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)
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.
‘Abdu’l-Baha’s kind heart went out to those who were ill. If He could alleviate a pain or discomfort, He set about to do so.
Calling on the feeble and sick was a daily occurance:
Almost any morning, early, He may be seen making the round of the city, calling upon the feeble and the sick; many dingy abodes are brightened by His presence.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 81)
He never asked others to do something He wasn’t willing to do:
Lua Gestinger, one of the early Baha’is of America, tells of an experience she had in Akká. She had made the pilgrimage to the prison-city to see ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. One day He said to her that He was too busy today to call upon a friend of His who was very poor and sick. He wished Lua to go in His place. He told her to take food to the sick man and care for him as He had been doing.
Lua learned the address and immediately went to do as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had asked. She felt proud that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had trusted her with some of His own work. But soon she returned to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in a state of excitement. “Master,” she exclaimed, “You sent me to a very terrible place! I almost fainted from the awful smell, the dirty rooms, the degrading condition of that man and his house. I left quickly before I could catch some terrible disease.” Sadly and sternly, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gazed at her. If she wanted to serve God, He told her, she would have to serve her fellow man, because in every person she should see the image and likeness of God. Then He told her to go back to the man’s house. If the house was dirty, she should clean it. If the man was dirty, she should bathe him. If he was hungry, she should feed him. He asked her not to come back until all of this was done. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has done these things many times for this man, and he told Lua Getsinger that she should be able to do them once. This is how ‘Abdu’l-Bahá taught Lua to serve her fellow man. (Howard Colby Ives, Portals to Freedom, Chapter 6)
One time ‘Abdu’l-Baha cancelled a meeting because one person was ill and could not go:
On pilgrimage May Maxwell came to realize that every word and every act of the Master’s had meaning and purpose. The pilgrim party was invited to meet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá under the cedar trees on Mount Carmel where He had been in the habit of sitting with Baha’u’llah. She recalled that ‘on Sunday morning we awakened with the joy and hope of the meeting on Mount Carmel. The Master arrived quite early and after looking at me, touching my head and counting my pulse, still holding my hand He said to the believers present: “There will be no meeting on Mount Carmel to-day…we could not go and leave one of the beloved of God alone and sick. We could none of us be happy unless all the beloved were happy.” We were astonished. That anything so important as this meeting in that blessed spot should be cancelled because one person was ill and could not go seemed incredible. It was so contrary to all ordinary habits of thought and action, so different from the life of the world where daily events and material circumstances are supreme in importance that it gave us a genuine shock of surprise, and in that shock the foundations of the old order began to totter and fall. The Master’s words had opened wide the door of God’s Kingdom and given us a vision of that infinite world whose only law is love. This was but one of many times that we saw ‘Abdu’l-Bahá place above every other consideration the love and kindness, the sympathy and compassion due to every soul. Indeed, as we look back upon that blessed time spent in His presence we understand that the object of our pilgrimage was to learn for the first time on earth what love is, to witness its light in every face, to feel its burning heat in every heart and to become ourselves enkindled with this divine flame from the Sun of Truth, the Essence of whose being is love.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 87)
People came to understand the wisdom of their sicknesses:
I was a child in Tehran when at the age of seven I contracted tuberculosis. There was no hope of recovery. The wisdom of this sickness became clear later. If I had not been ill, I would have been obliged to go to Mazindaran but because of this sickness I stayed in Tehran…..This was when the Blessed Beauty was in prison in Tehran. Therefore, I was afforded the honor of being in His company during His journey to Iraq. When the right time arrived, I suddenly became well, after the doctors had given up all hope of recovery. (Stories Told by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 104)
There are many stories of Lua Getsinger. This one was told me by Grace Ober, who heard it from Lua herself. It happened on one of Lua’s several visits to Acca and Haifa when she and Abdu’l-Bahá were walking together on the beach. Lua dropped behind slightly and began fitting her small feet, into His much larger foot prints. After a few moments the Master turned to ask what she was doing. “I am following in your footsteps,” said Lua. He, turned away and they walked on. A few moments later, He turned again, “Do you wish to follow in my foot steps?” He asked. “Oh, yes,” said Lua. They walked on – and Abdu’l-Bahá turned again, “Lua! Do you wish to follow in my foot steps?” His tone was louder and stern. “Oh, yes,” said Lua again. Then, the third time he stopped and faced her. “Lua!” it was almost a shout, “Do you wish to follow in My foot steps?” “Oh, yes!” said Lua for the third time – and with that, a great tarantula jumped out from a hillock of sand and bit her ankle. Abdu’l-Bahá saw this and paid no attention, turning away and again walking. Lua followed, still fitting her footsteps into His. Her ankle swelled, the pain became excruciating, till, finally, she sank down with the agony of it. Then Abdu’l-Bahá picked her up and carried her to the ladies quarters, where the Greatest Holy Leaf put her to bed. The agony increased. Lua’s temperature flamed; delirium set in. Finally, the Greatest Holy Leaf could stand it no longer and she implored Abdu’l-Bahá to heal her. He examined her carefully then laid His hands gently on her forehead. The temperature drained away, her head cleared she was healed. And it was only later that it was explained to her that she had been suffering from a strange and virulent condition of her blood which the bite of the tarantula had cured. (Reginald Grant Barrow, Mother’s Stories: Stories of Abdu’l-Bahá and Early Believers told by Muriel Ives Barrow Newhall to her son, p. 41-42)
He Visited People in their Homes, even When Uninvited:
Harry Randall, the brother of Loulie Mathews, was a man of wealth and affairs. He had been a classmate of Harlan Ober at Harvard and so, when Harlan learned of the Faith and became a Baha’i, he very soon gave the Message to Harry, only to discover that, busy and occupied as he was with his manifold affairs, Harry Randall’s interest went no farther than a polite and courteous response, which was far from satisfactory to Harlan. He persisted in trying to interest Harry further and when Abdu’l-Bahá was to come to Boston, Harlan grew more and more pressing: Harry must go to hear Abdu’l-Bahá speak; Harry must meet Him; Harry really owed it to himself not to miss this wonderful opportunity. Finally, Harry still uninterested, but courteously anxious to please this eager friend of his, agreed to go with Harlan to hear Abdu’l-Bahá.
Ruth – Harry’s wife would not be able to go with him since she was a semi invalid, in and out of sanitariums for tuberculosis a great part of the time. Just then she had come home from one of these hospitals but she was far too frail to do anything but rest quietly at home.
Harlan and Harry Randall went to the meeting together and after it was over, Harlan insisted upon taking Harry to meet Abdu’l-Bahá. Harry, still uninterested but always courteous, did as Harlan wished, and what was his astonishment when Abdu’l-Bahá warmly accepted an invitation to have tea the following afternoon at Harry’s home! An invitation Harry had in no way extended.
Appalled, Harry asked Harlan what on earth he should do about it? Harlan said. “Give a tea for Him what else can you do?” “But how can I? Ruth is ill. I’m busy. How on earth – ?”
Harlan laughed, “You don’t know Abdu’l-Bahá or you’d know there’s some sort of reason for this, and it’ll get done. You have a houseful of servants – let them brew a cup of tea for the Master and invite a few friends in to share it.” So this is what Harry did and the next afternoon when Abdu’l-Bahá arrived at the lovely suburban home he found quite a group of people assembled on a wide verandah to receive Him.
Ruth Randall, delicate and lovely, was also there, seated in a far corner where she might be safe from any draft. And it was to her, ignoring all the others, that Abdu’l-Bahá strode, His white aba billowing with the swiftness of His tread; His beautiful eyes filled with light and love. Reaching her He bent above her, murmuring “My daughter My dear daughter” and lovingly He rested His hands on her shoulders Then He turned and, smilingly, met all the other guests.
The following day, Ruth had an appointment with her doctor, who had examined her the previous week and had said that it might be necessary for her to return to the sanitarium for further treatment. He would be sure after he had seen her again. Ruth went to this appointment fearfully she was so longing to remain at home, so very reluctant to be sent again to the hospital. The doctor examined her – and was amazed. What had she been doing? What could have happened to her? She was healed. There was not the least trace left of the tuberculosis. Of course, this was an experience that neither Harry nor Ruth could ignore, so it was the beginning of their long and glorious life-time of teaching and serving the Cause they came to love so well. (Reginald Grant Barrow, Mother’s Stories: Stories of Abdu’l-Bahá and Early Believers told by Muriel Ives Barrow Newhall to her son, p. 23)
Many dingy abodes were brightened by His presence:
Almost any morning, early, He may be seen making the round of the city, calling upon the feeble and the sick; many dingy abodes are brightened by His presence.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 81)
He spent time with the sick:
His kind heart went out to those who were ill. If He could alleviate a pain or discomfort, He set about to do so. We are told that one old couple who were ill in bed for a month had twenty visits from the Master during that time. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 43)
A man, ill with tuberculosis, was avoided by his friends — even his family was fearful and hardly dared enter his room. The Master needed only to hear of it and ‘thereafter went daily to the sick man, took him delicacies, read and discoursed to him, and was alone with him when he died.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 44)
A dear friend of the family, Jinab-i-Munib, was taken seriously ill. When the boat stopped at Smyrna, Sarkar-i-Aqa (‘Abdu’l-Baha) and Mirza Musa carried him ashore, and took him to a hospital. The Master brought a melon and some grapes; returning with the refreshing fruit for him – He found that he had died. Arrangements were made with the director of the hospital for a simple funeral. The Master chanted some prayers, then, heartsore, came back to the boat. (Lady Blomfied, The Chosen Highway)
He gave them the necessities of life:
When a poor and crippled woman was shunned on contracting measles, the Master, on being informed, ‘immediately engaged a woman to care for her; took a room, put comfortable bedding (His own) into it, called the doctor, sent food and everything she needed. He went to see that she had every attention, and when she died in peace and comfort, He it was Who arranged her simple funeral, paying all charges.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 43)
He would feed them with His own hands:
Bahiyyih Randall was only thirteen years old when she went to Haifa to see the Master. She recalled that ‘there was a perfectly wonderful person who always sat on the right of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá at dinner. His name was Haydar-‘Ali and he had been a follower of Baha’u’llah and was so meek and so beautiful. His hands would shake so that he could not eat. He was such an old, old man, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would feed him with such tenderness. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 94)
He would cheer their hearts, saying:
If there is a sick person and one wishes to cure him, let one cause joy and happiness in his heart. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 417)
Joy is the best cure for your illness. Joy is better than a hundred thousand medicines for a sick person. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 417)
Here’s how He did it:
While in San Francisco, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá visited a black believer, Mr Charles Tinsley, who had been confined to bed for a long time with a broken leg. The Master said to him: ‘You must not be sad. This affliction will make you spiritually stronger. Do not be sad. Cheer up! Praise be to God, you are dear to me.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 44)
One day ‘Abdu’l-Bahá asked about the health of Mr Haney. He told the Master quite frankly, ‘My body is always well, but I am receiving so much Spiritual Food while here that I fear I shall have Spiritual indigestion.’ But his Host assured him: ‘No, you are going to digest it, for He who gives you the Spiritual Food is going to give you digestive power.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 143)
To Mrs Smith, a new Baha’i, who belonged to a distinguished Philadelphia family and who was suffering with a headache, the Master said, ‘You must be happy always. You must be counted among the people of joy and happiness and must be adorned with divine morals. In a large measure happiness keeps our health while depression of spirit begets diseases. The substance of eternal happiness is spirituality and divine morality, which has no sorrow to follow it.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 129)
He showered love on people:
On the day I arrived at Haifa I was ill with a dysentery which I had picked up in the course of my travels. ‘Abdu’l-Baha sent His own physician to me, and visited me Himself. He said, “I would that I could take your illness upon Myself.” I have never forgotten this. I felt, I knew, that in making this remark ‘Abdu’l-Baha was not speaking in mere terms of sympathy. He meant just what He said. Such is the great love of the Kingdom, of which ‘Abdu’l-Baha spoke so often and so much. This is a love that is difficult, almost impossible, for us to acquire — though we may seek to approximate its perfection. It is more than sympathy, more than empathy. It is sacrificial love. (Some Warm Memories of ‘Abdu’l-Baha — by Stanwood Cobb http://bahaitalks.blogspot.ca/2012/06/some-warm-memories-of-abdul-baha-by.html#more )
He never judged:
I remember as though it were yesterday another illustration of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s divine technique. I was not at all well that summer. A relapse was threatening a return of a condition which had necessitated a major operation the year before. My nervous condition made me consider breaking the habit of smoking which had been with me all my adult life. I had always prided myself on the ability to break the habit at any time. In fact I had several times cut off the use of tobacco for a period of many months. But this time to my surprise and chagrin I found my nerves and will in such a condition that after two or three days the craving became too much for me. Finally it occurred to me to ask the assistance of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. I had read His beautiful Tablet beginning: “0 ye pure friends of God!” in which He glorified personal cleanliness and urged the avoidance of anything tending towards habits of self-indulgence. “Surely,” I said to myself, “He will tell me how to overcome this habit.”
So, when I next saw Him I told Him all about it. It was like a child confessing to His mother, and my voice trailed away to embarrassed silence after only the fewest of words. But He understood, indeed much better than I did. Again I was conscious of an embracing, understanding love as He regarded me. After a moment He asked quietly, how much I smoked. I told him. He said He did not think that would hurt me, that the men in the Orient smoked all the time, that their hair and beards and clothing became saturated, and often very offensive. But that I did not do this, and at my age and having been accustomed to it for so many years He did not think that I should let it trouble me at all. His gentle eyes and smile seemed to hold a twinkle that recalled my impression of His enjoyment of a divine joke.
I was somewhat overwhelmed. Not a dissertation on the evils of habit; not an explanation of the bad effects on health; not a summoning of my will power to overcome desire, rather a Charter of Freedom did He present to me. I did not understand but it was a great relief for somehow I knew that this was wise advice. So immediately that inner conflict was stilled and I enjoyed my smoke with no smitings of conscience. But two days after this conversation I found the desire for tobacco had entirely left me and I did not smoke again for seven years. (Howard Colby Ives, Portals to Freedom, p. 45)
He encouraged the care givers:
Elizabeth Gibson Cheyne, poetess, and her husband, Dr T. K. Cheyne, esteemed critic, lived in Oxford, England, when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá visited them. Dr Cheyne’s health and strength were waning. ‘The beautiful loving care of the devoted wife for her gifted, invalid husband touched the heart of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. With tears in His kind eyes He spoke of them’ to His companions on their way back to London, ‘”She is an angelic woman, an example to all in her unselfish love. Yes, she is a perfect woman. An angel.”’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 107)
He educated people on spiritual and material healing:
Mrs Parsons was at the luncheon. Before she became a Bahá’í she had been a Christian Scientist, and now she brought up the question of mental suggestion as a cure for physical disease. The Master replied that some illnesses, such as consumption and insanity, developed from spiritual causes — grief, for example — and that these could be healed by the spirit. But Mrs Parsons persisted. Could not extreme physical cases, like broken bones, also be healed by the spirit? A large bowl of salad had been placed before the Master, Who sat at the head of the table, Florence Khanum on His right.
“If all the spirits in the air,” He laughed, “were to congregate together, they could not create a salad! Nevertheless, the spirit of man is powerful. For the spirit of man can soar in the firmament of knowledge, can discover realities, can confer life, can receive the Divine Glad-Tidings. Is not this greater,” and He laughed again, “than making a salad?” (The Diary of Juliet Thompson, p. 105-106)
He made sure people had medical attention, hiring doctors and paying for them Himself:
In ‘Akká, He daily sent a servant to inquire about the welfare of the ill, and as there was no hospital in the town, He paid a doctor a regular salary to look after the poor. The doctor was instructed not to tell Who provided this service. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 43)
‘Abdu’l-Baha believed in using medicine as well as spiritual healing. As there was no hospital in Akka, He hired a doctor by the name of Nikolaki Bey. He gave the doctor a regular salary to look after the very poor, and He asked the doctor not to tell who paid for the service. (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)
But always, the poor turned to Abdu’l-Baha for help. For instance, there was a poor, crippled woman named Na’um who used to come to Abdu’l-Baha every week for a gift of money. One day, a man came running; “Oh Master!” he said, “Poor Na’um has the measles, and everybody is keeping away from her. What can be done?” Abdu’l-Baha immediately sent a woman to take care of her; He rented a room, put His own bedding in it, called the doctor, sent food and everything she needed. He went to see that she had every attention. And when she died in peace and comfort, He arranged a simple funeral and paid all the expenses Himself.” (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)
When a Turkish man, living in Haifa, lost his position, he, his wife and children were in desperate need. They went to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá for help and were naturally greatly aided. When the poor man became ill, again the Master stood ready to help. He provided a doctor, medicine and provisions to make him comfortable. When this man felt he was to die, he asked for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and . . . The Master arranged for the funeral and provided food, clothing and travel-tickets for the family to go to Turkey. His sympathetic heart was as wide as the universe. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 66)
He cured some:
Lua was so traumatized by the idea of leaving him that in an attempt to delay, she deliberately went into the woods and walked through poison ivy. Later, in bed with her feet terribly swollen: “Look at me, Julie,” she said. “Look at my feet. Oh, please go right back to the Master and tell Him about them and say: how can Lua travel now?” I did it, returned to the Master’s house, found Him in His room and put Lua’s question to Him. He laughed, then crossed the room to a table on which stood a bowl of fruit, and, selecting an apple and a pomegranate, gave them to me. “Take these to Lua,” He said. “Tell her to eat them, and she will be cured. Spend the day with her, Julie.” O precious Lua – strange mixture of disobedience and obedience – and all from love! I shall never forget her, seizing first the apple, then the pomegranate and gravely chewing them all the way through till Not even a pomegranate seed was left: thoroughly eating her cure, which was certain to send her to California. In the late afternoon we were happily surprised by a visit from the Master Himself. He drew back the sheet and looked at Lua’s feet, which by that time were beautifully slim. Then He burst out laughing. “See,” He said, “I have cured Lua with an apple and a pomegranate.” … So poor Lua had to go to California. There was no way out for her. (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 120-121)
Muhammad-Hadi was from Isfahan, and as a binder and illuminator of books he had no peer. When he gave himself up to the love of God he was alert on the path and fearless. He abandoned his home and began a dreadful journey, passing with extreme hardship from one country to another until he reached the Holy Land and became a prisoner. He stationed himself by the Holy Threshold, carefully sweeping it and keeping watch. Through his constant efforts, the square in front of Bahá’u’lláh’s house was at all times swept, sprinkled and immaculate . . . When his sweeping, sprinkling and tidying was done, he would set to work illuminating and binding the various books and Tablets. So his days went by, his heart happy in the presence of the Beloved of mankind. He was an excellent soul, righteous, true, worthy of the bounty of being united with his Lord, and free of the world’s contagion. One day he came to me and complained of a chronic ailment. “I have suffered from chills and fever for two years,” he said, “The doctors have prescribed a purgative, and quinine. The fever stops a few days; then it returns. They give me more quinine, but still the fever returns. I am weary of this life, and can no longer do my work. Save me!” “What food would you most enjoy?” I asked him. “What would you eat with great appetite?” “I don’t know,” he said. Jokingly, I named off the different dishes. When I came to barley soup with whey (ash-i-kashk), he said, “Very good! But on condition there is braised garlic in it.” I directed them to prepare this for him, and I left. The next day he presented himself and told me: “I ate a whole bowlful of the soup. Then I laid my head on my pillow and slept peacefully till morning.” In short, from then on he was perfectly well for about two years. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Memorials of the Faithful, p. 68-69)
He couldn’t save everyone though:
One day a believer came to me and said: “Muhammad-Hadi is burning up with fever.” I hurried to his bedside and found him with a fever of 42 Centigrade. He was barely conscious. “What has he done?” I asked. “When he became feverish,” was the reply, “he said that he knew from experience what he should do. Then he ate his fill of barley soup with whey and braised garlic; and this was the result.” I was astounded at the workings of fate. I told them: “Because, two years ago, he had been thoroughly purged and his system was clear; because he had a hearty appetite for it, and his ailment was fever and chills, I prescribed the barley soup. But this time, with the different foods he has had, with no appetite, and especially with a high fever, there was no reason to diagnose the previous chronic condition. How could he have eaten the soup!” . . . Things had gone too far; Muhammad-Hadi was past saving. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Memorials of the Faithful, p. 68-69)
Sometimes He gave people a choice about whether to be healed or not:
One brief incident that made a lasting impression on Leroy illustrates this power of the Master. It occurred one evening when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke at the Masonic Temple [in Chicago]. More than a thousand people were present. The Ioas and Dealy families were very close, as it was through Paul Dealy that they had become Bahá’ís. The Ioases had brought Mrs. Dealy to the meeting, as she to her great distress was going blind. Following the Master’s talk, as hundreds milled around Him, she told her son he should have an interpreter ask ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to speak to her. Leroy, who was sitting next to her, remembers the son saying that would be impossible with all the people present. But she insisted and he went to pass on her request. The interpreter indicated she should sit on the aisle where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would leave. As the Master went up the aisle He stopped and greeted her lovingly. She reached for His hand and said, “’Abdu’l-Bahá, please put your hand on my forehead, and I know that I will see.‟ “Yes, my daughter,‟ He answered, “you will see. But you will have to choose. You may have your spiritual sight or your physical sight—which do you desire?‟ She said with emotion, “’Abdu’l-Bahá, that is no choice! I would be blind a thousand years before I would give up my spiritual sight!‟ “Well said, my daughter, well said,‟ replied the Master as He touched her shoulder and continued on His way out. Sitting next to her on that bench, Leroy realized with a chill how in that moment she had decided on her destiny. She was steadfast. (Leroy Ioas, Hand of the Cause of God by Anita Ioas Chapman, pp. 25-26)
Thomas [Breakwell] wrote to the Master, happily saying that, if he were Persian, he would have chosen to be a martyr. He had been admitted to hospital, and was in the tuberculosis ward. But news from the young man continued to reach ‘Akká, conveying an ever-increasing joy, despite his suffering. Sometimes, when Dr. Khan read Thomas’s letters to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the Master would remain silent. Dr. Khan knew that the ‘mysterious communion between the lover and the Beloved had no need of the spoken word.’ At other times, the Master would ask his secretary simply to convey His greetings. Although Thomas could have asked for healing, he never did, but prayed always for greater suffering. The more his illness consumed him, the greater his joy became. Hippolyte Dreyfus, who was able to visit Thomas in hospital, relates how the young Englishman spoke to the other patients enthusiastically about the Bahá’í Faith. Some of his listeners were upset by his message, others criticized it. But Thomas, unperturbed, maintained his tranquility and told them that he was not going to die, but was merely departing for the Kingdom of God, and that he would pray for them in heaven. Writing of his pain, he said: ‘Suffering is a heady wine; I am prepared to receive that bounty which is the greatest of all; torments of the flesh have enabled me to draw much nearer to my Lord. All agony notwithstanding, I wish life to endure longer, so that I may taste more of pain. That which I desire is the good-pleasure of my Lord; mention me in His presence.’ (Lakshiman-Lepain – The Life of Thomas Breakwell, p. 37-45)
Finally, He gave them to God:
At one time Juliet Thompson asked the Master about His daughter, Ruha Khanum, who had been very ill. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, ‘I have put her in the hands of the Blessed Perfection, and now I don’t worry at all.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 162)
How has this given you some new ideas of how you can help the sick? Post your comments below.
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!
‘Abdu’l-Baha met with many groups of people, but He had a special love for the poor and downtrodden.
Poverty made ‘Abdu’l-Baha exceedingly sad and He wants us to become more sensitive to this issue:
‘When He reached the Occident, however, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá faced a condition which troubled Him greatly, because it was beyond His power to assuage the misery He saw constantly about Him. Housed luxuriously at Cadogan Gardens, London, He knew that within a stone’s throw of Him were people who had never had enough to eat — and in New York there was exactly the same situation. These things made Him exceedingly sad, and He said: “The time will come in the near future when humanity will become so much more sensitive than at present that the man of great wealth will not enjoy his luxury, in comparison with the deplorable poverty about him. He will be forced, for his own happiness, to expend his wealth to procure better conditions for the community in which he lives.”‘ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 67)
He hurt with them:
Many years later, Abdul-Bahá’s concern for the poor and suffering was described by May Maxwell in a letter describing the conversation that had taken place in their home: “I remember when the Master was in Montréal and there’d been a strike for months in Dublin, women and children starving and a generally desperate condition. It affected me painfully; I had slept little and could barely eat, and had that terrific helpless feeling, not knowing what to do about it. All this Sutherland told to the Master, begging Him to tell me that my attitude was all wrong; and as he spoke the Master turned very white and great beads of perspiration formed on His brow through His own agony in human sufferings; then He said, “If more people felt as your wife does, the world would not be in this dark and terrible state.” (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 186-187)
His motto was “frugality for Himself, generosity for others”.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave freely of what He had — love, time, care and concern, food and money, clothing and flowers, a bed, a rug! His motto appeared to be: frugality for Himself, generosity for others. Stories of the Master’s self-denial in favour of others’ well-being are legion. He was ‘bountiful as the rain in His generosity to the poor…’ Because He and His family were rich in the love of God, they accepted material deprivation for themselves gladly. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 68)
Service to others was always the pattern of His life:
Service to God, to Baha’u’llah, to family, to friends and enemies, indeed to all mankind – this was the pattern of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s life. He wished only to be the Servant of God and man. To serve – rather than being demeaning and unfulfilling – was honour, joy and fulfilment. This motivated His entire day from Dawn to after midnight. He used to say, ‘Nothing is too much trouble when one loves, and there is always time.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 104)
He knew them all and treated them with kindness and respect:
A door opens and a man comes out. He is of middle stature, strongly built. He wears flowing light-coloured robes. On his head is a light buff fez with a white cloth wound about it. He is perhaps sixty years of age. His long grey hair rests on his shoulders. His forehead is broad, full, and high, his nose slightly aquiline, his moustaches and beard, the latter full though not heavy, nearly white. His eyes are grey and blue, large, and both soft and penetrating. His bearing is simple, but there is grace, dignity, and even majesty about his movements. He passes through the crowd, and as he goes utters words of salutation. We do not understand them, but we see the benignity and the kindliness of his countenance. He stations himself at a narrow angle of the street and motions to the people to come towards him . . . As they come they hold their hands extended. In each open palm he places some small coins. He knows them all. He caresses them with his hand on the face, on the shoulders, on the head. Some he stops and questions. An aged negro who hobbles up, he greets with some kindly inquiry; the old man’s broad face breaks into a sunny smile, his white teeth glistening against his ebony skin as he replies. He stops a woman with a babe and fondly strokes the child. As they pass, some kiss his hand. To all he says, “Marhabbah, marhabbah” – “Well done, well done!” So they all pass him. (Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khanum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi)
As interested as ‘Abdu’l-Baha was in helping the individual, He had a bigger vision always in His mind:
Ruhiyyih Khanum said she had a dream one night: she dreamed that the dam had burst and that there was a great flood, She rushed down to the water’s edge to try to save someone, but the current swept them past. She reached out to try to grasp and save another. She grasped one by the hair, and, with great effort, brought that one to shore. Then she tried to reach another, but the current swept him by. She looked up at the side of the mountain, and there she saw ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, who looked like a Prophet of God, with his white turban and flowing beard, with his back to the flood, working very hard. She rushed up the mountain side, grasped His sleeves and said, “Oh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, come and help me save some of these people who are drowning in the flood.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá went right on, working very rapidly and said nothing. She grasped his sleeve again and said, “Oh ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, these people are drowning, come help me save some of these people who are drowning in the flood.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, without stopping his work turned to her with a smile and Said, “‘Abdu’l-Bahá is building the machine to stop the flood.” (That is what is taking place in the world today) (Ruhaniyyih Ruth Moffett, Visiting the Bahá’í World, 1954-09 http://bahai-library.com/moffett_pilgrims_notes)
In many quotes He tells us how we are to behave to the poor, sick and downtrodden, and in this quote, He tells us we aren’t a “true Baha’i” if we neglect it:
Enrich the poor, raise the fallen, comfort the sorrowful, bring healing to the sick, reassure the fearful, rescue the oppressed, bring hope to the hopeless, shelter the destitute! This is the work of a true Bahá’í, and this is what is expected of him. If we strive to do all this, then are we true Bahá’ís, but if we neglect it, we are not followers of the Light, and we have no right to the name. (Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 80)
How many of us serve these groups?
How many of us can count people such as these as our friends?
How many of us can truly claim we have a right to the name Baha’i?
Because ‘Abdu’l-Baha loved these groups of people so much, there is much that has been written about them, so in the next series of articles I will be looking at what we can learn about how He treated them, to help us claim our name, to help us too draw closer to the poor and help them in practical ways, as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá did.
What’s been your experience showering love on the poor? Post your comments below!
‘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!