Category Archives History

The Language of Abdu’l-Baha

Abdu’l‐Baha giving a souvenir of the Baha’i Temple Dedication to Charles Greenleaf (age 17). Photo courtesy of the Baha'is of the United States.

I think it goes without saying that Abdu’l-Baha communicated the principles of the Baha’i Faith through His actions: generosity, for example, was articulated when coins were placed in the hands of destitute men at the Bowery Mission in New York City and social justice was demonstrated when Louis Gregory, who had been excluded from a luncheon owing to his race, was personally invited to the table by Abdu’l-Baha and given the seat of honor.

This year, as we commemorate the centenary of His Passing, I have been thinking about the Westerners who were in His presence and I often wonder about the logistics of language for those who did not speak Persian, Arabic or Turkish as He did.

I have read accounts of His travels to Europe and North America that describe how there were interpreters in His entourage and that for the most part His communications were translated to those around Him. Stanwood Cobb describes the unique experience of what it was like to hear Abdu’l-Baha speak via a translator: Continue reading

The Extraordinary Life of Abdu’l-Baha: A New Online Initiative

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: Continue reading

The Beauty of Abdu’l-Baha

Portrait of Abdu’l-Baha in Paris, France, October 1911. Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community.

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.’

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Dawn-Breaker: The Story of Nabil-i-Azam

Muhammad-i-Zarandi, surnamed Nabil-i-Azam. Photo from The Dawn-Breakers.

Nabil-i-Azam was a poet, his eloquence a “gift like a crystal stream,” his native genius “pure inspiration.” This is how Abdu’l-Baha described the famous chronicler of Baha’i history, renowned for his narrative of the early days of the Baha’i Faith, The Dawn-Breakers.

But what do we know about the life of this “man of mettle…on fire with passionate love,” counted by Shoghi Effendi as one of the 19 Apostles of Baha’u’llah?

Nabil was born Muhammad-i-Zarandi on July 29, 1831. As a boy, he learned the Qur’an and would travel more than 400 miles with his father from Zarand to the holy city of Qom, to listen to religious discourses. Working as a shepherd, the young Nabil tended his flock, praying and chanting the holy verses. At night, he would lie on the ground, contemplating the heavens. His was truly a poetic soul. Continue reading

The Art of Empowering Others – A Biography of Knight of Baha’u’llah Gayle Woolson

I have been thinking recently about what it genuinely means to empower others and George Ronald has released a biography of someone who did just that: Knight of Baha’u’llah, Gayle Woolson. Her life’s story was penned by Juliet Gentzkow, who very graciously agreed to tell us about her book called The Art of Empowering Others: The Life and Times of Gayle Woolson Knight of Baha’u’llah, and to give us a glimpse of who Gayle Woolson was. Here’s what she shared with me:

Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little about yourself?

By profession as a teacher of children, counsellor, and hospice worker, I have served in the United States, Guyana, and Haiti. I now live in Palo Alto California, near my son and his family. Limited to home by the pandemic, I continue a part-time counseling practice, Creative Transitions, and dedicate time to family, community building, biographical writing, and research.

Baha’i Blog: Could you please tell us a little about your book?

‘The Art of Empowering Others’, a biography of Gayle Woolson (1913-2011), now joins the George Ronald series on the Knights of Baha’u’llah. Gayle was one of nine children born in Minnesota to parents of Syrian origin. In 1930, her father introduced his family to news of a new Faith, brought to his attention by a Syrian friend in St. Paul. Mr. Abas told his children of teachings for a new, spiritual worldwide civilization based on humanity’s oneness. He said the youth had an important part to play in its development. By 1933, Gayle was teaching a children’s class, which became a stepping stone to public speaking. She then participated in her Local Spiritual Assembly’s initial development and became one of the very first youth traveling teachers in the United States, accompanying Ms. Marguerite Reimer (Sears) and Mrs. Mabel Ives. Following a marriage tragically cut short by her husband’s unexpected death, she arose to serve internationally. In 1940, she and another Baha’i became the first to go to Costa Rica, beginning 29 years of service throughout Central and South America. She witnessed the emergence of Baha’i communities and institutions throughout the continent, becoming a Knight of Baha’u’llah for the Galapagos Islands and serving successively on four elected National Spiritual Assemblies and as part of the initial cohort of appointed Auxiliary Board Members for the Americas. As much at home in a Quechua village as in a president’s palace, her heart burned with love for all who crossed her path. She had a simple eloquence that was yet refined. She saw in each person a unique potential destiny needed in the building of a new civilization. In 1975, following five years of service at the Baha’i World Centre, Gayle returned to the United States, where, for 20 years, she taught and also developed her Children’s Public Speaking Program.

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Ethel Rosenberg: Remembrance and Reunions

Ethel Rosenberg (August 6, 1858 - November 17, 1930). Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community.

Almost 100 years ago, on the night of Friday 2 December 1921, an English woman boarded a train in Port Said, Egypt, to make the 200-mile journey along the Mediterranean coast to Haifa. As Ethel Jenner Rosenberg settled into her first class carriage, she hoped perhaps to sleep a little before an eagerly anticipated reunion that was ahead of her— a reunion with Abdu’l-Baha.

She had last seen the Master some nine years previously in London. There, as a result of His presence, thousands of people had been touched by the light of the Baha’i teachings. It was a far cry from those early days when she and Mrs. Thornburgh-Cropper had been the only two women in England to have embraced the Cause of Baha’u’llah. In the intervening years of the Great War, Ethel had struggled on heroically. As bombs rained down upon London, she strove to share her deep knowledge of the new Revelation with a handful of souls who longed to set their sights on the coming of a universal peace. Although Abdu’l-Baha’s life had been threatened by Ottoman forces, and her own fragile health almost prevented her from carrying on, she had maintained her profound spiritual connection with the Master. Now the prospect of attaining His incomparable presence was but one night’s train journey away. Continue reading

Hands of the Cause of God Documentary Series Now Available on Baha’i Blog

Baha’i Blog is excited to share that we’ve just published the four-part historical documentary series called The Hands of the Cause of God on our YouTube channel!

Years in the making, this outstanding four-part documentary series recounts the lives of the Hands of the Cause of God within the historical context of the Baha’i Faith. Told through first-person interviews and incredible never-before-seen archival footage, their incredible lives and service come to life in a powerful way, and which will inspire future generations. Continue reading

A Tribute to Nora Crossley

Nora Crossley (1893-1977). Photo courtesy of George Ronald.

As a young girl, Nora was admired for her beautiful hair. It was a rich auburn color and so long that it almost reached as far as the hem of her dress. Every night and every morning, Nora’s mother would brush it for an hour until it shone like gold. Artists travelled from across the North of England to paint Nora’s portrait. Into adulthood, she considered her hair her only redeeming feature.

Nora Crossley was born in Old Trafford, Manchester in 1893 into a wealthy family. But her childhood was not a happy one and her adulthood was equally severely difficult. After the First World War, she married her penniless childhood sweetheart against her separated parents’ wishes. War had irrevocably changed her husband. He was later diagnosed as schizophrenic, but at that point his erratic behaviour was beyond any explanation. He refused to return to work, preferring to play the organ and repair hymn books for the church, but never accepting any payment. So began more than 50 years of severe tests at home for Nora, who soon became a mother to two sons. Continue reading

Juliet Thompson: Champion of the Baha’i Faith in New York City

Juliet Thompson & portrait of Mrs. Coolidge. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

It is always a pleasure to show friends my favorite places when they visit New York City. I first came here when I was 17 years old and sometimes I feel like there is a memory on every street. The two places that I am most excited to show my out-of-town visitors are the Church of the Ascension where Abdu’l-Baha spoke days after His arrival in America and the other is the home of Juliet Thompson at 48 West 10th Street, near 5th Avenue. I believe that in the future these will be the must-visit spots for any visitor to New York City, far surpassing in popularity the Empire State building, Times Square, and other current tourist attractions.

Juliet Thompson was born in Washington DC, on September 23, 1873. She was of Irish descent. She was twelve years old when her father died and she was forced to work as a teenager in order to support the family. Early on, she showed talent for painting and was able to make money selling her pastel portraits. She studied at the Corcoran Art School in Washington DC. Continue reading