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The Bahá’í (Bahai) community of Kansas is the second oldest Bahá’í community west of Egypt.  In the 1890s, there were no Bahá’ís in Europe, no Bahá’ís in South America, no Bahá’ís in sub-Saharan Africa and only one other group in North America, in Chicago. 

That the second Bahá’í community west of Egypt was in Kansas is a curious distinction for the Sunflower State.

The first Bahá’í community in the U.S. arose in Chicago as a result of the Worlds Parliament of Religions 1893.  As a result of a presentation there, several residents searched for more information.  Eventually they found a teacher.  This was Ibrahim Kheiralla, a Syrian, of Christian background, who had recently accepted the Bahá’í Faith in Egypt just prior to coming to the U.S.  He knew very little about his new religion, but it was more than any American knew, so he was an instant authority.  In June 1894, the American Bahá’í community was born.  The term ‘community,’ is used instead of ‘congregation,’ because the structure is different.

One of his students was from Enterprise, Dickinson County, Kansas.  She wrote home to her mother, Barbara Ehrsam, who also had an interest in spiritual matters.  She then invited the teacher to her home for a summer vacation in 1897.  Thus the Bahá’í Faith came to Kansas.

The Bahá’í Faith is based on the teachings of a Persian nobleman, descended from the Sassanian royal line which traces itself back to Abraham through his second wife Katurah.  Bahá’í is, therefore, an Abrahamic religion.  Unlike the founders of earlier religions, Bahá’u’lláh outlined the form of organization for His followers and appointed a successor.  In addition, He defined scripture for His followers and membership.  This settled several questions that have split other religions.

In 1898 Kheiralla was invited to accompany some other Bahá’ís to visit ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Akka. There Kheirqllq attempted to make a deal with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, that He could be the head of the Bahá’ís of the east and Kheiralla could be head of the Bahá’ís of the west.

Hilty family‘Abdu’l-Bahá patiently explained that Bahá’í scripture was written down and the question of leadership had already been settled.  There was no way that Kheiralla could have a leadership role as he longed for.  He appeared to accept this but the next year he announced that he was breaking from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and establishing his own religion.  Due to distance and the confusion resulting from this most of the Bahá’ís in Enterprise eventually turned to other pursuits.  A few kept alive their belief.  The role played by Rose Hilty may have the most lasting effect of them all.  She was the first Bahá’í to live in Topeka in 1906 and the Topeka Bahá’í community has been continuous since then.

In July 1997 several hundred Bahá’ís and guests came to Enterprise to celebrate their centennial.  Two special guests were Kansas members of the international governing council of the Bahá’í world community.  Enterprise, Kansas, is securely on the map of Bahá’í history.

Entry: Enterprise

Author: Duane L. Herrmann

Author information: Herrmann has degrees in education and history from Fort Hays State University. He has published widely on the history of the Bahai faith with publications now in a dozen countries in four languages. His history book By Thy Strengthening Grace received the Ferguson, Kansas, History Book Award in 2007. He has actively studied the Bahai faith since 1969.

Date Created: September 2015

Date Modified: February 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.