Baha’is believe in the power of prayer and you’ll find Baha’is and their friends, throughout the world, getting together to pray. This is often referred to as a ‘devotional gathering’ or ‘devotional meeting’, and they happen in diverse settings, whether in cities or villages.
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.”
As we commemorate the centenary of the Ascension of Abdu’l-Baha, it is timely to recount the story of how He predicted with sublime accuracy the outbreak of World War I and also explained and developed a peace plan highly relevant to humanity today.
Abdu’l-Baha (1844-1921) spoke often about the plan which came from His father, Baha’u’llah (1817-1892), the prophetic figure Who founded the Baha’i Faith and Who laid out the path to peace in His letters to the kings and rulers of the world. (Proclamation of Baha’u’llah)
For example, during His journey throughout North America in 1912, Abdu’l-Baha emphasised the need for international peace, calling it “the most momentous question of the day.”
Newspapers gave Him such labels as the “Persian Peace Apostle” and “the Prophet of Peace”, and their journalists reported how He linked the concept of peace to the need for a world tribunal and collective security. Surprisingly for audiences at that time, He also connected peace to topics like the education and advancement of women. War will cease, He said, when women have full equality because “they will be the obstacle and hindrance to it.” (Source)
Although there was a growing international peace movement, the European nations were steadily stockpiling armaments in preparation for war.
Possessed of a keen insight into humanity, Abdu’l-Baha knew that the fledgling peace movement was impotent, and He openly predicted the horror ahead. To the Montreal Star newspaper He said:
These warlike preparations will necessarily culminate in a great war. The very armaments themselves are productive of war. This great arsenal must go ablaze.
And on September 11th, a date that was to become significant for a warlike event 89 years later, the local newspaper in the city of Buffalo in the United States, reported Him 1 “warning against a great European war and pleading that the people of this country do what they can to avert terrible bloodshed.”
“The continent of Europe,” the newspaper reported Him as saying, “is one vast arsenal which only requires one spark at its foundations and the whole of Europe will become a wasted wilderness. And what flimsy, what impudent pretext they use. Patriotism, say they; glory, say they; the upholding of the continent, say they. What a travesty on God’s truth.”
But anybody thinking that this peace advocate might be an impractical idealist like so many others, soon found they were severely mistaken because Abdu’l-Baha was the epitome of one who trod the spiritual path with practical feet. He did not advocate unilateral disarmament by a single power, an act He warned would lead to aggression, but referred instead to Baha’u’llah’s plan:
The peace of the world must be brought about by international agreement. All nations must agree to disarm simultaneously.
In California in October 1912, He repeated the warnings of the war ahead, and specified when it would begin:
The time is two years hence, when only a spark will set aflame the whole of Europe.
Baha’u’llah and the New Era by John Esslemont, Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1980. P. 244
Nearly two years later on 3 August 1914, Abdu’l-Baha, back home in Haifa, announced what was about to happen, just as He had predicted two years previously in Canada and the United States.
A general melee of the civilized nations is in sight. A tremendous conflict is at hand. The world is at the threshold of a most tragic struggle…Vast armies—millions of men—are being mobilised and stationed at their frontiers. They are being prepared for the fearful contest. The slightest friction will bring them into a terrific crash, and there will be a conflagration, the like of which is not recorded in the past history of mankind.
The very next day, the greatest power on earth at the time, Great Britain, declared war on Germany. Three months later, Great Britain, France and Russia declared war on Turkey, and in response the Caliph, Sultan Muhammad V, the titular head of the Ottoman Empire, declared holy war against them.
With great foresight, Abdu’l-Baha made sure Baha’i farmers in the Galilee stored grain to guard against any future famine. Eventually the food kept in reserve saved many in the region from starving to death.
The British, who ejected the Turkish forces from the Holy Land in 1917, recognised the humanitarian activities of Abdu’l-Baha by knighting Him in 1920.
Abdu’l-Baha continued to communicate the teachings of Baha’u’llah. In 1920 there came from Him a Tablet 2 of outstanding profundity.
He pointed out the horrors of the conflict that had concluded two years before, saying how “flourishing countries have been reduced to rubble, cities have been levelled with the ground, and many a once prosperous village hath been turned into ruin.”
He noted that 60 years previously, Baha’u’llah had warned the German Emperor and the Turkish sovereign of the terrible fate that now, as a result of the Great War, had befallen their realms.
Then Abdu’l-Baha issued a warning of a conflict that was yet to come:
The vanquished Powers will continue to agitate. They will resort to every measure that may rekindle the flame of war.
Ibid, p. 249-50.
But He did not leave mankind without hope. To the contrary, He once again outlined Baha’u’llah’s prescription for universal peace.
To bring this about, a Supreme Tribunal must be established, representative of all governments and peoples; questions both national and international must be referred thereto, and all must carry out the decrees of this Tribunal. Should any government or people disobey, let the whole world arise against that government or people.
But as it turned out, and as He had predicted, the arrangement at the end of the First World War carried the seeds of another conflict, and war reignited in 1939.
In 1985, drawing on the teachings of Baha’u’llah and the explanations of Abdu’l-Baha, the Universal House of Justice 3 issued a statement called The Promise of World Peace, which contains a step-by-step guide to preventing war. It remains available for today’s leaders to seize and implement.
Footnotes & Citations
Buffalo New York Courier, September 11, 1912. http://centenary.bahai.us/news/persian-peace-apostle-predicts-war-europe[↩]
Selections of the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha 246-50; Translation slightly different in Baha’u’llah and the New Era, pp. 244-247.[↩]
The nine-member international body of the Baha’i Faith, which has its seat in Haifa, Israel.[↩]
Michael Day is the author of a new book, “Point of Adoration. The story of the Shrine of Baha’u’llah 1873-1892.” He is also the author of "Journey to a Mountain", "Coronation on Carmel" and "Sacred Stairway", a trilogy that tells the story of the Shrine of the Bab. His photo book "Fragrance of Glory" is an account of the Ascension of Abdu’l-Baha. A former member of the New Zealand Baha’i community, Michael now lives in Australia. He was editor of the Baha’i World News Service in Haifa 2003-2006.