Bahá'í Temples

Bahá’í Temples

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The Bahá’í Faith is a relatively new world religion, growing out of the work of three Persian religious leaders: Siyyid Ali Mohammad, known as the Bab (1819–1850); Husayn Ali, who became known as Baha’u’llah (1817–1892); and Baha’u’llah’s son, Abdu’l-Baha (1844–1921). Among its basic principles are affirmations of the one God who created a single humanity. The faith also believes that periodically (every 500 to 1,000 years), God sends a messenger to act as his spokesperson on Earth. Collectively, they have given God’s one religion, the message of all the prophets being essentially the same. Bahá’ís recognize nine prophets: Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Krishna, Jesus, Muhammad, Bahá’u’lláh, and his forerunner, the Bab (which means “the Gate” in Arabic). (Baha’u’llah’s son, Abdu’lBaha, and his nephew, Shoghi Effendi [1896–1957], led the movement after Baha’u’llah’s death. After Shoghi Effendi passed away, a collective leadership emerged.)

The Bahá’í Faith now claims more than five million adherents scattered in more than 200 countries and worshiping in some 120,000 local centers worldwide. The movement grew steadily through the 1950s, but it made a large leap geographically in the 1960s when a concerted effort was made to open an initial Bahá’í center in every country.

The Bahá’í Faith does not build local centers. Instead, groups meet in homes or rented facilities, largely invisible on the religious landscape. However, the movement has placed on every continent a single house of worship or temple. No preaching or proselytizing occurs in the houses of worship. They are open daily for anyone to visit and engage in meditation or contemplation. The services that do take place at the temples consist entirely of recitations of the scriptures of the various religions.

The number nine holds great significance to Bahá’ís. As the highest single-digit number, nine symbolizes completeness. The Bahá’í Faith claims to fulfill the expectations of the prior religions and summarize the message of the nine prophets. The symbol of the faith is a nine-pointed star, and the symbolism is carried through in the Bahá’í temples, all of which are nine-sided with nine entrances. In each case, the nine sides reach upward to a single point.

An initial Bahá’í temple in Ishqabad, Turkmenistan, was completed in 1902. Shortly thereafter a second temple, in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette, Illinois, was begun; the groundbreaking took place on May 1, 1912, occasioned by Abdu’l-Baha’s visit to the United States. In the mid-1920s, Turkmenistan was incorporated into the Soviet Union. The U.S.S.R.’s anti-religion policies led authorities to expropriate the Turkmenistan temple in 1928, and a decade later it was converted into an art gallery. The building was damaged in an earthquake in 1948 and finally demolished in 1963. Meanwhile, work on the American temple proceeded at a very slow pace, and it was not ready for dedication until 1953.

Alongside the dramatic expansion of the faith in the 1960s, the program to construct a temple on every continent (except Antarctica) proceeded at a rapid pace. The additional temples followed a wide variety of styles within the basic requirement of having nine sides and doorways. The African temple opened in Uganda in 1961, followed by temples in Sydney, Australia (1961), Panama City, Panama (1972), Frankfurt, Germany (1974), western Samoa (1979), and Bahapour, India (1986). The foundation for the South American temple in Santiago, Chile, is scheduled to be laid in October 2008.

Sources:

Badiee, Julie. An Earthly Paradise: Bahá’í Houses of Worship around the World. Oxford: George Ronald, 1992.
“Fabrication Begins for Components on Bahá’í Temple in South America.” Posted at http://news.bahai.org/story/505. Accessed March 24, 2007.
Leiker, Benjamin. “Sacred Bahá’í Architecture.” Posted at http://bahai-library.com/?file=leiker_bahai_architecture.html. Accessed April 1, 2007.
Whitmore, Bruce W. The Dawning Place: The Building of a Temple, the Forging of the North American Bahá’í Community. Wilmette, IL: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1984.