December 10, 2020

A Sampler from Mahmud’s Diary – by Marzieh Gail

We tend to forget what a star 'Abdu'l-Baha was in the worldly sense, what a dazzling personality. We would be much mistaken if we thought of Him as an ivory-tower philosopher, a desert saint or One who spent His days only among the poor-although He loved them so much. The truth is that He Who was the perfect model for all Baha'is was splendid, sophisticated, in the good sense a man of the world; that He was equally at home in a palace or a hovel, with a beggar, scholar, or prince. He excluded no class from what Queen Marie of Rumania has referred to as the "wide embrace" - the Baha'i Faith - and none excluded Him. He would enter a city unknown, and His reception room would soon be overflowing. Weak and strong, known and unknown, they sought Him out, even Persian grandees who had persecuted His followers at home. Poets addressed odes to Him, artists painted Him, photographers took His picture. A number of word pictures exist, Browne's for example of 1890:

"Seldom have I seen one whose appearance impressed me more. A tall, strongly-built man holding himself straight as an arrow, with white turban and raiment, long black locks reaching almost to the shoulder, broad powerful forehead, indicating a strong intellect combined with an unswerving will, eyes keen as a hawk's, and strongly marked but pleasing features - such was my first impression of 'Abbas Effendi... Subsequent conversation with him served only to heighten the respect with which his appearance had from the first inspired me. One more eloquent of speech, more ready of argument, more apt of illustration, more intimately acquainted with the sacred books of the Jews, the Christians, and the Muhammadans, could, I should think, scarcely be found even amongst the eloquent, ready, and subtle race to which he belongs. These qualities, combined with a bearing at once majestic and genial, made me cease to wonder at the influence and esteem which he enjoyed even beyond the circle of his father's followers. About the greatness of this man and his power no one who had seen him could entertain a doubt."

And Lady Blomfield says of Him as He was in 1912: "He wore a low-crowned taj, round which was folded a small, fine-linen turban of purest white; His hair and short beard were of that snowy whiteness which had once been black; His eyes were large, blue-gray with long, black lashes and well-marked eyebrows; His face was a beautiful oval with warm, ivory-coloured skin, a straight, finely-modelled nose, and firm, kind mouth ... His figure was of such perfect symmetry, and so full of dignity and grace, that the first impression was that of considerable height... inner glory shone in every glance, and word, and movement as He came with hands outstretched."

November 18, 2020

The Writings of the Guardian: – “precise and luminous” - by Rúhíyyih Khanum

In an age when people play football with words, kicking them right and left indiscriminately with no respect for either their meaning or correct usage, the style of Shoghi Effendi stands out in dazzling beauty. His joy in words was one of his strongest personal characteristics, whether he wrote in English—the language he had given his heart to—or in the mixture of Persian and Arabic he used in his general letters to the East. Although he was so simple in his personal tastes he had an innate love of richness which is manifest in the way he arranged and decorated various Bahá’í Holy Places, in the style of the Shrine of the Báb, in his preferences in architecture, and in his choice and combination of words. Of him it could be said, in the words of another great writer, Macaulay, that “he wrote in language ... precise and luminous.” Unlike so many people Shoghi Effendi wrote what he meant and meant exactly what he wrote. It is impossible to eliminate any word from one of his sentences without sacrificing part of the meaning, so concise, so pithy is his style....

The language in which Shoghi Effendi wrote, whether for the Bahá’ís of the West or of the East, has set a standard which should effectively prevent them from descending to the level of illiterate literates which often so sadly characterizes the present generation as far as the use and appreciation of words are concerned. He never compromised with the ignorance of his readers but expected them, in their thirst for knowledge, to overcome their ignorance. Shoghi Effendi chose, to the best of his great ability, the right vehicle for his thought and it made no difference to him whether the average person was going to know the word he used or not. After all, what one does not know one can find out. Although he had such a brilliant command of language he frequently reinforced his knowledge by certainty through looking up the word he planned to use in Webster’s big dictionary. Often one of my functions was to hand it to him and it was a weighty tome indeed! Not infrequently his choice would be the third or fourth usage of the word, sometimes bordering on the archaic, but it was the exact word that conveyed his meaning and so he used it. I remember my mother once saying that to become a Bahá’í was like entering a university, only one never finished learning, never graduated. In his translations of the Bahá’í writings, and above all in his own compositions, Shoghi Effendi set a standard that educates and raises the cultural level of the reader at the same time that it feeds his mind and soul with thoughts and truth....

The supreme importance of Shoghi Effendi’s English translations and communications can never be sufficiently stressed because of his function as sole and authoritative interpreter of the Sacred Writings, appointed as such by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in His Will. There are many instances when, owing to the looseness of construction in Persian sentences, there could be an ambiguity in the mind of the reader regarding the meaning. Careful and correct English, not lending itself to ambiguity in the first place, became, when coupled with Shoghi Effendi’s brilliant mind and his power as interpreter of the Holy Word, what we might well call the crystallizing vehicle of the teachings. Often by referring to Shoghi Effendi’s translation into English the original meaning of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh, or ‘Abdu’l-Bahá becomes clear and is thus safeguarded against misinterpretation in the future. He was meticulous in translating and made absolutely sure that the words he was using in English conveyed and did not depart from the original thought or the original words. One would have to have a mastery of Persian and Arabic to correctly understand what he did....

The Guardian was exceedingly cautious in everything that concerned the original Word and would never explain or comment on a text submitted to him in English (when it was not his own translation) until he had verified it with the original.

(‘The Priceless Pearl’)

October 18, 2020

The Missionary as Historian: William Miller and the Baha’i Faith – by Douglas Martin

A review of William McElwee Miller’s THE BAHA’I FAITH: ITS HISTORY AND TEACHINGS (S. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1974), 358 pages, appendices, index. 

“We are dealing ... not with what we would like to believe, but with historical facts established beyond a doubt which we cannot but accept.” — William Miller 

William McElwee Miller is a man with an obsession. Although by profession a Presbyterian clergyman, and for forty years employed in that Church’s missions in Persia, Rev. Miller has focused a great part of his energies as a writer and as a public lecturer on the subject of the Bahá’í Faith. The two books he has written are both on that topic (1), as are a third work on which he collaborated with the Reverend E. E. Elder, (2) and a number of articles published in the religious press. His most recent book, ‘The Baha’i Faith: Its History and Teachings’ may be fairly regarded as the final flowering of this lifetime preoccupation. 

To say this should not suggest that Rev. Miller regards his subject with any affection. He briefly acknowledges that the Baha’i Faith has become a worldwide religious force to be taken seriously. In speaking of The Bahá’í World, the fourteen-volume summary of the Faith’s activities since 1925, he says: “Whoever peruses [these volumes] ... will be impressed by the fact that the Bahá’í Faith is indeed a world Faith.” He groups it in this respect with Christianity and Islam, whose “field is the world.” (3) Such a judgment is in itself no small admission. In his initial assessment, written in 1931, Rev. Miller dismissed the Bahá’í Faith as “a dying movement,” a minor “sect” which was on the point of disappearing entirely from the world scene: “It is only a matter of time until this strange movement ... shall be known only to students of history.” (4) His latest book would, therefore, have benefited greatly from even a brief explanation of so startling a change of mind. 

What has not changed is Rev. Miller’s very negative view of the youngest addition to the world’s religions. Essentially, the Bahá’í Faith which he pictures for his readers is a product of a century-long conspiracy conceived by persons of the basest character and motive. Its present-day followers (whose own spiritual life Rev. Miller assesses as in no way distinguished) are entirely deceived as to their Faith’s real nature. Its laws and teachings are either superficial, harmful, or irrelevant to mankind’s needs. Its administrative order is “a dictatorship.” 

September 13, 2020

Baha’u’llah as Protector – by Mabel Hyde Paine

In whatever way we view Baha'u'llah, awe and wonder and an inability to comprehend must loom large in our attitude. An early pilgrim wrote of 'Abdu'l-Baha, "As we gazed on Him I realized that we could in no way comprehend Him; we could only love Him, follow Him, obey Him and thereby draw nearer to His beauty. I understand that we could not fathom the mystery of His being, we could only hope to be engulfed therein." [1] How much more, even, is this true of Baha'u'llah.

Yet, as Baha'is, we are not shut out as by a veil from Him. We recognize in Him the living Word of God, that same Word of which St. John wrote: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life and the life was the light of men.  ... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father."[ 2] As Baha'is we have the enlarged conception of "the Only Begotten of the Father", that it applies to all the great Messengers or Manifestations of God. As Baha'is, adoring Baha'u'llah, we adore Jesus the Christ, Muhammad, all those great Ones who come to this earth, but Who at the same time always abide in the heaven of the creative power of God.

God has willed that these great Ones, Who were with Him from eternity and to eternity will abide with Him, should come to earth and take up the human life and live it perfectly. They are the channels through which the power of God may come to us. They are our help in troubles and in peril, our sanctuary of protection. As Isaiah put it, "A man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." [3]

Among the ways by which we may come to an abiding sense of the reality of this protective power of the Manifestations is study of Their Words, which are deeply creative. Another way is a deep acquaintance with the lives They led while on earth.

August 10, 2020

Baha’u’llah’s Epistle to the Son of the Wolf – Notes by Marzieh Gail

This is the last major outstanding Tablet of Baha’u’llah. The last He wrote before He left us; before that happened of which the Báb has written, "all sorrow is the shadow of that sorrow."  This is the last of the hundred books He revealed for us.

It was written to a priest in Isfahan, a priest called the "Son of the Wolf". His father had spoken the words that sent the "twin shining lights," the King of Martyrs and the Beloved of Martyrs to their death. They were laid in two sandy graves near Isfahan. (Years afterward, an American woman named Keith Ransom Kehler knelt there and wept and brought them flowers; then in a few days she was stricken and died, and the friends carried her back to these same graves and buried her beside them).

This priest, Aqa Najafi, had committed the unforgivable sin: he had violated the Covenant and blasphemed against the Holy Spirit; that is, he had hated, not the lamp, not the Prophet of God as an individual -- from ignorance, or because he did not recognize Him -- but the light itself, the perfections of God which the Prophet reflects; he had hated the light in the lamp -- and "this detestation of the light has no remedy...”

This priest was, then, the most hopeless of sinners. His evil found expression in many ways, and among them was this, that with his pupils, he kicked at and trampled the martyred body of Mirza Ashraf, in Isfahan (not the Ashraf of whom we read in Gleanings; Siyyid Ashraf, whose head was cut off in Zanjan).

And yet, Baha'u'llah begins this Tablet with a prayer of repentance for Aqa Najafi to recite. He offers this breaker of the Covenant forgiveness; just as, in His Most Holy Book, He offers forgiveness to Mirza Yahya, the treacherous half-brother who tried to destroy him. This offering is a demonstration of "Badá" -- of the principle of the free operation of the Will of God, Who doeth whatsoever He willeth and shall not he asked of His doings.

July 12, 2020

The Divine Servant – The Life of ‘Abdu’l-Baha – Part 1: 1844-1908 – by Jinab-i-Fadil

The life of 'Abdu'l-Baha is very significant among the lives of the past heavenly educators. If we study the history of the former manifestations of God, we realize that the first portion of their lives has been free from anxiety and persecution, while the life of 'Abdu'l-Baha from the day of His birth has been one of vicissitude, trial and painful ordeals.  

Moreover, the enemies and foes of ‘Abdu'l-Baha, never ceased to plan and scheme to persecute and bring about his exile and banishment, and to annihilate His Revelation. And these people had more general power than the enemies of the former prophets.  

One of the Divine Allegorical incidents was that 'Abdu'l-Baha was born in Teheran the same night upon which the Báb proclaimed His Mission in Shiraz - that is, May 23rd, 1844. Baha'u'llah gave the name of His father to ‘Abdu'l-Baha. This name was Abbas but He always called Him Master – “Aqa” - even when He was a little child.  

The first few years of the life of 'Abdu'l-Baha were spent amid the most tragic and dramatic events of the life of Baha'u'llah. He was the center of the movement, every tragic event revolved around Him and His home was the rendezvous of all the Baha'is. All the news and all that transpired in the Cause was brought to Him. His home was well known as the headquarters of the Movement and often groups of rowdies would throw stones and try to hurt the inmates. When ‘Abdu'l-Baha was a little child groups of urchins would surround Him and try to stone Him. Even at the early age of eight or nine years 'Abdu'l-Baha had already witnessed the plotting of the enemies and had seen the friends martyred and guillotined. Up to this age He had seen many headstones of heroes and heroines who had gone to their death with radiant acquiescence.  

Most of the time Baha’u’llah was absent from home traveling in the interest of the Cause, and visiting the friends in prison. His property was confiscated and both day and night His household was in danger, so there was no opportunity for 'Abdu'l-Baha to go to school and learn the things which other children have to learn.

May 19, 2020

Psychology from the Spiritual Standpoint – by Ella Goodall Cooper

Ella Goodall Cooper
We, as Baha'is, approach the study of psychology as we do every other science which is helpful to humanity, since one of our cardinal principles is that in this day science and religion must work hand in hand in order to bring to pass that spiritual civilization which is the goal of all true education. "Study the sciences," says' ‘Abdu’l-Baha, "acquire more and more knowledge. Assuredly one may learn to the end of one's life. Use your knowledge always for the benefit of others."

"Know thyself," enjoined Socrates, without, however, revealing any method of going about it. Nevertheless, the precept still holds good, and extends to knowing one's neighbor, since "the proper study of mankind is man." To the Baha'is this popular interest, far from being improper, is encouraging, for it is a token of people's interest in one another, which interest we believe will grow and grow till all come to recognize the truth of Baha'u'llah's saying, "This handful of dust, the earth, is one home."

In sharp contrast to the popular superficial and often selfish applications of psychology, are the earnest endeavors, profound and beneficent, of the conscientious psychiatrists and physicians, patiently working to unravel the intricate threads of maladjusted lives, using the valuable technique contributed by the psycho-analysts, to bring education to the normal, and relief to the abnormal, members of society.

To these men, Janet, Freud Jung, Adler and others, society owes a debt, which is ever growing, as the efforts, particularly those of Dr. Adler and his colleagues in Vienna, are being extended to cooperate not only with medical men but also with the educator and social welfare worker, and we ardently hope the circle may soon widen to include the enlightened and scientifically-minded religionist, as well. The efforts of this group are directed toward prevention of abnormal conditions through education, rather than merely the relief of the tragic situation after it has been allowed to arise. Is not this the object of spiritual education also?

March 17, 2020

Happiness – Material and Spiritual – by Shahnaz (Louise Spencer) Waite

Thomas Edison, when celebrating his eighty-second birthday, was asked to give his formula for a happy life. He replied -"I am not acquainted with anyone who is happy." He could not give a recipe for happiness, he who had given to mankind so much that had brought comfort and enlightenment the world over, because, as he stated he knew no one who was happy. His statement was unqualified, he made no exceptions.

On the other hand, there are countless cults whose leaders make a specialty of "formulas for happiness." They promise perfect "health, wealth, love, and happiness" to all who will pay the price for the formula with instructions as to how to apply it; but it does not seem to work out well or more of their followers would demonstrate the promised results.

The extreme scarcity of happiness goes to show that there is something else to be sought for upon which happiness depends, or else that one is searching in the wrong direction.

There are as many human opinions as to how happiness may be obtained as there are various conceptions as to what constitutes that blissful state. That which ranks first among these may be classified under sense-gratification. By the pleasure seeker it is confused with the sought-for prize. Yet we know that sense-gratification is not happiness neither is asceticism practiced to win this sacred gift.

It has been said that "happiness ever flees the ardent seeker," that it "comes unbidden when it comes at all." Conditions must be right, for it enters the human heart. It cannot dwell with discord or inharmony. It is never found where evil impulses, greed and selfishness dwell.

Neither does marked culture, education, talents or fame encage it. Palatial environments, wealth and social position seem more often to frighten it away; and sordid conditions offer no inducement for its abiding place. Material grandeur, pomp and glory hold nothing that attracts its divine nature.

January 14, 2020

1979: The tragic death of the Hand of the Cause Enoch Olinga and his family – by NSA of Canada

The Universal House of justice has shared with us a copy of a letter dated January 11, 1980, from the Hands of the Cause of God residing in the Holy Land to the Hands of the Cause of God throughout the world. We hope this will allay any concerns the friends may have had over the circumstances surrounding the death of our beloved Hand of the Cause, Enoch Olinga.

"In all of these sad events it is some consolation to know that apparently the murder of Mr. Olinga was in no way directly connected with either religion or politics; in other words no one associated Enoch with any political factions and this attack on him was not in the nature of an attack on the Faith itself. Enoch may have been killed just because he was an affluent businessman and well known because of this and as a 'leader' of the Baha’is.

“For some years past in Uganda the elimination of prominent people has been a fixed policy of certain factions and nearly all those who fell into this category fled the country. Mr. Vuyiya, who arrived in Kampala from Nairobi three days after the event, writes ' ... staying in the middle of the town, I had the full effect of the state of near anarchy in Kampala at night. There were shots every night.' He points out that in the nightly curfew no one could tell who was roaming about the streets and that every night brought with it ‘... the news of the murder of yet another family.'

“As nothing worth mentioning, including a large sum of money which was available in Mr. Olinga's desk, seems to have been stolen from the home, some people consider that it was one of the acts being regularly committed by some obscure faction, to create the impression that lawlessness was rampant and thus discredit the efforts of the new Government to maintain law and order. In similar killings these 'thugs' have stated they are not thieves but have come 'only for lives.'