The Journey West Tue, 28 May 2013 04:47:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Journey West focuses on the talks and historical events surrounding the travels of 'Abdu'l-Bahá to the West from 1911 to 1913. Find out more about the journey at The Journey West clean The Journey West (The Journey West) The Journey West `Abdu'l-Bahá's travels to the West The Journey West ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Refinement Tue, 28 May 2013 04:46:57 +0000

 The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines refinement as the action or process of refining,[1] which is to free from impurities, unwanted material or from moral imperfections.[2] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said that “in every aspect of life, purity and holiness, cleanliness and refinement, exalt the human condition and further the development of man’s inner reality.”[3] Striving for spiritual refinement helps fulfill the purpose of our existence. And as everything in the spiritual world is reflected in the material world, it is only logical that the Writings encourage both spiritual and physical refinement. We can see examples of this in the meticulous appearance of the Master in the many photographs taken during His travels to the West.

If we keep in mind that our ultimate goal is spiritual refinement, we understand that physical refinement is but a means, a potent one at that:

“although bodily cleanliness is a physical thing, it hath, nevertheless, a powerful influence on the life of the spirit. It is even as a voice wondrously sweet, or a melody played: although sounds are but vibrations in the air which affect the ear’s auditory nerve, and these vibrations are but chance phenomena carried along through the air, even so, see how they move the heart. A wondrous melody is wings for the spirit, and maketh the soul to tremble for joy.”3

Refinement does not seem to mean acquiring something; rather, it seems to mean improving something that already exists. Baha’u’llah said to “regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.”[4]  Perhaps spiritual refinement can be seen as the “polishing” of virtues inherent to us.

As the Perfect Exemplar, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá taught through the simplest of acts what refinement could look like. Further to His appearance, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá demonstrated in the way He carried Himself and, of course, in His language. Surely those who met him during His travels must have noticed the refinement He demonstrated. Studying these through anecdotes which can be found in books such as Vignettes from the life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, or Memories of Nine Years in ‘Akka, will certainly help us refine ourselves.

We are lucky that, in the example of the Master, we can avoid the dangerous traps of mistaking luxury for refinement, and mistaking the pursuits of the ego for that of spiritual refinement. We are also lucky that, as our spiritual refinement increases, so will our spiritual perception to avoid this and other traps; we can trust that by refining both our outer and inner beings, we will always remain on the path of spiritual refinement.



‘Abdu’l-Bahá and kindness Thu, 23 May 2013 04:53:46 +0000 One might think kindness to be merely one virtue among many in our spiritual toolbox.  A search in the Master’s talks and writings on this quality, however, does away with this assumption:

The language of kindness is the lodestone of hearts and the food of the soul; it stands in the relation of ideas to words, and is as an horizon for the shining of the Sun of Wisdom and Knowledge.[1]  

Over and over again during His travels in the West ‘Abdu’l-Bahá referred to kindness as an instrument which allows us to orientate ourselves in the social and spiritual landscape, to give and receive true life, and as a critical lever in the building of a peaceful and united world.  During one interview in London, for example, He remarked that

the way to broaden the outlook of the very narrow-hearted and prejudiced, and to make them listen to a wider teaching, was by showing towards them the greatest kindness and love. The example of our lives was of more value than words.[2]

At the same time, the Master invited His audience (then but also now) to train one’s gaze on ever higher heights:  In a discourse exemplifying logic and justice, He explained how in being kind towards each other we mirror God’s Qualities, bring about perfection on this human plane and therefore draw closer to Him:

… why should men be unjust and unkind to each other, showing forth that which is contrary to God? As He loves us, why should we entertain animosity and hate? If God did not love all, He would not have created, trained and provided for all. Loving-kindness is the divine policy.[3]

Even though we find a defective branch or leaf upon this tree of humanity or an imperfect blossom, it, nevertheless, belongs to this tree and not to another. Therefore, it is our duty to protect and cultivate this tree until it reaches perfection. If we examine its fruit and find it imperfect, we must strive to make it perfect. There are souls in the human world who are ignorant; we must make them knowing. Some growing upon the tree are weak and ailing; we must assist them toward health and recovery. If they are as infants in development, we must minister to them until they attain maturity. We should never detest and shun them as objectionable and unworthy. We must treat them with honor, respect and kindness; for God has created them and not Satan. They are not manifestations of the wrath of God but evidences of His divine favor. God, the Creator, has endowed them with physical, mental and spiritual qualities that they may seek to know and do His will; therefore, they are not objects of His wrath and condemnation. In brief, all humanity must be looked upon with love, kindness and respect; for what we behold in them are none other than the signs and traces of God Himself. All are evidences of God …[4]


[1] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, A Traveller’s Narrative, p.43.

[2] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p.71.  See also ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p.22; ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp.8-9 and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p.84 & p.122.

[3] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p.120.  See also ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, pp.122-123; ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p.148, p.235.

[4] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp.230-231.

Photograph: Adib March 2013

Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl: a true seeker Fri, 10 May 2013 09:55:17 +0000  

In his series The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, Adib Taherzadeh shares with us this little vignette from the life of Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl:

Noticing the long beard and large turban of Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl — indications of his vast knowledge – the blacksmith Ustád Husayn-i-Na’l-Band…said, ‘Is it true that in the Traditions of Shí’ah Islam it is stated that each drop of rain is accompanied by an angel from heaven? And that this angel brings down the rain to the ground?’ ‘This is true,’ Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl responded….‘Is it true’, the blacksmith asked, ‘that if there is a dog in a house no angel will ever visit that house?’ Before thinking of the connection between the two questions, Mirza Abu’l-Fadl responded in the affirmative. ‘In that case’, commented the blacksmith, ‘no rain should ever fall in a house where a dog is kept.’ Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl…was now confounded by an illiterate blacksmith.  His rage knew no bounds, and his companions noticed that he was filled with shame. They whispered to him, ‘This blacksmith is a Bahá’í!’[1]

A few months later Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl, 1844-1914, son of a prominent religious leader, head of a religious college, respected scholar, prolific author, himself became a Bahá’í.[2]

To me, the account is remarkable for its show of humility.  Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl did not grow defensive, did not argue, did not grope for a justification that allowed him to save face.  He became visibly ashamed, openly acknowledging the flaws he found in his own thinking.  In his anguish he showed forth independence of thought, detachment from pride and preconceived notions, a desire to pursue truth over his own reputation.  He did as Bahá’u’lláh counsels in the Kitáb-i-Íqán:

When a true seeker determineth to take the step of search in the path leading to the knowledge of the Ancient of Days, he must, before all else, cleanse and purify his heart…from the obscuring dust of all acquired knowledge…. He must never seek to exalt himself above any one, must wash away from the tablet of his heart every trace of pride and vainglory….[3]

As soon as Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl became a Bahá’í, he began openly and actively sharing his new faith with others, although it brought upon him hardships like losing a comfortable position teaching at a college and numerous arrests.  Like ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and at his instruction, Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl travelled as far as the United States to help the Bahá’ís there deepen their knowledge and understanding of the Faith and grow united.  He did not act as those scholars whose contributions to society merely, as Bahá’u’lláh says, “begin with words and end with words.”[4]  Instead he exemplified the guidance of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in a talk during his travels in the West:

We cannot bring love and unity to pass merely by talking of it. Knowledge is not enough. Wealth, science, education are good, we know: but we must also work and study to bring to maturity the fruit of knowledge.[5]

What contributions to society could be made if our scholars, our leaders—if all of us, like Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl, exhibited the humility to embrace new truths, even at the expense of painfully rebuilding our frameworks for understanding reality?  What progress could be achieved if we all showed forth the detachment to renounce material comforts that did not fall in line with our discoveries?

[1] Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v. 3, p.91.

[2] Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v. 3, p.91; Momen, Moojan.  “Gulpáygání, Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl”.

[3] Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Íqán, p. 191; Momen, Moojan.  “Gulpáygání, Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl”.

[4] Bahá’u’lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p.19.

[5] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p.54.

Photograph: Mirza Abu’l-Fadl Wikimedia

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‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Teacher in Europe Fri, 03 May 2013 05:06:22 +0000 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá loved people into the world of the Spirit.[1]  To teach, to share the Word of God with others, is an act of love.  It is as much a connection of souls as it is an intellectual intercourse.  It was love that had drawn the Master westward; He said that should the believers in the West “establish, in a befitting manner, union and harmony with spirit, tongue, heart and body”[2] they would find Him in their midst. His opening words to the European friends gathered to meet Him were:  “I am very much pleased with you all.  Your love has drawn me to London.  I waited forty years in prison to bring the Message to you.  Are you pleased to receive such a guest?”[3]

And it was love that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá used as His primary weapon for disarming even the most obstinate inquirer, and attracting the heart of the seeker of Truth.  Though we might assume that knowledge and information are the primary elements of sharing Bahá’u’lláh’s Message, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá emphasized form.  He spoke of a good disposition, a happy nature, good fellowship, virtue, purity of ideals, sympathy, trustworthiness, and careful listening as prerequisite means for effective teaching.  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was wakeful and attentive in his interactions with people, listening with love to any question or opinion expressed by intimates and strangers alike.

Finding a point of commonality or spiritual truth in an abstruse argument or simple statement, the Master would then build upon this in the most non-threatening manner and with the utmost humility and kindliness.  Never wishing to burden any heart or vex a mind, He was prudent when expounding spiritual verities.  On one occasion during ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s stay in Lady Blomfield’s home in London, a workman encountered the Master after leaving his bag of tools in the hall and was “welcomed with smiling kindness”[4] by Him:

With a look of sadness the man said:  “I don’t know much about religious things, as I have no time for anything but my work”.

“That is well.  Very well.  A day’s work done in the spirit of service is in itself an act of worship. Such work is a prayer unto God”.

The man’s face cleared from its shadow of doubt and hesitation, and he went out from the Master’s presence happy and strengthened, as though a weighty burden had been taken away.[5]

‘Abdu’l-Bahá offered only what was in the hearer’s capacity to grasp or accept and, for this reason, He often used analogies or humor to demonstrate a point:

One afternoon ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had spoken of the falsity of the premises of the materialist who only accepts as true and real what his senses can comprehend.  Were it so, He had again said in jest, the cow should be reckoned to be the greatest of all philosophers, because she had reached that conclusion without the pain of study.  This reference to the cow had greatly amused His audience. When the meeting was over, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was asked to make use of the motor car belonging to one of those present for a drive in the country-side.  As it happened they came upon a herd, and the cows ran away in all directions.  Look Master, a lady said, philosophers are in flight.  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was highly amused, and laughed most heartily.[6]


[1] Tom Price, ‘Recreating Ourselves in the Image of the Master’, a series of talks delivered as part of the American Bahá’í Summer School Program 2012,

[2] Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst (Oxford, UK: George Ronald, 2011), p.6.

[3] Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway (Oxford, UK: George Ronald, reprinted 2007), p.151.

[4] Lady Blomfield, op.cit., p.152.

[5] Ibid.

[6]  H. M. Balyuzi, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: The Centre of the Covenant (Oxford, UK: George Ronald, reprinted 2002), p.238.

Photograph: Reed, March 2010 (accessed 2 May 2013)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Perseverance Sun, 28 Apr 2013 04:41:20 +0000 Reading about the Master’s travels in the West one cannot but be in awe with the perseverance He displayed.  Despite His age and health condition, He was continuously and truly present to the many people that sought Him out.  What can we learn from Him one hundred years later?

It is worth noting that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá describes perseverance – persistence, continued steady efforts or belief[1]– as a virtue that depends on God’s assistance[2]:

It is from the bounty of God that man is selected for the highest degree; and the differences which exist between men in regard to spiritual progress and heavenly perfections are also due to the choice of the Compassionate One. For faith, which is life eternal, is the sign of bounty, and not the result of justice. The flame of the fire of love, in this world of earth and water, comes through the power of attraction and not by effort and striving. Nevertheless, by effort and perseverance, knowledge, science and other perfections can be acquired; but only the light of the Divine Beauty can transport and move the spirits through the force of attraction. Therefore, it is said: “Many are called, but few are chosen.”[Matt. 22:14.][3]

Perseverance, an attribute of God we each try to emulate, is thus closely related to and dependent upon God’s Grace[4].  What fascinates me is that as human beings we often discern the latter only in trying times:  when pushed to a point where one seems to stop persevering, give up, one experiences Divine Aid rushing in.  Yet, this Aid has always been and will always be there, albeit in a form we might at first not recognize.  In this not-yet-recognizing, this temporarily stumbling, seems to be a wisdom.  In His telling of the story of the lover seeking his beloved in The Seven Valleys, Bahá’u’lláh uses imagery suggesting the fertility of such moments in which we give up what we thought to be our human powers – moments in which we are guided towards our true desire and become aware of God’s all-embracing Kindness and Power[5].  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in turn emphasizes the need of a trusting eye that gazes beyond the physical, the human and the immediate present:

Know, verily, that the seed, however virile it may be, however strong the hand of the sower, however pure the water that watereth it, it is impossible for it to grow, blossom and bear fruit in a short time; nay, a long period is needed for its development.

So it is the Kingdom of God. Consider the seed which was sown by Christ; verily, it did not blossom until after a long period. Thus it is incumbent upon thee to be patient in all affairs. Verily thy Lord is powerful, forgiving, precious and persevering! Depend upon the favor of thy Lord. He shall bless thee and protect thee under the shadow of His generosity and mercy.[6]


[2] See for example ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, #225, pp.294-295; ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p.249.

[3] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p.130. See also ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, #225, pp.294-295; ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p.249.

[4] Compare the definition of ‘perseverance’ in Christian tradition with the definition of ‘grace’: & [accessed 23 April 2013].

[5] Bahá’u’lláh, The seven Valleys, pp.11-17.  [accessed 23 April 2013].  See especially the phrase on p.13: “At last, the tree of his longing yielded the fruit of despair….”  See also Grace Robarts Ober’s story [accessed 23 April 2013].

[6] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v2, pp.312-313.

Photograph: Peter, Naw-Ruz 2010


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‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Professor Árminius Vámbéry Thu, 11 Apr 2013 04:54:40 +0000

The colorful life of the renowned Hungarian orientalist Professor Árminius Vámbéry (1832 – 1913) is well documented; his remarkable career drawing close interest from notables, including Queen Victoria.  His long and arduous journey to the interior of Asia, disguised as a Sunnite dervish under the alias ‘Rashid Effendi’, beginning in 1862, was the first of its kind for a European[i].  Despite childhood poverty, a rudimentary formal education, and lameness, Vámbéry’s ‘ardent desire to roam’[ii], his gift for tongues, his acquired knowledge of the religious East, and his sociability proved invaluable in realizing such a daring feat.

Less recognized is Vámbéry’s intimate association with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and the ‘utmost respect and devotion’[iii] he had for His principles and aims.  In a letter addressed to the Master, penned in Persian with ‘exquisite diction and courtesy’[iv], Vámbéry wrote:

[E]very person is forced by necessity to enlist himself on the side of your Excellency, and accept with joy the prospect of a fundamental basis for a universal religion of God, being laid through your efforts.  I have seen the father of your Excellency from afar.  I have realized the self-sacrifice and noble courage of his son, and I am lost in admiration . . .[v]

The date and circumstances of Vámbéry’s first contact with Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation are uncertain, though it is possible to imagine that, during his travels across Persia in the mid-1800s, which included sojourns in Tabriz and Tehran, Vámbéry might have encountered the Bábí movement which ushered in the Bahá’í Faith.  He also spent many years in Constantinople, Turkey, around the time the Holy Family was exiled to that region.

What is known is that Vámbéry had the honor of twice meeting ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in 1913.  Vámbéry was in his 82nd year, very ill, and was settled quietly in a home on the Pest side of the Danube, yet he still took every opportunity to offer his views on developments in Eastern and Middle Eastern politics for publication in Western periodicals.  Evidently, he had also been following the movements of the Master, telling Him:  “For many years have I been following your teachings, and ever longed to meet you.  I admire more than anything your supreme courage, that at this advanced age you have left everything and are travelling all over the world to spread your humane principles.”[vi]

On April 9, 1913, the first morn of the Master’s stay in Budapest, Vámbéry was too ill to join the party of well-known academics who called upon Him.  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá thus promised to visit Vámbéry, and He fulfilled this promise on the afternoon of April 12[vii].  At that first meeting was also Vámbéry’s young son, Rustum, who later recalled to Martha Root the ‘deep friendship’[viii] which existed between his father and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.  Testimony to this friendship is the gift and epistle the Master lovingly sent to Vámbéry on His return to Egypt, which prompted Vámbéry to respond, only weeks before his passing:

The time of the meeting with your Excellency, and the memory of the benediction of your presence, recurred to the memory of this servant, and I am longing for the time when I shall meet you again. . . . [I]f God, the Most High, confers long life, I will be able to serve you under all conditions.  I pray and supplicate this from the depths of my heart[ix].

I like to picture Professor Árminius Vámbéry reunited with his Master in the Abhá Kingdom, and serving Him in that realm.


[i] “Some Men of To-day:  Professor Arminius Vambery”, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW:  1842–1954), Wednesday 28 December 1892, p.6 (accessed via; see also

[ii] “Some Men of To-day:  Professor Arminius Vambery”, p.6.

[iii] “Letter to Abdul-Baha from Professor Vambery”, Star of the West (March 1913–September 1914) (Oxford, Uk:  George Ronald, reprinted 1978, volume 3), Vol. IV, No. 17, p.285 [Reprinted from The Egyptian Gazette, Sept. 24, 1913].

[iv] J. Stannard, “Professor Vambery and the Bahai Religion”, Star of the West (March 1913–September 1914) (Oxford, Uk:  George Ronald, reprinted 1978, volume 3), Vol. IV, No. 17, p.284 [Reprinted from The Egyptian Gazette, Sept. 24, 1913].

[v] “Letter to Abdul-Baha from Professor Vambery”, Star of the West, (March 1913–September 1914) (Oxford, Uk:  George Ronald, reprinted 1978, volume 3), Vol. IV, No. 17, p.285.

[vi] Mirza Ahmad Sohrab, “Arminius Vambery”, Star of the West (March 1913–September 1914) (Oxford, Uk:  George Ronald, reprinted 1978, volume 3), Vol. IV, No. 17, p.286 [Extracts from the Diary of Mirza Ahmad Sohrab, September 23, 1913].

[vii] H. M. Balyuzi, “Europe and the Closing Years; Return to Europe”, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:  The Centre of the Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh (Oxford, UK:  George Ronald, 1987, 2nd ed.), pp.372–396.

[viii] Martha Root, “A Visit to Rustum Vambéry”, in Martha Root:  Herald of the Kingdom, a compilation by Kay Zinky, ed. A. Baram (New Delhi, India:  Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1983, 1st ed.), p.153.

[ix] Arminius Vambéry, “Testimony to the Religion of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá”, in Martha Root:  Herald of the Kingdom, p.158.

Source photograph:

‘Abdu’l-Bahá and laughter Mon, 08 Apr 2013 15:27:29 +0000 When we think of the Master as the perfect example, we usually think of virtues like love, generosity, patience, etc…   But what do we make of the following account?

One day in the Holy Land He told Harlan Ober, an American Bahá’í, that he was to go to India. Harlan Ober did travel far and wide in the interests of the Faith, but at that particular time he did not cherish making that journey. A few days later ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told him to go to America. “But Master,” Ober said, “I thought I was going to India.” “So did Christopher Columbus,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá replied.

I love this story; it is one of my favorites as it is a great example of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s humour. The first time I read this story, and then proceeded to read more stories pertaining to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s laughter and humour, I realized that even in this aspect we can benefit from His example.

In today’s society, what is considered to be funny or comic revolves often around people’s embarrassing actions or misfortunes, or, worse, focusses on ridiculing other cultural beliefs. I remember seeing a video that went around on Facebook of a man falling on the ground when the chair gave up on him. I asked myself: Would the Master laugh? I cannot imagine ‘Abdu’l-Bahá laughing at something that embarrasses other human beings, or hurts them, physically or emotionally.

Throughout His travels in the West, we witness His teachings of love and unity, teachings which inspire us in our actions but also the ways in which we perceive ourselves and the world around us. Our actions are often ruled by the desire to be accepted by others, to belong.   This also pertains to humour:  How many times did we laugh at something, in spite of not finding it funny, just because everybody around us did…?

‘Abdu’l-Bahá loved to laugh, and those around him found solace herein because it was a laughter that embraced each one of them and brought about unity and peace.  Numerous stories attest of how “He will charm with His guest with happy and humorous stories”.  Many of these stories have a profound message:

During a luncheon, while the Master was in New Hampshire, everyone was having polite conversation.  In order to break the ice, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá related an Oriental tale and made everyone laugh.  At that same gathering He shared that

It is good to laugh. Laughter is a spiritual relaxation. When they were in prison, He said, and under the utmost deprivation and difficulties, each of them at the close of the day would relate the most ludicrous event which had happened. Sometimes it was a little difficult to find one but always they would laugh until the tears would run down their cheeks. Happiness, He said, is never dependent upon material surroundings, otherwise how sad those years would have been. As it was they were always in the utmost state of joy and happiness.

What a blessing to have laughter!  It enables us to make friends, create unity and it even helps us to overcome the tests that we encounter in our lives.



Honnold, Annamarie (1982)Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Baha– (Oxford: George Ronald)

Photograph: Iain Simmons, 21 March 2010

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‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Germany Sun, 31 Mar 2013 04:53:39 +0000 While making several short trips to cities in Austria and Hungary, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spent most of the month of April 1913 in Germany.  Balyuzi gives us the details of the intense daily pace with which the Master, despite His age and precarious health, received numerous visitors of all walks of life and spoke at diverse gatherings[1].  As elsewhere on His sojourn in the West, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá emphasized the unity of religions and, in order to bring about unity of mankind, the need to let go the veils that over time have been wrapped around the truth:

The essence of the religion of God is love, and the Holy Books bear testimony to that, for the essence of the religion of God is the light of the world of humanity; but mankind today has forgotten what constitutes true religion. Each nation and each people today hold to some definite dogma. . . . These traditions and these dogmas are like the husks surrounding the kernel. We must release the kernel from the husk[2].

I am particularly fascinated by the way the Master spoke about the spiritual qualities of the German Bahá’ís and the radiant future He predicted for the country.  Why did He speak about a radiant future and yet, at the same time, predicted, on several occasions, the coming of a period of war and conflict which would set aflame the center of Europe and affect the whole world[3]?

The answer may be found in the specifics of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s interactions at the time and in His overall approach to life:  Repeatedly He pointed out the Germans’ qualities of sincerity and steadfastness, explaining that these are a prerequisite for success in the endeavor to build a peaceful and united world[4].  More broadly, His own life shows how dire circumstances are actually fertile:  despite having been imprisoned for 40 years He gave Himself completely in guiding and inspiring people all over the world.  In the following text, He provides the key to what seems to be the mystery of ‘true’ life, not only in relation to the particulars of the two World Wars and their aftermath (the Universal Declaration of Human Rights!), but also in relation to the collective and individual lives of us all – past, present and future:

The more difficulties one sees in the world the more perfect one becomes. The more you plough and dig the ground the more fertile it becomes. The more you cut the branches of a tree the higher and stronger it grows. The more you put the gold in the fire, the purer it becomes. The more you sharpen the steel by grinding the better it cuts. Therefore, the more sorrows one sees the more perfect one becomes. That is why, in all times, the Prophets of God have had tribulations and difficulties to withstand. The more often the captain of a ship is in the tempest and difficult sailing the more greater his knowledge becomes. Therefore I am happy that you have had great tribulations and difficulties …

Strange it is that I love you and still I am happy that you have sorrows[5].



[1] Balyuzi, Hasan (2001), “Return to Europe” in `Abdu’l-Bahá: The Centre of the Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh (Oxford: George Ronald), pp.378-391.

[2] Ibid, p.381.

[3] See Promulgation of Universal Peace (1982, 2nd edition), p.169 and p.532.

[4] See also Effendi, Shoghi (1985) The Light of Divine Guidance (volume 2) – Letters from the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith to individual believers, groups and Bahá’í communities in Germany and Austria (Bahá’í-Verlag,Hofheim-Langenhain), passim.

[5] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, vol. XIV, no. 2, p.41.

Photograph: Amy Sahba ‘dusk’ 20 March 2012

‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Courage Mon, 25 Mar 2013 05:52:25 +0000 Among the many virtues and spiritual qualities explained and discussed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, courage ranks, in my opinion, as one of the most vital qualities that each person should acquire and perfect.


When we consider other virtues—truthfulness, trustworthiness, rectitude of conduct, kindness, and so on—we can imagine how these virtues can be reflected in our lives. This, no matter how perfectly we can imagine how we could put these virtues into practice, remains in the realm of theory.

Courage lends assistance to our carrying out these other virtues, especially when we live in an environment that does not foster, whether actively or passively, the development of such virtues. It is a catalyst to our spiritual growth, in that it pushes us to act in accordance to what we believe, helping us to exemplify the revered admonition: “Let deeds, not words, be your adorning”.[1]

Reflecting on the virtue of courage in the context of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s travels to the West, we find that He speaks of courage almost entirely while speaking of women. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explains that women possess “greater moral courage than the man”[2] and that they “surpass men in courage”[3].

Courage being the catalyst for displaying virtues and being more expressed in women finds its apex in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s statement on the education of women:

“Furthermore, the education of women is of greater importance than the education of men, for they are the mothers of the race, and mothers rear the children. The first teachers of children are the mothers. Therefore, they must be capably trained in order to educate both sons and daughters.”[4]

As women are the primary educators of their children, they are superbly suited to train their children to exemplify the virtues and spiritual qualities that they are also taught by religion. They learn from their mother what it means to be trustworthy in a community that promotes cheating in various forms; what it means to show generosity in a culture that prides itself in pursuing self-interest and greed; what it means to forgive within a society that regards mercy a weakness. The children also learn that these virtues can be acquired, perfected, and demonstrated with courage, which the mother is innately more familiar with than the father.

It seems to me that courage is a chief ingredient in the construction of a new world; a world that each one of us, woman or man, have the duty and privilege to build. The reason for this is that it takes not only the knowledge of the constituent elements of a new world, but also having the will empowered by courage to translate these ideas, concepts, and principles into reality. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá prophetically states: “Until the reality of equality between man and woman is fully established and attained, the highest social development of mankind is not possible.”[5]

This demands the courage of men!



[1] Bahá’u’lláh, The Persian Hidden Words, no. 5

[2] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p.103

[3] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p.175

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid, p.76

Photograph: Alisa 21 March 2012

Biography: Edward Granville Browne Thu, 14 Mar 2013 05:34:04 +0000 Edward Granville Browne was born in Gloucestershire, England on 7 February 1862. He studied medicine at the University of Cambridge and wrote several academic articles and books on the Orient.  In April 1890 he met Bahá’u’lláh in four successive interviews. He wrote of his first meeting:

The face of Him on Whom I gazed I can never forget, though I cannot describe it. Those piercing eyes seemed to read one’s very soul; power and authority sat on that ample brow.… No need to ask in whose presence I stood, as I bowed myself before one who is the object of a devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain.

On his return to Cambridge Browne translated a history of the Faith titled A Traveler’s Narrative, not knowing at the time that its author was ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.  Later, in 1912-1913, he met the Master in London and in Paris.  The scholar described his impression of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as follows:

Seldom have I seen one whose appearance impressed me more. A tall strongly-built man holding himself straight as an arrow, with white turban and raiment, long black locks reaching almost to the shoulder, broad powerful forehead indicating a strong intellect combined with an unswerving will, eyes keen as a hawk’s, and strongly-marked but pleasing features–such was my first impression of ‘Abbas Efendi [sic], ‘the master’ as he par excellence is called by the Bábís. Subsequent conversation with him served only to heighten the respect with which his appearance had from the first inspired me. One more eloquent of speech, more ready of argument, more apt of illustration, more intimately acquainted with the sacred books of the Jews, the Christians, and the Muhammadans, could, I should think, scarcely be found even amongst the eloquent, ready, and subtle race to which he belongs. These qualities, combined with a bearing at once majestic and genial, made me cease to wonder at the influence and esteem which he enjoyed even beyond the circle of his father’s followers. About the greatness of this man and his power no one who had seen him could entertain a doubt.

Balyuzi tells us that the collection of Browne’s papers in the University Library at Cambridge holds twelve letters written to him by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the time-period 1890-1913.   The author gives us some glimmerings of the eternal truths which the Master shared with Professor Browne:

The bonds of amity between them, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá writes, are so strong that ‘absence is the same as presence’, and distance no bar to the hearts. He had always, He says, brought to remembrance ‘the days of our consorting’. He expresses the hope that they would meet once again. Time was too short, He states, to explain adequately the principles, the purposes, the conduct of the Faith, but He counts on the perspicacity and the intelligence of that ‘spiritual companion’ to comprehend the truth of the matter. He advises Browne to aim high and be rid of small nationalism, for whatever is of limited, local consequence is human- bound, and whatever benefits the world of man is celestial (p.98).



Balyuzi, H.M. (1970). Edward Granville Browne and the Bahá’í Faith. Oxford, UK: George Ronald.

Browne, Edward (1890). “Babism”, in: Religious Systems of the World, transcribed and proofread by Graham Sorenson.

Browne, Edward (1893).  A Year Amongst the Persians, transcribed and proofread by Duane K. Troxel.

“Professor Browne meets Bahá’u’lláh” – The Life of Bahá’u’lláh, a photographic narrative.

Momen, Moojan (undated) “Edward Granville Browne”.