January 18, 2010

The amazing way in which Shoghi Effendi wrote God Passes By - The touching history of the first century of the Cause

The method of Shoghi Effendi in writing God Passes By was to sit down for a year and read every book of the Bahá'í Writings in Persian and English, and every book written about the Faith by Bahá'ís, whether in manuscript form or published, and everything written by non-Bahá'ís that contained significant references to it. I think, in all, this must have covered the equivalent of at least two hundred books. As he read he made notes and compiled and marshalled his facts. Anyone who has ever tackled a work of an historical nature knows how much research is involved, how often one has to decided, in the light of relevant material, between this date given in one place and that date given in another, how back-breaking the whole work is. How much more so then was such a work for the Guardian who had, at the same time, to prepare for the forthcoming Centenary of the Faith and make decisions regarding the design of the superstructure of the Báb's Shrine. When all the ingredients of his book had been assembled Shoghi Effendi commenced weaving them into the fabric of his picture of the significance of the first century of the Bahá'í Dispensation. It was not his purpose, he said, to write a detailed history of those hundred years, but rather to review the salient features of the birth and rise of the Faith, the establishment of its administrative institutions, and the series of crises which had propelled it forward in a mysterious manner, through the release of the Divine power within it, from victory to victory. He revealed to us the panorama of events which, he wrote, "the revolution of a hundred years...has unrolled before our eyes" and lifted the curtain on the opening acts of what he asserted was one "indivisible, stupendous and sublime drama, whose mystery no intellect can fathom, whose climax no eye can even dimly perceive, whose conclusion no mind can adequately foreshadow."

How many hundreds of hours Shoghi Effendi spent on reading his sources and compiling his notes, how many days and months in painstakingly writing out in long hand - and often rewriting - the majestic procession of his chapters, how many more wearisome days he sat at his small portable typewriter, hammering away with a few fingers, sometimes ten hours on end, as he typed the final copy of his work! And how many more hours we spent late into the night, when the daily typing was over, seated side by side at his bog table in his bedroom, each with three copies of the typescript before us, proof-reading, making corrections, putting in by hand the thousands of accents on transliterated words which Shoghi Effendi would read aloud, until his eyes were bloodshot and blurred, his back and arms stiff with exhaustion, as we worked on to finish the entire chapter or part of a chapter he had typed that day. It had to be done. There was no possibility of working at a slower pace. he was racing against time to present the Bahá'ís of the West with this inimitable gift on the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of the inception of their Faith. In spite of the fact that he mailed off to America the corrected manuscript in instalments, conditions in the United States delayed the publication and the book was not off the press until the middle of November 1944.

It was not enough to say "See what the man has done." One must ask how and under what circumstances he did it. 'Abdu'l-Bahá wrote the Tablets of the Divine Plan when He was old, worn out and in great danger at the end of World War I. Shoghi Effendi, already crushed and overburdened from the weight of twenty years of Guardianship, when the tides of World War II threatened to sweep over the Holy Land and engulf him and the World Centre of the Faith in one catastrophic flow, during a period when his home was convulsed by the repercussions of Covenant-breaking now affecting his family, set himself the task of appraising for all time the significance of the events of the first century of the Bahá'í Era. On rare occasions it was my misfortune during these years to see him weep as if his heart would break - so great was his agony, so overwhelming the pressures that bore down upon him!

Not content with the history he had just completed in English, Shoghi Effendi now turned his thoughts to the loving and loyal Community of Bahá'u'lláh's long-suffering and persecuted followers in His native land and began the composition of another memorial to the first hundred years of the Bahá'í Faith in Persia. This was a comparable, though shorter version of the same subject, different in nature but no less splendid in both the facts it presented the brilliancy of its language. Whereas I had sat through most of his writing of God Passes By in English there was no point in my doing so for this epistle. The difference between the style of Shoghi Effendi's letters and discourse in Persian - liberally sprinkled with Arabic - and every-day Persian is comparable to the difference between Shakespearian English and modern journalese! My command of Persian and ignorance of Arabic were such that I could not catch more than three or four words out of ten. Nevertheless he would read to me, or rather chant to me, some of its passages and the majestic flow of his words, their perfection and power, were evident to me even though I could not fully follow their meaning. I remember how, as I approached his room, I would hear his voice chanting his composition to himself as he wrote, infinitely plaintive, infinitely beautiful. It was also fascinating: he would chant the sentence he was writing until he struck a bump, a word that would not fit smoothly, the lovely voice, unconscious of itself, would stop, then go back to the beginning of the sentence and start off again up to the same point, if he did not get over it that time this would be repeated until he did! It was like some wonderful bird trying out its melodies to itself, lost in its own world. This epistle ran to a hundred pages in fine handwriting and is another of Shoghi Effendi's masterpieces. These two reviews of a hundred years were the Guardian's priceless Centenary gifts to the Bahá'ís, wrought with great cost to his strength and health, and devised during years when the world was rocked by its greatest war.
(Ruhiyyih Khanum, The Priceless Pearl, p. 223)