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50th jubilee of the BEL

50th jubilee of the Bahá’í Esperanto League



This booklet celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Bahá’í Esperanto League, whose “birthday”, 19 March 1973 (18-19-129 BE), is marked by a historic letter received by a small group of enthusiastic Bahá’ís in the United States from the Universal House of Justice, the highest institution of the Bahá’í Faith, authorizing the formation of an officially recognized group of Bahá’í Esperantists for the purpose of coordinating collaboration with individual Esperantists and Esperanto societies around the world.

The Bahá’í Faith, a worldwide religion founded by Bahá’u’lláh in the nineteenth century and comprised of individuals of virtually every race and living in virtually every corner of the world, is based on a belief in the essential oneness of humanity, and counts among its basic principles the realization of this oneness through instruments including the adoption of a universal auxiliary language. Esperanto, created by Ludwik Zamenhof during the lifetime of Bahá’u’lláh, is the most widespread of the many auxiliary languages which have been proposed, and its name reflects the hope that it would become a cause of understanding and peace. It was natural and inevitable that collaboration among the two movements would come about.

There indeed had been organized activities involving Bahá’í Esperantists dating back half a century prior to the founding of BEL. In the 1920s and 1930s the magazine “La Nova Tago” (The New Day) was produced in Germany by eminent Bahá’is such as Martha Root, Hermann Grossman, and Lidia Zamenhof, the “Daughter of Esperanto”. Sadly, the ban on Esperanto and then on the Bahá’í Faith in that country in 1936 and 1937 brought this effort to a halt, and the entire Esperanto movement, which was largely based in Europe, nearly disappeared in the wartime chaos. However, after a few decades Esperanto had made great progress in recovering, and in that context BEL was initiated, not in Europe, but in North and South America. Decades later the appearance of the internet opened new vistas for growth and collaboration.

Thus the story of BEL is the story of the interlaced relations between the Bahá’í Faith and Esperanto for over a century. It is a story of how the two global movements become aware of one another, each learning of the unique qualities that the other has to offer. The Esperanto movement, to a great proportion under the aegis of the Universal Esperanto Association (UEA), coordinates, supports and in general fosters activities in an expansive structure of international, national and local associations which use the Esperanto language for cultural, technological, and social purposes, and makes available a significant portion of the diverse literary production in Esperanto, which includes music and film in addition to the written word. The Bahá’i Faith, on the other hand, in addition to carrying out an unending learning process for community development at the grassroots level around the world, operates numerous permanent institutions associated with governmental agencies, the United Nations and its non-governmental associations, working on global cooperation in areas such as social and economic development, education, and health as well as interreligious unity. BEL is the specific Bahá’í agency which is affiliated with UEA as a cooperating specialised subgroup (“kunlaboranta faka asocio”, or KFA) and is thus the principal bridge between these two structures which strive to realize the hopes and aspirations of these two worldwide communities.

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Seat of the Universal House of Justice

Jubilee Greeting Messages

The Bahá’í Esperanto League has received the following messages which we are pleased to include in this Jubilee publication.

The Universal House of Justice, the international governing body of the world-wide Bahá’í community, asked the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Germany to convey to BEL “the loving congratulations of the House of Justice for the half-century anniversary of its formation” and stated:

“The House of Justice is pleased to note the continued presence of the League in the sphere of activity with others who view one common language as a channel in creating a mutual understanding among the peoples of the world. […] It is appreciated that the League continues to be an arena for introducing the Faith to fellow Esperantists of many countries; indeed, it has been a long-standing link between the principles of the Faith and Esperantists throughout the world. It is hoped that like-minded individuals may increasingly join members of the League as protagonists of a broad vision of the oneness of humankind. The members of the League may be assured of the prayers of the House of Justice in the Holy Shrines that Bahá’u’lláh may guide their steps in their devoted labours for His Cause.”

From the Universal Esperanto Asociation:

Dear Members of the Bahá’í Esperanto League,
On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Bahá’í Esperanto League, the Universal Esperanto Asso-ciation cordially congratulates you as a long-time, persistent and active collaborating Professional Associa-tion of UEA for almost half a century.
The values of tolerance, respect for human rights without discrimination are common to the Esperanto movement and the Bahá’í Faith.
There are historical relations between the Bahá’í Faith and Esperanto, such as the use of Esperanto as an international communication language by the early Bahá’í Faith and the life and personality of Lidja Zamenhof.
Being one of the active Professional Associations you are well known by Esperantists, and we wish that BEL will continue to act and present itself during the Universal and Virtual Congresses, as for example hap-pened during the last Virtual Congress with the presentation about Lidja Zamenhof. BEL is also welcome during the Movement Fair and Forum of Professional Associations, to present itself on all occasions.
At the same time, we trust that BEL continues to work to spread the knowledge of Esperanto among other groups and communities in the Bahá’í religion around the world and wish success in this activity.

On behalf of the board of the Universal Esperanto Association,
Amri Wandel,
Vice President

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BEL stand during Universal Congress in Prague, 1996

The Birth of the Bahá’í Esperanto League (BEL)

As we will describe in more detail in a later section on the history of BEL, many Bahá’is became enthusiastic about the Esperanto language in the first half of the 20th century, one of their main activities being the publication of some Bahá’í-Esperanto periodicals. It appears that the idea of formalizing a collaboration of Bahá’í Esperantists began to grow in the early 1960s, and in particular immediately before the Esperanto World Congress held in Budapest in 1966. Dr. Adelbert Mühlschlegel of Germany, who was well known for his function as “Hand of the Cause of God” in the Bahá’í community, made efforts to bring this about, but initially little was achieved. It was not until Paulo Amorim Cardoso entered the Bahá’í Faith in Brazil in 1971 that, with the help of Roan Orloff Stone in the USA, the idea transformed into a viable project with surprising speed.

In a letter of July 1971, Cardoso, who at that time was Secretary of the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Fortaleza in Brazil, wrote on behalf of that Assembly that “it is our intention to create an international Bahá’í Esperanto organisation” and included a first draft of a constitution defining its main aims to be the publication of Bahá’í literature in Esperanto, the dissemination of the Bahá’í Faith amongst the Esperantists and the promotion of Esperanto among the Bahá’í community. Cardoso also enclosed with his letter a list of names of 18 Bahá’í Esperantists in Brazil, India, Iran, Portugal, Spain, and the USA, apparently the recipients of this letter. A second enclosed list, compiled by Roan Orloff Stone, contained the names and addresses of 47 further individuals in 13 countries, almost half of them living in the USA. Cardoso began to produce and distribute a newsletter entitled Komuna Bahaa Letero (“Joint Bahá’í Newsletter”), a precursor of La BELmonda Letero.

During the 57th Esperanto World Congress in Portland, Oregon, in 1972, the nine participating Bahá’ís decided to write to the Universal House of Justice, the global authority of the Bahá’í Faith, to seek its approval for the founding of a Bahá’í Esperanto organisation. After consulting with Dr. Mühlschlegel — who according to the House of Justice was “enthusiastic” about this proposal — the Universal House of Justice gave its consent, which was announced in issue No. 5 of the “Komuna Bahaa Letero” (April 1973). Simultaneously, membership application forms for the League were sent out, together with voting slips for the election of the League’s first governing board.

The election was conducted according to the same principles that apply when a Bahá’í Local Spiritual Assembly is elected (each member voting for nine persons from the body of all members, without the nomination of any candidates). In a message from BEL dated 30 July 1973, the result of the election, in which a total of 30 members had taken part, was announced. The term of office of the governing committee was fixed at three years.

In issue No. 9 of the Komuna Bahaa Letero (November 1973) it was announced that “BEL now has 73 members in 14 countries: USA 27, Brazil 24, Canada 4, Iran 4, Spain 3, Italy 2, Portugal 2, Argentina 1, Austria 1, Germany 1, Israel 1, Korea 1, The Netherlands 1, Switzerland 1”. The following stated: “Here are the names of first governing board of our dearly beloved Bahá’í Esperanto League: Chairman: Adelbert Mühlschlegel (Germany), Vice-chairman: Habib Taherzadeh (Israel [Bahá’í World Centre]), Secretary: Paulo Amorim Cardoso (Brazil), Vice-secretary: Roan Orloff-Stone (USA), Treasurer: Manuel de Freitas (Portugal), Vice-treasurer: Leonora Stirling-Armstrong (Brazil). The remaining members are Badiollah Samimy (Iran), S.C. Gupta (India) and Chagzin Kim (Korea).” It was also announced that, in accordance with an earlier decision, all those who had become members up to the time of the election of the first governing board would automatically be regarded as the founding members of BEL; there were 80 such members in 17 different countries.

For several years after its birth, BEL was administered by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’í community of whatever country in which the Secretary of BEL’s governing board would reside. Later, the arrangements were modified so that the affairs of BEL are supervised by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Germany, which approves yearly the proposed members of the governing board, which is then ratified by a vote all of the members. The League from the beginning funded itself through voluntary donations and sometimes receives support from individual National Spiritual Assemblies (NSAs) or other Bahá’í authorities.

In line with the main purpose of the Bahá’í Esperanto League, which is to maintain contact between the Bahá’í and Esperanto movements, BEL informs members of the Bahá’í Faith and their administrative institutions about local, national and worldwide Esperanto activities and news, and informs Esperantists about the principles of the Bahá’í Faith and news of developments in the worldwide Bahá’í community.

Any member of the Bahá’í Faith who is acquainted with the Esperanto language or who expresses the intention of learning it may join BEL. Members of BEL are often members of their local or national Esperanto associations or clubs, and share with their fellow Bahá’ís information about the language, often giving introductory talks or courses. They also hold interesting discussions about Bahá’í principles in Esperanto forums, and try to explain how these principles are important for dealing with the complex problems which the modern world is facing.

BEL was officially registered as a KFA of the Universal Esperanto Association in 1975. BEL actively promotes participation of its members in Esperanto activities and in particular the activities of UEA. For example, BEL regularly supports and coordinates participation by Bahá’ís in the yearly Universal Congresses of Esperanto and numerous regional meetings. Other essential activities are the translation and publication of Bahá’í literature in Esperanto and maintaining a website with access to literature and further information.

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BEL members in Universal Congress, Cuba, 2010

Interlacing of Esperantist and Bahá’í Ideals

The dawnings of Esperanto — the language of hope

In the past, many languages such as Greek and Latin served as a lingua franca allowing at least some members of contiguous nations or cultures to communicate in economic, scientific, or even cultural activities. In the Renaissance, attempts were made to invent a new communication system (or in some cases, to recover an imagined long-lost divine language) which would have some advantage over existing tongues, such as being able to express thoughts more precisely or to organize human knowledge in a more logical way.

In the 19th century some more practical projects appeared. The idea was to create a new language based on the structure of some existing language, but with a uniform, simplified grammar and a carefully chosen vocabulary. The first to achieve some level of success was Volapük, invented by Johann Martin Schleyer around 1880. It was reported that within ten years this language had over a million speakers, having held three international conventions and witnessed the formation of almost 300 clubs around the world. However, disagreements on how to accept changes which were proposed for improving this language led to its eventual downfall.

In Warsaw in 1887, Ludwik L. Zamenhof published La Internacia Lingvo, which means “the universal language” under the pseudonym Doktoro Esperanto, meaning doctor who hopes; the language itself soon took this name. The idea of a planned international language, intended not to replace ethnic languages but to serve as an additional, second language for all, was not new. However, Zamenhof saw that such a language must develop through collective use, so he limited his initial proposal to a minimalist grammar and a small vocabulary. Esperanto is now a fully fledged language with a worldwide community of speakers and comprehensive language resources. Zamenhof was nominated 14 times for the Nobel Peace Prize, and the 2020 edition of the Plena Ilustrita Vortaro dictionary, now accessible online, contains 47,000 lexical units on 1,300 pages. The Esperanto Academy (Akademio de Esperanto), was established in 1905 (called the Language Committee at that time), protects and preserves the integrity of the language, approves technical terms and neologisms, and clarifies linguistic questions.

The Universal Esperanto Association, now headquartered in Rotterdam, was founded in 1908 by the Swiss journalist Hector Hodler and others. It has an office at the United Nations building in New York City. The UEA, has national affiliate associations in 70 countries and individual members in 120 countries. Based on the number of textbooks sold and membership of local societies, the number of people with some knowledge of Esperanto is in the hundreds of thousands and possibly millions. There are speakers of Esperanto all over the world, although there are notable concentrations in countries as diverse as China, Japan, Brazil, Iran, Madagascar, Bulgaria, and Cuba.  The esperanto.net website gives some idea of current teaching activity.

In 1954 the UNESCO General Conference recognised that the achievements of Esperanto match UNESCO’s aims and ideals, and official relations were established between UNESCO and UEA. In 1985 the General Conference called on member states and international organisations to promote the teaching of Esperanto in schools and its use in international affairs. UEA also has official relationships with the United Nations, UNICEF, the Council of Europe, the Organisation of American States, and the International Standards Organisation (ISO).

Bahá’í beliefs on world unity and world language

To understand how BEL came into existence, it is necessary to have some appreciation of the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith concerning world unity. The well-known declaration of Bahá’u’lláh “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens” summarizes this concept, as does the injunction “Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship”. This concept of unity is applied by Bahá’u’lláh in many areas, such as the equality of men and womem, the elimination of prejudice, and an end to war. In the context of world communication, Bahá’u’lláh wrote in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (Most Holy Book):

“O members of parliaments throughout the world! Select ye a single language for the use of all on earth, and adopt ye likewise a common script. God, verily, maketh plain for you that which shall profit you and enable you to be independent of others. He, of a truth, is the Most Bountiful, the All-Knowing, the All-Informed. This will be the cause of unity, could ye but comprehend it, and the greatest instrument for promoting harmony and civilization, would that ye might understand!”

Bahá’u’lláh’s eldest son and successor, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (also known as Abbas Effendi), wrote the following in 1919 to the Executive Committee of the Central Organization for a Durable Peace in the Hague: “And among the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is the origination of one language that may be spread universally among the people. This teaching was revealed from the pen of Bahá’u’lláh in order that this universal language may eliminate misunderstandings from among mankind.” On another occasion in a letter to an individual the following statement was included: “But regarding the universal language: Ere long significant and scientific discussions concerning this matter will arise among the people of discernment and insight and it will produce the desired result.”

The extracts from authoritative Bahá’í scripture cited above refer to the general question of a universal auxiliary language. It is made clear that the purpose of an auxiliary language, which could be either an existing language or a newly constructed one, is not to eliminate the languages associated with national and ethnic cultures, and indeed could help preserve them by allowing their members equal footing in the world community. There are also many texts which refer specifically to Esperanto, such as the following statement by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:

“Thou hast written regarding the language of Esperanto. This language will be spread and universalized to a certain degree, but later on a language more complete than this, or the same language will undergo some changes and alterations and will be adopted and become universal. I hope that Dr. Zamenhof become assisted by the invisible confirmation and do a great service to the world of humanity.”

Such statements have generated an ongoing discussion as to whether or not the vast evolution and development of the Esperanto language, as well as the rulings of the Akademio de Esperanto for over a century, would fulfil the conditions of becoming “more complete” or having gone through “changes and alterations”. After ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s passing in 1921, his grandson and the successor as head of the Bahá’í world community, Shoghi Effendi, clarified on several occasions some points regarding the attitude of the Bahá’ís towards Esperanto in the context of the future world auxiliary language. In messages written by his secretary on his behalf there are the following statements:

“We have no authentic record of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in which He states that Esperanto will be the universal language of the future. It may be Esperanto, it may be some other language, we do not know; but as we believe so firmly in the necessity of an international language, we are always eager to cooperate with the Esperantists.”

“Esperanto has been in wide use, more so than any similar language, all over the world, and the Bahá’ís have been encouraged by both the Master [‘Abdu’l-Bahá] and the Guardian to learn it and to translate Bahá’í literature into it. We cannot be sure it will be the chosen international language of the future; but as it is the one which has spread the most, both East and West, we should certainly continue to cooperate with its members, learn to speak it and translate Bahá’í literature into it.”

“Regarding the teaching of Esperanto: the Guardian [Shoghi Effendi] thoroughly appreciates the efforts you are exerting for the spread of this language … He wishes me, however, to bring to your attention the fact that neither Bahá’u’lláh nor ‘Abdu’l-Bahá did specifically state that Esperanto would certainly become the international auxiliary language of the future, neither did they enjoin its teaching upon the believers. What ‘Abdu’l-Bahá chiefly did was to highly praise it, and to reveal its possibilities. The teaching of Esperanto is, therefore, not a command or an obligation in the sense that praying is, for instance.”

The Bahá’í writings indicate that a universal language will be selected by the governments, and also allude to its selection, “possibly at a later stage,” by the Universal House of Justice, the highest authority in the Bahá’í Faith. This has led many Bahá’ís, especially Esperantists, to hope that such a selection could be made as soon as possible. On one occasion the response was as follows:

“The Universal House of Justice feels that should it select a specific language for the Bahá’ís to be used as an international auxiliary language, it would cause more difficulties than would be solved at the present time. However, the friends [Bahá’ís], remembering that it is one of the most important principles of the Faith would do well to support the idea whenever possible and to pray that the time is no longer distant when the governments of the world will adopt a single language to be taught in all the schools of the world as an auxiliary to the mother tongue of all students.”

In summary, it is made clear that Bahá’ís are encouraged to study Esperanto, but should remain aware that it may or may not be the universal language of the future, as is clarified again in the following terms:

“The House of Justice realizes that you must sometimes be faced with somewhat embarrassing situations in relation to your fellow-Esperantists since, as Bahá’ís, you are fully aware that, for all its undoubted qualities, Esperanto may well not be the international language that is ultimately chosen, and that it is the concept of an international language that the Bahá’ís are enthusiastic in supporting rather than any particular solution to the problem.

The Guardian’s advice that Bahá’ís must be entirely open about this matter in relation to Esperantists so as to avoid serious misunderstandings and misapprehensions in the future will no doubt be of great assistance to you in your work and enable you to forge ahead with full enthusiasm without, in any way, appearing to sail under false colours.”

As can be seen, the general principle of maintaining unity of thought and action underlies all of the guidance offered by Bahá’í institutions.

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A group of Bahá’í Esperantoists in Hamadan, Iran, 1925

History Leading to the Formation of BEL

Early Bahá’í Esperantists

The first printed reference to the Bahá’í Faith among Esperantists probably appeared in Amerika Esperantisto, (originating in 1907 as Amerika Esperantista Revuo) as one may presume from a reference to one of its articles in issue 84 of La Brita Esperantisto, December 1911. It presents the Bahá’í Faith as a united religious movement and provides a letter from the pen of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.

Esperanto articles related to the travels of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá of 1911–1913 through Western Europe and North America appeared more frequently in 1913 and 1914. Transcriptions of at least two of his speeches at gatherings of Esperantists — Edinburgh (7 January 1913) and Stuttgart (5 April 1913) — appeared in Esperanto magazines. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s repeated proclamation of the Bahá’í Faith during his historic journeys in the West captured the attention of the Esperantists, and on many occasions he addressed their gatherings and expressed high regard for the movement.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá informed the Bahá’ís of the Esperanto movement and encouraged them both to learn the language and to cooperate with Esperantists in the West. He also strongly supported the introduction of Esperanto into Western Asia, personally inviting Esperanto teachers to Iran, and the language became a regular subject in the Bahá’í School of Ishqabad, Turkmenistan in the 1930s. In addition, early Bahá’ís taking the Faith to China, Japan, and other parts of East Asia mixed with Esperantists and promoted the Esperanto movement in that region.

Many early Bahá’ís made use of the Esperanto language and Esperanto publications for the dissemination of their Faith. One of the most prominent Bahá’ís to use Esperanto in this way was the American Martha L. Root, known as “the foremost travel teacher in the first Bahá’í century” and appointed posthumously to the rank of Hand of the Cause. Inspired by meeting ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Martha Root travelled to Egypt, Bombay (Mumbai), Rangoon (Yangon), Japan, and Hawaii in 1915, and later continued her travels, supporting herself by writing for periodicals around the world, and circling the globe several times, meeting with presidents, dignitaries, and nobility, among them Queen Marie of Rumania, who became the first monarch to accept the Bahá’í Faith. Whenever possible, until her death in Hawaii in 1938, Martha Root used Esperanto to communicate with people in the regions she visited.

The Bahá’í whose name is best known among the Esperanto community is undoubtedly Lidia Zamenhof, youngest daughter of L. L. Zamenhof. Lidia learned Esperanto when she was nine years old and by the age of 14 (shortly after the death of her father) began to translate literature into Esperanto. The Zamenhof family, not practicing the rituals of orthodox Jews, were isolated from both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities in Poland, and Lidia became an atheist. In 1925 she met Martha Root, they became great friends through Esperanto, and Lidia accepted the Bahá’í Faith. She travelled through Europe promoting both Esperanto and the Bahá’í teachings. One concern was that many people did not approve of her mixing the two movements, but Shoghi Effendi and Martha Root both supported her further travels, and Lidia was quoted as saying “The international language is part of the Divine Plan which is given effect in the era of Bahá’u’lláh. And the creation and spread of Esperanto are proofs of the creative power of Bahá’u’lláh’s words.” Lidia travelled also in the United States in 1937/38, giving Esperanto classes and promoting the Bahá’í teachings, but was unable to prolong her visit because the U.S. Bahá’ís were unable to arrange to extend her visa. In 1942 Lidia Zamenhof and several members of her family perished in the Treblinka concentration camp.

1925 was the year to usher in the most intense decade of Bahá’í activity in the Esperanto world prior to the formation of BEL. The international review ESPERANTO describing the annual Universal Congress stated: “Of all the specialized meetings, the two gatherings in the Bahá’í office were probably the most interesting, not only due to the ideas inherent to Bahaism but also owing to the broad participation of well known Esperantists together with their moral support…” In that same year the publishing house La Nova Tago and its magazine, titled The New Day – The Bahá’í International Esperanto Gazette (English translation), were initiated in Hamburg, Germany, byBahá’í Esperantists Friedrich Gerstner and Hermann Grossmann. Contributors in the following years included Lidia Zamenhof, Martha Root, John Esslemont, August Forel (the famous Swiss scientist), and Vuk Echtner, with Paul Christaller serving as language supervisor for most of the duration of the journal. Gerstner recorded in the Gazette’s first issue of its second year of publication: “We want firstly to make the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh made known to the Esperanto Movement and secondly to propagate Esperanto in Bahá’í circles.”

Postwar recovery

For several years after the Second World War, signs of new life for Esperanto among Bahá’ís sprang up only here and there. For example, a report appearing in ESPERANTO on the first postwar Universal Congress of Esperanto in 1947 in Berne, Switzerland, noted Bahá’í greetings had been received “in telegrams mostly in the Zamenhof language from the Bahá’í movement in Cairo, from Shoghi [Effendi] Rabbani in Haifa, from Rowhani in Teheran, from Adelaide, Rome, New Delhi, Dutch Bahá’ís in Amsterdam, from Stockholm, Oslo and also from the Bahá’ís of Britain and Belgium.” Shoghi Effendi continued promotion of the use of and the learning of Esperanto and he sent greetings to the annual Universal Congress of Esperanto on several occasions in most laudatory and encouraging terms.

The International Bahá’í Office in Geneva published fourteen issues of a regular bulletin called Bahaaj Informoj between March 1947 and October 1949. It was mainly aimed at informing non-Bahá’í Esperantists about the Bahá’í Faith and possibly was discontinued because English was considered sufficient for such purposes. After 1945, emphasis in the Bahá’í International Community was focused as far as possible on global outreach and institutional consolidation. In the last half century or so the Bahá’í Faith has grown into such a truly global community that today it is often classified as the second most geographically widespread religion in the world, surpassed only by Christianity, with significant membership in more than 200 countries and dependent territories. To a very large degree this was due to the efforts Bahá’ís of North America, who scattered around the globe and inspired many from other countries to follow their example in the 1950s and 1960s. However, the Esperantists by and large did not accept the Bahá’í Faith, nor did Bahá’ís start to adopt Esperanto in any significant numbers.

Then a group of stalwart Bahá’í Esperantists, including Roan Orloff Stone, who had invited Lidia Zamenhof to the U.S. and collaborated with her in the translation work, continued to maintain hope, and eventually were successful in initiating the official international Bahá’í Esperanto League.

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Esperanto books at the World Esperanto Congress, Rotterdam 2008

Esperanto and BEL Today

The last fifty years have seen many new developments in the worldwide Esperanto movement, in the Bahá’í Faith, and in BEL itself.

Rising influence of the Universal Esperanto Association (UEA)

In the Esperanto world, UEA has official relationships with various agencies of the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the Organisation of American States, and the International Standards Organisation (ISO). In 1985 the UNESCO General Conference (which had officially recognized UEA as far back as 1954) called on member states and international organisations to promote the teaching of Esperanto in schools and its use in international affairs. The Prague Manifesto, drafted during the Universal Esperanto Congress of 1996, is a modern restatement of the values and goals underlying the Esperanto movement, including the principle of linguistic democracy, and non-governmental organisations are pressing to have the international language question placed on agendas at the United Nations and the European Union. UEA is also regularly proposed as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, among others by the Polish Parliament in 2009.

More than a hundred international conferences and meetings are held each year in Esperanto, and without translators or interpreters. The biggest is the International Esperanto Congress, which is held annually, and in fact has been cancelled only twice in its history, in 1914 due to the First World War, and in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic, when it was replaced by an online event. Organisations for Esperanto speakers, many affiliated with UEA, include those for doctors, writers, railway workers, scientists, musicians, and countless others. They often publish their own magazines, hold conferences, and help to expand the language for professional and specialised use. Original and translated publications appear regularly in fields such as astronomy, IT, botany, chemistry, law, and philosophy to name a few. There are Esperanto special-interest groups for people such as scouts, chess players, go players, cat-lovers, and the blind.

Some universities include Esperanto in courses on linguistics, while a few offer the language as a separate subject. The bibliography of the American Modern Language Association records more than 300 scholarly publications on Esperanto every year. The library at the International Esperanto Museum in Vienna (part of the National Library of Austria) has more than 35,000 items.

Esperanto’s flourishing literary tradition has been recognised by PEN International, which accepted an Esperanto affiliate group in 1993. The Esperanto Literature Academy, founded in 2008, promotes writing in Esperanto. The Esperanto poets William Auld, Marjorie Boulton, and Baldur Ragnarsson have been proposed for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Over 100 magazines and journals are published regularly in Esperanto, and UEA’s book service alone has about 5,000 titles in stock.

In cyberspace, Esperanto is used widely on the Internet, and its use is growing rapidly. There are several hundred discussion groups which cover topics from family use of Esperanto to the general theory of relativity. Google Translate added Esperanto to its list of available languages in 2012. The Esperanto version of Wikipedia contains more than 300,000 articles. Spelling and grammar checkers for a variety of computer programs, and keyboard settings for several operating systems are available in Esperanto. The Pasporta Servo (Passport Service) handbook, a service run by UEA’s youth section, grew from 40 hosts in 1975 to over 2200 hosts in 2022, offering free overnight accommodation to Esperanto-speaking travellers in over 100 countries.

Multifaceted expansion of the Bahá’í community

In the past half-century, the Bahá’í Faith has grown from slightly over one million members to a number which is now estimated to be approximately five to seven million, comparable to the number of Esperantists. The majority live in Asia, Africa, and Central America, the largest population being in India. Bahá’ís are spread over 200 countries and territories.

The Bahá’í International Community (BIC), the body responsible for representing the Bahá’í community on the international level, obtained consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in 1970 and with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 1976. Subsidiary agencies of BIC include the Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity, the Office for the Advancement of Women, and the Office for the Environment. Now BIC has offices in Addis Ababa, Brussels, Geneva, Jakarta, and New York. The Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity, for example, operates programs for deepening the comprehension of university students in how material and spiritual aspects of life are naturally intertwined, and leads worldwide fora on the interrelationship between science, religion, and development.

The rapid expansion of the Bahá’í community in the 1970s led to the need for acquiring expertise in many aspects of improving the welfare in both rural and urban areas. In 2018 the Bahá’í Office for Social and Economic Development (OSED), which for over three decades had nurtured development projects relating to education and literacy, agriculture, health, and other aspects of community development, was replaced by the Bahá’í International Development Organization.

Parallel to rapid progress in stimulating grassroots activities which now gather millions of Bahá’ís and other well-wishers of humanity in a process of learning how to better serve their local communities, the Bahá’í world community has also dedicated its efforts towards embellishment of its holy and historical sites around the world, including the main shrines on and around Mount Carmel in the Holy Land, and the construction of increasing numbers of houses of worship, many of which have become internationally recognized for their unique architecture and attract millions of tourists annually.

Increased use of and promotion of Esperanto among Bahá’ís

Scattered as was the membership of the BEL around the world, its first years were quite difficult. Its activities were originally limited to isolated individuals and much of the work was concentrated in the secretary. The League became a collaborating professional association of UEA during the Universal Congress of 1975. Roan Orloff-Stone participated in all of the Universal Congresses between 1976 and 1988, giving the Bahá’ís at least some representation in the Esperanto world.

The first activities of BEL involved, in addition to the recruitment of members, the publication of the first simple Bahá’í materials in Esperanto together with a treatise on the Esperantization of Bahá’í terms such as the names of the 19 months of the Bahá’í calendar.

The League from the beginning funded itself through voluntary donations from its members and never implemented a membership system. Later it would sometimes receive support from individual National Spiritual Assemblies (NSAs) or other Bahá’í authorities.

John Dale, serving as secretary of BEL beginning in 1976, detected the need “to rectify the widespread misunderstanding on the part of Baháʼís of the Esperanto language”. He found that many of them favoured English as the future world language; others regarded Esperanto as the ideal candidate for this role but were not willing to learn it before a specific request to do so had come from the Universal House of Justice. He wrote: “To overcome such misunderstanding of and resistance towards the activities of BEL, I took upon myself the following tasks: (1) to compile quotations from the Baháʼí Writings about Esperanto and the language problem; … (2) to collect Baháʼí-Esperanto documents and to translate various Baháʼí texts into Esperanto; … (3) to produce and distribute information material and basic documents in English and Esperanto as an aid towards making BEL better known among both Baháʼís and Esperantists.”

But Dr. Zamenhof’s language only regained its credentials in the minds of European Bahá’ís in the 1980s when Esperanto breached the Iron Curtain, opening to the Bahá’í Faith an entire region hitherto almost devoid of Bahá’ís. Especially in Europe, Bahá’ís began to take on Esperanto in rather large numbers. An official letter sent by the Universal House of Justice on 17 September 1986 was a catalyst:

“Dear Bahá’í friends,
Inspiring reports have been received at the [Bahá’í] World Centre of the success of the Universal Esperanto Congress in Beijing, China, and of the participation in it of members of the Bahaa Esperanto-Ligo. The next Congress will be held in Warsaw, the capital of Poland and the home of Ludwik Zamenhof the inventor of Esperanto whose daughter, Lidia, was so devoted a follower of Bahá’u’lláh. We feel that, within the framework of their efforts for the promotion of peace, the Bahá’ís of Europe would do well to increase their collaboration with the Esperanto movement, and we encourage Bahá’ís who feel the urge to assist in this area to learn Esperanto and take an active part in the activities of the movement. As you know, although both ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi have made it clear that it is by no means certain that Esperanto will eventually be chosen as the international auxiliary language of the world, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá encouraged the friends in the East and the West to learn it as a practical step in the promotion of the concept of the adoption of an international auxiliary language to break down the barriers to understanding between peoples. Thus, as the followers of Bahá’u’lláh are collaborating with many different individuals and associations in the promotion of projects of economic and social development and towards the establishment of world peace, some of them should make a point of active collaboration with the Esperantists who, they will find, share many ideals with them.”

This letter generated enthusiasm and dedication on the part of several hundred Bahá’ís. For a short while they successfully attracted to the Cause an entire group of East European Esperantists who to the present day form a significant proportion of the Bahá’í community in that region. However, as the essential Bahá’í writings soon became available in the various languages of Eastern Europe and as English assumed a dominant role in international contacts, the use of Esperanto in the Bahá’í community began to wane.

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A Bahá’í proposal for the adoption of an international auxiliary language by the UN

In October 1995, the Bahá’í International Community, in its capacity as a non governmental organisation rep–resenting the Bahá’ís worldwide at the United Nations, made a number of proposals as to how the United Na-tions could be reformed. These complemented a similar set of proposals at the end of the Þrst decade of the exis-tence of the United Nations, calling in 1955 for modiÞ-cations in the UN charter for a more equitable and effec-tive world system. The 1995 proposals were published under the title , and in- Turning Point for All Nations cluded the following statements on the question of an international auxiliary language:

III. A. 4. Making a commitment to a universal auxiliary language and a common scrip

The United Nations, which currently uses six official languages, would derive substantial benefit from either choosing a single existing language or creating a new one to be used as an auxiliary language in all its fora. Such a step has long been advocated by many groups, from the Esperantists to the Bahá’í International Community itself. In addition to saving money and simplifying bureaucratic procedures, such a move would go far toward promoting a spirit of unity.

We propose the appointment of a high-level Commission, with members from various regions and drawn from relevant fields, including linguistics, economics, the social sciences, education and the media, to begin careful study on the matter of an international auxiliary language and the adoption of a common script.

We foresee that eventually, the world cannot but adopt a single, universally agreed-upon auxiliary language and script to be taught in schools worldwide, as a supplement to the language or languages of each country. The objective would be to facilitate the transition to a global society through better communication among nations, reduction of administrative costs for businesses, governments and others involved in global enterprise, and a general fostering of more cordial relations between all members of the human family.

This proposal should be read narrowly. It does not in any way envision the decline of any living language or culture.

To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the League, a brochure of about 60 pages was published in 1998 under the title Bahaismo kaj Esperanto. Festlibro okaze de la dudekkvinjarigxo de la Bahaa Esperanto-Ligo (Bahaism and Esperanto. Commemorative Volume for the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the Bahá’í Esperanto League). In this high-quality and attractive brochure, BEL looked back on a long history of the relationship and the cooperation between Bahá’ís and Esperantists. The congratulatory openings by the Presidents of the Universal Esperanto Association (UEA) and of BEL itself are followed an essay on the changing, and not always completely smooth, relationship between the Bahá’ís and the Esperantists. This is followed by two essays by and about Lidia Zamenhof, which show how the youngest daughter of Zamenhof found her spiritual home in the Bahá’í Religion. Several central Bahá’í texts on both the question of the international language generally and Esperanto in particular — including the recommendation from the Bahá’ís, reproduced above, that the UN should adopt an international language — are used to illustrate the Bahá’í point of view on this subject. A lengthy essay casts light on the historical growth of the relationship between Bahá’ís and Esperantists, presents biographical sketches of prominent Bahá’í Esperantists and describes the development of BEL. Finally an introduction to the Bahá’í Faith and an overview of Bahá’í literature in Esperanto rounds off this 60-page booklet, which was republished in 2009 in a more colourful and illustrated vesture conserving the most of its content, under the title Bahaismo kaj Esperanto. La Bahaa Religio kaj ĝiaj rilatoj al Esperanto (The Bahá’í Faith and Esperanto. The Bahá’í Religion and its relations to Esperanto).

Over the decades, BEL’s membership has oscillated between 200 and 400 members. Most members have been in Germany and Bulgaria, followed by the United Kingdom, Russia, Ukraine and the United States. Currently BEL has members in 54 countries.

A large portion of BEL’s activities have been focused among its own membership, in the form of discussions in Esperanto on spiritual topics, including the principle of a world language itself. The members themselves, in turn, collaborate with Esperanto groups in their own localities. The BELmonda Letero, which appears twice a year, continues to serve as an internal newsletter. Naturally, the communication technologies appearing in the last few decades have become a part of the day-to-day workstyle among members and within the governing board. One of the main portals relating BEL to the rest of the Esperanto (and non-Esperanto) world is its website bel.bahai.de which makes available historical and cultural information in several languages and various formats. BEL also hosts online discussion groups for all interested Esperantists.

BEL has also directed its efforts towards active participation in the Universal Congresses, occasional articles in the Esperanto press, taking advantage of the opportunities offered by electronic communication, and the publication in Esperanto of a number of important Bahá’í documents and source materials, including The Promise of World Peace (1986), Bahá’u’lláh (1992), The Prosperity of Mankind (1996), Turning Point for All Nations (1996), To the Religious Leaders of the World (2002), One Common Faith (2008), The Greatest Instrument (2021). The latter, consisting of excerpts from the Bahá’í Writings and related sources on the question of an international auxiliary language and edited and introduced by linguist Gregory P. Mejyes, contains approximately 140 quotations, many previously unavailable, together with an academic discussion of the historical perspectives of international auxiliary languages and the various issues involved in their creation and adoption, and completed in many ways the project begun almost 50 years earlier by John Dale. Several recent Bahá’í documentary videos have been subtitled and/or dubbed into Esperanto by BEL and are available on the web page.

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Material for this booklet has been drawn from the following sources, among others. In the case of some essays we have taken part of the text directly or have adapted some of the material for clarity or brevity. Further information about BEL may be found at … Further information about UEA may be found at …

Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, J. Esslemont
The Greatest Instrument for Promoting Harmony and Civilization, G. P. Mejyes, George Ronald, Oxford (2015)
“The Bahá’í Faith in the Esperanto Movement”, published in: Bahaismo kaj Esperanto, BEL, Hofheim 2009, available at bel.bahai.de
“Esperantists and Bahá’ís– Multifaceted relations”, published in: Bahaismo kaj Esperanto, BEL, Hofheim 2009
“La Disvolviĝo de Bahaa Esperanto-Ligo: de ĝia fondo ĝis hodiaŭ” (in Esperanto), available at bel.bahai.de

More information about BEL can be found at: Baha’i Esperanto League (BEL), Eppsteiner Strasse 89, DE-65719 Hofheim-Langenhain, Germany
Telephone +49-(0)6192-9929-16, Fax +49-(0)6192-9929-99, bel@bahai.de, bel.bahai.de
More information about UEA can be found at: Universal Esperanto Association (UEA), Nieuwe Binnenweg 176, NL-3015 BJ Rotterdam
Telephone +31-10-4361044, uea@co.uea.org, uea.org