The Priceless Pearl
EARLY YEARS OF THE GUARDIANSHIPIt is time to ask ourselves what manner of man this was who wrote such things about himself, what impressions did he create, how did he appear to others?
From the diary of one of the American believers whom Shoghi Effendi called Haifa, in March 1922, we have the following description:
"...Shoghi Effendi appeared and greeted me most kindly and affectionately. I had not seen him for eight years, and of course I was surprised at the change and development in him, for instead of the boy I had known then was now a man very young in years but premature in poise and depth of spirit and thought..." Shoghi Effendi gave him a typed copy of the Master's Will to read and he records his reaction to its provisions as follows: "never have I read anything which gave me the joy and inspiration that this Holy document produced in my heart. It...gave me a fixed direction toward which to turn and a continuous center about which we are all to revolve so long as we are in this land...a King of Kings ruling the world giving protection alike to Kings, aristocracies and people." He goes on to describe his impressions of Shoghi Effendi: "As I used to sit at table looking at Shoghi Effendi, I was struck by his resemblance to the Master. In the shape and poise of his head, his shoulders, his walk and his general bearing. Then I felt the terrible weight and responsibility which had been placed upon that young boy. It seemed overwhelming that he, whose life was just starting, so to speak from the human worldly standpoint, should have had this great responsibility thrust upon him, a weight which would so consume him and place him aside by himself as to eliminate from his life the freedom and joy of the human side of life, which, though not eternal, has a certain call for each of us human beings."In 1929 an Indian Bahá'í pilgrim wrote of Shoghi Effendi: "We [page 79] must understand Shoghi Effendi in order to be able to help him accomplish the stupendous task he has entrusted to us. He is so calm and yet so vibrant, so static and yet so dynamic." This is little short of a brilliant characterization of one aspect of the Guardian. The impression he created on the first American Bahá'í to be called to Haifa after the second World War, in 1947, reveals other aspects of his nature: "My first impression was of his warm, loving smile and handclasp, making me fell instantly at ease...In the course of these interviews, I was to become increasingly conscious of his many great qualities, - his nobility, dignity, fire and enthusiasm, - his ability to run the scale from sparkling humour to deep outrage, but always, always putting the Bahá'í Faith ahead of everything...In his practical, logical manner, Shoghi Effendi made me feel both a welcome guest and a needed helper, he outlined some of my duties which started the very next day! His advice, given me on that initial visit, was to overshadow all my efforts on his behalf; he said he wanted me to follow his instructions explicitly, if I was unsuccessful, or ran into difficulties, to report to him precisely and he would give me a new plan of action...For the Bahá'ís working at the International Center, during this period at least, there was no special day of rest. It was then that one learned that each moment belonged to the Faith..." She then tells of those evenings when Shoghi Effendi shared with us at the dinner table special plans, cables and messages he was sending out and occasionally precious documents in his possession: "...Sparkling with excitement and new plans, he would produce messages and letters from his pockets, oftentimes pushing his dinner plate away untouched, calling for paper and pencil and thrill us all with his new ideas and hopes for the Bahá'ís to carry out...The beloved Guardian disliked very much to have his picture taken, therefore any photographs extant do not reflect his true 'image'. In the first place, the emotions flowed so rapidly over his features that one would need a series to catch his many moods. It was a delight to see and hear him laugh...he seemed to twinkle like a star when some plan had been successfully brought to a conclusion. His sense of humour was a joy! He was like a high mountain, strong, always there, but never conquered, filled with unexpected heights and depths...he was extremely thorough and taught us all a new sense of perfection and attention to detail...he was in close touch with the expenditure of all funds...He was enthusiastically concerned [page 80] with Bahá'í statistics...We could never appreciate his grasp of all affairs connected with activities at the 'grass roots' right up to the World Center..."
Her husband, who likewise had the privilege of serving at the World Centre, expressed in a letter to one of the American Bahá'ís, written in 1948, his own impression of the Guardian as a man: "From what little I have seen I would say there are not a great many Easterners that could stand the pace Shoghi Effendi sets. One can only marvel at the scope of his mind and the strength of him. Yet, tho' he is fire and steel, he is the most loveable, understanding, compassionate and considerate person I have ever known. He is without peer. There is no one like him. How I wish other Bahá'ís could know him as Gladys and I have been privileged to know him. In writing as I have, I am not writing of his station as Guardian, that is quite beyond my pen. How all Bahá'ís should work for this great figure! His burden is great."
In 1956 a pilgrim recorded, accurately and shrewdly, her impressions of the Guardian: "His face is beautiful, as it is so pure in expression and so impersonal, yet at the same time tender and majestic...I saw large grey-blue eyes...His nose is a combination of what it was in the pictures of him as a little boy - he still looks much like that! - and the sort of ridged nose of the Master. His years seem no more than forty-eight instead of sixty. He had a small, greying moustached, tightly clipped. His mouth is firm and pure, his teeth white and beautiful. His smile is a precious bounty... He is completely simple and direct. He himself does not demand all this deference, but just to be in his presence makes one fell absolutely 'weak and lowly'. The Guardian is ever courteous and does not lose patience with questions of the immature. However, he is not reticent about letting people know which questions are important, and which are not, and which will be answered later by the International House of Justice..." She said Shoghi Effendi presided over the table "so simply and yet with kingly mien - as only a great king can be simple!...I felt as if he were like a great powerful locomotive, pulling behind him a long, long string of cars, laden - not with dead-weight exactly - but sometimes pretty dead! This weight is the believers who have to be pushed, or pulled, or cajoled, or praised at every moment to get them into action. The beloved Guardian sees far in advance the needs, the lack of time, the obstacles and problems. He is actually hauling us all along behind his guiding and powerful light. Like a locomotive too - he can go [page 81] straight ahead, fast or slow down, but he CANNOT deviate his course, he MUST follow the track which is his divine Guidance. He gives one the sense of being a perfect instrument - very impersonal, but hypersensitive to every thought, or atmosphere. He cannot be swayed in his thought. He is not influenced in the least by friendship, preference, money, hurting or not hurting feelings. He is absolutely above all that...The Guardian also made it very clear that now is not the time to dwell on the esoteric part of the teachings - on the contrary, "we must be ACTIVE and positive, and get the "Ten Year Crusade completed.... He talks and comments, and then arrives at the end and suddenly folds his napkin neatly, rises from his chair...impossible to describe or convey in the least the luminosity and beauty of the Guardian. If he smiles at you - or looks with that swift penetrating gaze - it is a thrilling and soul-stirring feeling...always his discourse is about the Cause, and it stays with the theme of getting the Ten Year Crusade accomplished. He shows elation when there is good news, and goes into a deep depression when there is bad or evil news...Although he loves appreciation expressed in regard to the beauty of the Gardens and the Shrines and their planning, the Guardian seemed to shun personal praise or being thanked for anything...we were trying desperately to fix his beloved countenance for all time in our memories, and not to lose one single shading of his expression, always impersonal, sudden and varied and surprising...Alas, Shoghi Effendi's 'radiant nature' has all too often been clouded over and saddened by the unwisdom of the friends, or their flagrant disobedience, or disregard of his instructions. Frantically one wonders who has not failed him in one way or another!"
I have quoted these passages because they seem to me to so graphically described the Guardian as I too saw him. Not remembering 'Abdu'l-Bahá myself I cannot vouch for the likeness, but many of the old Bahá'ís said they saw it in him clearly. I will now quote from my own diaries various impressions of the Guardian of the Cause of God.
"Temperamentally Shoghi Effendi is a doer, a builder, an organizer, and loathes abstractions!...No one, observing Shoghi Effendi, could doubt for a moment that he was not perfectly equipped for this phase of the Cause and I believe he was created for it to do just what he is doing. He is the most extraordinarily uni-directional person I have ever seen. His whole nature and tastes and likes and dislikes are intense. He is like something travelling [page 82] at high speed in one direction, which gives him almost infinite driving power. His persistence is irresistible; there is no dissipation of his forces. He only wants one thing, he wants it passionately, immediately, completely, perfectly. The Temple built - or a flight of steps here in the garden. He descends on it like a hurricane and never lets up until it is done. He drives ahead. It is extraordinary. He likes green lawns, red paths and white paths, red geraniums, cypress trees, and of course, a few other things - but I mean he does not like or want every tree and every flower. No, only just those few and in just such a place. The same is true of foods, the same of colours, of clothes - just a few things, he likes them passionately, he does not want anything else, he never tires of them! It is this almost narrow insistence on one or two themes that has enabled him to build in twenty years such a foundation in the Cause. A man of more catholic tastes and temperament could "never have done it!"
"The Guardian is more sensitive than a seismograph, something in him, far deeper than intelligence or any outward information he may have, registers the "state of the individual, registers things even the individual may not yet be aware of. I believe we should use him as our index and if he finds fault with some subtle attitude in us we should search ourselves til we find out what it is." We might well ask ourselves if this should not always be our guide and whether, if we read his writings carefully we cannot find there the indications of our individual, our national and our racial shortcomings and be warned and guided accordingly. Shoghi Effendi, I wrote, "rings true like the every tuning fork of the teachings..." "He is the Guardian and the nature of his relation to God is naturally a mystery. He can grasp any mystery, he can interpret the most mystical passages of the Faith, he can write things that are of a profoundly mystical nature - he is "motivated to do so."
"Bahá'u'lláh was the Prophet. He did everything and said everything that was necessary for the world at present. The Master was the embodiment of His powers and teachings. He put an ingredient into the world of service in the true sense, of goodness, and a religious life in its highest form which is imperishable. Then something else was needed; this is where...a lot of people, including members of the Master's family and some of the Bahá'ís, have fallen down in their perspective of things. They wanted a second 'Abdu'l-Bahá - a series of patriarchal repeats in the form of the Guardians. But god seems to have had another idea. The strongest [page 83] impression I always get of 4 is of an object travelling uni-directionally with terrific force and speed. If Bahá'u'lláh shone like the sun, and the Master gently went on radiating His light, like the moon, Shoghi Effendi is an entirely different phenomenon, as different as an object hurtling towards its goal is from something stationary and radiating. Or one could liken him to a chemical. Bahá'u'lláh assembled everything that we needed, the Master mixed everything together and prepared it; then God adds to it "one "element, a sort of universal precipitant, needed to make the whole clarify and go on to fulfil its nature - this is the Guardian ...he is made "exactly to fulfil the needs of the Cause - and consequently of the planet itself - at this time."
Although Shoghi Effendi must forever be a mystery in his essence to every being in this world - until the day comes when a new Manifestation of God, being superior, may choose to interpret him to us who are so far inferior - nevertheless we know much of him and have the right to preserve the memory tenderly, if inadequately.
In those first years of his ministry, in spite of his sorrow and agony, the exuberant, boyish side of what was still, after all is said, a very young man, could not be entirely hidden. He was always eager by nature - a characteristic he never lost till the end of his life - but in those days it overflowed transparently into his letters and telegrams, as well as into one's personal contacts with him.
His one single personal hobby was photography; he took superlatively artistic pictures of the scenery in Switzerland and other places during those early years, and we find a copy of a letter to a photographer in a small Swiss town written in 1924 telling him (in French) that "I am waiting impatiently for the photographs which I sent you...I hope you received them. They are very dear to me. Please instantly reassure me by post card on this subject. I hope they all came out well...Thanking you in advance, I am yours devotedly". Even the copy is signed with a flourishing "Shoghi" though it was in the handwriting of someone else!
His desire to get things done expeditiously is no less manifest in the field of horticulture; he was determined to have lawns in front of the Shrine of the Bab, and in other places on Bahá'í property. In May 1923 he cabled an old Bahá'í friend in Paris "What of our lawn project?" and, receiving no reply, again cabled ten days later: "Letter still unanswered. What of lawn seeds?" They eventually arrived but the results seems to have been unsatisfactory, for when [page 84] Shoghi Effendi return to Haifa in the autumn he appears to have inaugurated a regular campaign in this direction - despite the bigoted assurances of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's gardener that lawns would not grow in Palestine! On 29 September Shoghi Effendi informed a cousin in Egypt: "Our grass seeds apparently unsatisfactory. Can you send me thirty kilos of best quality seeds available Egypt and suitable to our climate with particulars." A week later he had apparently received a reply he did not understand and wired back "Surprised. Explain please by mail." The explanation seems to have been as unsatisfactory this time as before and Shoghi Effendi gave up dealing with relatives and friends and wrote directly himself, on 18 December, to four different firms of nurserymen and seed merchants - one in France and three in England - ordering grass seeds, flower seeds, bulbs and cuttings. He writes he is "awaiting eagerly" the reply! During that summer, or the preceding one, he must have already arranged for some shrubs to reach Haifa because he cabled the Dreyfus-Barneys in Paris, in December, "Carmel awaits you both with roses of Orleans".
One gathers that Shoghi Effendi got on friendly terms with some of his dealers, for in a letter written in French, in January 1925, he stated: "I am sending you herewith the sum of __ asking you to kindly send me immediately rye grass seeds for lawn. I am very satisfied with the results of the lawn which you send me before and I hope to receive the seeds as soon as possible. Thanking you in advance for sending these I assure you, dear Sir, of my most affectionate sentiments. Shoghi Rabbani". I understand these lawns were the first to be grown in Palestine on a large scale. Shoghi Effendi wrote to an English firm of horticulturists near Norwich, that "...I am a lover of flowers and gardens. I am enclosing another one pound for any pictorial plant you may think suitable to my purpose."
I doubt if Shoghi Effendi ever planted anything during his entire life, or ever had the desire to do so. He was not interested in gardening but in gardens, and never missed an opportunity to visit a beautiful or famous one; I cannot say how many gardens we visited together in twenty years. It seemed as if wherever there was one, we went, and often we returned year after year to the same one, as to an old friend. In the first ten years or so of his ministry Shoghi Effendi did everything in his power to ensure that the effects produced by those plants he admired in other countries should be reproduced in his own gardens in the Holy Land; he ordered [page 85] thousands of bulbs from Holland one year, hundreds of rose bushes from France another; he even had tree ferns sent him from the Antipodes, but the calibre of his gardeners (combined in some cases with a natural unsuitability of the plant, such as the tree ferns, daffodils, hyacinths, crocuses, rhododendrons and so on) foiled every effort he made and in the end he gave up importing anything but grass seeds.
In the days of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, when water was a major problem, He had created, both in Bahji and on Mt Carmel, small gardens next to the Holy Tombs, consisting most of citrus trees and flowers. Shoghi Effendi altered, extended and formalized these gardens. I remember in 1923 when I came with my mother on my first pilgrimage she remarked on the already formal layout of the small area of garden adjoining the Bab's Shrine and said it was a symbol of the Administrative Order the Guardian was building up all over the world. I am sure this idea had not occurred to Shoghi Effendi; but pattern and order were innate in him, there was no other way he could work.
Professor Alaine Locke of Howard University in Washington, who was one of the Bahá'í pilgrims to visit Haifa during the first years of Shoghi Effendi's Guardianship, describes the impressions he received as he walked with Shoghi Effendi in the gardens of the Bab's Shrine: "Shoghi Effendi is a master of detail as well as of principle, of executive foresight as well as of projective vision. But I have never heard details so redeemed of their natural triviality as when talking to him of the plans for the beautifying and laying out of the terraces and gardens. They were important because they all were meant to dramatize the emotion of the place and quicken the soul even through the senses."
Shoghi Effendi continually added to these gardens and their fame increased steadily. By the end of his life as many as 90,000 people a year were visiting them and the Shrine of the Bab. What one visitor wrote to him in 1935 expressed in the simplest terms the impression such a visit creates on many people; she had been "deeply impressed by the reticent beauty of the Shrines and by the happiness of the gardens."
It was his practice each year to enlarge the cultivated area around the Shrines of the Bab and 'Abdu'l-Bahá. No doubt the very first impulse in this direction came from his ever-conscious desire to follow in every field the wishes of his departed Master. He knew 'Abdu'l-Bahá had planned a series of terraces from the old German [page 86] Colony up to the Bab's Sepulchre; indeed the Master had begun developing the first terrace. Shoghi Effendi set himself, over the years, to finish these and in the course of studying this plan he no doubt evolved a concept of his gardens around the Shrine - for gardens they are, not one garden. To understand and appreciate the extraordinarily beautiful effect Shoghi Effendi has created on Mt Carmel and in Bahji one must know his method.
Almost every day he was in Haifa he went up to the Shrine area, often visiting the Shrine of the Bab and that of the Master alternately, but on Feast Days always successively. As he looked at what was before him his creative mind suggested developments and improvements. He knew 'Abdu'l-Bahá had planned the Shrine to have nine rooms and he undertook the erection of the last three of these, on the south side of the Tomb. He had the two walls of the eastern and western sides of the inner Shrine of the Bab, where there had been previously two ordinary wooden doors, broken into and sweeping arches made, thus creating a vista through the Holy of Holies and greatly beautifying the interior. Over the years he changed about the ornaments of the Shrine, adding to them without ever losing a certain feeling of simplicity and informality that greatly enhances the charm of the Sacred Spot. While he was making these improvements - which reached their culmination in the erection of the great superstructure of the Shrine - Shoghi Effendi studied the surrounding barren mountain side and began to develop, piece by piece, year after year, separate sections. With the exception of the terraces it must be borne in mind that he never had an over-all plan. This is what gives the gardens on Mt Carmel their unique character. As he walked about Shoghi Effendi would get an idea for a piece of garden that fitted the topography of the land. With no fuss, no advice and no help except the unskilled farmers who did duty as gardeners, he would make his plan for this "piece". If necessary he would have the spot surveyed and curves or long lines laid out, but very often he dispensed with this and did it all himself.
From Shoghi Effendi's animated description of what he had found and planned to do, which he would tell me about when he came home, I gathered that his method was to look, as he walked about the property, at the land he planned to develop; a pattern would suggest itself to his mind and he would study this, not only on the spot through observation of his area, but through drawings he made himself. Though many ideas in all fields of his work came [page 87] to Shoghi Effendi in a flash, and although he may sometimes have seen at a glance the over-all design he planned to use for a garden, he worked out the dimensions and details painstakingly in his drawings which were not made to scale - as this would have taken a great deal of extra time - but on which all dimensions were calculated and indicated. For example: his main path was going to be, let us say, 25 metres long and 2 metres wide; beside this he allowed 25 centimetres for a border, a strip 1.20 metres wide for cypress trees, which were to be planted 1.50 metres about, and so on. When he had it all planned he would go and stand and instruct the gardeners how top lay it out. Through string tied to pegs, giving long lines, a peg and string acting as a compass for circles, using the span (the space between thumb and little finger when fully stretched apart) as measurement of distance between trees,having light-coloured soil pouted out to indicate a line, and other such simple methods he would, often in a single afternoon, have an entire section of garden laid out in full detail. Usually, knowing exactly what he intended to do, Shoghi Effendi would call other gardeners to follow along behind those that were laying out the design, so that as the plan was measured out on the ground, hopes for cypress trees were dug, trees planted and flower beds set out and borders planted, all while Shoghi Effendi advanced with his measuring process in front of them! There is a proverb among the Arabs that whoever wears King Solomon's ring, when he turns it everything in the twinkling of an eye will be changed. Some of the Arab workers used to say Shoghi Effendi had found King Solomon's ring!
It is hard to understand why most people do things so slowly when Shoghi Effendi did them so fast. Just to twitter faithfully that he was "guided by God" does not seem to me a sufficient explanation. I believe great people see things in great dimensions, little people get tripped up by little details. Shoghi Effendi, being truly great, having clearly in mind what he wanted to do, saw no reason why a lot of puny details - such as that one usually gave instructions to subordinates and let them go their own pace in carrying them out - should prevent him from getting the whole thing done, under his own eyes, in one operation. He organized it perfectly and it was accomplished immediately and perfectly; anything he could do himself was always done this way. The delays and frustrations usually occurred with he had to refer his work to others.
Shoghi Effendi had a faultless sense of proportion. He always [page 88] himself said he could not visualize; in other words the artist's capacity to close his eyes and see it all before him as it would look when finished was not one of his gifts. But when he was a drawing, or had worked out himself his dimensions, studying his terrain, his proportions were absolutely perfect. It is the combination of this sense of proportion, and an originality unhampered by tradition or too much information, that made his gardens so unique, so fascinating and beautiful. If he (so he claimed) lacked the power of visualizing a thing completed, he possessed to a strong degree the other creative faculty of the true artist, the capacity to let a thing shape up under his hands, to receive an inspiration rather than be tied to the preconceived idea.
Nowhere was this more manifest than in his development of the grounds surrounding the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh and Bahji. His original plan was to have the Holy Tomb, and the adjacent Mansion, the hub of a great wheel. He started, after the final transaction were completed with the State of Israel and over 145,000 square metres of land was secured around the Holy Tomb in 1952, to level the section of wilderness, constituting about one-quarter of a vast circle, that faced the Shrine. A bulldozer was hired and for many days Shoghi Effendi took up his residence in Bahji, in order to personally direct the work.
There was a ruined one-room building on the perimeter of operations and Shoghi Effendi, anxious to get some perspective on the land, climbed up on to it. He found this added height made such a difference that he had the walls and roof repaired, a wooden stair placed outside, leading to the roof, and furnished the interior which he used as an office and place to answer his mail. Observing and directing the work from this new vantage point he obtained an entirely different perspective of the Shrine property which is located in the middle of a flat plain. This gave him a new idea; as a great deal of earth was being scraped up in the levelling process he instructed that this should all be pushed to the east, and a high embankment was raised there, enabling anyone standing on it to see the whole area stretched before him like a beautiful patterned carpet. The success of this plan pleased the Guardian so much that he built not one but two stepped-back terraces, amounting in height to a small hill.
It was typical of the entire attitude of the Guardian towards the Cause of God, of which he had been made the Protector, that when [page 89] at last this new area was completed, the lawns and flower beds planted and the lamp posts lining the beautiful red path erected, he should have immediately moved his meeting out to the perimeter of the new development, seating the guests along the semicircular path facing the Shrine, at a distance of almost 100 metres from where he had been wont to sit in the past. I did not know this arrangement had been contemplated and that evening, when I returned after the meeting to Haifa, asked Shoghi Effendi about it. He said the "out of respect for the Shrine" he had moved the meeting further away from it. From then on all meetings held in Bahji, including the one commemorating the Ascension of Bahá'u'lláh which takes place after midnight, were held in this new position.
After his passing, in fulfilment of his own expressed intention, a third terrace was raised on the other two, placing the final touch on his magnificent arrangement of the Shrine gardens. This new concept meant that his original cart-wheel design of gardens was entirely abandoned, for the system of converging paths on a common centre was no longer feasible. Many times Shoghi Effendi would alter his plan because his eye, on the spot, revealed to him something he felt was more beautiful and worthy.
Shoghi Effendi - like the Master before him - was a great lover of light. He hated gloomy interiors. This love of bright light was so pronounced that I used to remonstrate with him for working with a powerful desk lamp practically shining in his eyes as I was afraid it was too much for them. His own room was always brilliantly lit, the Shrines were all full of lights, large and small, and one of his first acts as Guardian was to have placed over the door of the Bab's Shrine that faces the terraces and the straight avenue at the foot of the mountain that leads to the sea, a bright light. I can remember how, in 1923, the townspeople made fun of this and asked why it should be there at all. No doubt it was this that provoked a fanatical Christian named Dumit to erect, some years later, on the roof of his building, which stood not far from the Tomb of the Bab, a large illuminated cross, an object which, far from irritating Shoghi Effendi, he described as a flower in the button-hole of the Shrine!
Gradually the gardens in both Haifa and Bahji were all illumined with beautiful four-branched wrought-iron lamp posts, ninety-nine of them being erected in Bahji alone. When the night came that these were lighted for the first time, on the occasion of the Ridvan Feast in 1953, and we approached Bahji by car the sky [page 90] glowed as if we were approaching a small city! The Guardian told the Persian pilgrims that it had always been light, but now it was "light upon light". (In the original there is a beautiful play upon words alluding to Bahá'u'lláh as light.) In addition to this the Shrine in Haifa was illumined at night by flood-lights, as were the resting-places of the Greatest Holy Leaf, and those of the mother and brother of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and high-powered reflectors were ordered to illumine the International Archives Building.
In everything he did the Guardian was painstakingly exact, leaving nothing to chance and very little to the judgement of his coworkers. Just one of innumerable examples of this is the thoroughness with which he always ascertained the exact day a Bahá'í commemoration would occur in Haifa. As there is a difference in lunar dates - which depend on the hour of the rising of the new moon in some cases - Shoghi Effendi was very careful to ascertain this as well as the exact time of the spring equinox, which, if it occurs before a certain hour, means that the Bahá'í New Year falls on 20 March instead of 21 March. We find telegrams such as this, sent in 1923, to his cousin in Beirut: "Ascertain and wire exact time vernal equinox". He no doubt considered more scientific information would be forthcoming from the American University than locally. In 1932 he cabled his brother, then studying in the same university: "Ascertain approximate population Roman Empire during two first centuries after Christ..." He was not only accurate and exact, but he realized, with the acumen of a really great writer, that facts quoted in the right place can have the effect that precious stones produce on a piece of jewelry - they set off the entire creation. Take for instance the use of the prosaic information that McMurdo Sound is 77 [degrees] latitude south on the Ross Sea; but when Shoghi Effendi informed the believers that Bahá'í books had been sent to the American Antarctic Expedition whose base was at McMurdo sound, and added its exact latitude, it suddenly all came alive and became romantic and thrilling!
In 1924 Shoghi Effendi made a determined effort to solve one of the problems facing him. He had already made it clear to his ill-wishers that he was neither weak nor, in spite of the condition he had been plunged into after the Master's passing, lacking in direction and judgement. In one of his letters he had written: "It is difficult to break with some of the customs and traditions of the past, and familiarize the vast number of Bahá'ís, so diverse in their outlook and conception, with the necessary changes and requirements [page 91] of this new phase in the history of the Cause." Nevertheless he was doing it and doing it very successfully. What he urgently needed in Haifa was more helpers. His own father knew very little English; of his three uncles-in-law, two were in business in Haifa and the third lived in Egypt. The older of his cousins as well as his own brother were either working or studying. Although he received assistance from various members of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's family, the work of the Cause was steadily expanding and Shoghi Effendi had already begun to translate many of the writings into English and send them to the West. Moreover, his correspondence was growing in volume and posing a real problem. In January 1923 he wrote to the London Bahá'ís: "The presence of a competent assistant in my translation work at present in Haifa would be most welcome, and highly desirable and I submit this matter to the members of the Council that they may consider the matter of sending for a time one of the English friends who would attend with me to this all-important work."
The person who seems to have responded to this appeal was none other than Shoghi Effendi's beloved Dr Esslemont. He lived in Haifa, working with and serving Shoghi Effendi, until his untimely death on 22 November 1925. His health had not been good for some time, and already, after the Master's passing, we find him cabling Shoghi Effendi in February 1922 "Convalescing satisfactorily testament received yours devotedly". The bond between the two was very close and when Esslemont died, very unexpectedly, Shoghi Effendi cabled his relatives: "Overwhelmed with sorrow at passing dearly-beloved Esslemont. All devoted efforts unavailing. Be assured of heartfelt sympathy condolences myself and Bahá'ís world over. Letter follows". Four days later he wrote to them: "It is no exaggeration to say that I find no words to express adequately the sense of personal loss I feel at the passing of my dear collaborator and friend John Esslemont." Esslemont was not only a distinguished international figure in the Bahá'í world, the author of a book which Shoghi Effendi said "would inspire generations yet unborn" (Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era, now translated into about a hundred languages), but had been to him personally "the warmest of friends, a trusted counsellor, an indefatigable collaborator, a lovable companion" whose close association with him, in which he had "placed the fondest hopes" was now so suddenly ended. The Guardian wept for this friend of his student days, but as usual, was forced by his position, and in spite [page 92] of his personal grief, to carry on his functions as Guardian. He immediately cabled England, America, Germany, Persia and India to cable their sympathy to Esslemont's relatives - none of whom were Bahá'ís - and to hold special remembrance meetings. He also raised him posthumously to the rank of Hand of the Cause.
This coming of Dr Esslemont to Haifa, far from solving Shoghi Effendi's own problem, had only served to add fresh grief to a heart already sorely afflicted. In January 1926 Shoghi Effendi complains of the "oppressive burden of responsibility and care which it is my lot and privilege to shoulder" and goes on to speak of "my unceasing toil, my afflictions, and perplexities" and the "thorny path" of "my arduous duties". Four months later he wrote to Horace Holley: "I have often felt the extreme desirability of having a collaborator like you working by my side here in Haifa. The loss of Dr. Esslemont is keenly felt by me and my hope is that the conditions here and abroad will enable me to establish the work in Haifa upon a more systematic basis. I am waiting for a favourable time." This was written in May. In September he again writes to Horace, praising his services and reiterating "How much I feel the need for a similar worker by my side in Haifa, as competent, as thorough, as methodical, as alert as yourself. You cannot and should not leave your post for the present. Haifa will have to take care of itself for some time." It was during the interval between these two letters, when
Shoghi Effendi was in Switzerland, that he wrote to Hippolyte Dreyfus-Barney on 30 June 1926: "I stand in need of a capable, trustworthy, hard-working, methodical, experienced secretary who will combine the gift of literary expression with a recognized standing in the Bahá'í world. Dr. Esslemont was a most suitable companion, unhampered, painstaking, devoted, lowly and capable. I mourn his loss...A capable, painstaking secretary, wholeheartedly devoted to his work, and two chief advisers who would represent the Movement on specific occasions, with dignity and devotion, together with two Eastern associates, mentally awake and expert in knowledge, would I feel set me on my feet and release the forces that will carry the Cause to its destined liberation and triumph...I cannot express myself more adequately than I have for my memory has greatly suffered."
Although these letters were written to individuals he made no secret of his needs; in October 1926 he wrote to America that the "growing significance and complexity of the work that has to be [page 93] necessarily conducted from the Holy Land, have all served to strengthen the feeling of absolute necessity for the formation in Haifa of some sort of an International Bahá'í Secretariat, which both in an advisory and executive capacity will have to aid and assist me in my vast and exacting labours." He goes on to say that he has "anxiously considered this important matter" and has requested three representatives from America, Europe and Persia to come to the Holy Land and take counsel with him upon the measures needed to meet the demands of the present hour; he states that it would not only assist him and strengthen the ties binding the International Centre to the world at large, but would provide the preliminary steps that would lead to the establishment of the "First International House of Justice". Already in May he had written to one of those whom he had in mind: "I wonder whether you could join me next fall with H" in my work here in Haifa. There are most complex and delicate problems before me and I feel the need for competent, fearless and trusted collaborators...I must stop for I can hardly collect my thoughts."
The collaboration envisaged by Shoghi Effendi in this letter never materialized, in spite of all his efforts; ill health, events in the Cause, family and business complications involving those he had in mind, all conspired to leave him as destitute of competent helpers as he had been since 1922 when he began to function in his office of Guardian. to one of those he had chosen, in February 1927, he wrote: "...hope you will be able to join me in my arduous labors as soon as it is possible and convenient." In September he is again writing to this friend, whom illness has kept at home, "I look forward to the work this winter with concern as I realize the magnitude of the work and my single-handedness in the face of my stupendous task. As I have already observed, conferences won't do, what I need is close, continuous collaboration, in order to initiate and execute the measures that are necessary for the spread and consolidation of the Cause. Meanwhile I will have to pursue my present line of work which I feel is secondary in importance and could easily be undertaken by a secretariat..." Again he writes to this same Bahá'í, in October, that "I am alone at present and am doing the very best I can." And in January 1928: "All other matters are at a standstill and I await the attention and aid of competent, devoted and experienced assistants."
The picture this gives us of the Guardian is heart-breaking. He is no longer a very young man and no longer as completely crushed [page 94] with grief as in the early years of his ministry; he sees the needs of the Cause, the possibilities if he has more help and is thus himself freer to devote his time to essentials - but it is useless, the kind of helpers he needs are simply not able or willing to give up everything and come to settle in Haifa. In a letter written by a pilgrim from India the situation is made crystal clear, and there is no doubt the person that made it so clear was Shoghi Effendi himself, for he was in the habit of speaking very freely with the Bahá'ís who visited the Holy Land. This believer wrote on 15 June 1929: "Shoghi Effendi wants to have an international secretariat in Haifa before we can have any other International Organization but the idea has not been realized due to lack of sufficient number of capable and trustworthy Bahá'ís..."
This subject fell into abeyance until the International Bahá'í Council was formed in 1951. Shoghi Effendi came to grips with the harsh fact that he was to all intents and purposes alone and he placed increased reliance on himself. he set himself to do all the work and did it, using as secretaries various members of the Master's family, facing an ever-increasing spirit of disaffection on their part, resigning himself to the unending drudgery of petty tasks as well as major ones, accepting his fate with resignation, often with despair, always with loyalty and fortitude. It can truly be said of him that single-handed he effected the world-wide establishment of the Faith of his Divine Forefathers and proved that he belonged to that same sovereign caste.
It was during these years, when Shoghi Effendi was trying so hard to gather about him a group of competent co-workers, that a crisis of unprecedented dimensions burst upon him. The sea of the Cause of God, whipped by the winds of both destiny and chance which blow upon it from the outside world, was now lashed into a storm whose waves beat remorselessly upon Shoghi Effendi's mind, his strength, his nerves and his resources. The blessed House occupied by Bahá'u'lláh in Baghdad, and ordained by Him, in Shoghi Effendi's words, as a "sacred, sanctified and cherished object of Bahá'í pilgrimage and veneration" had already in the days of 'Abdu'l-Bahá been seized by the "Shi'ahs, after a series of nefarious manoeuvres, but had been returned by the British authorities to its legitimate custodians. When news of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's passing reached the inveterate enemies of the Faith, they once again renewed their attack and laid claim to the House. In 1922 the government took over the keys of the House in spite of the [page 95] assurance King Feisal had given that he would respect the claims of the Bahá'ís to a building that had been occupied by their representatives ever since Bahá'u'lláh's departure from Baghdad; His Majesty, for political reasons, now went back on his word and in 1923 the keys were most unjustly delivered once again to the "Shi'ahs. From shortly after the passing of 'Abdu'l-Bahá until November 1925 there was a continuous struggle on the part of the Bahá'ís to protect the Most Holy House. The "Shi'ahs had first taken the case to their own religious court from which it was speedily lifted out to the Peace court and then brought before the local Court of First Instance, which decided in favour of the rights of the Bahá'ís. This decision was then taken to the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court of Iraq, which gave its verdict in favour of the "Shi'ahs.
When the Guardian was informed of this flagrant miscarriage of justice he immediately mustered the Bahá'í world to take action: he sent nineteen cables to various individuals and national bodies comprising the believers in Persia, the Caucasus, Turkistan, Iraq, Japan, Burma, China, Turkey, Moscow, India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, Germany, Austria, France, Great Britain and the Pacific Islands. His instructions were that the Bahá'ís should cable and write their protest at this decision to the British High Commissioner in Iraq. Persia and North America - where the Bahá'í communities were numerically strong - were informed that in addition to every local Assembly voicing its protest directly, the National Assembly should not only contact the High Commissioner, but protest directly to both King Feisal of Iraq and the British authorities in London. The Assembly of India and Burma was likewise to protest to the King himself, but not to London. In places where the Bahá'ís were few in number, such as France and China, Shoghi Effendi advised that the protest should go over the signature of individuals. All these instructions markedly display the strategist in Shoghi Effendi. In his cables to the Bahá'í world he stated the situation was "perilous" and the "consequences of the utmost gravity"; and must request "prompt action to safeguard spiritual claims of Bahá'ís to this dearly-beloved Spot", "this sanctified abode", "Bahá'u'lláh's Sacred House". He put the proper phrases into the mouths of those he advised, the eastern friends being told to "fervently and courteously", "in firm considerate language", earnestly appeal "for consideration of their spiritual claims to its possession" and to the "British sense of [page 96] justice", while the western believers were informed that "effective prompt action urgently required...protesting vigorously against Court's glaring injustice, appealing for redress to British sense fairness, asserting spiritual claims of Bahá'ís...declaring their unfailing resolve to do their utmost to vindicate their legitimate and sacred rights." With his usual thoroughness Shoghi Effendi advised America that the messages sent by the local Assemblies "should not be identical in wording."
The exchange, during a six-month period, of well-nigh a hundred cables, in addition to a continual correspondence with various agents working to safeguard the Most Holy House, testify in bulk and substance to Shoghi Effendi's preoccupation with this problem. One of his first acts, on receiving the news of the decision of the Supreme Court, was to cable`the High Commissioner in Baghdad that: "The Bahá'ís the world over view with surprise and consternation the Court's unexpected verdict regarding the ownership of Bahá'u'lláh's Sacred House. Mindful of their longstanding and continuous occupation of this property they refuse to believe that Your Excellency will ever countenance such manifest injustice. They solemnly pledge themselves to stand resolutely for the protection of their rights. They appeal to the high sense of honour and justice which they firmly believe animates your Administration. In the name of the family of Sir 'Abdu'l-Bahá 'Abbas and the whole Bahá'í Community Shoghi Rabbani". On the same day he cabled the heart-broken Keeper of Bahá'u'lláh's House: "Grieve not. Case in God's hand. Rest assured."
During the ensuing months many cables from Shoghi Effendi included such phrases as "House case should be strenuously pursued." He cabled a number of prominent non-Bahá'ís, and constantly co-ordinated the efforts of his lieutenants in different parts of the world. When over a month had passed Shoghi Effendi cabled various National Assemblies, instructing them to inquire in "courteous terms" from the High Commissioner "results of investigation" which the British Authorities had promised to undertake. It was a losing battle, for the political and religious elements in Iraq had common cause and refused to bow to the pressure brought upon them, including that of the British Government.
Shoghi Effendi, however, did not accept defeat so lightly and never rested until the case of the Holy House was brought before the League of Nations Permanent Mandates Commission, in November 1928; the Mandatory Power had upheld the right of the [page 97] Bahá'ís to the possession of the House, and the Mandates Commission recommended to the Council of the League of Nations that it request the British Government to make representations to the Iraqi Government to redress the denial of justice to the Bahá'ís in this case. The Bahá'ís continued to press the matter, from 1928 until 1933, but to no avail because the instruments for enforcing the decision were lacking and the power of the "Shi'ahs inside Iraq was such as to cause the entire question to be dropped by the Iraqi Government, whenever that decision was pressed upon it.
A brief resume of events such as these conveys none of the day-to-day suspense that attends them, the fluctuations between hope and despair, the good news and bad news that alternate with each other and wear away the heart and strength. The first impact of the Supreme Court's decision had scarcely been received when Dr Esslemont suddenly died. Coming at such a time of crisis the loss of his friend was a doubly grievous blow to the Guardian.
A bare week before this event Shoghi Effendi had sent messages to the Bahá'í world which reflected another keen point of anxiety occupying his mind at this time. Rumours had been bruited about that the remains of a certain prominent leader of Zionism might be brought to the Holy Land to be buried befittingly on Mt Carmel. In view of this Shoghi Effendi appealed to the believers to contribute funds for the immediate purchase of land in the vicinity of the Bab's Tomb, particularly overlooking it, in order to safeguard this Holy Spot. so overwhelming was their response that a little over a month later he could inform them that their generous and splendid support had achieved its purpose, but there can be no doubt that for a time at least this had also greatly added to the back-breaking burden of his cares.
So heavy was this burden that in February 1926 he wrote to one of the believers: "I am submerged in a sea of activities, anxieties and preoccupations. My mind is extremely tired and I feel I am becoming inefficient and slow due to this mental fatigue." This condition became so acute that he was forced to go away for a brief rest. "The overwhelming burden of pressing cares and responsibilities", he wrote towards the end of March, "necessitated my departure at a time when...I was most anxious to receive my friends and co-workers from various parts of the world." He must have been ill, indeed, to have absented himself from Haifa and his guests, but whatever his condition in February and March it was mild compared to that into which he was plunged by a wire [page 98] from Persia, sent on 11 April, from Shiraz, which baldly stated: "Twelve friends in Jahrom martyred agitation may extend elsewhere" to which he replied the same day "Horrified sudden calamity. Suspend activities. Appeal central authorities. Convey relatives tenderest sympathy". He also wired that same day to Tehran a message so significant of the spirit of the Faith that its conjunction with the events in Jahrum cannot be ignored: "I earnestly request all believers Persia Turkistan Caucasus participate whole-heartedly in renewal Spiritual Assemblies election. No true Bahá'í can stand aside. Results should be promptly forwarded Holy Land through central assemblies communicate immediately with every centre. Proceed cautiously. Imploring Divine assistance." The following day, having received a more detailed wire from Shiraz advising that the chief instigator of the agitation there had been arrested and giving certain suggestions, Shoghi Effendi telegraphed Tehran: "Griefstricken Jahrom martyrdom. Convey His Majesty on behalf all Bahá'ís and myself our profound appreciation his prompt intervention and our earnest entreaty to inflict immediate punishment on perpetrators of such atrocious crime. Urge all Persian Assemblies send similar message." It is a slight, but significant, indication of his mental state that in the first cables he spells "Jahrom" phonetically, but later switches to the transliterated "Jahrum".
What all this meant to Shoghi Effendi is expressed by him in a letter to one of his co-workers, written on 24 April. After acknowledging receipt of his many letters, he explains that his delay in answering them has been due to "my unfortunate illness, amounting almost to a break-down, combined with the receipt of the most distressing news from Persia reporting the martyrdom of twelve of our friends in the town of Jahrum, south of Shiraz. I have wired for full particulars and will communicate them to the various Bahá'í centres immediately I receive detailed information. Political considerations and personal rivalries appear to have played no small part...I have transmitted a message to the Shah through the Persian National Spiritual Assembly..I have also requested foreign Assemblies to give in an unoffensive language full publicity to these reports in their respective newspapers, but have thought it premature for them to get into direct relation with the Shah... It is sad and annoying to reflect that the Bahá'ís, pressed as they are by so many afflicting and humiliating circumstances, seem at the present time quite impotent and helpless in their efforts to [page 99] secure the needed assistance from recognized authorities. There must surely be some wisdom underlying this apparent futility of their strenuous efforts." In a cable to this same individual, sent two weeks later, Shoghi Effendi says he is "deeply afflicted".
On 21 May, again writing to this same Bahá'í, he opens his heart and says: "I myself am too tired to do any effective work at present. I have become slow, impatient, inefficient...I am trying to get away if no sudden crises again takes place. I have had so many of them during the last few months..." Yet in this state Shoghi Effendi managed to do what he thought could be done: "I feel that with patience, tact, courage and resource we can utilize this development to further the interests and extend the influence of the Cause." he had mustered the forces of the Bahá'í world in defence of the oppressed Persian Community, ensured that wide publicity in the foreign press be given to these martyrdoms and constantly directed various National Assemblies in the action they should take in this respect as well as in the case of the Most Holy House.
Such is the tale of one period of the Guardian's life; how many blows rained on him in a little over six months, at a time when he was still struggling to get the load that had been placed on his shoulders at the time of the Master's passing properly balanced so that he could carry it! [page 100]