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 7

September 26, 2021

Walking the Mystical Way with Practical Feet

“[In the future] mankind will be as one nation, one race and kind — as waves of one ocean. Although these waves may differ in form and shape, they are waves of the same sea. Flowers may be variegated in colors, but they are all flowers of one garden. Trees differ though they grow in the same orchard. All are nourished and quickened into life by the bounty of the same rain, all grow and develop by the heat and light of the one sun, all are refreshed and exhilarated by the same breeze that they may bring forth varied fruits. This is according to the creative wisdom. If all trees bore the same kind of fruit, it would cease to be delicious. In their never-ending variety man finds enjoyment instead.”
— ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

When the S.S. Cedric docked in New York on April 11, 1912, many expectant Bahá’ís awaited on shore for the One whose visit on North American soil had been their dearest wish. Immediately upon setting foot on solid ground, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was surrounded by a horde of journalists clamouring for His attention. One of them asked: “What do you think of America?” The Master answered “I like it. Americans are optimistic. If you ask them how they are, they say ‘All right!’ If you ask them how things are going, they say ‘All right!’ This cheerful attitude is good.” Fascinated, the press was smitten and would follow Him throughout all His travels.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit in North America would last 239 days, during which He would meet thousands of people from all walks of life, all temperaments and from all social strata, and of course, with a special love and generous consideration for the poor. He laid out the selfless, straight path that Bahá’ís must follow towards building the Bahá’í Faith both spiritually and administratively, and also laid the cornerstone of the first North American Bahá’í Temple in Chicago on May 1, 1912.

To both the Bahá’ís and the broader community He would elucidate on the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, which included the common thread that connects all the world religions and the need for the unity of humanity and for world peace, which would not take place until humanity reached full gender equality. Among the very many public addresses He gave, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke to the members of the Woman Suffrage Party and their friends about peace and woman suffrage at the Metropolitan Temple in New York.

“There is no difference in the physical or intellectual value of men and women. It is only a difference of education which has made an apparent difference and there will never be universal peace until there is equal suffrage. If the educator is imperfect, the educated must also be imperfect — even man. The mother is the first educator of men. If the mother is imperfect, alas for the condition of men.”

Another pressing issue that the Master took special pains to address was racism in America at a time when blacks and whites were strictly and socially segregated. In a talk given at Howard University in Washington, DC, He stated:

Today I am most happy, for I see here a gathering of the servants of God. I see white and black sitting together. There are no whites and blacks before God. All colors are one, and that is the color of servitude to God. Scent and color are not important. The heart is important. If the heart is pure, white or black or any color makes no difference. God does not look at colors; He looks at the hearts. He whose heart is pure is better. He whose character is better is more pleasing. He who turns more to the Abhá Kingdom is more advanced.”

Louis Gregory, the son of freed slaves who had become a lawyer and a Bahá’í, was one of those who attended the Master’s talk at Howard University, and afterwards he was invited by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá for an interview at the home of Mírzá ‘Ali-Kuli Khan a Bahá’í who was then the Persian Chargé d’Affaires in Washington. Feeling out of place and knowing that he had not been invited to lunch where white privileged people were seated awaiting their meal, Louis Gregory hoped to slip away unseen when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá demanded to know where he was. “Where is Mr. Gregory? Bring Mr. Gregory!” In the meantime, the Master rearranged the seating so that Louis Gregory sat at the place of honour to His right, and in so doing, upended years of Washington protocol that actively promoted racial segregation.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá had further advocated the many benefits of intermarriage and gladly blessed the union of Louis Gregory and Englishwoman Louisa Matthews, who were married on September 28, 1912. Although they were very happy in their long marriage, they of course often faced the painful social prejudices of their time, which they confronted with love, patience and understanding.

By the end of that summer, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s eyes looked northward towards Montreal, and although He was warned that French-Canadians were fanatical Catholics who were not likely to open their hearts to the message of Bahá’u’lláh, He paid no heed to their objections. From Boston He boarded the train for Canada, a short nine-day trip that would nevertheless sow the seeds of the exponential growth of the Bahá’í community in that northern country.

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