May Maxwell, the mother of Ruhiyyih Khanum, died only a few weeks after pioneering to South America, and was declared a martyr by Shoghi Effendi.
(Her story can be read in the Bahá’í World, Vol. VIII, pp. 631-642.) There is no question that May Maxwell devoted her entire life, subsequent to learning of the Faith, to teaching and serving it. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said of her: “May Maxwell is really a Bahá’í...She breathed no breath and uttered no word save in service to the Cause of God.” (p. 638) The words of the Guardian make very clear for us why she was named a martyr: “And now as this year, so memorable in the annals of the Faith, was drawing to a close, there befell the American Bahá’í community, through the dramatic and sudden death of May Maxwell, yet another loss, which viewed in retrospect will come to be regarded as a potent blessing conferred upon the campaign now being so diligently conducted by its members. 5 Laden with the fruits garnered through well-nigh half a century of toilsome service to the Cause she so greatly loved, heedless of the warnings of age and ill-health, and afire with the longing to worthily demonstrate her gratitude in her overwhelming awareness of the bounties of her Lord and Master, she set her face towards the southern outpost of the Faith in the New World, and laid down her life in such a spirit of consecration and self-sacrifice as has truly merited the crown of martyrdom.”
(Shoghi Effendi: Messages to America, Pages: 39-40)
Corinne True recorded what she observed on an early pilgrimage: ‘Arising early I went into the living room where the Master meets with His family every morning between six and seven o‘clock. The widow of one of the martyrs sits on the floor in the Persian style and makes and serves the tea every morning. Her husband was one of three brothers who were imprisoned for this Cause. For days they had no news about them. One day they heard a great noise in the street and looking out they saw three heads placed on long poles and being carried through the streets, and when in front of their home they tossed these heads into their mother’s room. She wiped them off with water and then threw them back, saying, “What I have given to God I will not take back.” This woman who makes the tea had been married only one year to one of these brothers. Having lost all of her relatives through the persecution, and Persian women having no openings for self-support, the Master took her into His household. What a wonderful household this is – over forty people living here in one home, some black, some white, Arabic, Persian, Burmanese, Italian, Russian and now English and American! Not a loud command is heard and not one word of dispute; not one word of fault-finding. Every one goes about as if on tip toes. When they enter your room, their slippers are left before the door and they come in with stocking feet and remain standing until you invite them to sit down.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 93)
I wish to tell you the story of two martyrs; one was a Persian nobleman, a favorite at court, possessed of much wealth and known throughout all the country. When it was discovered that he was a follower of Bahá’o‘llah, this glorious man was taken into custody and in company with another thrown into prison without food or water. The third day one of them requested the jailer to give him a cup of tea. Struck with his attitude of humility, the jailer did as requested; thanking him the prisoner said: “I am exceedingly sorry to trouble you, but pray have a little patience with our requests tonight, for tomorrow night we shall be the guests of God."
On the fourth day they were taken out of prison and two bears were made to dance before them; also several monkeys were brought, in order to humiliate them. Solomon Kahn and his friend were taken into a room, their breasts lacerated and in the yawning apertures lighted candles were placed. In Persia this is considered the most degrading form of torture.
Then they started on parade through the town. Solomon Kahn looking about him said: “There is no need for this commotion. Why such ado about our death? Verily, this is our wedding feast and we are very happy.” Accompanied by a band and followed by many people, they were paraded through the bazaars and streets of the city. People pricked them with long needles, saying, “Dance for us!” With unflinching courage and exultant joy they walked along; from morn till eve walked they through the city. When the candles burned down, they were renewed by the jailers.
All the time our heroes were calm and happy and as they marched they smiled at the people on the right and left of them and looking heavenward murmured prayers. Finally they arrived at the outer gates of the city where each was cut into four pieces.
Teheran has four high gates and a section of their bodies adorned either side of the gates. Even while being dismembered, Solomon Kahn was praying and supplicating God. This story will be found in a history compiled by an enemy of this cause, for all has been recorded by the Shah’s historians. At the end, the historian says of Solomon Kahn, “This man was possessed by an evil spirit.” This account shows how readily the believers of God give their lives, how self-sacrificing they are, eternally firm and steadfast. These illumined souls are the result of the light of Bahá’o‘llah, who attracted them to the kingdom of God with such reflective power that like fixed stars these martyrs will ever shine from the horizon of El-Abhá.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Divine Philosophy, p. 47-49)
Ibn-i-Asdaq often accompanied his father on his teaching tours throughout Persia. Thus he became imbued with the spirit of service to the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh and eventually developed a passionate love for Him, a love that knew no bounds. He was about thirty years of age when he sent a letter to the presence of Bahá’u’lláh and, among other things, begged Him to confer upon him a station wherein he might become completely detached from such realms as ‘life and death‘, ‘body and soul‘, ‘existence and nothingness‘, ‘reputation and honour‘. The gist of everything Ibn-i-Asdaq requested in this letter was the attainment of the station of ‘utter self-sacrifice‘; a plea for martyrdom, a state in which the individual in his love for his Beloved will offer up everything he possesses. ... In response Bahá’u’lláh revealed a Tablet to Ibn-i-Asdaq. This was in January 1880. In this Tablet... He states that service to the Cause is the greatest of all deeds, and that those who are the symbols of certitude ought to be engaged in teaching with the utmost wisdom. He further explains that martyrdom is not confined to the shedding of blood, as it is possible to live and yet be counted as a martyr in the sight of God. In this Tablet Bahá’u’lláh showers upon him His blessings, for he had offered up his all to his Lord.
(Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, vol. 3, p. 266-267)
The Master detained me for a moment. As I rejoined Percy in the car, Valiyu’llah Khan was just going into the house. “Do you see that handsome, distinguished-looking young man?” I said. “That is Valiyu’llah Khan, a descendant of two generations of martyrs and the brother of one very young martyr. His grandfather, Sulayman Khan, was a disciple of the Báb. He was Governor of Fars and a great prince, but that didn’t save him. He suffered the most ghastly kind of martyrdom and with such ecstasy that he is one of the best beloved of the Bábí martyrs.
"Just a few years ago Valiyu’llah’s father, Varqa Khan, and his little brother, [Ruhu’llah] Varqa, went on a pilgrimage to ‘Akká and had a wonderful visit with the Master. But on their way home they were both arrested and thrown into prison. Then one day some brutal men came into their cell, one with an axe. Varqa Khan was hacked into pieces alive, and the poor little boy forced to look on at that butchery. When it was over, one of the executioners turned to the child. I think I will tell the rest in Valiyu’llah Khan’s own language, just as he told it to me.
"‘The man said to my brother: “If you will deny Bahá’u’lláh, we will take you to the court of the Shah and honours and riches will be heaped upon you.” But my brother answered: “I do not want such things.” Then the man said to him: “If you refuse to deny, we will kill you worse than your father.” “You may kill me a thousand times worse,” my brother said. “Is my life of more value than my father’s? To die for Bahá’u’lláh is my supreme desire.” ‘This so angered the executioners that they fell upon Varqa and choked him to death.’ Varqa was only twelve years old.
(Diary of Juliet Thompson)