The Priceless Pearl
Category: Bahá’í
23:20 h
The Priceless Pearl is a book published in 1969. The book talks of the life of Shoghi Effendi, his early life, his work towards the faith, and towards the later part of his life. The book was written by his wife Amatu'l-Bahá Rúḥíyyih Khánum. It also has some personal stories in it, such as the marriage between the Guardian and Rúḥíyyih Khánum, and his close connection to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Bahíyyih Khánum, The Greatest Holy Leaf.

The Priceless Pearl

Rúḥíyyih Rabbani

London: Baha'i Publishing Trust, 1969

Shoghi Effendi, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s eldest grandsonShoghi Effendi, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s eldest grandson

Chapter 1

The Childhood and Youth of Shoghi Effendi

Salutation and praise, blessing and glory rest upon that primal branch of the Divine and Sacred Lote-Tree, grown out, blest, tender, verdant and flourishing from the Twin Holy Trees; the most wondrous, unique and priceless pearl that doth gleam from out the Twin Surging Seas.

Like a cloud-break in a stormy sky these words, even as a mighty shaft of sunlight, broke through the gloom and tempest of dangerous years and shone from on high upon a small boy, the grandson of a prisoner of the Sultan of Turkey, living in the prison-city of Akka in the Turkish province of Syria. The words were written by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the first part of His Will and Testament and referred to His eldest grandchild, Shoghi Effendi.

Although already appointed the hereditary successor of his grandfather, neither the child, nor the ever-swelling host of followers of Bahá’u’lláh throughout the world, were made aware of this fact. In the Orient, where the principle of lineal descent is well understood and accepted as the normal course of events, there was hope no doubt, that even as Bahá’u’lláh Himself had demonstrated the validity of this mysterious and great principle of primogeniture, so would ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, His son and successor, do likewise. Many years before His passing, in answer to a question from some Persian believers as to whether there would be one person to whom all should turn after His death, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had written: “…Know verily that this is a well-guarded secret. It is even as a gem concealed within its shell. That it will be revealed is predestined. The time will come when its light will appear, when its evidences will be made manifest, and its secrets unravelled.”

More light is thrown on this subject by the diary of Dr Yunis Khan, who spent three months in Akka with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá during 1897, and returned in 1900 for a stay of many years. From his words we infer that, perhaps due to news having reached the West that a grandson had been born to the Master, a believer in America had written to Him that in the Bible is mentioned that after ‘Abdu’l-Bahá “a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6) and does this mean a real, living child who exists? Dr Yunis Khan was not aware, in 1897, that this question had been put and that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had revealed the following Tablet in answer to it:

O Maidservant of God!

Verily, that child is born and is alive and from him will appear wondrous things that thou wilt hear of in the future. Thou shalt behold him endowed with the most perfect appearance, supreme capacity, absolute perfection, consummate power and unsurpassed might. His face will shine with a radiance that illumines all the horizons of the world; therefore forget this not as long as thou dost live inasmuch as ages and centuries will bear traces of him.

Upon thee be greetings and praise

It may seem surprising that such an important Tablet was not known in the East but we must remember that there was practically no contact between the Bahá’ís of the West and East in those days and Tablets were circulated among the American friends by copy or word of mouth. When Yunis Khan received a letter from America, at a time when the dark clouds of Covenant-breaking were gathering ever thicker about the Master, he was therefore wholly unaware of the background which might have brought about the question this friend now asked him to put to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá; indeed he states in his diary that it was not until many years later he heard of this Tablet’s existence. Yunis Khan writes: “‘Abdu’l-Bahá was walking in front of the khan [the building where many believers used to stay in Akka]; I approached and told Him ‘someone has written to me from America that we have heard the Master has said that the one whose appearance will follow me has recently been born and is in this world. If this is so we are answered, but if this is not so then — ?’ After waiting a moment, with a look full of meaning and secret exaltation, He said: ‘Yes, this is true.’ Hearing this glad tidings my soul rejoiced; I felt assured that the Covenant-breaking will come to naught and the Cause of God triumph throughout the world and this world become the mirror of the heavenly world. However, to understand what He meant by ‘appearance’, as we Bahá’ís conceive its meaning, was very difficult for me, and remained in my mind a mystery; seeking further information I thereupon asked Him: ‘Does this mean a revelation?’ If He had replied with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ this would have created more complications and aroused more questions, but fortunately His answer was conclusive and such as to silence any questioner, and in even clearer words He said: ‘The triumph of the Cause of God is in his hands!’” Yunis Khan then goes on to state that he wrote this answer to the believer in America but did not share it for many years with anyone and even in his own mind refused to contemplate its implications or ask himself if that child was in Akka or somewhere else. He explains this reserved attitude on his part as due to the words of Bahá’u’lláh in the book of His Covenant in which He says that all eyes must be focused on the Centre of the Covenant (‘Abdu’l-Bahá), and to the defections, machinations and mischief which for two generations disrupted the family of the Manifestation of God.

In another part of his diary Yunis Khan describes his first glimpse of the Master’s eldest grandson: “For many days the occupants of the Pilgrim House had begged the Afnan [Shoghi Effendi’s father] to see Shoghi Effendi. One day, unexpectedly, this child of four months was brought to the biruni [reception room of the Master]. The believers approached him with joy and I too had this privilege, but I said to myself ‘only look upon him as a Bahá’í child’. However I could not control my feelings because an inner force obliged me to bow low before him and for a moment I was bewitched by the beauty of this suckling child. I kissed the soft hair of his head and sensed such a power in him that I can find no words to express it, but only say he looked like the babe one sees in the arms of the Blessed Virgin. For several days the face of this child was before me, then gradually I forgot it. Two other times I had these same feelings, once when he was nine years old and once when he was eleven years old.”

Yunis Khan also records that after he had observed in Shoghi Effendi’s babyhood and early childhood inner and outer evidences of his great spirituality and unique character he could contain himself no longer and confided to an old and trustworthy believer those memorable words he had heard from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá regarding a child in whose hands would be the triumph of the Cause of God.

Be this as it may, the fact remains that until the Master passed away in November 1921, and His Will and Testament was found in His safe and opened and read, no one in the Bahá’í world knew that Shoghi Effendi was the “unique pearl”, and just how unique and glorious a pearl it was that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá left behind Him no one really understood until November 1957 it was recalled to the Seas from which it had been born.

On the 27th day of Ramaḍán, 1314 of the Muslim calendar, Shoghi Effendi was born. This was Sunday, 1 March 1897 of the Gregorian calendar. These dates have been found in one of Shoghi Effendi’s notebooks which he kept during his boyhood, written in his own hand. He was the eldest grandchild and first grandson of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, born of His eldest daughter, Ḍíyá’íyyih Khánum, and her husband Mírzá Hádí Shírází, one the Afnans and a relative of the Báb. He was invariably addressed by his grandfather as “Shoghi Effendi”; indeed, He gave instructions that he should at all times have the “Effendi” added and even told Shoghi Effendi’s own father he must address him thus and not merely as “Shoghi”. The word “Effendi” signifies “sir” or “mister” and is added as a term of respect; for the same reason “Khánum”, which means “lady” or “madame”, is added to a woman’s name.

At the time of Shoghi Effendi’s birth ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and His family were still prisoners of the Sultan of Turkey, Abdu’l Hamid; it was not until the revolution of the Young Turks, in 1908, and the consequent release of political prisoners, that they were freed from an exile and bondage that, for Him and His sister at least, had lasted for over forty years. In 1897 they were all living in a house known as that of Abdullah Pasha, a stone’s throw from the great Turkish military barracks where Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and the company of believers who were with Them, had been incarcerated when they first landed in Akka in 1868. It was in this home that the first group of pilgrims from the Western World visited the Master in the winter of 1898–9, and many more of the early believers of the West; travelling along the beach in an omnibus drawn by three horses they would proceed from Haifa to Akka, enter the fortified walls of the prison-city, and be welcomed as His guests for a few days in that house. It was from this home that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá left to reside in freedom in Haifa, twelve miles away on the other side of the Bay of Akka. Entering through a passage across which the upper story of the building ran, one came upon a small enclosed garden where grew flowers, fruit trees and a few tall palms, and in one corner of which a long stairway ran up to the upper floor and opened on an inner, unroofed court from which doors led to various rooms and to a long corridor giving access to other chambers.

To catch even a glimpse of what must have transpired in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s heart when this first grandson was born to Him at the age of fifty-three, one must remember that He had already lost more than one son, the dearest and most perfect of them, Ḥusayn, a beautiful and very dignified little boy, having passed away when only a few years old. Of the four surviving daughters of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá three were to bear Him thirteen grandchildren, but it was this oldest one who bore witness to the saying “the child is the secret essence of its sire”, not to be taken to mean in this case the heritage of his own father, but rather that he was sired by the Prophets of God and inherited the nobility of his grandfather ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The depths of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s feelings at this time are reflected in His own words in which he clearly states that the name Shoghi — literally “the one who longs” — was conferred by God upon this grandson:

…O God! This is a branch sprung from the tree of Thy mercy. Through Thy grace and bounty enable him to grow and through the showers of Thy generosity cause him to become a verdant, flourishing, blossoming and fruitful branch. Gladden the eyes of his parents, Thou Who giveth to whomsoever Thou willest, and bestow upon him the name Shoghi so that he may yearn for Thy Kingdom and soar into the realms of the unseen!

By the signs Shoghi Effendi showed from earliest childhood and by his unique nature, he twined himself ever more deeply into the roots of the Master’s heart. We are fortunate, indeed, to possess, from one of the earliest western believers, Ella Goodall Cooper, her own account of a meeting she witnessed between ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi at the time of her pilgrimage in March 1899, in the house of Abdullah Pasha:

One day…I had joined the ladies of the Family in the room of the Greatest Holy Leaf for early morning tea, the beloved Master was sitting in His favourite corner of the divan where, through the window on His right, He could look over the ramparts and see the blue Mediterranean beyond. He was busy writing Tablets, and the quiet peace of the room was broken only by the bubble of the samovar, where one of the young maidservants, sitting on the floor before it, was brewing the tea.

Presently the Master looked up from His writing with a smile, and requested Ziyyih Khanum to chant a prayer. As she finished, a small figure appeared in the open doorway, directly opposite ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Having dropped off his shoes he stepped into the room, with his eyes focused on the Master’s face. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá returned his gaze with such a look of loving welcome it seemed to beckon the small one to approach Him. Shoghi, that beautiful little boy, with his exquisite cameo face and his soulful appealing, dark eyes, walked slowly toward the divan, the Master drawing him as by an invisible thread, until he stood quite close in front of Him. As he paused there a moment ‘Abdu’l-Bahá did not offer to embrace him but sat perfectly still, only nodding His head two or three times, slowly and impressively, as if to say — “You see? This tie connecting us is not just that of a physical grandfather but something far deeper and more significant.” While we breathlessly watched to see what he would do, the little boy reached down and picking up the hem of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s robe he touched it reverently to his forehead, and kissed it, then gently replaced it, while never taking his eyes from the adored Master’s face. The next moment he turned away, and scampered off to play, like any normal child… At that time he was ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s only grandchild…and, naturally, he was of immense interest to the pilgrims.

How great must have been the struggle of the grandfather to keep within bounds His love for this child lest the very blaze of that love endanger his life through the hatred and envy of His many enemies, ever seeking an Achilles heel to bring about His downfall. Many times when Shoghi Effendi spoke of the past and of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá I felt not only how boundless and consuming had been his own love for the Master, but that he had been aware of the fact that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá leashed and veiled the passion of His love for him in order to protect him and to safeguard the Cause of God from its enemies.

Shoghi Effendi was a small, sensitive, intensely active and mischievous child. He was not very strong in his early years and his mother often had cause to worry over his health. However, he grew up to have an iron constitution, which, coupled with the phenomenal force of his nature and will-power, enabled him in later years to overcome every obstacle in his path. The first photographs we have of him show a peaky little face, immense eyes and a firm, beautifully shaped chin which in his childhood gave a slightly elongated and heart-shaped appearance to his face. Already in these earliest pictures one sees a sadness, a wistfulness, a haunting predilection for suffering that is like a shadow on the wall — the shadow of a child magnified to the stature of a man. Fine-boned, even as a mature man, shorter than his grandfather had been, Shoghi Effendi was more akin physically to his great-grandfather, Bahá’u’lláh. He told me himself that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s sister, the Greatest Holy Leaf, would sometimes take his hand in hers and say “These are like the hands of my father”. They were what I call intellectual hands, more square than tapering, strong, nervous, the veins standing out, very expressive in their gestures, very assured in their motions. Amelia Collins, who lived in Haifa many years, always said that to her all the suffering of the Guardian’s life was reflected in those hands. His eyes were of that deceptive hazel colour that sometimes led people who did not have the opportunity to look into them as often as I did to think they were brown or blue. The truth is they were a clear hazel which sometimes changed to a warm and luminous grey. I have never seen such an expressive face and eyes as those of the Guardian; every shade of feeling and thought was mirrored in his visage as light and shadow are reflected on water. When he was happy and enthusiastic over something he had a peculiar habit of opening his eyes wide enough to let the upper rim of the iris show and this always made me think of two beautiful suns rising above the horizon, so brilliant and sparkling was their expression. Indignation, anger and sorrow could be equally clearly reflected in them, and alas, he had cause to show these too in his life, so beset with problems and sorrows. His feet were as beautiful as his hands, small like them, high arched, and giving that same impression of strength.

It may sound disrespectful to say the Guardian was a mischievous child, but he himself told me he was the acknowledged ringleader of all the other children. Bubbling with high spirits, enthusiasm and daring, full of laughter and wit, the small boy led the way in many pranks; whenever something was afoot, behind it would be found Shoghi Effendi! This boundless energy was often a source of anxiety as he would rush madly up and down the long flight of high steps to the upper story of the house, to the consternation of the pilgrims below, waiting to meet the Master. His exuberance was irrepressible and was in the child the same force that was to make the man such an untiring and unflinching commander-in-chief of the forces of Bahá’u’lláh, leading them to victory after victory, indeed, to the spiritual conquest of the entire globe. We have a very reliable witness to this characteristic of the Guardian, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Himself, Who wrote on a used envelope a short sentence to please His little grandson: “Shoghi Effendi is a wise man — but he runs about very much!”

It must not be inferred, however, that Shoghi Effendi was mannerless. Children in the East — how much more the children of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá — were taught courtesy and manners from the cradle. Bahá’u’lláh’s family was descended from kings and the family tradition, entirely apart from His divine teachings which enjoin courtesy as obligatory, ensured that a noble conduct and politeness would distinguish Shoghi Effendi from his babyhood.

In those days of Shoghi Effendi’s childhood it was the custom to rise about dawn and spend the first hour of the day in the Master’s room, where prayers were said and the family all had breakfast with Him. The children sat on the floor, their legs folded under them, their arms folded across their breasts, in great respect; when asked they would chant for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá; there was no shouting or unseemly conduct. Breakfast consisted of tea, brewed on the bubbling Russian brass samovar and served in little crystal glasses, very hot and very sweet, pure wheat bread and goats’ milk cheese. Dr Zia Baghdadi, an intimate of the family, in his recollections of these days records that Shoghi Effendi was always the first to get up and be on time — after receiving one good chastisement from no other hand than that of his grandfather!

He also tells us the story of Shoghi Effendi’s first Tablet from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Dr Baghdadi states that when Shoghi Effendi was only five years old he was pestering the Master to write something for him, whereupon ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote this touching and revealing letter in His own hand:

He is God!
My Shoghi, I have no time to talk, leave me alone! You said “write” — I have written. What else should be done? Now is not the time for you to read and write, it is the time for jumping about and chanting “O My God!”, therefore memorize the prayers of the Blessed Beauty and chant them that I may hear them, because there is no time for anything else.

It seems that when this wonderful gift reached the child he set himself to memorize a number of Bahá’u’lláh’s prayers and would chant them so loudly that the entire neighbourhood could hear his voice; when his parents and other members of the Master’s family remonstrated with him, Shoghi Effendi replied, according to Dr Baghdadi, “The Master wrote to me to chant that He may hear me! I am doing my best!” and he kept on chanting at the top of his voice for many hours every day. Finally his parents begged the Master to stop him, but He told them to let Shoghi Effendi alone. This was one aspect of the small boy’s chanting. We are told there was another: he had memorized some touching passages written by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá after the ascension of Bahá’u’lláh and when he chanted these the tears would roll down the earnest little face. From another source we are told that when the Master was requested by a western friend, at that time living in His home, to reveal a prayer for children He did so, and the first to memorize it and chant it was Shoghi Effendi who would also chant it in the meetings of the friends.

The childhood nurse of Shoghi Effendi used to recount that when he was still a baby the Master was wont to call one of the Muslims who chanted in the mosque to come at least once a week and chant to the child, in his melodious voice, the sublime verses of the Qur’án. The Master Himself, the Guardian’s mother and many others in the household had fine voices. All of this must have deeply affected Shoghi Effendi, who continued to chant to the end of his life. He had an indescribable, full voice, neither very high nor very low, clear, with a beautiful cadence in speaking, whether in English or Persian. To me it always had that lamenting quality of a dove that coos to itself alone on the branches of a tree. It used to wring my heart — that something sad and plaintive under the assured, swelling tones of the chanting, and the strange thing was the marked difference in the quality of his voice when, after chanting in the Bab’s Shrine, he would go into the Master’s Shrine and recite there the prayer of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá “Lowly and tearful I raise my suppliant hands…” Into the Guardian’s voice would come a tenderness and longing that one did not hear anywhere else; this distinction never failed, never changed, was always there.

In his recollections of those early years one of the Bahá’ís has written that one day Shoghi Effendi entered the Master’s room, took up His pen and tried to write. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá drew him to His side, tapped him gently on the shoulder and said “Now is not the time to write, now is the time to play, you will write a lot in the future.” Nevertheless the desire of the child to learn led to the formation of classes in the Master’s household for the children, taught by an old Persian believer. I know that at one time in his childhood, most likely while he was still living in Akka, Shoghi Effendi and other grandchildren were taught by an Italian, who acted as governess or teacher; a grey-haired elderly lady, she came to call shortly after I was married.

Although these early years of Shoghi Effendi’s life were spent in the prison-city of Akka, enclosed within its moats and walls, its two gates guarded by sentries, this does not mean he had no occasion to move about. He must have often gone to the homes of the Bahá’ís living inside the city, to the khan where the pilgrims stayed, to the Garden of Riḍván and to Bahjí. Many times he was the delighted companion of his grandfather on these excursions. We are told that sometimes he spent the night in Bahjí in the house now used as a pilgrim house; ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would Himself come and tuck him in bed, remarking “I need him.” He also was taken to Beirut, the only large city in the entire area and one often visited by members of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s family. Dr Baghdadi recounts how, on one of these visits when Shoghi Effendi, a child of five or six years of age, accompanied his parents, the Greatest Holy Leaf and other members of the family there, he spent most of his time in Dr Baghdadi’s room, looking at the pictures in his medical books and asking questions. It seems Shoghi Effendi wanted to see something actually dissected; he was not satisfied with just pictures. This zeal for knowledge (and no doubt those large eyes, so insistent and intelligent) quite won over the young medical student who had a victim provided — a large wildcat — and proceeded to cut it up in front of Shoghi Effendi, one of his aunts and the servant who had shot it. They watched in absorbed silence. When it was over, and Dr Baghdadi was asking himself how such a small child could have understood what it was all about, he was astonished to hear Shoghi Effendi recapitulating word for word the salient points of what he had described during his dissection. “I said to myself,” Dr Baghdadi then writes, “this is not an ordinary child, verily this is a precious and darling angel!” As one of Shoghi Effendi’s subjects in 1916 was zoology, he must have recalled his first early lesson in anatomy. Dr Baghdadi goes on to recount that, in addition to this great capacity to learn, Shoghi Effendi had a heart so tender and a nature so sweet that if he had offended any playmate — even though he would never do so unless that child had cheated or schemed — he would not go to sleep before he had embraced him and left him happy; he always urged his little companions to make up their differences before they went to bed.

Shoghi Effendi was sometimes subject to vivid and significant dreams, both pleasant and unpleasant. It is reported that in his babyhood he woke one night crying and the Master told his nurse to bring Shoghi Effendi to Him so that He could comfort him; the Master said to His sister, the Greatest Holy Leaf, “See, already he has dreams!”

There are very few records of what any non-Bahá’í may have thought of this grandson of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. One of them, however, deserves to be quoted at some length. It is the reminiscences of a German woman physician, Dr J. Fallscheer, who lived in Haifa and attended the ladies of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s household. It should be borne in mind that her highly interesting account was not set down until at least eleven years after the event she relates, but nevertheless it has great significance:

When I returned to my house, on August 6, 1910, from a professional visit on Mt. Carmel our old servant Hadtschile said to me: “Just now a servant of Abbas Effendi was here and said that the doctor should come at ‘asser’ (3 o’clock) to the ladies quarters of the Master as one of the maids has a very bad finger.” I did not very much like to start my visits so early on a Saturday afternoon. But as I knew the Master would never call me out of hours without some urgent reason I decided to go on time… When it was all over, finger, hand and arm bandaged and put in a sling, Behia Khanum sent the little sufferer to bed and invited me to take refreshment with her and the ladies of the household. As we were sipping coffee and talking Turkish, which was easier for me than Arabic, a servant came and said: “Abbas Effendi wants the doctor to come to Him in the selamlik (drawing room) before she leaves”… The Master asked me to report to Him how the finger of the young girl was and if the danger of blood poisoning had passed. I could give Him a reassuring report. At this moment the son-in-law (the husband of the eldest daughter of Abbas Effendi), entered the room, evidently for the purpose of taking leave of the Master. At first I did not notice that behind the tall, dignified man his eldest son, Shoghi Effendi, had entered the room and greeted his venerable grandfather with the oriental kiss on the hand. I had already seen the child fleetingly on a few other occasions. Behia Khanum had recently informed me that this young boy of perhaps twelve years of age was the oldest direct male descendant of the family of the Prophet and destined to be the only successor and representative (vazir) of the Master. As Abbas Effendi spoke in Persian regarding some matter to Abu Shoghi (the father of Shoghi Effendi), who was standing in front of Him, the grandson, after greeting us politely and also kissing the hand of his great aunt, remained near the door in a most respectful attitude. At this moment a number of Persian gentlemen entered the room and greetings and leave-takings, comings and goings, took place for a quarter of an hour. Behia Khanum and I withdrew to the right near the window and in lowered voices continued our conversation in Turkish. However, I never removed my eyes from the still very youthful grandson of Abbas Effendi. He was dressed in European summer clothes, with short pants but long stockings that came up above his knees and a short jacket. From his height and build one would have taken him to be thirteen or fourteen… In the still childish face the dark, already mature, melancholy eyes struck me at once. The boy remained motionless in his place and submissive in his attitude. After his father and the man with him had taken their leave of the Master, his father whispered something to him as he went out, whereupon the youth, in a slow and measured manner, like a grown up person, approached his beloved grandfather, waited to be addressed, answered distinctly in Persian and was laughingly dismissed, not, however, without being first permitted the respectful kiss on the hand. I was impressed by the way the youth walked backwards as he left the room, and how his dark, true-hearted eyes never for a moment wavered from the blue, magical glance of his grandfather.

Abbas Effendi rose and came over to us and we immediately stood up, but the Master urged us to take our seats again and Himself sat down informally on a stool near us, or rather facing us. As usual in silence we waited for Him to speak to us, which He did shortly: “Now my daughter,” He began, “How do you like my future Elisha?” “Master, if I may speak openly, I must say that in his boy’s face are the dark eyes of a sufferer, one who will suffer a great deal!” Thoughtfully the Master looked beyond us into space and after a long time turned His gaze back to us and said: “My grandson does not have the eyes of a trailblazer, a fighter or a victor, but in his eyes one sees deep loyalty, perseverance and conscientiousness. And do you know why, my daughter, he will fall heir to the heavy inheritance of being my Vazir (Minister, occupant of a high post)?” Without waiting for my reply, looking more at His dear sister than at me, as if He had forgotten my presence, He went on: “Bahá’u’lláh, the Great Perfection — blessed be His words — in the past, the present and forever — chose this insignificant one to be His successor, not because I was the first born, but because His inner eye had already discerned on my brow the seal of God.

“Before His ascension into eternal Light the blessed Manifestation reminded me that I too — irrespective of primogeniture or age — must observe among my sons and grandsons whom God would indicate for His office. My sons passed to eternity in their tenderest years, in my line, among my relatives, only little Shoghi has the shadow of a great calling in the depths of his eyes.” There followed another long pause, then the Master turned again to me and said: “At the present time the British Empire is the greatest and is still expanding and its language is a world language. My future Vazir shall receive the preparation for his weighty office in England itself, after he has obtained here in Palestine a fundamental knowledge of the oriental languages and the wisdom of the East.” Whereupon I ventured to interject: “Will not the western education, the English training, remould his nature, confine his versatile mind in the rigid bonds of intellectualism, stifle through dogma and convention his oriental irrationality and intuition so that he will no longer be a servant of the Almighty but rather a slave to the rationality of western opportunism and the shallowness of every day life?” Long pause! Then Abbas Effendi ‘Abdu’l-Bahá rose and in a strong and solemn voice said: “I am not giving my Elisha to the British to educate. I dedicate and give him to the Almighty. God’s eyes watch over my child in Oxford as well — Inshallah!”

Without farewell, without another word the Master left the room. I took leave of Behia Khanum and as I went out saw the Master standing in the garden, where, apparently sunk in deepest thought, he was looking at a fig tree laden with fruit.

In November 1921, while staying in Lugano, I learned of the passing of Abbas Effendi ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Haifa and my thoughts and memories turned back to that long-ago hour in August 1910, and I wish Elisha — Shoghi well, and everything that is good — Inshallah.

As many years later ‘Abdu’l-Bahá requested His friend, Lord Lamington, a distinguished Scottish peer and a man who deeply respected and admired Him, to use his good offices in getting Shoghi Effendi admitted to a college in Oxford University it is not impossible that He mentioned such a plan to Dr Fallscheer, but, of course, we have no corroborative evidence to support her words.

When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá first moved into the new home in Haifa (which was in use by members of His family in February 1907, if not earlier) the rooms were occupied by all the members of His family; eventually the families of two of His daughters moved to homes of their own near His, but the house was always crowded with relatives, children, servants, pilgrims and guests. In later years, when Shoghi Effendi was home from school, his room was a small one next to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s. As electricity was not installed until just before ‘Abdu’l-Bahá passed away and not connected until after His ascension the family used lamps. Many times the Master would see Shoghi Effendi’s light still shining late at night and get up and go to his door, saying “Enough! Enough! Go to sleep!” But this serious-mindedness of Shoghi Effendi pleased Him greatly. The Guardian told me once the Master came to him in the drawing room, where he was working, and stood and looked out of the window into the garden, His back to Shoghi Effendi; the laughing and chattering voices of the family could be heard in another room. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá turned to Shoghi Effendi and said “I do not want you to be like them — worldly.” Another time, Shoghi Effendi told me, he remembered the Master turning to His wife and saying “Look at his eyes, they are like clear water.” Shoghi Effendi also recalled how the Master, Who had evidently been standing in a window facing the main gate, had observed Shoghi Effendi enter briskly and come up the steps. He sent for him and told him: “Don’t walk like that, walk with dignity!” This was at the time when Shoghi Effendi was already grown up and serving the Master in many capacities. In those days before he left for England, he wore long robes, a sash or cummerbund and a red fez on his head. Photographs often show this pushed well back on his head, a wave of his soft dark brown, almost black hair showing, his forehead wide and unfurrowed, his face filled out and always the beautiful, firm chin and large eyes that gave the impression of being dark. He had a mouth which had the peculiar characteristic of the lower lip appearing to be almost like an imprint of the upper one, both distinctly red in hue. After his boyhood he always wore a small, trim, dark moustache.

Before the Master undertook His journeys to the West the household was much more oriental in its habits. Gradually some western habits were introduced when He returned. I have recorded the following in my diary: “Shoghi Effendi has just been giving me a very vivid sketch of lunch time in the Master’s days. He says that about 11 A.M. the Master would come into the big hall and ask Am Quli ‘Saat chaneh? [What time is it?] The function of Am Quli was to give the time. The maids would place a cloth on the floor of the old tea room and bowl in from the corridor, where it was kept, a huge round table with low legs; this they placed on the cloth and on this they put some of the old type plates of metal [probably enamel] and some spoons — never enough to go round, just at random — they also would scatter bread over the table and at the top place a few napkins… The Master would enter and seat Himself and call ‘biya benshnid’ [come and sit down] to whoever was there — His sons-in-law, His uncle, His cousin, etc., etc….and He would eat, sometimes with a spoon, sometimes with His hand. He would also sometimes serve the others, rice etc., with His own hand. When He was about half through Khánum [the Greatest Holy Leaf] would come in from the kitchen and change her slippers at the entrance of the corridor…and with a plate of tit-bits go and sit by the Master; her place was always kept for her. Gradually some of the others would come, women guests, children, the daughters of the Master, etc. [The Master and the men having eaten first would leave the room.] Shoghi Effendi says then bedlam would break out, the children crying, shouting, everyone talking, general confusion. He says what the grandchildren used to watch for [himself included] was the mouthful of Khánum’s food that she would give to this or that one as it always tasted best. They called it ‘the mouthful of Khánum’; the Guardian usually got it as he was a favorite of hers! After the ladies of the household had eaten, the women servants would all sit at the same table and eat… After the Master returned from the West gradually more western ways of eating were introduced, china, chairs, cutlery and so on.”

But let us return to Akka and the earlier years of Shoghi Effendi. Although there is no doubt that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá did everything to ensure Shoghi Effendi had as happy and carefree a childhood as possible, it must have been out of the question to hide from so sensitive and intelligent a child the fact that great dangers threatened his beloved grandfather in those years immediately preceding the overthrow of the Sultan of Turkey. The visits of Turkish authorities, sent to investigate the poisonous accusations against ‘Abdu’l-Bahá made by the Covenant-breakers, their constant machinations against His very life, the threat of separation and a new exile to Libya, must have created an atmosphere of anxiety and great tension in the Master’s family and cannot have left Shoghi Effendi untouched. It was a time of violent Covenant-breaking; the community of believers who had come into exile with Bahá’u’lláh, with the exception of a handful of faithful souls, were, for the most part, infected with the germ of this deadly disease, some openly joining ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s rebellious half-brother, Muḥammad ‘Alí, some overtly sympathizing with him. It was during these years that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told Shoghi Effendi never to drink coffee in the homes of any of the Bahá’ís. He was afraid this precious grandchild might be poisoned! Shoghi Effendi told me this himself, and when one remembers that he was only a young boy at the time one realizes how great were the dangers surrounding them all in those days.

Perhaps because of this situation, constantly worsening, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sent Shoghi Effendi to live in Haifa with his nurse, where already some of the believers resided; at what date this occurred I am unaware, but it was while he was still a young child. French was his first foreign language and although in later years he was reluctant to speak it officially, as he felt his fluency in it was rusty through disuse, he retained, at least to my ears, a perfect command of it and invariably did all his addition, like lightning, in French. By 1907 he was living with this same nurse, Hájar Khátún, who had always been with him from his infancy, in the newly constructed house of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, which became His last home and later the home of the Guardian. It was here that Shoghi Effendi had a very significant dream which he recounted to me and which I wrote down. He said that when he was nine or yen years old, living with his nurse in this house and attending school in Haifa, he dreamed that he and another child, an Arab schoolmate, were in the room in which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá used to receive His guests in the house in Akka, where the Master was living and where Shoghi Effendi had been born. The Báb entered the room and then a man with a revolver appeared and shot at the Báb; then he told Shoghi Effendi “Now it is your turn” and began to chase him around the room to shoot him. At this Shoghi Effendi woke up. He repeated this dream to his nurse, who told him to tell it to Mirza Asadullah and ask him to tell the Master. Mirza Asadullah wrote it all down and sent it to the Master Who replied by revealing for Shoghi Effendi this Tablet. The strange thing, Shoghi Effendi said, is that it was just about this time that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was in great danger and wrote one of His Wills in which He appointed Shoghi Effendi as Guardian.

He is God

Shoghi Mine
dream is a very good one. Rest assured that to have attained the presence of His Holiness the Exalted One, may my soul be a sacrifice to Him, is a proof of receiving the grace of God and obtaining His most great bounty and supreme favour. The same is true of the rest of the dream. It is my hope that you may manifest the outpourings of the Abhá Beauty and wax day by day in faith and knowledge. At night pray and supplicate and in the day do what is required of you.


Shoghi Effendi was particularly attached to this nurse, who is mentioned in a letter ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote to His sister, in which He says: “Kiss the flower of the garden of sweetness, Shoghi Effendi, and convey greetings to Hájar Khátún”. In my diary I recorded: “Shoghi Effendi was telling me tonight how sad he was when his nurse, who had brought him up, died in Alexandretta. He said his mother was determined to get rid of her when she got older and he felt it and resented it bitterly although he was only nine or ten. When the news came that she had died he was in Carm, his father’s garden. He said he went away in the dark and cried for her — he was about twelve then. His devotion to his nurse was a byword in the family.”

Shoghi Effendi entered the best school in Haifa, the Collège des Frères, conducted by the Jesuits. He told me he had been very unhappy there. Indeed, I gathered from him that he never was really happy in either school or university. In spite of his innately joyous nature, his sensitivity and his background — so different from that of others in every way — could not but set him apart and give rise to many a heart-ache; indeed, he was one of those people whose open and innocent hearts, keen minds and affectionate natures seem to combine to bring upon them more shocks and suffering in life than is the lot of most men. Because of his unhappiness in this school ‘Abdu’l-Bahá decided to send him to Beirut where he attended another Catholic school as a boarder, and where he was equally unhappy. Learning of this in Haifa the family sent a trusted Bahá’í woman to rent a home for Shoghi Effendi in Beirut and take care of and wait on him. It was not long before she wrote to his father that he was very unhappy at school, would refuse to go to it sometimes for days, and was getting thin and run down. His father showed this letter to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Who then had arrangements made for Shoghi Effendi to enter the Syrian Protestant College, which had a school as well as a university, later known as the American College in Beirut, and which the Guardian entered when he finished what was then equivalent to the high school. Shoghi Effendi spent his vacations at home in Haifa, in the presence as often as possible of the grandfather he idolized and Whom it was the object of his life to serve. The entire course of Shoghi Effendi’s studies was aimed by him at fitting himself to serve the Master, interpret for Him and translate His letters into English.

Shoghi Effendi told me that it was during these early years of study in Haifa that he asked ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to give him a name of his own so he would no longer be confused with his cousins, as they were all called Afnan. The Master then gave him the surname of Rabbani, which means “divine”, and this was also used by his brothers and sisters. In those days there were no surnames, people were called after their city, their eldest son or a prominent person in their family.

It is very difficult to trace the exact course of events in these years. All eyes were fixed on the grandfather and much as people loved and respected the eldest grandson, when the sun shines the lamp is ignored! Some pilgrims’ accounts, like that of Thornton Chase, the first American believer, who visited the Master in 1907, mention meeting “Shoghi Afnan”. Indeed Chase published a photograph showing Shoghi Effendi in what must have been his usual costume in those days, short pants, long dark stockings, a fez on his head, a jacket and a huge sailor’s collar covering his shoulders. But there is not enough material available at present to fill in all the gaps. Even those who accompanied ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on His journeys to the West, and kept careful diaries, did not think to record very much about the comings and goings of a child who was only thirteen when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá set forth on His historic visits to Europe and America.

No sooner had ‘Abdu’l-Bahá been freed from His long imprisonment and taken up His permanent residence in Haifa, than He began to contemplate this journey. A report published in America in Bahá’í News, 1910, states: “You have asked for an account of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s departure for the land of Egypt. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá did not inform anyone that He was going to leave Haifa…within two days He summoned to His presence M.N., Shoghi Effendi and K. and this servant.” One of the Bahá’ís recalls that a little before sunset, on that September afternoon when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s ship set sail for Port Said in Egypt, Shoghi Effendi was seated on the steps of the Master’s house, disconsolate and forlorn, and remarked: “The Master is now on board the ship. He has left me behind, but surely there is a wisdom in this!” or words to this effect. Well knowing, no doubt, what was passing in the heart of His grandson, the loving Master lost no time in sending for the child to soften the blow of this first, serious separation from Him; but more reference than this to that event has not been found. We know the Master stayed about a month in Port Said, later proceeding to Alexandria rather than to Europe, which was His original intention. How long Shoghi Effendi stayed with Him on that occasion in Egypt we do not know but as school opened in early October one presumes he returned to Syria. What we do know is that in April 1911 Shoghi Effendi was again with the Master, in Ramleh, a suburb of Alexandria, for a visiting Bahá’í from America, Louis Gregory, the first negro Hand of the Cause, mentions meeting, on 16 April, “Shogi”, a beautiful boy, a grandson of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and says he showed great affection for the pilgrims. In August of that same year the Master left on His first visit to Europe, returning in December 1911. How long it was before He again sent for His eldest grandson to join Him we do not know, but we do know that He now had a plan — perhaps influenced by His own impressions of Europe, perhaps because of the degree to which He had missed Shoghi Effendi — which was none other than to take Shoghi Effendi with Him to America.

The Guardian himself told me how the Master had ordered for him long robes, and two turbans, one green and one white like His own, for Shoghi Effendi to wear in the West; when these were delivered and Shoghi Effendi dressed himself in them to show ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, he said the Master’s eyes shone with pride and pleasure. What this journey to the West in the presence of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would have meant to Shoghi Effendi is incalculable, but it was prevented by the machinations of one who later became a perfidious and despicable Covenant-breaker, Dr Amin Fareed, the nephew of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s wife, who caused Him such constant distress that Shoghi Effendi said when the Master returned at length to His home in Haifa on 5 December 1913, He proceeded at once to the room of His wife, sat down and said with a feeble voice, accompanied by a grinding gesture of His hand, “Doctor Fareed has ground me down!” There was never any doubt in Shoghi Effendi’s mind that it was due to Fareed that he was prevented from making this historic journey.

On 25 March 1912 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi and various secretaries and servants sailed for Europe from Alexandria on the S.S. Cedric of the White Star Line. When the boat docked at Naples the Italian health inspectors declared that the eyes of one of the secretaries, one of the servants and Shoghi Effendi were diseased and they were ordered to return to the Middle East. In his diary, Mirza Mahmud records these facts and says that in spite of every effort exerted by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, by those who accompanied Him and by American friends, these three were denied landing privileges and that the authorities stated that even if they permitted them to go on, in America the health authorities would send them back. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spent an entire day during which He did everything possible to change this decision, but in the evening, after a sorrowful leave-taking, He was forced to embark on His ship and sail for America. The words which He addressed that night to those who accompanied Him make it quite clear He did not believe Shoghi Effendi was sent back on any other than a trumped-up pretext: “These Italians thought we were Turks and they reported us as such. They have stopped three of us. One was the secretary and one was the cook; this was not important. But this child, Shoghi Effendi, was helpless, why were they so strict with him? They have ill-treated us in this way, but I have always given support and assistance to their community whether in Alexandria or in Haifa…”

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