The Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith
THE WRITINGS OF SHOGHI EFFENDI
In an age when people play football with words, kicking them right and left indiscriminately with no respect for either their meaning or correct usage, the style of Shoghi Effendi stands out in dazzling beauty. His joy in words was one of his strongest personal characteristics, whether he wrote in English — the language he had given his heart to — or in the mixture of Persian and Arabic he used in his general letters to the East. Although he was so simple in his personal tastes he had an innate love of richness which is manifest in the way he arranged and decorated various Bahá'í Holy Places, in the style of the Shrine of the Bab, in his preferences in architecture and in his choice and combination of words. Of him it could be said, in the words of another great writer, Macaulay, that "he wrote in language ... precise and luminous." Unlike so many people Shoghi Effendi wrote what he meant and meant exactly what he wrote. It is impossible to eliminate any word from one of his sentences without sacrificing part of the meaning, so concise, so pithy is his style. A book like God Passes By is a veritable essence of essences; from this single hundred-year history, fifty books could easily be written and none of them would be superficial or lacking in material, so rich is the source provided by the Guardian, so condensed his treatment of it.
The language in which Shoghi Effendi wrote, whether for the Bahá'ís of the West or the East, has set a standard which should effectively prevent them from descending to the level of illiterate literates which often so sadly characterizes the present generation as far as the usage and appreciation of words is concerned. He never compromised with the ignorance of his readers but expected them, in their thirst for knowledge, to overcome their ignorance. Shoghi Effendi chose, to the best of his great ability, the right vehicle for his thought and it made no difference to him whether the average
person was going to know the word he used or not. After all, what one does not know one can find out. Although he had such a brilliant command of language, he frequently reinforced his knowledge by certainty through looking up the word he planned to use in Webster's big dictionary. In his translations of the Bahá'í writings, and above all in his own compositions, Shoghi Effendi set a standard that educates and raises the cultural level of the reader at the same time that it feeds his mind and soul with thoughts and truth.
I remember once Shoghi Effendi giving me an article to read from a British newspaper which called attention to the bureaucratic language which is developing, particularly in the United States, in which more and more words are used to convey less and less and merely produce confusion confounded. Shoghi Effendi heartily supported the article! Words were very precise instruments to him. I also recall a particularly beautiful distinction he made in speaking to some pilgrims in the Western Pilgrim House. He said: "we are orthodox, but not fanatical."
Many times the language of the Guardian soared to great poetic heights. Witness such passages as these that shine with the brilliance of cathedral glass: "We behold, as we survey the episodes of this first act of a sublime drama, the figure of its Master Hero, the Bab, arise meteor-like above the horizon of Shiraz, traverse the sombre sky of Persia from South to North, decline with tragic swiftness, and perish in a blaze of glory. We see His satellites, a galaxy of God-intoxicated heroes, mount above that same horizon, irradiate that same incandescent light, burn themselves out with that selfsame swiftness, and impart in their turn an added impetus to the steadily gathering momentum of God's nascent Faith." He called the Bab "that youthful Prince of Glory" and describes the scene of His entombment on Mt. Carmel: "when all was finished, and the earthly remains of the Martyr-Prophet of Shiraz were, at long last, safely deposited for their everlasting rest in the bosom of God's holy mountain, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Who had cast aside His turban, removed His shoes and thrown off His cloak, bent low over the still open sarcophagus, His silver hair waving about His head and His face transfigured and luminous, rested His forehead on the border of the wooden casket, and, sobbing aloud, wept with such a weeping that all those who were present wept with Him." "The second period ... derives its inspiration from the august figure of Bahá'u'lláh, pre-eminent in holiness, awesome in the majesty of His strength and power, unapproachable in the transcendent
brightness of His glory." "Amidst the shadows that are increasingly gathering about us we can discern the glimmerings of Bahá'u'lláh's unearthly sovereignty appearing fitfully on the horizon of history." Or these words addressed to the Greatest Holy Leaf: "In the innermost recesses of our hearts, O Thou exalted Leaf of the Abha 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." Or these words painting a picture of the punishment of God in this day: "On the high seas, in the air, on land, in the forefront of battle, in the palaces of kings and the cottages of peasants, in the most hallowed sanctuaries, whether secular or religious, the evidences of God's retributive act and mysterious discipline are manifest. Its heavy toll is steadily mounting — a holocaust sparing neither prince nor peasant, neither man nor woman, neither young nor old." Or these words concerning the attitude of the true servants of the Cause: "Of such men and women it may be truly said that to them 'every foreign land is a fatherland, and every fatherland a foreign land'. or their citizenship ... is in the Kingdom of Bahá'u'lláh. Though willing to share to the utmost the temporal benefits and the fleeting joys which this earthly life can confer, though eager to participate in whatever activity that conduces to the richness, the happiness and peace of that life, they can at no time forget that it constitutes no more than a transient, a very brief stage of their existence, that they who live it are but pilgrims and wayfarers whose goal is the Celestial City, and whose home the Country of never-failing joy and brightness."
There are so many aspects to Shoghi Effendi's literary life. I can name on one hand the books (other than his beloved Gibbon) he read for recreation during the twenty years I was with him, though he had read during his youth very extensively on many subjects. This is no doubt because of the fact that by 1937, when I took up my new life in Haifa, he was already overwhelmed by the ever-increasing amount of material he had to read in connection with his work, such as news-letters, National Assembly minutes, circulars and mail. By the end of his life if he did not read at least two or three hours a day he could no longer keep up with his work at all; he read on planes, trains, in gardens, at table when we were away from Haifa and in Haifa hour after hour at his desk, until he would get so tired he would go to bed and sit up reading there. He assiduously kept abreast of the political news and trends of the world.
The supreme importance of Shoghi Effendi's English translations and communications can never be sufficiently stressed because of his function as sole and authoritative interpreter of the Sacred Writings, appointed as such by 'Abdu'l-Bahá in His Will. There are many instances when, owing to the looseness of construction in Persian sentences, there could be an ambiguity in the mind of the reader regarding the meaning. Careful and correct English, not lending itself to ambiguity in the first place, became, when coupled with Shoghi Effendi's brilliant mind and his power as interpreter of the Holy Word, what we might well call the crystallizing vehicle of the teachings. Often by referring to Shoghi Effendi's translation into English the original meaning of the Bab, Bahá'u'lláh, or 'Abdu'l-Bahá becomes clear and is thus safeguarded against misinterpretation in the future. He was meticulous in translating and made absolutely sure that the words he was using in English conveyed and did not depart from the original thought nor the original words. One would have to have a mastery of Persian and Arabic to correctly understand what he did. For instance in reading the original one finds that one word in Arabic was susceptible of being translated into two or more words in English; thus Shoghi Effendi, in the construction of his English sentences, might use "power", "strength" and "might" alternatively to replace this one word, choosing the exact nuance of meaning that would fit best, do away with reiteration, and lend most colour to his translation without sacrificing the true meaning, indeed, thereby enhancing the true meaning. Once — only once, alas, in our busy, harassed life — Shoghi Effendi said to me that I now knew enough Persian to understand the original and he read a paragraph of one of Bahá'u'lláh's Tablets and said, "How can one translate that into English?" For about two hours we tried, that is he tried and I feebly followed him. When I would suggest a sentence, which did convey the meaning, Shoghi Effendi said "Ah, but that is not translation! You cannot change and leave out words in the original and just put what you think it means in English." He pointed out a translator must be absolutely faithful to his original text and that in some cases this meant that what came out in another language was ugly and even meaningless. As Bahá'u'lláh is always sublimely beautiful in His words this could not be done. The Guardian was exceedingly cautious in everything that concerned the original Word and would never explain or comment on a text submitted to him in English (when it was not his own
translation) until he had verified it with the original. He was very careful of the words he used in commenting on various events in the Faith, refusing, for instance, to designate a person a martyr — which is a station — just because they were slain, and sometimes designating as martyrs people who were not killed but the nature of whose death he associated with martyrdom.
Another highly important aspect of the divinely-conferred position Shoghi Effendi held of interpreter of the Teachings was that he had not only protected the Sacred Word from being misconstrued but that he also carefully preserved the relationship and importance of different aspects of the Teachings to each other and safeguarded the rightful station of each of the three Central Figures of the Faith. An interesting example of this is reflected in a letter of A. L. M. Nicolas, the French scholar who translated the Bayan of the Bab into French and who might correctly be described as a Babi. For many years he was under the impression that the Bahá'ís had ignored the greatness and belittled the station of the Bab. When he discovered that Shoghi Effendi in his writings exalted the Bab, perpetuated His memory through a book such as Nabil's Narrative, and repeatedly translated His words into English, his attitude completely changed. In a letter to one of the old believers in France he wrote: "Now I can die quietly ... Glory to Shoghi Effendi who has calmed my torment and my anxiety, glory to him who recognizes the worth of Siyyid 'Ali Muhammad called the Bab. I am so content that I kiss your hands which traced my address on the envelope which brought me the message of Shoghi.
Thank you, Mademoiselle, thank you from the bottom of my heart." One of the earliest acts of Shoghi Effendi's ministry was to begin circulating his translations of the holy Writings. One year and ten days after the reading of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Will we find him writing to the American National Assembly: "It is a great pleasure for me to share with you the translation of some of the prayers and Tablets of our beloved Master..." and he goes on to add that he trusts "that in the course of time I will be enabled to send you regularly correct and reliable translations ... which will unfold to your eyes a new vision of His Glorious Mission ... and give you an insight into the character and meaning of His Divine Teachings."
The writing, translation and promulgation of Bahá'í books was one of the Guardian's major interests, one he never tired of and one he actively supported. The ideal situation is for local and national communities to pay for their own activities, but in this Formative
Age of our Faith the Guardian fully realized this was not always possible and from the funds at his disposal he assisted substantially throughout the years in financing the translation and publication of Bahá'í literature. In periods of emergency, when the attainment of cherished goals was at stake, Shoghi Effendi would fill the breach.
Literature in all languages the Guardian collected in Haifa, placing books in his own library, in the two Pilgrim House libraries, in the Mansion of Bahá'u'lláh in Bahji, and in the International Archives. In this connection it is interesting to note how he placed them, for I never saw it done before: he would have, say, a lot of rather dull bindings, of some inexpensive edition, in grey and a lot more in blue or some other colour. With these he would fill his bookshelves in patterns, five red, two blue, five red and so on, using the variation in colour and number to add charm to the general effect of a book case that otherwise would have presented a monotonous and uninteresting appearance. Facts and events are more or less useless unless seen in the proper perspective, unless vision is applied to their interpretation. One of the marked aspects of Shoghi Effendi's genius was the way he plucked the significance of an occurrence, an isolated phenomenon, from the welter of irrelevancies associated with the international development of the Cause and set it in its historical frame, focussing on it the light of his appraising mind and making us understand what was taking place and what it signified now and forever. This was not a static thing, a picture of shapes and forms, but rather a description of where a leviathan was moving in an ocean — the leviathan of the co-ordinated movements inside the Community of Bahá'u'lláh's followers moving in the ocean of His Dispensation. An Assembly was formed, someone died, a certificate was granted by some obscure governmental body — in themselves isolated facts and events — but to Shoghi Effendi's eyes they were part of a pattern and he made us see this pattern being woven before our eyes too. In the volumes of The Bahá'í World the Guardian did this not only for the believers, but for the public at large. He dramatized the progress of the Faith and a mass of scattered facts and unrelated photographs were made to testify to the reality of the claim of that Faith to be world-wide and all-inclusive.
It is interesting to note that the actual suggestion for a volume along the lines of The Bah" World came to Shoghi Effendi from Horace Holley in a letter he wrote in February 1921 though I have no doubt that it was the breadth of vision of the young Guardian
and the shape he was already giving to the work of the Cause in his messages to the West that, working on Horace's own creative mind, stimulated him to this concept. Shoghi Effendi seized on this idea and from then on Horace became Shoghi Effendi's primary instrument, as a gifted writer, and in his capacity as Secretary of the American National Spiritual Assembly, in making of The Bahá'í World the remarkable and unique book it became. Volume One, published in 1925 and called Bahá'í Year Book — which covered the period from April 1925 to April 1926 and comprised 174 pages — received its permanent title, in Volume Two, of The Bahá'í World, A Biennial International Record suggested by that National Assembly and approved by Shoghi Effendi. At the time of the Guardian's passing twelve volumes had appeared, the largest running to over 1,000 pages. Although these were prepared under the supervision of the American National Assembly, published by its Publishing Committee, compiled by a staff of editors and dedicated to Shoghi Effendi, it would be more in conformity with the facts to call them Shoghi Effendi's Book. He himself acted as Editor-in-Chief; the tremendous amount of material comprised in each volume was sent to him by the American Assembly, with all photographs, before it appeared and his was the final decision as to what should go in and what be omitted.
As six of these books were published during the period I was privileged to be with him I was able to observe how he edited them. With his infinite capacity for work Shoghi Effendi would go over the vast bundles of papers and photographs forwarded to him, eliminating the poorer and more irrelevant material; section by section, following the Table of Contents which he himself had arranged, would be prepared and set aside until the entire manuscript was ready to be mailed back to America for publication. He always deplored the fact that the material was not of a higher standard. It is due solely to his determination and perseverance that The Bahá'í World volumes are as brilliant and impressive as they are. The editors (some of whom he had nominated himself), struggling against the forces of inertia that beset any body trying to achieve its ends through correspondence with sources thousands of miles away, and seeking to work through often inexperienced and inefficient administrative organs, would never have been successful in assembling the material required without the drive and authority of the Guardian behind their efforts. An interesting side light on this work is that Shoghi Effendi, after the book was published, had all the original
manuscripts returned to Haifa and stored at the World Centre.
As soon as one volume was published he began to himself collect material for the next one. In addition to the repeated reminders he sent to the American National Assembly to do likewise, he sent innumerable letters and cables to different Assemblies and individuals. In one day, for instance, he cabled three National Assemblies: "National Assembly photograph for Bahá'í World essential"; he cabled such an isolated and out-of-the-way outpost as Shanghai for material he wanted. "Bahá'í World manuscript mailed. Advise speedy careful publication" was not an unusual type of message for the American Assembly to receive. It was Shoghi Effendi who arranged the order of the volume, had typed in Haifa the entire Table of Contents, had all the photographs titled, chose all the frontispieces, decided on the colour of the binding of the volume to appear, and above all gave exact instructions, in long detailed letters to Horace Holley, whom he himself had chosen as the most gifted and informed person to write the International Survey of Current Bahá'í Activities, to which he attached great importance.
What Shoghi Effendi himself thought of The Bahá'í World he put down in writing. As early as 1927, when only one volume had been published, he wrote to a non-Bahá'í: "I would strongly advise you to procure a copy of the Bahá'í Year Book ... which will give you a clear and authoritative statement of the purpose, the claim and the influence of the Faith." In a general letter addressed, in 1928, "To the beloved of the Lord and the hand-maids of the Merciful throughout the East and West", and entirely devoted to the subject of The Bahá'í World, Shoghi Effendi informs them: "I have ever since its inception taken a keen and sustained interest in its development, have personally participated in the collection of its material, the arrangement of its contents, and the close scrutiny of whatever data it contains. I confidently and emphatically recommend it to every thoughtful and eager follower of the Faith, whether in the East or in the West..." He wrote that its material is readable, attractive, comprehensive and authoritative; its treatment of the fundamentals of the Cause concise and persuasive, and its illustrations thoroughly representative; it is unexcelled and unapproached by any other Bahá'í publication of its kind. This book Shoghi Effendi always visualized as being — indeed he designed it to be eminently suitable for the public, for scholars, to place in libraries and as a means, as he put it, of "removing the malicious misrepresentations and unfortunate misunderstandings that have so
long and so grievously clouded the luminous Faith of Bahá'u'lláh."
It was a book that he himself often gave as a gift to royalty, to statesmen, to professors, universities, newspaper editors and non-Bahá'ís in general, mailing it to them with his simple personal card "Shoghi Rabbani" enclosed.
It is difficult to realize, looking back upon Shoghi Effendi's achievements, that he actually wrote only one book of his own, as such, and this was God Passes By published in 1944. Even The Promised Day Is Come, written in 1941, is a 136-page-1ong general letter to the Bahá'ís of the West. This fact alone is a profound indication of the deeply modest character of the man. He communicated with the Bahá'ís because he had something to say that was important, because he was appointed to guide them, because he was the Custodian of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh; he was impelled by forces stronger than himself over which he had no control.
Concurrent with the period when these first illuminating letters on such major subjects were streaming from the pen of Shoghi Effendi, he undertook the translation of two books. In a letter written on July 4, 1930, Shoghi Effendi says: "I feel exceedingly tired after a strenuous year of work particularly as I have managed to add to my labours the translation of the Iqan, which I have already sent to America." This was the first of his major translations, Bahá'u'lláh's great exposition on the station and role of the Manifestations of God, more particularly in the light of Islamic teachings and prophecies, known as the Kitab-i-Iqan or Book of Certitude. It was an invaluable adjunct to the Western Bahá'ís in their study of the Faith they had embraced and infinitely enriched their understanding of Divine Revelation.
During that same year the Guardian began work on the second book published during this period, a work that was neither a translation of Bahá'u'lláh's words nor one of Shoghi Effendi's general letters, but which must be considered a literary masterpiece and one of his most priceless gifts for all time. This was the translation of the first part of the narrative compiled by a contemporary follower of both the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh known as Nabil, which was published in 1932 under the title The Dawn-Breakers. If the critic and sceptic should be tempted to dismiss the literature of the Bahá'í Faith as typical of the better class of religious books designed for the initiate only, he could not for a moment so brush aside a volume of the quality of Nabil's Narrative, which deserves to be counted as a classic among epic narratives in the English tongue.
ostensibly a translation from the original Persian, Shoghi Effendi may be said to have recreated it in English, his translation being comparable to Fitzgerald's rendering of Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat which gave the world a poem in a foreign language that in many ways exceeded the merits of the original. The best and most descriptive comments on this masterpiece of the Guardian are to be found in the words of prominent non-Bahá'ís. The playwright Gordon Bottomley wrote: "... Living with it has been one of the salient experiences of a lifetime; but beyond that it was a moving experience both in itself and through the psychological light it throws on the New Testament narrative." The well-known scholar and humanitarian, Dr. Alfred W. Martin of the Ethical Culture Society, in his letter of thanks to Shoghi Effendi for sending him Nabil's Narrative wrote: "Your magnificent and monumental work ... will be a classic and a standard for all time to come. I marvel beyond measure at your ability to prepare such a work for the press over and above all the activities which your regular professional position devolves upon you." One of his old professors, Bayard Dodge of the American University of Beirut, after receiving the gift of Nabil's Narrative from the Guardian wrote to him: "I have profited by the leisure of the summer to read Nabil's Narrative ... Everyone interested in religion and also in history owes you a very great debt of gratitude for publishing such a fine piece of work. The deeper side of the work is so impressive, that it seems hardly fitting to compliment you upon some of the practical matters connected with the translation. However, I cannot refrain from telling you how much I appreciate your taking the time from a busy life to accomplish such a large task. "
The letter which Sir E. Denison Ross, the well-known Orientalist, wrote to him from the School of Oriental Studies of the University of London was the most highly prized tribute he received:
27th April, 1932
never does it read like a translation. Allow me to convey my warmest congratulations on your most successful achievement of what you set out to do when you came to Oxford, namely, to attain a perfect command of our language.
In 1935 Shoghi Effendi again presented the western Bahá'ís with a magnificent gift, published under the title Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, which the Guardian himself described as "consisting of a selection of the most characteristic and hitherto unpublished passages from the outstanding works of the Author of the Bahá'í Revelation." Remembering the scanty pages of the New Testament, the reputed words of Buddha, and the mere handful of sayings of some other Divine luminaries, which nevertheless have transfigured for centuries the lives of millions of men, the Gleanings alone seems to provide a source of guidance and inspiration sufficient for the spiritual Dispensation of any Prophet. The most treasured tribute to this book was that of Queen Marie of Rumania who told Martha Root: "even doubters would find a powerful strength in it, if they would read it alone, and would give their souls time to expand." To Shoghi Effendi himself the Queen wrote, in January 1936, after receiving from him a copy, "May I send you my most grateful thanks for the wonderful book, every word of which is precious to me, and doubly so in this time of anxiety and unrest." This was followed by the translation in 1936-1937, of what might almost be termed a companion volume, comparable in richness and complementary in material, namely, Prayers and Meditations by Bahá'u'lláh.
Immediately after the publication of this diamond-mine of communion with God, unsurpassed in any religious literature of the the world, Shoghi Effendi set to work on a longer general letter than he had ever before written, which appeared in 1939 under the title of The Advent of Divine Justice. With a kind but firm hand Shoghi Effendi held up before the face of the North American Community
the mirror of the civilization by which they were surrounded and warned them, in terms that riveted the eye and chilled the heart, against its evils, pointing out to them a truth few of them had ever pondered, namely, that the very evils of that civilization were the mystic reason for their homeland having been chosen by God as the cradle of His World Order in this day. As the warnings contained in The Advent of Divine Justice are an integral part of the vision and guidance Shoghi Effendi gave to the faithful throughout his ministry, they cannot be passed over in silence if we are to obtain any correct understanding of his own mission. In no uncertain terms he castigated the moral laxity, political corruption, racial prejudice and corrosive materialism of their society, contrasting it with the exalted standards inculcated by Bahá'u'lláh in His Teachings, and enjoined by Him upon His followers. It warned them of the war so soon to come and admonished them to stand fast, in spite of every trial that might in future afflict them and their nations, and discharge their sacred trust by prosecuting to a triumphal outcome the Plan they had so recently inaugurated throughout the Western Hemisphere.
Another general letter — this time addressed to the body of the Bahá'ís throughout the West — appeared in print in 1941. It was called The Promised Day Is Come and, together with The Advent of Divine Justice, sets forth the root-decay of the present-day world. In it, written during the second year of the war, Shoghi Effendi thunders his denunciations of the perversity and sinfulness of this generation, using as his missiles quotations from the lips of Bahá'u'lláh Himself:
"The time for the destruction of the world and its people hath arrived"; "The promised day is come, the day when tormenting trials will have surged above your heads, and beneath your feet, saying: 'Taste ye what your hands have wrought!"'; "Soon shall the blasts of His chastisement beat upon you, and the dust of hell enshroud you."; "And when the appointed hour is come, there shall suddenly appear that which shall cause the limbs of mankind to quake."; "The day is approaching when its (civilization's) flame will devour the cities, when the Tongue of Grandeur will proclaim: 'The Kingdom is God's, the Almighty, the All-Praised!"'; "The day will soon come, where on they will cry out for help and receive no answer."; "We have fixed a time for you, O people! If ye fail, at the appointed hour, to turn towards God, He,
verily, will lay violent hold on you, and will cause grievous afflictions to assail you from every direction. How severe indeed is the chastisement with which your Lord will then chastise you!"; "O ye peoples of the world! Know verily that an unforeseen calamity is following you and that grievous retribution awaiteth you. Think not the deeds ye have committed have been blotted from My sight. By My Beauty! All your doings hath My pen graven with open characters upon tablets of chrysolite. "
The Guardian paints a terrible, terrifying and majestic picture of the plight to which the human race has been reduced through its steadfast rejection of Bahá'u'lláh. The "world-afflicting ordeal that has laid its grip upon mankind" is, he wrote, "primarily a judgment of God pronounced against the peoples of the earth, who, for a century, have refused to recognize the One Whose advent had been promised to all religions". Shoghi Effendi recapitulates the sufferings, the persecution, the calumny and cruelty to which the Bab, Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá were subjected and recounts the tale of Their blamelessness, Their patience and fortitude in the face of these trials and Their final weariness with this world as They gathered Their skirts about Them and repaired to the Celestial Realms of Their Creator. Shoghi Effendi enumerates the sins of mankind against these Sinless Ones and points the finger of blame at the leaders of mankind, at its kings, its highest ecclesiastical personages and rulers to whom the Twin Manifestations of God had directed the full force of Their Message and because of whose neglect of their supreme duty to pay heed to the Call of God, Bahá'u'lláh Himself stated: "From two ranks amongst men power hath been seized: kings and ecclesiastics."
Between these two so-called general letters — The Advent of Divine Justice and The Promised Day Is Come — Shoghi Effendi gave the western believers his fifth and last book of translations from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, undertaken during 1940, at another of the most difficult and hazardous periods of his life. The Epistle to the Son of the Wolf was Bahá'u'lláh's last major work and contains a selection from His own Writings, made by Himself (surely a unique occurrence in religious history!) during the last two years of His life and has therefore a special position of its own in the literature of our Faith.
God Passes By, the most brilliant and wondrous tale of a century that has ever been told, is truly a "Mother" of future histories, a
book wherein every word counts, every sentence burgeons with thought, every thought leads the way to a field of its own. Packed with salient facts it has the range and precision of snow flake crystals, each design perfect in itself, each theme brilliant in outline, coordinated, balanced, self-contained, a matrix for those who follow on and study, evaluate and elaborate the Message and Order of Bahá'u'lláh. It was one of the most concentrated and stupendous achievements of Shoghi Effendi's life.
The method of Shoghi Effendi in writing God Passes By was to sit down for a year and read every book of the Bahá'í Writings in Persian and English, and every book written about the Faith by Bahá'ís, whether in manuscript form or published, and everything written by non-Bahá'ís that contained significant references to it. I think in all, this must have covered the equivalent of at least two hundred books. As he read he made notes and compiled and marshalled his facts. Anyone who has ever tackled a work of an historical nature knows how much research is involved, how often one has to decide, in the light of relevant material, between this date given in one place and that date given in another, how backbreaking the whole work is. How much more so then was such a work for the Guardian who had, at the same time, to prepare for the forthcoming Centenary of the Faith and make decisions regarding the design of the superstructure of the Bab's Shrine. When all the ingredients of his book had been assembled Shoghi Effendi commenced weaving them into the fabric of his picture of the significance of the first century of the Bahá'í Dispensation. It was not his purpose, he said, to write a detailed history of those hundred years, but rather to review the salient features of the birth and rise of the Faith, the establishment of its administrative institutions, and the series of crises which had propelled it forward in a mysterious manner, through the release of the Divine power within it, from victory to victory. He revealed to us the panorama of events which, he wrote, "the revolution of a hundred years ... has unrolled before our eyes" and lifted the curtain on the opening acts of what he asserted was one "indivisible, stupendous and sublime drama, whose mystery no intellect can fathom, whose climax no eye can even dimly perceive, whose conclusion no mind can adequately foreshadow."
Not content with the history he had just completed in English, Shoghi Effendi now turned his thoughts to the loving and loyal Community of Bahá'u'lláh's long-suffering and persecuted followers
in His native land and began the composition of another memorial, written in Persian and Arabic, to the first hundred years of the Bahá'í Faith. This was a comparable, though shorter version of the same subject, different in nature but no less splendid in both the facts it presented and the brilliancy of its language.
For the next thirteen years Effendi neither translated nor wrote any more books. It is our great loss that he no longer had the time to do so. The international community of the Faith he had been at such pains to build up since 1921 had now reached such proportions that it consumed his time and strength and left little of either for the intensely creative work he was so richly endowed by nature to produce.
Until the end of his days Shoghi Effendi continued to inspire the Bahá'í world with his instructions and thoughts; words of great power and significance, equal in bulk to a number of volumes, flowed from his pen. But an epoch had ended with the close of the war and the increase in administrative activity all over the world. Although his driving power never left him, and the hours of work he spent on the Cause of God each day never diminished until he passed away, Shoghi Effendi was deeply tired.
The life work of Shoghi Effendi might well be divided into four major aspects: his translations of the Words of Bahá'u'lláh, the Bab, 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Nabil's narrative; his own writings such as the history of a century, published as God Passes By, as well as an uninterrupted stream of instructive communications from his pen which pointed out to the believers the significance, the time and the method of the building up of their administrative institutions; an unremitting programme to expand and consolidate the material assets of a world-wide Faith, which not only involved the completion, erection or beautification of the Bahá'í Holy Places at the World Centre, but the construction of Houses of Worship and the acquisition of national and local headquarters and endowments in various countries throughout the East and the West; and, above all, a masterly orientation of thought towards the concepts enshrined in the teachings of the Faith and orderly classification of those teachings into what might well be described as a vast panoramic view of the meaning, implications, destiny and purpose of the religion of Bahá'u'lláh, indeed of religious truth itself in its portrayal of man as the apogee of God's creation, evolving towards the consummation of his development — the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth.