Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Briefly Browsing Baha'i Books

The "Bab" and his Brethren

One warm afternoon back in the late 1990s, I sat calmly on a tour bus heading up to the port city of Haifa in Israel.  The tour was taking a group from Hebrew University to the most holy sites of the Baha'i religion, whose most historical sites were located along the Mediterranean coast in Haifa and Acre (Akko).  Among the vast gardens and terraced splendor of these sites--certainly some of the most exquisite botanical wonders I've ever seen--we were guided by a secular scholar of Baha'i Studies and told about its rich, yet troubled history; a history of struggle for adherents to the relatively new religion, dating back to the mid-19th century.  In short, the Baha'i religion was an off-shoot of Shi'a Islam in Persia about 150 years ago.  It was founded by a man named Baha'u'llah, based on the teachings of a man from Shiraz, considered a mystic by some.  This man's name was Sayyid 'Ali Muhammed, but took the name "Bab" (pronounced like "Bob," which means "gate" in Arabic).  Certainly, we must resist the modern cynicism that would joke at the nouveau religions and new age spirituality commonly found in California valleys, where cults and sects might be founded weekly by Berkley-trained computer engineers turned spiritualists named "Bob."  This is nothing like that.  The real "Bab" was executed in 1850 for his proclamations some six years earlier in 1844, which ruptured Shi'a practice and formed a following known as Babism.  Baha'ull'ah, whose original name was Mirza Husain Ali Nuri, took up the mantle of the Bab's ideas, and founded the Baha'i religion.  Through his prolific pen, he built the framework for this peace-seeking and meditative religion, which has grown to an international religion of 6+ million.  

More recently, this summer I took a drive to the only Baha'i Temple in North America, located just north of Chicago, in the suburb of Wilmette, IL.  I've been to this Temple dozens of times, but I wanted to check out the book selections in their book shop.  I also discovered a reading room and non-lending library.  At the left is a photo of one of the many ponds and fountains surrounding the great house of worship.

Sacred Writings and Utterances

The images below are from the Baha'i Bookshop, which is located in the basement of the Temple--yes, Temples have basements too!  I've visited the bookshop many times.  In the past, whenever I visited, I was greeted by a very soft-spoken man named "Kim," who wore the button mushroom coif similar to that of George Washington on the dollar bill and dark-tinted vintage deputy glasses.  We always had pleasant conversations about Babism, Baha'ism, the Temple, and of course world peace.  On this visit, as I bounded down the marbled stairs into the basement complex, I was greeted with a blast of air-conditioned air scented with funerary lilies, and a tall man in a white three-piece suit.  And it wasn't just that the coat was white, everything was white.  It was reminiscent of an encounter I had with the care-takers of the I AM Temple and Religion in downtown Chicago, who dress all in white, gaze vacuously into your soul, and retell the story of the reincarnated St. Germain (who incidentally was reincarnated as George Washington, according to the I AM Religion).  But the Baha'i and their white-clad greeter with his polished gold and ruby ring were neither St. Germainites, nor characters from a Chevy Chase movie.  This fine greeter smiled a broad, teethy smile and told me to "help myself" to the facility and bookshop, refraining from any missiological techniques...that were at least apparent to me.  

In the bookshop I met some other friendly people, traveling and visiting from various places.  We exchanged pleasantries, and then I perused the shelves to see what jewels of Baha'iana I might spy upon.  Of course, there were various sacred scriptures of the faith, as well as numerous "utterances" of chief Baha'i founding fathers (and mothers).  This image at left shows a sign reading "Writings and Utterances of Abdul-Baha (1844-1921)," who was the eldest son of Baha'u'llah, the founder of the Baha'i faith.

Of course, among the writings and utterances of the great men, women, and children, you will also find history and spirituality topics, as well as biographical items and more.  

This photo shows a wall in the bookshop dedicated specifically to Farsi language texts (the sign reads "Farsi" in Farsi).

Something For Everyone...and in Every Language

As Baha'i is a religious movement geared toward world expansion of belief (and I mean that in the most positive and kind way), it has and provides literature on its religion and practices translated into hundreds of languages, including Lithuanian and Lugandan seen here at left.  

Now for those of you not convinced of the Babic enterprises herein described, of the white-suited greeters telling of beautiful life and peace, of multi-lingual pamphleteering, or of a religion based upon the principles of "The Bab," I have one thing to ask you:  have you looked in a reflection pool lately?  That's what I thought.


  1. The last time I looked in a reflection pool I saw the most amazing person! Then I woke up.

    Thanks so much for the delightful tour or detour -- again a fascinating blog.

  2. The next time you are there, you might ask to see the Peace Quilts. My wife made a series of four large quilted tapestries depicting themes from a document, "The Promise of World Peace" which are on permanent display. They are at the entrance to the "Cornerstone Room" where the dedication of the Temple land is commemorated. Vickie gave birth to those tapestries in the Family Room of our former home in Las Cruces, New Mexico.