Tears of Joy: Web Talk on “Zikrullah Khadem, The Itinerant Hand of the Cause of God”
“Thank you, to our dearest Dr. Khodadad, for a beautiful, loving, tender, and inspiring remembrance of our beloved Hand of the Cause of God Zikrullah Khadem. I hope others will take the opportunity to watch this Web Talk, as it is a testament to the dedication and spirit of service with which Mr. Khadem fulfilled his duties and can serve as a model for all of us in our lives as Bahá’ís.”
This is how Taraneh Ahouraiyan, one of those listening to Dr. Jena Khodadad’s moving Web Talk about her father the Hand of the Cause of God Zikrullah Khadem, worded her reaction to the talk. Jena herself said she had to keep pinching herself during the talk so that she would not cry, but her emotions were visible anyway. And others who signed in for the talk were also moved by her talk. Another Bahá’í posted this: “What a beautiful sharing! Remember Mr. Khadem and his deep devotion. Learning personal stories very dear, and I appreciate being able to hear/see this piece. Fondly remember being in the presence of several members of the Khadem family over the years. Thank you, Wilmette Institute and Mrs. Khodadad!”
Jena’s Web Talk called “Zikrullah Khadem, The Itinerant Hand of the Cause of God” is now available on the Wilmette Institute’s YouTube channel for all to hear. In addition, you can also access the PowerPoint she used during her talk and an interview that Niki Daniels, the Course Creation Assistant for the Wilmette Institute, conducted with Jena.
Jena opened her talk about her father by saying that it “is bound to be replete with my personal expression and sentiments. . . .” She did not disappoint, for she laced her account of the details of her father’s life with anecdotes and family and personal stories. She said that her father “honored and cherished” the sobriquet—the “Itinerant” Hand of the Cause of God—that Shoghi Effendi bestowed on Mr. Khadem as he was preparing to visit the European Bahá’ís. She also noted that “itinerant” was befitting, as her father “traveled extensively by all modes, at time by car, train, rickshaw, plane, and even small taxi airplanes. He traveled from village to village, town to town, city to city, and, at the behest of Shoghi Effendi, country to country, continent to continent. He traveled so extensively that his passport [with its many visas from countries all over the world] turned into what he called ‘his suitcase.’”
To refresh our memories, Jena noted that her father, Zikrullah, was born in Tehran in 1904 and passed away in Chicago in 1986; he is buried in a cemetery in Evanston, Illinois. In 1952, in the second contingent of Hands of the Cause of God, Shoghi Effendi appointed him to that illustrious band of Bahá’ís. How do those who knew him remember him? Jena asked. The words that come to mind include humble, unobtrusive, kind, accommodating, staunch in the Covenant, dedicated to Shoghi Effendi, in a state of ecstasy when speaking of Bahá’u’lláh and the Central Figures of the Faith. How, then, does she, his daughter remember him? In a state of rapture reciting memorized passages from the Bahá’í writings, as a loving father. [In Jena’s mother’s biography of her husband Zikrullah Khadem: The Itinerant Hand of the Cause of God, Jena (and her four siblings) write movingly about growing up with their father (pp. 175–240)].
Jena then talked about Zikrullah’s illustrious father, Mírzá Nasr’u’lláh (personal attendant and companion to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá); his mother (a warm and nurturing mother of six); and his grandmother Bibi Jan (who,with another woman, retrieved bodies of martyrs for proper burial by throwing themselves on them and lamenting, “This is my brother, my true brother”). ‘Abdu’l-Bahá bestowed on Zikrullah’s father the name “Khadem,” which means “one who serves.”
Zikrullah grew up in Tehran in a loving and devoted Bahá’í family (he later tried to reproduce the same spirit in his own home and with his five children). Bahá’í teachers, including great poets, traveling in Iran often stayed in Zikrullah’s father’s home, and pilgrims often brought tablets from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, where they would be read by a candle placed in indoor pit used for baking bread.
Many Hands of the Cause of God are known for particular qualities: Mr. William Sears, for his funny stories (he had been a radio and television personality) and clever pre-PowerPoint drawings and illustrations (many remember his “’Round-To-It” for Bahá’ís who never get around to it); Mr. John Robarts, from Canada, for his talks on prayer. Mr. Khadem was known for his extraordinary devotion to Shoghi Effendi. Jena talked about, after ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s passing, the Central Spiritual Assembly of Iran advising the Bahá’ís to convey their loyalty to Shoghi Effendi. This Mr. Khadem did. But he wanted to go on pilgrimage to meet the new Guardian. His ardor was so great (he was twenty-one), and the time of waiting for permission seemed so long that he finally embarked on the trip without permission, only to arrive at the ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s house with no permission in hand. Shoghi Effendi’s father opened the door with the permission in hand; he was on his way to the telegraph office to post it. So began Mr. Khadem’s first pilgrimage in 1925.
Other pilgrimages followed in 1936, 1937, 1938, and 1940, the latter being one in which Shoghi Effendi gave him two missions: to arrange for Persian pilgrims to obtain permission to visit Bahá’í holy places in the Holy Land and to encourage the Persian Bahá’ís to go pioneering (which set off a spate of pioneering). In 1944 Shoghi Effendi asked Mr. Khadem to hand-carry to Shiraz a seventy-page centenary letter for the Bahá’ís of Iran, who were holding their Convention and the celebration of the centenary of the Báb’s declaration in the House of the Báb. Later he also asked Mr. Khadem to arrange to send the sword of Mullá Husayn to Haifa.
In 1952, two weeks after Shoghi Effendi appointed Zikrullah Khadem a Hand of the Cause of God, Mr. Khadem, made a pilgrimage and was entrusted with carrying the original of Bahá’u’lláh’s Kitáb-i-Iqán, handwritten by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá with Bahá’u’lláh’s comments in the margin, from Tehran, where it had been kept in a vault, to Haifa. Then followed a great deal of travel: in 1952, ten European countries, goals of the Seven Year Crusade; in 1952–53, visiting every Bahá’í in Africa to convey Shoghi Effendi’s love; in 1953, the Intercontinental Teaching Conference in Kampala, Uganda; in 1953, the dedication of the Wilmette House of Worship, where he chanted a selection from the Báb’s Qayyúmu’l-Asmá’, His commentary on the Sura of Joseph, which Shoghi Effendi had chosen; in 1953–54, India, where he consulted about the purchase of land for the Indian House of Worship; in 1955, the Asia Teaching Conference in Nikko, Japan; in 1955, Japan, Macau, Hong Kong, Thailand, Burma, Singapore, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
After the passing of Shoghi Effendi in 1957, Mr. Khadem grieved intensely until one night he dreamed of Shoghi Effendi, who told him to take off his black coat. After the twenty-six Hands of the Cause met in the Holy Land and adopted a resolution to constitute a body of nine Hands to serve the interests of the Faith at the World Center, Mr. Khadem was assigned, in 1959, for the propagation and protection of the Faith in North, Central, and South American and the Caribbean islands. In 1960 he and his family moved to the United States [two of his children, including Jena, were already in the United States, studying at universities].
In 1972, when Mr. Kahdem was in the Holy Land, the Universal House of Justice asked him to research all the places associated with the lives of the Central Figures, a task he completed in five years, after which he sent 134 volumes to Haifa. Some listening to Jena’s talk remembered the 1984 U.S. National Convention [which the Universal House of Justice called “electrifying”], when Mr. Khadem reminded the delegates of the scroll of names the American and Canadian Bahá’ís sent to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in 1909, asking permission to build the Mother Temple of the West. In August 1984, the Department of the Secretariat, on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, responded to the request by saying that it was translating into English a compilation about the Law of Huqúqu’lláh for the Bahá’ís in the United States and other Western countries.
Some of those listening to Jena’s presentation could not resist adding more details about the 1984 Convention. In the convention hall, someone (Betty Fisher remembers Dr. Dwight Allen being involved) produced an enormously long scroll of paper, delegates signed the scroll, and it was sent to the Universal House of Justice asking that the Western believers be given the law of Huqúqu’lláh. Rob Stockman, though not a delegate, remembers being one of the guests who signed the petition. Betty Fisher, in the hall outside the convention room, remembers Susan Engle, with her voice of an angel, keeping the children, who were waiting to perform for the delegates, quiet and organized while the unusual scene unfolded inside the hall. After its 1984 letter, saying that it was translating material for the Western Bahá’ís, the Universal House of Justice then spent the Six Year Plan (1986–92) educating the Bahá’ís about the law. At Ridván 1992, during the Holy Year, 1992–93, the Law of Huqúqu’lláh, was made binding on the Bahá’ís worldwide, eight years after Mr. Khadem’s thrilling recommendation to the delegates to the U.S. National Convention.
Returning to Jena’s Web Talk, she concluded her account of Mr. Khadem by talking about some of his literary works, singling out his description of Máh-Kú, where the Báb was confined (at Shoghi Effendi’s request, he arranged for a piece of plaster from the Fortress of Máh-Kú where the Báb was confined to be taken to Haifa; it was later placed under the golden tile of the dome of the Shrine of the Báb, to highlight the contrast between the darkness of Máh-Kú and the lights focused on the Shrine). Then she asked, “How do I remember my father?” She remembers the home environment he created, infused with his love of the Central Figures of the Faith; his ecstasy and ardor; his including his children in reciting the refrain of one of the prayers for the Fast; his balance of service and family life; and his commitment to his family and to his wife, Javidukht, his supporter and collaborator; his vast memorizations of the Bahá’í writings, which he recited until his last breath.
After Jena completed the formal part of her presentation, she graciously answered a number of questions, some about points in the talk (such as Mr. Khadem’s carrying the manuscript of the Kitáb-i-Iqán to Haifa) and some about Mr. Khadem’s profession and how he learned English. Annette Moody took us back to the tears with which we began the talk: “Thank you so much for this blessing. You have brought tears to my eyes.” Another listener thanked Dr. Khodadad and the Wilmette Institute for “this precious talk.” Nancy Warren, a Scottish Bahá’í spoke for all when she typed the following into the chat box: “What a treasure you have given to all of us. Thank you for creating this personal, emotional, and remarkable record of a great man. As we listen, we owe a debt of appreciation to those, such as you, with such first-hand experience who take the time to capture the lives of believers in the history of the Faith. Sending love and gratitude your way in exchange for the enormous joy you brought to us today.”
Jena Khadem Khodadad, holds a Ph.D from Northwestern University in biological sciences (cell and molecular biology). Her academic career as professor on medical and graduate college faculties has entailed teaching cell and molecular biology and neuroscience and also research on the molecular organization of biological membranes. She has presented the results of her work to national and international scientific forums and has published her research in scientific journals and books. Jena has served on institutions and agencies of the Bahá’í Faith. As an advocate of human rights, Jena has presented before human-rights organizations, including Amnesty International and the American Jewish Committee, on the denial of higher education to Bahá’ís in Iran. As an active member of the Bahá’í Faith, she is dedicated to interfaith understanding and dialogue.
Jena is the daughter of Hand of the Cause of God Zikrullah Khadem and Javidukht Khadem and was raised in a household infused with the love of and passion for the Bahá’í Faith. She attained the presence of Shoghi Effendi and has presented at numerous conferences, seminars, and classes on “Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith”—a theme that is integral to the focus of her Web talk. Jena’s most recent book The Dynamics of Growth: Scientific Principles at Work in the Worldwide Advancement of the Bahá’í Faith was published by George Ronald in 2017. The book applies insights from science to the question of the growth of the Bahá’í Faith in particular and to the growth of religions in general. Jena and her husband, Manuchehr, live in the United States in the Chicago area.