Shoghi Effendi, The Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith
Born: March 1, 1897
Death: November 4, 1957
Place of Birth: Akka, Israel
Location of Death: London, United Kingdom
Burial Location: New Southgate Cemetery and Crematorium, New Southgate, England
Sifting through several biographies the one that seemed the most personal and soul stirring was this tribute that was given by Shoghi Effendi’s wife, Ruhiyyih Khanum at the Kampala Conference in Uganda, Africa two months after his death.
Everybody who had the great privilege of knowing the Guardian recognized in him tremendous power; he not only had great spiritual and mental power which radiated from him, he had an electric something in his nature which was like being in the presence of a very powerful dynamo. I have been in electric plants where dynamos have generated electrical power for a whole city; the whole building shook and vibrated with the force that was being created in those generators.
I have witnessed, myself, for twenty years, the strange force which emanated from Shoghi Effendi. This emanation from the Guardian was so strong that when he was not in the house, I felt less of it; when he was up on the mountain in the gardens of the Shrine, I would feel the force of it diminish; when he was in Bahji, I would feel still less of it; and if we were not in the same city, I would not feel it. It was a very extraordinary thing, and it was not my imagination.
Another thing about the Guardian, which I have sometimes wondered if those who were not closely associated with him ever realized, is that Shoghi Effendi was a very sensitive person. He was sensitive as a child. He was one of those children that, I believe in my long observation, should have always received encouragement.
You know, there are children who don’t need it; they are tough little plants. But there are other children who need to be told for everything they do, “My dear, you were sweet to think of it,” “You are a wonderful person,” “That was a wonderful idea,” “How well you did it.” The Guardian was like that — he needed, not to mention what he deserved, to always be encouraged.
I would not have you think that the Guardian was a sad being; he had a peculiarly joyous and luminous heart.
The one characteristic of that heart was the most extraordinary and true humility I have ever seen. He had, of course, like any other human being, self respect. But he had no pride whatsoever — no pride in his own person, no pride in his station; but when it came to this religion, then he had a fiery pride. He would never tolerate any insult or any slight that reflected on him as Guardian, nor on the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh. But in his own nature he was the quintessence of humility.
I have heard many times from the Guardian that he never dreamed that he would be made Guardian. He had no idea that there would be an Institution of the Guardianship and — that he would be chosen to become the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith. He said that his hope and ambition was to return to serve the Master, translate the Teachings into English, and that he thought that perhaps when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá ascended, as he was the eldest grandson, it might fall to his lot to be requested by the Master, posthumously naturally, to open any documents of instruction and communicate them to the Bahá’ís.
So, you see that this man, who was twenty-four years old and who had what I would call such an eager heart, so full of purity, enthusiasm, innocence, humility, and love for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, this pure heart of the Guardian received the first and most terrible blow through hearing of the ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. He was anxious for news of the Master and went to Mr. Tudor Pole‘s office in London from Oxford. Tudor Pole had received a cable saying that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had ascended. Shoghi Effendi was left by the secretary of Tudor Pole in his private office for a moment, and without meaning to, his eyes fell on this cablegram, laid open on the comer of the table, saying that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had ascended. A few moments later, when Tudor Pole came into the room, he found Shoghi Effendi crumpled in a heap on the floor.
They brought the Guardian back to Haifa, practically ill; and when he arrived there, he received a second most terrible shock of his life because the Will and Testament was read to him, and he found that the burden which had rested first on the Bab, then on Bahá’u’lláh, and then on his beloved grandfather, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, had fallen with all its weight on his shoulders. He told me once, “The day they read me the Will and Testament I ceased to be a normal human being.”
We take too much for granted in this world, all of us. I took the Guardian for granted before I went to live in Haifa. I don’t know what I thought, I must have thought that he just sat there and all the time heard ‘Abdu’l-Bahá speaking into his ears, and that it was a lovely, peaceful experience.
My observations, naturally, are those of an ant looking at the sun. But nevertheless I did observe certain things, and I believe that the nature of divine inspiration is not like something that is written up that these great souls read constantly before their eyes. It is rather in the nature of intermittent pulsations — flashes of lightning.
The Guardian was always guided and always protected, but that doesn’t change the fact that he had agonizing moments of anxiety, of sorrow, of despair perhaps, over certain situations, and that he suffered terribly. Then came these tremendous impulses. He always said the right thing; he always did the right thing. God never abandoned him for a second. But it was not a constant process — it was flashes, and in between those flashes, there was room for infinite suffering.
I am not going to give a discourse on the subject of Covenant-Breaking, but everybody knows that in this world, where there is light, there is shadow, and the closer you are to the light itself, the darker is the shadow at the foot of the lantern. In the sky, where the sun shines, there is no shadow — that is the world of God. But in this world, wherever there is brilliant light, at the foot of it is blackest shadow. The Guardian had a heart which was exactly like a source, a spring. It bubbled. Left alone, he had the happiest and most radiant heart of any being I have ever seen, and up until the very end of his life, in spite of the troubles and sorrows that had come to him one could see, sometimes, that heart bubble. Now, no doubt it is bubbling freely on high. But in those early years he suffered so terribly, it left its imprint on him for life.
When my mother and I were in Haifa in 1922 or 1923 (I was a child) the Guardian was going away and he called us to his bedroom. He looked so absolutely haggard, with great circles under his eyes. He said “Mrs. Maxwell, I cannot stand it, I am going away.” But of course, he came back in the Autumn and went on with his work.
He was so conscientious, so conscious of the burden that had been placed upon him, that in the early years almost to the end of his life he denied himself practically everything. Although there were very few things that Shoghi Effendi liked or wanted (he had extremely simple tastes in food, in dress, in everything), he had a very beautiful characteristic — what he liked, he liked all through and forever.
I don’t think that the friends know, and especially up until perhaps ten years ago, how hard on himself he was in the sense of depriving himself, of living very simply. He ate once every twenty-four hours. This had nothing either to do with economy or asceticism, he just did not feel hungry more often than that, and from his early childhood he did not seem to be able to eat more than once or twice a day. This was a life-long habit, to eat one meal a day. It worried me terribly, and I used to speak to the doctors about it. They said, “Don’t worry, as long as he is healthy and does not feel that he wants to eat more than once a day, don’t insist, leave him alone.” At length I got used to it.
I think that it encourages the friends to know, especially the poorer friends who have sacrificed so much to this Faith, that the Guardian, although he was so very careful of everything to do with his honor as Guardian, as a man and as an individual where he was not known, lived with the utmost simplicity.
For many, many years, when he went away in the summer to rest, and I assure you friends, that the Guardian wouldn’t have lasted for thirty-six years if he had not had a little rest in the summer, he lived very, very modestly. He had a room for about two and a half shillings, and it was so small that when one of his relatives came to see him in it, he could not stand up straight because his head banged on the slanting ceiling.
The Guardian was absolutely fearless when it came to defending the Cause of God. He was like a lion. One of his strongest characteristics was an absolutely inflexible sense about compromise. Shoghi Effendi never compromised a hair’s breadth. I could give you a hundred examples of this in his nature, but I will give you a few, because I think this is very, very important for all of us. It is important for every Bahá’í, but it is particularly important for the teachers of the Faith, the pioneers and the national assembly members. I don’t have to tell this to the Hands.
How many mosquitoes does it take to give you malaria or yellow fever? When we compromise our Faith, it is like taking a glass of pure water, and putting one drop of ink in it — it does not become a glass of ink, but the purity of the water is gone. We all know that there is no compromise with people who were Covenant-Breakers, if they had not changed in their hearts, because the heart is the measure. When they were repentant in their hearts, Shoghi Effendi forgave them, and there are many people who were out of the Faith and are in it again because the Guardian inhaled one breath of sincerity from their hearts and accepted them.
You see, the Guardian had so many sides to his nature, and you have seen how strong he was when it came to defending the Faith. He never compromised on principle.
Now, I would like to show you another aspect of his nature. He had a tremendous capacity for love and for loyalty for those whom he loved, but when they became Covenant-Breakers it evaporated, they ceased to exist and the bounties ceased to flow.
I remember when Dr. Zia Bagdadi died and the news reached him. I don’t know exactly when it was, but it was a very, very short time after my marriage with the Guardian. Perhaps in the first month, or maybe even less time than that. News came saying that Zia Bagdadi had died and the Guardian cried for almost an hour that night.
The Guardian was not emotional, he was absolutely impervious to influence. I think that the friends don’t realize that the Central Figures of our Faith had an untarnished, steely quality in their nature that was never influenced by their emotions and that whatever they considered right they did in spite of everything.
I don’t think the friends realize what went behind those cables putting the different members of the Master’s family out of the Cause. Years of suffering, years of crushing his heart, years of hurt and insult –- he kept silent and bore and bore and bore and bore, until it reached the point where it was bad for the Cause — then he took action. But what they did to him personally he always endured.
He used to suffer very much from two things, and one of them was, of course, the actions of people who were either Covenant-Breakers or in process of becoming Covenant-Breakers, and the other was from the suffering of the Bahá’ís.
There are three other qualities in the Guardian’s nature which I think the friends would like to hear about, and which are very important ones for us to remember now as we go forward into the next five years of the Plan. The first of these is audacity; the second is ingenuity, and the third is economy. The Guardian had all these qualities to a pronounced degree.
The Guardian was never prevented from accomplishing anything because there were obstacles in the way. He charged them full on, he never tried to avoid them or go around them — he flew at them.
His ingenuity in accomplishing the work in Haifa particularly, was phenomenal. He devised ways of doing things which he himself had never seen done, and had never heard of being done.
For instance, he used to build terraces and gardens. People would come to him and they would say “A tree can’t grow in one meter of soil — a tree can’t grow on top of a roof of a cistern — you cannot plant a tree in the ground and pile up earth all around up to its crown, it will die,” and so on. He did all of those things, he planted trees on tops of cisterns and nothing happened to them, he covered trees up to the crown and it looked as if three beautiful trees would grow out of the soil instead of one. He was not intimidated by the opinions of other people.
The Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith watched the expenditure of every penny that he was responsible for in the Holy Land, and indeed all over the world, to a degree which I think the Bahá’ís have no idea about whatsoever.
I have no time to go into details, but I can assure you that there was never any work carried out in Haifa that was not greatly economized by the Guardian — in the building of the Shrine, the building of the gardens, the development of the entrances, the gates, the paths, the pedestals supporting the ornaments — the Guardian made very sure that he was doing the thing in the most economical manner.
No matter what the thing was, if he considered that the price was exorbitant, he would not pay it, whether it was required, or very important, or needed for part of a scheme; if the price was exorbitant he just would not pay that price. The basis of this religion is sacrifice, conscientious, tireless, wholehearted, endless sacrifice — that is what we saw in our Guardian for 36 years.
The degree to which Shoghi Effendi sacrificed himself in every human sense is unbelievable — he had no life of his own, no time of his own, practically no joys of his own, very little happiness in all of his life. He hurried all the time, he had a sense of haste and pressure, and I think all those who worked with him in Haifa and the friends all over the world, when receiving his messages, and when they felt the vibrations of this power within him, realized this sense of urgency — hurry, hurry, hurry, all the time, to get it done quickly before something happened.
The Guardian said to some of the pilgrims, during the last year and a half or two years, something very strange. He said there are two Plans.
The long-term eternal Plan of Almighty God for mankind on this planet; that is the Plan that has the Prophets of God, the Adamic Cycle and all of the Great Manifestations of God, like Christ and Mohammed, Buddha, Zoroaster, and Moses and so on, bringing us to this day with the Bab and Bahá’u’lláh. This is the Mighty Plan of God, educating humanity and bringing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth on this planet. He said this is the plan of God, it goes forward in mysterious ways, we do not always understand its workings.
Then, he said, we have the Divine Plan, which is being carried forward by the Bahá’ís in the form as we know it, first, the two Seven-Year Plans, and then this Ten-Year Plan — the World Crusade which we are now engaged upon and part of which has passed.
The Guardian said, who knows, maybe this great Plan of God will interfere in the other Plan. We always thought, at least I always thought, that this meant the war which we have reason to believe we may not be able to avert, was probably the thing. I could never dream that this trial that could cut across the Plan, the Ten-Year Plan that we are working on now, would be the ascension of our Guardian.
The beloved Guardian sacrificed himself for this Cause as completely as anyone who was ever martyred in the physical sense. He burned away until there was nothing left, and suddenly God took his spirit in the twinkling of an eye because he had evidently finished his task in this world.
The Guardian was in better health this summer than he had been for years. His own physician said so; he had good doctors when he had the Asiatic flu in London, and he was examined thoroughly and there was nothing in the world for anyone to believe that he could possibly pass away.
We can only bow our heads before the Will of God, believing and knowing that Bahá’u’lláh has His Own Plan, that He will guard and protect this Faith and that nothing can thwart His Will.
But He did not leave us empty handed, we have His work to carry on and the greatest monument that we can build in our love and our sorrow for Shoghi Effendi is the monument of our work in this world-encircling Plan.
There are some words of Abdu’l-Bahá which I should like to quote:
He said “As you have faith, so shall your powers and blessings be, this is the balance, this is the balance, this is the balance.”
So, in the name of Shoghi Effendi, I appeal to you all to carry on his work as one soul in many bodies.
Rabbani, Ruhiyyih Khanum. “Tribute to Shoghi Effendi at the Kampala Conference” “Shoghi Effendi” Bahai-Library.com: Winters, Jonah [Edited by David Merrick]
Baha’i World Centre Archives