Segment 16: Journeys of Abdu’l-Baha: The Culmination -by Dana Paxson

Journeys of Abdu’l-Baha: The Culmination.pdf

In 1909, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was at last free. In an interview, He told of the climax in 1908 of the Ottoman persecutions aimed at taking His life:

“‘About this time an Italian ship appeared in the harbour sent by order of the Italian Consul. It had been planned that I was to escape on it by night. The Bahá’ís in ‘Akká implored me to go but I sent this message to the captain: ‘The Báb did not run away: Bahá’u’lláh did not run away; I shall not run away, so the ship sailed away after waiting three days and three nights.

‘It was while the Sulṭán’s committee of investigation was homeward bound that the first shell was dropped into ‘Abdu’l-Ḥamíd’s camp and the first gun of freedom was fired into the home of despotism. That was God’s gun,’ said ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, with one of his wonderful smiles.”1

A year later, Sultán ‘Abdu’l-Ḥamíd fell. Shoghi Effendi writes:

“Within a few months, in 1909, the Young Turks obtained from the Shaykhu’l-Islám the condemnation of the Sultán himself who, as a result of further attempts to overthrow the constitution, was finally and ignominiously deposed, deported and made a prisoner of state. On one single day of that same year there were executed no less than thirty-one leading ministers, páshás and officials, among whom were numbered notorious enemies of the Faith.”2

Freed from the galling, painful, restrictive terms of confinement imposed upon Him, ‘Abdu’l- Bahá, then 67 years old and in failing health, soon began an unparalleled series of travels across the western world, unleashing the transforming energies of the Bahá’í Faith to whole continents and nations of a humanity thirsty for its divine sustenance, and responding with complete devotion to this yearning appeal of His Father:

“Oh, how I long to announce unto every spot on the surface of the earth, and to carry to each one of its cities, the glad-tidings of this Revelation—a Revelation to which the heart of Sinai hath been attracted, and in whose name the Burning Bush is calling: ‘Unto God, the Lord of Lords, belong the kingdoms of earth and heaven.’ Verily this is the Day in which both land and sea rejoice at this announcement, the Day for which have been laid up those things which God, through a bounty beyond the ken of mortal mind or heart, hath destined for revelation.”3

Between 1904 and 1906, during His confinement some years before He began His travels, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave western readers a preview of what was to come, in the form of a now-revered collection titled “Some Answered Questions”, addressing topics which were to be repeatedly and richly presented during His talks in the many cities and towns He visited. The collection contains 84 separate expositions on a wide range of matters ranging from the influence of the Prophets to the punishment of criminals.

But this preview was barely a token of what was to come. As Shoghi Effendi put it:

“The establishment of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh in the Western Hemisphere—the most outstanding achievement that will forever be associated with ‘Abdu’l‐Bahá’s ministry—had …set in motion such tremendous forces, and been productive of such far-reaching results, as to warrant the active and personal participation of the Center of the Covenant Himself in those epoch-making activities which His Western disciples had, through the propelling power of that Covenant, boldly initiated and were vigorously prosecuting.”4

A detailed account of the Master’s travels in the next few years would far exceed the space of any essay; indeed, such accounts already constitute many volumes. Two collections of great continuing impact in the Western world offer us many talks given by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá during His travels in Europe and America. These were transcribed and translated for posterity. The first is “Paris Talks: Addresses Given by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Paris in 1911-1912”. This book collects 53 addresses delivered at meetings in Paris in October, November, and December of 1911, along with six more addresses delivered in London in 1913. The second is “The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912”. In this book we find 139 talks delivered all across the North American continent between April and December of 1912.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s journey was a staggering, personally-sacrificial, universally-illuminating odyssey, one that demonstrated beyond any doubt the power of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant and the station of its Center. It is utterly potent and deeply poignant:

“‘Abdu’l‐Bahá was at this time broken in health. He suffered from several maladies brought on by the strains and stresses of a tragic life spent almost wholly in exile and imprisonment. He was on the threshold of three-score years and ten. Yet as soon as He was released from His forty- year long captivity, as soon as He had laid the Báb’s body in a safe and permanent resting- place, and His mind was free of grievous anxieties connected with the execution of that priceless Trust, He arose with sublime courage, confidence and resolution to consecrate what little strength remained to Him, in the evening of His life, to a service of such heroic proportions that no parallel to it is to be found in the annals of the first Bahá’í century.”5

One single example of the fullness of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s embrace of His service can be found in an address He gave in New York. In this talk, He spoke concerning the special and distinguishing Teachings revealed by Bahá’u’lláh, among them the oneness of the world of humanity, the individual investigation of truth, the unity of all the religions, the harmony of religion and science, the equality of man and woman, the necessity for universal education, and much more, including the establishment of the Universal House of Justice. But the greatest of all He saved for last:

“As to the most great characteristic of the revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, a specific teaching not given by any of the Prophets of the past: It is the ordination and appointment of the Center of the Covenant. By this appointment and provision He has safeguarded and protected the religion of God against differences and schisms, making it impossible for anyone to create a new sect or faction of belief. To ensure unity and agreement He has entered into a Covenant with all the people of the world, including the interpreter and explainer of His teachings, so that no one may interpret or explain the religion of God according to his own view or opinion and thus create a sect founded upon his individual understanding of the divine Words.”6

Later in His talk, He lays an obligation upon His hearers:

“My purpose is to explain to you that it is your duty to guard the religion of God so that none shall be able to assail it outwardly or inwardly. If you find harmful teachings are being set forth by some individual, no matter who that individual be, even though he should be my own son, know, verily, that I am completely severed from him. If anyone speaks against the Covenant, even though he should be my son, know that I am opposed to him.”7

The world-engulfing horrors of the First World War overwhelmed human attention in the years following the great arc of the Master’s tour through the great realms of the west. A very great work issued from Him during the closing years of that awful war: the Tablets of the Divine Plan.

Over the period of a year between March 26, 1916 and March 8, 1917, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave us this masterpiece of the Covenant of God, addressed to the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada. In one of them He mirrors the desire of His Father:

“O that I could travel, even though on foot and in the utmost poverty, to these regions, and, raising the call of “Yá Bahá’u’l-Abhá” in cities, villages, mountains, deserts and oceans, promote the divine teachings! This, alas, I cannot do. How intensely I deplore it! Please God, ye may achieve it.”8

To embrace fuller appreciation of the labors of the Master during this period, we turn again to “God Passes By”:

“The revelation of the Tablets of the Divine Plan, during the somber days of that tragic conflict, had, in the concluding years of ‘Abdu’l‐Bahá’s ministry, invested the members of the leading Bahá’í community in the West—the champions of a future Administrative Order—with a world mission which, in the concluding years of the first Bahá’í century, was to shed deathless glory upon the Faith and its administrative institutions.”9

Bahá’u’lláh’s longing expressed in the Tablet of Carmel and the same longing uttered in the Divine Plan by His Son unleashed the effulgent flow of divine transformation across the whole human world. Nearing the end of His life, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá set forth His unwavering, inspiring guidance as the Center of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant:

“O ye beloved of God, these are days for steadfastness, for firmness and perseverance in the Cause of God. Ye must not focus your attention upon the person of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, for erelong he will bid you farewell. Rather must ye fix your gaze upon the Word of God. … The friends of God must arise with such steadfastness that if, at any moment, a hundred souls like ‘Abdu’l-Bahá become the target for the arrows of affliction, they will not shift or waver in their resolve, their determination, their enkindlement, their devotion and service in the Cause of God. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is himself a servant at the Threshold of the Blessed Beauty and a manifestation of pure and utter servitude at the Threshold of the Almighty. He hath no other station or title, no other rank or power.”10

‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s ascension from this world on November 28, 1921 opened an entire new phase of development for the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh. It also triggered a crisis of transition that was to be resolved through two dynamic, divinely-potent elements: the wise, patient, steadfast guidance of the Greatest Holy Leaf Bahíyyih Khánum, and the Will and Testament left by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Himself, appointing his grandson Shoghi Effendi as the Guardian of the Cause of God.

 

NOTES

1 From “‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London”, Bahá’í Publishing Trust, pp. 118-119. It is also retold in “Stories from the Delight of Hearts”, by Ḥájí Mírzá Ḥaydar-ʻAlí.

2 Shoghi Effendi, “God Passes By”, p. 272.

3 Bahá’u’lláh, “Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh”, from the Lawh-i-Karmíl (Tablet of Carmel).

4 Shoghi Effendi, “God Passes By”, p. 279.

5 ibid.

6 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, “Promulgation of Universal Peace”, 135.

7 ibid.

8 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, “Tablets of the Divine Plan”, 7 (“Tablet to the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada”), Para. 7.

9 Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By [Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1957], pp. 405-406

10 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, “Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá”, 225, pp. 294-295.

Segment 15: Mastery: The Unfolding (Abdu’l-Baha “The Master”) – by Dana Paxson

Mastery: The Unfolding (Abdu’l-Baha “The Master”).pdf

In the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Bahá’u’lláh Himself directed humanity to turn, on His passing, to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá for understanding:

“O people of the world! When the Mystic Dove will have winged its flight from its Sanctuary of Praise and sought its far-off goal, its hidden habitation, refer ye whatsoever ye understand not in the Book to Him Who hath branched from this mighty Stock.”[1]

In a letter to some Bahá’ís in America, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá made clear His unique station and spelled out its purpose:

“You have written that there is a difference among the believers concerning the ‘Second Coming of Christ.’ Gracious God! Time and again this question hath arisen, and its answer hath emanated in a clear and irrefutable statement from the pen of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, that what is meant in the prophecies by the ‘Lord of Hosts’ and the ‘Promised Christ’ is the Blessed Perfection (Bahá’u’lláh) and His holiness the Exalted One (the Báb). My name is ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. My qualification is ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. My reality is ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. My praise is ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Thraldom to the Blessed Perfection is my glorious and refulgent diadem, and servitude to all the human race my perpetual religion… No name, no title, no mention, no commendation have I, nor will ever have, except ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. This is my longing. This is my greatest yearning. This is my eternal life. This is my everlasting glory.”[2]

One superior testimony to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s station and purpose is the staggering outpouring of His works, both before and throughout His service as the Center of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant from 1892 until His passing in 1921. This outpouring set forth the banquet of the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh for the entire human world at all levels and in all capacities. One all-too-brief summary is that of Moojan Momen:

“`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… 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[3] … `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”[4] … There is also a large body of literature consisting of pilgrims’ notes about their visit to `Abdu’l-Bahá.”[5]

‘Abdu’l-Bahá was born on May 23, 1844, just as the Báb was first declaring His mission to Mullá Husayn. In 1911, as He began His journeys in the West, He was suffering from appalling afflictions both physical and mental that had assailed Him during His 67-year life.

He had survived childhood tuberculosis; the traumas of His Father’s imprisonments; the desperate hardships of repeated exile; the repugnant, destructive, repeated betrayals by nearly all of His own family members of His Father, Himself, and the Covenant; and the vicious, heartless persecutions of the Ottoman Empire.

Yet despite all this, and as evidenced by His vast, lavish, and glorious output of wisdom in all His works, He held perfectly true to His own testimony as quoted earlier: “Thraldom to the Blessed Perfection is my glorious and refulgent diadem, and servitude to all the human race my perpetual religion…”.

No matter what topic came into His attention, He filled it with light and insight in His commentaries, often settling and resolving differences that had formerly caused contention among even the wisest. Two such commentaries, one written in His young years and one in the late stage of His adult life, deserve mention here, even as contemporary scholars work to render them for modern readers. They stand as examples of the treasures bestowed on us by the Master.

The first of these He wrote in His teens, in answer to a query in Baghdad by ‘Ali Shawkat Pashá. It is a commentary on the well-known Islamic tradition “I was a Hidden Treasure and loved to be known. Therefore I created the Creation that I might be known.”[6]This tradition evokes two of the Hidden Words, revealed by Bahá’u’lláh in Baghdad:

“O Son of Man!  Veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of My essence, I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty.”[7]

“O Son of Man!  I loved thy creation, hence I created thee. Wherefore, do thou love Me, that I may name thy name and fill thy soul with the spirit of life.”[8]

In ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s commentary on this single tradition, He selects just four terms for His comments: “Hidden Treasure”, “Love”, “Creation”, and “Knowledge”. The rich profusion of the knowledge He pours out in His commentary runs to over 35 pages in one provisional translation. In it He cites the Sufi mystics and poets, the traditions of Islam, and the Qur’an itself, concluding magnificently with His own poem introduced by these words (here translated provisionally) which are themselves evocative of Bahá’u’lláh’s Hidden Words:   

“Close the eye to all but the Friend and gaze upon the Beauty; purify the hearing from all utterance so that you may hear a wondrous tune from the flute of the family of David.”[9]

In the Hidden Words, Bahá’u’lláh wrote:

“… Blind thine eyes, that is, to all save My beauty; stop thine ears to all save My word; empty thyself of all learning save the knowledge of Me; that with a clear vision, a pure heart and an attentive ear thou mayest enter the court of My holiness.”[10]

The parallels of the words of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá here are striking evidence of their coherence in the Covenant even before ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was named its Center. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Himself can perhaps be seen now as a “Hidden Treasure” at the time he wrote this commentary.

The second of the commentaries of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá mentioned here as an example was likely written in ‘Akká after the Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh. Written in Ottoman Turkish, it is a commentary on the Islamic tradition “God doth give victory to this religion by means of a wicked man”[11] The translator, Necati Alkan, notes:

“In his commentary on this ḥadīth, ‘Abdu’l-Baha seems to ignore its negative context – the fact that the Prophet Muhammad referred to this person, though fighting alongside the Muslims, as one of the people of hell-fire (i.e. a person destined for hell) – and puts forth a more positive interpretation of the words ‘Inna’llāha yu’ayyidu hādhā’d-dīn bi-rajulin fājirin’ – ‘God doth give victory to this religion by means of a wicked man’. ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s tafsīr [commentary] here is in the Islamic tradition of giving the inner meaning (bāṭin) of the words.”[12]

In His commentary, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has reached into what appears to be the darkness of condemnation and from it has drawn divine illumination. From reading a provisional translation of His Tablet, one sees the Master penetrating the meanings to reveal praise and redemption for those who show heroism in advancing the Cause of God, irrespective of their outward allegiances. An excerpt from the translation, concerning the person identified in the hadith as “a wicked man”:

 “…he is the manifestation of the holy verse ‘He is fearing not the blame of any blamer[13]…’

“It is an illustrious person who with divine power distinguisheth pious deeds from evil acts, goodness from unseemliness, knowledge from ignorance, faith from unbelief, trustworthiness from treachery, the accepted from the rejected, guidance from the state of being astray, light from darkness, reality from metaphor, truthfulness from lie, loyalty from cruelty, and the upright from the hypocrite.”[14]

In this way the unique Center of the Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, on the opening threshold of a mighty Dispensation destined to last a half-million years, wafts away the clouds of past superstitions in a blaze of light, redemption, and fulfillment.

In this all-too-brief and inadequate segment, one hopes that some sense of the majestic, unprecedented, and unique station of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá emerges for readers. As He took a few words and phrases to unfold entire seas of wisdom flooding from His Father’s Dispensation, so we might consider immersing ourselves increasingly in these life-giving waters to elevate our beings, our lives, and the human world in general.

Our next segment focuses on the great journeys of the Master across the familiar seas of this world to open to all of humankind the far-greater seas of meaning of the infinitely-greater world.

 

NOTES

[1] Bahá’u’lláh, “The Most Holy Book” (Kitáb-i-Aqdas), para. 174.

[2] Quoted by Shoghi Effendi in “The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh”, p. 139.

[3] Shoghi Effendi, “Messages to the Bahá’í World”, 84.

[4] Shoghi Effendi, “God Passes By”, xv.

[5] From Moojan Momen, “’Abdu’l-Bahá”, VI. “Teachings and Writings of `Abdu’l-Bahá”, 2., at http://bahai-library.com/momen_encyclopedia_abdulbaha .

[6] One of the most-famous and beloved of traditions in Islam, this is considered a hadíth-i-qudsí, meaning a rendering of God’s words through Muhammad presented as a tradition.

[7] Bahá’u’lláh, “The Hidden Words”, Arabic No. 3.

[8] Ibid., Arabic No. 4.

[9] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Commentary on the Islamic Tradition “I Was a Hidden Treasure…”’, Moojan Momen, translator, p. 34 just before the concluding verses, at http://bahai-library.com/abdulbaha_kuntu_kanzan_makhfiyyan .

[10] Bahá’u’lláh, “The Hidden Words”, from Persian No. 11.

[11] Taken from a lengthier narrative. In an article in Baha’i Studies Review 11 (2003) 53–57 offering the provisional translation, Necati Alkan notes, “The hadith (tradition) in question is from Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhārī, which is regarded by Sunni Muslims as the most reliable of the compilations of Islamic traditions.”

[12] Necati Alkan, “‘Abdu’l-Baha’s commentary on the Islamic tradition: ‘God doth give victory to this religion by means of a wicked man’ – a provisional translation and notes”, Baha’i Studies Review 11 (2003) 53–57, at http://www.academia.edu/1496185 .

[13] The Qurán, Chapter 5 (“The Table Spread”), from Verse 54. One is put in mind here of the marvelous passage from the Persian Bayán of the Báb, found in “Selections from the Writings of the Báb”, beginning: “Worship thou God in such wise that if thy worship lead thee to the fire, no alteration in thine adoration would be produced, and so likewise if thy recompense should be paradise. Thus and thus alone should be the worship which befitteth the one True God.”

[14] Alkan, op. cit.

Segment 14: Crisis: The Emergence (‘Abdu’l-Baha assumes His station) -by Dana Paxson

Crisis: The Emergence (‘Abdu’l-Baha assumes His station).pdf

On May 29th, 1892, Bahá’u’lláh the Manifestation of God passed from earthly limitation and existence. In the face of powerful and bitter opposition, first from within His family and then from the Ottoman Empire, His Son ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the Center of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant, assumed His station.

The crisis of this transition was profound and far-reaching:

“The immediate effect of the ascension of Bahá’u’lláh had been… to spread grief and bewilderment among His followers and companions, and to inspire its vigilant and redoubtable adversaries with fresh hope and renewed determination. At a time when a grievously traduced Faith had triumphantly emerged from the two severest crises it had ever known, one the work of enemies without, the other the work of enemies within, when its prestige had risen to a height unequalled in any period during its fifty-year existence, the unerring Hand which had shaped its destiny ever since its inception was suddenly removed, leaving a gap which friend and foe alike believed could never again be filled.

“Yet, as the appointed Center of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant and the authorized Interpreter of His teaching had Himself later explained, the dissolution of the tabernacle wherein the soul of the Manifestation of God had chosen temporarily to abide signalized its release from the restrictions which an earthly life had, of necessity, imposed upon it. Its influence no longer circumscribed by any physical limitations, its radiance no longer beclouded by its human temple, that soul could henceforth energize the whole world to a degree unapproached at any stage in the course of its existence on this planet.”[1]

Shoghi Effendi makes clear the forces at work in the family:

“The true ground of this crisis was the burning, the uncontrollable, the soul-festering jealousy which the admitted preeminence of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in rank, power, ability, knowledge and virtue, above all the other members of His Father’s family, had aroused not only in Mírzá Muḥammad-‘Alí, the archbreaker of the Covenant, but in some of his closest relatives as well.”[2]

 It seemed to these wayward souls that the opportunity for seizing control of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh was ripe. A child who loses a beloved, revered, and respected father in the everyday world suffers a deep wound of loss, confusion, and despair. For a steadily-growing world community of believers and sympathizers who saw Bahá’u’lláh as a Father far greater than any worldly parent, the wound of His permanent departure from their midst was overwhelming.

“Methinks, the spiritual commotion set up in the world of dust had caused all the worlds of God to tremble.… My inner and outer tongue are powerless to portray the condition we were in.… In the midst of the prevailing confusion a multitude of the inhabitants of ‘Akká and of the neighboring villages, that had thronged the fields surrounding the Mansion, could be seen weeping, beating upon their heads, and crying aloud their grief.”[3]

Nabíl himself, the esteemed author of “The Dawn-Breakers” and utterly devoted to Bahá’u’lláh, found himself beyond the reach of any comfort or consolation. Soon after writing these words he drowned himself in the sea near ‘Akká. Of him ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote:

“Throughout all his life, from earliest youth till he was feeble and old, he spent his time serving and worshiping the Lord. He bore hardships, he lived through misfortunes, he suffered afflictions. From the lips of the Manifestation he heard marvelous things. He was shown the lights of Paradise; he won his dearest wish.  And at the end, when the Daystar of the world had set, he could endure no more, and flung himself into the sea. The waters of sacrifice closed over him; he was drowned, and he came, at last, to the Most High.”[4]

Into the sorrow, confusion, and lethargy of all those in shock paraded the opportunists led by Mírzá Muhammad-‘Alí. They wasted no time and overlooked no chance or weapon in their machinations. The list of their maneuverings and manipulations is too long for this brief segment, but mentioning three of these wrongs will give a general idea. Shoghi Effendi states, “these repudiators of a divinely-established Covenant arose, as one man, to launch a campaign of abuse and vilification which compared in virulence with the infamous accusations which Mírzá Yaḥyá and Siyyid Muḥammad had jointly levelled at Bahá’u’lláh.”[5] Later in the same passage, regarding Mírzá Muhammad-‘Alí, is this: “He it was who… had, while Bahá’u’lláh’s body was still awaiting interment, carried off, by a ruse, the two satchels containing his Father’s most precious documents, entrusted by Him, prior to His ascension, to ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá.”[6] And this: “He it was who, by an exceedingly adroit and simple forgery of a word recurring in some of the denunciatory passages addressed by the Supreme Pen to Mírzá Yaḥyá, and by other devices such as mutilation and interpolation, had succeeded in making them directly applicable to a Brother Whom he hated with such consuming passion.”[7]

The schemes gathered force and appeared to have major effects, generating considerable confusion, alarm, and schism among Bahá’ís and others alike. But ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, facing the pitiless onslaught against the Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, against the community of steadfast Bahá’ís, and against Himself, withstood all the attacks and subversions, writing His first message to Bahá’ís all over the Ottoman Empire and beyond. In it we find this:

“The world’s great Light, once resplendent upon all mankind has set, to shine everlastingly from the Abhá Horizon, His Kingdom of fadeless glory, shedding splendor upon His loved ones from on high, and breathing into their hearts and souls the breath of eternal life.

“O ye beloved of the Lord! Beware, beware, lest ye hesitate and waver. Let not fear fall upon you, neither be troubled nor dismayed. Take ye good heed lest this calamitous day slacken the flames of your ardour, and quench your tender hopes. To-day is the day for steadfastness and constancy. Blessed are they that stand firm and immovable as the rock, and brave the storm and stress of this tempestuous hour.”[8]

In our taking-in of these lessons of history, we remember the costs to the Master, who spread His wings over us all. In His Will and Testament, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá draws back the curtain concealing the pain and anguish that afflicted Him throughout His life:

“Sore trials have compassed me round and perils have from all sides beset me. Thou seest me immersed in a sea of unsurpassed tribulation, sunk into a fathomless abyss, afflicted by mine enemies and consumed with the flame of their hate, enkindled by my kinsmen with whom Thou didst make Thy strong Covenant and Thy firm Testament, wherein Thou biddest them turn their hearts to this wronged one, to keep away from me the foolish, the unjust, and refer unto this lonely one all that about which they differ in Thy Holy Book, so that the Truth may be revealed unto them, their doubts may be dispelled and Thy manifest Signs be spread abroad.”[9]

We see today the results and effects of this crisis: the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, its energies incomparably multiplied by the Ascension of its Founder, stands in lasting splendor, and the workings of its enemies lie in shards and ruins. Once ‘Abdu’l-Bahá took His place as the Center of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant, the world began to receive an unprecedented flood of divine knowledge testifying both to the uniqueness of His station and to the vast potency of His Father’s Revelation.

NOTES

[1] Shoghi Effendi, “God Passes By”, Chapter XV, p. 244. This entire chapter offers us a definitive account of the drama in the family of Bahá’u’lláh that was occasioned by His passing.

[2] ibid., p. 246.

[3] Nabíl-i-Azám, quoted in “God Passes By”, Chapter XIII, p. 222. Also found in H. M. Balyuzi, “’Abdu’l-Bahá: The Center of the Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh”, p. 48.

[4] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, “Memorials of the Faithful”, pp. 35-36.

[5] “God Passes By”, p. 248.

[6] ibid., p. 249.

[7] ibid., p. 249.

[8] From ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, quoted in “’Abdu’l-Bahá: The Center of the Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh”, p. 48, taken in turn from Lady Bloomfield, “The Chosen Highway”, pp. 110-111.

[9] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, “The Will And Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá”, from the first paragraph.

Segment 13: Service: the Early Signs (‘Abdu’l-Bahá attending Bahá’u’lláh) – by Dana Paxson

Service: the Early Signs (‘Abdu’l-Bahá attending Bahá’u’lláh).pdf

Bahá’u’lláh increasingly relies upon ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, setting the stage for His Son’s unique role as the Center of His Covenant.

In this series of four presentations, our view is toward the human interplay that characterizes the life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá from His early life onward, and testifies to His fulfillment of His role as the Center of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant. An intimate glimpse of His childhood, offered to us in His own words and taking place not long before the Conference of Badasht in 1848, sets the stage:

“One day the great Siyyid Yaḥyá, surnamed Vaḥíd, was present there. As he sat without, Ṭáhirih listened to him from behind the veil. I was then a child, and was sitting on her lap. With eloquence and fervor, Vaḥíd was discoursing on the signs and verses that bore witness to the advent of the new Manifestation. She suddenly interrupted him and, raising her voice, vehemently declared:

‘O Yaḥyá! Let deeds, not words, testify to thy faith, if thou art a man of true learning. Cease idly repeating the traditions of the past, for the day of service, of steadfast action, is come. Now is the time to show forth the true signs of God, to rend asunder the veils of idle fancy, to promote the Word of God, and to sacrifice ourselves in His path. Let deeds, not words, be our adorning!”’[1]

‘Abdu’l-Bahá was at the time three years old, sitting on the lap of Táhirih, the woman who was to become an emblem of emancipation for women, and who was martyred shortly afterwards in Tihrán.

This child, destined to become the Center of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant, endured hardships that would crush ordinary souls under their burdens.

“He was only eight years old when – in the wake of a desperate and futile attempt on the life of Násiri’d-Dín Sháh by two half-crazed men – Bahá’u’lláh was imprisoned, and the Bábís were ferociously persecuted. Bahá’u’lláh’s house was pillaged, His lands and goods were confiscated, and His family reduced from opulence to penury. One day, while in Europe, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá recalled the sufferings of those bleak times:

‘Detachment does not imply lack of means; it is marked by the freedom of the heart. In Tihrán, we possessed everything at a nightfall, and on the morrow we were shorn of it all, to the extent that we had no food to eat. I was hungry, but there was no bread to be had. My mother poured some flour into the palm of my hand, and I ate that instead of bread. Yet, we were contented.’

“And again:

‘At that time of dire calamities and attacks mounted by the enemies I was a child of nine [reckoned by lunar years]. They threw so many stones into our house that the courtyard was crammed with them… Mother took us for safety to another quarter, and rented a house in a back alley where she kept us indoors and looked after us. But one day our means of subsistence were barely adequate, and mother told me to go to my aunt’s house, and ask her to find us a few qíráns [silver coins]… I went and my aunt did what she could for us. She tied a five-qírán piece in a handkerchief and gave it to me. On my way home someone recognize me and shouted: ‘Here is a Bábí’; whereupon the children in the street chased me. I found refuge in the entrance to a house… There I stayed until nightfall, and when I came out, I was once again pursued by the children who kept yelling at me and pelted me with stones… When I reached home I was exhausted. Mother wanted to know what had happened to me. I could not utter a word and collapsed.’”[2]

The horror, filth, and danger of Bahá’u’lláh’s imprisonment in the Síyáh-Chál during that time is well-documented and vividly described. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Himself witnessed it:

“One day ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, anxious to see His Father, was taken to the dungeon. This is His account of that awesome visit:

‘They sent me with a black servant to His blessed presence in the prison. The warders indicated the cell, and the servant carried me in on his shoulders. I saw a dark, steep place. We entered a small, narrow doorway, and went down two steps, but beyond those one could see nothing. In the middle of the stairway, all of a sudden we heard His blessed voice:

‘Do not bring him in here’, and so they took me back. We sat outside, waiting for the prisoners to be led out. Suddenly they brought the Blessed Perfection out of the dungeon. He was chained to several others. What a chain! It was very heavy. The prisoners could only move it along with great difficulty. Sad and heart-rending it was.’” [3]

Even for us, as adults in this long remove from history, the story of Bahá’u’lláh’s bitter confinement in this terrible place evokes great sorrow. For His own Son, a sensitive child of eight, to witness it personally is for us unimaginable. Such events forge themselves in a youthful witness forever.

The workings of fate or destiny, the patterns of events, whatever term one uses for the interwoven streams of life, had brought ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to this point, and as He looked back much later on that moment, its antecedents, and its sequels, the grandeur and beauty of its awful weight emerged from His words as He spoke in Paris of His early life:

“Were it not for this illness I would not have stayed in Paris more than a month. There is a reason for this… It has been so from the early years of my life. The wisdom of what has happened to me has become apparent later. While I was a child in Tihrán, seven years of age, I contracted tuberculosis. There was no hope of recovery. Afterwards the wisdom of and the reason for this became apparent. Were it not for that illness I would have been in Mázindarán [the province of Bahá’u’lláh’s ancestral home]. But because of it I remained in Tihrán and was there when the Blessed Perfection was imprisoned. Thus I travelled to ‘Iráq in His company. And when the time came, although physicians had despaired of my recovery, I was suddenly cured…”[4]

The signs of the unique, ascendant station of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá continued to accumulate in His youth. After Bahá’u’lláh withdrew into seclusion in the mountains during the turmoils raised by the Covenant-Breakers of the time, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, by then in His teens in Baghdad, wrote at the request of ‘Alí Shawkat Pashá an astonishing treatise: ‘Commentary on the Islamic Tradition “I was a Hidden Treasure…” (Tafsír-i-Hadith-i-Kuntu Kanzan Makhfíyyan)’. The translator notes:

“It takes the form of a commentary on a number of key expressions out of the famous Islamic Tradition: “I was a Hidden Treasure and loved to be known. Therefore I created the Creation that I might be known.” This Tradition is one of that class of Traditions, called Hadíth-i Qudsí, wherein, although the Tradition itself is traced back; to Muhammad, it appears to be God Himself who is speaking in the words of the Tradition. The four words or phrases chosen by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá are: “Hidden Treasure”, “Love”, “Creation”, and “Knowledge”. We can surmise that ‘Alí Shawkat Pashá was a Sufi and an admirer of the writings of Ibn ‘Arabí, for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s commentary is replete with allusions to themes in the works of that famous Muslim mystic and philosopher.”[5]

This amazing commentary, with its insights, its power, and its eloquence, sets firmly in place a profound element of evidence for us as to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s station, wherein He was identified by Bahá’u’lláh Himself, upon Bahá’u’lláh’s return from seclusion, as the “Mystery of God”. In Shoghi Effendi’s words, referring to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:

“He alone had been accorded the privilege of being called “the Master,” an honor from which His Father had strictly excluded all His other sons. Upon Him that loving and unerring Father had chosen to confer the unique title of “Sirru’lláh” (the Mystery of God), a designation so appropriate to One Who, though essentially human and holding a station radically and fundamentally different from that occupied by Bahá’u’lláh and His Forerunner, could still claim to be the perfect Exemplar of His Faith, to be endowed with super-human knowledge, and to be regarded as the stainless mirror reflecting His light. To Him…”[6]

Finally, to frame ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s utterly-selfless service to Bahá’u’lláh during the lifetime of the Blessed Beauty, we see this touching observation by Bahá’u’lláh Himself:

“In Adrianople We met many people, but in the Most Great Prison, We seldom receive visitors who are not believers. The burden of all these affairs has fallen upon the shoulders of the Master. To provide Us with some peace and comfort, He has made Himself Our shield, and thus He sees to Our affairs both with the government and the people. He first prepared for Us the house at Mazra’ih, and then He procured this Mansion in Bahjí. He is so devoted to His services and so intensely occupied that sometimes weeks pass by and He cannot come here to visit Us. While We consort with the friends and reveal Tablets, He is immersed in the toils and troubles of the world.”[7]

Here one sees the Center of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant hard at work, deep in the vital and everyday affairs of the Cause on behalf of the living Manifestation of God. Next we will encounter the great crisis of transition: the Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh and the flow of events released by it.

 

[1] Memorials of the Faithful
[2] Unrestrained as the Wind: A Life Dedicated to Bahá’u’lláh. Also, Balyuzi, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá 9—12
[3] Ibid
[4] ‘Abdu’l-Baha, The Centre of the Covenant of Baha’u’llah by H. M. Balyuzi
[5] Commentary on the Islamic Tradition “I Was a Hidden Treasure…” by Abdu’l-Bahá
translated by Moojan Momen.
published in Bahá’í Studies Bulletin, 3:4, pages 4-35. 1995-12
originally written as “Tafsír-i-Hadith-i-Kuntu Kanzan Makhfíyyan”.
[6] Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, pp. 241-245
[7] Stories from The Delight of Hearts: The Memoirs of Hájí Mírzá Haydar-’Alí, By Abyʼl-Qásim Faizí p. 106

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