December 24, 2011

Siyyid Mustafa Rumi (c.1846-1945) -- Hand of the Cause; distinguished pioneer of the Faith; staunch high minded noble soul; his resting place is the foremost shrine in the community of Burmese believers

Siyyid Mustafa belonged to a noble family of Baghdad, ‘Iraq. His father had settled in Madras, India. He was brought into the Faith through the efforts of Sulayman Khan Ilyas, popularly known a Jamal Effendi, the first Baha’i teacher sent by Baha’u’llah to India in 1875.

Jamal Effendi was an untiring, devoted and renowned travel teacher who, dressed as a dervish, roamed the Ottoman territory in order to attract souls to the Cause of God. It happened that a few members of the Afnan family had established themselves in Bombay and had set up a printing press on which the first volumes of Baha'i writings were published. Realizing the Indians were receptive to the Faith, they petitioned Baha’u’llah to send a Baha’i teacher of knowledge and experience. Their petition coincided with Jamal Effendi’s second pilgrimage to 'Akka. Baha'u'llah instructed him to go to India

After reaching Bombay, Jamal Effendi, travelled throughout India, teaching the Baha’i Faith. Owing to his dignified bearing and dress, he was perceived as a man of culture and thought. He showed the people genuine friendship and love. His talks were attractive and his manner of listening admirable. People of diverse backgrounds sought enlightenment from him. Thus he attracted many people to the Cause.

In Madras, Jamal Effendi encountered a young man, Siyyid Mustafa-i-Rumi who was in his early twenties and had come to Madras to help his aged father in his business. Rumi who was very attached to Islam was also very spiritual and careful in the observance of his religious duties. The moment, therefore, he came in contact with the commanding personality of Jamal Effendi, he was attracted to him right away.

Rumi was proficient in a number of languages, including Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Gujarati, Bengali, Urdu and English. He was engaged in the rice trade until 1876, when he suffered heavy losses and decided to return to Iraq. He was in the last stages of preparing to leave India when he attended a gathering of men discussing various philosophical and religious questions and was at once attracted to the eloquent talk and courtly manners of Jamal Effendi. He sat and listened to his talks which presented religious truth from quite a different angle from that in vogue at the time. He was convinced and enamoured of this new Revelation and did not wish to leave his mentor.

When Jamal Effendi was called back to Rampur in northern India, Mustafa Rumi decided to forego his own plans and follow his mentor. Jamal Effendi spent several months teaching in northern India, with Rumi as his constant companion. The pair eventually made their way to Calcutta. It was while they were there, near the end of 1877, that Rumi became a Baha’i. Up to this time it had been the personality of Jamal Effendi that held his devotion.

In Calcutta Rumi and Jamal Effendi were visited by two Baha’is who were on their way to Iran. The conversation turned to the Russo-Turkish war and the prophecies of Baha'u'llah about Turkey. Jamal Effendi then asked Rumi to chant Baha’u’llah's Lawh-i-Ra'is for their guests. The reading of this Tablet had a tremendous impact on Rumi. Afterwards he sat spellbound as the men discussed the significance of Baha’u’llah’s mission. Although he had heard many discourses by Jamal Effendi, this seems to have been the first time Rumi understood the full impact of the Revelation. He immediately declared his belief in Baha'u’llah. Shortly afterwards Jamal Effendi wrote to Baha’u’llah stating that Rumi was a new believer and Baha’u’llah sent a Tablet to Rumi in reply.

In May 1878 Jamal Effendi and Rumi sailed for Burma, where there was already one young Persian Baha'i, Haji Siyyid Mihdi. In time, a number of people became Baha’is through the efforts of these three Baha'is. Early in 1879 Jamal Effendi and Rumi, together with a number of the new believers, travelled to Mandalay, where they taught primarily among the Muslims. About 200 people became Baha'is in the ensuing months and in late 1880 the two Baha'i teachers left Mandalay for Rangoon. The next year they returned to encourage the Baha'i community and later went to India.

In India they visited a number of cities, including Madras, where Rumi was able to meet his aged father. After India the two teachers embarked on an extended journey through Southeast Asia, sailing first for Singapore, then to Java, Bali and Celebes, and then back though Siam and Malaya to Rangoon. At Rangoon, Jamal Effendi and Rumi parted, Rumi remaining in Burma and Jamal Effendi going back to India.

In Rangoon Rumi married into a prosperous Indo-Burman family of traders and joined his brothers-in-law in their business activities. The communities of Rangoon and Mandalay continued to grow slowly, Baha’u’llah sending the Baha'is there numerous Tablets through Rumi.

At the end of the 19th century the Baha'is of Burma made a beautiful marble sarcophagus to hold the remains of the Báb, Mustafa Rumi being one of three believers who helped pay for it. In 1899 Rumi, together with a few others, carried the sarcophagus to the Holy Land as a gift to 'Abdu'l-Baha, who welcomed them graciously. Another ten years would pass, however, before the Master was at last able, on Naw-Ruz 1909, to transfer the sarcophagus to the mausoleum on Mount Carmel, where the wooden casket containing the Báb’s remains was laid within it and the sarcophagusm interred in the Shrine.

During these years Rumi could devote only part of his time to the Faith, as his work and family required most of his attention. In 1910, however, his business failed and shortly afterwards his wife died. He therefore determined to devote his full life to the service of the Cause.

In 1911 an All-India Conference of Religions was held in Allahabad, for which Rumi wrote a thesis on the history and teachings of the Faith. His work explained how differences among the various warring communities of India could not be overcome as long as religion and politics continued to influence the affairs of the antagonists. Although Rumi was unable to attend the conference himself, a young Baha’i of Hindu background, Narayan Rao Sethji (Vakil) read the thesis on his behalf and it was distributed widely to the audience.

As well as establishing the Baha’i communities of Rangoon and Mandalay, Rumi was also responsible for raising up the Baha'i community of Daidanaw, a village in the township of Kungyangoon. How this came about is an interesting story. It so happened that the headman of Daidanaw was embroiled in some legal case and he was in trouble. In the court of Rangoon when his bail application was admitted there was no one to stand surety for him because he was a stranger to the place. One of the Baha’is of Rangoon, ‘Abdu’l-Karim by name, happened to be in the court. He at once offered himself and another friend as sureties for the headman. This impressed the headman and his companions and they inquired of ‘Abdu’l-Karim to which Faith he belonged and when told of Baha’u’llah and His Great Message they evinced a great desire to hear it in detail. They were brought to Siyyid Mustafa who convinced them about the truth of the new Revelation. The headman and his party went back to their village and related their unique experience to the people. The elders of the village held a consultation and decided to invite Siyyid Mustafa to their village to teach them the new Faith of God. Siyyid Mustafa did it in his own convincing manner and the whole village of some 800 people embraced the Cause.

Desiring to help these new Baha'is, Rumi then obtained financial aid from the Rangoon believers and started a school in the village. In later years the Guardian strongly encouraged the Daidanaw community to maintain its school, sending 30 pounds through the care of Mustafa Rumi for its upkeep. For their spiritual edification Rumi translated many important books such as the “Book of Iqan” the “Hidden Words” and “Some Answered Questions,” into Burmese. He supervised the translation into Urdu of “Maoala-i-Sayyah” which was printed under the title of “Babul-Hayat.” He compiled in Urdu “Almayarus-Sahih”. The True Criterion) which proved a great aid to Baha’i teachers in India. In addition he translated into Burmese “Baha’i Prayers” and wrote “Lessons in Religion” in that language.

Siyyid Mustafa had a very sweet temper. He was an erudite scholar and knew the religious books of the Jews, the Christians, the Muslims and the Buddhists. He had a talent for bringing out their teachings in the light of the Baha’i Message in his own sweet way and in such a convincing manner that a beginner became enamoured and convinced. He might not, for worldly considerations, join the Baha’i Fold; but he knew for certainty in his heart of hearts, that no other Faith could redeem the world at the present time of the ills that had beset it.

Throughout his life Siyyid Mustafa served the Cause of humanity by showing the people the true path of felicity and salvation as taught by Baha’u’llah and many were the souls that found the elixir of life at his hands. Siyyid Mustafa had a unique capacity that most teachers lack. He was a great administrator. He would not only teach his beginners but would lead them to form themselves into a group and thus lay the foundation of a Spiritual Assembly, the first unit in the New World Order of Baha’u’llah. Power to teach and power to organize are two chief capacities which make a perfect Baha’i teacher and Siyyid Mustafa possessed both in abundance.

Siyyid Mustafa passed the two greatest tests which confronted every person who claimed to be a Baha’i. On the occasion of the Ascension of Baha’u’llah when the Naqidin [Covenant-breakers] spread their nefarious propaganda which had its ramifications in Bombay and in other Baha’i centers in India, Siyyid Mustafa stood valiantly for the Covenant of God and so firmly countered their efforts that it was not only prevented from spreading outside the area of Bombay but was driven out of that city also.

Again, when in 1921 ‘Abdu’l-Baha passed to the Supreme Concourse and according to His last “Will and Testament” Shoghi Rabbani was appointed the first Guardian of the Cause of God and the Naqidin had once more started their efforts by bringing in quotations from the “Aqdas,” Siyyid Mustafa stood like a mountain and vigorously taught the friends to follow the “Will and Testament” of the great Master, showing them from the Writings of Baha’u’llah that the Naquiz Akbar [reference to Muhammad-Ali, half-brother of ‘Abdu’l-Baha] had forfeited his privilege by disobeying the Commandments of Baha’u’llah so explicitly given in the “Book of Covenant.”

Mustafa Rumi was loved by 'Abdu'l-Baha and received many Tablets from Him. He visited the Holy Land twice during the lifetime of 'Abdu'l-Baha and once after His passing. After 'Abdu'l-Baha's ascension Rumi served the Guardian fervently.

Siyyid Mustafa was entirely detached from the world and what it contains. He loved and adored the beloved Guardian to such a degree that in all his actions in his daily life he followed his example. He knew that the beloved Guardian loved and appreciated nothing but work and service for the Divine Faith and he worked and worked for it day and night unmindful of his health or welfare. He was about 99 years of age at the time of his death but his spiritual being was as young or even younger than the spirit of a youth of 22 years. If he heard that there was an inquirer he would walk long distances and visit the inquiring soul and many a time he succeeded in scraping away the dross and bringing out the reality buried beneath the litter and rubbish of tradition and imitation. His method was to make the inquirer, in the first instance, self-sufficing in his search for the truth. He would remove his doubts about his capability to understand religions subjects. He would eliminate from his mind the attitude of dependence upon so-called religious leaders. He would then lead him to sift out the truth from the motley of dogmas and man-made beliefs inherited from the ancestors. He would build his argument on the knowledge of the inquirer and convince him of the Truth proclaimed by Baha’u’llah.

Siyyid Mustafa Rumi was a scholar who knew the religious books of the Jews, Christians, Muslims and Buddhists. His methods of teaching were very successful. He was able to present the teachings of these great religions in light of the Baha'i message in a convincing manner. When people accepted the Cause, Rumi was then able to help them to form administrative groups, laying the foundation of many spiritual assemblies. One of Rumi's greatest strengths was his ability to consolidate new Baha'i communities as well as to raise them up.

In the early 1930s Rumi was elected to the National Spiritual Assembly of India and Burma and served on it for several years. In later years he made his home in Daidanaw. During the Second World War many of the Baha'is of Rangoon and Mandalay took refuge in the village. It was a time of intense nationalistic fervor and people of foreign backgrounds were in particular danger. The Baha'is asked Rumi to escape from the village as he was in great risk of his life but he refused, referring to his advanced age and his determination not to leave the place he had chosen to serve.

On 13 March 1945 the village was attacked by a mob of three thousand people who surrounded it in order to purge it from all foreign influence. The Baha’i school, the Haziratu’l-Quds and many Baha'i homes were burned to the ground and property was looted. Most tragically, however, eleven Baha'is were killed in the attack, among them Siyyid Mustafa Rumi. The mob burned his home, beheaded him and chopped his body to pieces. Later the Baha'is gathered his body and buried him in front of the Baha’i centre. On 14 July 1945 the Guardian sent a cable to the Baha'is of India and Burma elevating Rumi to the rank of Hand of the Cause:

“Hearts griefstricken passing Supreme Concourse distinguished pioneer Faith Baha’u’llah, dearly beloved staunch high minded noble soul Siyyid Mustafa. Long record his superb services (in) both teaching (and) administrative fields shed lustre on both heroic and formative ages (of) Baha’i Dispensation. His magnificent achievements fully entitle him join ranks (of the) Hands of (the) Cause (of) Baha’u’llah. His resting place should be regarded foremost shrine (in the) community of Burmese believers Advise holding (of) memorial gatherings throughout India (to) his imperishable memory. Urge Indian (and) Burmese Baba’is participate construction (of his) tomb. Cabling three hundred pounds (as) my personal contribution (for) so praiseworthy (a) purpose.”

Shoghi Rabbani

In August 1945 the Guardian, through his secretary, again wrote to the Indian Baha’is:

“He was deeply grieved to hear of the death of our very dear and esteemed Baha'i brother, Siyyid Mustafa. He was truly an example of steadfast devotion and one of the outstanding pioneers the Faith produced during the first century of its existence. He was also very sad to hear of the ruin of the Baha'i Haziras and the plight of the Baha'is in general.”

The Guardian wrote again in December of the same year:

“He was very sad to read of the sufferings of the beloved Burmese friends, of the death of that bright star of the Faith, Siyyid Mustafa, and of the murder of many other of the friends!”

Rumi's devotion and selflessness set an example for Baha'is everywhere. In 1948, in a letter to the National Spiritual Assembly of Australia and New Zealand encouraging it to persevere in its efforts to teach the Faith, the Guardian focused attention on Siyyid Mustafa Rumi's accomplishments in Burma:

“We can truly say that this Cause is a cause that enables people to achieve the impossible! For the Baha'is, everywhere, for the most part, are people with no great distinguishments of either wealth or fame, and yet once they make the effort and go forth in the name of Baha'u'llah to spread His Faith, they become, each one, as efficacious as a host! Witness what Mustafa Raumie accomplished in Burma . . . It is the quality of devotion and self-sacrifice that brings rewards in the service of this Faith rather than means, ability or financial backing. (Adapted from Lights of Fortitude, by Barron Harper, and The Baha’i World, vol. 10, by Abbasali Butt)