Bahá'í Faith in Tunisia

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The Bahá'í Faith in Tunisia begins circa 1910[1] when the first Bahá'í arrives, possibly from Egypt.[2][3] In 1956 at Ridván, a marked holy day of the religion and a day on which major elections are held, three new Regional Spiritual Assemblies were established including that of North-West Africa with the chairmanship of Enoch Olinga[4][5] In 1963 a survey of the community counted 1 assembly and 18 organized groups (between 1 and 9 adults) of Bahá'ís in Tunisia.[6] US State Department 2001 estimates mention the Bahá'í community at about 150 persons.[7] However Association of Religion Data Archives and several other sources point to over 1000 Bahá'ís in the country.[8][2][9]

Early phase[edit]

The first presence of the religion is not well documented but all suggestions point to the arrival of Bahá'ís during the ministry of `Abdu'l-Bahá which is to say before 1921. It is suggested a Bahá'í visited circa 1910[10] possibly from Egypt.[2] Frenchman Bahá'i Hippolyte Dreyfus-Barney [fr][11] is known to have obtained permission from the French authorities to have the Bahá'í teachings promulgated in Tunisia. Dreyfus-Barney was remembered by Shoghi Effendi, then head of the religion, for his "stimulating encouragement" to the Bahá’í community of Tunis.[12] Later, Hafez Nadim Effendi, who died in 1933, was similarly encouraged by Shoghi Effendi to twice visit Tunis to teach and encourage the Bahá'ís.[13] Circa 1928 the first Baha’i pilgrim from Tunis and a representative of its Bahá'í Local Spiritual Assembly visited the Bahá'í spiritual and administrative centers of the religion.[14] In 1937 Dr. M. Sálih, chairman of the National Spiritual Assembly of Egypt, visited Tunis again based on the encouragement of the head of the religion with a view to strengthening the Bahá'ís in Tunisia and encouraging their activities.[15]

In 1956 at Ridván, a marked holy day of the religion and a day on which major elections are held, three new Regional Spiritual Assemblies were established including that of North-West Africa with the chairmanship of Enoch Olinga[4][16] covering Tunisia with its secretarial seat in Tunis.[5] Another well known Bahá'í who served the area and that assembly at the time was Helen Elsie Austin.[17][18] The assembly was established covering about 600 Bahá'ís[4] and 38 local assemblies across northwestern Africa.[5] The seat of the national assembly was later transferred from Tunis to Rabat, Morocco.[5] The regional national assembly including Tunisia achieved incorporation in 1961.[5]


A survey of the religion taken in 1963[6] found an Assembly in Tunis, groups between 1 and 9 adults in 18 locations, and an additional 6 locations isolated Bahá'ís lived.

Local Spiritual Assembly Tunis
Organized Groups of Bahá'ís Ben Arous Douz El Djem Gafsa Kebili Kasserine
Ksour Essef Le Kef Makthar Manouba Megrine Rades
Remada Robaa Sbeitla Sidi Bouzid Siliana Sousse

During 1967–69 the regional assembly was reorganized and had jurisdiction over Algeria and Tunisia. When the pioneers to Tunisia were expelled in November 1968 the Attar-Hamedani family left behind a villa and office before eventually settling in Hong Kong. In 1969 the regional national assembly of North Africa was dissolved when Tunisia was placed under emergency rule. The National Spiritual Assembly of Tunisia was elected in 1972.[5][19]


In October 1984 Bahá'í institutions were banned and Bahá'ís were interrogated in Tunisia.[19] In the mid 1980s 6 known polemical attacks were made against the Bahá'ís in Tunisia in newspapers.[20] Near the same period Abdelfattah Amor served as dean of the faculty of legal, political and social science at Tunis University. He would later work professionally as a human rights lawyer who, as a Muslim, would serve as a UN Special Rapporteur who took a keen interest in the treatment of the Bahá'ís of Iran.[21] In the same period Muhammad Talbí, a professor of the Letters and Human Sciences at Tunis University, published an article "What Muslims Really Believe About Religious Liberty" in Liberty, a magazine of religious freedom, in 1986.[22] Though it didn't mention the religion specifically it was considered significant enough that Bahá'ís reprinted the article with permission in their publication the Bahá'í News in January 1987.[23]

Traditionally the government regarded the religion as a heretical sect of Islam and permitted its adherents to practice their faith only in private.[24]

Modern community[edit]

In 2005 a Tunisian Muslim academic, Dr. Iqbal Al-Gharbi, a psychology lecturer at the University of Ez-Zitouna in Tunis, called on Muslims to reconcile with Bahá'ís and other religious groups, even to "apologise to the Baha'is that have been humiliated and denigrated in Muslim countries."[25]

The modern Bahá'í community has been alittle in the news since the Arab Spring by commentators interested in events in Tunisia.[26][27] A series entitled “Tunisia’s Spiritual Pluralism" covered the religion in February 2013.[2] It noted that though the Bahá's have "not been overtly persecuted by the Tunisian state, they nonetheless often feel socially marginalized and excluded".


2001 estimates by the US Department of State counted some 150 Bahá'ís.[7] However World Christian Encyclopedia (2001) claimed that the number of Bahá'ís in Tunisia was 1,450 in 1990.[9] The Association of Religion Data Archives estimated 2,000 Bahá'ís in 2010.[8] A recent mention in a newspaper quoted a Bahá'í estimating that more than a thousand exist in Tunisia.[2]

Though the government has proscribed the religion publicly it has permitted Bahá'ís to hold meetings of their national council in private homes as well as three local spiritual assemblies that have been elected since 2004.[24]

Religious reference to Tunisia[edit]

Referring to Revelation, Verses 3, `Abdu'l-Bahá provided an interpretation referring to the Umayyad Caliphate regions including Tunisia: “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. … These signs are an allusion to the dynasty of the Umayyads who dominated the Muḥammadan religion. Seven heads and seven crowns mean seven countries and dominions over which the Umayyads had power: they were the Roman dominion around Damascus; and the Persian, Arabian and Egyptian dominions, together with the dominion of Africa—that is to say, Tunis, Morocco and Algeria; the dominion of Andalusia, which is now Spain; and the dominion of the Turks of Transoxania. The Umayyads had power over these countries."[28] Such an interpretation of history does not negate the affirmation of the exalted station held for Muhammad - `Abdu'l-Bahá said that a Bahá'í will choose death over denial of any of the great Prophets, whether Moses, Muhammad or Christ.[29] Bahá'ís place Islam as the penultimate religion before the end times, which the Báb ultimate addressed by claiming to be the Qa'im himself[30] followed by Bahá'u'lláh claiming to be the return of Christ.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Temple, Bernard (May 27, 1910). "Persia and the Regenerations of Islam". Journal of the Royal Society of Arts. 58 (2001): 652–665. Retrieved 2013-08-03.
  2. ^ a b c d e Khlifi, Roua (26 February 2013). "Tunisia's Spiritual Pluralism: The Baha'i Faith". Tunis is Alive. Archived from the original on 2013-03-06. Retrieved 2013-08-03.
  3. ^ Hassall, Graham (c. 2000). "Egypt: Baha'i history". Asia Pacific Bahá'í Studies: Bahá'í Communities by country. Bahá'í Online Library. Retrieved 2013-08-03.
  4. ^ a b c Anthony Asa Lee (2007). The Establishment of the Baha'i Faith in West Africa: The First Decade, 1952—1962. ProQuest. p. 116. ISBN 978-0-549-40690-7. Retrieved 20 July 2013.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Hassall, Graham (2003-08-26). "Bahá'í Communities by Country: Research Notes". Asian/Pacific Collection. Asia Pacific Bahá'í Studies. Retrieved 2008-11-18.
  6. ^ a b Compiled by Hands of the Cause Residing in the Holy Land. "The Bahá'í Faith: 1844–1963: Information Statistical and Comparative, Including the Achievements of the Ten Year International Bahá'í Teaching & Consolidation Plan 1953–1963". pp. 118–119.
  7. ^ a b U.S. State Department (September 14, 2001). "International Religious Freedom Report 2001: Tunisia". The Office of Electronic Information, Bureau of Public Affair. Retrieved 2013-08-03.
  8. ^ a b "Most Bahá'í Countries". International > Regions > Northern Africa. The Association of Religion Data Archives. 2010. Retrieved 2013-08-03.
  9. ^ a b "Tunisia: Treatment of Bahai's (or Baha'is) by non-Bahai's and Tunisian authorities; whether they have been targets of threats and/or violence; police attitude towards Bahai's, police response to complaints lodged by Bahai's and police protection available". Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. 17 April 2003. TUN41362.E. Retrieved 2013-08-03.
  10. ^ Temple, Bernard (May 27, 1910). "Persia and the Regenerations of Islam". Journal of the Royal Society of Arts. 58 (2001): 652–665. Retrieved 2013-08-03.
  11. ^ Dreyfus-Barney, Laura C.; Shoghi Effendi (1928). Linard, Thomas (ed.). "Biography of Hippolyte Dreyfus-Barney". Bahá'í Library Online. Retrieved 2013-08-03.
  12. ^ Effendi, Shoghi (1981). The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha'i Community. London, UK: Baha'i Publishing Trust. pp. 84–85. ISBN 978-0-900125-43-0.
  13. ^ "News of the Cause; International". Bahá'í News (81): 11. February 1934. ISSN 0195-9212.
  14. ^ Effendi, Shoghi (1970). Dawn of a New Day. Bahá'í Publishing Trust. p. 21.
  15. ^ The Bahá'í World; A Biennial International Record (PDF). IX, 1940–1944 A.D. National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States and Canada. 1945. p. 606.
  16. ^ Universal House of Justice (1986). In Memoriam Enoch Olinga 1926–1979. The Bahá'í World. XVIII. Bahá'í World Centre. pp. 618–635. ISBN 978-0-85398-234-0.
  17. ^ Rabbani, Ruhiyyih (Ed.) (1992). The Ministry of the Custodians 1957–1963. Bahá'í World Centre. p. 411. ISBN 0-85398-350-X.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  18. ^ "Standing up for justice and truth". Bahá'í World News Service. Bahá’í International Community. 5 December 2004. Retrieved 2013-08-03.
  19. ^ a b Cameron, G.; Momen, W. (1996). A Basic Bahá'í Chronology. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. pp. 373, 393, 442. ISBN 0-85398-404-2.
  20. ^ MacEoin, Denis; William Collins. "Anti-Baha'i Polemics". The Babi and Baha'i Religions: An Annotated Bibliography. Greenwood Press's ongoing series of Bibliographies and Indexes in Religious Studies. pp. entries 190, 206, 207, 233, 281, 369. Retrieved 2010-04-28.
  21. ^ "Baha'i International Community mourns passing of human rights expert". Bahá'í World News Service. Bahá’í International Community. 8 January 2012. Retrieved 2013-08-03.
  22. ^ Talbí, Muhammad (September–October 1986). "What Muslims Really Believe About Religious Liberty" (PDF). Liberty. 81 (6): 16–19. Retrieved August 3, 2013.
  23. ^ "What Muslims Really Believe About Religious Liberty". Bahá'í News (670): 8–10. January 1987. ISSN 0195-9212.
  24. ^ a b International Religious Freedom Report 2010: Tunisia. United States Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (September 14, 2010). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  25. ^ *"Liberal Tunisian Researcher Dr. Iqbal Al-Gharbi: Muslims Must Take Responsibility for Past Mistakes". Middle East Media Research Institute. November 4, 2005.
  26. ^ Hennessey, Radia (May 2, 2013). "Tunisia's Theocratic Temptation". New York Times. Retrieved 2013-08-03.
  27. ^ Hallowell, Billy (Mar 23, 2013). "Christian Pastor pens emotional letter to wife detailing horrific abuse in Notorious Irannian Prison". The Blaze. Retrieved 2013-08-03.
  28. ^ `Abdu'l-Bahá (1990) [1908]. Some Answered Questions (Softcover ed.). Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. pp. 69–70. ISBN 0-87743-162-0.
  29. ^ `Abdu'l-Bahá (1982) [1911]. `Abdu'l-Bahá in London. London, UK: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. pp. 56–57. ISBN 0-900125-50-0.
  30. ^ Amanat, Abbas (2000). "Resurgence of Apocalyptic in Modern Islam". In Stein, Stephen J. (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism, vol. III: Apocalypticism in the Modern Period and the Contemporary Age. New York: Continuum. pp. 241–242. ISBN 0-8264-1255-6.
  31. ^ Buck, Christopher (2004). "The eschatology of Globalization: The multiple-messiahship of Bahā'u'llāh revisited". In Sharon, Moshe (ed.). Studies in Modern Religions, Religious Movements and the Bābī-Bahā'ī Faiths. Boston: Brill. pp. 143–178. ISBN 90-04-13904-4.