'Abdu'l-Baha - The Exemplar
Updated: Jul 26
The question of religious succession after a Messenger passes away has been crucial to all faiths.
Failure to resolve this issue has inevitably led to conflict and the division of a faith into sects. The ambiguity surrounding the leadership of Christianity and Islam after the passing of Christ and Muhammad, for example, created rifts within both faiths that have proven impossible to resolve and resulted in deep discord.
To avoid the possibility of schism, Bahá'u'lláh provided clear guidance in His will and testament, conferring the authority of leadership after His passing in 1892 upon His eldest son, 'Abdu'l-Bahá Until his own death in 1921, Abdu'l-Bahá directed the affairs of the Bahá'i community. Renowned for his saintliness and great acts of philanthropy and service, he exemplified the quality of spirit that is the hallmark of a truefollower of Bahá'u'lláh.
He was gentle and courteous, generous and brave, and combined wisdom with humour and humility despite enduring great suffering for much of his life. As a child, he was imprisoned and persecuted alongside his father. Abdu'l-Bahá was eight years old when Bahá u'lláh was first imprisoned, and accompanied his father throughout His long years of exile.
'Abdu'l-Bahá's extraordinary demonstration of leadership, knowledge, and service brought great prestige to the Bahá'í community during its years of exile in the Ottoman Empire, up until the Young Turks revolution in 1908 led to the empire's overthrow. That year, those imprisoned in Akka were set free.
A youth when his father was first imprisoned, 'Abdu'l-Bahá emerged from exile an elderly man. By this time, the Bahá' Faith had already spread to the Middle East, the Far East, and North Africa. To guide and assist the community now establishing itself in the West, 'Abdu'1-Bahá, at almost 70 years of age, embarked on a series of journeys to Europe and America.
He was invited to speak at churches, synagogues, mosques, universities and charitable institutions addressing and advising thousands of people from all walks of life. Beggars and housewives shared equally of his time with ambassadors and notables, including the inventor Alexander Graham Bell, the poet Khalil Gibran, the suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst, the US Treasurer Lee Mclung, the North Pole explorer Admiral Robert Peary, and many others.
Even during the final years of his life in early 20th century Palestine, 'Abdu'l-Bahá remained a dedicated servant to the care and advancement of humanity. He was instrumental in establishing food reserves in the region during World War l, thereby averting a famine. These actions were later recognised by the British government, which awarded him a knighthood in 1920.
By word and humble example, Abdu'l-Bahá established the essential principles of his father's faith. Affirming that "love is the most great law" which must form the foundation of "true civilization", and that the "supreme need of humanity is cooperation an reciprocity", 'Abdu'l-Bahá reached out to leaders and the meek alike, to every soul who crossed his path.
In 1921, 'Abdu'l-Bahá passed away. At 'Abdu'l-Baha's funeral, more than ten thousand Bahá'ís Christians, Jews and Muslims gathered on Mount Carmel near Haifa in Palestine to mourn his passing. He was described by one Jewish leader as a "living example of self-sacrifice," by a Christian as one who led humanity to the "Way of Truth," and by a prominent Muslim leader as a "pillar of peace".