‘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!
In this frenzied world, I often wonder how ‘Abdu’l-Baha would have lived his life if He were alive now! It got me thinking about whether there might be some ideas based on how He lived a simple life back then.
Here is the standard He strove for – simplicity and love:
The husband of Amelia Collins, a devoted American Baha’i, was a very sociable man. He would take part in any discussion with perfect freedom and ease. But once, before entering the Master’s home, he was so excited that he arranged his tie just right, smoothed his clothes and repeatedly asked his wife what he should do when they arrived there. She told him, ‘Nothing! In the family of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá simplicity reigns, and nothing but love is ever accepted.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
I love this sweet story where Bahá’u’lláh teaches us how little we need:
Mary Bolles (Maxwell) took an early pilgrimage to the prison city. She heard that the food man eats is of no importance, as its effect endures but a short time. But the food of the spirit is life to the soul and its effects endure eternally. She heard ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tell the touching ‘story of the hermit’. Baha’u’llah ‘was traveling from one place to another with His followers’ and ‘He passed through a lonely country where, at some little distance from the highway, a hermit lived alone in a cave. He was a holy man, and having heard that Our Lord, Baha’u’llah, would pass that way, he watched eagerly for His approach. When the Manifestation arrived at that spot the hermit knelt down and kissed the dust before His feet and said to Him: “Oh, my Lord, I am a poor man living alone in a cave nearby; but henceforth I shall account myself the happiest of mortals if Thou wilt but come for a moment to my cave and bless it by Thy Presence.” Then Baha’u’llah told the man that He would come, not for a moment but for three days, and He bade His followers cast their tents, and await His return. The poor man was so overcome with joy and with gratitude that he was speechless, and led the way in humble silence to his lowly dwelling in a rock. There the Glorious One sat with him, talking to him and teaching him, and toward evening the man bethought himself that he had nothing to offer his great Guest but some dry meat and some dark bread, and water from a spring nearby. Not knowing what to do he threw himself at the feet of his Lord and confessed his dilemma. Baha’u’llah comforted him and by a word bade him fetch the meat and bread and water; then the Lord of the universe partook of this frugal repast with joy and fragrance as though it had been a banquet, and during the three days of His visit they ate only of this food which seemed to the poor hermit the most delicious he had ever eaten. Baha’u’llah declared that He had never been more nobly entertained nor received greater hospitality and love. “This,” explained the Master, when He had finished the story, shows us how little man requires when he is nourished by the sweetness of all foods – the love of God.”’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
Even His wedding was simple:
Before His wedding day, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá made the necessary arrangements for the few guests. His mother and sister made a delicate bridal dress of white batiste. A white head-dress adorned Munirih Khanum’s hair, worn, as usual, in two braids. At nine in the evening she went with the Greatest Holy Leaf into the presence of Baha’u’llah, Who gave her His blessing. She then went to the bridal room and awaited the coming of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The service was very simple. At about ten o’clock ‘Abdu’l-Bahá came, accompanied by the guests, and Munirih Khanum chanted a tablet revealed by Baha’u’llah. ‘Later, the wife of ‘Abbud recalled the sweetness of that chanting still ringing in her ears.’ There were no choir, decorations or cake – just cups of tea. Above all, a glory and a love there were more than sufficient to bless the happy event. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
Here’s a story He told about the benefits of a simple life:
‘Abdu’l-Bahá told a story about a Persian believer’s journeys and how he could not sleep at night while in the wilderness for fear of someone stealing his new shirt, a new gift from a prominent person. After several sleepless nights he decided to get rid of the shirt so he could relax. (Rafati, Vahid, Sources of Persian Poetry in the Baha’i Writings, Vol. lll, p. 80)
He had His meals as follows:
7 A.M. Tea and bread
1:30 P.M. Dines with the family
4 P.M. Tea
7:30 P.M. Sits with the family at dinner but partakes of no food Himself
10: P.M. Simple meal (Agnes Parson’s Diary, ©1996, Kalimát Press, Footnote #6, p. 13)
He ate a very simple diet:
The Master . . . ate little food. He was known to begin His day with tea, goat’s milk cheese and wheat bread. And at the evening meal a cup of milk and a piece of bread might suffice. He considered the latter a healthy meal. Had not Baha’u’llah, while at Sulaymaniyyih, subsisted mostly on milk? (Sometimes Baha’u’llah ate rice and milk cooked together.) ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s sparse diet also included herbs and olives – it rarely included meat. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
He does not permit his family to have luxuries. He himself eats but once a day, and then bread, olives, and cheese suffice him. (Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khanum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi)
He preferred to share His food with the poor:
On the occasion of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s first dinner in the home of Lady Bloomfield in London His hostess had prepared course after course in her eagerness to please Him. Afterwards He gently commented: ‘The food was delicious and the fruit and flowers were lovely, but would that we could share some of the courses with those poor and hungry people who have not even one.’ Thereafter the dinners were greatly simplified. Flowers and fruit remained in abundance, for those were often brought to the Master as small love tokens. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
Mary Lucas, a pilgrim to Akká in 1905, found that the Master usually ate but one simple meal a day. In eight days He was present at most meals, often coming just to add joy to the occasion, though He was not hungry. If He knew of someone who had had no meal during a day, the family supper was gladly packed up and sent to the needy. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
He served His guests:
Julia Gundy, an early pilgrim, described a beautiful supper at which many friends were welcomed by the Master Himself in Akká. He passed out napkins, embraced and found plates for each. All were individually anointed with attar of rose. He served pilau, a Persian rice dish, to each guest. There were also oranges and rice pudding. ‘Throughout the supper, which was very simple in its character and appointment, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was the Servant of the believers. This was indeed a spiritual feast where Love reigned. The whole atmosphere was Love, Joy, and Peace. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
His schedule looked like this:
Tudor-Pole described a typical day for Abdul-Bahá: he rises about 5 AM, and works for some hours at his correspondence. Interviews commence soon after 9 AM and last until midday. After lunch he takes a short rest and then usually rides out into the parks or to visit various people who were deeply interested in his work. Gatherings of the friends take place nearly every evening and he has given some wonderful discourses at such times… He is quite vigorous and looks both well and cheerful. (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 30)
The Master kept little clothing – one coat at a time was ample. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s family was taught to dress in such a way that they would be ‘an example to the rich and an encouragement to the poor.’ Available money was stretched to cover far more than the Master’s family needs. One of His daughters wore no bridal gown when she married – a clean dress sufficed. The Master was queried why He had not provided bridal clothes. With candour He replied simply, ‘My daughter is warmly clad and has all that she needs for her comfort. The poor have not. What my daughter does not need I will give to the poor rather than to her.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
A friend had sent some fur so that the Master could have a good warm coat; He had it cut up and made into twenty caps for the elderly men of the town. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of “Abdu’l-Bahá)
As someone who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder, and needs a LOT of light, I take great comfort in this story:
As we drove up Broadway, glittering with its electric signs, He spoke of them smiling, apparently much amused. Then He told us that Bahá’u’lláh had loved light. “He could never get enough light. He taught us,” the Master said, “to economize in everything else but to use light freely.” (Juliet Thompson’s Diary, April 19, 1912)
Even when ‘Abdu’l-Baha was in great need, he didn’t accept financial help from the friends:
For his own personal use Bahá’u’lláh never ordered anything extravagant. The life of luxury to which He was accustomed in His youth had been denied Him since His imprisonment in the Siyah-Chal of Tihran when all His possessions had been confiscated. But He lived a life of austerity in a majesty such that in the words of Edward (Granville Browne of Cambridge University, He was ‘the object of a devotion that kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain’. His personal needs were simple and inexpensive . . . He Himself and the members of His family, however, lived an austere life. There were many occasions when He was in great need, but did not accept financial help from the friends. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 4, p. 248)
Here’s an example:
The gates of the Akká prison were finally opened for Baha’u’llah, His family and companions after a confinement of two years, two months and five days. Many of His companions were consigned to the caravanserai, an unfit dwelling-place. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá occupied one room himself. The rooms were damp and filthy. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sold a certain gift which had been given to Him in Baghdad and with the proceeds began to repair the rooms for the companions of Baha’u’llah. He left the repair of His own room to the last. The money ran out and as a result His room remained unrepaired and in very bad condition. Not only were its walls damp but the roof leaked and the floor was covered with dust. He sat and slept on a mat in that room. His bed cover was a sheepskin. The room was infested with fleas and when He slept under the sheepskin, fleas gathered and began biting. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá worked out a tactic of defeating the fleas by turning over His sheepskin at intervals. He would sleep for a while before the fleas found their way again to the inner side. He would then turn the sheepskin over again. Every night He had to resort to this tactic eight to ten times. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
He didn’t allow his family to have any luxuries either:
He does not permit his family to have luxuries. He himself eats but once a day, and then bread, olives, and cheese suffice him. His room is small and bare, with only a matting on the stone floor. His habit is to sleep upon this floor. Not long ago a friend, thinking that this must be hard for a man of advancing years, presented him with a bed fitted with springs and mattress. So these stand in his room also, but are rarely used. “For how,” he says, “can I bear to sleep in luxury when so many of the poor have not even shelter?” So he lies upon the floor and covers himself only with his cloak. (Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khanum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi)
Has this given you any ideas on how you might live a more simple life? Post your comments below!
‘Abdu’l-Baha’s kind heart went out to those who were ill. If He could alleviate a pain or discomfort, He set about to do so.
Calling on the feeble and sick was a daily occurance:
Almost any morning, early, He may be seen making the round of the city, calling upon the feeble and the sick; many dingy abodes are brightened by His presence.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 81)
He never asked others to do something He wasn’t willing to do:
Lua Gestinger, one of the early Baha’is of America, tells of an experience she had in Akká. She had made the pilgrimage to the prison-city to see ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. One day He said to her that He was too busy today to call upon a friend of His who was very poor and sick. He wished Lua to go in His place. He told her to take food to the sick man and care for him as He had been doing.
Lua learned the address and immediately went to do as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had asked. She felt proud that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had trusted her with some of His own work. But soon she returned to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in a state of excitement. “Master,” she exclaimed, “You sent me to a very terrible place! I almost fainted from the awful smell, the dirty rooms, the degrading condition of that man and his house. I left quickly before I could catch some terrible disease.” Sadly and sternly, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gazed at her. If she wanted to serve God, He told her, she would have to serve her fellow man, because in every person she should see the image and likeness of God. Then He told her to go back to the man’s house. If the house was dirty, she should clean it. If the man was dirty, she should bathe him. If he was hungry, she should feed him. He asked her not to come back until all of this was done. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has done these things many times for this man, and he told Lua Getsinger that she should be able to do them once. This is how ‘Abdu’l-Bahá taught Lua to serve her fellow man. (Howard Colby Ives, Portals to Freedom, Chapter 6)
One time ‘Abdu’l-Baha cancelled a meeting because one person was ill and could not go:
On pilgrimage May Maxwell came to realize that every word and every act of the Master’s had meaning and purpose. The pilgrim party was invited to meet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá under the cedar trees on Mount Carmel where He had been in the habit of sitting with Baha’u’llah. She recalled that ‘on Sunday morning we awakened with the joy and hope of the meeting on Mount Carmel. The Master arrived quite early and after looking at me, touching my head and counting my pulse, still holding my hand He said to the believers present: “There will be no meeting on Mount Carmel to-day…we could not go and leave one of the beloved of God alone and sick. We could none of us be happy unless all the beloved were happy.” We were astonished. That anything so important as this meeting in that blessed spot should be cancelled because one person was ill and could not go seemed incredible. It was so contrary to all ordinary habits of thought and action, so different from the life of the world where daily events and material circumstances are supreme in importance that it gave us a genuine shock of surprise, and in that shock the foundations of the old order began to totter and fall. The Master’s words had opened wide the door of God’s Kingdom and given us a vision of that infinite world whose only law is love. This was but one of many times that we saw ‘Abdu’l-Bahá place above every other consideration the love and kindness, the sympathy and compassion due to every soul. Indeed, as we look back upon that blessed time spent in His presence we understand that the object of our pilgrimage was to learn for the first time on earth what love is, to witness its light in every face, to feel its burning heat in every heart and to become ourselves enkindled with this divine flame from the Sun of Truth, the Essence of whose being is love.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 87)
People came to understand the wisdom of their sicknesses:
I was a child in Tehran when at the age of seven I contracted tuberculosis. There was no hope of recovery. The wisdom of this sickness became clear later. If I had not been ill, I would have been obliged to go to Mazindaran but because of this sickness I stayed in Tehran…..This was when the Blessed Beauty was in prison in Tehran. Therefore, I was afforded the honor of being in His company during His journey to Iraq. When the right time arrived, I suddenly became well, after the doctors had given up all hope of recovery. (Stories Told by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 104)
There are many stories of Lua Getsinger. This one was told me by Grace Ober, who heard it from Lua herself. It happened on one of Lua’s several visits to Acca and Haifa when she and Abdu’l-Bahá were walking together on the beach. Lua dropped behind slightly and began fitting her small feet, into His much larger foot prints. After a few moments the Master turned to ask what she was doing. “I am following in your footsteps,” said Lua. He, turned away and they walked on. A few moments later, He turned again, “Do you wish to follow in my foot steps?” He asked. “Oh, yes,” said Lua. They walked on – and Abdu’l-Bahá turned again, “Lua! Do you wish to follow in my foot steps?” His tone was louder and stern. “Oh, yes,” said Lua again. Then, the third time he stopped and faced her. “Lua!” it was almost a shout, “Do you wish to follow in My foot steps?” “Oh, yes!” said Lua for the third time – and with that, a great tarantula jumped out from a hillock of sand and bit her ankle. Abdu’l-Bahá saw this and paid no attention, turning away and again walking. Lua followed, still fitting her footsteps into His. Her ankle swelled, the pain became excruciating, till, finally, she sank down with the agony of it. Then Abdu’l-Bahá picked her up and carried her to the ladies quarters, where the Greatest Holy Leaf put her to bed. The agony increased. Lua’s temperature flamed; delirium set in. Finally, the Greatest Holy Leaf could stand it no longer and she implored Abdu’l-Bahá to heal her. He examined her carefully then laid His hands gently on her forehead. The temperature drained away, her head cleared she was healed. And it was only later that it was explained to her that she had been suffering from a strange and virulent condition of her blood which the bite of the tarantula had cured. (Reginald Grant Barrow, Mother’s Stories: Stories of Abdu’l-Bahá and Early Believers told by Muriel Ives Barrow Newhall to her son, p. 41-42)
He Visited People in their Homes, even When Uninvited:
Harry Randall, the brother of Loulie Mathews, was a man of wealth and affairs. He had been a classmate of Harlan Ober at Harvard and so, when Harlan learned of the Faith and became a Baha’i, he very soon gave the Message to Harry, only to discover that, busy and occupied as he was with his manifold affairs, Harry Randall’s interest went no farther than a polite and courteous response, which was far from satisfactory to Harlan. He persisted in trying to interest Harry further and when Abdu’l-Bahá was to come to Boston, Harlan grew more and more pressing: Harry must go to hear Abdu’l-Bahá speak; Harry must meet Him; Harry really owed it to himself not to miss this wonderful opportunity. Finally, Harry still uninterested, but courteously anxious to please this eager friend of his, agreed to go with Harlan to hear Abdu’l-Bahá.
Ruth – Harry’s wife would not be able to go with him since she was a semi invalid, in and out of sanitariums for tuberculosis a great part of the time. Just then she had come home from one of these hospitals but she was far too frail to do anything but rest quietly at home.
Harlan and Harry Randall went to the meeting together and after it was over, Harlan insisted upon taking Harry to meet Abdu’l-Bahá. Harry, still uninterested but always courteous, did as Harlan wished, and what was his astonishment when Abdu’l-Bahá warmly accepted an invitation to have tea the following afternoon at Harry’s home! An invitation Harry had in no way extended.
Appalled, Harry asked Harlan what on earth he should do about it? Harlan said. “Give a tea for Him what else can you do?” “But how can I? Ruth is ill. I’m busy. How on earth – ?”
Harlan laughed, “You don’t know Abdu’l-Bahá or you’d know there’s some sort of reason for this, and it’ll get done. You have a houseful of servants – let them brew a cup of tea for the Master and invite a few friends in to share it.” So this is what Harry did and the next afternoon when Abdu’l-Bahá arrived at the lovely suburban home he found quite a group of people assembled on a wide verandah to receive Him.
Ruth Randall, delicate and lovely, was also there, seated in a far corner where she might be safe from any draft. And it was to her, ignoring all the others, that Abdu’l-Bahá strode, His white aba billowing with the swiftness of His tread; His beautiful eyes filled with light and love. Reaching her He bent above her, murmuring “My daughter My dear daughter” and lovingly He rested His hands on her shoulders Then He turned and, smilingly, met all the other guests.
The following day, Ruth had an appointment with her doctor, who had examined her the previous week and had said that it might be necessary for her to return to the sanitarium for further treatment. He would be sure after he had seen her again. Ruth went to this appointment fearfully she was so longing to remain at home, so very reluctant to be sent again to the hospital. The doctor examined her – and was amazed. What had she been doing? What could have happened to her? She was healed. There was not the least trace left of the tuberculosis. Of course, this was an experience that neither Harry nor Ruth could ignore, so it was the beginning of their long and glorious life-time of teaching and serving the Cause they came to love so well. (Reginald Grant Barrow, Mother’s Stories: Stories of Abdu’l-Bahá and Early Believers told by Muriel Ives Barrow Newhall to her son, p. 23)
Many dingy abodes were brightened by His presence:
Almost any morning, early, He may be seen making the round of the city, calling upon the feeble and the sick; many dingy abodes are brightened by His presence.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 81)
He spent time with the sick:
His kind heart went out to those who were ill. If He could alleviate a pain or discomfort, He set about to do so. We are told that one old couple who were ill in bed for a month had twenty visits from the Master during that time. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 43)
A man, ill with tuberculosis, was avoided by his friends — even his family was fearful and hardly dared enter his room. The Master needed only to hear of it and ‘thereafter went daily to the sick man, took him delicacies, read and discoursed to him, and was alone with him when he died.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 44)
A dear friend of the family, Jinab-i-Munib, was taken seriously ill. When the boat stopped at Smyrna, Sarkar-i-Aqa (‘Abdu’l-Baha) and Mirza Musa carried him ashore, and took him to a hospital. The Master brought a melon and some grapes; returning with the refreshing fruit for him – He found that he had died. Arrangements were made with the director of the hospital for a simple funeral. The Master chanted some prayers, then, heartsore, came back to the boat. (Lady Blomfied, The Chosen Highway)
He gave them the necessities of life:
When a poor and crippled woman was shunned on contracting measles, the Master, on being informed, ‘immediately engaged a woman to care for her; took a room, put comfortable bedding (His own) into it, called the doctor, sent food and everything she needed. He went to see that she had every attention, and when she died in peace and comfort, He it was Who arranged her simple funeral, paying all charges.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 43)
He would feed them with His own hands:
Bahiyyih Randall was only thirteen years old when she went to Haifa to see the Master. She recalled that ‘there was a perfectly wonderful person who always sat on the right of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá at dinner. His name was Haydar-‘Ali and he had been a follower of Baha’u’llah and was so meek and so beautiful. His hands would shake so that he could not eat. He was such an old, old man, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would feed him with such tenderness. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 94)
He would cheer their hearts, saying:
If there is a sick person and one wishes to cure him, let one cause joy and happiness in his heart. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 417)
Joy is the best cure for your illness. Joy is better than a hundred thousand medicines for a sick person. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 417)
Here’s how He did it:
While in San Francisco, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá visited a black believer, Mr Charles Tinsley, who had been confined to bed for a long time with a broken leg. The Master said to him: ‘You must not be sad. This affliction will make you spiritually stronger. Do not be sad. Cheer up! Praise be to God, you are dear to me.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 44)
One day ‘Abdu’l-Bahá asked about the health of Mr Haney. He told the Master quite frankly, ‘My body is always well, but I am receiving so much Spiritual Food while here that I fear I shall have Spiritual indigestion.’ But his Host assured him: ‘No, you are going to digest it, for He who gives you the Spiritual Food is going to give you digestive power.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 143)
To Mrs Smith, a new Baha’i, who belonged to a distinguished Philadelphia family and who was suffering with a headache, the Master said, ‘You must be happy always. You must be counted among the people of joy and happiness and must be adorned with divine morals. In a large measure happiness keeps our health while depression of spirit begets diseases. The substance of eternal happiness is spirituality and divine morality, which has no sorrow to follow it.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 129)
He showered love on people:
On the day I arrived at Haifa I was ill with a dysentery which I had picked up in the course of my travels. ‘Abdu’l-Baha sent His own physician to me, and visited me Himself. He said, “I would that I could take your illness upon Myself.” I have never forgotten this. I felt, I knew, that in making this remark ‘Abdu’l-Baha was not speaking in mere terms of sympathy. He meant just what He said. Such is the great love of the Kingdom, of which ‘Abdu’l-Baha spoke so often and so much. This is a love that is difficult, almost impossible, for us to acquire — though we may seek to approximate its perfection. It is more than sympathy, more than empathy. It is sacrificial love. (Some Warm Memories of ‘Abdu’l-Baha — by Stanwood Cobb http://bahaitalks.blogspot.ca/2012/06/some-warm-memories-of-abdul-baha-by.html#more )
He never judged:
I remember as though it were yesterday another illustration of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s divine technique. I was not at all well that summer. A relapse was threatening a return of a condition which had necessitated a major operation the year before. My nervous condition made me consider breaking the habit of smoking which had been with me all my adult life. I had always prided myself on the ability to break the habit at any time. In fact I had several times cut off the use of tobacco for a period of many months. But this time to my surprise and chagrin I found my nerves and will in such a condition that after two or three days the craving became too much for me. Finally it occurred to me to ask the assistance of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. I had read His beautiful Tablet beginning: “0 ye pure friends of God!” in which He glorified personal cleanliness and urged the avoidance of anything tending towards habits of self-indulgence. “Surely,” I said to myself, “He will tell me how to overcome this habit.”
So, when I next saw Him I told Him all about it. It was like a child confessing to His mother, and my voice trailed away to embarrassed silence after only the fewest of words. But He understood, indeed much better than I did. Again I was conscious of an embracing, understanding love as He regarded me. After a moment He asked quietly, how much I smoked. I told him. He said He did not think that would hurt me, that the men in the Orient smoked all the time, that their hair and beards and clothing became saturated, and often very offensive. But that I did not do this, and at my age and having been accustomed to it for so many years He did not think that I should let it trouble me at all. His gentle eyes and smile seemed to hold a twinkle that recalled my impression of His enjoyment of a divine joke.
I was somewhat overwhelmed. Not a dissertation on the evils of habit; not an explanation of the bad effects on health; not a summoning of my will power to overcome desire, rather a Charter of Freedom did He present to me. I did not understand but it was a great relief for somehow I knew that this was wise advice. So immediately that inner conflict was stilled and I enjoyed my smoke with no smitings of conscience. But two days after this conversation I found the desire for tobacco had entirely left me and I did not smoke again for seven years. (Howard Colby Ives, Portals to Freedom, p. 45)
He encouraged the care givers:
Elizabeth Gibson Cheyne, poetess, and her husband, Dr T. K. Cheyne, esteemed critic, lived in Oxford, England, when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá visited them. Dr Cheyne’s health and strength were waning. ‘The beautiful loving care of the devoted wife for her gifted, invalid husband touched the heart of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. With tears in His kind eyes He spoke of them’ to His companions on their way back to London, ‘”She is an angelic woman, an example to all in her unselfish love. Yes, she is a perfect woman. An angel.”’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 107)
He educated people on spiritual and material healing:
Mrs Parsons was at the luncheon. Before she became a Bahá’í she had been a Christian Scientist, and now she brought up the question of mental suggestion as a cure for physical disease. The Master replied that some illnesses, such as consumption and insanity, developed from spiritual causes — grief, for example — and that these could be healed by the spirit. But Mrs Parsons persisted. Could not extreme physical cases, like broken bones, also be healed by the spirit? A large bowl of salad had been placed before the Master, Who sat at the head of the table, Florence Khanum on His right.
“If all the spirits in the air,” He laughed, “were to congregate together, they could not create a salad! Nevertheless, the spirit of man is powerful. For the spirit of man can soar in the firmament of knowledge, can discover realities, can confer life, can receive the Divine Glad-Tidings. Is not this greater,” and He laughed again, “than making a salad?” (The Diary of Juliet Thompson, p. 105-106)
He made sure people had medical attention, hiring doctors and paying for them Himself:
In ‘Akká, He daily sent a servant to inquire about the welfare of the ill, and as there was no hospital in the town, He paid a doctor a regular salary to look after the poor. The doctor was instructed not to tell Who provided this service. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 43)
‘Abdu’l-Baha believed in using medicine as well as spiritual healing. As there was no hospital in Akka, He hired a doctor by the name of Nikolaki Bey. He gave the doctor a regular salary to look after the very poor, and He asked the doctor not to tell who paid for the service. (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)
But always, the poor turned to Abdu’l-Baha for help. For instance, there was a poor, crippled woman named Na’um who used to come to Abdu’l-Baha every week for a gift of money. One day, a man came running; “Oh Master!” he said, “Poor Na’um has the measles, and everybody is keeping away from her. What can be done?” Abdu’l-Baha immediately sent a woman to take care of her; He rented a room, put His own bedding in it, called the doctor, sent food and everything she needed. He went to see that she had every attention. And when she died in peace and comfort, He arranged a simple funeral and paid all the expenses Himself.” (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)
When a Turkish man, living in Haifa, lost his position, he, his wife and children were in desperate need. They went to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá for help and were naturally greatly aided. When the poor man became ill, again the Master stood ready to help. He provided a doctor, medicine and provisions to make him comfortable. When this man felt he was to die, he asked for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and . . . The Master arranged for the funeral and provided food, clothing and travel-tickets for the family to go to Turkey. His sympathetic heart was as wide as the universe. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 66)
He cured some:
Lua was so traumatized by the idea of leaving him that in an attempt to delay, she deliberately went into the woods and walked through poison ivy. Later, in bed with her feet terribly swollen: “Look at me, Julie,” she said. “Look at my feet. Oh, please go right back to the Master and tell Him about them and say: how can Lua travel now?” I did it, returned to the Master’s house, found Him in His room and put Lua’s question to Him. He laughed, then crossed the room to a table on which stood a bowl of fruit, and, selecting an apple and a pomegranate, gave them to me. “Take these to Lua,” He said. “Tell her to eat them, and she will be cured. Spend the day with her, Julie.” O precious Lua – strange mixture of disobedience and obedience – and all from love! I shall never forget her, seizing first the apple, then the pomegranate and gravely chewing them all the way through till Not even a pomegranate seed was left: thoroughly eating her cure, which was certain to send her to California. In the late afternoon we were happily surprised by a visit from the Master Himself. He drew back the sheet and looked at Lua’s feet, which by that time were beautifully slim. Then He burst out laughing. “See,” He said, “I have cured Lua with an apple and a pomegranate.” … So poor Lua had to go to California. There was no way out for her. (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 120-121)
Muhammad-Hadi was from Isfahan, and as a binder and illuminator of books he had no peer. When he gave himself up to the love of God he was alert on the path and fearless. He abandoned his home and began a dreadful journey, passing with extreme hardship from one country to another until he reached the Holy Land and became a prisoner. He stationed himself by the Holy Threshold, carefully sweeping it and keeping watch. Through his constant efforts, the square in front of Bahá’u’lláh’s house was at all times swept, sprinkled and immaculate . . . When his sweeping, sprinkling and tidying was done, he would set to work illuminating and binding the various books and Tablets. So his days went by, his heart happy in the presence of the Beloved of mankind. He was an excellent soul, righteous, true, worthy of the bounty of being united with his Lord, and free of the world’s contagion. One day he came to me and complained of a chronic ailment. “I have suffered from chills and fever for two years,” he said, “The doctors have prescribed a purgative, and quinine. The fever stops a few days; then it returns. They give me more quinine, but still the fever returns. I am weary of this life, and can no longer do my work. Save me!” “What food would you most enjoy?” I asked him. “What would you eat with great appetite?” “I don’t know,” he said. Jokingly, I named off the different dishes. When I came to barley soup with whey (ash-i-kashk), he said, “Very good! But on condition there is braised garlic in it.” I directed them to prepare this for him, and I left. The next day he presented himself and told me: “I ate a whole bowlful of the soup. Then I laid my head on my pillow and slept peacefully till morning.” In short, from then on he was perfectly well for about two years. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Memorials of the Faithful, p. 68-69)
He couldn’t save everyone though:
One day a believer came to me and said: “Muhammad-Hadi is burning up with fever.” I hurried to his bedside and found him with a fever of 42 Centigrade. He was barely conscious. “What has he done?” I asked. “When he became feverish,” was the reply, “he said that he knew from experience what he should do. Then he ate his fill of barley soup with whey and braised garlic; and this was the result.” I was astounded at the workings of fate. I told them: “Because, two years ago, he had been thoroughly purged and his system was clear; because he had a hearty appetite for it, and his ailment was fever and chills, I prescribed the barley soup. But this time, with the different foods he has had, with no appetite, and especially with a high fever, there was no reason to diagnose the previous chronic condition. How could he have eaten the soup!” . . . Things had gone too far; Muhammad-Hadi was past saving. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Memorials of the Faithful, p. 68-69)
Sometimes He gave people a choice about whether to be healed or not:
One brief incident that made a lasting impression on Leroy illustrates this power of the Master. It occurred one evening when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke at the Masonic Temple [in Chicago]. More than a thousand people were present. The Ioas and Dealy families were very close, as it was through Paul Dealy that they had become Bahá’ís. The Ioases had brought Mrs. Dealy to the meeting, as she to her great distress was going blind. Following the Master’s talk, as hundreds milled around Him, she told her son he should have an interpreter ask ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to speak to her. Leroy, who was sitting next to her, remembers the son saying that would be impossible with all the people present. But she insisted and he went to pass on her request. The interpreter indicated she should sit on the aisle where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would leave. As the Master went up the aisle He stopped and greeted her lovingly. She reached for His hand and said, “’Abdu’l-Bahá, please put your hand on my forehead, and I know that I will see.‟ “Yes, my daughter,‟ He answered, “you will see. But you will have to choose. You may have your spiritual sight or your physical sight—which do you desire?‟ She said with emotion, “’Abdu’l-Bahá, that is no choice! I would be blind a thousand years before I would give up my spiritual sight!‟ “Well said, my daughter, well said,‟ replied the Master as He touched her shoulder and continued on His way out. Sitting next to her on that bench, Leroy realized with a chill how in that moment she had decided on her destiny. She was steadfast. (Leroy Ioas, Hand of the Cause of God by Anita Ioas Chapman, pp. 25-26)
Thomas [Breakwell] wrote to the Master, happily saying that, if he were Persian, he would have chosen to be a martyr. He had been admitted to hospital, and was in the tuberculosis ward. But news from the young man continued to reach ‘Akká, conveying an ever-increasing joy, despite his suffering. Sometimes, when Dr. Khan read Thomas’s letters to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the Master would remain silent. Dr. Khan knew that the ‘mysterious communion between the lover and the Beloved had no need of the spoken word.’ At other times, the Master would ask his secretary simply to convey His greetings. Although Thomas could have asked for healing, he never did, but prayed always for greater suffering. The more his illness consumed him, the greater his joy became. Hippolyte Dreyfus, who was able to visit Thomas in hospital, relates how the young Englishman spoke to the other patients enthusiastically about the Bahá’í Faith. Some of his listeners were upset by his message, others criticized it. But Thomas, unperturbed, maintained his tranquility and told them that he was not going to die, but was merely departing for the Kingdom of God, and that he would pray for them in heaven. Writing of his pain, he said: ‘Suffering is a heady wine; I am prepared to receive that bounty which is the greatest of all; torments of the flesh have enabled me to draw much nearer to my Lord. All agony notwithstanding, I wish life to endure longer, so that I may taste more of pain. That which I desire is the good-pleasure of my Lord; mention me in His presence.’ (Lakshiman-Lepain – The Life of Thomas Breakwell, p. 37-45)
Finally, He gave them to God:
At one time Juliet Thompson asked the Master about His daughter, Ruha Khanum, who had been very ill. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, ‘I have put her in the hands of the Blessed Perfection, and now I don’t worry at all.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 162)
How has this given you some new ideas of how you can help the sick? Post your comments below.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá was most uncompromising on the issue of racial equality during his visit to America:
As part of the American South, Washington, D.C. was also a city in which racial segregation was a fact of life, and it was on the issue of racial equality that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was most uncompromising during his visit to America. (Agnes Parson’s Diary, ©1996, Kalimát Press, Footnote #15)
Holding racially integrated meetings wasn’t easy, as no hotels would allow such a meeting:
In such a milieu, the Bahá’ís found it challenging to comply with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s instruction that they should hold racially integrated meetings. Even locating a public site for a community dinner honoring ‘Abdu’l-Bahá proved difficult, since no hotels in the city would allow an integrated meeting. (Agnes Parson’s Diary, ©1996, Kalimát Press, Footnote #15)
At one point, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was evicted from His hotel because his visitors were from such diverse backgrounds:
In late May 1912, in New York, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was evicted from His hotel because, as Mahmud noted, of the “coming and going of diverse people” and the “additional labors and troubles” for the staff and the “incessant inquiries” directed to the hotel management. “But,” Mahmud continued, “when the people of the hotel saw His great kindness and favor at the time of His departure, they were ashamed of their conduct and begged Him to stay longer, but He would not accept.”’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 111)
On another occasion He shocked some of the white socialites by insisting that Louis Gregory be seated next to him at a society luncheon:
Mrs. Parsons discreetly avoids mentioning here that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá broke with contemporary social conventions of racial separation by insisting the Louis Gregory, a prominent African-American Bahá’í, attend this luncheon in segregated Washington, D.C.—even though he had not been invited. Harlan Ober tells the story. . . .
“Just an hour before the luncheon ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sent word to Louis Gregory that he might come to Him for the promised conference. Louis arrived at the appointed time, and the conference went on and on; ‘Abdu’l-Bahá seemed to want to prolong it. When luncheon was announced, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá led the way and all followed Him into the dining room, except Louis.
“All were seated when suddenly ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stood up, looked around, and then said to Mírza Khan, Where is Mr. Gregory? Bring Mr Gregory! There was nothing for Mírzá Khan to do but find Mr. Gregory, who fortunately had not yet left the house, but was quietly waiting for a chance to do so. Finally Mr. Gregory came into the room with Mírzá Khan.
“’Abdu’l-Bahá, Who was really the Host (as He was wherever He was), had by this time rearranged the place setting and made room for Mr. Gregory, giving him the seat of honor at His right. He stated He was very pleased to have Mr. Gregory there, and then, in the most natural way as if nothing unusual had happened, proceeded to give a talk on the oneness of mankind.” (Agnes Parson’s Diary, p 31,33)
Another writer tells the same story with a few more details:
The Master’s every act was meaningful. On one auspicious occasion in Washington, D.C. He demonstrated what justice and love can do. The chargé d’affaires of the Persian Legation in the city and his wife had arranged a luncheon in His honour. Their guest list included members of the social and political life in the capital, as well as a number of Baha’is. Louis Gregory, a cultivated gentleman and employee in the government – he later became the first black Hand of the Cause – had been invited to visit the Master. He was surprised at the time scheduled for a visit, as he knew of the luncheon plans, but naturally he arrived on time. Their conference seemed to go on and on – as if indeed the Master might be prolonging it deliberately. Eventually the butler announced that luncheon was being served. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá led the way, the invited guests following closely behind. Mr Gregory was perplexed: should he leave or wait for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to return? The guests were seated when suddenly the honoured Guest rose, looked around and then asked in English, ‘Where is My friend, Mr Gregory?’, adding ‘My friend, Mr Gregory, must lunch with Me!’ It just so happened that Louis Gregory had not been on the luncheon list, so naturally he had remained behind. Now the chargé d’affaires hastened after him. The Master rearranged the place setting at His right, the seat of honour, of course – ignoring utterly the delicate laws of protocol – and the luncheon started only after Mr Gregory had been seated. Then, in a most natural manner, as if nothing at all unusual had happened in the capital that day in 1912, with tact and humour, the Master ‘electrified the already startled guests’ by talking about the unity of mankind. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 111)
At another time, ‘Abdu’l-Baha hosted a unity Feast and insisted that both black and white sit side-by-side in a previously segregated hotel:
On a certain occasion in America ‘Abdu’l-Bahá ‘announced that He wished to give a Unity Feast for the friends. The Committee arranging for the affair had taken it to one of the city’s most exclusive hotels, famed for its color bar. The colored friends, troubled by the prospect of insults and discriminatory treatment, decided not to attend. When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá learned of this, He insisted that all the friends should attend. The banquet was held with all the friends, white and colored, seated side by side, in great happiness and without one unpleasant incident.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 110)
With this one stroke, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá swept away both segregation by race and categorization by social rank:
Juliet Thompson wrote: “Gently yet unmistakably, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had assaulted the customs of a city that had been scandalized only a decade earlier by President Roosevelt’s dinner invitation to Booker T. Washington. Moreover as a friend who helped Madame Khan with the luncheon recalled, the place setting that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had rearranged so casually had been made according to the strict demands of Washington protocol. Thus, with one stroke ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had swept away both segregation by race and categorization by social rank. (Gayle Morrison, To Move The World, Louis G. Gregory and the Advancement of Racial Unity in America, p 53, 5)
He found racial differences a thing of beauty:
Mr Robert Turner, the butler of philanthropist Mrs Phoebe Hearst, distinguished himself by being the first Western black man to become a Baha’i. May Maxwell recalled later that ‘on the morning of our arrival [on pilgrimage], after we had refreshed ourselves, the Master summoned us all to Him in a long room overlooking the Mediterranean. He sat in silence gazing out of the window, then looking up He asked if all were present. Seeing that one of the believers was absent, He said, “Where is Robert?” . . . In a moment Robert’s radiant face appeared in the doorway and the Master rose to greet him, bidding him be seated, and said, “Robert, your Lord loves you. God gave you a black skin, but a heart white as snow.”’ Such was the tenacity of his faith that even the subsequent estrangement of his beloved mistress from the Cause she had spontaneously embraced failed to becloud its radiance, or to lessen the intensity of the emotions which the loving-kindness showered by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá upon him had excited in his breast.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 101)
The following delightful story about an incident during ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s stay in New York illustrates the fact that He was not ‘colour-blind’, but rather He found racial differences a thing of beauty. When the Master was on His way to speak to several hundred men at the Bowery Mission He was accompanied by a group of Persian and American friends. Not unnaturally a group of boys was intrigued by the sight of this group of Orientals with their flowing robes and turbans and started to follow them. They soon became noisy and obstreperous. A lady in the Master’s party was highly embarrassed at the rude behaviour of the boys. Dropping behind she stopped to talk with them and told them a little about who ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was. Not entirely expecting them to take her up on the invitation, she nevertheless gave them her home address and said that if they liked to come the following Sunday she would arrange for them to see Him. Thus, on Sunday, some twenty or thirty of them appeared on the doorstep, rather scruffy and noisy, but with signs that they had tidied up for the occasion nonetheless. Upstairs in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s room the Master was seen at the door greeting each boy with a handclasp or an arm around the shoulder, with warm smiles and boyish laughter. His happiest welcome seemed to be directed to the thirteen-year-old boy near the end of the line. He was quite dark-skinned and didn’t seem too sure he would be welcome. The Master’s face lighted up and in a loud voice that all could hear exclaimed with delight that ‘here was a black rose’. The boy’s face shone with happiness and love. Silence fell across the room as the boys looked at their companion with a new awareness. The Master did not stop at that, however. On their arrival He had asked that a big five-pound box of delicious chocolates be fetched. With this He walked around the room, ladling out chocolates by the handful to each boy. Finally, with only a few left in the box, He picked out one of the darkest chocolates, walked across the room and held it to the cheek of the black boy. The Master was radiant as He lovingly put His arm around the boy’s shoulders and looked with a humorously piercing glance around the group without making any further comment. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 100)
He was happiest at meetings where both white and colored people were present:
Joseph Hannen records: “On Tuesday, April 23rd, at noon, Abdu’l-Bahá addressed the student-body of more than 1,000, the faculty and a large number of distinguished guests, at Howard University. This was a most notable occasion, and here, as everywhere when both white and colored people were present, Abdu’l-Bahá seemed happiest. The address was received with breathless attention by the vast audience, and was followed by a positive ovation and a recall.” (Hannen, “Abdu’l-Bahá in Washington, D.C.” p. 7; Agnes Parson’s Diary, p. 29, Footnote 44)
He saw black people as His friends:
While ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was living in a Paris hotel, among those who often came to see Him was a poor, black man. He was not a Baha’i, but he loved the Master very much. One day when he came to visit, someone told him that the management did not like to have him – a poor black man – come, because it was not consistent with the standards of the hotel. The poor man went away. When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá learned of this, He sent for the man responsible. He told him that he must find His friend – He was not happy that he should have been turned away. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, ‘I did not come to see expensive hotels or furnishings, but to meet My friends. I did not come to Paris to conform to the customs of Paris, but to establish the standard of Baha’u’llah.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 110)
He gave addresses to audiences of black people:
Though most of Abdul-Bahá’s time was spent with the rich, famous and white people, He gave special attention to their black servants, treating them no differently than their employers. On 4 August Abdul-Bahá addressed a group of 28 black people, and spoke of the importance of unity and amity between black and white people. He told them of the upcoming marriage of Louisa Mathew, a white woman, and Louis Gregory, a black man. The white people in the audience were amazed at the influence the Cause of Baha’u’llah had on everyone, while the black people were very pleased to hear about such integration. Some Americans considered the creation of unity between blacks and whites to be nearly miraculous and as difficult to accomplish as “splitting the moon in half”, but here was Abdul-Bahá showing that it could happen. (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 161)
At one meeting he called a young boy a “black rose”:
Howard Colby Ives tells . . . a story when about 30 of the boys arrived for their meeting: . . . Among the last to enter the room was a colored lad of about 13 years. He was quite dark and, being the only boy of his race among them, he evidently feared that he might Not be welcome. When Abdul-Bahá saw him, His face lighted up with the heavenly smile. He raised His hand and exclaimed in a loud voice, so that none could fail to hear; that here was a black rose. The room fell into instant silence. The black face became illumined with happiness and love hardly of this world. The other boys looked at him with new eyes. I venture to say that he had been called black – many things, but never before a black rose. (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 88)
He appointed Agnes Parsons to promote the unity of the black and white races:
Agnes Parsons became a fine speaker about the Faith and always had an invitation for traveling teachers to give talks in her home. During her second pilgrimage in 1920, Abdul-Bahá told her that she should organize the convention for the unity of the colored and white races. For a woman of her social standing to promote the unity of the black and one in the white was tradition-breaking. (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 91)
At that time, she still upheld the long-standing social conventions of racial segregation:
At that time, Washington was the most racially and socially mixed Baha’i community in America, but it had deep racial unity problems. The upper classes, including people like Mr. and Mrs. Parsons, still upheld the long-standing social conventions of racial segregation that were not easily overcome. (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 98)
Her husband’s attitude was that they should all go back to Africa:
Arthur Parsons once commented to Abdul-Bahá that he wished all the blacks would return to Africa, to which the Master wryly replied that such an exodus would have to begin with Wilbur, the trusted butler of the Parsons household. . . . It is remarkable, then, that Abdu’l Bahá subsequently chose Agnes Parsons to spearhead the Racial Amity campaign initiated by the Baha’i community and just as remarkable that she transcended her social milieu in order to carry out this mandate. (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 98-99)
It is remarkable that she was able to transcend her social milieu in order to carry out this mandate:
It is remarkable, then, that Abdu’l Bahá subsequently chose Agnes Parsons to spearhead the Racial Amity campaign initiated by the Baha’i community and just as remarkable that she transcended her social milieu in order to carry out this mandate. (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 98-99)
He encouraged the first inter-racial Bahá’í marriage of its kind, between Louis Gregory, (an African-American man) and Louisa Mathews, (a white British woman):
Louis Gregory was blessed with going on pilgrimage. Towards its end ‘‘Abdu’l-Bahá summoned Louis Gregory and Louisa Mathew, a white English pilgrim. He questioned them, and, to their surprise, expressed the wish that they should join their lives together. In deference to His wishes they were married, and he sent them forth as a symbol of the spiritual unity, cooperation, dignity in relationships and service He desired for the races of mankind. That marriage presented many challenges. It brought all the obstacles to understanding and amity, and often cruel pressures. But it endured because the two souls it joined were ever guided and protected by a love beyond themselves and the pressures of the world. Theirs was a demonstration of the love which is prompted by the knowledge of God and reflected in the soul. They saw in each other the Beauty of God; and, clinging to this, they were sustained throughout the trials, the accidental conditions of life and the changes and chances of human experience.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 112)
For more about this Forbidden Marriage
Early believers had to first overcome their fear of black people:
Pauline and Joseph Hannen were the prime movers of racial integration in Washington in the early years of the Faith there. Initially, Pauline feared black people, but her study of Baha’u’llah’s writings forced her to change her attitude. Pauline taught the Faith to her black washerwoman, then she and Joseph began inviting blocks to meetings in their home – a rather daring thing to do at that time. (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 91-92)
Many whites were afraid to host multiracial gatherings in their homes for fear of what others would say. Many blacks were also reluctant to attend meetings because of their fear of insults and discriminatory treatment. (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 98)
Some people were evicted for having black Bahá’ís in their homes:
One day, Dr. Zia Bagdadi invited Mr. Louis Gregory, a black Baha’i, to his home. When his landlord heard about this, he gave notice to Dr. Bagdadi. He was to vacate his residence because he had a black man in his home. (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 108)
Others had to spend their wedding night on a park bench:
In the early 30s Mother, who was divorced from her first husband, Theodore Obrig, married the Reverend Reginald G. Barrow. The wedding ceremony was performed by her father Howard Colby Ives. It is family history that they spent their wedding night on a park bench, as they could not obtain a room in a hotel in Boston. Bishop Barrow, was a man of color, who was born in the West Indies. (Reginald Grant Barrow, Mother’s Stories: Stories of Abdu’l-Bahá and Early Believers told by Muriel Ives Barrow Newhall to her son, p. 5)
His efforts bore fruit, though. Look what happened in South Africa, under Apartheid:
Faced with the segregated social pattern and laws of Apartheid in South Africa, the integrated population of Bahá’ís had to decide how to be composed in their administrative structures – whether the National Spiritual Assembly would be all black or all white. The Bahá’í community decided that instead of dividing the South African Bahá’í community into two population groups, one black and one white, they instead limited membership in the Baha’i Administration to black adherents, and placed the entire Bahá’í community under the leadership of its black population. (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa Report (1998-10-29); Volume Four, paragraphs 6, 27, 75, 84, 102)
So with all of His love for the black people, why are they still so oppressed in America today? This might give us a clue:
Abdul-Bahá visited Charles Tinsley, a black employee of Phoebe Hearst who probably came into the Faith through Robert Turner, Mrs. Hearst’s longtime butler and the first African-American Baha’i. Charles was laid up at home with a broken leg when the Master arrived. When Abdul-Bahá asked how he was, Charles replied that he was fine except for the broken leg that kept him from working for the Cause. Abdul-Bahá told him:
“Cheer up! Praise be to God, you are dear to me. I will tell you a story:
A certain ruler wished to appoint one of his subjects to a high office; so, in order to train him, the ruler cast them into prison and caused him to suffer much. The man was surprised at this, for he expected great favors. The ruler had taken him from prison and beaten him with sticks. This greatly astonished the man, for he thought the ruler loved him. After this he was hanged on the gallows until he was nearly dead. After he recovered he asked the ruler, if you love me why did you do these things? The ruler replied: ‘I wish to make you Prime Minister. By having gone through these ordeals you are better fitted for that office. I wish you to know how it is yourself. When you are obliged to punish, you will know how it feels to endure these things. I love you so I wished you to become perfect.’
[To Mr. Tinsley] Even so with you. After this ordeal you will reach maturity. God sometimes causes us to suffer much and have many misfortunes that we may become strong in his Cause. You will soon recover and be spiritually stronger than ever before. You will work for God and carry the Message to many of your people.” (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 224)
In addition to teaching every believer can pray. Every believer can strive to make his “own inner life and private character mirror forth in their manifold aspects the splendour of those eternal principles proclaimed by Bahá’u’lláh. Every believer can contribute to the Fund. Not all believers can give public talks, not all are called upon to serve on administrative institutions. But all can pray, fight their own spiritual battles, and contribute to the Fund. If every believer will carry out these sacred duties, we shall be astonished at the accession of power which will result to the whole body, and which in its turn will give rise to further growth and the showering of greater blessings on all of us. (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 43)
As I get older and less able to take on all the responsibilities, I was able to carry out when I was younger, I frequently feel inadequate in my teaching and service as a homefront pioneer in an inactive cluster, especially when the needs of the Faith are so urgent. I judge myself harshly and mercilessly because of it, and then beat myself up for that too. When I came across this reading, I found it both timely and very comforting. Thank you, God, for giving me exactly what I need, when I need it most!
I’m grateful the House of Justice acknowledges that not all of us can give public talks or serve on administrative institutions. But I can pray. I can fight my own spiritual battles, and I can contribute to the Fund, especially to deputize those who are on the forefront of the community building process.
Knowing that doing these simple things will give rise to further growth and shower greater blessings on all of us, I am grateful!.
What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation? I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!
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