who teaches them and commends them to three millions of followers must be a good man as well as a great.”
Kahlil Gibran was a Lebanese-American writer, poet, artist and philosopher. Since its publication in 1923, his inspirational book,The Prophet, has never been out of print and remains an international best-seller.
Juliet Thompson wrote that Gibran “got hold of some of the Arabic of Bahá’u’lláh. He said it was the most stupendous literature that ever was written, and that…there was no Arabic that even touched the Arabic of Bahà’u’llàh.””
Later Gibran met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. “He simply adored the Master. He was with Him whenever he could be,” wrote Thompson. “He told me that when he wrote The Son of Man, he thought of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá all through. He said that he was going to write another book with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as the centre and all the contemporaries of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá speaking. He died before he wrote it. He told me definitely that The Son of Man was influenced by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.”