Rúhíyyih Khánum

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Rúhíyyih Khánum
Amatu'l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum
Mary Sutherland Maxwell

08 August 1910 (1910-08-08)
Died19 January 2000 (2000-01-20) (aged 89)
Known forHand of the Cause of God
(m. 1937)

Rúhíyyih Rabbání (8 August 1910 – 19 January 2000), born as Mary Sutherland Maxwell and best known by the title Amatu'l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum, was the wife of Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baháʼí Faith, from 1937 to 1957. In 1952, she was elevated to the office of Hand of the Cause of God, for which she attended to issues related to the expansion and protection of the Baháʼí Faith, and served an important role in the transfer of authority from 1957 to 1963.

Rúhíyyih Rabbání was raised in Montreal, Quebec. After two trips to the Baháʼí holy land in Haifa, Israel, she engaged in many youth activities in the Baháʼí community. She married Shoghi Effendi in 1937. After his death, Rúhíyyih Rabbání became for Baháʼís the last remaining link to the family of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, who headed the Baháʼí Faith from 1892 to 1921 and was the eldest son of the faith's founder, Baháʼu'lláh. In 2004, CBC viewers voted her number 44 on the list of "greatest Canadians" on the television show The Greatest Canadian.[1]

Rúhíyyih Khánum was the author of several published books, such as Prescription for Living and The Priceless Pearl.

Early life[edit]

Rúhíyyih Khánum was born in New York City on August 8, 1910 to William Sutherland Maxwell and May Maxwell,[2] and was raised in Montreal, Quebec where her father was a prominent architect. Through her father, Mary was of Scottish ancestry.[2] The family originated from Aberdeen and Jedburgh. Through her mother, she was primarily of English stock. In 1912, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá visited Canada and stayed in the Maxwells' home. There he met Mary, aged two, and described her as the "essence of sweetness".[3] ʻAbdu'l-Bahá showed much affection to baby Mary.[4]

Her mother wanted to give Mary an education that was free of the rigidity of the traditional educational methods in the country, and established the first Montessori school in Canada at their residence, and Mary attended the school.[2] Maxwell began reading and writing at a young age and her pastimes included writing poetry, novels and plays.[5] She spoke English, French, German and Persian fluently.[2] During her youth, she twice traveled to the Baháʼí World Centre in Palestine for pilgrimage – the first with her mother and the second with her mother's friends, aged fifteen. It was during these pilgrimages that she first met Shoghi Effendi, then head of the Baháʼí Faith.[2]

North America[edit]

Mary in 1926, the year of her second pilgrimage

In her youth, Maxwell was engaged in many Baháʼí activities.[5] At the age of 15, she joined the Executive Committee of the Fellowship of Canadian Youth for Peace.[5] She was also involved in local racial equality conventions, including dances.[6] A spectator, Sadie Oglesby – one of the first African-American Baháʼís [6] – described her as "sixteen-year-old Mary Maxwell, a beautiful and most refreshing girl to know".[6] By 21, she was elected to the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baháʼís of Montreal, the local Baháʼí governing council there.[5]

Considered attractive and a gifted orator by her contemporaries, Mary quickly established herself as a prominent member of the North American Bahá’í community. She embarked on regular trips around the United States and Canada to propagate the religion. Beginning in 1932, she lectured on The Dawn-Breakers throughout the United States. At the age of 22, in May 1933, during a visit to Washington, D.C., she insisted that all meetings be open to both black and white people.[7] Mary held talks at Howard University, making a concerted effort to connect with African-Americans interested in the Bahá’í Faith. Additionally, during her early twenties, she attended official functions with her father in Montreal, meeting dignitaries such as the Governor General of Canada at events like the Royal Canadian Academy’s Fifty-Fourth Exhibition.[8]


As a young woman, Mary had expressed a great desire to learn Spanish. However, her plans to travel to Republican Spain were thwarted with the Spanish Civil War.[9] Instead, Mary chose to live with her cousin in Nazi Germany in 1935, a move which was endorsed by Shoghi Effendi. In Germany, Shoghi Effendi encouraged Mary to strengthen the fledgling Baháʼí community. The young Mary assimilated herself in German culture, wearing a dirndl and learning to speak German fluently.[10]

Whilst in Germany, Mary received an invitation from Shoghi Effendi to go on pilgrimage with her mother. Both mother and daughter accepted the invitation. They were initially planning to travel through the Balkans and visit the Baháʼís, but the unrest of the area forced them to travel directly to Haifa.[11]


Mary Maxwell in 1934

Mary had spent extended periods with Shoghi Effendi before their marriage, initially meeting him when she was 12 years old.[12] After a pilgrimage three years later, she maintained constant communication with Shoghi Effendi. In January 1937, Mary and her mother arrived in Haifa, initiating a discreet courtship with Shoghi Effendi. By February, the couple was engaged, and Mary promptly cabled her father to join them in Haifa. On March 24, at the age of 26, Mary married Shoghi Effendi in a simple ceremony.[13] It was during this time that Shoghi Effendi bestowed upon her the title "Amatu'l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum" (Amatu'l-Bahá means "Handmaiden of Glory"). The official announcement of their marriage was cabled to the Baháʼí world by Shoghi Effendi's mother, Ḍíyáʼíyyih:

Announce Assemblies celebration marriage beloved Guardian. Inestimable honour conferred upon handmaid of Baháʼu'lláh Ruhiyyih Khanum Miss Mary Maxwell. Union of East and West proclaimed by Baháʼí Faith cemented. Ziaiyyih mother of Guardian.

As Rúhíyyih was getting used to life in the East, the newlyweds made a trip to Switzerland, and Shoghi Effendi introduced his young bride to his favourite sights in the country. It was initially difficult for her to adjust to her new home and she suffered periods of loneliness and homesickness.[14] With the encouragement of Shoghi Effendi, she studied both the Bible and the Quran and started learning Persian.[15] She later became fluent in the language and was able to deliver talks in Persian. In a letter to her mother a year after her marriage, she wrote that "if anyone asked me what my theme was in life I should say, 'Shoghi Effendi'".[16]

Appointed positions[edit]

Almost immediately after their marriage, she served as the Guardian's secretary, and then in 1941 until 1957 she served as Shoghi Effendi's principal secretary in English.[2] In 1951, she was appointed to the International Baháʼí Council, which was an administrative institution of the Baháʼí Faith created as a precursor to the Universal House of Justice to act as a liaison between the Council and Shoghi Effendi.[17] Later on, on March 26, 1952, she was appointed to the office of Hand of the Cause of God – a distinguished rank in service to the religion[18] – for which she attended to issues related to the propagation and protection of the religion.[2]

After Shoghi Effendi died in 1957, she became for Baháʼís the last remaining link to the family of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, who headed the Faith from 1892 to 1921 and was the eldest son of the Faith's Founder, Baháʼu'lláh.

Ministry of the Custodians[edit]

In 1957, her husband, Shoghi Effendi, died without having appointed a successor. Rúhíyyih Khánum was among the 27 Hands of the Cause who stewarded the religion for the six-year interim, before the Universal House of Justice was scheduled to be elected in 1963. The Hands voted among themselves for nine individuals to work at the Baháʼí World Centre to run the administration of the Faith, a position to which Rúhíyyih Khánum was elected; these nine were designated the Custodians.[19][20] During this time, she worked on assuring the completion of the ten-year international teaching plan which was launched by Shoghi Effendi in 1953.[2] Upon the election of the Universal House of Justice in 1963, the ending point of Shoghi Effendi's ten-year plan, the nine Hands acting as interim head of the Faith closed their office.[19]


From 1957 until her death, Rúhíyyih Khánum traveled to over 185 countries and territories working with the world's several million Baháʼís. She especially encouraged members of indigenous peoples to participate in the global Baháʼí community.[2] Her travels took her to all the continents and to small islands. Some of her travels involved extended stays. For four years, she traveled for 58,000 kilometers in a Landrover through sub-Saharan Africa, visiting 34 countries, in 19 of which she was received by the head of state. On another trip, she visited nearly 30 countries in Asia and the Pacific islands during a seven-month span.[2] From January to March 1970, she crossed Africa from east to west, driving 2/3 of the distance herself, visiting many country's communities, meeting with individuals and institutions, both Baháʼí and civic.[21]

In 1975–6, she travelled by boat through the tributaries of the Amazon River of Brazil and visited the high mountain ranges of Peru and Bolivia. Thirty six tribal groups were visited over a period of six months; the trip was called The Green Light Expedition,[22][23][24] which followed Khanum's The Great African Safari.[25] There have also been projects developed from the original expedition – In the Footsteps of the Green Light Expedition[26] and Tear of the Clouds.[27]

Resting place

During her travels, she was received by the following heads of state and government:


Rúhíyyih Khánum died on January 19, 2000, at the age of 89 in Haifa, Israel. She was buried at the Baháʼí World Centre.[2]

Publications and productions[edit]

Rúhíyyih Khánum was also an author; she wrote several books including The Priceless Pearl, which is a biography of Shoghi Effendi;[28] Twenty-Five Years of the Guardianship;,[29] Prescription for Living, which discussed the application of spiritual principles to one's life.[30] and The Desire of the World: Materials for the contemplation of God and His Manifestation for this Day.[31] She was also the editor of the book The Ministry of the Custodians.[32] She produced two full-length documentary films: The Green Light Expedition and The Pilgrimage.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ CBC (2004). "The Greatest Canadian – Top 100 – 11 to 100". CBC.ca. Archived from the original on 2008-04-20. Retrieved 2008-07-05.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Amatu'l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum (1910–2000)". Baháʼí Community of Canada. Archived from the original on 2008-12-07. Retrieved 2008-07-05.
  3. ^ Nakhjavani, Violette (2000). Tribute to Amatu'l-Baha Rúhíyyih Khánum, A. Baháʼí Canada Publications & Nine Pines Publishing, Ottawa, Canada. ISBN 0-88867-105-9.
  4. ^ Thompson, Juliet (1983). The Diary of Juliet Thompson. Los Angeles: Kalimat Press.
  5. ^ a b c d "Madame Rúhíyyih Rabbáni, leading Baháʼí dignitary, passes away in Haifa". One Country: Online Newsletter of the Baháʼí International Community.
  6. ^ a b c Etter-Lewis, Gwendolyn (2006). Lights of the Spirit: Historical Portraits of Black Baha'is in North America, 1898–2000. Baha'i Publishing Trust. p. 80. ISBN 1-931847-26-6.
  7. ^ Nakhjavani, Violette (2012). The Maxwell's of Montreal Vol. II. Oxford, England: George Ronald Pub Ltd. p. 256. ISBN 978-0853985617.
  8. ^ Nakhjavani 2000
  9. ^ Nakhjavani, Violette (2000). A Tribute to Amatu'l-Bahá. Ontario, Canada: Nine Pines Publishing. p. 19. ISBN 978-0888671059.
  10. ^ Nakhjavani 2000, p. 20
  11. ^ Nakhjavani, Violette (2012). The Maxwell's of Montreal Vol. II. Oxford, England: George Ronald Pub Ltd. p. 256. ISBN 978-0853985617.
  12. ^ Nakhjavani 2012, p. 5
  13. ^ Nakhjavani 2000, p. 264
  14. ^ Nakhjavani 2000, p. 30
  15. ^ Nakhjavani 2000, p. 35
  16. ^ Nakhjavani 2000, p. 34
  17. ^ Smith, Peter (2000). "Rúhíyyih Khánum, Amatu'l-Bahá". A concise encyclopedia of the Baháʼí Faith. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. pp. 299–300. ISBN 1-85168-184-1.
  18. ^ Compilations (1983). Hornby, Helen (ed.). Lights of Guidance: A Baháʼí Reference File. Baháʼí Publishing Trust, New Delhi, India. p. 322. ISBN 81-85091-46-3.
  19. ^ a b Taherzadeh, Adib (2000). The Child of the Covenant. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. pp. 368–371. ISBN 0-85398-439-5.
  20. ^ Vafai, Shahin (2005). "Chapter 5". The Essence of the Covenant. Riviera Beach, Fl: Palabra Publications. ISBN 1-890101-27-3.
  21. ^ "Hand of the Cause of God Rúhíyyih Khánum Travels Six Thousand Miles Across Africa". Baháʼí News. No. 209. June 1970. pp. 3–18.
  22. ^ Amatu'l-Baha Rúhíyyih Khánum (2000). The Green Light Expedition (film, remastered DVD). National Spiritual Assembly of the Baháʼís of Canada.[permanent dead link]
  23. ^ Baháʼí International Community (2003-11-28). "Standing up for the oneness of humanity". Baháʼí World News Service. Ciudad Colon, Costa Rica.
  24. ^ Sadan, Mark (2007). "Mark Sadan – photographer, filmaker, [sic] U.S.A". BAFA Newsletter. Baháʼí Association for the Arts & Arts Dialogue.
  25. ^ Palin, Iain S. (2002). "Book Review" (PDF). Baháʼí Journal of the Baháʼí Community of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. National Spiritual Assembly of the Baháʼís of the United Kingdom. 19 (2). Retrieved 2014-02-26.
  26. ^ Beers, Karim (2007). "EBBF Profile: Neissan Alessandro Besharati: Flowing Together—Sustainability, Interconnectedness and Income-generation in the Amazon". INSPIRE. European Baháʼí Business Forum (16). Archived from the original on 2011-07-26. Retrieved 2010-12-07.
  27. ^ Sadan, Mark; Kelly, Rebecca. "Tear of the Clouds". Market Group Ventures Inc. Retrieved 2008-03-09.
  28. ^ Rabbani, R. (1969). The Priceless Pearl (Hardcover ed.). London, UK: Baháʼí Publishing Trust: 2000. ISBN 1-870989-91-0.
  29. ^ Rabbani, R. (1948). Twenty-Five Years of the Guardianship. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Baháʼí Publishing Trust.
  30. ^ Rabbani, R. (1978). Prescription for Living. George Ronald. ISBN 0-85398-003-9. OCLC 7260143.
  31. ^ Rabbani, R., ed. (1982). The Desire of the World: Materials for the contemplation of God and His Manifestation for this Day. New Delhi, India: Baha'i Publishing Trust. ISBN 81-7896-053-2.
  32. ^ Rabbani, R., ed. (1992). The Ministry of the Custodians 1957–1963. Baháʼí World Centre. ISBN 0-85398-350-X.


Further reading[edit]

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