During His lifetime, Baha’u’llah referred to Abdu’l-Baha as the Mystery of God and the Master. It was only after the passing of Baha’u’llah that His son, entitled The Most Great Branch by His Father, took the name Abdu’l-Baha which means the Servant of Glory, or the Servant of Baha.
Truly, Abdu’l-Baha will forever confound scholars. They will admit that He was indeed the Mystery of God and the Master, as declared by Baha’u’llah.
When His son was 21 years old, Baha’u’llah asked Him to answer some questions posed by religious authorities because He didn’t have time to answer them Himself. Abdu’l-Baha immediately sat and wrote a book called The Secrets of Divine Civilization. The authorities were amazed by the clarity of His responses to all their questions, especially because they knew that Abdu’l-Baha had never received any formal education except for what He learned from His Father.
When Abdu’l-Baha visited Europe and America during His travels of 1911 and 1912 people would literally throw themselves at His feet and call Him a prophet. In America, some even called Him the Christ. However, Abdu’l-Baha would gently lift up those whose only wish was to adore Him and tell them that he was but a reflection of the Glory of God and that the real Light was Baha’u’llah.
Abdu’l-Baha had a commanding and majestic, yet humble and loving presence, that stupefied and attracted the hearts of all who met Him, including the poorest of the poor, the richest of the rich, powerful leaders, priests, ministers, revered rabbis, socialites,titans of industry, and everyone in between. However, Abdu’l-Baha was not interested in self-aggrandizement. He lived His entire life only to serve the Faith of His Father.
Even Baha’is who were imprisoned along with Abdu’l-Baha and Baha’u’llah were amazed at Abdu’l-Baha’s sagacity, astonishing humility, and self-effacement. Companions reported that when Abdu’l-Baha, for example, would visit His Father, if He was riding a horse He would dismount at some distance and as He walked He would pray to be worthy of seeing and conversing with Baha’u’llah again.
In the future, untold volumes will be written about Abdu’l-Baha. Like all the others, this vignette is an incomplete description. But, no matter how good or lengthy an exposition, nothing will ever compare with the towering and incontestable fact that His own Father, the Manifestation of God Whose Revelation will shed light and bring order to the lives of humanity for no less than one thousand years, called His son the Mystery of God and the Master. And in His written Covenant with humanity, Baha’u’llah named His son, The Most Great Branch, the Interpreter of His Word and the Exemplar of His Cause.
In truth Abdu’l-Baha was both a servant and a leader who spent his life serving his exalted Father, sharing His imprisonment and exile, and being a living example to others of true nobility and self-effacement, and so he said, “Look at me, follow me, be as I am, take no thought for yourselves or your lives, whether ye eat or whether ye sleep, whether ye are comfortable, whether ye are well or ill, whether ye are with friends or foes; . . . for all these things ye must care not at all. Look at me and be as I am; ye must die to yourselves and to the world that ye may be born again and enter the kingdom of heaven. Behold a candle, how it gives its light. It weeps its life away drop by drop in order to give forth its flame of light.”
In a testimony called the Tablet of the Branch, Baha’u’llah writes concerning Abdu’l-Baha: “Render thanks unto God, O people, for His appearance; for verily He is the most great Favor unto you, the most perfect bounty upon you; and through Him every mouldering bone is quickened. Whoso turneth towards Him hath turned towards God, and whoso turneth away from Him hath turned away from My beauty, hath repudiated My Proof, and transgressed against Me. He is the Trust of God amongst you, His charge within you, His manifestation unto you and His appearance among His favored servants… We have sent Him down in the form of a human temple. Blest and sanctified be God Who createth whatsoever He willeth through His inviolable, His infallible decree. They who deprive themselves of the shadow of the Branch, are lost in the wilderness of error, are consumed by the heat of worldly desires, and are of those who will assuredly perish.”
In other Tablets addressed to Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’u’llah writes in His own hand these and many other passages that praise His son: “We pray God to illumine the world through Thy knowledge and wisdom.” “The Glory of God rest upon Thee and upon whosoever serveth Thee and circleth around Thee. Woe, great woe, betide him that opposeth and injureth Thee.” “We have made Thee a shelter for all mankind, a shield unto all who are in heaven and earth, a stronghold for whosoever hath believed in God, the Incomparable, the All-Knowing.”
What can we know about the son of the Manifestation of God whom Baha’u’llah extols and rains praise on with His Own Pen of Glory? In a book called The Center Of The Covenant written by Juliet Thompson, an early American Baha’i who went to the Holy Land as a devout pilgrim to meet Abdu’l-Baha; she reports this and many other telling passages about the nature of Abdu’l-Baha: “In Akka He was known as the Father of the Poor. Once a week He gathered into His garden the maim, the halt, the blind and the lepers. Here He would walk up and down among them, with His majestic tread and His tender ways, pausing before each one to embrace him, to give to each one some special word of cheer, taking even lepers into His arms. He would then press into the palm of each money enough to sustain him till his next visit. For as He wittily said to a friend who questioned the wisdom of charity: ‘Assuredly give to the poor. If you give them nothing but words; when they put their hands into their pockets after you have gone, they will find themselves none the richer for you.’”
Also, the artist Juliet Thompson who painted an ethereal portrait of Abdu’l-Baha, writes, “This moving scene in the garden has been witnessed by many Western pilgrims. It happened once a week, on Friday. Then He called the poor and the suffering to Him. But every day and night He went to them, seeking them out Himself in their own wretched hovels. One of the Persian believers said to me: ‘There is not an alley in Akka I do not know, nor a prison cell, for I have followed the footsteps of my Lord.’” In those days many in the Holy Land called Abdu’l-Baha their Lord because of his munificence and radiance. At his funeral some ten thousand people of the various religions in the Holy Land came to pay their respects. Ibrahim Nassar, a celebrated Christian writer spoke, and said: “I weep for the world, in that my Lord hath died; others there are who, like unto me, weep the death of their Lord. …O bitter is the anguish caused by this heartrending calamity! It is not only our country’s loss but a world affliction. … He hath educated the souls of men, hath been benevolent unto them, hath led them to the Way of Truth.”