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Ways of the World

Ways of the World
SFO Bulletin
October 12, 1912
San Francisco, CA

ABDU’L-BAHA: A Call on the Persian Prophet Who Has Been Making a Visit to San Francisco, Carrying the Message of Universal Harmony.


WHEN I entered the comfortable house at 1815 California street, where the prophet was staying, I saw a great many people. They were sitting about in the wide hall and in the rooms that radiated into the distance. While I waited for my turn to be received I asked one of the prophet’s followers, a very pleasant woman, what those people were doing.

They have come to see the ‘Abdu’l-Bahá about their own affairs,” she replied. “He is willing to receive every one.”

Do most of them come for advice?” I said.

O, yes. The ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spends his life in helping others. His religion is essentially practical. It is not enough for one to have faith. One must work all the time.”

But he must be overrun.”

My remark was received with a charming smile. “Can one spend one’s time to better advantage than in helping?”

Our talk turned to the spread of the new religion. “There are many of us in this country now,” said the disciple.

Do you have a ceremonial?”

No. But we have meetings. And then we have lectures. I, myself, often lecture on the faith. You see, we have nothing really new to promulgate. We recognize the good in all religions. What we wish to do is to reconcile human beings, to make them see that they belong to one family. But good deeds are the most important expression of the faith.”

This reiteration interested me. It sounded like practical Christianity. “Are you devoting yourself to the new religion?” I ventured to ask.

The reply came quite frankly, “Yes.”

And you help all who apply to you?”

I do what I can.”

The words seemed almost too good to be true. “People often apply to me for help,” I went on, “because I write for a newspaper. It is hard to know what to do. Only the other day a man came to ask me to help him get out of the clutches of a money-lender.”

Send him to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Or send him to me.” The reply was quiet, serene.

And the day before a woman came in great distress. Her case was most difficult.”

Again came that serene reply: “Send her to me.”

As I sat scarcely able to believe my ears I wondered if indeed the spirit of Christianity had returned to earth, this time by way of Persia. I also speculated on what would happen if it were generally known in San Francisco that the new religion was not merely a philosophical cult, appealing to the fashionable, but a broad, practical religion, reaching out to all mankind with special tenderness for those in distress. At the people sitting about I looked with a new interest. I had to admit that they all seemed to be prosperous. Whatever their troubles might have been, they were probably not the result of immediate need.

Someone came forward and asked if the ‘Abdu’l-Bahá were visiting friends here. A young woman who had been swiftly and noiselessly passing and repassing and consulting in a low voice, replied: “No. He has rented this house for himself and for his suite for one month. We were very lucky to be able to secure it for him. He prefers a house to a hotel.”

Dark-faced men, with black silky hair were moving about. A smooth-faced young fellow, who looked like an American, kept opening the door to admit visitors. Someone near me said he was a recent college graduate who intended to devote his life to the new faith.

Presently one of those dark men approached. “The ‘Abdu’l-Bahá will see you now,” he said.

I walked up the wide, thickly carpeted stairs and passed through the upper hall. From one of the rooms in the rear came a loud voice, speaking a foreign language, different from any language I knew the sound of. I entered a sunny bedroom, where I was met by two dark-faced men, one young, in a conventional gray suit, with a pointed black beard and large luminous eyes, his silky hair partly covered with a black fez; and the other old, yet vigorous, with a flowing gray beard and with long gray hair under a white turban, dressed in a loose, flowing brown robe, reaching to his feet.

The young man held out his hand and said: “Welcome.”

The prophet spoke with a marked accent: “Welcome, very welcome.” He sank on the couch in Turkish fashion. He looked much older than his sixty-eight years; but he spoke like a man endowed with tremendous vitality. As soon as he stopped his companion interpreted in a low, even voice.

The ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explained that he was glad to be in this country. He brought a message from his friends in Persia. No matter what differences there might be between human beings, of race, or of nationality, or of climate, they all belonged to the same family. He spoke in rather prolonged intervals. His words had a kind of exaltation. They sounded like quotations from a book. The manner, however, was simple and direct.

There was one question that I wished particularly to ask this prophet of the new faith that embraced all humanity, that excluded no one. What message did it have for the disinherited millions?

When I asked the question and it was repeated in Persian, there was a brief silence before the answer began:

Society is like the army. There must be degrees. There must be officers and there must be soldiers. Thus far there has not been a just distribution of rewards. The few have had more than their share. The soldiers have been neglected. Their rights must be safeguarded. The reform will have to start with the land, the source of all wealth. I should like to develop an agrarian community, founded on perfect justice. The government must be concerned for the resources of nature. Those who make great discoveries, like the discovery of a rich mine, should receive a large portion for their enterprise. The rest should go to the government, for all the people. The weak and the poor must be cared for.”

Then, in response to questions, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá outlined in detail his idea of taxation, founded on the old system of tithes. He made it plain that he looked forward to the day when men should learn to live in harmony, co-operating for the advantage of the mass and for their own welfare and happiness. As he spoke, his words would be deftly turned into English by his companion.

Meanwhile, at the door, one of the faithful was busily writing. Then I recalled that nearly everything he said was recorded.

Presently, faces appeared at the door. Visitors were eager to be received. Already I had taken more than a fair allowance of time. But when I rose to leave it was arranged that I should come for further talk the next day.