Boris Handal has penned a tribute to two outstanding heroes of Baha’i history. Titled Varqa and Ruhu’llah: 101 Stories of Bravery on the Move, this book shares an intimate portrait of an incredible relationship between a father and son, and other members or descendants of their family. The legacy they have left the Baha’i community will undoubtedly inspire greater efforts and sacrifices in contributing to the betterment of the world, and Boris’ book will help share their stories.
I am grateful to Boris for agreeing to tell us a little about his book and the acts of bravery it describes. Here’s what he shared with us:
Baha’i Blog: Firstly, can you tell us a little bit about the book?
Varqa and Ruhu’llah: 101 Stories of Bravery on the Move is the story of a father and a son that arose in the 19th century to spread the Faith of Baha’u’llah throughout Iran with great strength and resilience. Varqa, the father, was a physician and a talented poet, and his gifted junior youth son, Ruhu’llah, taught the Baha’i Faith with zeal and courage to a country sunk in the most dire fanaticism, corruption and bigotry. Varqa and Ruhu’llah were able to teach both the rich and the poor, the prince and the commoner, the scholar and the illiterate, the clergy and the laic, in freedom or in prison.
For their teaching activities, they were imprisoned more than once. Both attained the presence of Bahaʼu’llah and Abdu’l-Baha. Their saga ended with their tragic martyrdom in the royal prison of Tehran in 1896 but has continued to live like a legend inspiring Baha’is around the world to serve humanity.
The book describes four generations of the Varqa family starting in 1846 when Mulla Mihdi, Varqa’s father and a perfume-maker, accepted the Faith of the Bab with great zeal in the city of Yazd. Varqa was posthumously elevated to the rank of Hand of the Cause. Born Mirza Ali- Muḥammad, he was given the designation Varqa (Dove) by Baha’u’llah because of his eloquence as a poet and a Baha’i speaker and travel teacher. Varqa’s son and grandson, Valiyu’llah Varqa and Dr. Ali-Muḥammad Varqa, respectively, were appointed Hands of the Cause by Shoghi Effendi.
In my interviews with authors for Baha’i Blog, I have noticed a quiet flourishing of Baha’i-inspired novels and they range widely in their genres and styles. Gail Madjzoub has penned a novel titled Crimson Ink which features the workings, struggles and hopes of three families — some Baha’is and others Muslim — in near-contemporary Iran. Curious to know more, I reached out and am grateful Gail responded. Here’s what she shared with me:
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Although I was brought up near Boston, Massachusetts, I lived and worked most of my life in Europe and Africa, and traveled widely. I’m currently on the West Coast of Canada close to family.
My professional background has been in education, coaching, and healthcare and I’ve drawn on these a great deal in Crimson Ink.
I have a “Persian connection” through my first husband. I was immersed in a marvelous Persian family and its rich history for the 20 years before his death. Before, during and after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, we kept a close watch on the renewed persecution of the Persian Baha’is, and their situation struck a particular chord in me.
I know I am not alone in my love of beautiful journals and stationery of all kinds. Lily Samii has created a journal, available in an array of colors, aimed at fostering gratitude and mindfulness every day and she shared with us all about her journals, their purpose, how she created them and how she hopes people will use them. Here’s what she said:
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
As a citizen of the world, I was inspired to create a universal tool of happiness that is fit for the world we live in today and the future: beautiful and sustainable. With the support of over 30k followers, I created The Gratitude List – an evidence-based journal that helps you be happier and create a life you love.
Baha’i Blog: What inspired you to create a gratitude journal?
I believe in rituals that make us feel happy and calm: whether it’s going for a walk first thing in the morning, chatting with a friend over lunch, enjoying a rooibos cup of tea by the fire, baking a cake – we all wish we had more of those moments. The Gratitude List is the gratitude journal I wish existed. It helps you form positive mindful habits and live in a beautiful state.
One of the early pioneers of the global environmental conservation movement was British Baha’i, Richard St. Barbe Baker. Often referred to as St. Barbe, much of our understanding of environmental conservation, and many of the practices used today, can be directly attributed to his efforts, and so I was excited to discover a new book about St. Barbe’s life called Man of the Trees: Richard St. Barbe Baker, the First Global Conservationist written by Paul Hanley.
It’s been a delight to touch base with author Paul Hanley once again since we last interviewed him about his fascinating book called Eleven. With issues around climate change and the environment making headlines daily, I was eager to hear about Paul’s wonderful biography about Richard St. Barbe Baker.
Baha’i Blog: Hi Paul! Can you tell us a little bit about the book?
Well, for starters, there are actually two books to talk about. Both tell the story of a truly one-of-a-kind man, a pioneer of the environmental movement, who traveled the world incessantly trying to convince people to plant trees—billions of trees—to save the planet, and civilization.
The first, ‘Man of the Trees: Richard St. Barbe Baker, the First Global Conservationist’, is a full biography. Later, I was approached to write a version for children: ‘Richard St. Barbe Baker: Child of the Trees’ is a shorter, illustrated biography aimed at the middle school or junior youth age group. Continue reading
Playful, joyful, energetic, soulful: these are words that come to mind when describing Jacqueline Claire’s illustrations. (If you’d like see some examples of her artwork you can find it here, or you can learn about her podcast here on Baha’i Blog.)
Jacqueline has most recently created a book that illustrates passages and quotations from the Baha’i Writings and it’s called Noble Beings. Although aimed at a younger audience, I think readers of all ages will delight in her book and find it thoughtful and enriching. Noble Beings is only available for purchase between November 9th and December 8th (you can find copies here) and in the following interview, Jacqueline tells us all about her latest project:
Baha’i Blog: What inspired this project?
Love! On so many levels. Love for the Baha’i Writings. Love for teaching and sharing the Baha’i Faith in a way that connects with people’s hearts. Love for children. Love for the vision of a just, ethical and peaceful world.
I first had the idea in 2017 while shopping for an Ayyam-i-Ha gift for a spiritual and precocious six-year-old. I wanted to give something joyful and relatable that would help nurture a Baha’i identity. I really struggled to find anything that hit the perfect note as far as the aesthetics and spirit of buoyancy and joy I was looking for, so I vowed to eventually make it myself! (In the short run, I illustrated “Blessed is the Spot” for the Ayyam-i-Ha gift). Fast forward to 2020, after working on the book piecemeal over the years, I finally realized that not only was quarantine the ideal time to hunker down and complete my book! But I think we all became aware this year that our lives can change in an instant, and anything really important to us we have to commit to and DO. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
Melissa Charepoo has created several children’s books that make the significance of Baha’i holy days accessible to a young audience. You may remember her books about Ayyam-i-Ha, the Fast and Naw-Ruz. She also wrote The Life of Baha’u’llah and most recently she’s released The Life of the Bab. In this post we wanted to focus on her new book titled The Bab and Baha’u’llah: The Twin Manifestations of God. Continue reading
Author Linda Ahdieh Grant and illustrator Anna Myers have teamed up to create a moving children’s story about courage and the life of Tahirih. Titled I Love My Name and published by Bellwood Press, this book is aimed at elementary school aged children. I was able to hear from both Linda and Anna about their work, this book, and how they hope it will inspire its readers. Here’s a look at our conversation:
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little about your book?
I Love My Name is the story of an 8 year old girl who one day at school discovers a previously unknown source of courage. This girl’s name is Tahirih and she loves her name very much. One day, she overhears her friends making fun of her name. This saddens her and she turns to her teacher. The teacher, instead of using his own words to cheer her up, shares the story of the heroine after whom she was named.
I live in a culture very much steeped in alcohol where my choice to not drink or do drugs isn’t the norm and invites a lot of questions. We have a two articles on Baha’i Blog that talk about alcohol (this article explores a social perspective behind why Baha’is don’t drink, and this article explores a health perspective). George Ronald has published a new book that covers this topic more broadly and in more depth: it’s called Eagles in the Dust: Alcohol and Other Chemical Pastimes and it’s by Robert (Rob) Cacchioni. In this interview he tells us a little about his book:
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I encountered the Baha’i Faith 20 years ago. As a student of comparative religion, I found its claims bold and intriguing – though questionable. After in-depth study and much debate, I was honored to join the Baha’i community in carrying out Baha’u’llah’s Vision for humanity.
Since embracing Baha’u’llah’s Claim, I’ve striven to understand His Faith and aid others to do likewise. For nearly two decades, I’ve held Baha’i study classes (also known as “deepenings”) and currently run a YouTube channel: Bridging Beliefs. There and in writing projects, I share my personal understandings of Baha’u’llah’s Vision, attempt to resolve purported divides separating the world religions, examine atheist and secular thought and to show the (at times) hidden brilliance of Baha’u’llah’s Teachings.
I currently live in Vancouver, Canada with my wife Jenny and two children, Eli and Layli. I am a lover of learning and the arts – martial and musical. My life’s goal is to (one day) become worthy of the title: Baha’i. Continue reading
We’d like to share with you a little about a book titled Mirza Mihdi: The Purest Branch in honor of the 150th anniversary of his passing. Written by Boris Handal, this biography tells the dramatic story of Mirza Mihdi, the beloved son of Baha’u’llah, who fell from a skylight in the roof of the prison where he, his family and many other Baha’is were imprisoned. He was severely and mortally injured. When Baha’u’llah offered to save his life, Mirza Mihdi chose instead to sacrifice it so that the doors of the prison might open and those who longed to see Baha’u’llah could attain their hearts’ desire.
During their imprisonment in Akka (in present-day Israel), Mirza Mihdi often spent his evenings on the roof top, immersed in prayer and meditation, where one could breathe cleaner air, as well as watch and listen to the sound of the waves crashing in the bay. After twilight, Mirza Mihdi would count his steps in order to avoid the open skylight but one evening he was so enraptured by his prayers that he stumbled, lost his balance and fell onto a wooden crate on the floor below.
In the last hours of his life, Mirza Mihdi spoke with Baha’u’llah in private. And while we do not know everything that was said, we do know that Baha’u’llah offered to save him. However Mirza Mihdi wished that pilgrims might be able to attain Baha’u’llah’s presence. At that time, many of the Baha’i pilgrims who travelled on foot to see Baha’u’llah had to content themselves with the sight of His hand waving a handkerchief from the prison’s window.
At the tender age of 22, Mirza Mihdi passed away on 23 June, 1870 — 150 years ago to this day. Continue reading