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Abdu’l-Baha’s Tablet of Meetings as Mashriqu’l-Adhkars

Posted by Sen on August 7, 2017

The Tablet below has been available in English only in a partial translation. It makes some interesting points about the centrality of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar in Abdu’l-Baha’s thinking, and is historically interesting for its restriction of meetings, presumably those in Iran, to nine persons, so as to avoid inciting opposition.

The Mashriqu’l-Adhkar or Bahai House of Worship, has a prominent place in Baha’u’llah’s ‘Most Great Book’, the Kitab-e Aqdas, which commands the people of the world to build houses of worship “throughout the lands.” It has a central place in Abdu’l-Baha’s writings, particularly his correspondence, where it is called “the greatest divine institute,” and it is named by Shoghi Effendi as one of the “two primary agencies” of the Bahai Faith and “the crowning institution in every Bahai community.” Baha’u’llah has given a rather direct indication of the kind of community he envisioned by naming his house of worship the Mashriqu’lAdhkar, meaning ‘the place where the adhkar (plural of dhekr) rise.’ Dhekr, which takes the form of repeating and concentrating on a ritual formula analogous to the mantras of Hindu and Buddhist practice, is a central individual and collective practice in Sufi Islam, but not in Islam of the mosque, which focuses rather on the obligatory and other prayers, and the recitation and study of the Qu’ran. The Mashriqu’l-Adhkar, as the central institution in his ideal of community, is the site for both the recitation of dhekr and the performance of obligatory and other prayers: it reunites the two branches of religion that were largely sundered in Islamic history.

The Mashriqu’l-Adhkar is often thought of as a building, but Abdu’l-Baha uses the term to cover the human heart where God is remembered, and the meeting and building as well, and he treats the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar as an institution of the Bahai community. Th tablet translated below is an example. In another of his tablets (i.e., letters) on this topic he writes:

In reality, the radiant, pure hearts are the Mashrak-el-Azcar and from them the voice of supplication and invocation continually reacheth the Supreme Concourse. I ask God to make the heart of every one of you a temple of the Divine Temples and to let the lamp of the great guidance be lighted therein; and when the hearts find such an attainment, they will certainly exert the utmost endeavor and energy in the building of the Mashrak-el-Azcar; thus may the outward express the inward, and the form (or letter) indicate the meaning (or reality). (Tablets of `Abdu’l-Bahá Abbas, 678)

A few detailed comments on this tablet will follow the translation.

He is God ! O Lovers of God,

The friends should hold a gathering, a meeting, where they will acquire the habits of reciting dhekr and fixing their hearts on God, and reciting and chanting the verses and writings of the Blessed Beauty — may my soul be the ransom of His lovers! The lights of the Kingdom of Abha and rays from the supreme horizon will illuminate such radiant assemblies. These meetings are the Mashriqu’l-Adhkars that, according to the decree of the most exalted Pen, must be established in every city and village.

When they are established, the private meetings will be abrogated. But for now, when public gatherings have not been established in the land, because it would cause the wicked and ungodly to raise a storm of opposition, it would do no harm if private gatherings were to be established, in which no more than nine souls are present. The point is that no large group – which could readily give rise to alarm and confusion among the ignorant – should be present in these gatherings.

These spiritual gatherings must be convened with the utmost purity and consecration, so that sweet and holy savours are felt in the site and its earth and air. BH instructed us to observe wisdom. In the lands today, no more than nine of the friends should gather in one place, which is in accordance with wisdom.

The point is, in the revealed laws of religion, the place for worship and the public reading of scripture is the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar, alone, which supplants all gatherings and meetings for worship. But philanthropic gatherings, deepenings (محافل معارف), meetings for consultation and profitable discussions are also permitted, indeed they are necessary and incumbent. But today, acting in accordance with wisdom, none of these are possible. Therefore for now, meetings devoted to spirituality must suffice, and at present the first fruits of all meetings must be service to others. You must support one another and be the beloved of the Lord. So far as possible, the meeting should improve the conditions of humanity until, God willing, the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar is established in all its majesty and glory. Then this restriction will be abolished.

O friends of God, may the glory of God rest upon you.

My translation, from Amr wa Khalq Vol. 3 143-4 and Vol. 4 148-9. There is a partial translation in Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha 93-94.

“Reciting dhekr and fixing their hearts on God” (ذکر و فکر هقّ) appears to point to two different practices: the one the repetition of Allah’u’Abha or a similar phrase, the other silent meditation, both are distinguished from two forms of reading scriptures aloud.

The reference to “the decree of the most exalted Pen” is to the Kitab-e Aqdas, paragraph 31.

I do not know when this tablet was written, or to which community. The response implies that there was unease among the Bahais in a community that Baha’u’llah’s command to build houses of worship was not being implemented — in the sense of a building. He says that devotional meetings are Mashriqu’l-Adhkars, and provides a temporary ruling, that no more than nine people should be present in a meeting, and then only in a meeting devoted purely to spirituality and service. In other tablets, Abdu’l-Baha writes of performing the obligatory prayers in a Mashriqu’l-Adhkar building or meeting, but this is absent in this tablet. Such a distinctive Bahai practice, in an Islamic country, might incite opposition.

Related content:
Two letters of Abdu’l-Baha in praise of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar
The Pilgrims’ Hostel & the Mashriq
It’s Friday: thank God
Worship as Paradise, in Gate of the Heart
House of Justice, House of Worship
Off site:
Baha’i Obligatory Prayer and the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar (a letter on behalf of the Universal House of Justice)

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