Riaz Rabbani

The youngest son of Zia Khanum and Mirza Hadi Shirazi, my uncle Riaz was the artist of the family. Like his older brothers, Shoghi Effendi and Hussein Effendi, he had gone to the Jesuit school in Haifa and then to the American University in Beirut, Lebanon. Unlike Shoghi Effendi, he and his older brother Hussein, after getting their B.A. degrees from the AUB, did not go to Europe for further education, but remained at the Master’s house, the Andaroon, at 7 Persian Street, now the home of Shoghi Effendi and his wife Rouhiyyih Khanum. By the early 1940s, when his mother had left the Andaroun, unable to stand the treatment Rouhiyyih Khanum was meting out to her, (see Ruhi Afnan’s letter (1970) to the Spiritual Assembly of Tehran) he was under orders not to see his mother. This he had found particularly hard to take. He had always been greatly attached to his parents and he now found himself alone, his parents away at the small home and garden his father had on the slopes of Mt. Carmel, (called Karm) not far from where the House of Justice now stands, suffering in the shadow of Shoghi Effendi’s anger. His sisters were married and away, having incurred the wrath of Shoghi Effendi due to their marriages. His only recourse was to meet his mother secretly. Someone, either one of Shoghi Effendi’s informers or someone who hoped to curry favour by bringing him ‘news’, saw them in in a public garden at the end of Nordau Street in Haifa and informed Shoghi Effendi. The result: he too ended up in Karm, but at least in the company of his parents.

My uncle Riaz was an artist and an amateur calligrapher, and above all, a treasure trove of information, stories and anecdotes about the family, the community and its various members throughout its history, as well as the writings of its founders. He was very well versed in Persian literature, Islamic history, and Islamic and Persian manuscripts of which he had a collection -whenever finances permitted. After his death, my sister, Maliheh Afnan, who was his heir, donated the best of these to the British Library, in his name.

Highly intelligent, with a wicked sense of humour, he was an excellent raconteur who could leave one in stitches with laughter, my uncle Riaz was a treasure trove who would have been of invaluable service to the Baha’i archives. Instead, he spent much of his life roaming Europe and other parts of the world on a shoestring, haunting antiquarian bookshops in Damascus, Aleppo, Beirut, North Africa and Europe. If there ever was a waste of talent, that was a glaring example. And it was not difficult to point the finger at the cause of it all.

Shoghi Effendi had grave problems, not least of which was an over-powering wife who saw to it that no member of the family, male or female, remained around to serve, help or be of any assistance to him and the Cause. She seems to have found his Achilles’ heel, an ego that needed constant pumping. Obedience was the yardstick by which loyalty to him, service to the Faith and faithfulness to the Covenant of Baha’u’llah was judged, and if found ‘missing’, was most severely punished.

Any faithful Baha’i knows what it means to be cast out of the Faith and ostracised. How much more so for people who were members of a family in whose veins flowed the blood of the Bab, of Baha’u’llah and the Master; who were born, brought up and nurtured by the broad, enlightened and luminous message which believed in the potential for developing that of the divine that exists in all God’s creatures, with emphasis on the value, nobility, dignity and equal rights to freedom and free choice of human beings. Being dumbed down and beaten into unthinking submission only, produced human robots, fitting members of a closed community. Was that what the Bab had given his life for? Was that what Baha’u’llah’s purpose had been? Was that the reason for Abdul Baha’s wide and repeated travels to Europe and America at the start of the 20th century? My uncle Riaz, interested as he was in the history of the Cause, contacted members of Abdul Baha’s half-brothers designated as Covenant Breakers by Abdul Baha himself, for going against the wishes of Baha’u’llah, as laid out in his will. That[B1] implied that they were to be shunned by the members of the Baha’i community. My uncle contacted them not out of love or allegiance to that part of the family, but out of interest in the original documents that they had, and their version of the stories they had to tell about the disputes among the half-brothers who were the sons of Baha’u’llah. Shoghi Effendi nevertheless adamantly condemned his brother, Riaz, for…

‘… Personal contact recently established (by) my own treacherous, despicable brother Riaz with Majdi’d-Din redoutable enemy (of the) Faith, former henchman (of) Muhammad-‘Ali, Arch-breaker (of) Baha’u’llah’s Covenant. Convey information (to) all National Assemblies.’

My uncle Riaz died before the publication of Adib Taherzadeh’s book The Covenant of Baha’u’llah was published and we got a chance to read the cables that Shoghi Effendi had written about the family. He took pride in the thought that there was no cable about him. Little did he know.