August 5, 2011

The child who shook hands with the Guardian – recounted by ‘Ali Nakhjavani

The story I will now relate, although not all of it refers to the Greatest Holy Leaf, illustrates what I witnessed of the tender relationship between the Greatest Holy Leaf and Shoghi Effendi. Once our mother asked my brother and I to go to the Master's house after prayers at the Shrine of the Báb. In those days the Guardian was younger and, following prayers, he would walk down to Abbas Street and, the terraces beyond Abbas Street not yet having been built, he would turn to the right on Abbas Street, and then proceed to Haparsim Street and straight down to the Master's house. The pilgrims would usually walk with him. On that particular day my brother and I, too, followed Shoghi Effendi because we thought how much better it was to go to the Master's house with him. When Shoghi Effendi reached the gate he turned and said, 'Fí Amáni'lláh' (May you be under God's protection) and went in. Being younger than Jalal, I was glad to follow him when he set out after Shoghi Effendi. The Guardian went up the stairs and we did, too, and then entered the house. It was the custom of the Guardian to have his one major meal each day with the Greatest Holy Leaf. It was also his practice to go to her after meeting with the pilgrims and sit and talk to her. Shoghi Effendi turned right to go through the corridor next to the room in which the Master passed away and proceeded to the next room which was the Greatest Holy Leaf's bedroom. He went along that corridor and we followed, and when he opened the door I was so close to Shoghi Effendi at that point that I saw that the Greatest Holy Leaf was in bed. As soon as she heard the footsteps of Shoghi Effendi and the opening of the door she was at the point of rising from bed to sit in the presence of the Guardian. Although the distance is not far from the door to the bed, Shoghi Effendi literally ran from the door to the bed and gently restrained her, saying 'Já'iz níst' (it is not permissible). He did not want her to be disturbed.

There is a little sequel to this incident and although it does not directly relate to the Greatest Holy Leaf, since we have begun the story, let me finish it. In the room of Khanum, Shoghi Effendi seated himself. My brother and I, with childish aplomb, sat down too. Then my mother found out what had happened and sent the maid immediately to tell us to come out. The door was opened again and with a motion of her eyes the maid signaled us to leave. Jalal very reverently stood and bowed and withdrew from the room. But I thought this wasn't right; I thought, 'This is not the way to do things!' I felt there should be a handshake. This, of course, was totally inappropriate but to my childish mind it seemed the proper thing to do. I went straight over to Shoghi Effendi who was seated in a deep comfortable armchair and offered him my little hand. Shoghi Effendi looked at me and pulled himself closer, accepted my hand and shook it. This all took time. When I went outside my mother asked me what had delayed me and I explained that my brother didn't shake hands and I thought I should. She was horrified and struck my hand, saying, 'Out of reverence for the Guardian you should have done exactly what your brother did.'

Of course, I felt very bad about this. As we were going home my mother asked again, incredulously, 'You shook hands?'

I said, 'Yes.'

'With your right hand?'

'Of course.'

'Give me your hand.'

I did, and she kissed it several times.
(Ali Nakhjavani, excerpt from an address presented during the World Centre seminar commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the passing of the Greatest Holy Leaf, held in the reception concourse, permanent Seat of the Universal House of Justice, 17 July 1982; ‘The Baha’i World’ 1979-1983, 59-67) (To read the rest of the talk please visit Baha’i Talks, Messages and Articles)