The Presence of the Heroic in the Writings of Shoghi Effendi and Nabil

By Jack McLean

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #72
Louhelen Bahá'í School: Davison, Michigan, USA
October 6–9, 2006
(see list of papers from #72)

    In his main historical works, God Passes By and The Promised Day Is Come, and unlike detached, "objective" academic histories, Shoghi Effendi made strong moral judgments of the characters he portrayed. Those who opposed the Bahá'í Faith and persecuted its founders are strongly condemned. Kings, prime ministers, courtiers, state officials and clerics are often his villains. On the other hand, the Báb and His early followers, the Letters of the Living (Hurúf-i-Hayy), His "apostolic order," who lived in the first and second periods of the early Bahá'í Era (1844-1892), are depicted as extraordinary divine heroes and heroines.

    To capture the early days of the Bábí-Bahá'í Faith, Shoghi Effendi closely followed the history of the ardent apostle of Bahá'u'lláh, poet-historian Nabíl—i-A'zam. It was Nabíl who first treated the religion's early figures as divine heroes and heroines. Like Nabíl, Shoghi Effendi wove into the historical record strong dramatic, literary, moral and theological elements.

    Postmodernity's deep scepticism has all but rejected the heroic as an outmoded, quaint, even discredited model of human behaviour. Ours is the age of the anti-hero. However, the heroic remains key to Shoghi Effendi's and Nabíl's historical and spiritual vision, and will long remain associated with the Heroic Age of the Bahá'í Faith (1844-1821), and to students of early Bahá'í history and sacred literature. But heroism is also central to Shoghi Effendi's understanding of contemporary Bahá'í spirituality with its precepts of struggle, striving and sacrifice. This understanding of spirituality as another order of heroism, while it demands a different form of practice, connects present day Bahá'í spirituality to that of the Bahá'í Faith's spiritual ancestors.

    This paper explores the heroic motif or character-type through a theological and literary framework that compares and contrasts Shoghi Effendi's and Nabíl's concept of the heroic to Thomas Carlyle's concept of the prophet as hero and to selected features of the nineteenth century's morally ambiguous romantic hero. In Shoghi Effendi's and Nabíl's portrayals of the history of the Báb, and the Letters of the Living, the normally incompatible elements of myth (sacred story), and historical realism converge.

    This paper is online at