May 2, 2010

Account of the conversion of an American lady in ‘Abdu'l-Baha's presence in Akka -- recalled by Dr. Youness Afroukhteh, 'Abdu'l-Baha's secretary and translator

Another of the anti-religious visitors who entered the House of ‘Abdu'l-Baha as an implacable adversary of the whole concept of spirituality, and yet left it after having declared her belief in the Cause of God, was an American lady who arrived quite suddenly, and accepting no excuse almost forced her way to the biruni reception room on the upper floor. In her Arms she held a dog of an unsightly colour and with a hideous snout, which she petted incessantly.

Her first question to 'Abdu'l-Baha was this: "I have heard a lot in America about your greatness. They tell stories about you but I really have not understood the reality of the situation and I want to know what the truth of the matter is."

Of course, I do not recall the opening questions and answers, I just remember that 'Abdu'l-Baha, using Baha'i terminology, uttered a few words regarding the unity of God and gave proof of His existence with great eloquence. Suddenly she laughed and said, "I am astonished that you can compose so spontaneously, and with such eloquence and fluency, such sophisticated verses of poetry in proof of an imaginary thing. What does 'God' mean? It is truly a pity."

I immediately realized what she meant by the words "eloquence and fluency" and "sophisticated verses of poetry". 'Abdu'l-Baha had not spoken in the simple vernacular of this woman, but had used the literary expressions of the Faith; moreover, I had not shown any understanding of the situation and had translated the words parrot-like in the same manner. As the poet says,

I was taught the parrot's art by the Master divine,
Parrot-like I repeat His words, yet none that is mine.

And so this woman, being unfamiliar with these expressions had thought the eloquent utterances of 'Abdu'l-Baha to be merely verses of high-flown poetry.

I explained the matter to the Master. He broke into a broad smile but made no change in the manner of His speech as He presented additional proofs. At this point the woman remarked, "I am not capable of understanding such concepts; moreover, I am in no way willing to lose my freedom; and furthermore, I have no attachment to any imaginary being. But I do wonder what purpose all this knowledge, wisdom and philosophy serve? If you only knew what high-ranking scientists and scholars have written books refuting all such thoughts! And now your followers in America walk in your path. But if you come to my home town of Boston in America, you will see that this kind of talk enjoys no support. The atheists of Boston are world-renowned."

'Abdu'l-Baha smiled again and then uttered some words of counsel and guidance, but without any apparent result. She wished to take more of 'Abdu'l-Baha's time, but fortunately that wretched dog began to show signs of restlessness like a spoiled brat, and so she rose to take her leave. Her parting words were, "If your God is the true God, then ask Him to guide me as He has guided your followers, otherwise I.. ."

She stopped, then went on: "Tomorrow, I intend to leave ‘Akkaa and visit the nearby towns; I am returning in five days time. Let's see what this God of yours will do for me." But no sooner than she had stopped outside than she turned around and said, "But you have a God to whom you look for guidance; where can I look, who have no such beliefs?"

'Abdu'l-Baha replied, "Very well, leave that to me too. Go in God's care."

It was interesting that despite her many discourtesies 'Abdu'l-Baha did not show the slightest hint of displeasure, and treated her with extreme gentleness and compassion. In the afternoon of the next day she returned from Haifa, and again presented herself to 'Abdu'l-Baha unannounced. Confessing her feelings, she said, "I spent a restless night and so missed my planned trip this morning. Before I came here I was quite confident in my beliefs, but now I am anxious and unsure. Please, either grant me guidance or confirm me in my original belief."

This time she observed all the requirements of courtesy, as she listened to 'Abdu'l-Baha for almost an hour. At times she questioned and argued, and at other times she acknowledged His utterances. At last she said, "I now realize that there is something of substance here. There are realities, the understanding of which is beyond my capability." As she left, she asked 'Abdu'l-Baha for His blessing.

Next day nothing was heard from her. We thought she had left Haifa. But back she came, weary and distressed, and was taken to the presence of 'Abdu'l-Baha. She asked a few questions and then admitted that she had been able to see a glimpse of hope. She left revived and happy. For four or five days there was no news of her. And then I heard that she had arrived from Haifa, had taken refuge in the andaruni of the Master's House and had vowed her intention not to leave until she could recover her peace of mind. When ‘Abdu'l-Baha summoned me to translate, I saw her walking out of the andaruni in a state of humility and reverence, without her constant companion in her arms.

Reverently and with 'Abdu'l-Baha's permission she took her seat, listened to the Master's words, and in a state of lowliness and selflessness demonstrated her submission and obedience. For a few days she was in the company of the ladies of the household, and then she returned to America contented and joyful; the heavenly fragrances of her faith and certitude spread to every part of that land. (Dr. Youness Afroukhteh, Memories of nine years in ‘Akka, pp. 239-242)