‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Center of the Cause
May 23, 1844
|Passing||November 28, 1921, (aged 77)
The Most Mighty Branch
The Perfect Exampler
Center of the Covenant
|Spouse(s)||Munírih Khánum (1873-1921)|
|Children||Ḍiyá'iyyih Khánum, Túbá Khánum, Rúhá Khánum, Munavvar Khánum, (amongst others)|
Mother: Navváb Khánum
‘Abdu’l-Bahá (‘Abbás Effendi, May 23, 1844 - November 28, 1921), eldest son of Bahá’u’lláh and successor to Him as leader of the Bahá’í Faith; appointed by Bahá’u’lláh as the authoritative expounder and perfect exemplar of the Bahá’í teachings and as the Center of Bahá’u’lláh's Covenant.
- 1 Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
- 2 Achievements of Ministry
- 3 Personal Characteristics
- 4 Family
- 5 The Bahá’í View of the Station of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
- 6 Teachings and Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 Special Note
- 11 Sorting
Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
Early life 1844-92
‘Abdu’l-Bahá was born in Tehran on May 23, 1844 (the same day as the Declaration of the Báb, and was named 'Abbás, after His grandfather, Mírzá Buzurg Núrí. His mother was Ásiyih Khánum, herself of a notable Iranian family. Shortly after ‘Abdu’l-Bahá's birth, His father became a prominent member of the Bábí religion which was to change the life of the family dramatically. The most memorable event in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá's childhood was the imprisonment of His father following the attempt made on the life of the Shah on 15 August 1852. Bahá’u’lláh had nothing to do with this attempt, yet the mere fact that He was a prominent Bábí was sufficient to imprison Him. The results for the family were catastrophic. Despite their high social position, their house was looted and they were reduced to poverty. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, who was then eight years old, was attacked in the streets by other children. He records His distress when on one occasion He was taken to see His father in prison.
After four months Bahá’u’lláh was released from prison but ordered into exile. The conditions of the journey to Baghdad in March 1853 were very harsh as the family was ill-prepared for traveling in winter conditions. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá's sister, Bahiyyih Khánum, records that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá suffered from frost-bite during the journey. In Baghdad there was a period of respite for the family; but then, Bahá’u’lláh, deciding that He could not endure the conflicts among the Bábís in Baghdad (see "Bahá’u’lláh.3"), departed suddenly on 10 April 1854, leaving His family behind. For almost two years there was no news of Bahá’u’lláh, which was very hard on ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, who was very attached to His father. Eventually Bahá’u’lláh was located and persuaded to return to Baghdad.
Some of the most important formative years of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá's life were the ones that He spent in Baghdad as a child and young man. He records that He spent His time reading the writings of the Báb and committing them to memory. His education was under the personal supervision of Bahá’u’lláh. He also enjoyed horse-riding and frequented Baghdad's intellectual circles. It was here, while still only seventeen years of age, that He wrote for 'Alí Shawkat (Ali evket) Páshá a treatise on mysticism and metaphysics called the Sharḥ-i Kuntu Kanzan Makhfiyan(Commentary on the Islamic Tradition: 'I was a Hidden Treasure. . .'), a remarkable feat for one so young.
During the course of the journey from Baghdad to Istanbul, and later, in both Edirne and Akka, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá increasingly assumed the role of Bahá’u’lláh's chief steward, taking responsibility for organizing the household and seeing to Bahá’u’lláh's personal requirements. He also gradually took over responsibility for the relationships between the small exile community and the outside world. It was He who arranged for Bahá’u’lláh to move outside the walls of Akka in 1877. He personally undertook all contacts with government officials, and supervised and vetted the stream of visitors that came to see His father, including the increasingly large numbers who came as pilgrims from Iran.
Early years of his ministry 1892-1911
Bahá’u’lláh passed away on 29 May 1892. In such works as the Kitáb-i-Aqdas and the Tablet of the Branch, Bahá’u’lláh had indicated that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was to be His successor. The successorship was then clearly and unequivocally stated in Bahá’u’lláh's Will and Testament, the Book of the Covenant.
With such a clear designation, it would seem to have been impossible to challenge ‘Abdu’l-Bahá's authority. Mírzá Muḥammad 'Alí, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá's half-brother, did, however, do this on the grounds that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had exceeded His station and claimed to be a prophet with a revelation from God. Although ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on numerous occasions denied the station of prophethood as either a lesser prophet of a Manifestation of God and specifically refuted those who were inclined to make excessive claims about Him, Mírzá Muḥammad 'Alí continued to press these charges. At first, Mírzá Muḥammad 'Alí appeared to have a good deal of success and several prominent Bahá’ís supported him. This episode of Covenant-breaking, as it was called by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, raged at its most fierce from about 1895 to 1905. Thereafter, the outcome was clear and many who had supported Mírzá Muḥammad 'Alí either reverted to the cause of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá or left the Bahá’í Faith altogether.
As a result of accusations against ‘Abdu’l-Bahá made by Mírzá Muḥammad 'Alí to the authorities, the strict terms of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá imprisonment were re-introduced in August 1901. Then, in 1905, a government commission of enquiry arrived in Akka to look into the charges that had been made by Mírzá Muḥammad 'Alí. This was a time of great danger for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, but it passed and the commission's findings were lost in the political upheavals that were taking place at this time. In 1908 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was freed from imprisonment, under the general amnesty after the re-establishment of the Turkish Constitution (see "'Abdu'l-Ḥamíd, Sulṭán").
The other important events during this period were the growth of a large community of Bahá’ís in North America and of a few Bahá’í groups in Europe; the arrival of the first group of Western Bahá’ís in Akka on 10 December 1898 (others soon followed); and the entombment of the remains of the Báb in a shrine on Mount Carmel.
In August 1910 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá traveled to Egypt. He remained in Port Said for one month and then moved to Alexandria until May 1911 when He transferred to Cairo. On 11 August 1911 He left aboard a ship headed for Marseilles. On this trip He visited London, Bristol, and Paris, returning to Egypt in December.
The following year He undertook a much more extensive journey. He boarded the S.S. Cedric and set off for New York on 25 March 1912, arriving on 11 April. (Although encouraged by friends--who had even raised funds for the trip--to sail on the Titanic, He mysteriously declined, returning the money, in favor of the other ship.) He visited Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Washington D.C., going back to New York by 11 May. For the next few months He remained in New York with occasional brief visits to Boston, Philadelphia, and a number of smaller towns as well as the Lake Mohonk Peace Conference. In August He began a more extensive journey, starting in New Hampshire and the Green Acre School in Maine and going on to Montreal, Buffalo, Chicago, Kenosha, and Minneapolis. He traveled west, reaching San Francisco at the beginning of October. In California He visited Oakland, Palo Alto, and Los Angeles before heading back eastward on 26 October. He traveled through Chicago, Cincinnati, Washington D. C., and Baltimore to New York. On 5 December He set sail from New York, arriving in Liverpool on 13 December. From Liverpool He went to London, where He remained until 21 January 1913 with a number of trips to Oxford, Edinburgh, and Bristol. In Paris, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stayed two months before making a journey to Stuttgart, Budapest, and Vienna. After another six weeks in Paris, hHe left for Marseilles on 12 June and set sail for Port Said the next day. From 13 June until 2 December He remained in Egypt and then returned to Haifa.
The First World War broke out in the year after ‘Abdu’l-Bahá's return from His western journeys. For a time, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá moved most of the Bahá’ís of the Haifa-Akka area to the Druze village of Abú-Sinán, because of the threat of Allied bombardment of the coast. Later the danger to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá's person was renewed through the threats of the Turkish commander Jamál (Cemal) Páshá. There was also famine in Palestine. Eventually the war years passed and the British Mandate over Palestine brought the threat to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to an end. His final years saw a growing stream of visitors and pilgrims from all parts of the world who came to Haifa to see Him. He was awarded a knighthood by the British government on 27 April 1920. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá passed away on 28 November 1921 at about 1:00 AM in his house in Haifa. He was buried following a large public funeral in a room in the Shrine of the Báb on Mount Carmel.
Achievements of Ministry
Direction of the affairs of the Bahá’í Faith
For nearly thirty years ‘Abdu’l-Bahá personally supervised almost every aspect of the growth and development of the Bahá’í Faith. He had two main methods of doing this. The first was correspondence. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote little that was addressed to the Bahá’ís in general, but rather kept up an enormous volume of correspondence during his ministry, replying personally to large numbers of letters that came to Him from Bahá’ís. The second method was His personal contact with the many hundreds of pilgrims who came each year. Thus He maintained a close and individually-based supervision of the general development of the Bahá’í Faith.
The largest Bahá’í community during ‘Abdu’l-Bahá's ministry was that of Iran. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá directed His efforts towards that community, first promoting unity within the community and, second, encouraging it to expand and develop. In particular, He fostered the social development of the community: He encouraged the Bahá’ís to set up schools and medical facilities, and promoted the role of women in the community. He also guided the institutional development of the community, directing the Hands of the Cause of God and advising on the setting up of assemblies and committees (see Bahá’í Administration). In addition, He gave instructions for the refurbishment of the House of the Báb in Shiraz.
The Bahá’í community of Ashkhabad (see "Turkmenistan") was freer to develop a distinctively Bahá’í community life. Here ‘Abdu’l-Bahá encouraged the Bahá’ís to set up a number of institutions: schools, a clinic, a traveler's hospice, library and reading room, and public baths. This all culminated in the building, between 1902 and 1919, of the first Mashriqu’l-Adhkár of the Bahá’í world. With ‘Abdu’l-Bahá's encouragement, the Bahá’ís of Ashkhabad attained, as close as it was possible to achieve at that time, the ideal of a Bahá’í community.
Among the new Bahá’í communities of North America, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá encouraged the growth and development of institutions such as local spiritual assemblies and the Bahá’í Temple Unity which was later to evolve into the National Spiritual Assembly.
Supervision of the expansion of the Bahá’í Faith
One of the areas of activity that received ‘Abdu’l-Bahá's close attention was the expansion of the Bahá’í Faith. He continually monitored the activities of the Bahá’ís and frequently directed Bahá’í teachers to travel from one place to another to promote the Bahá’í Faith. At the beginning of His ministry, the Bahá’í Faith was confined to the Middle East and appeared to any outside observer to be merely a persecuted Muslim sect. By the time of His passing, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had supervised its transformation into a religion that encircled the globe, with believers from many different religious backgrounds and the respect of a large number of prominent people in the Middle East, Europe, and North America.
One of the most significant developments during ‘Abdu’l-Bahá's ministry was the expansion of the Bahá’í Faith to the West. This began with the journey of Ibrahim Kheiralla to the United States of America in 1892. From 1894, in Chicago, Kheiralla began to teach the Bahá’í Faith and to enroll large numbers. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave this work the highest priority. When, in 1900, Kheiralla defected and gave his support to Mírzá Muḥammad 'Alí, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sent several experienced Bahá’ís, such as Mírzá Abu'l-Faḍl Gulpáygání, to the West in order to guide and support the American Bahá’ís.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá's most important contribution to this work was His own journeys to the West. Through these he attracted large numbers to the Bahá’í Faith and encouraged the Bahá’ís to redouble their efforts to promote the religion. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá also gave the lead on the best ways of presenting the Bahá’í Faith in the West. His table-talks published as Some Answered Questions(q.v.) indicate His concern to present the Faith in terms understandable to those from the Christian West. In His public addresses in the West ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was able to relate the Bahá’í teachings to those matters which were of contemporary social concern.
In Iran ‘Abdu’l-Bahá encouraged the Bahá’ís to travel throughout the country and teach the Bahá’í Faith. In other parts of the Middle East, He also encouraged the promotion of the Bahá’í Faith, especially in Egypt where Mírzá Abu'l-Faḍl Gulpáygání was teaching at Al-Azhar University, the foremost academic institution of the Islamic world.
During the ministry of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the Bahá’í Faith spread to Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, South Africa, South America and the islands of the Pacific. This was to a large extent due to two factors encouraged by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Bahá’ís settling in other parts of the world and the extensive worldwide travels of a small number of Bahá’ís, which helped to create the feeling of a global religion. Both of these factors were to achieve even greater importance during the ministry of Shoghi Effendi.
Building the Shrine of the Báb
One of the tasks mandated to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá by Bahá’u’lláh was the erection of a suitable edifice to serve as a shrine for the remains of the Báb. As soon as He was able to pursue this goal, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave instructions for the remains of the Báb to be brought from Iran, where they had been hidden. After a dangerous and eventful journey, these arrived in 'Akka on January 31, 1899. At the same time, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá set about arranging the purchase of land on Mount Carmel and the erection of a suitable building. These plans received a set-back in 1901 when Mírzá Muḥammad 'Alí asserted to the government authorities that the shrine was in fact a fortress that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was building preparatory to a revolt. But eventually the structure was completed and one of the first actions of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá when He received His freedom was to lay the remains of the Báb to rest in the Shrine on March 21, 1909.
Dealings with opponents
‘Abdu’l-Bahá spent most of His life surrounded by opponents of one sort or another. During the lifetime of His father, His main opponents were external to the Bahá’í Faith, officials of the governments of Iran and Ottoman Turkey, and religious leaders who attacked either the Bahá’ís or the Bahá’í leadership. In dealing with these, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá took His example from His father. He first appealed for redress directly to the person who had committed the injustice. If that was not successful, He would appeal to a higher authority if there was one. Finally, if no redress was forthcoming, He would sometimes issue a general appeal. If still no redress was to be had, He would ultimately submit to the injustice rather than cause social instability by opposing it by other means. This was ‘Abdu’l-Bahá's way of dealing with opposition and He encouraged the Bahá’ís to follow suit.
The second main form of opposition was from people who claimed to be Bahá’ís, whom ‘Abdu’l-Bahá termed Covenant-breakers, since any opposition to Him was in effect opposition to the Covenant which Bahá’u’lláh had established. The most important of these figures during ‘Abdu’l-Bahá's ministry was Mírzá Muḥammad 'Alí, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá's half-brother. In the period immediately after the passing of Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá kept His half-brother's actions secret, being unwilling to publicize the disunity in the family; but as Mírzá Muḥammad 'Alí's activities became more defiant, it became difficult for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to prevent others from learning about them, especially from the pilgrims. In any case, Mírzá Muḥammad 'Alí himself exposed his actions in letters that he wrote to Iran in about 1896. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá then advised the Bahá’ís to cease all contact with Mírzá Muḥammad 'Alí and his supporters in Iran and North America. The issue of "Firmness in the Covenant" (see "Covenant.6") became a major theme in the writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
The split in the family and in the community, the disrepute which resulted for the Bahá’ís in the eyes of the public, the continued occupation by Mírzá Muḥammad 'Alí's supporters of the Mansion of Bahjí and their consequent control over the environs of the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh, all caused ‘Abdu’l-Bahá much personal sorrow.
Relations with the government and the public
‘Abdu’l-Bahá always tried to maintain good relations with public officials in Akka and Haifa and with the government. The ease with which He was able to do this differed markedly from time to time, depending on the officials in post and the activities of the Covenant-breakers. In general, however, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was very highly regarded by the local government officials in Akka and was frequently consulted when difficult decisions had to be made. He was also well-respected by the ordinary people of Akka, who knew Him as a public benefactor, especially to the poor and destitute of the town.
Over the years ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was in correspondence with many of the leading intellectual figures and reformers of Ottoman Turkey. In Edirne he became closely acquainted with the governor, Khurshíd (Hurid) Páshá, and the vice-governor, 'Azíz Páshá. In 1878, when He was in Akka, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was invited to Beirut. There He met with such important figures in the Ottoman reform movement as Midḥat Páshá and Shaykh Muḥammad 'Abduh. He corresponded with them and others and made His own contribution to the literature of the reform movements of Iran and the Ottoman Empire in the form of two books The Secret of Divine Civilization and Risáliy-i-Siyásiyyih (Treatise on Politics, see "Siyásiyyih, Risáliy-i").
During His journeys to the West, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá met many prominent persons: Archdeacon Wilberforce of Westminster; Dr. T.K. Cheyne, Professor of the Interpretation of Scripture at Oxford University; Dr J. Estlin Carpenter, a pioneer in the field of comparative religion; Mrs Annie Besant, president of the Theosophical Society; the suffragette leader Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst; Lee McLung, United States Treasurer; Admiral Robert Peary of North Pole fame; the inventor Alexander Graham Bell; Dr David Starr Jordan, president of Stanford University; the philosophers Henri Bergson and John Dewey; the writer Khalil Gibran; a number of ambassadors; and many others. Almost uniformly, these individuals formed a very high opinion of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and several of them became supporters and well-wishers of the Bahá’í Faith as a result. Many Iranian and other Middle Eastern notables also met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá during His journeys and formed a favorable impression of the Faith. During these journeys, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was interviewed by numerous newspapers and magazines and the resultant publicity had an important effect in increasing the prestige of the Faith.
Bahá’ís regard ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as the Perfect Exemplar of the teachings of His father and therefore strive to emulate Him. For this reason the personal characteristics of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá have assumed an important position in Bahá’í teaching. Anecdotes about him are frequently used to illustrate particular points about morality and interpersonal relations.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá made a deep impression on all who met Him. Professor E.G. Browne describes him thus in 1890:
Seldom have I seen [One] whose appearance impressed me more. A tall, strongly built man holding [Himself] straight as an arrow, with white turban and raiment, long black locks reaching almost to the shoulder, broad powerful forehead, indicating a strong intellect, combined with an unswerving will, eyes keen as a hawk's, and strongly marked but pleasing features-such was my first impression of 'Abbas Effendi, "The Master" ('Agha) as [He] par excellence is called by the Bábís. Subsequent conversation with [Him] served only to heighten the respect with which [His] appearance had from the first inspired me. One more eloquent of speech, more ready of argument, more apt of illustration, more intimately acquainted with the sacred books of the Jews, the Christians and the Muhammadans, could, I should think, be scarcely found even amongst the eloquent, ready and subtle race to which he belongs. These qualities, combined with a bearing at once majestic and genial, made me cease to wonder at the influence and esteem which [He] enjoyed even beyond the circle of [His] [Father]'s followers. About the greatness of this man and [His] power no one who had seen [Him] could entertain a doubt.
Even avowed enemies of the Bahá’í Faith were on occasion transformed by meeting Him. Mírzá 'Abdu'l-Muḥammad Írání Mu'addibu's-Sulṭán, an Iranian, and Shaykh 'Alí Yúsuf, an Arab, were both newspaper editors in Egypt who had published harsh attacks on the Bahá’í Faith in their papers. They called on ‘Abdu’l-Bahá when he was in Egypt and their attitude was transformed. Similarly, a Christian clergyman, Rev. J.T. Bixby, who was the author of a hostile article on the Bahá’í Faith in the United States, felt compelled to witness to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá's personal qualities (BBR 329). The effect of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on those who were already committed Bahá’ís was greater still.
There is universal agreement that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had an imposing personal presence that radiated a serene, majestic and authoritative air. He was always very kind in his personal dealings and generous to the point that His own family complained that they were left with nothing. He had a keen sense of humor and frequently used jokes and amusing anecdotes to make His point understood. His personal life was very simple and the furnishings of His rooms spartan. He ate and slept little and spent some many hours every day in prayer and meditation.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá directed the affairs of the Bahá’í community with gentle encouragement. Whenever a community was progressing, He was warm in his praise; if a community was stagnant or disunited, he tackled the problem energetically, writing letters and dispatching personal emissaries. He would not be satisfied until the matter had been rectified. He was inclined to allow a large range of personal interpretations of the Bahá’í teachings as long as these did not obviously contradict fundamental principles. Outbreaks of persecution of the Bahá’ís affected Him deeply. He wrote personally to the families of those who had been martyred.
When it came to the defense of the Bahá’í Faith against its enemies, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá showed a great deal of determination and energy. If, however, one of His opponents had fallen on hard times, as frequently happened in the turns of fortune that afflicted Ottoman officials in Akka, for example, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was always magnanimous and on occasion even helped such fallen officials.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá was married on 8 March 1873 to Munírih Khánum. The marriage resulted in nine children, five of whom died in childhood: Ḥusayn Effendi (d. 1305/1887, aged two), Mihdí (died aged two-and-a-half), Ṭúbá, Fu'ádiyyih, and Ruḥangíz. Four daughters grew to adulthood. The oldest of these was Ḍiyá'iyyih (d. 1951), who married Mírzá Hádí Shírází (d. 1955) in 1313/1895; their children were Shoghi Effendi, Rúḥangíz, Mihrangíz, Ḥusayn, and Riyáḍ, who all took the surname Rabbání. The second daughter, Ṭúbá Khánum (1880-1959), married Mírzá Muḥsin Afnán (1863-1927); their children were Rúḥá (1899-1971), Thurayyá, Suhayl, and Fu'ád (d. 1943), who all took the surname Afnán. The third daughter of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Rúḥí, married Mírzá Jalál, the son of Mírzá Muḥammad Ḥasan, the King of Martyrs (see "Nahrí family"); their children were Maryam, Muníb, Zahrá and Ḥasan, who all took the surname Shahíd. The fourth daughter, Munavvar (d. 1971), married Mírzá Aḥmad, the son of Mírzá 'Abdu'r-Raḥím Yazdí; they were childless.
In the 1930s and 1940s a series of marriages linked the sons of Sayyid 'Alí Afnán and Furúghiyyih Khánum, who had been supporters of Mírzá Muḥammad 'Alí, with the grandchildren of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. As a result of these marriages, other inappropriate marriages, or refusal to break ties with Covenant-breakers in the family, Shoghi Effendi, in the 1940s and early 1950s, declared all the surviving grandchildren of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (except Himself) Covenant-breakers (see "Covenant-breaking.4.c and chart").
The Bahá’í View of the Station of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
In the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Bahá’u’lláh commands His followers to turn toward "Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient Root" (KA 121:63). In the Book of the Covenant, it is explained that this phrase refers to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, "the Most Mighty Branch (Ghuṣn-i-A'zam)" (TB 15:221). Also in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas is the injunction "refer ye whatsoever ye understand not in the Book to Him Who hath branched from this mighty Stock" (KA 174:82). In the Tablet of the Branch is Bahá’u’lláh's statement that ". . . verily He is the most great Favor unto you, the most perfect bounty upon you; and through Him every mouldering bone is quickened. Whoso turneth towards Him hath turned towards God, and whoso turneth away from Him hath turned away from My Beauty, hath repudiated My Proof, and transgressed against Me. He is the Trust of God amongst you, His charge within you, His manifestation unto you and His appearance among His favored servants. . . They who deprive themselves of the shadow of the Branch, are lost in the wilderness of error, are consumed by the heat of worldly desires, and are of those who will assuredly perish" (WOB 135).
On the basis of these passages ‘Abdu’l-Bahá assumed authority as "the Center of the Covenant" and "the Interpreter of the Word of God", while at the same time stressing that "the real significance, the innermost secret of these very words, is my own servitude to the sacred Threshold of the Abhá Beauty, my complete self-effacement, my utter nothingness before Him" (WOB 136, 138).
Shoghi Effendi states 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"; establishes ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as the "Perfect Exemplar" of Bahá’u’lláh's teachings; asserts that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá "incarnates an institution for which we can find no parallel in any of the world's recognized religious systems"; and finally emphasizes Bahá’u’lláh's designation of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as the "Mystery of God" (WOB 134, 143).
Teachings and Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
The teaching of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was firmly rooted in what His father had taught. Indeed, the circumstances of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá's life meant that He received virtually no education other than what His father taught Him. As He had frequently acted as Bahá’u’lláh's personal secretary, had been present when Bahá’u’lláh was giving His teachings orally, and had read most of Bahá’u’lláh's written output, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had an intimate knowledge of His father's teaching.
The distinctive aspect of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá's contribution was the manner in which He took His father's teachings and adapted them for various audiences. Most notably, this occurred during ‘Abdu’l-Bahá's journeys to the West. Despite the unfamiliar surroundings, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was able to understand the concerns of His Western audiences and to elicit those aspects of Bahá’u’lláh's teaching which were most in accordance with these concerns. The presentation of the Bahá’í teachings that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá made during His Western journeys remains to the present day the standard presentation of these teachings in the Bahá’í world.
Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
‘Abdu’l-Bahá's principal writings are His correspondence with numerous Bahá’ís, well-wishers, government officials, and others. He wrote primarily in Persian and Arabic but there is also a small amount of material in Ottoman Turkish. The Bahá’í World Center currently holds over 27,000 letters of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and He must have written many more. A large number of compilations of these letters have been published over the years. Some of the most important of the tablets, such as the Tablet to Dr. Forel, have been published separately. Although most of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá's correspondence is with individual Bahá’ís, some of it is addressed to Bahá’í groups and communities. The most important of the latter category are The Tablets of the Divine Plan, written in 1916-17 and addressed to the Bahá’ís of North America, which Shoghi Effendi calls the "Charter" for the propagation of the Bahá’í Faith (MBW 84). ‘Abdu’l-Bahá also wrote to organizations, such as the Central Organization for a Durable Peace at the Hague, and occasionally to newspapers, such as the Christian Commonwealth.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote three books: The Secret of Divine Civilization (1875), A Traveler's Narrative(q.v., 1886), and Risáliy-i-Siyásiyyih (Treatise on Politics, 1892-3). Two of these were written during the lifetime of his father; in later years He had little time for such work. Many talks of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá have been published. Some of these, such as Memorials of the Faithful and Some Answered Questions, were read and corrected by Him prior to publication. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá also wrote a large number of prayers, some Tablets of Visitation for prominent Bahá’ís, and some poetry. Lastly, there is ‘Abdu’l-Bahá's Will and Testament, which is referred to by Shoghi Effendi as the "Charter of Bahá’u’lláh's New World Order" (GPB xv). There is also a large body of literature consisting of pilgrims' notes about their visit to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
- Browne, E.G. (1891), A Traveller’s Narrative, Cambridge. Includes introduction, agenda, and corrigenda.
- For an overall historical survey of the life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, see:
- H.M. Balyuzi, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Centre of the Covenant
- M.H. Phelps, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi, republished in a revised form as The Master in 'Akká.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá's Western journeys are covered in:
- A. L. Ward, 239 Days: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá's Journey in America
- ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London
- ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Canada
- A. Khursheed, Seven Candles of Unity
A large number of records of meetings with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and his public talks have been published. The following are merely a selection of those currently in print:
- A.M. Yazdi, Blessings beyond Measure
- In His Presence *J.M. Grundy, Ten Days in the Light of 'Akká
- H.S. Goodall and E.G. Cooper, Daily Lessons received at 'Akká January 1908
- R. Allen, Memories of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Wilmette, 1980, pp. 31-88
- Diaries of Juliet Thompson, pp. 147-393
- Howard Colby Ives, Portals to Freedom
Appreciations of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá include:
- George Townshend, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: the Master, Oxford, 1987
- S. Lemaitre, Une Grande Figure de l'Unité: Abdul Baha, Paris: Adrien-Maisonneuve, 1952; see also commemorative issue of World Order magazine, Fall 1971, especially A. Banani, The Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp. 67-84.
- Apart from those works and talks of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá listed in 'Family' above, the following have also been published:
- Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá;
- Paris Talks;
- Promulgation of Universal Peace;
- Tablets of Abdul Baha Abbas;
- Foundations of World Unity.
Most of these are also available in Persian; in addition, there is the collection Makatíb-i-‘Abdu’l-Bahá, 8 vols.
This article was written for possible inclusion in A Short Encyclopedia of the Baha'i Faith, an ongoing project of the United States National Spiritual Assembly. These drafts have not been edited and will not appear in the encyclopedia in their present form. Hence they should not be considered representative of the project.