Financial Enterprises of the Early Eastern Bahá'ís

By Vahid Rafati

Presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #138
Centre for Baha'i Studies: Acuto, Italy
July 5–8, 2016
(see list of papers from #138)

    The financial and economic history of the Eastern Bahá'ís, and the ways through which the financial needs of their communities were met, is a key research area in the wider history of Bahá'í development. The emergence of historical documents, family papers, and governmental archives are important sources that can facilitate such study. No less significant are the reports, petitions, and correspondence that individual Bahá'ís, institutions, and economic enterprises have sent to the Bahá'í Centre since the time of Bahá'u'lláh.

    Since the earliest days of the Faith and all the way to the present moment, Bahá'í communities have been faced with financial commitments: to develop the Bahá'í administration; to take care of holy places and endowments; to establish and run the educational and social institutions; to maintain the cemeteries; to support and expand Bahá'í teaching work; to support the pioneers; to establish and support Bahá'í publications; to take care of the poor and persecuted. Such endeavours have always been challenging in the face of continuous enmities, arrests, persecutions, confiscations and hardships for Bahá'í individuals and communities.

    The financial needs of the communities in their early days were met by the voluntary contributions of individuals. Gradually it became a communal act. As the Bahá'í administration was established and developed, the Local Fund came into being under the care, guidance, and supervision of local administrative bodies. The fundamental distinguishing feature of these financial activities was that the names of contributors and the amount of contribution were never announced and treated confidentially. Indeed, the Bahá'í Holy Writings make it abundantly clear that in all financial transactions absolute honesty, trustworthiness, and fidelity must be closely observed.

    With the revelation of the Kitáb-i–Aqdas, and its rules and regulations regarding the Institution of Huqúqu'lláh and the appointment of the Trustees, a new chapter in the financial history of the Bahá'í community came into effect. New developments continued with the establishment of the International, Regional, National, and Local Funds which are now in charge of most financial and economic activities in the Bahá'í world.

    Mahalu'l Baraka, Blessed Investment Fund, a financial institution that was first established during the time of Bahá'u'lláh and received His approval, functioned like a local bank under the supervision of some Bahá'í financiers and merchants. They gathered the contributions of individual Bahá'ís by having a plan to conduct business and through its income support the financial needs of Bahá'í individuals, families, and institutions. As far as it is known, Mahalu'l Baraka was established in India, Iran, Mosel, and the well- organized one in Ishqabad.

    Related to financial issues in the Bahá'í Faith is a law of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas that has not, as yet, been implemented: the Law of Zakat (Tithes). Only in the future, when this law is put into practice, will we witness its impact upon the financial affairs of the Faith.

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