Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Spiritual Leader's Tour of Peace

At 83, Ruhiyyih Rabbani, the world leader of the Baha'i religion, is as grand as her position would imply. She is a well-dressed woman with piercing eyes, a penchant for laughter and an almost blase approach to politics, world affairs and her life as a spiritual leader.


Rabbani was in Moscow last week to meet both with Russian officials and with some 150 Muscovites who follow the Baha'i faith. About 3, 500 members of the Baha'i faith live in Russia, according to Nancy Ackerman, a Canadian Baha'i who lives in Moscow.


Rabbani's trip is taking her across the former Soviet Union, from the Old Silk Road capitals in Central Asia to Moscow and then on to Mongolia.


She is impressed with what she has seen.


"It's a marvelous part of the world. I had no idea how beautiful it is", said the energetic Rabbani, who has never traveled to the former Soviet Union, despite visits to 170 "nations, islands and territories" in the world.


But although Rabbani is meeting top state officials, the visits are what she calls "courtesy calls". That means, for example, that she did not discuss any human rights abuses with state officials she met in Central Asian countries such as Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.


"Baha'is aren't strong on bad news", Rabbani said. "We are not political. We try to promote peace, understanding and brotherly feeling. I'm not the least bit concerned about politics".


The faith believes that knowledge stemming from the major religions of the world - Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism - holds the key to raising the world's standards by abolishing all prejudice and war. Despite the Islamic objection to the concept of the Baha'i religion, officials at the new Historical Mosque in Moscow said they were unaware of Rabbani's visit and were not concerned about it in any way.


During meetings with Baha'is in Central Asia, Rabbani's traveling companion. Violet Nakhjazani, a petite, refined woman, said that some Baha'is living in former Soviet republics spoke of the horrors of being sent to Siberia because of their religious choice.


"These people had such strength, it was incredible", Nakhjazani said.


According to the religion's followers, the Baha'i religion was founded in the 1800s to promote global unity, partly through intercultural and interracial marriages. Rabbani, born the daughter of a well-known Canadian architect, is the widow of Shoghi Effendi, the great-grandson of the founder of the Baha'i faith.


While Baha'is do not have leaders, Rabbani is one of the religion's three top "dignitaries", known as the "Hand of the Cause". According to Ackerman, Rabbani is also highly respected within the religion because she is the last living member of the Baha'i founding family.


Since Effendi's death in 1957, Rabbani, who is fluent in English, French, German and Persian, has traveled the world with Nakhjazani.


Nibbling on white chocolate, the two laughed as they recounted one trip that began in 1968 with Rabbani and Nakhjazani traveling across Africa alone in a jeep. The trip lasted four years.


One of Rabbani's next stops will be in Mongolia, which she has visited previously. There, Rabbini, whose chosen home is in Israel, will meet a few hundred scattered Baha'is.


"I just love the air there. It's one of my favorite places", Rabbani said in anticipation of the next leg of her journey.