'Abdu'l-Bahá: the Center of the Covenant
On November 29, 1921, ten thousand people--Jews, Christians, and Muslims from all persuasions and denominations--gathered on Mount Carmel in the Holy Land to mourn the passing of One who was eulogized as the essence of "Virtue and Wisdom, of Knowledge and Generosity." On that occasion, `Abdu'l-Bahá--Bahá'u'lláh's Son and chosen successor--was described by a Jewish leader as a "living example of self-sacrifice," by a Christian orator as One who led humanity to the "Way of Truth," and by a prominent Muslim leader as a "pillar of peace" and the embodiment of "glory and greatness." His funeral, according to a Western observer, brought together a great throng "sorrowing for His death, but rejoicing also for His life."
Throughout the Occident and the Orient, `Abdu'l-Bahá was known as an ambassador of peace, a champion of justice, and the leading exponent of a new Faith. Through a series of epoch-making travels across North America and Europe, `Abdu'l-Bahá--by word and example--proclaimed with persuasiveness and force the essential principles of His Father's religion. Affirming that "Love is the most great law" that is the foundation of "true civilization," and that the "supreme need of humanity is cooperation and reciprocity" among all its peoples, `Abdu'l-Bahá reached out to leaders and the meek alike, to every soul who crossed His path.
An American commentator wrote,
He found a large and sympathetic audience waiting to greet Him personally and to receive from His own lips His loving and spiritual message.... Beyond the words spoken there was something indescribable in His personality that impressed profoundly all who came into His presence. The dome-like head, the patriarchal beard, the eyes that seemed to have looked beyond the reach of time and sense, the soft yet clearly penetrating voice, the translucent humility, the never failing love,--but above all, the sense of power mingled with gentleness that invested His whole being with a rare majesty of spiritual exaltation that both set Him apart, and yet brought Him near to the lowliest soul,--it was all this, and much more that can never be defined, that have left with His many ... friends, memories that are ineffaceable and unspeakably precious.
Yet, however magnetic His personality or penetrating His insights into the human condition, such characteristics cannot adequately capture `Abdu'l-Bahá's unique station in religious history. In the words of Bahá'u'lláh Himself, `Abdu'l-Bahá was the "Trust of God," "a shelter for all mankind," "the most great Favor," and God's "ancient and immutable Mystery." The Bahá'í writings further affirm that "in the person of `Abdu'l-Bahá the incompatible characteristics of a human nature and superhuman knowledge and perfection have been blended and are completely harmonized."
The question of religious succession has been crucial to all faiths. Failure to resolve this question has inevitably led to acrimony and division. The ambiguity surrounding the true successors of Jesus and Muhammad, for example, led to differing interpretations of sacred scripture and deep discord within both Christianity and Islam. However, Bahá'u'lláh prevented schism and established an unassailable foundation for His Faith through the provision of His will and testament, entitled "The Book of My Covenant." He wrote: "When the ocean of My presence hath ebbed and the Book of My Revelation is ended, turn your faces toward Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hast branched from this Ancient Root. The object of this sacred verse is none other except the Most Mighty Branch [`Abdu'l-Bahá]."
Bahá'u'lláh's appointment of `Abdu'l-Bahá as His successor was the means for diffusing His message of hope and universal peace to all corners of the world, for realizing the essential unity of all peoples. In referring to `Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá'u'lláh wrote: "The glory of God rest upon Thee, and upon whosoever serveth Thee and circleth around Thee. Woe, great woe, betide him that opposeth and injureth Thee. Well is it with him that sweareth fealty to Thee." `Abdu'l-Bahá was, in short, the Center of Bahá'u'lláh's Covenant --the instrument for ensuring the unity of the Bahá'í community and preserving the integrity of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings.
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