Saturday, May 22, 2010

Leroy Ioas, Champion of the Charters of the Baha'i Faith



The Hand of the Cause of God Leroy Ioas

Photograph Courtesy Baha'i National Archives, Wilmette

One of the most important figures in the history of the Baha'i Faith is Leroy Ioas.  A wonderful book about him and his wife Sylvia has been written by his daughter, Anita Ioas Chapman, available from George Ronald Publishers.  A substantial book, it is thorough, inspiring, and enjoyable to read.

Even an outline of Mr. Ioas' services to the Baha'i Faith would go for several pages. I will mention only a few here. 

When Mr. Ioas was a boy in his teen years, Abdu'l-Baha came to America, and Leroy saw Him a number of times.  A number of beautiful stories come from these days, one of them is told here.

Mr. Ioas' decades of service in America were followed by his extraordinary services in the Holy Land.  Mr. Ioas was capable, vigorous, and well-organized, and served as an executive for a railway company.  In 1951, Shoghi Effendi called Mr. Ioas to come and assist him in the Holy Land.  Finally, Shoghi Effendi had capable help.  At one point, the Guardian had reportedly told Amatu'l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum that the local baker had more capable help than he did.  Mr. Ioas became known as “the Guardian's Hercules” for the magnitude of services he rendered to Shoghi Effendi.  During the course of Mr. Ioas' earlier services in America, Shoghi Effendi had personally written to him:

“I admire the spirit that animates you, marvel at your stupendous efforts, and greatly rejoice at the success you and your collaborators in the teaching field are achieving.”
(Letter dated March 28, 1943, quoted on page 113, “Leroy Ioas, Hand of the Cause of God")

If Shoghi Effendi marvelled at Mr. Ioas' efforts—they must have really been something!

Shoghi Effendi sent Mr. Ioas as his representative to the Intercontinental Conference in Kampala in February, 1953.  Shoghi Effendi told him to, on his behalf, shake the hands of every woman believer, and give a hug to every man.  There is a beautiful photograph of Mr. Ioas giving the Guardian's love to a man on page 129 of Volume XII of The Baha'i World. The photo caption reads, “Leroy Ioas greeting African Baha'is on behalf of the Guardian, Kampala, Uganda, Africa, February, 1953.” In this photograph you can see Mr. Ioas giving a man the Guardian's hug, and the impact on the man's soul is visible. The same photograph is in Mrs. Chapman's book “Leroy Ioas.”

Here is a photograph, perhaps taken at the same event, of Mr. Ioas shaking hands with African believers:

Courtesy Baha'i National Archives, Wilmette

In the Holy Land, Mr. Ioas assisted Shoghi Effendi as one of his secretaries. As a member of the International Baha'i Council, he performed diplomatic service; there are photographs of him meeting with Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, for example, in Mrs. Chapman's book about her father. He also rendered unique service to the Guardian by supervising the construction of the sacred edifices of the Faith on Mount Carmel. 

Photograph Courtesy Baha'i National Archives, Wilmette

Mr. Ioas was instrumental in the accomplishment of the purposes of all three of what Shoghi Effendi termed Charters of the Faith:

It is indeed my fervent and constant prayer that the members of this firmly-knit, intensely alive, world-embracing Community, spurred on by the triple impulse generated through the revelation of the Tablet of Carmel by Bahá'u'lláh and the Will and Testament as well as the Tablets of the Divine Plan bequeathed by the Center of His Covenant -- the three Charters which have set in motion three distinct processes, the first operating in the Holy Land for the development of the institutions of the Faith at its World Center and the other two, throughout the rest of the Bahá'í world, for its propagation and the establishment of its Administrative Order -- may advance from strength to strength and victory to victory.
(Shoghi Effendi, Messages to the Baha'i World - 1950-1957, p. 84)

Mr. Ioas played a key role in the accomplishment of Shoghi Effendi's work in furtherance of all three of these Charters.  As a member of the National Teaching Committee in the United States, he played a central role in winning the goals of the Seven Year Plans, in furtherance of the Tablets of the Divine Plan. He supervised construction of the Shrine of the Bab and the International Archives Building on Mount Carmel, in fulfilment of the Tablet of Carmel.  And he was a member of an institution established in the Will and Testament of Abdu'l-Baha, the Hands of the Cause of God, as well as being a member of the International Baha'i Council, forerunner to the Universal House of Justice. He was a great defender of the Covenant of Abdu'l-Baha.
The International Archives Building with the Dome of the Shrine of the Bab
Used with permission

In honor of his services, Mr. Ioas was given the inestimable gift of having a door of the Shrine of the Bab named after him by Shoghi Effendi.  There is a wonderful photograph of Mr. Ioas standing next to that door, the Bab-i-Ioas, in the book “Leroy Ioas” and also seen here.  The Bab-i-Ioas, the door named after Mr. Ioas, can be seen in this photograph of the Shrine of the Bab. It is the brown door seen behind the circle of trees where Baha'u'llah sat when He directed the place for the Shrine of the Bab to be built.

It seems almost inconceivable that Mr. Ioas could render any more extraordinary services, but he did.  There was one service that meant more than any other, to Shoghi Effendi.

An apartment building in which the Covenant-breakers lived, was positioned immediately in front of the Shrine of Baha'u'llah and the Mansion of Bahji.  Every time Abdu'l-Baha visited the Shrine of His Father, every time Shoghi Effendi visited the Shrine, the Covenant-breakers were there.  Their poisonous presence had polluted the Most Holy Spot for more than six decades.  An early photograph of Bahji shows this two-story building, on the left between the trees.
The pines of Bahji on the land of the Jamal brothers, site of the dinner which signaled that Baha'u'llah could leave the boundaries of the walled city
Used with permission
Please click image for larger photo

Following the establishment of the state of Israel, the government proceeded to identify the holy places of all of the religions in the Holy Land, and to officially recognize them.  The Shrine of Baha'u'llah was one of these officially-designated Holy Places. I heard, though I do not recall from whom, that Mr. Ioas learned that the government of Israel had passed a law prohibiting residential dwellings within a certain number of meters from a designated holy place.  He informed Shoghi Effendi of this, and stated that perhaps the Covenant-breaker dwelling could be removed.  The Guardian asked, (paraphrasing, not his exact words), “Leroy, do you really think you could do this?”  Mr. Ioas answered that he could not; however, he knew that God assisted everything Shoghi Effendi wanted done, and if Shoghi Effendi told Mr. Ioas to do it, he knew that it could be accomplished.  Shoghi Effendi then told him to proceed, and said that it would be a miracle to get the Covenant-breakers out.

“When Leroy was given this assignment, the Guardian said to him, 'Everything you have done up to now, including your work on the Shrine of the Bab, is as silver, whereas removing the Covenant-breakers from Bahji, and securing the buildings and lands for the Faith, will be as gold.'  (Leroy Ioas, p. 194)



This photograph, taken on the occasion of the believers praying at the Shrine of Baha'u'llah following the Ascension of Abdu'l-Baha, clearly shows the building under discussion. On the right is the Shrine of Baha'u'llah.  Behind it, not visible in this picture, is the Mansion of Bahji. In the center of the photograph is the apartment house that was occupied by the Covenant-breakers.  It was this dwelling that was finally brought into the hands of the Faith in 1957 through the confirmations of God that attended the efforts of Mr. Ioas; and which was destroyed by the Hands of the Cause following their first conclave in December, 1957.

This was not merely removal of an ugly building from otherwise beautiful gardens, nor merely the eviction of undesirables.  This represented the death-blow to the violators of the Covenant.  Their violation of the Ark of the Testament -- the Will and Testament of Baha'u'llah establishing His Covenant-- was prophesied in the Bible, as explained by Abdu'l-Baha here.  It was also, in my personal view, as explained by Mirza Abu'l-Fadl, prophesied in Qur'an 2:30, the verse regarding the quarreling of the angels with God upon His appointing a Vicegerent on earth. (See page 23 of the Kalimat Press book "Miracles and Metaphors," by Mirza Abu'l-Fad'l, translated by Juan Ricardo Cole)

The joy of Shoghi Effendi at the successful accomplishment of this is evident in his message to the Baha'i world:

“With feelings of profound joy, exultation and thankfulness, announce on morrow of sixty-fifth Anniversary of Ascension of Bahá'u'lláh, signal, epoch-making victory won over the ignoble band of breakers of His Covenant which, in the course of over six decades, has entrenched itself in the precincts of the Most Holy Shrine of the Bahá'í world...”
Shoghi Effendi, Messages to the Baha'i World - 1950-1957, p. 120)

The Covenant-breakers appealed the dispossession order, and they were not finally evicted until just a few weeks before Shoghi Effendi's passing. He was in London at the time, and Mr. Ioas cabled him, informing him that the Covenant-breakers had finally been evicted, and asking the Guardian if he wished him to proceed with the demolition of the building.  Shoghi Effendi cabled back that he would supervise it himself, upon his return. However, Shoghi Effendi passed away shortly thereafter, and never returned to the Holy Land.  The Hands of the Cause proceeded with this demolition immediately after their First Conclave:

“Following the historic inaugural Conclave in Bahji from November 18th to the 25th, 1957, one of the first acts of the Custodians was to fulfil what had been a cherished plan of Shoghi Effendi himself, namely, to tear down the long, two-storey house occupied by a remnant of the Covenant-breakers, a building which abutted on the garden wall of the Mansion of Bahá'u'lláh in Bahji towards the north, the legal possession of which he had acquired, after years of effort, shortly before his passing. We accomplished this in December 1957 not only in a spirit of fidelity to his wishes, but, in our deep sorrow, longing to please him by fulfilling one of his last cherished plans for the beautification of the precincts of our Most Holy Shrine, the Qiblih of our Faith. As the clouds of dust arose from the demolition of this ugly building, in some strange way it assuaged our aching hearts. It was a revelation to me, when we extended the pattern of Shoghi Effendi's garden into the space the demolished building had occupied, to see how, within half a metre, the large symmetrical design of the existing gardens he had made was completed.”
(Amatu'l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum, Ministry of the Custodians, p. 11)
 
Shoghi Effendi consummated his ministry.  He raised up and delivered the Cause of God, intact and vibrant, into the hands of his Lord, in complete fulfillment of his intercessory prayer to the Greatest Holy Leaf:

“Whatever betide us, however distressing the vicissitudes which the nascent Faith of God may yet experience, we pledge ourselves, before the mercy-seat of thy glorious Father, to hand on, unimpaired and undivided, to generations yet unborn, the glory of that tradition of which thou hast been its most brilliant exemplar.”
(Shoghi Effendi, Baha'i Administration, p. 196)

To me, this cleansing of the sanctuary which Shoghi Effendi accomplished through his divinely-guided spirit and through his Hands of the Cause of God, is a symbol of the elevated position and sanctity of the Cause of God at the conclusion of his ministry.  He had purified the sanctuary, and the Cause was safely delivered into the hands of the Universal House of Justice.

Here is a more recent photograph of the Shrine of Baha'u'llah, showing the same area where the Covenant-breaker house had previously stood:


The Shrine of Baha'u'llah
Used with permission
Please click image for larger photo

Other than Amatu'l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum, it is hard to imagine any other believer who so effectively served Shoghi Effendi in the accomplishment of the work set before him in all three of these great Charters of the Faith.

3 comments:

  1. Dear Brent
    This is a wonderful piece on one of God's champions, whom I had the distinct pleasure and honor of meeting on many occasions when I lived in Akka. Mr Ioas was truly a gem and an incredible administartor. He used to frequent my brother Shukrullah's store in Akka, for recruiting master builders and mason master, as well as to commission him and my other brother Hasan to haul the Marble pieces Shipped from Italy to the sea port of Haifa, for the Shrine of the Bab, which they transported to the site on Mount Carmel in their own trucks. Mr Ioas frequented my brother's business for many work project, either to seek advice on procuring workers or to procure materials from what places, and often be as the go in between as Mr Ioas spoke no Hebrew or Arabic; As Shukrullah and Hasan, both born at Akka, knew and were known as staunch Baha'is, by many of its citizens and those of the surroonding areas. A few examples are; the brothers hauled the pebbles that pave the path from the Collins gate north to the entrance of the Shrine of Bahaullah. Such pebbles were collected from the seashores of lake Tiberius. The chipped ceramic tiles, around both Shrines at Bahji and Mount Carmel, were collected & hauled by their trucks from the demolished Arab homes [in Yafo mainly], Fill dirt of different colors- yellow and Red clay,fro different areas of the Gardens and especially in the gardens south east of the Old Pilgrimage House on Mount Carmel near the Shrine of the Bab; Another was hauing the hand cut stones from the Quarries of the Druz Villages of Yarka, Jules and Yanoh; the white hand cut stone which is the outer facade of most of the holy sites and buildings. Of course some of these things were done before Mr Ioas'es tenure, right after 1948, when Israel was established. I have written in my book a detailed account of Mr Ioas's relationship to my family in general, and to working with Shukrullah in particular.
    With great appreciation
    Hossein Ashchi

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  2. Dear dear dear Brent, I have read through both sites you referred us to, and with these you have started a wonderful collection of stories for us to access at any time. The links will be filed in my Bahai folder.

    Until now, Leroy Ioas was simply the name of a Hand of the Cause - to me. Now his spirit is more palpable for me. If only I can be infused with a bit of it!

    I am struck with the symbolism of the clearing of the house of covenant breakers. It was a time of great change for the Faith of God. There was much uncertainty and confusion about the future of the Faith with the passing of Shoghi Effendi. And yet this great blessing occurred, a sign of purification and room for expansion and beautification at Bahji, the heart of the Baha'i World. It was as though the spirit of Baha'u'llah - and the recently departed Shoghi - cleared the way for the marvelous expansion of the Faith that followed.

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  3. The Anonymous comment above is from Julie Swan, thank you, Julie

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