Nestled within a greater initiative called The Utterance Project, Violetta Zein has produced an informative, visually-rich online project titled “The Extraordinary Life of Abdu’l-Baha” in honor of the centenary of His Passing. It’s an interactive and illustrated nine-part chronology of the Life of Abdu’l-Baha and you may find it useful and inspiring, particularly in this special year as we strive to reflect profoundly on His Life.
I am so grateful to Violetta for sharing with us all about this initiative. Here’s what she shared with the Baha’i Blog team:
Baha’i Blog: Could you please tell us about this initiative?
The Extraordinary Life of Abdu’l-Baha is an nine-part, interactive, illustrated chronology on the life and station of Abdu’l-Baha, and is offered to the Baha’is of the world as our contribution to the commemoration of the centenary of His Ascension. I conceived the idea of the chronology, then researched, wrote, and designed it. Adib has been a constant support throughout, and provided the timeline dates and talks for the timeline portion in Europe and Egypt from 1912-1913, as well as constant help with transliterating Persian and Arabic names correctly.
It is broken down into nine parts according to the most significant events in the life of Abdu’l-Baha.
It contains interactive links to each part, along with additional timelines and maps and links to people, places, and events, it includes all the published talks of Abdu’l-Baha, and additionally you’ll also find (as part of The Utterance Project), videos of Tablets revealed by Abdu’l-Baha that are central to the story in their original Arabic or Persian. The parts about Abdu’l-Baha’s journeys to the west feature a Google Map of every city He visited that I was able to find.
It’s illustrated with images for almost every event and person of note in an effort to create a strong emotional connection between the reader and the Life of Abdu’l-Baha. The original maps and graphics are an attempt to provide a visual representation of major events in the Life of Abdu’l-Baha.
And it’s a chronology because it follows Abdu’l-Baha’s Life from beginning to end in chronological order and it is organized around dates and events.
Baha’i Blog: What was the inspiration for The Extraordinary Life of Abdu’l-Baha?
Adib Masumian and I launched the Centenary Collection in January 2021 as a spiritual preparation for the commemoration of the centenary of the Ascension of Abdu’l-Baha, with carefully chosen excerpts shedding light on the Station of Abdu’l-Baha. We decided to offer a more immersive experience, so I began designing informative graphics to accompany our publications. We published the Tablet of Visitation for Thomas Breakwell on June 13, 2021, the anniversary of his passing, and I was so moved by the profound spiritual connection between Thomas Breakwell and Abdu’l-Baha that I retraced it in a five-panel spiritual timeline. This timeline was the direct inspiration for The Extraordinary Life of Abdu’l-Baha, which I started writing six days later.
Baha’i Blog: How can it be used?
The chronology is serialized in parts, but it is also broken down into sections, and is meant to be used flexibly and creatively for in-depth study and discussion of the Life of Abdu’l-Baha. It can also be used individually or in groups, chronologically or thematically, as a spiritual preparation for the centenary of His Ascension.
Baha’i Blog: What are some of the most interesting ways people have used this initiative?
A group of four women in Kerikeri, New Zealand who call themselves “The Kuia team” (Kuia is the Maori word for “grandmother”) is using the chronology for their weekly meetings leading up to the centenary; Baha’is in Leinen, Germany are translating the captions of all the photos and graphics for an exhibition of the different aspects of Abdul-Baha’s Life and Station as one part of their many planned events for the centenary; and the August 2021 virtual Baha’i summer school in Jamaica was called “The Extraordinary Life of Abdul-Baha” where they assigned each part to a storyteller who projected the chronology and narrated it in their own way using the maps, graphics, and images as supplements. One of the most exciting developments happened through a very close collaboration with my dear friend, the eminent Baha’i historian Earl Redman, author of a wonderful trilogy of books about Abdu’l-Baha published by George Ronald. When he was reviewing the first three sections of my work, he realized, through stories I had discovered and been provided by other historians, that he could add a fourth book to his trilogy, covering the years 1844 to 1898 where Visiting Abdu’l-Baha Volume 1: 1898–1909 picks up. His forthcoming book is called My Name is Abdu’l-Baha and has been submitted for publication with George Ronald. It’s a very exciting book about a little-known period of Abdu’l-Baha’s Life and personally, it is an honor that my work played a part in bringing such an important book to life.
Baha’i Blog: What did you learn in the process of working on this project?
A fun thing I learned is that the magic of history is in the footnotes. Some of my best content I found by stubbornly reading every footnote in every book. But the most powerful lesson I learned was the value of Baha’i scholarship and collaboration. I owe an immense debt to Baha’i historians, friends, and collaborators who are too numerous to name individually, but please take a look at my extensive “Thanks and Acknowledgements” page for the complete list of collaborators.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you so much for sharing this with us, Violetta, and congratulations on such a wonderful initiative!
You can find The Extraordinary Life of Abdu’l-Baha here.
You might also be interested in The Centenary Collection, a thematic collection for the commemoration of the centenary of the Ascension of Abdu’l-Baha focusing on His Station as Center of the Covenant.
Lastly, you can read more about the Utterance Project here on Baha’i Blog: The Utterance Project: A Personal Initiative That Shares Readings of Baha’i Writings in Their Original Languages