Modern Age

Baha'u'llah made testamentary provisions for his eldest son, 'Abdu'l-Baha, to become the head of the Baha'i community and the sole authorized interpreter of the Baha'i scriptures. When 'Abdu'l-Baha took over the leadership of the Baha'i community after his father's death in 1892, it was confined geographically to the Middle East, Central Asia, and India and was largely Iranian in culture. A number of Jews and Zoroastrians had become Baha'is but most Baha'is were converts from Islam, although there were a number of second-generation Baha'is becoming prominent in the community. During the first decade of his leadership, 'Abdu'l-Baha defended his position against an attack on his leadership by his half-brother. Meanwhile fledgling Baha'i communities were established in North America and Europe. This development gained impetus from a stream of visitors from the West who began to arrive in 'Akka from 1899 onward, spending some time with 'Abdu'l-Baha and learning more about their religion.

The second decade of 'Abdu'l-Baha's leadership focused on his travels through Egypt, Europe, and North America, strengthening these Baha'i communities. In addition, the Baha'i community of Ashkhabad in Russian Turkmenistan became the most highly developed Baha'i community in the world with elected Baha'i institutions, schools, meetings halls, and the first Baha'i House of Worship (Mashriqu'l-Adhkar). The Iranian Baha'i community gained great influence in Iranian society by its advocacy of reform and its networks of more than eighty schools, which were available to girls as well as boys and open to all. Despite ongoing persecution from the Islamic religious leadership, the religion was spreading in Iran and in much of the Middle East.

'Abdu'l-Baha appointed his grandson, Shoghi Effendi, as the head of the Baha'i Faith and the authorized interpreter of its scriptures, with the title of the Guardian of the Baha'i Faith. On assuming this position in 1922, Shoghi Effendi immediately began the process of establishing the Baha'i administrative institutions that had been mandated in Baha'u'llah's writings and had come into existence in rudimentary form during the time of 'Abdu'l-Baha.

Effendi created new procedures for the election of leaders, based on Baha'i ideals of avoiding divisiveness—in this case the conflict inherent in party politics and electioneering. He defined their functions, the extent and limits of their authority and advised on their relationship with the Baha'i community. He instructed them on their procedures and in particular the consultative decision-making process that is distinctive to Baha'i communities. He described the role of the elected officers of these institutions and the qualities that the elected members should seek to acquire in order to perform their role.

When Shoghi Effendi assumed leadership of the Baha'i community, it had a social structure very similar to other traditional religious communities, with a class of assertive men leading passive congregations. As he built up the elected institutions of the community, he emphasized that these institutions, rather than individuals, were to be authoritative in the community. He encouraged the Baha'is to take issues and questions that they would previously have addressed to 'Abdu'l-Baha or one of the leading Baha'is to these elected institutions.

Another central concern of Shoghi Effendi was to establish the identity and independence of the Baha'i Faith from Islam. When an Egyptian Muslim religious court thought that they were striking a blow against the Baha'i Faith by declaring, in a marriage case in 1925, that the Baha'i Faith was not part of Islam, Shoghi Effendi hailed this as a great triumph and urged the Baha'is to build on this. He also greatly developed the Baha'i World Centre in the Haifa-'Akka area, purchasing buildings of significance in Baha'i history and developing extensive gardens around the holiest sites.

Verdict of the Islamic Court in Egypt pronouncing the Baha'i Faith to be an independent religion May 10, 1925
Resolution of the Council of the League of Nations upholding the claim of the Baha'i Community to the House of Baha'u'llah in Baghdad March 4, 1929
Passing of the Greatest Holy Leaf July, 1932
Inception of the First American Seven Year Plan April, 1937
Centenary celebration of the founding of the Baha'i Faith and the opening of the first All-American Baha'i Convention May 23, 1944
Dedication of the Mother Temple of the West in Wilmette, Illinois, U.S.A. May 2, 1953
Inception of the Ten Year Baha'i Teaching and Consolidation Plan May 3, 1953
Completion of the Superstructure of the Shrine of the Bab on Mt. Carmel October, 5953
Completion of the International Baha'i Archives Building on Mt. Carmel September, 1957
Passing of Shoghi Effendi November 4, 1957
Dedication of the Mother Temple of Africa in Kampala, Uganda January 55, 1961
Dedication of the Mother Temple of Australia in Sydney, Australia September 16, 1961
Completion of the Ten Year Crusade April 1963
First election of the Universal House of Justice 21 April 1963
First Baha'i World Congress in London April 1963
Launching of the Nine Year Plan April 1964
Dedication of the Mother Temple of Europe, near Frankfurt, Germany 4 July 1964
His Highness Malietoa Tanumafili II of Samoa becomes a Baha'i 19 February 1968
Establishment of the Continental Board of Counsellors 21 June 1968
The Baha'i International Community accredited with consultative status to the United Nations  Economic and Social Council 27May 1970
Dedication of the Mother Temple of Central America, Panama 29 April 1972
Adoption by the Universal House of Justice of its Constitution 26 November 1972
Establishment of the International Teaching Centre 5 June 1973
Launching of the Five Year International Teaching Plan April 1974
Launching of the Seven Year International Teaching Plan April 1979
Occupation by the Universal House of Justice of its Permanent Seat January 1983
Dedication of the first House of Worship of the Pacific Islands 1 September 1984
Launching of the Six Year International Teaching Plan April 1986
Dedication of the Mother Temple of the Indian subcontinent, New Delhi 23-27 December 1986
Establishment of the Baha'i of the Environment 26 0ctober 1989
Establishment of the Office of Huququ'llah in Haifa in the Holy Land November 1991
Commemoration of the Centenary of the Passing of Baha'u'llah 29 May 1992
Second Baha'i World Congress November 1992
Launching of Three Year Plan April 1993
Launching of Four Year Plan April 1996
Launching of first of four successive Five Year Plans April 2001
Opening of theTerraces to the Shrine of the Bab June 2001

Shoghi Effendi established close links between the Baha'i Faith and the emerging global society. He set up the International Baha'i Bureau in Geneva to liaise with the League of Nations and later, in 1948, the Baha'i International Community to liaise with the United Nations. The Baha'i International Community has established relationships with many of the agencies of the United Nations (such as ECOSOC, UNICEF, and WHO), attended numerous United Nations conferences, and presented statements at these.

Following the death of Shoghi Effendi in 1957, there was a brief period when the Baha'i Faith was led by a group of senior Baha'is called the Hands of the Cause, whom Shoghi Effendi had appointed and whom he had designated as "chief stewards" of the Baha'i administrative order. This body oversaw the final years of the Ten-Year Plan that Shoghi Effendi had inaugurated and then arranged for the election of the Universal House of Justice in 1963.

The Universal House of Justice is a body called for by Baha'u'llah in his writings as the supreme body of the Baha'i world. After its election in 1963, it initially concentrated on the task of spreading the Baha'i Faith to all corners of the world and on establishing Baha'i institutions wherever there were Baha'i communities. From about 1996, however, the Universal House of Justice began to promote plans to develop Baha'i communities and empower individual Baha'is to take on responsibility for both planning and carrying out community activities and social development projects. Training institutes were designed to help individuals to develop themselves spiritually and to gain the skills and confidence to engage both in the consultation process and in acts of service to the community. The Baha'is in each area began to meet in order to consult and plan community action programs. This new direction and process is still in its early phases of development and it remains to be seen how effective it will be.

Study Questions:
     1.     To what new areas did the Baha'i Faith spread under ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s leadership and what role did he play in this spread?
     2.     What developments were there in the Baha'i community in Asia during ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s leadership?
     3.     What steps did Shoghi Effendi take to build up the Baha'i administrative structure?
     4.     What style of leadership did Shoghi Effendi adopt?
     5.     In what way did the plans that the Universal House of Justice made for the Baha'i community after about 1986 differ from those before?

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