March 1, 2015

Meeting Shoghi Effendi in Paris during the Summer of 1920

In the ‘Priceless Pearl’ Ruhiyyih Khanum tells us how in 1920 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sent Shoghi Effendi abroad for his studies, in the company of Lotfullah Hakim who was returning to England after his first pilgrimage to Haifa.

The Master had insisted that on his way to England Shoghi Effendi should first go to a sanatorium and take a good rest. It shows how solicitous for his health his grandfather was.  At that time Shoghi Effendi's nervous strength was largely depleted because of the intensity of the work he had performed in the Master's service and the strain caused by the long years of war and post-war recovery.

Shoghi Effendi took the rest that had been enjoined upon him in a sanatorium in Neuilly, a suburb of Paris. He was not ill, but run down; he associated with the believers there, played some tennis, went sight-seeing, becoming familiar with a city that is in itself so beautiful and houses one of the world's greatest museums, visited some Baha'is in the town of Barbizon, remained about two months and then proceeded to England in July. (Adapted from ‘Priceless Pearl’, by Ruhiyyih Rabbani)

It was during this time that one of the Persian believers who was on his way to Haifa to attain the presence of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as a pilgrim met Shoghi Effendi in Paris. This believer’s name was Nuru’d-Din Mumtazi and the following is an excerpt from this his pilgrim notes:

During my business rounds in Paris I was visiting a large factory which was outside the city. Suddenly by His grace I remembered that the Bahá’ís would be having a gathering at four o’clock at the residence of Madame Mathews in one of the hotels on the Champs-Élysées. I hailed a cab and headed there directly to meet all the friends.

On entering the residence I went to hang my hat when I noticed a dark-colored Kuláh on the stand. I presumed any Persians visiting Paris would change the hat they wore to a Western kind, and I asked Madame Mathews if she could tell me to whom the hat belonged. She answered that it belonged to Shoghi Effendi, the grandson of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and that I would have the pleasure of meeting him! As soon as I heard the name of Shoghi Effendi I was overjoyed to such an extent that all my pain vanished….

The room was filled with Bahá’ís. I had never seen Shoghi Effendi, and I tried to recognize the grandson of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Indeed I did, by his unique eyes. Initially all seats seemed taken but somehow one right next to Shoghi Effendi opened up and I rushed there. I bowed and looked into his eyes, which were the miracle of miracles. As soon as I sat down next to him he said, “We were waiting for you to come on pilgrimage. Your permission was given.”

I was shocked to hear those words and wondered how he recognized me and how he could single me out from among so many of the friends to convey such glad-tidings. From that day onward I was certain that he was a great personage with a great station. At that moment I promised in my heart to be his obedient servant.

Shoghi Effendi spoke for a long time in Persian with Dr. Lutfu’lláh Hakím translating. He mentioned the troubles which surrounded ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Haifa, about which all the friends were aware. He said it was through God’s confirmation, mercy, and assistance that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was able to look after the affairs of the entire world single-handedly. No one else could handle even the slightest load, by comparison.

Shoghi Effendi further said, “I wished to assist Him for longer, but because of the enormous demands of the work I suffered a nervous ailment. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá — may my life be a sacrifice for Him! — is a true physician for humankind. He told me that I should go to Paris, that I should refer to a proficient doctor, that I must stay in the Bois de Boulogne Park, and that I should limit my contact with the friends. He asked me to take complete bed rest. I followed His instructions and found a doctor. When I visited the doctor he said exactly what ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had said. The doctor explained his reasons, saying the only climate that could cure my condition was the climate of Paris and especially that park. The doctor added that if I met with the friends it would not be conducive to rest and recovery. He also said that there was no other treatment for my condition.” Those were among the words Shoghi Effendi spoke that day.

I longed to see Shoghi Effendi again. After a few days I told my brother and the other friends that I yearned for the presence of Shoghi Effendi and wished to visit him. They objected and said, “Do you not remember Shoghi Effendi telling us in the meeting that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and his doctor advised him to limit his contact with the friends?” I answered that I could not wait, that I did not know the reason, but I knew that my heart was impelling me to go and see him whether they accompanied me or not. After a while they all said they would accompany me.

We made our way to Bois de Boulogne Park, which truly had a pleasant atmosphere. Shoghi Effendi was staying in one of the rooms in the only hotel in that park. A security guard came to us and asked who we wanted to see. As soon as he heard the name “Shoghi Effendi” his attitude toward us changed, and he behaved as if he had been in the presence of royalty. He at once closed the buttons of his coat and said softly that he would inform His Excellency, and that if he approved we would be permitted a visit. Luckily we were allowed to pass.

We saw Shoghi Effendi while he was resting in bed, and we thanked God for the precious bounty He had granted us. His face shone like moonlight out of the bed covers. Although he was not feeling well, he never stopped showing love and kindness toward us….

After speaking to us, Shoghi Effendi said that he would like to return our visit. I was very much ashamed and begged him not to take such trouble to come to our hotel, but he insisted. He took out his diary and said, “Does Wednesday at four o’clock p.m. suit you?” We replied that his visit would be an honor and that he was welcome at any time.

On Wednesday at exactly 4:00 p.m. Shoghi Effendi arrived. It indeed felt such an honor to be in his presence again. We humbly offered some grapes and a cup of tea. O God, how his conversation transformed our souls! Before he left I most humbly begged him and said, “O Shoghi Effendi, we consider you as one of the chosen ones of God. Would you chant a prayer, that we may be successful in our pilgrimage and visiting ‘Abdu’l-Bahá?” He responded, “Of course. I will pray with all my heart,” and with arms folded he chanted a soul-stirring prayer in Arabic.

Shoghi Effendi asked us if we knew which prayer he had chanted, and answered himself saying it was that which Bahá’u’lláh had often chanted before His Declaration….

This precious moment with Shoghi Effendi passed very quickly and, alas, we were deprived of his presence. But after a few minutes he returned to our hotel and asked for me. He told me that he had forgotten his umbrella in our room and would be grateful to have it. I brought the umbrella and thought to myself how such a great personage of the Faith — the grandson of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá — could possess such an old, plain umbrella.

Shoghi Effendi said lovingly to us that upon arrival of our ship at port in Italy, on the way to the Holy Land, a man would come and receive us. Sure enough, when we arrived a man came on board the ship, welcomed us, and treated us very kindly — which was all the more amazing as Shoghi Effendi never did ask us when we would depart for Italy and when and where we would arrive.
(The Twin Pilgrimages of Nuru’d-Din Mumtazi)