July 10, 2020

The story of ‘Abdu’l-Baha – Part 1: 1844-1908

The life of 'Abdu'l-Baha is very significant among the lives of the past heavenly educators. If we study the history of the former manifestations of God we realize that the first portion of their lives has been free from anxiety and persecution, while the life of 'Abdu'l-Baha from the day of His birth has been one of vicissitude, trial and painful ordeals.  

Moreover, the enemies and foes of ‘Abdu'l-Baha, never ceased to plan and scheme to persecute and bring about his exile and banishment, and to annihilate His Revelation. And these people had more general power than the enemies of the former prophets.  

One of the Divine Allegorical incidents was that 'Abdu'l-Baha was born in Teheran the same night upon which the Báb proclaimed His Mission in Shiraz - that is, May 23rd, 1844. Baha'u'llah gave the name of His father to 'Abdu'l-Baha. This name was Abbas but He always called Him Master – “Aqa” - even when He was a little child.   

The first few years of the life of 'Abdu'l-Baha were spent amid the most tragic and dramatic events of the life of Baha'u'llah. He was the center of the movement, every tragic event revolved around Him and His home was the rendezvous of all the Baha'is. All the news and all that transpired in the Cause was brought to Him. His home was well known as the headquarters of the Movement and often groups of rowdies would throw stones and try to hurt the inmates. When 'Abdu'l-Baha was a little child groups of urchins would surround Him and try to stone Him. Even at the early age of eight or nine years 'Abdu'l-Baha had already witnessed the plotting of the enemies and had seen the friends martyred and guillotined. Up to this age He had seen many headstones of heroes and heroines who had gone to their death with radiant acquiescence.  

Most of the time Baha’u’llah was absent from home traveling in the interest of the Cause, and visiting the friends in prison. His property was confiscated and both day and night His household was in danger, so there was no opportunity for 'Abdu'l-Baha to go to school and learn the things which other children have to learn.

Nevertheless, such deep and abiding attachment, such tender regard, solicitude   and affection existed and was evidenced between ‘Abdu'l-Baha and Baha’u’llah that even in those early days some members felt deeply that 'Abdu’l-Baha would eventually unfold, develop and explain the teachings of Baha'u'llah.  

While Baha’u’llah was going about or in prison, at a tender age 'Abdu'l-Baha was the object of regard and reverence of His family; all looked up to Him as the head of the family in spite of His youth.

At the age of nine the great exile began. The government banished Baha’u’llah with His family in 1852 to the city of Baghdad. During a long cold part of the journey 'Abdu'l-Baha was so thinly clad, His toes were frozen twice and the effect was felt by Him all the days of His life. Often when He was tired out during the hours of day or night His feet would itch and ache.  

During the twelve years of Baha’u’llah in Baghdad and Sulaymaniyyih of Kurdistan and the cave of the Mount of Sar-galu where He went into retirement for the purpose of uninterrupted communion with God, 'Abdu'l-Baha was the cause of happiness to His family as well as its hope.  

In that period of time when ‘Abdu’l-Baha was between the age of nine and twenty He associated with many theologians, mystical and philosophical groups. He opened the treasures of His innate knowledge among them, He entered into those deep subjects and elucidated them in such a clear manner that they marveled at His unlimited fund of information and asked Him from what source He had received it. He answered them in these symbolical words: "I received them from my Father." Therefore, they titled Him - "Eminent Wise Youth."  

The physical general appearance of 'Abdu'l-Baha was very pleasing. His face and form were beautifully proportioned and He was considered a very handsome youth. He radiated a heavenly spiritual power and carried Himself with kingly dignity. As He walked along the streets people admired His carriage and physique, He had such strength and power in His bearing. One of the qualities of the character of 'Abdu'l-Baha even when He was a youth was His great spiritual fortitude. He had innate poise and balance which no vicissitude could destroy; no one had ever seen Him angry and He was never moved or swerved by any outside influence. His physical endurance astonished everyone. He seemed like a great ocean without a ripple on its surface.  

Another characteristic of 'Abdu'l-Baha worthy of emulation was His extreme generosity. In this loving kindness He gave freely of everything He had. It is related that in the home of Baha'u'llah there was a beautiful rug upon which He used to sit. One day a poor Arab brought a load of wood to the house. He saw the rug and was very much attracted by its beauty. He handled it caressingly and exclaimed: "Oh, how wonderful it must be to have such a splendid rug to sit upon!" 'Abdu'l-Baha heard him and said: "If you like the rug, take it." The man would not believe it was really a gift but for fear he would lose it he put it over his shoulder and began to run, looking back every few minutes to see if anyone was coming to take it away from him.  'Abdu'l-Baha said, "Go on, no one is going to take it away from you." ‘Abdu'l-Baha had a wonderful sense of humor.  

When He was but a child He was taken to the mountains to see his father's sheep. There were thousands of them; the shepherds gave Him a feast. At the end of the day the chief shepherd came to 'Abdu'l-Baha and told him He must make a present to the shepherds. 'Abdu'l-Baha said, "I have nothing"- the man said, "But you must give something"- So 'Abdu'l-Baha said, "What about the sheep?" - and he gave them all the sheep. When Baha'u'llah heard this He laughed and said, "We will have to protect ‘Abdu'l-Baha from Himself, some day He will give Himself away."  

Another characteristic of 'Abdu'l-Baha was His sociability, courtesy and politeness shown to all degrees of society. He associated with the highest officials, and with people of all ranks, giving them His divine knowledge and thereby raising them to a higher level of comprehension. Likewise, He went among the most lowly in the same attitude.  

In the East people spend years and years of their time trying to perfect themselves in penmanship. It is considered an art of the highest order and a man will spend twenty to fifty years teaching people this calling. 'Abdu'l-Baha's penmanship was so beautiful and so perfectly in accordance with all the sacred writings of the East that samples of His work were used to copy from. His knowledge of the Arabian and Persian writing was so great that it seemed a miracle to the people though He never studied in His life.  

His range of vision was miraculous, and when talking to Arabs they felt the utmost reverence for Him. With philosophers and learned men He carried on conversation which astonished them. Without previous study on any of these subjects He could understand and converse and raise the thought for them to a much higher level than they themselves were able to reach.  

When Baha’u’llah was sent forth to His second exile with His family and followers for four months and had to travel through the most inhospitable desert and villages in Mesopotamia, 'Abdu'l-Baha was constantly protecting and helping Him.  

During the exile of Baha’u’llah and His family for four months in Constantinople and five years in Adrianople, the spiritual attraction of 'Abdu’l-Baha in His association with many important people was manifested more and more, and won them to Him in such a manner that they tried to remove the difficulty of Baha'u'llah and help Him. For example, the Turkish Governor of Adrianople became so intensely interested that he spent days and nights listening to His conversations. When the order came for the next exile he was unable to give it in person as he was too much affected by sorrow at parting and was obliged to send the summons by letter.  

When Baha’u’llah and a group of His followers were exiled to Acre and were imprisoned in the barracks, as a result of the terrible climate of the city and the loss of nourishing food, the very unhealthy water and abominable conditions of the prison, they were all sick, and some of his followers were relieved by death. Through these dire conditions 'Abdu'l-Baha was untouched by disease and continually ministered to the needs of the afflicted ones, giving them necessary remedies and cooking their food with his own hands. Thus, through His protecting ministrations they all recovered.  

After these two years of the terrible imprisonment of Baha'u'llah in which no one of His followers was permitted to enter that city to visit Him, and the nine years following when Baha'u'llah was confined to one little house in Acre, through the instrumentality of 'Abdu'l-Baha and His association with eminent people Baha'u'llah was finally, at the end of eleven long years of imprisonment and hardship, permitted to leave the dreadful city of Acca and go to a large comfortable house called Qasr-i-Bahji which had beautiful gardens that were brought into existence by the efforts of 'Abdu'l-Baha. In this beautiful place Baha'u'llah spent the rest of His days, but 'Abdu'l-Baha remained in Acre with His family meeting everyone, attending to the solution of problems, interviewing statesmen, governors, lawyers, etc., in regard to different cases. To Him all people came for the solution of their difficulties.  

'Abdu'l-Baha protected the Cause from all objections and opposition. Thus, Baha'u'llah was left free and unhampered to prepare His message for the world and His followers were now able to visit Him.

One day of each week of His extremely busy life 'Abdu'l-Baha went to visit Baha’u’llah at Bahji. On these occasions He always walked, thereby showing his attitude of humility towards His Father. But after Baha'u'llah told Him that He must ride, He obeyed Him. He would leave the city of Acre riding, but as soon as Qasr-i-Bahji came into view He would dismount and walk.

On the other hand, upon the recognized days of 'Abdu'l-Baha's visits to Qas-i-Bahji, Baha'u'llah would watch for His coming from a second story window, and as soon as He saw Him approaching, He would call to His household saying, "The Master is coming, go and meet Him!" No sooner would Father and Son meet than one would witness the utmost humility of the Son and utmost love and devotion of the Father, making the most dramatic picture conceivable. At these times no one was permitted to enter during Their conversation, not even the family. No one could understand this mystery between Son and Father. It makes one recall the words of the Bible where it is declared, "The Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father." There has never been in the world a relationship so sweet and perfect, with so much trust and confidence on both sides. In every way 'Abdu'l-Baha was the prototype of Baha'u'llah. They were the   same height, their voices were alike, and their manner of discerning.  

These were enough to make clear that the glory of God was shining in Him, and would continue to shine in Him after the ascension of His Father. Yet Baha'u'llah wrote in almost all of His writings, clearly as well as symbolically, of His station. In the "Tablet of Beirut" He calls Him the "Mystery of God." Particularly, in the Most Holy Book He said emphatically that the people must turn their faces towards 'Abdu'l-Baha who was the Branch of the everlasting tree. He also declared that 'Abdu'l-Baha held the keys which would open the Holy Tablets and Holy Books.

Finally, He proclaimed the station of the Center of the Covenant, 'Abdu'l-Baha, in the Tablet of the Covenant, which He sealed and gave 'Abdu'l-Baha. In nine days after the ascension of Baha'u'llah, in 1892, the seal was broken by 'Abdu'l-Baha amid the group of Baha'i friends and it was read by them.

Thus 'Abdu'l-Baha ascended the throne of the Covenant of Baha'u'llah and the glory of His Father began to shine through Him, to guide, like a shepherd the children of men to the oneness of God and the brotherhood of man.  

Verily, it seemed that Baha'u'llah had not departed but His sovereignty was still living in the garment of servitude. The pen of 'Abdu'l-Baha began to move for all the world, spreading the breath of life in the utmost humility and kindness as did the pen of Baha'u'llah in the form of lordship and command.  

Now at this time 'Abdu'l-Baha, with His great executive power, began to establish the Cause of God in the hearts of humanity. He sent more teachers and workers to different parts of the globe, and a new life was manifested among the friends. Thousands of epistles, perfect jewels of wisdom and knowledge concerning the affairs of life and about religion and divine philosophy, were revealed by Him to the world.  

All these activities increased the envy of the enemies of the Cause. They had thought that at the passing of Baha’u’llah everything would come to an end. Now, however, witnessing the renewed power and strength in 'Abdu'l-Baha they increased in activity and numbers, and a new group whose jealousy had lain dormant in Baha'u'llah's lifetime now arose against ‘Abdu'l-Baha.

Those who merely met Him visiting the prisons, entertaining the governor, officials and other guests, and who saw the increasing number of pilgrims from different countries, would hardly suspect that enemies of the Cause existed; for though their persecution continued day after day for years. 'Abdu'l-Baha tried to lead His enemies and those envious of Him with the utmost kindness into the path of unity and service. But their envy was too great, and they paid no heed to His advice, opposing Him more and more, till at last 'Abdu'l-Baha left Acre and His family and went alone to Tiberius and to Elijah's cave in Mount Cannel, there to supplicate and commune with God.  

Humanity always rejects its educators, choosing to follow personal desires, even distorting religious teaching into an excuse for disobedience, and those who are regarded as foremost in religious matters are dominated by their pride to deny a Saviour. Nearness to God and His Manifestation is a spiritual union, not a physical relationship. A spiritual soul, however remotely situated from a Manifestation, can nevertheless be more closely attached to that Manifestation than anyone related only by ties of blood. The foremost followers of a religious teaching are like mirrors before a sun, but as their light is reflected and not self-created, should they turn from the sun their light will cease to shine. Thus, Baha'u'llah said, a spiritual Educator is a divine balance, and the people of the world are weighed by Him. 

The efforts of 'Abdu'l-Baha's enemies were known only to those few who were intimately close to Him. In spite of the fact that 'Abdu'l-Baha refrained for the time being from teaching the Cause of Baha'u'llah on account of official prejudice against it, the people through His counsel and guidance began to recognize His great station.  

'Abdu'l-Baha worked with such ease, assurance and poise that He gave confidence to all who visited Him. The doors of His house were never closed; they remained open from sunrise to sunset. All manner of people came to Him to adjust their problems. Men and women poured constantly in and out of the house, for 'Abdu'l-Baha was always ready to uplift and counsel the downtrodden.  

Different religious leaders and government officials came to Him to present their questions. Even the Arab Bedouins and their sheiks had the greatest devotion and respect for Him, journeying great distances to see Him. They regarded Him as a holy patriarch and received from Him gifts, both spiritual and material. Such was His influence that His simple word was willingly obeyed by them when often governmental authority failed.  

The fame of 'Abdu'l-Baha's generosity and love became such a protection that frequently visitors traveling through the desert to Him were not only free from Bedouin attacks, but were also accorded safe conduct.

His simplicity of life forbade His personal use of the costly gifts pressed upon Him by His friends in many countries, and He preferred to pass on these offerings to people in need. 

A wonderful sight at Acre was to be seen every Friday morning before the house of 'Abdu'l-Baha. From early morning the square would be crowded with the poor, the aged, and cripples, men, women and children. 'Abdu'l-Baha would come out with some of His friends, and the people would crowd round Him, yet reverently, like children round a father. He would move from one to another, speaking kindly advice and comfort and putting· money into their hands. He was especially kind to widows and their children.  

It was indeed a miracle that a prisoner, persecuted and faced with opposition from so many powerful authorities, could thus gain such influence over all kinds of people with spiritual weapons only. As long as 'Abdu'l-Baha lived the people felt perfect confidence in the future, no matter what happened. They felt He was a divine father to whom they could go at all times, a master to whom they could turn at any moment. He continually ministered to their sufferings, often choosing to go on His errands of love at night.  

But all the time His enemies had been watching their opportunity to vent their   jealousy. They secretly sent many false reports to the Government in Constantinople, and circulated forged letters purporting to have been issued by 'Abdu'l-Baha. Each time the governor or other officials of the prison city were changed, they would bribe them to unite with them in their opposition to 'Abdu'l-Baha. But although disheartened by these continuous intrigues, 'Abdu'l-Baha's power rose supreme above such hatred and won over those officials whom His enemies had persuaded to oppose Him.  

During this time of persecution, surrounded by spies and enemies, 'Abdu'l-Baha accomplished the difficult task of having the remains of the Báb brought from Persia to Haifa. He had constructed the shrine on Mount Carmel which was to be the resting place of the body of the Báb. This edifice was made the subject of a new attack. With the cooperation of a few of the prison officials 'Abdu'l-Baha's opponents sent false information to the Government that He was building a fortress on Mount Carmel and had so much influence with surrounding and foreign powers that the Turkish Government would not be able to withstand His power. This false report caused the Sultan such alarm that he ordered 'Abdu'l-Baha to be either drowned or exiled to the heart of the African desert.  

His friends, anxious for His safety, begged Him to leave Acre; but saying that it was His duty to stay, He sent them away to different places in Egypt, and disregarding all threats, remained with certain members of His family in Acre.  

When the Governmental Investigation Committee arrived in Acre the enemies of 'Abdu'l-Baha associated with them to induce them to make a false report. Accordingly, without visiting 'Abdu'l-Baha or finding out His version, information was sent that the rumors were true. While these plots were progressing and the atmosphere was tingling with suspicion, everyone was amazed to see that 'Abdu'l-Baha was planting trees and building a house as though nothing would happen.  

When the judge sent for 'Abdu'l-Baha to present Himself in court the sorrow of the friends was unbearable. They feared He might be taken away immediately and they would never see Him again. But 'Abdu'l-Baha reassured them, saying that His greatest joy and happiness would be to be hanged there in Haifa.

Baha'u'llah had a wonderful felt cap or headdress which was called a crown and this had been treasured by 'Abdu'l-Baha after the ascension of the Blessed Perfection. Several times the friends had suggested that 'Abdu'l-Baha should wear this but He always replied, "There would be but one occasion to wear it - if I were to be crucified." At this time He asked the family to have the headdress ready.

When 'Abdu'l-Baha entered the court He found the charges and false testimony prearranged. After admonishing His accusers for persecuting the Cause of Truth as had always been done in former ages He said, "If you desire to condemn me, I am ready and willing to sacrifice my life and will sign any indictment you prepare, for it will bring me great happiness to be martyred as were the promulgators of Truth before me."  

Just at this darkest hour, when events were most ominous for 'Abdu'l-Baha and the Cause, the whole situation changed with a miraculous suddenness. The revolution of 1908, by the Young Turk Party, brought entire freedom to Him who had been the world's Greatest Prisoner.

Jinab-i-Fadil  (Star of the West [The Baha’i Magazine], vol. 15, no. 3, 1924)