Shoghi Effendi in Haifa, 1921
1 March 1897
|Died||4 November 1957 (age 60)|
London, United Kingdom
|Resting place||New Southgate Cemetery, London|
|Parents||Mírzá Hádí Shírází (father) |
Ḍíyáʼíyyih Khánum (mother)
|Relatives||Baháʼu'lláh (great-grandfather) |
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Shoghí Effendí Rabbání (1 March 1897 – 4 November 1957), better known as Shoghi Effendi (/ /), was the Guardian and appointed head of the Baháʼí Faith from 1921 until his death in 1957. Shoghi Effendi spent his early life in ʻAkká (Acre). His education was directed to serving as secretary and translator to his grandfather, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, then leader of the Baháʼí Faith and son of the religion's founder, Baháʼu'lláh.
After the death of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá in 1921, the leadership of the Baháʼí 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 Baháʼí scripture by appointment from one to the next with the prerequisite that appointees be male descendants of Baháʼu'lláh. At the time of Shoghi Effendi's death, all living male descendants of Baháʼu'lláh had been declared Covenant-breakers by either ʻAbdu'l-Bahá or Shoghi Effendi, leaving no suitable living candidates. Shoghi Effendi died without appointing a successor Guardian, 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 Effendi was the first and last person acknowledged as Guardian of the Baháʼí Faith.
Born in ʻAkká in the Acre Sanjak of the Ottoman Empire in March 1897, Shoghi Effendi was related to the Báb through his father, Mírzá Hádí Shírází, and to Baháʼu'lláh through his mother, Ḍíyáʼíyyih Khánum, the eldest daughter of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá. ʻAbdu'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, who encouraged him to chant. ʻAbdu'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 Baháʼís in ʻAkká, including the attacks by Mírzá Muhammad ʻAlí against ʻAbdu'l-Bahá. As a young boy, he was aware of the desire of Sultan Abdul Hamid II (reigned 1876-1909) to banish ʻAbdu'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 Baháʼís in the fear that he would be poisoned.
Tablet from ʻAbdu'l-Bahá
As the eldest grandson of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi from his earliest childhood had a special relationship with his grandfather. According to one account, when Shoghi Effendi was only 5 years old, he pestered his grandfather to write a tablet for him, which was common practice for ʻAbdu'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 ʻAbdu'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 ʻAbdu'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 ʻAbdu'l-Bahá and serve as his secretary. Shoghi Effendi was protected from World War I due to the neutrality of the Syrian Protestant College. Though political tensions in 1917 meant the college was closed briefly, student life continued. In the summer of 1918 ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's life was in critical danger until the entry of General Allenby's troops to Haifa. With the Armistice looming and having completed his studies Shoghi Effendi was ready to return to his grandfather. In the Autumn of 1918 Shoghi Effendi went back to Haifa to assist ʻAbdu'l-Bahá in his mounting correspondence. In a private letter to a friend from late 1918 Shoghi Effendi reflects on the untold sufferings of the War but anticipates that "this is indeed the era of service".
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. Shoghi Effendi was happy during his time in Balliol. Accounts from his contemporaries remember him as a cheerful and popular student. He was acquainted with future British prime minister Anthony Eden but they were not close friends. His studies were interspersed with occasional trips around the United Kingdom to meet Baháʼí communities. Shoghi Effendi was particularly touched meeting the small group of Baháʼís from Manchester. During this period Shoghi Effendi began what would be a life-long affinity to aspects of British culture such as reading The Times everyday and his love for English literature.
Death of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá and Guardianship
The issue of successorship to ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was in the minds of early Baháʼís, and although the Universal House of Justice was an institution mentioned by Baháʼu'lláh, the institution of the Guardianship was not clearly introduced until the Will and Testament of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was publicly read after his death.
While studying in England, on 29 November 1921, the news of ʻAbdu'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 accompanied with Sara Blomfield and his sister Ruhangiz on 16 December and arrived in Haifa on 29 December. A few days later he opened ʻAbdu'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 Baháʼís had to look to for guidance. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's Will and Testament is considered one of the three charters of the Baháʼí administrative order, and in it ʻAbdu'l-Bahá laid down the authority of the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice, the elected governing body of the Baháʼí Faith that had been written about by Baháʼu'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, ʻAbdu'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 Baháʼí Faith grew from 100,000 to 400,000 members, capitalizing on prior growth and setting the stage for more, and the countries and territories in which Baháʼís had representation went from 35 to 250. As Guardian and head of the religion, Shoghi Effendi communicated his vision to the Baháʼís 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 Baháʼí administration throughout the world; the Baháʼí 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 ʻAbdu'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 Baháʼu'lláh into English. Starting in 1937, he set into motion a series of systematic plans to establish Baháʼí 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 establishment of the State of Israel, he started to develop the Baháʼí 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 Baháʼu'lláh is located, as well as developing plans and resources to raise several of the continental Baháʼí Houses of Worship around the world; these plans continued through the 1950s.
In the 1950s he also continued building the Baháʼí administration, establishing in 1951 the International Baháʼí Council to act as a precursor to the Universal House of Justice, as well as appointing 32 living Hands of the Cause — Baháʼís 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, Baháʼu'lláh and ʻAbdu'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 Baháʼí writings. His translations, therefore, are a guideline for all future translations of the Baháʼí writings. The vast majority of his writings were in the style of letters with Baháʼís 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 Baháʼís around the world to lengthy letters to the Baháʼís of the world addressing specific themes. Some of his longer letters include World Order of Baháʼu'lláh, regarding the nature of Baháʼí administration, Advent of Divine Justice, regarding teaching the religion, and Promised Day is Come regarding Baháʼu'lláh's letters to world leaders.
Other letters included statements on Baháʼí beliefs, history, morality, principles, administration and law. He also wrote obituaries of some distinguished Baháʼís. Many of his letters to individuals and assemblies have been compiled into several books which stand out as significant sources of literature for Baháʼís 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 Baháʼí 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 ʻAbdu'l-Bahá. He distanced himself from the local clergy and notability, and travelled little to visit Baháʼís 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 Baháʼí belief and practice — as Guardian he was empowered to interpret the writings of Baháʼu'lláh and ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, and these were authoritative and binding, as specified in ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's will. His leadership style was however, quite different from that of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, in that he signed his letters to the Baháʼís 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 Baháʼís 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. In public Shoghi Effendi was variously described as aristocratic, composed and highly informed in international affairs. In private his contemporaries remembered him as warm, informal and humorous. Shoghi Effendi would sleep very little and usually ate only once a day. He was short in stature, with dark hair, an olive complexion and hazel eyes. He was noted as not resembling his grandfather ʻAbdu'l-Bahá (who was taller and had blue eyes) but his great-grandfather Baháʼu'lláh.
Shoghi Effendi had a great love for the English language. He was an avid fan of English literature, and enjoyed reading the King James Bible. He was noted for speaking English in clipped received pronunciation, and Persian in an Isfahani dialect, inherited from his grandmother. Shoghi Effendi held Iranian (Persian) nationality throughout his life and travelled on an Iranian passport, although he never visited Iran.
In March 1937, Shoghi Effendi married Mary Maxwell, entitled Rúhíyyih Khánum, a Canadian. She was the only child of May Maxwell, a disciple of ʻAbdu'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. The two had begun a regular correspondence from the mid-1920s. Mary was an active Baháʼí teacher, 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 26 years old, Mary was a tall, athletic woman. Mary had been living in Nazi Germany for 18 months with her cousin prior to coming to Haifa. The couple married in the room of Bahíyyih Khánum in the House of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá in Haifa. The ceremony was a short, simple and quiet one in which Rúhíyyih Khánum 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 Baháʼí community when the mother of Shoghi Effendi cabled the Baháʼís:
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.
While Shoghi Effendi and Rúhíyyih Khánum never had children, Rúhíyyih Khánum became his constant companion and helpmate; in 1941, she became Shoghi Effendi's principal secretary in English. In a rare public statement revealing his private sentiments in 1951 he described his wife as "my helpmate, my shield in warding off the darts of Covenant breakers and my tireless collaborator in the arduous tasks I shoulder".
Mírzá Muhammad ʻAlí was ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's half brother and was mentioned by Baháʼu'lláh as having a station "beneath" that of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá. Muhammad ʻAli later fought ʻAbdu'l-Bahá for leadership and was ultimately excommunicated, along with several others in the Haifa/ʻAkká area who supported him. When Shoghi Effendi was appointed Guardian Muhammad ʻAli tried to revive his claim to leadership, suggesting that Baháʼu'lláh's mention of him in the Kitáb-i-'Ahd amounted to a succession of leadership.
After Shoghi Effendi's death, Rúhíyyih Khánum 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 Baháʼís in Haifa.
If the friends only knew how the Master and the Guardian both suffered through the calibre of the local Baháʼís. 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 [ʻAbdu'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 ʻAbdu'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 ʻAbdu'l-Bahá. Other branches of Baháʼu'lláh's family had already been declared Covenant-breakers in ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's Will and Testament. At the time of his death, there were no living descendants of Baháʼu'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.— Ruhiyyih
According to the framework of the Will and Testament of ʻAbdu'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 Baháʼu'lláh's embryonic World Commonwealth." Consequently, following the death of Shoghi Effendi, the Baháʼí 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 Baháʼí 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 ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, there was no legitimate way for another Guardian to be appointed. Therefore, although the Will and Testament of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá leaves provisions for a succession of Guardians, Shoghi Effendi remains the first and last occupant of this office.
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