Category Archives Tribute

An Appreciation of Marzieh Gail

Marzieh Gail (1 April 1908 - 16 October 1993). Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community.

In this article I would like to pay tribute to one of the most distinguished authors of Baha’i literature, Marzieh Gail, by offering a brief biographical sketch of her life and by providing some excerpts of her writing.

My reason for paying tribute to her is that I believe she is an individual whose life and service illustrates two core principles of the Baha’i Faith; the equality of women and men, and the oneness of mankind. She embodied these principles through her outstanding services to Baha’i scholarship as a writer and translator at a time when women often found doors closed to them, and by her serving to humanity in both Western and Eastern communities.

Marzieh was born April 1st, 1908 and her parents, Ali Kuli Khan and Florence Breed, were the first Persian and American Baha’i couple. This cross-cultural family upbringing prepared her for a life of service to both the East and the West. She later recorded some of the details of her childhood and youth in a relatable and humorous tone in her biographical book about her father, Summon Up Remembrance. In addition to being raised by a Persian father and American mother Marzieh spent her childhood from the age of 10 travelling across Europe and the Middle East with her family, learning from tutors along the way. She also had a profound connection to the Baha’i Faith from her early years, meeting Abdu’l-Baha when she was a child and receiving a Tablet from Him, and later meeting Shoghi Effendi. Continue reading

John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie: A Luminous Quality, a Distinguished Life

Dizzy Gillespie (October 21, 1917 – January 6, 1993). Photo courtesy of Roland Godefroy, accessed from Wikimedia Commons.

From childhood, John Birks Gillespie—famously nicknamed “Dizzy” in his teens—stood out: in his school, in his family, among his musical colleagues. According to Mrs. Wilson, his third-grade teacher, she would say to him, “John, do you have your lessons?” He would reply, “‘Yeah, I got it, I got it, Mrs. Wilson, I got it.’ And when the time for recitations came, he would know it. How? I don’t know, because he wouldn’t study.” Continue reading

A Life of Firsts: Discovering Elsie Austin

Knight of Baha'u'llah Elsie Austin (May 10, 1908– Oct 26, 2004). Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community

Elsie Austin’s passion for racial equality was in her DNA. Her parents taught at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, an African American educational establishment headed by Booker T. Washington. Even as a girl, Elsie was outspoken, incensed that a textbook failed to recognise any black people for their contribution to history.

“I was taught…that Africans worked iron before Europeans knew anything about it,” she announced to her class. “I was taught that they knew how to cast bronze in making statues and that they worked in gold and ivory so beautifully that the European nations came to their shores to buy their carvings and statues.” While her protest was met with barely suppressed snickering, Elsie was undeterred. “If there had been no protest,” she later said, “what ingrained prejudice and hostility would have been implanted in the minds of those children, and what humiliation and degradation would have been stamped upon us.”

Similarly, when she and seven other African American women students were admitted to the University of Cincinnati, they were warned to be inconspicuous and have low expectations. “That speech traumatized us,” Elsie remembered. The eight resolved to prove their worth, and by the end of the year each took home an honor.

Elsie was angry about prejudice—often justified by religion—towards race. She told her father she was not able to “believe anymore in these religions that are all separate, all fighting with each other, all enforcing prejudice against some group, and yet they say God is the father of all mankind.” George Austin knew something of the Bahaʼis, thought they had interesting views, and encouraged her to investigate this new Faith. Guided by Louis G. Gregory and Dorothy Baker, Elsie joined the Baha’i community in 1934. Continue reading

Remembering Earl Cameron

Earl Cameron (8 August 1917 – 3 July 2020). [Photo courtesy: Helen Rutstein]

Many actors must dream of landing a leading role in a major Hollywood thriller with an A-list cast. But to be offered such a part at the age of 87 would likely be a stretch of the imagination for anyone. It happened, though to Earl Cameron. The Bermudan-born, British actor, who was a Baha’i, passed away last year at the age of 102.

Yet, for Cameron, even getting the chance to act alongside Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn in The Interpreter (2005) did not match the thrill that he got from giving a speech in the film to the United Nations General Assembly—even though he was speaking the words of an unsavoury despot and the ambassadors were a multi-racial array of 2,000 film extras. Just to be standing at the lectern before the world’s nations reinforced Cameron’s strong belief in justice and global cooperation. “Seeing the names of all the countries on the desks in front of me, I got a real sense of the importance of the UN,” Cameron would often say afterwards. “The world is desperate for peace and there’s no other way it can go but towards greater cooperation at a global level.”

For an actor so passionate about the unity of humanity—who himself led the way in breaking down the colour bar in film and television—it was a strange twist of fate that the issue of racial equality was leading the news agenda around the world on 3 July 2020, the day he died. The extensive coverage of his passing did not fail to pick up on the fact; there was a huge outpouring of affection in the press and on social media, including from fans of James Bond (Earl appeared alongside Sean Connery in Thunderball), and the cult TV series Dr Who and The Prisoner, through which Cameron became a familiar face in the 1960s. Continue reading

A Tribute to Agnes Alexander

Hand of the Cause of God Agnes Baldwin Alexander (1875-1971). Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community.

In this article, I’d like to share a little of what I’ve learned about Hand of the Cause of God Agnes Alexander from when she first heard about the Baha’i Faith, to her efforts to deepen herself in its teachings, to how she established a Baha’i community in Japan. I’d like to share some lessons I’ve learned from her life.

Agnes was born in Hawaii in 1875. Her parents were Christian missionaries who moved to Hawaii from the mainland United States. Although her family was not wealthy, she was able to travel and studied at Berkeley in the United States in the 1890s.

In 1900 Agnes visited Europe and while staying with an aunt in Rome she met an American Baha’i, Charlotte Dixon, who had recently been on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. She gave Agnes a prayer, but did not actually mention the Baha’i Faith, as many Baha’is in those days did not feel comfortable talking about the Baha’i Faith without knowing if someone was genuinely interested. After having a spiritual dream Agnes asked her for more information, and after discussing it together, she came to believe in the teachings and principles of the Baha’i Faith. As was the custom at the time, she sent a letter to Abdu’l-Baha to declare her belief and received a Tablet in reply which encouraged her to establish the Baha’i Faith in Hawaii. Here is an excerpt:

Be, therefore a divine bird, proceed to thy native country, spread the wings of sanctity over those spots and sing and chant and celebrate the name of thy Lord, that thou mayest gladden the Supreme Concourse and make the seeking souls hasten unto thee as moths hasten to the lamp and thus illumine that distant country by the Light of God.

Continue reading

Remembering ‘Milly’: A Tribute to Amelia Collins

Amelia Engelder Collins (7 June, 1873-1 January, 1962). Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community.

The very first time I heard of Amelia Collins was when I was a child, maybe five or six, visiting the Holy Land with my family. We were walking along the wide path in Bahji, the only sound our footsteps on the white pebbles, and before us towered a beautiful wrought-iron gilded gate, leading to the Shrine of Baha’u’llah.

‘This is the ‘Collins Gate’’, my mother whispered to me. ‘Named after Amelia Collins.’

In my child’s mind’s eye, Amelia Collins too, was a figure who towered above me like this enormous gate. When I finally saw photos of her, it surprised me that, as described by Hand of the Cause Mr Abu’l-Qasim Faizi, she was, in fact, quite small – ‘a slender, white-haired, very upright, elderly lady.’ When I began to read about her life, however, I realised that this incredible woman was, indeed, like this gate: strong, upright and truly a spiritual giant. Mr Faizi goes on to describe the gate itself as standing ‘silently…as a loving remembrance of the one who adored the Guardian of the Faith – Shoghi Effendi.’ Continue reading

Howard MacNutt – Disciple of Abdu’l-Baha

Howard MacNutt, 13 July, 1859 - 26 December, 1926. (Photo courtesy of the Baha'is of the United States.)

To read about the life of Howard MacNutt is to learn a love story. Howard was born 13 July, 1859 in Philadelphia and he passed away on 26 December, 1926 in Miami. He was posthumously named by Shoghi Effendi as one of 19 Western Disciples of Abdu’l-Baha, or Heralds of the Covenant. Shoghi Effendi wrote that Howard MacNutt “will for ever remain associated with the rise and establishment of His Faith in the American continent, and will continue to shed on its annals a lustre that time can never dim.”

Perhaps of all Howard MacNutt’s services rendered to the early Baha’i community of North America, the one for which I am most grateful is the bringing together of the talks given by Abdu’l-Baha on His travels in the United States and Canada in 1912. Abdu’l-Baha requested that the volume be titled The Promulgation of Universal Peace and that Howard write its introduction. What an honour! It’s a beautiful introduction that sets out to explain Abdu’l-Baha’s Station. For example, he writes: Continue reading

Following in the Footsteps of Emeric Sala

Emeric Sala (12 November 1906 - 5 September 1990). Photo courtesy of lona Sala Weinstein.

A snapshot of the Romanian Baha’i Community in the early ’90s would be quite a busy picture: the Baha’is, particularly youth, were very busy around the clock with casual conversations and public meetings on the principles of the Baha’i Faith, as well as offering firesides and deepenings to study and discuss these principles in detail. In Bucharest and around the country, the Baha’i youth in Romania were busy!

All those youth truly deserve recognition and celebration. What a narrative that would be! But the life of one special youth from Transylvania, a youth from a much earlier generation of Romanians, was so ground-breaking that it was depicted on stage. That is how Flight to a New World was conceived and performed in 2016 in Santiago, Chile on the occasion of the dedication of the Mother Temple of South America. I know this sounds confusing: what does the story of a young man from Romania have to do with the Mother Temple of South America? And what does it all have to do with me? Here’s how the story unfolds:

I was pulled into the act in the fall of 1991 at the busy Baha’i Centre in Bucharest. People interested in hearing about the Baha’i Faith were gathering for a meeting and I happened to welcome a witty gentleman in his mid ’70s. He said: “Everyday I go by your sign downstairs. Today I decided to come up and ask some questions”. You can imagine my excitement. In response to my invitation to join the meeting, he replied: “I know everything about the Faith. I am here for something else. I have a long-lost friend from my town and I thought you may be able to tell me where he is.” Intrigued, I asked: “Who is your friend?” “Emeric Sala!” he replied. Continue reading

Fountain of Love: Edward Broomhall (1941-2020)

Edward Broomhall (1941-2020)

Entering the lounge room of Edward and Noel Broomhall’s flat in Haifa, was like stepping into Aladdin’s Cave.

Intriguing paintings and photographs of many different scenes adorned the walls. Suspended from the ceiling were exotic lamps probably from the bazaars of Turkey.

Balanced on coffee tables were books on fascinating subjects, some even of the pop-up variety. Collections of toys were piled up topsy-turvy in woven baskets. Models of mechanical people on shelves created tiny worlds of fun.

CDs of the latest music were set available to play. Racks of antique postcards kept visitors busy for ages. Weavings covered chairs. Persian carpets seemed to unite the whole colourful ensemble. Book shelves were full: novels, non-fiction, Baha’i books

And there, smiling in his arm chair, was collector-in-chief, Edward Broomhall. He would rise to lovingly hug his visitors, welcoming us into his extraordinary room.

Darling Edward, as we would call him out of his earshot, is now no doubt inhabiting some sort of oriental-Pacific paradise of a room in the Abha Kingdom.

Edward Mac James Broomhall, a world citizen from Australia, aged 79, passed away peacefully on – and how this symmetry would please him— 10/10/2020. Continue reading

A Life of Acquiescence to the Divine: A Tribute to Farzam Arbab

It is hard to put into words all that Dr. Farzam Arbab has done. Who can accurately estimate the far-reaching impact of a man whose entire life was devoted to the upliftment of the peoples of the world? Who can summarize the life of one who gave particular attention to those populations most marginalized and written off by the upper echelons of society? When Baha’u’llah advised us to regard human beings as mines rich in gems of inestimable value, Dr. Arbab did not consider it merely a pretty metaphor. He gave his whole life to uncovering those gems.  Continue reading