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Hands of the Cause of God:
Personal Recollections

by Bill Washington

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Chapter 2

‘Alí-Akbar Furútan

My first meeting with Mr Furútan was before I became a Bahá’í, at a time when I was just investigating the Faith, and he had visited Australia at the behest of the beloved Guardian after the Intercontinental Conference in New Delhi, India, that launched the Ten Year Crusade, in October 1953. He had been instructed by the Guardian to meet with every believer in Australia and, for this purpose, he was accompanied by Mr Faizi, then an Auxiliary Board member for the Hands of the Cause in Asia, as his interpreter. Mr Furútan himself had been appointed as a Hand of the Cause only two years before and, though fluent in Arabic, Persian and Russian, his English was still quite rudimentary and whenever he spoke at any length it was translated by Mr Faizi – which was rather unfair, really, because his station, even his presence was little felt, and we all fell in love with Mr Faizi.

They spent some three days in Leeton, the small country town where I was living, visiting with the two young Bahá’ís who were then pioneering in Leeton under the Australian Six Year Plan (which preceded the Ten Year Crusade) and then we drove them to Wagga to meet with another isolated believer - she introduced herself as “an Anglican Bahá’í” and disappeared from the record soon afterwards – and then by plane back to Sydney. The plan was that they would be meeting with as many of the friends who could attend the annual summer school at Yerrinbool in December-January, and would travel the quite considerable distances to meet with all other members of the Australian community. The two Bahá’ís in Leeton – Noel and Margaret Bluett – were not intending to attend the summer school, hence their visit to Leeton, but the impact their visit had on me was such that I insisted on seeing them again at the summer school, and so Noel and Margaret also shared in that unexpected bounty.

My impression of Mr Furútan at that initial meeting was of an elderly gentleman, very polite and quietly spoken – he seemed to be a generation older than Mr Faizi, and it was quite a surprise to learn later that he was actually only one year older! Also his health was not the best at the time; I remember that at the summer school he ate very sparingly and took quiet walks after each meal, and seemed to be very much in the shadow of Mr Faizi – no doubt other, more experienced Bahá’ís saw him in a different light. But his knowledge of the Faith and related issues was obviously immense and he commanded the respect of everyone gathered for the summer school.

He addressed the friends there on the importance of the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in four sessions, covering aspects of how and why earlier religions – Christianity and Islám – had divided into sects and how this will be different in the Bahá’í dispensation; issues relating to the powers invested in the Will and Testament for expounding the Faith and for legislating, and the avoidance of Covenant-breakers. It was probably the first time issues such as these had been thoroughly explored at such depth by someone with his knowledge and deep understanding.

Much of his time at the school was spent in answering questions from the friends who had previously no one so experienced and knowledgeable to ask, and his talks revealed a deep understanding of the Faith that was most impressive. His lack of fluency in English was to some degree a barrier to understanding but one could feel that here was a source of immense spiritual knowledge and understanding, which was difficult to reach and fully appreciate.

When the National Spiritual Assembly sent a report to the Guardian on the visit, Shoghi Effendi replied, through his secretary: “He feels sure that the visit of the dear Hand of the Cause, Mr Furútan, accompanied by Mr Faizi, did a tremendous amount of good. Mr Furútan has since made the pilgrimage to Haifa, and spoke very highly to the Guardian of the believers in that part of the world, whom he grew to love and admire very much during his visit.”

Mr Furútan’s next visit to Australia was in October 1971, by which time my own experience in the Faith and appreciation of his station had grown. He visited all states and capitals, meeting with the friends and encouraging them in the teaching activities which were, at that time moving into the stage of mass enrolments. Once again he inspired the friends in his inimitable way – we were living in Melbourne at that time and saw the magical effect that his words had on the friends there. It was a busy time; we had also had a visit, at the request of the Universal House of Justice, from three believers well experienced in mass teaching in the southern states of the U.S.A. So the community that Mr Furútan encountered this time was vastly different from the scattered communities of his visit in 1953. And his command of English had improved immensely – no need for a translator now, as he charmed the friends with his delightful mixture of jest and seriousness. This time we could appreciate his words, directly; and could see more clearly his deep understanding of the teachings.

My next meeting with Mr Furútan was in Hong Kong, at one of the intercontinental conferences celebrating the midway point of the Five Year Plan in November 1976. Having spent a good deal of his time travelling and visiting communities in many lands, his fluency in English had increased, and he delighted the friends gathered at the conference by explaining the intricacies and anomalies in the pronunciation of English: “They say, we will ‘go by foot’, but I use both my feet, so it should be ‘go by feet’.” He also told the story of his visit to Perth, Australia, in 1953 when the friends wanted him to visit one of the believers in hospital, and they said, “We will go to the hospital today” but I did not want to go to the hospital to die!” – making fun, in a kindly way, of how English is pronounced in Australia.

Not only had his English improved out of sight but his power of expression enabled us to clearly see the towering giant that Mr Furútan was, in a spiritual sense. He spoke of his many experiences that gave insight into the urgency of the Faith’s needs at that time. He told another story of his visit to Australia, of parents who had approached him with their concern that their young daughter, hardly out of school, desperately wanted to pioneer to one of the goal areas; they felt she was too young and wanted him to dissuade her. But the girl’s desire was so strong that he felt he could only encourage her, and he told the parents they should agree and let her go. The young girl did pioneer with her parents’ blessing and soon afterwards fell ill and died; only she knew of the urgency and, in her desire to serve, wanted to fill the goal while she was still able to. As filling pioneer and travel teaching goals was one of the main issues for the conference, it was a very inspiring story for many of the friends.

He also told the friends that it was during that visit to Australia that he first noticed people shutting their eyes while praying, or listening to prayers read at gatherings. This was something he was not used to – apparently it was not the custom of the Iranian friends – but he tried it out, and found that it was very effective in helping one to concentrate on the prayer itself.

The conference organisers had warned the friends attending that Mr Furútan’s health was of some concern – he had not been well and needed as much rest as possible; so they were urged not to keep him talking in the evenings, so that he could get a good night’s rest. Bahá’ís, however, are incorrigible talkers when they gather together, and late at night there were many groups of believers conversing in the hotel lounge and foyer. And with them on every evening was dear Mr Furútan, still awake, bright and sharing himself till the last of the late-stayers staggered off to bed.

It was around the same time that Mr Furútan also visited Japan and we were with him for several days in Kyoto where he addressed a public meeting in one of the city’s larger venues – his talk was on child education, and many teachers and other people involved in education had been invited. It was a large and very ‘academic’ attendance, yet in making a point about the difference between ‘teaching’ and education’ he had that audience enthusiastically repeating Farsi and English words in unison – pointing out that this was simply ‘teaching’, something vastly different from ‘education’, which was effecting a change in attitudes. Despite the language barrier – as his talk had to be translated into Japanese – he had that wonderful ability to carry a large audience with him. One was reminded of the wording in the Master’s Will and Testament relating to the functions of the Hands of the Cause: to ‘edify the souls of men’ and to ‘promote learning’.

The last time I saw Mr Furútan was while on a three-day visit to the World Centre in the summer of 1996. He had come out to be with the pilgrims in the evening, and had to be assisted by the young Iranian lad who was serving as his driver. He was physically frail but the spark was still in his eyes, as he greeted the pilgrims gathered in the Pilgrim House, individually – speaking a few words with each of them. I knew in my heart it was close to the end of an era.

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