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Haji Mirza Haydar Ali – The Delight of Hearts

Haji Mirza Haydar Ali

Haji Mirza Haydar Ali

Haji Mirza Haydar Ali is regarded as one of Baha’u’llah’s most outstanding disciples yet very few people know of his servitude towards the Baha’i Faith. A staunch Baha’i, Haydar Ali went above and beyond to defend the Covenant of Baha’u’llah and later championed the Faith during Abdu’l-Baha’s Ministry, protecting it from the onslaught of Covenant breakers.

But it was Haji Mirza Haydar Ali’s distinct sense of humour and wit, which I believe was his distinguishing characteristic. It is no wonder that he was given the title ‘The Delight of Hearts’, for delighting hearts was indeed his forte. The following story is just one example of his humorous persona:

“One day we were outside the city of Isfahan in a very pleasant place where there was a mosque and a stream and a few trees. We had taken provisions to spend the night. We went to the mosque, where we planned to stay. A few of the inhabitants were curious, so they entered the mosque and someone asked me where I was from. I had a slight Isfahani accent, but I said that I was from Shiraz.

“Why are you lying?” the man replied. “It is obvious that you are from Isfahan. Seventy thousand angels will curse a liar.” Continue reading

The Wife of the Bab Khadijih Bagum – A Tribute to Suffering

Khadijeh Bagum

…calamities have always been and will continue to be the lot of God’s chosen ones. Therefore, blessed is the one who is satisfied with and thankful for all that hath visited him. For nothing from God touches a person except what is best for him of all that hath been created between the heavens and the earth. Since people are unaware of this mystery and its secrets, they are saddened when calamity strikes. God willing, thou wilt be always seated upon the seat of assurance and nourished with the fruits of understanding. Verily, He is the best of all providers and protectors.

As we contemplate and celebrate the Declaration of the Bab, I hope we can take a few moments to reflect how this mighty day, 171 years ago, not only altered the course of mankind’s history, but also simultaneously changed the life of one young, innocent bride forever.

The young bride was Khadijih Bagum, dearly beloved and cherished wife of The Bab, who paid the high price of enforced separation from Her Husband after a brief two years of marriage and endured forty years of suffering. Continue reading

Tahirih – The Force of a Pure Heart

Force, the old standard, is losing its dominance, and intuition, insight, glimpses of cosmic consciousness and the spiritual qualities of love and service in which woman is strong are gaining ascendancy. And you see that this new epoch is an age in which masculine and feminine elements of civilisation are becoming more evenly adjusted. Man and woman are as the two wings of the bird of humanity and this bird cannot attain its highest flight until these two wings are equally strong and equally poised. One of the important teachings of the Baha’i Faith is that women should be regarded as the equals of men and should enjoy equal rights and privileges, equal education and equal opportunities. Tahirih had to die for these ideals but today our task is to live for them. – Martha Root

To commemorate International Women’s Day, which falls on 8 March, I would like to honour a remarkable woman who lived a century ago. Her radical life was not only significant then but remains profoundly relevant today. She had passion, determination, guts and grit running through her veins. A warrior for the emancipation of women. A force to be reckoned with.

A life tragically cut short at the age of thirty-six, she was the first woman suffrage martyr. Put to death by strangulation, her immortal words ring through the ages:

You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women.

Her name was Tahirih – “The Pure One”. Continue reading

Amatu’l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum

Amatu’l-Baha Ruḥiyyih Khanum, born Mary Sutherland Maxwell Aug. 8, 1910 - Jan. 19, 2000. (Photo: Baha'i World Centre)

Amatu’l-Baha Ruḥiyyih Khanum, born Mary Sutherland Maxwell
Aug. 8, 1910 – Jan. 19, 2000. (Photo: Baha’i World Centre)


15 years ago, on January 19, 2000, Madame Ruhiyyih Rabbani, born as Mary Sutherland Maxwell, and affectionately known by the title Amatu’l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum, passed away from this earthly plain. She was the Handmaiden of Glory; the beloved consort of Shoghi Effendi; his “shield”, his “helpmate”, and his “tireless collaborator”; a Hand of the Cause of God; and the “Baha’i world’s last living link to the family of Abdu’l-Baha”.

On the Sunday afternoon that her precious remains were laid to rest, the sweetness of a chanted Persian prayer reverberated throughout the garden where nearly a thousand friends had gathered from places far-flung across the globe to pay tribute and homage to this beloved personage. A soft rain began to fall gently upon all there; perhaps nature’s own testimony to the grief felt in all the hearts and the tears upon many a cheek.

The beauty of the love story that was to become Ruhiyyih Khanum’s life was one that began long before her birth. Mary Sutherland Maxwell was born on 8 August 1910 in New York City. The beloved only-child of William Sutherland Maxwell and May Ellis Bolles, she was a result of the prayers of Abdu’l-Baha for the fulfillment of May Bolles’ heart’s desire to have a child, and perhaps, the gift of her mother’s complete acquiescence and resignation to the Will of God. Continue reading

Dr. Susan Moody: A Dedicated Pioneer Doctor

Dr. Moody with some friends in Tehran, 1920. Photo courtesy of the Baha'is of the U.S. (www.bahai.us)

Seated in the center is Dr. Moody with some friends in Tehran, 1920. (Photo courtesy of the Baha’is of the U.S.)

On November 20th, 1851 a remarkable person was born into this world. Susan Isobel Moody would grow up to dedicate herself wholeheartedly to bringing medical care and education to women and girls in Iran from 1909 to 1934. Born and raised by a respected Protestant family in New York, Susan studied the fine arts and singing. She taught and then attempted to become a doctor but the dissection of cadavers proved too much and she did not complete her training. She was a “spinster-mother” and helped to raise five of her young relatives. While these are all wonderful accomplishments, they pale in comparison to her champion pioneer work in her later years.

In 1903, Susan’s life took a dramatic turn. She became a Baha’i, having learned of the Faith from Isabella Bittingham in New York City (Abdu’l-Baha called Isabella the “Baha’i maker” because of her efficiency at teaching the Faith). In private prayer, Susan vowed: “I hereby devote, consecrate and sacrifice all that I am, and all that I have and all that I hope to be and to have, to Thee, O Divine Father, to be used in accordance with Thy Purpose”. She began teaching children’s classes (the first to be offered in Chicago) and hosting meetings in her home. Bracing herself, she returned to medical school, completed her degree and set up a small practice. She was now a 52-year-old Baha’i doctor. Continue reading

The Apostle of Peace and the Great War

Abdu'l-Baha in Paris near the Eiffel Tower in 1913. (Photo: Baha'i Media Bank)

Abdu’l-Baha in Paris near the Eiffel Tower in 1913. (Photo: Baha’i Media Bank)

As the world commemorates the centenary of World War I, it is timely to recount the story of one who predicted with sublime accuracy the outbreak of that conflict and who also explained and developed a peace plan highly relevant to humanity today.

Abdu’l-Baha (1844-1921) spoke often about the plan which came from His father, Baha’u’llah (1817-1892), the prophetic figure Who founded the Baha’i Faith and laid out the path to peace in His letters to the kings and rulers of the world.

For example, during His journey throughout North America in 1912, Abdu’l-Baha emphasised the need for international peace, calling it “the most momentous question of the day.”

Newspapers gave Him such labels as the “Persian Peace Apostle” and “the Prophet of Peace”, and their journalists reported how He linked the concept of peace to the need for a world tribunal and collective security. Surprisingly for audiences at that time, He also connected peace to topics like the education and advancement of women. War will cease, He said, when women have full equality because “they will be the obstacle and hindrance to it.” Continue reading

Ugo Giachery: A Spiritual Hero with Practical Feet.

Dr. Ugo Giachery 1896-1989. (Photo: Baha'i World Centre)

Dr. Ugo Giachery, May 13, 1896 – July 5, 1989. (Photo: Baha’i World Centre)

When we think of spiritual giants, we may fall into the trap of picturing them deep in prayer or meditation without a care for the practical world in which they live.

But if we have such a view of them, then it is likely to be far too narrow and therefore inaccurate.

In this regard, have a look at the life of Ugo Giachery, a man born into an aristocratic family in Palermo, Sicily in 1896. Dr. Giachery was deeply spiritual, yes, but also immensely practical.

His life could have been one of waltzing about in elite circles or retreating into the academic world making a career out of his doctorate in chemistry.

However, he chose another path. After becoming attracted to the world-embracing teachings of the Baha’i Faith, he set about implementing them the best he could. World peace was no abstract notion for him. He had been wounded in World War I and so he knew the horrors of global conflict. It was perhaps inevitable that he would find appealing a religion promoting a practical path to peace. Continue reading

Nancy Campbell: artist and Artist

Nancy Cambell (1906 – 1980)

Nancy Cambell (1906 – 1980)

At the end of the last century Ani Difranco cleverly and accurately sang that…

…every tool is a weapon if you hold it right.

This idea, that most objects and activities – including all sciences and arts – are neutral in value and can be utilized for good or evil, had also been expressed at the beginning of that century by Abdu’l-Baha. He stated:

All things are beneficial if joined with the love of God; and without His love all things are harmful…

He went on to show how this is particularly true of the arts, stating that:

…a melody sweet to the ear, bringeth the very spirit of life to a heart in love with God, yet staineth with lust a soul engrossed in sensual desires.

If a woman at the Three Arts Club in New York City had not introduced Nancy Campbell to the Baha’i Teachings in 1938, she may have become just another talented artist, using her skills and opportunities to entertain and distract. Instead Nancy Campbell attended ‘firesides’ (informal presentations of the Baha’i Teachings) at the home of New York Baha’is, Saffa and Carrie Kinney. Three years later upon return to her adopted homeland, Canada, Nancy Campbell sought out the Baha’is and formally registered as a member of that community. She was immediately engaged in direct service to the Baha’i community, and became a founding member of the Hamilton (Ontario) Local Spiritual Assembly. Continue reading

The Life of Effie Baker

Life of Effie Baker

Euphemia (Effie) Eleanor Baker, 25 March, 1880 – January 1, 1968.

As most of the world celebrates the new year, January 1st also commemorates the passing of someone special: Effie Baker. In fact, if you visit bahaullah.org (a wonderful photographic narrative of the life of Baha’u’llah) you’ll notice that many of the photographs of 1930’s Iran are credited to Effie Baker. A western Baha’i woman photographer in Iran in those days? I was a fish on a hook and needed to know more.

Effie (a nickname for Euphemia) Eleanor Baker was born 25 March, 1880 in Goldsborough, Australia. She was petite but energetic and had brown hair and blue eyes. Her childhood was spent with her grandparents in Ballarat. Her grandfather founded the Ballarat Observatory and if you visit it today, you can still see a specimen of his award-winning astronomical work: a 26 inch telescope called “The Baker”. Effie inherited an enthusiasm for science, a facility with technical instruments, and a keen observing eye from her grandfather. For a turn-of-the-century country girl, Effie was very well educated and when she wasn’t at school, she could be found exploring the countryside on a white pony named Nugget.

Effie studied and then worked as a visual artist. Armed with a formal understanding of colour, light and composition, Effie became enamored with photography. She also excelled at toy-making at a time when imported toys were scarce in Australia. In 1914 she published Australian Wild Flowers, a small volume of hand-painted photographs of local flora.

The turning point in her life was when she heard Hyde Dunn speak publicly about the Baha’i Faith in 1922. He and his wife Clara responded to the Master’s Tablets of the Divine Plan by moving to Australia two years prior. Effie noticed something radiant about Hyde’s face and during his talk, she wholeheartedly accepted the Faith. Continue reading

Shoghi Effendi: A Bridge to the World

Shoghi Effendi, 1 Mar, 1897 – 4 Nov, 1957. (Photo: Baha’i Media Bank)

The year was 1922, and a young Iranian man, only 24 years old, had arrived at the foot of the Swiss Alps. His face was round and young, but his eyes were old and heavy with worry.

His name was Shoghi Effendi, and just weeks earlier, he had learned the news that his beloved Grandfather had died, and it now fell to him to lead a nascent, embattled religion. He had come to the Alps to, in his words, “conquer, himself that is, to come to terms with the end of the sort of life that most of us are familiar with, before taking up the mantle of authority of the most precious institution the world had ever known. Continue reading