23 May 1844
|Died||28 November 1921 (aged 77)|
|Resting place||Shrine of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá|
Munírih Khánum (m. 1873)
|Children||4 (incl. Ḍíyáʼíyyih Khánum)|
|Parents||Baháʼu'lláh (father) |
Ásíyih Khánum (mother)
|Relatives||Shoghi Effendi (grandson)|
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ʻAbdu'l-Bahá (/ /; Persian: عبد البهاء, 23 May 1844 – 28 November 1921), born ʻAbbás (Persian: عباس), was the eldest son of Baháʼu'lláh and served as head of the Baháʼí Faith from 1892 until 1921. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was later canonized as the last of three "central figures" of the religion, along with Baháʼu'lláh and the Báb, and his writings and authenticated talks are regarded as a source of Baháʼí sacred literature.
He was born in Tehran to an aristocratic family. At the age of eight his father was imprisoned during a government crackdown on the Bábí Faith and the family's possessions were looted, leaving them in virtual poverty. His father was exiled from their native Iran, and the family went to live in Baghdad, where they stayed for nine years. They were later called by the Ottoman state to Istanbul before going into another period of confinement in Edirne and finally the prison-city of ʻAkká (Acre). ʻAbdu'l-Bahá remained a political prisoner there until the Young Turk Revolution freed him in 1908 at the age of 64. He then made several journeys to the West to spread the Baháʼí message beyond its middle-eastern roots, but the onset of World War I left him largely confined to Haifa from 1914–1918. The war replaced the openly hostile Ottoman authorities with the British Mandate, who knighted him for his help in averting famine following the war.
In 1892 ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was appointed in his father's will to be his successor and head of the Baháʼí Faith. He faced opposition from virtually all his family members, but held the loyalty of the great majority of Baháʼís around the world. His Tablets of the Divine Plan helped galvanize Baháʼís in North America into spreading the Baháʼí teachings to new territories, and his Will and Testament laid the foundation for the current Baháʼí administrative order. Many of his writings, prayers and letters are extant, and his discourses with the Western Baháʼís emphasize the growth of the faith by the late 1890s.
ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's given name was ʻAbbás. Depending on context, he would have gone by either Mírzá ʻAbbás (Persian) or ʻAbbás Effendi (Turkish), both of which are equivalent to the English Sir ʻAbbás. He preferred the title of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá ("servant of Bahá", a reference to his father). He is commonly referred to in Baháʼí texts as "The Master".
- 1 Early life
- 2 Baghdad
- 3 Constantinople/Adrianople
- 4 ʻAkká
- 5 Early years of his ministry
- 6 Journeys to the West
- 7 Final years (1914–1921)
- 8 Works
- 9 See also
- 10 Explanatory notes
- 11 Notes
- 12 References
- 13 Further reading
- 14 External links
ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was born in Tehran, Iran on 23 May 1844 (5th of Jamadiyu'l-Avval, 1260 AH), the eldest son of Baháʼu'lláh and Navváb. He was born on the very same night on which the Báb declared his mission. Born with the given name of ʻAbbás, he was named after his grandfather Mírzá ʻAbbás Núrí, a prominent and powerful nobleman. As a child, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was shaped by his father's position as a prominent Bábí. He recalled how he met the Bábí Táhirih and how she would take "me on to her knee, caress me, and talk to me. I admired her most deeply". ʻAbdu'l-Bahá had a happy and carefree childhood. The family's Tehran home and country houses were comfortable and beautifully decorated. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá enjoyed playing in the gardens with his younger sister with whom he was very close. Along with his younger siblings – a sister, Bahíyyih, and a brother, Mihdí – the three lived in an environment of privilege, happiness and comfort. With his father declining a position as minister of the royal court; during his young boyhood ʻAbdu'l-Bahá witnessed his parents' various charitable endeavours, which included converting part of the home to a hospital ward for women and children.
ʻAbdu'l-Bahá received a haphazard education during his childhood. It was customary not to send children of nobility to schools. Most noblemen were educated at home briefly in scripture, rhetoric, calligraphy and basic mathematics. Many were educated to prepare themselves for life in the royal court. Despite a brief spell at a traditional preparatory school at the age of seven for one year, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá received no formal education. As he grew he was educated by his mother, and uncle. Most of his education however, came from his father. Years later in 1890 Edward Granville Browne described how ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was "one more eloquent of speech, more ready of argument, more apt of illustration, more intimately acquainted with the sacred books of the Jews, the Christians, and the Muhammadans...scarcely be found even amongst the eloquent."
One event that affected ʻAbdu'l-Bahá greatly during his childhood was the imprisonment of his father when ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was eight years old; the imprisonment led to his family being reduced to poverty and being attacked in the streets by other children. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá accompanied his mother to visit Baháʼu'lláh who was then imprisoned in the infamous subterranean dungeon the Síyáh-Chál. He described how "I saw a dark, steep place. We entered a small, narrow doorway, and went down two steps, but beyond those one could see nothing. In the middle of the stairway, all of a sudden we heard His [Baháʼu'lláh's]…voice: 'Do not bring him in here', and so they took me back".
Baháʼu'lláh was eventually released from prison but ordered into exile, and ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, then 8 years old, joined his father on the journey to Baghdad in the winter (January to April) of 1853. During the journey ʻAbdu'l-Bahá suffered from frost-bite. After a year of difficulties Baháʼu'lláh absented himself rather than continue to face the conflict with Mirza Yahya and secretly secluded himself in the mountains of Sulaymaniyah in April 1854 a month before ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's tenth birthday. Mutual sorrow resulted in him, his mother and sister becoming constant companions. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was particularly close to both, and his mother took active participation in his education and upbringing. During the two-year absence of his father ʻAbdu'l-Bahá took up the duty of managing the affairs of the family, before his age of maturity (14 in middle-eastern society) and was known to be occupied with reading and, at a time of hand-copied scriptures being the primary means of publishing, was also engaged in copying the writings of the Báb. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá also took an interest in the art of horse riding and, as he grew, became a renowned rider.
In 1856, news of an ascetic carrying on discourses with local Súfí leaders that seemed to possibly be Baháʼu'lláh reached the family and friends. Immediately, family members and friends went to search for the elusive dervish – and in March brought Baháʼu'lláh back to Baghdad. On seeing his father, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá fell to his knees and wept loudly "Why did you leave us?", and this followed with his mother and sister doing the same. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá soon became his father's secretary and shield. During the sojourn in the city ʻAbdu'l-Bahá grew from a boy into a young man. He was noted as a "remarkably fine looking youth", and remembered for his charity and amiableness. Having passed the age of maturity ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was regularly seen in the mosques of Baghdad discussing religious topics and the scripture as a young man. Whilst in Baghdad, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá composed a commentary at the request of his father on the Muslim tradition of "I was a Hidden Treasure" for a Súfí leader named ʻAlí Shawkat Páshá. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was fifteen or sixteen at the time and ʻAlí Shawkat Páshá regarded the more than 11000 word essay as a remarkable feat for somebody of his age. In 1863, in what became known as the Garden of Ridván, his father Baháʼu'lláh announced to a few that he was the manifestation of God and He whom God shall make manifest whose coming had been foretold by the Báb. On day eight of the twelve days, it is believed ʻAbdu'l-Baha was the first person Baha'u'llah revealed his claim to.
In 1863 Baháʼu'lláh was summoned to Constantinople (Istanbul), and thus his whole family including ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, then nineteen, accompanied him on his 110-day journey. The journey to Constantinople was another wearisome journey, and ʻAbdu'l-Bahá helped feed the exiles. It was here that his position became more prominent amongst the Baháʼís. This was further solidified by Baháʼu'lláh's tablet of the Branch in which he constantly exalts his son's virtues and station. The family were soon exiled to Adrianople and ʻAbdu'l-Bahá went with the family. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá again suffered from frostbite.
In Adrianople ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was regarded as the sole comforter of his family – in particular to his mother. At this point ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was known by the Baháʼís as "the Master", and by non-Baháʼís as ʻAbbás Effendi ("Effendi" signifies "Sir"). It was in Adrianople that Baháʼu'lláh referred to his son as "the Mystery of God". The title of "Mystery of God" symbolises, according to Baháʼís, that ʻAbdu'l-Bahá is not a manifestation of God but how a "person of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá the incompatible characteristics of a human nature and superhuman knowledge and perfection have been blended and are completely harmonized". ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was at this point noted for having black hair which flowed to his shoulders, large blue eyes, rose-through-alabaster coloured skin and a fine nose. Baháʼu'lláh gave his son many other titles such as G͟husn-i-Aʻzam (meaning "Mightiest Branch" or "Mightier Branch"),[a] the "Branch of Holiness", "the Center of the Covenant" and the apple of his eye. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá ("the Master") was devastated when hearing the news that he and his family were to be exiled separately from Baháʼu'lláh. It was, according to Baháʼís, through his intercession that the idea was reverted and the family were allowed to be exiled together.
At the age of 24, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was clearly chief-steward to his father and an outstanding member of the Baháʼí community. Baháʼu'lláh and his family were – in 1868 – exiled to the penal colony of Acre, Palestine where it was expected that the family would perish. Arrival in ʻAkká was distressing for the family and exiles. They were greeted in a hostile manner by the surrounding population and his sister and father fell dangerously ill. When told that the women were to sit on the shoulders of the men to reach the shore, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá took a chair and carried the women to the bay of ʻAkká. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was able to procure some anesthetic and nursed the sick. The Baháʼís were imprisoned under horrendous conditions in a cluster of cells covered in excrement and dirt. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá himself fell dangerously ill with dysentery, however a sympathetic soldier permitted a physician to help cure him. The population shunned them, the soldiers treated them the same, and the behaviour of Siyyid Muhammad-i-Isfahani (an Azali) did not help matters. Morale was further destroyed with the accidental death of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's youngest brother Mírzá Mihdí at the age of 22. His death devastated the family – particularly his mother and father – and the grieving ʻAbdu'l-Bahá kept a night-long vigil beside his brother's body.
Later in ʻAkká
Over time, he gradually took over responsibility for the relationships between the small Baháʼí exile community and the outside world. It was through his interaction with the people of ʻAkká (Acre) that, according to the Baháʼís, they recognized the innocence of the Baháʼís, and thus the conditions of imprisonment were eased. Four months after the death of Mihdí the family moved from the prison to the House of ʻAbbúd. The people of ʻAkká started to respect the Baháʼís and in particular, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was able to arrange for houses to be rented for the family, the family later moved to the Mansion of Bahjí around 1879 when an epidemic caused the inhabitants to flee.
ʻAbdu'l-Bahá soon became very popular in the penal colony and Myron Henry Phelps a wealthy New York lawyer described how "a crowd of human beings...Syrians, Arabs, Ethiopians, and many others", all waited to talk and receive ʻAbdu'l-Bahá. He undertook a history of the Bábí religion through publication of A Traveller's Narrative (Makála-i-Shakhsí Sayyáh) in 1886, later translated and published in translation in 1891 through Cambridge University by the agency of Edward Granville Browne who described ʻAbdu'l-Bahá as:
Seldom have I seen one whose appearance impressed me more. A tall strongly built man holding himself straight as an arrow, with white turban and raiment, long black locks reaching almost to the shoulder, broad powerful forehead indicating a strong intellect combined with an unswerving will, eyes keen as a hawk's, and strongly marked but pleasing features – such was my first impression of 'Abbás Efendí, "the master".
Marriage and family life
When ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was a young man, speculation was rife amongst the Baháʼís to whom he would marry. Several young girls were seen as marriage prospects but ʻAbdu'l-Bahá seemed disinclined to marriage. On 8 March 1873, at the urging of his father, the twenty-eight-year-old ʻAbdu'l-Bahá married Fátimih Nahrí of Isfahán (1847–1938) a twenty-five-year-old from an upper-class family of the city. Her father was Mírzá Muḥammad ʻAlí Nahrí of Isfahan an eminent Baháʼí with prominent connections.[b] Fátimih was brought from Persia to ʻAkká after both Baháʼu'lláh and his wife Navváb expressed an interest in her to marry ʻAbdu'l-Bahá. After a wearisome journey from Isfahán to Akka she finally arrived accompanied by her brother in 1872. The young couple were betrothed for about five months before the marriage itself commenced. In the meantime, Fátimih lived in the home of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's uncle Mírzá Músá. According to her later memoirs, Fátimih fell in love with ʻAbdu'l-Bahá on seeing him. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá himself had showed little inkling to marriage until meeting Fátimih; who was entitled Munírih by Baháʼu'lláh. Munírih is a title meaning "Luminous".
The marriage resulted in nine children. The first born was a son Mihdí Effendi who died aged about 3. He was followed by Ḍíyáʼíyyih K͟hánum, Fuʼádíyyih K͟hánum (d. few years old), Rúhangíz Khánum (d. 1893), Túbá Khánum, Husayn Effendi (d.1887 aged 5), Túbá K͟hánum, Rúhá K͟hánum and Munnavar K͟hánum. The death of his children caused ʻAbdu'l-Bahá immense grief – in particular the death of his son Husayn Effendi came at a difficult time following the death of his mother and uncle. The surviving children (all daughters) were; Ḍíyáʼíyyih K͟hánum (mother of Shoghi Effendi) (d. 1951) Túbá K͟hánum (1880–1959) Rúḥá K͟hánum and Munavvar K͟hánum (d. 1971). Baháʼu'lláh wished that the Baháʼís follow the example of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá and gradually move away from polygamy. The marriage of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá to one woman and his choice to remain monogamous, from advice of his father and his own wish, legitimised the practice of monogamy to a people who hitherto had regarded polygamy as a righteous way of life.
Early years of his ministry
Baháʼu'lláh designates his successor with the following verses:
The Will of the divine Testator is this: It is incumbent upon the Aghsán, the Afnán and My Kindred to turn, one and all, their faces towards the Most Mighty Branch. Consider that which We have revealed in Our Most Holy Book: 'When the ocean of My presence hath ebbed and the Book of My Revelation is ended, turn your faces toward Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient Root.' The object of this sacred verse is none other except the Most Mighty Branch [ʻAbdu'l-Bahá]. Thus have We graciously revealed unto you Our potent Will, and I am verily the Gracious, the All-Powerful. Verily God hath ordained the station of the Greater Branch [Muḥammad ʻAlí] to be beneath that of the Most Great Branch [ʻAbdu'l-Bahá]. He is in truth the Ordainer, the All-Wise. We have chosen 'the Greater' after 'the Most Great', as decreed by Him Who is the All-Knowing, the All-Informed.— Baháʼu'lláh (1994) [1873-92]. "Kitáb-i-ʻAhd". Tablets of Baháʼu'lláh Revealed After the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Baháʼí Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-87743-174-4.
This translation of the Kitáb-i-ʻAhd is based on a solecism, however, as the terms Akbar and Aʻzam do not mean, respectively, 'Greater' and 'Most Great'. Not only do the two words derive from entirely separate triconsonantal roots (Akbar from k-b-r and Aʻzam from ʻ-z-m), but the Arabic language possesses the elative, a stage of gradation, with no clear distinction between the comparative and superlative. In the Will and Testament ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's half-brother, Muhammad ʻAlí, was mentioned by name as being subordinate to ʻAbdu'l-Bahá. Muhammad ʻAlí became jealous of his half-brother and set out to establish authority for himself as an alternative leader with the support of his brothers Badiʻu'llah and Ḍíyáʼu'llah. He began correspondence with Baháʼís in Iran, initially in secret, casting doubts in others' minds about ʻAbdu'l-Bahá. While most Baháʼís followed ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, a handful followed Muhammad ʻAlí including such leaders as Mirza Javad and Ibrahim George Kheiralla, an early Baháʼí missionary to America.
Muhammad ʻAlí and Mirza Javad began to openly accuse ʻAbdu'l-Bahá of taking on too much authority, suggesting that he believed himself to be a Manifestation of God, equal in status to Baháʼu'lláh. It was at this time that ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, in order to provide proof of the falsity of the accusations leveled against him, in tablets to the West, stated that he was to be known as "ʻAbdu'l-Bahá" an Arabic phrase meaning the Servant of Bahá to make it clear that he was not a Manifestation of God, and that his station was only servitude. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá left a Will and Testament that set up the framework of administration. The two highest institutions were the Universal House of Justice, and the Guardianship, for which he appointed Shoghi Effendi as the Guardian. With the exception of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, Muhammad ʻAlí was supported by all of the remaining male relatives of Baháʼu'lláh, including Shoghi Effendi's father, Mírzá Hádí Shírází. However Muhammad ʻAlí's and his families statements had very little effect on the Baháʼís in general - in the ʻAkká area, the followers of Muhammad ʻAlí represented six families at most, they had no common religious activities, and were almost wholly assimilated into Muslim society.
First Western pilgrims
By the end of 1898, Western pilgrims started coming to Akka on pilgrimage to visit ʻAbdu'l-Bahá; this group of pilgrims, including Phoebe Hearst, was the first time that Baháʼís raised up in the West had met ʻAbdu'l-Bahá. The first group arrived in 1898 and throughout late 1898 to early 1899 Western Baháʼís sporadically visited ʻAbdu'l-Bahá. The group was relatively young containing mainly women from high American society in their 20s. The group of Westerners aroused suspicion for the authorities, and consequently ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's confinement was tightened. During the next decade ʻAbdu'l-Bahá would be in constant communication with Baháʼís around the world, helping them to teach the religion; the group included May Ellis Bolles in Paris, Englishman Thomas Breakwell, American Herbert Hopper, French Hippolyte Dreyfus, Susan Moody, Lua Getsinger, and American Laura Clifford Barney. It was Laura Clifford Barney who, by asking questions of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá over many years and many visits to Haifa, compiled what later became the book Some Answered Questions.
During the final years of the 19th century, while ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was still officially a prisoner and confined to ʻAkka, he organized the transfer of the remains of the Báb from Iran to Palestine. He then organized the purchase of land on Mount Carmel that Baháʼu'lláh had instructed should be used to lay the remains of the Báb, and organized for the construction of the Shrine of the Báb. This process took another 10 years. With the increase of pilgrims visiting ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, Muhammad ʻAlí worked with the Ottoman authorities to re-introduce stricter terms on ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's imprisonment in August 1901. By 1902, however, due to the Governor of ʻAkka being supportive of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, the situation was greatly eased; while pilgrims were able to once again visit ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, he was confined to the city. In February 1903, two followers of Muhammad ʻAlí, including Badiʻu'llah and Siyyid ʻAliy-i-Afnan, broke with Muhammad ʻAli and wrote books and letters giving details of Muhammad ʻAli's plots and noting that what was circulating about ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was fabrication.
From 1902 to 1904, in addition to the building of the Shrine of the Báb that ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was directing, he started to put into execution two different projects; the restoration of the House of the Báb in Shiraz, Iran and the construction of the first Baháʼí House of Worship in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá asked Aqa Mirza Aqa to coordinate the work so that the house of the Báb would be restored to the state that it was at the time of the Báb's declaration to Mulla Husayn in 1844; he also entrusted the work on the House of Worship to Vakil-u'd-Dawlih.
During this period, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá communicated with a number Young Turks, opposed to the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid II, including Namık Kemal, Ziya Pasha and Midhat Pasha, in an attempt to disseminate Baháʼí thought into their political ideology. He emphasized Baháʼís "seek freedom and love liberty, hope for equality, are well-wishers of humanity and ready to sacrifice their lives to unite humanity" but on a more broad approach than the Young Turks. Abdullah Cevdet, one of the founders of the Committee of Union and Progress who considered the Baháʼí Faith an intermediary step between Islam and the ultimate abandonment of religious belief, would go on trial for defense of Baháʼís in a periodical he founded.
‛Abdu'l-Bahá also had contact with military leaders as well, including such individuals as Bursalı Mehmet Tahir Bey and Hasan Bedreddin. The latter, who was involved in the overthrow of Sultan Abdülaziz, is commonly known as Bedri Paşa or Bedri Pasha and is referred to in Persian Baháʼí sources as Bedri Bey (Badri Beg). He was a Baháʼí who translated ‛Abdu'l-Baha's works into French.
ʻAbdu'l-Bahá also met Muhammad Abduh, one of the key figures of Islamic Modernism and the Salafi movement, in Beirut, at a time when the two men were both opposed to the Ottoman ulama and shared similar goals of religious reform. Rashid Rida asserts that during his visits to Beirut, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá would attend Abduh's study sessions. Regarding the meetings of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá and Muhammad ʻAbduh, Shoghi Effendi asserts that "His several interviews with the well-known Shaykh Muhammad ʻAbdu served to enhance immensely the growing prestige of the community and spread abroad the fame of its most distinguished member."
Due to ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's political activities and alleged accusation against him by Muhammad ʻAli, a Commission of Inquiry interviewed ʻAbdu'l-Bahá in 1905, with the result that he was almost exiled to Fezzan. In response, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá wrote the sultan a letter protesting that his followers refrain from involvement in partisan politics and that his tariqa had guided many Americans to Islam. The next few years in ʻAkka were relatively free of pressures and pilgrims were able to come and visit ʻAbdu'l-Bahá. By 1909 the mausoleum of the Shrine of the Báb was completed.
Journeys to the West
The 1908 Young Turks revolution freed all political prisoners in the Ottoman Empire, and ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was freed from imprisonment. His first action after his freedom was to visit the Shrine of Baháʼu'lláh in Bahji. While ʻAbdu'l-Bahá continued to live in ʻAkka immediately f