I was born in Northern Ireland and in 1947 when I was seventeen my mother regularly gave me copies of Science of Thought, a spiritual type magazine edited by Claire Cameron in Chichester. Once I spent a holiday at the home of my friend Kerry Greeves in Crawfordsburn, near Belfast. I quoted something from Science of Thought to his mother, Lisbeth Greeves, and she said she also read Science of Thought and added that she was now reading about a new religion (Bahá’í). A few years later when I joined the Army, Lisbeth became a Bahá’í and she told me that she just wanted me to know that Jesus Christ had returned. In 1954, sponsored by the Army, I attended the Foreign Office Arabic Language School (MECAS – Middle East Centre for Arabic Studies) outside Beirut. Lisbeth told me that there was a Bahá’í professor of history (Professor Zeine Zeine) at the American University of Beirut. He was invited to give a lecture at MECAS on Islamic History and I remember being extremely impressed by his brilliant lecture. What also impressed me was that he impressed my rather grand, ‘stuffy’ Foreign Office colleagues (one subsequently became UK Ambassador to Washington) but Professor Zeine Zeine did not mention that he was a Bahá’í. I did not say anything to the professor because in those days, although I agreed with the Bahá’í principles, I did not want to get involved with ‘organised religion’. I preferred ‘spiritual’ things although I felt that one day I would become a Bahá’í because it was ‘logical’. Later in 1957 I was posted to Germany where Lisbeth Greeves arranged for me to spend a weekend at the home of Dan and Nancy Jordan. Dan was with the US Army in Heidleberg. One Sunday we went for tea at the home of Hand of the Cause Mr Grossmann, when I met Mrs Grossmann and their son Hartmund. His son, who was then at university, told me that he was studying so that he could get a job in a third world country to spread the Faith. He is now (1994 at the time of writing) a member of the International Teaching Centre in Haifa. [Later he was to serve as a member of the Universal House of Justice from 2003-2008.] In 1960 I was posted as Adjutant to a Territorial Army Regiment in Cardiff where I met the Hofmans and Lewis’. In that year I attended some of the Bahá’í meetings and felt it was now time to become a Bahá’í, so one day I went to Marion Hofman’s home and ‘declared’ on her doorstep. She was quite amazed as I had not given any indication of being so close to the Faith! She told me that I had to read the Will and Testament of `Abdu’l-Bahá, explained to me about Mason Remey and said she would inform the Local Spiritual Assembly which was meeting in a few days’ time. I remember thinking to myself at the time that I did not quite understand why my declaration had to be accepted by a ‘committee’, as I felt that it was between God and me. My family in Ireland were not too happy with my decision to become a Bahá’í, especially as they heard about it from the local Bahá’ís and not from me – but that was my fault. Later they were reconciled to it.
Life as a Bahá’í
In the summer of 1960 I went to a summer school at Harlech and there met Roushan Aftabi who had pioneered to Edinburgh. In 1961 after 12 years in the Army I decided to leave it and had one month’s leave before taking up a job in Winchester, which as a cathedral town, needed to form an Assembly. Therefore in March 1961 from Cardiff I cabled the Hands of the Cause in Haifa to seek permission for Pilgrimage. By return I received a cabled reply welcoming me for nine days commencing 15th March, so this would be during my first Fast. I stayed one night in a cheap hotel in Tel Aviv, en route to Haifa, and got up before dawn to eat my (by then stale) sandwiches and drink water from the tap in the bedroom. I then got the bus to Haifa. On arrival Jesse Revell at the Western Pilgrim House welcomed me at the door. “We have been waiting for you, you are very welcome, what will you have for breakfast?” I was a bit amazed and replied hesitantly, “Well, nothing, thank you!” She repeated the question twice, so I felt it must be some sort of test – so eventually I replied, “Well actually I’m fasting!” To which she replied “Nonsense. On pilgrimage you don’t have to fast. How many eggs do you want with your bacon?” Later in the day Jesse took me to the Shrine of the Báb and there I met the Eastern pilgrims (about 20, mostly from Iran and some from Turkey) and Jesse introduced me to Hands of the Cause Mr Furutan and Mr Faizi, who then took us into the Shrine. The next day we visited the Shrine with all the Hands of the Cause then resident in Haifa, Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum, Mr Furutan, Mr Faizi, Mr Ioas and Mr Kházeh. Afterwards Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum walked down the hill with me to “watch” me have lunch at the Western Pilgrim House, joined by the Revell sisters, Jesse and Ethel, and Mrs Doris Holley (widow of the Hand of the Cause Horace Holley). Khánum invited me to dinner at her home, which she cooked herself as it was the cook’s night off! Actually as I was a very new Bahá’í, about six months, I really did not understand what a very wonderful bounty this was. Also Hand of the Cause Amelia Collins invited me to tea. All this was because I was the sole Western pilgrim! At Bahji in those days we spent one night there and during the night one was allowed to visit Bahá’u’lláh’s room on one’s own at any time throughout the night. I found that after about 20 minutes I had to leave because the ‘power’ in the room became so overpowering. After my pilgrimage Marion Hofman told me that I was the first Irish pilgrim (because Hand of the Cause George Townshend never got to Haifa). Immediately after pilgrimage I moved to Winchester which had been ‘opened’ a few years before by Susan Golden Kilford, affectionately known as Killie. In her 70’s she had previously been living very modestly in retirement in London when she heard the beloved Guardian’s appeal to “open” the cathedral towns. In her young days she had been a nursing assistant at Dr Esslemont’s sanatorium near Bournemouth during his time there. So at this later stage in her life she moved to a damp flat, three stories up, in Winchester! She was helped by visits from Meherangiz Munsiff and the then Secretary of the National Teaching Committee, John Wade. Eventually others joined her, including myself and then Roushan. When I arrived, Killie had moved to a small terraced cottage. So we were then able to form the first Local Spiritual Assembly of Winchester (1962). Roushan and I became engaged and were married in 1962 at the Bahá’í Centre, 27 Rutland Gate, by David Hofman. We succeeded in getting some local press coverage in the Hampshire Chronicle which started with a visit by David Ruhe, then a Professor of Medicine in Kansas and later to become a member of the Universal House of Justice. In 1961, a couple of days before Christmas, Betty Reed (then secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly) contacted all Local Spiritual Assemblies by telephone to approach our MPs. This was because four Bahá’ís in Nadir, Morocco, had been sentenced to death and in fact some foreign press had reported that the local authorities in Nadir had already executed them! Parliament had just broken up for Christmas, so I saw our MP, Peter Smithers, who was Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, at his home in Winchester. He telephoned the Duty Officer at the Foreign Office and asked him to wireless contact our Embassy in Rabat to find out the latest position. Later that evening he telephoned me at my home to say that our Embassy in Rabat said that the Bahá’ís were safe as an appeal had been lodged with the Central Appeal Court in Rabat which had prevented the local authorities in Nadir from executing them. This was the first confirmation that the Bahá’í world had that the Bahá’ís were in fact alive. I therefore immediately informed Betty Reed by phone. Subsequently Betty asked me to arrange an appointment for her with Peter Smithers to officially hand him the documentation supporting the Bahá’í case for transmission to the UK Delegation at the UN so that the UK would support our case at the United Nations. This was done. Roushan and I were able to attend the World Congress at the Royal Albert Hall in 1963 where we met Hand of the Cause, Mr Samandari, and were able to achieve some press coverage in Winchester’s Hampshire Chronicle of this event. Later in September our twin boys, Sean and Shaheen, were born. In 1964 I got a job in London. In 1966 the Local Spiritual Assembly of London was splitting up into different borough LSAs, so we were part of the first LSA of Brent. “Killy” died in Winchester in October 1967 and she left me several books that had belonged to Dr Esslemont and one belonging to Martha Root. At this time the National Spiritual Assembly did not have any publicity/press committee but just appointed three individuals to contact VIPs. So Lisbeth Greeves, Jane Villiers-Stuart and I were appointed as PROs (public relations officers) as individuals, not as a committee. In 1970 I, initially without the family, took a job in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. As a family we went on pilgrimage in 1971 and then they joined me in Riyadh. I was the first non-Persian Bahá’í that the Bahá’ís (all Persians) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, had ever seen! From Saudi Arabia we visited Iran and were able to visit the Báb’s house in Shiraz, Bahá’u’lláh’s house in Tehran and the house of the King of the Martyrs in Isfahan. After two years we returned to Wembley, where the Local Spiritual Assembly of Brent had to help establish LSAs, firstly in Three Rivers and the next year in Dacorum. So I moved to Three Rivers for four months in 1976 to make up, as the 9th member, the first LSA of Three Rivers – staying first as a lodger with a widow and then with a Bahá’í family and visiting my family for the weekends. The following year, 1977, I did the same in Dacorum, living at the Bahá’í home of Mrs Atherton Parsons. Trudy Scott, Bernard Leach’s secretary, telephoned to ask us if they could come from Cornwall and stay the weekend with us because Amatu’l-Bahá Ruhiyyih Khánum wished to meet Bernard before her first visit to Japan. So Roushan and I had the bounty of Khánum visiting us for lunch to meet Bernard. In 1978 I became Chairman of the National Public Information Committee which assisted Local Spiritual Assemblies with press releases, arranging training seminars and monitoring publications that misrepresented the Faith. We moved to Welwyn Garden City to join the Cameron family, as although they had established the first Local Spiritual Assembly there, many of the Bahá’ís were students at the Polytechnic and were leaving the town, having completed their studies. In 1979, at the beginning of the persecutions of the Bahá’ís in Iran, the Universal House of Justice appointed a committee to contact “Foreign Office and/or high officials government”. I contacted Sir Anthony Parsons, whom I had previously known in the Army, who had become Deputy Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, and arranged for Philip Hainsworth (Chairman of the Committee) and myself to meet him. He promised his assistance (he knew all about Bahá’ís, having been Ambassador in Iran) and said we could contact him at any time with any specific problem. Shortly afterwards Sir Anthony was appointed Ambassador to the UN and we were able to arrange for him to meet the Bahá’í UN Representation there. We subsequently received a copy of Sir Anthony’s letter confirming the British Government’s support for the Bahá’ís of Iran. I accompanied Mary Hardy, NSA Secretary, on a visit to Douglas Hurd, the Minister of State at the Foreign Office, and also to the Iranian Chargé d’Affaires, both regarding the persecution of Bahá’ís in Iran. At a later stage the National Spiritual Assembly established a Public Relations Department under the NSA Secretary, Mary Hardy, which replaced the Public Information Committee. I was able to get The Economist to publish a letter to the Editor and also for them to do a quarter page article on the persecution. In the early 1980’s I was appointed Bahá’í representative on the Human Rights Network (UK). In 1984 we moved for a short period to form the first Local Spiritual Assembly of Haywards Heath in Sussex, where I presented the MP, Tim Renton, then Minister of State at the Foreign Office, with the Peace Message. I found out from the Bahá’ís of neighbouring Chichester that Claire Cameron, former editor of Science of Thought magazine, had become a Bahá’í. I wanted to visit her but she had died a few years previously. This was a complete circle because in a way it was through her magazine Science of Thought that I had been introduced indirectly to the Faith – although the magazine at this time did not mention Bahá’í. ____________________ Dermod Knox 1994 (revised 2012) On retirement in 2000 Dermod and Roushan moved to Honiton, Devon, where they still live.
Standing left to right: Phillip Victorien, Roushan Aftabi (Knox), Dermod Knox, Olive Sutton, Timon Nyandoro Seated: Jazbiyyih Momen, Susan Golden Kilford, Cherry Viveash (also known as Jackie James)