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.
Abdu’l-Baha was the eldest son of Baha’u’llah who referred to Him as “the Mystery of God” and “a shelter for all mankind”, however Abdu’l-Baha preferred to be called “Abdu’l-Baha” which means “the Servant of Baha” in reference to His servitude to Baha’u’llah. When Abdu’l-Baha passed away on 28 November 1921, He was eulogized as One who led humanity to the “Way of Truth,” as a “pillar of peace” and the embodiment of “glory and greatness.”
One of the most common mistakes in English usage is the term “very unique,” and its close cousins, “most unique” and “so unique” — as in, “that is a very unique painting” or “that is one of the most unique songs I have ever heard.” We all commit this error from time to time because we mistake the word “unique” for the word “unusual.” In fact, “unique” means there is nothing else like it in existence. Like pregnancy, something either is unique or it is not; there are no degrees of uniqueness, as there are with unusualness.
Tonight, on the anniversary of His passage from this world to the next, we turn our thoughts and hearts toward Abdu’l-Baha, one who actually was in fact unique. Baha’u’llah wrote:
When the ocean of My presence hath ebbed and the Book of My Revelation is ended, turn your faces towards Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient Root.
…refer ye whatsoever ye understand not in the Book to Him Who hath branched from this mighty Stock.
Abdu’l-Baha Himself wrote,
In accordance with the explicit text of the Kitab-i-Aqdas Baha’u’llah hath made the Center of the Covenant the Interpreter of His Word—a Covenant so firm and mighty that from the beginning of time until the present day no religious Dispensation hath produced its like.
Though there is no greater love on earth than that of a father for his son, the rapturous feeling that Baha’u’llah held for His eldest son far surpassed even that, as we read in this extraordinary passage from a letter from Baha’u’llah while Abdu’l-Baha was away from Akka on a visit to Beirut:
…All the atoms of the earth have announced unto all created things that from behind the gate of the Prison-city there hath appeared and above its horizon there hath shone forth the Orb of the beauty of the great, the Most Mighty Branch of God — His ancient and immutable Mystery — proceeding on its way to another land. Sorrow, thereby, hath enveloped this Prison-city, whilst another land rejoiceth … Blessed, doubly blessed, is the ground which His footsteps have trodden, the eye that hath been cheered by the beauty of His countenance, the ear that hath been honored by hearkening to His call, the heart that hath tasted the sweetness of His love, the breast that hath dilated through His remembrance, the pen that hath voiced His praise, the scroll that hath borne the testimony of His writings.
His relationship to Baha’u’llah reveals one aspect of His uniqueness. Another is revealed by His theological station. The Writings teach that Abdu’l-Baha was neither a Manifestation of God nor a regular human being. In this sense, He was unique in a way that even Manifestations — there being multiple of those — are not.
These assertions of Abdu’l-Baha’s unique character are articles of faith, teachings Baha’is accept because they are Baha’i doctrine. But we can also look beyond doctrine at the man Himself to see with our own eyes the additional ways in which He was unique. We can see by accounts that the way people reacted and responded to His personality made Him unique. The way He interpreted scripture made Him a unique figure within the Faith as well as across the world. Just as He left the Holy Land and traveled throughout Europe and America, He made the Faith accessible to the Western mind. He did this by accentuating the rational and logical appeal to this audience, but He did it without turning His back on the mystical.
In fact, we can see Him brilliantly bridging two different, sometimes even polar, worlds — the scientific and the religious, and tempering each to pare away their excesses so that they might be able to meet in the middle. He exhorted the West to eschew its obsession with materialism and remember that we are spiritual beings first and foremost. And He exhorted the East to eschew its religious fanaticism and realize that the advancement of material civilization — through things like the rule of law and universal education — was necessary for spiritual advancement as well. He bound the two worlds together for an emerging age to meet its unique need, telling all who would listen that the clash between science and religion represented a false choice, that science without religion led to soulless materialism, and that divorcing religion from science led to superstitious nonsense.
In logic, the existence of good implies the existence — somewhere — of the perfect. Abdu’l-Baha was the exemplar of the perfect Baha’i life. And in His unique example, God shows us the good of which mortal human beings are capable.