Bahá'í World Volume 18:
THE COMMEMORATION OF HISTORIC ANNIVERSARIES
THE FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE
THE PASSING OF BAHÍYYIH KHÁNUM,
THE GREATEST HOLY LEAF1
1. PASSAGES FROM THE WRITINGS OF BAHÁ'U'LLÁH
ABOUT THE GREATEST
ET these exalted words be thy love-song in the tree of Bahá, O thou most holy and resplendent Leaf: `God, besides Whom is none other God, the Lord of this world and the next!' Verily, We have elevated thee to the rank of one of the most distinguished among thy sex, and granted thee, in My court, a station such as none other woman hath surpassed. Thus have We preferred thee and raised thee above the rest, as a sign of grace from Him Who is the Lord of the throne on high and earth below. We have created thine eyes to behold the light of My countenance, thine ears to hearken unto the melody of My words, thy body to pay homage before My throne. Do thou render thanks unto God, thy Lord, the Lord of all the world.
How high is the testimony of the Sadratul-Muntahá for its leaf; how exalted the witness of the Tree of Life unto its fruit! Through My remembrance of her a fragrance laden with the perfume of musk hath been diffused; well is it with him that hath inhaled it and exclaimed: `All praise be to Thee, O God, my Lord the most glorious!' How sweet thy presence before Me; how sweet to gaze upon thy face, to bestow upon thee My loving-kindness, to favour thee with My tender care, to make mention of thee in this, My Tablet--a Tablet which I have ordained as a token of My hidden and manifest grace unto thee.
MY Leaf! Hearken thou unto My Voice: Verily there is none other God but Me, the Almighty, the All-Wise. I can well inhale from thee the fragrance of My love and the sweet-smelling savour wafting from the raiment of My Name, the Most Holy, the Most Luminous. Be astir upon God's Tree in conformity with thy pleasure and unloose thy tongue in praise of thy Lord amidst all mankind. Let not the things of the world grieve thee. Cling unto this divine Lote-Tree from which God hath graciously caused thee to spring forth. I swear by My life! It behoveth the lover to be closely joined to the loved one, and here indeed is the Best-Beloved of the world.
1 Selections from Bahíyyih Khánum, the Greatest Holy Leaf, a compilation from Bahá`í sacred texts, writings of the Guardian and Bahíyyih Khánum's own letters, made by the Research Department at the Bahá`í World Centre, 1982.
2. PASSAGES FROM THE WRITINGS OF `ABDU'L-BAHÁ ABOUT THE GREATEST HOLY LEAF
A SELECTION OF HIS LETTERS TO HER
O MY honoured and distinguished sister do thou convey the expression of my heartfelt, and intense longing. Day and night she liveth in my remembrance. I dare make no mention of the feelings which separation from her hath aroused in mine heart; for whatever I should attempt to express in writing will assuredly be effaced by the tears which such sentiments must bring to mine eyes . . .
It is incumbent upon thee, throughout the journey, to be a close, a constant and cheerful companion to my honoured and distinguished sister. Unceasingly, with the utmost vigour and devotion, exert thyself, by day and night, to gladden her blessed heart; for all her days she was denied a moment of tranquility. She was astir and restless every hour of her life. Moth-like she circled in adoration round the undying flame of the Divine Candle, her spirit ablaze and her heart consumed by the fire of His love . . .
MY well-beloved, deeply spiritual sister! Day and night thou livest in my memory. Whenever I remember thee my heart swelleth with sadness and my regret groweth more intense. Grieve not, for I am thy true, thy unfailing comforter. Let neither despondency nor despair becloud the serenity of thy life or restrain thy freedom. These days shall pass away. We will, God willing, in the Abhá Kingdom and beneath the sheltering shadow of the Blessed Beauty, forget all these our earthly cares and will find each one of these base calumnies amply compensated by His expressions of praise and favour. From the beginning of time sorrow and anxiety, regret and tribulation, have always been the lot of every loyal servant of God. Ponder this in thine heart and consider how very true it is. Wherefore, set thine heart on the tender mercies of the Ancient Beauty and be thou filled with abiding joy and intense gladness . . .
MY dear sister!
Praise be to God, within the sheltering grace of the Blessed Beauty, here in the lands of the West a breeze hath blown over the rose-gardens of His bestowals, and the hearts of many people have been drawn as by a magnet to the Abhá Realm.
Whatever hath come to pass is from the confirmations of the Beloved; for otherwise, what merit had we, or what capacity? We are as a helpless babe, but fed at the breast of heavenly grace. We are no more than weak plants, but we flourish in the spring rain of His bestowals.
Wherefore, as a thank-offering for these bounties, on a certain day don thy garb to visit the Shrine, the ka`bih of our heart's desire, turn thyself toward Him on my behalf, lay down thy head on that sacred Threshold, and say:
O divine Providence! O Thou forgiving Lord! Sinner thou I be, I have no refuge save Thyself. All praise be Thine, that in my wanderings over mountains and plains, my toils and troubles on the seas, Thou hast answered still my cries for help, and confirmed me, and favoured me, and honoured me with service at Thy Threshold.
To a feeble ant, Thou hast given Solomon's might. Thou hast made of a gnat a lion in the thickets of Thy Mercy. Thou hast bestowed on a drop the swelling waves of the sea, Thou hast carried up a mote to the pinnacles of grace. Whatever was achieved, was made possible through Thee. Otherwise, what strength did the fragile dust possess, what power did this feeble being have?
O divine Providence! Do not seize us in our sins, but give us refuge. Do not look upon our evil ways, but grant forgiveness. Consider not
1 Daughter of `Abdu'l-Bahá.
Picture at Top of Page with Caption: Bahíyyih Khánum; circa 1890.
our just deserts, but open wide Thy door of grace.
Thou art the Mighty, the Powerful! Thou art the Seer, the Knower!
MY spiritual sister!
Thou didst go away to Haifa, supposedly for only three or four days. Now it becometh apparent that the spiritual power of the Shrine hath brought thee joy and radiance, and even as a magnet is holding thee fast. Thou surely wouldst remember us as well.
Truly the spiritual quality of the holy place, its fresh skies and delicate air, its crystal waters and sweet plains and charming seascape, and the holy breathings from the Kingdom all do mingle in that Sacred Fold. Thou art right to linger there . . .
Kiss the light of the eyes of the company of spiritual souls, Shoghi Effendi . . .
3. PASSAGES FROM THE WRITINGS OF SHOGHI EFFENDI ABOUT THE GREATEST HOLY LEAF
AND EXCERPTS FROM HIS LETTERS ABOUT HER
YE who burn in the flames of bereavement! By the Day-star of the World, my bereaved and longing heart is afire with a grief that is beyond my description. The sudden, the grievous and calamitous news that the Most Exalted, the pure, the holy, the immaculate, the brightly shining Leaf, the Remnant of Bahá, and His trust, the eternal fruit and the one last remembrance of the Holy Tree--may my life be offered for the wrongs she suffered--has ascended, reached me like live coals cast into a frail and afflicted heart. The foundations of my serenity were shattered, and tears of desolation came like a flood that carries all away . . .
O brothers and sisters in the spirit! In this solemn hour, from one direction we can hear the sounds of loud weeping, and cries of mourning and woe, rising out of the throats of the people of Bahá throughout this nether world, because of their separation from that rich mine of faithfulness, that Orb of the heaven of eternal glory--because of her setting below the horizon of this holy Spot. But from another direction can be heard the songs of praise and holy exultation from the Company on High and the undying dwellers in Paradise, and from beyond them all God's Prophets, coming forth to welcome that fair being, and to place her in the retreats of glory, and to seat her at the right hand of Him Who is the Centre of God's Mighty Covenant.
The community of Bahá, whether in the East of the world or the West, are lamenting like orphans left destitute; fevered, tormented, unquiet, they are voicing their grief. Out of the depths of their sorrowing hearts, there rises to the Abhá Horizon this continual piercing cry: `Where art thou gone, O torch of tender love? Where art thou gone, O source of grace and mercy? Where art thou gone, O symbol of bounty and generosity? Where art thou gone, O day-spring of detachment in this world of being? Where art thou gone, O trust left by Bahá among His people, O remnant left by Him among His servants, O sweet scent of His garment, shed across all created things!'
O ye who loved that luminous face! The oil within that shining lamp was used up in this world and its light was extinguished; and yet, in the lamp-niche of the Kingdom, the fingers of the Lord of the heavenly throne have kindled it so bright, and it has cast such a splendour on the maids of Heaven--dwelling in chambers of red rubies and circling about her--that they all called from out their souls and hearts, `O joy upon joy!' and with shouts of, `Well done! Well done! Upon thee be God's blessings, O Most Exalted Leaf!' did they welcome that quintessence of love and purity within the towering pavilions of eternity.
At that time, as bidden by the Lord, the Protector, the Self-Subsisting, did the heavenly Crier raise up his voice and cry out: `O Most Exalted Leaf! Thou art she who did endure with patience in God's way from thine earliest childhood and throughout all thy life, and did bear in His pathway what none other hath borne, save only God in His own Self, the Supreme Ruler over all created things, and before Him, His noble Herald, and after Him, His holy Branch, the One, the Inaccessible, the Most High. The people of the Concourse on High seek the fragrance of thy presence, and the dwellers in the retreats of eternity circle about thee. To this bear witness the souls of the cherubim within the tabernacles of majesty and might, and beyond them the tongue of God the One True Lord, the Pure, the Most Wondrous. Blessedness be thine and a goodly abode; glad tidings to thee and a happy ending!' . . .
EARLY-BELOVED Greatest Holy Leaf! Through the mist of tears that fill my eyes I can clearly see, as I pen these lines, thy
noble figure before me, and can recognize the serenity of thy kindly face. I can still gaze, though the shadows of the grave separate us, into thy blue, love-deep eyes, and can feel in its calm intensity, the immense love thou didst bear for the Cause of thine Almighty Father, the attachment that bound thee to the most lowly and insignificant among its followers, the warm affection thou didst cherish for me in thine heart. The memory of the ineffable beauty of thy smile shall ever continue to cheer and hearten me in the thorny path I am destined to pursue. The remembrance of the touch of thine hand shall spur me on to follow steadfastly in thy way. The sweet magic of thy voice shall remind me, when the hour of adversity is at its darkest, to hold fast to the rope thou didst seize so firmly all the days of thy life.
Bear thou this my message to `Abdu'l-Bahá, thine exalted and divinely-appointed Brother: If the Cause for which Bahá`u'lláh toiled and laboured, for which Thou didst suffer years of agonizing sorrow, for the sake of which streams of sacred blood have flowed, should, in the days to come, encounter storms more severe than those it has already weathered, do Thou continue to overshadow, with Thine all-encompassing care and wisdom, Thy frail, Thy unworthy appointed child.
Intercede, O noble and well-favoured scion of a heavenly Father, for me no less than for the toiling masses of thy ardent lovers, who have sworn undying allegiance to thy memory, whose souls have been nourished by the energies of thy love, whose conduct has been moulded by the inspiring example of thy life, and whose imaginations are fired by the imperishable evidences of thy lively faith, thy unshakeable constancy, thy invincible heroism, thy great renunciation.
Whatever betide us, however distresing the vicissitudes which the nascent Faith of God may yet experience, we pledge ourselves, before the mercy-seat of thy glorious Father, to hand on, unimpaired and undivided, to generations yet unborn, the glory of that tradition of which thou hast been its most brilliant exemplar.
In the innermost recesses of our hearts, O thou exalted Leaf of the Abhá Paradise, we have reared for thee a shining mansion that the hand of time can never undermine, a shrine which shall frame eternally the matchless beauty of thy countenance, an altar whereon the fire of thy consuming love shall burn for ever.
. . . O
THOU Scion of Bahá! I weep over thee in the night season, as do the bereaved; and at break of day I cry out unto thee with the tongue of my heart, my limbs and members, and again and again I repeat thy well-loved name, and I groan over the loss of thee, over thy meekness and ordeals, and how thou didst love me, over the sufferings thou didst bear, and the terrible calamities, and the wretchedness and the griefs, and the abasement, and the rejection--and all this only and solely for the sake of thy Lord and because of thy burning love for those, out of all of creation, who shared in thine ardour.
Whensoever, in sleep, I call to mind and see thy smiling face, whensoever, by day or night, I circumambulate thine honoured tomb, then in the innermost depths of my being are rekindled the fires of yearning, and the cord of my patience is severed, and again the tears come and all the world grows dark before my eyes. And whensoever I remember what blows were rained upon thee at the close of thy days, the discomforts, trials and illnesses--and I picture thy surroundings now, in the Sanctuary on High, in the midmost heart of Heaven, beside the pavilions of grandeur and might; and I behold thy present glory, thy deliverance, the delights, the bounties, the bestowals, the majesty and dominion and power, the joy, thine exultation, and thy triumph--then the burden of my grieving is lightened, the cloud of sorrow is dispelled, the heat of my torment abates. Then is my tongue loosed to praise and thank thee, and thy Lord, Him Who did fashion thee and did prefer thee to all other handmaidens, and did give thee to drink from His sweet-scented lips. Who withdrew the veil of concealment from thy true being and made thee to be a true example for all thy kin to follow, and caused thee to be the fragrance of His garment for all of creation.
And at such times I strengthen my resolve to follow in thy footsteps, and to continue onward in the pathway of thy love; to take thee as my model, and to acquire the quali-
ties, and to make manifest that which thou didst desire for the triumph of this exalted and exacting, this most resplendent, sacred, and wondrous Cause.
Then intercede thou for me before the throne of the Almighty, O thou who, within the Company on High, dost intercede for all of humankind. Deliver me from the throes of my mourning, and confer upon me and those who love thee in this nether world what will remove our afflictions, and bring assurance to our hearts, and quiet the winds of our sorrows, and console our eyes, and fulfil our hopes both in this world and the world to come--O thou whom God hast singled out from amongst all the countenances of the Abhá Paradise, and hast honoured in both His earth and His Kingdom on high, and of whom He has made mention in the Crimson Book, in words which wafted the scent of musk and scattered its fragrance over all the dwellers on earth!
O thou Greatest Holy Leaf! If I cry at every moment out of a hundred mouths, and from each of these mouths I speak with a hundred thousand tongues, yet I could never describe nor celebrate thy heavenly qualities, which are known to none save only the Lord God; nor could I befittingly tell of even the transient foam from out the ocean of thine endless favour and grace.
Except for a very few, whose habitation is in the highest retreats of holiness, and who circle, in the furthermost Sanctuary, by day and by night about the throne of God, and are fed at the hand of the Abhá Beauty on purest milk--except for these, no soul of this nether world has known or recognized thine immaculate, thy most sacred essence, nor has any befittingly perceived that ambergris fragrance of thy noble qualities, which richly annoints thy brow, and which issues from the divine well-spring of mystic musk; nor has any caught its sweetness.
To this bear witness the Company on High, and beyond them God Himself, the Supreme Lord of all the heavens and the earths: that during all thy days, from thine earliest years until the close of thy life, thou didst personify the attributes of thy Father, the Matchless, the Mighty. Thou wert the fruit of His Tree, thou wert the lamp of His love, thou wert the symbol of His serenity, and of His meekness, the pathway of His guidance, the channel of His blessings, the sweet scent of His robe, the refuge of His loved ones and His handmaidens, the mantle of His generosity and grace.
O thou Remnant of the divine light, O thou fruit of the Cause of our All-Compelling Lord! From the hour when thy days did set, on the horizon of this Snow-White, this unique and Sacred Spot, our days have turned to night, our joys to great consternation; our eyes have grown blind with sorrow at thy passing, for it has brought back that supreme affliction yet again, that direst convulsion, the departing of thy compassionate Brother, our Merciful Master. And there is no refuge for us anywhere except for the breathings of thy spirit, the spotless, the excellently bright; no shelter for us anywhere, but through thine intercession, that God may inspire us with His own patience, and ordain for us in the other life the reward of meeting thee again, of attaining thy presence, of gazing on thy countenance, and partaking of thy light.
O thou Maid of Bahá! The best and choicest of praises, and the most excellent and most glorious of salutations, rest upon thee, O thou solace of mine eyes, and beloved of my soul! Thy grace to me was plenteous, it can never be concealed; thy love for me was great, it can never be forgotten. Blessed, a thousand times blessed, is he who loves thee, and partakes of thy splendours, and sings the praises of thy qualities, and extols thy worth, and follows in thy footsteps; who testifies to the wrongs thou didst suffer, and visits thy resting-place, and circles around thine exalted tomb, by day and by night . . .
4. A SELECTION OF LETTERS OF THE
GREATEST HOLY LEAF
ROM this hallowed and snow-white Spot, this blessed, heavenly Garden, wherefrom the fragrance of God is diffused to all regions, I hail you with salutations, most tender, most wondrous, and most glorious, and impart to you the most joyful tiding. This tiding serves as the sweet-smelling savour of His raiment to them that long to behold His face, it represents the highest aspiration of His steadfast leaves, it is the animating impulse for the happiness of the world, it is the source of ineffable gladness to the people of Bahá, a remedy to the afflicted, and a refreshing draught for the thirsty. By the righteousness of God, O beloved friend, through this glad-tiding the ailing are cured and every mouldering bone is quickened. This most joyful tiding is the news of the good health and well-being of the blessed, the exalted, the holy person of `Abdu'l-Bahá, `He Whom God hath purposed'--may the life of all created things be offered up for His oneness.
HE Festival of Ridván is come and the splendour of the light of God is shining from the invisible horizon of His mercy. The overflowing grace of the Lord of oneness is pouring down copiously from the unseen world and the glad-tidings of the Kingdom are coming in from all countries. The resplendent morn that betokens the advancement of the Cause of God and heralds the exaltation of His Word is dawning in every region.
Praise be to God that the fame of the Ancient Beauty--may my life be offered up for His loved ones--has been noised abroad in the world and the glory of His Cause is spread far and wide throughout the East and the West. These joyous developments will indeed gladden the hearts of His loved ones.
HE passing of `Abdu'l-Bahá, may our lives be a sacrifice for His meekness, was the ultimate calamity, the most great disaster. The light has fled our hearts, and our souls are wedded to sorrow, and no power in all the world can furnish any consolation, save only the power that comes from the steadfastness of the believers and their deep-rooted faith, and their unity, and their love for one another.
Only these can lessen the pain and quiet the anguish . . .
Although to outward seeming the Sun of the Covenant has hidden Himself behind the clouds, and the Orb of the Testament is concealed, and on the holy horizon of glory, He has now set, and is lost to view--still His rays are shining from out His hidden place, and forever will His light shed down its splendours.
For ever and ever will He, with all that invisible grace, and those bestowals of the spirit, lead the seeker onward, and guide the yearning, and ravish the hearts of the lovers.
PHYSICIAN treats every illness with a certain remedy and to every painful sore he applies a specially prepared compound. The more severe the illness, the more potent must be the remedy, so that the treatment may be effective and the illness cured. Now consider, when the divine Physician1
determined to conceal His countenance from the gaze of men and take His flight to the Abhá Kingdom, He knew in advance what a violent shock, what a tremendous impact, the effect of this devastating blow would have upon His beloved friends and devoted lovers. Therefore He prepared a highly potent remedy and compounded a unique and incomparable cure--a cure most exquisite, most glorious, most excellent, most powerful, most perfect, and most consummate. And through the movement of His Pen of eternal bounty He recorded in His weighty and involable Testament the name of Shoghi Effendi--the bough that has grown from the two offshoots of the celestial glory, the branch that has branched from the two hallowed and sacred Lote-Trees.
Then He winged His flight to the Concourse on High and to the luminous horizon. Now it devolves upon every well-assured and devoted friend, every firm and enkindled believer enraptured by His love, to drink this healing remedy at one draught, so that the agony of bereavement may be somewhat alleviated and the bitter anguish of separation dissipated. This calls for efforts to serve the Cause, to diffuse the sweet savours of God, to manifest selflessness, consecration and self-sacrifice in our labours in His Path.
HE Ancient Beauty, the Most Great Name, has, through the splendours of His grace in this most glorious of all ages, made this world of dust to radiate light. The loving counsels of `Abdu'l-Bahá have turned the beloved of the Lord into signs and tokens of humility and lowliness. He has taught them selflessness, and freedom from material things, and detachment from the world, and has enabled them to understand the verities of Heaven.
In that supernal realm we are all but motes; in the court of the Lord God's majesty we are but helpless shadows. He is the Shelter for all; He is the Protector of all; He is the Helper of all; He is the Preserver of all. Whensoever we look upon ourselves, we, one and all, despair; but He, with all His grace, His bestowals, His bounties, is the close Companion of each one.
It is certain that tests and trials are inseparable from this life and a vital requirement thereof, especially for the human race and above all for those who claim to have faith and love. Only through trials can the genuine be known from the worthless, and purity from pollution, and the real from the false. The meaning of the sacred verse: `Do men think when they say "We believe" they shall be let alone and not be put to proof?'1
prevails at all times and is applicable at every breath, and fire will only bring out the brightness of the gold.
So it is my hope that with lowliness and a contrite heart, with supplications and prayers, with good intentions and faithfulness, with purity of heart and adherence to the truth, with rising up to serve and with the blessings and confirmations of the Lord, we may come into a realm, and arrive at a condition, where we shall live under His overshadowing mercy, and His helping hand shall come to our aid and succour.
HE Pen of the divine Ordainer has so decreed that this house of sorrows should be encompassed by unending calamity and pain. Even before the dark clouds of one disaster are scattered, the lowering storm of yet a new grief takes over, casting its darkness across the inner skies of the heart. Such has been the lot of this broken-hearted one and the other leaves of the Holy Tree, from earliest childhood until this hour; such has been the fruit we have plucked from the tree of our lives.
We can see before us the Holy Shrine where lies the blessed, riddled body of the Primal Point, and memory of the delicate and tender remains of other martyrs passes before our eyes. The remembrance of the Ancient Beauty's dungeon in Tihrán, and that most noble Being's exile from city to city, culminating in the murk of the `Akká prison, is engraved upon our minds. The calamities, the massive afflictions, endured by `Abdu'l-Bahá throughout His entire life, and His wailing at the break of dawn are recorded for all time upon the tablets of the soul, and those cries that rose out of His luminous heart will linger on in the mind's ear.
It is clear, too, how the most dire of all ordeals, the ascension of the divine Beauty, made the structure of our existence to topple down; how being deprived of Him consumed the very limbs of our bodies. And when our fiery tears brought on by this were not yet dried, and the heart's wound had not healed over, then the bearer of God's decree called us to yet another anguish, that dire calamity, that terrible disaster, the passing of `Abdu'l-Bahá. Then were we, the sorrow-stricken, thrust again into the fires of separation, and the pitched darkness of deep mourning enshrouded this family.
Beloved friends of the Blessed Beauty: what could have been the purpose of those holy Beings in enduring such agonies? Why did those precious and luminous souls accept
Picture at Top of Page with Caption: Bahíyyih Khánum; an early photograph.
all that hardship and pain? Any just observer will acknowledge that They had no other end in view but to better the human race, and cleanse it from the imperfections of this contingent world, and see to its advancement, and endow all peoples with the wondrous virtues of humankind. Thanks be to God's bounties, the signs of such perfections, the lights of such bestowals, have become clearly manifest throughout the world. The tree of His Cause grows ever more massive, day by day, and heavier with fruit, and from moment to moment taller, and it shall cast its wondrous shade over all who seek its shelter . . .
KIND Lord! O Comforter of anguished hearts!
Send down Thy mercy upon us, and Thy grace, bestow upon us patience, give us the strength to endure. With Thy generous hand, lay Thou a balm upon our sores, grant us a medicine for this never-healing woe. Console Thou Thy loved ones, comfort Thy friends and handmaids, heal Thou our wounded breasts, and with Thy bounty's remedy, restore our festering hearts.
With the gentle breeze of Thy compassion, make fresh and green again these boughs, withered by autumn blasts; restore Thou to flourishing life these flowers, shrivelled by the blight of bereavement.
With tidings of the Abhá Paradise, wed Thou our souls to joy, and rejoice Thou our spirits with heartening voices from the dwellers in the realm of glory.
Thou art the Bounteous, Thou art the Clement; Thou art the Bestower, the Loving . . .
5. A TRIBUTE TO THE GREATEST HOLY LEAF
Amatu'l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum
HE outstanding heroine of the Bahá`í Dispensation.' Thus does the Guardian characterize his illustrious great-aunt, the peerless daughter of Bahá`u'lláh, the faithful and beloved sister of `Abdu'l-Bahá.
The Greatest Holy Leaf was the eldest daughter of Bahá`u'lláh, the Founder of the Bahá`í Faith. Born in Persia in 1846 she, in her long life which ended in 1932, spanned, with the exception of two years, the entire Heroic Age of this new world religion. At the age of six when her Father was cast into the subterranean dungeon in Tihrán known as the `Black Hole', her home was immediately looted and despoiled. In a day the wealthy and noble family was beggared and hid in fear of their lives as Bahá`u'lláh lay in heavy chains--the most prominent, the most blameless victim of the turmoil which His Forerunner's liberal teachings had provoked in a land of bitter Muslim Sh
i'áh fanaticism. Navváb, the refined, frail, saintly mother of the little girl, fled to a humble dwelling near the dungeon where she could be near her illustrious and much-loved Spouse; `Abdu'l-Bahá, her eight-year-old Brother, accompanied His mother when daily she went to the home of friends to ascertain whether Bahá`u'lláh was still alive or had been executed that day--for every day some of His co-religionists were martyred, often being handed over to various guilds, the butchers, the bakers, the shoemakers, the blacksmiths, who exercised their ingenuity on new ways of torturing them to death. Through long days of constant terror the little girl stayed at home with her four-year-old brother Mihdí; often, she recalled, she could hear the shrieks of the mob as they carried off their victims. After four months Bahá`u'lláh was released through the intervention of various prominent people, and He and His family were exiled to `Iráq. In a very severe winter, through the snow-bound mountains of western Persia, the ill-clad, destitute party for three months suffered the ordeal of what He described as that terrible journey
. Navváb sold the gold buttons of her clothes to help buy food and washed their garments till her delicate hands bled. Such were the earliest recollections of Bahíyyih Kh
ánum; the happy, secure days of her first six years must have become a dream-like experience, for no real peace ever entered her life again. Her Brother `Abdu'l-Bahá testified to this: For all her days she was denied a moment of tranquility.
The family had barely settled in Bagh
dád when the infant Faith of Bahá`u'lláh was seized by a new convulsion; a year after His arrival, when the Greatest Holy Leaf was eight, He withdrew for two years to the mountains of Sulaymáníyyih, living as a dervish, His whereabouts unknown to His family and admirers alike. This sacrifice, however, did not avert calamity; the internal and external enemies of His Faith had relentlessly pursued their ends, and in May 1863, just after Bahá`u'lláh had revealed His own station to some of His followers, for the second time Bahíyyih Kh
ánum became an exile and travelled with her mother and other women in covered carts for almost four months from Bagh
dád to Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, in a caravan of her Father, which comprised about seventy of His followers. By now the young girl had turned her back on the world--a decision which is ever an inward orientation--and was wholly dedicated, every moment of her life, to serving her Divine Father, her Brother `Abdu'l-Bahá Whom she adored, her frail, heroic and beloved mother, her younger brother Mihdí who had rejoined them, and all the followers of Bahá`u'lláh--indeed, all and sundry who ever crossed her path!
Yet a third banishment lay ahead of the Greatest Holy Leaf; with no warning or justification, four months after their arrival, in the depths of a very bitter winter, the Sultán once again exiled Bahá`u'lláh, His family and companions, this time to the city of his displeasure, Adrianople. At the beginning of December, for twelve days, over the windswept plains of western Turkey, in storms of snow and rain, in carts and on pack animals, the party struggled, Bahá`u'lláh Himself testifying that: Neither My family, nor those who
accompanied Me, had the necessary raiment to protect them from the cold in that freezing weather.
`Abdu'l-Bahá, Who rode beside His Father's conveyance, was again badly frost-bitten, as He had already been on the long journey from Tihrán to Bagh
dád, and suffered its effects till the end of His life. On their arrival, ill, destitute, prisoners, they were assigned to crowded, cold, vermin-infested houses--for Bahíyyih Kh
ánum the most repugnant of all her sufferings. So terrible was their plight during this period that Bahá`u'lláh asserts: The eyes of Our enemies wept over Us, and beyond them those of every discerning person.
During the four years and eight months they sojourned in Adrianople fresh horrors attended the exiled family. In spite of Bahá`u'lláh's every effort to redeem His half-brother, Mírzá Yahyá, his intense jealousy reached its apex and he poisoned Bahá`u'lláh, Whose life hung in the balance for a month, and Who carried the mark of this treachery in a trembling hand until the end of His life.
The Greatest Holy Leaf often stated that all the years of her life, from childhood to maturity, were overshadowed by the constant threat that she might be separated from her beloved Father; it was a very real threat for on a number of occasions there was a plan to divide the exiles, Bahá`u'lláh to be sent to some unknown destination and His family to another. Once again the machinations of His enemies, within and without, ripened into a plan of this nature. The same Sultán who had exiled Him from Bagh
dád to Constantinople, and from Constantinople to Adrianople, now issued another edict of exile which was to carry Him to the prison-city of `Akká in Syria for the last twenty-four years of His life--but His frantic family did not know this, they only knew another exile, and probably permanent separation, now lay ahead.
After a miserable, crowded voyage of ten days, with little food, through rough seas, in August heat, the band of exiles--still all together due to the masterful intervention of `Abdu'l-Bahá--were finally locked into the barracks of the prison-city of `Akká. Illness, death, privation were their lot for two years, the worst blow of all being the death of the gentle, universally loved Mihdí who, while walking on the prison roof and meditating, fell through an opening and died of his injuries. His body was washed in the presence of his Father Whose poignant grief has been recorded by Him; what went on in the hearts of the tender mother, the loving sister, we can only imagine.
Slowly the wheels of destiny revolved. Through the unceasing efforts of `Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá`u'lláh was able, although still a prisoner, to live the last years of His life in relative peace in a beautiful mansion in the countryside outside `Akká. Bahíyyih Kh
ánum, however, continued to live in `Akká with `Abdu'l-Bahá and His family, whose imprisonment was not permanently lifted until the fall of the Sultánate in 1908 freed all political prisoners. The sun of the glory of her Father set in 1892, an event which again led to violent upheavals caused by internal and external enemies of the Faith; but the selfless devotion, the consecration to service in whatever form was needed, which had been manifested in Bahíyyih Kh
ánum's life since she was six years old, continued unchanged; her whole being now revolved about the Brother she adored, the Centre of His Father's Covenant, the Head of His Faith. During the years of ever-increasing freedom and victory `Abdu'l-Bahá embarked upon His history-making visits to Egypt, Europe and North America. Some of His letters to the Greatest Holy Leaf reflect not only His constant love and thoughts of her but His joy over the triumphant nature of His tour. But once again, inevitably it seems in her sorrow-filled life, great afflictions came upon her. In November 1921 this Brother--so adored, so close a companion since their earliest childhood--closed His eyes and passed away from a world that had so honoured Him, so afflicted Him for almost four score years.
The death of the partner in her trials, her exiles, her family's upheavals and crises, would have been sufficient for any woman of her age; added to it now came the condition of `Abdu'l-Bahá's successor, His eldest grandson, appointed Guardian of the Faith, a young man of twenty-four, devastated with grief because `Abdu'l-Bahá had died during his absence at Oxford University, and completely overwhelmed and prostrated by the news of the station and responsibilities conferred upon him by his Grandfather's Will and
Testament. As always Bahíyyih Kh
ánum rose to the occasion, comforted, supported, nursed and encouraged the heartbroken youth, the youth of whom, when he was a child, `Abdu'l-Bahá had written to her: Kiss the fresh flower of the garden of sweetness, Shoghi Effendi.
More than this, she accepted the headship of the Faith which Shoghi Effendi, in his great distress, conferred upon her when he withdrew, as he wrote, until such a time as `. . .
having gained health, strength, self-confidence and spiritual energy' he would be able to take into his hands `entirely and regularly the work of service . . .
' Upon Bahíyyih Kh
ánum's frail shoulders yet again God placed a heavy load. Though she was now seventy-five, she bore, with her usual nobility, dignity, self-effacement and great inner assurance and strength, all the terrible events related to and produced by the ascension of her Brother. At last came the great freeing, her turn to shake the dust of this earth from her feet and wing away to realms on high. But the release and reward for her was far different for him whom she left behind; `to one who was reared by the hands of her loving kindness', Shoghi Effendi wrote, `the burden of this direst of calamities is well-nigh unbearable'. Torrents of passionate feeling poured from his pen, in English to the Bahá`ís of the West, in Persian and Arabic to the Bahá`ís of the East. All his love and, above all, her glory, became embodied in immortal words. During the thirty-six years of the Guardian's ministry he never ceased to remember her, to associate her with the unfoldment of the Faith throughout the world, the rise of its institutions at the World Centre, the largest or smallest of his own undertakings; whether publicly or quietly in his personal life, her memory and influence were always there. He summed up what she represented historically, and to him personally in his dedication to her of The Dawn Breakers
--the masterpiece he created out of Nabíl's Narrative through his unique translation:
The Greatest Holy Leaf
The Last Survivor of a Glorious and
I Dedicate This Work
in Token of a
Great Debt of Gratitude and Love
Picture at the Bottom of the Page with the Caption: Some relics of the Greatest Holy Leaf preserved in the International Bahá`í Archives.
6. THE COMMEMORATION AT THE WORLD CENTRE OF THE
OF THE PASSING OF THE GREATEST HOLY LEAF
S midnight of 14 July 1982 approached, the Bahá`ís of the World Centre were gathered in the forecourt of the pilgrim house. With the arrival of Amatu'l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Kh
ánum, the assembled friends silently followed her into the brightly illuminated Shrine of the Báb which cast a swathe of golden light against the dark mountain. It was the fiftieth anniversary of the passing of the Greatest Holy Leaf and, in union with Bahá`ís around the globe, the World Centre paid its tribute to the most remarkable woman of the Bahá`í Dispensation.
At the Shrine the friends heard the recitation of the Tablet of Visitation at the tomb of the Báb, followed by the chanting of the Tablet of Visitation in the Shrine of `Abdu'l-Bahá. They then quietly, reverently filed out of the Shrine, and proceeded up to the main gate where police were temporarily holding traffic, silently crossed the road and wound their way through the Monument Gardens to the light-drenched tomb of the Greatest Holy Leaf whose graceful, nine-columned monument had been decorated beautifully with flowers.
The night air rang with the Arabic words of Bahá`u'lláh's tribute to His daughter: This is My testimony for her who hath heard My voice and drawn nigh unto Me. Verily, she is a leaf that hath sprung from this pre-existent Root. . .
The passage was read in English. Deep emotion stirred the hearts of the friends who were keenly aware of the privilege that was theirs in being in such a spot, at such a time, and hearing in surroundings of ineffable beauty and peace, these words: Let these exalted words be thy love-song on the tree of Bahá, O thou most holy and resplendent leaf . . .
The hushed crowd stood for a long moment of reflection, loath to leave the peaceful spot.
The first gathering ever held in the Permanent Seat of the Universal House of Justice on Mount Carmel was a seminar on the life of the Greatest Holy Leaf, held on 17 July 1982. Though not entirely ready for occupancy, the Seat was the venue for a memorable programme which, together with the midnight commemoration at the tomb, constituted the World Centre's observance of the fiftieth anniversary of the passing of Bahíyyih Kh
At nine a.m. the Hands of the Cause, members of the Universal House of Justice and Counsellor members of the International Teaching Centre, together with their families and the World Centre staff, gathered in the reception concourse whose beauty surprised even those who had seen it emerging over several years. The aesthetic perfection of the surroundings brought peace and assurance to the participants' spirits, belying the troubled world outside. The chairman paid tribute to the dedicated work of the many friends whose efforts had led to that thrilling moment. He spoke of the international crew of volunteer workers from Canada, Ecuador, England, Germany, Írán, Mauritius, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States who had put in extra-long hours to ensure the readiness of those portions of the building which were used for the anniversary observance.
The broad stairway, seven metres wide, leading down into the concourse from the second floor, served as dais. The friends were seated to the left of the main entrance, while behind them lay an area of comparable size which will permit the seating of more than twice the two hundred and fifty people who were in attendance. Numerous arrangements of roses and other flowers accented the structural beauty of the reception concourse whose design reflects classic perfection of proportion.
The warm July air of Haifa drifted gently in through the large windows which stood open to receive the breeze. A Tablet of `Abdu'l-Bahá addressed to the Greatest Holy Leaf was first chanted then repeated in English. The first to deliver her talk that day was one who had close personal association with Bahíyyih Kh
ánum, the Hand of the Cause Amatu'l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Kh
ánum. She began her re-
Picture at Top of Page with the Caption: An early photograph of the marble monument erected by Shoghi Effendi over the resting-place of Bahíyyih Khánum.
marks, however, by calling to mind `one whose chair is empty today'. The friends' thoughts turned to Mr. Amoz Gibson, the well-loved member of the Universal House of Justice, whose death they had so recently mourned. She then spoke for more than an hour sharing her memories of `Kh
ánum', as the Greatest Holy Leaf was known. She told of the privilege she was given as a young girl of sharing intimate moments with Kh
ánum in the Master's House during her stay in Haifa with her mother, May Maxwell, in 1923.
Counsellor Anneliese Bopp presented a summary of the life of `the outstanding heroine of the Bahá`í Dispensation'. She enumerated some of the titles by which Bahíyyih Kh
ánum is called in the literature of the Faith, among which are: `well-beloved sister of `Abdu'l-Bahá'; the Holy Family's `most precious, most great adorning'; `the brightly shining Leaf, the Remnant of Bahá, and His trust, the eternal fruit and the one last remembrance of the Holy Tree'.
In the afternoon, Mr. `Alí Nakh
javání shared precious memories from the life of the Greatest Holy Leaf. He noted that the dome of the Seat is reminiscent of the dome of the monument of the Greatest Holy Leaf, saying that the architect intended this visible link between the two structures. The emotions that stirred in each privileged participant through the recitals of treasured memories can only be guessed at, but showed clearly on the participants' faces.
Mrs. Baharieh Ma`ání gave an original presentation on the Greatest Holy Leaf's place in religious history, outlining first the role of each of the outstanding women of previous Dispensations, and reinforcing the friends' respect for the capacities and services of the Greatest Holy Leaf and for the effective contributions she made at several times in the history of the Cause.
During a break for refreshments the friends went out by the back door of the Concourse and enjoyed the shade of the colonnade while admiring the dramatic display of colour that had in recent months appeared in the terraced gardens. The five-tiered garden rises steeply for twenty-five metres and is profusely planted with a variety of flowers, blossoming shrubs and small trees.
Portraits of Bahíyyih Kh
ánum and scenes associated with her life were shown in a slide presentation prepared by Mr. and Mrs. A. L. Thompson. This was followed by recitation in Persian and English of a prayer from the pen of the Greatest Holy Leaf which provided a fitting conclusion for a day spent commemorating her saintly life.
7. SOME REFERENCES TO THE GREATEST HOLY LEAF
FOUND IN WORKS PUBLISHED IN ENGLISH1
Bahá`u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá:
Tablets Revealed in Honor of the Greatest Holy Leaf (New York: National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá`ís of the United States and Canada, 1933).
Advent of Divine Justice (Wilmette: Bahá`í Publishing Trust, 1974), p. 37.
Bahá`í Administration (Wilmette: Bahá`í Publishing Trust, 1980), pp. 25, 57, 70, 93, 187-196.
The Dawn-Breakers (Wilmette: Bahá`í Publishing Trust, 1974), dedication.
God Passes By (Wilmette: Bahá`í Publishing Trust, 1974), pp. 108, 347, 350, 392.
Guidance for Today and Tomorrow (London: Bahá`í Publishing Trust, 1973), pp. 58-71.
Messages to America: Selected Letters and Cablegrams Addressed to the Bahá`ís of North America 1932-1946 (Wilmette: Bahá`í Publishing Committee, 1947), pp. 1, 31, 37.
Messages to the Bahá`í World (Wilmette: Bahá`í Publishing Trust, 1971), p. 74.
World Order of Bahá`u'lláh (Wilmette: Bahá`í Publishing Trust, 1980), pp. 67-68, 81-82, 93-94, 98.
Balyuzi, H. M. `Abdu'l-Bahá, the Centre of the Covenant of Bahá`u'lláh (London: George Ronald, 1971), pp. 12, 54-55, 74, 332, 401, 416, 454-455, 463-464, 482.
Balyuzi, H. M. Edward Granville Browne and the Bahá`í Faith (London: George Ronald, 1970), pp. 119-120.
Blomfield, Lady Sarah The Chosen Highway (Wilmette: Bahá`í Publishing Trust, 1967), pp. 37-69, 73.
Gail, Marzieh Khanúm, The Greatest Holy Leaf, as Remembered by Marzieh Gail (Oxford: George Ronald, 1982).
Maxwell, May An Early Pilgrimage (London: George Ronald, 1969), pp. 18-19.
Muhájir, Írán Furútan, comp. The Mystery of God (London: Bahá`í Publishing Trust, 1979), pp. 278-304.
Rabanni, Rúhíyyih The Priceless Pearl (London: Bahá`í Publishing Trust, 1969), pp. 6-7, 10-11, 13-15, 21-22, 39, 44, 46-51, 57-58, 63, 90, 102-103, 112, 115, 129-130, 139-140, 144-148, 151-152, 168, 199, 218, 236, 259, 261-262, 266-267, 273, 279-280, 430, 438.
Universal House of Justice Bahá`í Holy Places at the World Centre (Haifa: Bahá`í World Centre, 1968), pp. 62-70.
The Bahá`í World, an International Record.
vol. II, 1926-1928, pp. 83, 132.
vol. III, 1928-1930, p. 64.
vol. V, 1932-1934, pp. 22-23, 114-115, 169-188.
vol. VIII, 1938-1940, pp. 5, 8, 206, 255-256, 262, 266.
vol. IX, 1940-1944, p. 329.
vol. X, 1944-1946, p. 536.
vol. XI, 1946-1950, pp. 474, 492.
vol. XVI, 1973-1976, pp. 54, 66, 73.
Bahá`í News, published by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá`ís of the United States.
no. 18, June 1927, p. 5.
no. 36, December 1929, p. 1.
no. 52, May 1931, pp. 1-2.
no. 62, May 1932, p. 2.
no. 65, August 1932, pp. 1-2.
no. 66, September 1932, p. 1.
no. 72, March 1933, p. 3.
no. 121, December 1938, p. 3.
no. 124, April 1939, p. 1.
no. 128, August 1939, p. 4.
no. 133, February 1940, p. 1.
no. 135, April 1940, insert.
Star of the West (Chicago: Bahá`í News Service).
vol. 10, no. 17, pp. 312-314.
1Compiled by the Research Department of the Bahá`í World Centre and distributed by the Universal House of Justice to all National Spiritual Assemblies on 25 February 1982. Many of these references are accounts of early pilgrimages and make only brief mention of the Greatest Holy Leaf.
vol. 12, no. 10, pp. 163-167; no. 11, pp. 186-188; no. 13, pp. 211-214; no. 15, p. 245; no. 19, pp. 302-303.
vol. 13, no. 4, pp. 68-69, 82-83, 88; no. 8, pp. 207-210, 219-220; no. 11, p. 314.
vol. 17, no. 8, pp. 256-260.
vol. 18, no. 9, pp. 278-282.
vol. 20, no. 1, p. 18; no. 4, p. 104.
vol. 23, no. 5, p. 134; no. 7, pp. 202-204; no. 12, pp. 374-377.
vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 18-20; no. 3, pp. 90-93.
vol. 25, no. 4, pp. 118-122.
Picture at the Bottom of the Page with the Caption: Bahíyyih Khánum; circa 1895.
8. SOME WORKS PUBLISHED TO COMMEMORATE THE FIFTIETH
ANNIVERSARY OF THE PASSING OF THE GREATEST HOLY LEAF
N its message to `the Bahá`ís of the world', Naw-Rúz 1981, the Universal House of Justice announced its intention to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the passing of the Greatest Holy Leaf by issuing `a compilation of letters to her and of statements about her by Bahá`u'lláh, `Abdu'l-Bahá, and the beloved Guardian, and of her own letters'. The successful achievement of this objective was announced to all National Spiritual Assemblies on 12 April 1982.
`The fiftieth anniversary of the ascension of Bahíyyih Kh
ánum, eldest daughter of Bahá`u'lláh and designated by Him the Greatest Holy Leaf, will occur on July 15th of this year,' the House of Justice advised all National Spiritual Assemblies on 24 January 1982. `We summon the entire Bahá`í world to a befitting commemoration of the life of the greatest woman in the Bahá`í Dispensation.
`National Spiritual Assemblies are requested to arrange national commemorative services, and to ensure that all local communities hold befitting meetings. These services should be held on the date of the anniversary or on the weekend immediately following it, and in those countries where Mash
kárs are in existence, they should be held in the Temple.'
Enclosed with the letter was a bibliography of references to the Greatest Holy Leaf in Bahá`í literature in English to assist national communities in arrangements for the services.1
Many and varied were the programmes held throughout the Bahá`í world, each characterized by dignity and devotion. In addition, numerous teaching projects were inaugurated in her memory and conferences and deepening classes were held at which her heroic life was studied.
Set out below is a bibliography compiled by William P. Collins of publications produced in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the passing of the Greatest Holy Leaf:
1. Bahíyyih Khánum, the Greatest Holy Leaf / a compilation from Bahá`í Sacred Texts and writings of the Guardian of the Faith and Bahíyyih Khánum's own letters made by the Research Department at the Bahá`í World Centre. Haifa: Bahá`í World Centre, 1982. xix, 252 pp.
PAMPHLETS AND COMMEMORATIVE PROGRAMMES:
2. Faizi, Abu'l-Qázim. A Gift of Love Offered to the Greatest Holy Leaf / compiled and edited by Gloria Faizi. n.p.: Gloria A. Faizi, 1982, 39 pp.
3. Gail, Marzieh. Khánum, the Greatest Holy Leaf / as remembered by Marzieh Gail. Oxford: George Ronald, 1981. 40 pp.
4. Savi, Julio. Bahíyyih Khánum, Ancella di Bahá. Roma: Casa Editrice Bahá`í, 1983. viii, 112 pp.
5. Bahíyyih Khánum. [Lubumbashi: Bahá`í Administrative Committee for
Central South Zaire, 1982] 8 pp.
6. Bahíyyih Khánum, das Groesste Heilige Blatt. [Bern]: Nationale Vertiefungskomitee der Schweiz, 1982. 5 pp.
7. Bahíyyih Khánum, das Grösste Heilige Blatt, 1846-1932 / herausgegeben vom Nationalen Geistigen Rat der Bahá`í in Deutschland zum fünfzigsten Jahrestag des Hindscheidens das Grössten Heiligen Blattes. [Hofheim-Langenhain]: Nationale Geistige Rat der Bahá`í in Deutschland,  32 pp.
8. Bahíyyih Khánum, la Plus Sainte Feuille, 1846-1932. [Berne, Switzerland: National Deepening Committee, 1982] 3 pp.
9. Bahíyyih Khánum, the Greatest Holy Leaf. [London: National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá`ís of the United Kingdom, 1982]  pp.
10. idem.  pp.
11. Commemoración del Quincuagésimo Aniversario de la Ascensión de Bahíyyih Khánum, `la Hoja Más Sagrada.' [Santi-
1 See p. 55.
Picture at Top of Page with Caption: Bahíyyih Khánum; October 1919.
ago, Chile]: Comité Nacional Bahá`í de Educación,  1 p.
12. Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Passing of the Greatest Holy Leaf, Bahíyyih Khánum, 15th July 1982/139. [St. Michael: National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá`ís of Barbados], 1982  pp.
13. A Commemorative Service for the 50th Anniversary of the Ascension of the Greatest Holy Leaf, Bahá`í House of Worship, 15th July 1982 at 8.00 p.m. [Mona Vale, N. S. W.]: Bahá`í House of Worship, 1982.  pp.
14. The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Passing of Bahíyyih Khánum, `The Greatest Holy Leaf,' Daughter of Bahá`u'lláh. [Port of Spain: National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá`ís of Trinidad and Tobago], 1982.  pp.
15. 50th Anniversary of the Passing of the Greatest Holy Leaf. [Guam]: National Spiritual Assembly [of the Bahá`ís of the Mariana Islands],1982.  pp.
16. `The Greatest Holy Leaf,' Bahíyyih Khánum, Daughter of Bahá`u'lláh: A Selection of Writings about Her Life and Qualities to Commemorate the Fiftieth Anniversary of Her Passing on July 15, 1982. [Accra: National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá`ís of Ghana, 1982] 4 pp.
17. Hadrat al-Waraqat al-Mubárakat al-`Ulyá fí Dhikrá Su`udihá al-Khamsín. [Rabat: National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá`ís of Morocco, 1982]  pp.
18. Rabbani, Rúhíyyih. Bahíyyih Khánum, the Greatest Holy Leaf / by Amatu'l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum. Malawi: Bahá`í International Summer School, Malawi, 1982 (Lilongwe: Extension Aids Branch, Ministry of Agriculture), ix pp. Introduction to item 1.
19. Seminar on the Greatest Holy Leaf: Seat of the Universal House of Justice, Reception Concourse, 17 July 1982. [Haifa: Bahá`í World Centre], 1982.  pp.
9. THE GREATEST HOLY LEAF: A REMINISCENCE1
by `Alí Nakhjavání
we sit together in this gathering I am reminded of the fact that our beloved Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, speaks about the mystic bond that exists between the Greatest Holy Leaf and Bahá`u'lláh. Obviously this is so, for she was not only His daughter but was referred to by Him as the woman who has the highest rank among all women believers in the Bahá`í dispensation, a station that none surpasses. Shoghi Effendi, basing himself on this statement, has named her the outstanding heroine of the Bahá`í dispensation.
The Greatest Holy Leaf also had a mystic bond, as Shoghi Effendi describes the relationship, with her brother, `Abdu'l-Bahá, the Centre of the Covenant--One Who not only knew her station and appointed her to be in total charge of His household, but Who entrusted her with the sacred remains of the Báb which were housed in her room for some ten years in the house of ` Abdu'lláh Pásh
á, Who entrusted her with His last will and testament and Who realized that after His passing she would play a central role in the community, as He knew that Shoghi Effendi was not present at the time of His passing. We can be sure that `Abdu'l-Bahá passed away with His mind at rest, because He knew that Shoghi Effendi would soon be there, and that the Greatest Holy Leaf was there.
After the passing of `Abdu'l-Bahá the mystic bond between Shoghi Effendi and the Greatest Holy Leaf assumed far-reaching proportions. I am sure that future historians and other writers will write about the eleven years that passed from the night of the passing of `Abdu'l-Bahá to the night of the passing of the Greatest Holy Leaf.
The thought was borne in today, as I gazed at the friends assembled in this meeting in this majestic setting, that the House of Justice is beginning to forge its links and bonds with the Greatest Holy Leaf. Why? Following so close upon the fiftieth anniversary of her passing the very first meeting in the permanent Seat of the Universal House of Justice is held in her name. The architect of this building, Mr. Husayn Armánat, today confirmed my recollection that he had deliberately designed the dome of this building to be reminiscent of the dome on the monument erected at the resting-place of the Greatest Holy Leaf. If we compare these two domes we will see the resemblance in broad outline. He did so, he said, because of the well-known statement of Shoghi Effendi in which he likened the administrative order of the Faith of Bahá`u'lláh to the monument of the Greatest Holy Leaf, the dome representing the Universal House of Justice.
This building itself, standing so close to her resting-place, caused me to reflect, as I stood outside, upon yet another symbolism. It is as though someone were standing with his arms outstretched in a semicircle, this arc, the world administrative seat of the Faith of Bahá`u'lláh, encircling the consecrated spot where these three precious souls are buried, the Greatest Holy Leaf, the Purest Branch and Navváb--chief among them the Greatest Holy Leaf. Thus we are now witnessing the forging of bonds at the World Centre of the Faith between the Universal House of Justice and the Greatest Holy Leaf.
It is somewhat embarrassing to find myself speaking of my own recollections of the Greatest Holy Leaf. I came to the Holy Land in 1922 when I was two-and-a-half years old. The Greatest Holy Leaf passed away in 1932. Of course, I have no memories left of the first two or three years because I was too young, but a few memories have remained of the later years of that decade. I will, then, speak about this young child who has memories of being in the presence of the Greatest Holy Leaf. This child had a brother who was very close to him--my brother Jalál who passed away in May of this year--and the experiences which I relate were joint experiences. I am grateful to
1 Excerpts from an address presented during the World Centre seminar commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the passing of the Greatest Holy Leaf, held in the reception concourse, permanent Seat of the Universal House of Justice, 17 July 1982.
Bahá`u'lláh for having occasion to mention my brother's name here today.
The young child of whom I speak was born of a mother, Fátimih Kh
ánum, who had spent her youthful life in service to the Greatest Holy Leaf, serving for some fifteen years, dating back to the time when the Master was in the house of Abdu'lláh Pásh
á in `Akká. Some of you may have met her sister, my aunt, Zeenat Baghdadi, who came to the Holy Land not long ago to give information relating to the restoration of the house of Abdu'lláh Pásh
á. These two sisters, when they were young girls in `Akká, nine and eleven years old, were accepted into the household of `Abdu'l-Bahá. My mother was chosen to serve the Greatest Holy Leaf for all those years. So in our family home we had many stories and feelings--the feelings more important than the stories--about the Greatest Holy Leaf, and the way my mother felt about her. These things are in my background and are for you to visualize as I speak to you.
Speaking about this bond between Shoghi Effendi and the Greatest Holy Leaf, Zeenat, my aunt, used to say that in the house of Abdu'lláh Pásh
á there used to be a parrot. The Greatest Holy Leaf used to take a mirror, hold it before the bird and bid it to say `Ya Iláhí va Mahbúbí
!' (O my God and my Beloved!) and to say `Shoghi ján
!' (Shoghi dear!) Early in the morning, at dawn, my aunt recalled, the household could hear the parrot crying `Ya Iláhí va Mahbúbí! . . . `Shoghi ján
!' We have my aunt's voice on tape and I have tried to imitate that `Shoghi ján
!' with its high pitch.
During the period of the commission of investigation in the time of `Abdu'l-Hamíd, when grave problems confronted `Abdu'l-Bahá, it was necessary for the Master to conceal His Will and Testament. Although I have no evidence to support my belief, I am convinced that the only soul apart from `Abdu'l-Bahá who knew at that time who would be the Master's successor was the Greatest Holy Leaf. She was the depository of His secrets, so to speak.
When you visit the house of Abdu'lláh Pásh
á you will be shown the room of the Greatest Holy Leaf. My aunt said that she had often wondered why it was that the Greatest Holy Leaf would sit on the mandar in that room, in utter silence, for hours on end. My aunt described my mother sitting at the feet of the Greatest Holy Leaf, also remaining silent and motionless, hour after hour. She said it was only later that she understood that it was because the remains of the Báb were in that room. If we wish to visualize it--forgive my saying this but I am trying to make it understood--it is as though we were asked to live and sleep in the Shrine of the Báb. Obviously, we can well imagine that the Greatest Holy Leaf lived in reverence, turning her heart to the Báb, realizing the sacred trust she had to protect for ten years in that room.
Zeenat used to explain to us that there were several things clearly visible in the life of the Greatest Holy Leaf in the house of Abdu'lláh Pásh
á and, of course, later on these patterns were transferred to her life at the house of `Abdu'l-Bahá in Haifa. One was the undisputed authority of the Greatest Holy Leaf after `Abdu'l-Bahá; that was definitely clear. It was not Munírih Kh
ánum; indeed, far from it. It was the Greatest Holy Leaf.
A second was her leadership in co-ordinating the meetings related to the Bahá`í women. Whether in `Akká or Haifa, she presided over their meetings and controlled everything. The friends would come to her for names for their children, for consultation about a forthcoming marriage and requesting her blessing on the union. She would generally inform the friends about the development of the Cause and whatever `Abdu'l-Bahá had said. She was the central point for the Bahá`í women in the community in the Holy Land.
A third was her contact with women of the higher social class in `Akká and later in Haifa. Zeenat said that whenever prominent persons such as the Muftí of `Akká, the Governor, or other high officials of the government called upon `Abdu'l-Bahá, He would ask the Greatest Holy Leaf, rather than His daughters or His wife, to visit the women in their homes while He entertained the men in His home. In addition to Persian, the Greatest Holy Leaf spoke fluent Turkish and Arabic.
A fourth aspect became increasingly clear as the Research Department made a study and review of the documents at the World Centre: the extensive correspondence conducted by the Greatest Holy Leaf from the days of Bahá`u'lláh until the end of her life. During
the last six years of Bahá`u'lláh's Ministry she was the Most Exalted Leaf after her mother, and there are letters written by her at that time. During the Ministry of `Abdu'l-Bahá likewise there are letters from her, and after the passing of the Master, of course, during the difficult period when she was head of `Abdu'l-Bahá's household and head of the committee which was operating here in charge of the affairs of the Faith in the absence of Shoghi Effendi, until the period when he was able to take the reins of authority in his capable hands.
A fifth aspect was her domestic duties. Ella Goodall Cooper wrote a few lines which I think describe very well the busy life of the Greatest Holy Leaf in the household of the Master.
`One day', she writes, `we caught a glimpse of her in the kitchen, seated on a low stool, her firm, capable hands busy with a large lamb that had just been brought in from the market. Quickly dividing it, she directed which part was to be made into broth, which part served for the evening meal, which part kept possibly for the morrow, and which was to be sent to those poor or incapacitated friends who were daily supplied from `Abdu'l-Bahá's table.' The relationship of the Greatest Holy Leaf to the poor is an element of her life which is sometimes forgotten. During the First World War she was the person responsible for feeding the poor from the Master's house: she cooked for them, sent them rations or supplied rations when the poor came asking. All this was under her control.
An American believer, Curtis Kelsey, was present in the Holy Land at the time of the passing of `Abdu'l-Bahá. In the memoir of Mr. Kelsey written by Nathan Rutstein we find a description of the event: `The Greatest Holy Leaf calmly went about comforting the grief-stricken, absorbing their pain. As Curtis watched her move from person to person, stroking a shoulder, clasping a stretched-out hand, he noticed that she exhibited the kind of strength that `Abdu'l-Bahá radiated. Some sensed that and clung to her. Her control, her poise, her unrestrained flow of compassion assured him that the Faith would not falter. She was, at that moment, the head of the Faith that her dear brother had led so successfully for twenty-nine years, giving His all. She was a tower of strength that all would rally around for support.
`As he watched the Greatest Holy Leaf, her
Two Pictures at the Bottom of the Page:
Caption of Left Picture: Curtis Kelsey astride a donkey, Pilgrim House, Bahjí; 1921.
Caption of Right Picture: Saichiro Fujita in Persian garb; 1921.
eyes caught his and she walked over to him. Since he was not crying, he wondered why she was coming toward him.
`"Kelsey," she said, "will you take Fujita and Kh
usraw to `Akká to tell the friends there of the Master's passing and then come right back?" '
Here she was in the midst of this storm of sorrow, yet she was in full control, giving instructions, comforting everyone around her, although she was the one who was in need of the greatest comfort. When the beloved Guardian passed away and a torrent of grief afflicted the Bahá`ís of the world, our beloved Amatu'l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Kh
ánum acted in exactly the same way.
In response to a request of the Universal House of Justice the Hand of the Cause Abu'l-Qásim Faizi has written a brief account of his visits to Haifa during the time when he was a student at the American University in Beirut. He relates a little story that is touching, one we have heard from him many times. One day Shoghi Effendi asked Mr. Faizi to chant a prayer; he had a most melodious and heartwarming voice. The next day Shoghi Effendi said that the Greatest Holy Leaf had heard his voice and she would like him to sing and chant for her. With a few other students, Mr. Faizi went to the Greatest Holy Leaf and chanted. The next day Shoghi Effendi inquired whether Mr. Faizi had visited the Greatest Holy Leaf. `Yes,' Mr. Faizi replied. `And did you chant for her?' `Yes,' said Mr. Faizi. Then Shoghi Effendi said that he had left his door open in order to enjoy the chanting and explained that the Greatest Holy Leaf first heard Mr. Faizi chant because she had left her door ajar on the earlier occasion.
Mr. Faizi in his reminiscences describes another occasion on which the Greatest Holy Leaf was very happy. He writes, `When our small group of students from Beirut was ushered into the presence of the Greatest Holy Leaf she was seated at the upper end of a large room facing the door.' I think this must be the same room which served as the women's tea-room. `The wife of the Master, Munírih Kh
ánum, sat next to her and other ladies of the household sat on either side in a semicircle. The mother of the Guardian, Díyá'iyyih Kh
ánum, stood behind the Greatest Holy Leaf with her hands resting on the shoulders of her beloved aunt. We students were given seats facing this beautiful audience. Kh
ánum sat still, her lily-white hands resting gently on her lap. She was a queen who inspired love and reverence and at her throne of grandeur we offered our grateful hearts. Her glance was full of love but she did not speak to us. The Master's wife, Munírih Kh
ánum, spoke on her behalf. She greeted us when we arrived and thanked us warmly in Kh
ánum's name at the end of our programme of prayers, songs and Bahá`í poems.'
On yet another occasion the students were invited. `This time she said she would like to hear one of the songs that labourers sing in Írán as they go home in the evening on their way back from work. She asked if there was anyone among us who knew these songs. We were surprised that Kh
ánum should still remember such songs which she must have heard on the streets in Tihrán during her early childhood. Perhaps the sight of a group of young Persians or the music of the tár (one of the students had a tár, a Persian stringed instrument) had taken her memories back to those days.'
Marjory Morten in her tribute to the Greatest Holy Leaf makes a touching observation which is accurate as far as my own experiences go: `She delighted in making presents--sweetmeats and goodies and coins for the children, and for others flowers, keepsakes--a vial of attar of roses, a rosary, or some delicate thing that she had used and cared for. Anything that was given her she one day gave to someone else, someone in whom she felt a special need of a special favour. She was channel rather than cup; open treasury, not locked casket.'
I have selected just four brief passages from the memoir written by the Hand of the Cause Keith Ransom-Kehler. These passages ring true:
`On two occasions she removed my Bahá`í ring and after holding it for some time replaced it reversed. Twice she blew on the palm of my hand, a sweet, cool, delicious breath and then exultantly exclaimed: "It is all right now."
`She would reach out her delicate hand and, pressing my cheek close against her own, would make some lover-like exclamation. I was dissolved by her sweetness.
`For the most part she would chant in a low
delicious voice some glorious Tablet or poem, soothing my hand or holding me under the chin as she sang.
`Every Sunday she insisted on going to the meeting on Mt. Carmel: she had to be lifted in and out of the car.'
Keith Ransom-Kehler refers here to the last time she met Bahíyyih Kh
ánum toward the close of her life; she was here in March 1932, not long before the passing of the Greatest Holy Leaf.
As to my own memories, perhaps I could present one or two vignettes. The first I call `a mouthful from Kh
ánum, but not Kh
ánum's mouthful'. I say this because in The Priceless Pearl
Amatu'l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Kh
ánum refers to Kh
ánum's mouthful, and she did so again in her remarks this morning.
About 1926 or 1927, when I was about five or six years old, I came to the Master's house with my mother one hot afternoon--it was probably during the summer months--and the door of the house was open. The Greatest Holy Leaf was seated next to the big round table which is still there in the hall of the Master's house. The samovar was next to her and around this table were seated Munírih Kh
ánum and the daughters of `Abdu'l-Bahá. We reached the hall and stood there and bowed, I following my mother's example. Kh
ánum looked at us and told us to come in. She was having tea. As I came closer I saw that she was having fresh Arabic bread, white cheese and fresh mint. These were placed on the table. She had made one mouthful of bread, cheese and mint, apparently intending to have it herself. It was ready to be eaten and she was still holding it in her hand. As we approached she asked me to come forward and I moved closer to her. She then asked me to close my eyes and I dutifully closed them. Then she said, `Open your mouth!' and she put the tidbit in my mouth. So vivid is this experience that every time I recall it I feel that I can taste that fresh mint, bread and cheese from the hand of the Greatest Holy Leaf. I feel and taste it every time I bring the incident to memory.
My brother, Jalál, was two years older than I was. The second story is about him. I was not present on one occasion when he was leaving the presence of the Greatest Holy Leaf. It was at the time of the mandate when we had British currency. She placed one shilling in his hand and said, `Jalál, here is a shilling, half for you and half for your brother.' Jalál said, `But Kh
ánum, how can I break this coin?' She laughed and beckoned him to her and gave him another shilling. `This one is for your brother.'
Many were the times my brother and I had sweetmeats, nuts, cookies and other goodies in her room. Often she was tired and would be seated or in bed. She would say, `Bring that box from under the mandar. Bring it out--that's right, bring it out. Now open it. Take one for yourself and give one to your brother.' How many times I have gone into that room in great reverence and knelt down, as we used to before the portraits of Bahá`u'lláh and the Báb, and watched there while the Greatest Holy Leaf sat there reverently unveiling the portraits and then closing them up again after the viewing was over.
We have heard of the delight the Greatest Holy Leaf took in giving presents. Mr. Ab'ul-Qásim Faizi describes an event he witnessed when some Arab women came to pay a visit. Bahíyyih Kh
ánum wanted to give them something, but finding nothing in her room she requested that some sugar cubes be brought from the kitchen and she presented them to her guests. She always wanted to give gifts to others.
The story I will now relate, although not all of it refers to the Greatest Holy Leaf, illustrates what I witnessed of the tender relationship between the Greatest Holy Leaf and Shoghi Effendi. Once our mother asked my brother and I to go to the Master's house after prayers at the Shrine of the Báb. In those days the Guardian was younger and, following prayers, he would walk down to Abbas Street and, the terraces beyond Abbas Street not yet having been built, he would turn to the right on Abbas Street, and then proceed to Haparsim Street and straight down to the Master's house. The pilgrims would usually walk with him. On that particular day my brother and I, too, followed Shoghi Effendi because we thought how much better it was go to the Master's house with him. When Shoghi Effendi reached the gate he turned and said, `Fí Amáni'lláh' (May you be under God's protection) and went in. Being younger than Jalál, I was glad to follow
him when he set out after
Shoghi Effendi. The Guardian went up the stairs and we did, too, and then entered the house. It was the custom of the Guardian to have his one major meal each day with the Greatest Holy Leaf. It was also his practice to go to her after meeting with the pilgrims and sit and talk to her. Shoghi Effendi turned right to go through the corridor next to the room in which the Master passed away and proceeded to the next room which was the Greatest Holy Leaf's bedroom. He went along that corridor and we followed, and when he opened the door I was so close to Shoghi Effendi at that point that I saw that the Greatest Holy Leaf was in bed. As soon as she heard the footsteps of Shoghi Effendi and the opening of the door she was at the point of rising from bed to sit in the presence of the Guardian. Although the distance is not far from the door to the bed, Shoghi Effendi literally ran from the door to the bed and gently restrained her, saying `Já'iz nist
' (it is not permissible). He did not want her to be disturbed.
There is a little sequel to this incident and although it does not directly relate to the Greatest Holy Leaf, since we have begun the story, let me finish it. In the room of Kh
ánum, Shoghi Effendi seated himself. My brother and I, with childish aplomb, sat down too. Then my mother found out what had happened and sent the maid immediately to tell us to come out. The door was opened again and with a motion of her eyes the maid signalled us to leave. Jalál very reverently stood and bowed and withdrew from the room. But I thought this wasn't right; I thought, `This is not the way to do things!' I felt there should be a handshake. This, of course, was totally inappropriate but to my childish mind it seemed the proper thing to do. I went straight over to Shoghi Effendi who was seated in a deep comfortable armchair and offered him my little hand. Shoghi Effendi looked at me and pulled himself closer, accepted my hand and shook it. This all took time. When I went outside my mother asked me what had delayed me and I explained that my brother didn't shake hands and I thought I should. She was horrified and struck my hand, saying, `Out of reverence for the Guardian you should have done exactly what your brother did.'
Of course, I felt very bad about this. As we were going home my mother asked again, incredulously, `You shook hands?'
I said, `Yes.'
`With your right hand?'
`Give me your hand.'
I did, and she kissed it several times.
When the Greatest Holy Leaf passed away in her eighty-sixth year, on 15 Ju1y 1932, an announcement was printed in Haifa and distributed to everyone concerned, Bahá`ís and others, in Haifa, `Akká and Jerusalem. At the top is set out stanza 33 of the Hidden Words
of Bahá`u'lláh, from the Arabic: O Son of Spirit! With the joyful tidings of light I hail thee: rejoice! To the court of holiness I summon thee; abide therein that thou mayest live in peace for evermore. Bahá`u'lláh.
Then it states: `The family of the late Sir `Abdu'l-Bahá `Abbás announces with profound sorrow the death of Bahíyyih Kh
ánum, sister of the late Sir `Abdu'l-Bahá `Abbás, who passed away peacefully at 1 a.m. on the morning of July 15. The funeral procession from her home in the Persian Colony is at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 15th.'
The passing of the Greatest Holy Leaf was the most significant event in Haifa since the passing of `Abdu'l-Bahá. Many people gathered for the funeral; indeed, there were a hundred cars following the procession. Shoghi Effendi obviously was not in Haifa. Apart from many dignitaries, the Mayor of Haifa was present and the representative of the northern district. There were people present not only from Haifa, but `Akká, Abú-Sinán, Nablus, Jaffa and Jerusalem, and of course the Bahá`ís were present. The prayer for the dead was read in the Master's house in the main hall. Some of the friends served as pall-bearers. The coffin was raised shoulder high on the shoulders of the friends and carried from the Master's house up to the Shrine. The coffin was brought in not through the main gate but through the small gate next to the school, almost immediately above the cluster of cypress trees where Bahá`u'lláh sat, and then down the path to the Shrine. As I recall, it was not taken inside but was placed outside and prayers were read there as well. Then her coffin was raised again and carried along the same route to her resting-place. The site was chosen by Shoghi Effendi and he himself had
instructed his father in Haifa exactly where the site should be and how the burial should take place. Shoghi Effendi also instructed the Bahá`ís to visit her resting-place every day for nine days. Every afternoon for nine days we gathered at her resting-place for prayers.
There were among the local Arabs those who had written eulogies (Marthíyyih
) about the Greatest Holy Leaf and they wanted to read them. There was no time on the day of the funeral so this was set aside because evening came on and everybody had to go home. Very soon requests were made for a meeting in the Master's house for these poets and various officials to come and, as is the custom, offer condolences to the family, recite poems written in honour of the Greatest Holy Leaf and speak words of praise in her memory. This was immediately reported to Shoghi Effendi who said no. Instead, he said that on the fortieth day after her passing a luncheon should be held for the poor and all else who might come. On the 25th of August all the friends gathered. Some of us were cooking, others were cleaning, others were laying tables and others were serving. Your humble servant was among those who were serving. A long table was laid seating 100 people. We had ten or eleven turnovers; over 1,000 people came. This is how it went on until 3 or 4 o'clock in the afternoon. A tent had been erected in the garden where those waiting to be seated could shelter from the hot summer sun.
Shoghi Effendi also gave the sum of f
100--a considerable amount in those days--to the municipality of Haifa asking that it be distributed to the needy in the name of the Greatest Holy Leaf. An announcement was made in the papers and the municipality set up a special committee to screen applications for assistance and distribute the money to those genuinely in need.
Before I conclude let me mention the hands of the Greatest Holy Leaf. The veins stood out visibly, very much in relief. There was a wonderful softness and a supple tenderness in her hands. She truly spoke with her hands. I have had the privilege of having her hand over my head; she stroked my head many times as a child. And I want to tell you I have kissed those hands many times; I have broken the law of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas
I can conclude with no more fitting tribute than that of Shoghi Effendi. This is such a beautiful description of Kh
It would take me too long to make even a brief allusion to those incidents of her life, each of which eloquently proclaims her as a daughter, worthy to inherit that priceless heritage bequeathed to her by Bahá`u'lláh. A purity of life that reflected itself in even the minutest details of her daily occupations and activities; a tenderness of heart that obliterated every distinction of creed, class and colour; a resignation and serenity that evoked to the mind the calm and heroic fortitude of the Báb; a natural fondness of flowers and children that was so characteristic of Bahá`u'lláh; an unaffected simplicity of manners; an extreme sociability which made her accessible to all; a generosity, a love, at once disinterested and undiscriminating, that reflected so clearly the attributes of `Abdu'l-Bahá's character; a sweetness of temper; a cheerfulness that no amount of sorrow could becloud; a quiet and unassuming disposition that served to enhance a thousandfold the prestige of her exalted rank; a forgiving nature that instantly disarmed the most unyielding enemy--these rank among the outstanding attributes of a saintly life which history will acknowledge as having been endowed with a celestial potency that few of the heroes of the past possessed.
And then these beautiful words:
Dearly-beloved Greatest Holy Leaf! Through the mist of tears that fill my eyes I can clearly see, as I pen these lines, thy noble figure before me, and can recognize the serenity of thy kindly face. I can still gaze, though the shadows of the grave separate us, into thy blue, love-deep eyes, and can feel in its calm intensity, the immense love thou didst bear the for Cause of thine Almighty Father, the attachment that bound thee to the most lowly and insignificant among its followers, the warm affection thou didst cherish for me in thine heart. The memory of the ineffable beauty of thy smile shall ever continue to cheer and hearten me in the thorny path I am destined to pursue. The remembrance of the touch of thine hand shall spur me on
to follow steadfastly in thy way, the sweet magic of thy voice shall remind me, when the hour of adversity is at its darkest, to hold fast to the rope thou did'st seize so firmly all the days of thy life.
Amatu'l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum spoke of praying to the Greatest Holy Leaf. I want to make a confession. For the past fifty years since her passing, every time I have had a very difficult, difficult problem that I found myself unable to resolve, I have turned to the Greatest Holy Leaf.
Picture in the Center of the Page with the Caption: Bahíyyih Khánum; circa 1919.
Picture with the Caption: View of the Greatest Holy Leaf's monument as it appears today.
10. THE LIFE AND SERVICE OF THE GREATEST HOLY LEAF1
by Bahíyyih Nakhjavání
the world, from East to West, thousands of Bahá`ís have turned their hearts this year towards one single woman called the `Maid of Bahá'. In conferences they have stood before multitudes to speak of the `Scion of Bahá', the `Remnant of Bahá'. In solitude they have all found themselves speechless to describe adequately this `archetype of the people of Bahá'. `Abdu'l-Bahá Himself refers to her in a way that recalls all that cannot be said: `I dare make no mention', He wrote, `of the feelings which separation from her have aroused in my heart . . .
' `I do not know', He continues, `in what words I could describe my longing for my honoured sister.'
Shoghi Effendi, writing about his great-aunt after her passing in July 1932 also acknowledged that words could not adequately convey all that she was: `Not even a droplet of all thine endless love can I aspire to fathom, nor can I adequately praise and tell of even the most trifling out of all the events of thy precious life.'
How can we hope to encompass anything of her nature, therefore, when those who give us the words remind us that they will not suffice? How can we contain her when all our lives put together cannot comprehend the least trifling of the events she witnessed, the suffering she endured? It must be with feelings of awe that we approach this subject and with a sense of wonder that we ask who was this `Maid', this `Scion', this `Remnant of Bahá' who must remain for all of time our `archetype'.
She was named Bahíyyih (Bahá'íyyih) by Bahá`u'lláh. She was given the titles of the Greatest Holy Leaf, the Most Exalted Leaf, but in her letters she referred to herself as `this yearning prisoner', `this lowly and grief-stricken maidservant', `this wronged one'. In the writings of Shoghi Effendi we find expressions which have captured something of her nature and his wonderful imagery speaks where we fall silent. She has been called a `leaf . . .
sprung' from the `Pre-existent Root', `the fruit of His Tree, . . .
the lamp of His love, . . .
the symbol of His serenity . . .
' He calls her a `love-lorn moth', a `soaring pillar', a `rich mine of faithfulness', an `orb in the heaven of eternal glory'. She holds a rank in this dispensation that is higher than any other woman can hold. Her station is one among those that revolve around the greater Manifestations of the past, those women who, like moths, revolved around the great suns of the previous Manifestations.
Bahá`u'lláh wrote of her in these words: `Verily, We have elevated thee to the rank of one of the most distinguished among thy sex, and granted thee, in My court, a station such as none other woman hath surpassed.' During the ministry of `Abdu'l-Bahá her station was similarly exalted. Shoghi Effendi described her as a `staunch and trusted supporter of the peerless Branch of Bahá', `a companion to Him beyond compare', `His competent deputy', `His representative and vicegerent with none to equal her'. Shoghi Effendi also describes how much she meant to him during the first years of his own ministry, until her passing. He says she was `my sole earthly sustainer', `my most affectionate comforter', `the joy and inspiration of my life'.
The Greatest Holy Leaf had a subtle bond with Bahá`u'lláh, `Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, a kinship that was infinitely tender and powerful. To Bahá`u'lláh she was far more than a daughter for she was like a mirror in which His good pleasure was exquisitely reflected. He says to her, `How sweet to see thy presence before Me, how sweet to gaze upon thy face.' To `Abdu'l-Bahá she was far more than a sister, for in letters of consuming tenderness He writes to her as `O My sister in the spirit and the companion of My heart, the beloved of My soul'. After her passing the secretary of Shoghi Effendi wrote of what she meant to the Guardian saying that the spiritual attachment he felt for her was `a bond so strong as to defy description, nor can the mind encompass that exalted state'. Per-
1 Adapted from the address of Dr. Bahíyyih Nakhjavání to the Bahá`í International Conference, Montreal, Quebec, September 1982.
haps it is not presumptuous, therefore, if we should say that this subtle and mystic bond is still present with us today working through the Covenant of God, through the divinely ordained administrative order of God, and that her loving care and protection are with us still. Indeed, it can be no coincidence that the Universal House of Justice should have summoned the Bahá`í world to remember her, fifty years after her passing, at a time which coincides with the year in which the House of Justice is itself advancing toward the plentitude of its powers, entering its Seat on the slopes of Mount Carmel, occupying a building set like a jewel on that arc at whose hub and centre lies enshrined the monument of the Greatest Holy Leaf. That subtle bond was a legacy given to us fifty years ago when she passed away. Today we receive that legacy again and none of us needs feel portionless or orphaned.
The following cannot pretend to be an historical account and is not intended as a source of biographical detail. Instead it will attempt to consider the degree of suffering experienced by the Greatest Holy Leaf, her service that gradually widened its sphere of influence as a result of that suffering, and finally the nature of the symbol that she is for us, not only as individuals but as members of institutions. The greatness of her station can only be measured by her obedience and her love for the Covenant of God. Her obedience and love for the Covenant is what ensured her proximity to the Centre of the Covenant throughout her life, and that proximity surely cannot be measured except by some reflection on the degree to which she suffered.
The Greatest Holy Leaf was an initiate of suffering, schooled in sacrifice, and she learned everything there was to know about loss. From the earliest years of her life she was deprived not only of home and security, but also of her dearest Father, when He was thrown into the Síyáh-Ch
ál and later when He removed Himself for two years from the community in Bagh
dád. Separation from Bahá`u'lláh and exile from her home: such were the experiences that marked the beginning of her life. In His letters to her later we read how `Abdu'l-Bahá's was one of the educating voices that trained her in the school of sacrifice and instilled in her the capacity to endure. He wrote, `If thou dost not bear these hardships, who would ever bear them?' And this is what makes of her such a poignant symbol for us today. He counsels her at times of loneliness with words such as, `However great the distance that separates us, we still feel as though we were seated under the same roof, in one and the same gathering, for are we not all under the shadow of the Tabernacle of God and beneath the canopy of His infinite grace and mercy?' Through her, therefore, we learn from Him.
During these early years of separation and sacrifice during which she lost one brother, and later in `Akká lost yet another, Mírzá Mihdí, she played the role of auxiliary in the household, assisting her mother. Most of her services were internal, within the household. She served tea. We can imagine how much she must have learned from the mother who was so dear to her, with what joy she must have prepared for the return of Bahá`u'lláh from Sulaymáníyyih. She was herself never married, but that training she received as assistant to her own mother made of her a symbol of such maternal love as we cannot conceive, for she was entirely unpossessive in her mothering. When she died Shoghi Effendi wrote that we were orphaned, left destitute, for the whole Bahá`í world at that time seemed under her protective care.
If we think of this quality in relation to individuals we see how often we may be called upon to be mothers to each other, no matter who we are. When we think of this quality in relation to the institutions of the Faith we realize that we surely have in our Assembles a parent we can turn to with absolute trust if those institutions could also evince the characteristics of such gentle mothering. However the institutions need to be cared for also, and mothered, for this is the infant Faith of God. And modelling ourselves upon the Greatest Holy Leaf we, too, can try to extend that mothering, that generosity, that nurture, that nourishment to the infant institutions that are growing up all over the world.
It was around 1886 when the Greatest Holy Leaf had to endure the loss of her own mother. At that point in time Bahíyyih Kh
ánum received the title of `The Greatest Holy Leaf'. She took over the role of her mother, was at the helm of the household of
Bahá`u'lláh, conducted the management of the affairs of the house, saw to the food that had to be bought and prepared, met the wives of the pilgrims and extended her love and generosity to the community of women who entered that house. Her loss was therefore paralleled by increased responsibility and this pattern was repeated throughout her life.
In 1892 she had to face the `supreme affliction', the passing of Bahá`u'lláh, and the degree of that suffering was what nerved her to enter an even wider arena of service to the Cause. Her condition at that time was such that `Abdu'l-Bahá wrote, `My sister for a considerable period, that is, from the day of Bahá`u'lláh's ascension, had grown so thin and feeble and was in such a weakened condition from the anguish of her mourning that she was close to a breakdown.' But it is such a lady who was nevertheless able to stand as the supporter and companion of `Abdu'l-Bahá at a time of severe crisis. Her role in the Bahá`í community at this point was much more significant, for she had to receive on His behalf the wives of the dignitaries who came to visit the World Centre. Still she conducted the household affairs but the scope was now wider. Shoghi Effendi writes of how far-reaching was her generosity and compassion for the people of `Akká at that time and how, in spite of this, she was met with rejection and denial and was given no relief at the time of her own great grief. During the last years in `Akká, before the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, when circumstances were so difficult and the life of `Abdu'l-Bahá was under threat, it was the Greatest Holy Leaf who was trusted by Him, who was the custodian of His will, who was responsible for the safe keeping of His testament. She it was in whose room the casket of the Blessed Báb was kept for ten years because she was so trusted by `Abdu'l-Bahá. In this way, surely, she is also a model for us not only within our individual lives but through our institutions, for where else could we turn in a world so sadly shaken? Where else but toward the solace of those divinely appointed institutions? To which other haven could we turn and put our trust and confidence?
The Greatest Holy Leaf was an extremely practical person. Indeed, due to the extraordinary multiplicity of her capacities we owe her a faithfulness in this attempt to convey the diversity of her nature. It is too easy for us to create a myth about her, to impose upon her the weight and strain of our twentieth-century interpretations which are inadequate for the duration of this mighty dispensation. She was truly sensitive and finely tuned but she was also immensely practical. There is a description drawn by an early pilgrim which shows her as the housekeeper of `Abdu'l-Bahá, a role which she also performed during the early years of Shoghi Effendi's ministry: `One day we caught a glimpse of her in the kitchen seated on a low stool, her firm capable hands busy with a large lamb which had just been brought in from the market. Quickly dividing it, she directed which part was to be made into broth, which part served for the evening meal, which part kept for the morrow, and which sent to those poor or incapacitated friends who were daily supplied from `Abdu'l-Bahá's table.'
It is fitting that we should consider the Greatest Holy Leaf as a model not only for our individual lives but for the qualities of service and the kind of obedience to the Covenant which can stream through our institutions, when we think of her in this capacity of practical housekeeper. Our institutions are dealing with our lives. It is human beings that are passing through the hands of our assemblies. We must have not only tender compassion for them but be immensely practical in our manner of dealing with community affairs so as not to cause harm or hardship or waste. During the trials that affected `Abdu'l-Bahá, during the threat on His life, the capacities of the Greatest Holy Leaf as housewife and mother enabled her to support `Abdu'l-Bahá. In a much deeper sense than mere external practicality, she evinced a stability that was rooted in steadfastness to the Covenant. Shoghi Effendi says of that period, `Suffice it to say that but for her sleepless vigilance, her tact, her courtesy, her extreme patience and heroic fortitude, grave complications might have ensued and the load of `Abdu'l-Bahá's anxious care would have been considerably increased.' It was an element of her very practical nature that she did not wish to burden `Abdu'l-Bahá any more than was necessary, and protected Him with her discretion.
What joy it must have given her when the imprisonment was lifted and her beloved brother was permitted to be free and travel to the West! This was one separation the cost of which she surely did not mind paying, for the letters that streamed back to her from Europe and America must have filled her heart with happiness. The victories of the Faith were great recompense for all her previous suffering. And when He left her in Haifa, `Abdu'l-Bahá gave her a much wider role. In His absence she had to deal with many of the affairs in Haifa which had been His responsibility. Everything which did not require interaction with the male world was left to her, because we must remember that this was the Middle East and it would not have been fitting for a lady such as the Greatest Holy Leaf to deal with business affairs; such matters were taken care of by the male members of `Abdu'l-Bahá 's household. But nevertheless her sphere of influence was wider and she received both men and women dignitaries and officials, spoke to the pilgrims on behalf of `Abdu'l-Bahá, inspired them, gave her assistance to the poor and offered her medical services to the sick.
Shortly after `Abdu'l-Bahá returned to the Holy Land after His travels in the West, World War I
broke out. The Greatest Holy Leaf was in a position to offer some needed help to the local community. Shoghi Effendi writes that `her words of cheer and comfort, the food, the money, the clothing she freely dispensed, the remedies which by a process of her own she herself prepared and diligently applied, all these had their share in comforting the disconsolate.'
Here again we might consider how much she is a model for us not only as individuals but as institutions. She was a natural healer. She not only had compassion for the sick but insight into the nature of their sickness and she offered remedies which she prepared, as Shoghi Effendi said, by `a process of her own'. We might bear this in mind when we think of how often our Assemblies must be a source of healing for the community, how they are required to consider each individual case, diagnose the condition, prescribe the remedies in the same way she did, so that by means of prevention, the health of the community might be ensured. We are told that she turned to professionals when necessary; so, too, do the institutions.
Through her own suffering she became attuned to the needs of the community and the importance of her role increased. The next great blow in her life came in 1921 with the passing of `Abdu'l-Bahá. The One Who had always been there to comfort her was now gone, and now she became the comforter. It is at this point in her life that we begin to hear her own voice speaking in the beautiful tablets which have been translated by the Universal House of Justice for us this year. Among them there is one prayer that rises from the depths of her anguish and in it she becomes a spokesman for the suffering masses of the world. She speaks in the language of the heart on behalf of all who have been downtrodden, who have been suppressed, who have experienced a separation and loss of such magnitude that she alone could understand their plight:
`O God, my God!
`Thou seest me immersed in the depths of grief, drowned in my sorrow, my heart on fire with the agony of parting, my inmost self aflame with longing. Thou seest my tears streaming down, hearest my sighs rising up like smoke, my never-ceasing groans, my cries, my shouts that will not be stilled, the useless wailing of my heart.
`For the sun of joy has set, has sunk below the horizon of this world, and in the hearts of the righteous the lights of courage and consolation have gone out. So grave this catastrophe, so dire this disaster, that the inner being crumbles away to dust . . .
Where else could we find a spokesman who could so speak on our behalf about our deepest anguish? We know now why she has been offered to us as an intercessor, as one to whom we might turn at times of great despair. It seems most fitting that we reach toward her first, beg her assistance, ask for her compassion, because she has so keenly felt the pain of being human. She was no mediator between man and God, nor a mystery given by God to man, but simply a woman whose voice calling upon God seems universal in its truth and its sincerity. So, too, our institutions might echo that voice of compassion for us, might speak on our behalf when we feel
Picture at Top of Page with Caption: Facsimile of Bahíyyih Khánum's handwriting.
downtrodden, might raise up the cry for the oppressed among humanity. Only the institutions of God can do that and be truly heard.
The passing of `Abdu'l-Bahá which was so dire a catastrophe nevertheless left the Greatest Holy Leaf standing responsible for a Cause that needed its Guardian. This truly was her ultimate role for at that time she was the one who cabled the Bahá`í world, who arranged for the funeral of `Abdu'l-Bahá, who held us and contained our broken hearts until Shoghi Effendi was ready to shoulder the burden of his ministry.
Her letters that went out to the East and West at that time are among the most wonderful teaching letters that we have. She taught the Bahá`ís about the importance of the Covenant. She taught them to revere and love their Guardian. She taught them about the nature of the Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá. She encouraged them to be united and warned them against disharmony. These letters show her truly as a teacher of the Cause, another of the roles set as a model for us.
In one of these letters she uses the meta-
phor of healing to teach, and she reminds the friends in very simple and direct language, without wasting words, that when a patient is ill he needs a potent remedy. Since the world had sustained a violent shock at the passing of `Abdu'l-Bahá she writes, `Now it devolves upon every well-assured and devoted friend, every firm and enkindled believer enraptured by His love, to drink this healing remedy [she was referring to Shoghi Effendi] at one draught, so that the agony of bereavement may be somewhat alleviated and the bitter anguish of separation dissipated.'
She was always trying to help us endure separation, but her own separations were not completely over, for during the first three years of the ministry of Shoghi Effendi she had to endure many partings from him too. Among her letters there is one so touching that it awakens us to remember how keenly she must have felt these separations in her declining years:
`It is the hope of this writer that the friends of God will put forth such efforts, and will so radiate their love for Him, as to light up the world; a love that will make the heart of the Guardian leap for joy, and then, God willing, he will soon come back again, so that before I close my eyes upon this life, the separation I endure will be over, and I can bid you all farewell with a happy heart.'
One of the characteristics of the Greatest Holy Leaf was her ability to endure suffering with the utmost joy reflected on her face. After her passing Shoghi Effendi's secretary wrote, `Even in the thick of the worst ordeals she would smile like an opening rose.' It is a smile that lingers with us still, a smile that looks at us with tenderness through the photographs. Within this smile there is so much of radiance and sorrow, so much of understanding; it is a smile so deep that we might feel it penetrating our inmost hearts. Memory lies evanescent on the eyes but rises from the deepest recess of the heart and there is something in our own hearts that must needs respond to the Greatest Holy Leaf, radiant in the midst of her anguish. Just as her own heart retained the treasured traces of the heroic age of Bahá`í history, so our hearts too are revived and refreshed by `those smiles' of hers exquisitely described by Shoghi Effendi which have been `forever and faithfully imprinted' there. It is in the portrait drawn by his pen that we draw closest to her, gaze into her `blue, love-deep eyes', bask in the warmth and `ineffable beauty' of her smile, feel the tender touch of her transparent hand and hear the `sweet magic' of her voice. No photograph transcends `the shadows of the grave' as his words do; no commentary could contain her memory as does his paean of love. Through him we first learned of her contributions to the Bahá`í world and at her passing he conveyed to us, through the memory of her life, `a legacy that time can never dim'. But he does even more on our behalf, for he invites us to stand with him, at the threshold of her passing, and make a solemn promise. It is a promise so binding that fifty years after that event we recall it with awe and a dawning comprehension. It is a promise that reminds us not only of the legacy we have received but of the legacy we must pass on to the future. It is a promise that inspires us to rededicate our lives once more and revive within our institutions those qualities evinced by the life and service of the Greatest Holy Leaf.
`Whatever betide us,' is his solemn oath, `however distressing the vicissitudes which the nascent Faith of God may yet experience, we pledge ourselves, before the mercy-seat of Thy glorious Father, to hand on, unimpaired and undivided, to generations yet unborn, the glory of that tradition of which thou hast been its most brilliant exemplar.'
back to Bahá'í World volume 18 table of contents
Caption of Top Picture: The room occupied by `Abdu'l-Bahá in the House of `Abdu'lláh Páshá.
Caption of Bottom Picture: The room occupied by the Greatest Holy Leaf in the House of `Abdu'lláh Páshá.