BAHÁ’Í INTER-CONTINENTAL CONFERENCE, SINGAPORE, 1958
BAHÁ’Í INTER-CONTINENTAL CONFERENCE,
The Inter-Continental Conference held in Singapore in September 1958 provided the first taste of any international Bahai conference for the believers in this part of the world. It ushered a great boost in the early days of the Faith in the South East Asian countries and served as a catalyst for further strengthening the faith of the early believers more than before. The spirit, enthusiasm and zeal generated from this historic Conference kept the participants on the move for many years to come, with a focus on completing the remaining goals of the Ten-Year Plan.
The Guardian launched the Ten-Year Crusade, (1953 to 1963) aimed for the spiritual conquest of the planet. In his last communication to the Bahá’í world in October 1957, he had called for the holding of Five Intercontinental Conferences across the globe in 1958 to mark the halfway point of the Ten-Year Crusade. Part of the message spelt out the purpose of these Conferences, “…for the five-fold purpose of offering humble thanksgiving to the Divine Author of the Faith; …to prosecute uninterruptedly the Ten Year Plan formulated for the execution of the Grand Design conceived by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá;…of reviewing and celebrating the series of signal victories won; …of deliberating on ways and means that will ensure its triumphant consummation; and of lending simultaneously a powerful impetus to the vital process of individual conversion…” He had wanted the Hands of the Cause of God serving in the International Bahá’í Council in Haifa to represent him at these five conferences.
But with the unexpected passing of the beloved Guardian on Monday, 4 November 1957, the Bahá’í world community went ahead holding these historical conferences. These five conferences were held in Kampala, Africa, with Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum representing the Guardian; in Sydney, Australia with Mason Remey representing the Guardian; in Chicago, USA with Ugo Giachery representing the Guardian; in Frankfurt, Germany with Amelia Collins representing the Guardian; and in Jakarta, with Leroy C. Ioas representing the Guardian. Although all the five Inter-Continental Conferences were dedicated to the same five-fold purpose defined by the Guardian himself, each was unique in its own in certain respects.
Rúhíyyih Khánum, who served as the representative of the Guardian at the Kampala conference in January 1958, is shown with others at the gathering. (Photo and caption: Baha’i World Centre)
Mrs. Clara Dunn, Bahá’í Hand of the Cause of God, participates in the foundation-laying ceremony for the Bahá’í House of Worship in Sydney, Australia. The ceremony was held during the intercontinental conference in Sydney in March 1958. (Photo and caption: Baha’i World Centre)
The Eighth Street Theatre in the city of Chicago served as the venue for the third of the intercontinental conferences of 1958. (Photo and caption: Baha’i World Centre)
With 2,300 people in attendance, the Frankfurt gathering of 1958 was the largest of the five intercontinental conferences that year. (Photo and caption: Baha’i World Centre)
Our attention is now focused on the fifth and the final Inter-Continental Conference. The host for the fifth and the final Inter-Continental Conference to be held in Jakarta from 22 to 25 September was the Regional Spiritual Assembly of South East Asia. This conference was initially publicized as the “Jakarta Conference” as it was originally planned to be held there. But the conference was forced to be shifted at the last moment to Singapore from 27-29 September in the most dramatic and yet miraculous circumstances, following a crisis that happened in Jakarta. Within a week of that crisis, the Cause is said to have emerged out of obscurity in the whole of South East Asia.
As the conference planned for Jakarta was approaching many Bahá’ís from various parts of Indonesia as well as overseas started to gather on 21 September itself in the Banquet Hall of the Hotel Des Indes, the largest hotel in Jakarta. The Hands of the Cause of God who had turned up were Leroy C. Ioas, Taráz’u’lláh Samandarí, Abu’l-Qásim Faizi, Harold Collis Featherstone, Dr. Raḥmatu’lláh Muhájir, Agnes Alexander, Shu’á’u’lláh ‘Alá’í, Dr. ‘Ali Muhammad-Varqá, Enoch Olinga, and Zikrullah Khadem. The Bahá’ís of South East Asia had never in their lives witnessed such a gathering of Bahá’ís of this diversity and spirit, leave alone seeing nine Hands of the Cause of God together at any given moment. The spirit was truly extraordinary!
As the 300 local believers Bahá’ís and 150 delegates from abroad were jubilantly gathering in Jakarta, preparations were well in place with the organizers rushing to work out the logistics. While everything was well in progress, the unexpected happened. Suddenly the spirit of the believers came to be dampened at the last hour. The Minister of Religion in Indonesia had earlier issued a permit to the Local Spiritual Assembly of Jakarta for the holding of the conference in Jakarta effective September 22. But on 19 September, just four days before the conference the police revoked the permit. The local believers and the Bahá’ís from abroad who had turned up after so much sacrifice, preparation and spirit were immersed into utter sadness. The Hand of the Cause of God Dr. Muhájir especially felt extremely sorry for the many native believers he had brought from the Mentawai Islands where he pioneered. Many were in tears and praying. The crisis situation had to be first mentioned to the Hand of the Cause of God Mr. Leroy Ioas, who was the representative of the Guardian for the conference. The health of Mr. Ioas was not good. In Haifa, his doctor had advised him against traveling to Jakarta, but Mr. Ioas still traveled to Jakarta to fulfill his mission for the Guardian. It was then decided that the best person to break the news to Mr. Leroy would be Mr. Jamshed Fozdar, a dynamic pioneer, member of the Regional Spiritual Assembly of South East Asia, Auxiliary Board member for South East Asia, and Secretary of the conference. When Jamshed briefed Mr. Ioas on the situation Mr. Ioas grasped the situation and immediately called for negotiations with the authorities. The next two days were spent in intense negotiations with those in authority.
Dr. Muhájir and Mr. Khudarahm Payman who were pioneers in Indonesia used their influence to try to persuade the authorities, while the local delegates and Mrs. Shirin Fozdar who was a pioneer to Singapore and Chairman of the Regional Spiritual Assembly of South East Asia too sent a strong appeal to the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, and the Minister of Religion to restore the permit to proceed with the conference. It was their hope that they would be allowed to hold the conference at least in the Haziratu’l-Quds in Jakarta if holding it in the Hotel des Indes was not allowed. But the authorities were not willing to consider.
When it became clear the conference could not proceed in Jakarta, Mr. Ioas and the other Hands of the Cause and the members of the Regional Spiritual Assembly of South East Asia displayed their crisis management skills in handling the situation in the most remarkable manner. On the night of 22 September, two major last moment decisions were made — first to shift the conference to the nearest viable venue and Singapore became the natural choice, and second to display the portrait of Bahá’u’lláh on the morning of 23 September for the benefit and consolation of the natives of Indonesia who could not proceed to Singapore.
It had taken months to make preparations for the conference to be held in Jakarta, and shifting it to Singapore at the very last moment posed immense problems such as securing visa for the believers from abroad, rescheduling their airline tickets, confirming the venue and permit for holding the conference in Singapore, purchasing new tickets for the Indonesian believers who could not afford the additional expenses, arranging accommodation for all the participants, and several other logistics. Even under normal circumstances, much more time would be needed to make these tons of preparations. But Bahá’u’lláh’s guiding hands were there to pave the way and all hurdles were miraculously cleared one by one, and quite fast!
On 23 September, the Hand of the Cause of God Mr. Collis Featherstone, Mr. Habib Sabet, and Mr. Jamshed Fozdar rushed to the British Embassy in Jakarta to arrange visas for the 150 Bahá’ís from thirty-four countries. British visa requirements included 24-hour notice and photographs, but the office had waived these rules for the Bahá’ís.
That same afternoon a charted flight flew the first batch of 44 Bahá’ís to Singapore. Mrs. Fozdar and her sons, on whom had fallen the making of new arrangements had fallen were also on the flight. In Singapore Mrs. Fozdar had no car or driver and had to go everywhere by taxi. She met Mr. Rajaratnam, Foreign Minister of Singapore and got the approval for the venue to be shifted to Singapore. She then had to see about venue, Victoria Memorial Hall, and obtained police permit to hold the conference there. That was settled. Then she had to go to the hotels and book rooms for the arriving guests and visitors. She had to get the Press on her side. It was indeed a miracle for a single woman to handle all these almost impossible tasks at the last moment. But she accomplished them most successfully and single handedly with the guiding hands of Bahá’u’lláh. All participants were indebted to Mrs. Fozdar for accomplishing these tasks.
Meanwhile the 10 Hands of the Cause of God stayed back in Jakarta to cheer up the 300 local believers. They all adjourned to the Bahá’í Hall in the Bahá’í Centre which was decorated with flowers. There the Hands spoke to the local believers in small groups and hugged each. The greatest gift awaited them was the viewing of the portrait of Bahá’u’lláh. Mr. Ioas spoke to the native Bahá’ís and anointed them with attar of rose as each of these souls passed into the flower-decked room to view the portrait of the Blessed Beauty. They were each given petals of flowers brought from the Holy Shrines. The native believers considered the viewing of the portrait of the Blessed Beauty the greatest bounty, despite feeling sad for not being able to participate in the conference in Singapore. For them, it was as if sorrow and joy had embraced each other.
But the cancellation of the conference permit by the authorities in Indonesia had its own benefit. The representation made by the Bahá’ís to the authorities to restore the permit resulted in the authorities knowing more about the Bahá’ís and what the Bahá’í Faith stood for. When the permit was cancelled there were still hundreds of local and foreign Bahá’ís busily moving in the Hotel Des Indes in Jakarta and had caught the attention of the general public, and the Faith received unprecedented publicity. The government authorities called up some of the native believers for questioning on the Faith and were surprised to learn of their knowledge and steadfastness in the Faith and the very sharp and clear answers they gave during the conversation. The best comment came from the Hand of the Cause of God Taráz’u’lláh Samandarí who remarked, “One of the reasons for convening the conference was to give publicity. Now Bahá’u’lláh did it His own way.”
This cancellation also generated much publicity in Singapore. Page 5 of The Straits Times daily dated 25 September 1958 reported as follows, “ONE WORLD SECT GETS A SHOCK. THE DELEGATES who flew into Singapore yesterday after the Bahai Faith conference at Jakarta was called off on Sunday. They will attend the Inter-Continental Bahai Faith Conference here during the week-end instead.” A group photograph of some Bahá’ís from foreign countries was also published with this news. A banner extended across the length of the building’s facade proclaiming the Bahá’í conference also added further publicity for the Cause.
By the evening of 26 September, most of the 150 participants from abroad and some from Malaya, Brunei and Sarawak had arrived in Singapore and were accommodated in four hotels. Mrs. Fozdar, upon arriving in Singapore from Jakarta on 23 September immediately called the Malacca Bahá’ís on the phone and mentioned about the change of venue of the conference to Singapore and urged as many as possible to come down to participate and provide a helping hand. The message was relayed from Malacca to other strong communities in those days, including Penang, Seremban and Kuala Lumpur. With that Mr. Tony Fernandez, Miss Beatrice Philomena Monteiro (Betty), Mr. Anthony Casimir Louis, Miss Koh Ai Leen, Mr. Saurajen, Mrs. Lena Saurajen, Mr. Raymond Peter, Mr. Kumara Das, Mr. Leong Ho San and Mr. Leong Tat Chee from Malacca went to the conference. From Seremban came Yankee Leong and K. Rajah, and from Penang came Dr. Chellie Sundram and Shantha Sundram. With the shift of the conference the list of foreign participants had expanded from 150 to 180.
On the evening of 26 September, they all proceeded to the palatial home of Mrs. George Lee at 82, Pasir Panjang Road to celebrate the Feast of Mashiyyat. Mr. Anthony Louis of Malacca who participated in the Feast says that Mrs. George Lee had catered sumptuous meals for the friends, and serving was done by caterers who had professionally dressed up in white. Mrs. George Lee was still a new believer then who became a tower of strength when the conference was shifted to Singapore. The nine Hands of the Cause of God attended the Feast and mingled with the believers giving words of encouragement and strength. For many participants that were the first time they saw the faces of the 9 Hands of the Cause of God and were deeply touched by the radiance emanating from them.
The conference for Asia was moved to Singapore at the last minute when it proved impossible to convene the gathering in Jakarta. It was held in September 1958. (Photo and caption: Baha’i World Centre)
DAY ONE OF THE CONFERENCE – 27 SEPTEMBER
On the morning of the 27 September, the 180 delegates from 35 countries and the local believers were anxiously waiting for the most expected moment in the Victoria Memorial Hall of Singapore. A total of 13 National Spiritual Assemblies were represented. All the Hands of the Cause who came to Jakarta came to Singapore except Mr. Dzikrullah Khadem who was called to return to the Holy Land straight from Jakarta. With that, the conference had the gracious presence of 9 Hands of the Cause of God, one member of the International Bahá’í Council, 12 members of the Auxiliary Boards and 9 Knights of Bahá’u’lláh.
Mr. Khadem was called to the Holy Land from Jakarta.
Mrs. Fozdar as the Chairperson of the conference and ably presided all the sessions. As all were waiting for the first talk, the Hand of the Cause of God Mr. Leroy Ioas, as the official representative of the Guardian, mounted the podium with a dignity befitting the occasion, followed by Mrs. Fozdar, the Conference Chairperson, Mr. Jamshed Fozdar who was the Conference Secretary, and Mr. Manuchir Salmanpur who was an Auxiliary Board member for the Hands of the Cause of God in Asia. Mr. Salmanpur and Jamshed Fozdar translated the talks into English and French. The conference started with prayers in Persian, English and other languages spoken in this area. The English prayer was “Thou hast created all from the same original parents…”
Leroy C. Ioas, representative of the Guardian
Following the opening prayers, Mrs. Fozdar welcomed Mr. Leroy Ioas, the eight other Hands of the Cause of God, and all the assembled friends. After welcoming them she made drove home a powerful message, “While the Faith has always been under the unerring guidance of the Blessed Perfection, its chosen instrument of progress for our age has been Shoghi Effendi, our beloved Guardian, who now from a higher plane continues to direct the Faith. This conference is but another sign of His infallible wisdom in the direction of the affairs of this Divine Cause. His bounties to the followers of Bahá are ever-present and the believers have but to tap this God-given source.” Following this Mrs. Fozdar made an emotional opening of the conference when she said the following words, “To the beloved Guardian who had such foresight and such love, we declare the conference now open.”
The eight other Hands of the Cause of God whose gracious presence added significance to the Conference in Singapore. Top row L-R: Dr. ‘Ali Muhammad-Varqá, Enoch Olinga, Shu’á’u’lláh ‘Alá’í, Harold Collis Featherstone. Bottom row L-R: Abu’l-Qásim Faizi, Dr. Raḥmatu’lláh Muhájir, Agnes Baldwin Alexander and Taráz’u’lláh Samandarí. (Photos: Courtesy of Baha’i International Community)
Following this, Mrs. Fozdar introduced the Hand of the Cause of God Leroy Ioas as a person known throughout the Bahá’í world for his great services to the Cause especially for his service to the Guardian for eight years as the Secretary-General of the International Bahá’í Council. Mr. Ioas, mentioned about the wisdom of the change of venue of the conference from Jakarta to Singapore. He said, “Now there are three states in the world which had become aware of the Cause in every echelon of their government -Iran, Israel and now Indonesia.” As soon as these words were uttered the participants gave thunderous applause to acknowledge the wisdom of the cancellation of the conference in Jakarta. With that note, he said, “This conference is unique as for the first time representatives from the brown race had gathered; more races and all religions are represented than any of previous conferences. ..… Our host at this great gathering is none other than Shoghi Effendi himself, for Shoghi Effendi is the one who has invited us here, the one who has called us here, and the one who has assured us he would be here in spirit… Beloved friends, Shoghi Effendi is here, I can feel his presence as at Haifa.” Mr. Ioas mentioned further that this gathering together of all races had also fulfilled the requirements of the conference. The Bahá’ís were very thrilled at his concluding remark when he reminded the participants that the Bahá’í world was already at the threshold of electing that mighty institution of the Universal House of Justice clearly described in the Mother Book of the Author of this Most Mighty Revelation. Anthony C. Louis of Malacca recalls that during the course of his talk, Mr. Ioas broke down a few times, as his love for the Guardian was overpowering.
The Conference Chairman next introduced the Hand of the Cause of God Abu’l-Qásim Faizi, who elaborated on the five main aims of the conference. Following this, all the Hands of the Cause of God went up the stage one by one, starting with Taráz’u’lláh Samandarí who was the oldest among them. The Hands of the Cause of God Shu’á’u’lláh ‘Alá’í, Dr. `Alí-Muhammad Varqá, Collis Featherstone, Abu’l-Qásim Faizi, Enoch Olinga and Dr. Muhájir expressed feelings of great joy and encouragement.
Mrs. Fozdar then called to the stage Mrs. Ioas, a member of the International Bahá’í Council, the representatives of the various Regional Spiritual Assemblies and the National Spiritual Assemblies. They were:
National Spiritual Assembly of Iran – Hand of the Cause of God Shu’á’u’lláh ‘Alá’í
National Spiritual Assembly of North East Asia – Hand of the Cause of God Agnes Alexander
National Spiritual Assembly of the USA – Mrs. McCormick
National Spiritual Assembly of Canada – Mrs. Ross
National Spiritual Assembly of Arabia – Dr. Salmanpur
National Spiritual Assembly of Iraq – Mr. Teog
National Spiritual Assembly of Australia – Mr. Walker
Regional Spiritual Assembly of South East Asia – Hand of the Cause of God Dr. Muhájir
Regional Spiritual Assembly of South West Africa – Mrs. Sears
Regional Spiritual Assembly of Central America – Miss. Sneider
Following this Mrs. Fozdar introduced the following twelve members of the Auxiliary Board:
America – Mrs. McCormic and Mrs. Ross
Australia – Miss Perks
Asia – Mr. Teog, Mr. Bakhtiari, Mrs. Seto, Mr. Doctor Oglu, Mr. Scherer, Mr. Rahmani, Dr. Salmanpur, Mr. Maxwell and Mr. Jamshed Fozdar.
This was followed by the roll call of delegates, and the representatives from the following countries were called: Iran, Malaya, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Macao, Iraq, Guam, Canada, South Africa, Turkey, Kuwait, Qatar, Abyssinia, British Cameroon, Israel, Brunei, Gilbert Island, Hawaii, Panama, San Marino, Monte Carlo, Transjordan, Laos, and Sarawak. By this time the message from the Hands of the Cause of God in the World Centre had arrived. Mr. Ioas read part of that message which mentioned:
“Shoghi Effendi’s love is burning in our hearts, his appeals are still fresh in our ears. The vision he gave us of our present task is .clear and perfect; let us keep it forever before our eyes.”
In the afternoon session, the Hands of the Cause of God Dr. `Alí-Muhammad Varqá and Enoch Olinga chanted prayers in Persian and English. Then Mr. Ioas gave to the friends an intimate, loving, and reverent account of the thirty- six years of the sacrificial services of the beloved Guardian to the Cause of God. He included in his remarks many moving incidents illustrating the humility, love, kindness, devotion, insight, and unerring guidance of the Guardian, as well as the degree to which he sacrificed his personal life in his obedience and dedication to the commands of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. He also touched on the simplicity of Shoghi Effendi’s life, his complete sacrifice for the Faith and his absolute love for the believers. All the Bahá’ís were moved to tears.
All the Bahá’ís were moved to tears as Leroy Ioas related these in emotional words. Following this, the Hand of the Cause of God Mr. Enoch Olinga spoke briefly on the five main aims of the Inter-Continental Conference. Two gentlemen, Ishraq Khaveri and Nush Abadi from Iran gave thanks to Bahá’u’lláh for the victories won in this Glorious Crusade. Mr. Ioas then presented the World Crusade map of the Guardian and A. Q. Faizi elaborated on the plans. He also spoke of how the Guardian kept the achievements of the Bahá’í world in a red leather-covered loose-leaf book, small enough to be contained in the palm of one’s hand.
At 5:30 in the evening, the highly anticipated moment arrived, which brought the end of the first day. The Guardian had requested the displaying of the portrait of Bahá’u’lláh at these Inter-Continental Conferences. The portrait of the Blessed Beauty wrapped in a green silken handkerchief was brought and placed on top of a beautifully decorated table. Raymond Peter and Anthony Louis of Malacca took the responsibility of arranging the flowerpot on the table on which the portrait of the Blessed Beauty was to be placed, under the guidance of Mrs. Fozdar. With much reverence, the Tablet of Visitation of Bahá’u’lláh was read. Mr. Ioas anointed the portrait with attar of roses. Then all the Hands of the Cause of God, led by Taráz’u’lláh Samandarí and friends filed past for about two hours. Mr. Ioas who suffered from heart ailment stood all the two hours to welcome the friends to file past. As the Bahá’ís came forward, Mr. Ioas anointed each of them with the attar of roses that he had brought for that purpose. Most Bahá’ís had the single most bounty of viewing the portrait of Bahá’u’lláh for the first time, and many were in tears as they were kneeling or bowing their heads out of great reverence and humility. Anthony Louis observed that the attraction of the portrait was so magnetic that some Bahá’ís quietly made two rounds to view the Portrait. At 7:30 in the evening, the last Bahá’í had viewed the portrait. Slowly and reverently the Guardian’s representative covered the portrait of Bahá’u’lláh and took it away for its safekeeping.
DAY TWO OF THE CONFERENCE – 28 SEPTEMBER
After prayers were offered in Persian and English, the Chairman of the session requested the Hand of the Cause of God Mr. Collis Featherstone, Mr. G. Saurajen from Malacca and members of the Regional Spiritual Assembly of South East Asia and Miss Rose to prepare a draft telegram to be sent to the Hands of the Cause of God at the World Centre. The draft was prepared and read to the conference participants. Once approval was obtained, the message was sent. The message from the conference basically expressed assurance of the gathered friends of “loving devotion, loyalty, and dedication of (their) services (in) the execution of Abdul Baha’s Grand Design initiated by the beloved Guardian” and humbly supplicated their prayers. Later congratulatory messages were received from 38 localities from around the world, including one from a Hand of the Cause of God from Europe.
Following this, it was time to settle down to business- review of the goals of the Ten-Year Crusade. The representatives of the National Spiritual Assemblies and Regional Spiritual Assemblies, members of the Auxiliary Boards, pioneers and believers from all the countries present were asked to report on the progress of the Ten-Year Crusade Goals. The brief reports of the achievements under the Ten-Year Crusade were given. During the last communications to the Regional Spiritual Assembly of South East Asia the Guardian had given supplementary goals. It was reported that many of the Haziratu’l-Quds were already purchased, summer schools had been conducted and time schedules been adopted for the accomplishment of the other remaining goals. Both virgin areas to be opened and other areas to be consolidated were read out to the conference participants.
Mr. Jamshed Fozdar then addressed on the progress of the Cause in South East Asia and in Vietnam. Dr. Muhájir spoke of the progress of the Faith in Indonesia. This was followed by the call for funds by Mrs. Fozdar who spoke on the bounty of giving to the Cause of God. Mr. Habib Sabet called for contribution for the development of the Faith in this part of the world. Within a short time, a sum of USD104,000 was pledged. This was a very high amount when compared to the earning capacity of the believers in the region. Mr. Ioas took to the floor and thanked all those who had contributed generously.
The afternoon session opened with prayers chanted by. Mrs. Bahar. Then Hand of the Cause of God Agnes Alexander gave a thrilling report on the progress of the Cause in Japan and Northeast Asia. Mr. Ioas requested the Knights of Bahá’u’lláh go up the stage. Mr. Ioas presented each with a ring inscribed with the Greatest Name. Mr. Rahimi, a Persian friend at the conference donated these rings. The next attraction was the call for pioneers. At once 9 believers came up the stage to go pioneering. Raymond Peter and Anthony Casimir Louis from Malacca went up the stage and announced that they were willing to go to any part of the world to serve the Cause.
Mr. G. Saurajen of Malacca town in Malaya and a member of the Regional Spiritual Assembly of South East Asia came up the podium to pay tribute to the late Dr. Khodadad Muncherji Fozdar. He resigned his job in the Indian Railways as a Medical Officer and pioneered to Singapore in May 1950, and was joined by Mrs. Fozdar in September the same year. Dr. K.M. Fozdar became a Knight of Bahá’u’lláh by pioneering to the Andaman Islands in November 1953, but had to return to Singapore within four months as the local authorities in Andaman were not willing to prolong his stay there. He passed away suddenly on 26 April 1958 in Singapore while talking to his wife. Mention has to be made that the Fozdar family was the premier pioneer family in the region. Mrs. Fozdar became known as a “Spiritual Mummy” for the region. The Guardian had called Mr. Jamshed Fozdar “Conqueror of Sarawak” for opening up Sarawak to the Cause. Dr. John Fozdar became a Knight of Bahá’u’lláh by pioneering to Brunei. Having called for a tribute for Dr. K.M. Foizdar, Saurajen unexpectedly announced the imminent marriage of Mr. Tony Fernandez to Miss Betty in a week’s time on 5 October 1958 in Malacca. That was to be the first Bahá’í wedding of Malaya. The would-be couple was called up to the stage. Two young pioneers from Arabia gave their own rings inscribed with the Greatest Name as a wedding gift. Mention has to be made that following the conference, Hands of the Cause Mr. Faizi and Miss Agnes Alexander went to Malacca, along with several other participants to attend this first Bahá’í wedding. The conference closed with a prayer for the departed read by Mr. Ioas himself for the late Knight of Bahá’u’lláh Dr. K. M. Fozdar.
DAY THREE OF THE CONFERENCE – 29 SEPTEMBER
The morning session started with prayers in Persian and English read by Mrs. Khozain and Mrs. Sears. The morning session was devoted largely to talks on teaching, emphasizing the Guardian’s instructions that knowledge and teaching are the sacred duties of each believer and that the administrative aspect of the Faith must be developed so that the Cause will function readily and efficiently at all times.
Each Hand of the Cause of God was invited to the stage to say a few words. So came Mr. Leroy Ioas, Mr. Abu’l-Qásim Faizi, Mr. Taráz’u’lláh Samandarí, Mr. Shu’á’u’lláh ‘Alá’í, Miss Agnes Alexander, Dr. `Alí-Muhammad Varqá, Mr. Collis Featherstone, Mr. Enoch Olinga, and Dr. Raḥmatu’lláh Muhájir. Mr. Faizi spoke on the great services rendered by Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum and the other Custodians at the World Centre. Miss Agnes Alexander spoke on the development of the Faith in Japan, where there were already eight local assemblies and a national spiritual assembly embracing six territories. She related how the Guardian had spoken of the future of Japan and had called the National Spiritual Assembly of Japan the Spiritual North Pole of the Pacific, and that of Australia as the Spiritual South Pole and had instructed them to work together as the axis for teaching the Faith in that vast area.
Mrs. Margery McCormick, special representative of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, reported the accomplishments of that community in the World Crusade, adding that there were forty-eight pioneers from the United States in nineteen countries of Asia, and mentioned the financial assistance given in teaching in Asia since the opening of the World Crusade, and other assistance given in achieving other objectives of the Crusade throughout the world.
Mrs. Peggy Ross, Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of Canada, and Mrs. Marguerite Sears of Africa also spoke on behalf of the Baha’is of their countries. Noel Walker, representing the National Spiritual Assembly of Australia, called for more pioneers in the Pacific, especially for the Admiralty and Cocos Islands, and for help for the New Hebrides and its Bahá’í school.
Mrs. Shirley Charters of New Zealand described the teaching work among the Maoris, and Miss Mable Sneider of Central America, en-route to pioneer in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, asked for help for the Pacific goals of the National Spiritual Assembly of Central America, Panama and Mexico, the Marshall Islands and Tuamotu, as well as for the Gilberts, where there were many believers needing careful and patient deepening in the Faith. Pioneers from Brunei and Laos also spoke. Then came another touching moment when four Arabian believers who had been in prison for six months for the sake of the Faith, were called to the platform.
Then came the closing session, which opened with chanting of Persian prayers by Mrs. Teog, after which the friends from Sarawak and Brunei were called upon to say a few words. When Mr. Wong Yew Ming of Sibu in Sarawak spoke in Chinese, Mr. Chin Yun Sang of Brunei translated into English and Dr. Salmanpur further translated it into Persian. Mr. Wong spoke of Faith’s progress in the Kanowit area in Sarawak. The friends from the Philippines, Japan, and Laos who were representatives of the brown and yellow races spoke on the progress of the Faith in their respective countries.
In rounding up the conference, Mrs. Fozdar gave a special thanks to Hand of the Cause Mr. Leroy Ioas, the representative of the Guardian on behalf of all the participants for his presence, and thanked all the participants for coming to the historic gathering. Mr. Ioas on his part thanked the organizing committee for a wonderful work done. He also thanked all the Hands of the Cause of God for the support they gave for the conference. He further added that the spirit and memories of the conference must be cherished in the hearts of all those present and must become manifest in their deeds upon their return. He reminded that a glorious future lies ahead for the Cause and the believers present were part of it. With that, the conference closed with a prayer read in the Chinese language.
On this last day, at 4:00 in the evening in Singapore, the English friends in London had made arrangements to place a wreath at the grave of the beloved Guardian on behalf of this conference. The friends at the conference stood in silence for a few minutes, at the exact time the wreath was being placed in the resting place of the Guardian in London, dedicating this conference to the beloved Guardian. At that moment of silence, Mr. Taráz’u’lláh Samandarí chanted a prayer in Persian and the melodious prayer lifted their hearts to a different plane. It was indeed a very moving occasion. At the very end, Hand of the Cause of God Leroy Ioas hugged each and everyone on the stage on behalf of the Guardian.
Thus ended, the last of the five great Inter-Continental Conferences called by Shoghi Effendi himself for the rallying of all the believers throughout the world and for the release of the spiritual forces that ensure the triumph of the Cause in all the five continents and islands of the seas. Until then the participants had never in their lives witnessed such a gathering of Bahá’ís of such diversity and the spirit animating them was truly electrifying!
On that evening the Regional Spiritual Assembly had organized a farewell dinner at the palatial home of Mrs. George Lee. Just before dinner, a congratulatory message arrived from the Hands of the Faith in Haifa. The message read:
“DELIGHTED OBSTACLES SURMOUNTED WIDE REPRESENTATIONS HANDS, ASSEMBLIES BOARDS FRIENDS STOP FERVENTLY PRAYING FULFILMENT EVERY HOPE BELOVED GUARDIAN’S GREAT VICTORIES PROMISING REGION SO DEAR HIS HEART RESULT FINAL HISTORIC CONFERENCE MIDWAY POINT CRUSADE”
Leroy Ioas was the representative of the Guardian to the intercontinental conference in Singapore in 1958. (Photo: Baha’i World Centre)
The conference also came to be called a “Double Conference,” as from the 23-25 September the conference was subtly held in Indonesia for the benefit of the native Indonesian believers who had gathered there with much expectations, and from the 27- 29 September it was held in Singapore for the overseas Bahá’ís, including some who could still come from Indonesia.
This conference was unique and historical for various reasons. Firstly, this was the 5th and last of all such conferences called for by the beloved Guardian. There were present 9 out of the 27 living Hands of the Cause of God, and this happened to be the biggest number of Hands of the Cause of God participating in such a historic conference. This was the only conference that was held in two cities- unofficially in Jakarta and officially in Singapore. This again was the conference where followers who had embraced the Faith from more religious groups had been represented- Islam, Christianity, Jewism, Buddhism, Hinduism and of course Bahá’í. This was also the conference where the brown race had been fully represented from South East Asia, and in fact, all the colors of humanity were represented-white, yellow, red, brown and black. This again was the conference that drew representatives from the largest geographical area of the world and was the only one planned to be held in a Muslim country. The name of the conference venue- the Victoria Memorial Hall is very meaningful to the Bahá’ís. Queen Victoria, upon receiving the Tablet from Bahá’u’lláh had reportedly remarked, “If this is of God, it will endure; if not, it can do no harm.”
With all these notes of great significance, this conference provided the spirit, encouragement and strength for the infant Bahá’í communities in the region to advance with renewed enthusiasm and zeal in promoting the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh in the region.
31 December 2019
- Jamshed Fozdar, Report of the Inter-Continental Conference (Conference Secretary)
- A. Manisegaran, Jewel Among Nations, Splendor Publications, 2003
- Bahá’í News, published by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, No 334, December 1958, p.1
- Bahá’í World Volume 1954 to 1963, pp. 331-331
- Anita Ioas Chapman, Leroy Ioas Hand of the Cause of God.
- Iran Furutan Muhájir, Muhájir Hand of the Cause of God, Knight of Bahá’u’lláh.
- Telephone conversations with Mr. Anthony Casimir Louis of Malacca and Mr. Leong Ho San of Australia.