Baháʼí Faith in Tanzania - History, Community, Crusade and More

Baháʼí Faith in Tanzania – History, Community, Crusade and More

Claire Gung, the 1st pioneer of the Bahá I Faith in the country, arrived in the then Tanganyika in 1950. The 1st Spiritual Assembly of Tanganyika was elected in Dar es Salaam in 1952, with the 1st Tanganyikan to be converted into the religion. A regional Assembly was elected in 1956, which covered Tanganyika. Later, every member country created its own autonomous Bahá’I Faith National Spiritual Assembly, with Tanganyika and Zanzibar forming their own assembly in 1964. The country and the assembly were renamed Tanzania. The Ruaha Secondary School has been operated by the Bahá’ I Faith as a Bahái school since 1986. There were around 163,800 Baháis in 2005.

History of the Bahá I Faith in Tanzania

Tanganyika was the country’s name throughout much of its history. After bringing Zanzibar under Tanganyika’s governance in 1964, the country’s name was then changed to Tanzania by combining the two names. The chronology of name usage will be followed in this article.

Tablets of the Divine Plan of Abdu’l-Bahá

In 1916-17, Abdu’l-Bahá addressed a series of tablets, or letters, to the Baháʼí Faith religion’s supporters found in the US; these letters were collected in a book called Tablets of the Divine Plan. The 8th and 12th tablets, written on 19 April 1916 and 15 February 1917, respectively, both mentioned Africa. However, in the US, the publication did not occur until 1919, following the end of WW1 and the outbreak of the Spanish flu. Ahmad Mirza Sohrab translated and handed the tablets on 4 April 1919, and they were published in the magazine Star of the West on 12 December 1919. Bahá’s travels are mentioned by Abdu’l-Bahá “…particularly from the United States to Africa, Europe, Australia, and Asia while traveling through China and Japan. Similarly, believers and teachers may go from Germany to the continents of Africa, America, China, and Japan; in short, they travel via all the world’s continents and islands.” and “…the anthem of humanity’s oneness may give a new life to children of men, as well as the tabernacle of universal peace may be pitched on America’s Apex; thus, Africa and Europe may be vivified with the Holy Spirit’s breath, the present world may be transformed into another world, and the politic body may attain a new exhilaration….

Shoghi Effendi, the Baháʼí Faith religion’s head following the demise of Abdu’l-Bahá, may have been the 1st Bahái to come to Tanganyika. Shoghi Effendi, along with a holy family male compatriot, ‘traveled to Cairo from Cape Town around the early 1920s, when the traditional safaris were coming to an end and the car safaris were beginning: “He encountered an English hunter who guided him to different parts through the East African bushes – in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika.” His wife since 1921, Rhyyih Khanum, was revealed in 1961.

Tablets of the Divine Plan of Abdu’l-Bahá
Tablets of the Divine Plan of Abdu’l-Bahá

Following WWII, Baháis started to settle in the area. In 1950, Shoghi Effendi asked the English Bahái community to lead and coordinate 5 countrywide Bahá communities by executing a 2-year plan to propagate the Baháʼí Faith throughout Africa. Claire Gung, a Bahái born in Germany who converted to the faith in Torquay, departed in 1950, to Tanganyika to pioneer, as the country was known at the time. At Lushoto, she was engaged at a local school to be an assistant teacher in the Usambara Mountains area. She was given the title of Knight of Baháu’lláh as a result of this. Jalal Nakhjavani (with his family), Ali Nakhjavani’s brother and the first modern pioneer from Persia to settle down in Africa, arrived in Tanganyika in 1951 January. Isobel Sabri and Hasan set out for Tanganyika from Egypt in July of 1951. When George Louis Gregory, the 1st Hand of the Cause of African-American descent, died on July 30, 1951, Baháis from Tanganyika sent cablegrams to his funeral. There were 5 pioneers by August. Dudley-Denis-Smith Kutendele became the first indigenous Tanganyikan to make a declaration of the Baháʼí Faith on August 21. The area welcomed 80 pioneers, of whom 40 were Persians, during the early formative phase of East African Bahá communities. Women made up about 40% of the group. Tanganyika, with eighteen Baháis, drew the most Persian Baháis. The emergence of religion on a large scale in Sub-Saharan Africa began in the 1950s and continued throughout the 1960s. Tanganyika’s 1st Spiritual Baháʼí Faith Assembly was created in Dar es Salaam in 1952. Jalal Nakhjavani, Hassan Sabri, Isobel Sabri, Leslie Matola, Khanum Darakshandeh Nakhjavani, Dudley Denis-Smith Kutendele, Eustace Mwalimu, and Naimi Frahang Nayer Gopalkrishnan were among its members; Matola belonged to the Yao tribe, while Mwalimu belonged to another. Dudley-Smith became the 1st pioneer from Tanganyika, following his move to Nyasaland, present-day Malawi, in mid-1952.

10 Year- Crusade

Shoghi Effendi developed a 10-year strategy named the Ten-Year Crusade in 1953. In a concerted attempt to disseminate the religion, waves of pioneers spread out. After visiting Kenya, Tanganyika, and Uganda, Ottilie Rhein set out to Mauritius, and there she was declared a Knight of Baháu’lláh. Following a 1953 regional convention, the 1st Ugandan pioneer traveled to Mwanza in Tanganyika, where he was joined by local Tito Wanantsusi. Salisa Karikal, who arrived in Zanzibar in 1953, was an early pioneer of the Baháʼí Faith.

Dr. Farhmand moved to the country together with 3 children from Tehran in 1954. He was followed by his wife. Dr. Farhmand is most known for developing a multiracial clinic at Dar es Salaam and then went on to become the personal doctor of Tanzania’s first president. The demise of Mrs. Afrta, Yunis Khan’s widow and Persian Bahai presented an opportunity for Dar es Salaam’s still-developing Bahái community to create the city’s 1st multiracial cemetery.

The first Bahá landed on Pemba Island in January 1956. Shoghi Effendi later urged for regional national assemblies to be established to oversee the expanding congregations in Africa in 1956. The regional assembly for East and Central Africa contained numerous nations which have since changed their names but were known at the time as Kenya, Belgian Congo, Comoro Islands, Tanganyika, Ruanda-Urundi, French Equitorial Africa, Uganda, Zanzibar, and Seychelles. Delegates from Zanzibar and Tanganyika attended the conference in Kampala in Uganda. Shoghi Effendi was represented at the ceremony by Hasan Balyuzi,  the then UK National Spiritual Assembly’s chairman, whose mission was to recruit pioneers for Tanganyika, and Musá Banáni, Hand of the Cause. Ali Nakbjavani, Hassan Sabri, Philip Hainsworth, Oloro Epyeruj, Jalal Nakhjavani, Aziz Yazdi, Tito Wanantsusit, Max Kenyerezi, and Sylvester Okurut were members of the first regional national assembly.

Tanganyika’s 1st-weekend school was held in 1957 when the regional assembly authorized short-term schooling. The school began with devotional service and the first lesson on one Saturday afternoon, followed by supper and social activities. More seminars and illustrations of various Baháʼí Faith administration procedures, such as consultations and elections, panel discussions, and Q&A sessions were held on Sunday morning and afternoon, followed by a devotional. Gung relocated to Uganda from Tanganyika at the start of 1957, where she established a kindergarten nursery that was multi-racial. Dar es Salaam’s Local Spiritual Assembly received civic registration in April under Tanganyika’s Trustee’s Incorporation Ordinance. In 1959, 3-weekend schools were held in Tanganyika. In 1960, four Tanganyikans attended a centralized school in Kampala. In 1960, conferences on the advancement of the Baháʼí Faith religion were conducted in Tunga and Mashi, with Musá Banáni, the Hand of CaCause,n attendance.

Bahá I Faith Temple in Uganda
Bahá I Faith Temple in Uganda

The African Bahái House of Worship was dedicated in 1961. There were over 1500 persons in attendance. They were comprised of 225 African Bahá’is from Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika, Ethiopia, Ruanda Urundi, Northern Rhodesia, South Africa, and Swaziland; ninety Persian Baha’is, 62 of whom flew in from Tehran; One Believer was sent by the British National Assembly, the mother assembly to the assemblies of East and Central Africa, from every one of its regions – Scotland, England, Wales, and Ireland; the national assembly of America sent Amos Gibson, who was a pioneer amongst the American Indian population. Rhyyih Khanum went across the area for a few more months after the dedications and was in Tanganyika for some time in February.

The Custodians who continued the Baháʼí Faith religion’s work between Shoghi Effendi’s death and the Universal House of Justice election described the spread of the religion across the regional assembly of East and Central Africa as “the most stunning.” There were many Bahá’is believers in East and Central Africa in 1962. (more than 42,000). In 1962, Enoch Olinga, Hand of the Cause, traveled across the region, speaking to congregations at several places in Tanzania, such as the Usambara Estate, where around 1,400 people gathered to hear him; he addressed two meetings in Dar es Salaam; Mnazi Mmoja; and Kivukoni College, where over 150 people gathered.

Bahá I Faith Survey

A survey of the Baháʼí Faith religion was carried out in 1963. There were forty-one assemblies, sixty-five groups of 1 to 9 adults, as well as 48 isolated believers in Tanzania, according to the study.

  • The assemblies comprised Dar es Salaam, Bukoba, Makuyuni, Pemba Mnazi, Mkomazi, Morogoro, Mwanza, and Moshi.
  • Baha’is registered groups included groups from Dodoma, Arusha, Iringa, Kilomeni, Kanga, Mikumu, Mbeya, Musoma, Ruvu, Pongwe Pongwe, Shinyanga, Tukuyu, Songea, Zanzibar City, Ukerewe Island.

National Community

After the Universal House of Justice election, Bahá’i populations throughout Africa began forming their National Spiritual Assemblies: Zanzibar and Tanganyika, as well as nearby islands, teamed up to form their Baháʼí Faith assembly in congruence with civic changes (renaming to Tanzania included), while others continued to be formed throughout sub-Saharan Africa up to the 1990s. The Bahá’is of Zanzibar, Tanganyika, Pemba, and Mafia Island held their national convention on 1st May 1, despite train breakdowns and waterlogged roads limiting attendance by approximately half of the delegates. The 2nd half came the morning after, bringing the total number of delegates to 42. During the convention, Musá Banán, Hand of the Cause, attended on behalf of the Custodians as well as the freshly elected Universal House of Justice. Several congratulatory messages to Tanzanians arrived from communities of Bahá’i all over the globe, giving the delegates a sense of the global community’s reach. H. S. Akida, Mary Elston, Allen Elston, Lamuka Mwangulu, Wallace NgaUomba, Jalal Nakhjavani, Glory Nyirenda, Jamsheed Samandari, and Ruhulah Yazdani, were elected to the 1st national assembly. There were seventy-five local assemblies and Bahá’is in around 265 locations in 1965. In August 1967, A. A. Badii, a member of the Tanzanian national assembly from the Sokoine University of Agriculture campus in Morongo visited the Bahá’i assembly in Karachi, Pakistan, and the buildings of the national center was completed in 1968. Enoch Olinga, Hand of the Cause, attended the conference held in 1968 at the newly built facility. The national assembly was formally recognized by the government as a religious organization in 1969.

Internal and External Developments

In 1970, Rhyyih Khanum mirrored her shorter tour of1961, but on this occasion, she spent September touring through Tanzania as part and parcel of her trip through East Africa. She traveled to Tanga, Mafia Island, and Dar es Salaam, where she addressed a crowd of over 200 people, gave a 10-minute interview at the radio station of the Tanzanian government, and met with a Tanzanian Supreme Court member, the Rotary Club, and then proceeded to Mafia Island to a meeting at the municipal hall, traveled to the southern and eastern parts of Tanzania. She returned to several of the areas she visited in 1962, such as Mwami, where the meeting was held under the shade of a large tree. In April of 1972, a campaign to introduce the Baháʼí Faith religion in Arusha featured posters, brochures, booklets, and books, culminating in a presentation, songs performed by a choir, and prayers, all having Swahili translations and follow-up invitations to informational sessions. The Hand of the Cause, and Rahmatu’lláh Muhájir, visited Malaysia in June and persuaded Inparaju Chinniah to tour Africa as a traveling teacher, and while there, he spent 6 months on leave in Tanzania without pay and contributed to Baháʼí Faith work there. Three Tanzanian Baha’i communities held discussions and film screenings in honor of United Nations Day in October. In November, A. K. Forudi, an Indian Bahá’i, traveled deep into the countryside close to the Kenyan border, spreading the Baháʼí Faith and teaching lessons to Bahá’is there. In January of 1973, he returned to visit more communities. Ruhyyh Khanm returned to Tanzania in early 1973. A team from the Tanzanian national assembly met with then- Liberian President William Tolbert when he attended a convention in Tanzania in July 1973, and an information booth was set up at the Saba Saba Day fair in the same month. Children’s lessons were conducted at Magamba-Kwalonge by the end of that year.

Loyalty to Government: The Baha’i Viewpoint was published by the national assembly in 1976. It is also a participant in a national conference on religious advancement as part of a broader evaluation of the area, which was launched by an international convention in Kenya. In 1976, national assemblies of Swaziland, Angola, and Mozambique printed Bahá’i prayer translations to the language of Yao used in and beyond the southern parts of Tanzania. A delegation from Tanzania also met Rashidi Kawawa and gave her the Bahá‘i World volume XIV.

In 1978, the Tanzania-Uganda War erupted, leading to the overthrowing of Idi Amin, the Ugandan President, by early 1979. This set-in motion the events that led to the assassination of Enoch olinga, Hand of the Cause, in September, however, the facts of the murder were not widely publicized until 1980 in May. Claire Gung reported the news of his assassination to the Continental Counselors’ African office. Claire Gung, also known as the mother of Africa and Knight of Baháu’lláh, died in 1985. During the tragic event in October of 1979, the Tanzanian Bahá’is organized gatherings for United Nations Day and a national convention on the advancement of the Baháʼí Faith religion in the country at the national center.

Tanzania was one of many African countries asked by the Universal House of Justice in 1986 to create Mobile audio-visual Mobile Institutes. On 29 November 1986, the community held a public gathering named “Perspectives on Peace” in Dar es Salaam to commemorate the International Year of Peace. The 6th National Youth Conference held in Kenya in 1987 brought participants from all around the world, including Tanzania. The national assembly held meetings with several institutions in September of 1987 to prepare two campaigns, one in the Kasulu district located in the Kigoma area on the shores of Lake Tanganyika and the second in Morogoro area in the central part of Tanzania, which included a guest youth choir as well as a slide presentation. By July of 1988, there had been numerous new local assemblies leading to Baha’is. Ruaha Secondary School hosted a national youth convention in June. A campaign focused specifically on teachers in public schools was held in the Same District in May 1989.

Baháʼí Faith Service to the Tanzanian Community

Since its formation, the Baháʼí Faith religion has been involved in socio-economic development, starting with greater freedom for women, declaring the promotion of education to females as a priority matter, and putting that involvement into practice by establishing schools, agricultural cooperatives, and clinics. The Bahá’i community in Tanzania took part in a seminar on drug abuse and alcoholism conducted by the project dubbed Karibu Tanzania under the Ministry of Youth and National Culture in 1979. When the Universal House of Justice issued a message on October 20, 1983, the Baháʼí Faith religion started a new period of activity. Bahá’is were encouraged to look for methods to participate in the economic and social development of their communities that were compatible with the teachings of Bahá’i. In 1979, Bahá’i had 129 formally recognized economic and social development projects worldwide. The total number of official development projects had grown to 1482 by 1987. This marked the beginning of Bahá’s ecological preservation programs during this period. A review that went back past 1987 centered on improving women’s awareness of the Bahá’i Faith since it broadens their perspectives and provides self-confidence. This can be accomplished by convening women’s conferences at the regional, local and possibly national levels to both enhance their understanding of the Bahá teachings and give a place for debate on women’s issues and views. A women’s magazine focused on the same issues as the conventions and specifically emphasizes nutrition education, might be produced and distributed as a follow-up. In a 1986 evaluation, it was reported that three major projects were up and running in Tanzania, including a nursery school, and a carpentry workshop, as well as plans for an agricultural/technical school. This school grew into Ruaha Secondary School. A training program for volunteer community health teachers was also implemented. In 1989, a businessman and Bahá’i expert in the use of appropriate technology traveled through 6 eastern and southern African countries, including Tanzania, to train local people on how to manufacture various fence-making machines as well as other technologies in construction, water programs, and agriculture. The National Baháʼí Faith Spiritual Assemblies coordinated the ten-day training program in all six countries.

Contemporary Community

Internal Developments

Mike O’Neal, a native of Savannah, Georgia, and his son Darrell visited Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya in January of 1999 as part of a team of other Bahai of African-American descent to represent the Universal House of Justice.

A series of newsletters follow the progress of the Ruhi Institute’s implementation and other current events in Tanzania. The November 2001 bulletin summarizes current plans that have impacted Bahái’s development since 1996. The Ruhi Institute’s books and the responsibilities of tutors are reviewed in the March 2002 edition. The tutors’ role is the topic of the June 2002 edition. The newsletter from September 2002 advocates for a push to recruit more tutors, particularly in four Tanzanian districts, as well as discusses the benefits and drawbacks of tutoring. In the newsletter of February 2003, the quantity of Ruhi Books and the classification of a cluster were discussed, as well as notable tutors who facilitated several courses and news that some members of the public had participated in circles of study. The Nyaruyoba Cluster, located in Kigoma’s Kibondo District, was highlighted in the August 2003 bulletin as Tanzania’s fastest-growing cluster. It also went over which areas have progressed further in the books and what goals to expect in the future.

Multiplying Interests of the Baháʼí Faith Followers

In April 2002, the Universal House of Justice sent a letter “to the religious leaders of the world.” This letter was delivered to roughly 30 leaders in Tanzania by the Baha’i community. They got some positive responses- for instance, Biharilal Tanna Keshavji of the Tanzania Hindu Council wrote, “I have gone through the letter with a lot of interest and believe that it relays a very important message to both the leaders of religious groups and every thinking individual, who have to shoulder the responsibility and duty of eliminating barriers among the different groups of mankind’s family.”

Through the commission of Christian Social Services, the Baháʼí Faith collaborated with other religious leaders to reduce malaria in sub-villages and villages (vitongoji and vijiji).

An article in the Encyclopedia of Peace Education by a university scholar noted Bahá’is contribution to peace by participating in interfaith projects and dialogue to promote religious tolerance, eradication of religion-based prejudice and freedom of belief, and described the efforts by the Tanzanian Baha’i community to set November 9, 2005, as a peace prayer day for all religions.

The Student Organization of the Dar es Salaam Union and Tanzania’s Bahá’i community collaborated in 2006 to host a symposium on “The Role of Youth and Family in Building Brighter Communities.” The event, which took place on United Nations Day, featured a variety of panel discussions with Baha’is, leaders of Christian NGOs, government officials, youth leaders, a professor at a university, and a novelist among others.

In resolution 61/221 (OP.14) of December 20, 2006, the United Nations General Assembly decided to hold a high-level conversation on intercultural and interreligious cooperation in 2007, with informal and formal meetings. A ‘Task Force’ for civil society was created by the General Assembly’s president to help in selecting participants and identifying the hearing’s sub-themes. Twenty speakers from various cultural (every continent) and religious (Christian Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Jain, Baha’i) traditions were among the 20 speakers. “Best Strategies and Practices of Intercultural and Interreligious Cooperation Going Forward” was the topic of the second panel discussion. The Baháʼí Faith International Community’s Representative in Tanzania emphasized that the freedom to hold and modify one’s own beliefs was a vital feature of human conscience, and offered real techniques for overcoming ignorance and extremism.

Ruaha Secondary School

Ruaha Bahai Secondary School
Ruaha Bahai Secondary School

The Baha’i National Spiritual Assembly of Tanzania runs the Ruaha Secondary School. Its history dates to 1985, back when funds from the Bahá’i began the site’s construction, which was provided by the municipality of Iringa and built with bricks fired on site. On 27 March 1986, the Ministry of Education of Tanzania approved the start of classes. It then added a year of education each year it was open, with the goal of including technical college coursework. It had three hundred pupils by 1988. English, Geography, Swahili, history, chemistry, agriculture, physics, political science, mathematics, biology, and religion – Christian, Bahá’i, and Islamic studies covered, by representatives of other religions – are all part of the Ministry-determined curriculum. Each student participates in self-reliance tasks such as lugging bricks, digging foundations, planting bananas, weeding and watering his own trees, and so on, on a regular basis. Several of the founding staff members came to Tanzania as pioneers: one from Iran, Lebanon, and Australia each, and three from the United States. Teachers were also employed from the local community. Ruaha is linked with a teacher training institution locally and also offers community services.

A paper on applying computer technology in the African context was given in 1992. The school, which was affiliated with the Baha’i nursery school, advertised for staff and teachers for Computers/Accounts and Oral Education/English Teacher in 1999. It also marketed an opportunity for the Youth Year of Service. It also won a 2-year, $122,000 funding to construct a new dormitory for girls with 120 beds. The Unity Foundation, which is a development agency inspired by Baha’i in Luxembourg, awarded the grant in the amount of 141,630 Euros. In 2001, the 1st installment was sent. By October of 2002, the remainder had arrived.

The lack of caning is one of the school’s distinguishing features. Instead, it focuses on cultivating virtues such as patience, courtesy, diligence, trustworthiness, justice, and compassion, while also assisting students in developing the necessary capacities, skills, and attitudes, such as knowledge of proper agricultural techniques, basic commerce, and computer literacy. Concerning girls’ education, the school boasts a strong mission and is proud of its academic achievements. The Environmental Ambassadors initiative, which is part of the school’s student government, works to preserve the environment in good shape. Several Environmental Ambassadors are picked from among the volunteers in each Form.

Mona Foundation has been a supporter in recent years. In February of 2006, with the assistance of Ben Hufford, an architect from Portland’s Yost Grube Hall Architectural Firm, Oregon, a master site plan was developed. 2 trainers were dispatched in August of 2006 to conduct training on the Microsoft Unlimited Potential curriculum for a select group of employees. The foundation has provided cash for the building of a boys’ dormitory (with a capacity of 120 beds), a dry foods/kitchen store, a borehole well (water system), and the acquisition of a generator to supply power during outages.


In 1993, a little over fifty years after the Baháʼí Faith religion’s arrival in the area, there were about 223,000 Bahá’is as well as 1,268 Bahá’i spiritual assemblies in East Africa. In Tanzania, Bahás may be found in 508 locations, 191 of which have spiritual assemblies. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia in 2000, Tanzania had about 140,600 Bahá’is in Tanzania. Based on the World Christian Encyclopedia, the Association of Religion Data Archives reported that there were 163,800 Bahá’is in 2005. (0.4 percent of the country’s population.

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