Humility

In those days when the friends in Persia were aflame with the fire of love, and at the same time, they were, with a spirit of forbearance, burning in that fire of envy and hatred, of calumny and slander created by the people of malice and the Covenant-breakers, Bahá’í poets and people of letters in that country used to write poems in praise and glorification of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. In laudatory and most eloquent language they used to acclaim His exalted station. But we, the resident Bahá’ís of ‘Akká, the spot round which the Concourse on High circle in adoration, were very careful not to breathe a word about the station of sovereignty and lordship of the blessed Person of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. We knew well that He had often advised the poets that instead of singing His praise they ought to exalt His station of servitude and utter self-effacement. During this time, one day I received a letter from one of the handmaidens of God... This letter, composed in verse, and laudatory in its tone, was addressed to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the form of a supplication to the holy presence of God. I handed the poem to the Master as He was coming down the steps of the house in front of the sea. I thought it was the right moment to give it to Him. He had hardly read one or two lines when He suddenly turned His face towards me and with the utmost sadness and a deep sense of grief said: ‘Now even you hand me letters such as this! , Don’t you know the measure of pain and sorrow which overtakes me when I hear people addressing me with such exalted titles? Even you have not recognized me! If you have not appreciated this, then what can be expected of others? Don’t you see all that I do day and night, and everything I write in my letters... I swear by Almighty God that I consider myself lowlier than each and every one of the loved ones of the Blessed Beauty. This is my firm conviction... Tell me if I am wrong. This is my greatest wish. I don’t even wish to make this claim, because I dislike every claim. He then turned towards the Qiblih and said, ‘O Blessed Beauty, grant me this station’... ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke angrily in this vein with such vigour that my heart almost stopped. I had a sensation of choking, my whole body became numb. Truly, I felt that life was going out of me. Not only was the power of speech taken from me, but energy for breathing seemed to have gone also. I wished the earth would open and swallow me up so that I might never again see my Lord so grief-stricken as this. Truly for a moment I was not present in this world. Only when the Master resumed His walking down the stairs, the sound of His shoes jolted me. I quickly followed Him. I heard Him say: ‘I told the Covenant-breakers that the more they hurt me, the more will the believers exalt my station to the point of exaggeration...’ Now that the blame was removed from the believers and placed on the Covenant-breakers, I somewhat regained consciousness and a little life. I listened carefully to His words, but my thoughts were elsewhere. I now understood that it was the iniquities and transgressions perpetrated by these ruthless Covenant-breakers which had produced a strong reaction among the believers who could not control their feelings and sentiments. This bitter experience of mine was ended now. The Master was pacing up and down the hall and speaking more about the machinations of the Covenant-breakers. But I was not in a position to think properly or meditate deeply. I was very perturbed that I had brought such grief upon the Master, and I did not know what to do. Then I heard Him say: ‘This is in no way the fault of the friends. They say these things because of their steadfastness, their love and devotion...’ Again my thoughts were directed to His words. Then I heard Him say to me: ‘You are very dear to Me, etc... [It is obvious that through his modesty and humility Dr Yunis Khan does not wish to reveal all the praise and encouragement which the Master had showered upon him.] From these utterances I realized that it was always the Master’s way never ever to allow a soul to be hurt. And now this was a time for giving me comfort and encouragement. The pressure in my heart was now released. All the anguish pent up in me was gone. I burst into tears which flowed in great profusion upon my cheeks and I listened more carefully. I heard His utterances as He showered His bounties upon me in such heartwarming and affectionate terms that they went far beyond the normal limits of encouragement. So much loving kindness and favour He bestowed upon me that when I considered my limited capacity and worth, I could not bear to hear Him; therefore I never allowed those words to enter into my memory. Nevertheless, I was filled with such an indescribable joy and ecstasy that I wished the doors of heaven would open and I could ascend to the Kingdom on high. When He dismissed me from His presence I went towards the Pilgrim House in such a state of intoxication and excitement that I walked all around the streets of ‘Akká, not knowing where I was going! And now, my dear reader, you can see how a bitter experience turned into a sweet one, and how it all ended. The earth did not open up to swallow me, neither did the heavens open to let me go up! And, so I can write down the stories of those days and in memory of His radiant countenance may say to you: ‘Allah-u-Abhá!’
(Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 221-222)


The Denver Post provided a car to take ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to the Church of Divine Science. The Master told His companions: “Behold the power and confirmation of the Blessed Beauty: the pastor comes in person with all humility to invite us and the proprietor of the leading journal sends us an automobile for Our use, so that we may raise the Call of God in the church. Truly, such confirmations have never been seen in other dispensations and in no age is the Manifestation of the Cause of God met with such reverence and honor. But we must not consider that they are due to our address or our eloquence. These shining lights which you see will instantly darken if the origin of their bounty is severed from them.
(Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 205)


Bahiyyih Randall was only thirteen years old when she went to Haifa to see the Master. She recalled that ‘there was a perfectly wonderful person who always sat on the right of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá at dinner. His name was Haydar-‘Ali and he had been a follower of Bahá’u’lláh and was so meek and so beautiful. His hands would shake so that he could not eat. He was such an old, old man, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would feed him with such tenderness. One day I saw him sitting out in the garden and I asked him what he had ever done. Of course, he could not speak English and I could not speak Persian, but we somehow seemed to understand. A man came along to interpret just then, and I told him what I had asked: ‘What have you done to serve the Faith?’ ‘Haydar-‘Ali looked up with his eyes to heaven and said, “I have not done as much as an ant could do in the path of God.” Then the interpreter told me that he had been dragged across the desert, tied on a bag on a camel, and that his whole life had been one series of martyrdoms – yet he had said, “I have not done as much as an ant could do in the path of God!” (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 94)


The Master’s life was centered on God, not on Himself. To do God’s will, to be His servant, were his concerns. He disliked photographs of Himself, permitting them only to satisfy His friends. ‘But to have a picture of oneself,’ He said, ‘is to emphasize the personality, which is merely the lamp, and is quite unimportant. The light burning within the lamp has the only real significance.’
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)


‘Abdu’l-Bahá laid the cornerstone of the House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois, on 1 May 1912. A temporary tent covered a spot of prairie overlooking Lake Michigan. People from different nationalities were on hand to ceremoniously turn over a bit of soil. An ordinary spade was used, but when the Master’s turn came He was handed a golden trowel. He handed it back and used instead the same spade as the others. He then laid the cornerstone.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)


The first person singular seldom crept into the Master’s speech. He once told group of New York friends that in the future the words ‘I’ and ‘Me’ and ‘Mine’ would be regarded as profane. Lua Getsinger reported that one day she and Georgie Ralston were driving with the Master. He closed His eyes and apparently fell asleep. Lua and Georgie talked on, probably about their own concerns, for suddenly the Master’s eyes sprang open and He laughed. ‘I, me, my, mine: words of the Devil!’ He said.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)


The Master’s humility was shown in many ways. He desired no name or title except that of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá – the Servant of God. He forbade pilgrims to fall at His feet. In the early days in Akka, He cooked for His fellow prisoners, and later, when entertaining visitors at His table, He sometimes served His guests Himself, ‘a practice he recommended to other hosts‘.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)


It was the custom of Shoghi Effendi to walk on Mount Carmel, and at times he invited the Persian men believers to walk with him. They would walk a few paces behind him, out of respect. Ali-Kuli Khan was a member of one of these groups of men, and at one point Shoghi Effendi stopped, and turned to the men, and said, “Although I am ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s successor, I am not His equal. His station is far greater than my own.” Then he turned, and continued walking. Ali-Kuli Khan burst into tears. When he finished weeping, one of his fellow pilgrims asked him, “What Shoghi Effendi said was very beautiful, but why did it have such an effect on you?” Ali-Kuli Khan answered, “Many years ago, I was here on Pilgrimage during the days of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. One day I was walking with Him on the slopes of Mount Carmel, and He stopped, at that very same spot, and turned to me and said, “Although I am the Successor to Bahá’u’lláh, I am not His equal. His station is far, far greater than My own.” And of course, as we were walking behind the beloved Guardian, I recalled the sweetness of that moment. And then I saw that we were approaching that spot where the Master had spoken, and to my astonishment, Shoghi Effendi stopped, and spoke at that same spot. And when he said what he did, then I understood the greatness of this Cause.
(Source unknown)


Bahá’í poets and people of letters in Persia used to write poems in praise and glorification of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. But the resident Bahá’ís in Akká were very careful not to breathe a word about His glorious station. They knew He had often advised the poets that instead of singing His praise they ought to exalt His station of servitude and utter self-effacement. One day a laudatory letter arrived addressed to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, composed in verse. Yunis Khan, who was serving the Master, handed the poem to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as He was coming down the steps of the house in front of the sea. It appeared the right moment to give it to Him. He had hardly read one or two lines when He suddenly turned His face towards Yunis Khan and with the utmost sadness and a deep sense of grief said: ‘Now even you hand me letters such as this! Don’t you know the measure of pain and sorrow which overtakes Me when I hear people addressing Me with such exalted titles? Even you have not recognized me!... I consider Myself lowlier than each and every one of the loved ones of the Blessed Beauty.’ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke angrily in this vein with such vigour that the heart of Yunis Khan almost stopped. His whole body became numb. He wished the earth would open and swallow him up so that he might never again see ‘Abdu’l-Bahá so grief-stricken. Only when the Master resumed His walking down the stairs was he jolted by the sound of His shoes. He quickly followed the Master and heard Him say, ‘I told the Covenant-breakers that the more they hurt Me, the more will the believers exalt My station to the point of exaggeration…’ He was very perturbed that he had brought such grief upon the Master and did not know what to do. Then he heard the Master say, ‘This is in no way the fault of the friends. They say these things because of their steadfastness, their love and devotion…’ Then He said to Yunis Khan, ‘You are very dear to Me…’ Yunis Khan realized that it was always the Master’s way never ever to allow a soul to be hurt. He received comfort and encouragement. His anguish was gone. He was filled with such an indescribable joy and ecstasy that he wished the doors of heaven would open and he could ascend to the Kingdom on high.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)


‘Abdu’l-Bahá inspired the creation of a Local Spiritual Assembly in New York City. Loulie Mathews, one of those present when the friends met to form their first local institution, recalled that they had very little idea of how to proceed. Anxious to impress each other they first sat stiffly along the wall. No, a circle would be better – so they moved. Suddenly the doorbell rang. Grace Krug returned with a cablegram – from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá! It stated simply: ‘Read Matthew, Chapter 19, Verse 30.’ They needed a Bible. Finally both Bible and page were found. The message read, ‘But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.’ ‘Presto, we became as humble as mice – afraid lest that last place should be ours! ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave us a wonderful lesson that evening! If we went away without too much knowledge of how to form an Assembly, we learned a lesson in how to become Bahá’ís. Bathed in the aura of humility the Assembly the Assembly came into being.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)


‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s humility did not stem from any weakness. Once when a child asked Him why all the rivers of the earth flow into the ocean, He said, ‘because it sets itself lower than them all and so draws them to itself.’
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)


When Bahá’u’lláh lived at Bahji – and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá at Akka – the Master would visit His Father once a week. He liked to do this on foot and when asked why He did not ride to Bahji He responded by asking, ‘…who am I that I should ride where the Lord Christ walked?’ However, His Father requested Him to ride, so in order to comply the Master rode out of Akka, but when He sighted Bahá’u’lláh’s Mansion, He dismounted. Bahá’u’lláh used to watch for His approach from His second-floor window and as soon as He saw Him coming. He would joyously tell His family to go out to meet Him.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)


Whenever possible ‘Abdu’l-Bahá attempted to avoid unnecessary fanfare. Once, wealthy visitors from the West planned an elaborate pre-meal, hand-washing scene for Him – it included a page boy, a clean bowl with ‘crustal water’ and even a scented towel! When the Master saw the group walking across the lawn, He knew their purpose. He hurried to a small water trough, washed as usual and then wiped His hands on the cloth of the gardener. Radiantly, He then turned to meet His guests. The preparations meant for Him He used for them.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)


Mirza Abu’l-Fadl was an outstanding Bahá’í scholar. Early in this century the Master sent him to the United States of America both to teach and to help the believers to deepen. ‘After his return, he and a number of American pilgrims were seated in the presence of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Akka. The pilgrims began to praise Mirza Abu’l-Fadl for the help he had given them, saying that he had taught many souls, defended the Cause most ably against its adversaries, and had helped to build a strong and dedicated Bahá’í community in America. As they continued to pour lavish praise upon him, Mirza Abu’l-Fadl became increasingly depressed and dejected, until he burst into tears and wept loudly. The believers were surprised and could not understand this, even thinking that they had not praised him enough! ‘Then ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explained that by praising him they had bitterly hurt him, for he considered himself as utter nothingness in the Cause and believed with absolute sincerity that he was not worthy of any mention or praise.’
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)


There was a man in Haifa who disliked ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Whenever he saw the Master, he crossed the street to avoid Him. Finally, one day he approached ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and said, ‘So You are called the Servant of God.’ ‘Yes,’ said ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘that is my name.’ ‘Well,’ said the man proudly, ‘I am Moses.’ Very well, Moses,’ said ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘meet Me at this corner at seven o‘clock in the morning tomorrow and we will go and serve the people like the great Moses did.’ The man agreed and when they met the next morning, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá took him on His routine of serving the unfortunates, helping the poor and needy, consulting with people and giving counsel. At six o‘clock that evening when they returned to the spot where they had started, he was extremely weary. ‘Remember, Moses,’ said ‘Abdu’l-Bahá before they parted, ‘I‘ll meet you here tomorrow morning at seven o‘clock.’ Again they met the following morning and again ‘Abdu’l-Bahá took the man through His regular work. Returning at six o‘clock that evening the man was very tired. Sternly, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told him, ‘Remember, Moses, tomorrow morning I‘ll meet you here.’ They met the third morning and again ‘Abdu’l-Bahá took him through His regular work day. When they returned that evening, the man was exhausted. As they parted, the man said, ‘‘Abdu’l-Bahá, tomorrow morning I will no longer be Moses.’
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)


During World War I when a blockade threatened the lives of many civilians in Haifa, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá saved them from starvation. ‘He personally organized extensive agricultural operations near Tiberias, thus securing a great supply of wheat…’ Food was stored in underground pits and elsewhere. This He distributed to inhabitants, regardless of religion or nationality. The food was systematically rationed. Having started His preparations as early as 1912, He averted tragedy in the dark days of 1917 and 1918. At war’s end the British were quick to recognize His painstaking accomplishments. He was to be kighted on 27 April 1920, at the residence of the British Governor in Haifa at a ceremony held especially for Him. British and religious dignitaries came to honour Him on this auspicious occasion. His unselfish acts had won Him the love and respect of high and low alike. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá consented to accept the knighthood – but He was not impressed with worldly honour or ceremony. Even a formality must be simplified. An elegant car was sent to bring Him to the Governor’s residence, but the chauffeur did not find the Master at His home. People scurried in every direction to find Him. Suddenly He appeared ‘… alone, walking His kingly walk, with that simplicity of greatness which always enfolded Him.’ Isfandiyar, His long-time faithful servant, stood near at hand. Many were the times when he had accompanied the Master on His labours of love. Now, suddenly, with this elegant car ready to convey his Master to the Governor, he felt sad and unneeded. Intuitively, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá must have sensed this – He gave him a sign. Isfandiyar dashed off – the horse was harnessed, the carriage brought to the lower gate and the Master was driven to a side entrance of the garden of the Governor. Isfandiyar was joyous – he was needed even yet. Quietly, without pomp, ‘Abbas Effendi arrived at the right time at the right place and did honour to those who would honour Him when He was made Sir ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Abbas, K.B.E. – a title which He almost never used.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)


Another one of the qualities that you found in Shoghi Effendi, and which rather astonished me, was humility. I had studied a lot in the writings about humility. I had read a lot in the religious teachings about being humble, and I thought I knew a little bit about what it meant. But you knew nothing about humility until you saw Shoghi Effendi. Shoghi Effendi never spoke of himself, and one of the things that interested me very much when he was talking about the Cause and its development, he would speak about the conditions in the days of the Bab, and he would speak about the conditions and activities of the Faith in the days of Bahá’u’lláh, and he would speak about the conditions and activities of the Faith in the days of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and then he would speak about the Faith in the days after ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. He never said in the days of the Guardian, or in my period of administration, but he always referred to the days after ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
One time we were talking, and I made some comment to the Guardian about some of the activities of the Cause, I don’t remember what it was, and I mentioned his name in the same sentence and almost in the same vein as that of the Master. And he stopped me and said, “Don’t ever do that. Don’t ever mention my name in the same breath as you mention the Master. The Master was like the ocean; I am like a drop. The Master was like the sun; and I am like an atom. So don’t ever, ever mention my name in the same theme or same trend of thought as that of the Master. There is a vast gulf between ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and all the rest of creation, and the between the Guardian.”
(In the Days of the Guardian – a Talk by Hand of the Cause of God Leroy Ioas in Johannesburg, South Africa, 1958)