February 1980: Hand of the Cause Hasan Balyuzi passes away

Balyuzi, Hasan Munaqqar (1908-1980). (Hand of the Cause of God.) A linguist, historian, author, and BBC Radio announcer by profession, he was born on 7 September 1908 in Shiraz, Iran, into a very distinguished Babi/Baha’i family (his parents were Mirza 'Ali Aqa and Munavvar Khanum). He was related to Shoghi Effendi through a common great-grandfather, Haji Mirza Abul-Qasim, and was therefore a member of the Afnan family. His superb mastery of the English language is perhaps due to the fact that he was brought up from the age of four in a diplomatic environment - his father being at one time the governor of the Gulf Ports and Islands. Two scholarly friends of his father tutored him in Persian, Arabic, and history.

When his father was exiled to India during World War I, he learned Urdu and pursued his studies of English in Bishop's College, Poona. After returning to Iran, where his father died in 1921, he was sent, at the age of 17, to the Preparatory School of the American University of Beirut, where he met Shoghi Effendi. Having taken a bachelor's degree in chemistry and a master's degree in diplomatic history, he left Beirut to take his M.S. (in economics) at the London School of Economics (he achieved this in 1935, but the outbreak of World War II cut short his studies for a doctorate).

In 1932, before leaving the Near East, he went on pilgrimage to Haifa (the last time he met Shoghi Effendi).

In April 1933, within a few months of his arrival back in London, he was elected to the British National Spiritual Assembly, where he served until February 1960.

While still in Beirut he had been a leading light in the activities of the various university societies, including the Baha'i Society, and continued after he left to encourage the other students by, in the words of one, "his beautiful letters." Himself encouraged by Shoghi Effendi to remain similarly active in the Baha'i administrative, teaching, and consolidation work in the British Isles, he rapidly established his reputation as a brilliant speaker; a loving, wise, and humorous counselor; a powerful writer; and an indefatigable administrator.

Working for the Persian Section of the BBC he wrote many special features, such as talks on current affairs, English writers, and history, translated English poetry and short stories, and assisted in productions of Shakespeare and a series on English. He produced more than 1,000 radio programs on Iran, its history, and its literature, and some of his translations of English literature became part of modern Persian literature and coined many words now currently in use; "He made new and different uses of old words to convey new meanings."

In 1941 he married Mary (Molly) Brown, and with the birth of their first son, Hushang, Molly had to abandon a promising career in ballet. They had five sons in all (Hushang, Robert, Felix, Richard, and Simeon), and her devotion to the family and support of Hasan throughout their nearly 40 years of marriage enabled him to continue his outstanding services in so many fields. His dedication to Shoghi Effendi as the Guardian is summed up in two brief instances. Once, when asked how he could do so much and carry out so many engagements, he nodded to his chair and desk in his room and said, "Many nights I sit there all night and do not go to bed," and when asked how he could subject himself to such continuous hardship, he replied, "Whenever I think of what our beloved Guardian is doing for us I am ashamed of how little we are doing in response and sleep escapes my eyes. The second was when his mother died in Iran, and he inherited substantial wealth and properties there, which meant he could live in comfort and ease provided he returned to that country. However, he explained to a friend, "I am only interested in serving the Cause wherever the beloved Guardian wants me to serve, and I am not a bit interested in all that belongs to me in Iran."

In 1953 he convened and attended, at Shoghi Effendi's insistence, the first Intercontinental Conference in Kampala, Uganda. Also, as chairman of the British National Spiritual Assembly, he attended the Stockholm Conference later that year. His next trip overseas was to preside at the opening of the 1956 convention in Kampala, when the Regional National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Central and East Africa was elected.

He was appointed a Hand of the Cause of God in the last contingent in October 1957. The first responsibility he had to assume after his appointment was to work with his fellow Hands John Ferraby and Ugo Giachery in giving assistance to 'Amatu'l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum in respect to funeral arrangements for Shoghi Effendi following his unexpected demise in London on 4 November 1957.

During the first Conclave of the Hands of the Cause in the Holy Land, Hasan was one of the nine chosen by 'Amatu'l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum to unseal the Guardian's apartment to search for Shoghi Effendi's Will and Testament and other instructions he may have left. However, following a thorough search they reported to the others that no Will or Testament of any nature whatsoever executed by Shoghi Effendi had been found.

During the long, emotional, and grief-stricken consultations of that first Conclave, when every word spoken had to be translated into English and Persian, the burden of translation fell to Hasan and Abu'l-Qasim Faizi. Although appointed one of the Nine Hands resident in the Holy Land, he was unable to settle his personal affairs to make this possible. He would from time to time spend weeks, sometimes months, in Haifa. One of his outstanding contributions at that time was the preparation of the World Centre Archives for their housing in the special building (International Archives Building) designed for them on Mount Carmel, particularly in the identification of the original Baha'i Writings and other sacred materials. As a fellow Hand, himself a Persian scholar stated, "I have met many Baha'i scholars in Iran but he was to me one of the outstanding figures. . . I have never found in my life such a modest and humble man as Balyuzi. . . . I loved him dearly." Another Hand wrote after working closely with him in Haifa, "His life of service and spiritual obedience and sacrifices remain an effulgent example to emulate."

Throughout his life he would cheer people in his company with his unique sense of humor, seen equally in his English stories and jokes and in his stories of Persia. In the months following the passing of Shoghi Effendi he was a tower of strength, visiting communities and conferences in the British Isles to help friends to overcome the shock of Shoghi Effendi's death and to keep them on the right pathway to carry out the plans he had given to them.

During the period of 1958 to June 1964 he attended some 10 conferences of European Hands of the Cause and their Auxiliary Board members and met often with National Spiritual Assembly members, contributing wise and practical advice. In addition to these European travels he made visits in April 1961 to Ecuador and Peru for their first annual conventions, which were followed by a cross-Canada trip, when he met with many Indian tribes. His time at home was characterized by his numerous visits to teaching conferences and summer schools and Baha'i communities throughout the British Isles, where he never failed to inspire friends and deepen their knowledge of the Faith and leave them strengthened to serve with renewed vigor. By 1960, however, his health was causing increasing concern, and he had to contend repeatedly with various kinds of illnesses and injury. His researches and writing continued, with the real extent of his scholarship being evident in his many publications. Outstanding among these were Bahu'u'llah; Edward Granville Browne and the Baha'i Faith; ‘Abdu’l-Baha, The Center of the Covenant of Baha 'u' llah; The Bab, the Herald of the Day of Days; Muhammad and the Course of Islam; and Baha’u’llah – The King of Glory. It was his custom to work on two or three books at the same time so that he was relieved of concentrating on a single manuscript. He would write far into the night and turn to reading for background or to research as a break from writing. He would submit all his books to the publisher in his own handwriting, even the quotations, to ensure that his choice of selections would be observed. References from other scholars to his encyclopedic mind and his knowledge of the Faith, of Persian history, literature, and culture, of 19th- and 20th-century Iran and its leading figures, and of current developments in the world -- political, artistic or literary -- are numerous. Typical are these: "His fluency in Persian, English, Arabic, French as well as familiarity with some other language had made him . . . unique among orientalists"; "He produced a monumental work on Islam which will eclipse most of the books on this subject"; "His gem-like books will remain among the most outstanding writings to enlighten the paths of seekers for centuries to come." Even while writing his works in English he had three books in Persian published in Iran, and his copious notes enabled some of his works to be published posthumously. His large collection of books donated for scholarly research now form the basis for the Afnan Trust Library. They are a testimony to the depth of his own studies as well as his burning desire to give all in the service of the Faith, which occupied so many of his waking hours right up to his death.

It had been his intention to personally take a leather-bound copy of his last book to place it on the threshold of the Shrine of Baha'u'llah at Bahji. When the first copy reached England early in February 1980, he had it sent unseen for binding. However, he never saw it, as he had a stroke and passed away on 12 February; he was buried in New Southgate Cemetery, London, in a special plot near the grave of his beloved Guardian on 15 February, and his son, Robert, carried the book to Israel in the following month to carry out his father's wishes. The Universal House of Justice released the following message: "With broken hearts announce passing dearly loved Hand Cause Hasan Balyuzi. Entire Baha'i world robbed one of its most powerful defenders, most resourceful historians. His illustrious lineage, his devoted labors Divine Vineyard, his outstanding literary works combine in immortalizing his honored name in annals beloved Faith. Call on friends everywhere hold memorial gatherings. Praying Shrines his exemplary achievements, his steadfastness patience humility, his outstanding scholarly pursuits will inspire many devoted workers among rising generations follow his glorious footsteps." (‘Historical Dictionary of the Baha’i Faith’ by Hugh Adamson)