Presented here is the historical background that led to the election of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Malaysia at the first National Bahá’í Convention of Malaysia held in 1964. The coming into existence of this divinely ordained national institution ushered a new era as it was indeed a turning point in the history of the Faith in Malaysia. Here is as an opportunity for the current generation of believers to get a glimpse of the spirit and the ecstatic atmosphere that prevailed at that most dramatic and unparalleled event.
The Faith was introduced in the then Malaya through the efforts of Dr. K. M. Fozdar and his wife Mrs. Shirin Fozdar who were pioneers from India to Singapore. Since the acceptance of the Faith by Yankee Leong on 19 December 1953, the Cause grew by leaps and bounds, through the arduous efforts of several early believers who were afire with the spirit that was generated by their newl-found Faith. The first Local Spiritual Assembly in Malaya was elected in Seremban in 1954, followed by Kuala Lumpur and Malacca in 1955. At this period of time, as there was no national administrative structure within Malaya, the affairs of the Bahá’í Faith were placed under the jurisdiction of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of India, Pakistan, and Burma.
In Riḍván 1955 the Guardian announced the setting up of the Regional Spiritual Assembly for South East Asia in 1957. In Riḍván 1957 the Spiritual Assembly of South East Asia was elected in Jakarta, Indonesia, and the following countries under its jurisdiction: Borneo, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaya, Mentawai Islands, Philippines Islands, Portuguese Timor, Sarawak, Thailand and Vietnam. In 1964 these countries were to elect their own independent National Spiritual Assemblies and the Regional Spiritual Assembly was to cease to exist.
The first decade since the acceptance of the Faith by Yankee Leong was filled with a rare kind of frenzied spirit in Malaya. There were several favourable factors that propelled the early growth of the Faith that led to the election of the national institution in 1964. The spirit that came with the Ten-Year Crusade itself was a push for the believers to enter boldly into the arena of service. Specific reference has to be made to the several visitors to the country from the early days, chiefly the Hands of the Cause of God who enthused the believers to rise to serve with sacrificial efforts. Malaya had the privilege of visits by some Hands of the Cause of God in the early days – Zikrullah Khadem in December 1953 to Johor Baru and Kuching, Shu’á’u’lláh ‘Alá’í visiting Malacca in 1956 and 1960, Abu’l-Qásim Faizi and Agnes Alexander visiting Malacca in October 1958 (with A. Q. Faizi coming three more times after the election of the national institution while that was the only visit by Agnes Alexander), Collis Featherstone coming to Kuala Lumpur in 1960 and making several repeat visits after the election of the national institution. There were a few other Hands too who came to the country after the election of the national institution.
Yet, special mention has to be made of Dr. Raḥmatu’lláh Muhájir. Dr. Muhájir who was elected to the Regional Spiritual Assembly of South East Asia in Riḍván 1957 continued to work closely with the believers in Malaya even after being appointed Hand of the Cause in October 1957. His direct involvement in the affairs of the Cause in Malaya was to a large extent the single- most factor that ushered the rapid growth of the Cause in the country. He asked for organising the first Summer School in December 1957 in Malacca, where he gave his first ten-point national plan for the growth and expansion of the Faith in Malaya. During the subsequent summer schools, national and regional teaching conferences, Dr. Muhájir initiated the setting up of several committees to open new areas for the Faith or consolidate existing communities. Dr. Muhájir himself joined the local teachers to open new places for the Faith or for deepening the new communities. Till his passing in 1979 Dr. Muhájir was constantly encouraging the community in devising gigantic plans that propelled the development of the Faith.
Meanwhile mass teaching started off in the rubber plantation settlements from 1957 itself, in which year the Faith penetrated aboriginal jungles and later some Chinese villages as well. With the upsurge of teaching activities, the National Teaching Committee of the Federation of Malaya and Singapore was formed in 1958.
EVE OF THE CONVENTION
By 1962 the National Teaching Committee had already branched itself into the Western, Southern, Northern, and Central Regions to form the national network needed for the ushering in of the first National Spiritual Assembly. By the eve of the formation of the national institution, the objectives set by the National Teaching Committee for themselves were:
- To organise teaching activities for Malaya
- To keep an up-to-date record of believers, Local Spiritual Assemblies and isolated believers and to keep a Bahá’í directory
- To send out welcome letters to the newly declared believers in the area
- To organise Bahá’í publicity by publishing newsletters and distributing them to all believers in Malaya and Singapore
- To keep Bahá’í books and literature for the whole of Malaya
- To look into all matters of national importance
- To see that all LSAs are registered
- To raise funds for general expenditure
- To deputise and organise expenditure which is to be annually audited
There were many workers for the Cause who passionately worked for the speedy development of the Cause. Among the front liner workers were the members of the National Teaching Committee appointed by the Regional Spiritual Assembly for 1963 who were Dr. Chellie John Sundram, Dr. P. K. Rao, Tony Fernandez, Dr. R. J. Wolff, Mr. Maheswar Dayal, Mr. Leong Tat Chee, Mr. K. Rajah, Mr. Krishnan Kandasamy, Mr. Inbum Chinniah, Mr. Sathiawan Singh, Mrs. George Lee and Mr. A. Sabapathy. There were several other believers who were supremely devoted in serving the Cause. The expansion of the Faith to this impressive level had been made possible by the sacrificial efforts of several believers with constant push coming from the encouragement by Dr. Muhájir who kept visiting the country from time to time.
THE TIME WAS RIPE
In 1961, there were a total of 15 Local Spiritual Assemblies in Malaya and Singapore. An old report of the National Teaching Committee of 1962 gives the existence of 23 Assemblies in September 1962. The Bahá’í World (1954-1963) says there were a total of 25 Local Spiritual Assemblies. During the meeting of the National Teaching Committee of the Bahá’í s of Malaya and Singapore held in Kuala Lumpur on 15 June, 1963 the Committee reported that there were nearly 30 Assemblies in Malaya. By Riḍván 1964, there were 44 Local Spiritual Assemblies in Malaysia.
Having elected a sufficient number of pillars – the Local Spiritual Assemblies to support a national institution, the time was ripe for the election of the first national spiritual assembly of Malaysia in 1964. It is to be noted a new political entity called Malaysia came into existence on 16 September 1963, comprising Malaya, Singapore, Sabah, Sarawak, and Brunei. In the October 1963 message to the Bahá’í world the Universal House of Justice announced the dissolution of the existing six Regional Spiritual Assemblies and the formation of 19 new National Spiritual Assemblies. The new National Spiritual Assemblies would include the areas of Malaya, Singapore, Burma, Sarawak, Sabah, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines. The greatest joy for the Bahá’ís of both East and West Malaysia, especially those who had toiled day and night and sacrificed for the Cause was the election of the National Spiritual Assembly.
In February 1964, the Regional Spiritual Assembly of South East Asia based at Saigon sent out letters to the Local Spiritual Assemblies in Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Singapore, requesting them to elect delegates and submit the results by 21 March 1964. The same letter also informed the dissolution of the National Teaching Committee. There were 32 delegates elected from Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei, and 23 from Malaya (that included Mrs. George Lee from Singapore). The delegates were sent ballot papers and voting instructions. The March 1964 issue of the Bahá’í News, published by that Regional Spiritual Assembly mentioned that Hand of the Cause Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum would be the representative at the first national convention of Malaysia. That was an exciting news for those who met her in her first visit in 1961, as well as those who were not privileged to meet her in that visit. The Regional Spiritual Assembly appointed a National Convention Committee of Malaya with Mr. Inbum Chinniah, Mr. Leong Tat Chee, Mrs. Lily Ng, Mr. Yankee Leong, Mr. S. Vasudevan and Mr. Isaac DCruz as members. Inbum Chinniah was the Chairman and Mrs. Lily Ng the Secretary. Wheels started to turn faster than before, and all mechanisms were set into motion. The National Convention was arranged at the Third Residential College of the University Malaya, Kuala Lumpur from 25 to 28 April 1964.
With an air of excitement building up the National Convention was given press publicity. As early as March 2, 1964, The Straits Times daily published in Singapore reported this forthcoming convention with a caption that read, “Baháʼís to hold national meet”. The news read, “Leaders of the Baháʼí religion from all over the world will assemble in Kuala Lumpur on April 24 for the four day national convention of Baháʼís in Malaysia”. The Straits Times dated April 6, 1964, flashed the news, “Leaders of the Baháʼí Faith from all over the world will assemble here on April 24 for a four day convention.”
A special souvenir booklet was released to mark the auspicious occasion. The souvenir booklet also carried a powerful message from the Regional Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of South East Asia. The opening paragraph reads “On this occasion of the formation of your First National Spiritual Assembly, we are privileged to share with you this historic and blessed moment which future generations of Bahá’ís in your country will accept as the beginning of a new epoch in the progress of our Beloved Cause in Malaysia. Those same generations will envy the blessings and privileges which have been bestowed upon you, the pioneers and the early believers for having been permitted to participate in raising yet another of these mighty and divinely ordained institutions and a pillar of God’s infallible protection over mankind-the Universal House of Justice.”
A befitting agenda was worked out for the Convention was well worked out. The stage was set.
THE CONVENTION COMMENCED
SATURDAY 25 APRIL
The much expected excitement climaxed on the morning session. The delegates and observers were all seated to witness the long awaited moment. In opening the Convention, Mr. Jamshed Fozdar, Chairman of the Regional Spiritual Assembly of South East Asia said that it was a historical event for the Cause of God and that future ages would record this most important event. He also reminded the friends of his illustrious father Dr. K. M. Fozdar who brought the Faith to the country through Singapore but was not present as he had passed away in Singapore in Riḍván 1958. There was a call of the delegates from Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Malaya. Mr. Leong Tat Chee was elected Chairman of the Convention and Harlan Lang, an American pioneer to Sarawak as Secretary. Yankee Leong of Seremban was elected Vice Chairman. On the request of the Convention Chairman, Mrs. Lily Ng served as Recording Secretary. Mr. Ong Choon Fong of Sarawak, Mrs Theresa Chee of Ipoh and Mr. Smith Ottan of Mukah in Sarawak were appointed tellers. Three delegates- Mr. Yankee Leong, Mr. Smith Ottan and Mrs. Shantha Sundram from Penang Island were appointed to draft the message to the Supreme Body. It was then that Amatu’l-Bahá arrived at the Convention Hall, with Mrs. Violette Nakhjavani after attending the National Convention in Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
Leong Tat Chee, the Convention Chairman reads a message. To his right is Phung Woon Khing the translator. To his left are Harlan Lang the Convention Secretary and Lily Ng, the Recording Secretary.
Mr. Yankee Leong from Seremban, Mr. Smith Ottan from Mukah, Sarawak and Mrs. Shantha Sundram from Penang Island drafted the message to the Universal House of Justice which read as follows:
NATIONAL CONVENTION OF MALAYSIA AND BRUNEI DEEPLY GRATEFUL FOR DISTINGUISHED PRESENCE OF AMATUL BAHÁ RUHIYYIH KHANUM AT HISTORIC FIRST CONVENTION AND ACKNOWLEDGE INSPIRING 9 YEAR PLAN STOP ALSO GRATEFUL DONATION TOWARDS FUND STOP PLEDGE WHOLEHEARTED EFFORT TOWARDS FULFILLMENT GOALS STOP CONFIDENT ACCOMPLISH SET GOALS STOP SOLICIT PRAYERS SHRINES
Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum read out the message to the Convention from the Supreme Body. Part of the message she read out was, “… We hail with joyful hearts the formation of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Malaysia. This victorious community is faced immediately upon its emergence as an independent unit in the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh with the specific tasks assigned to it as its share of the Nine Year plan … The establishment of these tasks, within the allotted time, will endow this community with spiritual power, experience and administrative capacity to prosecute still fresh plans in the course of which they must proclaim the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh to the diverse millions inhabiting Malaysia and enroll the vast majority of them under the banner of the Most Great Name …” The message also carried goals to be achieved under the Nine Year Plan – the first plan for Malaysia as well.
Amatu’l-Bahá then suggested to the Malaysian believers to achieve their goals within a two-year period and within two years of the Ten-Year Crusade period and then write to the Supreme Body to ask for more goals. Amatu’l-Bahá also read out another special message from the Supreme Body to the Baháʼí s of the world.
The Chairman of the convention then called upon all those gathered to stand up and observe one-minute silence to honour Dr. K. M. Fozdar who pioneered to this region 14 years ago. Leong Tat Chee read out the Annual Report from the Regional Spiritual Assembly of South East Asia. Part of the message reads, “We only wish to conclude with the hope that your esteemed NSA will not rest until our beloved Faith has entered into the fifth and then the sixth stage of its destined goal and it is our prayer that by God’s grace from out of our region shall come the first such brilliant example”.Mrs. Grete Fozdar read out the Annual Report of Sarawak and Brunei and it said that as a result of the teaching work there thousands had come into the Faith.Isaac DCruz read out the Annual Report from Malaya. The report highlighted the main activities held and mentioned the intensified teaching activities among the Semai Aboriginal group, and that the educated youth turning to reading of Holy Writings. The report also mentioned the opening of predominantly Tamil speaking populations in the states of Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Malacca and parts of Johore. The report also mentioned the sub-committees of the National Teaching Committee that had carried out great work.
Amatu’l-Bahá talking to Dr. R. J. Wolff of Hawaii, and residing in Petaling Jaya.
SUNDAY 26 April
On the morning of Sunday 26 April Mr. Jamshed Fozdar spoke on the Responsibilities of Baháʼí Delegates. He drew from the statements of the Guardian on the five qualities needed for electing believers to serve on the institutions. He quoted the Guardian who has requested the delegates to consider “without the least trace of passion and prejudice, and irrespective of any material consideration, the names of only those who can best combine the necessary qualities of unquestioned loyalty, of selfless devotion, of a well-trained mind, of recognized ability and mature experience.” This was followed by a talk on Impressions and Reminiscences of mass Teaching in Thailand. Mrs Shirin Fozdar mentioned how she went to Thailand in 1961 on the advice of the Hands of the Cause of God, and how she was able to establish the Faith there albeit far too many obstacles. When she went to Thailand there was only one Local Spiritual Assembly in Bangkok but now there were 25 Assemblies all over Thailand. Dr. R. J. Wolff then spoke about his Impressions and Reminiscences of Mass Teaching in Korea and the Philippines. Yankee Leong spoke on his teaching experiences in Sarawak, and paid tribute to Jamshed Fozdar who opened the Faith with sacrificial efforts. He also reported of mass teaching going on there. He mentioned about mass teaching happening in a small scale in Brunei, Sarawak and Borneo area when he went to those places in 1959. Dempsey Morgan gave an account of his mass teaching experiences in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and some other countries in South East Asia. Mr Harlan Lang then spoke on the Baháʼí Attitude towards Government and Politics. He quoted heavily from the various statements made by Baháʼu’lláh and ʻAbdu’l-Bahá on this subject.
On the afternoon of the 26 April was the election of the National Spiritual Assembly. This first National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Malaysia had its seat in Kuala Lumpur and comprised Malaya, Singapore, Brunei, Sabah, and Sarawak. Six out of the nine members elected came from the Borneo Territories. The members elected were:
Dr. John Fozdar (Sarawak) – Chairman
Mrs. George Lee (Singapore) – Vice Chairman
Mr. Yankee Leong (Malaya) – Secretary
Mr. Leong Tat Chee (Malaya) – Treasurer
Mrs. Grete Fozdar (Sarawak)
Mr. Minoo Fozdar (Brunei)
Mrs. Marjorie Fozdar (Brunei)
Mr. Chin Yun Sang (Brunei)
Mr. Harlan Lang (pioneer from the USA)
Some Bahá’ís were deeply moved to tears when the names of the nine members of the first National Spiritual Assembly of Malaysia were announced. It was a big relief and reward for those who had toiled day and night to bring this momentous happening to fruition.
Members of the first national institution with Amatu’l-Bahá. Seated L-R: Mrs. Grete Fozdar, Amatu’l-Bahá, Mrs. George Lee and Mrs. Marjorie Lighthall. Standing L-R: Yankee Leong, Harlan Lang, Dr. John Fozdar, Leong Tat Chee, Minoo Fozdar and Chin Yun Sang.
With that Malaysia became one of the 86 National Institutions in the world. Together with this great victory came responsibilities. It was at this first National Bahá’í Convention that the Bahá’ís of Malaysia were given their share of the Nine-Year Plan.
Following the elections Mrs. Shirin Fozdar spoke on the Duties and Responsibilities of the National Spiritual Assembly. She quoted from the Writings and stressed, “The Malaysian Baháʼís have to work very hard since we have been deemed fit by the Universal House of Justice to have our own National Spiritual Assembly that will participate in the election of the Universal House of Justice after five years. She also reminded that the National Spiritual Assembly is the pillar of the Universal House of Justice. This was followed by a talk by S. Vasudevan on the subject of “Baháʼí Youth, Servants of the Cause”. He said that a servant does not question his Master, he simply obeys! He said once we accept Baháʼu’lláh we surrender our free will to Him. He also drove home the cardinal point that the greatest responsibility for the progress of the Faith in the future is in the hands of the youth and youth are not those below the age of 21 but anyone who feels young. He said that our spirit is never old. Dr. R.J. Wolff spoke on “Principles of Baháʼí Administration” and stressed that those who consult must have pure motives and radiate a spirit of detachment from all save God.
On the evening of the election of the new national institution, Amatu’l-Bahá said, “From the nine names of the National Spiritual Assembly that I have seen, I know they are those who have worked hard, and I know they will do all they can to progress the Faith still further …”
DIRECT LINK WITH THE SUPREME INSTITUTION
Concerning this national administrative body Shoghi Effendi says, “Its purpose is to stimulate, unify and co-ordinate by frequent personal consultations the manifold activities of the believers as well as the Local Assemblies; and by keeping in close constant touch with the Bahá`í World Centre, initiate measures, and direct in general the affairs of the Cause in that country”.
Shoghi Effendi, in a letter written on his behalf, likens the functioning of a National Spiritual Assembly to the beating of a healthy heart, “pumping spiritual love, energy and encouragement” to all members of the Bahá’í community. And this process is about to be set in force with the coming into existence of this divinely ordained institution. The affairs of the community that were placed in the hands of the Regional Spiritual Assembly of South East Asia are to be assumed right at the doorstep within Malaysia.
We learn from the Will and Testament of ʻAbdu’l-Bahá that National Spiritual Assembly, is the secondary House of Justice, and the supreme Bahá’í administrative authority in each land. The National Assemblies according to Shoghi Effendi constitute the electoral bodies in the formation of the Universal House of Justice and are empowered to direct, unify, co-ordinate and stimulate the activities of individuals as well as local Assemblies within their jurisdiction. Through the coming into existence of this national institution in Malaysia, the believers have for the first time been directly connected with the The Universal House of Justice, which the Guardian said would be regarded for posterity as “’the last refuge of a tottering civilization”’. That Supreme Body is an infallibly guided institution in the world and on it rests the responsibility for ensuring the unity and progress of the Cause of God. That infallible body is also the “apex” of the Bahá’í Administrative Order, as well as the supreme organ of the Bahá’í Commonwealth. Therefore, the convention is not to be viewed as one of those happenings. It has to be regarded in no other light except as the most dramatic event in the early history of the Faith in the country. Indeed, it can be rightly acclaimed as unparalleled in its own way.
Dr. John Fozdar read out congratulatory messages that poured in. The telegram form the Supreme Body read:
“NSA Malaysia hearts warmed spirit devotion dedication expressed your Convention Cable Assure Prayers at Shrines Deepest Love – UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE”
The Canadian National Convention send this cable:
ALLAH-U-ABHA. PRAYERS ASCENDING MOMENTOUS HISTORIC NATIONAL CONVENTION SIMULTANEOUS BIRTH FIRST MALAYSIAN NSA DIVINELY ORDAINED PILLAR GOD’S INFALLIBLE PROTECTION.
There were letters of congratulations from the National Spiritual Assemblies of Brazil, Argentina, Republic of Panama, Pakistan, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Finland, Central and East Africa, Luxembourg, Germany, Australia, Sweden, Denmark, India, Canada, Belgium, Arabian Peninsula, Columbia, Ecuador, Burma, Chile, Alaska, Japan, New Zealand, Jamaica, the United States, North West Africa, Italy, Switzerland, Norway, Spain, North East Africa, El Salvador British Isles, and France. There was also a congratulatory message from the Regional Spiritual Assembly of the South Pacific based in Fiji Islands and some Hands of the Cause of God.
TALKS BY AMATU’L-BAHÁ RÚHÍYYIH KHÁNUM
Amatu’l-Bahá spoke at different sessions of the Convention, the essence of which are provided here. Amatu’l-Bahá spoke to a large crowd of believers, many of whom had come from the rubber plantation estates in the states of Negeri Sembilan and Malacca. In that talk she enlightened the audience with stories on teaching the Cause. She then elaborated on the situation in some parts of the world. S. Vasudevan of Malacca who was at the convention has this to say on the talk she just gave, “The crowd was transported into Valleys of Knowledge and Love with her illuminating talk”. In another session at the convention, Amatu’l-Bahá addressed the convention on the topic of ‘The Role of Women in the Bahá’í Faith,’ in which she encouraged the Bahá’í women to rise to great heights of service, which amazed both men and women among the audience. During the peripherals of the National Convention, Amatu’l-Bahá was most happy to see about 20 Asli believers present. On each of the Asli friends, she pinned a Bahá’í badge bearing the Greatest Name. She conversed with an Asli believer with the assistance of Krishnan Kandasamy who acted as translator. Amatu’l-Bahá said she always had a special place in her heart for the indigenous people whom she had met in her travels to other parts of the world. They were simple and pure, unspoiled by urban materialism. Her hope was to see them rise up independently and champion the Cause of God. Amatu’l-Bahá said these pure souls that burned with the love of Bahá’u’lláh needed widespread education to better understand the holy words and to rise to greater heights of service. She also met with some Bahá’ís from the rubber estates. M. Palaniandy from Jasin town in the state of Malacca translated her talks into the Tamil language. Mr. Phung Woon Khing who was one of the translators for Amatu’l-Bahá. She stressed on the importance of teaching the Indians and the Chinese in Malaysia. She commented, “The Indians are like sand, they absorb every drop of water poured on them; the Chinese are like cement, it takes time for the water to seep through.” At the time when she came to Malaysia, she observed that the Indians were mainly labourers in the rubber plantations while the Chinese were engaged in business mainly in the urban areas. And importantly, in all her talks Amatu’l-Bahá brought in the beloved Guardian, his humble services, sacrifices, and examples.
Inbum Chinniah at left, translates the talk by Amatu’l-Bahá at right.
Mrs. Lily Chinniah partly hidden, at left, presenting a gift to Amatu’l-Bahá, with Mrs. George Lee next to her. Seated at extreme right is Mrs. Lily Ng
Phung Woon Khing at left translates for Yankee Leong at right.
The Bahá’í youth of Malacca town and Seremban put up a social programme on the night of 26 April. Amatu’l-Bahá had the habit of wearing the local dress of the country she visited, and Malaysia was no exception. Amatu’l-Bahá appeared attired in the Indian saree at one session of the Convention. But for this cultural program Amatu’l-Bahá, Lily Chinniah, and Violette Nakhjavani casually made their entrance into the Convention Hall for the cultural programme. The Malaysian eyes could not believe what they saw – Amatu’l-Bahá in the “Baju Kebaya”. Spontaneously the crowd stood up and applauded. Amatu’l-Bahá smiled at the believers and waved to them. It was a fascinating incident, recalls Lily Chinniah who had presented Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum with that Baju Kebaya. It was through such simple gestures that Amatu’l-Bahá won the hearts of the audience. An international pageant was performed by the Bahá’í girls. A choir comprising both young boys and girls performed songs in Malay as well as in English. They also did some sketches. Jack Tan, S. Vasudevan, Koh Ai Lin, Isaac DCruz and Sabapathy dressed as girls and performed the ‘can-can dance’. Amatu’l-Bahá laughed heartily at these “naughty and talented boys.” The highlight was a show called ‘Everyone Becomes a Bahá’í’. In the last piece, S. Vasudevan sang a song they composed called ‘The Ballad of Yankee’ to the tune of an old Tamil song while S. Satanam echoed it. The lines were funny jokes on Yankee Leong and Amatu’l-Bahá and Yankee Leong enjoyed the jokes. At the end of the show Amatu’l-Bahá told Yankee Leong, “Yankee, we pull the legs of only those whom we love.” The performance by the youth was so successful that it was repeated on the third night on the request of Amatu’l-Bahá. She commented that she enjoyed the show thoroughly that she would love to return to Malaysia whenever such concerts were held. And Amatu’l-Bahá left the country with that favorite ‘Baju Kebaya’ of Lily’s, which she was most pleased to gift to Amatu’l-Bahá.
S. Satanam at left and S. Vasudevan at right, performing the ‘The Ballad of Yankee’
The group that performed
MONDAY 27 April
One of the highlights of the day was the talk by S. Nagaratnam on the subject of “Birth and Growth of a Local Spiritual Assembly”. He said that only when we surrender ourselves to the Will of Baháʼu’lláh we are sure that the Local Spiritual Assembly will grow strong and progress. He said that in an Assembly it is not any individual who decides, but it will be a collective responsibility and stressed that only when all members carry out things collectively a maturity takes place. He quoted from what the Master has said- that the Local Spiritual Assemblies are “shining lamps and heavenly gardens, from which the fragrances of holiness are diffused over all regions, and the lights of knowledge are shed abroad over all created things”.
Mrs. Elinor Wolff then gave a report on the activities of Women’s Committee. She said that although it was only in the previous year that the National Teaching Committee set up the Women’s Committee, much had been achieved. The Committee’s activities centred around getting more women appointed into committees, setting up children’s classes at the summer schools and encouraging isolated women to teach.
Then came the next important session – “Taking the Faith to the Minority Group”. Mr. Deraoh Leman, an early Asli believer spoke about hearing the Faith first through Yankee Leong and how the Faith grew in his Asli village. Mr. M. Maniam spoke of how he went to Sarawak together with Yankee Leong and Beyzaee and served the Cause there at a time when things were very difficult and highly challenging for all the three. Yet they managed to teach the Faith with reasonable success in many interiors of Sarawak. He said that he had to return to Malaya as his visa expired. Krishnan Kandasamy spoke on how he started to teach as a full-time teacher in many places in the state of Johor and mentioned that teaching in the towns was much different from teaching in the estates. Leong Ho San spoke on teaching the Faith to the aboriginal people. He said the best way to teach them was to live among them and learn their language and culture and show genuine love for them. He also stressed that there has to be constant visits to the Asli areas to keep them strong in the Faith. Yankee Leong spoke on teaching the Chinese people. He said that it may be difficult to bring in the Chinese race into the Faith as they are materialistic, but once they accept the Faith they would be most hard working for the Cause. He also said they have a great role to play in China, the Land of the Future when the doors are opened for the Cause. Dr. John Fozdar spoke on teaching the Faith to the Ibans. He talked about the early believers who gave the Faith among the Ibans such as Mr. Charles Duncan and Mr. Minoo Fodar in Brunei. He also mentioned the services by Yankee Leong, Maniam, Mr. Thirupathy and Mr. Beyzaee.
A LIVELY ENDING
On 28 April the last day of the Convention was the call for local travel teachers and the following arose- Mr. Errol Seow, Miss Lein Beng Liew, Mr. Isaac DCruz, Mr. S. Vasudevan, Mr. Vishnupatham, Mr. S. Satanam, Mr. A. Sabapathy, Miss Koh Ai Leen and Miss Chiang Kim Lin. Then came the presentation of teaching reports from the delegates who represented various areas in the country. A total of 24 delegates gave their reports. With this lively session the first convention came to a close. Throughout the convention there was lively discussions and consultations. Mr. Phung Woon Khing, Mr. S. Nagaratnam and Mr. Inbum Chinniah took turns to translate the talks from Malay to English throughout the Convention were well acknowledged.
A HAPPY HAND OF THE CAUSE
Amatu’l-Bahá and Violette Nakhjavani then left for Thailand to attend their national convention. There Amatu’l-Bahá said she was very happy with the proceedings of the first National Convention that took place in Malaysia. She was happy with the election of mature believers on the first national body and spoke highly of the mature consultation. Amatu’l-Bahá felt the Malaysian community had a big destiny to play in the region. There is an interesting account of the visit left by Violette Nakhjavani in her book ’Amatu’l-Bahá Visits India’ part of which read, “The participation of Amatu’l-Bahá was a blessing to all the friends. Her encouraging talks created a greater determination in their hearts to serve the Cause they love so dearly”.
Group photograph of the historic first National Bahá’í Convention of Malaysia.
A NEW SPIRIT HITHERTO UNKNOWN
Most of the delegates at the first national convention are no longer with us. The late Mr. S. Satanam of Seremban related to the author that the delegates and the observers were so thrilled and excited with the first national convention that he and other friends could not sleep until the early morning on all the three nights. All along the believers had gathered at teaching conferences and summer schools, with not more than 50 or sixty attending. But this memorable convention was of a different kind with greater number of friends from Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei, Singapore, and West Malaysia, truly a great national gathering. They were all excited to see so many new faces for the first time, and some of them initiated lasting bonding. The greatest single motivating factor was their privilege to meet up with the beloved Amatu’l-Bahá, whose very presence and words enhanced their spirit to serve and love the Cause. Satanam further said that the spiritually ecstatic atmosphere that prevailed throughout the convention was the very presence of Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum and her words of wisdom and encouragement in all her talks to the audience and her private conversations with individuals. The entire election procedure was something that never had the most subtle form of canvassing of self-promotion. It was all prayerfully done and the best among the believers were elected to the national institution.
At bookshop during break session. L-R: Alan Tan, Isaac DCruz, Satanam and Nagaratnam.
RESISTLESS AND ONWARD MARCH
This story would be incomplete without making mention of the good name the community of the Greatest Name has created in the eyes of the International Baháʼí community. The Malaysian Bahá’í community not only achieved all the goals of the Nine-Year Plan (1964 to 1973), but also surpassed many of the goals especially those assigned to West Malaysia as reported in the Third National Convention held in 1966. Having achieved the goals, the community also asked the Supreme Body to give them supplementary goals, as per the expectation and advice of Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum at the first convention. That was a memorable triumph in the history of the Malaysian Bahá’í community. That was also a sweet beginning for more goals that were achieved one after another by the community of the Greatest Name in Malaysia was praised over and over. The Malaysian community was always known to achieve their goals much earlier than the deadline and would ask for supplementary goals as well.
Whether in the field of pioneering or in the field of administrative work, whether in the field of service or in the field of sacrifice, or in whatever area of service the Malaysian Bahá’ís had risen wholeheartedly and made Malaysia a shining beacon in the Bahá’í World. One area of great pride to the Malaysian Bahá’ís is the tremendous ability to achieve all the goals given to Malaysian Bahá’í community by the Supreme Body. A distinction was the ability of the Malaysian Bahá’ís to achieve the goals well before the end of plan period. On account of this fine track record the Bahá’í community of Malaysia came to be recognised as high achievers. The Malaysian Bahá’ís – both as a community and as individuals had grown to show implicit obedience to the divine institutions. The ability of the Malaysian Bahá’í community in undertaking international projects of great magnitude was demonstrated throughout. The increased level of understanding of the Faith by the Malaysian Bahá’í community is remarkable. No less impressive is the attitude of loyalty and obedience towards the institutions of the Faith. In the field of pioneering Malaysia had always been entrusted with a greater number of tasks. The Malaysian pioneers were acclaimed to be the best workers and all-round achievers by the host countries.
HE HAD A DREAM
Since the election of the national institution the community of the Greatest Name in Malaysia has won accolades after accolades from several quarters chiefly from the Supreme Body, and visitors to the country such as the Hands of the Cause of God. Many believers abroad who had heard of the extraordinary achievements in Malaysia wanted to learn of the secret of the success.
Although several Hands of the Cause of God had visited and relentlessly assisted Malaysia, the lion’s share goes to Dr. Raḥmatu’lláh Muhájir who had adopted Malaysia as his favorite community. As he was the main person behind most of the teaching plans and one who impelled the believers to scale greater heights, he is very much acclaimed as the architect of the Malaysian Baháʼí community. By 1961, Dr. Muhájir had visualised the glorious future in store for the community in Malaya. In that year Dr. Muhájir had written in his diary as follows, “Malaya is on the way to maturity and pretty soon will distinguish itself among the communities of the world.” During his own lifetime, he was happy to have seen Malaysia praised over and over by the Supreme Body.
Dr. Muhájir always mentioned that he loved to come to Malaysia for spiritual relaxation as this was one community where he was sure to receive glad tidings on the achievements of all the goals and that too much in advance of the deadline. He was joined by the Universal House of Justice, that infallible institution in placing accolades after accolades on this ever-vibrant community. Given below are a few praises placed upon this blessed community during the lifetime of Dr. Muhájir.
Dr. Raḥmatu’lláh Muhájir, very much loved as the architect of the Malaysian Bahá’í community.
Part of the letter from the Universal House of Justice dated 22 December 1970 to the Malaysian Bahá’í community reads, “… Your newsletter, Nineteen Day Feast letters, other communications to the friends and your minutes are always interesting and full of good news, and your zeal and devotion in promoting the welfare of the Cause and constantly caring for the friends under your jurisdiction is a source of great joy to us …”
Part of the 1972 Riḍván Message from the Supreme Body to the Bahá’ís of Malaysia reads: “We voice our thanks to Bahá’u’lláh for the outpouring of His abundant blessing upon His lively, devoted and capable followers in Malaysia and Brunei. It is remarkable that in less than two decades the small band of Bahá’ís, the supporters of the Greatest Name in those parts of the world, have grown to become stalwarts in the arena of service to the Cause of God and have made great impact on the advancement of the Faith in Malaysia and in other countries of South-eastern Asia and the Far East …”
A special 1974 Naw-Rúz message from the Supreme Body to the Bahá’ís of Malaysia has this to convey: “Your achievements during the past years have been not only a source of great joy to the Bahá’í world, but a fountain of inspiration to your fellow believers throughout South-eastern Asia …”
Part of the message of the Universal House of Justice to the Bahá’ís of Malaysia on the occasion of Naw-Rúz 1979:
“The beloved friends of Malaysia have been a pride and joy to us, and have proved themselves to a beacon of light and source of strength to many neighbouring countries, creating a spiritual impact extending to other continents. You are called upon to demonstrate once again your devotion and capacity in service to the Cause of God. Your achievements of the past, in themselves, are an indication of what victories lie ahead in the future …”
At the Winter School held in Cameron Highlands in December 1979, Counsellor Inbum Chinniah, made reference to this message and remarked, “This is a great praise indeed, because this sort of praise never appeared in the other messages. There were one or two nice lines, but not praised to this extent. The Universal House of Justice gives praise where it is due, and the Malaysian community can be proud that they have received such wonderful praise. As `Abdu’l-Bahá said, the National Spiritual Assembly is responsible for directing, inspiring and guiding the friends in their achievements and in their progress. We Bahá’ís in Malaysia are really very blessed that we have a spiritual assembly that has been able to do this.”
Part of the message from the Universal House of Justice dated January 1981, slightly one year after the passing of Dr. Muhájir addressed to the Bahá’ís of Malaysia reads: “… Our hearts are filled with joy as we recall once more the accomplishments of that triumphant community which, in less than three decades since its birth, has established itself as one of the brightest Bahá’í communities in the history of the early stages of the Formative Age of the Cause … Judging from past achievements of the beloved friends in Malaysia and the abundant confirmations from on high, we have every confidence that you will achieve, and even surpass, the following goals of the next phase of the Seven Year Plan covering a period of three years, and will draw the admiration of the entire Bahá’í world.”
It is a matter of great pride that this blessed community continues to receive such appreciations till this day. Dr. Muhájir was largely responsible for nurturing this community to maturity from 1957 and had always considered the Malaysian Bahá’í community “A Jewel Among Nations!”
Today the new National Haziratu’l-Quds is situated on a prime location in Kuala Lumpur. This edifice of great beauty is truly an added pride to the community.
More details of this story in the forthcoming book by the author :
DIFFUSERS OF DIVINE FRAGRANCES
An Account of the Hands of the Cause of God Who Visited Malaysia
31 July 2023
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