Generosity

It is told that in the home of Bahá’u’lláh there was a beautiful rug upon which He used to sit. One day a poor Arab brought a load of wood to the house. He saw the rug and was very much attracted by its beauty. He handled it with great appreciation and exclaimed, “Oh, how wonderful it must be to have such a splendid rug to sit upon!’ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá heard him and said, ‘If you like the rug, take it.’
The man could not believe it was really a gift. Fearing he would lose it, he put it over his shoulder and began to run, looking back to see if anyone was coming to take it from him. With delicious humour ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, ‘Go on, no one is going to take it away from you.’
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 70)


On the occasion of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s first dinner in the home of Lady Bloomfield in London His hostess had prepared course after course in her eagerness to please Him. Afterwards He gently commented: ‘The food was delicious and the fruit and flowers were lovely, but would that we could share some of the courses with those poor and hungry people who have not even one.’ Thereafter the dinners were greatly simplified. Flowers and fruit remained in abundance, for those were often brought to the Master as small love tokens.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)


To a minister who came to call on the Master in the Maxwell Home in Montreal, ‘‘Abdu’l-Bahá presented an armful of gorgeous American Beauty roses, standing in a tall vase at His side, sending him away with amazement and awe at the regal manners and gentle courtesy of this Prisoner from the East.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 98)


Mary Lucas, a pilgrim to ‘Akka in 1905, found that the Master gave away all the many gifts which were sent to Him. ‘A story is told of a beautiful silver service which was presented to Him, and He did not even look at it. One and another received portions of it until piece by piece it disappeared.
‘A significant incident is that of a wealthy woman who offered Him a sum of money before she left ‘Akka. He refused to accept it, and as the lady pleaded for the privilege of placing it in His hands, He said, at length: “I never accept anything for Myself, but if you wish you may bestow it upon a poor man...for the education of his son.” So the money was used for this purpose.’
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 77)


Once, before the Master’s wife went on a journey, she left a second cloak for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá with one of their daughters, for she feared He would give His away and be caught without one in her absence. The daughter was not to tell her Father about the second cloak, but amazingly, the Master soon asked His daughter if He had another cloak, so the truth had to be told. As was to be expected, He replied, ‘How could I be happy having two cloaks, knowing that there are those that have none?’ He gave the second one away.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 75)


One day ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was going from Akka to Haifa and asked for a seat in the stage coach. The driver, surprised, said ‘Your Excellency surely wishes a private carriage.’ ‘No.’ replied the Master. While He was still in the coach in Haifa, a distressed fisherwoman came to Him; all day she had caught nothing and now must return to her hungry family. The Master gave her five francs, then turned to the driver and said: ‘You now see the reason why I would not take a private carriage. Why should I ride in luxury when so many are starving?’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)


Major Wellesley Tudor-Pole wrote in his diary in 1918, at the time of his visit to the Master, ‘I gave him the Persian camel-hair cloak, and it greatly pleased him, for the winter is here, and he had given away the only cloak he possessed. I made him promise to keep this one through the winter anyway, and I trust he does.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 76)


In a final touching tribute to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s generosity this true story emerged in the 1990s, some 70 years after ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s passing. The Universal House of Justice, the supreme governing Council of the Bahá’í world community, announced a major construction project on Mount Carmel, Haifa, of buildings that would, at last, meet the commands of Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder. Accordingly, a tender was put out for Israeli construction companies to bid for, and a public call for engineers was made by the House of Justice. To everyone’s astonishment, a large number of Arab engineers emerged from the greater Haifa area offering their services. When the bemused Bahá’ís asked them why they had come forward they all said: “The Master, Abbas Effendi (‘Abdu’l-Bahá) gave our grandparents and great-grandparents money to start small businesses. Our family businesses prospered and our families were able to pay for our school and university education. We are here to give something back to Abbas Effendi.”
(Extract from A Presentation on the Centenary of ‘Abdu’l- Bahá’s Visit to the United Kingdom in 1911. Given on 10th September 2011 in Bourne Hall, Ewell Village , Surrey, by Trevor R. J. Finch).



‘Abdu’l-Bahá was up and packed before dawn and calling for the rest of his party to get up. As he left, he gave the hotel manager a one dollar tip for the chambermaid since she was not there at that time.
(Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 190)


Before He went for His drive He gave Jeffrey Boy [Agnes Parsons’ son] a very handsome Persian ink well. At lunch He presented Mr. Parsons with a manuscript book of Bahá’u’lláh done by one of the best Persian writers. It contains very interesting illuminations. Just before or after lunch (I cannot recall the exact time) ‘Abdu’l-Bahá handed me a pair of glasses, asking me to try them on, which I did but was obliged to tell him they did not suit me, so I gave them back to Him, but He put them in the case and handed them to me. Of course, I shall keep them and try them again. It was Mr. Parsons to whom the glasses were given first.
(Agnes Parsons’ Diary, April 22, 1912)


‘Abdu’l-Bahá believed in using medicine as well as spiritual healing. As there was no hospital in Akka, He hired a doctor by the name of Nikolaki Bey. He gave teh doctor a regular salary to look after the very poor, and He asked the doctor not to tell who paid for the service. But always, the poor turned to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá for help. For instance, there was a poor, crippled woman named Na‘um who used to come to ABdu’l-Bahá every week for a gift of money. One day, a man came running; “Oh Master!” he said, “Poor Na‘um has the measles, and everybody is keeping away from her. What can be done?” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá immediately sent a woman to take care of her; He rented a room, put His own bedding in it, called the doctor, sent food and everything she needed. He went to see that she had every attention. And when she died in peace and comfort, He arranged a simple funeral and paid all the expenses Himself.” (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)


‘Abdu’l-Bahá was out with His secretary. A poor, old man passed the inn and the Master asked the secretary to call him back. The man was not only ragged but filthy, but the Master took his hand and smiled at him. They talked together a moment, the Master taking in the whole figure—the man’s trousers hardly served their purpose. The Master laughed gently and stepped into a shadow. The street was quite deserted. He fumbled with the clothes at His waist. When He stopped, His trousers slid down, but He drew His robe around His body and handed His trousers to the poor man with a ‘May God go with you.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 83)


‘Abdu’l-Bahá went out for a walk. As it happened, a collection was being made for charity. Whenever ‘Abdu’l-Bahá met the collectors He gave them money. In the park children were playing, and to them, too, He gave money. Whatever He and His attendants had in their pockets was given away, and He said, laughing, that the people had made them penniless that day.
(H.M. Balyuzi, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá - The Centre of the Covenant, p. 387)


Early Monday morning the household was called together, when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave a short talk and His Blessing. He admonished each one to be faithful and said He had prayed for all. Afterward He gave each servant a handmade silk handkerchief as a souvenir.
(Agnes Parsons’ Diary, April 22, 1912)


One day when the Master was out on a carriage ride near Thonon-les-Bains on Lake Geneva in France, the party stopped for simple refreshments at an old inn nestled between two mountains. Sitting on an open porch, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was soon spotted by children, who were selling bunches of violets and seemed to have eyes only for Him. They clustered around Him. Spontaneously He dug into His pocket and came out with some francs to satisfy His small salesfolk.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 100)


A friend had sent some fur so that the Master could have a good warm coat; He had it cut up and made into twenty caps for the elderly men of the town.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of “‘Abdu’l-Bahá)


‘Abdu’l-Bahá would refuse generous sums of money meant for Himself but would accept a small token of love, such as a handkershief. In London a lady said to the Master, ‘I have here a cheque from a friend, who begs its acceptance to buy a good motor-car for your work in England and Europe.’ To this ‘Abdu’l-Bahá replied, ‘I accept with grateful thanks the gift of your friend.’ He took the cheque into both His hands, as though blessing it, and said, ‘I return it to be used for gifts to the poor.’
On another occasion an American lady wished to donate money to the Master ‘...for his own use or for that of the Cause. He replied that he could not himself accept a gift from her; but that if she wished to do something for him, she should educate the two little girls of a Christian schoolmaster in Haifa, who had recently lost his wife, was very poor, and in much trouble. She accordingly sent these children to a school in Beyrout.’The Bahá’ís in America desired to contribute $18,000 for the Master’s projected trip to their shores. When the funds began to reach the Master, He returned them, asking that they donate the money instead to charity.(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 72)


Somebody had given Him [‘Abdu’l-Bahá] a big cake. He put that in John’s arms, with apples and bananas, so many that John had to get somebody else to push the elevator button, and John left.
(Marzieh Gail, Dawn Over Mount Hira, p. 210)


‘Abdu’l-Bahá visited Henry Birks’ jewelry shop, where He bought small gifts to give to people as He traveled. He always gave small gifts to porters, waiters, chambermaids, and others.
(Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 182)


Mary Lucas, a pilgrim to Akka in 1905, found that the Master usually ate but one simple meal a day. In eight days He was present at most meals, often coming just to add joy to the occasion, though He was not hungry. If He knew of someone who had had no meal during a day, the family supper was gladly packed up and sent to the needy.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)


With all of His spiritual knowledge and vision ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was extremely practical. On His third visit to New York He stayed with the Kinneys at their home on West End Avenue. This was only one block from Riverside Drive, where, often, He would walk. One late afternoon He came back with his snowy ‘aba’ wrapped close around Him and He was laughing. It seemed that on the Drive, he had come across a poor man whose trousers were literally in rags. So ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had taken him behind some thick shrubbery where quickly He had taken off his own trousers, stripped the rags from the man, and got him decently clothed. How amazed that poor man must have been. And how amused ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, who, with his aba wrapped tight around him to hide his trouser less condition came home laughing.
(Reginald Grant Barrow, Mother’s Stories: Stories of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Early Believers told by Muriel Ives Barrow Newhall to her son, p. 40)


Before a winter’s cold took hold of ‘Akka, the Master would go to a clothing shop where He would arrange that a number of the poor should come to receive their annual cloaks. He would adjust the garments over some of those poor shoulders. He gave where He felt it was merited and kept a record of the recipients. He did not wish to be abused—but even abuse was known to receive kindness at His generous hands, as has been shown. Small wonder that the Arabs called Him the ‘Lord of Generosity’ and Bahá’ís became ablaze by observing His actions of continuing kindness and loved Him as the Servant of God.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 76)


Another instance of His generosity concerned a rug, which was among ‘the most exquisite’ ever created in Persia. Woven of ‘purest silk, patterned as a rose garden and bordered with heavy twisted cord of real gold‘, it was bought from merchants to Haifa by way of Afghanistan and India, due to transportation and travel problems. When the generous pilgrim arrived after tiring weeks of travel, he took the rug to the Pilgrim House adjacent to the Shrine of the Bab and spread it out on the floor. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá arrived and ‘immediately inquired of the caretaker whose carpet that was, and upon being told, He said that so valuable a work of art should not be on the floor where it might become soiled and He gave instructions for it to be rolled up and put away. The pilgrim then told ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that the carpet had been brought for Him and He replied that so beautiful a gift should be placed in the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh, and that He would place it there Himself.’ Within a few days resident believers and pilgrims went with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to Bahji. They boarded a train in Haifa for ‘Akka. From ‘Akka a carriage took the older friends to Bahji. The Master rode His now-famous white donkey, the younger ones walked. The pilgrim from the East ‘offered the Master some chocolate and this He shared with some others.’ He related that ‘we asked permission of the Master to sing and when He graciously permitted us, we began to sing. I do not remember what the songs were, whether they were our chants or other songs, but I know that I never felt so happy in my life as then when singing in the presence of the Master, and I am sure all the others felt the same way. After we reached Bahji we had dinner and then ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spread the carpet in the Holy Shrine and thus my hope was realized.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 70)


How could this Prisoner give to the needy of ‘Akká every Friday morning? Had not His exiled family’s wealth and property been almost totally confiscated? One pilgrim found that, ‘All that the Master gives is a real sacrifice, and is saved by the cutting off of what most people would consider necessities.’
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 82)


‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s generosity was natural to Him already in childhood. A story is recorded of the time when young ‘Abbas Effendi went to the mountains to see the thousands of sheep which His Father then owned. The shepherds, wishing to honour their young Guest, gave Him a feast. Before ‘Abbas was taken home at the close of the day, the head shepherd advised Him that it was customary under the circumstances to leave a present for the shepherds. ‘Abbas told the man that He had nothing to give. Yet the shepherd persisted that He must give something. Whereupon the Master gave them all the sheep.
We are told that when Bahá’u’lláh heard about this incident, He laughted and commented, ‘We will have to protect ‘Abdu’l-Bahá from Himself—some day he will give himself away.’
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 69)


Very early one morning when the main street of Dublin was almost devoid of people, one of the guests at the hotel glanced out her window and saw ‘Abdu’l-Bahá walking and dictating to His secretary. As they walked, an old man dressed in ragged and very dirty clothes passed by. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sent his secretary to fetch the poor fellow. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá appeared to try to cheer up the man and was finally able to coax a wan smile. The old man’s trousers were particularly holey. Abruptly, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá laughed and said the man’s trousers were not very serviceable. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá quickly stepped into the shadow of the porch and fumbled under His clothes. Moments later, He emerged carrying His trousers which He handed to the unfortunate fellow, saying, “God go with you”. Then, as though nothing unusual had occurred, He turned to His secretary and continued His morning’s work.
(Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 164)


The Master had instructed Aqa Faraju’llah, who was His caterer, to send to the Mansion any amount of food and other supplies which the Covenant-breakers requested. But they used to demand five or six times more than their needs. They were determined to take excessive funds from the Master so as to make Him helpless and force upon Him the humiliation of borrowing money from the people. In spite of all this, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá ensured that they received large supplies of food, clothing and other necessities of life. Moreover, every gift which was sent to Him ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would dispatch to the Mansion and many of the funds which He received as Huququ’lláh were given to them. These manifestations of generosity and compassion which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá showered upon them in spite of their malevolence were interpreted by them as fear and helplessness. Consequently the more they received His gracious gifts and favours, the more haughty they became and progressively intensified their opposition to His blessed Person.
(Adib Taherzadeh, The Child of the Covenant, p. 179)


For ‘Abdu’l-Bahá inexpensive clothes were sufficient. One day He was to entertain the Governor of ‘Akka. His wife felt that His coat was hardly worthy of the occasion. Well ahead of time she went to the tailor where she ordered a fine coat, thinking that, with His lack of self-consciousness, He would surely not notice that His old coat was missing. He desired, after all, only to be scrupulously clean. The new garment was laid out at the proper time, but the Master went searching for His own coat. He asked for it, insisting that the one laid out was not His. His wife attempted to explain the new coat, but He would have none of it, and He told her why: ‘But think of this!...For the price of this coat you can buy five such as I ordinarily use, and do you think I would spend so much money upon a coat which only I shall wear? If you think I need a new one, very well, but send this back and have the tailor make Me for this price five such as I usually have. Then you see, I shall not only have a new one, but I shall have four to give to others!’
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 74)


On this occasion, the Master stopped her and asked her to hold out her apron, whereupon He filled it with all the quarters that had not been passed out at the Bowery, about $20 worth. When one of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s retinue told the startled young woman what He had been doing, she immediately replied that, I will do the same with the money. I will give away every cent of it.
(Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 88)


‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave freely of what He had—love, time, care and concern, food and money, clothing and flowers, a bed, a rug! His motto appeared to be: frugality for Himself, generosity for others.
Stories of the Master’s self-denial in favour of others’ well-being are legion. He was ‘bountiful as the rain in His generosity to the poor...’ Because He and His family were rich in the love of God, they accepted material deprivation for themselves gladly. On the other hand, if the Master knew of a broken window or a leaky roof, which were health hazards, He would make sure the necessary repairs were completed. He did not need, or want, luxury. This became obvious on His trip to America. Once, after a few days in beautiful rooms reserved for Him by the friends in one city, He moved to a simple apartment. However, in hotels He tipped so generously as to cause astonishment. In homes where He was entertained, He left thoughtful gifts for both hosts and servants. It should be emphasized that He went from coast to coast to speak without pay or benefit of contract.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 68)


‘Abdu’l-Bahá is staying at the Ansonia hotel in New York City. He agreed to speak at the Bowery Mission and asked Juliet Thompson to take a 1000 franc note (about $250) and have it changed to quarters and put in a bag. He handed another 1000 franc note to Edward Getsinger with the same instructions.
(The Diary of Juliet Thompson, p. 251)


‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s family was taught to dress in such a way that they would be ‘an example to the rich and an encouragement to the poor.’ Available money was stretched to cover far more than the Master’s family needs. One of His daughters wore no bridal gown when she married – a clean dress sufficed. The Master was queried why He had not provided bridal clothes. With candour He replied simply, ‘My daughter is warmly clad and has all that she needs for her comfort. The poor have not. What my daughter does not need I will give to the poor rather than to her.’
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)


‘Abdu’l-Bahá knew how to give—not just what He no longer wanted or needed. Once in Montreal when ‘He prepared to return to the Maxwells’ home for a meeting, the friends asked if they could call a carriage for Him. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá took the streetcar, saying, “Oh, it matters little. It saves expenses. There is a difference of one dollar in the fare.” When He arrived at the Maxwells‘, He gave one pound to each of the servants.’ After spending two nights at the estate of Phoebe Hearst, He gathered the servants together and thanked them—each received ten dollars.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 82)