‘Abbás Effendi, Who afterwards assumed the title of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá (i.e. Servant of Bahá), was the eldest son of Bahá’u’lláh. He was born in Ṭihrán before midnight on the eve of the 23rd of May, 1844,1 the very same night in which the Báb declared His mission.
He was nine years of age when His father, to Whom even then He was devotedly attached, was thrown into the dungeon in Ṭihrán. A mob sacked their house, and the family were stripped of their possessions and left in destitution. ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá tells how one day He was allowed to enter the prison yard to see His beloved father when He came out for His daily exercise. Bahá’u’lláh was terribly altered, so ill He could hardly walk, His hair and beard unkempt, His neck galled and swollen from the pressure of a heavy steel collar, His body bent by the weight of His chains, and the sight made a never-to-be-forgotten impression on the mind of the sensitive boy.
During the first year of their residence in Baghdád, ten years before the open Declaration by Bahá’u’lláh of His Mission, the keen insight of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, Who was then but nine years of age, already led Him to the momentous discovery that His father was indeed the Promised One Whose Manifestation all the Bábís were awaiting. Some sixty years afterwards He thus described the moment in which this conviction suddenly overwhelmed His whole nature:—
I am the servant of the Blessed Perfection. In Baghdád I was a child. Then and there He announced to me the Word, and I believed in Him. As soon as He proclaimed to me the Word, I threw myself at His Holy Feet and implored and supplicated Him to accept my blood as a sacrifice in His Pathway. Sacrifice! How sweet I find that word! There is no greater Bounty for me than this! What greater glory can I conceive than to see this neck chained for His sake, these feet fettered for His love, this body mutilated or thrown into the depths of the sea for His Cause! If in reality we are His sincere lovers—if in reality I am His sincere servant, then I must sacrifice my life, my all at His Blessed Threshold.—Diary of Mírzá Aḥmad Sohrab, January 1914.
When His father went away for two years in the wilderness, ‘Abbás was heartbroken. His chief consolation consisted in copying and committing to memory the Tablets of the Báb, and much of His time was spent in solitary meditation. When at last His father returned, the boy was overwhelmed with joy.
From that time onwards, He became His father’s closest companion and, as it were, protector. Although a mere youth, He already showed astonishing sagacity and discrimination, and undertook the task of interviewing all the numerous visitors who came to see His father. If He found they were genuine truth seekers, He admitted them to His father’s presence, but otherwise He did not permit them to trouble Bahá’u’lláh. On many occasions He helped His father in answering the questions and solving the difficulties of these visitors. For example, when one of the Ṣúfí leaders, named ‘Alí Shawkat Páshá, asked for an explanation of the phrase: “I was a Hidden Mystery,” which occurs in a well-known Muḥammadan tradition,2 Bahá’u’lláh turned to the “Mystery of God,” ‘Abbás, and asked Him to write the explanation. The boy, who was then about fifteen or sixteen years of age, at once wrote an important epistle giving an exposition so illuminating as to astonish the Páshá. This epistle is now widely spread among the Bahá’ís, and is well known to many outside the Bahá’í faith.
About this time ‘Abbás was a frequent visitor to the mosques, where He would discuss theological matters with the doctors and learned men. He never attended any school or college, His only teacher being His father. His favorite recreation was horseback riding, which He keenly enjoyed.
After Bahá’u’lláh’s Declaration in the Garden outside Baghdád, ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá’s devotion to His father became greater than ever. On the long journey to Constantinople He guarded Bahá’u’lláh night and day, riding by His wagon and watching near His tent. As far as possible He relieved His father of all domestic cares and responsibilities, becoming the mainstay and comfort of the entire family.
During the years spent in Adrianople, ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá endeared Himself to everyone. He taught much, and became generally known as the “Master.” At ‘Akká, when nearly all the party were ill with typhoid, malaria, and dysentery, He washed the patients, nursed them, fed them, watched with them, taking no rest, until utterly exhausted, He Himself took dysentery, and for about a month remained in a dangerous condition. In ‘Akká, as in Adrianople, all classes, from the Governor to the most wretched beggar, learned to love and respect Him.
During the youth of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá the question of a suitable marriage for Him was naturally one of great interest to the believers, and many people came forward, wishing to have this crown of honor for their own family. For a long time, however, ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá showed no inclination for marriage, and no one understood the wisdom of this. Afterwards it became known that there was a girl who was destined to become the wife of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, one whose birth came about through the Blessing which the Báb gave to her parents in Iṣfahán. Her father was Mírzá Muḥammad ‘Alí, who was the uncle of the “King of Martyrs” and the “Beloved of Martyrs,” and she belonged to one of the great and noble families of Iṣfahán. When the Báb was in Iṣfahán, Mírzá Muḥammad ‘Alí had no children, but his wife was longing for a child. On hearing of this, the Báb gave him a portion of His food and told him to share it with his wife. After they had eaten of that food, it soon became apparent that their long-cherished hopes of parenthood were about to be fulfilled, and in due course a daughter was born to them, who was given the name of Munírih Khánum.3 Later on a son was born, to whom they gave the name of Siyyid Yaḥyá, and afterwards they had some other children. After a time, Munírih’s father died, her cousins were martyred by Ẓillu’s-Sulṭán and the mullás, and the family fell into great troubles and bitter persecutions because of their being Bahá’ís. Bahá’u’lláh then permitted Munírih and her brother Siyyid Yaḥyá to come to ‘Akká for protection. Bahá’u’lláh and His wife, Navváb, the mother of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, showed such kindness and favor to Munírih that others understood that they wished her to become the wife of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá. The wish of His father and mother became the wish of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, too. He had a warm feeling of love and affection for Munírih which was fully reciprocated, and erelong they became united in marriage.
The marriage proved exceedingly happy and harmonious. Of the children born to them four daughters have survived the rigors of their long imprisonment, and, through their beautiful lives of service, have endeared themselves to all who have been privileged to know them.
Bahá’u’lláh indicated in many ways the ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá was to direct the Cause after His own ascension. Many years before His death He declared this in a veiled manner in His Kitáb-i-Aqdas. He referred to ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá on many occasions as “The Center of My Covenant,” “The Most Great Branch,” “The Branch from the Ancient Root.” He habitually spoke of Him as “The Master” and required all His family to treat Him with marked deference; and in His Will and Testament He left explicit instructions that all should turn to Him and obey Him.
After the death of the “Blessed Beauty” (as Bahá’u’lláh was generally called by His family and believers) ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá assumed the position which His father had clearly indicated for Him as head of the Cause and authoritative Interpreter of the teachings, but this was resented by certain of His relatives and others, who became as bitterly opposed to ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá as Ṣubḥ-i-Azal had been to Bahá’u’lláh. They tried to stir up dissensions among the believers, and, failing in that, proceeded to make various false charges against ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá to the Turkish Government.
In accordance with instructions received from His father, ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá was erecting a building on the side of Mount Carmel, above Haifa, which was intended to be the permanent resting-place of the remains of the Báb, and also to contain a number of rooms for meetings and services. They represented to the authorities that this building was intended as a fort, and that ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá and His followers meant to entrench themselves there, defy the Government, and endeavor to gain possession of the neighboring region of Syria.
In consequence of this and other equally unfounded charges, in 1901, ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá and His family, who for more than twenty years had been allowed the freedom of the country for some miles around ‘Akká, were again, for over seven years, strictly confined within the walls of the prison city. This did not prevent Him, however, from effectively spreading the Bahá’í message through Asia, Europe and America. Mr. Horace Holley writes of this period as follows:—
To ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, as a teacher and friend, came men and women from every race, religion and nation, to sit at his table like favored guests, questioning him about the social, spiritual or moral program each had most at heart; and after a stay lasting from a few hours to many months, returning home, inspired, renewed and enlightened. The world surely never possessed such a guest-house as this.
Within its doors the rigid castes of India melted away, the racial prejudice of Jew, Christian and Muḥammadan became less than a memory; and every convention save the essential law of warm hearts and aspiring minds broke down, banned and forbidden by the unifying sympathy of the master of the house. It was like a King Arthur and the Round Table … but an Arthur who knighted women as well as men, and sent them away not with the sword but with the Word.—The Modern Social Religion, Horace Holley.
During these years ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá carried on an enormous correspondence with believers and inquirers in all parts of the world. In this work He was greatly assisted by His daughters and also by several interpreters and secretaries.
Much of His time was spent in visiting the sick and the afflicted in their own homes; and in the poorest quarters of ‘Akká no visitor was more welcome than the “Master.” A pilgrim who visited ‘Akká at this time writes:—
It is the custom of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá each week, on Friday morning, to distribute alms to the poor. From his own scanty store he gives a little to each one of the needy who come to ask assistance. This morning about one hundred were ranged in line, seated and crouching upon the ground in the open street of the courts where ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá’s house stands. And such a nondescript collection of humanity they were. All kinds of men, women and children—poor, wretched, hopeless in aspect, half-clothed, many of them crippled and blind, beggars indeed, poor beyond expression—waiting expectant—until from the doorway came ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá.… Quickly moving from one to another, stopping sometimes to leave a word of sympathy and encouragement, dropping small coins into each eager outstretched palm, touching the face of a child, taking the hand of an old woman who held fast to the hem of his garment as he passed along, speaking words of light to old men with sightless eyes, inquiring after those too feeble and wretched to come for their pittance of help, and sending them their portion with a message of love and uplift.—Glimpses of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, M. J. M.
‘Abdu’l‑Bahá’s personal wants were few. He worked late and early. Two simple meals a day sufficed Him. His wardrobe consisted of a very few garments of inexpensive material. He could not bear to live in luxury while others were in want.
He had a great love for children, for flowers, and for the beauties of nature. Every morning about six or seven, the family party used to gather to partake of the morning tea together, and while the Master sipped His tea, the little children of the household chanted prayers. Mr. Thornton Chase writes of these children:—“Such children I have never seen, so courteous, unselfish, thoughtful for others, unobtrusive, intelligent, and swiftly self-denying in the little things that children love.…”—In Galilee.
The “ministry of flowers” was a feature of the life at ‘Akká, of which every pilgrim brought away fragrant memories. Mrs. Lucas writes:—“When the Master inhales the odor of flowers, it is wonderful to see him. It seems as though the perfume of the hyacinths were telling him something as he buries his face in the flowers. It is like the effort of the ear to hear a beautiful harmony, a concentrated attention!”—A Brief Account of My Visit to ‘Akká.
Five days we remained within those walls, prisoners with Him who dwells in that “Greatest Prison.” It is a prison of peace, of love and service. No wish, no desire is there save the good of mankind, the peace of the world, the acknowledgement of the Fatherhood of God and the mutual rights of men as His creatures, His children. Indeed, the real prison, the suffocating atmosphere, the separation from all true heart desires, the bond of world conditions, is outside of those stone walls, while within them is the freedom and pure aura of the Spirit of God. All troubles, tumults, worries or anxieties for worldly things are barred out there.—In Galilee.
Grieve not because of my imprisonment and calamity; for this prison is my beautiful garden, my mansioned paradise and my throne of dominion among mankind. My calamity in my prison is a crown to me in which I glory among the righteous.
Anyone can be happy in the state of comfort, ease, health, success, pleasure and joy; but if one be happy and contented in the time of trouble, hardship and prevailing disease, that is the proof of nobility.
In 1904 and 1907 commissions were appointed by the Turkish Government to inquire into the charges against ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, and lying witnesses gave evidence against Him. ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, while refuting the charges, expressed His entire readiness to submit to any sentence the tribunal chose to impose. He declared that if they should throw Him into jail, drag Him through the streets, curse Him, spit upon Him, stone Him, heap upon Him all sort of ignominy, hang Him or shoot Him, He would still be happy.
Between the sittings of the Commissions of Investigation He pursued His ordinary life with the utmost serenity, planting fruit trees in a garden and presiding at a marriage feast with the dignity and radiance of spiritual freedom. The Spanish Consul offered to provide Him a safe passage to any foreign port He cared to select, but this offer He gratefully but firmly refused, saying that whatever the consequences, He must follow in the footsteps of the Báb and the Blessed Perfection, Who never tried to save Themselves or run away from Their enemies. He encouraged most of the Bahá’ís, however, to leave the neighborhood of ‘Akká, which had become very dangerous for them, and remained alone, with a few of the faithful, to await His destiny.
The four corrupt officials who constituted the last investigating commission arrived in ‘Akká in the early part of the winter of 1907, stayed one month, and departed for Constantinople, after finishing their so called “investigation,” prepared to report that the charges against ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá had been substantiated and to recommend His exile or execution. No sooner had they got back to Turkey, however, than the Revolution broke out there and the four commissioners, who belonged to the old regime, had to flee for their lives. The Young Turks established their supremacy, and all political and religious prisoners in the Ottoman Empire were set free. In September 1908 ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá was released from prison, and in the following year ‘Abdu’l-Ẓamíd, the Sulṭán, became himself a prisoner.
After His release, ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá continued the same holy life of ceaseless activity in teaching, correspondence, ministering to the poor and the sick, with merely the change from ‘Akká to Haifa and from Haifa to Alexandria, until August 1911, when He started on His first visit to the Western world. During His tours in the West, ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá met men of every shade of opinion and amply fulfilled the command of Bahá’u’lláh to “Consort with all the people with joy and fragrance.” He reached London early in September 1911, and spent a month there, during which, besides daily talks with inquirers and many other activities, He addressed the congregations of the Rev. R. J. Campbell at the City Temple, and of Archdeacon Wilberforce at St. John’s, Westminster, and breakfasted with the Lord Mayor. He then proceeded to Paris, where His time was occupied in giving daily addresses and talks to eager listeners of many nationalities and types. In December He returned to Egypt, and next spring, in response to the earnest entreaty of the American friends, He proceeded to the United States, arriving in New York in April 1912. During the next nine months He traveled through America, from coast to coast, addressing all sorts and conditions of men—university students, Socialists, Mormons, Jews, Christians, Agnostics, Esperantists, Peace Societies, New Thought Clubs, Women’s Suffrage Societies, and speaking in churches of almost every denomination, in each case giving addresses suited to the audience and the occasion. On December 5 He sailed for Great Britain, where He passed six weeks, visiting Liverpool, London, Bristol and Edinburgh. In Edinburgh He gave a notable address to the Esperanto Society, in which He announced that He had encouraged the Bahá’ís of the East to study Esperanto in order to further better understanding between the East and the West. After two months in Paris, spent as before in daily interviews and conference, He proceeded to Stuttgart, where He held a series of very successful meetings with the German Bahá’ís; thence to Budapest and Vienna, founding new groups in these places, returning, in May 1913, to Egypt, and on December 5, 1913, to Haifa.
He was then in His seventieth year, and His long and arduous labors, culminating in these strenuous Western tours, had worn out His physical frame. After His return He wrote the following pathetic Tablet to the believers in East and West:—
Friends, the time is coming when I shall be no longer with you. I have done all that could be done. I have served the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh to the utmost of my ability. I have labored night and day all the years of my life.
Oh, how I long to see the believers shouldering the responsibilities of the Cause! Now is the time to proclaim the Kingdom of Abhá (i.e. The Most Glorious!). Now is the hour of union and concord! Now is the day of the spiritual harmony of the friends of God! …
I am straining my ears toward the East and toward the West, toward the North and toward the South, that haply I may hear the songs of love and fellowship raised in the meetings of the believers. My days are numbered, and save this there remains none other joy for me.
The mystic nightingale is singing for them; will they not listen? The bird of Paradise is warbling; will they not hear? The Angel of the Kingdom of Abhá is calling to them; will they not hearken? The Messenger of the Covenant is pleading; will they not heed?
The enemies of the Bahá’í Cause, whose hopes had risen high when the Báb fell a victim to their fury, when Bahá’u’lláh was driven from His native land and made a prisoner for life, and again at the passing of Bahá’u’lláh—these enemies once more took heart when they saw the physical weakness and weariness of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá after His return from His Western travels. But again their hopes were doomed to disappointment. In a short time ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá was able to write:—
Unquestionably this physical body and human energy would have been unable to stand the constant wear and tear … but the aid and help of the Desired One were the Guardian and Protector of the weak and humble ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá.… Some have asserted that ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá is on the eve of bidding his last farewell to the world, that his physical energies are depleted and drained and that ere long these complications will put an end to his life. This is far from the truth. Although in the outward estimation of the Covenant-breakers and defective-minded the body is weak on account of ordeals in the Blessed Path, yet, Praise be to God! through the providence of the Blessed Perfection the spiritual forces are in the utmost rejuvenation and strength. Thanks be to God that now, through the blessing and benediction of Bahá’u’lláh, even the physical energies are fully restored, divine joy is obtained, the supreme glad-tidings are resplendent and ideal happiness overflowing.
Both during the European War and after its close ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, amidst countless other activities, was able to pour forth a series of great and inspiring letters which, when communications were reopened, roused believers throughout the world to new enthusiasm and zeal for service. Under the inspiration of these letters the Cause progressed by leaps and bounds and everywhere the Faith showed signs of new vitality and vigor.
A remarkable instance of the foresight of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá was supplied during the months immediately preceding the war. During peacetimes there was usually a large number of pilgrims at Haifa, from Persia and other regions of the globe. About six months before the outbreak of war one of the old Bahá’ís living at Haifa presented a request from several believers of Persia for permission to visit the Master. ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá did not grant the permission, and from that time onwards gradually dismissed the pilgrims who were at Haifa, so that by the end of July 1914 none remained. When, in the first days of August the sudden outbreak of the Great War startled the world, the wisdom of His precaution became apparent.
When the war broke out, ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, Who had already spent fifty-five years of His life in exile and prison, became again virtually a prisoner of the Turkish Government. Communication with friends and believers outside Syria was almost completely cut off, and He and His little band of followers were again subjected to straitened circumstances, scarcity of food and great personal danger and inconvenience.
During the war ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá had a busy time in ministering to the material and spiritual wants of the people about Him. He personally organized extensive agricultural operations near Tiberias, thus securing a great supply of wheat, by means of which famine was averted, not only for the Bahá’ís but for hundreds of the poor of all religions in Haifa and ‘Akká, whose wants He liberally supplied. He took care of all, and mitigated their sufferings as far as possible. To hundreds of poor people He would give a small sum of money daily. In addition to money He gave bread. If there was no bread He would give dates or something else. He made frequent visits to ‘Akká to comfort and help the believers and poor people there. During the time of war He had daily meetings of the believers, and through His help the friends remained happy and tranquil throughout those troublous years.
Great was the rejoicing in Haifa when, on the 23rd day of September, 1918, at 3 P.M., after some twenty-four hours’ fighting, the city was taken by British and Indian cavalry, and the horrors of war conditions under the Turkish rule came to an end.
From the beginning of the British occupation, large numbers of soldiers and Government officials of all ranks, even the highest, sought interviews with ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, delighting in His illuminating talks, His breadth of view and depth of insight, His dignified courtesy and genial hospitality. So profoundly impressed were the Government representatives by His noble character and His great work in the interests of peace conciliation, and the true prosperity of the people, that a knighthood of the British Empire was conferred on ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, the ceremony taking place in the garden of the Military Governor of Haifa on the 27th day of April, 1920.
During the winter of 1919–1920 the writer had the great privilege of spending two and half months as the guest of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá at Haifa and intimately observing His daily life. At that time, although nearly seventy-six years of age, He was still remarkably vigorous, and accomplished daily an almost incredible amount of work. Although often very weary He showed wonderful powers of recuperation, and His services were always at the disposal of those who needed them most. His unfailing patience, gentleness, kindliness and tact made His presence like a benediction. It was His custom to spend a large part of each night in prayer and meditation. From early morning until evening, except for a short siesta after lunch, He was busily engaged in reading and answering letters from many lands and in attending to the multitudinous affairs of the household and of the Cause. In the afternoon He usually had a little relaxation in the form of a walk or a drive, but even then He was usually accompanied by one or two, or a party, of pilgrims with whom He would converse on spiritual matters, or He would find opportunity by the way of seeing and ministering to some of the poor. After His return He would call the friends to the usual evening meeting in His salon. Both at lunch and supper He used to entertain a number of pilgrims and friends, and charm His guests with happy and humorous stories as well as precious talks on a great variety of subjects. “My home is the home of laughter and mirth,” He declared, and indeed it was so. He delighted in gathering together people of various races, colors, nations and religions in unity and cordial friendship around His hospitable board. He was indeed a loving father not only to the little community at Haifa, but to the Bahá’í community throughout the world.
‘Abdu’l‑Bahá’s manifold activities continued with little abatement despite increasing bodily weakness and weariness up till the last day or two of His life. On Friday, November 25, 1921, He attended the noonday prayer at the Mosque in Haifa, and afterwards distributed alms to the poor with His own hands, as was His wont. After lunch He dictated some letters. When He had rested He walked in the garden and had a talk with the gardener. In the evening He gave His blessing and counsel to a loved and faithful servant of the household who had been married that day, and afterwards He attended the usual meeting of the friends in His own salon. Less than three days later, about 1:30 A.M. on Monday, November 28, He passed away so peacefully that, to the two daughters watching by His bedside, it seemed as if He had gone quietly to sleep.
… a funeral the like of which Haifa, nay Palestine itself, had surely never seen … so deep was the feeling that brought so many thousands of mourners together, representative of so many religions, races and tongues.
The High Commissioner, Sir Herbert Samuel, the Governor of Jerusalem, the Governor of Phoenicia, the Chief Officials of the Government, the Consuls of the various countries, resident in Haifa, the heads of the various religious communities, the notables of Palestine, Jews, Christians, Moslems, Druses, Egyptians, Greeks, Turks, Kurds, and a host of his American, European and native friends, men, women and children, both of high and low degree … all, about ten thousand in number, mourning the loss of their Beloved One.…
… they slowly wended their way up Mount Carmel, the Vineyard of God.… After two hours’ walking, they reached the garden of the Tomb of the Báb.… As the vast concourse pressed round … representatives of the various denominations, Moslems, Christians and Jews, all hearts being ablaze with fervent love of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, some on the impulse of the moment, others prepared, raised their voices in eulogy and regret, paying their last homage of farewell to their loved one. So united were they in their acclamation of him, as the wise educator and reconciler of the human race in this perplexed and sorrowful age, that there seemed to be nothing left for the Bahá’ís to say.—The Passing of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, by Lady Blomfield and Shoghi Effendi.
Nine speakers, all of them prominent representatives of the Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities, bore eloquent and moving witness to their love and admiration of the pure and noble life which had just drawn to its close. Then the casket was slowly passed to its simple and hallowed resting-place.
Surely here was a fitting tribute to the memory of One Who had labored all His life for unity of religions, of races, of tongues—a tribute, and also a proof, that His lifework had not been in vain, that the ideals of Bahá’u’lláh, which were His inspiration, nay, His very life, were already beginning to permeate the world and to break down the barriers of sect and caste that for centuries had alienated Muslim, Christian, Jew, and the other diverse factions into which the human family has been riven.
The Writings of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá are very numerous and are mostly in the form of letters to believers and inquirers. A great many of His talks and addresses have also been recorded and many have been published. Of the thousands of pilgrims who have visited Him at ‘Akká and Haifa a large number have written descriptions of their impressions, and many of these records are now available in printed form.
His teachings are thus very completely preserved, and they cover a very wide range of subjects. With many of the problems of both East and West He dealt more fully than His Father had done, giving more detailed applications of the general principles laid down by Bahá’u’lláh. A number of His Writings have not yet been translated into any Western language but enough is already available to give deep and full knowledge of the more important principles of His teaching.
He spoke Persian, Arabic and Turkish. In His Western tours His talks and addresses were always interpreted, obviously losing much of their beauty, eloquence and force in the process, yet such was the power of the Spirit which accompanied His words that all who heard Him were impressed.
The unique station assigned to ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá by the Blessed Perfection is indicated in the following passage written by the latter:—“When the ocean of My presence hath ebbed and the Book of My Revelation is ended, turn your faces towards Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient Root.” And again:—“ … refer ye whatsoever ye understand not in the Book to Him Who hath branched from this mighty Stock.” ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá Himself wrote the following:—“In accordance with the explicit text of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas Bahá’u’lláh hath made the Center of the Covenant the Interpreter of His Word—a Covenant so firm and mighty that from the beginning of time until the present day no religious Dispensation hath produced its like.”
The very completeness of the servitude with which ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá promulgated the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh in East and West resulted at times in a confusion of belief concerning His station on the part of believers. Realizing the purity of the spirit animating His word and deed, surrounded by religious influences marking the breakdown of their traditional doctrines, a number of Bahá’ís felt that they honored ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá by likening Him to a Manifestation, or hailing Him as the “return of Christ.” Nothing caused Him such intense grief as this failure to perceive that His capacity to serve Bahá’u’lláh proceeded from the purity of the mirror turned to the Sun of Truth, and not from the Sun itself.
Moreover, unlike previous Dispensations, the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh had within it the potency of a universal human society. During ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá’s mission covering the period 1892 to 1921, the Faith evolved through successive stages of development in the direction of a true world order. Its development required continuous direction and specific instruction from ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, Who alone knew the fullness of that new potent inspiration brought to earth in this age. Until His own Will and Testament was revealed after ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá’s departure from the flesh, and its significance was expounded by Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Faith, the Bahá’ís almost inevitably attributed their beloved Master’s guidance a degree of spiritual authority equaling that of the Manifestation.
The effects of such naive enthusiasm are no longer felt within the Bahá’í community, but with a sounder realization of the mystery of that incomparable devotion and servitude, the Bahá’ís can today all the more consciously appreciate the unique character of the mission which ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá fulfilled. The Faith which in 1892 seemed so weak and helpless in the physical exile and imprisonment of its Exemplar and Interpreter, has since, with irresistible power, raised up communities in many countries,4 and challenges the weakness of a decaying civilization with a body of teachings that alone reveal the future of a despairing humanity.
This is the foundation of the belief of the people of Bahá (may my life be offered up for them): “His Holiness, the Exalted One (the Báb), is the Manifestation of the Unity and Oneness of God and the Forerunner of the Ancient Beauty. His Holiness the Abhá Beauty (may my life be a sacrifice for His steadfast friends) is the Supreme Manifestation of God and the Dayspring of His Most Divine Essence. All others are servants unto Him and do His bidding.”
By this statement, and by numerous others in which ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá emphasized the importance of basing one’s knowledge of the Faith upon His general Tablets, a foundation for unity of belief was established, with the result that the differences of understanding caused by reference to His Tablets to individuals, in which the Master answered personal questions, rapidly disappeared. Above all, the establishment of a definite administrative order, with the Guardian at its head, transferred to institutions all authority previously wielded in the form of prestige and influence by individual Bahá’ís in the various local groups.
Bahá’u’lláh was preeminently the Revealer of the Word. His forty years’ imprisonment gave Him but limited opportunities of intercourse with His fellowmen. To ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, therefore, fell the important task of becoming the exponent of the Revelation, the Doer of the Word, the Great Exemplar of the Bahá’í life in actual contact with the world of today, in the most diverse phases of its myriad activities. He showed that it is still possible, amid the whirl and rush of modern life, amid the self-love and struggle for material prosperity that everywhere prevail, to live the life of entire devotion to God and to the service of one’s fellows, which Christ and Bahá’u’lláh and all the Prophets have demanded of men. Through trial and vicissitudes, calumnies, and treachery on the one hand, and through love and praise, devotion and veneration on the other, He stood like a lighthouse founded on a rock, around which wintry tempests rage and the summer ocean plays, His poise and serenity remaining ever steadfast and unshaken. He lived the life of faith, and calls on His followers to live it here and now. He raised amid a warring world the Banner of Unity and Peace, the Standard of a New Era, and He assures those who rally to its support that they shall be inspired by the Spirit of the New Day. It is the same Holy Spirit which inspired the Prophets and Saints of old, but it is a new outpouring of that Spirit, suited to the needs of the new time.