These, indeed, are the days when heroism is needed on the part of the believers. Self sacrifice, courage, indomitable hope and confidence are the characteristics they should show forth, because these very attributes cannot but fix the attention of the public and lead them to enquire what, in a world so hopelessly chaotic and bewildered, leads these people to be so assured, so confident, so full of devotion? (From a letter dated 26 October 1941 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, in Living the Life, p. 17)
When Shoghi Effendi wrote these words in 1941, the world was in a very different place. When I think of heroism, I often think of the soldiers fighting in World Wars 1 and 2, or the firefighters who rushed to save people on 9/11. So many acts of bravery and heroism that came out of those times.
In this wonderful age, we’ve been given a new definition of heroism. Today’s heroes are the community builders, who sacrifice their time, money, and sometimes even their educations and careers to focus on engaging the wider community and winning the goals of the plans.
I’ve learned just how much courage is needed for me to step outside my comfort zone to invite people to participate in the core activities. I have faith, hope and confidence in the plans set before us by our beloved Universal House of Justice, and somedays I can even reach between the veil of now and the future, and see people engaged in all the core activities in every street of my neighborhood. I long to find the stamina needed to help these community building initiatives keep going, sometimes in the face of the world’s indifference and contention.
I’m thrilled to see in learning sites all over the world, Baha’is and non-Baha’is are working together for the betterment of their communities, and to witness first hand how these activities act as magnets, drawing the confirmations promised by the Central Figures. In communities such as these, we see first hand how the general public are wondering what leads these people to be so assured, so confident, so full of devotion, in a world so hopelessly chaotic and bewildered and long to join in.
Knowing what it takes for me to be a hero in today’s world, and seeing heroes all over the world, I am grateful!
If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Getting to Know Your Lower Nature
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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.
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)
‘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 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:
O YE RICH ONES ON EARTH!
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!
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!
Baha’ullah set this standard:
If ye meet the abased or the down-trodden, turn not away disdainfully from them, for the King of Glory ever watcheth over them and surroundeth them with such tenderness as none can fathom except them that have suffered their wishes and desires to be merged in the Will of your Lord, the Gracious, the All-Wise. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 314)
As a result, ‘Abdu’l-Baha loved those who were laid low and broken by life. In addition to the poor, the sick and the African-Americans, who we’ve covered elsewhere, these included the disabled, the homeless, the laborers, women and criminals. Let’s look at them one at a time:
The disabled relied on Him for money:
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. (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)
He visited a Salvation Army Shelter where a thousand homeless men ate a special Christmas dinner:
Among the most touching contacts the Master had with the poor in the Occident were surely His visits to the Salvation Army headquarters in London and to the Bowery Mission in New York City. ‘On Christmas night, 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá visited a Salvation Army Shelter in London where a thousand homeless men ate a special Christmas dinner. He spoke to them while they ate, reminding them that Jesus had been poor and that it was easier for the poor than the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The men sat enthralled. Some were so impressed that in spite of hunger and the special dinner before them they forgot to eat. When, on leaving, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave the warden of the Shelter money with which to buy a similar dinner on New Year’s night, the men rose to their feet to cheer Him as He went, waving their knives and forks in the air. They little realised that He had experienced trials, hardship and suffering far greater than any they had known.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 78)
He loved those who worked hard:
Corinne True told the story of a cleaning woman who greatly wished to meet Abdul-Bahá, but was too embarrassed by her rough, work – worn hands to do so in the public reception line. Mrs. True urged her to go to Abdul-Bahá and finally, hoping to simply touch His robe and dash away before He saw her hands, she approached the Master. As she bent over to touch His robe, He took one of her hands and raised her up. Abdul-Bahá carefully examined the captive hand and with deep love and understanding gazed into her eyes. “Sacrifice!”, He uttered simply. (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 196)
He told them they should not feel ashamed of doing useful work:
A man passing by the gates of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s house in Haifa, carrying a basket, put it down as soon as he saw Him, saying that he could not find a porter and had to carry the basket himself. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá remarked afterwards that a man should not feel ashamed of doing useful work. (H.M. Balyuzi, Abdu’l-Bahá – The Centre of the Covenant, p. 414)
He praised their service:
A workman who had left his bag of tools in the hall was welcomed with smiling kindness by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. With a look of sadness the man said: “I don’t know much about religious things, as I have no time for anything but my work.” “That is well. Very well. A day’s work done in the spirit of service is in itself an act of worship. Such work is a prayer unto God.” The man’s face cleared from its shadow of doubt and hesitation, and he went out from the Master’s presence happy and strengthened, as though a weighty burden had been taken away. (Lady Bloomfield, The Chosen Highway)
Some of those He helped, asked for His prayers:
There came a light tap at the door and there on the threshold stood the little chambermaid. Her eyes were glistening with tears and in a sort of wonder, and oblivious to the rest of us, she walked straight up to the Master: ‘”I came to say good-bye, sir,” she said, timidly and brokenly, “and to thank you for all your goodness to me…I never expected such goodness. And to ask you — to pray for me!” ‘Her head dropped, her voice broke…she turned and went out quickly.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 78)
When ‘Abdu’l-Baha was visiting North America, women were still in many cases downtrodden.
Thornton Chase, named by the Master as the first American Baha’i, along with Carl Scheffler and Arthur Agnew, members of Chicago’s House of Spirituality, arrived in the Holy Land, right after Corrine True had departed and Abdul-Bahá surprised them all. When, responding to a question by Mr. Chase about the Temple, He said, “When you return consult with Mrs. True – I have given her complete instructions.” These directions baffled the three men because, up to that point, only men had served on the House of Spirituality and were involved in decision-making. Being given the responsibility for the Temple was extremely challenging, particularly as a woman in a country where women did not yet have the opportunity to vote. (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 110-111)
Even so, He warned women there were times when we were to stand up for the rights of men:
‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s sense of justice and equality also embraced the quality of relationship between men and women. He once smilingly turned to the ladies in a group of listeners in America and said that, ‘in Europe and America, many men worked very hard so that their wives could have luxuries. He related, again with a smile, the story of a husband and wife who once visited Him. Some dust had settled on the wife’s shoes, and she told her husband peremptorily to wipe it off, which he dutifully did. Did she do the same for her husband, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had queries. No, had been the reply, she cleaned his clothes. But that was not equality, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had remarked. “Now, ladies,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, “you must sometimes stand up for the rights of men.” It was all said with good humour, but the lesson was plain: moderation in all things.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 113)
He loved women whose husbands had left them:
In the 1970’s I met Inez Greeven. She went on Pilgrimage during the days of Abdu’l-Bahá, in 1920 and again in 1921. She told me that during her Pilgrimage the Master asked her, “Where is your husband?” She said, “This was the one thing I did not want Him to ask me about. I answered, “Well, Abdu’l-Bahá, he is not here.” “Yes, I can see that he is not here. Where is your husband?” I told Him, “Abdu’l-Bahá, he left me for another woman.” “Yes, I know,” He replied. “And because you have forgiven him, God has forgiven him.” (Brent Poirier, Inez Greeven’ First Pilgrimage: http://bahai-storytelling.blogspot.com/2010/02/abdul-bahas-use-of-storytelling.html and http://bahai-storytelling.blogspot.com/2010/07/story-of-gate-of-garden-quote-from.html
He raised them to challenges they didn’t think they could meet:
‘Abdul-Bahá tested both the faith and courage of many of the Baha’is He met and Corinne True was one He really challenged. First, He had put her in charge of the Temple project, a woman dealing with many men. Then, as they stood at the train station before He left for Minneapolis, Abdul-Bahá told her, “Mrs. True, I want you to speak in public. I want you to tell the people about the faith.” This completely floored Corinne and she objected, saying, “But Master, I can’t do it; I have no training, no experience. I’m too frank.” “The faith”, she Thought, “had many gifted speakers, but she didn’t consider herself to be one of them.” Knowing what she was frantically thinking, Abdul-Bahá told her how to do it: “Forget what you can’t do. Stand up and turn your heart wholly toward Me. Look over the heads of the audience and I’ll never fail you.” (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 195)
He heard the longing of pure hearts and helped them get what they wanted:
One California Baha’i, Georgiana Dean, had moved from the West Coast at the request of Abdul-Bahá to care for Mrs. Dealy, who was going blind. Miss Dean had abandoned a good job and a love for California to fulfill the Master’s request. When Miss Dean met the other California Baha’is, she was overwhelmed by homesickness. Harriet Cline suggested she take the problem to Abdul-Bahá, which she did. When Miss Dean returned from her interview, tears were streaming down her face, but it shone with a radiance I have seldom seen. “He told me to stay with Mrs. Dealey as long as she needed me, and I am going to obey with all my heart and soul.” Through her sincerity, however, her prayers were answered. Within a few days Mrs. Dealy no longer needed her and she was able to return to California. (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 115-116)
Here’s a description of the other downtrodden taken care of by ‘Abdu’l-Baha:
The Master’s life was very full at this time. Not only did He care for the friends of Abu-Sinan, but in `Akká and Haifa all the poor looked to Him for their daily bread. Even before the war the spectre of starvation had not been very far from many of these pitiful people, but now when all the breadwinners (Germans and Turks) had been taken for the army, the plight of the women and children was desperate, for alas! there were no government “separation allowances.” Nothing and no one but the Master stood between them and certain death from hunger. (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)
In 1907 Corinne True was in ‘Akká with the Master. She was one of many who were deeply touched by the love of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, demonstrated so clearly in His customary Friday morning acts of charity. From her window she ‘saw between two and three hundred men, women and children gathered. Such a motley crowd one can see only in these parts. There were blind, lame, cripples and very feeble persons, the poorest clad collection of people almost that the earth contains. One man had his clothing made of a patched quilt, an old woman had gunny sacking for a cloak; children were so ragged that their clothing would scarcely stay on them. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 80)
We see a crowd of human beings with patched and tattered garments. Let us descend to the street and see who these are. It is a noteworthy gathering. Many of these men are blind; many more are pale, emaciated, or aged. Some are on crutches; some are so feeble that they can barely walk. Most of the women are closely veiled, but enough are uncovered to cause us well to believe that, if the veils were lifted, more pain and misery would be seen. Some of them carry babes with pinched and sallow faces. There are perhaps a hundred in this gathering, and besides, many children. They are of all the races one meets in these streets – Syrians, Arabs, Ethiopians, and many others. These people are ranged against the walls or seated on the ground, apparently in an attitude of expectation. (Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khanum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi)
Here’s a great story about ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s love for criminals:
On the night of 20 August, a horrifying young man came to a meeting at the Kinney’s house. From head to foot he was covered with soot. His blue eyes stared out from a dark gray face. This was Fred Mortensen, a reformed criminal. When he was young Fred had got into all kinds of trouble, determined to be “as tough as any”. One day, Fred and his gang saw some bananas in a shop window and thought that they looked really good. Fred later wrote, “About this time I heard a dog barking inside the store, and looking in, I saw a large bulldog. That seemed to aggravate me, and, to show my contempt for the watchdog . . . I broke the window, took the bananas, and passed them around . . . It cost me $16 to pay for broken Windows, to keep out of jail.” But in 1904, Fred’s brothers and gang decided to rob a train. Fred’s younger brother stole a big bag of mail. Then Fred spotted the police racing up, so the gang split in all directions. Fred didn’t think his younger brother could outrun the police while carrying the bag of mail, so he took it and ran. His brother escaped, but that left the police to chase him. “In my haste to get away from them, I leaped over a 35 foot wall, breaking my leg, to escape the bullets whizzing around about – and wound up in the garden at the feet of the Beloved”. At Fred’s trial he was defended by Albert Hall, who introduced him to the Faith: “It was he who brought me from out the dark prison house; it was he who told me, hour after hour, about the great love of Abdul-Bahá for all his children and that he was here to help us show that love for our fellowmen. Honestly, I often wondered then what Mr. Hall meant when he talked so much about love, God’s love, Baha’u’llah’s love, Abdul-Bahá’s love, love for the Covenant, love for us, from us to God, to his prophets, etc. I was bewildered.
Fred’s great-grandson, Justin Penoyer writes: Because Fred could not read at this time, Hall gave him a dictionary to use in order to read a Baha’i book, also provided by Hall. With these new books, Fred taught himself how to read. For reasons even he did not completely understand that the time, Fred’s experience in jail had a profound impact. However, as soon as he was able to walk, Fred decided it was time to leave.
While in jail, he lured the guard close enough to his cell to take him by the neck, strangle him to unconsciousness, and take the keys. Fred spent the next four years as a fugitive. He fled first to California, where he worked for the Oakland paper. After experiencing the great earthquake of 1906 . . . Fred decided the Midwest was a far safer region. He then toured the Dakotas, moving from town to town, occasionally finding employment with local papers.
It was during this time that Fred rediscovered the book given to him by Albert Hall. Yet unlike four years prior, . . . His mind became fixated upon the words of Abdul-Bahá. Though faced with possible arrest, in 1910, he returned to Minneapolis to visit Hall . . . to learn more about the Baha’i Faith: “I returned to become more bewildered, so I thought; and I wondered why.”
Fred was in regular communication with Albert Hall who, despite his status as an attorney, did not turn them into the police. This, combined with Fred’s surprise that a complete lack of attention given by the authorities, gave the impression that he need no longer fear prosecution for his jailbreak. No longer a fugitive, Fred moved to Minneapolis.
When he heard that Abdul-Bahá was at Green Acre, and that he might go back to his home (Palestine) and not come West, I immediately determined to go and see him. I wasn’t going to miss meeting Abdul-Bahá after waiting so long to see Him . . . So I left home, going to Cleveland.
Despite his enthusiasm, Fred was anxious about meeting Abdul-Bahá. After all, who was he, a poor man with dubious history, to meet one such as Abdul-Bahá? Yet the night before he left Cleveland, Fred had a dream: I was Abdul-Bahá’s guest; that I Sat at a long table, and many others were there, too, and of how He walked up and down telling stories, emphasizing with His hand. This, later, was fulfilled and He looked just as I saw Him in Cleveland.
Because his funds were low, Fred had to hobo his way to Green Acre. Trains ran, at this time, on coal power; coated with soot and grime, were filthy outside the travelers compartments. This was not only most unpleasant, but also dangerous and exhausting. “Riding the rods”, as it was known, Fred hopped a coal train on the Nickel Plate Railway from Cleveland to Buffalo, New York. He arrived around midnight, where he then jumped a train headed for Boston, arriving around nine next morning.
Fred continues the story: “The Boston and Maine railway was the last link between Abdul-Bahá, and the outside world so it seemed to me, and when I crawled off from the top of one of its passenger trains at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, I was exceedingly happy. A boat ride, a street car ride, and there I was, at the gate of Paradise. My heart beating double time . . .
I had a letter of introduction from Mr. Hall to Mr. Lunt, and in searching for him, I met Mrs. Edward Kinney, who, dear soul, was kind enough to offer me a bed. She awakened me next morning about six o’clock, saying I’d have to hurry if I wished to see Abdul-Bahá. Arriving at the hotel, I found quite a number of people . . . on the same mission, to see Abdul-Bahá. Being one of the last arrivals, I was looking around when someone exclaimed, “Here he comes, now”. When Ahmad [Sohrab] introduced me to him, to my astonishment he looked at me and only said, “Ugh! Ugh!”, not offering to shake hands with me. Coming as I had, and feeling as I did, I was very much embarrassed.
After greeting several others Ahmad was about to go to His room, he suddenly turned to me and said in a gruff voice… “Sit down”, and pointed to a chair. I meekly obeyed, feeling rebellious over what had happened. Such a welcome, after making that difficult trip! My mind was in a whirl. It seemed but a minute until Ahmad came down and said; “Abdul-Bahá wishes to see Mr. Mortensen.” Why, I nearly wilted. I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t expected to be called until the very last thing . . . He welcomed me with a smile and a warm hand clasp. His first words were “Welcome! Welcome! You are very welcome”, then, “Are you happy?” – Which was repeated three times. I Thought, “why do you ask me that so many times? Of course I am happy”
Then, Where did you come from?
Answer: from Minneapolis.
Question: Do you know Mr. Hall?
Answer: Yes, he told me about the Cause.
Question. Did you have a pleasant journey?
Of all the questions I wished to avoid this was the one! I dropped my gaze to the floor – and again He put the question. I lifted my eyes to His and His were as two black, sparkling jewels, which seemed to look into my very depths. I knew He knew and I must tell.
Answer: Riding under and on top of railway cars.
Question: Explain how.
Now as I looked into the eyes of Abdul-Bahá, I saw they had changed and a wondrous light seemed to pour out. It was the light of love and I felt relieved and very much happier. I explained to Him how I rode on the trains, after which He kissed both my cheeks, gave me much fruit, and kissed the dirty Hat I wore . . . When He was ready to leave Green Acre I stood nearby to say goodbye and to my astonishment He ordered me to get into the automobile with Him. After a week with Him at Malden, Massachusetts, I left for home with never-to-be-forgotten memories of the wonderful event – the meeting of God’s Covenant.
Fred story was far from over, for he became a very different person. After this time with Abdul-Bahá, Fred later recollected his experience: “These events are engraved upon the tablet of my heart and I love every moment of them. The words of Baha’u’llah are my food, my drink, and my life. I have no other aim than to be of service in His pathway and to be obedient to His Covenant. Abdul-Bahá referred to Fred as “My son”, yet because of his appearance and the attention Abdul-Bahá had shown him, certain Baha’is became jealous and this resulted in Fred’s near expulsion from the early Baha’i community.
But just a year later, Fred received a tablet from Abdul-Bahá: “That trip of mine from Minneapolis to Green Acre will never be forgotten. It’s mention will be recorded eternally in books and works of history. Therefore, be thou happy that, praise be to God, thou hast an illumined heart, a living spirit, and art vivified with merciful breath. As Fred’s great-grandson writes, 32 years later . . . The Guardian of the Baha’i Faith included Fred’s story in God Passes By, and on his passing in 1946, cabled to his family: “Grief passing beloved Fred. Welcome assured in the Abha Kingdom by Master. His name is forever inscribed Baha’i history.” Hand of the Cause Louis Gregory called him “Frederick the Great.” (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 168-172)
‘Abdul-Baha as a Role Model for the Downtrodden
Perhaps ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s love for the downtrodden stemmed from His personal experience:
Early in 1904 Ethel Rosenberg made her second pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Still confined to the city of Akká the Master and His family were living in the prison house. For eight months Ethel stayed there as His guest. She wrote, ‘To sit at ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s table, in His simple home, with Christians, Mohammedans, Jews, and those of other faiths, all of them breathing forth the spirit of living brotherhood is a privilege not readily forgotten.’ During her visit enemies of the Cause became particularly vicious in the attacks against ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and caused Him and His loyal followers enormous problems and indescribable grief. Deeply distressed by this fact, she asked the Master why He, a perfect Man, had to go through such sufferings. He answered her, ‘How could they (God’s teachers) teach and guide others in the way if they themselves did not undergo every species of suffering to which other human beings are subjected?’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
He’d known severe deprivation:
From January to April, through the worst part of winter, with small children, and elderly relatives, with insufficient food and inappropriate clothing they struggled through the freezing mountain ranges. It was so bitterly cold that they could not speak; there was so much snow, wind and ice that at times they could not move. But the hand of Almighty God was over them through out that perishing, awful journey and with His unfailing protection, they finally arrived in Baghdad. (Ruhi Book 4)
At one time, He too was hungry and had little to eat:
In Europe, on one occasion, remembering the desperate days in Tihran when Baha’u’llah was incarcerated, their home sacked and their properties confiscated, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá could yet say, ‘Detachment does not imply lack of means; it is marked by the freedom of the heart. In Tihran, we possessed everything at a nightfall, and on the morrow we were shorn of it all, to the extent that we had no food to eat. I was hungry, but there was no bread to be had. My mother poured some flour into the palm of my hand, and I ate that instead of bread. Yet, we were contented.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 164)
Like a true Leader He never called upon His followers to do something He hadn’t done:
Like the true Leader He never called upon His followers to go where He had not blazed the Path. (Howard Colby Ives, Portals to Freedom, p. 200-201)
No one could keep up with his assistance to the poor and needy:
There was a man in Haifa who disliked ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Whenever he saw the Master, he crossed the street to avoid Him. Finally, one day he approached ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and said, ‘So You are called the Servant of God.’ ‘Yes,’ said ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘that is my name.’ ‘Well,’ said the man proudly, ‘I am Moses.’ Very well, Moses,’ said ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘meet Me at this corner at seven o’clock in the morning tomorrow and we will go and serve the people like the great Moses did.’ The man agreed and when they met the next morning, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá took him on His routine of serving the unfortunates, helping the poor and needy, consulting with people and giving counsel. At six o’clock that evening when they returned to the spot where they had started, he was extremely weary. ‘Remember, Moses,’ said ‘Abdu’l-Bahá before they parted, ‘I’ll meet you here tomorrow morning at seven o’clock.’ Again they met the following morning and again ‘Abdu’l-Bahá took the man through His regular work. Returning at six o’clock that evening the man was very tired. Sternly, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told him, ‘Remember, Moses, tomorrow morning I’ll meet you here.’ They met the third morning and again ‘Abdu’l-Bahá took him through His regular work day. When they returned that evening, the man was exhausted. As they parted, the man said, ‘’Abdu’l-Bahá, tomorrow morning I will no longer be Moses.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
He educated people about injustices:
So sensitive and sympathetic was the Master to human suffering that He admitted to surprise that others could be quite oblivious to it. In Paris, He expressed His feelings: ‘I have just been told that there has been a terrible accident in this country. A train has fallen into the river and at least twenty people have been killed. This is going to be a matter for discussion in the French Parliament today, and the Director of the State Railway will be called upon to speak. He will be cross-examined as to the condition of the railroad and as to what caused the accident, and there will be a heated argument. I am filled with wonder and surprise to notice what interest and excitement has been aroused throughout the whole country on account of the death of twenty people, while they remain cold and indifferent to the fact that thousands of Italians, Turks, and Arabs are killed in Tripoli! The horror of this wholesale slaughter has not disturbed the Government at all! Yet these unfortunate people are human beings too.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 68)
He bore His hardships so the Cause of God could push on unconstrained:
A companion of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on His journey in America recorded a moment when the Master expressed His anxiety for the future: ‘I am bearing these hardships of traveling so that the cause of God may push on unconstrained. For I am anxious about what is going to happen after Me. Had I had ease of mind on this score I would have sat comfortably in one corner. I would not have come out of [the] Holy Land… I fear after Me self-seeking persons may disturb again the love and unity of the friends.’ The Master talked in sorrowful tones until the automobile stopped at a hotel in Chicago. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
He reminded them that the purpose of prayer was to trust God and be submissive to His will:
One day a despondent little Jewish girl, all in black, was brought into the Master’s presence. With tears flowing, she told Him her tale of woes: her brother had been unjustly imprisoned three years before – he had four more years to serve; her parents were constantly depressed; her brother-in-law, who was their support, had just died. She claimed the most she trusted in God the worse matters became. She complained, ‘. . . my mother reads the Psalms all the time; she doesn’t deserve that God should desert her so. I read the Psalms myself, — the ninety-first Psalm and the twenty-third Psalm every night before I go to bed. I pray too.’ Comforting and advising her, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá replied, ‘To pray is not to read Psalms. To pray is to trust in God, and to be submissive in all things to Him. Be submissive, then things will change for you. Put your family in God’s hands. Love God’s will. Strong ships are not conquered by the sea, — they ride the waves. Now be a strong ship, not a battered one.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 132)
I’d like to close with the standard set by ‘Abdu’l-Baha for a “true Baha’i”:
Therefore strive that your actions day by day may be beautiful prayers. Turn towards God, and seek always to do that which is right and noble. 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. 81)
He certainly was a good role model for us to follow!
What have been your struggles with following in His footsteps? Post your comments below!