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Ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Baha

Updated: Jul 29, 2020

November 28

The Ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, like the Day of the Covenant (November 26), is a Baha'i holy day honoring ‘Abdu’l-Baha ́(1844–1921), who succeeded Baha'u’llah (1819–1892), prophet founder of the Baha'i Faith, and led the Baha'i community from 1892 to 1921. ‘Abdu’l-Baha fulfilled a triple role, in that he was not only Baha’u’llah’s designated successor, but was authorized by Baha'u’llah as the inerrant interpreter of the latter’s teachings and was also regarded as the paragon, or perfect exemplar, of Baha'i ethics, virtues, and wisdom.

The Ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Baha commemorates the death—and, retrospectively, the life—of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, who passed away quietly in his home on November 28, 1921, in Haifa, Palestine (now Israel), at the age of 77. ‘Abdu’l-Baha ́ was well known in Palestine and abroad. One instance of this will illustrate the point:

Immediately upon learning of ‘Abdu’l-Baha ́’s death, Winston Churchill, then British secretary of state for the colonies, telegraphed to the High Commissioner for Palestine, Sir Herbert Samuel, who was the highest-ranking official in the country, instructing him to “convey to the Baha'i Community, on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, their sympathy and condolence on the death of Sir ‘Abdu’l-Baha ́ ‘Abbas.” Here, reference to the title “Sir” refers to the knighthood of the British Empire that was conferred on ‘Abdu’l-Baha ́ at a ceremony in the garden of the military governor of Haifa on April 17, 1920, for ‘Abdu’l-Baha ́’s humanitarian work in Palestine during World War I.

Arrangements for the funeral were made by ‘Abdu’l-Baha ́’s sister, Bahıyyih Khanum. The funeral procession for ‘Abdu’l-Baha took place on November 29, 1921. An estimated 10,000 townspeople joined together in the procession, acclaimed as the largest and most memorable funeral event the city of Haifa had seen. The casket was carried from ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s house, at the foot of Mount Carmel, to a garden facing the Shrine of the Ba ́b, approximately midway up the northern slope of Mount Carmel. The procession itself took two hours for the casket to be carried a distance of just under a mile. Describing the procession, Shoghi Effendi (1898–1957), grandson of ‘Abdu’l-Baha ́and the Guardian of the Baha'i ́Faith (1921–1957), wrote, in part:

The coffin containing the remains of ‘Abdu’l-Baha ́ was borne to its last resting-place on the shoulders of His loved ones. The cortege which preceded it was led by the City Constabulary Force, acting as a Guard of Honor, behind which followed in order the Boy Scouts of the Muslim and Christian communities holding aloft their banners, a company of Muslim choristers chanting their verses from the Qur’an, the chiefs of the Muslim community headed by the Muftı ́, and a number of Christian priests, Latin, Greek and Anglican. Behind the coffin walked the members of His family, the British High Commissioner, Sir Herbert Samuel, the Governor of Jerusalem, Sir Ronald Storrs, the Governor of Phoenicia, Sir Stewart Symes, officials of the government, consuls of various countries resident in Haifa, notables of Palestine, Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Druze, Egyptians, Greeks, Turks, Arabs, Kurds, Europeans and Americans, men, women and children. The long train of mourners, amid the sobs and moans of many a grief-stricken heart, wended its slow way up the slopes of Mt. Carmel to the Mausoleum of the Bab - Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, 313

At the funeral ceremony itself, nine eulogies, eloquent and moving, were given by dignitaries representing the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities. The Mufti of Haifa, Shaykh Muhammad Murad, lamented the loss of Haifa’s great benefactor:

“Abdu'l-Baha was great in all the stages of his life. He was genius itself, high in character and had the best reputation. ... To whom shall the poor now look? Who shall care for the hungry? and the desolate, the widow and the orphan?” - See Bagdadi, Star of the West [1922]; and Balyuzi, ‘Abdu’l-Baha ́, 466–72.

‘Abdu’l-Baha ́ had great compassion for the poor and ministered to their needs practically every afternoon of his life in Haifa, even on his wedding day.

Bahıyyih Khanum opened ‘Abdu’l-Baha ́’s Will and Testament to see if it contained any instructions for the burial. Since no specific instructions were given, she decided to inter him in a place of enduring honor. ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s casket, after mourners had paid their respects, was interred in the Shrine of the Bab, in a vault beneath the floor of the north central room, next to the very room where the Bab’s remains are entombed.

The governor of Jerusalem, Sir Ronald Storrs, commented: “I have never known a more united expression of regret and respect than was called forth by the utter simplicity of the ceremony.” Sir Herbert Samuel wrote: “A great throng had gathered together, sorrowing for his death, but rejoicing also for his life”

(Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, 312).

For several days after, some 50 to 100 of the poor were fed each day at ‘Abdu’l-Baha ́’s house, culminating, on the seventh day, in a mass distribution of grain. On the 40th day after ‘Abdu’l-Baha ́’s passing, a memorial feast was held in accordance with Muslim customs, and additional eulogies were given.

Obituaries were published in major newspapers in the Middle East, Europe, the United States, and India, such as: Times (London), November 30, 1921 (“‘Abdu'l-Baha was a man of great spiritual power and commanding presence and his name was held in reverence throughout the Middle East and elsewhere”); New York World, December 1, 1921; Daily Mirror, December 2, 1921; Le Temps, the leading French paper, December 19, 1921; Times of India, January 1922; and others. Locally, the Haifa newspaper, Annafir (December 6, 1921), published an obituary that carried the headline: “The Most Great Calamity—The Departure of the Personification of Humanitarianism, Abdul-Baha Abbas” (Bagdadi, Star of the West, 259–67).

The term “Ascension,” of Christian origin, is a reverential term, implying that the person referred to, by virtue of a high spiritual station, “ascended” to heaven and dwells in Paradise. For Baha'is, ‘Abdu’l-Baha ́, although not a prophet, occupied a unique and pivotal station.

At such commemorations, Baha'is typically gather together in an assembly hall or private home (depending on the size of the local Baha'i community) and, in a dignified atmosphere, respectfully recite or chant prayers and passages from the sacred Baha'i Writings. A special Prayer revealed by ‘Abdu’l-Baha ́and now recited by his loved ones at his hallowed shrine was translated by Shoghi Effendi in January 1922. This “Tablet of Visitation” for ‘Abdu’l-Baha ́ captures the quintessence of his character, expressed in this supplication: “Lord! Give me to drink from the chalice of selflessness; with its robe clothe me, and in its ocean immerse me.” For Baha'is, this prayer is especially significant by virtue of this promise preceding the prayer:

“Whoso reciteth this prayer with lowliness and fervor will bring gladness and joy to the heart of this Servant; it will be even as meeting Him face to face” (Baha'i ́ Prayers, 234).
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