In the lifetime of Baha’u’llah the Baha’i Faith spread through many Asiatic countries and parts of Africa. The early years of Abdu’l-Baha’s ministry witnessed the spread of the Faith into Europe and America, thanks to the efforts of a number of intrepid Baha’is. In 1894 an American, Thornton Chase, became the first believer in the United States. Soon there were flourishing communities of Baha’is in New York, Montreal, London, Paris, and other cities.
While still a prisoner Abdu’l-Baha began to receive new believers and interested seekers visiting from Europe and America. In Abdu’l-Baha’s presence, basking in his love and wisdom, they experienced a sense of joy and upliftment that they found impossible to describe. Filled with awe and wonder, most returned to their homes fully determined to do what they could to share the news of the Baha’i Faith with others.
We are fortunate to have many accounts written by these visitors. Among them was Mrs. Phoebe Hearst, the mother of William Randolph Hearst, who visited Akka in 1899. Her memories are typical of many who visited Abdu’l-Baha in prison in the Holy Land:
It seems to me a real Truthseeker would know at a glance that He is the Master! Withal, I must say He is the Most Wonderful Being I have ever met or ever expect to meet in this world. Tho He does not seek to impress one at all, strength, power, purity, love and holiness are radiated from His majestic, yet humble, personality, and the spiritual atmosphere which surrounds Him and most powerfully affects all those who are blest by being near Him, is indescribable. His ideas and sentiments are of the loftiest and most chaste character, while His great love and devotion for humanity surpass anything I have ever before encountered. – P.A. Hearst to O.M. Babcock, 5 December 1899, quoted by Reverend Isaac Adams’ Persia by a Persian, p. 289.
Upon attaining His freedom in 1908 Abdu’l-Baha began to contemplate undertaking a journey through the countries of the West. Its purpose—to proclaim the Baha’i Faith and its principles, to advocate for world peace, and also to consolidate the newly emerging groups of Baha’is in various cities.
In 1910, at the age of 66, Abdu’l-Baha set out with a small group of companions on a sojourn without rival in religious history. For three years, interspersed with stays in Egypt, he traveled through the countries of Europe and North America, meeting with the Baha’is and sharing the message of the Baha’i Faith with countless others of every conceivable background.
The arduous journey, during which Abdu’l-Baha maintained a constant schedule of interviews, talks, receptions, and other meetings, often left him ill and exhausted. Yet he pressed on, frequently displaying a level of energy and resilience that astonished those around him. His travels took him to France and Great Britain; then, after a rest in Egypt, he traveled across the Atlantic to Canada and the United States, where he visited cities from coast to coast. Then he returned to Europe before heading back to Egypt and finally home to Haifa.
Those difficult and lengthy sojourns, Abdu’l-Baha said, focused on the central Baha’i teaching of the oneness of all Faiths:
When I was in America I was most busy. Often I addressed three meetings a day, and gave innumerable interviews from early morning till midnight. In Europe I spread certain divine teachings which will insure security to the human world, and taught them that the foundation of the religions of God is one and the same. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 4, p. 105.
Next: Unity: The Essential Truth of Religion