I learned pretty much everything I know about the Baha’i mashriqu’l-adhkar (house of worship) from a handbook by Sen McGlinn called A Mashriqu’l-Adhkar Handbook, which is available on Amazon in kindle format for a couple of dollars. For those without a Kindle, Laura Foster has written an excellent essay about the mashriqu’l-adhkar, which gives a user-friendly overview of the material in the handbook.
In this informative little handbook I discovered that, in the thought of Abdu’l-Baha, the mashriqu’l-adhkar is not exclusively a building but also the radiant heart of the believer and a devotional meeting of two or more believers.
“It befitteth the friends to hold a gathering, a meeting, where they shall glorify God and fix their hearts upon Him, and read and recite the Holy Writings of the Blessed Beauty … The lights of the All-Glorious Realm, the rays of the Supreme Horizon, will be cast upon such bright assemblages, for these are none other than the Mashriqu’l-Adhkars, the Dawning-Points of God’s Remembrance, which must, at the direction of the Most Exalted Pen, be established in every hamlet and city…”Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp 93-94
Abdu’l-Baha placed huge emphasis on this form of mashriqu’l-adhkar. He says that these devotional meetings can take any form and can be held in any place, even underground if necessary.
“As to the Mashriqu’l-adhkar, it is of the utmost importance…. It may assume any form, for even if it be an underground pit, that pit shall become a sheltering paradise, an exalted bower, and a garden of delight. It shall become a centre wherein the spirits are gladdened and the hearts attracted to the Abha Kingdom.”Tablet of Abdu’l-Baha, quoted by the Universal House of Justice in the translation of a letter to the Baha’is of Iran, dated 18 December, 2014 (quoted in the handbook)
So far so good, but many Baha’i localities worldwide have not yet developed a routine of holding such gatherings, some people live as isolated believers, some people are not members of the Baha’i community and are not invited to meetings that are held, and for any number of other reasons people do not have access to a devotional gathering that they can attend daily or weekly. For about 20 years, I compensated for this by reading the writings to myself each morning, which is what Baha’u’llah requires a person to do anyway in paragraph 149 of the Kitab-i Aqdas.
But now there is another option and that is YouTube. People can use YouTube to watch devotional programmes that have been uploaded to the platform, or they can create devotional programmes for themselves, and they can invite others to participate online as well, if they want to. As I see it, YouTube is the obvious way around the problems that prevent people gathering together each day. Here are some of the devotional options a person can utilise on YouTube:
- For those wanting a traditional mashriqu’l-adhkar programme in a temple, the Sydney Baha’i Temple uploads to YouTube a weekly service, which is recorded every Sunday. https://www.youtube.com/@AustralianBahaiTemple
- Many YouTube channels upload devotional videos that can be used to put together a programme as a playlist. I have collected many of these videos and made playlists out of them on my channel. For example, I have made five playlists with “Baha’i songs”, two playlists with “Baha’i readings”, and playlists such as “Baha’u’llah – long prayers”, “Baha’u’llah – under 10 mins”, “Baha’u’llah – under 30 mins”, “Baha’u’llah – one hour”.
- Many channels have their own useful playlists; for example, Beyond the Veil has a playlist of devotional programmes for each feast of the year (and much more). Light of Unity Videos has a playlist of tremendous videos of mystical writings. Irenic Visuals has a wonderful playlist of prayers. Windflower Readings has a playlist called Readings from Baha’u’llah for comfort and confidence, as well as a playlist of 43 tablets of Baha’u’llah.
- The channel Shahram Sabet has an enormous collection of videos for devotions, and is worth taking a good look at. I’ve listened to him read prayers so many times that I can hear his voice in my head reading the common prayers.
- Elika Mahony has an excellent playlist called Videos for the Baha’i Fast, as well as many other videos of songs she has written and performed of Baha’i writings.
For those who have YouTube Premium, YouTube has recently added a feature called “Play last in queue”. It took me ages to understand how it worked, but now I’ve figured it out, I realise that it is a powerful tool, especially for mashriq purposes. The feature is accessed by clicking on the kebab menu (three vertical dots) that comes with every video. This option appears at the top of the menu. By chosing “Play last in queue”, YouTube automatically creates a new playlist for you on the fly. The playlist appears at the bottom of the screen. From there, you can add any videos from anywhere by clicking on that option for each one you want. In effect, you create an instant temporary playlist, which disappears when you move on from it. Using this feature, I can create a unique devotional programme tailored for my purposes each time I sit down for my mashriq. It is a fantastic tool. It gives every person (with YouTube Premium) the opportunity to attend a devotional programme every day, at a time that suits them and with devotions that suit them.
I believe Abdu’l-Baha would marvel at the techological tools that are now available to humanity for the remembrance of God in the all-glorious horizon. Back in his day, it was a struggle for people to get together for devotional meetings because of persecution. Today, no one, no matter how powerful they are, can stop people praising God in the name of Baha’u’llah. And today, the difficulty of physical distances no longer has to matter either. I think there is much to thank Baha’u’llah for in these blessings, and there is much lovers of Baha’u’llah can do for the world by taking advantage of them.
“In this way, the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar welcomes everyone and is dedicated to both worship, which transforms inner lives, and service, which changes the external conditions of the world. I think this is why ‘Abdu’l-Baha speaks of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar as ‘the most important matter and the greatest divine institute’.”Laura Foster, The Mashriqu’l-Adhkar: a Temple of the Heart