Bahá'í Library Online
. . . .
>>   Biographies Books Pilgrims' notes
TAGS: Shoghi Effendi, Life of (documents)
> add tags

The Priceless Pearl

by Ruhiyyih (Mary Maxwell) Khanum

previous chapter chapter 5 start page single page chapter 7 next chapter

Chapter 6


That Shoghi Effendi was stern in all matters affecting the protection of the Faith does not mean he could not be gentle and kind also. He was fundamentally a very tender-hearted person and when left sufficiently at peace within himself expressed this innate kindness and tenderness not only to those who surrounded him but to the believers personally in many ways. There are numerous examples of this in his cable files. Over and over, when disaster struck in some country where there were Bahá'ís, he would send an inquiry such as this one to Persia: "Wire safety friends. Anxious earthquake reports Persia Turkistan". Very often this would be followed by financial help for those who were in desperate need. When an American Bahá'í, stricken in Persia by infantile paralysis, was returning with his wife to the United States, Shoghi Effendi cabled the friends in Beirut, Alexandria and New York, requesting that they meet his boat and assist in every way they could. The Guardian sent seven wires, in a short space of time, in connection with a single Bahá'í who had various difficulties in getting to Haifa and leaving after her pilgrimage was over. His thoroughness in such matters, as well as his consideration, are delightfully reflected in this telegram to Egypt: "Dewing New Zealand Bahá'í arriving tonight Cairo for one day. Urge meet him station. He wears helmet. If missed meet him next morning Cooks office nine o'clock. Extend utmost kindness." On another occasion we find Shoghi Effendi cabling, in connection with a Bahá'í who for some reason had not been able to land in Haifa, to "comfort him my behalf". On learning through a cable from a husband that his wife was "completely unbalanced believes lost your love message would calm her" Shoghi Effendi cabled immediately: "Assure...undiminished love confidence." To a believer in the Near East whose relatives [page 126] lived in Palestine he wired: "Most welcome advise bring children with you relieve longing their grandmother." A cable sending a message to a prominent new Bahá'í says: "Cable princess my loving best wishes. May Bahá'u'lláh's almighty arms ever encircle her."

Dagmar Dole, one of the devoted pioneers, died and was buried in Switzerland. Once, when I was confined to bed for some days, I remember how deeply moved and surprised I was when Shoghi Effendi came to me and told me he had been to visit her grave, a short train journey away from where we were staying.

He was moved sometimes, above and beyond the usual encouragement and general instructions he gave the Bahá'ís, to intervene in a direct way with their plans; a boy of seventeen wanted to go to Latin America, in the first Seven Year Plan, but was advised he was too young and should wait until he was older and had finished more of his studies; Shoghi Effendi cabled the American National Assembly to reconsider letting him go and Shoghi Effendi would mention with pride this young man's response to the need for pioneers. An old woman, a cripple, longed to go to North Africa and pioneer; Shoghi Effendi encouraged her to do so and the place where Ella Bailey died is marked with a gold star on one of his maps! I remember a pilgrim at the table telling Shoghi Effendi she had her husband's permission to offer themselves as pioneers and did he have any suggestions as to where they should go? Shoghi Effendi immediately said "Africa"; "Any particular place in Africa?" she asked; "South Africa" he replied. A little taken aback at these rapid-fire monosyllables she said "Any particular city?" to which he replied "Johannesburg" and thus her destiny and that of her family were settled in four words.

Sometimes the spirit animating a Bahá'í was such as to persuade Shoghi Effendi to change his own instructions. An instance of this is the case of Marion Jack, whom 'Abdu'l-Bahá called "General Jack" and the Guardian called an "immortal heroine", saying she was a shining example to pioneers of present and future generations in both the East and the West, and that no one had surpassed her in "Constancy, dedication, self-abnegation, fearlessness" except the "incomparable Martha Root". Jackie - as she was usually called - lived in Sofia, Bulgaria, and when war broke out Shoghi Effendi, concerned over her dangerous position, wired her "Advise return Canada wire whether financially able". She replied " about Switzerland" but assured him of her implicit [page 127] obedience. Shoghi Effendi then wired "Approve Switzerland" but she still did not want to leave her pioneer post and begged to be allowed to remain in Bulgaria, to which the Guardian replied: "Advise remain Sofia love."

There is a great mystery involved in the levels of service. Shoghi Effendi always advised the friends to pursue a moderate and wise course, but if they did not, and chose to rise to heights of heroism and self-sacrifice, he was immensely proud of them. After all, there is nothing either wise or moderate in being martyred - yet our crowning glory as a religion is that our first Prophet was martyred and twenty thousand people followed in His footsteps. I have tried to understand this mystery, moderation on one side and Bahá'u'lláh's words on the other: "...then write with that crimson ink that hath been shed in My path. Sweeter indeed is this than all else,..." and it seems to me that the best example is an aeroplane: when it trundles along the ground on its wheels it is in the dimension of the ground, going along steadily on an earthly plane, but when it soars into the air and folds its wheels away and leaps forward at dazzling speeds, it is in a celestial realm and the values are different. When we are on the ground we get good sound earthly advice, but if we choose to spurn the soil and leap into the realms of higher service and sacrifice we do not get that kind of advise any more, we win immortal fame and become heroes and heroines of God's Cause.

Shoghi Effendi worked through everything; everything that he encountered, individual, object or piece of land, that could be turned to an advantageous use for the Faith he seized upon and used. Although in general he worked through Assemblies and Committees, he also worked directly through individuals. An example of this is Victoria Bedekian, known as "Auntie Victoria". For years she wrote letters, widely circulated in the West and the East, and the Guardian encouraged her in the activity and even told her what she should emphasize in her communications.

He was not fussy about sources of information; by this I mean he did not always wait until official channels corroborated the arrival of a pioneer at his post or some other piece of good news which had been conveyed to him through a personal letter or by a pilgrim, but would incorporate this encouraging information in his messages. This latitude which Shoghi Effendi allowed himself meant that the whole work of the Faith was bowled forward to a far faster pace than if he had done otherwise. Like all great leaders he [page 128] possessed something of the quality of a good press man who realizes that the time factor in conveying news is of great importance and that speed itself has an impact and stimulates the imagination. This practice of his should not, however, mislead us into thinking that he was not extraordinarily thorough. The exactitude with which he complied statistics, sought out historic facts, worked on every minute detail of his maps and plans was astonishing.

The Guardian had a few personal relationships, above and beyond his usual affection and good will towards all the believers who were really worthy of the name Bahá'í. On one occasion when he had been ill Philip Sprague cabled him expressing his concern over this and ending with the words: "heart full of love." Shoghi Effendi cabled back: "Have recovered. Fully reciprocate your great love." He very frequently had occasion to cable his agent Dr Giachery in Italy for various things required at the World Centre and many of those cables were similar to this: "Kindly order twentyfour additional lamp posts identical those ordered love." Such cables were far from being the usual practice of the Guardian.

But there was another aspect to his cables. If some were very loving, and most of a routine nature, others could be extremely sharp. There are many cables to National Assemblies like this one to America sent in 1923: "Expecting frequent comprehensive reports..." and many others to various people, with much stronger phrases such as these: "Beware disobedience my wishes"; "Warn you again"; "beware neglect", and so on. It is impossible to find verbose and unexplicit cables. "Send with sister ten Corona ribbons colour black" he wired his brother in Beirut. To the first Bahá'í to ask permission to come to Haifa after the end of the war when the pilgrimage was at last reopened Shoghi Effendi cabled quite simple what he meant in one word "Welcome".

The whole of Shoghi Effendi's life activity as Guardian, his mind and his feelings, his reactions and instructions, can be found reflected in miniature in his cables and telegrams; often they were more intimated, more powerful and revealing than the thousands of letters he wrote to individuals because in his letters his secretary usually dealt with details and thus the words are not the Guardian's which most of the time conveyed the assurance of his prayers, his encouragement and his statement of general principles. [page 129]

Shoghi Effendi, like his grandfather and great-grandfather before him, had a delightful sense of humour which was ready to manifest itself if he were given any chance to be happy or enjoy a little peace of mind. His eyes would fairly dance with amusement, he would chuckle delightedly and sometimes break out into open laughter. To a young pilgrim, who had expressed his interest in getting married, Shoghi Effendi remarked: "Don't wait too long and don't wait for someone to fall from the sky!" In a telegram to some young relatives in Beirut we find him saying, in 1923, "When will my two unruly secretaries terminate their period of medical treatment. Wire." Inside his family, with those he was familiar with, he liked to tease. I was often the victim and knowing that anything he said I was likely to believe he took advantage of this and enjoyed fooling me. For instance, I remember during the war coming into his room and finding him looking very solemn, his eyes round with concern. This alone attracted my attention and I became anxious. He then said something terrible had happened. I, of course, became even more anxious and asked what had happened. With a deeply concerned expression he solemnly informed me Churchill had died. As this was the most dangerous period of the war I became very excited and upset over this news and asked him what would happen to the Allies now, with their great leader dead, etc. etc. Shoghi Effendi stood my distress as long as he could and then burst out laughing! He played such tricks on me very often, as he found me an ideal subject - but gradually my gullibility wore off and after twenty years he said it was getting very difficult to fool me. Sometimes, feebly, I would try to play this game with him, but I could never act it out as well as he could and almost never succeeded in catching him.

On one side so majestic, on the other so engagingly confiding, innocent-hearted and youthful, such was our Guardian! One of my tasks, once Shoghi Effendi knew I could paint a little, was to colour various things for him and one of these was a map showing the plots owned by the Bahá'í Community on Mt Carmel. One day when I was adding colour to some newly acquired areas Shoghi Effendi told me to paint them lighter. I asked why. Why, he said, to show they are a "recent acquisition". It was such a clear reflection of joy these newly purchased plots afforded him. I can remember on another occasion spending hours and hours colouring for him photographs of different sizes showing an architect's elevation drawing depicting the monument of the Greatest Holy [page 130] Leaf with the two monuments to mark the graves of her mother and brother on either side.

This recalls another aspect of Shoghi Effendi's richly endowed personality. He was very tenacious of his purposes, very determined, but never unreasonable. Although he never changed his objectives he sometimes changed the course he had planned to take to reach them. The drawing of the monuments which I coloured is a good example of this. When he conceived the idea of moving the remains of Bahiyyih "Khanum's mother and brother from Akka to Mt Carmel he immediately ordered two beautiful marble monuments in Italy, similar to that marking the grave of the Greatest Holy Leaf. As this happened during his absence from Haifa he had the idea of putting these two flanking her resting-place and ordered a drawing made showing him how this would look; but when he returned to Haifa and studied his plan on the spot he decided it would not be as beautiful as to put the two, as a pair, off by themselves and on the same axis, which he eventually did.

All through the Guardian's ministry we see the light of Divine Guidance shining on his path, confirming his decisions, inspiring his choice. But there are always unforeseeable factors in every lan. Acts of God, and the sum of human endeavour, constantly change plans, little or big. This has always happened to the greatest as well as the smallest human beings, and the words of the Prophets themselves attest it. Shoghi Effendi was subject to such forces, but he also frequently modified his own plans. Examples of this are many and interesting: at one time he conceived the idea of placing the Mausoleum of Bahá'u'lláh on Mt Carmel, but later gave this up entirely and fixed its permanent place in Bahji; what became known as the World Crusade or Ten Year Plan was at first announced as a Seven Year Plan; one Temple to be built during this Plan became three Temples; the original eight European goal countries became ten; and so on. If outside forces over which the Guardian had no control frustrated some plan of his - as opposed to his modifying or expanding some plan of his own in the light of circumstances - he immediately compensated, so that the Cause, if a temporary defeat or humiliation was inflicted upon it, came out in the end with an augmented victory, a richer endowment.

Shoghi Effendi might be deflected from his course but he was never defeated in his purpose and his ingenuity was remarkable. A good example of this is the way he arranged for two of the three great new Continental Bahá'í Temples of the Ten Year Plan to be [page 131] built. He extracted from the architect he had at hand the designs he felt were suitable for the sydney and Kampala Houses of Worship. These were dignified, pleasing in proportion, conservation in style and relatively modest in cost. Since the architect was not in a position to carry out the detailed drawings or supervise the actual construction, Shoghi Effendi, not making a great circumstance of what to a fussy and small-minded man would have imposed an insuperable obstacle, proceeded to instruct the two National Assemblies involved to get local architectural firms to carry out the details and erect the buildings. Shoghi Effendi himself modified the expensive suggestions these firms at first made and got both Temples built within what he considered a reasonable price for the Cause to pay. Over and over his shrewdness and sound judgment saved the money of the Faith so that it could be spent on the many all-important tasks and not create temporary bankruptcy through the unwise prosecution of a single project.

Economy was a very rigid principle with Shoghi Effendi and he had very stern ideas on money matters. He more than once refused to permit an individual to make the pilgrimage who he knew was in debt, saying he must first pay his debts. I never saw the Guardian settle a bill he had not first carefully added up, whether it was for a meal or a payment of thousands of dollars! If there was an overcharge he pointed it out - and also if there was an undercharge. Many times I went to astonished people and called to their attention that their addition was wrong and they should do it again or they would be the losers. He also was a determined bargainer, never paying what he felt was too much for a thing. More than once, when a beautiful ornament for the Shrines, Archives, or gardens was too expensive, and the seller could not or would not meet the Guardian's price, he would not buy it even though he wanted it and had the money. He just considered it wrong and would not do it. Although Shoghi Effendi for many years had had a private automobile and chauffeur (like 'Abdu'l-Bahá before him), because spare parts were not procurable for it during the worst years of the war he had it sold and used taxis. I have no doubt that as with sufficient money one can usually buy anything he could have procured another car, but it never entered his mind. He was against extravagance, ostentation and luxury as such, denying himself and others many things because he felt they were either not justified or not appropriate.

Another of the strongly marked characteristics of the Guardian [page 132] was his openness. The believers were his confidants. Freely, majestically, aloof but with a most endearing and heart-captivating confidence, he would share with the pilgrims who were his guests not only his ideas and his interpretations of the Teachings but his projects and plans. There were no privileged communicants who received his thought as of right. In spite of the fact that the National Assemblies were his channels through which he passed on his great Plans and the bodies by which they were prosecuted, he was wont to share these Plans in almost full detail with those he met, to such an extent that many a returning pilgrim was in possession of nearly all the details that were soon to be communicated to the Bahá'í world officially. The same was true of his work at the World Centre. So complete was his frankness that he sometimes drew little sketches at the table to illustrate what he was doing in the gardens on Mt Carmel, how the "arc" would be, what buildings might be erected on it, and so on.

Each new thing he was setting in motion, nationally or internationally, one might almost say followed the same pattern as the dawn of a day: the first light, feelers of vision, would be discerned in his words to visiting pilgrims, or lie half-hidden in his communications to the Bahá'í world; then would come the glimmering of goals beginning to take shape as the sun of his concept rose higher and he focused the brilliant energy of his mind upon it; finally, in a clear burst of illumination, would come the whole idea in all its splendour - a Seven Year Plan, a Ten Year Plan, the warnings and promises in some new and wonderful general letter, the complete instructions regarding such major projects as the completion of the Shrine of the Bab, the International Archives, one of the great new Houses of Worship, of the exposition of certain fundamental themes contained in such books as The Advent of Divine Justice and The Promised Day Is Come.

The relationship of Shoghi Effendi to the pilgrims, his courtesy as a host, his kindness shown to them in so many little ways, the things he so openly discussed with them, had a tremendous effect on the work the Bahá'ís were accomplishing in so many countries, for when these fortunate believers returned to their own communities they acted as a leaven, stimulating their fellow Bahá'ís to greater efforts, making the Guardian a more real person to those who had not been privileged to meet him face to face, creating a sense of nearness both to him and to the World Centre that by any other method would have been hard to achieve. In his conversations [page 133] with the pilgrims he was able to convey, often in a more fluent and forceful language than he would have sued in writing, his strong feelings on certain subjects. During our pilgrimage in 1937 I had been privileged to make notes of what he said to my mother and me at the table, but later I very seldom did this. However, on a few occasions I did write down what he said as he said it and one of these was in 1954 when he was speaking very forcibly to the pilgrims present on the subject of the urgent needs of the World Crusade and the attitude of the Bahá'ís towards pioneering: "I can warn them, I can urge them, but I cannot create the spirit - it is unhappiness for me and danger for the believers, that really results..." "The Cause triumphs in spite of the inaction of a large number of its supporters, in a mysterious way it works." And as he touched upon some places where the friends were acting as teachers in schools he said: "They bring into the schools the American mode of life instead of driving it out and establishing the Bahá'í mode of life." But in spite of all he showered upon the pilgrims - from providing for their physical comfort as his guests to tearing the veils from their eyes and educating them in their Faith - whenever one of them would seek to express his or her deep gratitude for the honour of meeting him, he would instantly turn this aside, saying the purpose of the pilgrimage was to visit the Holy Shrines.

So many memories come back to me when I think of the pilgrims, myself included, such as that dawn in 1923, when I was a child and was driving back in the automobile of the Guardian from Bahji where we had all gone to commemorate the ascension of Bahá'u'lláh. I insisted on sitting up on the edge of the folded-back top of the touring car instead of on the seat. Shoghi Effendi remonstrated with me and warned me not to fall out, and I assured him I would not do so. I was too intoxicated with the morning and all the bounties showered upon me to be afraid. In those days there was no proper road and we drove over the beach between Akka and Haifa on the wet strip of sand between the sea and the dunes. Hundreds of little white crabs fled before the car for the safety of their holes in a never-ending ripple before us. The sun had just risen the whole world was fresh and rosy and clean. Shoghi Effendi began to tell me about how much he longed to see the Rocky Mountains in Canada, and of his love for mountains and mountaineering. He always followed with the keenest interest, till [page 134] the end of his life, any account of the assaults made on Mr Everest. His love of scenic beauty was very great and if he had been a free individual I am sure much of his time would have been spent in visiting the natural wonder spots of the world.

The last year of the Guardian's life two Swiss pilgrims came to Haifa. Their presence stirred up all his memories of Switzerland and his love for their country poured out in a manner wholly unlike his usual reserve about his personal life and feelings. I had been ill in bed and not present at dinner in the Pilgrim House but when Shoghi Effendi came hone he told me he had "said everything" - about the mountain he had climbed, the walks he had taken, the scenes he loved so much. It was very atypical of him, very rare and a clear index of something deep in his own heart.

I remember another occurrence which happened in Switzerland itself as we were leaving Zermatt one evening. In all the years we travelled together Shoghi Effendi did not form any personal relationships and very rarely spoke to strangers. This was not my own nature and sometimes I would slip out of our compartment in the train, or on some occasion, and get into animated conversation with a fellow passenger. He always knew (and never minded) when this happened. I think he could tell from a flushed and tentative expression on my face when I rejoined him what I had been doing and with twinkling eyes would ask me what I had been up to. On this particular occasion, however, it was he who held a long conversation as we sat on the hard wooden seats of our third-class train compartment. A young man, a truly lovely and gentlemanly boy, the child of White Russians living in America, was seated opposite us. He was travelling for the first time in Switzerland and the Guardian, with that same kindliness and animation that so often characterized his conversation, proceeded to advise him in great detail about what places he should not miss seeing in the limited time at his disposal. He even got out the Swiss railway guide and showed him what trains to take, where to go and when. I sat back and listened, watching the fine face of the youth, so courteous, so pleased at the attention he was receiving from this stranger, and of course prayed in my heart that this bounty he was receiving - which I could in no way indicate to him - would somehow, some day, lead him to the Faith of which this stranger was the Head!

But to return to Shoghi Effendi's remarks to the Swiss pilgrims in Haifa. He was moved to inform them that he wished [page 135] Switzerland to have its own Temple site, which was to be situated near the capital city of Bern and have a clear view of the Bernese Alps, where he had spent so many months of his life walking and climbing. On 12 August 1957 he communicated to what was then the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Italy and Switzerland his wishes in this matter. His secretary wrote: "As he explained to ", he is very anxious for Switzerland to purchase a plot, however shall in size, and modest a beginning it may be, for the future Mashriqu'l-Adhkar of that country. He feels this should be in the outskirts of Bern, overlooking the Bernese Oberland; and he is very happy to be able to present this land himself to the Swiss Community. No publicity whatsoever should be given to this matter lest an opposition resembling that which has arisen in Germany should be provoked amongst the orthodox element in Bern. Whenever the committee responsible for finding this land has located a suitable plot, he would like your Assembly to inform him of the details." This was a gift of a unique nature, no other community in the Bahá'í world having been thus honoured. The plot of land, almost 2,000 square metres in area, on the outskirts of Bern, overlooks the Gurbetal and from it can be seen the famous Finsteraarhorn, Monch, Eiger and Jungfrau mountains, the scene of many of the Guardian's mountaineering exploits, the scene also of many of the most agonizing hours he passed after the ascension of his grandfather.

On one occasion a pilgrim from Canada had informed the Guardian that in teaching the Faith to the Eskimo people it was very difficult for them to understand the meaning in such similes as the nightingale and the rose because these things were entirely unknown to them. The reaction of Shoghi Effendi to this was typical. When he said good-bye to this friend he gave her a small vial of the Persian attar of rose, the quintessence of what a rose is, and told her to anoint the Eskimos with it, saying that perhaps in this way they would get an inkling of what Bahá'u'lláh meant when he wrote of the rose.

Another incident comes to my mind. Among the last pilgrims to leave Haifa before Shoghi Effendi himself left in June 1957, never to return, were two American negro believers. As long as I live I will never forget the look on the face of one of them as she sat opposite the Guardian at the Pilgrim House table. One could see that in meeting him - who met all men as the creation of god, with no other feeling than pleasure that they were as God had made them - [page 136] the hurts and sorrows of a lifetime were melted away. She looked at him with a combination of the great loving heart of a mother and the reverence due him in his glorious station that I think must be the look on the faces of the angels in Paradise as they gaze upon their Lord.

Those who had the privilege to being near the Guardian, no matter how much experience they had had or how long they had been Bahá'ís - some, like myself from birth - were constantly having their concept of the greatness of this Cause expanded by Shoghi Effendi's words, his reactions and his example. I remember my surprise when, in his long Ridvan Message to the Bahá'í world in 1957, he mentioned (obviously with pride or he would not have included it) the "recently converted Bahá'í inmates" in Kitalya Prison in Uganda. It had never occurred to me that one would mention a Bahá'í being in prison without shame! But here he was proclaiming that we had a group of the followers of Bahá'u'lláh in a prison. He often referred to this in his talks to the pilgrims and as I pondered over this and the things he said about it I realized that as this Faith is for all men, the saints and the sinners, there were two principles involved. One was the fact that society must be governed by laws, protected by laws and men punished through laws; and the other was that belief in the Manifestation of God should be universal and include everyone, because the act of faith is the spark that sets the soul alight and gives it eternal awareness of its God, and this was something each soul had a right to, no matter what his sins might be. In more than one letter, at different times to different people, Shoghi Effendi encouraged the Bahá'ís to teach in prisons.

The sympathy which all the Prophets of God have shown towards the down-trodden, the meek, and poor and the outcast, singling them out for particular succour, protection and loving encouragement, was always manifested in the Guardian's acts and words. but we must not confuse this attitude with the fundamental truth that many groups of people who at present fall into these categories not only deserve to receive special attention but have within themselves reserves of power and spiritual greatness needed by the entire world. Take, for example, the Indians of the Western Hemisphere. 'Abdu'l-Bahá had written: "You must attach great importance to the Indians, the original inhabitants of America. For these souls may be likened unto the ancient inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula, who prior to the Revelation of Muhammad, were like [page 137] savages. When the Muhammadan Light shone forth in their midst, they became so enkindled that they shed illumination upon the world. Likewise, should these Indians be educated and properly guided, there can be no doubt that through the Divine teachings they will become so enlightened that the whole earth will be illumined." Throughout his ministry Shoghi Effendi never forgot these words and repeatedly urged the believers throughout Canada and the Americas to enlist these souls under the banner of Bahá'u'lláh. Some of the last letters he wrote, in July 1957, to various National Assemblies in the Western Hemisphere, again forcibly stressed this subject and referred to the "long overdue conversion of the American Indians". I quote excerpts from this instructions written by his secretary on his behalf:

"The paramount task is, of course, the teaching work; at every session your Assembly should give it close attention, considering everything else of secondary importance. Not only must many new Assemblies be developed, as well as groups and isolated centers, but special attention must be focused on the work of converting the Indians to the Faith. The goal should be all-Indian Assemblies, so that these much exploited and suppressed original inhabitants of the land may realize that they are equals and partners in the affairs of the Cause of God, and that Bahá'u'lláh is the Manifestation of God for "them."

"He was particularly happy to see that some of the Indian believers were present at the Convention. He attaches the greatest importance to teaching the original inhabitants of the Americas the Faith. 'Abdu'l-Bahá Himself has stated how great are their potentialities, and it is their right, and the duty of the non-Indian Bahá'ís, to see that they receive the Message of God for this day. One of the most worthy objectives of your Assembly must be the establishment of all-Indian Spiritual Assemblies. Other minorities should likewise be especially sought out and taught. The friends should bear in mind that in our Faith, unlike every other society, the minority, to compensate for what might be treated as an inferior status, receives special attention, love and consideration...

"As you formulate the goals which must receive your undivided attention during the coming years he urges you to bear in mind the most important one of all, namely the multiplication of the Spiritual Assemblies, the groups and the isolated centres; this will ensure both breadth and depth in the foundations you are laying for the future independent national bodies. The believers [page 138] should be urged to consider individually the needs in their immediate region, and to go forth to pioneer in near and distant cities and towns. They must be encouraged by your Assembly to remember that small people, often poor and obscure people, have changed the course of human destiny more than people who started out with wealth, fame and security. It was the Sifter of Wheat who, in the early days of our Faith, arose and because a hero and martyr, not the learned priests of his city!"

He expressed similar sentiments as regards another people of another race. In a letter dated 27 June 1957 he wrote to the newly formed New Zealand National Assembly: "As you formulate your plans and carry them out for the work entrusted to you during the next six years, he wishes you to particularly bear in mind the need of teaching the Maoris. These original discoverers of New Zealand are of a very fine race, and they are a people long admired for their noble qualities; and special effort should be made, not only to contact the Maoris in the cities, and draw them into the Faith, but to go to their towns and live amongst them and establish Assemblies in which at least the majority of the believers will be Maoris, if not all. This would be indeed a worthy achievement."

To a pilgrim belonging to the Mongolian race the Guardian stated that as the majority of the people in the world were not white there was no reason why the majority of Bahá'ís inside the Faith should be white; on the contrary, the Cause should reflect the situation existing in the world. To Shoghi Effendi differences were not something to be eliminated but rather the legitimate, necessary, indeed fascinating, ingredients that made the whole so much more beautiful and perfect.

Not only did Shoghi Effendi constantly inculcate in the Bahá'ís the respect due to people of different ethnic backgrounds, he also taught them what respect, and above all what reverence, as qualities needed to round out a noble human character, really are. Reverence for holy things is sadly lacking in the Western World today. In an age when the mistaken idea of equality seems to imply that every blade of grass must be exactly the same height, the Guardian's own profound respect for those above himself in rank was the best example one could find. The extreme reverence he showed to the twin Manifestations of God and to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, whether in his writings, his speech or the manner in which he approached Their resting-places, provides a permanent pattern for all Bahá'ís to follow. Whenever Shoghi Effendi was near one of the [page 139] Shrines one could sense his awareness of this in his whole being. The way he walked as he neared it, the way he quietly and with great dignity and reverence approached the threshold, knelt and placed his forehead upon it, the way he never turned his back when inside the Shrine on that spot where one of these infinitely holy and precious beings was interred, the tone of his voice, his dignified lack of any levity on such occasions, all bore witness to the manner in which man should approach a holy of holies, going softly on sacred ground. It is really with the soul that man has to do in this life for it is all he will take with him when he leaves it. It is this fundamental concept - so obscured and forgotten in present-day philosophies - that endows even the dust of noble beings with a mystic potency. So strong is the perfume of some roses that even years after they have withered and dried out one can still smell the rose in them. This is a feeble example of the power which remains in the very dust that has been associated with the towering spirits of divine souls when they were in this world.

This wonderful emotion of reverence - which seems when it sweeps over us to blow away so much of the dross in our immature natures - was a deed characteristic of the Guardian, who learned it in his childhood as he sat on his heels, arms crossed on breast, before his exalted grandfather. I remember an incident that occurred after my parents returned to Canada in 1937 and sent me my books and bookcase and other things from my home. I had carefully arranged my books in the same relation to my bed as they had been in my room before, and placed the same photograph of 'Abdu'l-Bahá on them, which meant that it was parallel with the end of my bed. When Shoghi Effendi noticed this he exclaimed "You put the Master at your feet!" I was startled, to say the least, by the intensity of this remark and said I had always I had always put Him there so I could see His face when I awakened in the morning. Shoghi Effendi said this was not proper. I must put the Master at my head, out of respect, not at my feet. Before this it had never occurred to me that a room has a top and a bottom, and that so sacred are the associations with such things as the photograph of the Centre of the Supreme Manifestation of God's Covenant and the reproduction of the Greatest Name, that their place, even in a room, must be a high one. An example of this attitude of the Guardian is contained in the words his secretary wrote on his behalf to the American National Assembly in 1933: "As regards the Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh to the Greatest Holy Leaf, Shoghi Effendi feels it would be rather [page 140] disrespectful to reproduce the facsimile of the Tablet in the handwriting of Bahá'u'lláh in the proposed pamphlet. He had these reproduced to have them illuminated and sent as gifts to the different National Assemblies to be cherished and kept in their National archives."

There are other examples of this same thing. As early as 1923 Shoghi Effendi cabled that same Assembly: "Dignity of Cause requires restraint in use and circulation of Master's voice record". This referred to a recording of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's chanting which had been made during his visit to the United States. On another occasion Shoghi Effendi instructed that Assembly: "In the conduct of any social activity at the National Office, however, great care should be taken to maintain strictly the dignity of the place, particularly in view of its proximity to the House of Worship, which makes it doubly essential for all the believers to conform to those standards of conduct, and of social intercourse set up in the Bahá'í Teachings."

It is not a ritualistic thing that is at stake here. There are no rituals in the Bahá'í Faith. It is an attitude. Although the Guardian was wont to prostrate himself before the thresholds of the Holy Tombs, he was at pains to explain to the pilgrims that they were free to do so or not. He did it because it was a custom in the part of the East from which his ancestors came. But the reverence was another matter; one thing was a form of expression the individual could choose for himself, the other was the proper spirit that should dwell in the heart of a devotee as he approaches those things that are most sacred in this world.

It was the custom of the Guardian, following in the footsteps of the Master Who had claimed for Himself the station of the Servant of the servants of God, to stand beside the door of the Shrine and anoint, with rose water or attar of rose, the believers as they passed him to enter the Shrine. He would then enter last. Yet, in the midst of this sincere servitude and humility, the proper proportions, the inherent difference in ranks that is part of human society, were not lost sight of. It was he who led the faithful in prayer; it was those who ranked highest in Haifa who led the way into the Shrine, who followed after the Guardian as he walked before, or were privileged to drive with him in his car when he went to a Bahá'í commemoration in Bahji. Courtesy, respect, reverence, each had its proper place in the scheme of things.

Shoghi Effendi, in keeping with this deep sense of reverence he [page 141] had for the Central Figures of our Faith, was very vigilant in defending Them from any slight or insult. An example of this occurred in January 1941. The Municipality named a short street opposite 'Abdu'l-Bahá's home and the Western Pilgrim House "Baha Street". Shoghi Effendi was very indignant and sent his secretary immediately to see the Mayor and protest that as this was the name of the Founder of our Faith we considered it not only inappropriate but insulting. The municipal authorities met and changed the name to "Iran Street". I remember the Guardian was so exercised over this at the time that he said if they did not remove it at once he would go and tear it down with his own hands if necessary, even if it led to his being put in jail! I was very upset by this prospect, as I did not want him to go to jail without me and did not see what I could do to get in jail with him.

No picture of Shoghi Effendi's personality would ever be complete that did not depict the truly extraordinary artistic sense he possessed. This does not mean he could have been a painter; he was a writer par excellence. But he certainly had a painter's and an architect's eye. this was coupled with that fundamental quality without which I cannot see how anyone can achieve greatness in any of the arts or the sciences - a perfect sense of proportion, a sense of proportion measured in millimetres rather than centimetres. It was he who fixed the style of the Shrine of the Bab through his instructions - mostly not in detail but in principle - to my father. It was he who set the design for the International Archives Building, to such an extent that its architect would invariably state it was Shoghi Effendi's design, not his. the Guardian, with no help and no advice, laid out his superb gardens in Bahji and Haifa, every measurement being his own. But what people do not perhaps realize is that the appearance of the Shrine interiors, the Mansion of Bahá'u'lláh, the House of 'Abbud, the Mansion at Mazra'ih, was not created by anyone, however slight the detail, except the Guardian himself. He not only steadily added to the ornaments, photographs, lamps and furnishings that make these places so beautiful, but everything was placed where it was under his supervision. Not a picture hung on the walls that was not placed exactly where it was, to within a centimetre, by him. He not only created the effect of beauty that meets the eye as one enters those places, but he produced it all at a minimum cost, buying things not so much because of their style and period but because they were inexpensive and could achieve an effect regardless of [page 142] their intrinsic worth. His visits to the Shrines and gardens were my only opportunities to have his room cleaned. How often I remember how, in spite of my efforts and the maid's to get the many objects on his desk back into their exact positions, he would enter his bedroom, in which he did all his work, go to his desk, cast an eye over it automatically, reach out his hand and give an almost infinitesimal twist to the different objects which he detected were slightly out of the position he liked them to be in, though I am sure the difference was practically invisible to any eye but his. Needless to add that all this went with a neatness and tidiness that was phenomenal.

Shoghi Effendi loved ornate things, ornate things that were beautifully proportioned, not just because they were ornate. In the course of the years I learned what some of his favourite buildings and styles of architecture were" he was very fond of the Greek style, particularly as exemplified in the unsurpassed proportions of the Parthenon; his second favourite was Gothic architecture, the finest examples of which, though so entirely different from the Greek expression, moved him to great admiration of their soaring arches and lacy traceries in stone; many times we visited in England Gothic cathedrals and in his own rooms he placed a large framed photograph of the cathedral of Milan. He also had photographs, some in his own home, some which he placed in the Mansion at Bahji, of the Alhambra in Seville, which he considered very beautiful. There was another edifice, very different in felling and proportion to these, that Shoghi Effendi loved and that was the Signoria in Florence. Nothing could be a clearer indication of the depth of his artistic feeling and the soundness of his instinct in such matters than that this massive Italian building, so different from other favourites, should have been so deeply enjoyed and appreciated by him.

Unhampered by tradition in matters of taste Shoghi Effendi was extremely original and ingenious in the way he achieved his effects. He did things no over-instructed authority on a series of do's and don't's would ever have attempted. Take for instance the interior decoration of the Greek style Archives Building. In order to acquire more space as a single giant hall in which to exhibit the many objects, sacred or otherwise, with which he intended to furnish it, Shoghi Effendi had two narrow balconies built, running its full length on either side, which were protected by a purely renaissance, excellent in style, wooden balustrade. Most of the cabinets [page 143] he chose to line the walls of the hall downstairs were Japanese lacquer or Chinese carved teak wood. The six great chandeliers suspended from the ceiling were of cut crystal and purely European in design. When I asked the Guardian what furniture he would place on the balconies he said he would use some of the cabinets from the previous Archives, which were really of no style at all but just modern veneer furniture such as people have in their homes these days. Yet this strange assortment of things representing different periods and different countries, including innumerable objects d'art, have combined to create an impression of beauty, of dignity, of richness and splendour it would be hard to equal anywhere.

Another example of the extreme ingenuity of the Guardian was the little garden he built, two floors above the ground, in a small open courtyard of the House of "Abbud in Akka. Not asking any advice - and consequently not being advised not to - he proceeded, with extra tiles, a little cast cement work, an old wooden pedestal, a metal peacock and a few plants, to create a tiny square of garden that was not only charming but drew the wandering inhabitants of Akka - who visited the house on the days it was open to the public - to stare at it open-mouthed, a new and unheard of thing, and yet another purveyor of the fame of the Bahá'í community.

The Guardian was truly an extraordinary man. There is no end to the examples that come to mind when one thinks of his nature and his achievements. He had a heart so faithful to those who were faithful to him that its counterpart could scarcely be found. In the gardens, on the terrace in front of the Shrine of the Bab, there stands a small cement room, little larger than a big box. This was the room of Abu'l Kasim, a keeper of the Shrine dearly loved by Shoghi Effendi for his devotion and his character. The night before this man died, Shoghi Effendi told me he had had a strange, twice-repeated dream in which the green covering of verdure on the Shrine had withered away as if it had been burned off. He was much puzzled by this, for he felt it had a significance. When news was brought to him some hours later that the keeper of the Shrine was dead he at once understood the dream's meaning. At different times, over a period of many years, when the Guardian was building the Shrine and extending the terrace in front of it, he destroyed this room, but each time, rebuilt it, a little farther to the west, because of the association it had with this devoted soul. [page 144]

previous chapter chapter 5 start page single page chapter 7 next chapter
Back to:   Biographies Books Pilgrims' notes
Home Site Map Forum Links Copyright About Contact
. .