Abdu'l-Baha - childhood

Our grief was intense when my father left us. He told none of us either where he was going or when he would return. He took no luggage, only a little rice, and some coarse bread. So we, my mother, my brother ‘Abbas and I, clung together in our sorrow and anxiety. Subh-i-Azal [Mírzá Yahyá] rejoiced, hoping to gain his ends, now that Jamal-i-Mubarak [Bahá’u’lláh] was no longer present. Meanwhile, he was a guest in our house. He gave us much trouble, complaining of the food. Though all the best and most dainty things were invariably given to him. He became at this time more than ever terrified lest he should one day be arrested. He hid himself, keeping the door of our house locked, and stormed at anybody who opened it.
(Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)
As for me, I led a very lonely life, and would have liked sometimes to make friends with other children. But Subh-i-Azal would not permit any little friends to come to the house, neither would he let me go out! Two little girls about my own age lived in the next house. I used to peep at them; but our guest always came and shouted at me for opening the door, which he promptly locked. He was always in fear of being arrested, and cared for nothing but his own safety.
(Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)
We led a very difficult life at this time as well as a lonely one. He would not even allow us to go to the Hamman to take our baths. Nobody was permitted to come to the house to help us and the work therefore was very hard. For hours every day I had to stand drawing water from a deep well in the house; the ropes were hard and rough, and the bucket was heavy. My dear mother used to help, but she was not very strong, and my arms were rather weak. Our guest never helped.
My father having told us to respect and obey this tyrannical person, we tried to do so, but this respect was not easy, as our lives were made so unhappy by him.
During this time the darling baby brother, born after our arrival in Baghdad, became seriously ill. Our guest would not allow a doctor, or even any neighbour to come to our help. My mother was heart-broken when the little one died; even then we were not allowed to have anybody to prepare him for burial. The sweet body of our beautiful baby was given to a man, who took it away, and we never knew even where he was laid. I remember so clearly the sorrow of those days.
(Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)
A little while after this, we moved into a larger house - fortunately Subh-i-Azal was too terrified of being seen, if he came with us - so he preferred to occupy a little house behind ours. We still sent his food to him, also provided for his family now increased, as he had married another wife, a girl from a neighbouring village. His presence was thus happily removed from our daily life; we were relieved and much happier.
(Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)


I have stated that my brother [‘Abdu’l-Bahá]was deeply attached to his father [Bahá’u’lláh]; this attachment seemed to strengthen with his growth. After our father’s departure he fell into great despondency. He would go away by himself, and, when sought for, be found weeping, often falling into such paroxysms of grief that no one could console him. His chief occupation at this time was copying and committing to memory the tablets of the Báb.
(Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)


When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1913, He related an incident from His early childhood: ‘It is good to be a spreader of the Teachings of God in childhood. I was a teacher in this Cause at the age of this child (eight or nine years). This reminds me of a story. There was a man, highly educated, but not a Bahá’í. I, but a child, was to make of him a believer. The brother of this man brought him to me. I stayed with him, to teach him. He said, “I am not convinced, I am not satisfied.” I answered, “If water were offered to a thirsty one, he would drink and be satisfied. He would take the glass. But you are not thirsty. Were you thirsty, then you too would be satisfied. A man with seeing eyes sees. I can speak of the sun to every seeing one, and say it is a sign of the day; but a blind person would not be convinced because he cannot see the sun. If I say to a man with good hearing, listen to the beautiful music, he would then listen and be made happy thereby. But if you play the most beautiful music in the presence of a deaf man, he would hear nothing. Now go and receive seeing eyes and hearing ears, then I will speak further with you on this subject.” He went; but later he returned. Then he understood and became a good Bahá’í. This happened when I was very young.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 118)


During these years Abbas Effendi was accustomed to frequent the mosques and argue with the doctors and learned men. They were astonished at his knowledge and acumen, and he came to be known as the youthful sage. They would ask him, ‘Who is your teacher - where do you learn the things which you say?’ His reply was that his father had taught him. Although he had never been a day in school, he was as proficient in all that was taught as well-educated young men, which was the cause of much remark among those who knew him.
(Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khanum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi, p. 25)


‘Abdu’l-Bahá, then only eight years old, was broken-hearted at the ruthless treatment of His adored Father. The child suffered agonies, as a description of the tortures was related in His hearing - the cruel scourging of the feet, the long miles Bahá’u’lláh had to walk afterwards, barefooted, heavy chains cutting into the delicate flesh, the loathsome prison; the excruciating anxiety lest His very life should be taken - made a load of suffering, piteous for so young and sensitive a child to endure.
All the former luxury of the family was at an end, deserted as they were by relations and friends. Homeless, utterly impoverished, engulfed in trouble, and misery, suffering from sheer want and extraordinary privations - such were the conditions under which His childhood’s life was spent.
These things counted not at all whilst He was with His Father; so that the exile and the earlier days in Baghdad were happy, in spite of outside miseries. But when Bahá’u’lláh retreated into the wilderness of Sulaymaniyyih the dear child was beside Himself with grief. He occupied Himself with copying those Tablets of the Bab which had remained with them. He tried to help His dear mother, Asiyih Khanum, in her arduous tasks.
During this time He was taken by His uncle, Mirza Musa, to some of the meetings of the friends. There He spoke to them with a marvellous eloquence, even at that early age of eleven or twelve years. The friends wondered at His wisdom and the beauty of His person, which equalled that of His mind.
He prayed without ceasing for the return of Bahá’u’lláh. He would sometimes spend a whole night through praying a certain prayer. One day after a night so spent they found a clue! Very soon the Beloved One returned! Now His joy was as great as His grief had been!
Many were the gatherings of the friends on the banks of the Tigris, to which the young boy was taken by His Father. These meetings, necessarily secret, were not His greatest pleasure. He drank in the teaching of divine things which were to educate the world, with an understanding of universal conceptions astounding in such a young child. So life went on; He grew into a beautiful youth, beloved by all who knew Him.
(Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)


The absence of my father had covered a little more than two years. After his return the fame which he had acquired in the mountains reached Baghdad, and not only Bábís but many others came to hear his teachings; and many, also, merely out of curiosity to see him. As he wished for retirement these curiosity seekers were a great trouble and annoyance to him. This aroused my brother and he declared that he would protect his father from such intrusions. Accordingly he prepared two placards, one for the door of his own room, which read, ‘Those who come for information may apply within; those who come only because of curiosity had better stay away‘; the other for the door of his father’s room, of which the purport was, ‘Let those who are searching for God come, and come, and come.’ Then he announced that he himself would first see those who came. If he found that they were genuine truth-seekers he admitted them to his father’s presence; otherwise he did not permit them to see him.
(Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khanum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi, p. 24-25)


The childhood and youth of my brother [‘Abdu’l-Bahá]was, in fact, in all respects unusual. He did not care for play or for amusement like other children. He would not go to school, nor would he apply himself to study. Horseback riding was the only diversion of which he was fond; in that he became proficient, being reputed to be a very skilful horseman.
(Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)