239 Days in America, Day 116: August 04, 1912 | Dublin

The Challenges of Finding ‘Abdu’l-Bahá 1

THE MOST EXTENSIVE PRIMARY sources for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s journey across North America in 1912 come with difficult problems. If you were to ask Mahmúd-i-Zarqání how Americans responded to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, you might always get the same answer. They were — almost every one of them — “astonished” at what they saw and heard from the Master. Mahmúd was a devoted follower on unfamiliar terrain in America, who felt the greatest reverence for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and held him in awe. In his preface he writes that he generally found himself overwhelmed by the events he saw, and in his account he ascribes such wonder to everyone.

Juliet Thompson’s ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is an otherworldly figure whose every look, every slight gesture, is imbued with a magical quality that she flourishes with her own emotions. How close was the real ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to Juliet’s perception of him? It is difficult to say.

Reverend Howard Colby Ives wrote an autobiography of his time with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá called Portals to Freedom. Its pages are filled with turns of phrase that mix metaphors and burst with personal drama, yet he seems deeply sincere and his story often brings one eerily close to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The scene he paints of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wiping the tears from his eyes on April 12 at the Hotel Ansonia in New York is so moving that it’s hard not to well up with tears yourself.

Agnes Parsons wrote a nuts-and-bolts diary account of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Washington and Dublin, full of interesting details but largely free of the romantic aura that surrounds Thompson’s and Ives’s accounts. But Agnes’s social circle constrains her perspective. She hosts ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in her home and plans many of his activities, but when he attends events in Washington with African Americans, you wouldn’t know from her diary that they carried any significance.

Sunday, August 4, 1912 2

When He had finished writing Tablets in response to petitions from the friends in the East and the West, the Master had a little time to rest. He then went for lunch at the home of Miss [Fanny] Knobloch. Her friends and relatives were fascinated with His explanations and enchanted by His manner.

In the afternoon He spoke in Mr and Mrs Parsons’s drawing room about the power of the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh and the assistance and confirmations of the Greatest Name. Mírzá ‘Alí Akbar [Nakhjavání] related that during the troubled times in ‘Akká the Master used to say that a great event would take place in the very near future: it would be as though this lamp would go away and then come back to its original place. Now we understand that this assertion of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was a reference to His travels and His return to the Holy Land. The Master then said:

“The assistance of the Blessed Beauty brings about extraordinary things. Every act of the Blessed Beauty constitutes in itself a consummate proof. In one of my early writings I wrote that in the eyes of the possessors of insight the doings of Him Who is the Sovereign Truth have no equal. For instance, if the Blessed Beauty asked after someone’s health, although outwardly a common expression, it could give to a person who was perceptive hints as to the wisdom and mystery hidden in the words spoken on that occasion. Thus it is that God in all His actions is distinct from all others, just as a wise man displays in all his actions the signs of wisdom.”

There were several people waiting to see Him. Two ladies, both of whom were hard of hearing, requested permission to sit near Him so that they might listen to His words through their hearing aids. He said, ‘Yes, the nearer they come, the better they will hear the Words of God. They must hear the Voice of the Lord in whatever way possible or by whatever means.’

Today, the Master’s talk on the immortality of the soul so impressed the hearts that from then on He was asked to speak on this subject at most of the meetings.

Talk at Fourth Unitarian Church, Beverly Road, Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York, 16 June 1912 3

The unity which is productive of unlimited results is first a unity of mankind which recognizes that all are sheltered beneath the overshadowing glory of the All-Glorious, that all are servants of one God; for all breathe the same atmosphere, live upon the same earth, move beneath the same heavens, receive effulgence from the same sun and are under the protection of one God. This is the most great unity, and its results are lasting if humanity adheres to it; but mankind has hitherto violated it, adhering to sectarian or other limited unities such as racial, patriotic or unity of self-interests; therefore, no great results have been forthcoming. Nevertheless, it is certain that the radiance and favors of God are encompassing, minds have developed, perceptions have become acute, sciences and arts are widespread, and capacity exists for the proclamation and promulgation of the real and ultimate unity of mankind, which will bring forth marvelous results. It will reconcile all religions, make warring nations loving, cause hostile kings to become friendly and bring peace and happiness to the human world. It will cement together the Orient and Occident, remove forever the foundations of war and upraise the ensign of the Most Great Peace. These limited unities are, therefore, signs of that great unity which will make all the human family one by being productive of the attractions of conscience in mankind.

’Abdu’l-Bahá in America, 1912-2012: Calling America to It’s Spiritual Destiny

Each action and word of the Manifestation of God have many meanings – they have no equal

Celebrating the Centenary: The Master in America

Curated by Anne Perry

August 4, 1912


  1. Sockett, Robert, and Jonathan Menon. “The Challenges of Finding ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.” 239 Days in America, 4 Aug. 2012, https://239days.com/2012/08/04/the-challenges-of-finding-abdul-baha/.
  2. ’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=6#section133
  3. 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, 191 https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/14#450919860

239 Days in America, Day 29: May 09, 1912 | Washington, D.C.

It’s Not All Sunshine and Roses 1

Other churches in Washington also objected to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The Washington Post reported on April 29 that Methodists were praying for him — that he would see the light and go home. The Rev. Dr. James Montgomery told his congregation at the Metropolitan Memorial M. E. Church that he wished that “some of those who have listened to Abdul’s lectures would take the role of teacher themselves, and convert to Christ this remarkable priest of the ‘universal cult.’ ” While ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was “doubtless sincere,” he said, he hoped that becoming a Christian would enable him to “return to his Eastern home a greater man.”

Just four days ago, Dr. Ernest C. Smith reminded his congregation at St. Thomas’s Church, near Dupont Circle, that “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Nothing good could possibly come out of Persia, he believed, but the bigger problem was that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá raised other religions to the same status as the one taught by Jesus Christ, “whom we dare not compare.” “Because of these things,” Smith said, “the only Godspeed we can bid him is a Godspeed back to his own country.”

In spite of these reports, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá doesn’t seem at all perturbed by the negative press. He told one friend that he doesn’t worry about criticism. “The denunciation by the leaders of religion,” he said, “is a proof of the greatness and influence of the Cause because no one pays any attention to something insignificant.”

Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C.

On Thursday, May 9, people came to Him all day long. Many ministers invited Him to speak in their churches. When a few spoke against Him, He observed, “‘I deal with people very gently that they may not turn away and raise the least objection. Yet these ministers have accused us of atheism…’”. 2 3

Talk at Hotel Schenley, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 7 May 1912

The fourth principle or teaching of Bahá’u’lláh is the readjustment and equalization of the economic standards of mankind. This deals with the question of human livelihood. It is evident that under present systems and conditions of government the poor are subject to the greatest need and distress while others more fortunate live in luxury and plenty far beyond their actual necessities. This inequality of portion and privilege is one of the deep and vital problems of human society. That there is need of an equalization and apportionment by which all may possess the comforts and privileges of life is evident. The remedy must be legislative readjustment of conditions. The rich too must be merciful to the poor, contributing from willing hearts to their needs without being forced or compelled to do so. The composure of the world will be assured by the establishment of this principle in the religious life of mankind.

The fifth principle or teaching of Bahá’u’lláh is the abandoning of religious, racial, patriotic and political prejudices, which destroy the foundations of human society. All mankind are creatures and servants of the one God. The surface of the earth is one home; humanity is one family and household. Distinctions and boundaries are artificial, human. Why should there be discord and strife among men? All must become united and coordinated in service to the world of humanity. 4

Thursday, May 9, 1912 5

There was a continuous going and coming of visitors at the Master’s house from morning until noon. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had lunch at Mrs Parsons’s, where in the afternoon He received many people. In the evening He addressed a well-attended meeting, speaking on the principles and tenets of the Faith and counseling the friends to pay no attention to those who objected to the Cause. As the fame of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the Cause spread, certain narrow-minded ministers had, out of jealously, raised their voices in opposition. At the end of the meeting the Master said:

“Although I pay great respect to the feelings of people in order that they may not run away or make the least objection, yet the religious ministers of Washington have denounced us.”

Then He said:

“The denunciation by the leaders of religion is a proof of the greatness and influence of the Cause because no one pays any attention to something insignificant.”

Today various clergymen invited the Master to honor their churches by addressing their congregations. He told them that He was unable to accept because He had limited time but that He would be returning to Washington DC.

  1. Menon, Jonathan. “It’s Not All Sunshine and Roses.” 239 Days in America, May 9, 2012. https://239days.com/2012/05/09/its-not-all-sunshine-and-roses/.
  2. Bagdadi, Zia. “‘Abdu’l-Bahá in America,” Star of the West, 19, no. 5. (Aug. 1928) 141.
  3. Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 64.
  4. 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, 107-108. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/7#904155405
  5. ’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=3#section46.

239 Days in America, Day 13: April 23, 1912 | Washington, DC

This Shining Colored Man 1

Reverend Wilbur Patterson Thirkield, Howard’s eighth President, introduced ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. “This was a most notable occasion,” wrote Joseph Hannen, who was also in the audience, “and here, as everywhere when both white and colored people were present, Abdul-Baha seemed happiest. The address was received with breathless attention by the vast audience, and was followed by a positive ovation and a recall.” 2 3

‘Abdu’l-Bahá began by drawing attention to the diversity in the room. “Today I am happy,” he said, “for I see . . . white and black sitting together.” He then proceeded to reject prevailing black and white views about the essentialism of race — the popular belief that a person’s race was central to his or her humanity:

There are no whites and blacks before God. All colors are one, and that is the color of servitude to God. Scent and color are not important. The heart is important. If the heart is pure, white or black or any color makes no difference. 4

Washington D. C. 5

From Howard University He rode to the Persian Embassy, where Ali-Kuli Khan was preparing a reception. ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá went upstairs to rest and to grant a few private interviews, including conversations with Admiral Peary and Alexander Graham Bell. Mrs. Hebe Struven, who helped arrange the affair, recalling it years later, said that after the place cards had been arranged at the plates to seat people by strict Washington protocol, ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá at the last minute gathered them all up, shuffled and redistributed them, and then brought Louis G. Gregory to the place of honor at the head of the table in the otherwise all-white gathering. He thus—literally in this gather and symbolically for all occasions—abolished racial prejudice and social segregation.

Talk at Home of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur J. Parsons, 1700 Eighteenth Street, NW, Washington, D.C., 23 April 1912

…Although such an event is indeed regrettable, we must realize that everything which happens is due to some wisdom and that nothing happens without a reason. Therein is a mystery; but whatever the reason and mystery, it was a very sad occurrence, one which brought tears to many eyes and distress to many souls. I was greatly affected by this disaster. Some of those who were lost voyaged on the Cedric with us as far as Naples and afterward sailed upon the other ship. When I think of them, I am very sad indeed. But when I consider this calamity in another aspect, I am consoled by the realization that the worlds of God are infinite; that though they were deprived of this existence, they have other opportunities in the life beyond, even as Christ has said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” They were called away from the temporary and transferred to the eternal; they abandoned this material existence and entered the portals of the spiritual world. Foregoing the pleasures and comforts of the earthly, they now partake of a joy and happiness far more abiding and real, for they have hastened to the Kingdom of God. The mercy of God is infinite, and it is our duty to remember these departed souls in our prayers and supplications that they may draw nearer and nearer to the Source itself. 6

Talk to Bethel Literary Society, Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, M Street, NW, Washington, D.C.

All blessings are divine in origin, but none can be compared with this power of intellectual investigation and research, which is an eternal gift producing fruits of unending delight. Man is ever partaking of these fruits. All other blessings are temporary; this is an everlasting possession. Even sovereignty has its limitations and overthrow; this is a kingship and dominion which none may usurp or destroy. Briefly, it is an eternal blessing and divine bestowal, the supreme gift of God to man. Therefore, you should put forward your most earnest efforts toward the acquisition of science and arts. The greater your attainment, the higher your standard in the divine purpose. The man of science is perceiving and endowed with vision, whereas he who is ignorant and neglectful of this development is blind. The investigating mind is attentive, alive; the callous and indifferent mind is deaf and dead. A scientific man is a true index and representative of humanity, for through processes of inductive reasoning and research he is informed of all that appertains to humanity, its status, conditions and happenings. He studies the human body politic, understands social problems and weaves the web and texture of civilization. In fact, science may be likened to a mirror wherein the infinite forms and images of existing things are revealed and reflected. It is the very foundation of all individual and national development. Without this basis of investigation, development is impossible. Therefore, seek with diligent endeavor the knowledge and attainment of all that lies within the power of this wonderful bestowal. 7

How shall we utilize these gifts and expend these bounties? By directing our efforts toward the unification of the human race. We must use these powers in establishing the oneness of the world of humanity, appreciate these virtues by accomplishing the unity of whites and blacks, devote this divine intelligence to the perfecting of amity and accord among all branches of the human family so that under the protection and providence of God the East and West may hold each other’s hands and become as lovers. Then will mankind be as one nation, one race and kind—as waves of one ocean. Although these waves may differ in form and shape, they are waves of the same sea. Flowers may be variegated in colors, but they are all flowers of one garden. Trees differ though they grow in the same orchard. All are nourished and quickened into life by the bounty of the same rain, all grow and develop by the heat and light of the one sun, all are refreshed and exhilarated by the same breeze that they may bring forth varied fruits. This is according to the creative wisdom. If all trees bore the same kind of fruit, it would cease to be delicious. In their never-ending variety man finds enjoyment instead of monotony. 8

Tuesday, April 23, 1912

Today the Master went to Howard University, an educational institution for blacks. The hosts (mostly black with a few whites) had made special arrangements so that when the Master arrived He was welcomed by music from a band while the audience applauded with excitement and exuberance. It is difficult to describe the scene adequately. The president of the university was very cordial and introduced ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as the Prophet of Peace and the harbinger of unity and salvation. Then the Master rose from His seat and spoke on the subject of the harmony between blacks and whites and the unity of humankind. The audience repeatedly applauded Him during the talk, delighted at His words. At the conclusion, the president of the university thanked ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on behalf of all those gathered. As He left the auditorium, group after group formed two lines, one on each side, all showing their highest respect by bowing and waving their hats and handkerchiefs in farewell to the beloved Master.

’ Abdu’l-Bahá had lunch at the home of Ali Kuli Khan. Several believers were present, including ourselves. 9 10 11

There was a public meeting in the afternoon at the same house. The majority attending the meeting were ladies from high society. At this meeting the Master spoke about the education and improvement of women and the promotion of unity and peace in the world of humanity. After the meeting several new people arrived and sat for a brief time in the Master’s presence. They so enjoyed His company they did not want to leave.

In the evening, close to bedtime, when the Master was alone and extremely tired from the day’s activities, He prayed, praising and thanking the Blessed Beauty. On one occasion He said:

“We must offer thanks to the Blessed Beauty because it is His help that has stirred the people; it is His grace that has changed the hearts. The assistance of the Abhá Kingdom has transformed a drop into a mighty ocean. The aid of the Most High has turned a gnat into an eagle, has invested an ant with the power of a Solomon and has caused the debased one to become a source of eternal honor.’”

A third meeting was held this evening in a black church. All those present paid Him the highest respect and were delighted to hear about the new teachings. The Master’s talk, they felt, gave them honor and would cause them to progress. As is customary at churches, there was a collection and the Master made a contribution. 12

  1. Menon, Jonathan. “This Shining Colored Man.” 239 Days in America, April 23, 2012. https://239days.com/2012/04/23/this-shining-colored-man/.
  2. Hannen, Joseph H. “Abdul-Baha in Washington, D.C.” Star of the West, April 28, 1912, 6-8.
  3. Buck, Christopher. “Public Discourse on Race: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Howard University Speech.” PDF presented at the Centenary of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Visit to North America, Louhelen Bahá’í School, Davison, Michigan, February 11, 2012. https://bahai-library.com/pdf/b/buckabdulbahahowardlouhelen.pdf.
  4. 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, 44. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/3#098175321.
  5. Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 40-41.
  6. 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, 46-47. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/3#242218565
  7. 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, 50. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/3#325690063.
  8. 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, 51. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/3#838638236.
  9. Hutchison, Sandra Lynn. ’Abdu’l-Baha in America: The Diary of Agnes Parsons. Edited by Richard Hollinger. Los Angeles: Kalimát Press, 1996, 31. https://archive.org/details/abdulbahainameri0000pars/page/30/mode/2up.
  10. Ober, Harlan F. “Louis G. Gregory.” Bahá’í World, 1956, 666-670.
  11. Thompson, Juliet. The Diary of Juliet Thompson. Edited by Marzieh Gail. 1st ed. 1947. Reprint, Los Angeles: Kalimát Press, 1983, 269. https://archive.org/details/diaryofjuliettho0000thom/page/268/mode/2up
  12. Mahmud-i-Zarqani, Mirza. 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=2#section30