The Mashriqu’l-Adhkar is situated on 8.5 hectares of land on Kikaya Hill on the outskirts of Kampala, Uganda. The architect of the building, Charles Mason Remey, worked closely with Shoghi Effendi in developing the design. The architectural firm of Cobb, Powell, and Freeman which designed the Bulange, the administrative center of the former kingdom of Buganda and one of Kampala’s most important buildings adapted the design to local conditions and oversaw construction. Work on the foundations began in October 1957, a month before Shoghi Effendi’s death.
The foundation stone was laid on 26 January 1958 as part of an intercontinental conference Shoghi Effendi had called. About one thousand Baha’is gathered for the ceremony in which Shoghi Effendi’s widow, Hand of the Cause of God Ruhiyyih Rabbani, and Musa Banani, the first Hand of the Cause of God in Africa, participated.
During the construction period, engineering problems affecting the foundations and the dome had to be overcome. Three years later, on 14 and 15 January 1961, the building was dedicated by Ruhiyyih Rabbani. The inaugural service on Sunday, 15 January, brought to the Temple about one thousand five hundred people, approximately two-thirds of whom were not Baha’is.
The design of the Mother Temple of Africa harmonizes closely with the landscape. In its profile the Temple resembles the shape of a traditional African hut. Its flaring eaves create a circular porch on the lowest exterior level of the building, providing protection from the seasonal extremes of weather chill winds, driving rains, dust, and high heat common to the area. The original design had no doors or walls on the veranda level; without these barriers, the distinction between the inside and outside of the Temple would have been blurred, extending the area of sacred space. However, the local architects found it necessary to change the design to protect the interior from the elements. The exterior walls of the ground floor of the structure are pierced by doors and by windows patterned with hexagonal units of glass. A series of piers supports the steel-reinforced concrete, nine-sided, unribbed dome, which is capped by a graceful lantern. Deferring to the need for ventilation during the extreme heat of the African summer, the windows in the upper story are louvered rather than glazed. A distinctive feature is the use of color in decorating the House of Worship. On the exterior, green mosaic tiles cover the dome and the eaves. On the interior, the dome is blue, and the walls, glass windows, and decorations are in shades of white, green, and “colors that “seem to melt into the hues of the sun-drenched fields, hills, clouds, and sky outside.”
At the time of its construction, the building, at nearly thirty-eight meters, was the highest structure in East Africa. It has a seating capacity of more than four hundred, with over 515 square meters of floor space. The functioning of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar was interrupted under the Idi Amin regime, which banned the Baha’i Faith along with twenty-six other religious organizations. Activities ceased on 16 September 1977, but the building remained in Baha’i hands, enabling a few Baha’is to provide basic maintenance and protection during a period of increasing unrest and warfare. On the night of 10 April 1979, ‘a fierce artillery battle raged around Kikaya Hill.’ The following day, Tanzanian troops, supported by Ugandan exiles, captured Kampala from the forces loyal to Idi Amin. That morning, Uganda’s most distinguished native-born Baha’i, Enoch Olinga, a Hand of the Cause, finding the House of Worship ‘unscathed,’ opened all nine doors for the first time in more than a year and a half.
Although political and social instability in Uganda, including renewed civil war, continued until the mid 1980s, the Baha’is regained the right to function administratively, and the National Spiritual Assembly was restored in April 1981. By that time the House of Worship was badly in need of renovation, particularly because rainwater had leaked into the walls and the dome. Work proceeded slowly, hindered by the trying conditions in the country and at the Temple site itself. The entire building, including the interior of the dome, was finally repainted, and a transparent waterproof coating was applied to the exterior of the dome. However, the waterproofing, designed for European climates, was unable to withstand the African extremes of sun and violent rainstorms, and leaks soon reappeared. The ineffective coating also began to darken. In 1990 to 1991 a crack injection method of waterproofing, economical but largely unknown, was undertaken, resulting in partial improvement. With assistance from volunteers who had worked on renovations at the Wilmette Temple, another round of repairs, cleaning, applying fresh grout to the mosaic tiles, and waterproofing with a coating called ‘silokane’ led to lasting resolution of the leakage problems by the end of 1992. The Temple was also thoroughly repainted and resealed.