MEETING WITH ABBAS EFFENDI (ABDUL-BAHA) IN PARIS- Seyed Hasan Taqizadeh
It was toward the end of 1911 when I arrived in Paris from Istanbul, where I had been staying since the beginning of February of that year. I made this journey by the invitation of Haji Ali-Quli Khan Sardar Asad Bakhtiyari and stayed only a short while (two or three weeks). During this time I traveled to London for a few days, returning to Paris from where I subsequently returned to Istanbul. This period coincided with the famous ultimatum issued by the Russian government against the Iranian government for the dismissal of the American Mr. Shuster, which resulted in the horrible massacre of Tabriz and the hanging of Thiqatul-Islam on Ashura (10 Muharram) of 1330 A.H. (31 December 1911) that I heard about upon my arrival in Istanbul.
During my stay in Paris, once with a previous arrangement, I went to see Abbas Effendi, the head of the Bahai sect. 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 (Abdul-Baha) at his residence, an exquisite building (which, it was said, he rented for 4,000 francs a month-that is, 160 British gold pounds)
I was led into a large sitting room that apparently served as his formal receiving room and where he delivered his talks. From there I went to a smaller room that served as his bedroom, where he graciously received me. We spoke until noon.
Meanwhile, a crowd gathered in the larger room in anticipation of an audience with him. As it was getting late, Mr. Dreyfus, a Jewish Frenchman and his close companion, came into the room and, standing with respect, said, "People are waiting!" Abdul-Baha did not pay attention to him and only replied “Fine, and continued to converse with me.
From what I recall of the conversation, one topic which I asked Him was this: "I have heard, you desire the establishment of freedom in Iran. Then, is it not proper that your followers, with your command and when necessary, assist those (non-Bahahi) elements promoting political freedom, such as in the elections, and so on?”
He replied “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 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 Asadullah (dressed as a traditional (Muslim) cleric) in the company of Mirza Azizullah Varga (who worked at the Russian Bank in Tehran), both of them were Abdul-Baha’s companions, came to me bearing an affectionate message from Abdul-Baha: "The Master wishes you to join him for dinner one night." I agreed and went there at the appointed evening.
When Mirza Asadullah and Azizullah came to see me, they spoke of Abdul-Baha’s deep love for Iran and its independence and said, "The Master is constantly inquiring about what is reported in the newspapers as he is worried, meaning about the Russian ultimatum." (I suspect that they said such things, as these people (the Bahais) speak to each person depending on his interests to attract hearts. Since they had noted my love and commitment for Iran that has consumed my whole being, they emphasized this aspect of his interest. Of course, it may be possible that Abdul-Baha, indeed, was not uninterested in the independence of Iran.
The night that I went to Abdul-Baha’s house for dinner was rainy. When I left my residence at about 8 P.M., it was difficult to locate transportation. Hence I was a little late in arriving (8:15 or 8:30) and found Abdul-Baha and his companions waiting for me. In that gathering, in addition to Mirza Asadullah, Tamaddunul-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 talking. I imagined that dinner would be served at eight o'clock (according to the European custom). I was hungry and perplexed. I waited longer, but still no news of dinner. I thought that I had come late and that they had already eaten dinner. For a while Abdul-Baha, Azizullah, and I continued our talk. 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, at eleven o'clock, one by one the honored companions began to arrive, and it was nearly midnight when they informed us that dinner was being served. An extensive table filled with delicious food was spread, including a rice dish that is mixed with Qaymih (ground meat - it is called Istanbuli polo).
After dinner we returned to the room to continue our talks and enjoy coffee. Shortly after the coffee was served Abbas Effendi began to appear fatigued. One of his companions whispered to me that he observes the custom of sleeping shortly after dinner. From this it was evident that Abdul-Baha lived according to the Persian customs!
When I rose to leave, he asked, "Do you a car?"
I said "I will find transportation".He did not permit me to leave, even though he was sleepy, and insisted that I should wait until one of his attendants located a taxi for me, which he did. 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 silver coin in the corner of a handkerchief and asked me to go out and buy some food. As I was passing through the way in the Karbalai Abbas-Ali marketplace of Tehran, one of the children cried out, "This child is a Babi!" Whereupon the children rushed toward me to beat me. I was frightened and escaped. They chased me, until eventually I was able to hide in the entrance of a house belonging to the father of Sadrul-Ulama (apparently the father of Sadrul-Ulama and Aqa Mirza Muhsin, the son-in-law of Seyed Abdullah Behbahani, who was well - known at the beginning of the constitutional movement, or perhaps their grandfather). I stayed in that dark entrance until the place was deserted and returned home to find my mother perturbed."
Of the events of that night, after Abdul-Baha’s companions went for a walk, 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?”
He said, "Find Azizullah, and tell him to take the call."
I translated that, too. The maid said that he was not there.
He then said, "Ask Tamaddun to take the call."
The maid responded that he was not there either.
Finally, Abdul-Baha himself had to take the call, which apparently was from an American Bahai woman who spoke Persian. When he returned, he said to me, "That was the first time in my life that I spoke on a telephone!" He also said that the same French maid had a fiance who wrote her regularly, but for a few days she had not received a letter and cried constantly, which had caused much distress to everyone. Abdul-Baha himself had consoled her and told her that soon she would receive a letter, but she had not regained her calmness.
Abdul-Baha was very polite and wise and had good manners. He left a positive impression on those whom he met. As he exerted much care for cleanliness and observed European customs, he was respected. Every time that he went outside and walked in streets or parks wearing his clean Aba (overcoat) and shirt, he attracted people's attention. He also was very polite and respectful toward me. 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."
Sometimes later, toward the end of 1912 or the early part of 1913, he was in London, and I was there, too. But I did not see him. I heard that he was informed of my friendship with the late Professor Edward G. Browne, and since he was deeply annoyed and angry with the late Browne over the publication and dissemination of the book Nuqtatul-Kaf and certain of his ocher writings, he must have been angry with me too.
God only knows!