From earliest childhood, ‘Abbas Effendi, the eldest son of Bahá’u’lláh, shared His father’s sufferings and banishments. He took as His title ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the "servant of Bahá." Bahá’u’lláh appointed Him as the lone authorized interpreter of the Bahá’í teachings and Head of the Faith after His own passing. In ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is a perfect example of the Bahá’í way of life.
While ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was still a prisoner of the Ottomans, the first Bahá’í pilgrims from the western world arrived in ‘Akká in 1898. After His release in 1908, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá set out on a series of journeys which, from 1911 to 1913, took Him to Europe and America. There He proclaimed Bahá’u’lláh’s message of unity and social justice to church congregations, peace societies, members of trade unions, university faculties, journalists, government officials, and many public audiences. His journeys brought Him to Canada from 30 August to 9 September 1912.
His visit to Canada was especially rewarding. He later wrote of His travels in The Tablets of the Divine Plan. He expressed His hope that "in the future Montreal may become so stirred, that the melody of the Kingdom may travel to all parts of the world from that Dominion and the breaths of the Holy Spirit may spread from that centre to the East and the West of America."1 He also predicted that "the future of Canada, whether from a material or a spiritual standpoint, is very great."2
Throughout the Occident and the Orient, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was known as an ambassador of peace, a champion of justice, and the leading exponent of a new Faith. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá--by word and example--proclaimed with persuasiveness and force the essential principles of His Father’s religion. Affirming that "Love is the most great law" that is the foundation of "true civilization,"3 and that the "supreme need of humanity is cooperation and reciprocity"4 among all its peoples, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá reached out to every soul who crossed His path, leaders and the meek alike.
An American commentator wrote,
He found a large and sympathetic audience waiting to greet Him personally and to receive from His own lips His loving and spiritual message... Beyond the words spoken there was something indescribable in His personality that impressed profoundly all who came into His presence. The dome-like head, the patriarchal beard, the eyes that seemed to have looked beyond the reach of time and sense, the soft yet clearly penetrating voice, the translucent humility, the never failing love,--but above all, the sense of power mingled with gentleness that invested His whole being with a rare majesty of spiritual exaltation that both set Him apart, and yet brought Him near to the lowliest soul,--it was all this, and much more that can never be defined, that have left with His many... friends, memories that are ineffaceable and unspeakably precious.5
Yet, however magnetic His personality or penetrating His insights into the human condition, such characteristics cannot adequately capture ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s unique station in religious history. In the words of Bahá’u’lláh Himself, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was the "Trust of God," "a shelter for all mankind," "the most great Favor," and God’s "ancient and immutable Mystery."6 The Bahá’í writings further 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."7
The question of religious succession has been crucial to all faiths. Failure to resolve this question has inevitably led to acrimony and division. 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. However, Bahá’u’lláh prevented schism and established an unassailable foundation for His Faith through the provision of His will and testament, entitled Book of the Covenant. He writes: "When the ocean of My presence hath ebbed and the Book of My Revelation is ended, turn your faces toward Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hast branched from this Ancient Root. The object of this sacred verse is none other except the Most Mighty Branch [‘Abdu’l-Bahá]."8
Bahá’u’lláh’s appointment of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as His successor was the means for diffusing His message of hope and universal peace to all corners of the world, for realizing the essential unity of all peoples. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was, in short, the Centre of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant--the instrument for ensuring the unity of the Bahá’í community and preserving the integrity of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings.
In retrospect, it is clear that Bahá’u’lláh had carefully prepared ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to succeed Him. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was born on 23 May 1844, the very night that the Báb had declared the beginning of a new religious cycle in history. As a child, He suffered along with His Father during the persecutions against the Bábís. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was eight years old when Bahá’u’lláh was first imprisoned for His role as a leading exponent and defender of the Bábí Faith. He accompanied Bahá’u’lláh throughout His long exile from Persia, first to the capital of the Ottoman empire and, ultimately, to Palestine. As He grew older, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá became His Father’s closest companion and emerged as His deputy, shield, and principal representative to the political and religious leaders of the day. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s extraordinary demonstration of leadership, knowledge, and service brought great prestige to the exiled Bahá’í community. He assumed His role as the Head of the Bahá’í Faith following Bahá’u’lláh’s passing in May 1892.
Among the ideals that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tirelessly proclaimed to leaders of thought as well as countless groups and masses at large 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.9
On 29 November 1921, 10,000 people--Jews, Christians, and Muslims of all persuasions and denominations--gathered on Mount Carmel in the Holy Land to mourn the passing of One who was eulogized as the essence of "Virtue and Wisdom, of Knowledge and Generosity."10 On this occasion, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá--Bahá’u’lláh’s Son and chosen successor--was described by a Jewish leader as a "living example of self-sacrifice,"11 by a Christian orator as One who led humanity to the "Way of Truth,"12 and by a prominent Muslim leader as a "pillar of peace" and the embodiment of "glory and greatness."13 His funeral, according to a Western observer, brought together a great throng "sorrowing for His death, but rejoicing also for His life."14
- ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan, (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1977), p. 86.
- Ibid., p. 87.
- ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1978), pp. 30-1.
- ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, 2nd ed. (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982), p. 338.
- Quoted in Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1974), p. 290
- Ibid., pp. 242-3.
- Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1974), p. 134.
- Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh (Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 1978), p. 221.
- God Passes By, pp. 281-2
- Quoted in H.M. Balyuzi, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (Oxford: George Ronald, 1971), p. 466.
- Ibid., p. 471.
- Ibid., p. 467.
- Ibid., p. 466.
- Quoted in God Passes By, p. 312.
* Adapted from Bahá’í Topics, an information resource produced by the Bahá’í International Community.