By Bahiyeh Afnan Shahid
in response to his book:The Covenant of Baha’u’llah
(The Minority Report Against the Distortions Made By the UHJ Member In the History of the Bahaullah Family)
Mr. Adib Taherzadeh
Universal House of Justice
POB 155 31001
Dear Mr. Taherzadeh,
It is with a heavy heart and a feeling of great sadness that I write this to you. I recently came across your book “The Covenant of Baha’u’llah” published in 1992.The introduction inside the dust cover reads:
The Covenant of Baha’u’llah is a unique and priceless heritage, unprecedented in past Dispensations. It carries within itself enormous potentialities for the future in the unfoldment of Baha’u’llah’s new world order, and ultimately the Golden Age of Mankind.
Hinging, resounding words with which I could not agree more. Familiar with your four-part work on the “Revelation of Baha’u’llah” I quickly turned to the list of contents. In part Three, The Lesser Covenant, you have a chapter which you call ‘The Faith less Relatives of Shoghi Effendi.’ May I say, it left me totally dumbstruck!
A book with the name of Baha’u’llah in its title, written by someone called not only “Adib, but Taherzadeh” as well! A fifth generation Bahá’í and a member of the Universal House of Justice; a writer whose work is considered “an outstanding contribution to Bahá’í literature… a magnificent book” by the Bahá’í Reviewing Panel of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of the UK.
A writer of recognized “scholarship and eloquence”, making allegations, accusing, sitting as judge and jury and passing sentence on all the relatives of Shoghi Effendi. These are the descendants of the Bab, Baha’u’llah and the Master, and for you to so blithely describe them as Covenant breakers and faithless is to assume powers of judgement that leaves one aghast.
Contrary to the events of Parts One and Two of your book, when I was neither alive or around, the events of the above-mentioned chapter were very much a part of my life. My maternal grandparents, who were Shoghi Effendi’s parents, his aunts and their husbands, their children and grandchildren, my own parents, aunt and both paternal and maternal uncles and their children -they were all very much a part of my life and my existence. I knew a great deal about them, and most of all, I knew a great deal about my parents, Nayer and Rouhanguise Afnan, about my husband, Hassan Shahid, and myself, Bahiyeh Afnan Shahid.
I do not know where you get your information about the family of Shoghi Effendi? But in your description of their behavior and motives I could detect no relationship to the facts of the lives of the people you so carelessly write about. Had you taken the trouble to contact some of them? You, like all scholars, would have found that history is a many-faceted thing. Even a half-hearted effort at research into the lives, characters, and motives of those mentioned, would have quickly shown that the facile, careless and carefree condemnation that you scatter around is rather rudely denuded of any relation to fact and reality.
Of course, had you done so I suppose that might have exposed you to the danger of becoming a ‘covenant breaker’ yourself, and maybe that is not a risk worth taking, even in the service of scholarship! But you would have found the facts very different from those which you recount.
Knowing that there was no effort made by you to gather first-hand information from or about the people involved, I can only conclude that you had only two sources to fall back on:
1. Shoghi Effendi’s cables
Regarding hearsay, I will give you just one brief example here and return to it later. I have with my own ears heard and with my own eyes read about Rouhiyeh Khanum being “the last surviving member of Baha’u’llah’s family! (Should you wish to have chapter and verse I shall be happy to provide them). This I consider hearsay supreme, but it seems to be accepted as fact in certain quarters.
I should now come to a much more important source, Shoghi Effendi’s cables, which you so fully quote. (Incidentally, this gives me my first chance to see them.) They throw a very interesting light on things.
As you fully recount in Parts 1 and 2 of your book, both the periods of Baha’u’llah and the Master were rife with the problems created by the active, aggressive and deliberate opposition created by members of the family who opposed them during those periods.
Very well aware of all these matters, none, and I repeat none, of the members of the family that you deal with in your chapter, wanted either to question, undermine, or disturb the Guardianship of Shoghi Effendi, or hinder the execution of the big trust placed in his hands by the will of the Master. For years they helped him in all ways and in different capacities, until Shoghi Effendi saw fit to distance each and every one of them from the Cause and the community! You only have his version of why he considered them unworthy and systematically condemned them. But, and here is the point that I wish to underline: every one of them saw fit to withdraw quietly, without creating any trouble or difficulty. Not one of them, beginning with his parents, and down to my generation, raised a voice in dissent or made an unseemly move. In the interest of the Cause and its unity, matters as dear to their hearts, as they were to the hearts of Baha’u’llah and the Master, none of them disputed these verdicts. But this silence should not be misrepresented as an admission of guilt.
The family accepted Shoghi Effendi’s decision and judgement precisely because he was the Guardian of the Faith and the Master had so designated him. On what basis, and why such judgement and condemnations were made may have been another matter, and maybe, with time, that too will become clear. But, Mr. Taherzadeh, here I speak to you as a privileged member of a family who has considered its condition a form of shahadat in the service of the Cause.You, in one brief chapter, in a book that bears the name of Baha’u’llah, and in a section regarding the Guardian of the Faith, have sat in solitary judgement all over again. You have dragged the names of sincere Bahá’ís and silent sufferers into the mire. If we are all as awful as you say we are, do not sully the names of Baha’u’llah, the Master, and Shoghi Effendi by saying that all Shoghi Sffendi’s family were faithless covenant breakers. Stories that do not stand either the test of close examination or first-hand knowledge are not worthy of inclusion in a book regarding the Covenant and Cause of Baha’u’llah, to which they, one and all, were true and sincere, and in the precepts and principles of which they all most truly believed.
The family’s dedication to the Faith ran not only in their blood, but in their hearts and their minds. Under very difficult circumstances they maintained it. For them it was a source of succor and support. They were out of the community and they were out of the Cause, and to this day, I for one, have a long list of questions to find out why. However, I can vouch for one thing with determined conviction: they were neither covenant breakers nor ‘faithless’. The very term ‘naghezeen’ denotes those people who had gone against, deliberately undermined, and plotted against the will of Baha’u’llah. ‘Naghze Ahde Jamale Ghedam’ was to refuse to accept the position of the Master as appointed in Baha’u’llah’s Will. Can you, in all honesty, consider anything any members of the family of Shoghi Effendi did, or might have been accused of doing, as casting doubt on the position and authority of Shoghi Effendi, as set out in the will of the Master?
Not one of the daughters of the Master, including the mother of Shoghi Effendi, their husbands, their children or their sons-in-law- Afnans, Aghsans or son and grandchildren of Sultan el Shuhada -ever cast any shadow of doubt on the Will of the Master or Shoghi Effendi’s position and authority. Should you wish to go into this matter in greater detail I shall be very happy to do so, in person or by letter.
But to return to hearsay.
Of the long list that I could draw up for you, I should just point out the following:
My parents, Rouhanguise and Nayer Afnan, were married with the full knowledge and approval of the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi. The wedding took place in the Andaroon, in the family home of the Master, in 1928. Khanum, the Great Holy Leaf, blessed the marriage in the presence of my great-grandmother, Mounireh Khanum, the wife of the Master and the other members of the family and friends. Two years later, when I was born, Khanum both blessed and honored me when she insisted that I carry her honored and beloved name in place of the one my parents had originally chosen for me. I can claim that my father’s intentions in marrying my mother was devoid of the ridiculous idea that he wished to introduce the virus of covenant breaking into the family of Shoghi Effendi.
I can just as categorically state that neither of my parents were instrumental in arranging or bringing about the marriages of my aunt Mehranguise Rabbani with my uncle Hassan Afnan, or of my uncle Dr. Faizy Afnan with their cousin, Soraya Afnan.
As to my marriage to Hassan Shahid -Shoghi Sffendi makes it sound like an offense- I would like to say that by the time of that marriage, in 1964, my father was dead for eleven years. Shoghi Effendi had not seen his sister, my mother, since the late 30s, and she certainly was a stranger to you. Had you met her or inquired about her you would have found out for yourself what a lady she truly was. Blessed by great dignity and a strong sense of honor, she was a worthy member of an honorable family whose good name she ever sought to safeguard, and the high esteem in which it had always been held she always tried to maintain. To say of her that she “did not rest until she arranged another marriage between her cousin, Hassan Shahid” and myself, her daughter- as if she were hatching some dark, deep plot -could not possibly be further from the truth- and I should know it was my mother, my marriage and my story.
I would greatly appreciate knowing on what basis my father, Nayer Afnan, was considered “the pivot of machinations, connecting link between old and new Covenant Breakers.” One thing I do know, however: far from attributing the cancer of the breast that my grandmother Fourough Khanum suffered and died from to Abdul-Baha -a ridiculous attribution if there ever was one, and my father and his brothers were far from ridiculous people- I know for a fact, from both of my parents, of the kindness and affection shown by the Master and his daughters to my grandmother during her last illness.
As to my father being “struck down” by “God’s avenging wrath” when he died -it seems to me that it is a description that could be applied to anyone’s death, for who knows whether its God’s avenging wrath or His loving mercy that gathers us all into the next world?
I could go on and on, Mr.Taherzadeh! Taking your ‘narrative’ point by point and wishing you had been more scholarly about your approach. Basic research is essential to any narrative, and I am sure you did not mean to write a work of fiction -which, incidentally, also requires research.
No, Mr. Taherzadeh, Shoghi Effendi had the will of the Master and the station of Guardianship to stamp his judgements with the stamp of authority! You, a student, scholar and eloquent writer on Bahá’ísm could, if I may say so, have dealt a bit in the realm of ‘Al-Hujjatu wal Burhan” which, according to the Aghdas even applied at the level of revelation, when it states:
“O concourse of divines! When my verses were sent down and My clear tokens were revealed. We found you behind the veils. This verily is a strange thing. You glory in My Name, yet ye recognized Me not at the time your Lord, the All-Merciful, appeared among you with proof and testimony (my emphasis).” (Aghdas, para 165)
On the other hand, maybe such an approach was a necessary component of your efforts to develop the theology of infallibility and obedience within the Bahá’í Faith. Infallibility and obedience were the trade marks of the Catholic Church. For over a decade now Liberation Theology has been one of the finer achievements of that Church, in the service of the oppressed and downtrodden. Making a stand against injustice and exploitation were its main aims and guiding lights. It is ironic that one of the youngest religions in the world today should be seeking to develop a theology that harks back not to its own sources of divine inspiration, brilliantly presented by the powers of reason and intellect, but to an outmoded, discredited approach based on infallibility and obedience.
I must say, discussions of this sort make me think of Ruhi Afnan, a man I was privileged to know and of whose “increasing rebelliousness” Shoghi Effendi complained. In listening to him or reading his books, you could not have failed to realize that his one and only wish was to be of service to the Cause of Baha’u’llah and to the Master who was his mentor and inspiration. ‘Al Hujjatu wal Burhan’ (Proof and Intellect) and the full use of reason and intellect were high on his list of priorities. He, like my father and many other members of the family, served Shoghi Effendi for many years, each in whatever capacity they had. I wonder what many of them, now ‘struck down by God’s avenging wrath’, would say, at a gathering of the clan of the ‘unfaithful family’ of Shoghi Effendi. May be they too will be waiting for a ‘liberation theologian’ to release them from the bondage of injustice and exploitation that your chapter recounts. Not that it really matters, for does not the Aghdas also say:
“Should anyone wax angry with you, respond with gentleness; and should anyone upbraid you, forbear to upbraid him in return, but leave him to himself and put your trust in God the Just and Mighty Avenger.” (Aghdas, para 153)
In fact, I have found it a source of comfort to turn to Kitabe Aghdas as an antidote to the pain and sadness that the reading of your book produces. Though it hurts very badly to know that we were not able to respond to the moving call of,
“Arise to further My Cause and to exalt My Word among men. We are with you at all times and shall strengthen you through the power of truth.” (Aghdas, para 38)
It is comforting to find that it is followed by:
“Whoso hath recognized Me will arise and serve me with such determination that the powers of earth and heaven shall be unable to defeat his purpose.” (Aghdas, para 38)
And even more heartening when it says:
Arise ye under all conditions (my emphasis) to render service to the Cause, for God will assuredly assist you through the power of His sovereignty which embraces both worlds. (ibid)
Service to the Cause can and does take many forms, both within the community and outside it. In the final analysis Baha’u’llah grants one and all the supreme assurance of saying,
“By My life, all that are on earth shall pass away, while good deeds alone shall endure. To the truth of My words God doth Himself bear witness … Say the very life of all deeds is My good pleasure and all things depend on My acceptance.” (Aghdas, para 36)
Each in our own ways, you in yours and I and the various members of my family in ours, have tried to respond to the ringing challenge.
“By My life! He who has drunk the choicer wine of fairness from the hands of My bountiful favor will circle around My commandments that shine above horizons of creation. Do not think that We have revealed a mere code of laws. Nay, rather, we have unsealed the choice wine with the fingers of might and power.” (Aghdas, para 4&5)
It is a moving, heart-piercing, heady challenge, one that was to be met with faith, conviction and dedication, and acted upon with love and harmony, justice and unity, compassion and decency. To God one turned, His new revelation one embraced, the wine of its Truth one quaffed and in its diaphanous illumination one revealed. As Baha’u’llah told the kings of the world:
“It is not our wish to lay hands on your kingdoms. Our mission is to possess the hearts” (Aghdas, para 83)
“This was a Cause that was not only divine but which was based on the statutes and ordinances of God Keep ye to the statues and commandments of God.” (Aghdas, para 47)
“You were enjoined to Keep ye the statutes and commandments of God; nay, guard them as ye would your very eyes, and be not of those who suffer grievous loss.” (Aghdas, para 147).
“Let there be naught in your demeanour of which sound and upright minds would disapprove and make not yourselves the playthings of the ignorant. Well is it with him who has adorned himself with the vesture of seemly conduct and a praiseworthy character. He is assuredly reckoned with those who aid their Lord through distinctive and outstanding deeds.“(Aghdas, para 159)
“Having turned to Him, it was to Him that you were answerable, for it was He … who knew the inner secrets of the hearts and the meaning hidden in a mocker’s wink.” (Aghdas, para 157)
If you did wrong – and no human being is beyond wrong-doing – the Aghdas says that:
“To none is it permitted to seek absolution from another soul; let repentance be between yourselves and God. He, verily is the Pardoner, the Bounteous, the Gracious, the One who absolves the repentant.” (Aghdas, para 31)
“The framework is so clearly delineated, the guidelines so well set out. It is neither legalistic not complicated. It dealt primarily in the realm of the heart and it called for a reaction that resonated in the activities of everyday life and living –a holistic response worthy of the essential Divinity, Truth and Beauty of its appeal. And, if perforce you went wrong– and who can claim to be above such waywardness –even then God’s mercy was infinite. Turn back to Him and find that God hath laid hold on him who led you astray. Return to God, humble, submissive and lowly, verily He will put away from thee thy sins, for thy Lord, of a certainty is the Forgiving, the Mighty, the All-Merciful. This is the Council of God; would that thou might heed it. This is the Bounty of God; would that thou might receive it. This is the Utterance of God; if only thou would apprehend it. This is the Treasure of God; if only thou could understand!” (Aghdas, para 184)
The joy, the hope, the elation that the reading of the Kitab Aghdas produces is palpable and real. The certainty of infallibility and willing obedience flow naturally from those inspired words. They are neither forced nor enforced.
There in lies their power.
Bahiyeh Afnan Shahid
23 Ansdell Terrace
London W8 5BY England
cc: Mr. Hugh Adamson,
Bahai National Centre
27 Rutland Gate London SW7
Date : December 1994