'Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá'u'lláh's oldest son, occupies a unique position in religious history. Bahá'u'lláh conferred upon Him three closely-related distinctions that had never before been conferred upon any man by God's appointed Messenger:
- 'Abdu'l-Bahá was Bahá'u'lláh's appointed successor, the "center" of Bahá'u'lláh's Covenant with His followers
- He was the authorized interpreter of His Father's Writings
- He was the perfect exemplar of His Father's teachings, who all Bahá'ís are called to emulate
Such is 'Abdu'l-Bahá's distinction that, although not a Prophet in His own right, His Writings form an important part of the Bahá'í Holy Writings. Such is the reverence in which He is held that Bahá'ís refer to Him as "the Master." It is fitting, therefore, that two of our Holy Days commemorate and celebrate the life of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. These two Holy Days are, however, distinct from the other nine in that work is not to be suspended. This is primarily because the Master held Himself to be, in all things, nothing more than His Father's servant, and would never have countenanced anything that put Him on an equal footing with Bahá'u'lláh. But we might reflect upon how fitting it is that we work on these days, given that 'Abdu'l-Bahá Himself worked tirelessly for the advancement of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings.
Here is a brief look at the two days dedicated to His memory:
The Day of the Covenant (November 26)
'Abdu'l-Bahá was born on May 23, 1844, the very day that the Báb declared His mission to Mullá Husayn. Although a number of Bahá'ís wished to celebrate the Master's birthday, He wouldn't permit it. That day, He insisted, belonged to the Báb, not to Him. In the face of repeated requests, however, He established the Day of the Covenant as a day Bahá'ís could celebrate in His honor if they wished.
Yet it was not for Himself that He sought any honor or glory. He was first, last and always His Father's servant. That, indeed, is what "'Abdu'l-Bahá" means: :the Servant of Bahá". He wrote:
My name is 'Abdu'l-Bahá, my identity is 'Abdu'l-Bahá, my qualification is 'Abdu'l-Bahá, my reality is 'Abdu'l-Bahá, my praise is 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Thraldom to the Blessed Perfection [Bahá'u'lláh] is my glorious and refulgent diadem; and servitude to all the human race is my perpetual religion."
(Tablets of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 430)
While the Day of the Covenant is in a sense a celebration of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's life, it is in a larger sense a celebration of the establishment of the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh, His promise that in exchange for His followers' obedience He would ensure their unity and through them establish the Kingdom of God on Earth. 'Abdu'l-Bahá is the Center of this Covenant, the one to whom Bahá'u'lláh commanded His followers should turn after His death. The Master and the Covenant cannot be separated; any celebration of one is automatically a celebration of the other.
The Ascension of 'Abdu'l-Bahá (November 28)
The Master passed away on November 28, 1921 at the age of 77. He had shared in all of Bahá'u'lláh's exiles and had Himself been a prisoner for much of His life. He had tirelessly led the Bahá'í community and, when opportunities arose, made historic journeys through Europe and North America to spread His Father's teachings. He had been knighted by Queen Victoria for His humanitarian services in Palestine during World War I. Shoghi Effendi wrote of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's final moments:
At 1:15 A.M He arose, and, walking to a table in His room, drank some water, and returned to bed. Later on, He asked one of His two daughters who had remained awake to care for Him, to lift up the net curtains, complaining that He had difficulty in breathing. Some rose-water was brought to Him, of which He drank, after which He again lay down, and when offered food, distinctly remarked: "You wish Me to take some food, and I am going?" A minute later His spirit had winged its flight to its eternal abode, to be gathered, at long last, to the glory of His beloved Father, and taste the joy of everlasting reunion with Him.
(God Passes By, p. 311)
The commemoration of the Master's passing affords Bahá'ís around the world an opportunity to reflect on His life of service and sacrifice, and to rededicate themselves to emulating His example.
Forum & Chat