DR. FIRAYDUN MITHAQ – THAILAND
On this Twelfth Day of Ridvan, it is a pleasure to share the story of my recent visit of 49 days (January 20 to March 10, 2017) to Iran. The Baha’i’s of Iran had been shut away from the rest of the world. In my visit, I found that they were anxious to know the development of the Faith and the status of their fellow believers in other parts of the world. Since I am familiar with the countries in East Asia and South East Asia where I have been serving since 1962, I shared pieces of some inspiring recollections here and there on the growth, establishment, and progress of the Faith in those regions. At first my purpose was to cheer what I thought was their downtrodden hearts, but in the end, it was I who got inspired from what my eyes could not believe!
I present this story not in chronological order, but in the manner of the significance of events, starting with the visit to Shiraz, although it took place in the later part of this trip.
Shiraz is certainly a city very close to the hearts of all Baha’i’s. When heading towards Shiraz, I was filled with an unknown feeling of ecstasy. Here am I, at the very spot where the new Revelation was given to mankind by none other than the Blessed Bab, Who is called the Primal Point and the King of Messengers. I was lucky to have read the Dawn Breakers and other important Baha’i history books much in advance, as they helped me in imagining and relating what I was about to witness in this Hallowed Spot on earth. I felt this was not just another social visit of mine to Shiraz, but turned to be the greatest bounty of my life.
Darvazeh-Quran, the city gate of Shiraz still stands poised welcoming visitors of Shiraz. This is the city that was built in the vicinity of the ancient Persepolis and where Mullah Husain walked through it 173 years ago and met the Blessed Bab. As our car passed through the Darvazeh-Quran, I was shaken to the very core of my heart to see the panoramic view of Shiraz. I recalled my first pilgrimage to Shiraz in 1968 when the House of The Bab was still there and I could pray in the very room that Mulla Husayn conversed with the Blessed Bab. I took each step from Darvazeh-Quran and passed through the old Shiraz market of Vakil where the Bab had His Hojreh (shop). It was a very moving experience to travel back in time and see the very spot where the King of Prophets had conduct His business. From there I moved on through the Mosque of Ilkhani where the companions of Mullah Husayn spent the night, waiting for him to return after meeting the Bab. Then came the Mosque of Vakil where the Bab climbed its marble pulpit and publicly announced His Mission. Next was the public bathhouse where the Bab took His bath. In viewing all these once more, I was transported to a different world altogether.
That Hallowed House of the Bab, that gave birth to a new Revelation
But what I saw next gave the most unbearable pain that pierced through my heart. The House of the Bab where the New Revelation was born was no more there. The Blessed House has been completely destroyed, and currently replaced by an Islamic building which is facing a busy public road and a large bus station. That Islamic religious centre has been named “Bayt-al-Mahdi” or “The House of the Mahdi (Promised One)”.
Location of the House of the Báb, Shiraz, as it appeared in 2008. The electricity pole indicates the site of the Declaration of the Báb (Courtesy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bah%C3%A1%27%C3%AD_pilgrimage)
To avoid the attention of anyone, I was advised to sit on the benches of the bus station and offer my prayers. I sat on the benches, facing the spot where once the house of the Bab stood and silently prayed recalling the historic events that took place in that hallowed spot on earth. I had to conceal the tears that rolled down my cheeks and at times suppress the sobs that overcame me. I prayed to the Lord of All the worlds to open the eyes of those who are so blind to so clear a Revelation. I left that place with a very heavy heart!
Meeting Believers in Teheran
Now back to Teheran. My 49 days trip to Iran started in Tehran. It was full of amazement and adventure. I went to Teheran with a dual objective- an eye surgery to remove my cataract; and meeting friends. My eye surgery took off ten days, and I was left with a free 39 days to move around to meet friends in Tehran, Karaj, Shemiranat, Isfahan and Shiraz. I met many old believers and thousands of new ones who had joined the Faith after the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. Generally, the local friends arranged two kinds of small gatherings for me: (a) meeting believers in the afternoons and evenings in order to share the news of the development and progress of the Faith in the East Asian countries; and (b) meeting groups of parents on three consecutive Thursdays and Fridays to share some thoughts on spiritual education of children. The meetings focused on preschool-aged children. I shared handouts, organized exercises and discussed pertinent issues. It began with just one small group, but as the news spread it expanded into five other bigger groups of parents. One would be amazed to witness the degree of thirst that the Persian believers showed for such gatherings. I was surprised to see the swelling in the number of such gatherings that were held throughout my 39 days. They were very thrilled to learn of the growth of the Faith in all these countries in Asia. The meetings at times passed through midnight and I often felt tired and exhausted. But they stayed on with all enthusiasm to hear more and more of the success stories of the Faith. Sadly there were several friends who had never stepped out of Iran for decades or have not seen any passport in their lives. Many did not have any connection with Baha’i’s outside the country and seldom were able to contact their relatives and family members already overseas. Throughout my talks, I focussed on the processes of crisis and victory that would move the Faith forward. What I had shared with them over 39 days could not be provided in full, and so allow me to just to touch on the essence of my discussions with them.
The story on the development of the Faith in Cambodia was very well received by them. My connection with Cambodia and multiple visits to this blessed country began in 1965 when the Faith was banned and the believers were severely persecuted. Those visits to Cambodia were made in different capacities, primarily as a traveling teacher and as the member of the National Spiritual Assembly of Laos in the sixties, and as a member of the Board of Counsellors in the seventies. During the sixties and seventies, Mr. Alagapan, a believer from an Indian background and Mr. and Mrs. Demsey and Adrien Morgan from the USA were pioneering in Cambodia and staying in Phnom Penh. I met them several times. Owing to the political situation many foreigners, including Baha’i pioneers were forced to leave Cambodia.
After many dark years of civil war that tore the country during the sixties and mid-eighties and took more than two million lives. People were massacred across the country and placed in mass graves. The atrocities caused by the political rivalry of politicians and the turmoil of poverty and disorder that engulfed the believers and the people of Cambodia at large is beyond description and heart-breaking to mention. When witnessing the weight of pain and the agony that had stricken the lives of people, I could do nothing but to pray in tears and seek divine assistance. The believers too, either totally disappeared or were killed in the crises. This situation did affect the growth of the Faith to some extent, and yet, as a resistless Faith of God, it soon re-emerged and took an onward march. After the long quiet years of praying and waiting for the doors to open, it was in the late eighties that things calmed down. A few pioneers from Malaysia could come and settle in Phnom Penh and Battambang. A new chapter of spiritual prosperity dawned on Cambodia, the core activities slowly began to emerge. Education, teaching and social-economic development activities came to normal. The suffering and destruction that led Cambodia to utter nothingness finally gave birth to a new era of spiritual prosperity. Today the light of the Faith shines ever resplendently in Battambang. Not long ago Battambang was a mere poverty-stricken rural village in Cambodia. In a span of fewer than 20 years, the community of the Greatest Name took precedence over her neighboring countries in several aspects of spiritual, social, and educational development. Today God’s first Mashriqu’l-Adkar in the East Asia region is rising rapidly and is expected to become instrumental for the larger proclamation of the Faith in the region. The friends in Iran wished they could one day visit this edifice.
The approved temple design of the local Baha’i House of Worship in Battambang, Cambodia (Courtesy:http://news.bahai.org/story/1062/slideshow#img-1)
Stories about the suppression of the Faith in Indonesia, Vietnam and Laos and the ultimate recognition by the respective governments cheered the hearts of the believers in Iran. In Indonesia, the Faith was banned in 1958 at the time of the planned International Conference in Phnom Penh but the Conference was forced to move to Singapore. Due to the devoted efforts and steadfastness of the local believers and pioneers, the doors of freedom were finally opened and the Faith was officially recognized in 2015. The believers of Iran were reassured of the promise by Bahaullah that “Soon will the present-day order be rolled up and a new one spread out in its stead”
The Faith was in Laos was recognized in 1958. Prior to that year, the beloved Guardian advised the Local Spiritual Assembly of Vientiane to purchase a piece land in Vientiane as an endowment. Consequently, Dr. Heshmatullah Taeed who was an Iranian pioneer in Laos since 1955 was delegated by its Assembly to look into this. He purchased a nice 1000 square meter of land from an influential officer on the ninth kilometer road from the city center. Since the Assembly of Vientiane was not incorporated it could not own a property. Look at God’s mysterious forces at work! That influential owner of the land succeeded in pushing the government authorities to incorporate the Assembly of Vientiane. That resulted in the incorporation of the Assembly in Laos. From 1963-1975 Laos experienced mass-teaching where the number of believers reached one hundred thousand, and the number of the local assemblies increased tremendously and the Baha’i localities spreading to over 150 into isolated villages, towns, and refugee camps. However, in May 1975, the Faith was banned and the Cause of God went into obscurity for nearly fifteen years when the new socialist government came to power. After many years of tireless efforts and discourse with the new government, the Faith was finally recognized in the early nineties as the fifth religion next to Buddhism, Christianity, Catholicism, and Islam. The friends in Teheran were taken aback, but not surprised then they heard of the mysterious forces of the Faith in Laos!
With friends of Laos at the Oceanic Conference in Singapore, 1971
Greeting Hand of the Cause of God Mr. Enoch Olinga at the Oceanic Conference in Singapore. At extreme left is Mrs. Shirin Fozdar. In the middle is Mrs. Grete Fozdar, and at right is Mrs. George Lee. At extreme left is Mr Rusi Irani, a pioneer from Mumbai, India
The Faith in Vietnam took almost the same process as in Laos due to the change of government in 1975 but recovered in the late nineties and was officially recognized in 2014. The number of believers in Vietnam was reported to have reached over fifteen thousand in the seventies but their number of assemblies had declined due to the war harassments. Today the Faith is growing fast.
I shared stories about how the junior youth in Thailand have taken the teaching activities in their own hands. With the support of the adult believers, they work in the forefront of activities. While Thailand struggles to survive from civil political turmoil, economic stress, and Buddhist orthodoxy, her people are equally oblivious to the coming of their Promised One, the Fifth Buddha-Maitrya. But today the junior youth show more interest in the Faith. They are the hope of their people and their country’s future.
In Myanmar, the Faith got established during the ministry of Abdu’l-Baha through the initial teaching efforts of the Hand of the Cause of God Mr. Mustafa Rumi. The country experienced entry by troops during the ministry of Abdu’l-Baha. I related about the martyrdom of Mustaffa Rumie and the establishment of a great resting place for him in a village called Daidanoe. This village has become a centre of attraction to Baha’i’s from all over the world. A very large Baha’i centre was purchased in the prime area in Yangon, the capital of Myanmar. There is today fourth and fifth generation Baha’i’s who are as steadfast as ever. I had the honor of visiting Myanmar several times since the seventies and got involved in their teaching campaigns and could see the glowing power of Faith, zeal, and energy in their youth. Today the Baha’i youth have taken the ownership of the Faith in their hands and are marching forward with full speed. The Cause of God is advancing rapidly with many young and energetic teachers and promoters of the Faith and with their Burmese young Counsellor Mr. Min Za Wu.
The believers were thrilled to learn of the development of the Faith in Malaysia. My memories of the progress of the Faith in Malaysia goes back to 1966 when I first visited Malaysia and fell in love with its devoted and sincere believers. When I attended its Summer School in Malacca in 1966 I was asked to do a small presentation about the teaching activities in Laos where I lived and worked. While I was telling stories about mass-teaching in Laos and how several thousands of people had embraced the cause village after village, I was asked if I thought mass-teaching can be possible in West Malaysia. I replied that it would not harm to try it out. A week later I joined in the Chinese teaching campaign in Masjid Tanah town and close by villages in the state of Malacca. There I could see the dynamism and commitment of the believers. The teaching campaign was well coordinated by Raymond Peter and Leong Tat Chee. Leong Tat Chee himself sponsored for extension of my visa after the Summer School, and supported my teaching activities. During the one-month teaching campaign, several youths joined, resulting in the opening of several communities to the Faith. There were several public talks and unity feasts organized during this teaching campaign. My later affinity and service in various cities, towns, rubber estates and aboriginal communities in Malaysia first as a teacher and later as a Counsellor was a great experience. Meeting the numerous adults and youth at Bahai gatherings in Malaysia gave me full excitement that shall remain forever as sweet memories.
Somehow my description of the community in Malaysia drifted towards the Hand of the Cause of God Dr. Rahmatullah Muhajir who has been the architect of that community. Some of my visits to Malaysia and Singapore were made with intense joy in the company of the beloved Hand of the Cause of God Dr. R. Muhajir. Dr. Muhajir was a serious teacher of the Faith. He loved the Malaysian Baha’is as they had the great capacity to complete all their goals assigned to them much before the deadline and asked for additional goals. They even sent their pioneers to all over the world and wherever they went in those countries, they excelled in their services. Dr. Muhajir loved to visit this community just to listen to their success stories. He would initiate teaching plans which the community would immediately implement. He would consult and propose teaching plans, form teaching teams, clarify teaching goals, fix the teaching areas, and prepare the friends for the field of action. He employed wisdom and flexibility. At the South East Asia Conference in December 1976 in Port Dickson, Hands of the Cause of God Dr. Muhajir, A.Q Faizi, and Featherstone were present. A group of local Baha’i friends had come from Indonesia, where Dr. Muhajir had served as a pioneer. Dr. Muhajir held a separate special meeting with them and I was included. He spoke to them in their language. Knowing of the persecution and hardships that the Indonesian believers had been experiencing, he spoke to them in the most humble and loving manner, encouraging them to continue teaching their children prayers living the Baha’i way of life, and remain steadfast and firm. The tone of his speech was very moving and his face turned red as he spoke with so much emotion. The believers saw the depth of his love for them that they could not control the tears that kept flowing down their cheeks as he continued speaking. It was in such loving ways that he moved the Baha’is to action. He considered Malaysia a Jewel Among Nations for what the community was during his time. The Malaysian Baha’is were deepened in the Faith, and were in the forefront of activities, and sacrificed much for the Faith. Some of the best pioneers in several parts of the world are the products of the Malaysian Bahai community. Today they have an efficient and mature administrative system. The believers in Malaysia show high respect and obedience to the institutions of the Faith.
Relaxing with friends during a visit to the Alor Star community in Malaysia in 2015 to conduct a class for kindergarten teachers. Front Row (L-R) – Chong Boo Haw, Firaydun Mithaq, Elango, and Cheng Jooi Sey. Back Row (L-R) Lim Siew Gaik, Ang Fong Hwa, Dr. Chan Gun Heng, Indrani Arputhaseelan and Arputhaseelan.
Stories of the development of the Cause in China drew pin drop silence. The Faith was introduced into China during the time of Martha Root. Although the influence of communism eroded all religious beliefs the Faith is currently conquering the hearts of multitudes in this blessed country to which the Master refers as “the country of the future”.
In the past, only five local persons were allowed to gather for study and worship, but since 2012 the government has permitted the number of local Chines participants in each Baha’i gathering in China to reach twenty. That is very kind of the government of China. Currently, there are hundreds of such twenty-member gatherings held in all over China. They are called “Spiritual Gatherings”.
Today the teaching process in China is simple. It starts with a brief acquaintance and friendship where the Ruhi Book One is introduced. And a study circle gets started. Like most of the other places in the world, the study circle participants are directed to share their learnings of each session with their friends and colleagues and encourage them to join. In the process, some learners become believers while the number of study circles keeps growing with more and more learning participants. Then the graduates engage in tutoring the next generation of learners and or engage in a core activity. It was encouraging and exciting for the friends to know that currently, about ninety percent of the tutors and core activity animators are local Chinese believers. What was very touching was sharing the news that many of those in a good position in the country have joyfully taken and completed the Ruhi courses and that some of them have visited the Holy Land. Monthly two or three groups of believers from China are invited to go on a five-day special pilgrimage to Holy Land of Haifa and Akko. The fact remains that although there are now about a thousand or more study circles operating in China, for a population of 1.3 billion people it is still a drop in the ocean.
JAPAN AND KOREA
Japan is a country that has made great material progress, but the believers in Tehran wanted to know if there was an explanation of the spiritual destiny of this country. I started off by sharing the story of how the Faith went to Japan with Abdu’l-Baha sending Miss. Agnes Alexander to this country in 1919. She took the Faith to Korea in 1922. She was subsequently elevated to the rank of Hand of the Cause of God by beloved Guardian. When I related her great sacrifices and how she was confined to bed in her last two years, it brought tears to them. I also shared the moving story of the ever lovable Fujita, a Japanese who became a gardener in the Holy Land during the time of the Master and the Guardian and buried in Haifa Baha’i Cemetery. The progress of the Faith in Japan and Korea remains challenging, while the Baha’i youths stand in the forefront of most of the Baha’i activities. I told them that in Shoghi Effendi’s first letter to the Baha’is of Japan dated January 26, 1922, he quoted Abdu’l-Bahá’s prophecy of the spiritual future of Japan that “Japan Will Turn Ablaze”.
Keenness of Spirit and Mind
Over three weekends a number of Persian friends gathered to discuss the topic of “Spiritual Education” with a focus on the pre-school age group. These sessions were held in five separate groups. Each group covering about 18 hours of workshop helped the parents to maximize their knowledge on the spiritual education of children. The workshop touched on many important and sensitive issues of spiritual and academic concerns. Many parents admitted that they had not paid sufficient attention to the importance of spiritual education and were ready to make a conscious improvement in this respect. At the end of the sessions, the groups identified action plans that were needed to move the child education programs. The points of discussion were:
- Encourage children to develop spiritual ideas and thoughts.
- Train children to love.
- Give children faith and hope in spiritual achievement.
- Teach children to respect the law of God and the right of others.
- Express love in tangible ways to others and animals.
- Relationships at home are based on love and respect.
- Teaching children courtesy.
- Taking interest in what children do.
- Taking time to listen to children.
- Discussing Baha’i teachings and values with children.
- Teaching children family consultation and inclusion.
- Teaching children discipline.
- Better methods of communication with children.
- The inclusion of children in making the ground rule of “dos and don’ts”.
- Practicing the right methods of encouraging, rewarding and punishment.
- Building a sense of Baha’i identity in children.
- Protecting children from the prevalent dark forces in society.
- Minimizing nagging and harsh criticism.
- Overcoming resentment and jealousy.
- Helping children to fight their spiritual battle.
- Teaching children to be truthful.
- Chanting prayers and deepening at home.
- Parents to select suitable literature for children and family reading.
- Teaching children the art of evaluating the books and stories they read or hear.
It was simply amazing to see how keen the participants’ minds were in coming up with such sound and clear-cut ideas in an environment of immense stress and pressure. In the current stressful conditions of life in Iran, even an average person would easily crack and crumble given the oppressive pressures and strains they face. The persecuted community of the Greatest Name is marching forward with greater confidence, zeal, and clear vision. I simply could not bring myself to the reality as to how a community that was persecuted close to 50 years is mentally and physically alert.
The entire world is aware that since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the Baha’is in Iran have been systematically and concertedly persecuted. In the first decade itself, more than 200 Baha’is were killed or executed, hundreds more were tortured or imprisoned, and tens of thousands were deprived of their jobs. Many were deprived access to education, and other basic rights were totally denied. To this day, jobs and business licenses are openly being denied to Baha’is. All government jobs have been denied to Baha’is while their young ones undergo compulsory military service. Muslims are pressured to fire Baha’is in their employment in both the public and the private sectors. The monitoring of the bank accounts of the believers, their movements and activities, the denial of pensions or rightful inheritances, the intimidation of Muslims who associate with Baha’is, the total denial of education, even through private online classes, the complete denial of access to publishing or copying facilities of Baha’i literature, the unlawful confiscation or destruction of Baha’i properties, including Baha’i holy places and cemeteries- all these have become order of the day! All these have befallen the Bahais- all because of their religious belief. The ignorant ones in authority were successful in depriving the believers of the basic human needs and rights, but they could not break their spirit! The believers in Iran are well armed with a stronger inbuilt system- “Armed with the power of Thy name nothing can ever hurt me, and with Thy love in my heart, ll the world’s afflictions can in no wise alarm me.”
I was moved to the very core of my soul to see their steadfastness and firmness in the Cause in an environment that would easily break the spirit of even the staunchest of believers. Devoid of almost everything in life, they are demonstrating such a firmness in the Cause that I had not witnessed elsewhere. The sacrifice they are making and the patience with which they wait for the oppression to completely and definitely cease would certainly yield the noblest fruits in time to come. The history of the Baha’i Faith is full of crisis and victory. The history of the Faith has witnessed the indomitable and invincible power of this resistless power of God that no one could easily thwart. Has not the Blessed Beauty promised in the Most Holy Book:
Let nothing grieve thee, O Land of Ṭá, for God hath chosen thee to be the source of the joy of all mankind. …..Rejoice with great joy, for God hath made thee “the Dayspring of His light,” inasmuch as within thee was born the Manifestation of His Glory. Be thou glad for this name that hath been conferred upon thee—a name through which the daystar of grace hath shed its splendor, through which both earth and heaven have been illumined. ….Rest thou assured in the gracious favor of thy Lord. The eye of His loving-kindness shall everlastingly be directed towards thee. The day is approaching when thy agitation will have been transmuted into peace and quiet calm. Thus hath it been decreed in the wondrous Book.
With friends in Iran. Standing tallest in the back row is Mr. Ruhullah Taefi, the husband of Fariba Kamalabadi who is one of the seven members of Yaran serving imprisonment in Evin Prison.
LORD, PITIFUL ARE THEY!
While in prison, Bahá’u’lláh wrote individually to the kings and rulers of His time. They mostly ignored Him, except Queen Victoria of England who remarked, “If this is of God, it will endure; if not, it can do no harm”. All the other rulers who received letters from Bahá’u’lláh subsequently lost power and their dynasties ended ignominiously. The kingdom of England is still glowing during our own lifetime. History is the best lesson. We Baha’i’s are very clear that this is the resistless Faith of God whose destiny is in the hands of God and not in the hands of His immortal creation! We know for a fact that no one on earth or in heaven could thwart His purpose, and that all the kingdoms of heaven and earth and whatever is between them are Gods! These verses from one of the Baha’i prayers are only natural to flash in our minds, of which the ignorant ought to take early cognizance,” Of all who are in heaven and on earth, none can withstand the operation of Thy sovereign Will. From all eternity Thou didst rule the entire creation, and Thou wilt continue for evermore to exercise Thy dominion over all created things. These are the days of God and whatever has proceeded through His mouthpiece Bahaullah shall surely come to pass. I prayed with all my heart and soul for the inner eyes of those ignorant in authority to open soon to the invincible power of God. It was with these thoughts rushing into my mind that I boarded the return plane.
I witnessed another story of Crisis and Victory in my own lifetime. The crisis in Iran brought unprecedented and single most publicity for the Faith throughout the world, with world leaders standing up for the oppressed believers in the cradle of the Faith. The mysterious forces released by the Faith works in the most mysterious ways.My attempt to cheer the hearts of the valiant souls in Iran was like “Bringing Coal to Newcastle” as the saying goes. It was I who wondered with awe and amazement at the indomitable strength that they clearly and forcefully demonstrated. To have witnessed the firmness of the believers in this trip to Iran came to me as a thousand blessings!
With friends in North West Australia, at the time of writing this story.
Dr. Firaydun Mithaq
1 May, 2017
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. Firaydun Mithaq (Mithaqiyan) was 20 years old when he pioneered to Laos in 1962, thus catching up with the last year of the Ten Year Crusade-Plan. Coming from the fifth generation of Baha’is on his father’s side and fourth generation from mother’s side, he was raised in a devoted family. From the age of two to fifteen, he grew up in home-pioneering locations among the Kurd populations with his four siblings. He spent the first seven years of pioneering among the tribal masses of spirit worshipers in the hills, mountains and the urban and rural Buddhists communities in Laos. Mithaq witnessed mass teaching in these areas in 1963, from a single village of forty-five tribal people to about one hundred thousand believers in 1973. In 1973 he was appointed to serve on the Continental Board of Counsellors in South East Asia. From 1975 to 2017 he and his family pioneered to Hong Kong, South Korea, China and Thailand. From 1987to 1992 he lived in the aboriginal communities in Northwest Australia such as Carnarvon, Onslow, Karatha, Roburn, Port headland, Brume and Derby and engaged in travel teaching and community building activities. He currently lives with his wife Giti in Thailand. His pioneering life was highly inspired under the direct love and guidance of the Hand of the Cause of God Dr. Rahamatullah Muhajir.