November 20, 2009

Being in the presence of ‘Abdu’l-Baha – a pilgrim’s perspective

Dr Youness Afroukhteh, who was honored by the Master as the “Jinab-i-Khan”, served as ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s secretary, translator, envoy and physician between 1900 -1909. He has left the following account concerning the first time he entered the presence of ‘Abdu’l-Baha as a pilgrim:

About two hours after sunset, the pilgrims from Iran and Baghdad were taken individually into the presence of ‘Abdu’l-Baha. I was the second to be summoned. With a burst of excitement and speed I entered the room, and found myself before the blessed person of ‘Abdu’l-Baha. As I fell to my knees and placed my brow at His feet, my pent-up tears of joy and longing were finally released, and as I wept, His gentle hand helped me to my feet and into His arms. I was transported into another world, the highest paradise. And as my spirit soared in that spiritual atmosphere, He helped me to sit on bent knees just opposite Him as He began to speak to me. I did not comprehend a word…

One moment I was overwhelmed by the heavenly beauty of that wondrous Countenance, the next I felt shame and fear for any past deeds and conduct unworthy of such surroundings. Who am I? Where is this? How did I ever become worthy to be present in this heavenly place? How did I ever become worthy of receiving, first hand, the blessings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha? Suddenly another thought invaded these musings: What if this is but a dream? What will I do if I awake to discover that this, in fact, has been a dream? As these thoughts filled my mind I could not hold back my tears, and began to weep loudly. But again, ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s love enveloped and consoled me. Gradually I recovered my senses and began to listen and commit to heart the words of the Master.

As He paced the floor, He spoke to me: “They say that Jonah was swallowed by a fish and spent three days in its belly. This means that the onward march of the Cause of God was delayed for three days. This is also the same three days that Jesus spent in heaven after His ascension and before His return.”

Of course, these are not His exact words, but they contain their meaning and essence.

‘Abdu’l-Baha continued His utterances, imparting to me words of counsel:

“I wish the friends of God to give forth light like this lamp. The Sun of the Abha Beauty has set, so the beloved of God must shine brightly as the lamp.”

I said to myself, may my life he sacrificed for this present and manifest Sun, whose warmth and brightness cause my tears to flow uncontrollably.

I wipe away the tears with my fingertips,
Otherwise the oncoming Caravan will surely sink in the tear-laden mud (a Persian poem)

With a glance expressing unquenchable thirst, I beheld the wondrous figure of the incomparable Beloved and my heart spoke the words of Sa'di [a Persian poet]:

The eyes that beheld you likened you to the tall cypress –
Consider the shortsighted who is blind to such beauty.

At last, with the words "Go in the care of God", He dismissed me from His presence. Each of the pilgrims, one by one, were taken to His presence and as they emerged I could see in their faces the same emotions that dominated my being: lost in utter wonderment, weeping one moment and breaking into joyous laughter the next, as they took their places in a corner of the room.

The late Husayn Effendi, who was in charge of serving tea and attending to the pilgrims' needs, had upon instructions from the Master prepared our dinner in town and brought the food, along with some bedding, to the room. We ate in silence. I was lucky enough to receive some leftover portions of ‘Abdu'l-Baha's food, which I consumed with great relish. One of the friends reminded us that the Master had not been sleeping well and that He was in the habit of leaving His quarters before the break of day and taking long walks in the fields, spending the time in prayer and supplication.

After dinner - our bedding was spread on the floor of the room next to Abdu'l-Baha's and we retired. But who could sleep?
( Dr. Youness Afroukhteh, Memories of Nine Years in Akka, translated by Riaz Masrour)