Introduction by Bahiyeh Afnan Shahid, Great-Granddaughter of Abdu’l-Baha
Maybe the series of accusations made against all the members of Abdul Baha’s family over the last seventy years have gone unanswered for too long. A pattern has been established in Bahai circles based in Haifa, Israel and spread over the globe that any accusation aimed at the family holds true — after all they have come from the highest Bahai sources and, what is equally important, no one had denied them. Not once! In fact, the various members of the family, cast out at various times — ‘expelled’, to use the ‘accepted’ term, — from the community, made a conscious and deliberate decision not to contradict anything said, especially as they were first said by the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi who, as the eldest grandson of Abdul Baha and his appointed successor, was an integral part of that same family. Nobody, but nobody, wanted to start arguments and launch upon conflicts reminiscent of what went on at the time of Baha’ullah and Abdul Baha with their various half brothers. They therefore never communicated any information regarding their ‘expulsion’ from the religion and the community that their forebears had established — at great price and sacrifice — or their opinions on the whys and wherefores of the tragedy that befell them. They repeatedly insisted that their silence would serve the Cause better and would ward off another schism in the third generation of Baha’ullah’s family.
Soon, however, the number of participants in the field of blame and accusation grew. The books of Rouhiyyih Rabbani, the wife of the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, of which The Priceless Pearl is one, published in 1969 (after the passing away of the Guardian) and that of Adib Taherzadeh (1992) depicted the family in ways too demeaning to repeat, but nevertheless, in Bahai circles, were considered good sources of information to be repeatedly referred to as reference books. Both books are highly regarded in Bahai circles. After all the first writer was the widow of the Guardian, and had had direct input in the running of the affairs of the Cause until her death in 2000 and the other had been a member of the House of Justice for many years.
No one, however, of all those who had been literally libelled and insulted, raised their voices to deny anything, refute anything, rectify anything or defend themselves in any way. Their silence made them appear as if they were actually guilty of all that had been thrown at them. Of course, not one voice was raised to appreciate the sacrifice their deliberate silence afforded the Cause in leaving them free of any of the unseemly conflict and disagreements that had gone on in the previous two generations. No, the Cause was left free and unopposed as it went on naming, blaming and shaming one victim after another. It soon reached the stage where it was claimed that no family existed. One of its glaring examples, and there were many, was a notice in the Independent (a British newspaper) of November 9, 1993 regarding a luncheon held by Mr. Sarosh Zaiwalla, Senior Partner, Zaiwalla & Co, Solicitors, 95a Chancery Lane. London WC2 ‘in honour of Madam Ruhiyyih Rabbani, the last surviving member of the family of Bahaullah, the founder of the Bahai faith’. Another was the two different occasions when a friend at College introduced my daughter Parvine Shahid to a Bahai classmate as a member of the family of Abdul Baha and the blunt answer came that there was no family! A third was an answer given some years ago by Ali’ullah Nakhjavani while visiting Australia and speaking to a Bahai audience. There he asserted that the Aghsans had simply ceased to exist because like the branch of a tree they had been cut out of existence!
With the advent of the internet the mind boggles at the amount of material being aired against so-called ‘covenant breakers’ from the belated family of Abdul Baha. They are listed in detail and their stories told and retold. One example is the publication on the Baha’i Reference Library of Shoghi Effendi’s cables to the Baha’i World from 1950 – 1957. Another is Moojan Momen’s ‘Covenant, The, and Covenant-breaker’ in Baha’i Library Online, and an article on ‘Covenant Breaking’ from Bahaikipedia. Hung out like a lot of laundry, clean or dirty, true or false, for all the world to see.
Be that as it may, the number of inaccuracies in the accounts are most disturbing and it seems only appropriate that before the last of the third generation of Abdul Baha’s family, his grandson, Hassan Jalal Shahid (the son of Mirza Jalal Isphahani, — the son of Sultan esh Shuhada — and Rouha Khanum one of the daughters of Abdul Baha) goes to meet his maker, taking many of the versions of the family stories into oblivion, an effort should be made to rectify the balance. For truth to tell, not only was judgement passed and the guilty verdict handed down, the stories that are now on the internet for everyone to read are heavily embellished with ‘facts’ that happen to be as fictitious as any fiction can be. The Master loved and respected his daughters very much. To see them bandied about as ‘covenant breakers’ is deeply hurtful. The Master had high hopes that his grandchildren, all of whom, males and females, had been highly educated, would spend their lives in the service of the Cause as Ruhi Afnan started to do. He, though, like everyone else, ‘generation after generation’ was deprived of that opportunity.
The family knew that Shoghi Effendi had passed horrendous judgements on them. They were aware of Rouhiyyih Khanum’s book The Priceless Pearl and the turns and twists given to many of the stories and opinions there. They knew of Adib Taherzadeh’s book The Covenant of Baha’ullah and its shameless chapter on the Faithless Relatives of Shoghi Effendi. But to see the accusations and the judgements on the internet and distorted to such an extent is truly astonishing!
In an effort to correct some of these, shall we say, misconceptions, and to try to put things in their proper perspective, this effort is now being made to present a different light on this tragic family history. It goes without saying that it will meet with some strange reactions from those safe and secure ‘in the fold’, and for a very simple reason, well illustrated by the following story.
Dr. Moojan Moomen, a well informed, well established writer on Bahai history and Bahai matters, has official permission from the House of Justice to come and visit us. At a recent meeting on December 5, 2011 he made a statement that prompted me to write the following letter to him on April 3, 2012:
Dear Dr. Momen:
Towards the end of our last meeting you said something that has remained with me. You thought that if Baha’is should listen to me and to what I had to say it would shake their faith. The next day, — it took me a few hours of sleep to recover from our absorbing, eight hour session — the question came to mind: ‘shake their faith in what?’ Could any amount of talking anyone heard from me or Hassan shake anyone’s faith in the core principles, ideals, or world view of the Bab or Bahaullah? Could anything you have heard us say shake a Baha’i’s faith in the definition of a Baha’i? In the purpose and goal of a Baha’i’s existence; the end towards which he should strive; the compassion, love and understanding with which he should seek to serve humanity; the ingrained spirituality and godliness that should be his guiding light; the responsibility, kindness and forgiveness that can move mountains and build a new world? Have you ever heard Hassan or I say anything that would shake a Baha’i’s faith in any of these?
What might shake their faith is the discrepancy between the ‘facts’ as they are compiled and presented on the internet, on sources such as Bahai Library on-line, Bahaikepedia, the planned Bahai encyclopedia, a variety of articles, and what actually happened. In my humble opinion, it would serve the Cause far better if more care is taken to make sure that these ‘facts’ were actually factual. In fact it would be much better to do without a great many of these articles and compilations altogether. What are you afraid of? Why does the Cause require so much fending off of ‘enemies’? They have always been there and will probably always be there. But does a Cause such as this need anything more than the luminous message it brought? Does it need ‘propaganda’ beyond its own words of wisdom and spiritual enlightenment?
Historians allowed too many witnesses and participants in the events of the time to die without interviewing a single one of them, or finding out firsthand what actually happened, how and why. They were so busy categorizing covenant breakers and shunning them that history passed them by. What you are now left with are regurgitated accounts of events that often have little to do with how things actually were.
The Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, held the will of Abdul Baha aloft and with what he interpreted as the Master’s blessings, set out to make the institution of Guardianship a jewel mounted in a framework of complete conformity, total obedience and unswerving loyalty to the authority heading the Cause, whether the Guardian or the Universal House of Justice — not forgetting that together they were divinely guided and infallible. However, like all man-run institutions, no matter how sacred in origin, these are stepping stones in a certain direction, not eternal edifices never to be questioned or changed. Maybe when you said I or Hassan could shake a Baha’i’s faith you meant faith in what these institutions brought forth, did or decided, notwithstanding their infallibility. If a Bahai believes in all this what would shake his faith: my words or what in his/her name and the name of the Bahai Faith, is being said to the world now on the internet, — coming from official Baha’i sources? Ironically, what is put on the internet — that ‘curse’ as you called it — should, considering how many ‘enemies, battles, conflicts, expellees, covenant breakers, faithless, disloyal, treacherous, arch-enemies, plotters and schemers are mentioned, all relating to the family of Abdul Baha and Shoghi Effendi, be enough to shake anyone’s faith. And that is exactly what I am talking about. If you wish to hang the families of Abdul Baha and Shoghi Effendi like washing on a line on the internet, at least have your facts right. I do not believe it serves any cause, leave alone the Cause of Bahaullah to have the names of the descendants of Abdul Baha and the immediate family of the Guardian so besmirched with mud, which, upon closer scrutiny, simply does not stick. When one fact is shown to be incorrect it casts doubt on the whole body of work. How much more when ‘fact’ after ‘fact’ is not correct?
That is what shakes a believer’s faith. When those who should know better ignore the truth, a truth that always, somehow, has the habit of putting on an appearance.
Introduction Part 2: Names and Branches of the Family
Before proceeding further it might be useful to note that all members of the Bab’s family were named and known as the Afnans, whereas Baha’ullah named his sons as the Aghsan (branches) of his family and the ladies of the household as the waraqat (leaves). His eldest daughter, Bahiyeh Khanum was called the Most Exalted Holy Leaf, and the Master’s ['Abdu'l-Baha's] wife, Munireh Khanum, whose original name had been Fatemeh he renamed as Munireh (luminous). The Master, who was his eldest son and was called Abbas was given the extra title of Ghusneh Azam (The Greatest Branch). Another son (from a different wife) Mirza Mohammad Ali was named as Ghusneh Akbar (The Greater Branch); and the Master’s younger brother, Mirza Mehdi was named Ghusneh Athar (the purest branch).
The appellation of Ghusn (branch) was also given to Shoghi Effendi by the Master and he was known as Ghusneh Mumtaz (The Most Exalted Branch).
Effendi, on the other hand, was a word very commonly used, equivalent to ‘mister’ in English. So if you wanted to be polite you affixed Effendi to the names of men as a gesture of politesse. All the men of the family, young and old, used to be addressed as effendis, both by the Iranians and the Arabs in Haifa, but it remained with Shoghi Effendi all through his life. According to the practice of the time the Master had insisted that everyone should address the young man, even from his childhood, not as plain Shoghi, but Shoghi Effendi.
The Aghsan (plural of ghusn) were therefore known as the family of Bahau’llah, and the Afnans the family of the Bab. The two families soon joined up at the marriage of Forough Khanum, the only child of Baha’ullah and his third wife, Gowhar Khanum, to Sayyid Ali Afnan, the son of Afnaneh Kabir (The Great Afnan) the brother-in-law of the Bab. This was repeated when Zia Khanum and Touba Khanum, two of the Master’s daughters, married Afnans as well, the latter to another son of Afnaneh Kabir, Mirza Mohsen Afnan, the former to Mirza Hadi Shirazi (Afnan).
This happened again in the next generation, when three of the four sons of Forough Khanum, Nayer, Feizy and Hassan married Rouhanguise and Mehranguise, the two sisters of Shoghi Effendi (who all were half Aghsan and half Afnan), and a cousin of his, Soraya Afnan, who married Feizy Afnan.
Of the nine children born to Abdul Baha and his wife Monireh Khanum only four daughters survived. All four were educated at home and were fluent in Farsi, Arabic and English. They were Zia Khanum, Touba Khanum, Ruha Khanum and Munavar Khanum. Touba Khanum and Ruha Khanum were unidentical twins.