from the Life
of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Commemorating the Centenary of
the Passing of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
November 28, 1921

Read the unfolding series here.

Episode 9

November 2, 2021

The Staff of Life in Darkest Night

‘O vessel, what is it that makes you sway so gracefully?’
— Bahíyyih Khanum, on sighting ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s ship in the harbour at Haifa.

The Master was finally coming home. The whole of the Bahá’í community in the region was in a whirlwind of activity as they excitedly prepared for His return, though reports were that He was frail and exhausted from His long voyage. The members of the household, overseen by His sister, Bahíyyih Khanum, were preparing His favourite dishes with gusto, and new clothes for the Master were hidden away for fear that should He find that He had extras, He would give them away. On December 5, the ship carrying the Master finally came into view in Haifa harbour, which brought indescribable joy to the family, the believers and the visiting pilgrims.

‘Abdul-Bahá was so fatigued that after embracing the family, He went directly to His room for a little rest, but soon returned and addressed those gathered: “After the end of three years, again I return to the Holy Land. Were it not for the assistance and protection of the Blessed Beauty, I would never have had any hope of returning from such a long journey. […] Everywhere I went, my thoughts were in ‘Akká. I travelled in many countries, but no place could equal this. […] There are many places in other countries which are famous for their grandeur, but here the views are of divine delicacy and of the gentleness of the Creator.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá and His wife Munírih Khanum later made a trip to Galilee and to the hot springs in Tiberias for some much-needed rejuvenation. They stayed a month, and though there were not many people initially, it wasn’t long before throngs of people came to visit the Master. He also visited Adasiyyih, a farming community near the Jordan Valley whose land He had bought early in the 20th century, near where Christ had once fed the multitude with bread and fish.

Upon their return, the Master told the welcoming household: “It is a place of seclusion and contemplation. It is a spot hallowed by the presence of His Holiness Christ. Often He walked around the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and as He walked, He taught His disciples. As I walked the shore, those immortal deeds were brought back to my memory.”

The peace and quiet of home did not last, however. On 28 June 1914 Archduke Ferdinand of Austria and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo, Bosnia. The very next day, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sent all Western pilgrims and some Iranian Bahá’ís home for their safety, and a month later, World War I began in earnest.

In August 1914, the Master accepted an invitation from Shaykh Salih, the head of the Druze community outside of Haifa, to move the Bahá’ís and their children to safety of the village of Abu Sinan. Some 140 adults and as many children were hosted by the Druze, a sect that blended Judaism, Christianity and Islam. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, did not remain, commuting between Abu Sinan and Haifa-‘Akká in order to help the people in both communities.

In early 1915, the Turk Jamal Pasha took over the governorship of Syria and overran Palestine, instituting a cruel and repressive rule, executing whomever he believed were traitors, whether proven or not. It didn’t take long for the Master’s enemies to once again come out of the shadows and spread slanderous lies about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.

Given to murderous rashness, Jamal Pasha promised to crucify ‘Abdu’l-Bahá after he had conquered Egypt, but the Master was calm and confident and went about His daily service to the community, never shutting His door to anyone and tending to the poor daily. Jamal Pasha proceeded to lose many battles to the British, and to General Edmund Allenby in particular. At the Battle of Megiddo in late September 1918, the Turkish forces were finally swept away like a house of cards. The Master and all the Bahá’ís were safe, as were the people of Palestine, though so many lives were lost in the process.

Although Haifa was never bombed, the naval blockade, the constant looting of the city by Turkish soldiers, the appropriation of all available food by the Germans and Turks and a plague of locusts formed a perfect confluence of malign forces that threatened widespread famine. In a prescient move, as early as 1912 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had directed the Bahá’í farmers in Adasiyyih to grow different types of grain as well as corn, but instead of selling it, to store it in old Roman storage pits that were never discovered during the war. The Master then oversaw the gradual operation of bringing the grain and corn to the Haifa-‘Akká region just after the British captured Palestine in 1917, and by so doing, saved the grateful people from starvation.

On 27 April 1920, the Master reluctantly agreed to be given the title of KBE, Knight of the British Empire, for His role in feeding the people of the region during the war. Although the Governor’s beautiful car was sent to pick up ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, when He saw his driver Isfandiyar, who had served Him for so many years, looking so despondent, He nodded and off he went. Although He was soon-to-be knighted Sir ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Abbás, a title He rarely used, the Master arrived in a humble horse-drawn carriage led by a beaming Isfandyiar.

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