With our four children
L to R: Mona, Hana, Rafi, Christine, Naja and Thenna

Days in Baghdad

I will always remember the days during my childhood in Baghdad, where I was born, with my dad holding my hand to circumambulate the Holy House of Bahá’u’lláh there. At that age, about 7, I did not understand the great significance of that experience, nor the experience of being in Bahá’í gatherings with Hand of the Cause Mr. Tarazu’llah Samandari.

During my childhood I attended Bahá’í children’s classes, Islamic classes at the schools, and celebrated with the children of the neighbourhood the Muslim Festival Days; however, for me the spiritual awakening was when at the age of 14 my dad presented me with a pocket-size copy of the Bible and encouraged me to read it.

That Bible (in Arabic) was read many times and every time I read it I had a wonderful new understanding. I used to ask my dad about some aspects of the verses and he explained to me many spiritual facts. During this time I memorised the Bahá’í prayer which begins:

Create in me a pure heart, O my God, and renew a tranquil conscience within me, O my Hope! (1)

This prayer was revealed by Bahá’u’lláh upon His return from the two-year withdrawal to Sulaymáníyyíh/Iraq (1854-1856). I believe that this prayer had a special transformative effect on the Bábi community in Iraq and Iran.

That small bible was the most precious gift I had from my father. I think about it now and the lesson he taught me; a Bahá’í father, living in a Muslim country, gives a copy of the Bible to me, his youngest son.

My mother’s contributions of advice and encouragement helped as well to shape my behaviour. She used to tell moral stories which I listened to attentively. She also passed to me a copy of a book which she read, How to stop worrying and start living by Dale Carnegie. Due to the law forbidding Bahá’í activities and having no access to Bahá’í books, reading Carnegie’s book and the Bible was a great help for me towards spiritual understanding. I declared at the age of 15.

I will always be grateful for the guidance both my parents provided, enabling me to chip away the so many rough areas of my behaviour.

Every day I remember my parents in my prayers:

‘It is seemly that the servant should, after each prayer, supplicate God to bestow mercy and forgiveness upon his parents.’ (2)

 

Farewell Baghdad

I managed to get permission from the government to have a holiday abroad, which was how I was able to leave the country, as I wanted to engage in further studies. Only my immediate family could be told; my mum, my sister and two brothers who still lived in Iraq. Early July 1979 I had to go to the notorious Abu Ghraib prison just outside Baghdad to say farewell to my dad. He was in his sixth year of his 20-year prison sentence because of his religious beliefs; he served 6 years in that prison). He looked at me and said

“You are going to a new country, a new culture, you will see the bad side of it and the good side. My advice to you is to look at the good side and copy it and do not bother with the bad side.”

What wonderful words from a father sitting on his prison bed sharing with his youngest son words of wisdom and encouragement. These words have always given me the determination to keep going whenever I am faced with the challenges and trials of life.

 

Teaching in South Wales

Before going to Loughborough University I took part in the 1980 South Wales Teaching Campaign. I was blessed to meet with so many brilliant and dedicated travel teachers. It was my first ever intensive teaching activity and I have to say that my excellent teacher and guide was Viv Bartlett, who showed me how to engage in spiritual interaction with people on the street.

South Wales teaching campaign (1980)

 

Loughborough

I lived there for three years studying for my Masters degree. This town was the third place where I lived since my arrival in the UK in July 1979. The first one was Dartford, and the second, Birmingham, where I met Jenny and Martin Lockwood, Corinne and Richard Hainsworth, John and Glynis Dunthorne and Tim and Becky Maude.

Loughborough (Charnwood Community) in 1980 had a big Bahá’í group and there I met Liz, Jean, Helen and Adrian Woodfield, Wonda and Nerci Mahboubi and Sheri and Hussein Dowlatshah.

I had a challenge when the Iraqi Embassy in London refused to renew my Iraqi passport. It was through the support of the Spiritual Assembly of Charnwood that I was eventually granted refugee status.

I took part in many teaching opportunities in Loughborough, Shepshed, Coalville, and the villages of Whitwick and Thringstone.

 

Back To Wales

During my six weeks’ involvement with the Teaching Campaign in South Wales, I met Christine. She accommodated all the female travel teachers in her house in Six Bells, Abertillery.  During my university studies I met with Christine a few times at Bahá’í conferences, then one afternoon in the summer of 1983 I phoned her and invited her to come for the weekend to Whitwick in Leicestershire, where I used to live. That weekend I proposed to her. Later she told me that on the day I phoned her she had come home from a challenging day at work and had got down on her knees praying to God to find her either a new job or a husband. I phoned half an hour later!

My first pilgrimage was in 1983 shortly after our marriage.  Christine had already been given pilgrimage dates to go with Debbie Hathaway from Newport. I was given permission to go as a visitor and when we arrived to register in Haifa I was able to take the place of a pilgrim who had been unable to make the journey.

I have served on the Bahá’í Council for Wales and as an assistant to the Auxiliary Board member for Protection, Ramez Delpak.

Now, after 35 years of living in South Wales, Christine and I have raised four children and we have four grandchildren. Both our son Thenna and daughter Naja were born at Panteg Hospital in Griffithstown, whilst our other two daughters Mona and Hana were born at home after we moved to Blaina. Two of our grandchildren, Haidi and Kai, were also born in the same house.

We both have aimed to instil some principles into our children to do their best to work for the betterment of the world. We shared with them the wonderful words spoken by George Townshend in his book The Mission of Bahá’u’lláh:

“We teach you not only because we love you very much, but for God’s sake. To teach you as God would have you taught is not easy.  We are not so wise nor as good as we should like to be; nor even so wise and good as we hope soon to become.”

 

Family History

Our children wanted to know more family history from my side so over a five-year period I embarked on a project writing about the history of my parents.

Because of this research work I was able to find out more about the history of the family which, to my great surprise, linked to the early days of the Faith, to those wonderful events associated with the lives of the Báb, some of the Letters of Living, Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and the Guardian.

Ancestors on my mother’s side took part in the Mazindaran Upheaval (Shaykh Tabarsi), in which five of them were martyred.  It makes me wonder how many times they heard the call, “Mount your steeds, O heroes of God”, and raised the cry “Ya Sahibu’z-Zaman” (O Lord of the Age) before their blood stained the land of Khurasan, the land of which the Prophet of God, Muhammad, said, “Should your eyes behold the Black Standard proceeding from Khurasan, hasten ye towards them, even though ye should have to crawl over snow, inasmuch as they proclaim the advent of the promised Mihdi, the Vicegerent of God”.That standard was unfolded at the command of the Báb, in the name of Quddus, and by the hand of Mulla Hussayn.

Just over a century later a descendant from this family, my mother, married Kamil Abbas, who raised the call of  “Yá Bahá‘u’l-Abhá” (“O Thou Glory of the Most Glorious”) in the Seychelles Islands and became a Knight of Bahá’u’lláh.

 

2017 Holy Year

For the last 38 years we have been living among wonderful Welsh people in the valleys of South Wales. We have engaged with some gifted local people, and one result, in July 2017, was a great celebration of the Bicentenary of the birth of Bahá’u’lláh. See the highlights of the celebration on https://vimeo.com/228210832.

We lift up our hands to heaven and thank Bahá’u’lláh for the many blessings and confirmations He has bestowed upon us in these Holy Years. We have been given so many opportunities to network with local people and organisations.

On 27 February 2018, again for the Bicentenary, we showed the film Light to the World on a full-sized screen at Brynmawr Market Hall Cinema, Wales’s oldest working cinema. The building was erected a year after the passing of Bahá’u’lláh. Amongst the audience we had a group from the local Buddhist Centre, including the Lama.

 

The on-going fulfilment of a prophecy

My mum was about 5 years old when she went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1920. She was the only child of her parents, and their wish was to have another child. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá indicated to them that their daughter would be the only child for them but from her there will be a big family spreading all over the world.

Photo of my mother with her parents and her grandmother

My mother had five children. Each of them married and had their own children. Now when I look at the members of the family descended from my parents I do indeed see them spread all over the world.

Hana, Tessa, Greg, Rafi, Mona, Chris, Naja with Haidi, Thenna with Nia

The above photo was taken in January 2015 at the Pilgrim House in Haifa. We were granted a Family Visit to the Holy Land, as Hana (our youngest daughter) was serving at the Bahá’í World Centre in the department of the International Teaching Centre. Hana served from August 2013 to 2016).  Naja joined us in Haifa with Greg and Haidi from China.

 

_______________

Rafi Abbas

South Wales, March 2018

 


(1) http://www.bahaiprayers.org/spiritual2.htm

(2) Prayer by the Báb; http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/tb/SWB/swb-89.html

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