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`Abdu'l-Bahá


‘Abdu’l-Bahá ( ‎) (23 May 1844 - 28 November 1921), born `Abbás Effendí, was the eldest son of Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith. In 1892, `Abdu'l-Bahá was appointed in his father's will to be his successor and head of the Bahá'í Faith.

His journeys to the West, and his Tablets of the Divine Plan spread the Bahá'í message beyond its middle-eastern roots, and his Will and Testament laid the foundation for the current Bahá'í administrative order.

`Abdu'l-Bahá's given name was `Abbás, but he preferred the title of `Abdu'l-Bahá (servant of the glory of God). He is commonly referred to in Bahá'í texts as "The Master", and received the title of KBE after his personal storage of grain was used to relieve famine in Palestine following World War I, but never used the title.

Background

Early life

`Abdu'l-Bahá was born in Tehranmarker, Iranmarker on 23 May 1844 (5th of Jamadiyu'l-Avval, 1260 AH), the eldest son of Bahá'u'lláh and Navváb. He was born on the very same night on which the Báb declared his mission. During his youth, `Abdu'l-Bahá was shaped by his father's station as a prominent member of the Bábís.`Abdu’l-Bahá spent his early years in an environment of privilege, wealth, and love. The family’s Tehran home and country houses were comfortable and beautifully decorated. `Abdu’l-Bahá and his younger siblings— a sister, Bahíyyih, and a brother, Mihdí— had every advantage their station in life could offer. One event that affected `Abdu'l-Bahá greatly during his childhood was the imprisonment of his father when `Abdu'l-Bahá was eight years old; the imprisonment led to his family being reduced to poverty and being attacked in the streets by other children. Esslemont records that "A mob sacked their house, and the family were stripped of their possessions and left in destitution."

Years in exile with his father

Bahá'u'lláh was eventually released from prison but ordered into exile, and `Abdu'l-Bahá joined his father on the journey to Baghdadmarker in the winter of 1853. During the journey `Abdu'l-Bahá suffered from frost-bite. When Bahá'u'lláh secretly secluded himself in the mountains of Sulaymaniyahmarker in 1854, `Abdu'l-Bahá was no more than ten years old and grieved over his separation from his father. During his years in Baghdad, `Abdu'l-Bahá spent much of his time reading the writings of the Báb, wrote commentary on Qur'anic verses and conversed with the learned of the city. In 1856, when news of a personage in the mountains of Kurdistan arrived, `Abdu'l-Baha along with some family and friends set out to ask Bahá'u'lláh to return to Baghdad.

In 1863 Bahá'u'lláh was summoned to Constantinoplemarker (Istanbulmarker), and thus his whole family including `Abdu'l-Bahá, then nineteen, accompanied him on his 110-day journey. `Abdu'l-Baha followed his father through the further exile to Adrianople (Edirnemarker), and finally Akká, Palestine (now Acre, Israelmarker). During this time he increasingly assumed the role of Bahá'u'lláh's chief steward.

On arrival in Akka, due to the unsanitary state of its barracks, many of the Bahá'ís fell sick, and `Abdu'l-Bahá tended the sick. Furthermore, the inhabitants of Akka were told that the new prisoners were enemies of the state, of God and his religion, and that association with them was strictly forbidden, and thus the Bahá'ís were faced with hostile officials, and scornful inhabitants and `Abdu'l-Bahá shielded his father of much of these attacks. Over time, he gradually took over responsibility for the relationships between the small Bahá'i exile community and the outside world. It was through his interaction with the people of Akka that, according to the Bahá'ís, they recognized the innocence of the Bahá'ís, and thus the conditions of imprisonment were eased. Eventually, Bahá'u'lláh was allowed to leave the city and visit nearby places.

Family life

As a young man speculation was rife amongst the Bahá’ís to whom `Abdu’l-Bahá would marry. Several young girls were seen as marriage prospects but `Abdu’l-Bahá seemed disinclined to marriage. On March 8 1873, at the urging of his father, the twenty-eight-year-old `Abdu’l-Bahá married Fátimih Nahrí of Isfahán (1847-1938) a twenty-five-year-old noblewoman. Her father was Mírzá Muḥammad `Alí Nahrí of Isfahanmarker an eminent Bahá’í of the city and prominent aristocrat. Fátimih was bought from Persiamarker to Acre, Israelmarker after both Bahá’u’lláh and his wife Navváb expressed an interest in her to marry `Abdu’l-Bahá. After a wearisome journey from Isfahán to Akka she finally arrived accompanied by her brother in 1872. The marriage resulted in nine children: two boys: Ḥusayn Effendi (d. 1305/1887, aged five) and Mihdí (died aged two-and-a-half) and seven daughters: Ṭúbá (died sometime in Akka), Fu'ádíyyih (died in infancy), and Ruḥangíz (died in 1893, she was the favorite grandchild of Bahá'u'lláh). Four children survived adulthood all daughters; Ḍiyá'iyyih Khánum (mother of Shoghi Effendi) (d. 1951) Túbá Khánum (1880-1959) Rúḥá Khánum and Munavvar Khánum (d. 1971).

Bahá'u'lláh wished that the Bahá'ís follow the example of `Abdu'l-Bahá and gradually move away from polygamy. The marriage of `Abdu’l-Bahá to one woman and his choice to remain monogamous, from advice of his father and his own wish, legitimised the practice of monogamy to a people whom hitherto had regarded polygamy and a righteous way of life.

Early years of his ministry

`Abdu'l-Bahá
After Bahá'u'lláh died on 29 May 1892, the Will and Testament of Bahá'u'lláh named `Abdu'l-Bahá as Centre of the Covenant, successor and interpreter of Bahá'u'lláh's writings. In the Will and Testament `Abdu'l-Bahá's half-brother, Muhammad `Alí, was mentioned by name as being subordinate to `Abdu'l-Bahá. Muhammad `Alí became jealous of his half-brother and set out to establish authority for himself as an alternative leader with the support of his brothers Badi'u'llah and Diya'u'llah. He began correspondence with Bahá'ís in Iran, initially in secret, casting doubts in others' minds about `Abdu'l-Bahá. While most Bahá'ís followed `Abdu'l-Bahá, a handful followed Muhammad `Alí including such leaders as Mirza Javad and Ibrahim Khayru'llah, the famous Bahá'í missionary to America.

Muhammad `Alí and Mirza Javad began to openly accuse `Abdu'l-Bahá of taking on too much authority, suggesting that he believed himself to be a Manifestation of God, equal in status to Bahá'u'lláh. It was at this time that `Abdu'l-Bahá, in order to provide proof of the falsity of the accusations levelled against him, in tablets to the West, stated that he was to be known as "`Abdu'l-Bahá" an Arabic phrase meaning the Servant of Bahá to make it clear that he was not a Manifestation of God, and that his station was only servitude.

It was as a result of this breakdown in relations between the half-brothers that when `Abdu'l-Bahá died, instead of appointing Muhammad `Alí, he left a Will and Testament that set up the framework of an administration. The two highest institutions were the Universal House of Justice, and the Guardianship, for which he appointed Shoghi Effendi as the Guardian.

By the end of 1898, Western pilgrims started coming to Akka on pilgrimage to visit `Abdu'l-Bahá; this group of pilgrims, including Phoebe Hearst, was the first time that Bahá'ís raised up in the West had met `Abdu'l-Bahá. During the next decade `Abdu'l-Bahá would be in constant communication with Bahá'ís around the world, helping them to teach the religion; the group included May Ellis Bolles in Paris, Englishman Thomas Breakwell, American Herbert Hopper, French Hippolyte Dreyfus, Susan Moody, Lua Getsinger, and American Laura Clifford Barney. It was Laura Clifford Barney who, by asking questions of `Abdu'l-Bahá over many years and many visits to Haifa, compiled what later became the book Some Answered Questions.

During the final years of the 19th century, while `Abdu'l-Bahá was still officially a prisoner and confined to `Akka, he organized the transfer of the remains of the Báb from Iran to Palestine. He then organized the purchase of land on Mount Carmelmarker that Bahá'u'lláh had instructed should be used to lay the remains of the Báb, and organized for the construction of the Shrine of the Bábmarker. This process took another 10 years.

With the increase of pilgrims visiting `Abdu'l-Bahá, Muhammad `Alí worked with the Ottoman authorities to re-introduce stricter terms on `Abdu'l-Bahá's imprisonment in August 1901. By 1902, however, due to the Governor of `Akka being supportive of `Abdu'l-Bahá, the situation was greatly eased; while pilgrims were able to once again visit `Abdu'l-Bahá, he was confined to the city. In February 1903, two followers of Muhammad `Alí, including Badi'u'llah and Siyyid `Aliy-i-Afnan, broke with Muhammad `Ali and wrote books and letters giving details of Muhammad `Ali's plots and noting that what was circulating about `Abdu'l-Bahá was fabrication.

From 1902-1904, in addition to the building of the Shrine of the Bábmarker that `Abdu'l-Bahá was directing, he started to put into execution two different projects; the restoration of the House of the Báb in Shiraz, Iranmarker and the construction of the first Bahá'í House of Worship in Ashgabatmarker, Turkmenistan. `Abdu'l-Bahá asked Aqa Mirza Aqa to coordinate the work so that the house of the Báb would be restored to the state that it was at the time of the Báb's declaration to Mulla Husayn in 1844; he also entrusted the work on the House of Worship to Vakil-u'd-Dawlih.

Also in 1904, Muhammad `Ali continued his accusations against `Abdu'l-Bahá which caused an Ottoman commission summoning `Abdu'l-Bahá to answer the accusations levelled against him. During the inquiry the charges against him were dropped and the inquiry collapsed. The next few years in `Akka were relatively free of pressures and pilgrims were able to come and visit `Abdu'l-Bahá. Also, by 1909 the mausoleum of the shrine of the Báb was completed.

Journeys to the West

`Abdu'l-Bahá, during his trip to the United States


The 1908 Young Turks revolution freed all political prisoners in the Ottoman Empire, and `Abdu'l-Bahá was freed from imprisonment. His first action after his freedom was to visit the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláhmarker in Bahjimarker. While `Abdu'l-Bahá continued to live in `Akka immediately following the revolution, he soon moved to live in Haifamarker near the Shrine of the Báb. In 1910, with the freedom to leave the country, he embarked on a three year journey to Egyptmarker, Europe, and North America, spreading the Bahá'í message.

From August to December 1911, `Abdu'l-Bahá visited cities in Europe, including Londonmarker, Bristolmarker, and Parismarker. The purpose of these trips was to support the Bahá'í communities in the west and to further spread his father's teachings.

In the following year, he undertook a much more extensive journey to the United Statesmarker and Canadamarker to once again spread his father's teachings. He arrived in New York Citymarker on 11 April 1912, after declining an offer of passage on the RMS Titanicmarker, telling the Bahá'í believers, instead, to "Donate this to charity." He instead travelled on a slower craft, the S.S. Cedric, and cited preference of a longer sea journey as the reason. Upon arriving in New York, he arranged a private meeting with the survivors of the ill-fated Titanicmarker, who asked him if he knew the Titanic's ultimate destruction would occur, to which, 'Abdu'l-Baha replied, "God gives man feelings of intuition". While he spent most of his time in New York, he visited Chicagomarker, Clevelandmarker, Pittsburghmarker, Washington, D.C.marker, Bostonmarker and Philadelphiamarker. In August of the same year he started a more extensive journey to places including New Hampshiremarker, the Green Acremarker school in Mainemarker, and Montrealmarker (his only visit to Canada). He then travelled west to Minneapolismarker, San Franciscomarker, Stanfordmarker, and Los Angelesmarker before starting to return east at the end of October. On 5 December 1912 he set sail back to Europe.

During his visit to North America he visited many missions, churches, and groups, as well as having scores of meetings in Bahá'ís' homes, and offering innumerable personal meetings with hundreds of people. During his talks he proclaimed Bahá'í principles such as the unity of God, unity of the religions, oneness of humanity, equality of women and men, world peace and economic justice. He also insisted that all his meetings be open to all races.

His visit and talks were the subject of hundreds of newspaper articles. In Boston newspaper reporters asked `Abdu'l-Bahá why he had come to America, and he stated that he had come to participate in conferences on peace and that just giving warning messages is not enough. `Abdu'l-Bahá's visit to Montreal provided notable newspaper coverage; on the night of his arrival the editor of the Montreal Daily Star met with him and that newspaper along with The Montreal Gazette, Montreal Standard, Le Devoir and La Presse among others reported on `Abdu'l-Bahá's activities. The headlines in those papers included "Persian Teacher to Preach Peace", "Racialism Wrong, Says Eastern Sage, Strife and War Caused by Religious and National Prejudices", and "Apostle of Peace Meets Socialists, Abdul Baha's Novel Scheme for Distribution of Surplus Wealth." The Montreal Standard, which was distributed across Canada, took so much interest that it republished the articles a week later; the Gazette published six articles and Montreal's largest French language newspaper published two articles about him. His 1912 visit to Montreal also inspired humourist Stephen Leacock to parody him in his bestselling 1914 book Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich. In Chicago one newspaper headline included "His Holiness Visits Us, Not Pius X but A. Baha," and `Abdu'l-Bahá's visit to California was reported in the Palo Altan.

Back in Europe, he visited Londonmarker, Parismarker (where he stayed for two months), Stuttgartmarker, Budapestmarker, and Viennamarker. Finally on 12 June 1913 he returned to Egyptmarker, where he stayed for six months before returning to Haifamarker.

Final years

`Abdu'l-Bahá on Mount Carmel with pilgrims in 1919
During World War I `Abdu'l-Bahá stayed in Palestine, under the continued threat of Allied bombardment and threats from the Turkish commander. As the war ended, the British Mandate over Palestine brought relative security to `Abdu'l-Bahá. During his final year, a growing number of visitors and pilgrims came to see him in Haifamarker.

On 27 April 1920, he was awarded a knighthood (KBE) by the British Mandate of Palestine for his humanitarian efforts during the war. `Abdu'l-Bahá died on 28 November 1921 (27th of Rabi'u'l-Avval, 1340 AH.) On his funeral, Esslemont notes:
"... 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."


He is buried in the front room of the Shrine of the Bábmarker on Mount Carmelmarker. Plans are in place to one day build a Shrine of `Abdu'l-Bahá. In his Will and Testament he appointed his grandson Shoghi Effendi Rabbani as the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith.

Works

The total estimated number of tablets that `Abdu'l-Bahá wrote are over 27,000, of which only a fraction have been translated into English. His works fall into two groups including first his direct writings and second his lectures and speeches as noted by others. The first group includes the Secret of Divine Civilization written before 1875, A Traveller's Narrative written around 1886, the Resāla-ye sīāsīya or Sermon on the Art of Governance written in 1893, the Memorials of the Faithful, and a large number of tablets written to various people; including various Western intellectuals such as August Forel which has been translated and published as the Tablet to Auguste-Henri Forel. The Secret of Divine Civilization and the Sermon on the Art of Governance were widely circulated anonymously.

The second group includes Some Answered Questions, which is an English translation of a series of table talks with Laura Barney, and Paris Talks, `Abdu'l-Baha in London and Promulgation of Universal Peace which are respectively addresses given by `Abdu'l-Bahá in Parismarker, Londonmarker and the United Statesmarker.

The following is a list of some of `Abdu'l-Bahá's many books, tablets, and talks:

See also



Notes

  1. Chambers Biographical Dictionary, ISBN 0-550-18022-2, page 2
  2. Wagner, Ralph D. Yahi-Bahi Society of Mrs. Resselyer-Brown, The. Accessed on: 19-05-2008
  3. , quoting 'The Passing of `Abdu'l-Bahá", by Lady Blomfield and Shoghi Effendi, pp 11, 12.
  4. http://www.h-net.org/~bahai/trans/vol7/govern.htm


References



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