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In a world where people pride themselves on their position, wealth, and selfish distinction above others, how can we overcome our self-interest and egotism to become truly servants of humanity?
We cannot become like Abdu’l-Baha, one of the central figures of the Baha’i Faith, but we can learn from his life, wisdom, and manifold stories about his genuine compassion and loving servitude to those who were poor and suffering.
In the previous article, I discussed the significance of the station of Abdu’l-Baha. Here I would like to focus on the personal relationship between Abdu’l-Baha and Baha’u’llah, the Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith. Abdu’l-Baha was not only the eldest but also the peerless son of Baha’u’llah whom Baha’u’llah loved very much. He would call Abdu’l-Baha “Master” even when he was very young, an expression that reflected Baha’u’llah’s affection and respect to honor Abdu’l-Baha with that title.
He was designated by Baha’u’llah as the Center of His Covenant which has a very unique and unprecedented institution in the history of religions of the world. It protects and prevents the teachings and writings of the Faith from misinterpretations of others which has always been a major cause of misunderstanding of the words of God. As a result, there have been confusions, divisions, and disunity among the believers of various religions.
Abdu’l-Baha’s reverence and humility toward Baha’u’llah were beyond words and beyond their intimate father-and-son relationship. In fact, Baha’u’llah’s faithful children’s attitude toward their Father was no ordinary relationship. Adib Taherzadeh wrote in “The Covenant of Baha’u’llah” that:
“...the station of Bahá'u'lláh as the Manifestation of God completely overshadowed His position as a physical father. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the Greatest Holy Leaf and the Purest Branch looked upon Bahá'u'lláh not merely as their father, but as their Lord, and because they had truly recognized His station, they acted at all times as most humble servants at His threshold. 'Abdu'l-Bahá always entered the presence of Bahá'u'lláh with such genuine humility and reverence that no one among His followers could express the spirit of lowliness and utter self-effacement as He did. The humility of 'Abdu'l-Bahá as He bowed before His Father, or prostrated Himself at His feet, demonstrated the unique relationship which existed between this Father and His faithful sons and daughter.”
This spirit of utter lowliness and humility was an inherent quality of Abdu’l-Baha toward Baha’u’llah. When Abdu’l-Baha was a child in Baghdad, Baha’u’llah intimated to him His own Station as a Manifestation of God. Abdu’l-Baha, upon hearing this, instantly acknowledged the truth of Baha’u’llah’s mission and, as Tahezadeh wrote “prostrated Himself at His feet and in humility and earnestness begged Baha’u’llah to grant Him the privilege of laying down His life in His path.”
Juliet Thompson, who met Abdu’l-Baha, commented on that fateful moment of Abdu’l-Baha’s life in Baghdad in her book “Abdu’l-Baha, the Center of the Covenant.” She wrote, “The sacrifice, of life at least, was accepted and prolonged for fifty-six years in prison and exile.” While Baha’u’llah called him the “Master”, a mark of honor bestowed upon Abdu’l-Baha alone among the entire family, the Master chose to be a servant, a longing expressed in his chosen name “Abdu’l-Baha”. Baha’u’llah’s response to Abdu’l-Baha’s absolute humility and self-effacement was an outpouring of loving admiration and fondness whereby He extolled the station of Abdu’l-Baha. Such an expression of genuine love for the Master did not sit well with some members of the Holy Family, especially with Abdu’l-Baha’s half brother, Mirza-Muhammad Ali, and with his mother, Mahd-i-Ulya, who were extremely jealous of Abdu’l-Baha.
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In Abdu’l-Baha we find perfect harmony between spiritual, physical, and intellectual powers. A Biblical scholar once remarked that Abdu’l-Baha is the “Ambassador to Humanity.”
H.M. Balyuzi noted in his book “Abdu’l-Baha,” that Horace Holley described Abdu’l-Baha as follows: “…majestic, strong, yet infinitely kind, He appeared like some just king that very moment descended from His throne to mingle with a devoted people.”
In his book “God Passes By,” Shoghi Effendi identified different dimensions of the person of Abdu’l-Baha. Although the Master’s station is radically different from that occupied by Baha’u’llah and the Bab in that he is essentially human, nevertheless He is endowed with “superhuman knowledge,” a “stainless mirror” reflecting the light of Baha’u’llah and the perfect Exemplar of the Baha’i Faith.
How can we identify with Abdu’l-Baha and how can we strive to attain a degree of the utter self-effacement that the Master demonstrated and to emulate his life?