Sara Louisa Blomfield's stories from a granddaughter of Baha'u'llah

Sara Louisa Blomfield's stories from a granddaughter of Baha'u'llah
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Stairway in the interior courtyard of the House of ‘Abbúd.

In the years between the World Wars, Tuba Khanum shared with Sara Louisa Blomfield recollections of her grandfather Baha’u’llah, grandmother Asiyih Khanum (Navvab), father Abdu’l-Baha, and older sister Diya’iyyih (mother of Shoghi Effendi, who became Guardian of the Baha’i Faith).

Lady Blomfield listened to the stories of Tuba Khanum along with those of her sisters, her mother, and others, and compiled them in her book, The Chosen Highway, which was published in 1940, and is available online.

Tuba Khanum was born in 1880 to Abdu’l-Baha and Munirih Khanum, who had married in 1873. She grew up in Akka, in the House of Abbud, which is now a Holy Place visited by Baha’i pilgrims. She had seven siblings, four of whom died in childhood (Mirza Mihdi the second, Ruhangiz, Fu’addiyih, and Husayn Effendi). Three sisters survived into adulthood: Diya’iyyih, Ruha, and Munavvar (Baharieh Rouhani Ma‘ani, Leaves of the Twin Divine Trees, pp. 321-25).

With her husband Mirza Muhsin Afnan, a relative of the Bab’s wife, Tuba Khanum raised four children: Ruhi, Suhayl, Fu’ad, and Thurayya. She was dedicated to their education, as she conveyed to American visitors to Haifa, where the family of Abdu’l-Baha had relocated, in 1920. Genevieve L. Coy, one of these Baha’i pilgrims, recounted:

I talked to Tuba Khanum for a time, mostly about education. Her daughter, Soraya, is to go to Cairo, to the Protestant School for Girls this year, and Tuba Khanum was saying how much they disliked to have to send their children away from home. But the schools in Haifa are not advanced enough for study beyond the age of fourteen or fifteen. She said, “We like to have our children at home in the evening in order that we may give them some spiritual teaching ourselves.” I could faintly imagine the loss to those children from separation from the lovely daughters of the Master! (A Week in ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Home, p. 183)

Tuba Khanum valued the education of her children, even though it required painful separation. She also recognized the importance of balancing academic and spiritual education. In fact, along with her sister, she envisioned a Baha’i school in Haifa:

Tuba Khanum, and, on another day, Rouha Khanum, spoke of their hope of the founding of a Bahai School on Mt. Carmel. They are all so sweetly appreciative and kind; they act as though the person to whom they are talking had all beautiful characteristics,--and one longs to arise to meet that faith with deeds! Tuba Khanum made me feel that way, when in speaking of a future Bahai school on Mt. Carmel, she said, “When such a school is founded I hope you may come and teach in it.” What could be more wonderful! (A Week in ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Home, p. 186)

Some years later, a handsome building intended to house a Baha’i school, resembling Tuba Khanum’s vision, was built at 75 Hatsiyonut Avenue in Haifa (Baharieh Rouhani Ma‘ani, Leaves of the Twin Divine Trees, pp. 357-358). Today, children of staff serving at the Baha’i World Centre enjoy both the intellectual opportunities of Israeli schools and activities organized by Baha’i volunteers to promote spiritual development. No longer does any child need to go as far afield as Egypt!

Thanks to Lady Blomfield and Genevieve Coy, we may observe these impressions of Tuba Khanum at her prime, managing a large family with her husband before he died in 1927, predeceasing her by 32 years. Of course, the details of her life remain obscure. In Leaves of the Twin Divine Trees, Baharieh Rouhani Ma’ani, who researched the lives of the Bab and Baha’u’llah’s female relatives, reflects on this regrettably common obscurity:

The women who worked assiduously and quietly for the promotion of the Faith in the first few decades of its history—and there were countless of them—were either ignored or relegated to a passing reference. The women of the twin Holy Families were no exception, especially those who remained faithful to the Covenant. In fact, they suffered more stringent limitations than women in general. Although they shared with acquiescence the sufferings of the Manifestation of God to whom they were closely related and served Him and His Cause with devotion and sacrificial deeds, unlike their male counterparts they had no identity of their own. No one in the outer circle knew them or was aware of the value of the work they performed. Their close relationship to the Manifestation of God required them to be even more obscure. It was considered disrespectful to Him, people thought, to probe into the lives of His female relatives, to find out who they were, how they lived their lives, what aspirations they had, how they responded to the new Revelation, how they served the newly revealed Cause, how lifelong persecution affected them and so forth. As a result, basic and crucial information about them has been lost [for] posterity. (Ma’ani, p. xvii)

Baharieh Rouhani Ma'ani also describes the spiritual fate of Tuba Khanum, who in 1941 was excommunicated (p. 361). According to May Hofman's "Publisher's Note" in the 2007 edition of The Chosen Highway, Lady Blomfield began collecting the reminiscences of the women of Baha'u'llah's family during her first visit to Haifa in 1922 (p. ix); The Chosen Highway was first published in 1940. In its preface, Hand of the Cause of God Hasan Balyuzi wrote,

The avowed adherent of Baha'u'llah cannot be alone in feeling incalculable gratitude to Sitarih Khanum [Lady Blomfield]. Every earnest student of the Baha'i Faith will find in The Chosen Highway a wealth of material essential to the study of history. (p. v)

Perhaps Tuba Khanum's greatest contribution for Baha’is resides in her maintaining memories of the formative decades of the Baha’i Faith, particularly the stories of her Grandparents and Father working at the Cause’s vanguard. Her memoir, collected by Lady Blomfield, conveys both the suffering and the resilience of her family through the sensitive eyes of a girl and young woman:

I remember well the greatest of our joys was to go with Baha'u'llah for the occasional picnics to the Ridvan.How happy we were with Him. He was indeed the brightness of our lives in that time of difficulty.

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