‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Montreal’s Socialists 1
OVER FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLE crammed into Montreal’s Coronation Hall on September 3, 1912, for a meeting of Montreal’s Socialist Club. They had come to hear ‘Abdu’l-Bahá speak on “The Economic Happiness of the Human Race,” wrote the Montreal Star, and “they seemed to represent almost every nationality under the sun.” The President of the association, Mr. H.A. Goulden introduced ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as “a great messenger of love and brotherhood from the East to the West.” Mahmúd-i-Zarqání noted that Goulden told the crowd that they would hear about “the principles of brotherhood, prosperity and the upliftment of the poor.”
1 September 1912, Talk at Home of Mr. and Mrs. William Sutherland Maxwell, 716 Pine Avenue West, Montreal, Canada 2
I am exceedingly happy to meet you. Praise be to God! I see before me souls who have unusual capability and the power of spiritual advancement. In reality, the people of this continent possess great capacity; they are the cause of my happiness, and I ever pray that God may confirm and assist them to progress in all the degrees of existence. As they have advanced along material lines, may they develop in idealistic degrees, for material advancement is fruitless without spiritual progress and not productive of everlasting results. For example, no matter how much the physical body of man is trained and developed, there will be no real progression in the human station unless the mind correspondingly advances. No matter how much man may acquire material virtues, he will not be able to realize and express the highest possibilities of life without spiritual graces. God has created all earthly things under a law of progression in material degrees, but He has created man and endowed him with powers of advancement toward spiritual and transcendental kingdoms. He has not created material phenomena after His own image and likeness, but He has created man after that image and with potential power to attain that likeness. He has distinguished man above all other created things. All created things except man are captives of nature and the sense world, but in man there has been created an ideal power by which he may perceive intellectual or spiritual realities. He has brought forth everything necessary for the life of this world, but man is a creation intended for the reflection of divine virtues. Consider that the highest type of creation below man is the animal, which is superior to all degrees of life except man. Manifestly, the animal has been created for the life of this world. Its highest virtue is to express excellence in the material plane of existence. The animal is perfect when its body is healthy and its physical senses are whole. When it is characterized by the attributes of physical health, when its physical forces are in working order, when food and surrounding conditions minister to its needs, it has attained the ultimate perfection of its kingdom. But man does not depend upon these things for his virtues. No matter how perfect his health and physical powers, if that is all, he has not yet risen above the degree of a perfect animal. Beyond and above this, God has opened the doors of ideal virtues and attainments before the face of man. He has created in his being the mysteries of the divine Kingdom. He has bestowed upon him the power of intellect so that through the attribute of reason, when fortified by the Holy Spirit, he may penetrate and discover ideal realities and become informed of the mysteries of the world of significances. As this power to penetrate the ideal knowledges is superhuman, supernatural, man becomes the collective center of spiritual as well as material forces so that the divine spirit may manifest itself in his being, the effulgences of the Kingdom shine within the sanctuary of his heart, the signs of the attributes and perfections of God reveal themselves in a newness of life, the everlasting glory and eternal existence be attained, the knowledge of God illumine, and the mysteries of the realm of might be unsealed.
Tuesday, September 3, 1912 3
The morning was cloudy and rainy. At the hotel the Master was presented with some newspaper articles reporting last night’s meeting and giving an account of His talk. Dr Faríd arrived today from Boston to join us. As some professors and clergymen had come by to visit the Master, He spoke to them on the relationship of human souls, universal peace and the harm caused by prejudices. His words were particularly enjoyed by the professors from the university and the ministers showed their humility. After giving a detailed description of the teachings of the Supreme Pen, He said:
“This is the purpose of the people of Bahá. Would you not like to serve such an ideal? I hope you will put forth effort in this direction so that the world of men may find real unity, become released from prejudice and be freed from war and bloodshed. Our efforts are for this. Bahá’u’lláh has opened a broad vista to humanity. For instance, when the people of different religions, races and nations were reviling each other, He addressed the people of the world saying, ‘O people! Ye are the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch.’”
The minister from the black church extended an invitation to the Master to speak at his church. Because of the lack of time, the Master gave His apologies. Although the Master had intended to stay in Montreal for only two or three days, His visit had lengthened into a week. The fame of the Master had spread throughout the vicinity. Newspapers printed accounts of the meetings and many of the tributes to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The Master had requested copies of the news stories to be sent to the friends in the East. The response was so generous that one room was completely filled.
During the afternoon, while cheering the friends, He also attended to the mail and read petitions from the friends of the East and the West. At one moment He was answering important questions and the next He was dictating words conducive to the betterment of the social status of women and their confirmation in the Kingdom of God.
When the guests had left and the Master was completely exhausted, He went out alone for a walk to refresh Himself. He then boarded a tram which took Him far out of the city, then another tram which went out of the city by another route and finally took a taxi. The driver asked for the name of the hotel but ‘Abdu’l-Bahá did not know. He pointed to him to go straight ahead and, suddenly, there was the hotel. With His hair dishevelled and His smiling face, He told us how He had gotten lost. ‘Once in the Holy Land,’ He said,
“’Áqá Faraj lost the way to Yirkih. I advised him to loosen the reins of the animal. When the ass was left to itself it went straight to its destination. Today I pointed to the chauffeur to go straight on and by chance I reached my hotel among all these hotels.”
That evening He spoke to a meeting of the Socialist Club with majesty and dignity. The audience lined His way and the chairman, who was speaking as the Master arrived, stepped forward, grasped His hand and led Him to the podium. The president introduced the Master in most glowing terms, concluding, ‘Now, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá will teach us the principles of brotherhood, prosperity and the upliftment of the poor.’
As the Master was delivering His address on economics and the adjustment of society according to the principle of moderation, the audience broke into spontaneous applause, clapping their hands with joy and excitement. At the end, the chairman sought ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s permission for those who had questions to ask them. Every answer evoked further applause and admiration to such an extent that the walls of the building seemed to vibrate to their foundations.
The meeting continued to such a late hour that the audience itself began to realize that to continue would not only be impolite but might also be injurious to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s health. As the Master moved towards His carriage, the people surrounded Him, demonstrating their heartfelt reverence and humility. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, often moved to express His thankfulness for the help and assistance of the Blessed Beauty, said, ‘Praise be to God that the confirmations of the Kingdom of Abhá are descending continually. Mr Woodcock used to say that Montreal was a city of Catholics and the center of intolerance. Now let him come and see what has transpired here. Not a sound can be heard from the Catholics.’
’Abdu’l-Bahá in America, 1912-2012: Calling America to It’s Spiritual Destiny
Celebrating the Centenary: The Master in America
Curated by Anne Perry
- Michel, Tony. “‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Montreal’s Socialists.” 239 Days in America, 3 Sept. 2012, https://239days.com/2012/09/03/abdul-baha-and-montreals-socialists/. ↩
- ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ʻAbduʼl-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Edited by Howard MacNutt. 2nd ed. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1982, 302-303. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/21#228777817 ↩
- ’Abdu’l-Bahá, and Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. https://bahai-library.com/zarqani_mahmuds_diary&chapter=7#section163 ↩