The Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith
THE DEEPEST TIES
The supreme influence on Shoghi Effendi's life was his beloved grandfather, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and next to this came his lifelong relationship with the Master's sister, known as the Greatest Holy Leaf, who watched over him from babyhood with more than a mother's love and care. When she passed away in 1932 the news reached him in Interlaken, Switzerland. Although he was well aware of her condition, which he described in 1929 when he wrote that the Greatest Holy Leaf was "now in the evening of her life, with deepening shadows caused by failing eyesight and declining strength swiftly gathering about her"; although he had had a premonition of her swiftly approaching death, when he wrote in March 1932 to the American believers urging them to press on with the completion of the dome of "our beloved Temple" and said that "my voice is once more reinforced by the passionate, and perhaps, the last, entreaty, of the Greatest Holy Leaf, whose spirit, now hovering on the edge of the Great Beyond, longs to carry on its flight to the Abha Kingdom ... an assurance of the joyous consummation of an enterprise, the progress of which has so greatly brightened the closing days of her earthly life"; although she was now eighty-six years old — none of this softened the blow or mellowed the grief that overwhelmed the Guardian. On July 15th he cabled America announcing that her spirit had taken its flight to that Great Beyond, bewailing the "sudden removal of my sole earthly sustainer, the joy and solace of my life", and informing the friends that "So grievous a bereavement necessitates suspension for nine months throughout Bahá'í world every manner religious festivity"; memorial meetings were to be held everywhere, locally and nationally, for her, the "last remnant of Bahá'u'lláh".
But it was on July 17th that he wrote to the American and Canadian believers a letter that provides a glimpse of what was passing in
the surging sea of his heart and in which he eulogizes the life, station and deeds of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's sister, pouring forth his love in an unforgettable torrent of 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 shadow 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.
What the Greatest Holy Leaf had done for Shoghi Effendi at the time of the Master's passing and in the years that followed is beyond calculation. She had played, as he said, a unique part throughout the tumultuous stages of Bahá'í history, not the least of which had been the establishment of Shoghi Effendi's own ministry after the death of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. "Which of the blessings am I to recount," wrote Shoghi Effendi, "which in her unfailing solicitude she showered upon me, in the most critical and agitated hours of my life?" He says that to him she had been an incarnation of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's all-encompassing tenderness and love. As her life had waned his had waxed. With what deep satisfaction she must have seen, as the tide of her own life receded from the shores of this world, that Shoghi Effendi was become strong in his Guardianship, able to face
the incessant blows he received with the fortitude of a man now fully grown into his stupendous task.
So close was the communion between Shoghi Effendi and his great-aunt that over and over, in cables and other communications, particularly during the early years of his Guardianship, he included her with himself in such phrases as "assure us", "the Greatest Holy Leaf and I", "we", and so on. In a cable sent in 1931 he even signs it "Bahiyyih Shoghi". Nothing could be more revealing of this intense love he had for her than the fact that on the day we were married it was to her room, where everything is preserved as it was in her days, standing beside her bed, that the Guardian went to have the simple Bahá'í marriage ceremony of hand in hand performed and we each repeated the words in Arabic: "We will all, verily, abide by the Will of God."
This love the Guardian had for the Greatest Holy Leaf, who had watched over him for thirty-five years as far more than a mother, continued to be demonstrated for the remainder of his life. When the news of her death reached him in Switzerland his first act was to plan for her grave a suitable memorial which he hastened to Italy to order. No one could possibly call this exquisitely proportioned monument, built of shining white Carrara marble, anything but what it appears — a love temple, the embodiment of Shoghi Effendi's love. He had undoubtedly conceived its design from buildings of a similar style and, under his supervision, an artist now incorporated his concept in the monument he planned to erect on her resting-place. Shoghi Effendi used to compare the stages in the Administrative Order of the Faith to this monument, saying the platform of three steps was like the local Assemblies, the pillars like the National Assemblies, and the dome that crowned them and held them together like the Universal House of Justice, which could not be placed in position until the foundations and pillars were first firmly erected. After the Greatest Holy Leaf's monument had been completed in all its beauty he had a photograph of it sent to many different Assemblies, as well as to a special list of individuals to whom he wished to present so tender a memento.
In every act of his life he associated the Greatest Holy Leaf with his services to the Faith. When he entombed the remains of the mother and brother of Bahiyyih Khanum on Mt. Carmel he cabled: "... cherished wish Greatest Holy Leaf fulfilled", referring to her often expressed desire to be buried near them. On that momentous occasion he said he rejoiced at the privilege of pledging one
thousand pounds as his contribution to the Bahíyyih Khanum Fund designed to inaugurate the final drive connected with the completion of the American Temple. He wrote that this transfer and reburial were events of "capital institutional significance". He said "the conjunction of the resting-place of the Greatest Holy Leaf with those of her brother and mother incalculably reinforces the spiritual potencies of that consecrated Spot", which was "destined to evolve into the focal centre of those world-shaking, world-embracing, world-directing Administrative institutions, ordained by Bahá'u'lláh..."
When 'Abdu'l-Bahá's mantle, as Head of the Faith, fell on Shoghi Effendi's shoulders a great change came over him. What the nature of that change was spiritually it is not for us — so infinitely remote in both station and stature — to either grasp or seek to define. Shoghi Effendi was never really intimate with anyone except the closest members of his family and, in the early days, those who acted as his help-mates and secretaries. As years went by and his burdens increased, even this intimacy grew less.
Surely the simplicity of the marriage of Shoghi Effendi — reminiscent of the simplicity of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's own marriage in the prison-city of 'Akka — should provide a thought-provoking example to the Bahá'ís everywhere. No one, with the exception of his parents, my parents and a brother and two sisters of his living in Haifa, knew it was to take place. He felt strongly urged to keep it a secret, knowing from past experience how much trouble any major event in the Cause invariably stirred up. It was therefore a stunning surprise to both the servants and the local Bahá'ís when his chauffeur drove him off, with me beside him, to visit the Holy Tomb of Bahá'u'lláh on the afternoon of March 24, 1937. His heart drew him to that Most Sacred Spot on earth at such a moment in his life. I remember I was dressed entirely in black for this unique occasion. I wore a white lace blouse, but otherwise I was a typical example of the way oriental women dressed to go out into the streets in those days, the custom being to wear black. Although I was from the West Shoghi Effendi desired me to fit into the pattern of the life in his house — which was a very oriental one — as naturally and inconspicuously as possible and I was only too happy to comply with his wishes in every way. When we arrived at Bahji and entered the Shrine he requested me to give him his ring, which I was wearing concealed about my neck, and this he placed on the ring-finger of my right hand, the same finger that corresponded to the one of his own on which he
himself had always worn it. This was the only gesture he made. He entered the inner Shrine, beneath the floor of which Bahá'u'lláh is interred, and gathered up in a handkerchief all the dried petals and flowers that the keeper of the Shrine used to take from the threshold and place in a silver receptacle at the feet of Bahá'u'lláh. After he had chanted the Tablet of Visitation we came back to Haifa. There was no celebration, no flowers, no elaborate ceremony, no wedding dress, no reception. His mother and father, in compliance with the laws of Bahá'u'lláh, signified their consent by signing our marriage certificates and then I went back to the Western Pilgrim House across the street and joined my parents (who had not been present at any of these events), and Shoghi Effendi went to attend to his own affairs. At dinner-time, quite as usual, the Guardian appeared, showering his love and congratulations on my mother and father. He took the handkerchief, full of such precious flowers, and with his inimitable smile gave them to my mother, saying he had brought them for her from the inner Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh. My parents also signed the marriage certificate and after dinner and these events were over I walked home with Shoghi Effendi, my suitcases having been taken across the street by Fujita while we were at dinner. We visited for awhile with the Guardian's family and then went up to his two rooms which the Greatest Holy Leaf had had built for him so long ago.
The quietness, the simplicity, the reserve and dignity with which this marriage took place did not signify that the Guardian considered it an unimportant event — on the contrary. Over his mother's signature, but drafted by the Guardian, the following cable was sent to America: "Announce Assemblies celebration marriage beloved Guardian. Inestimable honour conferred upon handmaid of Bahá'u'lláh Ruhiyyih Khanum Miss Mary Maxwell. Union of East and West proclaimed by Bahá'í Faith cemented. Ziaiyyih mother of the Guardian." A telegram similar to this was sent to Persia. This news, so long awaited, naturally produced great rejoicing amongst the Bahá'ís and messages flooded in to Shoghi Effendi from all parts of the world. To that received from the National Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States and Canada Shoghi Effendi replied: "Deeply moved your message. Institution Guardianship, head cornerstone Administrative Order Cause Bahá'u'lláh, already ennobled through its organic connection with Persons of Twin Founders Bahá'í Faith, is now further reinforced through direct association with West and particularly with American
believers, whose spiritual destiny is to usher in World Order Bahá'u'lláh. For my part desire congratulate community American believers on acquisition tie vitally binding them to so weighty an organ of their Faith." To innumerable other messages his practically universal answer was merely an expression of loving appreciation for their felicitations.
The most significant point, however, associated with the Guardian's marriage is the stress he laid on the fact that it had drawn the Occident and the Orient closer to each other. It had not only done this but other ties had also been reinforced and established. In reply to an inquiry from the American Assembly: "Request advice policy concerning announcement marriage" Shoghi Effendi stated: "Approve public announcement. Emphasize significance institution Guardianship union East West and linking destinies Persia America. Allude honour conferred British peoples" — a direct allusion to my Scotch Canadian father.
All this had such an effect on the American Community that its national body informed the Guardian it was sending $19.00 from each one of its seventy-one American Assemblies "for immediate strengthening new tie binding American Bahá'ís to institution Guardianship" — truly a most unusual, pure-hearted wedding gift to the Cause itself.