‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Modern American History 1
… Around the world there are millions of people — from every country, language, and background — for whom ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s example is central to their lives. But by American historians he appears to have been left out.
I believe the reasons have to do partly with the way historians approach their craft and partly with the way ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s story has been told across the century. …
Over the last eight months, we have attempted to establish a narrative about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that embeds him in the rich context of American life in 1912, told in a language crafted for a broad audience. We have sought to present ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as an original voice, who engaged Americans of all kinds in conversations about the way they understood themselves and their place in the world, instead of primarily as a religious figure for a particular community. We have found that this approach reveals ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s American discourse to have been far more nuanced and complex than we imagined. Paradoxically, understanding how ‘Abdu’l-Bahá engaged deeply with the specifics of America in 1912, and placing him in the detailed context of time and place, makes him more relevant — not less — to the challenges America faces today.
Final Days in America: New York City
It was on Monday, December 2—the day the newspapers announced Sarah Bernhardt’s arrival in New York to start a vaudeville tour—that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá summed up how the friends must be:
These are the days of my farewell to you for I am sailing on the fifth of the month. … I must therefore give you my instructions and exhortations today and there are none other than the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. … 2
In brief, let each one of you be as a lamp shining forth with the light of the virtues of the world of humanity. Be trustworthy, sincere, affectionate and replete with chastity. Be illumined, be spiritual, be divine, be glorious, be quickened of God, be a Baha’i. 3
May you become evident signs of the Blessed Beauty and proofs of the reality of Bahá’u’lláh so that you may illuminate the world. 4
After the Master had finished His morning prayers, the friends began to come to visit Him such that by midday the Master’s residence was filled with people. He went downstairs and spoke to them:
I have stayed a long time with you in New York. My stay in other towns has not been a tenth as long. I have met with you day and night, individually and collectively; conveyed to you the admonitions of Bahá’u’lláh; delivered to you the heavenly glad tidings; and explained the means of human progress. I have elucidated the harmful effects of prejudices and imitations and the impurity of selfish desires, expounded the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh and clarified the meanings of the divine proofs and questions.
The time for my departure is near and I am making arrangements for the voyage. Therefore I shall not be able to attend every meeting, so I shall bid you farewell. I am pleased with you and grateful for your services. Truly, you have shown great kindness and extended to me the utmost hospitality. I supplicate to the Kingdom of Bahá’u’lláh to shower upon you His assistance and confirmations so that day by day you may be more assisted to defend the rights of Bahá’u’lláh, that your hearts may become more enlightened, your morals heavenly, your souls transported with joy and your conduct proof of your faith and certitude. May you be in the utmost sanctity, be completely attracted and turned to the Abhá Kingdom and become like brilliant lights. May you become evident signs of the Blessed Beauty and proofs of the reality of Bahá’u’lláh so that you may illuminate the world. And when people look at your deeds and conduct they will see the traces of holiness and severance and will behold heavenly brightness in you and all will testify that ‘these people are truly proofs of the reality of Bahá’u’lláh’, and that ‘Bahá’u’lláh is undoubtedly the Sun of Truth who has educated these people through His power’. May they see divine lights in your behavior, find the signs of the love of God, observe praiseworthy conduct in you and seek the virtues of the world of man within you. You must each become the proclaimer of truth and shine from the horizon of the world of humanity like brilliant stars. This is what is meant by defending the rights of Bahá’u’lláh; this is the purpose of the Blessed Beauty in suffering afflictions and accepting confinement in the Most Great Prison. He bore all afflictions and difficulties and ascended to the Kingdom of God a prisoner so that we would act according to His teachings and arise and carry out that which is consistent with faithfulness; that we may act upon His exhortation and raise the call of the Abhá Kingdom and proclaim the light of the bounties of truth, so that the waves of the Most Great Ocean may surge high, this world may become the mirror of the world above, this bed of thorns may turn into a flower garden and this region of dust may reflect the All-Glorious Paradise.
In the afternoon He said:
We have sown some seeds and hope that the sun of favor will shine upon them, the rain of mercy will pour down, and the breezes of generosity will waft over them, because America has receptivity.
In the evening, He spoke to a gathering of the friends and said:
I supplicate and implore that the clouds of mercy may shower upon you and the Sun of Truth may shine upon you so that you may attain to the purpose of the holy Manifestations of God. This is my supplication because you are the beloved ones of the Blessed Beauty and the servants of the Greatest Name. I undertook this voyage in order to see you and, God willing, you will come to the Holy Land and we shall meet there in that land which was trodden by the sacred feet of the Prophets of God.
Talk at Home of Mr. and Mrs. Edward B. Kinney, 780 West End Avenue, New York 5
I will speak to you concerning the special teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. All the divine principles announced by the tongue of the Prophets of the past are to be found in the words of Bahá’u’lláh; but in addition to these He has revealed certain new teachings which are not found in any of the sacred Books of former times. I shall mention some of them; the others, which are many in number, may be found in the Books, Tablets and Epistles written by Bahá’u’lláh—such as the Hidden Words, the Glad Tidings, the Words of Paradise, Tajallíyát, Ṭarázát and others. Likewise, in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas there are new teachings which cannot be found in any of the past Books or Epistles of the Prophets.
A fundamental teaching of Bahá’u’lláh is the oneness of the world of humanity. Addressing mankind, He says, “Ye are all leaves of one tree and the fruits of one branch.” By this it is meant that the world of humanity is like a tree, the nations or peoples are the different limbs or branches of that tree, and the individual human creatures are as the fruits and blossoms thereof. In this way Bahá’u’lláh expressed the oneness of humankind, whereas in all religious teachings of the past the human world has been represented as divided into two parts: one known as the people of the Book of God, or the pure tree, and the other the people of infidelity and error, or the evil tree. The former were considered as belonging to the faithful, and the others to the hosts of the irreligious and infidel—one part of humanity the recipients of divine mercy, and the other the object of the wrath of their Creator. Bahá’u’lláh removed this by proclaiming the oneness of the world of humanity, and this principle is specialized in His teachings, for He has submerged all mankind in the sea of divine generosity. Some are asleep; they need to be awakened. Some are ailing; they need to be healed. Some are immature as children; they need to be trained. But all are recipients of the bounty and bestowals of God.
- Menon, Jonathan. “‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Modern American History.” 239 Days in America, 2 Dec. 2012, https://239days.com/2012/12/02/abdul-baha-in-american-history/. [return]
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 191. [return]
- Ibid, 192. [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=10#section254 [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, 453-454. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/33#416617759 [return]