Rwanda hosts about 15,000 members of the Bahá’í faith one of the smallest religious sects in this hilly east African country that is predominantly catholic and with a slightly larger number of Anglicans and moslems.
However, one may wonder where the Bahá’ís of Rwanda congregate from- It is quite easy to access the mosques, roman catholic cathedrals and Anglican churches but not for the Bahá’í temples.
The first settlers of the Bahá’í religion arrived in the region by July 1953 from the United States and Malawi. The first Bahá’í to travel through Rwanda may have been Marthe Molitor c. 1947 after joining the religion in Belgium though she moved on to the Belgian Congo.
The first Rwandan to convert to Bahá’í faith was known as Alphonse Semanyenzi.
The regional National Spiritual Assembly of Central and East Africa was established in 1956, with its seat in Kampala, and embraced Uganda, Tanganyika, Kenya, Belgian Congo, Ruanda-Urundi, and other areas.
Hand of the Cause Enoch Olinga represented the Universal House of Justice for the 1969 election of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Burundi and Rwanda with its seat in Bujumbura.
With the independence of Burundi and Rwanda, the National Assembly was reformed in 1972 for each country. Hand of the Cause Rúhíyyih Khanum visited Rwanda in 1972 and 1973 about when the community was officially recognized by the national government.
History of Bahá’í religion
The Baháʼí Faith was established by Baháʼu’lláh (1817-1892) and later announced in 1863 that He was God’s Messenger for this age. His teachings and sacred writings form the basis of the Bahá’í Faith.
Baha’u’llah, whose name means “Glory of God” in Arabic, was born in Tehran in 1817. Baha’u’llah’s father was a minister in Iran’s government, which supported Shi’i Islam as the state religion.
As a member of Iran’s nobility, Baha’u’llah was offered a government position. Instead, he joined a new religious movement, started by a young Iranian, known as the Bab.
The Babi movement called for revolutionary social changes and championed women’s rights.
Quite controversially, the Bab claimed that his teachings were a revelation from God and predicted that a new prophetic figure, or manifestation of God, would soon appear.
In 1850, the Bab was charged by Shi’i religious officials with heresy and was put to death by firing squad. Subsequent public protests and mob violence claimed the lives of thousands of his followers.
As part of its crackdown on the followers of the Bab, the Iranian government incarcerated Baha’u’llah.
He was kept in an underground prison in Tehran, which Baha’u’llah describes in his writings as filthy, dark and “foul beyond comparison.”
The government released Baha’u’llah in 1853, and exiled him to Baghdad, then part of the Ottoman Empire. It was during this exile that he publicly announced the establishment of the Baha’i faith.
Indeed Baha’u’llah claimed to be the manifestation of God that the Bab had foretold and gained a large following. Ottoman officials later moved Baha’u’llah to the prison city of Akka in Palestine.
He remained there until his passing in 1892. Today, Baha’u’llah’s shrine, now in Israel, is an important pilgrimage site.
A primary theme of Baha’u’llah’s teachings is achieving world peace through the establishment of unity, justice and equality.
Therefore, Baha’u’llah’s teachings specifically advocate for racial unity, gender equality, universal education, and harmony of science and religion.
Baha’is, for example, embrace interracial marriage and education for girls. In fact, the first school for girls in Iran was established by the Baha’is.
The Bahá’í World Centre, the spiritual and administrative heart of the Bahá’í community, is located in the twin cities of ‘Akká and Haifa in northern Israel. It comprises the Shrines of Bahá’u’lláh, the Báb, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as well as other holy sites in the surrounding area.
In the vicinity of the Shrine of the Báb there are a number of structures including the Seat of the Universal House of Justice, the International Teaching Centre Building, the Centre for the Study of the Texts and the International Bahá’í Archives, all of which are set in extensive gardens.