'Abdu'l-Baha's Meeting with Two Prominent IraniansAhang Rabbani.
published in World Order, 30:1, pages 35-46
original written in Persian.
first written or published 1949
About this document: The original Persian of this article by Muhammad Qazvini was printed in 1949 in Yadgar. It was later reprinted in Pazhuhishnamih (in Persian). I have written an introductory note and a complete translation of the text. The introduction and translation were later published in World Order 30:1 (Fall 1998), pages 35-46.
Two of the important figures of the literary and political life of the modern Iran are Muhammad Qazvini and Siyyid Hasan Taqizadeh whose paths often crossed the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh, and who have left a poignant description of their meetings with `Abdu'l-Bahá in October 1911 in Paris.
Muhammad Qazvini is one of the foremost scholars of the Persian literature, history and culture who has edited and published numerous manuscripts and historical documents, including: The Lubabu'l-Albab, the oldest biography of Persian poets compiled about 1221 AD by Muhammad `Awfi; The Marzuban-name, a book of fables by Sa'du'd-Din Warawini; Al-Mu'jam fi Ma'ayiri Ash'ari'l-'Ajam, an old treatise on the prosody and poetic art of the Persians by Shamsu'd-Din Muhammad ibn Qays ar- Razi; Chahar Maqala, (the Four Discourses), by Nizami al-'Arudi of Samarqand; The Kitab-i Nuqtatu'l-Kaf, a purported early history of the Babis; and the Tarikh-i Jahan-gusha, by 'Ala'u'd- Din 'Ata Malik-i Juwayni, 1260AD. It should be noted that many of these efforts were in collaboration with the British Persianist Edward G. Browne and mostly were published under the E.J.W. Gibb Memorial series.
In addition to editing and publishing literary and historical manuscripts, Qazvini wrote extensively about the life and works of the men of letters and accomplishments of Iran and the Middle East, including a series of historical notes under the title, "Vafiyyat-i Mu`asiryn" (the passing of the contemporaries) which appear in 1949 in the celebrated Yadgar journal (editor: Dr. `Abbas Iqbal Ashtiyani). The ninth section of these "notes", lists biographical information on those contemporary figures whose name began with the letter 'ayn, the first being `Abdu'l- Bahá under the entry "`Abbas Effendi", which appeared in two consecutive issues, no. 6-7 of Bahman and Esfand 1327Sh (January and February of 1949). In this note, Qazvini first outlines a brief history of the Master's life and then pens his recollection of meeting Him in Paris. He has also asked his old and close friend, Siyyid Hasan Taqizadeh, a renowned figure in the political, diplomatic and literary circles of Iran, to also describe his own meetings with `Abdu'l-Bahá at the same time, which appear appended to this note.
The significance of this note lies in the fact that two very prominent Iranians who because of their deep Babi-Azali identity had exerted important efforts against the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh, were now writing sincerely about their meetings with the Center of the Covenant who received them with his customary love, affection, and sin-covering eye — never mentioning the past deeds of these individuals — and immersing them in the ocean of His compassion. From their description, it is very evident that meeting `Abdu'l-Bahá left such a deep impression that caused them to pen these passages nearly four decades later and to risk their own reputation and standing in the society by publishing it in an environment filled with hatred towards anything associated with the Bahá'í Faith.
Another point that makes this note important to the student of history is the fact that Muhammad Qazvini openly admits to having written the Persian Introduction of the Kitab-i Nuqtatu'l- Kaf, edited its text and being generally the force behind its publication — a fact suspected for some time, and now clearly documented in Qazvini's own words. It should be noted that the printing of this book, allegedly an early history of the Babis, caused `Abdu'l-Bahá much distress to the point that He instructed Mirza Abu'l-Fadl to write a detail account refuting its content and also instructed several prominent believers in Tihran to aid him in his research — a task eventually completed after Abu'l-Fadl's passing by Siyyid Mihdi of Gulpayigan, and titled Kashfu'l-Ghata.
A translation of Qazvini's entry for `Abdu'l-Bahá follows. Parenthetical comments are by the author, while those in square brackets  are by the present translator [Ahang Rabbani].
`Abbas Effendi (1260 - 1340H): Known as `Abdu'l-Bahá, He is the eldest Son of Mirza Husayn-`Ali Nuri, known as Bahá'u'lláh. The birth of `Abdu'l-Bahá took place on the night of 5th of Jamadiyu'l-Avval of the year 1260H, corresponding to 1844AD, in the Arab neighborhood of Tihran, in the personal residence of Bahá'u'lláh. His mother is the first wife of Bahá'u'lláh, known as Navvabih and surnamed Ummu'l-Ka'inat, and `Abbas Effendi Himself was styled the Most Great Branch.
From this first wife, namely, Navvabih, another Son was also born to Bahá'u'lláh, named Mirza Mihdi and surnamed the Purest Branch, Who passed away during the lifetime of His Father, Bahá'u'lláh, in the year 1286H at the age of nineteen in `Akka.
The second wife of Bahá'u'lláh was known or surnamed Mahd-`Ulya, who bore three sons for Bahá'u'lláh: first, Mirza Muhammad-'Ali, titled the Greater Branch; second Mirza Badi'u'llah; and third, Mirza Diya'u'llah. After the passing of their Father, a fierce disagreement took place among these three brothers and their fourth Brother, `Abbas Effendi, over the matter of successorship, and as such the followers of `Abbas Effendi call themselves Thabityn (the steadfast) and the partisan of the other three brothers as Naqizyn (the Covenant-breakers).
The third wife of Bahá'u'lláh was known as Guhar Khanum and commonly referred as the Haram-i Kashi [the Kashi wife]. Except a daughter named Furughiyyih, this women did not bear any children for Bahá'u'lláh.
In the middle of 1908 when a revolt took place in the Ottoman Empire and Sultan `Abdu'l-Hamid was dismissed from the throne, all the political prisoners and exiles were freed including `Abbas Effendi Whom on Ramadan of 1328H (1910AD) left the city of `Akka and commenced traveling to various parts. He first went to Egypt, from there to Switzerland, and thence to London, Paris, returning back to Egypt. From there again at the beginning of the year 1912 AD, He voyaged to the north America and in the middle of the year arrived at New York. After travelling and preaching in many of the American cities, at the end of that same year, He returned to Europe and on the 14th of December arrived at Liverpool. From there, in the year 1913, He journeyed to many other European countries, including Germany, Austria and Hungary, and eventually by the middle of this year returned to Egypt and from there went forth to Haifa. From that date forward, He selected Haifa as oppose to `Akka as His headquarters. Therefore, in sum, the travels of `Abdu'l-Bahá which were commenced at Ramadan 1328H when He first went from Palestine to Egypt and then to Europe and America, until Muharram 1332H [December 1913] when He returned back to Palestine took a total of two years, three months and some days.
The passing of `Abbas Effendi took place on 27th Rabi'u'l-Avval, 1340H, corresponding to 28 November 1921, in Haifa, at the age of 78 according to solar reckoning and 80 years based on lunar years. He was interned on Mount Carmel overlooking the city of Haifa and next to the resting place of the Bab.
After the passing of `Abbas Effendi — as both His sons had passed away at childhood and He was not survived by a male descendent — His successor in leading the Bahá'ís in accordance with His own Will and Testament was a grandson, Shoghi Effendi, a son of Diya'iyyih Khanum daughter of `Abdu'l-Bahá and the wife of Aqa Mirza Hadi ibn Aqa Siyyid Husayn ibn Haji Mirza Abu'l-Qasim (who was a brother-in-law of the Bab). Shoghi Effendi is a graduate of the Oxford University in England, and was born in 1314H . At the time of `Abdu'l-Bahá's passing he was still at Oxford when his family urgently informed him to return at once to Haifa, but due to distance, he arrived there a month after `Abdu'l-Bahá's passing. Therefore, if we have correctly recorded the date of his birth, presently, that is, Esfand of 1327Sh [March 1949], he must be fifty-four years old.
Description of My Meeting with `Abbas Effendi `Abdu'l-Bahá in Paris
I, Muhammad ibn `Abdu'l-Vahhad-i Qazvini, arrived at Paris by the way of Clarens, Switzerland, on October 6th, 1911, and immediately contracted a severe cold such that for a week I stayed home. During this period, I did not leave my dwelling and remained thoroughly unaware of news of the land. One day, Aqa Siyyid Muhammad, the Shaykhu'l-Islam of Gilan, who was the brother-in-law of the late Mirza Karim Khan-i Rashti, and whose brother, the late Sardar Muhiy, [the Mu`izzu's-Saltanih,] was visiting me at my house, in the course of conversation informed me: "Did you know that `Abbas Effendi, the leader of Bahá'ís, is now in Paris?" With astonishment I replied that I was unaware. "Yes, it is about twelve days," he continued, "that He is in Paris and His house is near Passy among the well-known neighborhoods of Paris."
I immediately wrote to Dr. Muhammad Khan-i Mahallati, one of my old friends in Paris and notorious for being devoted to this path [ie. Bahá'í] and asked him to arrange, if possible, for me to visit `Abbas Effendi. I inquired that if necessary to request permission for me to come, thinking that much like `Akka here too one should appeal to intermediator to contact the Chief, and meeting is only possible after receiving the proper consent.
At noon time the following day, Saturday, October 14, 1911, the aforementioned Dr. Muhammad Khan came to our house and asserted that intermediator, requests, and permissions were not needed:
"Har kih khahad gu biya vu har kih khahad gu buru, Kibr-u naz-u hajib-u darban bedin dargah nist."We agreed for him to return the next morning at 9 a.m. so that together we would proceed to `Abdu'l-Bahá's place of residence.
The next morning (Sunday, October 15, 1911, or 21 Shavval 1329H), Dr. Muhammad Khan came to my house and by the underground rail (metro), we went forth to `Abdu'l-Bahá's house at 4, rue camoens. His residence was at a newly-constructed, exquisite building, and furnished with all the latest means of comfort, such as, an elevator, electricity, carpeting in the stairway, telephone, etc. The building is a large apartment with six or seven rooms, and perhaps even more, two formal sitting rooms and superbly furnishing. Once we entered the apartment, I noted that separate groups of twos or threes were conversing with one another and were not concerned with the traffic of the visitors. I quickly thought that its much like the Ruzih-khani [ie. soothsaying] gatherings of Iran and none pays attention to others, and such formalities as invitation, calling ahead of time, presenting one's personal card, or requesting permission to enter, etc, were not required.
My friend became engaged in conversation with one of the groups standing in the hallway and was nearly out of my sight. For about six minutes I stood there not knowing what to do. I then suddenly spotted one of my acquaintances from the previous year's visit to Paris, titled Tamaddunu'l-Mulk, who is a young man from Shiraz and a devote Bahá'í, and went towards him and he too in seeing me came forth and we shook hands. I inquired about attaining `Abdu'l-Bahá's presence and he responded: "He is in the next formal room, and if you would please lets go there." With this, he picked up a chair and went to the next sitting room and after about half a minute returned and invited me to go with him.
I entered the room and my eyes fell upon `Abdu'l-Bahá whom I immediately recognized as I had seen Him picture many times in various journals, newspapers and certain books, and my eyes was well acquainted with His countenance. He wore a small head-dress which simply was a white piece of cloth wrapped around a small white Fez, and a large brownish labbadih with wide sleeves. His beard and eye brows were white as cotton, and He possessed brilliant, sharp eyes with a strong features which from the profile resembled that of Tolstoy. He was sitting on a velvet- covered chair (fauteuil) at the head of the room with His back to the window and all around the room — there were actually two connecting rooms, one larger where He was present and a smaller one — were sitting in absolute silence and motionless men and women from Iran, Egypt, America, England, France, etc. Not one noise could be heard or felt from anyone, particularly the Persians who wearing their customary hats and all with arms folded on the breast remained still and upright like statues. Each sat with down cast eyes and truly one could mistake them for statues as they were all extremely quite, fixed and reverent.
Quietly, I entered the room, offered my greetings and wanted to sit by the entrance when `Abbas Effendi raised from His seat, warmly greeted me, bidding me to move up by saying "Higher please, higher please." I went a bit further in the room and was about to sit when again He said: "Higher please. Come sit here." And pointed to a chair on His own right hand side, and since I did not wish Him to remain standing, quickly took my seat next to Him on the chair that He had appointed. For the next two or three minutes He continued to greet me and inquired of my well-being, which alas I do not recall the exact words. He further added: "I have asked of you and was told that you are not in Paris." I was a bit bewildered as to how it was that He knew me which had prompted Him to inquire of me. The thought then came to my mind that perhaps this is a ploy to add me to the rank of His well-wishers. My reasoning was that I knew Mr. Dreyfus was fully aware of the circumstances of me publishing the [Kitab-i] Nuqtatu'l-Kaf, having edited its Persian text, and prepared an Introduction based on the English introduction of the late Edward Browne and some other of his writings, therefore, I thought that as soon as I had requested an audience, he must have told `Abdu'l-Bahá that "This person who is now seeking an audience is the same publisher of the infamous Nuqtatu'l-Kaf, and in order to attract his heart, when he comes do not mention any of this business." It seems that Dreyfus did not wish to be present in the room when I entered and must have momentarily exited from another door, but came in after my entrance and with his eyes greeted me pretending to have just come into the room.
'Abdu'l-Bahá quickly turned to him [ie. Dreyfus] and it was evident that He was engaged in presenting a talk, that is, `Abdu'l-Bahá would utter His speech in Persian much like a sermon to teach His audience, and others were all ears listening to Him, and Dreyfus would translate from Persian into French. However, Dreyfus said: "I am hesitant to translate further in presence of our old and much learned friend, Mirza Muhammad." `Abdu'l-Bahá turned to me and said: "We were discussing a subject with the friends and after Our talk shall visit with you extensively. If you wish, translate for them that 'The children of Israel had sank into the depth of darkness...'" I replied that since I had just arrived and was uninformed of the details, its best if Mr. Dreyfus to continue translating.
`Abbas Effendi continued with His talk and would utter each sentence in eloquent Persian, and Dreyfus would translate its essence to French, and in most instances, translation was far from the original and one had to struggle to connect this translation to the materials presented by `Abbas Effendi originally , and required much imagination to tie each of his [Dreyfus'] sentences to the next.
At any rate, from the point that I entered the gathering, the jest of `Abdu'l-Bahá's talk was that the children of Israel had sank into the abyss of darkness and constantly were at war and battle with one another, worshiped multitude of gods, and as such, God sent Moses for their guidance and He was able to take them from waywardness to the path of faith. After the passage of many centuries, because of the material attachment of the divines of Israel, the religion of Moses decayed and corrupted and became the source of profits for the Rabbis, therefore, God sent forth Jesus, the Sprite of God, Who gave His life for this mission ... and similarly, the Prophet Muhammad, and then Siyyid `Ali- Muhammad-i Bab, and Bahá'u'lláh, and now He, etc.
In short, after concluding His talk, He took my hand and led me to the smaller room situated next to this larger one and we conversed on a variety of topics not related to religion. I asked him several questions about Isma'iliya (as during that time I was in process of publishing the third volume of Jahan-gusha-i Juwayni which concerned itself for the most part with Isma'iliyas) particularly about the present Isma'iliyas and He responded to them all sufficiently and accurately.
I then asked Him a few questions about Azalis and He immediately frowned always referring to them as Yahya'ian and never calling them Azalis.
"It is rumored in Iran," I further queried, "that in accordance with Your Excellency's instructions, the remains of the Bab has been moved from the vicinity of Tihran to the mountain of Carmel overlooking [the city of] Haifa and is now buried there. Is this true?" Clearly and explicitly He stated: "Yes, in such a year (and now I cannot recall the exact year that He mentioned), I took care of this matter."
After discussing various matters, He kept me for lunch which among other things included a very delicious broth [Per. Abgusht] that contained excellent garbanzo beans — a very rare item in Paris.
On several more occasions, either in His residence or in the house of Dreyfus and his wife, Mrs Barney-Dreyfus, I had lunch or dinner with `Abbas Effendi until I left Paris.
During the same time that in Paris I attained the presence of `Abdu'l-Bahá, his honored Siyyid Hasan-i Taqizadeh, the former Ambassador of Iran to the British Isle, was also in town and he too went to meet Him, and with utmost respect and honor was received. Now in Tihran, I have asked him to commit to paper whatever he may recall of those meetings to be included in these pages of Yadgar journal, and he, with his customary desire to assist such worthy and scholarly causes, has accepted my request and prepared the following section which appear exactly as he penned.
Details of the Meeting of Aqay-i Taqizadeh with `Abdu'l-Bahá
It was towards the end of 1911 that I arrived in Paris from Istanbul, where I had been staying since the beginning of February of that year. I made this journey at the request of Haji `Ali Quli-Khan-i Sardar Is`ad-i Bakhtiyari and stayed only a short while (perhaps about two or three weeks) and during this time I travelled to London for a few days, but returned to Paris from where I subsequently returned back to Istanbul. These days coincided with the famous ultimatum issues by the Russian government against the Iranian regime for the dismissal of the American Mr. Shuster which resulted in the horrible massacre of Tabriz and the hanging of the Thiqatu'l-Islam on `Ashura 1330 [10 Muharram] corresponding to December 31, 1911, that I heard about upon arrival at Istanbul.
During my stay at Paris, one day in accordance with a previous arrangement, I went to see `Abbas Effendi `Abdu'l-Bahá, the leader of the Bahá'ís. Though I do not recall the exact date, but it was at the same time that the Russians were issuing ultimatums to Iran, one morning I was received by Him [`Abdu'l-Bahá] at His residence, an exquisite building (which was said to have been rented by Him for four thousands franks, that is, 160 British gold pounds).
From the hallway I was lead into a large sitting room which apparently served as His formal receiving room and where He delivered His talks. From there I went further to a smaller room that served as His bedroom, and it was there that He graciously received me and we spoke until about noon.
Meanwhile, a crowd had gathered in the larger room in anticipation of an audience with Him, and as it was getting late, Mr. Dreyfus, a Jewish Frenchmen and a close companion of His, came into the room and standing with hands upon his breast said: "People are waiting." `Abdu'l-Bahá did not pay much attention to him and only replied "Fine," and continued to converse with me.
From what I recall of the conversation, one topic was that I asked Him: "From what I have heard, You desire establishment of freedom in Iran, and as such, is it not proper that Your followers, in accordance with Your command and when necessary, aid and assist those (non-Bahá'í) elements promoting political freedom, such as in the elections, etc.?" He replied that: "In principle, We prefer freedom as it is one of the Divine blessings and pleases God. However this is not because freedom helps with the diffusion and propagation of Our Cause, as it is the opposite, namely, Our Cause grows better in a repressive environment." What I have noted is the essence of His utterance as I do not recall the exact words.
A few days later, Mirza Asadu'llah (dressed as a traditional [Muslim] clergy) in company of Mirza `Azizu'llah Khan-i Varqa (who worked at the Russian Bank in Tihran) and both were among `Abdu'l-Bahá's companions came to see me bearing an affectionate message from `Abdu'l-Bahá. They stated: "The Master wishes you to join Him for dinner one night." I agreed and went there at the appointed evening. When Mirza Asadu'llah and `Azizu'llah Khan had come to see me, they had spoke of `Abdu'l-Bahá deep love for Iran and its independence, and has said: "The Master is constantly inquiring as to what is reported in the newspapers as He is worried about the Russian ultimatum." (I suspect that they said such things as these people [ie. Bahá'ís] speak to each person depending on his interests so to attract hearts, and since they had noted my love and commitment for Iran which has consumed my whole being, they emphasized this aspect of the Master's interest. Of course, it may well be very possible that `Abdu'l- Bahá indeed desired the independence of Iran.)
The night that I went to `Abdu'l-Bahá's house for dinner was rainy and when I left my residence at about 8 p.m. it was difficult to locate transportation, and as such I was a little tardy to arrive (about 8:15 or 8:30) and found `Abdu'l-Bahá and His companions waiting for me. In that gathering, in addition to Mirza Asadu'llah Khan, Tamaddunu'l-Mulk was present as well, but the thing that caused my astonishment was that there was no news of dinner! For a while we continued conversing. I had imagined that dinner would be served at eight o'clock (according to the European customs). I was hungry and perplexed. I waited longer, but still no news of dinner. I thought I had come late and they have already had dinner. For a while, `Abdu'l-Bahá, `Azizu'llah Khan and I continued with our conversation, and occasionally because of my hunger and not wishing to overstay my welcome, I wanted to leave, but being reserved I did not say anything. Eventually after a while, perhaps closer to eleven o'clock, one by one the honored companions begin to arrive, and it was nearly mid-night when they informed us that dinner is served. An extensive table filled with delicious food was spread, including a rice dish that is mixed with Ghaymih stow (apparently is called Islambuli Pulo, or has some other name).
After dinner, we returned to the original room to continue our conversation and enjoy coffee. Shortly after coffee was served, signs of fatigue began to appear in `Abdu'l-Bahá, and one of His companions whispered to me that He observes the custom of sleeping shortly after dinner. From this it was evident that `Abdu'l-Bahá lived according to the Persian customs. So, I rose to leave and He asked: "Do you have an automobile?" "I will find transportation," I replied. However, He did not permit it, and even though was sleepy insisted that I should wait until one of His attendants located a taxi for me, which they did and with that I returned home.
The conversation that night was charming and delightful. The topic of religion was not discussed that much and He spoke of the early years of His life and recalled His childhood. He related: "My mother tied a two-qiran silver piece in the corner of a handkerchief and asked me to go out and buy some food. As I was passing through the streets in the Karbila'i `Abbas-'Ali marketplace of Tihran, one of the youngsters cried out: "This child is a Babi!". Whereupon the children in the street rushed towards me to beat me. I was frightened and escaped. They chased me, until eventually I was able to hid in the entrance to a house belonging to the father of Sadru'l-`Ulama (apparently the father of Sadru'l-`Ulama and Aqa Mirza Muhsin, the son-in-law of Siyyid `Abdu'llah Bihbahani, who was well-known at the beginning of the constitutional movement or perhaps their grandfather). I stayed in that dark entrance until the streets were deserted and returned home to find my mother perturbed over my fate."
Of the events of that night, after `Abdu'l-Bahá's companions had left us to journey in town and He and I were left alone, at one point the French maid came in and informed Him [in French] that He had a telephone call. He asked me: "What is she saying?" I translated. He said: "Find `Azizu'llah Khan and tell him to take the call." I translated that too. The maid said that he is not here. He then said: "Tamaddun should take the call." The maid responded that he is not there either. Finally, `Abdu'l-Bahá had to take the call Himself, and went by the phone, which apparently was from an American Bahá'í woman who spoke Persian. When He returned back He said to me: "That was the first time in My life that I spoke on telephone." He also related that same French maid has a fiance who writes her regularly, but now for a few days she has not received a letter and cries constantly which has caused much distress for everyone. `Abdu'l-Bahá Himself had consoled her and told her that soon she would receive a letter, but she had not regained her composure.
`Abdu'l-Bahá was extremely polite and wise, and possessed excellent manners. He left a deep, positive impression with those that He met. Because He exerted much care for cleanliness, and observed the European customs, He was very respected. Every time that He journeyed outside and walked in streets or parks wearing His perfectly clean `aba [overcoat] and shirt, French people naturally would gravitate towards Him. He also was very polite and respectful towards me, and during our first meeting, when I left His bedroom and passed through the large sitting room [occupied with guests], on my exit in the hallway, one of His companions informed me: "The Master has said that we should tell people that you are an Egyptian visitor so that no one would be informed of your visit here."
However, a while later, towards the end of 1912 or early part of 1913 that He was in London and I was there too, I did not see Him. I heard that He was informed of my association with the late Professor Edward Browne, and since He was deeply annoyed with the late Browne over the publication and dissemination of the Kitab-i Nuqtatu'l-Kaf and certain of his other writings, He must have been weary of me too. God only knows.
Apparently the night I had gone to visit `Abdu'l-Bahá, He had inquired of `Azizu'llah Khan: "What do the newspapers and media report of Iran?"
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