A series of structures are being erected across Africa: in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo; Matunda, Kenya; and Kampala, Uganda. Another in Mwinilunga, Zambia, is planned to be built in the next few years. There are others in different parts of the world: two in Asia, two in South America, two in the Pacific, one in Australia, one in Europe, one in North America and another in Latin America. Gradually, more and more are being built. All are open to all people. The only requirement to enter is respect.
They are being erected gradually as money and need arise. The one in Kinshasa was opened in 2023, in Matunda in 2021, and in Kampala in 1961. Open to all people, these are Houses of Worship built and paid for by members of the Bahá’í Faith as gifts to the world. Contributions are not accepted from others. If that were done, the buildings would not be a gift. Eventually, Bahá’ís hope to build a House of Worship in every town and city. Each will be the centre of institutions of social welfare, also open to everyone.
There are not yet enough Bahá’ís in the world to do this everywhere for everyone, so the process has begun in selected places. At the same time, because the need is so urgent, Bahá’ís are sponsoring schools in places where governments are unable to. These schools are open to all children and teach a balanced curriculum, including science, which is essential to the progress of civilisation. There are about 600 of these schools around the world. Some centres have clinics in places where there is no other medical care.
The Bahá’í House of Worship is formally designated as Mashriqu’l-Adhkár, which means “Dawning Place of the Praise of God”. A Bahá’í House of Worship is not a Bahá’í church. A Dawning Place of the Praise of God does not fulfil the role of a church, nor that of a mosque, nor that of a synagogue. This Dawning Place is not for community worship through preaching, ritual or ceremony – all of which are forbidden in the Bahá’í Faith. There are no sermons, no speeches, no weddings, no funerals, nor any collection of money held in a Dawning Place. A Dawning Place is dedicated to prayer and meditation, sometimes as a community but mostly individually. All are open to everyone of any faith or none; the only requirements are respect and reverence. Cultural differences are honoured. In some places, respect means taking off one’s shoes. In other places, keeping one’s shoes on is a sign of respect.
Inside a Bahá’í House of Worship, there is no altar, no images, no instrumental music, simply the human voice raised in prayer in various forms, including chants and song. Private prayer is silent. The lack of altars, images and other similar items may surprise some visiting for the first time. Their absence opens the space for everyone. The Bahá’í Faith has removed those things which can come between a soul and the infinite, unknowable essence that is God, the Creator and Sustainer of all that is. Ritual objects, symbols and images are often evidence of separation, specialness for some but not others, and salvation for a few. Bahá’ís do not believe that way. The human race is one race, and Bahá’ís try to eliminate barriers between people.
“The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens,”1 Bahá’u’lláh, the prophet-founder of the Bahá’í Faith proclaimed. Referring to humanity, Bahá’í scripture states that we are “the waves of one sea, the drops of one river, the stars of one heaven, the rays of one sun, the trees of one orchard, the flowers of one garden”.2 These flowers of the one garden are most evident at large Bahá’í gatherings, especially the international events.
During a formal communal programme at a Bahá’í House of Worship, selections from the scriptures and prayers of various divinely revealed religions are read. These programmes are held at different times in each of the Houses of Worship, as is possible and reasonable for that place. They are open for individual prayer at other times.
All Bahá’í Houses of Worship have nine sides in the shape of a circle; that is their only architectural requirement. Each one is surrounded by gardens to serve as a transitional space to prepare for worship.
Bahá’ís have shown their dedication to fellow members of the human race by erecting these Houses of Worship, open to all, all around the world. They are Dawning Places of the Praise of God to help the world become a more open and peaceful place.
1 Bahá’u’lláh, Tablet of Maqsud, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, page 157.
2 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, page 87.
- Photos courtesy of Bahá’í World News, copyright © Bahá’í International Community.