In this series of articles, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’u’lláh’s eldest son, is already a familiar point of reference.
We have seen ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in action in his journeys to the West, undertaken in the last decade of his life. During these journeys he promoted principles from his father’s teachings such as the oneness of humanity, the abolition of prejudice, the equality of men and women and the abolition of extremes of wealth and poverty. A description of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá during those journeys gives a sense of who he was:
Tirelessly, He expounded the teachings in every social space: in homes and mission halls, churches and synagogues, parks and public squares, railway carriages and ocean liners, clubs and societies, schools and universities. Uncompromising in defence of the truth, yet infinitely gentle in manner, He brought the universal divine principles to bear on the exigencies of the age. To all without distinction – officials, scientists, workers, children, parents, exiles, activists, clerics, sceptics – He imparted love, wisdom, comfort, whatever the particular need. While elevating their souls, He challenged their assumptions, reoriented their perspectives, expanded their consciousness, and focused their energies. He demonstrated by word and deed such compassion and generosity that hearts were utterly transformed. No one was turned away.
It is hardly possible to understand the Baha’i Faith without understanding ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s work. So far, however, we haven’t explored how ‘Abdu’l-Bahá himself appears in Bahá’u’lláh’s writings.
Yet we see that the followers even of individual religions have been afflicted with divisions that have endured hundreds or even thousands of years.
The fractures in the body of humanity, in many cases, trace the boundaries of religious division. We may think of division between Shiah and Sunni or Catholic and Orthodox as examples implicated in current world conflicts. Ancient disagreements are still with us today.
The peace of the world and the welfare of humanity are beyond reach so long as religious division is perpetuated into the future. As Bahá’u’lláh observes:
The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.
Bahá’u’lláh addresses this problem in his writings. Unlike any divine messenger before him, he left in writing constitutive principles to prevent division taking hold within his community. In short, a foundation for unity.
Bahá’u’lláh explicitly appointed ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as both the interpreter of his teachings and the centre of the nascent Baha’i community.
O people of the world! When the Mystic Dove will have winged its flight from its Sanctuary of Praise and sought its far-off goal … refer ye whatsoever ye understand not in the Book to Him Who hath branched from this mighty Stock.
When the ocean of My presence hath ebbed and the Book of My Revelation is ended, turn your faces towards Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient Root.
In his will and testament (the Book of the Covenant), Bahá’u’lláh made this appointment explicit (referring to the above verse he states):
The object of this sacred verse is none other except the Most Mighty Branch [‘Abdu’l‑Bahá].
That this concept is intimately connected with overcoming conflict among human beings is reflected in Bahá’u’lláh’s will and testament itself, which repeatedly returns to the theme of human unity.
The aim of this Wronged One in sustaining woes and tribulations, in revealing the Holy Verses and in demonstrating proofs hath been naught but to quench the flame of hate and enmity, that the horizon of the hearts of men may be illumined with the light of concord and attain real peace and tranquility.
O ye that dwell on earth! The religion of God is for love and unity; make it not the cause of enmity or dissension.
Conflict and contention are categorically forbidden in His Book. This is a decree of God in this Most Great Revelation. It is divinely preserved from annulment….
In a letter written to the Baha’is of North America in 1916, when the world was in the grip of one of the greatest wars to afflict humanity, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explained the significance of the principle (referred to here as the Covenant):
Today no power can conserve the oneness of the Bahá’í world save the Covenant of God; otherwise differences like unto a most great tempest will encompass the Bahá’í world. It is evident that the axis of the oneness of the world of humanity is the power of the Covenant and nothing else.
A reference to the religious history of humanity, the divisions that have beset it, how those divisions arose and the immense suffering those divisions have generated and continue to generate provides insight as to the implications and necessity of this principle.
Here the discussion has focussed on a constitutional principle laid down by Bahá’u’lláh, but of course the person on whom he placed such a heavy responsibility was also his son. In a previous article we have seen tender affection between father and son. The following is a brief passage of a more personal kind in which Bahá’u’lláh expresses his feelings about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, who was then absent on a journey:
Blessed, doubly blessed, is the ground which His footsteps have trodden, the eye that hath been cheered by the beauty of His countenance, the ear that hath been honored by hearkening to His call, the heart that hath tasted the sweetness of His love, the breast that hath dilated through His remembrance, the pen that hath voiced His praise, the scroll that hath borne the testimony of His writings. We beseech God – blessed and exalted be He – that He may honor us with meeting Him soon.
Image Credits: Doors to the resting places of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the Báb in the Shrine of the Báb http://media.bahai.org/detail/4636613 Copyright © Bahá’í International Community
In 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spent from April to December touring North America. He is shown (at center) with Bahá’ís at Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois, USA, in 1912. http://media.bahai.org/detail/1620581 Copyright © Bahá’í International Community
This article is the 33rd in a series of what I hope will become 200 articles in 200 days for the 200th anniversary of the birth of Bahá’u’lláh. The anniversary is being celebrated around the world on 21 and 22 October 2017. The articles are simply my personal reflections on Bahá’u’lláh’s life and work. Any errors or inadequacies in these articles are solely my responsibility.