Ever since I was little I have been interested in historical clothes and I have often wondered what Abdu’l-Baha looked like. What did He wear? And how were His clothes and His physical appearance a manifestation of qualities such as cleanliness, purity, grace and a deep abiding love for everyone?
In this article, I’ve gathered a small collection of historical accounts on the beauty of Abdu’l-Baha and stories that describe what He looked like. I am so grateful for these historical recollections, even though they only offer us a glimpse of Him.
The first story relates to cleanliness and it’s found in Vignettes from the Life of Abdu’l-Baha:
The Master considered cleanliness of vital importance. He was indeed ‘the essence of cleanliness’ even as Baha’u’llah had taught His followers. Florence Khanum bore witness to this, for she found Him ‘dazzlingly, spotlessly shining, from snowy turban-cloth, to white, snowy hair falling upon his shoulders, to white snowy beard and long snowy garment. Although it was high noon, in summer His attire was crisp and fresh-looking, as though He had not been visiting the sick, and in prison, and toiling for mankind since early morning. Often a deliciously fresh rose was tucked in His belt.’1
This first-hand Western account of how Abdu’l-Baha looked can also add richness to our understanding of Him. Consider this penned portrait:
Abdu’l-Baha enjoyed walking. His secretaries usually accompanied Him. On the street people would turn and glance at Him, and many curious eyes followed Him as He strolled along with great dignity and grace in His Eastern robe and turban. Abdu’l-Baha always wore His native dress, which was a full-length, light-coloured robe, over which He wore an aba or cloak, of beige, tan, brown or cream color. His shoes were of soft brown leather, partly covering the instep and heel. He wore a low turban wound around with folds of soft white materials from under which His wispy silver hair fell to His shoulders. Encircling His often smiling lips was a white moustache and a short, rounded beard. The Master has well-defined, slightly bushy, white eyebrows. To the astonishment of each person who talked with Him, His eyes seemed to change color as He spoke. Sometimes they looked blue or hazel or grey… When the Master’s face was in repose, deep lines often appeared on His cheeks and between His brows, and His eyes looked sad and showed the suffering He had endured. However, when Abdu’l-Baha smiled, the sadness vanished, and one saw only glorious beauty… The Master’s complexion was a warm, light tan. His hands were square, strong, yet delicate; when He held your hand, His clasp felt warm and friendly.2
Horace Holley recounts that “He displayed a beauty of stature, an inevitable harmony of attitude and dress I have never seen or thought of in men.”3
This story from The Diary of Juliet Thompson is similarly striking:
In a minute or so Mamma, with that funny boldness of hers which would sometimes burst through her timidity, said: “Master, I would like to see You without Your turban.”
He smiled. “It is not our custom, Mrs Thompson, to take off our turbans before ladies, but for your sake I will do it.”
And oh, the beauty we saw then! There was something in the silver hair flowing back from His high forehead, something in the shape of the head, which, in spite of His age, made me think of Christ.
I’d like to end with something from the new online publication of the Baha’i World — if you haven’t already explored it, it’s incredible! It includes a special collection dedicated to Abdu’l-Baha, and among the wonderful resources you’ll find Aziz Yazdi’s “Memories of Abdu’l-Baha”. I am struck by the passages where Aziz remembers being a child between the ages of 11 and 14 and meeting Him:
When I was not in school I spent most of my time in His time in His garden. I would wait to catch a glimpse of Him as He came out for His customary walk, or conversed with pilgrims from faraway places. To hear His vibrant and melodious voice ringing in the open air, to see Him, somehow exhilarated me and gave me hope. Quite often, He came to me and smiled and talked. There was a radiance about Him, an almost unlimited kindness and love that shone from Him. Seeing Him, I was infused with a feeling of goodness. I felt humble and, at the same time, exceedingly happy.
I had many opportunities to see the Master – as we always called Him – at meetings and on festive occasions. I especially remember the first time He came to our house to address a large gathering of believers. The friends were all gathered, talking happily, waiting. Suddenly all grew quiet. From outside, before He entered the room, I could hear the voice of Abdu’l-Baha, very resonant, very beautiful. Then He swept in, with His robe flowing! He was straight as an arrow. His head was thrown back. His silver-gray hair fell in waves to His shoulders. His beard was white; His eyes were keen; His forehead, broad. He wore a white turban around an ivory-colored felt cap.4
A few years later, when Aziz was a youth, he was again blessed to be in the presence of Abdu’l-Baha. He recounts:
One day, when I was walking along a curved street up the hill toward the House of Abdu’l-Baha, I turned the corner and there He was!
I saw the Master walking down the hill, followed by two of the believers. As was the custom, I stepped to one side and bowed. The Master stopped and walked over to me, stopped right in front of me, and looked me straight in the eyes. I shall never forget having seen Abdu’l-Baha face to face.
What was He like? His bearing was majestic, and yet He was genial. He was full of contrasts: dominant, yet humble; strong, yet tender; loving and affectionate, yet He could be very stern. He was intensely human, most keenly alive to the joys and sorrows of this life. There was no one who felt more acutely than He did the sufferings of humanity.5
I’m sure this hasn’t even scratched the surface of all the descriptions that exist about Abdu’l-Baha but these few are close to my heart.
- Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of Abdu’l-Baha [↩]
- Earl Redman, Abdu’l-Baha in Their Midst, p.213 [↩]
- Hasan Balyuzi, Abdu’l-Baha: The Centre of the Covenant of Baha’u’llah, p.6 [↩]
- Aziz Yazdi, Recollections of Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World, Retrived from: https://bahaiworld.bahai.org/library/memories-of-abdul-baha/ [↩]
- Ibid. Retrieved from: https://bahaiworld.bahai.org/library/memories-of-abdul-baha/ [↩]