When you hear the title ‘Knight’, different connotations come to mind. Historically speaking, a medieval knight was known for their steadfast honor, their allegiance to God, and their loyalty to their lords and ladies. Their lives were dedicated to religious faith and military action – for example, in the Middle Ages they set out to conquer the Holy Land in the name of Christendom. Shoghi Effendi did not choose his words lightly, and hence the title “Knight of Baha’u’llah” authored by Shoghi Effendi, was a title that was bestowed on those selfless souls who opened 131 specific virgin territories to the Faith during what was known as the Ten Year Crusade.
Even as a child with little knowledge of the development of the Baha’i Faith, the title of “Knight of Baha’u’llah” was connotative to me of the qualities of medieval knights, of spiritual battles and sacrificial heroism. This knightly demeanor is masterfully called for by Shoghi Effendi in a cablegram to the Baha’is of the world sent in 1952 in preparation for the coming Ten Year Crusade which took place between 1953-1963, and which I explain in a little more detail further on.
No matter how long the period that separates them from ultimate victory; however arduous the task; however formidable the exertions demanded of them; however dark the days which mankind, perplexed and sorely-tried, must, in its hour of travail, traverse; however severe the tests with which they who are to redeem its fortunes will be confronted; however afflictive the darts which their present enemies, as well as those whom Providence, will, through His mysterious dispensations raise up from within or from without, may rain upon them, however grievous the ordeal of temporary separation from the heart and nerve-center of their Faith which future unforeseeable disturbances may impose upon them, I adjure them, by the precious blood that flowed in such great profusion, by the lives of the unnumbered saints and heroes who were immolated, by the supreme, the glorious sacrifice of the Prophet-Herald of our Faith, by the tribulations which its Founder, Himself, willingly underwent, so that His Cause might live, His Order might redeem a shattered world and its glory might suffuse the entire planet—I adjure them, as this solemn hour draws nigh, to resolve never to flinch, never to hesitate, never to relax, until each and every objective in the Plans to be proclaimed, at a later date, has been fully consummated.
To describe the Knights of Baha’u’llah is to describe the Ten Year Crusade, the global plan that was launched in 1953. At that time there were 12 National Spiritual Assemblies and there were believers in 128 countries and territories. In the years prior, 2 contingents of Hands of the Cause of God were appointed and 4 intercontinental conferences were planned. Each of the 12 National Spiritual Assemblies was given a plan for the global enterprise of the coming 10 years. In this article on the Ten Year Crusade, or the Global Crusade, Graham Hasall writes:
The purpose of the World Crusade, as described by Shoghi Effendi, was to extend the reach of Baha’u’llah’s call ‘over the entire surface of the globe’ to ‘assemble beneath its sheltering shadow peoples of every race, tongue, creed, color and nation’. It was a ‘Spiritual Crusade’, the ‘most prodigious, the most sublime, the most sacred collective enterprise launched by the adherents of the Cause of God in both hemispheres since the early days of the Heroic Age of the Faith—an enterprise which in its vastness, organization and unifying power’ which had ‘no parallel in the world’s spiritual history’.
The Crusade’s four broad aims were (a) the development of institutions at the World Centre; (b) consolidation of the twelve communities undertaking the plans; (c) consolidation of all other territories already open; and (d) the opening of the remaining ‘chief virgin territories’ around the globe.
In its first year, emphasis was placed on settling the 131 territories and those brave pioneers who responded to the Guardian’s call were given the title of Knight of Baha’u’llah. The names of these Knights are inscribed, in chronological order, on an illuminated Roll of Honor that was buried at the door to the Shrine of Baha’u’llah, as per Shoghi Effendi’s announced intentions. By the conclusion of the Crusade, 127 territories of the 131 had been successfully opened (some lands under Communist rule proved impossible to enter before 1990) and no less than 256 selfless souls were knighted. At their heels, about 1000 fellow believers joined the Knights at their pioneering posts in the subsequent years.
The bravery, the courage, the determination, and the unshakable faith of these believers is truly heroic – I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like to pack one’s suitcases, and to move to a remote outpost, away from family and friends. In a letter written on his behalf, the Guardian stated the following about the pioneering work of the Knights:
He [Shoghi Effendi] hopes that in your correspondence with the pioneers you will impress this fact upon them and make them realize that to be a ‘Knight of Baha’u’llah’ is not only a very high and pleasant position, but involves a truly tremendous responsibility. To remain at one’s post, to undergo sacrifice and hardship, loneliness and, if necessary, persecution, in order to hold aloft the torch of Baha’u’llah, is the true function of every pioneer.
Let them remember Marion Jack, who for over twenty years in a country the language of which she never mastered; during war and bombardment; evacuation and poverty; and at length, serious illness, stuck to her post, and has now blessed the soil of the land she had chosen to serve at such cost with her precious remains, every atom of which was dedicated to Baha’u’llah. Perhaps the friends are not aware that the Guardian, himself, during the war on more than one occasion urged her to seek safety in Switzerland rather than remain behind enemy lines and be entirely cut off. Lovingly she pleaded that he would not require her to leave her post, and he acquiesced to her request. Surely the standard of Marion Jack should be borne in mind by every pioneer!
What is particularly remarkable to me about the Knights of Baha’u’llah and the Ten Year Crusade is that the Guardian passed away in November of 1957, almost mid way through the Plan. Grieving his absence, his steady guidance, his words of wisdom and encouragement, how much harder must the pioneering work have been? And yet, the goals of the plan were won. Pondering this makes me think of the following poem by Ruhiyyih Khanum, entitled “This is Faith”:
To walk where there is no path
To breathe where there is no air
To see where there is not light-
This is Faith.
To cry out in the silence,
The silence of the night,
And hearing no echo believe
And believe again and again-
This is Faith.
To hold pebbles and see jewels
To raise sticks and see forests
To smile with weeping eyes-
This is Faith.
To say: “God, I believe” when others deny,
“I hear” when there is no answer,
“I see” though naught is seen-
This is Faith.
And the fierce love in the heart,
The savage love that cries
“Hidden Thou art yet there!
Veil Thy face and mute Thy tongue
yet I see and hear Thee, Love,
Beat me down to the bare earth,
Yet I rise and love Thee, Love!”
This is Faith.
 Shoghi Effendi, Messages to the Baha’i World: 1950–1957, p. 38-9
 Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, p. 111
 Ibid. p. 114
 Ibid. p. 106, 110-111
 Ibid. p. 119
 Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, p. 336
 Violette Nakhjavani, A Tribute to ‘Amatu’l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum, p. 33-34