I can’t tell you how excited I was when my dear friend Michael V. Day first told me about the book he was writing! I had the pleasure of serving at the Baha’i World Centre with Michael and have long admired and respected Michael’s writing abilities and the eloquence of his pen, so when he told me what the book was about, I knew it was going to be great!
Journey to a Mountain: The Story of the Shrine of the Bab is a stunning book that provides the exciting historical background to the Shrine of the Bab like no other publication. It is the first in a trilogy and covers the years 1850-1921. Although part of a series, this George Ronald publication can stand alone and is captivating all on its own. The book has just been released and Michael agreed to tell us all about it.
Baha’i Blog: So good to talk to you about this great accomplishment, Michael! Can you tell us a little bit about the book?
“Journey to a Mountain” tells for the first time in detail the thrilling story of how the sacred remains of the Bab were taken from Tabriz to Tehran and hidden for nearly 50 years.
It then moves on to describe how Abdu’l-Baha achieved the impossible. Although a prisoner of the Ottoman Empire until 1908, He managed to fulfil Baha’u’llah’s directive to bring the casket to Mount Carmel to build a Shrine in the place indicated by His Father, and to inter the sacred remains.
The story continues through the perilous years of World War I. It finishes with a detailed account of the passing of the Master. The book is full of new information. Like a jigsaw, it also pieces together other parts of the story that were found in a wide variety of places. I tried to make it as exciting as possible while maintaining due respect for the Central Figures and their utterances.
You don’t have to be a big reader to enjoy the book. There are 44 pages of photographs, some found in archives and never published before. Many are cleaned and sharpened through modern technology. It also has an original map of the route from Tabriz to Tehran, and Tehran to the Holy Land, and an original map of the funeral procession of the Master. There are extensive footnotes telling stories of their own. Two more books, already written, take the Shrine’s story to 2011 and will be published at a future date.
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little bit about why you felt this was an important undertaking, and why it was important for you to do this personally?
I think it is one of the greatest stories I could possibly be privileged to write. After all, the Shrine of the Bab is the holiest place in the world apart from the Shrine of Baha’u’llah, and it energises the administration of the Faith.
It all started because I wanted to know more about how the casket was hidden in Persia, and how it was taken to the Holy Land. Living and serving near the Shrine from 2003-2006 deepened my curiosity about this sacred place. Books by Hands of the Cause Ugo Giachery and Hasan Balyuzi also motivated me.
The subject matter was daunting, so holy and important. But as a journalist, I thought I could at least try to write about it in a way that others will find interesting and inspiring.
Baha’i Blog: A historical book like this takes so much time and research. What was the process of writing this book like for you and what were some of the challenges?
I started in late 2010, and the work did not stop on the first volume until December 2016. I finished the two other volumes too.
While researching and writing, I was accompanied via email on almost a daily basis for those six years by former Shrine custodian Fuad Izadinia. He was in South Africa, I was in Australia. We delved into books, Tablets, magazines, letters, and personal accounts in three languages. I received initial advice from former member of the Universal House of Justice Dr. Peter Khan and stunningly prompt answers to many questions from another esteemed former member, Mr. Ali Nakhjavani.
The process took on speed when I started getting up at 4am to work without interruption. I felt like the most privileged person in the world. Imagine diving back in time and living in the world of the heroes and the Central Figures of the Faith. The short Tablet of Visitation was an indispensable prelude to work. Coffee followed a couple of hours later. I often put on the music of the late Tony O’Connor when it was time to write on the wings of inspiration.
The challenges involved working out some problems that were mind-bendingly difficult because many of the crucial activities had been carried out in secret. Other topics had been rarely, if ever, written about before. A sample: how was the casket carried, and by what route; where was it hidden in the Holy Land; who designed the Shrine and how was it built; how exactly was the casket taken into the Shrine and where was it placed; what plants were in the gardens.
Baha’i Blog: What’s something you’ve really learnt personally on this writing/research journey? Or, how has putting the book together influenced you?
Here are just three of the things I learned. The first is that the Shrine is more holy and powerful than we can possibly know. The second is that when writing about such a holy topic, grace comes wafting at unexpected times. The third is that for me that the history of the Faith has the most exciting stories ever.
Baha’i Blog: I know there must be so many interesting stories and findings in the book, but what’s something interesting that comes to mind that you can share with us from the the book, or was there something that you really loved that hit the cutting floor and didn’t make it into the book?
I managed to squeeze most things in. I love every part of the story. For excitement, my heart still thumps when I re-read about the rescue, concealment and transport of the sacred remains. For emotion –I still cry when I re-read it– the passage in the story just before the Master enters the vault. For inspiration, His own addresses to pilgrims, and the speeches at His funeral. I loved describing the building in detail.
Baha’i Blog: Is there anything further you’d like to share with us?
I have already written two other stand-alone books in the series, the first covering the Guardian’s ministry, with the main topic the superstructure, and the second taking the story up to 2011, with the main focus on the Terraces. I find both eras very exciting. Those books have a lot of new information, and great photos. They will be published soon. Please visit www.michaelvday.com.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you so much, Michael! It’s been a joy to learn about your journey and process to put this volume, and the other two, together! It’s been inspiring talking to you!
If you’d like more information on this book and on Michael’s upcoming titles, check out his website: www.michaelvday.com.