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From his birth in Tehran in 1844 to his death in Haifa in 1921, Abbas Effendi lived a life of exemplary service and selfless love for humanity. Baha’is and admirers alike, all around the world, have always lovingly referred to him as the Master; however, Abbas Effendi insisted he was simply a humble servant. Therefore, he preferred using the name Abdu’l-Baha, which means “servant of the glory of God.” His name fit him perfectly because he was a devoted follower of his father’s Faith — and his Father’s name, Baha’u’llah, means “the glory of God.”
Throughout his life, Abdu’l-Baha devoted his energies to others. He continually aided the ill, and fed the poor. He spread the message of racial unity and world peace, and often literally gave the clothes off his own back to those in need.
During his travels to America, Abdu’l-Baha taught people about the Baha’i Faith, the religion Baha’u’llah brought to the world. When he arrived in New York in 1912, the reporter Wendell Phillips Dodge asked Abdu’l-Baha, “What is a Baha’i?”
Abdu’l-Baha replied, “To be a Baha’i simply means to love all the world, to love humanity and try to serve it; to work for Universal Peace, and Universal Brotherhood.”
Abdu’l-Baha’s deeds seamlessly matched his words. Despite the racial segregation laws in Washington, D.C. in 1912, Abdu’l-Baha demanded that the gathering he attended be integrated, exemplifying and promoting the Baha’i teachings of the oneness and equality of humanity and elimination of all prejudice.
Because he evinced such a combination of both human qualities and exemplary spiritual characteristics, Baha’u’llah called Abdu’l-Baha the Mystery of God. Baha’u’llah wrote the following tablet to His son, describing the remarkable qualities Abdu’l-Baha possessed:
Blessed, doubly blessed, is the ground which His footsteps have trodden, the eye that hath been cheered by the beauty of His countenance, the ear that hath been honoured by hearkening to His call, the heart that hath tasted the sweetness of His love, the breast that hath dilated through His remembrance, the pen that hath voiced His praise, the scroll that hath borne the testimony of His writings. We beseech God—blessed and exalted be He—that He may honour us with meeting Him soon. He is, in truth, the All-Hearing, the All-Powerful, He Who is ready to answer. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp.227-228
Baha’is try to follow in Abdu’l-Baha’s footsteps, as the exemplar of our Faith. In his own words, Abdu’l-Baha described the goal humans should strive for:
Soon will your swiftly-passing days be over, and the fame and riches, the comforts, the joys provided by this rubbish-heap, the world, will be gone without a trace. Summon ye, then, the people to God, and invite humanity to follow the example of the Company on high. Be ye loving fathers to the orphan, and a refuge to the helpless, and a treasury for the poor, and a cure for the ailing. Be ye the helpers of every victim of oppression, the patrons of the disadvantaged. Think ye at all times of rendering some service to every member of the human race. Pay ye no heed to aversion and rejection, to disdain, hostility, injustice: act ye in the opposite way. – Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 3.
Abdu’l-Baha, the son of a messenger of God, was no Prophet; however, he exhibited all of the spiritual virtues Baha’is attempt to exemplify. Loving, compassionate, honest, and kind, Abdu’l-Baha also evinced the essence of humility—as evidenced by the fact that, although knighted after his personal storage of grain relieved famine in Palestine after World War I, he didn’t use the title. He displayed intellectual brilliance and enormous foresight in his powerful writing, moved huge crowds all around the world with his eloquent speech, and connected with the true essence of the hearts of people from every race, class and culture.
Despite facing grueling ordeals such as suffering 40 years of imprisonment for his Faith, recovering from life-threatening tuberculosis, and experiencing severe frostbite as a result of traversing rugged lands in harsh winters with his exiled family, Abdu’l-Baha kept serving others. He continually prayed for wisdom, humility and guidance, and he truly loved all of humanity—not just in words, but in deeds.
To learn more about this magnificent, inspirational and yet modest man, I encourage you to read further. You can explore Abdu’l-Baha’s amazing life right here at bahaiteachings.org, or at www.bahai.org Another great source is the book The Wisdom of the Master: The Spiritual Teachings of Abdu’l-Baha, from Kalimat Press.
I hope you enjoy learning about this remarkable Mystery of God, whose powerfully inspirational life continues to teach humanity about service, unity and love.