Bahai News - Baha'i elders drew energy from their faith
Baha'i elders drew energy from their faith
Thursday, May 18, 2000
By PAT KINNEY
Not one, but two irreplaceable women died within the opening weeks
of the new century: Ruhiyyih Rabbani, the American-born widow of Shoghi
Effendi Rabbani, was the last link with the family of Baha'u'llah,
founder of the Baha'i faith; and Mildred R. Mottahedeh, who debated long
and hard to persuade the nascent United Nations to grant
non-governmental consultative status to a faith that was then relatively
Mrs. Rabbani was 89; Mrs. Mottahedeh, 91. Their lives were
full, long, and fruitful. The deaths of these two formidable women left
members of the faith with a profound sense of loss -- and then joy -- in
recalling how they lived out their lives, working to build acceptance
for the ideals of their faith.
People of all faiths can only marvel at the unceasing travels of
the increasingly frail Pope John Paul II in the pursuit of world peace
and Cardinal John O'Connor, before his death, struggling with
cancer and still attempting to say Mass. Still, the extraordinary
stamina drawn from their faith is limited to the span of human
life. The faithful of whatever religion must draw strength by
reflecting upon the lives of these extraordinary human beings.
Mrs. Rabbani and Mrs. Mottahedeh were born in the United States
a decade before the 21st Amendment gave women the right to vote.
Through their acceptance of Baha'i teachings, both
worked for decades to establish not only women's rights, but
human rights and the rights of children to health and universal
education throughout the world, proving by example the strong position
of the Baha'i teachings on the positive changes women can exert in the
world, once society allows them to reach their potential:
"Women must go on advancing; they must extend their knowledge
of science, literature, history, for the perfection of
humanity. Ere long they will receive their rights. Men will see women in
earnest, bearing themselves with dignity, improving the civil and
political life, opposed to warfare, demanding suffrage and equal
Ruhiyyih Rabbani's mother, May Bolles, was born in Englewood and
was one of the first Americans to embrace the Baha'i faith. Her
father, William Sutherland Maxwell, was a noted Canadian architect and
a designer of the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec. The wealthy couple doted
upon their only child, whose given name was Mary. With her marriage to
Shoghi Effendi, grandson of 'Abdu'l-Baha, she was given the name
Ruhiyyih. The marriage united the Baha'i communities of East and West
and changed her life considerably.
When she lived at the Baha'i World Centre in Haifa, Israel,
through the years of World War II and Israel's war for independence,
food was scarce and danger was constant.
When Shoghi Effendi Rabbani died suddenly in 1957 at age
60, the childless widow mourned, then -- her mettle tested --
spent four decades "on wheels and canoes." Determined to set
an example to the Baha'is of the urgency to convey the precepts of the
Baha'i faith throughout the world, she covered 55,000 miles through
India, crossed Africa by Land Rover three times, and visited every
country in South America. At the age of 65, she spent six months in the
far reaches of the Amazon.
Because her late husband was leader of the Baha'i faith, Mrs.
Rabbani met with dignitaries and royalty throughout the world to discuss
the basic human rights, which are fundamental Baha'i principles. She was
gracious on those occasions, but she spent as little time as
possible in cities, preferring to spend her time in the company
of villagers. Only in the year before her death did she cease her
Mildred R. Mottahedeh embraced the Baha'i faith in 1929. That year
she married Rafi Y. Mottahedeh, an Iranian-born Baha'i. The newlyweds
lived in Bergenfield and struggled at first. Then, Mottahedeh &
Co., which blended her design talent and his business acumen, became
renowned in the field of decorative arts. The company made
reproductions for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of
Modern Art gift shops and received commissions for commemorative pieces
from U.S. presidents and the State Department.
Mindful of the Baha'i teachings on the ethics of wealth, the
Mottahedehs used their profits to serve humanity. In Africa and in India,
they founded and maintained primary and secondary schools and were involved
in training in agricultural techniques, public health services, and
development of local handcrafts. In 1958 they created Mottahedeh Development
Services, a foundation to assist with social and economic projects in the
Mrs. Mottahedeh received numerous awards, including the United
Nations Woman of Honor (1993).
In memorials held for each woman in Baha'i communities throughout
the world, Baha'is took stock of their contributions to the faith and
paused to pay respects. The women had much in common: each
balanced an outspoken, strong-minded, no-nonsense sensibility with
compassion and warmth; each continued humanitarian endeavors long after
her husband had passed away -- commitments that continued until
their final days.
And Baha'is paused in recognition of their legacy, nurtured through
commitment to their faith through most of the last century and sure to
continue long into the future:
"Humanity is like a bird with its two wings -- the one is
male, the other female. Unless both wings are strong and impelled by
some common force, the bird cannot fly heavenwards."
Pat Kinney is a representative of the Baha'i faith on the Interfaith
©Copyright 2000, Bergen Record Corp.
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