‘Abdu’l-Baha met with many groups of people, but He had a special love for the poor and downtrodden.
Poverty made ‘Abdu’l-Baha exceedingly sad and He wants us to become more sensitive to this issue:
‘When He reached the Occident, however, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá faced a condition which troubled Him greatly, because it was beyond His power to assuage the misery He saw constantly about Him. Housed luxuriously at Cadogan Gardens, London, He knew that within a stone’s throw of Him were people who had never had enough to eat — and in New York there was exactly the same situation. These things made Him exceedingly sad, and He said: “The time will come in the near future when humanity will become so much more sensitive than at present that the man of great wealth will not enjoy his luxury, in comparison with the deplorable poverty about him. He will be forced, for his own happiness, to expend his wealth to procure better conditions for the community in which he lives.”‘ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 67)
He hurt with them:
Many years later, Abdul-Bahá’s concern for the poor and suffering was described by May Maxwell in a letter describing the conversation that had taken place in their home: “I remember when the Master was in Montréal and there’d been a strike for months in Dublin, women and children starving and a generally desperate condition. It affected me painfully; I had slept little and could barely eat, and had that terrific helpless feeling, not knowing what to do about it. All this Sutherland told to the Master, begging Him to tell me that my attitude was all wrong; and as he spoke the Master turned very white and great beads of perspiration formed on His brow through His own agony in human sufferings; then He said, “If more people felt as your wife does, the world would not be in this dark and terrible state.” (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 186-187)
His motto was “frugality for Himself, generosity for others”.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave freely of what He had — love, time, care and concern, food and money, clothing and flowers, a bed, a rug! His motto appeared to be: frugality for Himself, generosity for others. Stories of the Master’s self-denial in favour of others’ well-being are legion. He was ‘bountiful as the rain in His generosity to the poor…’ Because He and His family were rich in the love of God, they accepted material deprivation for themselves gladly. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 68)
Service to others was always the pattern of His life:
Service to God, to Baha’u’llah, to family, to friends and enemies, indeed to all mankind – this was the pattern of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s life. He wished only to be the Servant of God and man. To serve – rather than being demeaning and unfulfilling – was honour, joy and fulfilment. This motivated His entire day from Dawn to after midnight. He used to say, ‘Nothing is too much trouble when one loves, and there is always time.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 104)
He knew them all and treated them with kindness and respect:
A door opens and a man comes out. He is of middle stature, strongly built. He wears flowing light-coloured robes. On his head is a light buff fez with a white cloth wound about it. He is perhaps sixty years of age. His long grey hair rests on his shoulders. His forehead is broad, full, and high, his nose slightly aquiline, his moustaches and beard, the latter full though not heavy, nearly white. His eyes are grey and blue, large, and both soft and penetrating. His bearing is simple, but there is grace, dignity, and even majesty about his movements. He passes through the crowd, and as he goes utters words of salutation. We do not understand them, but we see the benignity and the kindliness of his countenance. He stations himself at a narrow angle of the street and motions to the people to come towards him . . . As they come they hold their hands extended. In each open palm he places some small coins. He knows them all. He caresses them with his hand on the face, on the shoulders, on the head. Some he stops and questions. An aged negro who hobbles up, he greets with some kindly inquiry; the old man’s broad face breaks into a sunny smile, his white teeth glistening against his ebony skin as he replies. He stops a woman with a babe and fondly strokes the child. As they pass, some kiss his hand. To all he says, “Marhabbah, marhabbah” – “Well done, well done!” So they all pass him. (Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khanum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi)
As interested as ‘Abdu’l-Baha was in helping the individual, He had a bigger vision always in His mind:
Ruhiyyih Khanum said she had a dream one night: she dreamed that the dam had burst and that there was a great flood, She rushed down to the water’s edge to try to save someone, but the current swept them past. She reached out to try to grasp and save another. She grasped one by the hair, and, with great effort, brought that one to shore. Then she tried to reach another, but the current swept him by. She looked up at the side of the mountain, and there she saw ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, who looked like a Prophet of God, with his white turban and flowing beard, with his back to the flood, working very hard. She rushed up the mountain side, grasped His sleeves and said, “Oh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, come and help me save some of these people who are drowning in the flood.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá went right on, working very rapidly and said nothing. She grasped his sleeve again and said, “Oh ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, these people are drowning, come help me save some of these people who are drowning in the flood.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, without stopping his work turned to her with a smile and Said, “‘Abdu’l-Bahá is building the machine to stop the flood.” (That is what is taking place in the world today) (Ruhaniyyih Ruth Moffett, Visiting the Bahá’í World, 1954-09 http://bahai-library.com/moffett_pilgrims_notes)
In many quotes He tells us how we are to behave to the poor, sick and downtrodden, and in this quote, He tells us we aren’t a “true Baha’i” if we neglect it:
Enrich the poor, raise the fallen, comfort the sorrowful, bring healing to the sick, reassure the fearful, rescue the oppressed, bring hope to the hopeless, shelter the destitute! This is the work of a true Bahá’í, and this is what is expected of him. If we strive to do all this, then are we true Bahá’ís, but if we neglect it, we are not followers of the Light, and we have no right to the name. (Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 80)
How many of us serve these groups?
How many of us can count people such as these as our friends?
How many of us can truly claim we have a right to the name Baha’i?
Because ‘Abdu’l-Baha loved these groups of people so much, there is much that has been written about them, so in the next series of articles I will be looking at what we can learn about how He treated them, to help us claim our name, to help us too draw closer to the poor and help them in practical ways, as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá did.
What’s been your experience showering love on the poor? Post your comments below!