‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The name invokes love, gratitude, wonder and joy in the hearts of millions of people in every country of the world. His example is a beacon guiding them to the Divine Light of God, His love a lamp lighting their way through tests and trials. His patience and compassion are a source of comfort in their ceaseless search to grow and develop the qualities of the spirit, while remembrance of Him is a constant reminder of the capacity and nobility inherent in all of us.
He was born on the eve of 23 May 1844. This date holds great significance for Bahá’ís, as it was the night the Herald Prophet of their Faith, The Báb, declared that He was the Promised One from God, which the Scriptures of the past had foretold. The Báb brought new teachings to a sad and desolate world and foretold the coming of a Prophet even greater than Himself. He was martyred six years later by decree of the Islamic clergy; in 1863, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Father, Bahá’u’lláh, declared Himself to be the Manifestation of God to whom the Báb had referred.
Even before this declaration, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s life and that of His family had not been one of ease and freedom. When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was six years old, His father was imprisoned for being a follower of the Báb. His family’s home was looted, leaving them in abject poverty and marking the beginning of fifty-eight years of exile and imprisonment. Following the path of His blessed Father, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and His family were exiled in 1854 to Baghdad for nine years, then to Constantinople and Adrianople for five years. They were then imprisoned in the prison city of Akka, in what was then called Palestine, for forty years.
During these years of exile and imprisonment, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was a constant source of comfort, generosity and guidance to His family and companions. He believed with every ounce of His existence in the Teachings of His beloved Father and sought to embody them with every breath He took. Bahá’u’lláh died in 1892; His Will named ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as the head of the Bahá’í Faith. For the rest of His life, He faced indescribable opposition, both from outside and even within His own family. Despite all of this, through His guidance and constant care, the healing Message of unity and hope which His Father had brought was spread throughout the world.
When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was 64 years old, He was finally freed from His imprisonment. This gave Him the opportunity to fulfill a yearning He had had His entire life—to visit the West and kindle the love of God in the hearts of all who would listen.
“Oh! that I could travel, even though on foot and in the utmost poverty, to these regions and raising the call of Ya Baha’u'l-Abha 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.1”
It was one hundred years ago, on 21 August 1911, that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá left on this ambitious journey which would span three years and take Him to three continents. To fully express the impact of this journey on the hearts of those He met is not possible. However, the following statements by Adib Taherzadeh (a Bahá’í scholar) and the Universal House of Justice (the current international Bahá’í administrative body) eloquently give us a glimpse into the profound character which embodied the personage of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the imprint He left in the lives of those who were blessed with the privilege of meeting Him.
“So powerful was the influence He exerted on the hearts of the people that great numbers flocked to churches and public halls to see Him and to hear Him speak. The believers in the West who came into contact with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá were transformed spiritually and magnetized by His all-encompassing love2.”
“To all without distinction—officials, scientists, workers, children, parents, exiles, activists, clerics, skeptics—He imparted love, wisdom, comfort, whatever the particular need. While elevating their souls, He challenged their assumptions, reoriented their perspectives, expanded their consciousness, and focused their energies. He demonstrated by word and deed such compassion and generosity that hearts were utterly transformed. No one was turned away… Set His example before your eyes and fix your gaze upon it; let it be your instinctive guide…3”
2 Adib Taherzadeh, The Child of the Covenant, p. 192
3 Universal House of Justice, Ridván Message 2011
All other: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abdul_Baha