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Mulla Husayn: The Unlikely Hero Who Advanced the Cause of Truth

Pictured above is the Vakil Mosque in Shiraz, Iran, where Mulla Husayn preached and taught theology classes during his time in Shiraz. [Photo: Faruk Kaymak]

You are destined to exhibit such courage, such skill and heroism as shall eclipse the mightiest deeds of the heroes of old. Your daring exploits will win the praise and admiration of the dwellers in the eternal Kingdom. – The Bab to Mulla Husayn in Mahku before His transference to Chihriq

He was frail of form and slender with a fragile frame. 

He appeared before the great clerics and the learned of his time “an insignificant and negligible figure.”

His hand trembled and shook as he wrote.

His childhood friend declared him as one not in possession of strength or bodily endurance.

Contemporary reports indicate he had been sickly as a child and suffered from epilepsy and heart palpitations.

And yet.  Continue reading

Zaynab and the Women of Zanjan

The image above is a drawing of the city walls of Zanjan, Persia, by French orientalist, Eugène Flandin. The drawing would have been done some time around the mid-1800s, a time when members of the Babi faith faced severe persecution. [Image copyright: Public Domain]

From their earliest years, generations of Baha’is have prayed: “Make of me a shining lamp and a brilliant star.” Shining lamps and brilliant stars are only necessary, and only visible, in times of darkness. The women of Zanjan, a city in north-west Persia, who recognised the truth of the claim of the Bab, shone as brilliant stars through the darkness of the “most violent and devastating” of “the great conflagrations” which consumed the followers of the Bab in the East, South, West, and capital of Persia in the middle of the 19th century. Through the long months that came to be recognized as one of the most remarkable episodes in the history of the Babi Revelation, they struggled side by side with the Babi men, serving, sacrificing, suffering. The sole purpose of the men, as repeatedly stated by their leader Hujjat, was to preserve inviolate the security of the women and children from the attacks heaped upon them for their beliefs. At the same time the sole purpose of the women was to provide the means by which the men could continue to defend the community. They were part of one heroic interdependent whole.  Continue reading

Martha Root’s Speeches and Social Discourse: Cosmic Education for a Universal Age

Hand of the Cause of God Martha Root sitting front and center, with a group of women in Melbourne, Australia, c. 1924. Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community

A century ago, on July 22, 1919, Martha Root embarked on a 20-year journey to destinations in Europe, Australia, Asia, the Americas, and Africa. These travels were motivated by a desire to share Baha’u’llah’s teachings with diverse audiences through public speaking and writing. Before setting out, she had honed her rhetorical skills during her career as a journalist, performer, and teacher. You can learn more about Root’s purpose-driven life from this earlier Baha’i Blog article.

Root is a role model for participating in the discourses of society; she wrote countless articles and speeches applying Baha’i teachings to a host of issues, including new media (radio), intercultural communication, women’s rights, international relations, and economic inequality. For a research project, I studied 25 of her speeches. I was particularly struck by “Culture and World Peace” (also titled “What Is Culture?”), which she delivered during her final trip around the world. Between 1938 and 1939, Root gave this talk to audiences including college students in India and women’s organizations in Australia. When you read the speech (below), you will observe that she appealed to these audiences by discussing women’s role in society and higher education, among other themes.  Continue reading

Who Were the Letters of the Living?

The Letters of the Living is the title given by the Bab to His first 18 followers. The Bab was a merchant from Shiraz, Persia. His name was Siyyid Ali-Muhammad Shirazi, but He is known to the world as the Bab, which means “the Gate” in Arabic, and Baha’is believe that He was the symbolic gate between past ages of prophecy and a new age of fulfilment for humanity. When the Bab was 25, He proclaimed to be both a new Prophet, and the herald to “Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest”, Baha’u’llah. Continue reading

A Tribute to William Sears, Hand of the Cause

Hand of the Cause of God William Sears (1911-1992). Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community.

When setting out to write this article, I felt overwhelmed: William Sears accomplished so much in his 80 years. How to distill decades of service, achievements, and adventures into a short article? Here I’ve only captured the outlines of a man who seized every opportunity to serve—who once said, “I need only to remember one thing: nothing must come between me and my responsibilities to God and to my fellow man. Glory is not his who loves his country, his family, or himself alone. Glory is his who loves his kind. This, I believe, has helped me to look upon each dawn as a new adventure.”

A spiritual light burned in Sears practically from his birth on March 28, 1911. Starting in 1912, at 18 months old, he had dreams about a Holy Man—dreams which, he later discovered, began when that Holy Man, Abdu’l-Baha, visited Minnesota, where Sears grew up. Raised in the Catholic Church, Sears was full of questions about religion, and was supported in his investigations by his grandfather. His father, however, was bewildered as the boy voraciously studied the Bible and proclaimed, “Someday I’m going to go all over the world and tell people about God.” Continue reading

Remembering Enoch Olinga

Hand of the Cause of God Enoch Olinga (24 June 1926 - 16 September 1979). Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community.

There are three memories that have stayed most profoundly in my heart from my visit to Uganda. The first is the richness of the deep-red soil – much of which I carried home with me on my clothes and shoes! The second is the humble, yet awe-inspiring House of Worship that sits with quiet majesty on Kikuya Hill. When you stand within the Temple, and look up, you are greeted with a luminous turquoise-sky ceiling, at the heart of which sits the Greatest Name. The third, and perhaps most poignant, memory, however, was my opportunity to visit the resting place of Enoch Olinga – Knight of Baha’u’llah, Father of Victories, and Hand of the Cause of God.

The following are the opening words of the cablegram sent to the Baha’i World from the Universal House of Justice on the untimely death of Enoch Olinga:

WITH GRIEF-STRICKEN HEARTS ANNOUNCE TRAGIC NEWS BRUTAL MURDER DEARLY LOVED GREATLY ADMIRED HAND CAUSE GOD ENOCH OLINGA…

When tragedy imprints itself on any story, it often becomes very difficult to remember anything else. But, although tragedy did indeed mark the lives of Olinga and his family, his was also a tale of joy, triumph and ultimate victory. In the same cablegram, the House of Justice honours and immortalises, as an imperishable memory,

HIS RADIANT SPIRIT, HIS UNWAVERING FAITH, HIS ALL-EMBRACING LOVE, HIS LEONINE AUDACITY IN THE TEACHING FIELD, HIS TITLES KNIGHT BAHA’U’LLAH FATHER VICTORIES CONFERRED BELOVED GUARDIAN, ALL COMBINE DISTINGUISH HIM AS PRE-EMINENT MEMBER HIS RACE IN ANNALS FAITH AFRICAN CONTINENT.

Indeed, one friend described Olinga as “sunshine bursting through the clouds.” Despite the tests that Olinga himself faced throughout his life, he was known to often greet others with the words, “Are you happy?” Ruhiyyih Khanum recounted one of his most endearing qualities was his “great joyous, consuming and contagious laugh.”  Continue reading

A Tribute to Bahiyyih Khanum, The Greatest Holy Leaf

Resting Place of the Greatest Holy Leaf (1846 - July 15, 1932), Bahiyyih Khanum, the daugher of Baha’u’llah, in the Monument Gardens on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel. Photo: courtesy of the Baha'i International Community.

Dearly-beloved Greatest Holy Leaf! Through the mist of tears that fill my eyes I can clearly see, as I pen these lines, thy noble figure before me, and can recognize the serenity of thy kindly face. I can still gaze, though the shadows of the grave separate us, into thy blue, love-deep eyes, and can feel in its calm intensity, the immense love thou didst bear for the Cause of thine Almighty Father, the attachment that bound thee to the most lowly and insignificant among its followers, the warm affection thou didst cherish for me in thine heart.

The tenderness and profound love in the description of those “blue, love-deep eyes” is one that has stayed in my mind and heart years after I read Shoghi Effendi’s moving and poignant love letter in remembrance of his beloved great aunt, the Greatest Holy Leaf, Bahiyyih Khanum.

Described by her Father, Baha’u’llah, as “one of the most distinguished among thy sex”, with “a station such as none other woman hath surpassed”, Bahiyyih Khanum is regarded as the most outstanding heroine of the Baha’i dispensation.  Continue reading

Women Inspiring Women in Baha’i History: Tahirih’s Lineage

On March 8th, we celebrate “the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women” and acknowledge the urgency of “accelerating gender parity.” As much as International Women’s Day is a celebration, it is also a monument to centuries of discrimination.

For as long as systemic discrimination has quashed individuals’ potential, some have refused to accept their assigned inferiority. Wherever sexism has caged women, resistance has arisen. Countless such efforts have gone unrecorded, lost to history, leaving humanity only scattered memories of women who spearheaded social transformation.

Yet, stirred by Baha’u’llah’s teachings on the equality of women and men, Baha’is have a tradition of recording women’s contributions. Thanks to the efforts of Baha’i historians, we can enjoy lengthy biographies of groundbreakers: Lua Getsinger: Herald of the Covenant, Martha Root: Lioness at the Threshold, and From Copper to Gold: The Life of Dorothy Baker. We can also read briefer portraits of prominent women like Hands of the Cause Keith Ransom-Kehler and Amelia Collins in collections such as A Love Which Does Not Wait and Portraits of Some Baha’i Women.

Continue reading

A Tribute to Hasan Balyuzi

Hand of the Cause of God Hasan Muvaqqar Balyuzi (7 September 1908-12 February 1980) Photo: Courtesy of the Baha'i International Community

When I was a graduate student completing an internship in London, I visited the resting place of Shoghi Effendi to offer some prayers. It was a beautiful summer’s day and I had the luxury of time so I walked around New Southgate Cemetery and prayed at the graves of other Baha’is whose names I recognized, such as Hasan Balyuzi. I knew little of the spiritual giant he was and now, having caught a glimpse by reading about him in The Baha’i World, I feel in awe of his literary and scholarly greatness, of his ceaseless efforts to promote the teachings of the Baha’i Faith, and of his undying love for Baha’u’llah’s Revelation. On 12 February, 1980 the Universal House of Justice cabled the Baha’is of the world the following:

With broken hearts announce passing dearly loved Hand Cause Hasan Balyuzi. Entire Baha’i world robbed one of its most powerful defenders most resourceful historians. His illustrious lineage his devoted labours divine vineyard his outstanding literary works combine in immortalizing his honoured name in annals beloved Faith. Call on friends everywhere hold memorial gatherings. Praying Shrines his exemplary achievements his steadfastness patience humility his outstanding scholarly pursuits will inspire many devoted workers among rising generations follow his glorious footsteps.

I wanted to share a few details of his life, and if you’d like to read more I’d definitely recommend you find Volume XVIII of The Baha’i WorldContinue reading

Edward Granville Browne: The Only European Historian Who Met Baha’u’llah

Edward Granville Browne (7 February 1862 – 5 January 1926), was a British orientalist who met Baha’u’llah.

You should appreciate this, that of all the historians of Europe none attained the holy Threshold but you. This bounty was specified unto you.

These words Abdu’l-Baha wrote to Edward Granville Browne about his interviews with Baha’u’llah in 1890. From one of these interviews emanated the description of meeting Baha’u’llah famous in the Baha’i community, which you can listen to here.

Foment in the Middle East—the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78—pulled Browne away from the course his family had set for him. Born in 1862 in Gloucestershire, England, Browne was the eldest son among nine children. His father hoped he would pursue the family business of shipbuilding and civil engineering. But Browne’s calling lay elsewhere. In college he studied Turkish, Arabic, and Persian, and in 1882, he ventured eastward, visiting Turkey for several months to pursue his research.

On 30 July 1886, Browne discovered a movement that would absorb his attention for the decades to come: the Babi Faith. He stumbled upon an account of the revolutionary religion in Count Gobineau’s 1865 Religions et philosophies dans l’Asie Centrale. In the words of scholars Sir Edward Denison Ross and John Gurney, “He was spellbound by the story of the courage and devotion shown by the Bab and his faithful followers, and at once resolved to make a special study of this movement.” He wrote admiringly of the Bab’s “gentleness and patience, the cruel fate which had overtaken him, and the unflinching courage wherewith he and his followers, from the greatest to the least, had endured the merciless torments inflicted on them by their enemies.” In the Bab’s Revelation, he recognized, as he put it, “the birth of a faith which may not impossibly win a place amidst the great religions of the world.” Browne resolved to extend Gobineau’s account, which ended with the 1852 massacre of Babis. Continue reading