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Baha’is regard Abdu’l-Baha as the perfect example of a life of service—and in children’s education, reading stories about his life can help children develop.
Experiencing those stories can help children understand themselves, their environment, and their role in the betterment of the world.
The Baha’i children’s class curriculum, developed by the Baha’i community through many years of experience, incorporates elements of song, prayer, art and storytelling to communicate concepts that strengthen children’s spiritual identity. Many of the stories in this curriculum are about Abdu’l-Baha, who:
… seemed an incarnation of loving understanding, of compassion and power, of wisdom and authority, of strength, and of buoyant youthfulness, which somehow defied the burden of his years; and such years! – Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway, p. 150.
It might seem strange to focus on a historical figure with such a complex history of suffering and heroism when speaking to children. So why do Baha’is tell children stories about Abdu’l-Baha from a very young age?
Giving Children the Tools to Face Life Situations
Children who attend Baha’i classes usually hear the story about Abdu’l-Baha and a man who hated him. The man loathed Abdu’l-Baha so much that he would cover his eyes when passing by so as to not look at him, and disrespected Abdu’l-Baha so much that anyone else would likely have reacted with pain and anger. But Abdu’l-Baha remained compassionate and kind. When the man got terribly sick one day, Abdu’l-Baha paid for his doctor, brought him medicine, and took care of him. The man eventually repented for his mistreatment of Abdu’l-Baha, and asked for forgiveness.
This very simple story has a powerful effect on the children who hear it. One girl in her teens, years after she had learned the children’s class material together, told me she called to mind this story when facing bullying in middle school. It helped her shake off the feeling of powerlessness and instead focus on constructive action, without resorting to retribution or violence.
Through these stories of applied spirituality, the very language with which children approach hardship changes, and their posture in situations of injustice isn’t one of victimization or revenge; instead, they center themselves on the soothing, peaceful and empowering example of Abdu’l-Baha.
Committing Spiritual Values to Memory
Baha’i children’s classes also have a memorization component, which provides an important step in understanding spiritual values. For example, Abdu’l-Baha’s quote “Truthfulness is the foundation of all virtues”–The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 26—is easily memorized and brings a depth of both understanding and vocabulary. The children learn what “truthfulness” is; what a “virtue” is; how every virtue they are learning, such as justice, respect and kindness, connect to each other; and what a “foundation” is—which leads to the understanding that without truthfulness, we can never really be just, respectful or kind. Beyond the meaning of the text they learn, understanding context is also important—both for the sake of comprehension and motivation.
A Real-Life Example of Kindness, Generosity and Wisdom
In helping children build a personal relationship with God, Baha’i children’s classes strive to study the words of various Faiths and understand God’s love for us. But it can be difficult to take abstract concepts and apply them to reality without practical examples. Abdu’l-Baha’s life offers us that example and his stories are a path to better understand the human soul and its relationship to its Creator.
That’s not to say that Abdu’l-Baha’s stories are the only stories children should be exposed to. In fact, the children’s class curriculum includes many other stories about important historical characters, and inspirational fables. But Abdu’l-Baha is a real-life constant the children can relate to and emulate.
Many of the stories about Abdu’l-Baha describe the later stages of his life, but a few also focus on his childhood and youth, and how his spirit of service was strong even then. The children see themselves in him as a boy, and also love him as a grandfatherly figure.
In the children’s classes I’ve personally taught, children would cheer when they realized that Abdu’l-Baha was about to appear in a story, and when Abdu’l-Baha’s generous, wise and kind actions solved the main conflict—be it a person doing harm, or a communication problem, or a lack of food—they would erupt with excitement. “See, I told you!” our eight-year-old student would exclaim, with a fist pump. “I told you he would fix it!”
Isn’t this the kind of heroic figure we want our children to respect and emulate—a real-life person who dedicated his life to the service of humankind, who exercised wisdom and kindness in every action, and whose teachings continue to transform the world?
We have made Thee a shelter for all mankind, a shield unto all who are in heaven and on earth, a stronghold for whosoever hath believed in God, the Incomparable, the All-Knowing. God grant that through Thee He may protect them, may enrich and sustain them, that He may inspire Thee with that which shall be a wellspring of wealth unto all created things, an ocean of bounty unto all men, and the dayspring of mercy unto all peoples. – Baha’u’llah, speaking to Abdu’l-Baha, quoted by Shoghi Effendi in The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 135.