Who was `Abdu'l-Bahá, and why did He come to the West?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

December 20, 1912 Visitors flocking . . .

Earl Redman writes: 

The following day, 20 December, visitors again flocked to see ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. With Mr Lorge, a well-known English educator, He discussed America. Ahmad Sohrab wrote that he had never seen ‘Abdu’l-Bahá so enthusiastic about the wonderful possibilities of America. “Europe”, He said, “is steeped in a sea of materialism. People are either agnostics or full of religious superstition.”’ Americans, said the Master, ‘are more spiritual, they seek the knowledge of God . . . In brief, they are a nation of independent investigators’. [i]
            Later in the day, the Persian Ambassador, Mushíru’l-Mulk, came to visit the Master. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told him about ‘winning everlasting victories which will bring unfading glory to the peoples of the East’. Dúst-Muhammad Khán, the son-in-law of Násiri’d-Din Sháh, the arch-enemy of Bahá’u’lláh, also came to speak with the Master. He was very attached to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and came as often as possible.[ii]
             That evening, it was time for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s first public talk since his arrival in London. It took place at the Westminster Palace Hotel. According to Isabel Fraser’s article in The Christian Commonwealth, it was ‘a remarkable cosmopolitan gathering’ composed of scientists, diplomats, and leaders of great movements of the day, including a number of Orientals. They had all come to listen to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá talk about a topic that was ‘agitating many of the thinking minds of to-day – the vast subject of Peace’. Sir Thomas Barclay introduced the Master by saying, ‘If I have understood Bahaism, it has a singularly good Christian ring, and I should interpret it to mean: Be a real Christian and you will be a good Bahaist. But I am merely presiding, not proselytizing. I am proud to have been asked to preside at a meeting of those who have come together to do honour to one who deserves it so richly’.[iii]
            ‘Abdu’l-Bahá then proceeded to talk about love, describing how matter was made up of ‘constellations’ of molecules, each composed of atoms held together by the law of affinity:

As in the material so in the spiritual world, love is the attracting force that welds together the constituent elements into a composite unity and holds them firm against disintegration . . . Love is the cause of the illumination of whole of humanity; discord and dissension are the cause of the destruction of the human race . . .
The foundation of all religion as taught by all the divine messengers has been love and affinity. A hundred thousand pities, alas, that the divine message has become the means of warfare and strife! In the Balkans blood has been freely and copiously shed, lives are being destroyed, houses are pillaged, cities are razed to the ground – and all this through religious prejudice . . .[iv]

The Master had referred to the conflict in the Balkans frequently during his American talks, and also spoke of it to the newspaper reporters on his arrival in London. An international conference was being held just then in London to try to negotiate a peace settlement, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá took the opportunity of mentioning this:

I am very pleased that I am living in London during these days. I supplicate that the conference may be crowned with success . . .
As the English government is a just Government, and as the British nation is a noble nation and they accomplish what they undertake, it is my hope that in this matter they will show their utmost wisdom and sagacity, so that the sun of peace may dawn on the horizon of the Balkans . . . and whenever in the future there is any difficult problem a conference may be called for its settlement, for through these various conferences all the troubles of humanity may be solved.[v]

The Master’s address was listened to ‘in tense silence’, and when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá at the end of the meeting gave the blessing, ‘a deep hush fell on the people’. After He had finished speaking, Mrs Despard, President of the Women’s Freedom League, said a few words in appreciation; she was ‘perfectly convinced’ that everyone who had heard him felt ‘deeply privileged to have had his presence here in our western isle’. Hippolyte Dreyfus and Alice Buckton also spoke.
            Alice Buckton was a London Bahá’í who had spent much time in America during the Master’s visit there. She was also a writer of poetry and plays.

[i] ibid. p. 6.
[ii] Balyuzi, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 347.
[iii] The Christian Commonwealth, p. 262, United Kingdom Bahá’í Archives. An edited version appears in Star of the West, vol. III, no. 17 (19 January 1913), pp. 5–10. The version given here is as it appeared in the newspaper.
[iv] ibid.
[v] ibid.

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