Modern Baha’is understand the building of the House of Worship to be the duty of the Baha’i administration. But a little-known fact is that Baha’u’llah actually gives this duty to the people, not the institutions:
“O people of the world! Build 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, Kitab i Aqdas
Indeed, the first House of Worship in Ishqabad was built by the people. Haji Mirza Muhammad Taqi Afnan, Vakilu’d-Dawlih, maternal cousin of the Bab, took the individual initiative to build the temple. He largely paid for and supervised the building of the House of Worship, spending nearly all of his personal fortune.
Why do we not see such examples of individual initiative in the Baha’i community today? This excerpt from former Baha’i Juan Cole’s ‘Reply to Peter Khan Talk in New Zealand’ may shed some light on that:
‘The national budget of the US community in the 1990s was only about $20 million a year on average. The Universal House of Justice took an average of $6 million a year from that. It impoverished the US community. It funneled enormous amounts of money to these projects. Local communities were left strapped. And when one local community expressed its aspiration to build a local Mashriqu’l-Adhkar (house of worship), the UHJ sent agents out to bully these devoted Baha’is and make it clear to them that such a step (which would, after all, interfere with building terraces in Haifa) was out of the question, and they should shut up and sit down, Or Else. Yet `Abdu’l-Baha commanded the building of local houses of worship, which he said was an urgent goal… In the meantime, local communities have to sit on the floor of someone’s apartment during Feast…'”
I haven’t seen a source for Cole’s claim that the UHJ sent agents to antagonize the local community’s initiative to build a house of worship, but as a Baha’i whose own initiatives have been pushed back against by Baha’i administration, I fully believe it.
The Baha’i administration is hostile to individual initiative. It is common to hear stories of the Baha’i administration pressuring local assemblies to sell or cease leasing buildings. Why? A quick look at the annual budget of the local assembly will make the reason clear.
Baha’is tend to be both wealthy and generous, so local Baha’i communities receive lots of money in donations. But even though these donations are made specifically to local assemblies, the local assembly spends a very small fraction of what it receives. The rest gets “funneled up” to the National Spiritual Assembly and the U H J, resulting in these institutions collecting enormous amounts of wealth.
But if Baha’i communities were to build temples and Baha’i centers, they would have significantly less money left over to get “funneled up” to the higher levels of the Baha’i administration. This is one of the major reasons why the Baha’i administration hates seeing local Baha’i communities building their own Baha’i centers, or God forbid, Houses of Worship.
Now that we have made the problem clear, let’s talk about the solution. First, we should make clear that the Baha’i administration’s oppression of individual initiative has no political solution. We cannot convince the Baha’i administration to change its ways. For 20 years people have protested, but it is hopeless because the Baha’i administration is an administration of idolaters who worship their own plans. They will never admit they are wrong, despite the fact that Baha’u’llah never granted the UHJ or any other institution infallibility, and despite the fact that Baha’u’llah even explicitly said that he has no partner in the most great infallibility. Since we cannot convince the Baha’i administration to solve the problem for us, we must solve the problem on our own.
Baha’is need to gain the courage to take individual initiative to build Houses of Worship in defiance of the UHJ. They should not fear punitive action from the UHJ, instead putting their faith in God and Baha’u’llah, gaining strength from knowing that they are on their side. Baha’u’llah says:
“Blessed is the strong one who shatters the idols of delusions in the name of his Lord, the owner of the worlds” –Baha’u’llah
Be a Strong One, who fears only God, and not delusions such as UHJ’s supposed infallibility.
“He Who is the Dawning-place of God’s Cause hath no partner in the Most Great Infallibility.” –Baha’u’llah
Have faith in Baha’u’llah and never allow yourself to be convinced of dogmas invented by others. Anything not made explicit by Baha’u’llah can be questioned. And you can be certain that any attempts to override what Baha’u’llah explicitly said are false teachings. Baha’is must wholeheartedly reject the notion that the Baha’i administration can abrogate Baha’u’llah’s giving of the duty of the building of the Houses of Worship to the people. Baha’is must defy the Baha’i administration out of respect for Baha’u’llah’s word and do what Baha’u’llah tells them to do, and not what the UHJ tells them to do. Baha’is loyal to Baha’u’llah must band together and build Houses of Worship on their own, without fearing what the Baha’i administration would think.
What about resources? Isn’t it costly to build a House of Worship? It’s true that it is costly to build a grand House of Worship like the one in Wilmette or New Delhi, but according to Abdul Baha, it is of secondary importance for the House of Worship to be grand. Abdul Baha says:
“God willing, in all the states of America in the future there will be erected Temples with infinite architectural beauty, art, with pleasing proportion and handsome and attractive appearances; especially in New York. But for the present, be ye satisfied with a rented place.”
(Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Abbas, p. 437)
“…an edifice or temple is to be built in order that humanity might find a place of meeting, and this is to be conducive to unity and fellowship among them.” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 65)
As to the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár, it is of the utmost importance. The purpose is this: A spot should be designated, even if it is a small place beneath layers of earth and stone, and it should, out of prudence, be kept hidden and concealed lest it arouse the hostility of the mischief-makers. At least once a week, it should become the gathering place of the chosen friends who have discovered the secrets and become the intimates of divine mysteries. It may assume any form, for even if it be an underground pit, that pit shall become a sheltering paradise, an exalted bower, and a garden of delight. It shall become a centre wherein the spirits are gladdened and the hearts attracted to the Abhá Kingdom. (From a Tablet—translated from the Persian)
“Gracious God! The edifice of the House of Worship hath a powerful influence on every phase of life. Experience hath, in the east, clearly shown this to be a fact. Even if, in some small village, a house was designated as the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár, it produced a marked effect; how much greater would be the impact of one especially raised up.” (Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, no. 60.1)
The last two quotes especially make it clear that a building does not have to be grand in order to be a Mashriqu’l-Adhkár. So Baha’is have no excuse not to build Houses of Worship. Buy a small house, or rent one, designate it as a “House of Worship,” and then as far as the Baha’i writings are concerned, this will be a legitimate Mashriqu’l-Adhkár.
So please, obey Baha’u’llah and build the Houses of Worship. Even a small Baha’i community typically has more than enough resources to do this. The only reason why they would not is because they lack courage, initiative, or because their faith in the UHJ is greater than their faith in Baha’u’llah.
Reference : The Caravan, Volume 6, Edition 2