Glimpse of Ruhiyyih Khanum and Her 17 Days in Korea
by Jack Davis
It is very easy to go overboard on the subject of Ruhiyyih Khanum and her ingenuousness, directness, love, brilliance and majesty – to name but a few of the qualities you feel around her. We have no historical or personal frame of reference with which to place her in any kind of true perspective. In the annals of the previous religions, we find little about the women of those dispensations. Their influence was rather limited for various reasons. When you think of the monumental activities of Ruhiyyih Khanum, of her African Safari, the Green-Light Expedition, or her current trip throughout the islands of the Pacific and all the other travels, conferences, and not to mention her work at the International Teaching Center, these afford just a glimpse of her achievements.
She said while here that once Shoghi Effendi asked her what she would do after his passing. She said she was so astonished by the question which she had not thought about, that she just looked at him. He answered that you will travel and teach and love the people. Since 1957 she has certainly done just that. Even reigning queens of bygone ages are largely recorded by history in terms of dates and events, as they had very little effect on the people. Not one of them could be said to have had influence over the entire world.
Indeed we stand too close to Ruhiyyih Khanum to fully grasp her influence and station. If the station of the Hands of the Cause is higher than that of the lesser prophets of the old like Isaiah, Daniel and others, how limited is our understanding of their true rank. What woman of past dispensations was not only the marriage partner of the Head of the Faith, but his confidante, friend, secretary and solace, as well as being an active believer, teacher, author and a high-ranking individual in her own right? Ruhiyyih Khanum has a very distinct and interesting personality, characterized by a sense of humor, an incisively probing mind, true courtesy and warmth, and yet it is basically very simple.
The likes of Ruhiyyih Khanum, nee Mary Maxwell, will never pass this way again. There has been no such woman in the past 6,000 years of recorded history, nor will there be another like her, at least not until after the next Manifestation of God in a thousand years. She came to Korea in May of 1984 for seventeen glorious days … and she conquered it.
Over 30 of the friends waited at the Kimpo International airport with a huge banner screaming, “WELCOME”! She ‘appeared’ from out of the door of customs, and began greeting the Baha’is, posed for a picture with flowers presented to her, and was off to her hotel. It seemed as if unconsciously the noise in the crowded airport went down a quantum jump – to a hush.
The next day was a free one for her. She visited a famous acupuncturist, as she did during all the days in Seoul, and when she came out she said, “We are relaxed, happy, confident and secure.” Later she said of him, “We should be grateful this man is on this earth … he knows what he is talking about.” He said about her that she was a “living god”.
The public meeting on the 8th, held in a gorgeous emerald green room in the prestigious Lotte Hotel, attracted over 100 people. It was Buddha’s Birthday, a holiday and one day after the Pope has left Korea, so the attendance was amazing. Her dignity, ability to make people feel at ease, to feel that the Faith is really so simple, her perfect diction and melodious voice captivated as usual.
She gave a simple, logical explanation, and, interestingly enough near the end spoke of the persecutions. She told of a mother and a daughter on the bus going to prison to be hanged. The mother, to quite her daughter’s fears, said in comforting and sweet way, “Don’t worry. I will ask the guards to hang me first, and then you will see that it is not so bad.”
At the luncheon the following day with the local pioneers and two Japanese who had come just for her visit, when someone tried to take her plate away thinking that she was finished, she said, “Oh, no! Two-hundred-million Chinese are starving to death and another four-hundred-million are almost starving, so the least I can do is finish everything on my plate.”
She talked about the process of deepening people who accept the Faith. “It means”, she said, “’go back’, just go back and they will be deepened.”
At the Press Conference with reporters from 3 Seoul dailies, she said to them that it didn’t really matter to her whether they wrote anything about what she said or not, however she hoped that they as young men and women would look into this Faith, and whether they accepted it or not was not the point.
“It is just that you should know what it will come to mean in the world.” She added, “If you want a headline, I can give you one: ‘A Religion At Last That Practices What It Preaches.’!”
One reporter over coffee said that she was beautiful. She retorted, “You should have seen me 30 years ago!”
Articles were printed, not only in Seoul, but in Pusan, Kwang and Taejeon. She met with a reporter of the government news agency for a special interview.
On her travels throughout the country she was accompanied by Violette Nakhjavani, the National Assembly Secretary, Mr Jeong Ha Tack, and many others who would join at different times to be with her or to translate. Besides Seoul, she visited about 10 other localities, including cities, town and rural areas. In Mokpo her talk of the importance of the Institutions vied with the horns and other traffic noises outside the window.
Going on the boat to Anjwa, she was sitting on the bow much to consternation of the crew and friends. But when cautioned, she said, “Please leave me alone. I know what I am doing.”
She later suggested to the Universal House of Justice that a Center should be built on the island in the area of several islands with hundreds and hundreds of Baha’is.
In Pusan, Kwangju, Sinchon and Kumi, she stressed, among other things how important it is to deepen in the Teachings. She likened the necessity of this to the way a tree grows strong. The heavy winds and rain force its roots to go deep. Tests and studying help us to put out spiritual roots down deep.
In Kumi she met the Mayor of the city in a most cordial atmosphere. At public meetings in Daegu, Keong Sang North and Anyang, a suburb of Seoul, her references to the simple one-nesses of the Faith, the education of children and, in one case, a reference to suffering of the friends in Iran captivated those attending.
During free time, she visited several Buddhist Temples in different areas. The Chief Monk of one Temple instantly and reverently recognized her spirit and [after] they had a long talk, he accepted the principles of the oneness of religion. She promised him a book which was later delivered. She also toured museums, and visited the grave of a famous General, Kim Yu Sin, in Kyungju, and went to the Haing Nam Ceramic center.
Many of the Korean friends were impressed by her praying in the Temples, her childlike innocence, frankness and delighted at all she saw. She remarked to them, “You are a good-looking people, especially your noses.”
She exclaimed over the deliciousness of Korean food, and in general showed her deep appreciation of things Korean.
There was a dinner on her last evening in Seoul in celebration of the Declaration of the Bab. While still at the table she cut out a paper ballerina doll for one of the little girls, colored it, and before giving it to the child, asked, “What shall we name her? Let’s call her ‘Mary’, my name.”
Later, slides were shown of the Holy Land and particularly of the Shrine of the Bab. Ruhiyyih Khanum spoke of her father’s part in its construction under the direction of Shoghi Effendi.
Ruhiyyih Khanum felt that her trip was a success. The friends will never be quite the same. She gave glimpses of other dimensions of what it means to be a Baha’i. A vision of ourselves as Baha’is and of future of the Faith were lovingly and clearly implanted in the hearts of over six-hundred souls who met her during the seventeen memorable days. The Korean friends gained a new understanding of their role and a stronger grasp of a statement made in London by Ruhiyyih Khanum herself: “The Faith of Baha’u’llah belongs to all those who believe in Him.”