Abdu’l Baha‘s life was full of achievement. The eldest son of Baha’u’llah, he transcended a lifetime of exile and imprisonment and took the Baha’i Faith out of its homelands to a wider world. If all Abdu’l Baha had done was to undertake his teaching trips throughout Europe and North America, it would be more than most of us achieve in a lifetime.
The following is Robert Stockman’s description of just Abdu’l Baha’s time in North America.
“This was not the visit of a sixty-seven-year-old foreign tourist bent on seeing new places or a religious teacher hoping to cement his fortune and reputation; rather, it was the effort of an almost indescribable man, whose impact on people was superhuman, and who used his newfound freedom from forty years of imprisonment and privation to share his Father’s message of the oneness of humanity and the principles of universal peace with as many North Americans as possible. His exhausting yet exhilarating 239-day trek from coast to coast took him to fifty cities and towns, where he delivered up to four talks a day—about four hundred total—to approximately ninety-three thousand people.
On some days, one hundred fifty persons sought private meetings with him.” [Excerpt From: Robert H. Stockman. “Abdu’l-Bahá in America.” iBooks.]
The stories about Abdu’l Baha are legion. The stories are stories of wisdom, religious inspiration, transforming love, and sometimes apparently miraculous events.
But even the most ordinary day to day events of Abdu’l Baha’s life leave one awed. Dr Youness Afroukhteh, who served for nine years in Akka as a secretary to Abdu’l Baha, has left a description of Abdu’l Baha’s typical workday there.
The account comes from a time when streams of letters were arriving from Iran, recounting terrible outbreaks of persecution.
… no day passed without letters bursting with heart-rending sights and groans of the Persian friends reaching Him, and no night saw the first light of dawn yet failed to find Abdu’l Baha in that small wooden cabin on the upper floor, engaged in supplication, or to hear His lamentations.
This was only a small portion of the correspondence pouring in:
From Iran and around the world, scientific questions, spiritual queries and abstruse religious problems poured in, and comprehensive answers were given to each one. Many were in His own hand; some were dictated …
To cope with the burden of work, Abdu’l Baha sought other work!
It was Abdu’l Baha’s habit to find relief from one tiring occupation by engaging Himself in another. For example, when He grew tired of writing, He would turn to dictation of Tablets, and when He grew weary of this, He would summon the pilgrims and impart to them words of counsel and admonition. Once He felt tired out by writing, dictation or speaking He would take long walks in the narrow winding street of the Most Great Prison, [the city of Akka] and if in the process He encountered a believer or a non-believer, friend or foe, He would stop and spend a few minutes talking to him of matters of interest to that person. Thus, as He simply strolled down the streets of Akka, Abdu’l Baha actually performed the important task of attending to a great many side issues.
If he felt any weariness, He visited the sick and the poor; the sick received His prayers and blessings, and the needy the contents of His moneybag. … As soon as the moneybag was empty He would return home. If there was any daylight left, He would summon [his secretary] to begin where he left off. … If it were late at night, He would visit those pilgrims and residents who were gathered in the [reception] area waiting for Him to come, and bestow upon them the expressions of His loving-kindness. He would then ask someone to chant a prayer, and afterwards he would retire [and] He busied Himself with managing the affairs of the house and attending to the education of each member of the blessed household.
After a short rest, He would be up before the first light of dawn and engaged in prayer and the revelation of divine verses until sunrise, when He would begin His busy day. Thus the only temporary respite and comfort for Abdu’l Baha was the time he spent at the dinner table — and even that time was taken up by the many questions of the Western friends.[NineYears of Memories in Akka, Dr Younness Afroukhteh translated by Riaz Masrour]
Abdu’l Baha’s responses in his times of ‘respite and comfort’ have come down to us in a collection of his talks known as Some Answered Questions. He called what he shared with his hearer in those dinners his “tired moments”.
This article is the 115th in a series of what I hope will be 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.)
Image Credits: The wooden cabin on the roof of the House of Abdullah Pasha, where Abdu’l Baha would retreat for prayer and work.
Extract from image by Dragfyre (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons