The Pilgrims’ Hostel & the Mashriq
Posted by Sen on February 7, 2010
I think the meaning is wider than simply “pilgrim’s hostel.” This is borne out by the Persian term used:
The Mashriqu’l-Adhkar is one of the most vital institutions in the world, and it hath many subsidiary branches. Although it is a House of Worship, it is also connected with a hospital, a drug dispensary, a traveller’s hospice [musaafer-khaneh], a school for orphans, and a university for advanced studies. (Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, 99; Persian text here)
and by Shoghi Effendi’s alternative description here:
[the House of Worship] is to be supplemented by accessory institutions of social service to be established in its vicinity, such as an orphanage, a hospital, a dispensary for the poor, a home for the incapacitated, a hostel for travelers and a college for the study of arts and sciences (God Passes By, 350)
One reason for travel might be to visit the House of Worship, either because it is especially important, or for a particular commemoration that is hosted there; another would be to attend the classes of a particular teacher. The practice of travelling, as part of one’s education, was culturally imbedded in Islamic societies and in the Sufi tradition. Travel is also a very effective way of binding a community: I’ve witnessed it recently in relation to the Maramatanga movement in New Zealand, where various commemoration days during the year are each hosted at a different meeting-place, and there is an annual trip down the Whanganui river, extending over many days and stopping at various places of habitation along the way.
This is not necessarily something for Bahais to postpone to the far future when their communities are larger. The example of the Maramatanga shows that the travel and intercourse between local communities can be a source of unity and a means of retaining members and raising participation. It has served the Maramatanga well as a way of inducting new generations into the community. In 1928, Shoghi Effendi reported that Bahai communities in Iran were establishing Bahai schools, hostels and libraries and public baths, as well as buildings to conduct their administrative work. (The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, 77). In 1946 he welcomed similar development in India, again mentioning hostels as one of the first institutions to be formed. (Messages to the Indian Subcontinent, 273)
I have in fact seen one local Bahai community, at Burnlaw in England, which has its own small Mashriqu’l-Adhkar, and gardens, with a large and attractive room nearby suitable for meetings and generously supplied with matrasses for visitors. More important, it has the people and facilities to make visitors welcome. If you know of any more local Mashriqu’l-Adhkars, or Bahai communities that have travellers’ hostels, please use the comments section to tell us about them.