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‘Abdu’l-Bahá Abbas, Head of New Religion, Believes in Woman Suffrage and Divorce

Abdul Baha Abbas, Head of New Religion, Believes in Woman Suffrage and Divorce
The Evening World
April 12, 1912
New York

He Says Errors Have Crept Into Religion and Caused Strife — He Wants to Bring About Peace, Unity of Nations and of Religions.

To Eliminate These Errors We Must Get Back to the Fundamental Truth, Return to the Starting Point — If You Interrupt Him You Get Squelched.

By Nixola Greeley-Smith.

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 seventy years ago, but who was executed before his prophecies got a chance to make good.

To a hereditary heathen the distinguishing characteristic 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 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 seventy-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 prophts, 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.

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 the prophet’s physician how many attendants he had brought with him and received this reply:

I cannot tell you. Anything he wishes you to know he will tell. I am only his mouthpiece. He will be here shortly.”

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 bearded 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. Incompatability is the greatest cause of divorce. When incompatability 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.

“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 a 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 to-day 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.

“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 and 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 what he wishes you to hear.”

I haven’t spoken since.