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Hazel Scott: Gifted Musician and Defender of Her People

Hazel Scott (June 11, 1920 – October 2, 1981). Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library.

Hazel Scott, the sole survivor of her parents’ seven children, loved the piano from the time she was a very young child. Her mother, Alma, practiced and taught piano in their home in Port of Spain, Trinidad. The sound was as much a part of the child as was her breathing. Later, Hazel would call the piano “that marvel of marvels.”

At three years old, when Hazel’s grandmother, Margaret, fell asleep one afternoon, Hazel wanted to play the hymn Margaret always sang at naptime. “I knew that somehow I could find ‘Gentle Jesus’ somewhere among those keys in front of me.” That was exactly what she did, playing the melody with both hands. When her grandmother woke up, thinking that a student had come into the house to practice, she couldn’t believe her eyes. She called the whole neighborhood in, as well as Hazel’s mother, Alma, to witness this small miracle. Continue reading

Shirin Behjat Fozdar: “An Example to Womankind”

Shirin Behjat Fozdar (March 1, 1905 - February 2, 1992). Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community.

The year is 1922. In Karachi, the Islamic centre of British India, a 17-year-old woman is stepping up to the stage of the Town Hall when the audience rushes forward. Fearing for her safety, she retreats behind a curtain. It takes the mayor to reassure her that the people are simply keen to hear what she has to say. When she returns to begin her lecture, she becomes possibly the first woman to address a public gathering in the East, the first of countless lectures on countless stages around the world at which this courageous woman’s concern for gender equality will win over the hearts and minds of an audience.

The principle of social justice was instilled into Shirin Behjat from the earliest age. She was born into a Persian Baha’i family in Bombay in 1905. At 11 months old, while the family was on pilgrimage, Shirin took her very first steps grasping onto the cloak of Abdu’l-Baha; at six, during her second pilgrimage, she encountered His 14-year old grandson Shoghi Effendi. From that moment on, there would be no turning back from her commitment to the Baha’i Faith, particularly its teachings on the rights of women. “If Eve ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge first,” Shirin often said, “and then induced Adam also to taste of it, did that not prove it was the woman who attained to knowledge first and that the first act of obedience was by man to woman and not the other way around?” Continue reading

The Beauty of Abdu’l-Baha

Portrait of Abdu’l-Baha in Paris, France, October 1911. Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community.

Ever since I was little I have been interested in historical clothes and I have often wondered what Abdu’l-Baha looked like. What did He wear? And how were His clothes and His physical appearance a manifestation of qualities such as cleanliness, purity, grace and a deep abiding love for everyone?

In this article, I’ve gathered a small collection of historical accounts on the beauty of Abdu’l-Baha and stories that describe what He looked like. I am so grateful for these historical recollections, even though they only offer us a glimpse of Him.

The first story relates to cleanliness and it’s found in Vignettes from the Life of Abdu’l-Baha:

The Master considered cleanliness of vital importance. He was indeed ‘the essence of cleanliness’ even as Baha’u’llah had taught His followers. Florence Khanum bore witness to this, for she found Him ‘dazzlingly, spotlessly shining, from snowy turban-cloth, to white, snowy hair falling upon his shoulders, to white snowy beard and long snowy garment. Although it was high noon, in summer His attire was crisp and fresh-looking, as though He had not been visiting the sick, and in prison, and toiling for mankind since early morning. Often a deliciously fresh rose was tucked in His belt.’

Continue reading

Dawn-Breaker: The Story of Nabil-i-Azam

Muhammad-i-Zarandi, surnamed Nabil-i-Azam. Photo from The Dawn-Breakers.

Nabil-i-Azam was a poet, his eloquence a “gift like a crystal stream,” his native genius “pure inspiration.” This is how Abdu’l-Baha described the famous chronicler of Baha’i history, renowned for his narrative of the early days of the Baha’i Faith, The Dawn-Breakers.

But what do we know about the life of this “man of mettle…on fire with passionate love,” counted by Shoghi Effendi as one of the 19 Apostles of Baha’u’llah?

Nabil was born Muhammad-i-Zarandi on July 29, 1831. As a boy, he learned the Qur’an and would travel more than 400 miles with his father from Zarand to the holy city of Qom, to listen to religious discourses. Working as a shepherd, the young Nabil tended his flock, praying and chanting the holy verses. At night, he would lie on the ground, contemplating the heavens. His was truly a poetic soul. Continue reading

Thornton Chase, Steadfast Seeker

Thornton Chase (22 February 1847 – 30 September 1912). Photo courtesy of the US Baha'i Archives.

A strong-willed leader and organizer, and a seeker forever pursuing the mysteries of divine love; an insurance salesman and an artist of page and stage who composed poetry and prose, sang and acted; a man who wrestled with a wariness of women and a unifier of contending personalities: this was Thornton Chase. The man we know as the first U.S. Baha’i was fraught with apparent contradictions, the contradictions of a spiritual being striving to operate in this material realm. Of course, it was only through his struggles that Chase could earn from Abdu’l-Baha the title of “Thabit” (in Persian, “Sabet,” and in English, “the steadfast”). And God did not stint when it came to testing Chase, starting in his infancy and continuing for six decades until his death. Continue reading

Ethel Rosenberg: Remembrance and Reunions

Ethel Rosenberg (August 6, 1858 - November 17, 1930). Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community.

Almost 100 years ago, on the night of Friday 2 December 1921, an English woman boarded a train in Port Said, Egypt, to make the 200-mile journey along the Mediterranean coast to Haifa. As Ethel Jenner Rosenberg settled into her first class carriage, she hoped perhaps to sleep a little before an eagerly anticipated reunion that was ahead of her— a reunion with Abdu’l-Baha.

She had last seen the Master some nine years previously in London. There, as a result of His presence, thousands of people had been touched by the light of the Baha’i teachings. It was a far cry from those early days when she and Mrs. Thornburgh-Cropper had been the only two women in England to have embraced the Cause of Baha’u’llah. In the intervening years of the Great War, Ethel had struggled on heroically. As bombs rained down upon London, she strove to share her deep knowledge of the new Revelation with a handful of souls who longed to set their sights on the coming of a universal peace. Although Abdu’l-Baha’s life had been threatened by Ottoman forces, and her own fragile health almost prevented her from carrying on, she had maintained her profound spiritual connection with the Master. Now the prospect of attaining His incomparable presence was but one night’s train journey away. Continue reading

A Tribute to Nora Crossley

Nora Crossley (1893-1977). Photo courtesy of George Ronald.

As a young girl, Nora was admired for her beautiful hair. It was a rich auburn color and so long that it almost reached as far as the hem of her dress. Every night and every morning, Nora’s mother would brush it for an hour until it shone like gold. Artists travelled from across the North of England to paint Nora’s portrait. Into adulthood, she considered her hair her only redeeming feature.

Nora Crossley was born in Old Trafford, Manchester in 1893 into a wealthy family. But her childhood was not a happy one and her adulthood was equally severely difficult. After the First World War, she married her penniless childhood sweetheart against her separated parents’ wishes. War had irrevocably changed her husband. He was later diagnosed as schizophrenic, but at that point his erratic behaviour was beyond any explanation. He refused to return to work, preferring to play the organ and repair hymn books for the church, but never accepting any payment. So began more than 50 years of severe tests at home for Nora, who soon became a mother to two sons. Continue reading

Crossing Frontiers – A Documentary Featuring the Life of Amatu’l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum

Crossing Frontiers is a documentary on the life of Hand of the Cause of God Amatu’l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum, who was also the wife of Shoghi Effendi. The film explores the frontiers Ruhiyyih Khanum had crossed in her travels to over 185 countries, where she gave countless lectures, met many leading dignitaries, and was interviewed by the press throughout the world, continually promoting the essential teachings of the Baha’i Faith.

Produced by Badiyan Productions in 1997, Baha’i Blog was graciously given the rights to publish Crossing Frontiers on our YouTube channel, and this historical gem of a documentary offers rare footage and interviews with Hand of the Cause of God Amatu’l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum.

Fred Badiyan

Badiyan Productions are also known for their wonderful The Hands of the Cause documentary series, and Fred Badiyan of Badiyan Productions also happens to be my great uncle. His life of dedicated service to the Baha’i Faith through the medium of film and media had a profound impact on me personally, and it has served as an inspiration and catalyst in my personal pursuit of using media to serve the Faith. I caught up with Fred Badiyan to find out more about this film, and here’s what he shared: Continue reading

Juliet Thompson: Champion of the Baha’i Faith in New York City

Juliet Thompson & portrait of Mrs. Coolidge. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

It is always a pleasure to show friends my favorite places when they visit New York City. I first came here when I was 17 years old and sometimes I feel like there is a memory on every street. The two places that I am most excited to show my out-of-town visitors are the Church of the Ascension where Abdu’l-Baha spoke days after His arrival in America and the other is the home of Juliet Thompson at 48 West 10th Street, near 5th Avenue. I believe that in the future these will be the must-visit spots for any visitor to New York City, far surpassing in popularity the Empire State building, Times Square, and other current tourist attractions.

Juliet Thompson was born in Washington DC, on September 23, 1873. She was of Irish descent. She was twelve years old when her father died and she was forced to work as a teenager in order to support the family. Early on, she showed talent for painting and was able to make money selling her pastel portraits. She studied at the Corcoran Art School in Washington DC. Continue reading