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
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
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
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 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
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, 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
Keith Ransom-Kehler (February 14, 1876 – October 23, 1933)
After returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Shrines and the beloved Guardian in 1926, Keith Ransom-Kehler, penned a letter to the National Convention of the Baha’is of the United States and Canada. She had witnessed first hand the terrible burden with which the Guardian was weighed down in the form of hundreds of letters from the American Baha’is expressing criticism of each other. She wrote, “Any one of us is ready to die for [Shoghi Effendi]” and then asked rhetorically, “but can we conscientiously number ourselves among those who are willing to live for him?”
Shoghi Effendi would later write, “The Cause at present does not need martyrs who would die for the faith, but servants who desire to teach and establish the Cause throughout the world. To live to teach in the present day is like being martyred in those early days. It is the spirit that moves us that counts, not the act through which that spirit expresses itself; and that spirit is to serve the Cause of God with our heart and soul.”
Keith Ransom-Kehler would come to be one of those who could indeed “conscientiously number [herself] among those who are willing to live for him”. Thus, though she died quietly in Isfahan, Iran, of illness and exhaustion at the age of 57, she was declared by the Guardian to be the first American martyr to give her life for the Faith. Additionally, on the day after her death, on 24 October 1933, she was elevated to the rank of Hand of the Cause of God. She was the first woman so appointed. Continue reading
Around the 12th of January 1954, a sodden purse was found on a seashore. The purse had belonged to a woman travelling on a flight from Rome to London. The plane had crashed into the sea two days earlier, killing all passengers on board. Inside the purse was a pamphlet with information about the Baha’i Faith. The pamphlet was given to her by another passenger – Dorothy Baker – moments before both the giver and recipient were killed. Thus to the very end of her life Dorothy Baker was sharing the Healing Message of Baha’u’llah. Her wish to “die in her runners” was fulfilled when she died, teaching the Faith and on the way to meet her husband at their international pioneering post, at the age of 55 years.
The inspiration of Dorothy Baker’s life lies not only in the service, sacrifice and spiritual qualities she shared with her fellow Hands of the Cause. Her story also inspires through the hope it offers to those of us who have had the privilege of knowledge of Baha’u’llah’s Teachings, but who have not yet allowed the Faith to move to the centre of our lives. For Dorothy’s transformation into the “distinguished Hand of the Cause, eloquent exponent of its teachings, indefatigable supporter of its institutions, valiant defender of its precepts”, as she was described by the Guardian she adored, was neither instant nor linear. In her early life, despite being the granddaughter of a staunch and renowned Baha’i – Mother Beecher – and despite meeting ‘Abdu’l-Bahá at the critical age of thirteen years, she was at times distracted by the world around her. Continue reading
In 1912, Abdu’l-Bahá spent from April to December touring North America. He is shown here (at center) with Bahá’ís at Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois, USA. [Photo: Baha’i Media Bank]
In a small breakfast restaurant in downtown Chicago I received a jolt, a surprising reminder of what was really important to me.
“That’s a nice ring,” a young African-American waiter said to me, after glancing at my Baha’i ring with its symbols of unity, the fundamental principle of the Baha’i Faith.
It was the first time that anybody had ever commented on it, and the remark came when there was strong competition for my attention.
In the final two weeks of the 2012 presidential election campaign, the media drumbeat was increasing in intensity as the people of the United States were subjected to special pleading to win their votes.
It was a fascinating and important time to be in that country, but the young man’s inquiry reminded me that the eternal realities, the things of the spirit are far more enduring and significant than current contests for political power.
The many personalities being promoted for political purposes seemed almost one dimensional in my eyes compared with one who had visited the United States in 1912.
I left the restaurant, and as planned, took the train to Wilmette where 100 years ago, the head of the Baha’i Faith, Abdu’l-Baha (1844-1921), laid the cornerstone for a Temple that is now one of the most outstanding architectural features of a city that is deservedly famous for its buildings. Continue reading