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The Priceless Pearl

by Ruhiyyih (Mary Maxwell) Khanum

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Chapter 5


No proper picture of Shoghi Effendi's life can be obtained without reference to the subject of Covenant-breaking. The principle of light and shadow, setting each other off, the one intensifying the other, is seen in nature and in history; the sun casts shadows; at the base of the lamp lies shadow; the brighter the light the darker the shadow; the evil in men calls to mind the good, and the greatness of the good underlines the evil. The entire life of the Guardian was plagued and blighted by the ambition, the folly, the jealousy and hatred of individuals who rose up against the Cause and against him as Head of the Cause and who thought they could either subvert the Faith entirely or discredit its Guardian and set themselves up as leaders of a rival faction and win the body of believers over to their own interpretation of the Teachings and the way in which they believed the Cause of God should be run. No one ever succeeded in doing these things, but a series of disaffected individuals never ceased to try. The ringleaders misled the fools, the excommunicated tried to pervert the faithful.

To the seizure of the keys of Bahá'u'lláh's Shrine by those who broke the Covenant during the ministry of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, there followed in the course of the earliest years of Shoghi Effendi's ministry the defection in Egypt of Faeg, the founder of a "Scientific Society" which he now sought to bring forward as a rival to the Administration of which Shoghi Effendi was the head. Shoghi Effendi, particularly after reading the denunciation of the old Covenant-breakers in the Will of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, was prepared for their attacks, but the sudden stirring up of so much mischief and opposition in so unexpected a quarter left him shocked and greatly disturbed. I shall never forget how he looked when he called my mother and me to his bedroom, in 1923; we stood at the foot of his [page 119] bed, were he lay, obviously prostrated and heart-broken, with great black shadows under his eyes, and he told us he could not stand it, he was going away. It must have been terribly difficult for such young a man to find himself the centre of so many attacks and to realize it devolved upon him to exercise his right and perform his duty of excommunication in order to protect the Faith and keep the flock safe from the wolves prowling around it.

Covenant-breaking always made Shoghi Effendi ill, it was as if he were the Cause, in some mysterious way, and any attack on its body affected him who was its heart. In 1930, the attacks of a thoroughly foolish American believer, who claimed the Will of 'Abdu'l-Bahá was a forgery, were at their height. Shoghi Effendi wrote to Tudor Pole that: "the most powerful and determined opponents of the Faith in the East, who have challenged the very basis of Bahá'u'lláh's Message,...have not even hinted at the possibility of the Will being a forged document. They have vehemently attacked its provisions, but never questioned its authenticity. I feel that the greater the publicity given this vital issue, even if it should involve any government, the better for the Cause..." He went on to say that: "I feel pity rather than alarm at the efforts Mrs. White is great and weighty an issue which she raises, involving as it does the honour of the Cause, is bound sooner or later to be verified...I am convinced that the stir she may create will be not detrimental but advantageous to the Faith." He also stated "that the Will is authentic is beyond the faintest shadow of doubt." Mrs White's prolonged and strenuous efforts which covered a field sufficiently wide to include the United States Postmaster General, to whom she wrote asking him to prohibit the American National Assembly from using the United States mails "to spread the falsehood that Shoghi Effendi is the successor of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Guardian of the Bahá'í Cause", and the civil authorities in Palestine, whom she requested to take legal action to declare the Will a forgery - and who curtly refused her request - produced yet another period of needless anxiety for Shoghi Effendi and necessitated increased vigilance and increased effort on his part at a time when he was already overburdened and "immersed in my endless work". All Mrs White ever achieved was to stir up a temporary and insignificant cloud of dust. At the time when her agitation was at its height the British National Assembly wrote to the German Bahá'í communities, through their National Assembly, assuring them that the British Bahá'ís were loyally [page 120] behind the administration of the Guardian. However, Herrigel, one of the founders of the German Community, turned against the Faith as administered by the Guardian and left it.

An interesting aftermath of this whole affair was the Mrs White's husband, in 1941, cabled Shoghi Effendi he was "profoundly sorrowing and repentant pleading forgiveness..." It seemed he had never really agreed with her. Shoghi Effendi wrote to him, opening the door for his return, but even at this late date it proved impossible for him to disentangle himself from his redoubtable and unrepentant wife, so that his change of heart could not produce a change of status.

Already Avarih, the well-known Persian teacher, whom Shoghi Effendi had sent to Europe after the Master's passing to strengthen the faith of the believers, and whom he was later forced to call a "shameless apostate", had left the Cause and begun writing books (and continued for years to write books) against it, attacking not only the Guardian but in the end the Master and Bahá'u'lláh himself in the foulest terms. It is significant that his wife, unlike Mr white, entirely severed herself from him and remained a devoted and much-praised Bahá'í because of her courageous act of faith.

Ahmad Sohrab, who had been closely associated with the Master, had acted as His secretary, and had had the privilege of being with Him during His visit to centres in the United States and Canada, puffed up with self-importance and ambition, founded the "New History Society" and progressively became alienated from his fellow Bahá'ís through his own acts, not the least of which was his habit of quoting in public lectures from the words of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá as if they were his own. A book could easily be written on the course of this one man's defection, quoting the innumerable cables and letters of the Guardian in his efforts at first to save him from his own acts and later to expose him and protect the American Bahá'ís from his distortions of the truth, his open lies and his efforts to undermine the Administrative Order established by the Master in His Will. Again, it is of interest to note that his Bahá'í wife and daughter completely severed all relations with him, indeed so humiliated and disgusted were they by his conduct that they changed their surname.

Of such crises as these which arose in the course of time Shoghi Effendi wrote: "We should also view as a blessing in disguise every storm of mischief with which they who apostatize their faith or claim to be its faithful exponents assail it from time to time. Instead [page 121] of undermining the Faith, such assaults, both from within and from without, reinforce its foundations, and excite the intensity of its flame. Designed to becloud its radiance, they proclaim to all the world the exalted character of its precepts, the completeness of its unity, the uniqueness of its position, and the pervasiveness of its influence."

But the tale of defections such as these does not convey the true picture of what Covenant-breaking signified in the ministry of Shoghi Effendi. To understand that one must understand the old story of Cain and Abel, the story of family jealousies which, like a sombre tread in the fabric of history, runs through all its epochs and can be traced in all its events. Ever since the opposition of the younger brother of Bahá'u'lláh, Mirza Yahya, the poison of Covenant-breaking, which is opposition to the Centre of the Covenant, entered the Faith and remained. It is difficult for those who have neither experienced what this disease is, nor devoted any consideration to the subject, to grasp the reality of the power for destruction it possesses. All the members of the family of Bahá'u'lláh grew up in the shadow of Covenant-breaking. The storms, separations, reconciliations, final sundering of ties, which are involved when a close, distinguished and often dear relative is dying spiritually of a spiritual disease, are inconceivable to one who has not experienced them. The weakness of the human heart, which so often attaches itself to an unworthy object, the weakness of the human mind, prone to conceit and self-assurance in personal opinions, involve people in a welter of emotions that blind their judgment and lead them far astray. In the East, where the sense of family to this day is still strongly clannish, its members cling to each other much more intensely than in the West. No matter what Yahya had done there was a lingering feeling in the family that, after all, some reason must be on his side, not all justification in a "family matter was necessarily on Bahá'u'lláh's side. One can readily see that if even the faintest trace of such an attitude existed amongst members of Bahá'u'lláh's own family the children would not grow up to see Covenant-breaking in its true proportions. The flaw would be there, the most dangerous of all human doubts, that after all the Perfect One might not under all circumstances be perfect, but sometimes just a little prone to error in judging others. When this doubt enters the germs are present in one's own system, perhaps to lie dormant forever, perhaps to flare up into disease. It has always seemed to me that the division which took place in [page 122] Bahá'u'lláh's family after His ascension, and the successive disaffections two generations later of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's entire family from Shoghi Effendi, had begun in an attitude of mind that developed in the Baghdad days before Bahá'u'lláh had even declared His Mission. The root was back there, the poisonous fruit garnered eighty years later.

Faith and obedience are the most important factors in one's relation to God, to His Manifestation, to the Head of the Faith. One must believe even if one does not see, and even if one does not believe one must obey. The Covenant-breaking inside the family of Bahá'u'lláh was like a vine, it entwined the tree and strangled it; wherever its tendrils reached out it plucked up what it would itself about and destroyed that too. This is why so many of the minor relatives, the secretaries, the members of the community surrounding the Centre of the Cause, became involved in the periodic disaffections of various members of the family and every time one of these diseased members was lopped off, some blinded sympathizers went too.

It looks simple on paper. But when year after year a house is torn by heart-breaking emotions, shaken by scenes that leave one's brain numb, one's nerves decimated and one's feelings in a turmoil, it is not simple, it is just plain hell. Before a patient lies on the operating table and the offending part is removed there is a long process of delay, of therapeutic effort to remedy the disease, of hope for recovery. So it is with Covenant-breaking; the taint is detected; warning, remonstrance, advice follow; it seems better; it breaks out again, worse than before; convulsive situations arise - repentance, forgiveness follow - and then all over again, the same thing, worse than before, recommences. With infinite variations this is what took place in the lifetimes of Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi.

It is all history now and there is no use recapitulating it case by case. But I believe one thing should be made clear. Whereas we ordinary human beings react in one way, these extraordinary human beings react in an entirely different way. They are, in such matters - however great the difference in their own stations - entirely different from us. I used to wonder, in the early years of my life with the Guardian, why he go so terribly upset by these happenings, why he reacted so violently to them, why he would be prostrated from evidences of Covenant-breaking. Gradually I came to understand that such beings, so different from us, have [page 123] some sort of mysterious built-in scales in their very souls; automatically they register the spiritual state of others, just as one side of a scale goes down instantly if you put something in it because of the imbalance this creates. We individual Bahá'ís are like the fish in the sea of the Cause, but these beings are like the sea itself, any alien element in the sea of the Cause, so to speak, with which, because of their nature, they are wholly identified, produces an automatic reaction on their part; the sea casts out its dead.

Shoghi Effendi, forced often to announce publicly the spiritual downfall of not only well-known Bahá'ís but the members of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's own family, refers to the latter as "those whose acts proclaim their severance from the Holy Tree and their forfeiture of their sacred birthright." His heart, he said, was oppressed by the "repeated defections" of the "unworthy kindred" of the beloved Master, defections which, he made clear, were a "process of purification whereby an inscrutable Wisdom chose from time to time to purge the body of His chosen followers of the defilement of the undesirable and the unworthy..." Shoghi Effendi pointed out that those who are inimical to the Faith always seize upon evidences of this purification process as a symptom of oncoming schism which they hopefully anticipate will bring about its downfall. But which never has.

Even though this phenomenon of Covenant-breaking seems to be an inherent aspect of religion this does not mean it produces no damaging effect on the Cause. On the contrary, as Shoghi Effendi cabled the Bahá'ís after the death of a relative: "time alone will reveal extent havoc wreaked this virus violation injected fostered over two decades 'Abdu'l-Bahá's family". It does not mean that much of it could not be avoided through greater individual effort and loyalty. Above all it does not mean that a devastating effect is not produced on the Centre of the Covenant himself. Shoghi Effendi's whole life was darkened by the vicious personal attacks made upon him. I personally am convinced that the main reason the heart of the Guardian was sufficiently undermined physically for it to stop in 1957 was because of the unbearable strain thirty-six years of interminable struggle with a series of Covenant-breakers had placed upon it. It is only necessary to add that it was the death of his own brother-in-law that provided the occasion for sending the above-quoted cable, for us to catch a glimpse of what Shoghi Effendi repeatedly passed through during his ministry.

On one occasion he cable a believer who was very close to him, [page 124] and who, he had recently learned, had been very badly treated by a near relative: "Heart overflowing sympathy your sufferings so courageously endured. Would have instantly communicated had I known. Both you I tasted cup disillusionment treatment nearest relatives. Feel close to you realization your sorrows memory your superb continued imperishable services. Praying fervently Holy Shrines Deepest love."

Perhaps these words from my diary, written between 1940 and 1945, under the influence of what I saw Shoghi Effendi going through in the long shattering crisis that deprived him of his relatives, can better convey the effect of Covenant-breaking:

"He goes on, but it is like a man in blizzard who cannot sometimes even open his eyes for the blinding snow." "He is like a man whose skin has been burned is a miracle he can keep going." "I feel sure the tide will turn. but oh, never, never to find Shoghi Effendi as he was! I don't think anything in this world will ever be able to efface what these last years have done to him! Time is a great healer but it cannot remove scars." "It seems it is all irretrievably broken."

That these repeated crises greatly interfered with his work for the Cause there can be no doubt. As early as 1926 he had written to a lukewarm believer, who later became a most despicable Covenant-breaker: "You know I am not and never was a sentimental person. I thirst for work and my thoughts are intent upon accomplishing important tasks if circumstances permit and I am free from attacks from within and from without."

The patience of Shoghi Effendi in handling these terrible situations that arose in his own family is shown by the fact that on one occasion he held for eight months a cable excommunicating his brother while he tried - vainly - to remedy the situation and obviate the necessity of sending a message that was so heart-breaking to him.

So disastrous is the effect of Covenant-breaking on the Cause that one of the last acts of Shoghi Effendi's ministry was to inform the Hands of the Cause that they should appoint a second group of Auxiliary Board members for the purpose of protecting the Faith. [page 125]

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