Ambassador at the Court:
|chapter 5||start page||single page||chapter 7|
Followers of Bahá'u'lláh had first travelled to the Holy Land on pilgrimage during the Prophet's lifetime. Initially they were all from the "east" - from Persia, Iraq, and other nearby countries. "Western" pilgrims, from North America, first came to meet `Abdu'l-Bahá in Akka in 1898 Since Shoghi Effendi had become Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith late in 1921 ever larger numbers of Bahá'í pilgrims from an increasing number of countries and cultures were seeking permission to visit the Holy sites which marked the resting places of the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh, and `Abdu'l-Bahá. The Guardian was now just 28 years old, but bore a mantle of immense responsibility and authority. He was leading the Bahá'ís from East and West, deepening the spiritual basis of their Faith, and at the same time broadening the administrative foundation of the Bahá'í world community.
Corrine True, the eminent American Bahá'í, was first to greet the pilgrims on their arrival at the Western pilgrim house. She was working toward the building of the Mashriqu'ladhkar (House of Worship) near Chicago, and was in Haifa consulting with Shoghi Effendi in her capacity as financial secretary of the organisation responsible for the project, the Bahá'í Temple Unity. On hearing of the pilgrims' arrival Shoghi Effendi conveyed his greetings to the pilgrims through Fujita, and invited them to visit. Fujita escorted them to the Master's (ie 'Abdu'l-Bahá's) House and showed them into the drawing room. Effie recorded:
In a few moments Shoghi Effendi came to greet us. His step was quick and decisive also his manner of speech, but the sweetness of his countenance and the bright alert expression of his eyes conveys to you a wonderful tenderness of heart which radiated to you such graciousness and simplicity, you felt at once at your ease, as if a weight has been removed from your breast, and a great peace reigned. It was a wonderful interview, never to be forgotten.1
Shoghi Effendi enquired after the Bahá'ís in Australia and New Zealand, and asked the pilgrims to convey his love and greetings to them. He promised that he would attempt at some time in the future to visit Australia. Of this first meeting with the Guardian Margaret Stevenson's recorded in her diary:
After a rest and lunch we were taken over to `Abdu'l-Bahá's house to visit Shoghi Effendi. He gave us a very warm welcome in the room where `Abdu'l-Bahá used to welcome the friends, and after talking to us for a while, he went out of the room and sent the ladies in - the Holy Mother (`Abdu'l-Bahá's wife) and one of her daughters. They too gave us a very warm welcome and said how they had been looking forward to our coming. It seems they were so afraid that after the passing of `Abdu'l-Bahá that the friends would not come to see them, and so they are delighted to welcome them. They gave us tea before we left, in beautiful little glass tumblers on a glass saucer and little Persian cakes. After dinner we went to bed as we were all very tired.2
The pilgrimage lasted nineteen days. Often Shoghi Effendi accompanied the Persian pilgrims to the Shrine of the Báb, and the Western pilgrims would hear him chant the "Tablet of Visitation". They had the opportunity on each day they that they were in Haifa to pray at the Holy Shrines of the Báb and of `Abdu'l-Bahá. On the second day they were escorted to the Shrine of the Báb by Mrs True. Abbás-Qulí, who was caretaker at the Holy site, chanted Bahá'u'lláh's Tablet of Visitation. Many hours of pilgrimage were spent listening to Rúhá Khánum recount episodes from the lives of Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá. Of the holy family Margaret wrote to her sisters:
In the afternoon we again visited the Ladies, where we met the Greatest Holy Leaf and three daughters, when we again got a loving welcome. The Greatest Holy Leaf, `Abdu'l-Bahá's sister is very frail, but Oh such a sweet lovely woman. Indeed the whole family are just beautiful, so sweet, so loving and they are all so spiritual and we have many beautiful, helpful talks with them.3
Effie described a community of almost one hundred residents and pilgrims at the meal table in 1925. Margaret Stevenson recorded of the domestic scene:
Everything is plain but very comfortable, and the food beautifully cooked. Everything is cooked in `Abdu'l-Bahá's house and sent over. They cook for about 80 people. I was afraid I might not like the Eastern dishes but they are very nice, just a bit too rich, but nice to eat. The trouble they go to is wonderful, sometimes 4 or 5 courses for dinner. Fujita waits beautifully. He is a wonderful man, so obliging and always so happy - he is just giving up his life to service, to loving service. He is so jolly too and many a joke we all have.4
A few years earlier the American Bahá'í Alaine Locke had visited Haifa. His descriptions of the domestic arrangements of the Holy Household are similar to Effie's, and are assist us in picturing the happiness that the pilgrims experienced, and the extent to which they were affected by even the way in which meals were planned and served:
The household is an industrious beehive of the great work: splendid division of labor but with all-pervading unity of heart. Never have I seen the necessary subordinations of organised service so full of a sense of dignity and essential quality as here. I thought that in the spirit of such devoted co-operation and cheerful self-subordination there was the potential solution of those great problems of class and caste which today so affect society.5
To Effie, the women of the Holy Family were simple, charming and sweet, and she felt that their hearts overflowed with love for the pilgrims. Foremost among them was Bahíyyih Khánum, daughter of Bahá'u'lláh known as the "Greatest Holy Leaf", the woman who had commanded the reigns of the Bahá'í World while Shoghi Effendi retreated from Haifa in 1922 to prepare himself for his staggering mission. Munírih Khánum (known has the "Holy Mother"), the wife of `Abdu'l-Bahá, lived close to the centre of pilgrimage, as did the families of her four daughters (Díyá'íyyih, Túbá, Rúhá, and Munavvar).
Díyáíyyih, the eldest daughter, and mother of Shoghi Effendi, was married to Mirza Hadi Shirazi. She was mother also to Husayn, Riaz, Ruhangiz, and Mehrangiz. Túbá Khánum and her husband Mírzá Mohsen had four children: Soheil, Ruhi, Soraya and Fuad Afnan.6 Munírih Khánum lived with this daughter. Túbá's son Sohail studied at the American University of Beirut, and in September 1926 travelled to Oxford hoping to gain admission to study there. A third daughter Rúhá Khánum (twin sister of Túbá) and her husband Mirza Jalal, had five children: Munib, Hasan, Maryam, Duha, and Zahra.7 The families of Rúhá and Túbá lived in other buildings in the same grounds. Bahíyyih Khánum, together with Shoghi Effendi's parents Díyáí'yyih Khánum and Mirza Hadi, and the youngest of their five children, lived with other relations and friends in `Abdu'l-Bahá's House. The youngest daughter Munavvar Khanum and her husband Ahmad Yazdi, whom Effie had met in Egypt, had no children. Shoghi Effendi's sister MŽhrangiz was away studying in Paris. Thus it was that Efflie learnt that Shoghi Effendi had two brothers and two sisters, and as many as nine cousins.
Munavvar Khánum and Bahíyyih Khánum spokoe only Persian, apart from a few English phrases such as as "I love you". Rúhá Khánum, however, who lived next door to the pilgrim house, conversed at length in English with the Western pilgrims. She showed Effie the room where `Abdu'l-Bahá had died. Effie noted particularly the way in which his hat (fez) was placed on a bed. That evening she dreamt that she entered ’Abdu'l-Bahá's resting place, and that he came to life and blessed her.
The pilgrims learnt how `Abdu'l-Bahá had cultivated cereals at a village near the river Jordan; how the wife of Bahá'u'lláh had sold portions of her embroidered wedding dress in order to buy food during the exiles' trek to Baghdad; how Bahá'u'lláh's son Mirza Mihdi (the "Purest Branch") had fallen to his death while chanting from a rooftop; how Shoghi Effendi had been shocked to learn of the death of his beloved grandfather `Abdu'l-Bahá. On Thursday, March 19, Effie recorded in her diary stories gleaned from Rúhá Khánum:
Rúhá Khánum visited us just after breakfast and gave us a beautiful talk on the life of the Master. Martha wrote notes. Rúhá spoke of `Abdu'l-Bahá visiting Bahá'u'lláh every Friday at the Palace of Bahjí - how he walked on foot, a beautiful story of father and son, how `Abdu'l-Bahá secured instructions from his father and would return to carry these out during the week. They had a room across the street from where Bahá'u'lláh was imprisoned for seven years, called the Master's drawing room. He would receive Bahá'ís and non-Bahá'ís and advise and help them. Then at 12 o'clock he would return and have lunch with Bahá'u'lláh and tell him all that had transpired. He would then go to the barracks in the afternoon and work in a little place for soldiers to stand in. He had no room where he could go to write privately. Rúhá described landing at Akka, and how people came to the sea-shore to see them - they had a terrible time on the boat and then in the prison.
Of the women of the Holy Household in Haifa Effie wrote:
To see with what sweetness and patient submission they have borne all the trials and persecution heaped upon them and not one trace of embitterment towards those who were the cause of their sufferings is hard to comprehend. The only recompense to them is our faithfulness to the Cause so dear to their pure hearts. Let us make fresh efforts to "bring the unity and concord and be the cause of comfort and promotion of humanity".
The pilgrims would have known something of those who broke Bahá'u'lláh's "Covenant" before their journey to the Holy Land. There were some among Bahá'u'lláh's family who had not obeyed the instruction in his Will and Testament to turn to 'Abdu'l-Bahá after his passing. Similarly, there were those who had refused, at the passing of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, to acknowledge the Guardianship of Shoghi Effendi. The activities of such Covenant-breakers caused Shoghi Effendi untold agony, since they sought to destroy the unity of the emerging Bahá'í community through encouraging the disaffected, and attempting to seize possession of sacred Bahá'í properties. Tragically, each member of Shoghi Effendi's family, including all of his aunts, joined the ranks of the Covenant-breakers in later years. This was a sad betrayal of their heritage, and of the potential they clearly showed to pilgrims in earlier days.
There were other Bahá'ís living in Palestine in the mid-1920s in addition to the members of the Holy Family. Some of these were in Haifa, including Mirza Zain, Anayatu'lláh Isfahani (a shop keeper), Azizullah S. Bahadur, Badi Bushrui and his family, and several Persian families who had intermarried with members of the Holy family, such as the sister and two sons of Zia Bagdadi's wife, Madam Yazdi, who was a cousin of the Holy Family. There was also Fujita, who as already mentioned had arrived in 1919. Martha Root, aware that Fujita was a keen gardener, brought him seeds from South Africa. She had evidently told her friends this, as Effie arrived with seeds from Australia and Ethel Blundell and Margaret Stevenson with seeds from New Zealand.
There were also a number of Western Bahá'ís temporarily in Haifa, including Corrine True, Mountford Mills, an American Bahá'í - whom Effie described as a "man of charming character and full of fun". Mr Mills was a lawyer who had arrived on 14 March from a "special mission" carried out for Shoghi Effendi in Baghdad. The pilgrims did not have time to find out more about this mission, but it most likely related to Shoghi Effendi's struggle to reclaim title to the House of Bahá'u'lláh in Baghdad, which had wrongfully been granted to Muslims in 1920).
John Esslemont, a medical doctor from Scotland, best known as author of the introductory text Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era, was also in Haifa, but in hospital at the time the pilgrims arrived. Effie described his ailment as asthma but Esslemont's disease was tuberculosis, and it claimed his saintly life later that same year.
Miss Horn arrived from Germany for her pilgramge a few weeks Effie and her group. Also in Haifa in March 1925 were pilgrims from Baghdad, described by Margaret Stevenson as "fine looking, big men, beautifully dressed and with such bright happy faces",8 as well as pilgrims from Persia and India, with whom Effie and the New Zealand Bahá'ís could exchange smiles, but little else [consequently, they could not record for us their names].
The pilgrims were well aware that the ground on which they trod had been traversed in times past by the holy souls of Christendom, and this realisation was reinforced as they saw more of Israel. On the fifth day they departed at 8.15am by train to Akká, observing ancient landmarks en route, including the Keshon River where Elijah slew the 400 priests of Baal. Arab huts and tents, sand hills, camels and sheep, were now becoming familiar sights. Once in Akká the pilgrims were transported in the nine-seat "wagonette" in which `Abdu'l-Bahá travelled in April 1920 to receive his knighthood. They first visited the House where Bahá'u'lláh remained for seven years, and observed the room in which the Kitab-i-Aqdas ("The Most Holy Book", Bahá'u'lláh's "Book of Laws") was revealed, and the bath which `Abdu'l-Bahá had built for his father. Then, they visited the "Most Great Prison", a barracks which was being converted into a hospital for tuberculosis prisoners. Lastly, they visited the house in which `Abdu'l-Bahá had lived until 1908 (which in 1925 was also being used as a hospital).
The pilgrims next visited the mansion at Bahjí, half an hour's walk beyond the city walls. They were joined here by Shoghi Effendi's secretaries Soheil and Azízu'lláh, as well as by Mountford Mills. After visiting the Holy Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh at Bahjí they drank tea. The gardens were attractive but not yet in the full bloom of spring - although there were sufficient flowers in a small garden next to the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh for Effie and Margaret to pick for drying. That evening the pilgrims slept in the room in the "pilgrim house" at Bahjí where `Abdu'l-Bahá had revealed some passages of the "Divine Plan". Muhammad Ali, `Abdu'l-Bahá's half-brother continued to live in the "palace", as the mansion at Bahjí was then called. The following day, at 4pm, the travellers caught the return train to Haifa, travelling, as Fujita expressed it, "3rd class deluxe".9
The following morning, after the pilgrims offered prayers at the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh, they visited the Garden of Ridván, some two miles distant. There they had lunch under two huge mulberry trees which had at one time shaded Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá. Soheil Afnan related the story of `Abdu'l-Bahá's knighthood, how he had several times refused the British Government's request to so honour him:
he had a beautiful carriage someone presented him with, but he didn't wish any fuss so he drove in this wagonette to the governors residence didn't go by the main entrance, just entered a little gate at the back. Everyone was waiting for `Abdu'l-Bahá to drive up in great pomp and ceremony. The walk to the governors house was lined with soldiers ready to make the guard of honour, when to everyone's surprise `Abdu'l-Bahá quietly came in at the back and took the seat allotted for him. He graciously received the papers of knighthood then when the ceremony was over just went out the way he came and drove off in the old carriage.10
At different times during the pilgrimage Effie, Margaret, and the other pilgrims talked with Husain Ruhi, who was a school inspector; or with Azíz Bahadur, another of the Haifa Bahá'ís. Effie made notes while these men spoke, which she later pasted into booklets.11 She had many important details to learn, many aspects of the Bahá'í teachings to review, and even new words whose meanings had to be found. "Bahá'u'lláh died in 1892", one sheath of paper commences, "`Abdu'l-Bahá born in Tehran May 23 1844; Bahá'u'lláh imprisoned Akká August 31st, 1868; Sultan Hamid tyrannous regime ended August 31st 1908; quintessence - concentrated extract; assurance - confidence, security; transitory - continuing but a short time; effulgence - flood of light luminous..", ... and the list continued. Effie's notes indicate a fascination with accounts of the Persian Bábís, and include valuable oral testimony which is not all recorded in print. One concerns Husain Ruhi's efforts to identify the resting place of his martyred father, Mulla Muhammad-i-Tabrizi, in a remote corner of Iraq.12
There were quiet times during Effie's time in Haifa. The pilgrims sometimes sat beneath an olive tree, supposed to have been planted by the Romans some three thousand years previously, under which `Abdu'l-Bahá frequently sat. They were shown the clump of cyprus trees which marked the spot where Bahá'u'lláh had pitched his tent on Mt Carmel. Shoghi Effendi was in the process of creating terraces on Mt Carmel, and four young men had volunteered to excavate and move the soil, a feat made difficult by the rocky terrain. He was endeavouring to keep the Shrines on Mt Carmel as simple as possible, Effie reported in her letters to the Dunns, and all who visited there professed that he had made wonderful progress with the gardens:
If you could only see the rocky nature of Mt Carmel you would see what a stupendous work has been undertaken.
Effie walked with Corrine True down Carmel Avenue in the evenings, and look up to see the Holy Tomb lit by a powerful electric light. Mrs True told Effie that when the searchlight, which was supplied to the Guardian by the American Bahá'í Curtis Kelsey, was first set onto the Holy Tomb, a ship's captain mistook it for a lighthouse he knew existed at the extreme end of Mt Carmel, and anchored his ship at sea for the night until the morning light could solve his confusion!
On the afternoon of Sunday 15th March the pilgrims attended a wedding of two Persian Bahá'ís, at which they were invited to speak of the Bahá'í communities in their respective countries. The male guests gathered at the Mens' Pilgrim House, near to the Shrine of the Báb, and the women gathered at the house of Abbás-Qulí, keeper of the Tomb. Effie found the eastern custom by which men and women did not mix socially intriguing. Margaret wrote of the event to her sisters:
I must tell you that there was to be a Bahá'í wedding this aft., and having met the bridegroom the day before, he invited us to the wedding and we were delighted to accept. A custom here, amongst the Persians, is that the bride and bridegroom do not meet before the marriage. To us this is terrible, but they say it generally turns out all right. However, the Bahá'ís are not so particular and sometimes see each other a good deal. In this particular case, the man lived in Alexandria and had not seen the girl since she was a child and unveiled. He came here and the girl's mother invited him to dinner the day before the marriage and introduced them.13
On 21 March the Feast of "Naw Ruz", the Bahá'í new year, was celebrated. Munírih Khánum gave each of the pilgrims a beautiful silk handkerchief as well as ring-stones which had been blessed by `Abdu'l-Bahá. The Western ladies were given the seats of honour at the Naw Ruz Feast of the Eastern men, while the Eastern women celebrated separately (the equality of men and women is a central principal of the Bahá'í Faith, but is one that can only be implemented at a speed which is comfortable to all concerned. In this case, "eastern" women were allowed the segregated status they were familiar with in Iran at the time. In later years such cultural practices were discontinued - although see the anecdote in a later chapter concerning the continued use of the chuddor by Bahá'í women from Iran).
News of this Naw Ruz experienced by the Australian and New Zealand pilgrims in Haifa in 1925 was reported to Bahá'í communities around the world in the Newsletter of Haifa Local Assembly:
Today as we were celebrating the Naw-Ruz Feast on Mount Carmel by the side of the Holy Shrine of the Báb and `Abdu'l-Bahá our joy was intensified by the receipt of a cablegram from the Bahá'í friends in Auckland, New Zealand, extending to us love and greetings. The Bahá'í principles are backed by the dominating power of His Holiness Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá sooner or later they are sure to penetrate into every heart and unto us it is given to try and reach those centres which are not likely to hear about the Cause because of their geographical situation. This celebration was unique in that we had the pleasure of having with us representatives from practically all parts of the world: the first party of friends to visit the Holy Land from Australasia: Mrs Blundell, and daughter and son, Miss and Mrs Blundell, Miss Stevenson, all from Auckland, New Zealand, and Miss Baker from Melbourne, Australia; Mrs Corrine True and Miss Martha Root from America. There are also pilgrims from India and Persia who have just arrived...14
The following day, a Sunday, the pilgrims were shown pictures of `Abdu'l-Bahá's funeral at the home of Mirza Anayatullah Isfahani. They also heard a recording of `Abdu'l-Bahá at the home Mirza Husain Ruhi, and listened to details Shoghi Effendi's recent travels in Switzerland. The pilgrims also viewed the room in which `Abdu'l-Bahá passed away. Late in the afternoon the Greatest Holy Leaf gave Effie a Bahá'í ring.
On 23rd March the pilgrims left Haifa in a car hired from Suleiman Tannous, a Bahá'í friend of Azíz Bahadur's, who ran Tannous Brothers Pharmacy in Jerusalem. In four days they explored Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nablus, and Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee, benefitting greatly from their driver's knowledgeable commentary. Relics from the first world war were strewn along the way. The "primitive lifestyle" of the Arab villagers who lived in mud huts or tents was a source of fascination. Another Bahá'í, Yannirs, acted as guide in Jerusalem, where the pilgrims visited the Holy Sepulchure, the Tomb of Jesus and the stone that was rolled away from the tomb, the tomb of Joseph of Aramathea and Macedonia hewn out of rock, and the tomb of Longinous, the soldier who pierced Jesus' side. They were also shown sites where many met Jesus and thought that he was a gardener; where he was kept a prisoner; where soldiers cast lots for garments, where St. Helena found crosses and nails, crown of thorns and pillar upon which Jews sat while Jews mocked him. They also visited calvary, where Jesus was crucified, the old Wall of Solomon, and even a painting by Murillo.
The following day the pilgrims visited the Mosque of Oman, Rachael's tomb in Bethlehem, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Mount of Olives, the Dead Sea, and Jericho. On the third day it was impossible to leave the hotel, as riots were expected to accompany the arrival of Lord Balfour, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (This was the period in which Zionists were agitating for the establishment of the state of Israel). The pilgrims returned to Haifa by way of Nablus, Tiberius, Bethsaida and Nazareth, passing camel-trains, and Arab herdsmen driving variously cattle, sheep and goats along white and winding roads.
Interviews with Shoghi Effendi
The pilgrims had all been curious to meet Shoghi Effendi, having heard how he had been shocked to learn, as a young man aged just 24, that 'Abdu'l-Bahá had named him as his successor, and as "Guardian" of the Bahá'í Faith. He was not well when the pilgrims were in Haifa in March 1925, and they saw little of him. Nevertheless, Shoghi Effendi granted them six interviews in all. In one interview the Guardian impressed on Effie and Margaret Stevenson the need to study the teachings well, and convey them "in their purity" when talking to others. It was important to seek out all references by Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá concerning a matter, so that the imagination did not "run riot" when the teachings were being explained.15 Shoghi Effendi also stressed the importance of making firm believers, rather than merely interesting a wide range of people in the Cause. He stressed to Effie and the other pilgrims the need for unity within the Bahá'í community. Effie recorded:
He again emphasised the fact of speaking on the principles whenever opportunity arises and then give short outline of the history. In speaking of the Cause our great object and mission is to create harmony and unity. If differences arise we must consult with one another and when decision of a just settlement is arrived at go to the ones with whom it has arisen, and tell them in great kindness and love, advise them of your decision. Do not force or insist but leave it to them to meditate on, and then pray earnestly that they may see things in the right light.16
Margaret Stevenson asked some questions about Bahá'í administration on behalf of Hyde Dunn. Returning from the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh the Guardian said that the establishment of Local Assemblies was not enough: he wished them to "function and act vigorously". To this Effie added "The quick spread of the cause is not essential but most essential is change of heart and life of those who accept the teachings. An intellectual grasp of the teachings is not enough. We must endeavour to become selfless and devoted and exemplify the teachings in our lives, radiating the spirit of love and giving of humble and sincere service."17
Shoghi Effendi had advised Effie during their third interview not to travel to North America, but to visit the London Bahá'ís, then to "return as soon as possible and help Father and Mother Dunn with the work in Australia."18 When asked about the relationship between the Bahá'í communities of Australia and New Zealand the Guardian replied that at first they would constitute one National Spiritual Assembly, and that later, as numbers of Local Assemblies increased, they would be separate. This process came to pass many years later, with the formation of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Australia and New Zealand in 1934, and the formation of a separate national body for New Zealand in 1957.
Shoghi Effendi also clarified such matters as the composition of the Local Assembly, the election of the National Assembly, the meaning of several tablets, and the method of observing obligatory prayers. He praised the contribution Jews were making to the material development of Palestine, and referred to the future time, as foretold by `Abdu'l-Bahá, when they would enter the Faith.
After two weeks of exhilarating days and nights in Haifa, the pilgrims made plans for their departure. Although tired, Effie strove to write her impressions of all that had transpired, so that she could share her experiences with the Dunns, and with the other Australian Bahá'ís. She had found it "heavenly" to be among people who demonstrated such self-sacrifice. On 31 March Shoghi Effendi arranged for Effie and her companions to view photos of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh, a privilege reserved for pilgrims, and for other very special occasions. She recorded her response to seeing the Holy countenances of Bahá'u'lláh and then the Báb:
A wonderfully powerful face. To me the eyes were half-closed but they seemed to search one's heart and involuntarily the words came to one's lips "Oh! God forgive me!". The others are a series of three small paintings of him done by an artist (Persian) from memory depicting him in his youth, which did not appeal to me so much. The third, a painting of the Báb, is small, and depicts him in a praying attitude. It is a beautiful, quiet, spiritual face. The art is Eastern in its conception and contrasting to Western ideas.19
Throughout her pilgrimage, Shoghi Effendi later reported to the Dunns, Effie had spoken eloquently of their "diligent and heroic pioneer work in that vast continent".20 While Effie and Margaret were admiring his "large and spacious" library on the eve of their departure, he in turn praised the efforts of Clara and Hyde Dunn and the infant Bahá'í community in Australia and New Zealand. Then, after throwing open a window which faced the Holy Tomb, and chanting a prayer in English, Shoghi Effendi bade the two women farewell.21
The following morning Effie said goodbye to the Bahiyyih Khanum, the Greatest Holy Leaf, and to the other women in the household. It was April the first. Rúhá held Effie in her arms and said "Effie, you are mine, this is your home...you must write to me and tell me all your trials and difficulties, you can always return here". While bidding goodbye, the women asked Effie to visit them after her stay in London. They knew that Shoghi Effendi would be away, but they wished her to come. Margaret recorded:
As we were going out of the garden Effie and I saw the Holy Mother sitting on her verandah and went up to her for a minute - she, the dear, was quite overcome. We all drove down to the station in the carriage (our luggage had gone on before) and Martha and about eleven Bahá'ís came to see us off, they are all such dears.22
Margaret conveyed to friends that they were very sorry to be leaving Haifa having had such a wonderful time:
I just pray that I may be better fitted to help on the Cause, because of my sojourn there. I cannot be too thankful and grateful for God's bounty in making it possible for me to go, especially during the lifetime of the Holy Mother and the Greatest Holy Leaf for they both are very frail. I have much I would like to tell you in connection with this visit, but perhaps when I return may have an opportunity.23
The pilgrims and Azízu'lláh Khan, who was on his way to Germany for an operation on his hand, departed for Kantara. Fujita and Muhammad Mustapha accompanied them as far as Port Said. The travellers viewed the scenery which had been clothed in darkness during their inward journey. They passed fields of wild flowers, some golden, others red; as well as quantities of date palms and orange groves. After passing once more by ferry from Kantara East to West, and by rail to Port Said, the Hotel de la Porte was reached at 10.30pm. Effie slept soundly. The following evening the travellers, together with Fujita and another Bahá'í named Azíz, attended a meeting of the Port Said Bahá'ís. Rough seas had prevented their boat, the Esperance Bay, from reaching the port.
A call at 1.30am to rise and prepare to board the boat proved to be a false alarm, and the boat did not depart until noon on 3 April - by which time all were extremely tired. The first day out to sea was rough enough to make most passengers, including Effie, quite seasick. On subsequent days, however, the sea was calm, but the passage across the Mediterranean was cold, and snow was visible on the mountains of both the African and European coasts. In her usual organised manner, Effie took the opportunity on board to write her account of her pilgrimage, as well as write letters to friends and family, before reaching England.
News of the pilgrimage soon reached Australia. Dr John Esslemont, who was acting as Shoghi Effendi's secretary, wrote to the Dunns on 9 April:
We had a delightful visit, lasting three weeks, from the three Blundells, Margaret Stevenson and Effie Baker, whom the Holy Family and the friends here came to love very much. They are very sincere and selfless souls. We hope you have many more such in the various groups you have founded. Few things have contributed more to Shoghi Effendi's happiness during the last year or two than the progress of the Cause in Australasia, thanks to your tireless and selfless efforts. We all hope that what has been accomplished up till now may be but a foretaste of much greater progress in the future when those you have been training and teaching become themselves active workers.
The Australia and New Zealand Bahá'ís, in the first issue of their magazine, Herald of the South, admitted they were eagerly awaiting the returning pilgrims, and hoped that a "permanent record in book form" would be made to mark the first Australasian pilgrimage. Although this, alas, was never done, Ernest Brewer, then corresponding secretary of Sydney Assembly, copied excerpts from Effie's letters for distribution to the other Australian Assemblies.24 Her notes about her pilgrimage were never published, but provided her with a source from which she drew faithfully in subsequent years. By April 1925 Effie may have recognised the desire stirring in her own soul to remain in Haifa. The bond which she had rapidly formed with the women of the Holy household must have been evident to all. Perhaps Shoghi Effendi recognised this also, for while she was still in London Effie received his invitation to revisit Haifa before returning to Australia.25
"Record of My Visit to Haifa, March 1925"
By Effie E. Baker
Arrived at Haifa, Palestine 13 March 1925.
Shoghi Effendi sent greetings to us and asked us to come to the Master's House and see him before lunch.
First interview with the Beloved Guardian
To me it was a wonderful interview and meeting. His step is quick and decisive also his manner of speech, but the sweetness of his countenance, and the bright alert expression of his eyes conveys to you a wonderful tenderness of heart which radiates to you such graciousness, and simplicity, you feel at once at your ease, as if a weight has been removed from your heart and a great peace reigns. You feel such a happiness in his presence it is hard to describe.
Shoghi Effendi first of all gave us all a hearty welcome to the Holy Land, and hoped by making the pilgrimage we would receive much benefit spiritually. He assured us of his earnest prayers for us and out continent and enquired about the friends in Australia and New Zealand, and about the progress of the movement. He was very delighted by reports recently received from Father Dunn, and thinks Australia has a great future.
He said "the essential point is to speak of, and teach the principles, but first and most of all, live them. After giving the principles, give the history of the Cause". I said we would like him to come to Australia and his answer was "I certainly hope I will".
Monday 16 March 1925 - second interview with our Beloved Guardian
Shoghi Effendi again emphasised the importance of speaking on the principles whenever opportunity arises, and then giving a short outline of the history of the Cause.
Our great object and mission is to create harmony and unity. If differences arise we must consult with one another; and when a decision, if a just settlement, is arrived at go to the ones with whom difference has arisen and tell them in great kindness and love of our decision. Leave it to them to meditate on. Do not force or insist but just pray that they may see things in the right light.
With regard to literature, it must be distributed in a dignified way, and not be made cheap.It should not be given out at doors, or left on park benches, etc. In meetings, have a specified place for literature in the room and announce that if anyone is interested in the Cause, they may obtain the literature.
Our object, where-ever we are, is to make a firm believer, instead of just interesting a lot of people, which is not sufficient. We must concentrate our efforts to make a firm believer, who will be capable of carrying on the work when we are not there.
We must strive to study the teachings to impart the truth fluently and with conviction, not superficially. We must devote as much of our time as possible so that we may grasp the inner meanings of the teachings and be able to satisfy, without hesitation, or referring to books, questions asked us.
Questions asked by Margaret for Mr Hyde Dunn
Question one: What is the birth-date of Shoghi Effendi? He was born in 1897 but does not give the date as he does not wish it to be observed in any way.
Question two: Are New Zealand and the South Sea Islands to be included in the National Assembly of Australasia? For the present, yes! Later, when numbers increase and there are sufficient Local Spiritual Assemblies, there will be separate National Assemblies for Australia and New Zealand. There is no immediate hurry to form the National Assembly. Just go on quietly.
Question three: Certain cities have firm and steadfast Bahá'ís, but not enough for an Assembly: are these firm ones eligible for electors from whom the National House could be elected? As a rule, no - except in countries where the Bahá'í Centres are still few in number. In answering this question Shoghi Effendi says Bahá'í, in the wider sense of the name, only means one who is interested in principles. We must first of all have true believers. A true believer is one who not only believes in the principles, but believes in the Manifestation as well. We must wait till we have these firm believers before we can elect the Local Assembly. They must be ten in number at least, but nothing less than ten, so that nine can be elected to form the Local Spiritual Assembly. Get the Local Assemblies established first of all. To establish the National Assembly is not as urgent as first getting the Local Assemblies firmly established.
Question four: the official Assembly includes nine people: are all the people attending the meetings to be known as members of the Assembly? The term "Assembly" should apply only to the body of nine, elected by the friends. First of all we must have more than nine declared believers before we can elect our Local Spiritual Assembly. Those who are not declared believers have no vote. The Will of ’Abdu'l-Bahá gives concise and explicit instructions regarding the election of the Local Spiritual Assemblies and must be studied carefully, followed carefully, and not deviated from.
Question five: are committees for practical work to be chosen from the Assembly and its members? Members need not be just the Assembly, and may be chosen from amongst the members or Bahá'ís.
Questsion six: regarding the Surat-el-Hykl: we have understood it to be Bahá'u'lláh revealing the station of ’Abdu'l-Bahá: is this correct? Is there a commentary in connection with it to be had? No. This passage reveals the temple or body of the Cause.
Question seven: does the Tablet of the Houri apply to ’Abdu'l-Bahá? Yes!
Margaret asked this question regarding prayers: is it necessary to wash hands, bend and place hands on knees, hold hands before face, etc? (as some people object). Bahá'u'lláh has revealed three obligatory prayers. First is the normal daily prayer; second is the short prayer which does not necessitate bending or kneeling; the third is very long, kneeling with forehead to ground, etc. - this is only for those who wish. One must choose one of the three as daily obligatory prayers. Bahá'u'lláh has revealed these three so that one can have perfect freedom to choose one of them, but we are commanded to use one of these daily. If one objects to bending, etc, we have our freedom to choose the short prayer which does not necessitate it.
Third interview with Shoghi Effendi our Beloved Guardian, Friday 20 March 1925
Shoghi Effendi sent for Margaret and myself and he spoke to me regarding the work in Australia. He says for me to proceed to London and visit friends there, but does not wish me to proceed to America, as it is not necessary. He wishes me to return to Australia and continue to work with Mr and Mrs Hyde Dunn and spread the teachings in Australia.
Speaking of getting in touch with the source, he said: first, we must have purity of intention; second, we must have detachment; and third, we must have concentration.
Fourth interview with our Beloved Guardian 29 March 1925
Shoghi Effendi sent for Margaret and myself. He referred to the return of the Jews to Palestine, and said they would first make a great contribution to the material civilization of Palestine and then eventually will (as the Master foretold) come into the Bahá'í Faith. There are 14 million Jews in the world and it appears they are concentrating upon Palestine and their advanced ideas and wealth will help Palestine considerably.
Soheil then came to ask us to come and have our photos taken with the Arab pilgrims from Baghdad.26 Shoghi Effendi declined. He does not wish his photo taken since he has become Guardian of the Cause, as he does not wish anya attachment to his personality.
Fifth interview with Shoghi Effendi 31 March 1925
Shoghi Effendi sent for all of us and told us he had asked the ladies of the household to prepare the pictures of Bahá'u'lláh and the Bab for us to see. The picture of Bahá'u'lláh is a photo (in sitting posture at a table). A wonderofully powerful face. To me the eyes were half-closed b ut they seemed to search one's heart and involuntarily the words came to one's lips, Oh! God forgive me! The others are a series of three small paintings of him done by an artist (Persian) from memory depicting him in his youth, which did not appeal to me so much. The third, a painting of the Bab, is small, and depicts him in a praying attitude. It is a beautiful, quiet, spiritual face. The art is eastern in its conception and contrasting to western ideas.
The others were beautiful photos of the Master and one could there fully realise His majestical beauty, simplicity, and kindness of heart, showered to all creatures irrespective of race, colour, or creed. One who meekly withstood the onslought of the enemy bearing no trace of malice, showing naught but loving service to all mankind, from day to day, though many trials, tribulations and indignities were heaped upon him.
Sixth interview with our Beloved Guardian 31 March 1925
Shoghi Effendi sent for Margaret and myself to say good-bye and wish us bon-voyage. He wished us to see his apartment. His library is large and spacious, and has one of its windows facing the Holy Shrines. He opened it so that we could see the light shining above the Holy Tomb. He can always turn there to pray. The walls are surrounded with bookcases containing literature touching on all vital questions of the day (I presume).
He again mentioned how glad his heart is at the good reports from Australia and hopes great things from there. How glad he was I had come as the first pilgrim and assured me of his earnest prayers, that he wished me to return and continue the good work with Father and Mother Dunn and that he felt all that we do together would be confirmed. He prayed a prayer for us in English (starting: "In the name of God! The Supreme! The High! page 78 of Hidden Words), and said it was a favourte one of his. Shoghi Effendi asks that we give publicity to martyrdoms occuring in Persia as much as possible. In doing so we must use tact and wisdom. We are not to ask the Government to take steps - as Bahá'ís we do not interfere politically but just try and let people know what suffering is caused by the fanatical minds ignorant and prejudiced. How the faithful follwers of Bahá'u'lláh suffer for the Faith he has proclaimed, which only has for its' object the betterment of humanity. It does behove each one of us to make fresh efforts to promulgate His noble teachings and strive to instill into our hearts His command "O Son of Spirit. Justice is the best beloved in my sight, turn not away therefrom if thou desirest me, etc.."
We cannot realise this oppression in our land of freedom of thought and opinion. Pray earnestly that the time is not far distant that our dear brothers and sisters in Persia may have freedom of spiritual thought and ideas. That the government will cause the enforcement of educational facilities which will be a means of material advancement and enlightenment that will bring in its train spiritual enlightenment also.
|chapter 5||start page||single page||chapter 7|