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A brief biography of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the Son of Bahá'u'lláh





'Abdu'l-Bahá (pr. Ab-dool-ba-Ha, lit."Servant of Bahá'u'lláh") was the Son of Bahá'u'lláh, designated by Him as His successor. 'Abdu'l-Bahá was born on the 23rd of May, 1844, the same night that the Báb revealed His Station to the first to believe in Him.

As an eight year old child He witnessed His Father being paraded through Tehrán in chains and on one occasion when Bahá'u'lláh was allowed to emerge from the Black Pit, 'Abdu'l-Bahá beheld Him in filthy rags, stooped in half from the weight of the chain that would leave a permanent mark on Bahá’u’lláh’s frame. It was at that age that 'Abdu'l-Bahá saw His family reduced from relative affluence to abject poverty and forced to endure the extraordinarily harsh journey through the mountains and into exile.

'Abdu'l-Bahá was fearless and devoted, gentle and self-sacrificing; a protector of all and a host to all. He was also extremely humble. When Bahá’u’lláh passed away in 1892, the Master ceased using his given name of Abbas Effendi and from that time onward was known as 'Abdu'l-Bahá, or Servant of Bahá.

Regardless of the desperate nature of His situation, He was always the first to look to the needs of others. When they arrived at the fortress prison of 'Akka, He found that their group of over forty people, both male and female, were to share cell space that was normally reserved for a quarter of that number. In the hope of alleviating the crowding to whatever degree possible, He volunteered to sleep in the morgue. Later, once conditions were eased and the family was able to stay in a house within the walls of the city, 'Abdu'l-Bahá became known for serving those who were in more difficult situations than His own. Under the direction of Bahá'u'lláh, He saw to it that the ancient roman aqueduct was restored, finally bringing fresh water into the disease-ridden city, ultimately saving many lives.

Among those who were hostile towards the believers was a man with a repulsive illness and such a bitter nature that no one would help him. Every day 'Abdu'l-Bahá would look to his needs, despite the man’s vow that if he had the strength he would kill Him. When asked why He would show such extreme kindness to such a soul, 'Abdu'l-Bahá replied that we should always focus on a person's good qualities. While the man had murder in his heart, 'Abdu'l-Bahá identified his one good quality: "He is very sincere." Years later, during His visit to America, He saw a homeless man in a park in Chicago in the middle of winter who had holes in his pants. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, who was wearing a long outer garment, went into the bushes and emerged carrying a pair of pants that He gave to the homeless man. They were His own.

As the clouds of conflict began to gather in Europe, 'Abdu'l-Bahá became aware of the approaching calamity and made arrangements for the raising and harvesting of grain. When the first world war reached Palestine, the city of Haifa was completely cut off and its citizens faced starvation. Meanwhile, the evil-minded had accused 'Abdu'l-Bahá of using the shrine on Carmel as an armory for a supposed revolution. When the food crisis arrived, 'Abdu'l-Bahá opened the doors of the shrine, which did not contain weapons, but grain. He distributed the grain among the inhabitants of Haifa without any thought of recompense. Although He never referred to the honor or used the title, the British monarch bestowed upon him a knighthood for His selfless acts during the crisis.

'Abdu'l-Bahá was a perfect example of all virtues, with knowledge in spiritual matters that was second only to Bahá'u'lláh Himself. When pilgrims would approach Bahá’u’lláh with perplexing spiritual and scholarly questions, Bahá’u’lláh would refer them to His Son, Whom He called, "the Master." Bible scholars who are familiar with the term 'the branch" will note that Bahá'u'lláh referred to His Son as the Most Great Branch. He also described Him as the Mystery of God and the Center of His Covenant.

As the life of Bahá'u'lláh was drawing to a close, He penned the following words:

"O people of the world! When the Mystic Dove will have winged its flight from its Sanctuary of Praise and sought its far-off goal, its hidden habitation, refer ye whatsoever ye understand not in the Book to Him Who hath branched from this mighty Stock."

Bahá'u'lláh appointed 'Abdu'l-Bahá to be His Successor as the Head of the Faith. While 'Abdu'l-Bahá was not a prophet, He was designated by Bahá'u'lláh as the perfect example for others to emulate. He also attested that the writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá were authoritative and that these, along with those of the Báb and Himself, constituted the holy scriptures of the Bahá'í Faith.

While nominally still a prisoner, 'Abdu'l-Bahá had been receiving pilgrims from as far away as California since the mid-1890's and He had sent a number of believers to Europe and America, with the first American believer declaring his faith in 1895. 'Abdu'l-Bahá was officially freed from prison when the Sultan was overthrown in 1908 and, once He had interred the sacred remains of the Báb in the shrine on Mount Carmel, He made plans to journey to the West. In 1910 He departed for a three-year visit to Egypt, Europe and America. The Bahá'ís in the United States wanted to purchase tickets for Him and his entourage of translators and assistants on the most luxurious steamship of the day but 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Who had always been very frugal when spending on Himself, insisted upon using less expensive transportation. Thus, when the RMS Titanic was lost, 'Abdu'l-Bahá was not among the passengers.

While in the West 'Abdu'l-Bahá spoke at churches, colleges and many other venues. Upon His return to Palestine in 1913, He continued His efforts in educating His grandson, Shoghi Effendi, who, upon the passing of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1921, became the Guardian of the Faith. In 1963, on the 100th anniversary of the declaration of Bahá'u'lláh and six years after the passing of the Guardian, the Universal House of Justice, the international governing body of the Faith designed by Bahá'u'lláh, was elected. Its seat, described in the Bible as the house on a high hill, is the second most prominent feature of Mount Carmel today.


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