Baha’is abstain from food and drink between sunrise and sunset for 19 days. While this abstention from food and drink is a test of one’s will and discipline, the Fast is not just about abstaining from food. The Fast is, primarily, a spiritual practice.
In His Will, Baha’u’llah instructed all to turn to His eldest Son, Abdu’l-Baha, not only as the authorized interpreter of the Baha’i Writings but also as the perfect exemplar of the Baha’i Faith’s spirit and teachings. Every year Baha’is celebrate Abdu’l-Baha as the Centre of Baha’u’llah Covenant.
Ambassador to Humanity – A New Book of Tributes to Abdu’l-Baha
Baha’is around the world are drawing closer to Abdu’l-Baha through their prayers, reflections and actions during this centennial anniversary of His Passing. In honor of this unique year, Robert Weinberg has complied a book of selected testimonials and tributes to Him. Titled Ambassador to Humanity, it is hoped that this paperback George Ronald publication “will serve to increase devotion to Abdu’l-Baha and aid reflection on the qualities to be emulated.”
I’m grateful to Robert Weinberg for taking the time to tell us a little bit about this new book. Here’s what he shared:
Baha’i Blog: Can you please tell us a little bit about this book? For example, whose testimonials and tributes are included?
For the bicentenary of the Birth of the Bab in 2019, I had the joy of putting together the collection The Primal Point which brought together testimonials and tributes to the Bab and His followers from not only Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi but also Babi and Baha’i writers and prominent people of that time who were aware of their extraordinary heroic deeds. It seemed like a natural follow-on for this special year—the approaching centenary of the Passing of Abdu’l-Baha—to compile a similar collection for the Master.
The book not only contains passages about Abdu’l-Baha from Baha’u’llah, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice, but also includes personal impressions of His life and character by His devoted sister Bahiyyih Khanum, and His wife and daughters. The words of Abdu’l-Baha Himself are also included, in which He explains His station and mission and His role as the Centre of Baha’u’llah’s Covenant.
Because Abdu’l-Baha’s life was in a sense a very public one, it is possible to trace almost every stage of it described by people who encountered Him along the way, from His earliest days in Iran, through the exiles to Iraq, Turkey and Akka, to His travels in the West and His later encounters with pilgrims, journalists, officials and missionaries in the Holy Land. So we not only have observations and recollections of the Master from early believers and admirers from both East and West, but also prominent figures including Professor E.G. Browne, Kahlil Gibran, Sir Ronald Storrs and the poet Ezra Pound. Now is also the time to remind ourselves of the tributes made to the Master at His funeral by significant local dignitaries from the Haifa and Akka areas, and to realise the deep impression He made on the part of the world where He spent most of His life.
The Universal House of Justice has written that the coming year will be one of “profound reflection on the life of Abdu’l-Baha and the strength of the Covenant of which He was the Centre,” so, while including a few descriptions of His appearance and behaviour for those who were devoted to Him, I was particularly interested in finding remarks from those who encountered Him for the first time and had no particular knowledge of what He, or the Faith of Baha’u’llah stood for. It is very inspiring and interesting to see Him through their eyes—everyone was deeply impressed by His character and His knowledge—and to see how He interacted with, and spoke directly to, every soul He met in a manner that would be meaningful and uplifting to their particular circumstances.
Baha’i Blog: What was the process like to put this book together?
The book was a gift that came as a result of the first lockdown period during this global health pandemic. Like many people, I found that I had a lot more time on my hands and energy, because of not travelling long hours to work or spending whole weekends in various gatherings. So staying at home, I spent a precious month or more deeply immersing myself every day in all of the literature I had around me or could find online about the Master. The lockdown in the United Kingdom began just after the end of the Baha’i Fast in 2020 but it felt that that kind of rarefied atmosphere of the fasting period was continuing, that I had the opportunity to spend every day in the presence of Abdu’l-Baha, encountering Him as others did, hearing His words and observing His actions.
Baha’i Blog: Was there anything unexpected you discovered in the process?
We are all familiar with the notion that Abdu’l-Baha is the perfect exemplar of the Baha’i life. As I write in the introduction, He was that “single soul out of all humankind, created by Baha’u’llah to provide the pattern of right living to all people, for all time.” What I found extraordinary was the multi-faceted nature of that life. Most historical lives are remembered for one particular talent or contribution that the person made—someone was a great orator, or a thinker about a specialised subject, or a social activist dedicated to one cause. With Abdu’l-Baha it feels that there was a complete mastery of every aspect of life at every level of society, from very personal acts of care and kindness (to literally tens of thousands of people), through to directing and managing major processes of social action, societal transformation and community building simultaneously in His own locality and diverse parts of the world, to insightful participation in the most pressing topical discussions of the day through His public addresses and correspondence with leaders of thought. I did not even begin to deal with His own writings or talks, or the actual content of the guidance He gave to the Baha’is—I have no doubt that thousands of books will be written in the future about every aspect of His life and work.
Baha’i Blog: Could you tell us a little bit about the contents of the book, and how they can increase our sense of devotion to Abdu’l-Baha?
In terms of increasing devotion, hopefully readers will get a more profound understanding of Abdu’l-Baha’s station from what Baha’u’llah, Shoghi Effendi and the House of Justice have written about Him, as well as a more intimate sense of what it was like to be in His presence from the other accounts.
There are many wonderful books available about Abdu’l-Baha’s encounters with pilgrims (such as Visiting Abdu’l-Baha), about His travels (Abdu’l-Baha in their Midst, Abdu’l-Baha in France, The Chosen Highway, The Diary of Juliet Thompson) and how the press wrote about Him (The Apostle of Peace) as well as countless publications of recollections and pilgrim notes. It was naturally impossible to include everything and those books are each of them mines full of gems. But as I went through them, interestingly I found many of the descriptions were quite similar, focussing on His physical appearance and manner, or conveying the particular messages He wanted to get across to His listeners. So I particularly wanted to find accounts that were, first and foremost, beautifully written, and not so familiar to readers but which, when arranged chronologically would take readers on a journey through Abdu’l-Baha’s life while assisting their profound reflection on what He represents for humanity.
I also find myself constantly turning to the breathtakingly beautiful writings of the Hands of the Cause George Townshend, Horace Holley and Hasan M. Balyuzi in particular, so hopefully the book will also serve to introduce readers to, or remind them at least of, the rich legacy of literature that is available to aid their own profound reflection. In that respect, the book is a kind of “sampler” of what is out there, but also a tribute to the writers’ craft and to the generosity of spirit of those who recorded their experiences so that future generations of Abdu’l-Baha’s admirers might gain an inspiring glimpse of the man.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you very much for taking the time to share this with us.
In her innermost heart, Sonjel is a stay-at-home parent and a bookworm with a maxed out library card but professionally she is a museologist with a background in English Literature. She currently lives on Prince Edward Island, an isle in the shape of a smile on the eastern Canadian coast. Sonjel is a writer who loves to listen to jazz when she's driving at night.