Speaking Persian in America 1

On Sunday, June 30, 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá traveled by car through the countryside to Morristown, New Jersey. Mr. [Haozoun Hohannes ] Topakyan had invited him and his attendants for a barbecue. The consul sported a Western suit with a jacket that draped past his belly. He didn’t wear a fez, unlike the Persians who joined him, but kept an imperial mustache that curled slightly upwards. He was known for his “Oriental barbecues,” as The New York Times called them, at which an entire lamb was roasted and served on a bronze and gold table.

Mr. Topakyan was gracious when he thought it was warranted. On June 30 he refused to sit without ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s permission. Topakyan had invited several reporters to come and speak with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. After they had eaten lunch, a photographer came and took ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s picture.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá met with Mr. Topakyan on several more occasions, and kept in touch with him for years after he left America. One of his letters reads: “I will pray for you and Madame so that the Doors of the Kingdom of God, be always open before your faces and the Infinite Divine bestowals may descend upon you uninterruptedly so that according to the statement of Christ you may be of those who are chosen and not of those who are called.”

New Jersey: The Unity Feast 2

‘Abdu’l-Bahá left Montclair at 8:30 A.M. on Saturday, June 29, and, after transferring to four different streetcars, arrived at Roy Wilhelm’s home in West Englewood, New Jersey. This was the large outdoor gathering—the Unity Feast—to which Abdu’l-Bahá had invited the friends before he left New York. He rested as the friends arrived and sat in a circle in the shade of the large trees. Then He spoke to individuals as He walked among them. Addressing the entire group He said, “This is a new Day and this hour is a new Hour in which we have come together… . True Bahai meetings are the mirrors of the kingdom wherein images of the Supreme Concourse are reflected… . First, you must become united and agreed among yourselves… .

Talk at Unity Feast, Outdoors, West Englewood, New Jersey 3

First, you must become united and agreed among yourselves. You must be exceedingly kind and loving toward each other, willing to forfeit life in the pathway of another’s happiness. You must be ready to sacrifice your possessions in another’s behalf. The rich among you must show compassion toward the poor, and the well-to-do must look after those in distress. In Persia the friends offer their lives for each other, striving to assist and advance the interests and welfare of all the rest. They live in a perfect state of unity and agreement. Like the Persian friends you must be perfectly agreed and united to the extent and limit of sacrificing life. Your utmost desire must be to confer happiness upon each other. Each one must be the servant of the others, thoughtful of their comfort and welfare. In the path of God one must forget himself entirely. He must not consider his own pleasure but seek the pleasure of others. He must not desire glory nor gifts of bounty for himself but seek these gifts and blessings for his brothers and sisters. It is my hope that you may become like this, that you may attain to the supreme bestowal and be imbued with such spiritual qualities as to forget yourselves entirely and with heart and soul offer yourselves as sacrifices for the Blessed Perfection. You should have neither will nor desire of your own but seek everything for the beloved of God and live together in complete love and fellowship. May the favors of Bahá’u’lláh surround you from all directions. This is the greatest bestowal and supreme bounty. These are the infinite favors of God.

New Jersey: The Unity Feast 4

When He had finished, the meal was ready; but just as it was announced, thunder was heard, and large raindrops began to fall. Abdu’l-Bahá walked to the road, taking a chair, and several friends grouped around Him. As He sat, His face turned upward, a strong wind began to blow, the clouds began to disperse, and the sun shown through. Then He rose and walked back into the grove. After the meal of Persian food Abdu’l-Bahá anointed the two hundred fifty guests with attar of roses. After dark, as the friends sat on the lawn with candles, Abdu’l-Bahá spoke, ending as He walked into darkness, “Peace be with you. I will pray for you.” 5

What are the new teachings of this Cause that are not to be found in the other great religions? 6

There were two more meetings: one in the afternoon and the other in the evening in Englewood for some of the friends who were not able to take part in the first meeting. They took their seats in the garden adjoining Mr Wilhelm’s house, sitting on chairs and benches in rows. After a short walk, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá joined the visitors, sat down among them and requested the chanting of a prayer. He then spoke eloquently, encouraging the friends to spread the fragrances of God. As He was about to leave, one of the seekers asked Him, ‘What are the new teachings of this Cause that are not to be found in the other great religions?’ The Master stood in the center of the garden and summoned all to come near. They came and stood in two rows. The Master walked between the rows and spoke. His explanation was so magnificent that everyone was astonished. During His discourse a carriage and automobile passed near by. As they neared the gathering and saw ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the carriage passengers stopped, alighted and they, too, heard His speech and were attracted to the teachings. The Master described, one by one, the teachings of the Manifestation: the unity of humankind, universal peace, association with all religions, forgiveness of enemies, the prohibition of cursing foes, the equality of rights of men and women, the establishment of the House of Justice and the International Tribunal, compulsory education for both boys and girls, the prohibition of wars between nations and governments, and the harm of all forms of prejudice, be they racial, religious, sectarian, patriotic, political and so on. He spoke on these teachings extensively and in detail. At the end, He asked the audience whether these principles had been brought by past religious dispensations and recorded in their books. They all responded ‘No’. The inquirer was so overwhelmed that he clapped his hands in delight, expressing his joy and gratitude.

  1. Jones, Caitlin Shayda. “Speaking Persian in America.” 239 Days in America, 29 June 2012, https://239days.com/2012/06/29/speaking-persian-in-america/. [return]
  2. Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 102. [return]
  3. ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ʻAbduʼl-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Edited by Howard MacNutt. 2nd ed. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1982, 215. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/15#477829896 [return]
  4. Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 102-103. [return]
  5. Thompson, Juliet. The Diary of Juliet Thompson. Edited by Marzieh Gail. 1st ed. 1947. Reprint, Los Angeles: Kalimát Press, 1983, 324.https://bahai-library.com/thompson_diary&chapter=4. [return]
  6. ’Abdu’l-Bahá, and Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. https://bahai-library.com/zarqani_mahmuds_diary&chapter=4#section96 [return]