Bahai News - London tribute to Amatu'l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum
London tribute to Amatu'l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum Rabbani honors her
contributions to conservation and the arts
LONDON, 15 June 2001 (BWNS) -- The late Madame Ruhiyyih Rabbani, the
preeminent international dignitary of the Baha'i Faith, was honored at a
tribute here on 15 May 2001. In attendance were some 150 prominent
people, including HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
Organized by the Arts for Nature, a 13-year-old organization that seeks
to draw leading artists and performers into the environmental vanguard,
the tribute was held at Canada House in Trafalgar Square. It featured an
evening of music and drama, much of it produced especially for the
occasion and using the writings of Madame Rabbani.
"We can be convinced academically and intellectually that conservation
is important, but what's also important is that we are involved in this
issue emotionally," said Prince Philip in extemporaneous remarks at the
end of the evening. "Madame Rabbani made a huge contribution to raising
awareness in this field, and this has been a marvelous experience and a
An author, filmmaker and lecturer who cared deeply for the environment
and indigenous peoples, Ruhiyyih Rabbani passed away on 19 January 2000.
She was, further, a Hand of the Cause, the highest position occupied by
individuals in the Baha'i Faith, and she played an important role in
promoting the unity and integration of the Baha'i community over the years.
The evening tribute was organized largely by the Duchess of Abercorn,
the chair of the Arts for Nature. The event began with dinner and a
viewing of some of Prince Philip's private collection of nature
paintings, in particular the work of Canadian wildlife artists. In
addition, architectural drawings by the distinguished Canadian architect,
William Sutherland Maxwell, Madame Rabbani's father, were displayed.
The main focus of the evening was a theatrical performance entitled "A
Life So Noble," which had been inspired by Ruhiyyih Khanum's life. Written
by Canadian-born actress/writer Beverley Evans and directed by Annabel
Knight, the show took four major aspects of Khanum's life and character and
personified them in four women actresses, who told her story using words
taken from Ruhiyyih Khanum's own lectures and writings.
The actresses -- Maria Friedman, Beverley Evans, Sarah Clive and
Kerry-Ann Smith -- conveyed with extraordinary power and emotion the
breadth of Madame Rabbani's achievements. There were deeply moving
moments, including a scene depicting the funeral of Shoghi Effendi when
thousands of flower petals rained down upon the stage from above. In
direct contrast, Ruhiyyih Rabbani's great world travels were portrayed
with wit and verve, while a list of her pets and favourite animals
caused great amusement.
The actresses were supported by four other women - from Botswana, Macau,
Bolivia and Iran -- who wove a floral tapestry as the story unfolded, a
metaphor for the rich and varied tapestry that was Madame Rabbani's life.
Other high points included a musical performance of a composition by
William Lovelady, set to the words of a poem by Ruhiyyih Khanum, "This
is Faith." The evening ended with Ruhiyyih Khanum's own recorded voice,
speaking at a meeting in Belfast, where she had told the audience how
much she disliked saying goodbye.
The Duchess of Abercorn told the audience that Madame Rabbani had left
the world a better place than it was when she had come into it, urging
them, like Madame Rabbani, to contribute their "special thread" to the
tapestry of life. "I hope that everyone here will pick up their own
thread of creativity and quality of spirit and heart, and bring it into
every aspect of our lives, because that's what the world is desperately
in need of," she said.
Among the guests was Violette Nakhjavani, who accompanied Ruhiyyih Khanum
when she traveled and has recently written a book about her life. "I thought
it was beautifully done," Mrs. Nakhjavani said of the dramatic narrative. "I
was very surprised at the warm response of the audience to the personal
details of Ruhiyyih Khanum's life but I felt that she would have approved of
presenting Baha'i ideas in such an audacious way."
Born Mary Maxwell in New York City in 1910, Madame Rabbani was the widow
of Shoghi Effendi, who headed the Baha’i Faith from 1921 to 1957. As
such, she was for Baha'is the last remaining link to the family of
'Abdu'l-Baha, who headed the Faith from 1892 to 1921 and was the eldest
son of the Faith's Founder, Baha'u'llah.
In her role as a Hand of the Cause, Madame Rabbani traveled extensively,
visiting some 185 countries and territories to encourage the spiritual
and moral development of Baha'i communities. She also sought throughout
her life to promote environmental conservation. She was, for example, a
founding member of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation, a major
interfaith organization that promotes the involvement of religious
groups in the conservation efforts.
Madame Rabbani also gave support to the first Arts for Nature event,
which was held 26 October 1988 at Syon House in London. Madame Rabbani
gave the keynote address, alongside Prince Philip, at the Syon House
event, which was organized by the World Wide Fund for Nature-UK and the
Baha’i International Community.
Diana Jervis-Read, the Canadian cultural attache, said the commission
had been delighted to host the event at Canada House, especially given
that Madame Rabbani was raised in Canada.
Every guest received a brochure produced for the event by Peter Maguire
and George Ballentyne of UK Baha'i Publishing, as well as a specially
compiled illustrated anthology called "Sacred Earth," and a copy of
Madame Rabbani's book, "Prescription for Living."
Funds raised at the evening event went towards the Mendelssohn on Mull
festival and the Canada House Arts Trust. "There are lots of charity
evenings that can be very glitzy, but this was completely different,"
said Marita Crawley, co-chair of the event, who also wrote a song
honoring Madame Rabbani for the event. "Some of the people here knew
Madame Rabbani personally, while others were aware of her extraordinary
work, but there were people in the audience who were hearing about her
for the very first time this evening.
"The play was genuinely thought-provoking and caught the personality of
Madame Rabbani, who was truly somebody whose work made the world a
better place -- and I think everyone who came tonight left with
something very special."
-- Reported by Corinne Podger and Rob Weinberg
UK-CPR-010615-1-ARTS FOR NATURE-124-S
©Copyright 2001, Baha'i World News Service
Page last updated/revised 061501
Return to the Bahá'í Association's Main Web Page