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In the corner of our lounge room sits an elderly woman knitting and smiling but rarely talking as the discussion on spiritual matters swirls around the room.
Then, in one of those silences that develop as people gather their thoughts, she stands up, walks over with the scarf she has knitted and gently places it around a woman’s neck and gives her a hug.
Everybody laughs with joy because love was shown by deeds not words.
What few of them knew, until they were told later, was that the knitter has played an historic role in the history of the Baha’i Faith. She was once a custodian of a holy place, the House of the Bab in Bushehr, Iran.
With the assistance of her daughter, Fereshteh Hooshmand, Manijeh Saatchi, 84, now of Brisbane, Australia, has produced a book that tells of her experiences in a way that shows how the human spirit, elevated by love and faith, can prevail against the forces of religious persecution.
In an introduction to Manijeh: Not Only a Change of Name, a former member of the Universal House of Justice, the late Dr. Peter Khan, wrote that the book “conveys a message of hope and optimism for all who value truth and who yearn for justice to prevail”.
It was my honour to do the initial editing of the manuscript. As I was going through the text I became progressively more and more amazed as the story unfolded before me, humbled to occasionally be in Manijeh’s presence.
There is enough human drama in her story to occupy a whole book just in the account of how, born into a traditional Islamic family, she came to be married at just nine years old. Then in what would seem to be impossible circumstances she became a Baha’i, a faith that strongly advocates the education and progress of women. But that is just the start of the story. It moves on to describe her experiences when serving with her husband, Javad, as custodian of the holy place and the incredible events that followed.
She gives a historically important description of the House, which adjoined the deep blue waters of the Persian Gulf. The smallest room in the whole house was special: “The office from which the Bab worked was known by the Baha’is as Hojreh-i-Mubarak (the Blessed Room) and was in the middle of the ground floor of the warehouse…Each window pane was made of nine pieces of coloured glass…”
That window looked out into the main cargo entrance with its tall hand-crafted wooden gates adorned with etchings of lions and leopards. Jasmine and bougainvillea beautified the warehouse yard.
Particularly poignant are the stories Manijeh tells of the African and American pilgrims:“We would welcome pilgrims from…countries we had never heard of, all humble and devoted believers in a nascent world faith.”
Then, in 1967, “on one of the saddest days we would ever experience”, the authorities destroyed this holy place sacred to millions around the world.
The book then moves into the nitty gritty of persecution which ramped up after the 1979 revolution. It moves beyond the broad descriptions of systematic oppression to details of what happened to Manijeh’s husband and other members of her family.
For those wanting to understand the situation now in Iran, this book is a good start because despite the propaganda and claims of change, the persecution of Baha’is remains in full force.
As Dr. Khan wrote, the book describes a degree of hardship to which very few people are subjected in their lives.
“However,” Dr. Khan continued, “this is not a book of lamentation; far from it. It is a record of the power of the human spirit to withstand even the most perfidious of oppressors and to emerge triumphant from persecution.”
You can purchase a copy of Manijeh: Not Only a Change of Name, by Manijeh Saatchi, with the assistance of Fereshteh Hooshmand, from your local Baha’i bookstore, or here from Amazon.
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