The Case against Ruhi Effendi Afnan

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The narrative of Ruhi Effendi, as I have presented it, was written with the purpose of preserving the memory of this man in the literature which is growing around the Cause. This was necessary, because those who have incurred the displeasure of the Baha’i organization are expunged from the record wherever possible, so that with time even their shadows are practically obliterated. It is true that on occasions, the names of these persons do come up in a mass listing, under a direful heading; but their achievements and good works are totally forgotten and, of course, their stories are never told.

Now, I have not attempted to tell Ruhi Effendi’s story from his point of view. Such an effort would have been presumptive for, although I knew him well in his youth and have since observed his development with interest, the barriers of distance and separate channels of activity have intervened between us. Likewise, I could not comment on the events which led to his excommunication, for these are shrouded in mystery; yet, one thing I could do, and have done—this was to state his standing in the Cause which was won on his own merits, and to offer a picture of him based on his writings, for the benefit of the Baha’i public of today and of the years to come.

Needless to say, I have not received a sign of approval from him, for excommunicated persons do not place themselves in one category, to make merry or lament on the same ground. Of this order, there are definite grades which are recognized not only by the Baha’i community but by the outcasts themselves. Consequently I, who am close to black on the tone chart of untouchability, cannot expect to communicate with those who an listed under the greys; although, for my part, I confess to being rather colour-blind in this respect and feel myself fundamentally involved with all shades of God’s children, however different their opinions may be from my own.

The writing of a biographical sketch on a living person is not an easy task. In praising, one tries to be restrained; in implying a criticism, one hopes to be inoffensive. Through it all, truth is of first importance; otherwise, it were best either to lay down the pen or else devote one’s time to fiction.

These difficulties were apparent to some of my friends within the Baha’i organization and to the others outside of it. It was said that I had enough trouble on my hands, and that I should not go hunting for more. Also, I was reminded that my readers had small interest in the internal disputes of the Baha’i organization and that they might lose patience with me altogether. This latter was sound advice and I realized it; nevertheless, my inner voice insisted that it was incumbent upon me to pay a tribute to the grandson of ‘Abdu’l Baha, which task I have discharged to the best of my ability.

Reasons in Toto
The excommunication of Ruhi Effendi was a totally arbitrary act as can be estimated from the Guardian’s cablegrams, passages of which I quote. The reasons given, and all of them, are as follows:—

Reason I
Ruhi’s sister married covenant-breaker Fayzi.

Reason II
(The)   flagrant disloyalty (of) Ruhi’s family compels me (to) disclose information so long (and) patiently withheld (from) American believers concerning his failure (to) obtain my approval (of) his second visit (to) America

Reason III
His subsequent conduct regarding his marriage which I refrained from revealing (to) anyone except your Assembly, as well as Foad’s departure (to) England without my knowledge should now be made known to believers.

Reason I
The First Reason applies to the marriage of Ruhi Effendi’s sister to the son of Furighyyeh Khanum, daughter of Baha’u’llah.

Now, I happen to have known the two elder brothers of this young man, the late Hussein Effendi Afnan when he was aide-DE-camp to Fayzal, King of Iraq, and Nayyar Effendi Afnan who was Commissioner of Parks in Cairo, Egypt. Both of them were noble Baha’is, who had achieved distinction in their respective fields; yet the Guardian has chosen to stigmatize this entire family, which incidentally was greatly cherished by ‘Abdu’l Baha, with the name of coven ant-breaker, and he therefore is displeased with the marriage which has taken place between these two cousins of his.

However, this is a story in itself and does not apply to Ruhi Effendi. He did not marry into the honourable family above-mentioned; therefore, I claim that the First Reason given for his excommunication is entirely beside the point and cannot be taken seriously.

Reason II
The Second Reason is on the grounds that Ruhi Effendi failed to obtain the Guardian’s approval of his second visit to America.

It happens that my readers have seen the advance announcement of this visit, published in Baha’i News by the National Spiritual Assembly, in which it was stated that Ruhi Effendi was expected in this country and that he was coming with the approval of the Guardian. Now, we can say with certainty that the National Assembly had been in communication with the Guardian in regard to this visit; that this announcement was made following his instructions, and that the warm welcome accorded to, and the series of meetings arranged for the distinguished guest were in conformance with Shoghi Effendi’s wishes. It seems incredible that the printed words of the National Spiritual Assembly should now be flouted to so great an extent; yet, such is the case. The Guardian in his cablegram of excommunication goes back on his trusted administrative organ and brands it with untruth; an action which is unwise, for hereafter no one can put much weight on the statements made by the National Spiritual Assembly.

Let us suppose that Ruhi Effendi’s visit to this country was made without the Guardian’s approval, but with his permission which we know had to be granted. If such were the case, there was an excellent precedent for it which we will now review:—

Shortly before the Master’s departure from this life, Shoghi Effendi determined to go to Oxford, England, to continue his education. He had suffered a disappointment at the University of Beirut, having failed to obtain the degree of M.A. upon which he had set his heart; and the fact that his fellow Baha’i students had won this honor made the situation all the harder. Now, ‘Abdu’l Baha was disappointed too, but he did not make a point of it. He felt that his grandson had derived much benefit from the University and that a degree was not absolutely essential. He wished Shoghi Effendi to remain in Haifa to take up the work of the Cause at his side. Undoubtedly, he needed him; also he probably felt that his time on this earth was not to be very long. So, Shoghi Effendi stayed in Haifa for a few years.

Now, Shoghi Effendi has a very strong scholastic leaning and he could not give up the desire for further education; consequently, the time arrived when a definite issue arose in Haifa: Shoghi Effendi insisted on going to Oxford, and the Master insisted that he should remain at home.

To make a long story short, Shoghi Effendi won his point, for the ladies of the household were so sympathetic to his distress that they interceded for him with ‘Abdu’l Baha. Thus, Shoghi Effendi finally went to Oxford, without the Master’s approval but with his permission. He was there when ‘Abdu’l Baha passed away from this life and was unable to return until more than a month after the funeral services.

Naturally, the Master did not excommunicate his grandson for this determination to have his own way; therefore, by the same token, if Ruhi Effendi came to America without the Guardian’s approval but with his permission, he likewise should not have received punishment. Also, in view of the fact that the National Spiritual Assembly had gone on record as saying that the visit was made with the Guardian’s approval, the statement should have been honoured. Consequently, I claim that the Second Reason given for the excommunication of Ruhi Effendi cannot be sustained in a court of ethics or of law.

Reason III
The Third Reason is in regard to his marriage, although nothing is told us of this event other than the fact. It would seem that Ruhi Effendi had a right to pick out his own wife, and as his choice fell within the family circle it is obvious that he did not marry outside of his class or of the Cause. This excuse of marriage brings to mind an event of world-wide importance which took place in the first family of England, which has a similar aspect to the one with which we are dealing, although it cannot be called a parallel.

In the case of Edward VIII there existed certain disadvantages: the lady was an American; she was divorced; she was not of royal birth. However, in view of prevailing modem conditions, an adjustment could have been made if the Tory element in England had so wished. Yet, the tragic break occurred; the King was deprived of his rights and sent into exile. Why was this? The answer is well known: Edward VIII was too liberal, too progressive, too democratic; the stand-pat dignitaries of the Empire thought him dangerous and longed for his downfall. So, the abdication was consummated and the idol of the nation became persona non grata. Thus, the royal house of England lost its most gifted and decorative representative, and the nation, a valuable asset which could not be replaced or supplemented.

Those who have studied the talks and writings of Ruhi Effendi can see very clearly that this material could not have been pleasing to the Administration, for it contained an inherent liberality and tolerance which did not fit into a totalitarian pattern. Doubtless, this descendant of Baha’u’llah caused a good deal of anxiety to the authorities. He seemed to be of the old order of ‘Abdu’l Baha, which is synonymous with being of the new order of a world society; and he constituted a threat to the system which had chosen to forget the universality in the Cause, which was its heritage, and its destiny. Consequently, reasons for his elimination from the picture had to be worked out; and one of the excuses was his marriage.

Now, I claim that the outworn method of excommunication applies to heresy in religion, having nothing to do with the private life of an individual, and that the Third Reason for the excommunication of Ruhi Effendi is totally invalid.
We have examined in their order the excuses given for the expulsion of ‘Abdu’l Baha’s grandson from the Baha’i community; and can accept them as just, reject them as unjust, or pass on to other matters with a sigh of relief, finding the whole subject outside of our line of interests. However that may be, the case of the Guardian of the Baha’i Cause against Ruhi Effendi, in which the extreme penalty was exacted on grounds that were not legal, nor logical, nor ethical, nor moral, must stand before history as one more example of the overriding irresponsibility of Fascism as expressed in this abnormal age. Let us however expect that, in the perspective of the future, organized terrorism will appear as but a phase of the great’ day of transition which will have developed into the day of Universal Democracy—the Day of Baha’u’llah.

But, who is Foad?” This question was asked of me by some Baha’is who had noted the name in one of Shoghi Effendi’s cables of excommunication.   It is included in the Third Reason, as quoted in this chapter.

Foad is the youngest brother of Ruhi Effendi; but he is not merely part of a family that has been placed under spiritual quarantine. He is a wrongdoer in his own right. Quote: Foad’s departure (to) England without my knowledge, should now be made known (to) believers.

It is questionable whether this action was better or worse than was that of his brother. The latter went to England without the Guardian’s approval; the former, without his knowledge. It seems to me that Foad Effendi was wise; he intended to go to England (I surmise, to pursue his studies), and, not wishing to run the risk of being forbidden to do so, he simply took French leave. I hope he got what he wanted out of his sojourn in that country and, certainly, I think no less of him for having conducted his private life as he saw fit.

I remember Foad as a baby of a year or so at the time when I left Palestine in 1918. Since then, I have not returned to that country, so the little knowledge I have of him is derived from the writings of the pilgrims. This actually is not knowledge, but rather a few glimpses of a child as seen through the eyes of visitors to Haifa. It appears that he was an independent little personality even at the age of three, and I have heard that he was a delight to his grandfather who found much amusement in his precocious ways.

In The Light of the World by William H. Randall, published in 1919, we read a description of An Afternoon with the Household. In the above-named chapter, on page 132, Foad makes his appearance as naturally as would any child in any ordinary family:-

At this point little Foad entered the room breathlessly and began speaking very fast and excitedly. It seemed that his pet donkey had a fever and he was asking ‘Abdu’l Baha to pray for it. Earlier in the afternoon he had given two oranges to ‘Abdu’l Baha. The Master now gave him one to eat. When he had finished, the other was given to him with the instruction: “Give this to the ladies.” He firmly refused, saying the gardener had said that no one but ‘Abdu’l Baha should eat the oranges, and no amount of persuasion could make him give it to the ladies—but be had already eaten one himself.

In the same book, on page 86, we find the children at the supper-table, in the presence of the ever-loving and indulgent Host:-

At supper, Foad and Riaz, the two three-year old grandchildren of Abdul Baba, were both seated at one end of the table, their faces shining with joy and happiness for this privilege. We learned that before dinner, the Greatest Holy Leaf had told Foad that as he had been there all the day, it was better for him to go borne for dinner. He quickly left the room, going direct to ‘Abdu’l Baha and complained of this. He replied with loving kindness; “Of course, you can stay with me for dinner.” Immediately Foad returned triumphant to the rest of the family, saying:- “Now you see, the Master wants me to stay with him.”

In an article by Miss Genevieve L. Coy printed in Star of the West, October 16, 192l, page 198, we come across the irrepressible Foad offering his services as protector to ‘Abdu’l Baha:-

In a short time the Master came from around the eastern corner of the Tomb, followed by little Foad. The Master was radiantly beautiful. He wore a dove-colored overcoat or wrap, for the wind was cool on the mountainside. Foad was dressed in a stiffly starched white dress, and made a staunch little bodyguard for the Master. (Someone told us that one night Foad went up to the Master after supper and said, “You go to bed now and rest. I will take my gun and lie across the threshold.  If any thieves come, I will scare them away!”)

These simple anecdotes give a picture of Foad Effendi Afnan as he figured in ‘Abdu’l Baha’s household at the start of his life. Now at the age of twenty-five years, he has been excluded from the one-time happy family circle and from the Baha’i community in all parts of the world. He will forever be classed as an enemy of the Cause and be relegated: to the limbo of forgotten things, if the Baha’is continue to agree that the punishment of excommunication fitted the crime, which was, I blush to remind my readers, that of traveling to England without permission.

The above digression from the account of Ruhi Effendi is not actually such, for his family is an inextricable part of the sad story -which I have felt called upon to write. My task is now completed and I leave it for whatever it may be worth, happy in the fact that my tribute is paid and is on record. In this work, I have had no arr’tere pensie of any kind, and especially no expectation that Ruhi Effendi should, at any time, lend his talents to the aspect of Baha’i endeavour for which I strive. The world is large; our pathways will probably never cross, but the Light which we follow is the same. It falls on us without distinction and will guide us to the same goal I trust that his journey will be fruitful in the future as it has been in the past; that his name will continue to shine on the records of the Cause and that he, descendant of the Bab, Baha’u’llah and ‘Abdu’l Baha, will fulfill: glorious destiny as a man, the ramparts of whose spirit are unbreached.
Meanwhile, I must express my very ardent hope that the evaluation of an excommunicated person, as set down by the National Spiritual Assembly (Baha’i News, No. 134, March 1940, page 2), will seem a ridiculous to Ruhi Effendi as it does to me. This statement reads:-

. . . his expulsion or excommunication from the Faith, which can be effected by the Guardian alone, in his capacity as the supreme spiritual  head of the community, has far reaching spiritual implications affecting the very soul of that believer.

And a little further in the same article:-
But in case he is excluded from the body of the Cause by an act of the Guardian he ceases to be a believer, and cannot possibly identify himself even nominally with the Faith.

I know that Ruhi Effendi is far too intelligent to take such an argument seriously; besides, he has had his instructions) long since—instructions from Baha’u’llah himself. They read:-

Verily, God hath made it incumbent upon every soul to deliver His Cause according to his ability. Thus hath the command been recorded by the Finger of Might and Power upon the Tablet of Majesty and Greatness.
—Baha’i Scriptures, p. 257

Be as the blowing wind of the Merciful to the trees of the created world, and rear them up in the name of thy Lord, the Equitable, the Learned One.
—Baha’i Scriptures, p. 189

These teachings cannot be abrogated; they are there to stay, as is the promise:—
Whosoever quickens one soul in this Cause is like unto one who quickeneth all the servants and the Lord shall bring him forth in the Day of Resurrection into the Rizwan of oneness, adorned with the Mantle of Himself.
—Baha’i Scriptures, p. 258

And now comes the burden of ‘Abdu’l Baha’s message, delivered on earth. It is his message now, received according to our understanding; and, dare anyone doubt, conveyed at this time to his grandson with peculiar emphasis:—
Abandon silence and seclusion and solitary nooks and go forth into the arena of explanation. Convey the Message of thy Lord with clearest speech and most complete elucidation. This is better for thee than solitude.
—Tablets of ‘Abdu’l Baha, Vol. III, p. 520


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