The Centenary of the Ascension of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá
Compiled by:Jaya Raju Thota, India
( JRT, India)
Ascension of Abdu’l-Bahá 2021 will begin at the Sunset of Friday, 26 November and ends at Sunset of Saturday, 27 November.
On November 28, 1921, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá passed away in the Holy Land. His life and legacy are commemorated throughout the world during this centenary year.
'Abdu’l-Bahá passed away in Haifa at about 1:00 am on November 28, 1921. The anniversary of His passing is commemorated as a Bahá'í Holy Day.
It occurs yearly on the 6th day of Speech (Qawl) which coincides with either November 27 or 28 depending on when Naw-Rúz falls on that year. The 2021 date is November 27.
On Saturday, 27 November 2021, millions of Bahá'ís in communities all across the world will commemorate the hundredth anniversary of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's passing.
'Abdu'l-Bahá' was the eldest son of Bahá'u'lláh, the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá’í Faith and from the age of eight, He shared His Father’s exile and imprisonment. Throughout His life, He demonstrated praiseworthy qualities and was known for His loving kindness, selfless spirit of service, and generosity, especially towards those in need.
In 2021, the Bahá’í community will mark the centenary of the Ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, that moment when the beloved Master was released from the confines of this world to rejoin His Father in the retreats of celestial glory.
This momentous year will be celebrated by individuals and communities all over the world. Many communities will not passively observe this anniversary but use it as a period to galvanize the ongoing efforts of community building already underway throughout the World. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was the chief promoter of unity, the fundamental principle of the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. Bahá’ís and their friends continue to follow the pattern of service He exemplified as the Faith’s spirit and the embodiment of His Father’s Teachings. Bahá’í community activities—prayer gatherings, study groups, activities for children and teens—are open to all and take place in homes and community centers across the United States.
On the evening of 22 May 1844, a significant moment in human history occurred. In the city of Shiraz, Iran, the Báb declared the beginning of a new religious cycle for the world.
ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was born in Tehran, Iran on 23 May 1844 the eldest son of Baháʼu'lláh and
Navváb. He was born
on the very same night on which the Báb
declared His mission.
Born with the given name of ʻAbbás, he was named after his grandfather
Mírzá ʻAbbás Núrí, a prominent and powerful nobleman.
But, in time, ‘Abbás chose to call Himself ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the “Servant of Bahá”, and, through His life of service to humanity, became known as the living embodiment and exemplar of
As a child, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was shaped by his father's position as a prominent Bábí. He recalled how he met the Bábí Táhirih and how she would take "me on to her knee, caress me, and talk to me. I admired her most deeply". ʻAbdu'l-Bahá had a happy and carefree childhood. The family's Tehran home and country houses were comfortable and beautifully decorated. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá enjoyed playing in the gardens with his younger sister with whom he was very close. Along with his younger siblings – a sister, Bahíyyih, and a brother, Mihdí – the three lived in an environment of privilege, happiness and comfort.
During his young boyhood ʻAbdu'l-Bahá witnessed his parents' various charitable endeavours, which included converting part of the home to a hospital ward for women and children.
With most of his life was spent in exile and prison, there was little chance for normal schooling.
ʻAbdu'l-Bahá received no formal education. As he grew he was educated by his mother, and uncle.
Most of his education however, came from his father.
One event that affected ʻAbdu'l-Bahá greatly during his childhood was the imprisonment of his father when ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was eight years old; the imprisonment led to his family being reduced to poverty and being attacked in the streets by other children.
At the age of eight his father was imprisoned during a government crackdown on the Bábí Faith and the family's possessions were looted, leaving them in virtual poverty. His father was exiled from their native Iran, and the family went to live in Baghdad, where they stayed for nine years.
ʻAbdu'l-Bahá accompanied his mother to visit Baháʼu'lláh who was then imprisoned in the infamous subterranean dungeon the Síyáh-Chál.
He described how "I saw a dark, steep place. We entered a small, narrow doorway, and went down two steps, but beyond those one could see nothing. In the middle of the stairway, all of a sudden we heard His [Baháʼu'lláh's]…voice: 'Do not bring him in here', and so they took me back".
The Covenant is an answer to the question of religious succession that has been critical to all Faiths. Through ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, as Center of the Covenant, Bahá’u’lláh diffused His message of hope and universal peace to every corner of the world. This Covenant was the instrument that ensured the unity of the Bahá’í community and preserved the integrity of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings. Without ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as its Centre, the enormous creative power of Baha’u’llah’s Revelation could not have been transmitted to humanity, nor its significance fully comprehended.
ʻAbdu'l-Bahá served as
head of the Baháʼí Faith from 1892 until 1921. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was later canonized as the last of three "central figures" of the religion, along with Baháʼu'lláh and the Báb, and his writings and authenticated talks are regarded as a source of Baháʼí sacred literature.
Abdu’l‑Bahá then made several journeys to the West to spread the Baháʼí message beyond its middle-eastern roots, but the onset of World War I left him largely confined to Haifa from 1914 to 1918.
The war replaced the openly hostile Ottoman authorities with the British Mandate, who Knighted Him for His help in averting famine following the war.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá enjoyed a privileged childhood until fierce persecutions broke out against the Báb’s followers—of whom Bahá’u’lláh was the most prominent. Bahá’u’lláh’s incarceration for being a Bábí marked a turning point for His family.
Seeing Bahá’u’lláh in prison—His hair and beard unkempt, His neck swollen from the heavy steel collar, His body bent by chains—made an indelible impression on the mind of His eight year-old son.
In December 1852, Bahá’u’lláh was released from prison after four months.
Almost immediately, He was banished from Iran with His family. They were never to see their native land again.
Soon after their arrival in Baghdad, another painful separation followed when Bahá’u’lláh retreated into the mountains of Kurdistan for a period of two years. With His beloved Father away, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá occupied His time reading and meditating upon the Writings of the Báb.
On the trek to Baghdad, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá suffered frostbite and grieved over the separation from his baby brother, Mihdí, who was not well enough to make the gruelling journey.
Throughout their exiles, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá also assumed the burden of various negotiations with civil authorities.
They were later called by the Ottoman state to Istanbul before going into another period of confinement in Edirne and finally the prison-city of ʻAkká (Acre). ʻAbdu'l-Bahá remained a political prisoner there until the Young Turk Revolution freed him in 1908 at the age of 64.
During Bahá’u’lláh’s final banishment to ‘Akká, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá continued to protect His Father, took care of His followers, tended to the sick and the poor in the city, and held His ground on matters of justice with callous jailers, brutal guards and hostile officials. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s generosity of spirit, selfless service and adherence to principle endeared Him to those who came to know Him and, in time, won over even the most hard-hearted of enemies.
In His Most Holy Book, Bahá’u’lláh established a covenant with His followers, enjoining them to turn, after His passing, to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Who He describes as “Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient Root.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s authority as the “Centre of the Covenant” was also established in other texts, including Bahá’u’lláh’s Will and Testament.
He received a steady flow of pilgrims from both the East and the West, carried out an extensive correspondence with Bahá’ís and inquirers in all parts of the world, and lived an exemplary life of service to the people of ‘Akká.
As early as 1907, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had begun moving His family to Haifa, across the bay from ‘Akká, where He had built a house at the foot of Mount Carmel.
In 1908, turmoil in the Ottoman capital culminated in the Young Turk Revolution. The Sultan released all of the empire’s religious and political prisoners and, after decades of imprisonment and exile, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was free.
Despite tremendous challenges, work on a tomb for the Báb had proceeded, midway up the mountain, in a spot designated by Bahá’u’lláh Himself. In March 1909, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was able to place the Báb’s remains in the Shrine He had constructed.
The following year, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá departed Haifa for Egypt, where He stayed one year, spending His days meeting diplomats, intellectuals, religious leaders and journalists. In the late summer of 1911, He sailed for Europe, stopping at the French resort of Thonon-les-Bains before traveling to London.
On 10 September 1911, from the pulpit of the City Temple church in London, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave a public address for the first time in His life.
In the spring of 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá journeyed to the United States and Canada for nine months. He travelled from coast to coast, addressing every kind of audience, meeting people of all ranks and stations. At the end of the year, He returned to Britain and early in 1913, to France, from where He proceeded to Germany, Hungary and Austria, returning in May to Egypt, and on 5 December 1913, to the Holy Land.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá and His travel companions beneath the Eiffel Tower in Paris, in 1912.
When the First World War broke out, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s communication with the Bahá’ís abroad was almost completely cut off. He spent the war years ministering to the material and spiritual needs of the people around Him, personally organizing extensive agricultural operations, and averting a famine for the poor of all religions in Haifa and ‘Akká. His service to the people of Palestine was honoured with a knighthood from the British Empire in April 1920.
During the war years, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá produced one of the most important works of His ministry: fourteen letters, known collectively as the Tablets of the Divine Plan, addressed to the Bahá’ís of North America outlining the spiritual qualities and attitudes as well as the practical actions needed to spread the Bahá’í teachings throughout the world.
In His old age, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá remained remarkably vigorous. He was a loving father not only to the community of Bahá’ís in Haifa, but to a burgeoning international movement.
When He passed away at the age of 77 on 28 November 1921, His funeral was attended by 10,000 mourners of numerous religious backgrounds. In spontaneous tributes to an admired personality, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was eulogized as One who led humanity to the “Way of Truth,” as a “pillar of peace” and the embodiment of “glory and greatness.”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s mortal remains were laid to rest in one of the chambers of the Shrine of the Báb on Mount Carmel.
Years later in 1890 Edward Granville Browne described how ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was "one more eloquent of speech, more ready of argument, more apt of illustration, more intimately acquainted with the sacred books of the Jews, the Christians, and the Muhammadans...
scarcely be found even amongst the eloquent."
According to contemporary accounts, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was an eloquent and charming child. He inherited his mother’s propensity towards height, attaining a height taller than 19th century Persian standards. He also inherited much of his mother’s physical attributes, including her blue eyes and pale skin. As a young man, he grew to become athletic and enjoyed archery, horseback riding and swimming. When ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was seven, he contracted tuberculosis and was expected to die.
While his father was in the wilderness for two years (1853-56) Abdu'l-Bahá memorised the Tablets of the Báb and spent much time in solitary meditation.
As a child, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá witnessed the incarceration of His Father, Bahá’u’lláh, and He was exiled with His family from their native Iran to Baghdad, and then to the Ottoman prison city of Akka.
During Bahá’u’lláh’s imprisonment, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá cared for His family and followers, helped to protect His Father, and looked after the poor and needy. Bahá’u’lláh directed His followers to turn to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá after His passing.
In accordance with the instructions he received from his father, 'Abdu'l-Bahá started to build on the side of Mount Carmel. The aim was to secure a permanent resting place for the remains of the Báb and for meeting rooms and services for Bahá'ís.
In the early 20th century, there was much persecution of believers in Akka and "Abdu'l-Bahá encouraged many to leave. He himself chose to remain and await his destiny and said that he would not run away from his enemies.
'Abdu'l-Bahá was released as a result of the Turkish revolution in 1908.
In 1911 he started a tour of the western world, travelling extensively throughout Europe and America. He gave daily talks and addressed congregations and made the message of the Bahá'ís available to a much wider audience.
He returned to Haifa in 1913 and lived out his life teaching, writing and meditating daily. He died on 28 November 1921.
He appointed his grandson, Shoghi Effendi, to succeed him.
His father chose 'Abdu'l-Bahá as His successor, and he became head of the Cause and interpreter of the teachings following the death of Bahá'u'lláh in 1892.
The Will and Testament of Bahá'u'lláh established what Bahá'ís call the Covenant and gave 'Abdu'l-Bahá the authority to lead the Bahá'ís; to be the one to whom the Bahá'ís turned for authoritative guidance and interpretation.
Baha’u’llah referred to Him as “the Master”, “the Mystery of God” and “a shelter for all mankind”, however, 'Abdu'l-Bahá preferred to be called 'Abdu'l-Bahá, meaning “the Servant of Baha”, in reference to His servitude to Bahá'u'lláh and His teachings.
In Bahá'u'lláh’s Will and Testament, He instructed all to turn to 'Abdu'l-Bahá as the authorized interpreter of the Bahá'í Writings and also as the perfect exemplar of the Baha’i Faith’s spirit and teachings.
When finally released from prison, 'Abdu'l-Bahá traveled to Egypt, Europe, and North America, to promote the Bahá'í teachings, giving numerous public talks and interviews, and meeting with people from all walks of life.
In 1908, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s period of imprisonment and exile was ended by events associated with the Young Turk Revolution. He undertook an historic journey to Egypt, Europe, and North America. His public talks conveyed the essential message of the Bahá’í Faith and related it to pressing needs of humanity, emphasizing the cause of peace, the equality of women and men, racial justice, social reform, and the role of religion in society.
Universal House of Justice Releases Film “Exemplar” for the Centenary of the Ascension of Abdu’l-Bahá.
Exemplar follows the life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the profound effect He had on people both past and present. A sense of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s unique function as a shelter, a shield, a stronghold for all humanity is captured in vignettes of some of the souls whose lives were transformed for the betterment of society through their association with Him.
The film reflects a few of the universal principles embodied, both in word and deed, by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá—principles that animate a global movement of individuals, communities and institutions striving to emulate His example in service to humanity.
The Universal House of Justice has commissioned a feature film for commemorations of the centenary of the Ascension of Abdu’l-Baha, the Son of Baha’u’llah, Prophet-herald of the Baha’i Faith. This wonderful film, titled Exemplar, offers a portrait of the Person of Abdu’l-Baha.
Exemplar is available in Arabic, English, French, Persian, Russian, Spanish, and Swahili. You can watch or download the film here: www.bahai.org/exemplar.
You can also watch the film here on the official YouTube channel for the Baha’i Faith.
More information about the film can be found in the Baha’i World News Story: “Exemplar”: New film explores Abdu’l-Baha’s profound effect on people past and present.
Approximate running time: 55 minutes.
When 'Abdu'l-Bahá passed away at the age of 77 on 28 November 1921, in the Holy Land, His funeral was attended by 10,000 mourners of numerous religious backgrounds. In spontaneous tributes to an admired personality, He was eulogized as One who led humanity to the “Way of Truth,” as a “pillar of peace” and the embodiment of “glory and greatness.”