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The following is an excerpt of the article at www.iranica.com/articles/abd-al-baha. See a partial critique of this article in Western Islamic Scholarship and Bahá'í Origins.

'Abdu'l-Bahá:
Life and Teachings

by Alessandro Bausani and Denis MacEoin

published in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Volume 1:1, pages 103-104
New York: Columbia University, 1985
ʿABD-AL-BAHĀʾ, epithet assumed by ʿAbbās Effendi, the eldest son of Bahāʾallāh, founder of the Bahaʾi movement. The epithet means “servant of the glory of God” or “servant of Bahāʾallāh.”

1. Life and Work

by Alessandro Bausani

ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ was born in Tehran on 23 May 1844. He accompanied his father into exile. At the latter’s death, the great majority of Bahaʾis recognized him, in accordance with Bahāʾallāh’s will (Ketāb ʿahdī), as the authorized interpreter of his father’s writings, as Center of the Covenant (markaz-e ʿahd or markaz-e mīṯāq) and Model of Bahaʾi Life. This will, however, was contested by Moḥammad ʿAlī, Bahāʾallāh’s younger son; he set up a rival group within the Bahaʾi organization and contrived to compromise his brother with the Ottoman authorities, who were hostile to the Bahaʾis. ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ was released from prison in 1908 under the amnesty granted by the new Young Turks government, and in 1910 he began his three great missionary journeys. The first was to Egypt (1910), the second to Europe (Paris, London, 1911), and the third to the United States and Europe (1912-13). In America he spent eight months preaching in evangelical churches, synagogues, Masonic lodges, and the like from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco. In September, 1912, he returned to England and continued on to France, Germany, Austria, and Hungary. At the end of 1913, he returned to Palestine from Paris.

The first Bahaʾi group in America had already been formed in 1894; and the first Bahaʾi pilgrims from the United States had reached ʿAkkā (Acre) on 10 December 1898. The journey of ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ in 1912, intended partly to counter the propaganda of his brother’s supporters in America, strengthened the community of American adherents. It also aroused great interest in various circles in Europe, where Bahaʾi communities were now formed. Toward the end of World War I, the Ottoman authorities, aroused by enemies of ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ and by his pacifist attitudes, seriously menaced his life. In 1920 he was made a knight of the Order of the British Empire. He died at Haifa on 28 November 1921 and was buried beside the Bāb (his mausoleum was completed in 1957). In his will, ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ appointed his eldest grandson, Šowqī Effendi Rabbānī (eldest son of his eldest daughter), as Guardian of the Cause of God (valī-e amr Allāh).

The works of ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ fall into two groups: his direct writings and speeches, lectures, and table talk as noted down by his followers. In the first group, the following are of special interest. 1. Resāla-ye madanīya (“Epistle on civilization”), written in Persian before 1875 and published in Bombay, 1310/1892-93, is a treatise on the philosophy of history and civilization from a Bahaʾi viewpoint. Two translations are available, one by Dawud, The Mysterious Forces of Civilization, London, 1910 (2nd ed., Chicago, 1918), and a more recent and accurate version by M. Gail, The Secret of Divine Civilization, Wilmette, 1957. 2. Maqāla-ye šaḵṣī sayyāḥ is a work in Persian, probably written in 1886, that does not bear the author’s name. It was translated, with notes and appendixes, by E. G. Browne in A Traveler’s Narrative Written to Illustrate the Episode of the Bāb, and published with the Persian text in 2 vols. (Vol. 1 being a facsimile edition of the Persian text), Cambridge, 1891. 3. Resāla-ye sīāsīya (“Epistle on politics”), written in Persian in 1893, published with n.p. and n.d. 4. Taḏkerat al-wafāʾ is an account in Persian of the lives of some of the early Babi and Bahaʾi believers who died in the author’s lifetime. It was written in 1915 and published in Haifa in 1924. M. Gail has made an English translation, Memorials of the Faithful, Wilmette, Illinois, 1971. 5. A large number of tablets (alvāḥ) or epistles are addressed to various persons in East and West. The original Arabic and Persian texts were collected as Makātīb-e ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ , 3 vols., Cairo, 1910-21; in English, Tablets of ʿAbdu’l-Bahāʾ, ed. Windust, 3 vols., Chicago, 1909, 1915, and 1916, respectively. The collection and publication of the epistles of ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ have continued in Tehran (IV, 1343 Š./1964; V, 1344 Š./1965; VI, 1345 Š./1966; VII, 1346 Š./1967; VIII, 1347 Š./1968-69?).

The second group includes: 6. Al-Nūr al-abhā fī mofāważāt ḥażrat-e ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ , table talk with Mrs. Laura Barney in ʿAkkā. The Persian text was published in London in 1908 and again in 1920. Mrs. Clifford’s translation, Some Answered Questions, was published in London in 1908 and has often been reprinted (a French translation, Les leçons de Saint-Jean-d’Acre by H. Dreyfus, was published in Paris the same year). The Bahaʾi interpretation of Christian dogmas and beliefs in this book are particularly interesting. 7. Paris Talks: Addresses Given by ʿAbd-ul-Bahāʾ in Paris 1911-12, London, 1923, 9th ed., London, 1951 (various other ed., also under the title The Wisdom of ʿAbd-ul-Bahāʾ ). 8. ʿAbd-ul-Bahāʾ in London (various ed.). 9. The Promulgation of Universal Peace, 2 vols., Chicago, 1922-25, contains addresses given in the United States. A Persian collection of the European and American speeches was published in Cairo in 1340/1921.


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