Bahá'í Faith in Jamaica
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The Bahá'í Faith in Jamaica begins with a mention by `Abdu'l-Bahá, then head of the religion, in 1916 as Latin America being among the places Bahá'ís should take the religion to. The community of the Bahá'ís begins in 1942 with the arrival of Dr. Malcolm King. The first Bahá'í Local Spiritual Assembly of Jamaica, in Kingston, was elected in 1943. By 1957 the Bahá'ís of Jamaica were organized under the regional National Spiritual Assembly of the Greater Antilles, and on the eve of national independence in 1962, the Jamaica Bahá'ís elected their own National Spiritual Assembly in 1961. By 1981 hundreds of Bahá'ís and hundreds more non-Bahá'ís turned out for weekend meetings when Rúhíyyih Khánum spent six days in Jamaica. Public recognition of the religion came in the form of the Governor General of Jamaica, Sir Howard Cooke, proclaiming a National Bahá'í Day first on July 25 in 2003 and it has been an annual event since. While there is evidence of several active communities by 2008 in Jamaica, estimates of the Bahá'ís population range from the hundreds to the thousands.
`Abdu'l-Bahá, the son of the founder of the religion, wrote a series of letters, or tablets, to the followers of the religion in the United States in 1916-1917; these letters were compiled together in the book titled Tablets of the Divine Plan. The sixth of the tablets was the first to mention Latin American regions and was written on April 8, 1916, but was delayed in being presented in the United States until 1919—after the end of the First World War and the Spanish flu. The first actions on the part of Bahá'í community towards Latin America were that of a few individuals who made trips to Mexico and South America near or before this unveiling in 1919, including Mr. and Mrs. Frankland, and Roy C. Wilhelm, and Martha Root. The sixth tablet was translated and presented by Mirza Ahmad Sohrab on April 4, 1919, and published in Star of the West magazine on December 12, 1919.
His Christ Holiness says: Travel ye to the East and to the West of the world and summon the people to the Kingdom of God.…(travel to) the Islands of the West Indies, such as Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, the Islands of the Lesser Antilles, Bahama Islands, even the small Watling Island, have great importance…
Seven Year Plan and succeeding decades
Shoghi Effendi wrote a cable on May 1, 1936 to the Bahá'í Annual Convention of the United States and Canada, and asked for the systematic implementation of `Abdu'l-Bahá's vision to begin. In his cable he wrote:
Appeal to assembled delegates ponder historic appeal voiced by `Abdu'l-Bahá in Tablets of the Divine Plan. Urge earnest deliberation with incoming National Assembly to insure its complete fulfillment. First century of Bahá'í Era drawing to a close. Humanity entering outer fringes most perilous stage its existence. Opportunities of present hour unimaginably precious. Would to God every State within American Republic and every Republic in American continent might ere termination of this glorious century embrace the light of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh and establish structural basis of His World Order.
Following the May 1 cable, another cable from Shoghi Effendi came on May 19 calling for permanent pioneers to be established in all the countries of Latin America. The Bahá'í National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada appointed the Inter-America Committee to take charge of the preparations. During the 1937 Bahá'í North American Convention, Shoghi Effendi cabled advising the convention to prolong their deliberations to permit the delegates and the National Assembly to consult on a plan that would enable Bahá'ís to go to Latin America as well as to include the completion of the outer structure of the Bahá'í House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois. In 1937 the First Seven Year Plan (1937–44), which was an international plan designed by Shoghi Effendi, gave the American Bahá'ís the goal of establishing the Bahá'í Faith in every country in Latin America. With the spread of American Bahá'ís in Latin American, Bahá'í communities and Local Spiritual Assemblies began to form in 1938 across the rest of Latin America.
After a brief visit in 1939 by John and Rosa Shaw from San Francisco, the community of the Bahá'í Faith in Jamaica begins in 1942 with the arrival of Dr. Malcolm King - from Portland, Oregon, United States and of Jamaican background. King taught the religion to Marion Maxwell, the first Jamaican Bahá'í and William Mitchell (previously accountant for the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA) founded by Marcus Garvey). The first Bahá'í Local Spiritual Assembly of Jamaica, in Kingston, was elected in 1943. Mitchell was the Jamaican delegate to the Bahá'í All-America Convention called for by Shoghi Effendi, then head of the religion, to be held in the United States May 17–24, 1944 on the centenary of the declaration of the Báb. Mitchell in turn taught the religion to Julius Edwards, associated with Garvey and later pioneered to the area now called Ghana in 1953 and later in Liberia. There was also Eustace Whyte among the early Bahá'ís of Jamaica who served as president of UNIA's Harmony Division in Kingston as well as elected to the Local Spiritual Assembly of Kingston. Garvey scholar Robert Hill gave a eulogy at one of Whyte's funeral services.
From the early period of development the Bahá'í community in Jamaica grew in organization and in relationship with the wider community while growing internally as well. Before national independence, the Jamaicans were part of a regional National Spiritual Assembly of the Greater Antilles from 1957 through 1961 and on the eve of national independence in 1962, the Jamaica Bahá'ís elected their own National Spiritual Assembly in 1961 with Hand of the Cause Enoch Olinga representing the Bahá'í International Community. In 1963 there were Bahá'í Local Spiritual Assemblies in 6 cities: Annatto Bay, Kingston, May Pen, Port Antonio, Spanish Town, and Yallahs and smaller groups of Bahá'ís in Bartons (St. Catherine), Crooked River, Montego Bay, and Porus.
In 1963 the Bahá'ís of the world looked to the election of the Universal House of Justice as the new head of the religion. The electors were the members of the national assemblies then in existence. The members of the Jamaican National Assembly who participated in the election were Miss Doris Maud Buchanan, Mr. Randolph Fitz-Henley, Miss Alice Maude Gallier, Mr. Wm. Arthur Wellesley Mitchell, Mr. Alfred Senior, Miss Emily Taylor, Miss Ruby Taylor, Mr. Clarence Ullrich, Mrs. Margarite Ullrich. Later the Universal House of Justice called for eight Oceanic and Continental Conferences and one was held in Kingston for the Caribbean region in May 1971. In 1981, just before the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Bahá'í community in Jamaica, Hand of the Cause Rúhíyyih Khánum traveled throughout the Caribbean region and spent six days in Jamaica. She was received by the Governor General and Prime Minister while over two hundred Bahá'ís attended a weekend conference and more non-Bahá'ís attended a public meeting. A twenty-minute television interview as well as general coverage by radio and television reporters highlighted her visit.
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. 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. In 1985 the Bahá'í International Community canvassed the National Assemblies with a questionnaire - 77 of the 143 then existing assemblies responded. Jamaican responses highlighted a sense that women in Jamaica were taking on leadership positions on local assemblies. Former assistant to the dean of the school of engineering and applied science at Washington University in St. Louis, Naomi McCord, and her husband served as caretakers of the National Bahá'í Center in Kingston for a number of years. McCord willed more than 200 volumes from her personal library to the center.
In a first step in relation to the general Jamaican community, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Jamaica was a founding member of the Jamaican Interfaith Council in 1992.
The Bahá'ís have participated in a number of activities of wider and local relevance to Jamaicans. In 2000 Bahá'ís joined in observing the International Day of Peace with prayers called for by the Millennium World Peace Summit of religious leaders which met at the United Nations during August 28–31, and in 2002 Bahá'ís participated in a national dialogue on transcending tribalistic boundaries present in politics. Governor General of Jamaica, Sir Howard Cooke, proclaimed a National Bahá'í Day first on July 25 in 2003 and it has been an annual event since. Among the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the first Jamaican local spiritual assembly after two weeks of events was a blood drive organized by the Bahá'ís of Kingston. The festivities were also attended by retired Continental Counselor Ruth Pringle just two weeks before her death. In 2006 the Bahá'ís of Port Antonio held a 4-day exhibition at the public library on the history of the Faith in Jamaica with the Bahá'í Day observance. The Bahá'í Centre in Kingston has hosted Sir Howard Cooke's Thursday Group which has continued to operate since Sir Cooke's retirement in 2006. In 2008 Bahá'í Dorothy Whyte was named the new executive director at the Women's Resource and Outreach Centre in Kingston. In 2005 the international Bahá'í choir, Voices of Bahá, performed in Jamaica as part of their first tour in the Caribbean and performed at Ward Theatre and the University's Chapel with proceeds earmarked to two Jamaican charities serving families of policemen slain in the line of duty and the Denham Town Golden Age Home.
In 2000 local sources reported 4,000 Bahá'ís in Jamaica, notably in cities like Montego Bay, Port Antonio, Ocho Rios and May Pen though recent international sources reported anywhere from 279 Bahá'ís to more than 8,000. The Association of Religion Data Archives (relying on World Christian Encyclopedia) estimated some 5137 Bahá'ís in 2005. In 2006 there were 21 local spiritual assemblies. In 2008, Bahá'í community events are listed especially in Montego Bay, Morant Bay, Port Morant, and the Kingston/St. Andrew Parish area.
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