Abdu'l-Bahá in New York 1912 :
An Illustrated Narrative

By Hussein Ahdieh

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #107
Louhelen Bahá'í Center: Davison, Michigan, USA
October 7–10, 2011
(see list of papers from #107)

    `Abdu'l-Bahá, the eldest Son and appointed successor of Bahá'u'lláh, the Prophet Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, visited United States of America for 239 days from April 11, 1912 to December 5, 1912. During that sojourn He spent 85 days in the City of New York. This presentation covers some of the most poignant accounts of His visit in New York City from diaries and autobiographies written by the believers who met and travelled with Him. His acclaimed station was the `Abdu'l-Bahá, (Servant of Bahá), a Servant to the Covenant of His Father's Cause. He was called "The Master", a title which was respectfully used by the followers of the Faith in United States when referring to `Abdu'l-Bahá. The historic event which took place in New York on June 19, 1912, is the basis of New York's distinguished title of "the City of the Covenant".

    This presentation is an attempt to give glimpses of His humility, grandeur, power and purity trough pictures and quotes as well as priceless eyewitness accounts, written records of `Abdu'l-Bahá's addresses, and newspaper and magazine articles. It focuses on the chronology of `Abdu'l-Bahá's visit in New York city and it attempts to provide a practical frame of reference. The Master's stay in New York was the longest in one place. The length of this sojourn and the demanding schedule that `Abdu'l-Bahá engaged in while in the city are further evidences of the attention He bestowed on this community. `Abdu'l-Bahá found New York City of 1912 to be a place of tolerance, compared to other racially segregated societies, and planned the first Bahá'í interracial marriage to take place here. New York City welcomed `Abdu'l-Bahá. Religious congregations, peace societies, and universities vied to invite Him. Bahá'ís and others alike, attracted by His love and wisdom, followed the Master from place to place. The chronology of the visit of `Abdu'l-Bahá to New York City and United States is primarily based on two sources: The Diary of Mahmud Zarqání and the Diary of Juliet Thompson. Mahmud was one of the Persian secretaries who accompanied `Abdu'l-Bahá in His travels to the West. Juliet Thompson was one of the early New York City believers, a talented artist and writer, whose diary stands out as a phenomenon, unique in the history of religion. In this candid and vibrant testimony, we experience the vicissitudes of a passionate and sincere woman's spiritual experience. Juliet as a painter and a writer brings to life in perceptive details the scenes surrounding `Abdu'l-Bahá and succeeds in making us see and feel the reality of the extraordinary spiritual power of One Whom Bahá'u'lláh hailed as "The Mystery of God".

    After the young Turks' Rebellion of 1908 which freed `Abdu'l-Bahá and his family from prison, `Abdu'l-Bahá decided to travel to the West to spread the message of Bahá'u'lláh. The western Bahá'ís had been pleading with the Master to visit America in 1911. `Abdu'l-Bahá made his first historic trip to Europe, then He returned to Egypt, to Ramleh, a suburb of Alexandria until the spring of 1912. On March 25, the Master and His retinue boarded the S.S. Cedric in Alexandria, heading for the United States. The American Bahá'ís had sent thousands of dollars for His journey, urging Him to leave the Cedric in Italy and travel to England to sail on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. But the Master returned the money for charity and continued His voyage on the Cedric. `Abdu'l-Bahá's entourage was an unusual mixture of Easterners and Westerners. `Abdu'l-Bahá usually wore a long robe, white or light tan, a dark `abá (overcoat) and a white turbaned headdress on His flowing, silky, white hair. The Persians in His entourage wore western clothing and the red fez. At Naples, a few Americans and an English believer, Miss Louisa Mathew, joined the traveling party for the rest of the trip. At the table "the intermingling and assembling together of the Easterners and Westerners attracted the eyes", wrote Mahmud. It also caused misunderstanding and distrust due to the war between Turkey and Italy at the time. However, during the voyage the officers of the ship asked `Abdu'l-Bahá to address a public meeting which they arranged in the lounge. Among the large number of people attending were the consuls of Russia and Italy, who conversed regularly with the Master afterwards.

this paper is not yet online