Bahá'í Faith in Pakistan
The Bahá'í Faith in Pakistan begins previous to its independence when it was part of India. The roots of the Bahá'í Faith in the region go back to the first days of the Bábí religion in 1844, with Shaykh Sa'id Hindi who was from Multan. During Bahá'u'lláh's lifetime, as founder of the religion, he encouraged some of his followers to move to the area that is current-day Pakistan.
In 1921 the Bahá'ís of Karachi elected their first Bahá'í Local Spiritual Assembly. In 1923, still as part of India, a regional National Spiritual Assembly was formed for all India and Burma which then included the area now part of Pakistan. By 1956 Bahá'í local assemblies spread across many cities, and in 1957, East and West Pakistan elected a separate National Bahá'í Assembly from India and later East Pakistan became Bangladesh with its own national assembly. Waves of refugees arrived in 1979 due to the Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian Revolution in Iran.
The Bahá'ís in Pakistan have the right to hold public meetings, establish academic centers, teach their faith, and elect their administrative councils. However, the government prohibits Bahá'ís from travelling to Israel for Bahá'í pilgrimage. The World Christian Encyclopedia estimated over 78,000 Bahá'ís lived in Pakistan in 2000 and over 92800 in 2005 though Bahá'ís claimed less than half that number.
The roots of the Bahá'í Faith in the region go back to the first days of the Bábí religion in 1844. Four Babis are known from India in this earliest period — it is not known from what sub-region most of them came from but at least some of them were known as Sufis and some termed Sayyid. The first was Shaykh Sa'id Hindi — one of the Letters of the Living who was from Multan then in India. Basir-i-Hindi was a member of the Jalalia sect who also converted in this early period from the region which later became Pakistan. After embracing the Babí religion, Hindi set out to Iran but learned that the Báb had been confined to the hills of Azerbaijan and made his way to Fort Tabarsi where he was one of four Indians listed among the 318 Bábís who fought at the Battle of Fort Tabarsi. After that he went to Nur and met Bahá'u'lláh and later moved to Luristan where he worked in the court of the governor of Luristan, Yaldram Mirza. When the governor learned he was a Babí he was killed.
Early Bahá'í period
During Bahá'u'lláh's lifetime, as founder of the Bahá'í Faith, he encouraged some of his followers to move to India. After first visiting Mumbai, India, Jamal Effendi visited Karachi in 1875 on one of his trips to parts of Southern Asia. His trips included Lahore, Sialkot, Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh. Following the passing of Bahá'u'lláh, the leadership of the religion fell to `Abdu'l-Bahá and he in turn sent further representatives to the region — followers who travelled to the region included both Persians and Americans and included Sydney Sprague and Mirza Mahmood Zarghaní.
On instructions from `Abdu'l-Bahá, Zarghaní stayed in Lahore for most of 1904 and subsequently travelled to nearby regions. During his stay Zarghaní became acquainted with Muhammad Iqbal. There is information that an American Bahá'í was in Lahore about 1905; little is known except that he became sick with cholera but recovered under care from a Bahá'í, Mr. Kaikhosru, who came from (then named) Bombay to nurse him but himself died of the disease.
The first Bahá'í to settle in current-day Pakistan may have been Muhammad Raza Shirazi who became a Bahá'í in Mumbai in 1908 and settled in Karachi. As early as 1910 the national community in India/Burma was being urged to visibly distinguish itself from Islam by the Bahá'í institutions of America. Jamshed Jamshedi moved from Iran to Karachi in 1917 and Mirza Qalich Beg translated the Hidden Words into Sindhi. National coordinated activities across India began and reached a peak with the first All-India Bahá'í Convention which occurred in Mumbai for three days in December 1920. Representatives from India's major religious communities were present as well as Bahá'í delegates from throughout the country. In 1921 the Bahá'ís of Karachi elected their first Bahá'í Local Spiritual Assembly.
Growth and challenges
In 1923, still as part of India, a regional National Spiritual Assembly was formed for India and Burma which then included the area now part of Pakistan. Martha Root, an American Bahá'í, visited Karachi and Lahore in 1930 and again in 1938 when she stayed for three months and supervised the publication of her book titled Tahirih — the Pure. She died about a year later. The Bahá'ís of Karachi obtained land for a cemetery in 1931. Mirza Tarazullah Samandari, later appointed as a Hand of the Cause — a distinguished rank in the religion —, visited the area several times; he first visited the region in 1930, and then again in 1963, 1964, 1966, and in 1993 travelling to many cities. From 1931 to 1933, Professor Pritam Singh, the first Bahá'í from a Sikh background, settled in Lahore and published an English language weekly called The Baha’i Weekly and other initiatives. A Bahá'í publishing committee was established in Karachi in 1935. This body evolved and is registered as the Baha’i Publishing Trust of Pakistan. In 1937, John Esslemont's Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era was translated into Urdu and Gujarati in Karachi. The Committee also published scores of Bahá'í books and leaflets in Urdu, English, Arabic, Persian, Sindhi, Pushtu, Balochi, Gojri, Balti and Punjabi and memorials including those marking the centenaries of the declaration of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh.
The Local Spiritual Assembly of Quetta was formed in 1943 by Bahá'ís from Mumbai and Iran while the Local Spiritual Assembly of Hyderabad was also formed in 1943 by Bahá'ís from Karachi. A spiritual assembly was elected for the first time in Jammu in 1946. Bahá'ís from Karachi were among those to help elect the local spiritual assemblies in Sukkur and Rawalpindi in 1948. Further local assemblies were formed in Sialkot in 1949, Multan, Chittagong, and Dhaka in 1950, Faisalabad in 1952, Sargodha in 1955, and Abbottabad, Gujranwala, Jahanabad, Mirpurkhas, Nawabshah, and Sahiwal by 1956 thus raising the number of local spiritual assemblies to 20. Hand of the Cause Dorothy Beecher Baker spoke at a variety of events in India extending her stay twice to speak at schools – her last public talk was in Karachi in early 1954. Meanwhile a Muslim émigré from near Lahore, Fazel (Frank) Khan, moved to Australia where he was asked to present the teachings of Islam at a Bahá'í school and was so affected by the class that he and his family converted to the Bahá'í Faith in 1947. On two later occasions Fazel visited his home village and endeavoured to teach them his new religion. On the first visit there was no response, but during the second visit a cousin converted in the town of Sialkot. On the other hand a fatwa was issued in Sialkot against the Bahá'ís.
Plans for an independent national assembly for Pakistan began as early as spring 1954. A regional convention in Karachi in 1956 had 17 delegates. With independence from India proceeding, the Bahá'ís of East and West Pakistan elected a separate Bahá'í National Spiritual Assembly from India in 1957, witnessed by Hand of the Cause Shu'á'u'llah 'Alá'í. The Bahá'ís elected to this first national assembly included Isfandiar Bakhtiari, Chaudhri Abdur Rehman, Faridoon Yazameidi, A.C. Joshi, M.H. IImi, Abdul Abbas Rizvi, M.A. Latif, Nawazish Ali Shah, and Mehboob Iiahi Qureshi. Joshi in particular was then the Chairman of the national assembly and had been elected to assemblies since 1947 and eventually in other institutions. The new national assembly saw to the publishing of a history of the Bahá'í Faith in Pakistan in 1957. In 1960 when Mason Remey made his unsuccessful claims for leadership, a small group of Bahá'ís in Pakistan accepted his claims and published some materials from 1965 through 1972 but have not been active since then. This Hereditary group never formed a significant group around the world. In 1961 the national assembly held a reception to honor the dedication of the Bahá'í House of Worship in Australia by inviting Australian and other diplomats as well as judges of Pakistani courts, business leaders and college professors while the local assembly of Sukkur hosted a regional summer school. In 1962 one was hosted by the local assembly of Quetta. In 1963 the Universal House of Justice, the international governing body of the Bahá'ís, was elected and all nine members of the Pakistani National Spiritual Assembly participated in the voting. In 1964 Hand of the Cause Tarázu'lláh Samandari visited Bahá'ís and social leaders in Dacca, East Pakistan at the time. From 1946 through the 1980s the Bahá'í publishing trust published a variety of works oriented to youth.
Multiplying interests, growth, and refugees
Since its inception the religion has had involvement in socio-economic development beginning by giving greater freedom to women, promulgating the promotion of female education as a priority concern, and that involvement was given practical expression by creating schools, agricultural coops, and clinics. In Pakistan 1967 was a year of multiplying activities. The Bahá'í youth of Karachi sponsored a youth symposium on world peace, the community at large elected a woman to the national assembly, for the first time elected a local assembly in Rahim Yar Khan, and held a reception for a Bahá'í from the Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro with guests including executive engineers, attorneys, businessmen and industrialists, doctors, press representatives, bankers and university students. In 1972 the assembly of Karachi held an observance of United Nations Day which over one hundred people attended. Talks presented dealt with the elimination of racial discrimination. Also in 1972 the government of Pakistan invited the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís to send a delegate to participate in a Conference of the Religious Minorities. By 1974 there were Bahá'ís that were members of the Bhil tribe in Thatta. In 1975 Bahá'ís held meetings for the International Women's Year and a seminar on "Education in Pakistan." In 1976 Bahá'ís were invited to participate in a week long celebration of minorities. Later Bahá'ís and non-Bahá'ís gathered to commemorate Letter of the Living Táhirih and a Bahá'í was acknowledged as part of the delegation from Pakistan to an Asian conference on religion and peace by the chief Muslim delegate late in the conference. In 1977 membership of the Bahá'ís reached the state of Kalat and Tharparkar. The 1977 winter school gathered 250 Bahá'ís while 1978's gathered 350. In 1978 conditions in Afghanistan, including the Soviet invasion, lead to many Afghan Bahá'ís being arrested in that country and many fled to Pakistan. Iranian Bahá'ís also fled to Pakistan from Iran in 1979 due to the Iranian Revolution. In 1979 the New Day Montessori School was established with ten students but would grow in time to three hundred and most of the students were not Bahá'ís. At this time Bahá'ís report there were 83 assemblies amongst many hundreds of places Bahá'ís lived which included three district centers and there were 47 delegates to the national convention. In winter 1979–80 Zahida Hina gave a speech on the life and works of Táhirih at a women's conference. In spring 1980 for the International Year of the Child the local assembly of Hyderabad organized an event that showcased children's art, essays, singing and quiz competitions, and the topic of the elimination of racial prejudice was a theme in Bahá'í gatherings in several cities. In the summer an institute and a seminar were held for children and youth covering a variety of topics including "The Role of Baha'i Youth during Political Upheavals." That fall and winter further gatherings were held, this time commemorating the United Nations Day (which highlighted the Commission for Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities) and a talk by a professor of Superior Science College (see Government Colleges affiliated with the University of Karachi) which encouraged discussion on the elimination of prejudices. Before spring 1981 the youth of Karachi organized a conference recapitulating many of the same themes of games, quizzes, a poster contest and round of prayers. Come April and May there was a broad attempt at engaging several interest groups from primary and secondary schools, universities and colleges, professional publishers and the general public through a radio broadcast. Still that spring, president of Pakistan, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, wrote an executive order categorizing the Bahá'í Faith as a non-Muslim religion. That December the Bahá'ís again held an observance of United Nations Day in several cities that received press coverage from print and radio. Representatives of the Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Zoroastrian and Bahá'í communities gathered for a symposium in the fall of 1982 with the theme, "The Increasing Social Unrest in the World Today and its Solution" while presentations were made to judges and lawyers about the Persecution of Bahá'ís in Iran. Still in the fall a women's conference brought together sixty non-Baha'i women who were wives of judges, university professors, headmistresses and teachers to hear talks. And in January 1983 a multi-faith presentation covered "the need of religion" on World Religion Day held in Karachi. In February and April Bahá'ís gathered for regional school sessions in Karachi, Quetta, Rawalpindi and Sibi. In August assemblies were formed for the first time in Sialkot, near Lahore, and Multan, the birthplace of Letter of the Living, Sa'id-i-Hindi. In September a symposium on Táhirih was held with presentations including Sahar Ansari, a professor of Urdu at the University of Karachi and Zahida Hina with the attendance of noted Pakistani poet, Jon Elia. Also in September a Bahá'í women's group decided to provide treats to students at a government school for physically and mentally handicapped children which evolved into the first set of volunteers helping in the school ever had. The religion entered a new phase of activity when a message of the Universal House of Justice dated 20 October 1983 was released. Bahá'ís were urged to seek out ways, compatible with the Bahá'í teachings, in which they could become involved in the social and economic development of the communities in which they lived. Worldwide in 1979 there were 129 officially recognized Bahá'í socio-economic development projects. By 1987, the number of officially recognized development projects had increased to 1482. From December 1984 through July 1985 more than ten vocational or tutorial schools had been set up in several cities and run by Bahá'ís or Bahá'í assemblies. Also in the early 1980s, Bahá'ís in Pakistan started social and economic development projects like small-scale medical camps. In the middle 1980s Iranian Bahá'í refugees who had come to Pakistan began to arrive in other countries. The office attending to the refugees attracted visitors from governments and institutions including members of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (LSHCR) in Islamabad and Lahore; an official from the Ministry of Justice of the Nelherlands; a delegation from Finland that included the Ambassador from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ambassador of the Embassy of Finland in Tehran, and three senior officials of the Finnish government; and the Australian Immigration Officer from Canberra. In 1985 the Universal House of Justice published The Promise of World Peace and in 1986 and the assembly of Hyderabad used the occasion of the International Year of Peace to sponsor a symposium on world peace and present the document to attendees. In 1989 Bahá'ís from Karachi moved to and elected the first local assembly in Muzaffarabad while Bahá'ís from Quetta sponsored a week long series of student competitions that were run in 11 schools in Baluchistan – each day different activities were run; The Elimination of Prejudice, national songs, a quiz game, and a drama contest were among the events held. In 1998, when the Taliban authorities in Afghanistan arrested many Bahá'ís, many fled to Pakistan but many were able to return by 2002.
The religion has continued to grow – in 1990 several individuals converted from Ahmadiyyah to the Bahá'í Faith and formed an assembly. The Pakistani Bahá'í community currently had the right to hold their public meetings, establish academic centres, teach their religion, and elect their administrative councils. Indeed government officials have occasionally attended events at Bahá'í centres. However, the government prohibits Bahá'ís from travelling to Israel for Bahá'í pilgrimage. The government of Pakistan also voted against the United Nations resolution Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran in 19 December 2001 raised in response to the Persecution of Bahá'ís in Iran. In 2003 a series of youth collaborations highlighted internal developments in the community using the Ruhi Institute process. Indeed nearly 1000 individuals have participated in Ruhi training by 2004, and classes have continued through 2007. In 2004 the Bahá'ís of Lahore began seeking for a new Bahá'í cemetery.
By 1999 the number of Bahá'ís in the country was around 19,000; circa 2001 that number rose to some 30,000 adherents. The World Christian Encyclopedia estimated over 78,000 members of the religion in the country in 2000 and over 92800 in 2005.
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