The Passing of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
The news of `Abdu’l-Bahá’s passing on November 28, 1921, was received by the Bahá’í world and the citizens of Haifa with profound distress and grief. The Holy Land–a land all too frequently convulsed by religious conflict– witnessed an unprecedented event of unity and collective emotion in the aftermath of `Abdu’l-Bahá’s death. Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Druzes, of all persuasions and denominations; Arabs, Turks, Kurds, Armenians, and other ethnic groups were drawn together in mourning His passing and in sharing their common loss.
The funeral of `Abdu’l-Bahá, “a funeral the like of which Palestine had never seen,” drew “no less than ten thousand people…representing every class, religion and race in that country.” “A great throng,” the British High Commissioner wrote, “had gathered together, sorrowing for His death, but rejoicing also for His life.” The Governor of Jerusalem at the time also wrote in describing the funeral: “I have never known a more united expression of regret and respect than was called forth by the utter simplicity of the ceremony.”1
`Abdu’l-Bahá’s funeral, Haifa, Israel.
“The coffin containing the remains of `Abdu’l-Bahá was borne to its last resting-place on the shoulders of His
loved ones…. The long train of mourners, amid the sobs and moans of many a grief-stricken heart, wended its slow way up the slopes of Mt. Carmel to the Mausoleum of the Báb… Close to the eastern entrance of the Shrine, the sacred casket was placed upon a plain table, and, in the presence of that vast concourse, nine speakers, who represented the Muslim, the Jewish and Christian Faiths…delivered their several funeral orations. The coffin was then removed to one of the chambers of the Shrine, and there lowered, sadly and reverently, to its last resting-place in a vault adjoining that in which were laid the remains of the Báb.”2
The following are extracts from some of the speeches given on the occasion of `Abdu’l-Bahá’s funeral.3 The first speaker was Yúsuf al-Kha t ib, a well-known Muslim orator:
O concourse of Arabians and Persians! Whom are ye bewailing? Is it he who but yesterday was great in his life and is today in his death greater still? Shed no tears for the one that hath departed to the world of Eternity, but weep over the passing of Virtue and Wisdom, of Knowledge and Generosity. Lament for yourselves, for yours is the loss, whilst he, your lost one, is but a revered Wayfarer, stepping from your mortal world into the everlasting Home. Weep one hour for the sake of him who, for well nigh eighty years, hath wept for you! Look to your right, look to your left, look East and look West and behold, what glory and greatness have vanished! What a pillar of peace hath crumbled! What eloquent lips are hushed! Alas! In this tribulation there is no heart but aches with anguish, no eye but is filled with tears. Woe unto the poor, for lo! goodness hath departed from them, woe unto the orphans, for their loving father is no more with them! Could the life of Sir `Abdu’l-Bahá `Abbas have been redeemed by the sacrifices of many a precious soul, they of a certainty would gladly have offered up their lives for his life. But Fate hath otherwise ordained. Every destiny is predetermined and none can change the Divine Decree. What am I to set forth the achievements of this leader of mankind? They are too glorious to be praised, too many to recount. Suffice it to say, that he has left in every heart the most profound impression, on every tongue most wondrous praise. And he that leaveth a memory so lovely, so imperishable, he, indeed, is not dead. Be solaced then, O ye people of Baha! Endure and be patient; for no man, be he of the East or of the West, can ever comfort you, nay he himself is even in greater need of consolation.
The next speaker was Ibrahim Na s s ar, a celebrated Christian writer:
I weep for the world, in that my Lord hath died; others there are who, like unto me, weep the death of their Lord…O bitter is the anguish caused by this heartrending calamity! It is not only our country’s loss but a world affliction…He hath lived for well-nigh eighty years the life of the Messengers and Apostles of God. He hath educated the souls of men, hath been benevolent unto them, hath led them to the Way of Truth. Thus he raised his people to the pinnacle of glory, and great shall be his reward from God, the reward of the righteous! Hear me O people! `Abbas is not dead, neither hath the light of Baha been extinguished! Nay, nay! this light shall shine with everlasting splendor. The Lamp of Baha, `Abbas, hath lived a goodly life, hath manifested in himself the true life of the Spirit. And now he is gathered to glory, a pure angel, richly robed in benevolent deeds, noble in his precious virtues. Fellow Christians! Truly ye are bearing the mortal remains of this ever lamented one to his last resting place, yet know of a certainty that your `Abbas will live forever in spirit amongst you, through his deeds, his words, his virtues and all the essence of his life. We say farewell to the material body of our `Abbas, and his material body vanisheth from our gaze, but his reality, our spiritual `Abbas, will never leave our minds, our thoughts, our hearts, our tongues.O great revered Sleeper! Thou hast been good to us, thou hast guided us, thou hast taught us, thou hast lived amongst us greatly, with the full meaning of greatness, thou hast made us proud of thy deeds and of thy words. Thou hast raised the Orient to the summit of glory, hast shown loving kindness to the people, trained them in righteousness, and hast striven to the end, till thou hast won the crown of glory. Rest thou happily under the shadow of the mercy of the Lord thy God, and He verily, shall well reward thee.
The Christian writer was followed by the Mufti of Haifa, Mu h ammad Murad:
I do not wish to exaggerate in my eulogy of this great one, for his ready and helping hand in the service of mankind and the beautiful and wondrous story of his life, spent in doing that which is right and good, none can deny, save him whose heart is blinded…O thou revered voyager! Thou hast lived greatly and hast died greatly! This great funeral procession is but a glorious proof of thy greatness in thy life and in thy death. But O, thou whom we have lost! Thou leader of men, generous and benevolent! To whom shall the poor now look? Who shall care for the hungry? and the desolate, the widow and the orphan?
May the Lord inspire all thy household and thy kindred with patience in this grievous calamity, and immerse thee in the ocean of His grace and mercy! He verily, is the prayer-hearing, prayer-answering God.
Another distinguished Muslim, `Abdu’llah Mukhlish, followed the Mufti of Haifa:
…the sun of knowledge has set; the moon of virtues has disappeared; the throne of glory has crumbled, and the mountain of kindness is levelled by the departure of this benevolent one from the mortal world to the immortal realm. I do not need to explain the sublimity of the great one whom we have lost or to enumerate his great qualities, for all of you who are just are witnesses and can testify to what has been given him of personal beauty, beauty of his character, greatness of his heart, vastness of the sea of his knowledge and generosity…I beg your pardon if I fail in doing my duty as far as faithfulness is concerned or if I am unable to pay the generous one who has departed what he deserves of the best and highest praise, because what my tongue utters has emanated from a tender memory and broken heart. Indeed, they are wounds and not words; they are tears and not phrases…`This calamity has made all previous calamities to be forgotten. But this calamity will never be forgotten.’
Next, Shaykh Yúnus al-Kha t ib, a Muslim poet of note, recited a poem he had composed; and he was followed by Bishop Bassilious, the head of the Greek Catholic Church of Haifa, who dwelt particularly on `Abdu’l-Bahá’s humanitarian deeds, His generosity to the poor, His charm and majesty of mien. Then came the turn of the youth to pay homage and tribute. Wadi` Bustani, a young Christian, had a poem to offer. Here are some lines from it:
In the souls and in the minds thou art immortal. One like thee, who has all perfections, virtues and honors, is eternal…O `Abdu’l-Bahá, O son of Bahá’u’lláh! May my life be a sacrifice to one like thee. Thou art the all-wise, and all else beside thee are only learned. What can the poets say in thy day? O `Abdu’l-Bahá, O son of Bahá’u’lláh! Thou wert just as God wanted thee to be and not as others wished. Thou hast departed in the Holy Land wherein Christ and the Virgin Mary lived. The land that received Mohammed; the land the dust of which is blessing and wealth…We shall be sustained by this Tomb and the One it contains. The covenant of love and devotion will remain forever between us.
Among the final speakers was Salomon Bouzaglo, one of the leading figures of the Jewish population of Haifa, who spoke in French. Here is a translation of his speech:
It is indeed strange that in an age of gross materialism and lack of faith a great philosopher such as He whom we mourn–`Abdu’l-Bahá `Abbas–should appear. He speaks to our hearts, our consciences. He satisfies our thirsty souls with teachings and principles that are the basis of all religion and morality. In His writings and public talks, and in His intimate conversations He could always convince the most learned and the most orthodox. His life was the living example of self-sacrifice, of preferring the good of others to one’s own.The philosophy of `Abdu’l-Bahá is simple and plain, yet sublime. It accords with human character. Its virtues overcome prejudice and superstition … `Abbas has passed away in Haifa, in Palestine, in the Holy Land wherein prophets have always appeared. The ancient glory of this land is restored. We are not the only ones who weep for Him, in Whom we take pride. In Europe, in America, in every country, people athirst for social justice and brotherhood also weep for Him. He suffered from despotism, fanaticism and intolerance. For decades, `Akka–the Bastille of the Ottomans–held Him a prisoner. Baghdad–the `Abbasid capital–also served as a prison for Him and for His Father. Persia–the ancient cradle of divine philosophy–threw out her children, whose ideas were conceived in her land. Cannot we witness the manifestation of Divine Will to exalt the Holy Land that it become, once again, the cradle of noble and generous ideals? He, Who has left such a glorious heritage, is not dead. He, Who has promulgated such great principles, is immortal in the memory of posterity.
- The remaining text of this article is taken from H. M. Balyuzi, `Abdu’l-Bahá (London: George Ronald, 1971), pp. 466-72.