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‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Love for the Sacrifices Made By the Poor and Lowly

When we read biographies of the early heroes and heroines of the Faith, we often read about people who were able to find time and money to serve the Faith, but we seldom read about how ‘Abdu’l-Baha regarded the sacrifices made by those with extremely limited means.

He respected even the most humble contributions:

The following touching incident took place one day when we were seated at table with the Master.  A Persian friend arrived who had passed through `Ishqabad,. He presented a cotton handkerchief to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Who untied it, and saw therein a piece of dry black bread, and a shrivelled apple.  The friend exclaimed: “A poor Baha’i workman came to me: `I hear thou goest into the presence of our Beloved. Nothing have I to send, but this my dinner. I pray thee offer it to Him with my loving devotion.'”  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spread the poor handkerchief before Him, leaving His own luncheon untasted. He ate of the workman’s dinner, broke pieces off the bread, and handed them to the assembled guests, saying: “Eat with me of this gift of humble love.”  (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)

Once, when I lived in Baghdad,” He [‘Abdul-Bahá] went on, “I was invited to the house of a poor thorn-picker. In Baghdad the heat is greater even than in Syria; and it was a very hot day. But I walked twelve miles to the thorn-picker’s hut. Then his wife made a little cake out of some meal for Me and burnt it in cooking it, so that it was a black, hard lump. Still that was the best reception I ever attended.”  (The Diary of Juliet Thompson)

Even the contribution of one small coin was important to ‘Abdu’l-Baha:

All the Bahá’ís in Iran loved and respected Haji Amin, and many wonderful stories are told about his sincerity and devotion.  Once, when he was about to set off for the Holy Land, a very poor woman gave him a small coin to take with him.  Haji Amin thanked her and put it in his pocket.  As soon as he arrived at the home of ‘Abdul-Bahá, he presented to Him the donations he had collected, as he always did.  The Master would usually thank him and praise him for his untiring labours.  Haji Amin’s integrity was not to be questioned, and he had never made a mistake in his calculations.  Indeed, it was not difficult for him to keep his accounts as he never had any money of his own.  This time, however, to his utter astonishment, when ‘Abdul-Bahá was presented with the money, He looked at Haji Amin kindly and said something was missing from the amount.  Haji Amin left the Master’s presences with much sadness, unable to understand what could have happened.  He went to his room in tears and prostrated himself in prayer.  As he did so, he felt a hard piece of metal under his knee.  It was the small coin the poor woman had given him to take to the Holy Land as he was leaving.  The coin had slipped through a hole in his pocket into the lining of his long coat.  Haji Amin immediately took the coin and went to ‘Abdul-Bahá.  The Master showered His praises on him . He kissed the coin and said this was worth more than all the other donations because it had been given with the greatest sacrifice.  (Gloria Faizi, Stories about Bahá’í Funds, p. 47-48)

He knew people’s circumstances, appreciated their sacrifices and wished they would have kept the money for themselves:

One day ‘Abdu’l-Bahá learned that a lady had cut her lovely hair in order to contribute to the building of the House of Worship in Wilmette.  He wrote to her with loving appreciation:  ‘On the one hand, I was deeply touched, for thou hadst sheared off those fair tresses of thine with the shears of detachment from this world and of self-sacrifice in the path of the Kingdom of God.  And on the other, I was greatly pleased, for that dearly-beloved daughter hath evinced so great a spirit of self-sacrifice as to offer up so precious a part of her body in the pathway of the Cause of God.  Hadst thou sought my opinion, I would in no wise have consented that thou shouldst shear off even a single thread of thy comely and wavy locks; nay, I myself would have contributed in thy name for the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar.  This deed of thine is, however, an eloquent testimony to thy noble spirit of self-sacrifice.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 113)

In the afternoon He called me. He kept me in the room a long, long time, seeing many others while I sat there. When He had dismissed them all, He came close to me and took my hand.  “There is a matter,” He said, “about which I want to speak to you.  The photographs of the portrait you painted of Me, you have offered them for the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar. I know your circumstances, Juliet. You have not complained to Me, you have said nothing, but I know them. I know your affairs are in confusion, that you have debts, that you have that house, that you have to take care of your mother. Now I want you to keep the money” (for the photographs) “for yourself. No, no; do not feel unhappy,” (as I began to cry) “this is best. You must do exactly as I say. I will speak about this Myself to the believers. I will tell them,” He laughed, “that is it My command.”    I thanked Him brokenly.   (The Diary of Juliet Thompson)

He loved when the poor prayed for Him:

One day the Master, with one of His daughters, approached a native woman, dirty and almost savage-looking.  Hers had been a hard life as the daughter of a desert chief.  Though she was not a Baha’i, she quite naturally loved the Master, who was so genuinely kind.  Lingering a moment, she bowed and greeted the Master.  Kindly He made reply and, somehow knowing her need, ‘pressed a coin into her hand’ as He passed by.  Obviously, she was filled with appreciation.  One of the Master’s daughters told an observer that this woman had, in that brief encounter, said to the Master that ‘she would pray for Him’, and graciously He had thanked her.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 91)

When ‘Abdu’l-Baha was knighted by the British, He chose to drive by horse and carriage, with His faithful servant, instead of in the chauffeured car that was sent for Him:

‘Abdu’l-Bahá consented to accept the knighthood – but He was not impressed with worldly honour or ceremony. Even a formality must be simplified. An elegant car was sent to bring Him to the Governor’s residence, but the chauffeur did not find the Master at His home. People scurried in every direction to find Him. Suddenly He appeared ‘… alone, walking His kingly walk, with that simplicity of greatness which always enfolded Him.’ Isfandiyar, His long-time faithful servant, stood near at hand. Many were the times when he had accompanied the Master on His labours of love. Now, suddenly, with this elegant car ready to convey his Master to the Governor, he felt sad and unneeded. Intuitively, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá must have sensed this – He gave him a sign. Isfandiyar dashed off – the horse was harnessed, the carriage brought to the lower gate and the Master was driven to a side entrance of the garden of the Governor. Isfandiyar was joyous – he was needed even yet. Quietly, without pomp, ‘Abbas Effendi  arrived at the right time at the right place and did honour to those who would honour Him when He was made Sir ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Abbas, K.B.E. – a title which He almost never used. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)

Here’s a story that always moves me to tears!  It’s the story of Nettie Tobin, a poor woman whose husband had died the day before, choosing a rock which ‘Abdu’l-Baha used as the corner-stone for the temple in Wilmette:

The story of the dedication stone is interesting in its own right.  When the Temple had been first proposed in 1903, a Persian Baha’i, had sent a letter to the American Baha’is saying that “the glory and honor of the first stone is equivalent to all the stones and implements which will later be used there.”  This excited Nettie (Esther) Tobin, a loving, humble woman who earned a meager living as a seamstress.  Praying that God would send her something she could offer as a gift, she went to a nearby construction site, told the foreman about the Temple, and asked if she could have an inexpensive building stone.  The foreman liked her story and showed her a pile of broken limestone blocks that were no good for building and said she could take one.  With the help of a neighbor, she wrapped her stone in a piece of carpet, tied on a clothesline and dragged it home.  To get the stone to the Temple site, it was carried by hand on two different streetcars, dragged on the ground, and carried in a wheelbarrow.  One of the streetcar conductors was not thrilled to have a rock on board, but finally allowed them to put it on the back platform.  The last six blocks from the closest streetcar station were the most difficult.  At first, Nettie, her brother Leo Leadroot, and Mirza Mazlum, an elderly Persian Baha’i neighbor, tried to carry the stone, but after three blocks, they were exhausted.  Corrine True and Cecelia Harrison had been waiting at the Temple site for them and finally went to look for them.  Mirza Mazlum had three women put the stone on his and he managed to stagger another half block before coming to the end of his endurance.  The stone was left there overnight.  Nettie came back the next morning with a homemade cart.  Trying to load the stone into the cart by herself, she managed to break the handle of the cart and injured her wrist.  A helpful fellow repaired her cart and helped her load the stone into it.  With two blocks to go, Nettie managed to persuade the newsboy to help her get the cart to the western corner of the Temple land and onto the site, where the cart promptly collapsed into pieces.  There, the stone stayed.  People in other parts of the world, including Abdul-Bahá, sent stones for the Temple, but none ever arrived.  So, on the day He broke the ground, only Nettie Tobin’s contribution of the “stone which the builders refused” would be available to serve as the marker dedicated by Abdul-Bahá.  (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 114-115)

I also love the book Stories About Baha’i Funds, by Gloria Faizi, which contains many poignant, inspirational, and even humorous stories of the sacrifices made by poor people to the Fund.

How ‘Abdu’l-Baha Cheered the Hearts of the Poor


In this last of a series of articles on ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s love for the poor, we look at how he welcomed them and cheered their hearts.

He made people feel completely at ease:

In London it was noted that inquirers often hated to leave.  If any were still present when luncheon or dinner was to be served, they were inevitably invited to dine also.  To smother embarrassment, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would extend His hand to the humblest and lead him personally into the dining-room, seating him at His right and talking with such warmth that soon the surprised guest felt completely at ease. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 57)

He spoke words of comfort, strength and healing:

One day, in London, while several people were talking to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, a man’s voice was heard at the door.  It was the son of a country clergyman, but now he looked more like an ordinary tramp and his only home was along the banks of the river Thames.  He had walked thirty miles to see ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.  The man was taken to the dining room, he was given food, and after he had rested for a while, he said, ‘Last evening I had decided to put an end to my futile, hateful life, useless to God and man!  In a little country town yesterday, whilst taking what I had intended should be my last walk, I saw a face in the window of a newspaper shop.  I stood looking at the face as if rooted to the spot.  He seemed to speak to me, and call me to Him!…I read that He is here, in this house.  I said to myself, “If there is on earth that personage, I shall take up again the burden of my life.”…Tell me, is He here?  Will He see me?  Even me?  The lady replied, ‘Of course He will see you…’ Just then ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Himself opened the door, extending His hands as though to a dear friend whom He was expecting.  ‘”Welcome!  Most welcome!  I am very much pleased that thou hast come.  Be seated.”  Trembling the poor man sank into a chair by the Master.  “Be happy!  Be happy!…Do not be filled with grief…” encouraged the Master.  “Though thou be poor, thou mayest be rich in the Kingdom of God.”‘ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke these and other words of comfort, strength and healing.  The man’s cloud of misery seemed to melt away in the warmth of the Master’s loving presence.  Before the man left, he said that he was going to work in the fields, and that after he had saved a little money, he was going to buy some land to grow violets for the market. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 89)

When anyone was overlooked, it made Him unspeakably sad:

He had left orders that none were to be turned away, but one who had twice vainly sought his presence, and was, through some oversight, prevented from seeing him, wrote a heartbreaking letter showing that he thought himself rebuffed. It was translated by the Persian interpreter. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá at once put on his coat, and, turning towards the door, said, with an expression of unspeakable sadness, “A friend of mine has been martyred, and I am very grieved. I go out alone.” and he swept down the steps. One could then see how well the title of “Master” became him.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 109)

Whenever he felt a heart had been hurt, He would hasten to bring them to Him:

The demands on Abdul-Bahá’s time were constant.  The English Baha’is tried to organize the flow of those seeking interviews and instituted a system of official appointments. One day, a woman appeared at the door and asked if she could see Abdul-Bahá.  When asked if she had an appointment, she admitted that she had not and was promptly told, “I am sorry but He is occupied now with most important people, and cannot be disturbed.”  Sadly, the woman slowly turned away, but before she could reach the bottom of the steps, a messenger from Abdul-Bahá rushed out and breathlessly said, “He wishes to see you, come back!”  From the house came the powerful voice of the Master: “A heart has been hurt, hasten, hasten, bring her to Me.”  (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p.36)

He waited for people who were coming to see Him, even if it inconvenienced others:

When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was in San Francisco, His hostess arranged an interview with the Mayor of Berkeley.  Many dignitaries and university people were to gather at a reception. ‘As the appointed hour for departure approached the hostess went upstairs to warn ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that the time was near.  He smiled and waved her away, saying, “Very soon!  Very soon!”  ‘She left him with some impatience, for there was no evidence of preparation for the trip.  After some time she went up again, for the automobile was honking at the door, and it looked as if the Mayor of Berkeley would be kept waiting.  But she met only a smile, and “Very soon!  Very soon!” from the important guest.  At last her patience was quite exhausted for she knew that they could not possibly arrive at the reception in time.  Suddenly there was a ring at the door bell.  Immediately ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s step was on the stair, and when the door opened he was beside the maid, pulling over the threshold a dusty and disheveled man whom no one had ever heard of, but whom ‘Abdu’l-Bahá embraced like a long lost friend.’  He had read of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the newspapers and felt he must see Him, but as he did not have enough money for the car fare, he walked the fifteen miles into San Francisco.  Had ‘Abdu’l-Bahá left on time, they would have missed each other — but the Master had ‘felt his approach’ and would not leave until His guest was seated at the table with tea and sandwiches.  Only then could the Master say, ‘Now I must go, but when you have finished, wait for Me in My room upstairs, until I return, and then we will have a great talk.’  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 56)

He made people feel happy even if it made others unhappy:

Two ladies from Scotland, delighted that their request to have an evening with the Master while He was in London had been granted, were warmly received by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.  How they relished having this intimate evening!  Half an hour passed in His warm presence, when suddenly they were filled with consternation — an aggressive reporter strode into their midst and seated himself — he wanted information about the Master.  His talkative, impolite manner left the ladies speechless — such an intrusion could spoil that precious evening. Then, to their surprise, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stood up and, beckoning the reporter to follow Him, led the way into His room.  The ladies had indeed got rid of the intruder, but they had also lost ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.  What were they to do?  Before long the hostess went into the Master’s secretary and asked that He be informed ‘that the ladies with whom the appointment had been made are awaiting His pleasure.’  Very soon kind words of farewell were heard.  Then the Master returned, pausing by the door. Gravely, He looked at each and said, ‘You were making that poor man uncomfortable, so strongly desiring his absence; I took him away to make him feel happy.’  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 54)

He gave them hope for the future:

The other meeting was held at the Bowery Mission Hall to help and assist the poor and destitute. First `Abdu’l-Bahá spoke on the subject of the station of poverty and gave the men hope for the future. (Mahmud’s Diary, April 18, 1912)

He made them smile and laugh:

Very early one morning when the main street of Dublin was almost devoid of people, one of the guests at the hotel glanced out her window and saw Abdul-Bahá walking and dictating to His secretary.  As they walked, an old man dressed in ragged and very dirty clothes passed by.  Abdul-Bahá sent his secretary to fetch the poor fellow.  Abdul-Bahá appeared to try to cheer up the man and was finally able to coax a wan smile.  (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 164)

He saw the face of God in everyone He met, and everyone came away happy:

Once ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was asked, ‘Why do all the guests who visit you come away with shining countenances?’  ‘He said with his beautiful smile:  “I cannot tell you, but in all those upon whom I look, I see only my Father’s Face.” (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 96)

When He was in America, he spoke to the poor in language they could understand.  He reminded them that God blessed the poor, not the rich:

You must be thankful to God that you are poor, for Jesus Christ has said, “Blessed are the poor.” He never said, “Blessed are the rich.” He said, too, that the Kingdom is for the poor and that it is easier for a camel to enter a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter God’s Kingdom. Therefore, you must be thankful to God that although in this world you are indigent, yet the treasures of God are within your reach; and although in the material realm you are poor, yet in the Kingdom of God you are precious.  (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 32-33)

He reminded them that Jesus preferred to be poor:

Jesus Himself was poor. He did not belong to the rich. He passed His time in the desert, traveling among the poor, and lived upon the herbs of the field. He had no place to lay His head, no home. He was exposed in the open to heat, cold and frost — to inclement weather of all kinds — yet He chose this rather than riches.  If riches were considered a glory, the Prophet Moses would have chosen them; Jesus would have been a rich man. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 33)

He reminded them that it was the poor who first accepted Jesus, therefore the poor are His disciples:

When Jesus Christ appeared, it was the poor who first accepted Him, not the rich. Therefore, you are the disciples of Jesus Christ; you are His comrades, for He outwardly was poor, not rich.  (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 33)

He reminded them that the rich can’t take their possessions with them when they die; and many of them have regrets and their hope in the mercy of God is less than those who are poor:

Even this earth’s happiness does not depend upon wealth. You will find many of the wealthy exposed to dangers and troubled by difficulties, and in their last moments upon the bed of death there remains the regret that they must be separated from that to which their hearts are so attached. They come into this world naked, and they must go from it naked. All they possess they must leave behind and pass away solitary, alone. Often at the time of death their souls are filled with remorse; and worst of all, their hope in the mercy of God is less than ours. Praise be to God! Our hope is in the mercy of God, and there is no doubt that the divine compassion is bestowed upon the poor. Jesus Christ said so; Bahá’u’lláh said so. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 33)

He told them that Baha’ullah lived among the poor for 2 years.  One of the titles He’s most proud of was “The Poor One”:

While Bahá’u’lláh was in Baghdad, still in possession of great wealth, He left all He had and went alone from the city, living two years among the poor. They were His comrades. He ate with them, slept with them and gloried in being one of them. He chose for one of His names the title of The Poor One and often in His Writings refers to Himself as Darvish, which in Persian means poor; and of this title He was very proud.  (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 33)

He reminded them that they are closer to God, because they are dependent on God and not themselves:

The rich are mostly negligent, inattentive, steeped in worldliness, depending upon their means, whereas the poor are dependent upon God, and their reliance is upon Him, not upon themselves. Therefore, the poor are nearer the threshold of God and His throne.  (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 33)

He reminded them of all they had, which made them the richest men on earth:

Jesus was a poor man. One night when He was out in the fields, the rain began to fall. He had no place to go for shelter so He lifted His eyes toward heaven, saying, “O Father! For the birds of the air Thou hast created nests, for the sheep a fold, for the animals dens, for the fish places of refuge, but for Me Thou hast provided no shelter. There is no place where I may lay My head. My bed consists of the cold ground; My lamps at night are the stars, and My food is the grass of the field. Yet who upon earth is richer than I? For the greatest blessing Thou hast not given to the rich and mighty but unto Me, for Thou hast given Me the poor. To me Thou hast granted this blessing. They are Mine. Therefore am I the richest man on earth.  (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 33-34)

He reminded them that they resemble Jesus more than the rich do:

So, my comrades, you are following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Your lives are similar to His life; your attitude is like unto His; you resemble Him more than the rich do. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 34)

Home Visits 

‘Abdu’l-Baha would visit people in their homes every day, or send a trusty messenger in His place:

He is each day at their bedside, or sends a trusty messenger. (HM Balyuzi, ‘Abdul-Bahá: the Centre of the Covenant, p. 100)

He would encourage others to visit:

In the morning friends and seekers surrounded ‘Abdu’l-Bahá like moths. He spoke to them in these words:  You must have deep love for one another. Go to see each other and be consoling friends to all. If a friend lives a little distance from the town, go to see him. Do not content yourselves with words only but act according to the commandments of God. Hold weekly meetings and give feasts. Put forth your efforts to acquire spiritual perfections and to spread the knowledge of God. These are the attributes of the Bahá’ís. Otherwise, what use is there in being a Bahá’í in word alone.  (Mahmud’s Diary, Sept. 20, 1912)

On feast days He would visit the poor in their homes, staying long enough to do whatever He could to make them happy:

On feast days he visits the poor at their homes. He chats with them, inquires into their health and comfort, mentions by name those who are absent, and leaves gifts for all.  (HM Balyuzi, ‘Abdul-Bahá: the Centre of the Covenant, p. 100)

He would offer practical help:

If he finds a leaking roof or a broken window menacing health, he summons a workman, and waits himself to see the breach repaired. (HM Balyuzi, ‘Abdul-Bahá: the Centre of the Covenant, p. 100)

If anyone is in trouble, — if a son or a brother is thrown into prison, or he is threatened at law, or falls into any difficulty too heavy for him, — it is to the Master that he straightway makes appeal for counsel or for aid. (HM Balyuzi, ‘Abdul-Bahá: the Centre of the Covenant, p. 100)

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)

And made sure necessary home repairs were completed:

On the other hand, if the Master knew of a broken window or a leaky roof, which were health hazards, He would make sure the necessary repairs were completed.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 68)



‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Justice for the Poor

‘Abdu’l-Bahá never let anyone take advantage of Him.

When giving out money, He had people with Him to regulate the crowds:

During this time this friend of the poor has not been unattended. Several men wearing red fezes, and with earnest and kindly faces, followed him from the house, stood near him and aided in regulating the crowd, and now, with reverent manner and at a respectful distance, follow him away. When they address him they call him “Master.” (Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khanum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi)

He liked discipline and order, so they could pass by Him one by one:

They crowd up a little too insistently. He pushes them gently back and lets them pass him one by one.   (Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khanum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi)

His helpers made sure that everyone passed on as soon as they’d received money from Him:

The men accompanying Him kept order in great kindness, but firmness, and saw that each passed on as soon as he had received from the Master.   (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 80)

He kept a record of those who He gave to because He did not wish to be abused:

He gave where He felt it was merited and kept a record of the recipients.  He did not wish to be abused.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 76)

If He knew someone was just lazy, He would turn them away and reprimand them:

Once in a while we would see Him send some one away empty-handed and He would reprimand him for his laziness.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 80)

He called everyone His friends, but those who attempted to deceive Him were rebuked and told where they might obtain work:

Later, while resting, the Master told Mrs. True about His friends.  ‘These are My friends, My friends.  Some of them are My enemies, but they think I do not know it, because they appear friendly, and to them I am very kind, for one must love his enemies and do good to them.’  He explained that there simply was not sufficient work in ‘Akká.  Men could do but two kinds of work:  they could fish, but the sea had been too stormy lately, or they could carry loads on their backs, which required great strength.  Those who attempted to deceive Him were rebuked and told where they might obtain work.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 80)

If someone criticized a gift, He reproved them but He always gave them something else:

At one time the Master had a fine cloak of Persian wool, which had been given to Him.  When a poor man appealed to Him for a garment, He sent for this cloak and gave it to him.  The man took it but complained, saying it was only of cotton.  ‘No,’ ‘Abbas Effendi assured him, ‘it is of wool’; and to prove it He lighted a match and burned a little of the nap.  The man still grumbled that it was not good.  ‘Abbas Effendi reproved him for criticizing a gift, but He ended the interview by directing an attendant to give the man a mejidi (a coin then worth about four francs).  It was observed that if someone vexed the Master, He always gave him a gift.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 75)

One of the most well-known story is about how ‘Abdu’l-Baha refused to be cheated by a dishonest taxi driver:

Economic justice, even in small matters, was important to the Master.  Once in Egypt ‘Abdu’l-Bahá obtained a carriage in order that He might offer a ride to an important Pasha, who was to be His luncheon guest.  When they reached their destination, the driver asked an exorbitant fee.  The Master was fully aware of this and refused to pay the full amount.  The driver, big and rough, grabbed His sash and ‘jerked Him back and forth’, demanding his unfair price.  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá remained firm and the man eventually let go.  The Master paid what He actually owed him and informed him that had he been honest, he would have received a handsome tip instead of only the fare.  He then walked away.  Shoghi Effendi, His grandson, was present when this happened.  He later admitted to being very embarrassed that this should have happened in front of the Pasha.  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, on the other hand, was evidently ‘not at all upset’, but simply determined not to be cheated. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 109)

They took a taxi to the train station, where the taxi driver demanded more than the usual fare.  Abdul-Bahá ignored him, saying, “A man may give $1000 without minding it, but he should not yield even a dollar to the person who wishes to take it wrongfully, for such wrongful behavior flouts justice and disrupts the order of the world.  (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 190)

He Gave Advice to the Poor

He reminded them to give thanks for the things they have been given, sometimes in His talks:

So, my comrades, you are following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Your lives are similar to His life; your attitude is like unto His; you resemble Him more than the rich do. Therefore, we will thank God that we have been so blessed with real riches. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 34)

Sometimes through stories:

The Master sometimes made His points through telling stories.  Julia Grundy recorded the following story of His:  ‘A master had a slave who was completely devoted to him.  One day he gave the slave a melon which when cut open looked most ripe and delicious.  The slave ate one piece, then another and another with great relish (the day being warm) until nearly the whole melon had disappeared.  The master, picking up the last slice, tasted it and found it exceedingly bitter and unpalatable.  “Why, it is bitter!  Did you not find it so?” he asked the servant.  “Yes, my Master,” the slave replied, “it was bitter and unpleasant, but I have tasted so much sweetness from thy hand that one bitter melon was not worth mentioning.”’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 167)

He Gave Even More Advice to the Rich

Baha’u’llah set the standard:


The poor in your midst are My trust; guard ye My trust, and be not intent only on your own ease.  (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 54)

To those who were suffering because of the poor, He gave this advice, which had positive effects:

Then He added, “However you must strive to overcome these feelings, do everything in your power to help, pray, then leave it with God, because the world will grow steadily much worse, and if you suffer like this you will not be able to survive.  Nevertheless his words opened the door of help to those strike sufferers, and on my return to Montréal I went to a very wealthy and prominent Irishmen there, whom I had never seen, burst into tears in his office, to his astonishment and mine, and asked him what he was going to do about it.  Well, to end the story, he headed the committee to raise a fund which we sent to Dublin through private channels in which came just in time to succour thousands of women and children.  (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 186-187)

He reminded them why the poor are especially beloved of God:

What could be better before God than thinking of the poor? For the poor are beloved by our heavenly Father. When His Holiness Christ came upon the earth those who believed in him and followed him were the poor and lowly, showing the poor were near to God. When a rich man believes and follows the Manifestation of God it is a proof that his wealth is not an obstacle and does not prevent him from attaining the pathway of salvation. After he has been tested and tried it will be seen whether his possessions are a hindrance in his religious life. But the poor are especially beloved of God. Their lives are full of difficulties, their trials continual, their hopes are in God alone. (Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 36)

He reminded them of their responsibilities towards helping the poor:

Therefore you must assist the poor as much as possible, even by sacrifice of yourself. No deed of man is greater before God than helping the poor. Spiritual conditions are not dependent upon the possession of worldly treasures or the absence of them. When physically destitute, spiritual thoughts are more likely. Poverty is stimulus toward God. Each one of you must have great consideration for the poor and render them assistance. Organize in an effort to help them and prevent increase of poverty.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 36)

He reminded them through stories, that we’re all one family and have a responsibility to each other:

A Persian king was one night in his palace, living in the greatest luxury and comfort. Through excessive joy and gladness he addressed a certain man, saying: “Of all my life this is the happiest moment. Praise be to God, from every point prosperity appears and fortune smiles! My treasury is full and the army is well taken care of. My palaces are many; my land unlimited; my family is well off; my honor and sovereignty are great. What more could I want!”  The poor man at the gate of his palace spoke out, saying: “O kind king! Assuming that you are from every point of view so happy, free from every worry and sadness — do you not worry for us? You say that on your own account you have no worries — but do you never worry about the poor in your land? Is it becoming or meet that you should be so well off and we in such dire want and need? In view of our needs and troubles how can you rest in your palace, how can you even say that you are free from worries and sorrows? As a ruler you must not be so egoistic as to think of yourself alone but you must think of those who are your subjects. When we are comfortable then you will be comfortable; when we are in misery how can you, as a king, be in happiness?”  The purport is this that we are all inhabiting one globe of earth. In reality we are one family and each one of us is a member of this family. We must all be in the greatest happiness and comfort, under a just rule and regulation which is according to the good pleasure of God, thus causing us to be happy, for this life is fleeting.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 41)

He reminded them that God has many mansions prepared for servants of the poor:

He admonished all that we must be the servants of the poor, helpers of the poor, remember the sorrows of the poor, associate with them; for thereby we may inherit the Kingdom of heaven. God has not said that there are mansions prepared for us if we pass our time associating with the rich, but He has said there are many mansions prepared for the servants of the poor, for the poor are very dear to God. The mercies and bounties of God are with them.  (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 33)

He reminded them to be grateful:

Day by day friends brought offerings of flowers and fruit, so that the dinner table was laden with these beautiful tokens of love for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Whilst cutting off bunches of grapes and giving them to various guests, He talked to us of the joy of freedom, of how grateful we should be for the privilege of dwelling in safety, under just laws, in a healthy city, with a temperate climate, and brilliant light – “there was much darkness in the prison fortress of `Akka!”  (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)

He reminded them to be moderate:

After His first dinner with us He said: “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.”  What a lesson to the guests present!  We at once agreed that one substantial, plentiful dish, with salad, cheese, biscuits, sweetmeats, fruits, and flowers on the table, preceded by soup and followed by coffee or tea, should be quite sufficient for any dinner. This arrangement would greatly simplify life, both as to cookery and service, and would undeniably be more in accordance with the ideals of Christianity than numerous dishes unnecessary and costly.  (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)

He reminded them that deeds were more important than words:

Later that evening ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was seated with a number of visitors to whom He was saying as He laughed: ‘Assuredly give to the poor! If you give them only words, when they put their hands into their pockets they will find themselves none the richer for you.’ (H.M. Balyuzi, Abdu’l-Bahá – The Centre of the Covenant, p. 177)

He made sure they understood that service to others was to be given for the sake of God and not for praise or fame:

A day or two later, Abdul-Bahá talked about charitable works: “As charitable works become praiseworthy, people often perform them merely for the sake of fame and to gain benefit for themselves, as well as to attract people’s admiration.  But this does not render needless the teachings of the Prophets because it is spiritual morals that are the cause of training one’s innate nature and of personal progress.  Thus will people offer service to one another with all their hearts for the sake of God and in order to fulfill the duties of devotion to Him and service to humanity and not for the purpose of acquiring praise and fame. (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 158)

He reminded them to see everyone, no matter how blurred or torn, as a letter from God:

“Mrs True, when you go back I want you to look at every human being and say to yourself, “you are a letter from my Beloved, and I must love you because of the Beloved Who wrote you. The letter may be torn, it may be blurred, but because the Beloved wrote the letter, you must love it.” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, from the book, Corinne True)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá once gave the example of a soiled and crushed letter that reaches the hand of a lover from his beloved.  That letter, He said, is no less precious because of the condition in which it has arrived.  It is cherished because it has come from a loved one.  In the same way, we can learn to love a fellow man, no matter who he is, because he is God’s creature.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 96)

How has this helped you understand how you should treat the poor?  Post your comments below!

‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Practical Assistance to the Poor

He Gave Them Food

Although He might not have any earthly means, He cut off what most of us would consider to be necessities (food, clothes, possessions):

How could this Prisoner give to the needy of ‘Akká every Friday morning?  Had not His exiled family’s wealth and property been almost totally confiscated?  One pilgrim found that, ‘All that the Master gives is a real sacrifice, and is saved by the cutting off of what most people would consider necessities.’  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 82)

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:

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 sent bread secretly to those who are too proud to beg and suffer in silence:

Nor is it the beggars only that he remembers. Those respectable poor who cannot beg, but must suffer in silence — those whose daily labour will not support their families — to these he sends bread secretly. (HM Balyuzi, ‘Abdul-Bahá: the Centre of the Covenant, p. 100)

He didn’t’ just give food, though.  He taught them how to be self-sufficient:

‘Abdu’l-Bahá had taught the friends to grow nourishing vegetables, which, with the corn from His village of `Adasiyyih where there were marvellous crops – kept many from perishing of hunger.  (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)

He also made it possible for them to enjoy a banquet from time to time:

At the close of his talk, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá made a practical demonstration of his tactful love for the poor. In generous conformity with Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings that “our words should not exceed our deeds,” he left twenty golden sovereigns and many handfuls of silver with Colonel Spencer of the Army, so that the poor might enjoy a similar dinner New Year’s night. Colonel Spencer told the men that they were to have this New Year’s dinner in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s honour. The Master was just leaving the hall when this announcement was made. With one accord the men jumped up and waving their knives and forks gave a rousing farewell cheer.  (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, v2, p. 8)

He Gave Them His Clothes

Every winter, he would give warm cloaks to 500-600 people.  He put the cloak on many of them Himself, adjusting it with His own hands:

Before a winter’s cold took hold of ‘Akká, the Master would go to a clothing shop where He would arrange that a number of the poor should come to receive their annual cloaks.  He would adjust the garments over some of those poor shoulders.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 76)

This scene you may see almost any day of the year in the streets of ‘Akká. There are other scenes like it, which come only at the beginning of the winter season. In the cold weather which is approaching, the poor will suffer, for, as in all cities, they are thinly clad. Some day at this season, if you are advised of the place and time, you may see the poor of ‘Akká gathered at one of the shops where clothes are sold, receiving cloaks from the Master. Upon many, especially the most infirm or crippled, he himself places the garment, adjusts it with his own hands, and strokes it approvingly, as if to say, ‘There! Now you will do well.’ There are five or six hundred poor in ‘Akká, to all of whom he gives a warm garment each year.  (HM Balyuzi, ‘Abdul-Bahá: the Centre of the Covenant, p. 100)

He had clothes made for others:

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)

For ‘Abdu’l-Bahá inexpensive clothes were sufficient.  One day He was to entertain the Governor of ‘Akká.  His wife felt that His coat was hardly worthy of the occasion.  Well ahead of time she went to the tailor where she ordered a fine coat, thinking that, with His lack of self-consciousness, He would surely not notice that His old coat was missing.  He desired, after all, only to be scrupulously clean.  The new garment was laid out at the proper time, but the Master went searching for His own coat.  He asked for it, insisting that the one laid out was not His.  His wife attempted to explain the new coat, but He would have none of it, and He told her why:  ‘But think of this!…For the price of this coat you can buy five such as I ordinarily use, and do you think I would spend so much money upon a coat which only I shall wear?  If you think I need a new one, very well, but send this back and have the tailor make Me for this price five such as I usually have.  Then you see, I shall not only have a new one, but I shall have four to give to others!’  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 74)

He gave coats to those who were more concerned with their inner virtues too:

While ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was walking in the rose-garden he passed by Hájí Mullah Abou Taleb, the very old man with stooped shoulders and long beard. He looked at him, then at others, and smiled. “Hájí Mullah Abou Taleb is my friend,” [he said]. “He looked just as old forty years ago when he came to this blessed spot for the first time. Now he has come never to leave. Are you well and happy? How can you descend and ascend the mountain every day?” Then he came very near to him and looked at his thin and probably soiled overcoat. “Hast thou not received thy new overcoat? I have brought one for thee. I will send it up for thee. Man must keep his clothes always clean and spotless.”  He answered: “I am not particular about my outward clothes, but the robe of the virtue of God is necessary for us.” Immediately ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s face lighted up: “Thou art right, the believers of God must ever strive to clothe their spiritual bodies with the garment of the virtue of God, the robe of the fear of God, and the vesture of the love of God. These robes will never become threadbare. They will never be out of fashion. Their market values do not fluctuate. They are always negotiable and ever on demand. They are the means of the adornment of the temple of man and woman. But the outward raiment must be also clean and immaculate, so that the outer may be a fair expression of the inner. Cleanliness is one of the fundamental laws of this religion.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. VII, No. 17, pp. 168-169)

He gave away His pants:

Very early one morning when the main street of Dublin was almost devoid of people, one of the guests at the hotel glanced out her window and saw Abdul-Bahá walking and dictating to His secretary.  As they walked, an old man dressed in ragged and very dirty clothes passed by.  Abdul-Bahá sent his secretary to fetch the poor fellow . . . The old man’s trousers were particularly holey.  Abruptly, Abdul-Bahá laughed and said the man’s trousers were not very serviceable.  Abdul-Bahá quickly stepped into the shadow of the porch and fumbled under His clothes.  Moments later, He emerged carrying His trousers which He handed to the unfortunate fellow, saying, “God go with you”.  Then, as though nothing unusual had occurred, He turned to His secretary and continued His morning’s work.  (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 164)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá was out with His secretary.  A poor, old man passed the inn and the Master asked the secretary to call him back.  The man was not only ragged but filthy, but the Master took his hand and smiled at him.  They talked together a moment, the Master taking in the whole figure — the man’s trousers hardly served their purpose. The Master laughed gently and stepped into a shadow.  The street was quite deserted.  He fumbled with the clothes at His waist.  When He stopped, His trousers slid down, but He drew His robe around His body and handed His trousers to the poor man with a ‘May God go with you.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 83)

With all of His spiritual knowledge and vision Abdu’l-Bahá was extremely practical. On His third visit to New York He stayed with the Kinneys at their home on West End Avenue. This was only one block from Riverside Drive, where, often, He would walk. One late afternoon He came back with his snowy ‘aba’ wrapped close around Him and He was laughing. It seemed that on the Drive, he had come across a poor man whose trousers were literally in rags. So Abdu’l-Bahá had taken him behind some thick shrubbery where quickly He had taken off his own trousers, stripped the rags from the man, and got him decently clothed. How amazed that poor man must have been. And how amused Abdu’l-Bahá, who, with his aba wrapped tight around him to hide his trouser less condition came home laughing. (Reginald Grant Barrow, Mother’s Stories:  Stories of Abdu’l-Bahá and Early Believers told by Muriel Ives Barrow Newhall to her son, p. 40)

He gave away His cloak:

Once, before the Master’s wife went on a journey, she left a second cloak for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá with one of their daughters, for she feared He would give His away and be caught without one in her absence.  The daughter was not to tell her Father about the second cloak, but amazingly, the Master soon asked His daughter if He had another cloak, so the truth had to be told.  As was to be expected, He replied, ‘How could I be happy having two cloaks, knowing that there are those that have none?’  He gave the second one away.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 75)

A few months ago this happened. The wife of the Master was about to depart on a journey. Fearing that her husband would give away his cloak and so be left without one for himself, she left a second cloak with her daughter, charging her not to inform her father of it. Not long after her departure, the Master, suspecting, it would seem, what had been done, said to his daughter, “Have I another cloak?” The daughter could not deny it, but told her father of her mother’s charge. The Master replied, “How could I be happy having two cloaks, knowing that there are those that have none?” Nor would he be content until he had given the second cloak away.  (Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khanum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi)

He did it so often, even at His own expense, that people noticed and worried about Him!

Major Wellesley Tudor-Pole wrote in his diary in 1918, at the time of his visit to the Master, ‘I gave him the Persian camel-hair cloak, and it greatly pleased him, for the winter is here, and he had given away the only cloak he possessed.  I made him promise to keep this one through the winter anyway, and I trust he does.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 76)

Even at the hour of His death, when His night-robe needed changing, none could be found, as He had given them away:

During His last earthly hours ‘Abdu’l-Bahá lay in bed with a fever and His night-robe needed changing.  However, none could be found, as He had given them away.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 66)

He Gave Them His Possessions

Even as a young boy, ‘Abdu’l-Baha found ways to give things away:

‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s generosity was natural to Him already in childhood.  A story is recorded of the time when young ‘Abbas Effendi went to the mountains to see the thousands of sheep which His Father then owned.  The shepherds, wishing to honour their young Guest, gave Him a feast.  Before ‘Abbas was taken home at the close of the day, the head shepherd advised Him that it was customary under the circumstances to leave a present for the shepherds.  ‘Abbas told the man that He had nothing to give.  Yet the shepherd persisted that He must give something.  Whereupon the Master gave them all the sheep.  We are told that when Baha’u’llah heard about this incident, He laughted and commented, ‘We will have to protect ‘Abdu’l-Baha from Himself — some day he will give himself away.’  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 69)

Sometimes He couldn’t bear to have a nice bed, knowing that the poor didn’t have one, so He slept on the 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)

He even gave away His bed!

In ‘Akká the Master’s room often contained not even a bed as He was continually giving His own to those more needy than He.  Wrapped in a blanket, He would lie on the floor or even on the roof of His home.  It was not possible to buy a bed in the town of ‘Akká; a bed ordered from Haifa took at least thirty-six hours to arrive.  Inevitably, when the Master went on His morning round of visitations and found a feverish individual tossing on bare ground, He sent him His bed.  Only after His own situation was inadvertently discovered did He receive another bed, thanks to some kind friend.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 66)

He would only accept small tokens of love:

‘Abdu’l-Bahá would refuse generous sums of money meant for Himself but would accept a small token of love, such as a handkerchief.   (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 72)

When people gave him clothes, he would wear them once out of respect for the sender, then give them away:

His garments are usually of cotton, and the cheapest that can be bought. Often his friends in Persia – for this man is indeed rich in friends, thousands and tens of thousands who would eagerly lay down their lives at his word – send him costly garments. These he wears once, out of respect for the sender; then he gives them away. (Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khanum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi)

He liked to give gifts to people, even when they weren’t appropriate:

Just before or after lunch (I cannot recall the exact time) ‘Abdu’l-Bahá handed me a pair of glasses, asking me to try them on, which I did but was obliged to tell him they did not suit me, so I gave them back to Him, but He put them in the case and handed them to me. Of course, I shall keep them and try them again.  (Agnes Parsons’ Diary, April 22, 1912)

When others gave Him gifts, He often gave them to others:

Mary Lucas, a pilgrim to ‘Akká in 1905, found that the Master gave away all the many gifts which were sent to Him.  ‘A story is told of a beautiful silver service which was presented to Him, and He did not even look at it.  One and another received portions of it until piece by piece it disappeared.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 77)

Rene and her mother had a private interview with the Master.  Rene made a special basket filled with flowers to give to Abdul-Bahá.  When He appeared at the door for their interview, Rene ran down the hall and into His outstretched arms.  Rene learned a lesson about true giving that day when she saw another young girl leaving Abdul-Bahá’s room with her special basket.  At first, Rene was upset because of all the love she had put into making the basket, but when she thought about it, she realized what the true meaning of giving was.  (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 99)

He would never accept gifts for Himself, and when people tried, He asked them to give it to charity to benefit the poor:

In London a lady said to the Master, ‘I have here a cheque from a friend, who begs its acceptance to buy a good motor-car for your work in England and Europe.’  To this ‘Abdu’l-Bahá replied, ‘I accept with grateful thanks the gift of your friend.’  He took the cheque into both His hands, as though blessing it, and said, ‘I return it to be used for gifts to the poor.’   (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 72)

‘The Baha’is in America desired to contribute $18,000 for the Master’s projected trip to their shores.  When the funds began to reach the Master, He returned them, asking that they donate the money instead to charity.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 72)

He Looked After Their Medical Needs

He opened a dispensary and hired a doctor to perform operations and give instruction in hygiene:

He also instituted a dispensary at Ab’u-Sin’an, and engaged a doctor, Hab’ib’u’ll’ah Khud’abkhsh. This doctor was qualified to perform operations and to give instruction in hygiene.  (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)

If a doctor was needed in other places, he would provide one and the necessary medicine:

If a physician is needed, and the patient poor, he brings or sends one, and also the necessary medicine.  (HM Balyuzi, ‘Abdul-Bahá: the Centre of the Covenant, p. 100)

He asked the doctor not to tell who paid for the service:

‘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)

He Gave Them Money

In New York, He converted a thousand-franc note into quarters:

‘Abdu’l-Bahá is staying at the Ansonia hotel in New York City. He agreed to speak at the Bowery Mission and asked Juliet Thompson to take a 1000 franc note (about $250) and have it changed to quarters and put in a bag. He handed another 1000 franc note to Edward Getsinger with the same instructions.   (The Diary of Juliet Thompson, p. 251)

He met people at the Bowery Mission and gave a piece of silver to 400-500 men:

At the end of this meeting, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stood at the Bowery entrance to the Mission hall, shaking hands with four or five hundred men and placing within each palm a piece of silver.   (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 34)

When giving out the money, He would offer some word of praise or kindness to encourage each one:

‘Two or three of the men believers were with the Master.  The people were required to arrange themselves in order about two sides of the court and the Master began near the gate giving into the hand of each some piece of money and then each was required to move out.  It was a sight never to be forgotten to see the Master going from one to another, saying some word of praise or kindness to encourage each.  With some He would stop to inquire into their health and He would pat them on the back, these poor, dirty-looking creatures . . . How clear and musical His voice sounded as He went from one to another, giving and praising!  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 80)

Frequently He would send a share to an absent family member:

‘Roy’, another early pilgrim, described what he saw:  ‘Friday mornings at seven there is another picture.  Near the tent in the garden one may see an assemblage of the abject poor — the lame, the halt and the blind — seldom less than a hundred.  As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá passes among them He will be seen to give to each a small coin, and to add a word of sympathy or cheer; often an inquiry about those at home; frequently He sends a share to an absent one.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 81)

Somehow He knew to meet the needs of those who passed Him on the street too:

One day the Master, with one of His daughters, approached a native woman, dirty and almost savage-looking.  Hers had been a hard life as the daughter of a desert chief.  Though she was not a Baha’i, she quite naturally loved the Master, who was so genuinely kind.  Lingering a moment, she bowed and greeted the Master.  Kindly He made reply and, somehow knowing her need, ‘pressed a coin into her hand’ as He passed by.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 91)

There was always enough money to give something to everyone:

When `Abdu’l-Bahá finished His talk, He said He wished to serve the poor. The chairman announced that `Abdu’l-Bahá would stand near the door so that they could come to Him from one side and then leave from the other. It was an impressive sight. The Master showered His kindness on each one and gave each of them some coins. Because there were about four hundred people, some said that the Master’s money would not suffice; there would not be enough for all of them. Instead, some money was left over, which was given to other destitute people and children outside the Bowery.  (Mahmud’s Diary, April 18, 1912)

Though sometimes He joked that the people had made them penniless that day:

‘Abdu’l-Bahá went out for a walk. As it happened, a collection was being made for charity. Whenever ‘Abdu’l-Bahá met the collectors He gave them money . . . Whatever He and His attendants had in their pockets was given away, and He said, laughing, that the people had made them penniless that day.  (H.M. Balyuzi, Abdu’l-Bahá – The Centre of the Covenant, p. 387)

Everyone looked forward to His visit – it was the chief means of sustenance for some of them:

It is a sorry procession as they file slowly away, but they all look forward to this weekly visit, and indeed it is said that this is the chief means of sustenance for some of them.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 81)

He was a generous tipper:

He did not need, or want, luxury.  This became obvious on His trip to America.  Once, after a few days in beautiful rooms reserved for Him by the friends in one city, He moved to a simple apartment.  However, in hotels He tipped so generously as to cause astonishment.  In homes where He was entertained, He left thoughtful gifts for both hosts and servants.  It should be emphasized that He went from coast to coast to speak without pay or benefit of contract.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 68)

Abdul-Bahá visited Henry Birks’ jewelry shop, where He bought small gifts to give to people as He traveled.  He always gave small gifts to porters, waiters, chambermaids, and others.  (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 182)

Abdul-Bahá was up and packed before dawn and calling for the rest of his party to get up.  As he left, he gave the hotel manager a one dollar tip for the chambermaid since she was not there at that time.  (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 190)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá knew how to give — not just what He no longer wanted or needed.  Once in Montreal when ‘He prepared to return to the Maxwells’ home for a meeting, the friends asked if they could call a carriage for Him.  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá took the streetcar, saying, “Oh, it matters little.  It saves expenses.  There is a difference of one dollar in the fare.”  When He arrived at the Maxwells’, He gave one pound to each of the servants.’  After spending two nights at the estate of Phoebe Hearst, He gathered the servants together and thanked them — each received ten dollars.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 82)

Sometimes those who recognized ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s station, would keep the money “for luck”:

After the talk, He stood at the Mission Hall entrance.  He took each hand and placed in each a number of coins — the price of a bed for the night.  However, at least one man kept his money, explaining, ‘That was a heavenly man, and his quarter was not like other quarters, it will bring me luck!’  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 78)

What mattered most was the love He gave with the money:

Then ‘Abdu’l-Bahá walked to the entrance and, standing there, shook hands with every one of those four hundred: the flotsam and jetsam of humanity. At the same time He put a coin or two in each palm. He had done the same for years, on Fridays, outside His own house in ‘Akká — meeting the poor, dispensing aid, imparting to stunted lives the balm of care and affection and love . . . But what mattered most was not the price of a bed He was giving them, but that balm of love and care which healed the wounds of the spirit.  (H.M. Balyuzi, Abdu’l-Bahá – The Centre of the Covenant, p. 177)

 Have you got any more stories of His practical assistance?  Post your comments below!


How ‘Abdu’l-Baha Treated the Poor

‘Abdu’l-Baha’s generosity was not lost on others.  Even though He was a prisoner, and lived in prison or exile from the age of 9, He was still generous with what He had:

This man who gives so freely must be rich, you think? No, far otherwise. Once his family was the wealthiest in all Persia. But this friend of the lowly, like the Galilean, has been oppressed by the great. For fifty years he and his family have been exiles and prisoners. Their property has been confiscated and wasted, and but little has been left to him. Now that he has not much he must spend little for himself that he may give more to the poor. (Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khanum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi)This man who gives so freely must be rich, you think? No, far otherwise. Once his family was the wealthiest in all Persia. But this friend of the lowly, like the Galilean, has been oppressed by the great. For fifty years he and his family have been exiles and prisoners. Their property has been confiscated and wasted, and but little has been left to him. Now that he has not much he must spend little for himself that he may give more to the poor. (Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khanum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi)

Where on this globe can one duplicate such a scene as is enacted every Friday morning in the court yard of the Master of Acca, Who is Himself a state Prisoner to the Turkish government and has lived in prison or in exile since He was nine years of age!’  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 80)

He helped everyone:

All the people know him and love him — the rich and the poor, the young and the old — even the babe leaping in its mother’s arms. If he hears of any one sick in the city — Moslem or Christian, or of any other sect, it matters not . . . Indeed, for counsel all come to him, rich as well as poor. He is the kind father of all the people.   (HM Balyuzi, ‘Abdul-Bahá: the Centre of the Covenant, p. 100)

He even took care of those who hated Him:

While ‘Abdu’l-Baha was a prisoner in Akka, there was a man in that city who behaved very badly towards Him.  The ignorant man believed that he was following the teachings of Muhammad.  He thought that ‘Abdu’l-Baha was not a good man and that God did not care how badly the Baha’is were treated.  In fact, he believed the he was showing love for God by showing hatred to the Baha’is.  He hated ‘Abdu’l-Baha with all his heart.  That hate grew and festered inside him, sometimes spilling out of him the way water spills out of a broken pot.  In the mosque, when people came to pray, this man would cry out against ‘Abdul-Baha and say terrible things about Him.  When he passed ‘Abdu’l-Baha on the street, he would cover his face with his robe so that he would not see Him.  Now, this man was very poor and had neither enough to eat nor warm clothes to wear.  What do you think ‘Abdu’l-Baha did about him?  He showed him kindness, sent him food and clothes, and made sure he was being taken care of.  For example, once when this man became very ill, ‘Abdu’l-Baha sent him a doctor, paid for his medicine and food and also gave him some money.  He accepted the gifts from ‘Abdu’l-Baha but did not thank Him.  In fact, this ignorant man held out one hand to the doctor to take his pulse, and with the other hand, covered his face so that he would not have to look upon the countenance of ‘Abdu’l-Baha.  And so it went for many long years.  And then, one day, the man’s heart finally changed.  He came to ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s house, fell at His feet and with a very heavy heart and tears flowing down his face like twin rivers, cried, “Forgive me, Sir!  For twenty-four years I have done evil to You.  For twenty-four years You have shown only goodness to me.  Now I know that I have bene wrong.  Please forgive me!”  Thus, the great love of “Abdu’l-Baha triumphed over hatred and saved this man from his condition of ignorance.   (Ruhi Book 3:  Children’s Classes Grade 1, p. 43-44)

He was recognized as a real leader among the prisoners, by the Governor of ‘Akka:

Soon after the arrival of Baha’u’llah and His party in ‘Akká the Governor visited the barracks for inspection.  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, accompanied by a few believers, went to see him.  But the Governor was discourteous and spoke to them in a provocative manner.  He threatened to cut the supply of bread if one of the prisoners went missing and then ordered them back to their room.  One of the Master’s attendants could not bear to remain silent after such insulting treatment.  He retorted with rage and hurled back at the Governor some offensive remarks. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá immediately chastened His attendant by slapping him hard in the face in front of the Governor and ordering him to return to his room.  This action by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá not only defused a dangerous situation but also opened the eyes of the Governor to the existence of a real leader among the prisoners, a leader who would act with authority and justice.  Due to this action the Governor’s attitude towards ‘Abdu’l-Bahá changed.  He realized that, contrary to the wild rumours circulating in ‘Akká at the time, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and His family were from a noble background, and not criminals as he had been led to believe.  The Governor therefore began to act in a more humane way towards the prisoners.  He eventually agreed to substitute the allotted ration of bread with a sum of money and allowed a small party of the prisoners, escorted by guards, to visit the markets of ‘Akká daily to buy their provisions.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 47)

The Arabs called Him the ‘Lord of Generosity’:

He gave where He felt it was merited and kept a record of the recipients.  He did not wish to be abused but even abuse was known to receive kindness at His generous hands, as has been shown.  Small wonder that the Arabs called Him the ‘Lord of Generosity’ and Baha’is became ablaze by observing His actions of continuing kindness and loved Him as the Servant of God. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 76)

People noticed when He contributed to various relief funds:

Already in Abdu’l-Bahá’s day relief funds had been established.  He encouraged the Save the Children Fund.  The Haifa Relief Fund had been created to alleviate the misery of the local population — twice the Master contributed fifty Egyptian pounds.  After the first contribution His name was placed first on the contributors’ list. After receiving the second, the Military Governor, G.A. Stanton, wrote a letter of gratitude in which he stated, ‘Please accept on behalf of the committee of management, my very sincerest and most grateful thanks for this further proof of your well-known generosity and care of the poor, who will forever bless you for your liberality on their behalf.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 77)

Several authors tell the story of a chambermaid, who was overcome by His generosity and wanting to do the same, gave His money away:

But some eighty quarters remained.  When the Master arrived at His apartment building, He encountered the chambermaid who had previously been the happy recipient of His roses.  Now He emptied all the remaining quarters into her apron.  He quickly moved on. When she learned of His gifts at the Mission, she vowed she also would give this money away.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 78)

On this occasion, the Master stopped her and asked her to hold out her apron, whereupon He filled it with all the quarters that had not been passed out at the Bowery, about $20 worth.  When one of Abdul-Bahá’s retinue told the startled young woman what He had been doing, she immediately replied that, I will do the same with the money.  I will give away every cent of it. (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 88)

Back in the Hotel Ansonia ‘Abdu’l-Bahá encountered a chambermaid, who had been deeply moved by His gift of roses to her; He emptied into her apron the bag containing the remainder of the coins. A Bahá’í told the chambermaid that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had been giving money to the poor at the Bowery Mission. ‘I will do the same with this money. I too will give it,’ she said. (H.M. Balyuzi, Abdu’l-Bahá – The Centre of the Covenant, p. 177)

And someone whose behaviour changed as a result of a comment He made:

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)

His words were so penetrating that even those who were not poor were envious at `Abdu’l-Bahá’s description of the station of poverty:

His words were so penetrating that even those who were not poor became envious at `Abdu’l-Bahá’s description of the station of poverty. The report of this meeting was publicized in many newspapers. (Mahmud’s Diary, April 18, 1912)

People learned to share what they had:

There was in Baghdad a company of seven leading believers who lived in a single, small room, because they were destitute. They could hardly keep body and soul together, but they were so spiritual, so blissful, that they thought themselves in Heaven. Sometimes they would chant prayers all night long, until the day broke. Days, they would go out to work, and by nightfall one would have earned ten paras, another perhaps twenty paras, others forty or fifty. These sums would be spent for the evening meal. On a certain day one of them made twenty paras, while the rest had nothing at all. The one with the money bought some dates, and shared them with the others; that was dinner, for seven people. They were perfectly content with their frugal life, supremely happy. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Memorials of the Faithful, p. 40-41)

He never turned away anyone and His acceptance changed the people around Him:

‘That day ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had bestowed many sixpences, and people had come from the neighboring villages, bringing their children to receive the blessing from “the holy Man” — and of course the sixpences!  About nine o’clock in the evening the ladies decided that no one else must see ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that night.  But as they waited outside the cottage, a man came up the path, carrying one baby, and with others clinging to him. When he asked for “the holy Man”, however, he was told severely that he could not be seen, he was very tired and had gone to bed.  The man sighed, as he said, “Oh, I have walked six miles from far away to see Him.  I am so sorry!”  ‘The hostess responded severely, feeling that the desire for sixpences had prompted the journey perhaps more than religious enthusiasm, and the man sighed more deeply than ever, and was turning away, when suddenly ‘Abdu’l-Bahá came around the corner of the house.  The way in which he embraced the man and all the babies was so wonderful, that the hearts of the too careful friends melted within them, and when he at last sent away the unbidden guests, comforted, their hearts full of joy, their hands bursting with sixpences, the two friends looked at one another and said:  “How wrong we were!  We will never again try to manage ‘Abdu’l-Bahá!”  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 73)

He had a positive effect on Christians and Muslims alike:

In 1914 The Christian Commonwealth carried words of praise for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: ‘It is wonderful to see the venerable figure of the revered Baha’i leader passing through the narrow streets of this ancient town [Akká], where he lived for forty years as a political prisoner, and to note the deep respect with which he is saluted by the Turkish officials and the officers of the garrison from the governor downward, who visit him constantly and listen with the deepest attention to his words. “The Master” does not teach in Syria as he did in the West, but he goes about doing good, and Mohammedans and Christians alike share his benefactions. From sunrise often until midnight he works, in spite of broken health, never sparing himself if there is a wrong to be righted or a suffering to be relieved. To Christians who regard ‘Abdu’l-Bahá with impartial and sympathetic eyes, this wonderful selfless life cannot fail to recall that life whose tragic termination on Calvary the whole Christian world recalls…’  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)

Lua Getsinger learned this lesson the hard way when ‘Abdu’l-Baha asked her to visit a friend who was poor and sick when He was too busy to go Himself:

Lua Gestinger, one of the early Bahá’ís 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)

During World War I when a blockade threatened the lives of many civilians in Haifa, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá saved them from starvation:

During the World War communication with friends and believers outside Syria was almost completely cut off, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and his followers suffered great hardships. During those dreary years the resourcefulness and sagacious philanthropy of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá were strikingly shown. He personally organized extensive agricultural operations near Tiberias, bringing under cultivation land which had been untilled for centuries; thus he secured a great supply of wheat by means of which famine was averted, not only for the Bahá’ís, but for many of the poor of all religions, whose wants he liberally supplied. After the cessation of hostilities, a knighthood of the British Empire was conferred upon him in recognition of these services.   (United States Bureau of the Census, Religious Bodies:  1936, v 11, part 1, Denominations A to J)

Provisions which He had grown, buried in under-ground pits, and otherwise stored, had been given out to the civilians of every nation living in Haifa. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá did this in a military way as an army would give rations, and deep was the gratitude of those women and children who had been saved by His power to see into the future of tragedy and woe as early as 1912, when He began the preparations for the catastrophe which was to overtake that land in 1917 and 1918. When Haifa was finally occupied by the British, reserve provisions had not yet come for the army, and someone in authority approached the Master, as already mentioned.  (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)

Abdu’l-Bahá anticipated that conditions of hardship would appear with these events, and began to instruct people in the villages of Nughayb, Samrih and ‘Adasiyyih in Palestine to grow prolific quantities of corn, much of which was harvested and stored in vast ancient Roman pits.  When World War I broke out, this corn was used to feed the numberless poor people of Haifa, Akká and the surrounding areas during the famine years of 1914-1918.

When the British marched into Haifa there was some difficulty about the commissariat. The officer in command went to consult the Master.

“I have corn,” was the reply.

“But for the army?” said the astonished soldier.

“I have corn for the British Army,” said ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.

He truly walked the Mystic way with practical feet.  (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)

During the British occupation, large numbers of soldiers and Government officials delighted in His company:

During the period of British occupation, large numbers of soldiers and Government officials of all ranks delighted in the company of Abdu’l-Bahá, in His illuminating talks, His noble character, His genial hospitality, perfect courtesy and efforts to establish peace and prosperity throughout the world.  Abdu’l-Bahá averted a famine and uplifted countless souls, and in recognition of this, on the 27 April 1920, a Knighthood of the British Empire was conferred upon Him for “services rendered unto the British government”.  (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)

For his painstaking accomplishments, the British honored Him with a Knightship:

At war’s end, the British were quick to recognize His painstaking accomplishments.  He was to be knighted on 27 April 1920, at the residence of the British Governor in Haifa at a ceremony held especially for Him. British and religious dignitaries came to honour Him on this auspicious occasion. His unselfish acts had won Him the love and respect of high and low alike.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)

The British Government, with its usual gesture of appreciating a heroic act, conferred a knighthood upon ‘Abdu’l-Bahá ‘Abbas, Who accepted this honour as a courteous gift “from a just king.”  (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)

Several generations later, His kindness is still remembered in practical ways:

In a final touching tribute to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s generosity this true story emerged in the 1990s, some 70 years after ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s passing. The Universal House of Justice, the supreme governing Council of the Bahá’í world community, announced a major construction project on Mount Carmel, Haifa, of buildings that would, at last, meet the commands of Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder. Accordingly, a tender was put out for Israeli construction companies to bid for, and a public call for engineers was made by the House of Justice.  To everyone’s astonishment, a large number of Arab engineers emerged from the greater Haifa area offering their services. When the bemused Bahá’ís asked them why they had come forward they all said: “The Master, Abbas Effendi (‘Abdu’l-Bahá) gave our grandparents and great-grandparents money to start small businesses. Our family businesses prospered and our families were able to pay for our school and university education. We are here to give something back to Abbas Effendi.”  (Extract from A Presentation on the Centenary of Abdul- Baha’s Visit to the United Kingdom in 1911. Given on 10th September 2011 in Bourne Hall, Ewell Village , Surrey, by Trevor R. J. Finch).

His Family’s Sacrifices

His family had to make many sacrifices too, so the poor could have what they needed.  He did not permit his family to have luxuries:

He does not permit his family to have luxuries. (Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khanum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi)

They were taught to dress in such a way that they would be an example to the rich and an encouragement to the poor:

‘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)

Like the poor, He lived a simple life:

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. (Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khanum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi)

He found ways to be frugal so He could spend the difference on the poor:

One day ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was going from Akká to Haifa and asked for a seat in the stage coach. The driver, surprised, said ‘Your Excellency surely wishes a private carriage.’ ‘No.’ replied the Master. While He was still in the coach in Haifa, a distressed fisherwoman came to Him; all day she had caught nothing and now must return to her hungry family. The Master gave her five francs, then turned to the driver and said: ‘You now see the reason why I would not take a private carriage. Why should I ride in luxury when so many are starving?’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)

He gave so much of His time to the poor, that his family only got His tired moments, so they concealed their difficulties from Him, so as not to add to His burden.

The Master hardly saw the dear child in her illness. His time was so constantly taken up by the needs of the poor that only His tired moments were spared to His own family from His incessant work for all in trouble. Indeed, my mother and sisters tried to conceal their difficulties and trials, not wishing to add to the heavy burden of others’ griefs, which were so constantly borne by Him.  (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)

This kind of effort towards the poor certainly makes me think!  I’m certainly not as selfless in this area as I’d like to be!  What are your experiences in helping the poor?  Post your comments below!