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