Detachment from personal wealth paired with generosity to others are twin virtues demonstrated by the Master throughout His life and there are legions of stories on the subject. Juliet Thompson recounts the following of His visit to Switzerland:
Just as we were entering the inn a little group of peasant children, bunches of violets in their hands to sell, pressed around Abdul-Baha. They did not seem to see the rest of us. I can still see the dull little peasant faces raised wonderingly to that face – the outstretched hands full of violets. He took from his pocket a handful of francs and gave to them abundantly. How he gives – gives – gives! His love seems never content with giving. Tirelessly he gives of his spirit and heart – like a tender father he gives of material things – little keepsakes, or, in lovely symbol, flowers.
While in Egypt, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá received a large sum from the American believers to cover the cost of His travels. The $16,000 was immediately returned to its contributors in an act of selflessness that attracted the attention of the Egyptian press. Around this time, the majority of Bahá’ís were also recommending that the Master travel to America on board the Titanic — the journey would be quicker and more comfortable. The Master’s rejection of the suggestion in favor of a more moderate steamer was the cause of much retrospective gratitude.
The effects of the Master’s generosity resounds across generations. I recently received an email with an extract from a talk given in commemoration of the centenary of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit to the United Kingdom. Trevor Finch stated:
In a final touching tribute to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s generosity this true story emerged in the 1990s, some 70 years after ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s passing. The Universal House of Justice, the supreme governing Council of the Bahá’í world community, announced a major construction project on Mount Carmel, Haifa , of buildings that would, at last, meet the commands of Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder. Accordingly, a tender was put out for Israeli construction companies to bid for, and a public call for engineers was made by the House of Justice. To everyone’s astonishment, a large number of Arab engineers emerged from the greater Haifa area offering their services. When the bemused Bahá’ís asked them why they had come forward they all said: “Abbas Effendi (‘Abdu’l-Bahá) gave our grandparents and great-grandparents money to start small businesses. Our family businesses prospered and our families were able to pay for our school and university education. We are here to give something back to Abbas Effendi.”
“Star of the West”, Vol. 2, No. 13, p. 9, November 23, 1911
Mahmud’s Diary, p. 8, 10
Photo by Chad Mauger, www.flickr.com/chadmauger