When people ask me how I came into the Bahá’í Faith I have to tell them that I was a Bahá’í from the cradle. This does not mean that I made no conscious decision. It was just that my parents were such wonderful Bahá’ís I didn’t have any doubts. Their lives showed me the only way to live.
It was my grandfather who brought my family into the Faith. He came from Yazd, a town renowned for severe persecutions of Bahá’ís and discrimination against Zoroastrians. His background was of the latter Faith and he wanted to live a normal life without being hindered by prejudice and while he was still young. He therefore left Iran and established a hotel in Poona, India, where I was born in 1928. He was made aware of the willingness of Bahá’ís to give their lives as a sacrifice for their Faith by a friend who had witnessed their persecutions and he decided to investigate it. He therefore went to teaching meetings in India where he was taught by a Mr Afnán and soon became a Bahá’í. He died when he was 104 and I can remember how alert he was to the end of his life. He met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on several occasions when he went on Pilgrimage as well as visiting the House of the Báb and was there with Hand of the Cause, Mr Faizi. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was very fond of him and sent him a number of Tablets. He also appeared to him on the day of his death and told him he was waiting for him! The hotel he had established became an important venue for Bahá’ís who visited India, including Martha Root. I too met Martha when I was a very little girl and I remember how ‘with it’ she was. She had her hair cut in a bob – she was adventurous in every way!
Eventually my father and his brother sold our hotel and decided to go to live in Iran when I was ten years old. It was our spiritual and cultural home and it was well worth the sacrifices we had to make. We therefore settled in Tehran where there were in the region of ten thousand Bahá’ís and it was lovely to be with so many followers of our Faith. One of my teachers in the Children’s Class was Adib Taherzadeh and I have many of his books signed by him. Although my life in Iran had to comply with the culture of the country and, during the Second World War, we suffered some shortages of food, I was able to go on pilgrimage and when I was 24 years old I went to the House of the Báb as my grandfather had done. Shiraz was so beautiful with avenues of fruit trees in bloom. The perfume was intoxicating. On the way back we visited some of the graves of the Americans who had served the Faith in Isfahan.
There was one hurdle however that I had to overcome. I wanted to be a mechanical engineer but that wasn’t for girls – I wasn’t allowed to sit with the boys! Instead I became a translator for an Anglo-Iranian oil company because I spoke fluent English. However in 1953 Shoghi Effendi introduced the Ten Year Crusade. I wanted to obey his call and perhaps find a different role in life. The trouble was that at first I didn’t know where to go! In the end I came to Britain to become a nurse, again because my English was good, having lived in India. My brother Nuri (d. 1997) had also gone there three years before and was studying in Loughborough. I came to Nottingham which was not far away but I did miss my home very much. However it was wonderful to be free to talk about the Faith and I was also privileged to be able to help to establish a Local Spiritual Assembly in Nottingham. I was there for three and a half years during which I did my training and obtained my State Registered Nurse qualification. While there I went to a Welsh Summer School where I met Bernard Leach, the potter. I had my photograph taken with him although at the time of writing I can’t find it! I was also able to be present at the Guardian’s funeral in 1957. I shall never forget the figure of Hasan Balyuzi weeping at the side of his grave. They had been together in college in Beirut and his grief was so passionately expressed, the impression of it will never leave me. In the end he had to be persuaded to come away.
By this time my brother Nuri was in Eccles finishing his degree in engineering and recommended that I should move there too where I could join the midwifery facility and become a State Certified Midwife which was what I really wanted to do. I had tried to go to Cambridge but would have had to wait for four years because the course was full so Bahá’u’lláh decided otherwise. Once again, along with my brother, I was able to contribute to the forming of a Local Spiritual Assembly in accordance with the National Spiritual Assembly’s encouragement. This in turn led to some important events in my life. We were both invited by two Bahá’ís to obtain rooms in a house which one of them owned and which accommodated boys. But they let me in! This was where I met Pam Tingle. She had already been trying to discover her spiritual home and my brother taught her the Faith. She accepted it immediately and eventually became my sister-in-law. How well does Bahá’u’lláh bring us all together.
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Whilst in Eccles a number of our Local Spiritual Assembly members moved on to pioneer, for example, to Africa, but we quickly filled their places by organizing Firesides and attracting a number of students. There was a lot of movement within the community at this time as we were so anxious to fulfil the aims given to us by the Guardian. Once my course was finished therefore and the Assembly fairly strongly established I felt I could ask Ian Semple, who was coordinating the movement of pioneers in order to obey the Guardian’s instructions, if he could suggest a goal that I could fulfil. He suggested York as a priority since there were no Bahá’ís there and it was a key city in the north of England. I knew therefore it was the place I should go to but I did feel lonely sometimes although I was visited by other Bahá’ís whenever possible. Friends of my uncle who was in Brighton came to see me in a dormobile and I asked them to breakfast, not realising they were vegetarians. I gave them everything I could, a full English breakfast, in my tiny room, and they ate it all! They wanted to please me so much that they followed the guidance of the Guardian who had said in their presence when they were in Haifa that whatever was given to anyone in love should be accepted. If you follow the habits of others it creates unity and you should never embarrass anyone. In my case they certainly pleased me – once! – and then explained the situation.
Ernest Gregory who was a member of the National Spiritual Assembly, and his wife Joan, also lived not too far away and I had met them before. I started a regular Fireside to which they came and I went to the library to find out about activities in the city. This led me to become a member of the International Club where there were many German au-pairs who had come to York to improve their English. Mrs Munsiff was another welcome visitor who came up from London at my request to speak to them. So many were willing to make great sacrifices to serve the spread of the Bahá’í Faith. During my time there I also telephoned Ian Semple to ask if Hasan Balyuzi could come and visit us or, if he was unable to do so, that Ian himself might come instead. Ian however told me that Hasan was unable to make the journey because he was ill and was in fact writing what was to be his last book, Bahá’u’lláh – The King of Glory. Ian himself therefore came instead and gave a talk at the Friends Meeting House, the first talk given there on the Bahá’í Faith.
My tiny room was soon filled with members of the club sitting on the bed, sitting on the floor as well as standing. Many became Bahá’ís and it didn’t take long to build an Assembly. Some students came from outside York in order to make up the numbers and commuted to their universities, Leeds for example, in order to help us. Owing to a request from the National Spiritual Assembly to hold National Conventions in areas away from London to avoid excess expenditure York was chosen to be the first venue outside of the capital. I was still there at that time and had married in 1962. There were requests however for pioneers to go to other areas and so my husband and I volunteered to go to Glasgow.
This was a very difficult time because there were very few jobs. I managed to gain a position as a nurse which meant we could stay there but we moved house three times in six months! I finally found a flat where I could live and my husband was able to get a job as a sales representative but he had to live in Dumfries because of the area he served. This meant that I eventually also moved to Dumfries – why? Not only to be with my husband but of course to form the first Local Spiritual Assembly! Our first meeting was blessed with the company of John Long, who was a member of the National Spiritual Assembly, and his wife Vera. How privileged we were!
I myself had now given birth to my daughter, Simone, in 1965, which kept me very busy but there were plenty of volunteers to help me. My mother and father had now arrived from Iran and had been staying with my brother Nuri and his wife, Pam, in Motherwell. They now came to Dumfries to help us along with some firemen from Glasgow who were also Bahá’ís. Their numbers enabled me, my husband and my parents to form an Assembly. I also held a meeting in Stranraer to introduce the Faith there and later on Sarah Lindsay came from London to join us too. She was a great help to me personally. We also arranged to hire a room in Dumfries in which to display Bahá’í books and talk about the Faith. When Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Dumfries those in the room were thrilled to see Her Majesty looking at the large notice in the window. What she said afterwards of course we don’t know!
This was a difficult time for me and it was wonderful to have friends as well as my dear parents who supported me. After my daughter was born I decided to train as a primary school teacher. This made my life easier because I did not have to do night shift and it enabled me to look after her. I therefore trained in Hamilton during the week and returned to Dumfries at the weekends with my parents looking after my daughter during the week. This was the pattern of my life for three years.
By this time the Local Spiritual Assembly was firmly established and I was employed in Dumfries as a primary school teacher. I taught there for ten years and during the last year completed a course of training for teaching infants. As a result of many difficulties in my life, including the death of my mother and the illness of my father, I eventually felt it was time for a change. This decision was made easier by the arrival of Jackie and Daryoush Mehrabi. I therefore moved to Largoward in Fife as the result of my sister-in-law and my brother already being in St. Andrews. This helped to establish a Local Spiritual Assembly in North East Fife of which I became a member and stayed there until 2001 when I moved to Dundee. During my time in North East Fife I taught at the primary school in Springfield where I was very happy. When I left they gave me a surprise party and I knew that many of the parents of the children loved me dearly. I also taught the children of the community in St. Andrews about the Faith.
Now I live in Dundee and serve the community as well as I can, particularly in allowing my home to be a welcome venue for all who need me. My life has been full of challenge and at the same time full of love. I hope these notes will show others that however many trials and disappointments accompany us on our Bahá’í pathway, there is always work for us to do in spreading our beloved Faith. Everyone who comes my way, my carers, my visitors, the members of the community who include my daughter who is my doctor, all my many friends, are welcome in my home. None of us knows the influence we can exert even in our latest years when the body fails but the spirit is alive.
Dundee, August 2013