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Montreal, August 30, 2020 - Tonight, in 1912, 108 years ago, three persons were waiting on the platform at Windsor Station. Renowned architect Sutherland Maxwell, his wife May and a friend Louisa Bosch were waiting for the arrival of a prominent and somewhat famous figure in recent years in North America and Europe! The train was expected to arrive at 8:00 p.m., the wait was long as a change of schedule was announced. Finally, the train arrived around midnight!

It was not difficult to recognize this personality clothed in white accompanied by two Persians dressed differently from the others! The majestic figure of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the Center of the Bahá'u'lláh, the son of the founder of a Universal Faith, approached the friends who were eagerly awaiting him! Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell implored 'Abdu'l-Bahá to stay at their home during his visit in Montreal; which he accepted graciously! Two carriages took them to 716 West Pine Avenue where a large number of enthusiastic friends were waiting for them.

May Maxwell describes the evening as follows:

 "In the bright light of a summer moon, 'Abdu'l-Bahá arrived on Friday, August 30, with two interpreters, and when he entered the house of the Bahá’ís on Pine Avenue, several neighbors were watching the scene from their windows, to catch a glimpse of this majestic white-clad figure, whom they affectionately called the "Persian prophet" and whose arrival had so eloquently had been announced in the newspapers. Among the people present that night of August 31, was John Lewis, a Toronto Star journalist, a Bahá’í sympathizer and probably a believer. He was largely instrumental to prepare many articles that appeared in the newspapers, in English and French, throughout 'Abdu'l-Bahá’s stay in Montreal.

The day after his arrival in Montreal, Sutherland Maxwell accompanied the Master 'Abdu'l-Bahá for a ride in the city. On the way, he briefly visited the Cathedral of Mary Queen of the World and stopped in front of the building for a while. This cathedral was named "Our Lady of Saint Sulpice" destroyed in the Great Fire of Montreal in 1852. A small replica of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome was built in its place in 1894 and was named " the Cathedral of St. James the Major."!

Although some considered Montreal a place of religious bigotry, 'Abdu'l-Bahá found "all doors open" and encountered the same irresistible reaction as everywhere during his trip. People of all nationalities, all races andfrom all social backgrounds coming to hear him. After three days staying with the Maxwells, the Master decided to transfer  his residence to the Windsor Hotel. On Thursday, September 5, 1921, on the 6th day of his stay in Montreal, the Archbishop of Montreal, Louis Joseph Paul  Bruchési, expressed to 'Abdu'l-Bahá his pleasure in meeting him and his gratitude for his "words on the purpose of the manifestation of Christ and the other Holy Manifestations." 'Abdu'l-Bahá invited the archbishop, a member of the Catholic clergy who was very interested in Orientals, to attend his public talk at St. James' Methodist Church later that day!

'Abdu'l-Bahá and his entourage arrived at St. James Methodist Church on St. Catherine Street West. Inspired by the architecture of French cathedrals, this church was one of the most beautiful in Montreal, and had been the subject of much praise since the laying of the first stone in the year 1844, a memorable year. A crowd of 1,200 people stood up when 'Abdu'l-Bahá entered the room. The Reverend Herbert Simmons, the Anglican vicar of Christ Church Cathedral, introduced him. 'Abdu'l-Bahá first spoke of the "Bahá’í principles for the happiness of the human race." He followed up with the religious teachings of his Father. The public discovered with such interest the message of the Bahá’í Faith that Judge Robert Weir, who had already heard of the Master and had come to hear him for the first time that evening, stood up and said:

"Some believed the lineage of the prophets extinguished, but tonight we could hear these divine teachings from the mouth of an Eastern prophet who is a descendant of God's Prophets. The message he delivered will never be forgotten. There is no doubt that these teachings on world peace, the unity of humanity and the distribution of wealth are perfectly in line with the principles of economic laws, equal rights and the adoption of a universal language. These are the basic principles of humanity's progress.” The pastor then stood up and said, "It would be wrong to believe that the West has attained perfection and that the East has no benefits or lessons to offer it." ‘Abdu'l-Bahá mentioned several things that we had not heard or understood before.”

'Abdu'l-Bahá then recited a prayer and thanked them all for their remarks. Later, in the sacristy, the clergy were very respectful of him; they found that they lacked words to express their gratitude for his visit and his words. Judge Weir, in particular, repeatedly mentioned his desire to become a Bahá’í!

 

References:

- 'Abdu'l-Bah' in Canada, 2012 edition.

- Mahmúd Diary, Diary of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's travels in Europe and North America, Persian edition 1914.

- Earl Redman, Abdu'l-Baha in Their Midst, 2011.

Photos : * Archbishop of Montreal, Louis Joseph Paul Bruchési  (1855 –1939), Ville de Montréal – Gestion de documents et archives.

**Robert Stanley Weir (1856-1926) was a Montreal judge and poet. He composed the English words of O Canada, the country's national anthem.

Montreal, August 21, 2020 – Close to one hundred participants from all over Quebec Province took part in a virtual Summer School for two and a half days! Serving the Cause and Humanity in These Troubled Times – was the theme of the School  which was held between 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. for three mornings, with a half hour break.  There was two evening programs with dozens of artists, musicians, singers and other artistic presentations from all over the Province.

Those of us who had the pleasure of participating in the adult program last summer were delighted to hear that our dear friends, Joan and Albert Lincoln, will be with us again. The summer school is usually a French-only event, but as this year was a virtual event, the program was offered in both English and French.  The plenary sessions was conducted in French and simultaneous translation into English was provided. The small study groups were organized according to language preference.

Summer school is normally a special time for families to come together in a lively and warm community atmosphere.  Unfortunately, the virtual experience did not allow for a joint experience with children although many children and families participated enthusiastically at the artistic evenings.  The parents of young children were encouraged to participate and arrange for appropriate activities carried out by others in a safe way so that their children were able to have a program while they attended sessions. 

Albert Lincoln devoted the first session on the subject of “The Greater Plan and the Process of Disintegration.” Being a prominent lawyer, he explained in a comprehensive language the reasons why disintegration with its intense suffering combined with undreamed of crises and upheavals are essential to the process of regeneration of the world. The crises, he explained is an inherent process of growth always followed by victories such as in 1960s events of Cuban Missile Crisis and Bay of Pig Invasion in America. Soon the victories followed by expansive program of reforms. That year, a declaration was made that the United States will change to a “Great Society” in which poverty and racial injustice has no place. A set of programs was developed to give poor people “a hand up, not a handout.” These included Medicare and Medicaid, which helped elderly and low-income people pay for health care.

Dr and Mrs. Lincoln then spoke of the process of “Integration” quoting a paragraph from a letter from the Universal House of Justice, dated April (Riḍván) 2006 :

“Penetrating, indeed, is Shoghi Effendi’s depiction of the process of disintegration accelerating in the world. Equally striking is the accuracy with which he analysed the forces associated with the process of integration. He spoke of a “gradual diffusion of the spirit of world solidarity which is spontaneously arising out of the welter of a disorganized society” as an indirect manifestation of Bahá’u’lláh’s conception of the principle of the oneness of humankind. This spirit of solidarity has continued to spread over the decades, and today its effect is apparent in a range of developments, from the rejection of deeply ingrained racial prejudices to the dawning consciousness of world citizenship, from heightened environmental awareness to collaborative efforts in the promotion of public health, from the concern for human rights to the  systematic pursuit of universal education, from the establishment of interfaith activities to the efflorescence of hundreds of thousands of local, national and international organizations engaged in some form of social action.”

The second session was focussed on “What is expected of us in this trying time?” the following paragraph from another letter from the Universal House of Justice dated 21 March 2020, clarifies the subject:

“… Beloved friends, you have of course long been occupied with the work of nurturing within groups of souls precisely the attributes that are required at this time: unity and fellow feeling, knowledge and understanding, a spirit of collective worship and common endeavour. Indeed, we have been struck by how efforts to reinforce these attributes have made communities especially resilient, even when faced with conditions that have necessarily limited their activities. Though having to adapt to new circumstances, the believers have used creative means to strengthen bonds of friendship, and to foster among themselves and those known to them spiritual consciousness and qualities of tranquility, confidence, and reliance on God. The elevated conversations that have occurred as a result, whether remotely or in person, have been a source of comfort and inspiration to many. Such efforts on your part provide a valuable service at this hour when many souls are perplexed and dismayed, unsure of what will be.”

The third session was devoted to the question of how we can rise to the challenges of the present time. Many references from the Bahá’í Writings were shared including the following paragraph :

“In a letter dated 8 December 1935 written on his behalf to an individual believer, Shoghi Effendi stated: “The universal crisis affecting mankind is … essentially spiritual in its causes.” More recently, the House of Justice has observed: “The Bahá’í community encourages and supports the manifold efforts being made by people of goodwill to better the condition of humankind and promote unity and harmony among the peoples and nations of the earth. However, the believers should never, for even one moment, lose sight of the fact that the crisis now engulfing every part of the planet is essentially spiritual.” If the crisis afflicting humanity is spiritual, can there be any question that its solution must also be spiritual? … What else but the Word of God can spiritually ennoble, educate, and inspire souls to address the needs of the time?”

It is therefore our duty to Elevate the Conversation - Promoting Positive Change without Taking Sides! Conflict and contention are categorically prohibited in the Bahá’í Faith. While we should not be idle in addressing social ills as the process of disintegration accelerates, our aim is not to choose sides in contentious social debates simply to proclaim what we believe to be right. Rather the object of our participation is to learn to elevate discourse and improve practice as we work with others in the search for effective solutions.

After each session, the participants had the opportunity to break into small groups and discuss the above topics in depth. Many practical ideas emerged from the friends in order to better serve humanity in these critical times of human history.

The Quebec Bahá’í Council warmly appreciated the presence of Lincolns at this Summer School and wished to invite them again for next year.

Lincolns devoted practically all their lives to serve the Bahá’í Faith in West and Central Africa and for some twenty years at the World Centre where Joany served at the International Teaching Centre and Albert as the Secretary-General of the Baha'i community, in the conduct of its external affairs, including relations with Israel, the host-country of its World Centre.

Montreal, June 23, 2020 – To create a just society begins with recognition of the fundamental truth that humanity is one. But it is not enough simply to believe this in our hearts. It creates the moral imperative to act, and to view all aspects of our personal, social, and institutional lives through the lens of justice. It implies a reordering of our society more profound than anything we have yet achieved. And it requires the participation of all humans of every race and background, for it is only through such inclusive participation that new moral and social directions can emerge.

One of the early Bahá’ís of Montreal, Rowland Estall, Gives us the following account of Mrs. Maxwell’s work among the African Canadians of Montreal :

The (Maxwell) home was full of people, the Bahá’ís and many members of the Negro United Church of which Reverend Charles Este was pastor. Mrs. Maxwell had addressed Reverend Este’s congregation the previous Sunday and had invited the congregation to visit her the following Thursday, or so. During the course of the evening, I was sitting beside Mrs Maxwell in Mr. Maxwell’s study and a maid came and said that Mrs. Maxwell was wanted at the front door. A policeman had arrived in response to a complaint from a next-door neighbour that there was some disturbance in the neighbourhood.  Mrs. Maxwell said that she was simply entertaining guests and invited the policeman to see for himself. Somewhat embarrassed and obviously taken aback by Mrs. Maxwell’s charm and graciousness in inviting him to come in, he demurred and departed. This was one incident which demonstrates the hostility of some of the neighbours in that exclusive residential district at the time and to Mrs. Maxwell’s unconcern for the prejudices of her neighbours.

This event might have been a part of a joint activity with the work of International Amity Committee which had a successful local meeting in Montreal in 1929-30.

The visit to Montreal of Louis Gregory, the most prominent African American Bahá’í, during the summer of 1924, had no doubt reinforced May Maxwell’s own work in race relations. By 1927 the Bahá’í Community of North America had reached a turning point in improving its racial climate. When the 19th National Convention of the North American Bahá’í Community was held in Montreal in April, race “was discussed at length and with unprecedented frankness”. Days before the National Convention, the National Spiritual Assembly had organized a “World Unity Conference” on 24-28 April 1927 and the Montreal Bahá’ís also held a Race Amity Meeting on 2-4 March 1930.

The following is an eye-witnessed account of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá meeting with some youths in New-York, in 1912:

‘Abdu’l-Bahá was standing at the door and He greeted each boy as he came in; sometimes with a handclasp, sometimes with an arm around a shoulder, but always with such smiles and laughter it almost seemed that He was a boy with them. Certainly there was no suggestion of stiffness on their part, or awkwardness in their unaccustomed surroundings. Among the last to enter the room was a colored lad of about thirteen years. He was quite dark and, being the only boy of his race among them, he evidently feared that he might not be welcome. When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá saw him His face lighted up with a heavenly smile. He raised His hand with a gesture of princely welcome and exclaimed in a loud voice so that none could fail to hear; that here was a black rose.

The room fell into instant silence. The black face became illumined with a happiness and love hardly of this world. The other boys looked at him with new eyes. I venture to say that he had been called a black-many things, but never before a black rose.

This significant incident had given to the whole occasion a new complexion. The atmosphere of the room seemed now charged with subtle vibrations felt by every soul. The boys, while losing nothing of their ease and simplicity, were graver and more intent upon ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and I caught them glancing again and again at the colored boy with very thoughtful eyes. To the few of the friends in the room the scene brought visions of a new world in which every soul would be recognized and treated as a child of God. I thought: What would happen to New York if these boys could carry away such a keen remembrance of this experience that throughout their lives, whenever they encountered any representatives of the many races and colors to be found in that great city, they would think of them and treat them as “different colored flowers in the Garden of God.” The freedom from just this one prejudice in the minds and hearts of this score or more of souls would unquestionably bring happiness and freedom from rancor to thousands of hearts. How simple and easy to be kind, I thought, and how hardly we learn.

When His visitors had arrived, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had sent out for some candy and now it appeared, a great five- pound box of expensive mixed chocolates. It was unwrapped and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá walked with it around the circle of boys, dipping His hand into the box and placing a large handful in the hands of each, with a word and smile for everyone. He then returned to the table at which He had been sitting, and laying down the box, which now had only a few pieces in it, He picked from it a long chocolate nougat; it was very black. He looked at it a moment and then around at the group of boys who were watching Him intently and expectantly. Without a word He walked across the room to where the colored boy was sitting, and, still without speaking, but with a humorously piercing glance that swept the group, laid the chocolate against the black cheek. His face was radiant as He laid His arm around the shoulder of the boy and that radiance seemed to fill the room. No words were necessary to convey His meaning, and there could be no doubt that all the boys caught it.

You see, He seemed to say, that he is not only a black flower, but also a black sweet. You eat black chocolates and find them good: perhaps you would find this black brother of yours good also if you once taste his sweetness.

Again that awed hush fell upon the room. Again the boys all looked with real wonder at the colored boy as if they had never seen him before, which indeed was true. And as for the boy himself, upon whom all eyes were now fixed, he seemed perfectly unconscious of all but ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Upon Him his eyes were fastened with an adoring, blissful look such as I had never seen upon any face. For the moment he was transformed. The reality of his being had been brought to the surface and the angel he really was revealed.

Photos : 'Abdu'l-Bahá'í with children, New York, 1912

Louis Gregory and his British Wife Louisa Mathew Gregory

Références : 'Abdu'l-Bahá'í – Mahmud’s Diary

W.C. van den Hoonaard,  The Origins of the Bahá’í Community of Canada

Howard Colby Ives, Portals to Freedom

Montreal, Thursday, August 6, 2020 – A group of self-motivated friends from the city have started a forum to discuss the subject of “Unity in diversity”. This topic, so dear to the hearts of the Bahá’í Community all over the world has been a source of inspiration for poets, writers, musicians, artists, theatre and movie script writers.

Unity of race and ethnical diversity are well elucidated in the Bahá’í Writings. The Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, in a message to the Bahá’í World says the following:

 I am reminded, on this historic occasion, of the significant words uttered by Bahá'u'lláh Himself, Who as attested by the Center of the Covenant, in His Writings, "compared the coloured people to the black pupil of the eye," through which "the light of the spirit shineth forth."                                        

(Shoghi Effendi:  Messages to the Baha'i World 1953, Page: 136)

The central theme of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the Center of the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh, in the North American lectures was Race Unity. Speaking in Chicago on April 30, 1912, He said:

...Difference of race and color is like the variegated beauty of flowers in a garden....

Bahá'u'lláh hath said that the various races of humankind lend a composite harmony andbeauty of color to the whole. Let all associate, therefore, in this great human garden, even as flowers grow and blend together side by side without discord or disagreement between them.    

                                                        (The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 68-69)

To inspire the participants, passages, quotes and prayers on Race Unity from various sources  were read and discussed in depth in the Forum. Many ideas and experiences were shared by the friends from North Carolina, Nova-Scotia and Montreal.  It surely created a space to uplift and refresh the soul. It created an enthusiasm to support each other’s efforts to translate ideals into meaningful individual action at this time when both societal and personal transformation are sorely needed.

Dozens of similar virtual gatherings are organized throughout Montreal neighbourhoods and the topic of “Unity in Diversity” is discussed. Practical ideas were suggested to encourage all of us to take positive action and make an exceptional effort to try to bring our society together and create a harmonious environment where justice and encouragement will be everyone’s commitment.

In a letter addressed to the Bahá’ís of the United States dated 22 July 2020, the Universal House of Justice writes : “ Ultimately, the power to transform the world is effected by love, love originating from the relationship with the divine, love ablaze among members of a community, love extended without restriction to every human being. This divine love, ignited by the Word of God, is disseminated by enkindled souls through intimate conversations that create new susceptibilities in human hearts, open minds to moral persuasion, and loosen the hold of biased norms and social systems so that they can gradually take on a new form in keeping with the requirements of humanity’s age of maturity.”

Since its existence over a century ago, the Montreal Bahá’í Community as well as the Bahá’ís of the world are diligently working to bring about this unity and love that humanity so desperately needs and to fulfill one of the major promises made by the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith : “The utterance of God is a lamp, whose light is these words: Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship. He Who is the Daystar of Truth beareth Me witness! So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth. The One true God, He Who knoweth all things, Himself testifieth to the truth of these words. Exert yourselves that ye may attain this transcendent and most sublime station, the station that can insure the protection and security of all mankind. This goal excelleth every other goal, and this aspiration is the monarch of all aspirations.”

(Bahá’u’lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 14)

Montreal, June 16,  2020  - The close relationship  of the Montreal Bahá'í  Community with the “Black Roses” community continued through indefatigable work of Mrs Maxwell who was involved in the social and philanthropic work of the city.

In 1927 she became the honorary president of the Negro club of Montreal. The Club relieved hardship and aided the poor, and provided clothing to newly arrived West Indian immigrants. It operated soup kitchen for the unemployed, provided burial plots for those who could not afford any,  and its members volunteered as visiting mothers’ aids. The life of African Canadians in Montreal, numbering at least 1200 was dwarfed to an un healthy extent. Housing, education and other facilities were negligible, except for poolrooms and flats on St. Antoine Street, between Windsor and Guy.

One of the early contacts made by May Maxwell was one of the noted reformer Charles H. Este, pastor of Montreal’s only Negro Church who led the congregation from 1925 to 1968. The Church was the first of all agencies to concern itself with recreational, cultural and educational activities for African Canadians in the city. Rev. Este became a personal friend of the Maxwell household and visited with Mrs Maxwell at the 1963 World Congress in London, UK. He thus became a close friend of the Bahá’í community of Montreal.

A number of people from Rev. Este’s Church became Bahá’ís, including Mr. Eddie Elliot and the two daughters of Mrs Blackburn who had married an African Canadian man. They became members of the first Montreal Youth Group.

Mrs Maxwell’s interest in providing personal attention to the plight of African Canadians is reflected in an account from someone who visited her house at that time. The maid told the visitor that Mrs Maxell could not receive her today! Then Mrs Maxwell was seen rushing down the stairs to welcome the visitor apologetically explaining that she had a woman upstairs giving birth to a baby because she was black and none of the hospitals would take her. So she was bringing in her own doctor and having this baby to be born right in her house.

Giving a talk in 1912 to the students of Howard University in Washington, D.C., founded in 1867 to educate former slaves; the first predominantly black audience ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would address in America, He began by drawing attention to the diversity in the room. “Today I am happy,” he said, “for I see . . . white and black sitting together.” He then proceeded to reject prevailing black and white views about racial essentialism — the widespread belief that a person’s race was central to his or her humanity: “There are no whites and blacks before God. All colors are one, and that is the color of servitude to God. Scent and color are not important. The heart is important. If the heart is pure, white or black or any color makes no difference.”

“As I stand here tonight and look upon this assembly,” he told the audience, “I am reminded curiously of a beautiful bouquet of violets gathered together in varying colors, dark and light.”

“In the vegetable kingdom the colors of multicolored flowers are not the cause of discord. Rather, colors are the cause of the adornment of the garden because a single color has no appeal; but when you observe many-colored flowers, there is charm and display. The world of humanity, too, is like a garden, and humankind are like the many-coloured flowers.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá had begun to craft a new language of race — a new range of racial images and metaphors — which consciously contradicted these racist and ingrained associations. They found their focus in Louis Gregory himself, who was the first American Bahá’í of African descent. “I liken you,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told him, “to the pupil of the eye. You are black and the pupil is black, yet it becomes the focus of light.”

“When Louis Gregory travelled to Stuttgart,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote, “although being of black color, yet he shone as a bright light in the meeting of the friends.” “He will return to America very soon,” he advised an American friend, “and you, the white people, should then honor and welcome this shining colored man in such a way that all the people will be astonished.”

In another talk, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explained that:

“In the clustered jewels of the races may the blacks be as sapphires and rubies and the whites as diamonds and pearls. The composite beauty of humanity will be witnessed in their unity and blending.”

Photos: The first Montreal youth group; Eddie Elliot is standing on the left side

Inset: May Maxwell

References: Abdu'l-Bahá'í – Mahmud’s Diary

W.C. van den Hoonaard, The Origins of the Bahá’í Community of Canada

Montreal Council’s minutes, 1928

Bertly, Leo W. 1977 : Canada and Its People of African Descent. Montreal

Montreal, July 17, 2020 – Some one hundred participants in all, joined the Montreal Bahá’í Community to listen to five lectures given by Dr. Todd Lawson, Emeritus Professor of Islamic Thought from University of Toronto, on “Joseph and the Bahá’í Faith”. This was the seventh part of a series of Annual Raymond Flournoy Course on the Bahá’í Faith and Islám. In order to remember Raymond and to introduce him to many participants from other parts of the world, a short video-documentary was also shown. All sessions were viewed via a tele-conference application due to the current pandemic.

Dr. Lawson explained that the very first book of divine revelation in the Bahá’í Faith, the book that in fact inaugurated the Bahá’í Era, was a commentary on the Súrih of Joseph, The Qur’án’s 12th chapter. In the Book of Certitude (p. 231), Bahá’u’lláh refers to this Composition as “the first, the greatest and the mightiest of all books”.

The course, dedicated to the shining memory of Raymond Flournoy, one of the early Bahá’ís of Montreal, made an exploration on the significance of such a choice on the part of the Báb. He, obviously, could have opened the new cycle of spiritual growth and development in any way He chose. Why did He choose the figure of Joseph as an appropriate symbol for the potentialities of this new period of human history? To better understand such relationship, parts of the Súrih of Joseph in the Qur'án, the story of Joseph in the Bible (Genesis 37-50), and the way Joseph appears in the Bahá’í Writings, including the inaugural chapter of Qayyúm al-Asmá’ or Commentary on the Súrih of Joseph by the Báb and the Kitáb-i - Íqán or The Book of Certitude by Bahá’u’lláh were explored in depth.

Within the Báb's mystical narrative, references to the story of Joseph are everywhere, some direct and obvious, many others subtle, allusive, and indirect. The effect is that of a kaleidoscopic motif, present wherever one turns in reading the Báb's words, as if the Qayyúmu'l-Asmá' were both an analytical response to and a new creative revelation of meanings about the story of Joseph. The Báb uses verbal echoes that cause His own mission to  resonate with that of earlier Manifestations and to present entirely new meanings in episodes within the story. For example, at one point the Báb refers to Himself and His words as the same light that was "raised up from the midst of the Burning Bush.”* The historical allusion is not used merely to lend authority to His claim; rather, His wording has the effect of infusing fresh and deeper metaphorical meaning into an old image: the Burning Bush (from the story of Moses) becomes a symbol for the world of being, a world now infused with the light (the revealed knowledge) of a new and contemporary revelation. The boldness of the Báb in using this re-interpretive technique shows both the artistic and the conceptual power of the Báb's writing.

With the rise of the Bahá'í Faith the story of Joseph reached its culmination in a way that is unique in history—as a defining mystical narrative in two related but independent religions arising within nineteen years of each other. Though the Báb was a Manifestation of God and the founder of a great religion, He also perceived Himself to be a forerunner. He wrote tablets addressed humbly to "Him Whom God Will Make Manifest" and repeatedly cautioned His followers to recognize and accept that Figure when He should appear.** Though boldly identifying Himself with Joseph in the Qayyúmu'l-Asmá, the Báb also repeatedly used references to Moses and the Burning Bush (as mentioned earlier) in ways that made Him appear to be placing His own Revelation within a larger theophany context then unfolding in mysterious ways.

When Bahá'u'lláh declared His own mission in 1863, His announcement was stupendous in its scope. Not only did He claim to be the One promised by the Báb (the successor to the Báb and an independent Manifestation of God) but, indeed, to be the Promised One of all Ages (that is, the one expected in the millennial traditions of all major religions and the Figure representing the culmination of a great cycle of religions). Bahá'u'lláh refers to Himself as "the Divine Joseph" and, like the Báb, uses that story as one of the metaphors by which He defines His own Mission. The motif recurs in many of His major works.

The highlight of this lecture series was the session introduced by Professor Stephen Lambden from University of California, Merced, Humanities department. He has been specialized in Abrahamic religious texts and Semitic languages such as Hebrew and Arabic. Professor Lambden’s in-depth presentation explaining the relationship between Hebrew, Christian, Islamic, Bábi and Bahá’í Holy texts clarified many spiritual meanings within the scriptures of the past and present.

Present at all sessions was Dr Moojan Momen from the UK who stayed awake patiently until 2 AM, GMT and commented on various topics to help the participants a clearer understanding of the Writings of the Báb.

Since 1985, Dr Momen and his wife Dr. Wendi Momen are managing the Afnán Library at Sandy, Bedfordshire, UK. The Afnan Library Trust which was established as an independent charity, have attempted over the years to fulfil the wishes of the late Mr Hasan Balyuzi, a descendant of the Báb, who donated all his collection of books and manuscripts to the Library. Many books, manuscripts and other archival material have been added to the library ever since. The Afnan Library is accessible online at : http://www.afnanlibrary.org

Video-conference online coordination was skillfully provided by Shahab Akhound-Zadeh.

Photos : - Golgasht Mossafai, a rare photo of Professor Stephen Lambden and Dr Moojan Momen during a presentation organized by the Harrow Bahá’í Community 1973, UK.

- A Persian Miniature drawing of Joseph and His brothers.

References :

*The Báb, Selections 41

** Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, trans. Shoghi Effendi (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1983) 208.

  • Jim Stokes, published in World Order, 29:2
  • Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a musical comedy with lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The story is based on the "coat of many colours" story of Joseph from the Bible's Book of Genesis.

Montreal, June 8, 2020 – During the celebration of the 19 Days Feast of Núr (Light), in one Montreal neighbourhood, the consultation was focussed on bringing to our fellow citizens the Principles of the Bahá’í Faith on Racial Unity. These series of articles will deal with the history of close relationship this Community had with Black Roses of Montreal!

The first contact between the Bahá’ís and a Black Church occurred was during ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit to Montreal in September 1912, when he was asked to speak to the congregation of Montreal Negro Church (as it was called in that time). ‘Abdu’l-Bahá regretfully had to decline the invitation due to his very busy schedule. We learn, however, that a childhood friend of Mary Maxwell, the daughter of famed Montreal architect whose house is the Bahá’í Shrine now, was Eddie Elliot, the only Canadian member of his race to become a Bahá’í during ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s lifetime.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá set the example by which May Maxwell felt inspired to conduct work, both philanthropic and Bahá’í among the African Canadian Community in Montreal. It was through diligence and intense interest in racial harmony of Mrs May Maxwell and the spiritual thirst of some individuals, that the first few African Canadians accepted this Faith. What drew these early believers to the new Faith was Mrs May Maxwell’s hospitality.

The topic of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s lectures in churches, synagogues, mosques and universities in North America was Racial Unity. The following is a talk given in a church :

Today I am most happy, for I see here a gathering of the servants of God. I see the white and colored people together. In the estimation of God there is no distinction of color; all are one in the color and beauty of servitude to him. Color is not important; the heart is all-important. It matters not what the exterior may be if the heart be pure and white within. God does not behold differences of hue and complexion; He looks at the hearts. He whose morals and virtues are praiseworthy is preferred in the presence of God; he who is devoted to the Kingdom is most beloved. In the realm of genesis and creation the question of color is of least importance.

The mineral kingdom abounds with many-colored substances and compositions but we find no strife among them on that account. In the kingdom of the plant and vegetable, distinct and variegated hues exist but the fruit and flowers are not in conflict for that reason. Nay, rather, the very fact that there is difference and variety lends a charm to the garden. If all were of the same color the effect would be monotonous and depressing. When you enter a rose-garden the wealth of color and variety of floral forms spread before you a picture of wonder and beauty. The world of humanity is like a garden and the various races are the flowers which constitute its adornment and decoration. In the animal kingdom also we find variety of color. See how the doves differ in beauty yet they live together in perfect peace, and love each other. They do not make difference of color a cause of discord and strife. They view each other as the same species and kind. They know they are one in kind. Often a white dove soars aloft with a black one. Throughout the animal kingdom we do not find the creatures separated because of color. They recognize unity of species and oneness of kind. If we do not find color distinction drawn in a kingdom of lower intelligence and reason, how can it be justified among human beings, especially when we know that all have come from the same source and belong to the same household? In origin and intention of creation mankind is one. Distinctions of race and color have arisen afterward.

Therefore today I am exceedingly glad that both white and colored people have gathered here and I hope the time will come when they shall live together in the utmost peace, unity and friendship. I wish to say one thing of importance to both in order that the white race may be just and kind to the colored and that the colored race may in turn be grateful and appreciative toward the white. The great proclamation of liberty and emancipation from slavery was made upon this continent. A long bloody war was fought by white men for the sake of colored people. These white men forfeited their possessions and sacrificed their lives by thousands

in order that colored men might be freed from bondage. The colored population of the United States of America are possibly not fully informed of the wide-reaching effect of this freedom and emancipation upon their colored brethren in Asia and Africa where even more terrible conditions of slavery existed. Influenced and impelled by the example of the United States, the European powers proclaimed universal liberty to the colored race and slavery ceased to exist. This effort and accomplishment by the white nations should never be lost sight of. Both races should rejoice in gratitude, for the institution of liberty and equality here became the cause of liberating your fellow-beings elsewhere. The colored people of this country are especially fortunate, for, praise be to God! conditions here are so much higher than in the East and comparatively few differences exist in the possibility of equal attainments with the white race. May both develop toward the highest degree of equality and altruism. May you be drawn together in friendship and may extraordinary development make brotherhood a reality and truth. I pray in your behalf that there shall be no name other than that of humanity among you. For instance we say "a flock of doves," without mention or distinction as to white or black; we apply the name "horse," "deer," "gazelle" to other creatures, referring to species and not to their variance in color. It is my hope that through love and fellowship we may advance to such a degree of mutual recognition and estimate, that the oneness of the human world may be realized in each and all present in this meeting.

Therefore strive earnestly and put forth your greatest endeavor toward the accomplishment of this fellowship and the cementing of this bond of brotherhood between you. Such an attainment is not possible without will and effort on the part of each; from one, expressions of gratitude and appreciation; from the other kindliness and recognition of equality. Each one should endeavor to develop and assist the other toward mutual advancement. This is possible only by conjoining of effort and inclination. Love and unity will be fostered between you, thereby bringing about the oneness of mankind. For the accomplishment of unity between the colored and whites will be an assurance of the world's peace. Then racial prejudice, national prejudice, limited patriotism and religious bias will pass away and remain no longer. I am pleased to see you at this gathering, white and dark, and I praise God that I have had this opportunity of seeing you loving each other, for this is the means of the glory of humanity. This is the means of the good-pleasure of God and of eternal bliss in His kingdom. Therefore I pray in your behalf that you may attain to the fullest degree of love and that the day may come when all differences between you may disappear.

Photo : St-James United Church where Abdu'l-Bahá'í spoke in September 1912

References : Abdu'l-Bahá'í – Bahá’í World Faith

W.C. van den Hoonaard,
The Origins of the Bahá’í Community of Canada

Montreal, July 7, 2020 – There are already significant efforts underway to learn how to create models of unity in neighborhoods and communities throughout the nation. Baha’is have been persistently engaged in such efforts for many years. The aim is not unity in sameness—it is unity in diversity. It is the recognition that everyone in this land has a part to play in contributing to the betterment of society, and that true prosperity, material and spiritual, will be available to us all to the degree that we live up to this standard. We should earnestly discover what is being done, what truly helps to make a difference, and why. We should share this knowledge throughout the country as a means of inspiring and assisting the work of others. If we do this, we could soon find ourselves in the midst of a mass transition toward racial justice.

Eddie Elliot (the first Montrealer from African descent who accepted the Bahá’í Faith) participated as a representative of the National Spiritual Assembly, in the African International Teaching Conference held in Kampala, Uganda, in February 1953 but his untimely death in July 1953 while working on a high voltage transformer left the Canadian Bahá’í Community bereft of one of the few African Canadians to have embraced the Bahá’í Faith in Canada at that time. Eddie Elliot was known as a “very pure and distinguished soul,” having “warmth and strength,” serving as the “first bridge between Black and White communities in Montreal.” At one time he was member of the city’s Inter-Racial Board and the Committee of Management of the Negro Community Centre. According to Amine De Mille, a Bahá’í and a freelance writer, ”he distinguished himself by his loyal services, his honourable character, and his beautiful singing voice.”

Another African Canadian who had become a member of May Maxwell’s Fratority Club in those early days of the Faith in Montreal, although not a Bahá’í, was Dr. Phil Edwards (1907-1971), an Olympic champion and apparently, the first black West Indian to graduate as a medical student from McGill University, Montreal. A middle-distance runner, he participated in three Olympic games (1928, 1932, 1936) and in the 1934 British empire Games, winning increasingly greater honours. Apparently, Dr. Edwards also attended firesides in the Maxwell home. It was another eight years before another African Canadian – Mrs. Violet States (née Grant) – was to enroll in the Bahá’í Faith in 1942. Mrs. States was the organist in Rev, Este’s church, and the only other member to have joined the Bahá’í Community from that congregation.

The Bahá’í interest in reaching African Canadians was not confined to Montreal only. We know that Louis Gregory undertook a trip to Vancouver to speak in five meetings in early 1920’s. Bahá’í attention to African Canadians on Canada’s east coast, and in Toronto, achieved a number of results, either in terms of establishing general relations between the Bahá’í Community and African Canadians, or in terms of an increase in adherents, however modest. Such results occurred in the late 1960s.

One fifth of the membership of the Bahá’í Community In Montreal, at the present time, is comprised of African Canadians from various ethnical backgrounds. They are actively involved in the activates of the Faith for the betterment of the World.

“Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest.” -Bahá’u’lláh, The Hidden Words

 

 

Photos: Montreal's Bahá’í Community circa 1930 - Eddie Elliot is in the back row left

            Rowland Estall, an early Montreal Bahá’í (1906 - 1993)

            Violet States at a concert in Montreal (1950)

Sources : W.C. van den Hoonaard,  The Origins of the Bahá’í Community of Canada

            Canadian Bahá’í News, April 1953

            Montreal Star, 11 July 1953

            Montreal Council, 1928

            McGill Student Registration Records 1930

            Rowland Estall, 1977

            Golgasht Mossafai, interviews with Violet States and Raymond Flournoy 2001-2016

Montreal, May 29, 2020 - Montreal Bahá’í communities in various boroughs of the city commemorated the anniversary of the passing of Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í  Faith. “Baha’u’llah” is a title meaning “the Glory of God” in Arabic. Bahá’ís consider Bahá’u’lláh to be the latest in a line of Divine Messengers that includes Krishna, Buddha, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, Who have brought divine teachings for the spiritual education of humankind.

Bahá’u’lláh passed away in the early hours of 29 May 1892 in His home outside of Acre, a fortified city that once served as a notorious prison of the Ottoman Empire. Unlike the suffering and turmoil He experienced for most of His adult life, His last moments were peaceful.

Born into a noble family in Tehran, Iran, Bahá’u’lláh rejected a life of relative ease and luxury in the royal court for a life dedicated to helping the poor. Known as “The Father of the Poor,” Bahá’u’lláh was deeply loved and respected for his virtuous character and wisdom. However, for accepting the teachings of the Herald of the Bahai Faith, known as “The Báb,” Bahá’u’lláh was among those persecuted by civil and clerical Persian authorities, who feared social change brought about by the progressive teachings of the Báb. This persecution intensified as Bahá’u’lláh began to share His own teachings: that there is only one God, that all of the world’s religions are from God, that unity and peace are now possible for the peoples of the world through the recognition of the oneness of humanity, and many others.

Fearful of losing their influence over a population that was increasingly attracted to Bahá’u’lláh and His revelation, the authorities exiled Him, first to Baghdad by the authority of the Persian government, and then as a prisoner of the Turkish Empire, to Constantinople (Istanbul), Adrianople (Edirne), and finally to the city of Akka (Acre) – then part of the Ottoman Empire and now in Israel. Baha’u’llah and His companions first arrived in Acre in 1868, 15 years after the beginning of their exile from their Persian homeland. Although in 1879 the authorities permitted Him to live outside the walls of the city, Baha’u’llah would remain a prisoner until His passing in 1892, having spent almost 40 years in exile.

Today, Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings are His legacy to the five million Bahá’í s around the world. His burial site, adjacent to the home where He lived during His final years, is a shrine considered by Bahá’í s to be the most sacred spot on earth. The Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh, in the vicinity of the city of Akka, is surrounded by magnificent gardens that are open to the public.

Bahá’í s will commemorate the Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh with devotional programs and reflections on His life and teachings. Bahá’í s observe this commemoration as one of nine holy days during the year.

Montreal, July 1, 2020 – It is essential for us to join hands in a process of learning how to create models of what we want to see in every dimension of humanity’s life, as we learn to apply the principle of oneness through practical engagement and experience.

An essential element of the process will be honest and truthful discourse about current conditions and their causes, and understanding, in particular, the deeply entrenched notions of anti-colour that pervade our society. We must build the capacity to truly hear and acknowledge the voices of those who have directly suffered from the effects of racism. This capacity should manifest itself in our schools, the media, and other civic arenas, as well as in our work and personal relations. This should not end with words, but lead to meaningful, constructive action.

In 1934, the Montreal Spiritual Assembly received a letter from the National Amity Committee of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada, encouraging it to promote racial amity by holding meetings “for the purpose of bringing together intelligent and open-minded citizens,” presenting scientific facts concerning race, and apprising people “who know little or nothing of Negro culture, to hear what these are striving for, and what are their ideals.” Speakers at these gatherings could be those who were not Bahá’ís, but who would endorse the Bahá’í principles of the unity of humanity, “otherwise there will be no result.” The letter encouraged “Bahá’ís as a body (to) respond to the needs and aims of alien people within their midst.”

The aims were laudable and even far ahead of their times, but were still quite unlike contemporary attitudes in Bahá’í Communities. Then the new religion was largely seen by its adherents as primarily a movement “owned” by particular groups, which had to reach “out” to various races and people, rather than a movement belonging to all. An African Canadian adherent best expressed the question of “ownership” and had this to say when asked about the way she enrolled in the Bahá’í Community:

  • In those days you had to write a letter of intent to the Local Assembly stating that you believed in the Central Figures of the Faith and that you had read the book New Era, and the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. When I met the committee, they talked with me and then asked me to step out into the hall while they discussed my acceptance. I knew that whether they accepted me or not, I was a Bahá’í – the Bahá’í Faith belonged to everyone. Why be formal about it?, I thought. They couldn’t keep me out, so they bring me in? it was my right.

The former perspective produced an ethnocentric view that defined the boundaries of the Bahá’í Community by those who were already members. This entailed a static view of community membership, whereby the boundaries were not extended outwards.

Another goal, according to the letter from the Amity Committee, related to the process of Bahá’í Communities educating themselves about the Bahá’í ideas of race relations. In this connection the Amity Committee summarized some of the past obstacles to racial unity in the form of “lack of intelligent information, by too great diversity of opinion, by minor prejudices, by sentimentality and over emotionalism.”

The narrative of Edward (Eddie) Elliot (1898-1953), a Hydro-Line worker and among the first African-Canadians to enroll to the new religion in Canada illustrates the kind of ties members of minority group would develop with other Bahá’ís. He had come to the Bahá’í Faith through Reverend Este’s Church. His mother has been a maid in the Maxwell household and Eddie Elliot and Mary Maxwell were close childhood friends. Rowland Estall (one of the early Montreal Bahá’ís) speaks further about Mr. Elliot’s involvement with the Bahá’í Community:

  • … as a youth, he (Elliot) was both part of the Bahá’í youth group and of a social club organized by (Mary Maxwell) called the “ Fratority Club.” By this word Mary Maxwell meant to put together the words “fraternity” and “sorority” and had invited people to belong to it, mostly young students at McGill, who would otherwise not have been able to find membership in the exclusive fraternities and sororities around the campus…

In later years, Elliot was often chair of the local Spiritual Assembly of Montreal, although he remained a member of the Negro Church – retaining membership in one’s church was not an uncommon practice among Bahá’ís during those early years. Elliot would arrive at the Maxwell home after dark to not to arouse suspicion among Maxwell’s neighbours.

In a conversation Rowland Estall asked Elliot “when are you coming to the fireside (informal gatherings at Maxwell’s home)? And he said “after dark, you know I wouldn’t come when it’s light.” So nine o’clock he would show up and it was time to go home. These are the sad things about those days…

One of the people who was the member of Reverend Este’s Church, was the 14 years old Violet States (née Grant). Violet and Elliot’s parents have had moved to Canada from West-indies as labourers. The men mostly worked in the Rail Road Company, CN and the women worked as maids, such as Elliot’s mother who worked at Maxwell’s home. Elliot carried a Sunday School program in the church and Violet attended those classes. She remembers that Elliot would get up at a certain hour and leave saying that he had to attend another important meeting. Finally Violet one day asked him about those important meetings that Elliot was attending.

Elliot talked to Violet about the Bahá’í Faith and she accepted the message without any hesitation. She worked in various Montreal Schools as a music teacher. She was also a member of all women Symphony which gave its first performance in the Carnegie Hall, New York. She was nominated by the city of Montreal as one the ten women who build this city and received a certificate of honour from the Montreal Mayor herself!

Violet is still alive and healthy and lives in a retirement home in Montreal. She is 96 years old!

Photos : The Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Montreal, 1948 - Eddie Elliot is at the centre

               Violet State (née Grant)

W.C. van den Hoonaard,  The Origins of the Bahá’í Community of Canada

Estall, 1977

Golgasht Mossafai, interviews with Violet State and Raymond Flournoy

For Violet’s life stories :

Bahá'í Lady among the 20 exceptional Montreal women who are named “Builders of the City”

http://www.bahaimontreal.org/en-ca/news/122-baha-i-lady-among-the-20-exceptional-montreal-women-who-are-named-builders-of-the-city

Name a street or establishment in Verdun in honor of Violet States!

http://www.bahaimontreal.org/en-ca/news/138-name-a-street-or-establishment-in-verdun-in-honor-of-violet-states

Remembering an early pillar of the Bahá’í Faith

http://www.bahaimontreal.org/en-ca/news/93-remembering-an-early-pillar-of-the-baha-i-faith

 

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