Comments About Sayyid Ali Afnan, Forough Khanum, and Their Sons

Narrated by Bahiyeh Afnan Shahid to Her Daughter Parvine

NOTE: Bahiyeh Afnan Shahid is the daughter of Nayer Afnan, son of Sayyid Ali Afnan and Forough Khanum.

…. Among the questions asked was one about my father and his marriage to Rouhanguise Rabbani, Shoghi Effendi’s sister.

If Sayyid Ali Afnan had had his differences with the Master these had been resolved and consigned to history during the Master’s lifetime — contrary to what Moojan Momen says, that he did not return to the Cause until the early 20s at Shoghi Effendi’s time. It was during the lifetime of the Master. Otherwise, how come the Master was so kind and compassionate to his half sister Forough Khanum when at the end of her life she was suffering from breast cancer? How come his daughters and especially Ruha Khanum (your paternal grandmother) were so kind and loving to her till the end of her days? How come Dr. Esselmont lived in that house while in Haifa? How come there are pictures of the Master at that house? How come the Community bought that house and had it beautifully restored as it is now? Would any of this have happened if it was the house or home of a Covenant breaker?

In view of the above it is a laughable joke to say — as it is claimed by some source on the internet — that her sons accused the Master of being the cause of her cancer.

In fact I have heard it said in the family that in those first months after the passing of the Master and when Shoghi Effendi had the breakdown that caused him to leave the scene because he felt unable, ill-equipped or unworthy to assume the daunting task that had been left to him, one of the suggestions had been to send for the sons of Sayyid Ali Afnan who lived in Beirut, Lebanon at the time, to come and lend a hand. This was not actually done but it goes to show that they were not considered Covenant breakers.

Be that as it may, her eldest son, Hussein Afnan, thanks to the Master, (who had recommended him to King Faisal when the latter had come to visit the Master in Haifa) was serving in the government of King Faisal the First of Iraq and where, in close cooperation with Shoghi Effendi (there is correspondence to prove it) tried hard to solve the problem of the takeover by the authorities of Baha’ullah’s house in Baghdad. If his parents were covenant breakers and ‘enemies of the Master’ would Shoghi Effendi have had anything to do with him? Hussein Afnan’s efforts did not have a positive outcome, but his work resulted in Shoghi Effendi asking him to resign the high government post that he held so as not to be placed in the position of endorsing that government’s action in the case. Hussein refused and was expelled (Moojan Momen, ibid). (1)

Regarding her second son, my father Nayer Afnan, he and my mother Rouhanguise Rabbani were married in 1928 in Haifa. The marriage took place in the Master’s house and the Master’s sister, Bahiyeh Khanum officiated at the ceremony. Present were the Master’s wife Mounireh Khanum, the Master’s daughters and other members of the family as well as Bahai friends. Would things have happened this way if Nayer Afnan was a covenant breaker? Two years later, 1930, when I was born as the newest baby on the scene, I became special for Khanum (as the Master’s sister was called by all the members of the family). She insisted that I carry her name, instead of the one my parents had chosen for me. (The change of names in my birth certificate shows that.) Though we did not live at No. 7 Persian Street she liked me to have my bath there, and if anyone pulled too hard on my tangled hair they were sure to get a slap on the hand.

I have a clear memory of the time when I was six or seven years old and Rouhiyeh Khanum made a rag doll for me. She gave it to me one evening, at the Master’s house, in my grandmother Zia Khanum’s room. Shoghi Effendi was sitting at a table in the centre of the room, having his dinner. The family were seated on chairs and divans around the room. Of those present I remember my grandmother, my mother and father, my uncle Hussein and others — who, I do not recall. As Shoghi Effendi had his dinner they were discussing things and at one point my father said something that did not seem to meet with the Guardian’s satisfaction, but when my uncle Hussein expressed his opinion the Guardian exclaimed ‘See, that is how it should be!’ I was not happy about my father not making the grade, but I did have a new doll, and yes, something else — I was fascinated by the ‘button’ that kept going up and down his temple as he chewed on his food. I had never seen that before and my father certainly did not have it. Strange.

If my father was a covenant breaker and the son of a covenant breaker who was ‘an arch-enemy of Abdul Baha’ would he have been present at that family gathering, discussing things with the Guardian, watching him eat, all alone. Both I and my new doll were hungry, but there was nothing at that table for anyone except for Shoghi Effendi (never uncle Shoghi — I was too scared of him!)

My father, like all the members of the family who were able to do so, served Shoghi Effendi to the best of their ability and capacity. But he was a hard master to please, especially as the rule of the day seems to have been ‘Don’t think, obey!’ Shunning his ‘expelled’ brother Hussein was one such order, to which my father did not take very kindly.

Then, after years of waiting for an approval that did not come, my aunt Mehranguise Khanum chose to go ahead with her marriage to my uncle Hassan, my father’s youngest brother, — working in Iraq, a chemist with the Iraqi oil company. For some reason Shoghi Effendi did not approve of that. I really do not know why. At any rate, he sent my mother, who was medically in no condition to travel on that day, from Haifa to Beirut, to try to convince my aunt not to go to Baghdad to join my uncle. She failed. My aunt got married and my parents bore the brunt of Shoghi Effendi’s displeasure. They were thrown out of the Cause and the community, and Bahais treated them like pariahs. Matters did not improve when Soraya Khanum, Ruhi Afnan’s sister, married my father’s remaining bachelor brother, Dr. Faizy Afnan (eye surgeon) also living and practicing in Baghdad. He became particularly displeased when he heard that your father and I were going to get married. This last marriage, some thirty years after we had been ‘expelled’, shunned and considered out of the Bahai circle, brought a sad message to Ruha Khanum, your grandmother. One day, in Haifa, Dr. Lotfulla Hakim, a Hand of the Cause, comes over saying that he has a message for Ruha Khanum from the Guardian, and insisted on seeing her alone. The message to this daughter of the Master now in her seventies and an invalid who spent most of her time in bed was that if you, as Hassan Shahid’s mother, permit this marriage with Bahiyeh, the daughter of Nayer Afnan to go ahead, I will not allow any Bahais to walk in your funeral. Unfortunately, since we ‘disobeyed’ and went ahead and got married, we never found out whether any Bahais would have walked in the funeral of a daughter of the Master who had been declared a covenant breaker, shunned by Bahais for over thirty years because her husband, the son of the King of Martyrs, who had succeeded in purchasing the various shares of the many owners who had inherited the Mansion of Bahji from its original owner; had convinced Mr. Mousa Bahai, eldest son of Mirza Mohammad Ali to kindly vacate the mansion and hand over the keys, after decades of living there, having refused the financial compensation that had been offered; found himself on the wrong side of the equation when on the day that Abul Qassem, the gardener at the Shrine of the Bab committed suicide, (for God knows what reason), he had arranged with a German gardener to come and prune his vines. (2) Shortly thereafter, Aliyasghar, a faithful old servant from the times of the Master, came with the message from the Guardian that Mirza Jalal should no longer go to the meetings at the Shrine of the Bab. That was the situation when Mirza Jalal’s eldest son, Dr. Munib Shahid married a Moslem lady (Being out of the Cause what Bahai girl would have married him?) Now matters came to a head and cables were sent.

For some strange reason my father was designated by Shoghi Effendi (see Moojan Momen, ibid) as the plotter and schemer behind most of these marriages. His was the evil hand that wove this mesh of marriages, connecting generations of ‘covenant breakers’ with one another, serving sinister schemes that took shape seemingly nowhere but in the Guardian’s mind. He simply could not see a group of cousins and relatives from a family that considered themselves Bahais in every sense of the word, but completely cut off from their roots and their natural milieu. Was it not natural that they should choose each other when they sought husbands and wives?


(1) It is reminiscent of Shoghi Effendi requiring Neimatullah Fallah of Iskandarun, Turkey to resign his post of Honorary Iranian Consul in that city.

Mr Fallah was a wealthy Iranian Bahai merchant who lived in Iskandarun. When Iranians wanted to travel from Iran to Europe, one way was to travel overland to Iskandarun and from there to catch a boat to Europe. When there, Mr Fallah was someone to turn to if they needed any help with their affairs or their travel plans and that at the same time he was always ready to extend hospitality and kindness to his fellow coutrymen. Some of the travellers, upon their return to Iran reported to the authorities in Tehran. As a result, the Iranian government asked their Ambassador in Istanbul to go and meet and offer him the post of Honorary Consul of Iran in Iskandarun. When Mr Fallah heard the news he refused the offer, saying that extending help and hospitality to the travellers was a pleasure and no official title was necessary. The Ambassador however, did not give up and by chance was told, by a friend, that there was a gentleman in Haifa called Abbas Effendi whom Mr Fallah both loved and respected so much that if he told him to throw himself in the sea he would do so. The Ambassador wrote to the Master who in turn wrote to Fallah telling him that he should accept the post as it would only be a source of benefit for the community. Thereupon Mr Fallah accepted the post. Many years later Shoghi Effendi asked him to resign his post. Mr Fallah wrote back saying that he considered the Master request to accept the post an order from his “Mowla” (Master) and as such could not relinquish it. Shoghi Effendi promptly expelled him and all his family (wife, sons and daughter).

Years later, upon the advice and encouragement of Ruhi Afnan, the family which had remained true to their Bahai faith and beliefs asked to be returned to the Cause. Their request was granted in the early 1960’s by the House Of Justice — after Shoghi Effendi.

I clearly remember Ruhi Afnan saying that when requesting a return to the community one should not include a “request for forgiveness” for no one can forgive but God. That point has remained very clearly in my mind.

A similar situation arose with Mirza Habibullah Howeyda who had the title of Eyn ul Mulk. He was a very devout Bahai and a close personal friend of your grandfather Mirza Jalal Shahid (the son of the King of Martyrs, the son-in-law of the Master). Eyn ul Mulk was a diplomat serving as the Iranian representative to mandated Syria and Lebanon and later Iranian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. The Master encouraged him in his diplomatic endeavours and followed his career with interest, considering it beneficial to the community to have Bahais in high posts.

Mr Howeyda (who was the father of the last Prime Minister under the Shah) and his family regularly came to visit the Shrines and stayed at your grandfather’s house at No. 9 Persian Street which was adjacent to the Masters house at No. 7.

In the 1930s Shoghi Effendi decided that Bahais should not take part in politics and ordered Eyn ul Mulk to resign, just as he had done with Mr Fallah. Both of them refused to do so on the grounds that the Master had advised them and encouraged them in their careers.

Your father has often told me that when Ein ul Mulk was “expelled”, Shoghi Effendi ordered your grandfather to cut all ties with him. It was very difficult for your grandfather to do so because he was one of his closest friends. Nevertheless he obeyed and wrote to Eyn ul Mulk telling him the facts.

Your father now takes up the narrative saying: “In the early 1950s I travelled to Turkey. I had to go to the Iranian Embassy in Ankara to renew my passport. At the time, Amir Abbas Howeyda, Eyn ul Mulks son, was Chancellor at the Embassy. He arranged matters for me and insisted that I go to dinner as his mother would very much like to see me. At dinner Mr Howeyda’s widow, who was a Qajar princess and an ardent Moslem, asked me why her late husband had been ‘expelled’. She said that he was such a staunch Bahai that he made her promise that when he died to have him buried in the Bahai cemetry in Acre. His wishes had been carried out.

Years later, when her son became the Prime Minister of the Shah (and served as such for 13 years after which he was executed at the hands of the Islamic Republic) his enemies in Iran insisted that he was a Bahai, though this was not the case. However to prove their point they sent people to Acre to find his father’s grave to stamp the accusation upon the son. Amir Abbas Howeyda told me personally, that though his father was a sincere Bahai, he himself was an agnostic and a non-believer in either Islam or the Bahai Faith.”

(2) The story of the purchase of the Mansion of Bahji by Mirza Jalal and how it was willingly vacated by the family of Bahaullah who had been living there for decades, will be recounted soon….