239 Days in America, Day 227: November 23, 1912 | New York
The Spark That Set Aflame the World: 1912-1918 1
“WILL THE PRESENT WAR in the Balkans,” a New Yorker asked ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, “terminate in the world war?’” “No,” he answered, “but within two years a spark will rise from the Balkans and set the whole world on fire.”
One of the main reasons ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had come to the United States was to warn about an imminent European war, and to push Americans to rally to prevent it. “Just now Europe is a battlefield of ammunition ready to spark,” he told a peace forum meeting in New York on May 12, “and one spark will set aflame the whole world.” After he visited Niagara Falls on September 10, the Buffalo Courier recorded him saying, “The continent of Europe is one vast arsenal which only requires one spark at its foundations and the whole of Europe will become a wasted wilderness.” Throughout his journey ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had argued that America, because it had no empire to protect, was uniquely positioned to call other nations to peace. …
‘Abdu’l-Bahá left New York aboard the SS Celtic on December 5, 1912. He arrived in Liverpool, England, on December 13, 1912, traveled through England, France, Austria-Hungary, and Germany for six months, then returned to Egypt. He did not finally arrive home in Haifa until December 5, 1913, a full year after leaving America. Within eight months, Europe was burning.
Final Days in America: New York City 2
The days of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit were passing quickly. A farewell banquet was planned on November 23 at the Great Northern Hotel, where Howard Colby Ives estimated there were six hundred, and Mahmúd, three hundred, present. The banquet hall was regal with festoons, banners, and flowers, the crystal glistening beneath the lights. The Master spoke of the oneness of mankind to the white Bahá’ís. The next night, at the Kinneys’, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the white friends served the black friends whom the hotel management had vehemently excluded the night before. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, “‘Today you have shown the Commandments of the Blessed Beauty in your actions and have acted according to the teachings of the Supreme Pen.’”
He encouraged all towards peace, harmony and sincere love for all the people of the world. 3
The friends arranged a banquet in commemoration of the Day of the Covenant and the journey of the beloved of all hearts. Today many came to the Master with bouquets of flowers in their hands. The banquet was held in the ballroom of New York’s Grand Northern Hotel. The hall was decorated similarly to that in Washington with festoons, banners, ornaments and exquisite screens, with the Greatest Name suspended above all on the stage in its customary calligraphy.
In the center of the ballroom were two rectangular tables, between which was another large table exquisitely set. Around these tables on both sides were placed small circular tables bedecked with colorful flowers, a variety of sweets and crystal glassware. The electric lighting reflected the glassware and caused the whole room to shine brilliantly. More than three hundred guests, formally attired, attended. Several friends and specifically Miss Lany Lead served at the banquet.
When the Master appeared, all rose from their seats and with smiling faces cried out, ‘Alláh-u-Abhá!’ Many of the hotel guests saw the banquet and were astonished to see the grandeur of the Master and the sincerity and enthusiasm of the friends. After the Master took His seat, Mr Hoar, on behalf of the Bahá’ís, read an address of welcome expressing obedience and firmness in the Covenant. The Master rose and responded with an address about the divine teachings and the oneness of humanity. He then walked around the tables and perfumed the heads and faces of the friends with attar of rose. When He returned to His chair, the friends, accompanied by the piano, sang songs of praise to Him.
Later the Master spoke about the wars and massacres of the nations and the need for the teachings of the Greatest Name. He encouraged all towards peace, harmony and sincere love for all the people of the world. After His talk, the Consul General, Mr Topakyan, and others gave short speeches praising ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
This evening’s banquet was so grand that the hotel staff were curious to know about the Cause. They came to see the Master to ask about the banquet and why so many distinguished Americans were praising and glorifying a person from the East. Indeed, it was a banquet for a king and a source of awakening to every person of insight.
Two photographs were taken with a good quality glass and special lighting. Although the photographs do not show the entire group, they tell much about the banquet.
Talk at Banquet, Great Northern Hotel, 118 West Fifty-seventh Street, New York 4
Throughout the world there are innumerable meetings and assemblages, more or less important according to their measure of contribution to human betterment, yet limited in their purpose and object to material questions and outcomes. They are political, commercial or educational in character; they seek to promote economic advancement, further agricultural purposes, encourage scientific research and assist discoveries; they provide for the establishment of new institutions, plan financial measures and agree upon laws of civic and social control. Such meetings are useful, but their influence and intention do not extend beyond the material welfare and government of mankind—that is to say, they serve material civilization.
This meeting of yours tonight is very different in character. It is a universal gathering; it is heavenly and divine in purpose because it serves the oneness of the world of humanity and promotes international peace. It is devoted to the solidarity and brotherhood of the human race, the spiritual welfare of mankind, unity of religious belief through knowledge of God and the reconciliation of religious teaching with the principles of science and reason. It promotes love and fraternity among all humankind, seeks to abolish and destroy barriers which separate the human family, proclaims the equality of man and woman, instills divine precepts and morals, illumines and quickens minds with heavenly perception, attracts the infinite bestowals of God, removes racial, national and religious prejudices and establishes the foundation of the heavenly Kingdom in the hearts of all nations and peoples. The effect of such an assembly as this is conducive to divine fellowship and strengthening of the bond which cements and unifies hearts. This is the indestructible bond of spirit which conjoins the East and West. By it the very foundations of race prejudice are uprooted and destroyed, the banner of spiritual democracy is hoisted aloft, the world of religion is purified from superannuated beliefs and hereditary imitations of forms, and the oneness of the reality underlying all religions is revealed and disclosed. For such a meeting is established upon the very foundation of the laws of God. Therefore, in its constraining spiritual bond it unites all religions and reconciles all sects, denominations and factions in kindliness and love toward each other. In this way and by the instrumentality of such a gathering the causes of animosity, hatred and bigotry are removed, and enmity and discord pass away entirely. Every limiting and restricting movement or meeting of mere personal interest is human in nature. Every universal movement unlimited in scope and purpose is divine. The Cause of God is advanced whenever and wherever a universal meeting is established among mankind.
Therefore, endeavor that your attitudes and intentions here tonight be universal and altruistic in nature. Consecrate and devote yourselves to the betterment and service of all the human race. Let no barrier of ill feeling or personal prejudice exist between these souls, for when your motives are universal and your intentions heavenly in character, when your aspirations are centered in the Kingdom, there is no doubt whatever that you will become the recipients of the bounty and good pleasure of God.
This meeting is, verily, the noblest and most worthy of all meetings in the world because of these underlying spiritual and universal purposes. Such a banquet and assemblage command the sincere devotion of all present and invite the downpouring of the blessings of God. Therefore, be ye assured and confident that the confirmations of God are descending upon you, the assistance of God will be given unto you, the breaths of the Holy Spirit will quicken you with a new life, the Sun of Reality will shine gloriously upon you, and the fragrant breezes of the rose gardens of divine mercy will waft through the windows of your souls. Be ye confident and steadfast; your services are confirmed by the powers of heaven, for your intentions are lofty, your purposes pure and worthy. God is the helper of those souls whose aim is to serve humanity and whose efforts and endeavors are devoted to the good and betterment of all mankind.
- Jones, Caitlin Shayda. “The Spark That Set Aflame the World: 1912-1918.” 239 Days in America, 23 Nov. 2012, https://239days.com/2012/11/23/the-spark-that-set-aflame-the-world-1912-1918/. [return]
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 187. [return]
- ’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=9#section245 [return]
- 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, 447-448. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/32#458842220 [return]