You are hereStories / April, 2012 / Two Wings Are Necessary

Two Wings Are Necessary


Titanic 1912

The Titanic's Forgotten "Survivor" by Rainn Wilson, Actor - As we've been reminded innumerable times over the past few weeks, one hundred years ago the "unsinkable" Titanic sank into the North Atlantic, taking with her more than 1,500 lives. The tragedy has made for some epic storytelling. Of all the stories, one of the most extraordinary is that of a 68-year-old Persian who wasn't, it turns out, actually on the ill-fated vessel, but was supposed to be.(Version Française ci-dessous)

`Abdu'l-Bahá, during his trip to the United States. `Abdu'l-Bahá arrived in New York City on 11 April 1912, after declining an offer of passage on the RMS Titanic. On 5 December 1912 he set sail back to Europe. Finally on 12 June 1913 he returned to Egypt, where he stayed for six months before returning to Haifa.`Abdu'l-Bahá, during his trip to the United States. `Abdu'l-Bahá arrived in New York City on 11 April 1912, after declining an offer of passage on the RMS Titanic. On 5 December 1912 he set sail back to Europe. Finally on 12 June 1913 he returned to Egypt, where he stayed for six months before returning to Haifa.Abbas Effendi -- known as Abdu'l-Baha or "the Servant of God" -- was feted by the press in both Europe and the U.S. as a philosopher, a peace apostle, even the return of Christ. His American admirers had sent him thousands of dollars for a ticket on the Titanic, and begged him to ride in the greatest of opulence. He declined and gave the money to charity.

"I was asked to sail upon the Titanic," he later said, "but my heart did not prompt me to do so."

Instead, Abdu'l-Baha sailed to New York on the more modest SS Cedric. Every major newspaper in New York covered his arrival on April 11 and his eight-month coast-to-coast tour that followed. This turbaned foreigner in "oriental robes" was front-page news.
  
Abdu'l-Bahá boarded the RMS Cedric in Alexandria, Egypt bound for Naples on March 25, 1912. The American Bahá'í community had sent thousands of dollars urging `Abdu'l-Bahá to leave the Cedric in Italy and travel to England to sail on the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic. Instead he returned the money for charity and continued the voyage on the Cedric. `Abdu'l-Bahá, during his trip to the United States. `Abdu'l-Bahá arrived in New York City on 11 April 1912, after declining an offer of passage on the RMS Titanic. On 5 December 1912 he set sail back to Europe. Finally on 12 June 1913 he returned to Egypt, where he stayed for six months before returning to Haifa.Abdu'l-Bahá boarded the RMS Cedric in Alexandria, Egypt bound for Naples on March 25, 1912. The American Bahá'í community had sent thousands of dollars urging `Abdu'l-Bahá to leave the Cedric in Italy and travel to England to sail on the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic. Instead he returned the money for charity and continued the voyage on the Cedric. `Abdu'l-Bahá, during his trip to the United States. `Abdu'l-Bahá arrived in New York City on 11 April 1912, after declining an offer of passage on the RMS Titanic. On 5 December 1912 he set sail back to Europe. Finally on 12 June 1913 he returned to Egypt, where he stayed for six months before returning to Haifa.White Star liner "S.S. Celtic " known as Celtic 2, the first of 4 nearly identical ships built by Harland and Wolf at Belfast, Ireland. The New York Times reported that his mission was "to do away with prejudices... prejudice of nationality, of race, of religion." The article also quotes him directly: "The time has come for humanity to hoist the standard of the oneness of the human world, so that dogmatic formulas and superstitions may end."

The press often called him a prophet, especially a "Persian Prophet" (ah, alliteration!). One headline, following his talk at Stanford University, read: "Prophet Says He Is Not A Prophet." Abdu'l-Baha was in fact the leader of the then nascent Baha'i Faith, though he consistently denied the whole prophet thing.

An item bequeathed to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, by Walter Lord shows the Titanic luncheon menu signed by survivors of the Titanic. (National Maritime Museum/ London)An item bequeathed to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, by Walter Lord shows the Titanic luncheon menu signed by survivors of the Titanic. (National Maritime Museum/ London)He preached the faith founded by his father, Baha'u'llah, in the mid-1800s, rooted in the unity of all religions. At the time there were only a few hundred Bahai's in the U.S.; today there are 150,000. Day after day, month after month, crowds across America (often in the thousands) flocked to hear him talk. In synagogues he praised Christ. In churches he extolled the teachings of Mohammed. And throughout his travels his company was sought by luminaries like Andrew Carnegie, Alexander Graham Bell and Kahlil Gibran.

Just how did Abdu'l-Baha come to inspire so many -- this obscure figure from the east who had spent 40-something years imprisoned for his religion, who had never attended school or been exposed to western culture?

RMS Titanic was a British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on 15 April 1912 after colliding with an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York City. The sinking of Titanic caused the deaths of 1,514 people in one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history.RMS Titanic was a British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on 15 April 1912 after colliding with an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York City. The sinking of Titanic caused the deaths of 1,514 people in one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history.I suspect it has something do with not just what he said, but what he did. "He is the only man in the world who at his dinner table has gathered Persian, Zorastan, Jew, Christian, Mahometan," [sic] wrote the New York Tribune's Kate Carew (the Liz Smith of her era). Later in the piece, sans her trademark levity, she describes Abdu'l-Baha's visit to the Bowery Mission on the Lower East Side -- where he personally handed out silver coins to 400 homeless men.

Throughout his U.S. visit he swept aside the social protocol of segregation by insisting that everywhere he spoke be open to people of all races. Not the biggest crowd pleaser at the time. At the Great Northern Hotel on 57th Street (now the Parker Meridien), the manager vehemently refused to allow any blacks on the property.

A 1912 photograph of a second class area on the Titanic. A disproportionate number of men – over 90% of those in Second Class – were left aboard due to a "women and children first" protocol followed by the officers loading the lifeboats. (The New York Times Photo Archives/American Press Association)A 1912 photograph of a second class area on the Titanic. A disproportionate number of men – over 90% of those in Second Class – were left aboard due to a "women and children first" protocol followed by the officers loading the lifeboats. (The New York Times Photo Archives/American Press Association)"If the people see that one colored person has entered my hotel, no respectable person will ever set foot in it," he said. So Abdu'l-Baha instead organized a multi-racial feast at the home of one of his followers, with many whites serving blacks -- a subversive, even dangerous notion at the time.

Only among humans was skin color a cause of discord, Abdu'l-Baha once remarked. "Animals, despite the fact that they lack reason and understanding, do not make colors the cause of conflict. Why should man, who has reason, create conflict?"

Abdu'l-Baha's talks pierced audiences with a radical simplicity. And yet he advanced ideas that Americans still wrestle with a century later: the need for true racial harmony and gender equality; the elimination of extreme wealth and poverty; the dangers of nationalism and religious bigotry; and an insistence upon the independent search for truth. Any of those ring a bell in 2012?

I desire to make manifest among the friends in America a new light that they may become a new people, that a new foundation may be established and complete harmony be realized; for the foundation of Baha'u'llah is love. (`Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, 218)I desire to make manifest among the friends in America a new light that they may become a new people, that a new foundation may be established and complete harmony be realized; for the foundation of Baha'u'llah is love. (`Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, 218)His mission of unity, spread throughout our nation one hundred years ago, should be celebrated alongside the messages of Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and Martin Luther King Jr.

In his very first public address in the U.S. -- at New York's Church of Ascension on Fifth Avenue and 10th Street -- Abdu'l-Baha hailed America's material progress in the arts, agriculture and commerce, but with a caution to also develop our spiritual potentialities.

"For man two wings are necessary. One wing is physical power and material civilization; the other is spiritual power and divine civilization. With one wing only, flight is impossible."

He gave the talk on April 14, 1912. Later that same day the Titanic struck the iceberg.

(Source: www.huffingtonpost.com - Rainn Wilson, posted on 04/12/2012) 

Version Française

Recommend this story to your friends on Facebook:

One World Gallery

Story Archive

Catch-up with all of our past stories!

Videos

Enjoy media related to our content and our cause!
See video
Omid Djalili

Featured Artists

Subscribe

Join us on the Web!
RSS Facebook YouTube