Baháʼí Faith in Scotland
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The Baháʼí Faith in Scotland is a minority religion. According to the 2001 Census in Scotland, roughly four hundred people living there declared themselves to be Baháʼís, compared to a 2004 figure of approximately 5,000 Baháʼís in the United Kingdom.
Scotland's Baháʼí history began around 1905 when European visitors, Scots among them, met ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, then head of the religion, in Ottoman Palestine. One of the first and most prominent Scots who became a Baháʼí was John Esslemont. Starting in the 1940s a process of moving to promulgate the religion called pioneering by Baháʼís began for the purpose of teaching the religion. These were joined by new converts and established local Spiritual Assemblies and eventually a National Baháʼí Council for Scotland was elected under the Assembly of the Baháʼís of the United Kingdom.
Up to World War I
In 1908, the Young Turks revolution freed all political prisoners in the Ottoman Empire, including ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, then head of the Baháʼí Faith. With the freedom to leave the country, in 1910 he embarked on a three-year journey to Egypt, Europe, and North America, publicising the Baháʼí message.
ʻAbdu'l-Bahá returned to the British Isles and, recalling an invitation in 1905 by Jane Whyte, wife of Alexander Whyte, and others who visited him in Ottoman Palestine, he chose to visit in Edinburgh in 1913. A journal of his visit, including entries written in Edinburgh is still extant. See ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's journeys to the West.
It has been claimed that Jane Whyte (1857–1944) was the first Scottish Baháʼí. She visited ʻAbdu'l-Bahá in Akko (then in Palestine). A Scotsman resident in London, A.P. Cattanach, is also listed as a member prior to 1913.
After his last return to Palestine ʻAbdu'l-Bahá mentioned various parts of the British Isles. He 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 Tablets of the Divine Plan. The seventh of the tablets mentioned European regions where the religion was not already present like the Shetland Islands. It was written on 11 April 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 seventh tablet was translated and presented on 4 April 1919, and published in Star of the West magazine on 12 December 1919 and mentioned the islands. He says:
- "Therefore, O ye believers of God! Show ye an effort and after this war spread ye the synopsis of the divine teachings in the British Isles, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Portugal, Rumania, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Greece, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, Monaco, San Marino, Balearic Isles, Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, Crete, Malta, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Shetland Islands, Hebrides and Orkney Islands."
The development of the religion in Scotland suffered a serious blow in 1921 when ʻAbdu'l-Bahá died. This caused a decline in membership and activities until the mid-thirties.
Born in Aberdeen in 1874, Esslemont had become the first Baháʼí of Bournemouth in early 1915 after hearing of the religion in December 1914 from a co-worker's wife who had met ʻAbdu'l-Bahá in 1911 and had some pamphlets to share.
Circa 1918, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá wrote a tablet in Esslemont's honour and also mentioned interest in a book he was working on. After receiving an early draft of this book ʻAbdu'l-Bahá invited Esslemont to Palestine which he accomplished in the winter of 1919–20, after the Battle of Megiddo (1918) settled the land. Ultimately ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was able to personally review several chapters. News of Esslemont's declaration of faith, and his forthcoming book, played a role in establishing the beginning of the Baháʼí Faith in Australia. This book in development was to become the well-known introductory book on the Baháʼí Faith, Baháʼu'lláh and the New Era, which was originally published in 1923 and has been translated into numerous languages and remains a key introduction to the religion.
Esslemont was elected chairman of the assembly of Bournemouth when it was elected in a few years and later as vice-chairman of the national assembly until he left the country in 1924 following the closing of the sanatorium where he had been employed. He then traveled to Palestine to assist in translation work. In 1925, the first Baháʼí of New Zealand, Margaret Stevenson, had gone on pilgrimage and the group she was in spent time in the UK afterwards – Esslemont specifically urged her to visit his family in Scotland.
Shoghi Effendi, head of the religion after the death of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, posthumously designated Esslemont as the first of the Hands of the Cause he appointed, and as one of the Disciples of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá. Esslemont was also an accomplished medical doctor and linguist becoming proficient in western and eastern languages.
In late 1926 Martha Root, a Baháʼí well known for travelling widely in the world, travelled to Scotland for an Esperanto convention joined by Lydia Zamenhof, daughter of the founder of Esperanto and who carried on that work, after she also became a Baháʼí. In 1927, a Caithness paper, the John O' Groats Journal carried a story on the religion.
A Spiritual Assembly, elected councils of 9 adults that govern in the religion because the Baháʼí Faith has no clergy, was elected in Edinburgh in 1939 and is the longest continuously operating assembly in Scotland.
Post-World War II history
In 1946, a great pioneering movement began with sixty percent of the British Baháʼí community eventually relocating. Intranationally this effort would take the Baháʼí Faith to Scotland, Wales, and Ireland and raising the numbers of Local Assemblies in the British Isles. In 1946, first of these to Scotland was Dr. M. Said of Egypt in 1946, who was joined in 1947, by Isobel Locke (later Sabri) and John Marshall, a native Scot who had met ʻAbdu'l-Bahá in 1911. The first to become a Baháʼí in this period (in March 1948) was Dr. William Johnston, who had met ʻAbdu'l-Bahá in Edinburgh in 1913.
The first continuously functioning local spiritual assembly of Scotland was formed in Edinburgh when it was elected in 1948. Then in 1953, a number of Baháʼís spread out across Scotland – Brigitte Hasselblatt, an Estionian, arrived in Lerwick, Charles Dunning moved to Orkney followed by Daryoush Mehrabi and a Baháʼí arrived in Stornoway. The first Baháʼí convert outside the mainland of Scotland then joined the religion – Lilian McKay in September 1956 in Shetland and in 1963 she attended the first Baháʼí World Congress. There have been Baháʼís in Inverness since 1959 when Harold and Betty Shepherd pioneered there. Hasselblatt moved to Finland, where she married, in 1959.
Late Twentieth Century
In 1960 the Baháʼís of Edinburgh held an observance of World Religion Day at the Grosvenor Hotel, in Haymarket. The first Spiritual Assembly of Inverness was elected in April 1962. Gloria Faizi, wife of Abu'l-Qásim Faizi, was the first Baháʼí to visit the outlying islands of Shetland, such as Fetlar, Unst, Yell, Whalsay and the Out Skerries in 1964. The first Orcadian assembly was elected in Kirkwall in 1969, with four natives of Orkney. Its nine members were: Shezagh King, Daryoosh Mehrabi, Adele Senior, Jacqueline Mehrabi, Moira Macleod, Ernest Bertram, Parvin Jahanpour, Eric King, and Violet Bertram.
Harold and Betty Shepherd moved from Inverness to Uganda in 1972, where they helped run a primary school and renovate the Baháʼí House of Worship there. Following that service, the Shepherds moved back to Scotland, eventually to the Orkney Islands in 1976, where Harold died in 1980.
Alexe Cookson was born on the Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, and about 1918 moved to New Zealand where she became a Baháʼí in 1964. She also went on pilgrimage and on the return trip went to Scotland where she died in Fort William.
In 1981 Hand of the Cause Rúhíyyih Khánum, visited Edinburgh, the Shetland Islands, the Hebrides and Orkney. While in Edinburgh she preached on some matters of interest to local Baha'is, such as that the eagle marker for Shoghi Effendi's grave was bought in Edinburgh, that one her parents was Scottish (she claimed descent from Clan McBean, Clan Sutherland and Clan Maxwell) how she and Shoghi Effendi had visited the area twice after World War II – seeing Loch Lomond, Gleneagles, Stirling, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
The recent community of Baháʼís have been involved in a variety of projects and undertakings and is organized under the Baháʼí Council for Scotland, also known as Comhairle Luchd Bahà-i na h-Alba [sic], under the National Spiritual Assembly for the Baháʼís of the United Kingdom. The 2017 elected members of the Council are:
Allan Forsyth, Chairman, Lorraine Fozdar, Vice-Chair, Andrew Goodwin, Secretary, Ian Fozdar, Treasurer, Venus Alae-Carew, Diane Edwards, Farhad Varjavandi, Mina Sheppard and Wendy Keenan.
The inauguration of new national Baháʼí centre in Scotland took place in Edinburgh on 23 May 2011, on the anniversary of the Declaration of the Báb (accepted by Baháʼís as the inception of their religion in 1844). Over 80 guests heard Kenny MacAskill, Scottish Minister for Justice, giving the opening address.
Interfaith and public activities
In the teachings of the Baháʼí Faith, Jesus is considered to be one of a number of Manifestations of God, a concept in the Baháʼí Faith that refers to what are commonly called prophets. Mohammed, Moses, Buddha, Krishna, and Baháʼu'lláh are also considered Manifestations of God.
The Dumfries Inter-Faith Group formed in 1998, at the initiative of the Baháʼí community, and as of 2005 still had a Baháʼí member.
Baháʼís have participated in the regional Scottish Inter-Faith Council since at least 2002.
A "World Religions" class including one session on the Baháʼí Faith was offered at the University of Dundee as part of its Continuing Education program as an initiative by a Baháʼí and organized in conjunction with Dundee Inter-Faith Association after two years of insufficient interest in holding a class just on the Baháʼí Faith.
At the invitation of the Moderator of the Church of Scotland in the winter of 2002–2003 an interfaith delegation from Scotland including a Baháʼí attended the Brussels European Union Commission and Parliament including Scottish MEPs. The Baháʼí representative reports the politicians he spoke with had heard of the religion before. This same year, for the first time, the Church of Scotland received representatives of the non-Christian faiths of Scotland at its 18 May General Assembly as a result of a major theme of that year's Moderator: to progress interfaith dialogue in Scotland. Both the outgoing and incoming Moderators commented on the representatives of the religions that had been invited and attended: the Baháʼí, Buddhist, Jewish and Sikh faiths. The Moderator then asked the representatives of these faiths to stand and invited the General Assembly to show its appreciation. The ovation from those gathered was warm, sincere, long and very moving. Baháʼí support for the effort was specific as a result of the then recent letter of the Universal House of Justice "Message to the World's Religious Leaders" released the previous April.
On 28 October 2003, the Baháʼí pamphlet Treasuring Our Youth was officially presented to the Scottish Inter-Faith Council. The religion was represented at a religion and faith focus group in Glasgow, on 1 December 2008 on the issue of a Patients' Rights Bill for Users of the NHS in Scotland organised by the Scottish Inter-Faith Council. There is a Baháʼí representative to the local interfaith council in Sheltand Island as well.
Also in 2005 the second Edinburgh International Festival of Middle Eastern Spirituality and Peace took place over an extended period from mid February to early March. Many performances and events were offered by Baháʼís in the proceedings including – a selection of The Hidden Words was set with music for viola, an event on "Tranquility Space" by the University of Edinburgh Baha'i Society, "The Baha'i Faith Exhibition", created originally for the St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art, a two-hour guided tour of some of the places where ʻAbdu'l-Bahá spoke at or visited in Edinburgh in 1913, and a talk by Baháʼí scholar Dr Moojan Momen.
The Baháʼís published World Religions; The Baháʼí Faith (A Pack for Primary Schools) which covers most of the "Attainment Targets and strands" delineated in the Scottish Education Department's 5–14 Document for the teaching of World Religions in schools (Religious and Moral Education) by 2006.
On 18 January 2006, the Scottish Parliament opened its prayer meeting with a "Time for Reflection" presented by Carrie Varjavandi. She represented the Baháʼí Council for Scotland explained elements of the history and teachings of the religion.
In 2007 the Scottish Interfaith Council produced a booklet, Religion and Belief Matter: An Information Resource for Healthcare Staff reviewing issues member religions have in medical care situations. The Baháʼí Faith section notes Baháʼís accept a role for prayer when ill, there is a regular period of fasting in March when not sick, and that there are requirements in the case of death. The Council also produced a booklet A Guide to Faith Communities in Scotland reviewing members of the council including introductory information, a space for societal issues and giving voice to concerns the faiths have for society. The Baháʼí entry notes "Bahaʼis are concerned about anything that leads to conflict or disunity in the community or in the world. To this end, they are encouraged to support activities which further one or all of the principles of their faith. Bahaʼis are encouraged to protect the interests of their community and country but are also expected to take on the role and responsibility of world citizens."
The "Association of Baha'i Women (Scotland)" held its inaugural meeting in Glasgow on 3 November 1999, with the UK National Spiritual Assembly chairman, Wendi Momen, and director of the Office for the Advancement of Women, Zarin Hainsworth-Fadaei, travelling from London, the English capital, for the occasion. It has met often with local and regional women's groups through 2001. The group has also held inter-faith activities as recently as 2012.
Research in Glasgow
In 2005, tensions were noted among the religions of Glasgow especially following September the Eleventh, but faith communities, including the Baháʼís, thought greater cooperation and outreach with Glasgow City Council was important while at the same time acknowledging some gaps in understanding coming from both sides. A university review of the situation in Glasgow, pointed out that the Baháʼís and Jews were the only religions in Glasgow giving a high priority to inter-faith work, resulting in representation above their proportion in the community, and that it was the Baháʼís who were able to assist the researchers in identifying participants from faith groups other than their own – and that such openness was a foundational quality of Baháʼís. The same research included a survey where 13 out of 14 Baháʼí respondents felt their community's inter-faith involvement was "about right" while most thought Glasgow City Council's involvement in inter-faith activities needed to expand. In 2005 an Inter-faith Liaison Officer for the City Council of Glasgow was piloted for three years to address issues of sectarianism and included the Baháʼí Faith as a contact point.
In 2003 the youth Baháʼí Workshop (see Oscar DeGruy) named "Northern Lights" toured many events in the year. The dance troupe disband in 2004 but at a civic "Drugs Awareness" event in Glasgow there was a video presentation which, unknown to the group, included the Northern Lights 'Drug Dance' and mentioned that Northern Lights were a Baháʼí youth group who were opposed to the drug culture. In November 2006, a junior youth group was registered with the government in Inverness – Ruhi Institutes have a section regarding adolescents about ages 12 to 15 and in this case it included a dance Baháʼí workshop on diversity.
"The History of the Baháʼí Faith in Orkney" was produced by a 13-year-old junior youth for the Orkney Heritage Society who was awarded her one of twelve runners-up places and a "Very Highly Commended" certificate.
Three junior youth groups were run by Baháʼís in Shetland in 2010.
Persecution of Baháʼís in Iran
From initiatives of Baháʼís and the considered opinions of leaders various individuals have spoken out about Iran's treatment of Baháʼís in Scotland.
In 1995 the spiritual assembly of the Baháʼís of Edinburgh welcomed Olya Roohìzadegan to the chaplaincy centre of the University of Edinburgh who addressed the audience on the martyrdom of Mona Mahmudnizhad she witnessed.
In 2010 a Dundee SNP MP, Stewart Hosie, called on British PM David Cameron to act on behalf of a group of Iranian prisoners who have been jailed for their religious beliefs. There was also coverage of the persecution on local TV news. Also in 2010, Cardinal O' Brien of the Roman Catholic Church issued a public statement in which he condemned Iran's treatment of Baháʼís:
- "Having been united in prayer with seven Bahaʼi Leaders, who were arrested more than two years ago in Iran, I deeply regret the news that these leaders have now been sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.
- I am happy to join in the recent statement issued by William Hague MP, Foreign Secretary, on this matter and regard what has happened as being a most appalling transgression of justice and at heart a gross violation of the human right of freedom of belief."
Indeed at least one resident in Scotland had herself escaped after her husband was killed according to her own testimony, adding her voice to those of various international leaders.
The Scottish community of Baháʼís numbered 421 people, 0.008% of the population of Scotland, according to the 2001 Census. Respondents had to use the "write in" section as it was not listed as an available choice. However across all of Scotland some householders were confused by the Census format or, for whatever reason, declined to follow its logic and the census does not measure religious activity or commitment, but overall was supported as "robust, reliable and – crucially – representative" according to a University of Glasgow study. Non-Christian religions are less strong in Scotland than in the rest of the UK but relatively speaking, the Baháʼís are better represented in Scotland than any other non-Christian community in proportion to its national community with 8% of its members living in Scotland. Indeed the religion is recognized world wide as the second-most geographically widespread religion after Christianity. This is partly because of their conscious effort to "pioneer" Scotland, by sending members there.
As of 2004 the elected Local Spiritual Assemblies of Scotland were: Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Lerwick, Orkney Mainland East, and Skye Central.
The same University of Glasgow research included a focus providing a possible rough profile of the Glasgow Baháʼí community. Baháʼís returned a maximum of 24 surveys in the various rounds of surveys. And when done according to language preference most were done in English – 16 were in English and 8 in Persian – the native language of Iranians where both the religion originated and where Persecution of Baháʼís is well documented. Note also the only other group to report Persian returns was a women's group. The same research did a follow-up survey looking for ethnic breakdowns – 15 Baháʼí respondents included 6 from "Asian-Other" or "Mixed-Other".
In 2006 the regional community of Forth and Clyde was considered by Baháʼís to be the best developed of Scotland.
Individuals of note
Robert Ghillies is a Baháʼí composer that has had works performed nationally. His music features in Tobermory and the Otter and he's composed many pieces related to the religion.
- Religion in Scotland
- Baháʼí Faith in England
- Baháʼí Faith in Wales
- Baháʼí Faith in Northern Ireland
- Baháʼí Faith in the United Kingdom
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- Scottish Catholic leader condemns treatment of Iran's Bahaʼi leaders, 26 Aug 2010, Bahaʼi News UK
- Scotland's Bahaʼi community calls for support, by Billy Briggs, HeraldScotland, 26 October 2010
- Religious Diversity in Scotland, by Barry Thorne, The Scottish Baháʼí, No.40 – Summer, 2005 – the article has a typo of 245 Scottish Baha'is; adjusting for 421 vs national population which was quoted correctly....
- Encyclopædia Britannica (2002). "Worldwide Adherents of All Religions by Six Continental Areas, Mid-2002". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica.
- MacEoin, Denis (2000). "Baha'i Faith". In Hinnells, John R. (ed.). The New Penguin Handbook of Living Religions (Second ed.). Penguin. ISBN 0-14-051480-5.
- More Council News, Local Spiritual Assemblies, The Scottish Baháʼí, No.36 – Summer, 2004
- Scottish Gathering, Inverness The Scottish Baháʼí, No.44 – Summer, 2006
- List of Works « Robert Ghillies
- Dayspring publisher information, 2005
- Scottish Inter-Faith Week Events 27 November – 4 December 2011 scottishinterfaithcouncil.org
- Official website of the Baháʼí Community of Scotland
- Comhairle Luchd Bahà-i na h-Alba, the Baháʼí Council for Scotland (archived 4 May 2008) succeeded by Baháʼí Council for Scotland (archived 5 June 2009).
- The Scottish Baháʼí – Newsletter of the Scottish Baháʼí Community
- Index of the Newsletter of the Association for Baháʼí Studies (English-Speaking Europe) (published in Scotland)
- Local Baháʼí Communities in Scotland
- Aberdeen Baha'i Community
- Members of the Baháʼí Faith in Clackmannan (archived)
- Donside Baháʼí Community (archived)
- Members of the Baháʼí Faith in Dunfermline (archived)
- Dumfries and Galloway Baha'i Community and friends
- The Baháʼís of Dundee
- The Edinburgh Baha'i Community
- Glasgow Baha'i Community
- The Baha'is of Inverness and The Highlands
- Isle of Lewis Baha'i Community
- Members of the Baháʼí Faith in Midlothian (archived)
- Baha'is of the Western Borders/South of Scotland
- North Uist Baha'i Community (archived)
- The Shetland Baháʼí Community (archived)
- Orkney Baha'i Community (archived)
- Angus Baha'i Website
- Baháʼís of Skye (archived)
- Baha'is of the Western Borders, situated in the South of Scotland
- Bahai on Shetlopedia