‘Abdu’l-Bahás liv

‘Abdu’l-Bahás liv

‘Abdu’l-Bahás liv

On the evening of 22 May 1844, a significant moment in human history occurred. In the city of Shiraz, Iran, the Báb declared the beginning of a new religious cycle for the world.

At midnight, on that same evening, a baby was born in Tehran. Bahá’u’lláh, in honour of His own father, named His newborn son, ‘Abbás. But, in time, ‘Abbás chose to call Himself ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the “Servant of Bahá”, and, through His life of service to humanity, became known as the living embodiment and exemplar of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings.

Childhood

‘Abdu’l-Bahá enjoyed a privileged childhood until fierce persecutions broke out against the Báb’s followers—of whom Bahá’u’lláh was the most prominent. Bahá’u’lláh’s incarceration for being a Bábí marked a turning point for His family. Seeing Bahá’u’lláh in prison—His hair and beard unkempt, His neck swollen from the heavy steel collar, His body bent by chains—made an indelible impression on the mind of His eight year-old son.

In December 1852, Bahá’u’lláh was released from prison after four months. Almost immediately, He was banished from Iran with His family. They were never to see their native land again. On the trek to Baghdad, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá suffered frostbite and grieved over the separation from his baby brother, Mihdí, who was not well enough to make the gruelling journey. 

Soon after their arrival in Baghdad, another painful separation followed when Bahá’u’lláh retreated into the mountains of Kurdistan for a period of two years. With His beloved Father away, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá occupied His time reading and meditating upon the Writings of the Báb.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá as a young man, photographed during His Father’s exile to Adrianople, 1863-1868.

Service to Bahá’u’lláh

When Bahá’u’lláh finally returned, the 12 year-old boy was overwhelmed with joy. Despite His tender age, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had already intuitively recognized the station of His Father. In the years that immediately followed, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá became Bahá’u’lláh’s representative and His secretary. 

He shielded His Father from unnecessary intrusions and the malice of those who wished Him ill and became revered in circles beyond His Father’s followers, conversing with the wise and learned on themes and topics that occupied their minds. One commentary He wrote while still in His teens demonstrated His already profound knowledge and understanding, and a striking mastery of language. Throughout their exiles, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá also assumed the burden of various negotiations with civil authorities.

During Bahá’u’lláh’s final banishment to ‘Akká, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá continued to protect His Father, took care of His followers, tended to the sick and the poor in the city, and held His ground on matters of justice with callous jailers, brutal guards and hostile officials. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s generosity of spirit, selfless service and adherence to principle endeared Him to those who came to know Him and, in time, won over even the most hard-hearted of enemies. 

The Centre of the Covenant

In His Most Holy Book, Bahá’u’lláh established a covenant with His followers, enjoining them to turn, after His passing, to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Who He describes as “Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient Root.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s authority as the “Centre of the Covenant” was also established in other texts, including Bahá’u’lláh’s Will and Testament.

From the time of Bahá’u’lláh’s passing, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá oversaw the spread of His Father’s Faith to new territories, including North America and Europe. He received a steady flow of pilgrims from both the East and the West, carried out an extensive correspondence with Bahá’ís and inquirers in all parts of the world, and lived an exemplary life of service to the people of ‘Akká.

Envious of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s influence, His younger half-brother—Mirza Muhammad ‘Alí—tried to undermine and usurp ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s authority. Efforts to stir up further suspicion against ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the minds of the already hostile authorities resulted in restrictions that had gradually been relaxed over the years being re-imposed. Although these attacks caused great pain to Him and His loyal followers, they failed to cause lasting damage to the unity of the community or the spread of the Bahá’í Faith.

Travel to the West

‘Abdu’l-Bahá glimpsed on board the “S.S. Celtic” as He sailed from New York City bound for Liverpool, England, 5 December 1912.

As early as 1907, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had begun moving His family to Haifa, across the bay from ‘Akká, where He had built a house at the foot of Mount Carmel. In 1908, turmoil in the Ottoman capital culminated in the Young Turk Revolution. The Sultan released all of the empire’s religious and political prisoners and, after decades of imprisonment and exile, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was free.

Despite tremendous challenges, work on a tomb for the Báb had proceeded, midway up the mountain, in a spot designated by Bahá’u’lláh Himself. In March 1909, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was able to place the Báb’s remains in the Shrine He had constructed.

The following year, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá departed Haifa for Egypt, where He stayed one year, spending His days meeting diplomats, intellectuals, religious leaders and journalists. In the late summer of 1911, He sailed for Europe, stopping at the French resort of Thonon-les-Bains before traveling to London.

On 10 September 1911, from the pulpit of the City Temple church in London, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave a public address for the first time in His life. His subsequent month-long stay in England was filled with ceaseless activity, promoting Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings and their application to many contemporary issues and problems, through public talks, meetings with the press and interviews with individuals. The days in London, and then Paris, set a pattern that He would follow throughout all of His travels.

In the spring of 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá journeyed to the United States and Canada for nine months. He travelled from coast to coast, addressing every kind of audience, meeting people of all ranks and stations. At the end of the year, He returned to Britain and early in 1913, to France, from where He proceeded to Germany, Hungary and Austria, returning in May to Egypt, and on 5 December 1913, to the Holy Land.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá and His entourage beneath the Eiffel Tower in Paris, in 1912.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s travels in the West contributed significantly to the spread of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings and the firm establishment of Bahá’í communities in Europe and North America. On both continents, He received a highly appreciative welcome from distinguished audiences concerned about the condition of modern society, devoted to such concerns as peace, women’s rights, racial equality, social reform and moral development.

During His travels, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s message was the announcement that the long-promised age for the unification of humanity had come. He frequently spoke of the need to create the social conditions and the international political instruments necessary to establish peace. Less than two years later, His premonitions of a world-encircling conflict became a reality.

The Great War

When the First World War broke out, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s communication with the Bahá’ís abroad was almost completely cut off. He spent the war years ministering to the material and spiritual needs of the people around Him, personally organizing extensive agricultural operations, and averting a famine for the poor of all religions in Haifa and ‘Akká. His service to the people of Palestine was honoured with a knighthood from the British Empire in April 1920.

During the war years, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá produced one of the most important works of His ministry: fourteen letters, known collectively as the Tablets of the Divine Plan, addressed to the Bahá’ís of North America outlining the spiritual qualities and attitudes as well as the practical actions needed to spread the Bahá’í teachings throughout the world.

Final years

In His old age, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá remained remarkably vigorous. He was a loving father not only to the community of Bahá’ís in Haifa, but to a burgeoning international movement. His correspondence guided global efforts to establish an organizational framework for the community. His interaction with a stream of pilgrims to the Holy Land provided another instrument for instructing and encouraging believers from around the world.

The funeral of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Haifa, November 1921.

Ten thousand mourners of numerous religious backgrounds attended His funeral.

When He passed away at the age of 77 on 28 November 1921, His funeral was attended by 10,000 mourners of numerous religious backgrounds. In spontaneous tributes to an admired personality, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was eulogized as One who led humanity to the “Way of Truth,” as a “pillar of peace” and the embodiment of “glory and greatness.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s mortal remains were laid to rest in one of the chambers of the Shrine of the Báb on Mount Carmel.

‘Abdu’l-Bahás betydning

‘Abdu’l-Bahás betydning

‘Abdu’l-Bahás betydning

“Seldom have I seen one whose appearance impressed me more,” said Professor Edward G. Browne of Cambridge University after meeting ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. “About the greatness of this man and his power no one who had seen him could entertain a doubt.”

Yet, however magnetic ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s personality or however penetrating His insights, such tributes cannot adequately capture such a unique character in religious history. The Bahá’í Writings affirm that “in the person of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá the incompatible characteristics of a human nature and superhuman knowledge and perfection have been blended and are completely harmonized.”

The Centre of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant

The question of religious succession has been critical to all Faiths. The ambiguity surrounding the true successors of Jesus and Muhammad, for example, led to differing interpretations of sacred scripture and deep discord within both Christianity and Islam.

Guaranteeing through ‘Abdu’l-Bahá a Centre to Whom all would turn was the means by which Bahá’u’lláh could diffuse His message of hope and universal peace to every corner of the world. This Covenant was the instrument that ensured the unity of the Bahá’í community and preserved the integrity of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings. Without ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as its Centre, the enormous creative power of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation could not have been transmitted to humanity, nor its significance fully comprehended.

‘Abdu'l-Baha speaking at Plymouth Congregational Church in Chicago, 5 May 1912.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá interpreted the teachings of His Father's Faith, amplified its doctrines, and outlined the central features of its administrative institutions. He was the unerring guide and architect of a rapidly expanding Bahá’í community. In addition, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá exemplified such perfection in His personal and social behaviour, that humanity was given an enduring model to emulate.

Proclaiming Vital Truths

In His Writings and during His travels, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tirelessly proclaimed certain vital truths to leaders of thought as well as to countless groups and individuals. Among these truths were: “The independent search after truth, unfettered by superstition or tradition; the oneness of the entire human race, the pivotal principle and fundamental doctrine of the Faith; the basic unity of all religions; the condemnation of all forms of prejudice, whether religious, racial, class or national; the harmony which must exist between religion and science; the equality of men and women, the two wings on which the bird of humankind is able to soar; the introduction of compulsory education; the adoption of a universal auxiliary language; the abolition of the extremes of wealth and poverty; the institution of a world tribunal for the adjudication of disputes between nations; the exaltation of work, performed in the spirit of service, to the rank of worship; the glorification of justice as the ruling principle in human society, and of religion as a bulwark for the protection of all peoples and nations; and the establishment of a permanent and universal peace as the supreme goal of all mankind.”

The Servant of Glory

‘Abdu’l-Bahá affirmed time and again that He was a “herald of peace and reconciliation”, “an advocate of the oneness of humanity”, and an agent calling humanity to the “Kingdom of God”.

Despite the acclaim given to Him, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá always made clear that Bahá’u’lláh was the Source of His thought. In a letter to His followers in America He wrote: “My name is ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (lit. “Servant of Bahá’u’lláh”). My qualification is ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. My reality is ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. My praise is ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Thraldom to the Blessed Perfection [Bahá’u’lláh] is my glorious and refulgent diadem, and servitude to all the human race my perpetual religion…No name, no title, no mention, no commendation have I, nor will ever have, except ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. This is my longing. This is my greatest yearning. This is my eternal life. This is my everlasting glory.”

Utviklingen av bahá'í-samfunnet i løpet av 'Abdu'l-Bahás tid

Utviklingen av bahá'í-samfunnet i løpet av 'Abdu'l-Bahás tid

Utviklingen av bahá'í-samfunnet i løpet av ‘Abdu’l-Bahás tid

Throughout His ministry which lasted 29 years, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá laboured to spread the Bahá’í Faith to every part of the world and fostered the development of the administrative institutions ordained by Bahá’u’lláh.

Expansion and Consolidation of the Bahá’í Community

Under the guidance of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, a network of Spiritual Assemblies evolved in Iran that managed the affairs of the Bahá’í community, promoted the moral development of its members, organized schools with particular concern for the education of girls, provided for the sick, and engaged in the promotion of the Bahá’í teachings.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá placed great emphasis on the advancement of women, who began to play their role in community activities, ultimately attaining equality with men as members of Spiritual Assemblies, both local and national, who were elected from among the body of believers in Iran.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá also directed the spread of the Bahá’í Faith in the Caucasus and Russian Central Asia, where Ashkhabad with its Bahá’í House of Worship, schools, and publications, unhampered by government restrictions, became a model Bahá’í community.

Egypt, which greatly benefitted from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s sojourn in that country, also witnessed the growth of a Bahá’í community that included people of both Muslim and Coptic backgrounds as well as Iranians, Kurds, and Armenians. In Turkey, Ottoman Iraq, Tunisia, and even in distant China and Japan, Bahá’í communities sprang up or were strengthened under ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s leadership.

Growth in the West 

‘Abdu’l-Bahá and His travel companions beneath the Eiffel Tower in Paris, in 1912.

A significant development for the future of the Bahá’í Faith immediately following the passing of Bahá’u’lláh was its spread to North America. It was initially established there through the efforts of a Syrian Bahá’í of Christian origin. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá paid particular attention to the development of the believers and Bahá’í institutions in the United States and Canada and entrusted to the Bahá’ís of North America the task of carrying the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh to most of the rest of the world. From 1898 onwards, there was a flow of American and European pilgrims visiting ‘Akká to meet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Who encouraged them in their teaching efforts. In the last years of His ministry, at His urging and in response to His Tablets of the Divine Plan, Bahá’ís first reached South America and Australia.

Its Western expansion released the Bahá’í Faith from the predominantly Muslim milieu in which it had initially grown. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá played a major role in introducing the Bahá’í teachings to a Christian audience. Important in this regard was a collection of His talks to Western pilgrims, Some Answered Questions, in which He dealt with religious and philosophical themes.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s journeys to Egypt, Europe and North America firmly established knowledge and appreciation of the Bahá’í Faith in the West. Not only did they allow the Bahá’ís in those countries direct contact with the Person of ‘Abdu'l-Bahá, but they introduced Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings to a wide range of people who would not otherwise have heard of them. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s numerous public addresses to universities, churches, synagogues, mosques, and philanthropic societies had the effect of gaining a large number of new admirers and adherents for the religion. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s talks were to form the basis of the standard presentation of the Bahá’í teachings, especially the social teachings, for many decades after. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s laying, with His own hands, the cornerstone of the first Bahá’í House of Worship in the West, near to Chicago, also marked the inauguration of Bahá’í institutions in North America.

An early Baha’i contribution to girls’ education in Iran.

Opposition from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Family

The most pressing problem for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá during the years immediately following the passing of Bahá’u’lláh was the sustained opposition of His half-brother, Mirza Muhammad ‘Ali. Spurred by uncontrollable jealousy, He falsely accused ‘Abdu’l-Bahá of claiming for Himself a station equal to Bahá’u’lláh, of usurping the rights of Bahá’u’lláh’s other offspring, and of stirring up sedition against the civil authorities. Muhammad ‘Ali’s activities culminated in a period of renewal of the strict incarceration of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá within the walls of ‘Akká from 1901 to 1909. Muhammad ‘Ali was able to influence a number of the Bahá’ís living in the Haifa-‘Akká area as well as the man who had taken the Faith to America. All but a small handful of members of the worldwide Bahá’í community, however, remained faithful to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.

Other Achievements

The original Shrine of the Báb, as built by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.

Other events of importance during ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s ministry were: the transfer of the remains of the Báb from Iran to ‘Akká and their entombment in a Shrine on Mount Carmel; the writing by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá of the Tablets of the Divine Plan, which were to become the framework for the spread of the Bahá’í Faith; the first steps in the building up of the modern administrative institutions of the Bahá’í Faith in both the East and West; the measures taken by the Bahá’í community of Ashkhabad in Russian Turkestan to develop many aspects of Bahá'í community life, culminating in the erection of a House of Worship; the initiation of construction of a House of Worship in North America; the activities of the renowned Bahá’í scholar Mirza Abu’l-Fadl Gulpaygani in teaching the Bahá’í Faith at the University of al-Azhar in Cairo, the foremost place of learning in the Islamic world; and the extensive international travels of a small number of Bahá’ís, which helped to create the beginnings of a worldwide religious movement.

By the time of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s passing, the Bahá’í Faith had spread to some 35 countries.