The darkness of this gloomy night shall pass away. 68
Again, the Sun of Reality will dawn from the horizons of the Have patience-wait, but do not sit idle. Work while you are waiting. Smile while you are wearied with monotony. Be firm while everything around you is being shaken. Be hopeful while the ugly face of despair grins at you. Speak aloud while the malevolent forces of the nether-world try to crush your mind. Be valient and courageous while men all around you are cringing with fear and cowardice. Do not yield to the overwhelming power of tyranny and despotism. Serve the cause of democracy and freedom. Continue your journey to the end. The bright day is coming. The nucleus of the new race is forming. The harbinger of the new ideals of international justice is appearing. The trees of hope shall be clothed in verdant leaves, The copper of scorn and derision shall be transmuted into the gold of honor and repute. The arid desert of ignorance shall he transformed into the luxuriant garden of knowledge. The threatening clouds shall be dispelled and the stays of faith and charity will shine in the clear conscience of the children of men. Following the Armistice, streams of communications from all parts of the world began to pour into Haifa. Once more, Abdul Baha was in toucb with the Bahais of Persia, India, China, England, France, Germany and other countries where the Cause had taken root, and his relief and gladness knew no bounds. But what of America!
One night, Abdul Baha called me to his room and handed me a package which had just reached him. "Open it," he said. I cut the envelope and drew out four mimeographed manuscripts: (1 ) "Report of the Bahai Committee of Investigation", (2) "An Open Letter to the Bahais in America" (3) "Firmness", (4) "Protection", (5) A few recent issues of "Star of the West" containing an account of the Tenth Bahai Convention.
While I paged these documents in an effort to grasp their general purport, the Master was watching me narrowly. "Come. Mirza Ahmad," he urged. "Don't keep everything to yourself. Tell me the news."
My heart was palpitating and my eyesight had become blurred; actually, my hands were shaking so much that the papers fell to the ground. Abdul Baha arose, gathered them together very quietly and handed them back to me. Then I made a supreme effort arid, without further visible emotion, started to translate aloud the four documents. It took a long time.
For nearly an hour, the Master sat motionless: then he jumped to his feet and began to pace the floor. His face was flushed and he was pushing his turban back from his brow; taking it off, putting it on again, and walking, always walking. If I slowed down, he thundered at me "Go on, go on! I must hear all." So I read to the end and when I stopped and looked up. I saw the tears running down his cheeks.
"What have they done to the Cause!" he was speaking as if to himself. "What have they done to the Cause!" Then he went on, saying that he had been waiting for such a long time to receive news from America and this was the news! Did we have so many believers that we could spare even one; and was the birthday of Baha-O-Llah a fitting occasion for persecuting the innocent children of the All-Merciful? Who had given these people authority to excommunicate? And now they expected commendation and approval. No, he had no commendation to give, and no approval.
Then he went on: Something must be done. Something can be done. Baha-O-Llah will not allow this condition to remain in the Cause. He looked straight at me: "You will go to America. You must dispel these clouds. The time has arrived when you are to render a mighty service."
I gasped, and started to make excuses. This was the one time, within scope of my memory, that I balked at the Master's commands; but he would have none of it. "Baha-O-Llah will support you," he assured me", and I will pray for you. Have no fear. This division amongst the believers must be removed; the two factions must be brought together without delay. You will leave at the earliest possible moment in order to reach America in time for the Convention. This Eleventh Convention shall, God willing be one of reconciliation and unity!"
I left Abdul Baha's presence and went out. Slowly, I dragged my feet up the familiar slope of Carmel. My nerves quivered as if ice-water were being poured over them; my face was burning. Half way up, I stopped and looked at the night, and a million stars descended upon me; then, close at
[photo of 'Abdu'l-Baha walking on slopes of Mt. Carmel omitted]
hand I heard the words ""Shoja-at, Mosafar! Shoja-at!" It was the voice of Rahmat-U-Llah, caretaker of the shrine of The Bab, who was standing on the veranda of the Pilgrim house, lighting my way with a flickering candle. "Courage Pilgrim, courage," he repeated as I passed him and entered my room. I stretched myself on the bed. "Courage, pilgrim, courage," I murmured to myself, as I fell asleep.
The next few weeks was a period of intensive training. Almost every day, I followed Abdul Baha on his long walks and when we reached our turning point, I watched him as he sat on a rock facing the Mediterranean Sea, and listened as he outlined the course I was to adopt on my arrival in the United States. Immediately after returning home, I would retire to my room and make copious notes for my guidance in the future. Following the more specific instructions, the Master would conclude along general lines in words such as these: Now the time has come! Out of this Divine College you must go into the world. Purify and sanctify your heart from every desire. I am sending you forth with the Powers of the Kingdom, the Breathe of the Holy Spirit, the Confirmations of the Merciful and the Glad-Tidings of the Supreme Lord. This will constitute your capital. You must be the means of the reconciliation of hearts; you must create love and fellowship amongst the friends. Soar always in the atmosphere of universal concepts. Do not attach yourself to particulars. Do not interfere in local affairs. I will pray for you at every midnight. Rest assured. I will he with you in your journeys and in your sojourns. You must do your utmost to be present at the Convention. Associate with the people with love and kindliness. Gladden the hearts of friends and strangers. Endeavor as far as yon can to sadden none. Sorrow is the dust over the mirror; cleanse the mirror and let the light of the sun of happiness reflect therein. Ponder day and night over my words, deeds and life. These must serve you as general and particular examples. If all the people of the world turn their faces from you, and God is with you — you are victorious. Do not engage in fault-finding and backbiting. If anyone comes to you and opens the first chapter of such a book, tell him: O my dear friend, I have not come here to listen to these talks! I have come to call the people to the Kingdom of Abha. I have come to tend assunder the veils of old superstitions and traditions. I have come to call you to love, friendship, unity and the brotherhood of the human race. These stories and this gossip are conducive to the extinction of the fire of the love of God; they are like poisonous winds which, blowing over the flowers and hyacinths of the spirit, wither them; they are like gloomy, black clouds that prevent the shining of the Sun of Reality. Baha-O-Llah has not commissioned us to
discuss these petty questions and infantile problems. You must be the vivifiers of the world — light-bringers to the inhabitants of the globe.
These daily instructions, given by the Master, were energized by his personality and heightened by his self-oblivion. Sometimes, he utterly forgot that I was the only witness to the rush and tumult of his inspiration and emotion. He was addressing thousands in distant lands — and there I stood a solitary spectator to a divine drama, a very ordinary human being caught in the whirl-pool that ever surrounds the chosen of God.
The words of Abdul Baha made me realize that in the task ahead, I was to rely not only on his support but also on my own mental and spiritual resources. Consequently, I began to write numerous letters and post cards to the American Bahais in which I embodied, in a general yet unmistakable way, the broad instructions given by Abdul Baha. These letters containing news of the Master, and direct and indirect messages from him, were on receipt copied and distributed far and wide. They likewise gave hints of my early return to the United States.
It was clear to me even at that time that the contents of those letters and cards, pouring upon the American Bahais, would disturb the minds of the orthodox and especially those who had voted for the adoption of the Report of the Committee of Investigation. These persons had fully believed in Dr. Bagdadi's promise that Abdul Baha would commend them and approve their Report, and now apparently commendation and approval were not forthcoming. On the contrary, these letters of mine contained implications which boded no good to the anti-liberals.
The letters and post cards were written in long hand and no copies were kept. However, I find the contents of two of the cards published in "Star of the West", Vol. IX, no. 17, January 19, 1919, page 199. In order to show the reader how I started on this campaign of education I will reproduce one of them as an example.
December 2, 1918 "Dear brothers and sisters: The friends in Colorado are especially remembered by the Beloved, and to them he conveys his noble Abha greetings. He desires them to be the promoters of good-fellowship among the nations of the world and the torch-bearers of unity between the disunited children of men. Like unto the Rocky Mountains, they must raise their heads above the low plains of human thought. They must be the cause of the descent of the rain of mercy upon 73
the dark and barren desert of humanity, suffering the hard hearts to be covered with verdure, blossoms and fruits. Are you able to render this service to the Cause of your Master? (signed) Ahmad Sohrab" Letters such as these brought hope to the routed Bahais and discomfort to the reactionaries in high places; and the latter, feeling in their bones that a show-down was at hand, began to strengthen yet further the ramparts o orthodoxy, preparing themselves for the assault.
The stage was set for the impending struggle.
Chapter X MY STEEPLE-CHASE According to army regulations, only government officials could obtain leave from Palestine during the months following the Armistice. I made a series of appeals for a pass, one of them addressed to Major W. Tudor Pole, Deputy Assistant Administrator stationed in Cairo; and when this attempt was unsuccessful I realized that if Major Tudor Pole, who Was a Bahai of long standing with a good deal of authority, could not help me, all the others to whom I had written would be unable likewise. So Abdul Baha, took the matter in hand and wrote a personal letter to General Allenby. Shortly afterwards I was called into his room.
"Baha-O-Llah has performed the miracle," the Master said. "Here is your permission. Now, go and pack. You will leave Haifa tomorrow."
So suddenly did it come about: my sanction to go to America — my dismissal from home and all that I held dear!
That night, I assembled my thing which were few and of no consequence, and packed them in my bag with the long metal tube which for so long had lain underground and was to me the object of the greatest consequence in all the world. Then I bade farewell to the mountain slope of Carmel and to its canopy of stars.
After breakfasting in the usual manner on tea, bread and cheese, I came down from the Mountain of God and took leave of my friends and associates. Then I sought the presence of the Master.
I was with him for three hours, from eight until eleven, and when I arose to leave, he kissed me on both cheeks, gave me some strings of rock-candy, a handful of gold sovereigns and his tablet — my spiritual passport to America. Then he blessed me and bade me farewell. According to my notes which I recorded at the first opportunity, some of his words were as follows:
"Concentrate all your time in the service of the Cause. Soar ever in the atmosphere of universal concepts. Attach not yourself to particulars. Endeavor, as far as possible, to sadden no heart. I will never forget you. Day and night you are before my sight. Few souls have stayed with me for so long a time. I declare by Baha-O-Llah that always at midnight I shall pray for you, saying: Oh God! Confirm Mirza Ahmad, my son."
[two photos of Sohrab omitted]
As I looked into those eyes which mirrored all of life and eternity too, and listened to that heart-stirring voice, I well realized that the separation would be a long one, but how long — that I could not have imagined. On the morning of December 22nd, 1918, I stood before Abdul Baha for the last time on this earth.
The train steamed out of Haifa at eleven thirty. It was full of officers, so Dr. Aflatoon, a Bahai on his way to Bagdad, and I thought fit to tell them a little about the Cause. They seemed interested and we left them at Toul-Karem in a position either to continue investigation or to drop the matter out of their lives.
In Toul-Karem, the dark skinned West Indian soldiers afforded us shelter from the inclement weather and made us feel welcome. They were very receptive to conversation pertaining to the New Testament and themselves had a great deal to contribute. The following afternoon, we boarded a train which was packed with Mohammedan Indian soldiers returning home. The train which was composed of open cars was receptive also, in this case to the torrents that were now pouring from the heavens: but the physical discomfort did not impede discussion, between ourselves and our Muslim fellow-travelers, on the modern aspects of Islam. Arriving at Ludd in the late afternoon we were enabled, through the kindness of some soldiers, to find space in another train bound for Kantara. Here we fell in with a Persian Jew from Jerusalem and passed the time most agreeably in reviewing the prophesies of the Old Testament and computing the time of their fulfillment,
After a long night in cramped quarters, we awoke to find ourselves speeding through untrodden wildernesses of sand, the very wilderness in which Moses and the people of Israel had lived during forty years: and my mind was struck by the change that had been brought in this region since those times. especially in that all of it had been accomplished in the last few years under war conditions. Now, a double-tracked, broad-gauged railroad stretched from Cairo to Toul-Karem, and this was shortly to be extended to Haifa and Acca — a vast engineering feat due to the ability and resourcefulness of the British.
As we began to move about, bidding sleepy good morning to our companions, we became conscious of the fact that this was no ordinary day. Far from it, for the date was December 25th. It was Christmas; it was a holiday, and long before our train reached Kantara we could observe the British soldiers as we passed their camps, already engaged in their various sports and games. In Kantara, the frontier town which actually was but a populous city of tents, our luggage came up for examination.
A customs house is always a little nerve-racking, but in my case, knowing as I did that it was simply out of the question to carry papers or documents of any kind over the border line, the moment was one of unadulterated fear. The British official went through my things minutely, penetrating deeper and deeper into my capacious bag, and then from the very bottom he drew up the metal tube. "What is this?" he asked, balancing it between his fingers. My heart was in my mouth, so I was not in a position to answer. Everything in me was calling for help: Abdul Baha! Abdul Baha, don't forsake me now! The inspector extracted the parchments and spread out the heavy roll. As I wondered how he could be so deft about it while the tent was rocking. The tent appeared to be caving in on our heads, his as well as mine; but he was speaking again — no he was reading from the first Tablet which lay on top: "Kodah" and again "Khodah, Khodah." He had picked out a word that means God, probably one of the few Persian words that he knew, and was finding it here and there on the page. Then he looked up, obviously pleased with his scholarly attainment: "Your diploma, I suppose." Yes, yes, I nodded as the tent regained its equilibrium and the blessed Britisher passed on down the line. "Thank you, "I called after him and began to gather up my things: then in a lower tone: Thank you, Abdul Baha.
Hurdle number one in my hazardous steeple-chase — goal: America in good time for the Convention; but before I could take even a breath of relief, the next hurdle was pressing in upon me, high and imposing. Just around the corner, the travellers were being separated into two groups: Occidentals, having the privilege of boarding the train for Cairo, and Orientals to be retained in quarantine for six days. Six tong days every one of them valuable to me!
When I realized what was happening, I boldly addressed myself to the officer in charge: "Why this discrimination? — and was told that a certain malady was prevalent at that time, to which Orientals were subject. "But I'm not an Oriental," I flashed back, so quickly that I actually spoke without thought. "I am of Aryan descent, just as you are, just as the French and Germans are, and all Europeans." Then, having become familiar with the idea, I concluded forcibly: "Persians are Europeans you know."
The officer eyed me with distaste: "Can you corroborate this statement?"
"You might call up Cairo find speak with Major Tudor Pole of the Intelligence Department," I offered casually. So my friend was called to the telephone on the spot and within my hearing.
"I never heard of such a thing.," the officer blustered, when he got the connection "A man — name Sohrab, a Persian, mind you, and he says he's European. What's your impression? "Pause — a long one, then: "What! I have to pass him? It's all right? Well, if he's a European, I'm a . . ." he turned and looked me up and clown; then he began to laugh: "Very well! Hurry along, your train is leaving." Hurdle number two!
We preceded on to Cairo through the fertile lands of Egypt which spread themselves around us in smiling detachment from the devastation of war. Arriving at evening, we put up at Eden Palace Hotel, travel-strained and weary; but I could not remain indoors simply to rest. Five years of the quiet life of Haifa had made me hungry for people and action; so I sought the brilliant streets and walked about for hours, a veritable country boy, round eyed and doubtless open-mouthed too.
Dr. Aflatoon and I had many friends in Cairo whom we saw the next day: Mohammad Taki, a pioneer Bahai; Sheikh Mohyeddin, pupil of the great Mirza Abul Fazl and himself a brilliant teacher, and others, all anxious to receive tidings of Abdul Baha. We lunched at a Persian restaurant and dined with a Persian family, and talked much, both in groups and tête-a-tête; but the next morning I went to work seriously. First, I visited Major Tudor Pole, who gave me a hearty welcome and promised to help me through the maze of officialdom in acquiring a passport; and later I called on the Persian Consul General for the same purpose. I had my picture taken, so as to be in readiness in case the coveted passport were granted suddenly; conferred with editors in newspaper offices and dropped in at the shipping agencies. This procedure, with the exception of the photo-taking, was repeated regularly for weeks. On January 12th., I received a letter from Shoghi Effendi which informed me that Abdul Baha had sent the following cablegram to Mr. Roy C. Wilhelm: "Ahmad Sohrab will soon reach New York;" so, as time was dragging on and help from my side of the water not forthcoming, I decided to appeal to Mr. Wilhelm in New York: "Request State Department send permission Consulate immediately, waiting." I cabled a similar message to Mr. Joseph Hannen in Washington.
Waiting indeed! How long would this waiting last, and the Master also was counting the days. January had brought me no luck. We now were in February. An urgent Tablet from Abdul Baha reached me on the 7th.
Verily, I have received the letter which thou bast forwarded care of Shoghi Effendi and have become acquainted with its contents. In regard to thy journey to America, it is incumbent on thee to make the utmost haste and if possible to get a direct passage from Egypt to the United States. Thy
presence in America is an absolute necessity. Hasten, hasten to fulfill this obligation and do meet Mrs. Parsons. It is incumbent upon thee to make the utmost exertion to leave now at once for America, to display the greatest effort to unite the friends around the Word and dispel the clouds of sorrow and misery. Upon thee be greeting and praise! (signed) Abdul Baha Abbas
"It is incumbent upon thee to make the utmost exertion." What might be done that I had not thought of as yet? I racked my brains, but could bring up no original, thought, so, after making the daily rounds of Consulate and shipping agencies, I resigned myself as usual to spending the time with my friends.
Here in Cairo. I had run across one of my fellow-students at the University of Beirut, Alphonse Tonietti by name. Half Italian, half Arab, he was an amusing personality, hiding a warm heart with small success behind a casual and even cynical attitude. He was one of the many with whom I could pass agreeable hours, but my mind was set in one direction — America — and I could not content myself for even a little while, with less.
The American Consulate was an imposing building into which I had never penetrated further than the outer office, which was always crowded. One morning, as I wedged my way in, the secretary greeted me with unusual affability. "We have good news for you. Come this way." I was led into a large, luxurious room which was occupied by the Consul and a tall, well dressed American traveller. The Consul looked up: "Your permit has arrived, though how you did it I can't imagine. You must have some good friends in Washington."
Here the American began to indulge in a series of explosions. "This is preposterous! It's a crime! It's a travesty on our country and all that it stands for! A permit for this Oriental — when I have been hanging around your office for weeks! What has he got that I haven't?"
What, indeed! Hurdle number three!
There was nothing now to keep me in Cairo, so I went that night to Port Said where I stayed in the apartment of Mirza Ahmad Yazdi, Persian Consul and son-in-law of Abdul Baha. It was home to me in a way, for I had lived there and worked in Ahmad Yazdi's store years before when I was a boy; and I immediately fell in with the old routine, spending regular hours behind the counter. However, my first daily duty consisted of visits to the shipping agencies, of which there were many; in fact all the great
lines have offices in Port Said, and these were always crowded with frantic persons waiting for steamers that apparently did not exist. Actually, none had as yet sailed for America. "Yes, you can put your name down if you wish," they told me." There are four hundred ahead of you."
Feeling that I must give an account of myself to the Master. I sent him a cable stating that my passport was in order but that there were no ships. Almost immediately the answer returned: "The ship is coming."
On a certain morning as I was working in the store, one of the assistants ran in to inform me that a Japanese freighter was sailing into port on its way to America. I dropped my work and ran to the Japanese shipping bureau: Could I get passage?
"Impossible," was the answer. "We carry only cargoes. Passengers not allowed."
"But I will pay," I insisted. "Anything! I will bring my own food, sleep on the deck."
"Sorry. Against the rules."
I hastened to the apartment of Ahmad Yazdi, my heart beating with determination, and found among my effects an old passport which I had used in the days when I was secretary at the Persian Legation in Washington. I returned to the agency and without a word, laid the open passport on the desk. The clerk examined it and raised his eyebrows: "Official business?"
"Yes," I answered.
"Well, in that case-all right,"
I flew home, picked tip my things, bade farewell to Ahmad Yazdi and was on the wharf in no time. "Yeboshi Maru," the argosy of my desire, lay alongside. I passed up the gang-plank and placed my two bags on the deck. "This way, please," an officer addressed me politely. "You are to have the doctor's cabin."
"But the doctor," I objected. "Where will he sleep?"
"He will bunk with another officer. Come please. It is all right.
And so, taking hurdle number four with a high heart, I landed on the broad bosom of the Mediterranean and went into the home-stretch.