Ruhiyyih RabbaniBaha'i leader, 1910-2000
The last official leader of the Baha'i faith was Shoghi Effendi Rabbani, known to Baha'is simply as Shoghi Effendi. Since his death in 1957, the Baha'is have been governed by a legislature but his wife, Ruhiyyih Rabbani, became the pre-eminent member of the Baha'i faith. Rabbani has died in her home at Haifa in Israel.
The Baha'is, who number more than five million and believe in the unity of all religions and the oneness of humanity, emerged in Iran in the mid-19th century. Mirza Husain Ali, known as Bahá'u'lláh, meaning Glory of God, is considered the religion's founder; Shoghi Effendi was his great-grandson.
Rabbani was treated as a link with Baha'is' spiritual roots and accorded special respect. "She was venerated by millions of people," said Dr Firuz Kazemzadeh, a Baha'i and former professor of Russian at Yale University.
Frank Lewis, a Baha'i and professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Yale, said that pilgrims to Haifa, the centre of the Baha'i faith, regularly sought out Rabbani. "People treated her recollections and interpretations of doctrine with a special degree of reverence," he said.
Mary Sutherland Maxwell was born in New York in 1910 to William Sutherland Maxwell, a Canadian architect, and his American wife, May Bolles. The Maxwells were prominent Baha'is and visited Haifa several times. Their daughter met her future husband as a girl. On a family visit a few years later, the parents were surprised when Rabbani asked for her hand. "He sort of knew her and decided it was time he should get married," Lewis said.
Rabbani worked tirelessly as her husband's researcher and secretary. The couple had no children, and a direct descendant would not necessarily have become head of the faith anyway.
But Shoghi Effendi did appoint a group of 30 Baha'is to become Hands of the Cause. They elected nine to run the religion until a permanent council, the Universal House of Justice, could be established in 1963. Rabbani was one of the nine "hands".
Though she worked for environmental causes and travelled to promote Baha'i, acquaintances say she always missed her husband. She wrote a biography about him called The Priceless Pearl and a book of sad poems.
- Douglas Martin, The New York Times
©Copyright 2000, The Sydney Morning Herald