Aged Head of New Religion Gives Views
Approves Woman’s Suffrage and Divorce, and Wants to Bring About Peace, and Unity of Nations
By Nixola Greeley-Smith.
New York, July 15. — The servant of the Glory of God is with us — ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Abbas is the Persian for his name, and he is the head of one of the newest and most thriving religions in the world, numbering 20,000,000 souls among his followers, of whom several hundred souls are in New York and waited at the pier to meet him yesterday.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá is the son of Bahá’u’lláh, whose coming was foretold by The Báb, a religious revolutionist who arose in Persia 70 years ago, but who was executed before his prophecies got a chance to make good.
To a hereditary heathen the distinguishing characteristics of this new religion of the Orient is that it changes its name and its prophet at the same time. For members of the sect were known originally as Bábists, after The Báb, but they are now called Bahá’ís, after the Bahás, father and son.
BOTH BAHAS IN PRISON FOR A LONG TIME.
Both Bahás were imprisoned for many years by the Turkish government at Akka. In fact the father died there, but the triumph of the Young Turk movement let the son of the prophet out of jail, and the first use he made of his unaccustomed liberty was to visit Europe and the second to come to the United States.
Of course nobody could be named Bahá without having a beard, and the eternal fitness of things has seen to it that this 70-year-old head of a new religion had the regulation prophet’s whiskers — which may be seen any day this week at the Ansonia hotel, a dangerous place for newly emancipated prophets, I should think.
However, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is not unprotected. He has brought a suite of five very Oriental gentlemen, including a private physician, with him to New York, and this ought to provide chaperonage enough for anybody — even W.E.D. Stokes.
VISITORS IMPRESSIVELY DELAYED AT THE ANSONIA.
A prophet is not without honor at the Ansonia. There was a lot of red tape and an impressive delay before visitors were admitted to the prophetic presence. And then ‘Abdu’l-Bahá delivered a long monologue which one was permitted to take down but not to interrupt. I know, for I got terribly, terribly “squelched” for interrupting.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá is really a delightful prophet. He says he isn’t a prophet, by the way, but “only a servant of the servants of God,” but he seemed so worn and old and feeble yesterday that I couldn’t help wishing the prophet business were profitable these days and that there were a chance of his retiring to a serene old age pretty soon.
For those were very, very old and tired eyes that gazed out of the window of the Ansonia yesterday while the prophet told in strange, monotonous Persian of the purpose of his visit to the United States. The Persian was, of course, duly translated by the prophet’s physician, a suave, Oriental gentleman with melancholy, dark eyes and a black beard, which looked silky enough to be woven into a prayer rug for the prophet himself.
The five gentlemen of the suite act like so many prayer rugs for the prophet, anyhow. For instance some one asked [text missing]
And just then the prophet came in, bowed a gracious welcome to everybody present and, seating himself in a huge armchair at the window, began to speak.
The prophet wore a white turban from which long gray locks escaped down his back to the middle of his shoulders. A modern looking gray overcoat, with a plaid lining, half concealed a gown of snuff-colored cloth that was knotted with a cord about the middle like a bath robe. This rope revealed that the prophet ought to wear a straight front corset. The prophet’s skin, like his gown, is snuff colored, and he carried yesterday a small silver snuff box from which he refreshed himself occasionally during our talk.
You need not take the prophet or his views with a pinch of snuff, however, for he is really a very modern, very intelligent old gentleman.
Dr. Lyman Abbott, Dr. Parkhurst and other beared American prophets might sit at his feet and learn many things — for instance, that woman suffrage is right and inevitable.
“I believe in equal rights of every kind for men and women,” the Servant of the Glory of God declared. “I believe in divorce. All my followers practice monogamy, but I believe it is better for two persons to separate who discover that there cannot be any real union of souls between them. Incompatibility is the greatest cause for divorce. When incompatability [sic] exists there can be no real marriage. I am very happily married and have four daughters. They speak French and German and are very accomplished girls. They do not wear the veil and are quite free as your women are.
VEILS THE SYMBOL OF WOMAN’S ENSLAVEMENT.
“The wearing of the veil by Oriental women is the cause and the symbol of their enslavement. Mahomet never prescribed that women should veil their faces — that is one of the abuses which have crept into the religion he taught. I have come to America first of all to see your country and because I have heard that there is great popular interest in the cause of Peace here and I am the servant and the advocate of Peace. Human solidarity is what my religion urges — unity of nations and of religions.
“Errors have crept into the religions of today and through those errors strife. All prophets are manifestations of Truth, but there cannot be multiplicity of truth. It is because errors have crept into religions that there is division and misunderstanding. To eliminate these errors we must get back to fundamental truth — return to the starting point.”
The prophet had gotten into the real prophet’s stride by this time and there is no doubt that he and his followers were having a most edifying time. But in the interest of those who seek lighter reading I ventured an interruption.
NO QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY THE PROPHET.
“But you see there is another remedy for strife among religions.” I said to the interpreter, “and New York seems to have found it. Tell the prophet that we are really a lot of heathens and that we don’t need to kiss and make up — we need to believe — what has he for us to believe?”
The doctor interpreter eyed me until I was very glad that I wasn’t in Persia when I caught that glance.
“Will you please not to interrupt,” he said. “‘Abdu’l-Bahá will speak when he wishes you to hear.
I haven’t spoken since.