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Shoghi Effendi:

by Ugo Giachery

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Chapter 2

[page 10]


Pilgrim Impressions

I have now only a vague memory of what happened or what I saw in the hours until I met Shoghi Effendi that evening of the middle of February 1952.

Those Bahá'ís who went on pilgrimage during the lifetime of Shoghi Effendi will remember the air of expectation which reigned all day until the coveted moment when, at dinner-time, one was ushered into the Guardian's presence. It was a custom to let the newcomer precede everyone else to the dining-room of the Western Pilgrim House - an oval-shaped room at the northern end of the lower floor of the building. When my time came that evening, friendly, eager hands led me down the staircase into a large empty hall and through another room to a clear glass door of the French type which opened into the dining-room. Those loving hands literally pushed me through the door into the room where a large table was set for the evening meal. At the far north-eastern side of the table, almost facing the door, sat Shoghi Effendi, his handsome face absorbed in deep thought. A few seconds elapsed as I paused, unable to utter a word or a cry, while my heart was ready to burst. He was wearing a dark steel-grey coat and on his head rested a black tarboosh of unusual height and shape. He lifted his head in my direction and then I met his luminous penetrating gaze. As he rose to greet me a broad smile illumined his whole face, while his eyes seemed to probe my innermost being, as if searching for proofs of love and trust. The most affectionate words, the sweetest tongue in the world could not reproduce the eloquence of that smile, nor could the deepest thinker of this earth have analyzed the loving understanding that radiated in it. I cannot relate the emotion I felt on going near to him.

'Welcome! Welcome!' he said, with a gentle and yet compelling voice. 'At last you have come.' And with a rapid and unforeseen seen motion he embraced me with such a tenderness that for a time I felt I was in the arms of all the mothers of the world. Satisfaction and contentment filled my heart; unable to utter a word and yet electrified by all the love expressed in this gesture, I had to steel myself not to fall at his feet. A strong urge to embrace him, again and again, to make myself inconspicuous, small, humble, was overpowering me. But Shoghi Effendi must have sensed this perplexity within me, and guided me to a place at the table. As soon as I was seated and had regained my control, I had the feeling that finally I had reached home. After so many years I cannot recollect all that Shoghi Effendi told me. Expressions of praise and gratitude were flowing from his lips, and my embarrassment and blushing must have been quite evident to the other guests at the table.[*]

    * See Appendix II for letters written by the author to his wife in Rome relating his first meetings with Shoghi Effendi.

This feeling of nothingness in his presence never left me. Even years afterwards, whenever I came near him, there was an overwhelming force that filled my heart with joy and awe, with the certainty that even my thoughts were visible to him.

As I have stated, we saw Shoghi Effendi nearly every evening at his dinner-table in the Western Pilgrim House. Every day, when the hour approached and our anticipation could scarcely be bridled, minutes became unending hours until the Persian maids of the household appeared unobtrusively and swift as winged messengers, to summon the assembled pilgrims and guests to his presence. My personal experience extended over periods of weeks and, at one time, of months, and yet night after night my meeting him was the source of new emotions. Whenever he came to the table he brought with him a feeling of ecstatic excitement which replenished my soul. Invariably I was filled with a wondrous sensation of continuity and safety, with all contingent matters fading into nothingness, as I anxiously gazed at the remote but serene expression of his endearing face. Had I served him well that day? Had my modest collaboration brought him relief and solace? Was I worthy of his consideration and love to continue to serve him? These were the questions that assailed me whenever I came into his presence. These daily contacts, however, assured my fears and left me nourished, hopeful and eager.

The dining-room of the Western Pilgrim House,[*] which was located at 10 Persian Street, in Haifa, was at the extreme northern end of the ground floor of the building. On the south side of the room, French doors permitted access from a central hall which was connected with the kitchen. At the west end of the dining-room, a door communicated with a small antechamber used by Shoghi Effendi to enter or leave the dining-room. On the east side, a small door led to another small room used at that time for storage of household implements. Between this door and the south-east corner there was a built-in bookcase, which gave the dining-room a slightly oval shape. In this bookcase were many volumes from the Bahá'í literature and a geographic atlas, kept at hand to be used, very often, by the Guardian. On the north wall, several windows opened on the little garden outside. The dining-table was rectangular and, when fully extended (as it usually was after the pilgrimages began again in the winter of 1951-2), left barely enough space for chairs and for passing around the table.

    * At present the seat of the Universal House of Justice.

[page ]

The Guardian never sat at the head of the table. This place was reserved by him for guests whom he wished specially to honour. When no such guests were present, the Hand of the Cause, Mrs. Amelia E. Collins, sat there. Shoghi Effendi invariably sat at the eastern end of the north side of the table, with Ruhiyyih Khanum at his right. Hands of the Cause, members of the International Council, and pilgrims sat around the table in places designated by the Guardian. The room was well lit at night, and during the winter months was agreeably heated by a portable kerosene stove.

On entering the room, always after the Guardian had been seated, one became surcharged with intimate joy and assurance. His radiant smile always expressed his welcome. Night after night here was the most perfect setting for a symposium of love, of universal planning, of understanding, and of action. The stream of noble words, the flow of thoughts, ideas and plans, coupled with his far-reaching vision, probing into the immediate and the distant future, were exciting and ultra-stimulating. I believe that, year after year, every person who sat at his dinner-table was changed, immediately and completely, as if touched by a magic wand. That person's inner life and his approach to life, renewed by the sublimating love of the Guardian, were undoubtedly transformed in a way that no other person could ever experience. I, myself, have never been alone or unhappy again. He imparted something to my spirit that levelled all obstacles within myself, and he opened avenues of freedom and heavenly vistas among all children of man. It was as if we were sitting in the hall of the highest ranking university in the world, where the instructor was enlightening us on any subject the human mind could conceive, imparting a plenitude of knowledge, compassion and wisdom. I shall never forget those evenings and, as days go by, my link of love and gratitude to Shoghi Effendi grows stronger and stronger.

The towering spiritual perception of Shoghi Effendi always astonished all who met him for the first time, and this spiritual strength which he so abundantly possessed greatly enhanced his physical body. He had a refreshing directness that deeply stirred one's faculties; he asked many questions of everyone, and listened carefully to everything he was told. At times his conversation was far beyond the questioner's range, and more than often he was simplifying his reply, keeping it on an understandable level. It is said that 'man is a total of what he knows'; the greatness of Shoghi Effendi has been proved by the immensity of his knowledge. I cannot further elucidate this point because of my own limitations, but I shall try to portray his extraordinary stature by reviewing here the monumental structure he erected during the thirty-six years of his ministry.

Shoghi Effendi's actions were always founded on the solid blocks of divine inspiration, while the simplicity of his environment and of his personal life gave him an aura of great stability. He possessed the perfect clarity of vision that comes from supra-normal simplicity, and because of this he countered any form of ambition, indulgence or neglectfulness with his unfailing faith and stability, with the nobility of his purpose and the unwavering discipline of self-sacrifice, instilled in him from his childhood by his beloved maternal Grandfather, Abdu'l-Bahá.

In the Master's house, at 7 Persian Street, Haifa, which was also Shoghi Effendi's home for many years, on entering the large sitting-room one sees over a table on the left-hand side the portrait of a child's head which is arresting and fascinating. It is like the head of a cherub made by a great master and it reminds one of the school of Leonardo da Vinci, although I believe it is a skillfully arranged enlargement of a photograph. The size of the head is almost natural and its beauty moves and touches one very deeply. It is Shoghi Effendi as a child. He may have been four or five years of age at the time. Innocence and wonder are depicted on that dear face. The very large, almond-shaped eyes seem to look at one inquiringly; there is an expression of anticipation and eagerness in the whole countenance, as the lips arc slightly parted, ready to utter an exclamation of surprise or marvel. I have looked at that picture for hours during the meetings of the Hands of the Cause which at times have been held in that room. Many questions have rushed to my mind: What was Shoghi Effendi like when a child? Was he aware of his great destiny? What was his character?

Shoghi Effendi was born in 'Akka, Palestine, in a house which still stands inside the fortress-city, quite close to the Most Great Prison. He was the son of Diya'iyyih Khanum, the eldest daughter of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and of Mirza Hadi, an Afnan, a descendant of the Báb's family. Because most of those who lived with him, in the same household, have passed away long ago, there are only a very few persons living today who can remember Shoghi Effendi as a child. Mme. Laura Dreyfus-Barney [*] related to me the following:

    * The compiler of Some Answered Questions

[page ]

"I was permitted, at the beginning of this century, to visit the Master in 'Akka, which at that time was a Turkish province. This happened during the critical years 1904-5 when 'Abdu'l-Bahá was constantly under the menace of being exiled to the far-away desert of Fizan in Africa, and I was privileged to have my interviews and conversations with Him while I was living in His household. Shoghi Effendi was at the time a child of seven or eight years of age. He was rather small for his age, but very keen and attentive. When not engaged in his early morning studies, he followed his Grandfather ['Abdu'l-Bahá] wherever He went. He was almost like His shadow and passed long hours seated on the rug in the manner of the East, listening, quietly and silently, to every word He uttered. The child had a remarkably retentive memory and, at times when guests were present, the Master would ask him either to recite some passage from Bahá'u'lláh's Writings, which he had memorized, or to chant a prayer. It was very moving to hear the limpid, crystal chanting of that child, because all his being and soul were engaged in communion with God. Eagerness was ever present and animated him like a flame of fire in all he did."

Abdu'l-Bahá Himself was conscious of the potentiality already evident in the child; He made His Will at that time and appointed Shoghi Effendi His successor - the Valiy-i-Amru'llah. To a believer who asked if He would have a successor, the Master replied:

"Verily that infant is born and exists and there will appear from his cause a wonder which thou wilt hear in future. Thou shalt see him with the most perfect form, most great gift, most complete perfection, most great power and strongest might! His face glisteneth a glistening whereby the horizons are illumined!"[1]

    [1] TAB II p. 484

[page ]

There is no doubt that the choice of Abdu'l-Bahá'í successor had been made quite early in the life of Shoghi Effendi; although he himself was not aware of it, the Master had absolute faith in the character and capacity of His little grandson. That Shoghi Effendi was not aware of the Master's choice is certain. In December 1954, when my wife and I were on pilgrimage to Haifa, the Guardian turned to her one evening at dinner, and said, without any apparent motive except to answer the question she had been wanting to ask for days:

"I want you to know that the Master neither in writing nor by word of mouth intimated that I was to be His successor, nor left any written instruction as to the manner in which to conduct the affairs of the Cause; I had a tumult in my soul and find my way step by step."

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