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I sat on the floor in the crowded living room of the artist David Villasenor and listened as Mr. Samandarí told the story in Persian of the occasions on which he had been in the presence of Baha’u’llah. 

I had met the man who had met Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith.

Imagine it, if you will – being in the presence of someone who met a holy messenger, Christ, or Buddha, or Moses. Like me, you would want to soak in every detail of what that person saw, heard, and felt. On that day Tarazu’llah Samandari was a very old man of ninety-two, and his son Mihdi translated for his father.

Tarazullah Samandari
Tarazullah Samandari

Mr. Samandari was seventeen when he first made the long trip from Persia to the Turkish penal colony of Akka where Baha’u’llah had been incarcerated for more than twenty years. The trip had taken many weeks, but had been worth it. For a period of six months he had been in the company of Baha’u’llah’s family, and on several occasions had heard Baha’u’llah reveal the words of God as he dictated tablets and prayers.

His memory sharp and unfaded, every scene was there like a photograph in his mind. As he described the events he had witnessed, he included even the smallest details. He told how on one occasion he was asked by Baha’u’llah to distribute roses to all the people present; he cherished the honor of having provided even this small and simple service. His stories were like small windows on a different time and place which we could see through his eyes. He had seen the early Baha’is coming on foot as pilgrims from far away in an effort to witness for themselves the author of the Baha’i teachings, which they had read and adopted as their religion. During the first years of Baha’u’llah’s imprisonment, pilgrims would arrive at the prison gate and beg to be admitted. This would leave the prison guards bewildered. They could not understand why anyone would want to try to get into prison.

Those who were allowed to enter would stay for weeks or months in the foulest and most squalid of conditions just to be near Baha’u’llah, the messenger of God. Disease at that time was rampant in the prison city, so the pilgrims ran the very real risk of contracting something fatal, and dying before they could leave. Sometimes the pilgrims were turned away and not allowed entrance. They would have to content themselves with standing on the far side of the double moat which surrounded the city, and seeing only Baha’u’llah’s hand as he waved to them through the barred window of his cell. Broken-hearted, they would return on foot the hundreds of miles back to their homelands, having seen only His hand. 

As Mr. Samandari described what he had seen, we sat enwrapped in the images of his words. He had been fortunate to arrive during a time in which people were more freely allowed to visit Baha’u’llah. He told us that the personality of Baha’u’llah finally won over the guards and the governor of the prison city himself. They recognized his guiltlessness, and even without the permission of their governmental superiors, permitted him to live outside the walls of Akka.

Via his translator, Mr. Samandarí humbly described Baha’u’llah’s majesty and kindness; the memories of a time when he was a youth of my age of seventeen. When he was finished, some of us asked questions about what it was like to have been a Baha’i during the time of the messenger of God Himself. He told of the honor he had in serving Baha’u’llah both during his life and afterwards, and that it is the duty of everyone to respond to the needs of the times in which they live and to do what they can as Baha’is.

I realized then that in a sense I had not missed meeting Baha’u’llah. Certainly I had not missed knowing about him, since I had read his books and recognized the divine origin of his teachings. I had even met someone who had met him. Above all, I had become a Baha’i, recognizing the truth of the Baha’i teachings. It was not important that I had not seen Baha’u’llah with my own eyes or heard the tones of his voice with my own ears; his words and teachings were what mattered. The message was still here even if the messenger of God had gone away:

Light is good in whatsoever lamp it is burning! A rose is beautiful in whatsoever garden it may bloom! A star has the same radiance if it shines from the East or from the West. Be free from prejudice, so will you love the Sun of Truth from whatsoever point in the horizon it may arise! You will realize that if the Divine light of truth shone in Jesus Christ it also shone in Moses and in Buddha. The earnest seeker will arrive at this truth. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 137.

Someone in the room then asked about the passing of Baha’u’llah. Mr. Samandari’s voice was suddenly sorrowful as he reluctantly recounted how he had been amongst the visiting pilgrims and resident Baha’is from around Akka who were summoned to the presence of Baha’u’llah while he was lying ill in bed, being tended by his family. As he stood there as a young man so many years ago, Mr. Samandari realized that Baha’u’llah was dying.

He paused for a while and then repeated what Baha’u’llah had told the grief-stricken assembly of devoted Baha’is. Baha’u’llah’s voice was clear, but softer because of the fever he had contracted. He spoke about the importance of unity. From the way Mr. Samandari spoke and his humble gestures, even before the words were translated from Persian, made it obvious with what love he regarded Baha’u’llah. Before excusing himself and retiring for the night, Mr. Samandari gave us the same message Baha’u’llah had given him: that we should be united and seek to promote unity in the world:

This is the Day in which God’s most excellent favors have been poured out upon men, the Day in which His most mighty grace hath been infused into all created things. It is incumbent upon all the peoples of the world to reconcile their differences, and, with perfect unity and peace, abide beneath the shadow of the Tree of His care and loving-kindness. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 6.

This series of essays is adapted from Joseph Roy Sheppherd’s book The Elements of the Baha’i Faith, with permission from his widow Jan Sheppherd.

7 Comments

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  • Barbara Talley
    Mar 07, 2020
    I love this story. It is so beautifully written, that the writer takes us into the story with him. Thank you for sharing this and a prayer to the dear soul who wrote it that has now passed on to the Kingdom and is reunited with his beloved. I thank you for sharing more about Dr. Samandari for I did not know much about him. I just heard about him this year from a Persian lady that shared that he was her uncle, and that when he was visiting Shoghi Effendi in the holy lands on his way to ...teach in Somalia, that the Guardian told him to share a certain passage with all the Africans he met and to tell them it was written about them: "And we desire to show favor to those who were brought low in the land, and to make them spiritual leaders...."
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  • John Bliss
    Jan 12, 2020
    I personally had the bounty of meeting Tarazullah Samandari in the fall of 1967 at the home of Dr Gerald Hanks in Winnipeg. I was then 23 years old. I sat there with a crowd of assembled believers and listened to him through his interpreter who was his son. As I gazed upon his serenely radiant and loving face I felt I was in the presence of God Himself. Meeting him had a searing effect on my overall spiritual health. Meeting him was without any doubt whatsoever more than an infinite recompense for the test ...of having never been able to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I shall never forget that meeting as long as I shall live.
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    • John Bliss
      Jan 12, 2020
      Thank you Joseph Shepherd for bringing the memory of him into my heart.
  • Jan 05, 2020
    Coming home from pilgrimage to Bahji, the most holy place for us as Bahá'í, I felt like meeting Bahá'u'lláh in Josephs article. Like meeting Him in all the beauty and love from the volunteering Bahá'ís at the Holy Places. „ It was not important that I had not seen Baha’u’llah with my own eyes or heard the tones of his voice with my own ears; his words and teachings were what mattered“, as Joseph wrote is the same impression I had. It's always an ocean of love when we get i touch with Bahá'u'lláh, his writings, his followers or ...even the places He had been living, because they are transcending the Glory of God. A never ending love. Our biggest hope for unity and peace through the realization of the meaning of this manifestation of God.
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  • Blue McSmurf
    Dec 29, 2019
    Back before the old saying "don't meet your heroes" came about. They don't make heroes like they used to back then.
  • Dec 28, 2019
    So happy to have embraced the Faith during this time and to have met Mr. Samandari and his son twice during their visits to Arizona and California. And also to have known and sung with “Joe” who had a marvelous voice!
  • Jim Ferguson
    Dec 28, 2019
    This was a wonderful account that touched my heart deeply. I had the priceless bounty, when I was 10 years old, of meeting precious Mr. Samandari and his son Mihdi when they visited Halifax, Nova Scotia in the late 1960s. This article brought back great memories as Mr. Samandari told similar stories of his days in the presence of Baha'u'llah. As a young Baha'i so inspired by the heroism of the early believers I was mesmerized by his stories....here I was sitting in the presence of someone who had been in the presence of God's Messenger for this day! Mr. ...Samandari passed away not too long after leaving Nova Scotia and I will always remember the great bounty I had as a child meeting this humble and beautiful soul. Jim Ferguson, Yamhill, OR
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