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Shoghí Effendí Rabbání (March 1, 1897 – November 4, 1957), better known as Shoghi Effendi, was the Guardian and appointed head of the Bahá'í Faith from 1921 until his death in 1957. After the death of `Abdu'l-Bahá in 1921, the leadership of the Bahá'í community changed from that of a single individual to an administrative order with executive and legislative branches, the head of each being the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice, respectively. Shoghi Effendi was referred to as the Guardian, and had the authority to interpret the writings of the three central figures of the religion and define the sphere of legislative authority. His writings are effectively limited to commentaries on the works of the central figures, and broad directives for the future.
Future hereditary Guardians were permitted in the Bahá'í scripture by appointment from one to the next with the prerequisite that appointees be male descendants of Bahá'u'lláh. At the time of Shoghi Effendi's death, all living male descendants of Bahá'u'lláh had been declared Covenant-breakers by either `Abdu'l-Bahá or Shoghi Effendi, leaving no suitable living candidates. Shoghi Effendi died without making an appointment, and the Universal House of Justice, the only institution authorized to adjudicate on situations not covered in scripture, later announced that it could not legislate to make possible the appointment of a successor to Shoghi Effendi. Shoghi was the first and last person acknowledged as Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith.
Born in `Akká in the Sanjak of Acre of the Ottoman Empire in March 1897, Shoghi Effendi was related to the Báb through his father, Mírzá Hádí Shírází, and to Bahá'u'lláh through his mother, Ḍíyá'íyyih Khánum, the eldest daughter of `Abdu'l-Bahá. `Abdu'l-Bahá, who provided much of his initial training, greatly influenced Shoghi Effendi from the early years of his life. Shoghi Effendi learned prayers from his grandfather `Abdu'l-Bahá, who encouraged him to chant. `Abdu'l-Bahá also insisted that people address the child as "Shoghi Effendi", ("Effendi" signifies "Sir"), rather than simply as "Shoghi", as a mark of respect towards him.
From his early years, Shoghi Effendi was introduced to the suffering which accompanied the Bahá'ís in Akká, including the attacks by Mírzá Muhammad `Alí against `Abdu'l-Bahá. As a young boy, he was aware of the desire of Sultán `Abdu'l-Hamíd (reigned 1876-1909) to banish `Abdu'l-Bahá to the deserts of North Africa where he was expected to perish. At one point, Shoghi Effendi was warned not to drink coffee in the homes of any of the Bahá'ís in the fear that he would be poisoned.
Tablet from `Abdu'l-Bahá
As the eldest grandson of `Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi from his earliest childhood had a special relationship with his grandfather. Dr. Baghdadi reports that when Shoghi Effendi was only 5 years old, he pestered his grandfather to write a tablet for him, which was common practice for `Abdu'l-Bahá. He wrote the following for his grandson:
He is God! O My Shoghi, I have no time to talk, leave me alone! You said write, I have written. What else should be done? Now is not the time for you to read and write. It is the time for jumping about and chanting O My God! Therefore, memorize the prayers of the Blessed Beauty and chant them that I may hear them. Because there is no time for anything else.
Shoghi Effendi then set out to memorize a number of prayers, and chanted them as loud as he could. This caused family members to ask `Abdu'l-Bahá to quieten him down, a request which he apparently refused.
Shoghi Effendi received his early education at home with the other children in the household, then attended a French Christian Brothers school in Haifa, and later boarded at another Catholic school in Beirut. Shoghi Effendi later attended the Syrian Protestant College (later known as the American University of Beirut) for his final years of high school and first years of university, where he earned an arts degree in 1918. He reports being very unhappy in school and often returned on vacations to Haifa to spend time with `Abdu'l-Bahá.
During his studies, he dedicated himself to mastering English — adding this language to the Persian, Turkish, Arabic and French languages in which he was already fluent - so that he could translate the letters of `Abdu'l-Bahá and serve as his secretary. After studying at the American University of Beirut he later went to Balliol College, Oxford in England, where he matriculated in "Economics and Social Sciences", while still perfecting his translation skills.
Death of `Abdu'l-Bahá and Guardianship
The issue of successorship to `Abdu'l Bahá was in the minds of early Bahá'ís, and although the Universal House of Justice was an institution mentioned by Bahá'u'lláh, the institution of the Guardianship was not introduced until the Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá was publicly read after his death. Bahá'u'lláh's own will mentions Mírzá Muhammad `Alí as following `Abdu'l Bahá in leadership, but Bahá'ís excommunicated him as a covenant-breaker and shunned him.
While studying in England, on 29 November 1921, the news of `Abdu'l-Bahá's death reached Shoghi Effendi, which, according to Wellesley Tudor Pole, the deliverer of the cable, left him "in a state of collapse". After spending a couple of days with John Esslemont, and after some passport difficulties, he sailed from England on December 16 and arrived in Haifa on 29 December. A few days later he opened `Abdu'l-Bahá's Will and Testament, which was addressed to Shoghi Effendi.
In the will Shoghi Effendi found that he had been designated as "the Sign of God, the chosen branch, the Guardian of the Cause of God". He also learned that he had been designated as this when he was still a small child. As Guardian he was appointed as head of the religion, someone whom the Bahá'ís had to look to for guidance. `Abdu'l-Bahá's Will and Testament is considered one of the three charters of the Bahá'í administrative order, and in it `Abdu'l-Bahá laid down the authority of the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice, the elected governing body of the Bahá'í Faith that had been written about by Bahá'u'lláh, and had not yet been established:
...The Guardian of the Cause of God, as well as the Universal House of Justice to be universally elected and established, are both under the care and protection of the Abha Beauty... Whatsoever they decide is of God. Whoso obeyeth him not, neither obeyeth them, hath not obeyed God; whoso rebelleth against him and against them hath rebelled against God; whoso opposeth him hath opposed God; whoso contendeth with them hath contended with God; whoso disputeth with him hath disputed with God; whoso denieth him hath denied God; whoso disbelieveth in him hath disbelieved in God; whoso deviateth, separateth himself and turneth aside from him hath in truth deviated, separated himself and turned aside from God.
Shoghi Effendi later expressed to his wife and others that he had no foreknowledge of the existence of the Institution of Guardianship, least of all that he was appointed as Guardian. The most he expected was perhaps, because he was the eldest grandson, `Abdu'l-Bahá might have left instructions as to how the Universal House of Justice was to be elected and he might have been designated as Convener of the gathering which would elect it.
From the time of his appointment as Guardian until his death the Bahá'í Faith grew from 100,000 to 400,000 members, capitalizing on prior growth and setting the stage for more, and the countries in which Bahá'ís had representation went from 35 to 250. As Guardian and head of the religion, Shoghi Effendi communicated his vision to the Bahá'ís of the world through his numerous letters and his meetings with pilgrims to Palestine. During the 1920s he first started to systematize and extend the Bahá'í administration throughout the world; the Bahá'í community was relatively small and undeveloped when he assumed leadership of the religion, and he strengthened and developed it over many years to support the administrative structure envisioned by `Abdu'l-Bahá.
Under Shoghi Effendi's direction, National Spiritual Assemblies were formed, and many thousands of Local Spiritual Assemblies were created. During the 1930s he worked on projects translating the works of Bahá'u'lláh into English. Starting in 1937, he set into motion a series of systematic plans to establish Bahá'í communities in all countries. A Ten Year Crusade was carried out from 1953 to 1963 with the aim of electing the Universal House of Justice as its paramount aim. Starting in the late 1940s, after the independence of Israel, he started to develop the Bahá'í World Centre in Haifa, including the construction of the superstructure of the Shrine of the Báb and the building of the International Archives as well as beautifying the gardens at Bahji, where the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh is located, as well as developing plans and resources to raise several of the continental Bahá'í Houses of Worship around the world; these plans continued through the 1950s.
In the 1950s he also continued building the Bahá'í administration, establishing in 1951 the International Bahá'í Council to act as a precursor to the Universal House of Justice, as well as appointing 32 living Hands of the Cause — Bahá'ís appointed to the highest rank of service available, whose main function was to propagate and protect the religion. He also acted as the official representative of the religion to legal authorities in Israel as well as designated other representatives to work with the UN. In a more secular cause, prior to World War II he supported the work of restoration-forester Richard St. Barbe Baker to reforest Palestine, introducing him to religious leaders from the major faiths of the region, from whom backing was secured for reforestation.
Translations and writings
In his lifetime, Shoghi Effendi translated into English many of the writings of the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá, including the Hidden Words in 1929, the Kitáb-i-Íqán in 1931, Gleanings in 1935 and Epistle to the Son of the Wolf in 1941. He also translated such historical texts as The Dawn-breakers. His significance is not just that of a translator, but he was also the designated and authoritative interpreter of the Bahá'í writings. His translations therefore are a guideline for all future translations of the Bahá'í writings. The vast majority of his writings were in the style of letters with Bahá'ís from all parts of the globe.
These letters, of which 17,500 have been collected thus far and are believed to number a total of 30,000, ranged from routine correspondence regarding the affairs of Bahá'ís around the world to lengthy letters to the Bahá'ís of the world addressing specific themes. Some of his longer letters include World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, regarding the nature of Bahá'í administration, Advent of Divine Justice, regarding teaching the religion, and Promised Day is Come regarding Bahá'u'lláh's letters to world leaders.
Other letters included statements on Bahá'í beliefs, history, morality, principles, administration and law. He also wrote obituaries of some distinguished Bahá'ís. Many of his letters to individuals and assemblies have been compiled into several books which stand out as significant sources of literature for Bahá'ís around the world. The only actual book he ever wrote was God Passes By in 1944 to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the religion. The book, which is in English, is an interpretive history of the first century of the Bábí and Bahá'í Faiths. A shorter Persian language version was also written.
As a young student of twenty-four, Shoghi Effendi was initially shocked at the appointment as Guardian. He was also mourning the death of his grandfather to whom he had great attachment. The trauma of this culminated in him making retreats to the Swiss Alps. However, despite his youth, Shoghi Effendi had a clear idea of the goal he had for the religion. Oxford educated and Western in his style of dress, Shoghi Effendi was a stark contrast to his grandfather `Abdu'l-Bahá. He distanced himself from the local clergy and notability, and travelled little to visit Bahá’ís unlike his grandfather. Correspondence and pilgrims were the way that Shoghi Effendi conveyed his messages. His talks are the subject to a great number of "pilgrim notes".
He also was concerned with matters dealing with Bahá'í belief and practice — as Guardian he was empowered to interpret the writings of Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá, and these were authoritative and binding, as specified in `Abdu'l-Bahá's will. His leadership style was however, quite different from that of `Abdu'l-Bahá, in that he signed his letters to the Bahá'ís as "your true brother", and he did not refer to his own personal role, but instead to the institution of the guardianship. He requested that he be referred in letters and verbal addresses always as Shoghi Effendi, as opposed to any other appellation. He also distanced himself as a local notable. He was critical of the Bahá'ís referring to him as a holy personage, asking them not to celebrate his birthday or have his picture on display.
Shoghi Effendi's personal life was largely subordinate to his work as Guardian of the religion. His lack of secretarial support with the mass of correspondence had left a pattern of hard work in Haifa interspersed with occasional summer breaks to Europe — in the early years often to the Swiss Alps. In 1929 and 1940 he also travelled through Africa from south to north. Shoghi Effendi had a great love for the English language. Carrying with him a short note-book, he would note down words and sentences he liked.
He was an avid fan of music and English literature, and enjoyed reading the King James Bible. His favourite book was The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Whilst a young man studying in Oxford, Shoghi Effendi was part of a debating society and enjoyed playing tennis. He was noted for speaking English in subtle received pronunciation, and Persian in an Isfahani dialect, inherited from his grandmother. Shoghi Effendi held Iranian nationality throughout his life and traveled on an Iranian passport, although he never visited Iran.
In March 1937, Shoghi Effendi married Mary Maxwell, entitled Rúhíyyih Khanum, a Canadian. She was the only child of May Maxwell, a disciple of `Abdu'l-Bahá, and William Sutherland Maxwell, a Canadian architect. Shoghi Effendi had first met Mary as a girl when she came on pilgrimage with her mother in 1923. Mary was an active Bahá'í teacher and youth worker, and a letter written to Shoghi Effendi described her as "a beautiful and most refreshing girl to know". Whilst on her third pilgrimage in 1937 the two began a discreet courtship. Then herself 26 years old, Mary was a tall, athletic woman. The couple married in the room of Bahíyyih Khánum in the House of `Abdu'l-Bahá in Haifa. The ceremony was a short, simple and quiet one in which Rúhíyyih Khanum wore black. Very few knew the wedding was taking place apart from the witnesses and a small group of residents of Haifa. Therefore the marriage came as a great surprise to the world-wide Bahá'í community when the mother of Shoghi Effendi cabled the Bahá'ís:
Announce Assemblies celebration marriage beloved Guardian. Inestimable honour conferred upon handmaid of Bahá'u'lláh Ruhiyyih Khanum Miss Mary Maxwell. Union of East and West proclaimed by Bahá'í Faith cemented. Ziaiyyih mother of Guardian.
While Shoghi Effendi and Rúhíyyih Khanum never had children, Rúhíyyih Khanum became his constant companion and helpmate; in 1941, she became Shoghi Effendi's principal secretary in English. After Shoghi Effendi's death, Rúhíyyih Khanum published parts of her personal diaries to show glimpses of Shoghi Effendi's life. She recalls a great deal of pain and suffering caused by his immediate family, and Bahá'ís in Haifa.
If the friends only knew how the Master and the Guardian both suffered through the calibre of the local Bahá'ís. Some of them were good. But some were rotten. It's as if, when someone was unsound in the Covenant, they attacked the very body of the Manifestation, or the Exemplar, or the Guardian. I have seen this. It is like poison. He recovers from it, but it causes him untold suffering and it was from such things that the Master described Himself in His Will as 'this broken-winged bird.'
They [`Abdu'l-Baha's family] have gone a long way to crushing every ounce of spirit out of the Guardian. By nature he is cheerful and energetic... But the perpetual strife of life with the Master's family... have clouded over him... Shoghi Effendi has been abused. That is the only word for it, abused, abused, abused. By now he has reached the point of a man fighting with his back to the wall. He says he will fight it out to the last round.
Throughout Shoghi Effendi's life, nearly all remaining family members and descendants of `Abdu'l-Bahá were expelled by him as covenant-breakers when they didn't abide by Shoghi Effendi's request to cut contact with covenant-breakers, as specified by `Abdu'l-Bahá. Other branches of Bahá'u'lláh's family had already been declared Covenant-breakers in `Abdu'l-Bahá's Will and Testament. At the time of his death, there were no living descendants of Bahá'u'lláh that remained loyal to him.
Shoghi Effendi's death came unexpectedly in London, on 4 November 1957, as he was travelling to Britain and caught the Asian Flu, during the pandemic which killed two million worldwide, and he is buried there in New Southgate Cemetery. His wife sent the following cable:
Shoghi Effendi beloved of all hearts sacred trust given believers by Master passed away sudden heart attack in sleep following Asiatic flu. Urge believers remain steadfast cling institution Hands lovingly reared recently reinforced emphasized by beloved Guardian. Only oneness heart oneness purpose can befittingly testify loyalty all National Assemblies believers departed Guardian who sacrificed self utterly for service Faith.
According to the framework of the Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá, it was not possible to appoint a successor, and the legislative body "possessing the exclusive right to legislate on matters not explicitly revealed" was not yet established in the world. Furthermore, Shoghi Effendi had left no will as attested to by the Hands of the Cause, who were required to ratify his selection. All of the 27 living Hands of the Cause unanimously signed a statement shortly after the death of Shoghi Effendi stating that he had died "without having appointed his successor..."
Ministry of the Custodians
In Shoghi Effendi's final message to the Baha'i World, dated October 1957, he named the Hands of the Cause of God, "the Chief Stewards of Bahá'u'lláh's embryonic World Commonwealth." Consequently, following the death of Shoghi Effendi, the Bahá'í Faith was temporarily stewarded by the Hands of the Cause, who elected among themselves 9 "Custodians" to serve in Haifa as the head of the Faith. They reserved to the "entire body of the Hands of the Cause" the responsibility to determine the transition of the International Bahá'í Council into the Universal House of Justice, and that the Custodians reserved to themselves the authority to determine and expel Covenant-breakers. This stewardship oversaw the execution of the final years of Shoghi Effendi's ordinances of the ten year crusade (which lasted until 1963) culminating and transitioning to the election and establishment of the Universal House of Justice, at the first Baha'i World Congress in 1963.
Election of the Universal House of Justice
At the end of the Ten Year Crusade, planned by Shoghi Effendi and concluding in 1963, the Universal House of Justice was first elected. As its first order of business, the Universal House of Justice evaluated the situation caused by the fact that the Guardian had not appointed a successor. It determined that under the circumstances, given the criteria for succession described in the Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá, there was no legitimate way for another Guardian to be appointed. Therefore, although the Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá leaves provisions for a succession of Guardians, Shoghi Effendi remains the first and last occupant of this office.
- Bahá'í administration
- Universal House of Justice
- Bahá'í World Centre
- Bahá'í divisions
- Bahá'í Terraces
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