The term Mashriqu’l-Adhkár is used in the writings of Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendi to refer to a gathering of Bahá’ís worshiping and praising God through use of sacred scripture, especially at dawn; to a building dedicated to such worship; to the complex of buildings surrounding a central House of Worship that Bahá’u’lláh ordained to be at the heart of every Bahá’í community and that is to include educational and humanitarian service institutions open to people of all religions; and to the central House of Worship, or Temple, itself. Only Bahá’ís may contribute funds to the building and operation of a Mashriqu’l-Adhkár. As is generally the case with Bahá’í institutions, the development of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár as an institution is both gradual and evolutionary.
In His book of laws, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (Most Holy Book), Bahá’u’lláh describes the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár as a building erected in a city or village for the worship of God.1 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, whose ministry spanned the period 1892–1921, encouraged the Bahá’ís to establish Mashriqu’l-Adhkárs in every “hamlet and city”; if this were not possible due to severe persecution, He advised, the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár could even be “underground.” Many Bahá’í communities in Iran and in the Transcaspian Territory in Russia designated ordinary houses in their localities as Mashriqu’l-Adhkárs.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá also referred to the dependencies to be established as part of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár complex, including a hospital, a drug dispensary for the poor, a travelers’ hospice, a school for orphans, a home for the infirm and disabled, a university for advanced studies, and “other philanthropic buildings” open to people of all races, ethnic backgrounds, and religions.4These dependencies were later described by Shoghi Effendi, in general terms, as “institutions of social service” that relieve suffering, sustain the poor, and provide shelter, solace, and education. At the beginning of the twentieth century, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá oversaw the construction of the first such Mashriqu’l-Adhkár complex, built in Ashgabat (Ashkhabad) in Russia’s Transcaspian Territory (now Turkmenistan). He also approved the site and design for the first Mashriqu’l-Adhkár in the West, near Chicago, and participated in laying its cornerstone.
The changing pace and character of Bahá’í administrative development after 1921 influenced the development of the institution of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár. As Head of the Bahá’í Faith from 1921 to 1957, Shoghi Effendi directed the evolution of the Bahá’í Administrative Order and the Faith’s worldwide expansion. During much of this period, he maintained completing the first House of Worship of the West as the primary focus of Temple building. After the dedication of the Temple near Chicago in 1953, he gave priority to two aspects of Mashriqu’l-Adhkár development at the national and international levels: (1) erecting a few large, specially built Houses of Worship, one on each continent, as examples of the edifices that will eventually be built in every nation and locality; and (2) obtaining properties in each country for future Temples and dependencies. He also concentrated the efforts of Bahá’í communities around the world on acquiring national and local Hazíratu’l-Quds (a term meaning “Sacred Fold”), Bahá’í administrative centers that may also be used for a variety of community functions. An institution complementary to the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár, the Hazíratu’l-Quds is to be situated near the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár, if possible. Both are under the jurisdiction of the national or local Bahá’í governing council, at present known as the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of that country or locality.
The Universal House of Justice, established in 1963, has continued to pursue the two priorities set by Shoghi Effendi for Mashriqu’l-Adhkár development. Nearing the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, seven continental Houses of Worship exist in various areas of the globe, administered by the National Spiritual Assemblies of their respective countries, and an eighth is being built. As yet, none of the Houses of Worship include the range of subsidiary institutions that will eventually be part of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár complex.
The House of Worship in Ashgabat most closely resembled the ideal of a Mashriqu’l-Adhkár complex. Although it functioned for a relatively short time, the model created in Ashgabat continues to set the standard for the Mashriqu’l-Adhkárs of the future.
The Mashriqu’l-Adhkár is to be an integral part of Bahá’í community life. Its central building, the House of Worship, is specifically dedicated to prayer, meditation, and praising God. Because the aim of this structure, as of all Bahá’í institutions, is to foster and encourage unity, the building is open to all, not just Bahá’ís. In an address on the occasion of the laying of the cornerstone of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár in Wilmette, near Chicago, in 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explained: “the original purpose of temples and houses of worship is simply that of unity—places of meeting where various peoples, different races and souls of every capacity may come together in order that love and agreement should be manifest between them . . . that all religions, races and sects may come together within its universal shelter.”
In keeping with the Bahá’í Faith’s devotional practices and its emphasis on universality, the auditorium of the House of Worship and the activities within it are kept simple. Images and pictures are excluded from the auditorium. No altars, pulpits, or fixed speaker’s platforms are erected. No talks or sermons are delivered, and no elaborate ceremonies practiced. Since the Bahá’í Faith has no clergy, no one person leads devotions in the auditorium of the House of Worship. During devotional programs, invited readers, who may be adherents of any religion, recite or chant the holy scriptures of the Bahá’í Faith and of other religions. Music, which is regarded as an important part of the worship and praise of God, may be included in the devotional services in the auditorium of the House of Worship. Only music based on words of holy scripture and sung a cappella by a choir or soloists is used in the auditorium; recorded and instrumental music are not permitted there.
Although no specific day of the week or time of day is set aside for worship, Bahá’u’lláh, in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, encourages the Bahá’ís to go to the House of Worship at dawn and sit in silence, listening to the scriptures being read. He also exhorts parents to teach their children to chant the verses of God so that they may recite them in the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár.
The subsidiary buildings and the grounds around the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár may be used for a variety of purposes. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote on one occasion of His wish that a great feast be held on the site of the Wilmette Mashriqu’l-Adhkár during the Ridvan festival (the annual period from 21 April to 2 May commemorating Bahá’u’lláh’s declaration of His mission to His companions in Baghdad in 1863) and that on this occasion the melodies of the violin and the mandolin might be heard. Events similar to the one ‘Abdu’l-Bahá described have been held at various Houses of Worship. For example, from 28 March to 6 April 1986, during the United Nations International Year of Peace, the grounds of the House of Worship near Sydney, Australia, were the site of a Peace Exposition that included an eight-hour concert and a variety of musical presentations. On 22 November 2000 the opening ceremony for an international “Colloquium on Science, Religion and Development,” which took place on the grounds of the Bahá’í House of Worship in New Delhi, featured a concert of classical Indian music performed on traditional instruments. An annual daylong Sommerfest with music, dance, devotions, and international foods is held on the grounds of the House of Worship near Frankfurt, Germany, attracting thousands of participants from all parts of Europe.
The Mashriqu’l-Adhkár, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explains, is a “material structure” that has “a spiritual effect” and, indeed, “a powerful influence on every phase of life.” Its purpose is not fulfilled by worship alone; it must inspire the direct actions of those working to regenerate the life of humanity. The dependencies surrounding the Temple link worship to service to humanity; the prayers and praise of God expressed within the Temple are translated into deeds of compassion, care, and education in the world outside.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi refer to the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár as a witness to and an embodiment of the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh—a “silent teacher”—and as a stimulus to the spreading of those teachings. “When the foundation of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár is laid in America,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá predicted, “and that Divine Edifice is completed, a most wonderful and thrilling motion will appear in the world of existence . . . From that point of light the spirit of teaching, spreading the Cause of God and promoting the teachings of God, will permeate to all parts of the world.”
Bahá’u’lláh urges that Houses of Worship be made “as perfect as is possible in the world of being” and that they be befittingly adorned. The House of Worship has three prerequisites: it is to be circular shape, to have nine sides, and to be surrounded by nine gardens with walkways. The emphasis on the number nine comes from the understanding that this number, the largest single digit, symbolizes perfection, comprehensiveness, and unity. Nine is also the numerical value of the Arabic word bahá (light, glory) according to the ancient abjad system, in which each letter of the alphabet is accorded numerical significance.
Certain features, although not compulsory, have come to be accepted in building a Mashriqu’l-Adhkár. The laying of a cornerstone containing tokens associated with the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is customary. A dome is not one of the essential features specified by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, but Shoghi Effendi advised in 1955 that “at this time all Bahá’í temples should have a dome.” While the structures must be nine-sided, they do not necessarily need nine doorways. The seats in the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár usually face the qiblih or point toward which Bahá’ís should turn in prayer—the burial place of Bahá’u’lláh near Acre, located in what is now Israel, but Shoghi Effendi specifically instructed that the House of Worship not have a special window “oriented toward the East [i.e., the qiblih].”
Aside from a few specific instructions, no strict guidelines for a House of Worship’s architectural style and no formal expectations for its design have been set. “The essentials of the design, as stipulated by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá are that the building should be nine-sided, and circular in shape,” Shoghi Effendi explains. “Aside from this, the architect is not restricted in any way in choosing his style of design.” Moreover, the architect need not be a Bahá’í. To date, architects who were not affiliated with the Bahá’í Faith have designed two Houses of Worship—in Frankfurt and Panama—and in other cases, as in Ashgabat and Sydney, have played a collaborative role in realizing the design.
Shoghi Effendi urges that the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár be built in an enduring style, rather than one that may be popular only for a time, and describes the ideal design as being “dignified,” with a “delicate architectural beauty” and a “graceful” outline. Future Mashriqu’l-Adhkár complexes will undoubtedly continue to reflect a strong diversity in their style and inspiration, often including the incorporation of indigenous architectural influences in the design.
The House of Worship is replete with symbolic meanings beyond those associated with its physical form and structure. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá describes such buildings as “symbols of the reality and divinity of God.” At the dedication of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár site in Wilmette in 1912, He expressed the hope that the Temple to be built there might become like the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár in Ashgabat, which He described as “a beautiful bouquet” with the potential to become “a paradise” when completed. Such imagery has found realistic form in the inclusion of gardens and in some cases pools of water in the design of the various Mashriqu’l-Adhkár complexes.
Shoghi Effendi referred to the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár in Wilmette as “the Harbinger” of Bahá’u’lláh’s world order and, in a 1939 cablegram, as an “ARK” that would survive a “TIDAL WAVE” of “WORLD-ENCIRCLING CALAMITIES.” Shoghi Effendi applied the term “Mother Temple” to the first House of Worship of the West and to the first to be built in various regions and countries, intimating that these first Temples would be the progenitors and models for many others to come. In ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s words, “Out of this Mashriqu’l-Adhkár, without doubt, thousands of Mashriqu’l-Adhkárs will be born.”
The House of Worship in Wilmette was likened by its architect, Louis Bourgeois, to a “Great Bell, calling to America.” The Temple in New Delhi, India, resembles the lotus flower, which, as it arises from the swamp with the utmost purity and perfection, symbolizes the Messenger of God in the world. Indeed, each of the Houses of Worship may be understood to be a symbol for Bahá’u’lláh as the Messenger, or Manifestation, of God for this age. “The real Collective Centers are the Manifestations of God, of Whom the church or temple is a symbol and expression,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states. “That is to say, the Manifestation of God is the real divine temple and Collective Center of which the outer church is but a symbol.”
HOUSES OF WORSHIP AROUND THE WORLD
- Ashgabat (Ashkhabad, ‘Ishqábád)
- Frankfurt am Main
- Panama City
- New Delhi