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Mashriqu’l-adhkar types

This was a contribution to the development of an encyclopaedia artilce on the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar.
It deals with some finer points: for the general principles see the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar Handbook.

To: DD, research into history
Subject: Mashriq ul-Adhkar – discussion continued
Date sent: Mon, 14 Apr 2008

Perhaps it would help to consider the various texts that speak of the
Bahai Mashriq’ul-adhkars with a three-level model in mind, rather than
a 2-level model that only differentiates between mashriqs which are
entirely in the private sphere, such as those in a home or within an
institution (school, hospital, business), versus the “fully developed
institution” which is communal and is initiated, funded and under the
control of the local House of Justice. Could there also be a
distinction between public mashriqs, in general, and that specific
Mashriq which is located near and functions with the Haziratu’l-Quds
as two parts of one centre (God Passes By 339-40; WOB 80; Messages
America 24; 156-7; Bahai Admin 186). What I suggest is that it is not
necessary, nor could it have been reasonably expected, that all
Mashriqs would have this special relationship to a Haziratu’l-Quds. In
the first place, there is geography: multiple mashriqs in a larger
town are required for dawn prayers, in particular. But they might also
be required for different rites: for worship in Persian and Arabic
versus worship in the vernacular or in significant immigrant
languages, or for those who like gregorian chanting and those who like
long quakerish silences, and so on. In the various texts (mainly from
Shoghi Effendi) that speak of a Mashriq having a special relationship
to the Haziratu’l-quds, I see nothing that indicates that every public
Mashriq should have that relationship, only that one must. Nor do I
see anything in the texts regarding the function of the Mashriq and
its dependencies to say that every Mashriq must have a
Haziratu’l-quds. And since physical proximity to the Haziratu’l-quds
is necessary to the contribution which the Mashriq makes to the HQ,
but Mashriqs must have been expected to be spread out, it seems likely
to me that this relationship is envisioned for one Mashriq in each
location only.

That leaves us with an intermediate category, and the question is,
from what little we have in the Writings, and from the principles of
justice and good administration, what can we say about it? You seem to
be agreed that a family Mashriq, or one that is entirely in the
private sphere, would be under the control of the family or
institution of which it is a part. Assembly control there would be
impractical, and in breach of the respect for private propherty and
the private sphere which is generally characteristic of Bahai
teachings and laws. Could we then conclude then that if — for example
— the French-speaking Bahais of Leiden got together to build a
Mashriq for worship in French (as we have a Wallonian church here, as
a heritage from the Hugenots), they are free to form their own Board
of Trustees and by-laws and do whatever they like, within Bahai law? I
don’t think so, because there is a Bahai law that a place once
dedicated to worship cannot be used for anything else, and in the case
of Bahai Mashriqs, it would be the local House of Justice that would
be expected to bear the burden that this imposes, if the
initiative-takers became unable to do so. Yet all people are called on
to “build the House (of worship)” in one sense or other, so the Bahai
administrative principles cannot take away this right of initiative —
it could not be that only Houses of Justice are permitted to build
Bahai Mashriqs.

I cope with this (for now) by noting the concept of dedication or
consecration which appears several times, in the Aqdas law concerning
places of worship and in Shoghi Effendi’s writings (eg Bahai
Administration 163). Would it not be reasonable to suppose that
individuals are free, in their homes or in groups, to build Mashriqs,
but that the act of formally consecrating the building, entailing as
it does an obligation on Bahais everywhere and the local House of
Justice in particular to ensure that the building is thereafter used
only for worship, could only be validly performed with the approval of
the House of Justice or the Head of the Faith? (the latter is
included, because dedicated communal mashriqs have been built or begun
in places with no local or national Assembly, as in Wilmette, but so
far as I know always with the permission of the Head of the Faith).

The question here is not crystal-ball gazing, but rather what sort of
background assumption about the Mashriq in society was in the mind of
Abdu’l-Baha, in particular, that would explain his differing uses of
the term. Apart from the distinction he makes between a Mashriq site
that is not yet built and a dedicated building, I know of nothing
explicit, so we have to deduce what sort of distinction he might have
had in mind.

Where the Master uses the term mashriqu’l-adhkar to refer to a
dedicated private space, as in the home, he could not have envisioned
that it would eventually develop all the service institutions and
features of a full-fledged Mashriq. That would have been an
unreasonable expectation. Moreover, the world he lived in was full of
places of worship, usually small, which were controlled by the family
or institution of which they are a part. So it is reasonable to
suppose that he thinks of private mashriqs as a separate category, and
he does not seem to apply the rule that consecration must be permanent
to them, nor expect them to develop ancillary institutions.

The Islamic world also recognised a distinction between the Friday
mosque and public mosques in general: this being forced on Islam by
growth and urbanisation and by the maturation of Islamic civilization.
The early idea that only one mosque per place was permitted became
impractical for the daily obligatory prayers, and the development of
Islamic institutions such as schools and waqf required a more flexible
approach. Such public mosques would have their immediate
administration, such as an Imam or waqf administrator, while falling
ultimately under some form of city authority such as the Shaykh
al-Islam, the Imam of the Friday mosque, etc..

Sorry this is rushed and muddled, I am packing to travel, and will be
out of touch for a week or so. I hope you get something from it

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