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Early Bahá’í Took Action to Enhance Agriculture and Rural Communities

Based on ‘Adasíyyih: The Story of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Model Farming Community, by  

Paul Hanley, Baha’i Publishing, 2024.

Now available at Baha'i Bookstore

‘Adasíyyih: The Story of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Model Farming Community

In 1919, while speaking to a group of Western pilgrims, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was asked for His views on economic problems. The solution begins with the village, He said, and when the village economy is reconstructed, then the cities will follow. After outlining His approach to social and economic development He made a bold prediction: If this approach becomes widely established in villages and cities, then justice will prevail, and there will be no war.


At that time, most of the world’s population were small farmers and their families, living in or near villages and small towns. It makes sense then that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, as well as Bahá’u’lláh and the Báb, carried on an extensive discourse on rural development and agriculture. But they were not content merely to speak of such things. Bahá’u’lláh encouraged the Bahá’í community in ‘Akká, including members of His family, to engage in farming in the Holy Land. In 1901, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá established a Bahá’í village some 80 kilometers away from Haifa in ‘Adasíyyih, in what is now Jordan. This village would eventually be home to 200 Bahá’í immigrants from Iran as well as local Arab farmers.


Although it started out in 1901 on degraded land, covered with thorny scrub brush, by World War I the community of ‘Adasíyyih was delivering grain by camel train to the Haifa-’Akká area to help avert famine. In due course, ‘Adasíyyih would become a model village for Jordan, receiving visits from the royal family and delegations from around the region. It also inspired members of the early kibbutz movement.


I became interested in food systems as a teenager in the 1970s at the same time I heard of the Bahá’í Faith. I moved to a rural area myself as a home front pioneer, took up gardening and beekeeping, and later became involved in building the organic farming movement in my home province of Saskatchewan. In 1980, I co-authored Earthcare: Ecological Agriculture in Saskatchewan, a manual for organic farmers that became a regional bestseller.

 

My study of the Bahá’í teachings on agriculture were always a source of inspiration and in 2006 I co-authored The Spirit of Agriculture, a series of essays on the Bahá’í teaching on this topic.  One of the coauthors, Iraj Poostchi, contributed an inspiring essay on the agricultural activities of the Central Figures of the Faith, and later wrote an equally inspiring article on the community at ‘Adasíyyih. Iraj died before he could complete a book on ‘Adasíyyih and I decided to try to finish what he had started.

 

In providing context for the ‘Adasíyyih project, I discovered that the agricultural focus of the Faith goes back to the time of the Báb, who, in one of His writings, stated that farmers have the same status as princes! I learned of Bahá’u’lláh’s farming activities prior to His imprisonment and exile. Even as a prisoner, Bahá’u’lláh continued to support Bahá’í villagers, for example by supplying them with seeds for novel crops. I also learned that ‘Abdu’l-Baha spoke of food and agricultural issues during His travels in Europe and North America.

In the book, readers will also learn that Bahá’í villagers in Iran, even in the time of Bahá’u’lláh, were already engaged in social and economic development activities that increased their prosperity. This attracted the attention of conservative clerics, who sent in troops to pillage these progressive communities. In Burma, the village of Daidanaw, known as “‘Abdu’l-Baha’s village”, flourished under the guidance of Hand of the Cause of God Siyyid Mustafá Rúmí, until it also attracted the wrath of reactionary elements. Although Hand of the Cause Rumi was killed when troops sacked the community, the Bahá’ís recovered and Daidanaw continues to flourish today.


We also learn that individual Bahá’ís were innovators in the agricultural field, including one of the first Chinese Bahá’ís, Liao Chongzhen, who advanced sericulture and rural education in China; Richard St. Barbe Baker, considered one of the “fathers” of the organic farming movement in Britain; and Siyyid Ahmad Khamsi-Báqirof who commercialized tea production in Iran.

 

‘Adasíyyih was the most developed of the Bahá’í villages in the Galilee area. After the passing of ‘Abdu’l-Baha the community elected a Spiritual Assembly to guide its affairs and built an impressive Hazaratu’l-Quds or administrative center, among the first such institutions in the world. The community, which was located adjacent to the border between Israel and Jordan, dispersed in the 1960s due to the conflict between the waring countries.

 

My hope is that the story of these pioneering efforts will encourage Bahá’í individuals, communities, and organization today to continue to engage in promoting agricultural projects around the world, as we strive to release the society building powers of our Faith.

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