Ducks on a pond.

History

John Esslemont,an early Scottish Bahá’í

History of the Bahá’í Faith in Scotland

The Bahá’í Faith was established in modern day Iran in the 1860s and first took root in Scotland around fifty years later in 1905. Thus in the period when Einstein declared that E=mc², when Queen Victoria died and so brought Edward VII to the throne, and when the suffragettes were passionately campaigning for a woman’s right to vote, Mrs Jane Elizabeth Whyte of Charlotte Square, Edinburgh became a Bahá’í.

Mrs Whyte had met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of Bahá’u’lláh, Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, while she was visiting the Holy Land and decided that this new Faith was the one for her. She came home to Scotland and soon invited ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to visit Edinburgh, which he did in 1913 during His extensive travels to the West, which took in most of North America and Western Europe.

Other Scots soon learnt about the Bahá’í Faith and followed in Mrs Whyte’s footsteps, declaring their own Faith and trying to live the life that this implied. Another significant early Bahá’í in Scotland was Dr John Esslemont, who was born in Aberdeen in 1874. Dr Esslemont wrote an introductory volume to the Bahá’í Faith called ‘Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era’: first published in 1923, it has since been translated into dozens of languages and is still widely read in Scotland and all over the world, to this day.

Since those early days of over a century ago, the Bahá’í community has been developing steadily, having securely established its place in the ever evolving story of Scotland.

 

Abdu’l-Bahá in Scotland

One hundred years ago, on the 6th of January 1913, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, son of the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, arrived in Scotland for a historic visit . He was 69 years old, in failing health, and had been an exile from Persia since childhood.

Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of Bahá’u'lláh

 He and His family had spent forty years imprisoned by the Ottoman authorities in the Holy Land, and it was only in 1908 that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was finally free. He wasted no time in taking Bahá’u’lláh’s message of peace and religious renewal to Western societies.
For Scottish Bahá’ís, the short visit of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s was the single most important event in the formative years of the Baha’i community in Scotland. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá came to Scotland at the invitation of Mrs. Jane Whyte, the first Scottish Bahá’í and the wife of the then Moderator of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland.
In Edinburgh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave public lectures at Rainy Hall and at Freemasons Hall. He received extensive positive coverage in the newspapers including the Scotsman, who were intrigued by this ‘prophet of peace’ and His progressive message. As well as meeting leading thinkers of the day, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá visited a school and a kindergarten for poor children. He always mixed freely with people from all parts of society.

There are many stories of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s activities in Britain, about His acts of charity at homeless shelters and for the poor; His audiences for hundreds of well-wishers and questioners; His constant emphasis on political reconciliation in the pre-war period; His call for racial harmony and an end to prejudice: all of these episodes set for Bahá’ís an enduring example of a life dedicated to the service of humanity.

Abdu’l-Bahá’s historic visit to Scotland was a great blessing to the nation, as inspiring today as it was a century ago.

 

No. 7 Charlotte Square , Edinburgh, where Abdu’l-Baha stayed for his historic visit to Scotland