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 8 start page single page chapter 10 next chapter

Chapter 9


In reading over my diaries - so very little of which I have quoted out of hundred of pages written off and on throughout the years - it seems strange to me there is practically no reference to the World War raging everywhere during almost six years and constituting such a dire threat to the safety of the World Centre of the Faith and particularly to the Guardian himself as Head of that Faith. Nothing could more eloquently testify to the internal upheavals he was going through during all those years than this blank. The day-to-day pressures and the work, worry and mental exhaustion were so great that it crowded mention of this constant threat and anxiety into the background. Shoghi Effendi was the keenest observer of political events and kept abreast of all happenings. His intelligence and analytical faculties did not permit him to lull himself into any false complacency, induced by the rather childish idea people sometimes have of what "faith" means. He well knew that to have faith in God does not mean one should not use one's mind, appraise dangers, anticipate moves, make the right decisions during a crisis.

It is with great reluctance that I refer to the Guardian's private life, so blameless, so full of trials. Two considerations prompt me to do so at all; the first is that unless one catches at least a glimpse of what he went through as an individual human being one cannot truly appreciate the grandeur of his achievements; and the second is that any famous person is the subject, throughout the centuries, of intense historical research into details; many things will come to light in records gathered here and there and if there is no witness to explain them they are likely to be grossly misinterpreted and all sorts of foolish tales spun out of pure imagination.

At the time when my father was invited by the Guardian, after my mother's unexpected death in Argentina in March 1940, to come and live with us, Shoghi Effendi had decided, for reasons of [page 178] his own, to go to England. For those who were not in the Middle East-European theatre of war it is almost impossible to convey any picture of the infinite difficulties involved in such a move at such a moment in history. In spite of the prestige and influence of the Guardian, the fact remained that no visa for England could be granted by the authorities in Palestine and our application was therefore forwarded to London. Shoghi Effendi also appealed to his old friend Lord Lamington and requested him to use his good offices in ensuring a visa was granted, but by the time it became imperative for us to leave at once for England if we were ever to reach there, no answer had yet been received by the Palestine authorities and Lord Lamington's reply was long delayed in reaching us. Impelled by the forces which so mysteriously animated all his decisions the Guardian decided to proceed to Italy, for which country we had obtained a visa, and we therefore left Haifa on 15 May in a small and smelly Italian aquaplane, with the water sloshing around under the boards our feet rested on as if we were in an old row-boat. A few days later we arrived in Rome and I went to Genoa to meet my father who arrived on the last sailing the S.S. Rex ever made as a passenger ship. As soon as we returned the Guardian sent my father and me to the British Consul to inquire if our visa had by any chance been transferred from Palestine, but there was no news and the Consul said he was absolutely powerless to give us a visa as all authorizations had to come from London and he was no longer in a position to contact his government! We returned with this heart-breaking news to the Guardian. He sent us back again. Of course we obeyed him implicitly because he "was the Guardian but neither my father nor I could see what more there was we could possibly do than we had already done. Nevertheless we found ourselves again seated opposite the Consul and saying very much the same things all over again, with the exception that I said he was the Head of the Bahá'í Faith and so on. The Consul looked at me and said "I remember 'Abdu'l-Bahá..." and went on to recount some contact he had had with the Master; he was obviously deeply touched by this memory. He took our passport, stamped a visa for England in it and said he had not right whatsoever to do so and that it was not worth the paper it was stamped on, but it was all he could do; if we wished to try to enter England with it, that must be our own decision and we risked being refused. With [page 179] this we immediately left Italy for France, passing through Menton on 25 May and proceeding to Marseilles. Within a few days Italy entered the war against the Allies.

It is hard to describe the period that followed. The whole episode was like a brilliantly lit nightmare - a personal nightmare for us and a giant nightmare in which the whole of Europe was involved. As our train made its way to Paris every station was crowded with thousands of refugees fleeing before the rapidly crumbling Allied front in the North. There was no way of getting any accurate information, chaos was descending. In Paris we discovered to our dismay that all ports to England were closed and the last hope of reaching that country - a hope diminishing hourly - was to go down to the little port of St Malo and see if we could still get a boat from there. We, and hundreds of other people trying to get home to England, had to wait a week before at last two boats succeeded in calling at St Malo. I never saw the Guardian in the condition the was during those days. From morning tonight he would mostly sit quite still, immobile as a stone image, and I had the impression he was being consumed with suffering, like a candle burning itself away. Twice a day he would send my father and me to the boat company in the port to inquire if there was any news of a ship and twice a day we had to come back and say "no news". It may seem strange to others that he should have been terribly concerned, but a mind like his was so infinitely better equipped to understand the danger to the Cause of our situation than we were - and God knows I was ill with worry too. Both my father and I were still feeling the great shock of my mother's sudden death from a heart attack and this, combined with everything else, made him, at least, almost numb. Not so the Guardian, who realized that if he fell into the hands of the Nazis, who had already banned the Cause in their own country and were closely associated with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem - who was actively engaged in Arab politics and the avowed enemy of the Guardian - he would very likely be imprisoned, if not worse, and the Cause itself be left with no leader and no one to encourage and guide the Bahá'í world at such a time of world chaos. It seems to me the situation was very similar to those days in Akka when the Master had been in danger of being taken off to a new place of exile and when He too had waited for news of ship. At last we embarked on the first of the two boats that came during the night of 2 June to evacuate the people stranded in St Malo and we sailed in total darkness for Southampton, [page 180] where we arrived on the following morning. It was the day after we left, as I remember, that the Germans marched into St Malo.

We had almost as much difficulty getting out of England as we had had in getting into it. It was the time of the great "evacuate the children" drive which had top priority and it was only due to the position of Shoghi Effendi, and my father's friendship with the man who was Canadian High Commissioner in London, that we succeeded in getting passage for South Africa, sailing for Cape Town on the S.S. Cape Town Castle on 28 July. It was fast ship and once we had left the shores of England in a large convey we were on our own; I remember how I used to watch the strange zigzag wake of the ship on the sea as she pursued an erratic course in order to make her a less vulnerable target for submarines. As Italy's entry into the war had closed the Mediterranean to Allied ships the route through Africa was the only way open to us to get back to Palestine. Although Shoghi Effendi had crossed Africa once before, early in his Guardianship - sailing from England in September 1929 and proceeding, mostly overland, from Cape Town to Cairo - he had not been able to that time to obtain a visa for the Belgian Congo which for some reason always fascinated him. His venturesome spirit, his love of scenic beauty, attracted him to the high mountains and deep jungles of the world and had led him to make his previous trip. Now, by some strange miracle, in the very middle of the war, we were able to get a visa for the Congo. When we reached Stanleyville and made an excursion into the deep virgin jungle, I realized that it was Shoghi Effendi's love of natural beauty that had been one of the reasons which had led him there; he wanted to see the flowering jungle. Alas, it was neither the place nor the season for this and we went on our way disappointed.

Shoghi Effendi was too concerned over my father's health (he was sixty-six and frail) to let him accompany us overland and so we had deposited him safely in a hotel in Durban pending his ability to secure air passage. The waiting list was long and non-government and non-military people were constantly off-loaded in favour of those with top priority. It was during these weeks of waiting that he designed my mother's tombstone which incorporated not only his and my ideas but a valuable suggestion for its beautification made by Shoghi Effendi himself.

After a three-day drive from Stanleyville to Juba, in the Sudan, followed by a trip down the Nile by boat, the Guardian and I arrived in Khartoum - as far as I am concerned the hottest place [page 181] on earth - and as we sat on the porch of our hotel after dinner, up out of the dark came a group of air passengers to spend the night, and with them Mr W. S. Maxwell! It was a strange fluke indeed that brought us together in the heart of Africa and it was also very reassuring as neither of us had the faintest idea where the other was and no way whatsoever of getting in touch. In Durban Shoghi Effendi had simply instructed my father to go to Palestine, to a hotel in Nazareth and wait for us there, when we could all three return to Haifa together.

To our surprise, the Governor-General, Sir Stewart Symes, invited us to lunch with him at the Palace on 1 October and after this renewal of such an old acquaintanceship we proceeded on our way to Cairo and Palestine, meeting my father as planned and returning to Haifa about six months after our departure. It may well be imagined that a journey such as this, fraught from beginning to end with uncertainty, suspense and danger, was in itself a tremendous and completely exhausting experience. Although Shoghi Effendi never visited the Western Hemisphere and never went farther east than Damascus it is interesting to note he twice traversed Africa from south to north.

How astonished the hard-pressed British Bahá'ís would have been, if, in conjunction with his cable to their National Assembly of 27 December 1940 "wire safety London Manchester friends constantly praying loving admiration" they had been informed that he himself had escaped the great blitz on London be a narrow margin and had only recently succeeded in getting back to the Holy Land!

The years that followed our return to Palestine witnessed grave dangers for the Holy Land - dangers which also threatened the World Centre of the Faith and its Guardian, as well as Bahá'ís in many countries.

Steeped in the Teachings from his childhood, the alert and observant companion of his beloved grandfather, Shoghi Effendi seems to have always been aware of what he called "the initial perturbations of the world-shaking catastrophe in store for an unbelieving humanity". Though he saw another war coming, he did not live in a constant state of false emergency. He reassured Martha Root, who in 1927 wrote to him from Europe about her fears: "As to the matter of an eventual war that may break out in Europe, do not fell in the least concerned or worried. The prospect is very remote, the danger for the near future is non-existent" - even [page 182] though that same year he had stated that the inevitability of another deadly conflict was becoming increasingly manifest. Over and over he prepared the minds of the Bahá'ís to face the fact that a world conflagration was coming. In 1938 he wrote: "The twin processes of internal disintegration and external chaos are being accelerated and every day are inexorably moving towards a climax. The rumblings that must precede the eruption of those forces that must cause 'the limbs of humanity to quake ' can already be heard. The time of the end ', 'the latter years ', as foretold in the Scriptures, are at long last upon us." And in Advent of Divine Justice, which he wrote at the end of December 1938, he clearly anticipated the war: "Who knows", he asked, "but that these few remaining, fast-fleeting years, may not be pregnant with...conflicts more devastating than any which have preceded them." And in April 1939 he had written: "the sands of a moribund civilization are inexorably running out".

As the long shadow of war descended on Europe I remember well the almost tangible feeling of catastrophe that enveloped me when Shoghi Effendi wrote, from the very heart of that continent, the poetic and powerful words that opened his cable of 30 August 1939: "shades night descending imperilled humanity inexorably deepening..." A week before Shoghi Effendi sailed from England in July 1940, he had cabled via Haifa (through which all his cables and letters were invariably relayed during his absence from home) that the fires of war " threaten devastation both Near East Far West respectively enshrining World Centre chief remaining citadel Faith Bahá'u'lláh..." It seems unbelievable that in the midst of so many anxieties and after half-a-year's absence during which we seemed to be racing all the time on the tip of a tidal wave (first to get away from Haifa in time and then to get back to Haifa in time) the Guardian should have had the mental power and physical strength upon his return to the Holy Land to sit down and write such a book as The Promised Day Is Come - a book in which he made it quite clear that the "retributory calamity" which had overtaken mankind, whatever its political and economic causes might be, was primarily due to its having ignored for a hundred years the Message of God for this day.

The dangers and problems which the war brought to us in Haifa and to the Bahá'í world in general were face by Shoghi Effendi with remarkable calm. This does not mean he did not suffer from them. The burden of responsibility was always there; he could [page 183] never lay it down for a single moment. I remember on one occasion, when I was frantic because he always had to have everything referred to him for decision, even when he was ill, he said that other leaders, even Prime Ministers, could delegate their powers for at least a short time if they were forced to, but that he could not delegate his for a single moment as long as he was alive. No one else was divinely guided to fulfil his function and he could not delegate his guidance to someone else.

Although World War II did not actually reach the Holy Land, for years we lived in the imminent danger that it might do so at any time. We, like so many other countries of the world, had a complete blackout. As the buildings that comprise the Master's house have almost one hundred windows this alone created quite a problem; of course it was not necessary or possible to black them all out, but it meant a great deal of wandering around in the dark and frequent calls from irate air-raid wardens. Haifa, being a major port with a large oil refinery, was an important point strategically. The city had various anti-aircraft guns protecting it, two of them about a mile from the Guardian's home. There were a few bombs dropped but the damage was negligible - indeed the protection miraculous - but we often had air raids, and shrapnel from the big anti-aircraft guns would be sprinkled about. This was an added worry to Shoghi Effendi because a piece of shrapnel the size of a grape could easily have irreparably damaged one of the beautiful marble monuments marking the resting-places of the Master's family; large pieces were often found near them, but never actually fell on them. We had to build an air-raid shelter but the Guardian and I never went into it. Sometimes when the alert came at night Shoghi Effendi would get up and look out of the window, but usually he did not even do that. The greatest activity was when the British invaded the Lebanon and then for a week we could hear heavy fire, and the port, half a mile from our house, was frequently dive-bombed by the Vichy forces.

But all these things were never very grave or very dangerous. In November 1941 Shoghi Effendi in a cabled message had forecast the future and characterized the years immediately before us: " fury destructiveness tremendous world ordeal attains most intensive pitch..." In spite of what lay ahead of the world we in Palestine had already, during 1941, passed through what for us were the most agonizing months of the entire war, months which had caused the Guardian intense anxiety. It was during that year [page 184] that the abortive revolution of the anti-ally Rashid Ali took place in Iraq; the British forces were persistently driven back by General Rommel in Libya and the Germans eventually (in 1942) reached the gates of Alexandria; the Nazi forces occupied Crete - a second springboard for their contemplated conquest of the Middle East; and British and French forces invaded the Lebanon and ousted the regime controlled by the Vichy Government in that country. In addition to these all-too-palpable dangers the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the enemy of both the Faith and the Guardian, was the firm ally of the Nazi Government. It does not require much imagination to picture what would have happened to Shoghi Effendi and the Shrine, the World Centre records and archives material, if a victorious German army, accompanied by the scheming and vituperative Mufti, had taken Palestine. Many times Shoghi Effendi said that it was not so much a question of what the Germans would do as the fact that there were so many local enemies who, combining with the Mufti, could completely poison the minds of the Germans against him and thus aggravate a situation already dangerous enough since our Bahá'í ideas were in many respects so inimical to the Nazi ideology.

For months Shoghi Effendi watched the ever-approaching tide of war with the deepest anxiety, weighing in his mind what course to take if an invasion took place, how best to protect in every way the Faith of which he himself was the living emblem.

Throughout the years of the war Shoghi Effendi was in a position to maintain his contact with the mass of the believers in those countries where some of the oldest and most populous Bahá'í communities existed, such as Persia, America, India and Great Britain, as well as the new and rapidly growing centres in Latin America. The relatively small communities in Japan, the European countries, Burma, and for a time Iraq, were the only ones cut off from him - a severance that grieved him and caused him much concern for their fate. Because of this little-short-of miraculous manner in which contact was maintained with the body of believers throughout the Bahá'í world Shoghi Effendi was able not only to send his directives to the various National Assemblies but to indicate what this great war signified to us as Bahá'ís. In his epistle known as The Promised Day Is Come he stated that "God's purpose is none other than to usher in, in ways He alone can bring about, and the full significance of which He alone can fathom, the Great, the Golden Age of a long-divided, a long afflicted humanity. Its present [page 185] state, indeed even its immediate future, is dark, distressingly dark. Its distant future, however, is radiant, gloriously radiant - so radiant that no eye can visualize it...The ages of its infancy and childhood are past, never again to return, while the Great Age, the consummation of all ages, which must signalize the coming of age of the entire human race, is yet to come. The convulsions of this transitional and most turbulent period in the annals of humanity are the essential prerequisites, and herald the inevitable approach, of that Age of Ages, 'the time of the end ', in which the folly and tumult of strife that has, since the dawn of history, blackened the annals of mankind, will have been finally transmuted into the wisdom and the tranquility of an undisturbed, a universal, and lasting peace, in which the discord and separation of the children of men will have given way to the world-wide reconciliation, and the complete unification of the divers elements that constitute human society...It is this stage which humanity, willingly or unwillingly, is resistlessly approaching. It is for this stage that this vast, this fiery ordeal which humanity is experiencing is mysteriously paving the way."

So great was the relief and joy of the Guardian when the European phase of the war ended in May 1945 that he cabled America: "Followers Bahá'u'lláh throughout five continents unanimously rejoice partial emergence war torn humanity titanic upheaval" and expressed what lay so deeply in his heart: "gratefully acclaim signal evidence interposition divine Providence which during such perilous years enabled World Centre our Faith escape..." and went on to express an equal thanksgiving for the manner in which other communities had been miraculously preserved, recapitulating the truly extraordinary victories won of the Faith during and in spite of the war. On 20 August 1945 he again cabled: "Hearts uplifted thanksgiving complete cessation prolonged unprecedented world conflict" and urged the American believers to arise and carry on their work, hailing the removal of restrictions which would now enable them to launch the second stage of the Divine Plan. Nothing could provide a better example of the determination, the enthusiasm and the brilliant leadership of the Guardian than these messages sent on the morrow of the emergence of the world from the worst war in its entire history.

Whatever the state of the rest of the world, the internal situation in Palestine continued to worsen in every respect. The holocaust that had engulfed European Jewry; the bitterness induced amongst [page 186] the Palestine Jews by British policy in regard to Jewish immigration, which was strictly limited and controlled; the burning resentment of the Arabs against that same policy - all served to increase local tensions and hatred. Many of the hardships from which other countries were beginning to slowly emerge, such as sever food rationing, we were now entering. Everything was difficult. We were no longer in danger of being invaded or bombed, but the outlook for this small but sacred country grew steadily blacker as we entered that period which was characterized by Shoghi Effendi as "the gravest turmoil rocking the Holy Land in modern times."

Shoghi Effendi was exhausted from the strain of the war years, years during which he had not only written The Promised Day Is Come and God Passes By, but during which he had prosecuted - for who can deny that his was the ceaseless output of enthusiasm, encouragement and energy that galvanized the Bahá'ís into action? - five years of the first Seven Year Plan, during which he had comforted, inspired and held the Bahá'í world together, during which he had steadily enlarged the periphery of the Cause and deepened and expanded the life of its national communities, during which the unique project of building the superstructure of the Bab's Shrine had been initiated, and during which the family of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, including his own family, had been hopelessly lost to him. He was now approaching fifty, his hair whitening at the temples, his shoulders bent from so much stooping over his desk, his heart not only saddened by all he had gone through but, I firmly believe, wearing out because of it.

As the British Mandate approached its end on 14 May 1948 the situation in Palestine grew steadily worse. the entire country boiled with apprehension and hatred and acts of terrorism increased steadily. The Arabs, the Jews and the British were all involved; all three of them were well aware of the complete aloofness of the Guardian from the political issues at stake and it is no exaggeration to say he was universally respected - and let alone. This is a fact of major importance for during the years, and particularly the months, preceding the end of the Mandate there was practically no neutral ground left; Jews paid for the defence of the Jewish community and Arabs paid for the defence of the Arab community. That the Guardian should have been able to steer the small Bahá'í community safely through the dangerous rapids of those days and that he himself should not have been approached for funds to support the cause of his fellow Orientals (who all knew he [page 187] had been born and bred in the country) testify to the high reputation he had establish as a man of unbending principle and iron determination.

Because, however, the Guardian was let alone does not mean he was not exposed to danger or that the Cause itself was not in a grave situation. The large unbuilt-on properties surrounding the Shrine of the Bab were the greatest source of worry because they were flanked by areas occupied by Arabs. Any open space, any place of vantage was a source of fear to both elements of the population who were such frequent victims of sniping, bomb attacks and the throwing of hand grenades. It was therefore a shock to Shoghi Effendi to discover one day, in looking through his binoculars at the Shrine area, that British soldiers had erected a machine gun on our property, overlooking a road, from which point they evidently felt they would be in a good position to fire on anyone attacking in the vicinity. They removed it, but the alarm it caused was there, the terrible danger that we might in some way become inadvertently involved in the side-taking and killing going on all around us.

I remember another occasion when a Jew who often did some special work for us had just left the Shrine property and some Arabs came and inquired where he was - he might have been killed if he had been found - and the repercussions would have been terrible for a community so passionately against the bloodshed that was taking place all the time, so completely neutral in the political struggle going on. There was often shooting all around the home of the Master, amounting sometimes to minor battles; no one ever shot at us or attacked us, but the danger of being hit was not to be underestimated. As the terrorism increased, certain areas, including our own, were voluntarily blacked out at night with no street lights at all; there were often day-time curfews imposed, when pitched battles or major acts of terrorism took place and only the British forces moved about, their great tanks howling down the abandoned streets, often firing random bursts from their machine guns as they rolled by. The wailing noise of their sirens was a most eerie, unpleasant sound, but at night it was really terrifying to an already nerve-racked population living on the edge of a volcano which might explode any time.

During all this Shoghi Effendi went up Mt Carmel every day as usual, attending to his own business, supervising the work in the gardens, visiting the Shrines and coming home before dark. During this entire period I remember only one or two occasions when, [page 188] because of the situation, a curfew had been imposed and he was not able to do so. One day, as he was being driven by Mrs Weeden up to the Shrines (our Arab chauffeur had left the country), a car was firing at the car ahead of it, which suddenly passed that of the Guardian and he was thus between the two. The other car soon overtook his and went on with its private war, but one can imagine our feelings when we heard of this incident later on! Yet there was nothing we could do. Everyone who has lived through such experiences knows that there are only two things in such circumstances one can do - go away, or carry on as usual. We just carried on. The following excerpt from one of my diaries, dated 22 February 1948, best illustrates the atmosphere we lived in at that time: "We know Bahá'u'lláh will watch over us. But being human we have our moments of anxiety, such as when shooting flares up all over town and the beloved Guardian has not yet come down from the Shrines, and the road is closed, and he has to come home on foot - then we just know it's up to Bahá'u'llá is no exaggeration to say a night without shooting just isn't any more. Sometimes it goes on, off and on, all night. But you soon sleep through it except for a bomb..."

It was not, however, such dangers as these that caused Shoghi Effendi sleepless nights. His great concern was for the protection of the Twin Holy Shrines. As the Mandate ended and the Arab-Jewish war broke out, a very real danger threatened them and caused him acute anxiety. Bahji was only about fifteen miles from the frontier, over which an invading army might pour at any moment. This was one worry; the other worry, in a way even more intense, was caused by the mooted plan, at one time seriously considered, of placing the frontiers of the new Jewish State in such a way that its northern one would divide Haifa and Akka and thus the World Centre would be split in two, its Administrative Centre situated in one country and the Holiest Spot on earth, the Qiblih of the Faith, situated in another, hostile to it and hostile to the Faith itself.

Should anyone wonder why the divinely guided Guardian worried so much over such things, I would like to give an explanation, out of my own understanding. It seems to me there are three factors involved in most situations: the Will of God in which His Beneficence, Omnipotence and the destiny He has ordained for man are all involved - and which ultimately rights all wrongs; the element of accident, which 'Abdu'l-Bahá says is inherent in [page 189] nature; and the element of individual free will and responsibility. Bearing in mind these factors it is not surprising the Guardian should be deeply concerned over any situation that affected the interests and protection of the Faith, and should anxiously ponder the problems facing him, seeking to ensure that the right solution was found, the best opportunity seized, the greatest benefit for the Cause obtained.

Many times Shoghi Effendi referred to the miraculous protection the World Centre received during the disturbed and dangerous period of the end of the British Mandate and the firm establishment of the Jewish State. The very list of the dangers avoided and the achievements witnessed during this period - which he enumerated in a cable sent to the American Bahá'í Convention on 25 April 1949 - is sufficient to enable us to glimpse the keenness of the anxiety he had experienced and the gravity of the problems with which he had been faced. The published version of this cable pointed out how great had been the "evidences divine protection vouchsafed World Centre Faith course third year second Seven Year Plan" and went on to say "Prolonged hostilities ravaging Holy Land providentially terminated. Bahá'í Holy Places unlike those belonging other faiths miraculously safeguarded. Perils no less grave than those threatened World Centre Faith under Abdu'l-Hamid Jamal Pasha and through Hitler's intended capture Near East averted. Independent sovereign State within confines Holy Land established recognized marking termination twenty-century-long provincial status. Formal assurance protection Bahá'í holy sites continuation Bahá'í pilgrimage given by Prime Minister newly emerged State. Official invitation extended by its government historic occasion opening State's first parliaments exempted responsible authorities same State. Best wishes future welfare Faith Bahá'u'lláh conveyed writing by newly elected Head State in reply congratulatory message addressed him assumption his office."

In the post-war years, as the victories the Bahá'ís were winning multiplied and the United Nations - the mightiest instrument for creating peace that men had ever devised - emerged, many of us no doubt hoped, and wishfully believed, that we had left the worst phase of humanity's long history of war behind us and that we could now discern the first light of that dawn we Bahá'ís are so firmly convinced lies ahead for the world. But the sober, guided [page 190] mind of the Guardian did not see events in this light. Until the end of his life he continued to make the same remark, based on Bahá'u'lláh's own words, that he had so often made before the war: "The distant future is very bright, but the immediate future is very dark."

Among the encouraging messages he so frequently sent to the Bahá'ís all over the world, his praises of the wonderful services they were rendering, his plans which he devised in such detail for them to prosecute, ever and anon the note of foreboding and warning would recur. In 1947 he stated that the Bahá'ís had thus far been graciously aided to follow their course "undeflected by the cross-currents and the tempestuous winds which must of necessity increasingly agitate human society ere the hour of its ultimate redemption approaches..." In that communication, urging the American Community to press forward with the supremely important work of its second Seven Year Plan, he spoke of the future: "As the international situation worsens, as the fortunes of mankind sink to a still lower ebb...As the fabric of present-day society heaves and cracks under the strain and stress of portentous events and calamities, as the fissures, accentuating the cleavage separating nation from nation, class from class, race from race, and creed from creed, multiply..." Far from having rounded the corner and turned our backs forever on our unhappy past, there was "a steadily deepening crisis". In March 1948 he went still further in a conversation I recorded in my diary: "Tonight Shoghi Effendi told me some very interesting things: roughly, he said that to say there was not going to be another war, in the light of present conditions, was foolish, and to say that if there was another war the Atom Bomb would not be used was also foolish. So we much believe there probably will be a war and it will be sued and there will be terrific destruction. But the Bahá'ís will, he felt, emerge to form the nucleus of the future world civilization. He said it was not right to say the good would perish and the bad because in a sense all are bad, all humanity is to blame, for ignoring and repudiating Bahá'u'lláh after He has repeatedly trumpeted to everyone His Message. He said the saints in the monasteries and the sinners in the worst flesh pots of Europe are all wicked because they have rejected the Truth. He said it was wrong to think, as some of the Bahá'ís do, that the good would perish with the evil, all men are evil because they have repudiated God in this day and turned from Him. He said we can only believe that in some mysterious way, in [page 191] spite of the terrible destruction, enough will be left over to build the future."

In November of that same year, again encouraging the American believers to persevere with their Plan, he wrote: "as the threat of still more violent convulsions assailing a travailing age increases, and the wings of yet another conflict, destined to contribute a distinct, and perhaps a decisive, share to the birth of the new Order which must signalize the advent of the Lesser Peace, darken the international horizon...Rumblings of catastrophes yet more dreadful agitate with increasing frequency a sorely stressed and chaotic must every aggravation in the state of a world still harassed by the ravages of a devastating conflict, and now hovering on the brink of yet more crucial struggle, be accompanied by a still more ennobling manifestation of the spirit of this second crusade..." In that same month he referred to "The deepening crisis ominously threatening further to derange the equilibrium of a politically convulsed, economically disrupted, socially subverted, morally decadent and spiritually moribund society". He went on to speak of the "premonitory rumblings of a third ordeal threatening to engulf the Eastern and Western Hemispheres" and said "the world outlook is steadily darkening." He urged the Bahá'ís to "forge ahead into the future serenely confident that the hour of their mightiest exertions, and the supreme opportunity for the their greatest exploits, must coincide with the apocalyptic upheaval marking the lowest ebb in mankind's fast-declining fortunes."

It went on and on. The victories we won, the praise, encouragement, joy of the Guardian - and the warnings. In 1950 he told the Bahá'ís they should be "undaunted" by the perils of a "progressively deteriorating international situation" and in 1951 informed the European Teaching Conference that the "perils" confronting that "sorely tried continent" were "steadily mounting". But it was really in a most grave and thought-provoking letter, written in 1954, that Shoghi Effendi expatiated on this subject of a future conflict, its causes, its course, its outcome and its effect on America, in more detail and in a more forceful language than he had ever before used. He associates the "crass" and "cancerous materialism" prevalent in the world today with the warnings of Bahá'u'lláh and states He had compared it "to a devouring flame" and regarded it "as the chief factor in precipitating the dire ordeals and world-shaking crises that must necessarily involve the [page 192] burning of cities and the spread of terror and consternation in the hearts of men." Shoghi Effendi goes on to say: "Indeed a foretaste of the devastation which this consuming fire will wreak upon the world, and with which it will lay waste the cities of the nations participating in this tragic world-engulfing contest, has been afforded by the last World War, marking the second stage in the global havoc which humanity, forgetful of its God and heedless of the clear warnings uttered by His appointed Messenger for this day, must, alas, inevitably experience."

The letter in which these appalling predictions are expressed was addressed to the American Bahá'ís and in it the Guardian points out that the general deterioration in the situation of a "distracted world" and the multiplication of increasingly destructive armaments, to which the two sides engaged in a world contest were contributing - "caught in a whirlpool of fear, suspicion and hatred" as they were - were ever-increasingly affecting their own country and were bound, if not remedied, "to involve the American nation in a catastrophe of undreamed-of dimensions and of untold consequences to the social structure, the standard and conception of the American people and government...The American nation...stands, indeed, from whichever angle one observes its immediate fortunes, in grave peril. the woes and tribulations which threaten it are partly avoidable, but mostly inevitable and God-sent..." He went on to point out the changes which these unavoidable sovereignty" to which its government and people still clung and which was so "manifestly at variance with the needs of a world already contracted into a neighbourhood and crying out for unity" and through which this nation will find itself purged of its anachronistic conceptions and prepared to play the great role 'Abdu'l-Bahá foretold for it in the establishment of the Lessor Peace. The "fiery tribulations" to come would not only "weld the American Nation to its sister nations in both hemispheres" but would cleanse it of "the accumulated dross which ingrained racial prejudice, rampant materialism widespread ungodliness and moral laxity have combined, in the course of successive generations, to produce, and which have prevented her thus far from assuming the role of world spiritual leadership forecast by 'Abdu'l-Bahá's unerring pen - a role which she is bound to fulfill through travail and sorrow."

During the last winter of his life, as if already weary of his long [page 193] struggle with our weaknesses, his years of unremitting toil and complete dedication, the Guardian spoke more strongly on this subject than I had ever heard him before. His theme was not only a warning of what the future held in store but a stern appraisal of the failure of the Bahá'ís - all of them, East and West - to go forth in numbers adequate to their great task and teach the Cause of God, far and wide, in the newly opened territories and islands of the globe, while there was yet time and opportunity to do so and thus, through a vast increase in the followers of the Faith, create those spiritual nuclei which could offset the forces of destruction at work in human society today and constitute the seed beds of the future World Order which we so firmly believe can and must emerge out of the present chaos.

Alarmed we should be, but not paralysed. In one of his last letters to a European National Assembly, in August 1957, his secretary wrote on his behalf: "He does not want the friends to be fearful, or to dwell upon the unpleasant possibilities of the future. They must have the attitude that, if they do their part, which is to accomplish the goals of the Ten Year Plan, they can be sure that God will do His part and watch over them." The policy of the Bahá'ís, in this time of world crisis, was expressed in another of his letters, written a month earlier to one of the African National Assemblies, and expressed on his behalf by his secretary: "As the situation in the world, and in your part of it is steadily worsening, no time can be lost by the friends in rising to higher levels of devotion and service, and particularly of spiritual awareness. It is our duty to redeem as many of our fellow-men as we possibly can, whose hearts are enlightened, and ready to serve. The more believers there are to stand forth as beacons in the darkness whenever that time does come, the better; hence the supreme importance of the teaching work at this time."

Shoghi Effendi had already pointed out, at an earlier period, that "However severe the challenge, however multiple the tasks, however short the time, however sombre the world outlook, however limited the material resources of a hard-pressed adolescent community, the untapped sources of celestial strength from which it can draw are measureless, in their potencies, and will unhesitatingly pour forth their energizing influences if the necessary daily effort be made and the required sacrifices by willingly accepted." [page 194] So much depended on us; what depended on God we could confidently leave to Him, once we had made our own supreme effort.

If we, the generation of the twilight before the sun of this new day rises, ask ourselves why such catastrophes should be facing us in these times, the answers all are there, made crystal clear by the Guardian in his great expositions of the meaning and implications of our teachings. Two factors, he taught us, are involved. The first is contained in those words of Bahá'u'lláh "Soon will the present-day order by rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead." To tear off the time-honoured protective covering of innumerable societies, each embedded in its own customs, superstitions and prejudices, and apply to them a universal new frame of existence is an operation only Almighty God can perform and of necessity a very painful one. This is made even more painful by the state of men's souls and minds; some societies are the victims of "a flagrant secularism - the direct offspring of irreligion", some are in the grip of "a blatant materialism and racialism" which have, Shoghi Effendi stated, "usurped the rights of God Himself", but all - all the peoples of the earth - are guilty of having, for over a century, "refused to recognize the One Whose advent had been promised to all religions, and in Whose Faith alone, all nations can and must eventually, seek their true salvation." Fundamentally it was because of this new Faith, this "priceless gem of Divine Revelation enshrining the Spirit of God and incarnating His Purpose for all mankind in this age" as Shoghi Effendi described it, that the world was "undergoing such agonies". Bahá'u'lláh Himself had said: "The world's equilibrium hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this most great, this new World Order ". "The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing Order appeareth to be lamentably defective." "The world is in travail and its agitation waxeth day by day. Its face is turned towards waywardness and unbelief. Such shall be its plight that to disclose it now would not be meet and seemly. Its perversity will long continue. And when the appointed hour is come, there shall suddenly appear that which shall cause the limbs of mankind to quake. Then, and only then, will the Divine Standard by unfurled, and the Nightingale of Paradise warble its melody." "After a time, all the governments on earth will change. Oppression will envelope the world. And following a universal convulsion, the sun of justice will rise from the horizon of the unseen realm."

So thrilling, however, is the vision of the future which Shoghi [page 195] Effendi painted for us in his brilliant words, that it wipes away all fear and fills the heart of every Bahá'í with such confidence and joy that the prospect of any amount of suffering and deprivation cannot weaken his faith or crush his hopes. "The world is, in truth," Shoghi Effendi wrote, "moving on towards its destiny. The interdependence of the peoples and nations of the earth, whatever the leaders of the divisive forces of the world may say or do, is already an accomplished fact." The world commonwealth, "destined to emerge, sooner or later, out of the carnage, agony, and havoc of this great world convulsion" was the assured consummation of the working of these forces. First would come the Lesser Peace, which the nations of the earth, as yet conscious of Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation, would themselves establish; "This momentous and historic step, involving the reconstruction of mankind, as the result of the universal recognition of its oneness and wholeness, will bring in its wake the spiritualization of the masses, consequent to the recognition of the character, and the acknowledgement of the claims, of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh - the essential condition to the ultimate fusion of all races, creeds classes, and nations which must signalize the emergence of His New World Order." He goes on to state: "then will the coming of age of the entire human race be proclaimed and celebrated by all the peoples and nations of the earth. Then will the banner of the Most Great Peace be hoisted. Then will the world-wide sovereignty of Bahá'u'llá recognized, acclaimed, and firmly established. Then will a world civilization be born, flourish, and perpetuate itself, a civilization with a fullness of life such as the world has never seen nor can as yet conceive... Then will the planet, galvanized through the universal belief of its dwellers in one God, and their allegiance to one common Revelation, as the earthly heaven, capable of fulfilling that ineffable destiny fixed for it, from time immemorial, by the love and wisdom of its Creator." [page 196]

previous chapter chapter 8 start page single page chapter 10 next chapter
Back to:   Biographies Books Pilgrims' notes
Home Site Map Forum Links Copyright About Contact
. .