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When the East Meets the West in New York, 1912


`Abdu'l-Bahá and Kahlil Gibran in New York City, 1912

The New York Times, Sunday, April 21, 1912 -- Within the last week there has come to New York an old man, with a worn and beautiful face, who wears a long, brown gown and a white turban, and speaks the strange-sounding guttural language of Persia. On the pier he is welcomed by hundreds of people, for he is Abdul Baha, or "The Servant of God," the head of the Bahaist movement, and he is known to tens of thousands of followers all over the world as the "Master." For forty years he has been in prison, and his father, the former head of the Bahaists, died in prison. Their offense was indeed great, for they taught a doctrine against which no autocratic power could stand. They preached the love of God and the brotherhood of man and for this the Persian Government exiled and the Turkish Government imprisoned them. (The New York Times, Press Clipping, 1912)

New York Times Article, 1912New York Times Article, 1912New York City welcomed ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, a Persian man who was born in Tehran, Iran on 23 May 1844, the eldest son of Bahá'u'lláh and Navváb.

"Seldom have I seen one whose appearance impressed me more. A tall strongly-built man holding himself straight as an arrow, with white turban and raiment, long black locks reaching almost to the shoulder, broad powerful forehead indicating a strong intellect combined with an unswerving will, eyes keen as a hawk's, and strongly-marked but pleasing features--such was my first impression of `Abbas Effendi, 'the master' as he par excellence is called.... One more eloquent of speech, more ready of argument, more apt of illustration, more intimately acquainted with the sacred books of the Jews, the Christians, and the Muhammadans, could, I should think, scarcely be found even amongst the eloquent, ready, and subtle race to which he belongs. These qualities, combined with a bearing at once majestic and genial, made me cease to wonder at the influence and esteem which he enjoyed even beyond the circle of his father's followers. About the greatness of this man and his power no one who had seen him could entertain a doubt." --The reflections of Edward G. Browne, a Cambridge University scholar who first met `Abdu'l-Bahá in 1890.

After traveling to Europe,`Abdu'l-Bahá undertook an extensive journey to the United States and Canada to once again spread his father's teachings. He arrived in New York City on 11 April 1912, after declining an offer of passage on the RMS Titanic, telling the Bahá'í believers, instead, to "Donate this to charity." He instead travelled on a slower craft, the S.S. Cedric, and cited preference of a longer sea journey as the reason. He arrived in New York City on 11 April 1912.After traveling to Europe,`Abdu'l-Bahá undertook an extensive journey to the United States and Canada to once again spread his father's teachings. He arrived in New York City on 11 April 1912, after declining an offer of passage on the RMS Titanic, telling the Bahá'í believers, instead, to "Donate this to charity." He instead travelled on a slower craft, the S.S. Cedric, and cited preference of a longer sea journey as the reason. He arrived in New York City on 11 April 1912.The 1908 Young Turks revolution freed all political prisoners in the Ottoman Empire, and `Abdu'l-Bahá was freed from imprisonment allowing him to leave Palestine in 1910. He embarked on a three year journey to Egypt, Europe, and North America, spreading his father’s teachings of peace. His heart transformed so many lives and continues to do so.

`Abdu'l-Bahá's given name was `Abbás, but he preferred the title of `Abdu'l-Bahá (servant of the glory of God). He is commonly referred to in Bahá'í texts as "The Master", and received the title of KBE (Knight Commander ) by the British government after his personal storage of grain was used to relieve famine in Palestine following World War I, but never used the title. While in New York City, religious congregations, peace societies, and universities vied to invite Him. Admirers and others alike, attracted by His love and wisdom, followed the Master from place to place.
 
`Abdu'l-Bahá’s  Immigration  Record - This ship manifest lists `Abdu'l-Bahá and some of His companions, provides some biographical and personal data, and shows the written record of the brief immigration inquiry. `Abdu'l-Bahá is passenger #8.  (Ellis Island - ellisisland.org)`Abdu'l-Bahá’s Immigration Record - This ship manifest lists `Abdu'l-Bahá and some of His companions, provides some biographical and personal data, and shows the written record of the brief immigration inquiry. `Abdu'l-Bahá is passenger #8. (Ellis Island - ellisisland.org)The momentous arrival in New York City aboard the S.S. Cedric of this glorious 68 year-old Persian man released from 40 years' imprisonment occurred on the morning of April 11, 1912. On the tugboat that met the ship bringing Him and His entourage to this country were newspaper reporters, among them Wendell Phillips Dodge of the New York City News Association. Mr. Dodge gave an account of the appearance and he remarked: “His face was as light itself… He is a man of medium height, though at first sight he seemed to be taller… As he paced the deck, talking to reporters, he appeared alert and active in every movement, his head thrown back and splendidly poised upon his broad shoulders most of the time…

`Abdu'l-Bahá, during his trip to the United States`Abdu'l-Bahá, during his trip to the United StatesWhen the ship was abreast the Statue of Liberty, standing erect and facing it, He had his arms wide apart in salutation and said, ‘There is the New World’s symbol of liberty and freedom. After being forty years a prisoner, I can tell you freedom is not a matter of place. It is a condition… When one is released from the prison of self, that is indeed a release.’… Going up the river, gazing with a look of bewildered amazement… at the downtown skyscrapers, the “Wise Man out of the East” remarked: “These are the minarets of the Western world’s commerce and industry.’ “Dodge stated: “ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá comes on a mission of international peace, to attend the Peace Conference at Lake Mohonk and to address various peace meetings, educational societies, religious organizations, etc…” Dodge’s lengthy article was distributed around the world by the Associated Press and more than a dozen other newspaper accounts appeared in and around the city.

By the time the S.S. Cedric docked, a crowd of friends had been waiting for hours, eager to meet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. However, one of the American believers, Mr. Edward Kinney was called forth to board the ship, and he returned with a message from the Master that He would meet them all at the home of Mr. Kinney at four o’clock. 

The Ansonia Hotel, New York. `Abdu'l-Bahá deliberately chose New York as the hub of His travels as He pointed out: "I have always returned to New York, because I wished New York to advance greatly…" He found the New York of 1912 to be a place of tolerance by comparison with other racially segregated societies.The Ansonia Hotel, New York. `Abdu'l-Bahá deliberately chose New York as the hub of His travels as He pointed out: "I have always returned to New York, because I wished New York to advance greatly…" He found the New York of 1912 to be a place of tolerance by comparison with other racially segregated societies.Leaving the Cedric, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and His entourage were driven from the ship to the Hotel Ansonia in New York City, which became His headquarters for the next nine days of incredibly intense activities. After resting and having a cup of tea, He was taken to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Edward B. Kinney, where hundreds of Bahá’í friends had gathered. “Almost everyone was weeping just at the sight of Him.” He bade a warm welcome to all, then had a few words with each one.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke a little English and it was often apparent that He understood it well. He addressed his audiences in the Persian language (Farsi), each sentence followed by a translation. One must remember that He had lived a life of exile and imprisonment and had never spoken before an audience. His retinue of Persian friends were learned translators and secretaries. People commented that the translation did not seem necessary at times as they felt the meaning of His words through the power of “His flashing eyes,” His gestures and His warm, smiling countenance.

Church of the Ascension (Episcopal), Fifth Avenue at 10th Street (west side), first row houses built (1856-1858)Church of the Ascension (Episcopal), Fifth Avenue at 10th Street (west side), first row houses built (1856-1858)The next day, April 12, set the pattern for all His days - that of a continuous flow of activities. In the mornings, people streamed in line at the Ansonia Hotel to meet Him, each one receiving a measure of His love. As recalled by Reverend Howard Colby Ives, the experience was dramatic: “Life has never been quite the same since.” In the afternoon, He traveled to Brooklyn, to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Howard MacNutt, where He addressed an audience in the hundreds. Back in Manhattan in the evening He spoke to hundreds more people in the studio of Miss Phillips. “The enormous room was packed,” confirmed Juliet Thompson, an active member of the Society of Washington Artists.

The visit of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on Sunday, April 14, to the Church of the Ascension, on Fifth Avenue and 10th Street, was an historic day of triumph for the friends of New York City, and particularly for Juliet Thompson who was a parishioner of the church. The Church Rector, Dr. Percy Stickney Grant, a personal friend of Juliet, had been persistently hostile toward ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the Faith, but in a change of mind had offered his church for the first official appearance of the Master in New York who accepted the offer above thirteen similar invitations.

'Abdu’l-Bahá speaking at the church, New York City, 1912'Abdu’l-Bahá speaking at the church, New York City, 1912Dr. Percy Grant was a brilliant but somewhat opinionated Christian clergyman who, during ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s sojourn, was torn between conflicting allegiances. He was touched by the Master’s love and majesty, and deeply moved by the momentous sense of history conveyed by His personality and mission. For His special visit he had spared neither publicity nor preparation. He had reached “perfection,” wrote Juliet, in the decoration and organization of the service: it was the summit of pomp and circumstance.

Dr. Grant opened the service with the reading of prophecies pointing to Bahá’u’lláh who taught that humanity is one single race and that the age has come for its unification in a global society, and of the 13th Chapter of Corinthians, instead of the traditional lesson for the day. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was waiting in the vestry. Then, in the thunder of organ music and the triumphant singing of “Jesus Lives,” the Master entered the chancel in a kingly manner, Dr. Grant holding His hand, leading Him to the Bishop’s Chair. In front of a throng of two thousand, Dr. Grant introduced with the greatest respect and emotion the One he had previously fiercely denounced from his pulpit. He spoke from the chancel, then stepped aside as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá replaced him in the same honored place.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá with Bahá’í children‘Abdu’l-Bahá with Bahá’í childrenWe can only imagine this unforgettable scene for those present: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá standing in His white, flowing robes, surrounded by a lavish profusion of lights and calla lilies, His turbaned head haloed by the rays of the sun filtering through the colored windows, dominating all with simple, majestic dignity, His arms outstretched. His vibrating, melodious voice started: “In his scriptural lesson this morning the revered Doctor read a verse from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, ‘For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face.’ The light of truth has heretofore been seen dimly through variegated glasses, but now the splendors of divinity shall be visible through the translucent mirrors of pure hearts and spirits.” And the Master went on to extol the mission of Jesus and Bahá’u’lláh, establishing a divine civilization and world peace.

When He ended His address, He was asked by Dr. Grant to give the benediction. His face uplifted, His eyes closed, the palms of His hands in offering to God, ’Abdu’l-Bahá chanted a prayer in Farsi, the clergymen kneeling on each side of Him.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá and friends, 1912‘Abdu’l-Bahá and friends, 1912“…Too great to put into words, it was almost too great to bear…” wrote Juliet Thompson in exaltation. She was probably echoing the feelings of the Bahá’í friends on that day. After the service, the Master went to His car, while the neighborhood resounded with cries of “Alláh’u’Abhá” (Arabic: God is Most Glorious‎) which is a greeting that Bahá'ís (followers of Bahá’u’lláh) use when they meet each other.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá found the New York of 1912 to be a place of tolerance by comparison with other racially segregated societies around the world and planned the first interracial marriage to take place there. This was an event of great significance at the time, confirming the Master’s statement that interracial marriages are “a service to humanity.” 

‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke at the Union Meeting of Advanced Thought Center at the Carnegie Lyceum (now Carnegie Hall.)‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke at the Union Meeting of Advanced Thought Center at the Carnegie Lyceum (now Carnegie Hall.)‘Abdu’l-Bahá deplored racial segregation and He “strongly urged the friends to associate with each other in the utmost joy and happiness.” He called for such a gathering, and it took place Wednesday, April 17, at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Kinney, where Bahá’ís and their friends of both the black and white races met in unity. He prepared and served the meal Himself, speaking of the human family as “a garden of flowers of various hues.” The Master was most happy and the spirit of the friends was high. It was felt that this was a landmark in the city. This memorable event was followed by ‘a public address at the hotel. Today, the Ansonia functions solely as residences.

In the afternoon, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke at the Union Meeting of Advanced Thought Center at the Carnegie Lyceum (now Carnegie Hall.) The following day witnessed a controversy, the result of the Master having been seated in the Bishop’s Chair in the Church of the Ascension and addressing the congregation from the chancel: An Episcopalian Canon had been broken! Newspapers took sides and were not quieted until the Bishop himself went to the Ansonia to visit ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and thanked Him for honoring the Church with His visit.

Alexander Irvine from a sketch by Juliet Thompson. He was a writer from the United Kingdom who graduated from Yale University as a minister of religion and preached for some years in the Church of the Ascension, Fifth Avenue, New York. (1863 to 1941)Alexander Irvine from a sketch by Juliet Thompson. He was a writer from the United Kingdom who graduated from Yale University as a minister of religion and preached for some years in the Church of the Ascension, Fifth Avenue, New York. (1863 to 1941)He later sent  a message to Dr. Grant, “Say: I will not forget the services thou hast rendered yesterday. They are engraved in the book of My heart…Thousands of years hence, the mention of yesterday will be heard and it will become history that you were the founder of this work. I will never forget the love which was manifested yesterday.”

On April 15, according to the biographers of the renowned and celebrated Lebanese poet and painter, Kahlil Gibran, a beautiful pencil portrait of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was drawn by Mr. Gibran. This portrait was done as part of a series of drawings of well-known personalities and artists most respected by Gibran, including Auguste Rodin (French sculptor) and Claude Debussy (French composer), among others. The series appeared in major exhibits in New York and Paris, and was acclaimed to be the best work of Gibran, who acknowledged drawing to be his favorite medium.

Portrait of Abdu'l-Bahà on paper by Kahlil gibran, 1912.Portrait of Abdu'l-Bahà on paper by Kahlil gibran, 1912.In “Juliet Remembers Gibran,” the Bahá’í writer Marzieh Gail, recalls a 1943 conversation with Juliet about Kahlil Gibran, who lived in a studio across the street from her home. They were close friends, and Gibran loved ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. He was inspired to write “Jesus, the Son of Man” from his recollection of the Master. Gibran had asked Juliet to request the Master to sit for him. He was accorded one hour at 6:30 in the morning. Gibran’s biographers place this event on April 15, the day of the sinking of the Titanic. Writer Barbara Young, in “The Man from Lebanon,” mentions that this event took place in the studio of the artist. However, it is likely that at this early hour it was in the Master’s suite at the Ansonia Hotel.

A study of Kahlil Gibran' has written that in his later years Gibran liked to talk about his early years in New York and his spacious studio where he had felt a new Freedom saying that he could spread his wings there. It was in this studio that the drawing of revered 'Abdu'l-Bahà was made one day early in the morning in 1912. Talking about it,  Gibran said, "I remained awake all night, for I knew I should never have an eye or a hand to work with if I took my sleep." Gibran was captivated by 'Abdu'l-Bahá calling him "complete".

Gibran, Kahlil or Khalil, Lebanese poet and novelist. Gibran (Jubran Khalil Jubran) was born in 1883 at Bshirri in northern Lebanon. His family emigrated to America in 1895 and settled in Boston; Gibran moved to New York City in 1911. He is known in the West for his book "The Prophet" (1923), and in the Arab world for his contributions to the reformation of the modern usage of the Arabic language. His other books include "Jesus, the Son of Man" (1928) and "The Garden of the Prophet" (1934). He ignored the rigid, traditional forms and called for free artistic expressions.Gibran, Kahlil or Khalil, Lebanese poet and novelist. Gibran (Jubran Khalil Jubran) was born in 1883 at Bshirri in northern Lebanon. His family emigrated to America in 1895 and settled in Boston; Gibran moved to New York City in 1911. He is known in the West for his book "The Prophet" (1923), and in the Arab world for his contributions to the reformation of the modern usage of the Arabic language. His other books include "Jesus, the Son of Man" (1928) and "The Garden of the Prophet" (1934). He ignored the rigid, traditional forms and called for free artistic expressions.Juliet tells us, "I don't believe that there was any connection between 'Abdu'l-Bahá and 'The Prophet'.  But he told me that when he wrote 'The Son of Man' he thought of 'Abdu'l-Bahà all through. He told me definitely that 'The Son of Man' was influenced by 'Abdu'l-Bahà. At the end of the book, 'The Son of Man', Gibran writes: "But Master, Sky-heart, Knight of our fairer dream, you do still tread this day ; Nor bows nor spears shall stay your steps ; You walk through all our arrows ; You smile down upon us, … And you father us all."

News of the sinking of the luxury liner, the Titanic, on her maiden voyage, was announced in the newspapers April 16. After praying for the deceased, the friends offered thanks that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had not traveled on that ship. This day was filled with the usual flow of morning visitors, a public meeting in the afternoon at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Dodge, and in the evening, the Master addressed friends who had come from New Jersey to visit Him at the Hotel.

`Abdu'l-Bahá at the MacNutt home in Brooklyn, NY.`Abdu'l-Bahá at the MacNutt home in Brooklyn, NY.Commenting to Mr. MacNutt upon the newspaper accounts of the sinking of the Titanic, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá reflected on the fact that material achievements of technology and wealth are in vain unless man builds a spiritual civilization in his own heart. “…I wish you to live in the world of the Spirit… beyond the gloomy mask of this mortal existence…” After a long pause, the Master said: “I was asked to sail upon the Titanic, but my heart did not prompt Me to do so.”  

"O my dear children! ... My highest wish and desire is that ye who are my children may be educated according to the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh and may received a Bahá'í training; that ye may each become a lighted candle in the world of humanity, may be devoted to the service of all mankind, may give up your rest and comfort, so that ye may become the cause of the tranquility of the world of creation." - ‘Abdu’l-Bahá 

TALKS (List of Talks delivered by Abdu’l-Bahá in New York and Brooklyn, 1912) 
VIDEO (Watch Video below -New York, City of the Covenant, part 2 of 2)



(Sources: bcca.org / sarwal.org)

 

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