‘Abdu’l-Bahá Says Farewell to America 1
‘ABDU’L-BAHÁ STEPPED OUT of his cabin on the Promenade Deck and set off down the corridor toward the ship’s bow. He and his party swept through the main foyer — bustling with passengers preparing for departure — up a flight of stairs to the Boat Deck, and then into the first-class lounge on the top of the ship. It was already overflowing when he reached it. More than 100 people had boarded the liner on this Thursday morning, December 5, 1912, to capture a final moment with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá before he set sail for Liverpool.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá moved among the tables, speaking a few final words to this person and then to that, offering to some of them a rose. As the top of the hour approached he stood and began to speak in his deep resonant Persian, the sentences translated into English, one by one, as he intoned them.
“The earth is one native land, one home; and all mankind are the children of one Father,” he said. “God has created them, and they are the recipients of His compassion. Therefore, if anyone offends another, he offends God. It is the wish of our heavenly Father that every heart should rejoice and be filled with happiness, that we should live together in felicity and joy. The obstacle to human happiness is racial or religious prejudice, the competitive struggle for existence and inhumanity toward each other.”
Soft sounds of sobbing unsettled the surrounding silence.
“Until man reaches this high station,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, “the world of humanity shall not find rest, and eternal felicity shall not be attained. But if man lives up to these divine commandments, this world of earth shall be transformed into the world of heaven, and this material sphere shall be converted into a paradise of glory. It is my hope that you may become successful in this high calling so that like brilliant lamps you may cast light upon the world of humanity and quicken and stir the body of existence like unto a spirit of life. This is eternal glory. This is everlasting felicity. This is immortal life. This is heavenly attainment. This is being created in the image and likeness of God.”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá then took a seat in the corner of the room, and the guests gathered round, continuing to converse until the moment finally came for them to disembark. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá walked out along the side of the Boat Deck. He leaned on the railing with his right arm and looked down at the crowd gazing back at him. When the clock struck noon, the Celtic’s engines began to hum. The great ship began to move slowly astern, the crowd on the pier tracking ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s white turban as the vessel pulled slowly backward into the flowing waters of the Hudson. Once the ship had cleared the dock, the pilot turned his wheel to the right, then reversed the engines and steamed south with the current, past the rising skyscrapers of downtown.
Final Days in America: New York City 2
Finally, Thursday, December 5, the day of departure from America came. Two hundred thirty-nine days had passed while Abdu’l-Bahá traveled across the North American continent, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, proclaiming Bahá’u’lláh’s Message for a new Era, promulgating universal peace, communicating to the hearts, opening spiritual eyes and ears and minds, deepening the friends, with little rest, in railway cars, assembly halls, His private rooms, the homes of the friends, and glittering embassies. He had cut across the forms and fetters of social class, race, and color. He had talked to university students and Bowery inhabitants; attended a Broadway play; toured the Hearst estate; and conversed with former President Theodore Roosevelt, inventor Alexander Graham Bell, and politicians, scientists, industrialists, and clergymen. He had chided reporters and joked with admirals and Supreme Court Justices; had spoken of Christ in synagogues and of Muhammad in churches; had been picketed at a meeting and evicted from His home; had refused lavish gifts; had bestowed tokens of wealth on the poor; had maintained an incredible flow of correspondence; and had notified repressed brethren in the East of victories in the West. He had loved the friends and disciplined them; had been gentle and firm; had walked with them through parks and a zoo; and had ridden in their cars and on streetcars and trains; and as He gazed on green valleys, towering mountains, and rushing rivers, had called to memory the Blessed Perfection. He had uplifted, praised, and encouraged every sign of spiritual development shown by each soul.
In His autumn years that recalled a spring when there had been no classroom but the prison cell and the home of exile and not teacher but His Father, He had amazed experts in a variety of fields with His sagacity and wisdom. The Teachings of the perfect Instructor Bahá’u’lláh—a thousand or thousands of years of spiritual potential for the planet channeled into that single human form—were reflected in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the perfect Pupil, the kind and simple, the saintly, the single-minded, laughing, enduring mystery of a Man, who had been appointed by that same Instructor as the pilot of the Covenant of God with all the earth. He performed in each small action the seed-planting for a millennium. The Exemplar, the Master, the Servant was now to leave the shores of America and return to the Threshold of the Holy Tomb of Bahá’u’lláh to serve out His remaining years on earth. All the future, all the coming ages, all the children yet unborn would be dependent on the spiritual threads He had woven during His journeys across this and other lands. Not one breath would be drawn in the future centuries, not one word spoken or deed performed in that earth-wide, centuries-long tapestry of the World order of Bahá’u’lláh, whose strands would not ultimately reach back to the Divine Loom of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the Center of the Covenant.
Thursday, December 05, 1912 3
A great number of believers from New York and other cities came to the S. S. Celtic to bid farewell to their beloved. The tears in their eyes bespoke of their great sorrow. The sobs and lamentations of both the young and the old could be heard from afar. Although the first class lounge was quite large, it could not contain the crowd of believers. Some were sitting and others standing outside the lounge. As He moved among the friends, the Master spoke to them with words of exhortation and admonition, consoling their hearts as He bade them farewell. He guided the sorrowing ones onto the path of everlasting happiness and reminding them of the glad tidings of the Abhá Kingdom until the time came for the friends to depart. He then spoke His parting words:
“He is God! This is our last day and my last meeting with you. In a few minutes our steamer will leave these shores and this is my last exhortation to you. I have repeatedly spoken to you and invited you to realize the oneness of humanity. I have impressed upon you that all human beings are the servants of the same God and God is kind to all; He provides for all and gives life to all. In the presence of God all are His servants and His bounties are equally distributed among all. We must also be kind to the people of the world and forget all religious, racial, patriotic and political prejudices. The whole earth is one globe. All nations are one family. All are the servants of one God. Therefore he who causes grief to another’s heart has sinned against the Lord. God desired the joy of all hearts. He wishes that every individual may pass his life in utmost happiness and felicity and should abandon religious, racial, patriotic and political prejudices. Praise be to God! Your eyes are illumined, your ears are opened and your hearts are informed. You must not entertain these prejudices and differences. You must look to the bounty of God. He is the real Shepherd who is kind to the whole flock. When God is kind to all, is it befitting that we, who are His servants, should engage in war and conflict with one another? No, by God! We must be grateful to God and the way to express gratitude for His bounty is to love each other, show amity and affection and evince friendship and kindness toward all.
“In brief, beware, lest you offend any heart or engage in backbiting. You must be friends to all and regard all as your own kith and kin. Your supreme object must always be to bring pleasure to a heart, to give food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, honor to the degraded, help to the helpless and comfort to the distressed. This is the way to win the good pleasure of God. This is that which is conducive to eternal happiness. This is the light of the world of man. As I wish eternal honor for you, so I exhort you with these words.
“Behold what is happening in the Balkans! Human blood is being spilt! How many children are rendered orphans! How ruthlessly properties are looted! What a fire is aflame! God has created them to love one another but they are shedding one another’s blood. God created them to help and assist one another but they are engaged in plunder and destruction. Instead of being a cause of comfort to their kind, they persecute one another. Make your motives lofty and exert with heart and soul every effort; perchance, the light of universal peace may shine forth and this gloom of estrangement be dispelled. May all human beings become one family and every individual seek the welfare of all. May the East help the West and the West assist the East, for the whole earth is one country and all its people are under the favor and protection of one Shepherd.
“Behold! What persecutions have the Prophets of God suffered so that human beings may love one another and cling to the cord of love and unity. These sanctified souls ever sacrificed themselves for this aim. But behold! How ignorant is man! In spite of all these sufferings, people are warring against one another. Notwithstanding all the exhortations, they are massacring one another. What ignorance! What heedlessness! What gloom! They have a God who deals kindly and equally with all yet they move and act against His good pleasure. He is benevolent and merciful to all but they are in utmost hatred and war. He gives life to all but they bring death. He brings prosperity to the countries but they destroy one another’s households. How heedless they are! Your duties are different because you have been informed of the divine mysteries and your eyes and ears are opened. You are to deal kindly with all the people of the world. You have no excuse before God. You know that the pleasure of God lies in the welfare and prosperity of all. You have hearkened unto His words of advice, His exhortations and His teachings. You must love all, even your enemies. To those who show you ill-will show them your good-will. To those who oppose you be a faithful friend. You should act according to these teachings. Perchance, the abysmal gloom of war and bloodshed may vanish; the light of God may shine forth; the East may be enlightened; the West may be filled with fragrance; the North and the South may embrace each other; and the nations of the world may associate with one another in utmost love and amity! Unless the world reaches this station, it can find no rest, no enduring happiness.
“But if men act according to these holy teachings, the world of dust shall reflect the lights of the Kingdom and the earth shall become the Abhá paradise, a garden of blissful joy. I hope that each one of you will be assisted to act according to these teachings so that, like a brilliant star, you may give light to humanity and like a spirit move the body of the contingent world. This is eternal glory! This is everlasting happiness! This is the image and likeness of God and unto this I call you! I pray God that you may attain it.
When the passengers and officers of the steamer heard this address and saw the devotion of the friends, they were overwhelmed and asked themselves, ‘What is it? Who is this personage in whose presence the Americans stand with such reverence and humility?’ Young and old alike were like moths to a candle, circling about the light of the Covenant.
One by one the friends came to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to shake His hand, to take hold of the mantle of His grace and favor and to supplicate His assistance and confirmation. Then, in great sorrow, they left the ship. They stood on the wharf, weeping and overcome by emotion, their heads bowed with grief and their hands lifted towards the heavens in prayer as they gazed their last at the Center of the Covenant. As the steamer moved out to sea, their grief and sadness and the fire of their devotion knew no bounds. The throng of believers, stretching as far as the eye could see, waved farewell to the Master, now far in the distance. And He said:
“Observe how the power of the Cause of God has created a tumult in the hearts and what a revolution it has produced. See how the aid and assistance of the Abhá Beauty have reached us constantly and invariably the lights of victory have shone from the supreme horizon. These have been from the promised confirmations of the Kingdom of God and the assistance of the invisible sovereignty of the Abhá Beauty, which He has promised clearly in the verse, ‘Verily, We behold you from Our realm of Glory, and shall aid whosoever will arise for the triumph of Our Cause with the hosts of the Concourse on high and a company of Our favored angels.’”
The events that took place during ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s travels in Europe and His return to the East are recorded in the second volume of this book.
Talk on Day of Departure, On Board Steamship Celtic, New York 4
This is my last meeting with you, for now I am on the ship ready to sail away. These are my final words of exhortation. I have repeatedly summoned you to the cause of the unity of the world of humanity, announcing that all mankind are the servants of the same God, that God is the creator of all; He is the Provider and Life-giver; all are equally beloved by Him and are His servants upon whom His mercy and compassion descend. Therefore, you must manifest the greatest kindness and love toward the nations of the world, setting aside fanaticism, abandoning religious, national and racial prejudice.
The earth is one native land, one home; and all mankind are the children of one Father. God has created them, and they are the recipients of His compassion. Therefore, if anyone offends another, he offends God. It is the wish of our heavenly Father that every heart should rejoice and be filled with happiness, that we should live together in felicity and joy. The obstacle to human happiness is racial or religious prejudice, the competitive struggle for existence and inhumanity toward each other.
Your eyes have been illumined, your ears are attentive, your hearts knowing. You must be free from prejudice and fanaticism, beholding no differences between the races and religions. You must look to God, for He is the real Shepherd, and all humanity are His sheep. He loves them and loves them equally. As this is true, should the sheep quarrel among themselves? They should manifest gratitude and thankfulness to God, and the best way to thank God is to love one another.
Beware lest ye offend any heart, lest ye speak against anyone in his absence, lest ye estrange yourselves from the servants of God. You must consider all His servants as your own family and relations. Direct your whole effort toward the happiness of those who are despondent, bestow food upon the hungry, clothe the needy, and glorify the humble. Be a helper to every helpless one, and manifest kindness to your fellow creatures in order that ye may attain the good pleasure of God. This is conducive to the illumination of the world of humanity and eternal felicity for yourselves. I seek from God everlasting glory in your behalf; therefore, this is my prayer and exhortation.
Consider what is happening in the Balkans. Human blood is being shed, properties are destroyed, possessions pillaged, cities and villages devastated. A world-enkindling fire is astir in the Balkans. God has created men to love each other; but instead, they kill each other with cruelty and bloodshed. God has created them that they may cooperate and mingle in accord; but instead, they ravage, plunder and destroy in the carnage of battle. God has created them to be the cause of mutual felicity and peace; but instead, discord, lamentation and anguish rise from the hearts of the innocent and afflicted.
As to you: Your efforts must be lofty. Exert yourselves with heart and soul so that, perchance, through your efforts the light of universal peace may shine and this darkness of estrangement and enmity may be dispelled from amongst men, that all men may become as one family and consort together in love and kindness, that the East may assist the West and the West give help to the East, for all are the inhabitants of one planet, the people of one original native land and the flocks of one Shepherd.
Consider how the Prophets Who have been sent, the great souls who have appeared and the sages who have arisen in the world have exhorted mankind to unity and love. This has been the essence of their mission and teaching. This has been the goal of their guidance and message. The Prophets, saints, seers and philosophers have sacrificed their lives in order to establish these principles and teachings amongst men. Consider the heedlessness of the world, for notwithstanding the efforts and sufferings of the Prophets of God, the nations and peoples are still engaged in hostility and fighting. Notwithstanding the heavenly commandments to love one another, they are still shedding each other’s blood. How heedless and ignorant are the people of the world! How gross the darkness which envelops them! Although they are the children of a compassionate God, they continue to live and act in opposition to His will and good pleasure. God is loving and kind to all men, and yet they show the utmost enmity and hatred toward each other. God is the Giver of life to them, and yet they constantly seek to destroy life. God blesses and protects their homes; they rage, sack and destroy each other’s homes. Consider their ignorance and heedlessness!
Your duty is of another kind, for you are informed of the mysteries of God. Your eyes are illumined; your ears are quickened with hearing. You must, therefore, look toward each other and then toward mankind with the utmost love and kindness. You have no excuse to bring before God if you fail to live according to His command, for you are informed of that which constitutes the good pleasure of God. You have heard His commandments and precepts. You must, therefore, be kind to all men; you must even treat your enemies as your friends. You must consider your evil-wishers as your well-wishers. Those who are not agreeable toward you must be regarded as those who are congenial and pleasant so that, perchance, this darkness of disagreement and conflict may disappear from amongst men and the light of the divine may shine forth, so that the Orient may be illumined and the Occident filled with fragrance, nay, so that the East and West may embrace each other in love and deal with one another in sympathy and affection. Until man reaches this high station, the world of humanity shall not find rest, and eternal felicity shall not be attained. But if man lives up to these divine commandments, this world of earth shall be transformed into the world of heaven, and this material sphere shall be converted into a paradise of glory. It is my hope that you may become successful in this high calling so that like brilliant lamps you may cast light upon the world of humanity and quicken and stir the body of existence like unto a spirit of life. This is eternal glory. This is everlasting felicity. This is immortal life. This is heavenly attainment. This is being created in the image and likeness of God. And unto this I call you, praying to God to strengthen and bless you.
’Abdu’l-Bahá in America, 1912-2012: Calling America to Its Spiritual Destiny
Celebrating the Centenary: The Master in America
Curated by Anne Perry
- Menon, Jonathan. “‘Abdu’l-Bahá Says Farewell to America.” 239 Days in America, 6 Dec. 2012, https://239days.com/2012/12/05/abdul-baha-says-farewell-to-america/. ↩
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 193-195. ↩
- ’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=10#section257 ↩
- 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, 468-470. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/33#435933475 ↩