I was born in a village near the city of Kazan on 28th June 1954. Since 1989, Kazan has been the most vibrant Bahá’í community in Russia.
My mother was the daughter of a mullah in the village, and I was my mother’s only child. Her mother had passed away when she was just 11 months old (her father passed away when she was age 11) and so she was raised by her sister, who was 22 years older than her. My father’s siblings were all sent to Siberia but he was miraculously left behind, perhaps because he was one of five children.
Life was not easy during those years. At a time when my mother was separated for 3 years from my father, she decided to study to become a Tatar language and literature teacher at Kazan University. I am Tatar by birth, which is one of the many diverse nationalities in Russia. While my mother was studying at university, I was raised by her sister (my auntie) who was a true Muslim believer. She had a wide-open mind and loved people. In turn, she was loved by the whole village where she was raising her two children alone as her husband had perished at war. She brought me to Kazan when I was 7 years old and I quickly learned Russian and began my education in a Russian school. I enjoyed my childhood in the village with my auntie who was the kindest ever, dearest soul.
I lived in Kazan and I was aged 19 when I got married in 1971 and moved to Murmansk where my first husband was in the Navy. At the time I was a second-year university student studying Foreign Languages at the Kazan State Pedagogical University. The following year I became a mother for the first time when my elder daughter, Leyla, was born. Five years later I gave birth to my second daughter Leysan. My husband and I were married for 24 years and had moved from Murmansk back to Kazan in 1997; we were divorced a year later. Both my daughters studied at universities in Kazan. Leysan became a Bahá’í and served for four years on the European Bahá’í Youth Council.
There is a Buddhist saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Whatever, this was the case with me. In 1989 when I was 35, I was already questioning who I was – a Muslim, a Christian? My mother was Muslim but at that time was not practising her religion as ardently as she was later. Russia was still a communist country but she passed her faith on to me. She would always say “you need to thank God and remember God.” At the age of seven I asked my mother to teach me some prayers and sometimes now I am still using these same prayers, so she gave me two most precious gifts, life and faith.
In August 1989 I learned about the Bahá’í Faith in Murmansk, Russia, at the Summer Festival of Peace for the countries of North Calotte – Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia. The festival started in these countries in July and finished in Murmansk, where I was living at the time, in August. Actually I would never normally have got to participate in that festival or to stay in Murmansk during the summer as I usually left the city on the very first day of the summer vacation and would arrive home on the last day of summer. However I had a colleague, Galina, who had all kinds of connections and was supposed to go as a translator to the North Calotten countries for the Festival. It was not easy to get an opportunity to go abroad from Russia at that time. Galina’s mother, who was supposed to attend the festival, became unwell in Ukraine so she asked me to go in her place, which I did.
I came back to Murmansk with all the festival participants after our tour with the festival activities in Scandinavia. At the festival there was a Bahá’í book exhibition – only one copy of each book was allowed at the border (this was 1989). I was attracted by the booklet that presented a statement on the environment by the Universal House of Justice and I was informed that if I left my address, the booklet would be sent to me.
From September until November 1989 I received four or five letters along with some Bahá’í booklets. I would take these to our school director, as I liked them and wanted to share them. He warned me against religious sects that were trying to reach out to our innocent souls. Everything I read about Bahá’í I found was almost too good to believe. The trouble was that we were often lied to in our double-standards moral society and I was cautious about trusting people too easily. However I kept in our store room all the mail I was receiving from a Finnish girl from Rovanniemi.
In December our school director asked me if I could host a family of English-language teachers for two weeks and they arrived on 22nd December. They were Nick and Gail Gardner and their two children, Lauri and Esko, who were pioneering in Rovaniemi. When they arrived, they mentioned in conversation that they were Bahá’ís. I was very much surprised as I had never met any Bahá’ís before. Imagine their surprise when they found I had already heard about the Faith. Then when I showed them the letters I had received from the Finnish girl, along with the booklets about the Bahai Faith, Gail was astonished to discover that she was a friend of theirs. Just imagine! God brought my new friends to our home in a city with a population of half a million, where very few people knew about the Faith.
When my new friends told me more about the Faith and answered my questions, I could only say I had held those beliefs all my life. We read some prayers, together with all four children. I experienced a very mysterious sensation when one of their sons started reading a prayer. I felt as if my hair stood up on end. I felt electrified all over and my back felt as if it was taken over by electric wave, as though I was getting connected to the great Source – to God. My spiritual birthday was New Year’s Eve, 1990.
You see, God’s plan worked as a good lesson plan – everything was prepared. First I heard about the Faith at the book stall, then I was sent the booklets, then I was given my teachers.
As a Bahá’í in Russia I had the privilege of serving on the Regional Bahá’í Council for the area from Murmansk to Krasnodar, during which time I helped to organise a summer school in Kazan. I also served on a home project committee organising a summer project in the city of Tuapse by the Black Sea, with the dear Ghaznavi family. I also became a Ruhi Book facilitator.
In 2001 I moved to the Czech Republic to teach at the Bahá’í-inspired Townshend International School, where I worked for nine years until 2010. There I met Jim Grimshaw when he came visiting with his friends Carol Hulse and Greg Moore, who were working at the Townshend School at the time. Jim and I felt that we wanted to be together and so in 2010 we were married. We lived in Ringwood in Hampshire, where we used to hold classes for the children of the dear Halford and Chester families. We also held a very successful summer camp for the children in 2012, which included having a barbecue for about 30 people in our big garden at Crow Hill.
Sadly, and all too soon, I lost my dear Jim in 2012 after just two years of marriage.
In 2006 I went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and a couple of years ago I attended the Bahá’í Summer School at Wellington with my elder daughter and granddaughter.
Guzel Khakimova Grimshaw
Wiltshire, July 2017