March 18, 2012

April 11, 1912: 'Abdu’l-Baha’s Arrival in America

(By Wendell Phillips Dodge a reporter for the New York City News Association, who boarded the Cedric at quarantine and interviewed ‘Abdu’l-Baha coming up the bay. It was given to all of the New York newspapers, and, through the Associated Press, was sent, though boiled clown considerably, to newspapers throughout the world.)

‘Abdu’l-Baha, the eminent Persian philosopher and leader of the Baha’i movement for the unification of religions and the establishment of universal peace, arrived April 11th on the steamship Cedric from Alexandria, Egypt. It is his first visit to America, and except for a brief visit to Paris and London last summer and fall, it is the first time in forty years that he has gone beyond the fortification of the 'prison city" of Acre, Syria, to which place he and his father, Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i movement, were banished by the Turkish government a half century ago.

He comes on a mission of international peace, to attend and address the Peace Conference at Lake Mohonk the latter part of the month, and to address various peace meetings, educational societies, religious organizations etc.

While the ship news reporters boarded the Cedric down the bay, ‘Abdu'l-Baha was found on the upper deck, standing where he could see the pilot, his long, flowing oriental robe flapping in the breeze. He was clothed in a long, black robe open at the front and disclosing another robe of light tan. Upon his head was a pure white turban, such as eastern patriarchs wear.

His face was light itself as he scanned the harbor and greeted the reporters, who had been kept waiting at quarantine for three and a half hours before they could board the ship with the customs officers, owing to a case of smallpox and several cases of typhoid fever in the steerage, which had to be removed to Hoffman Island for isolation, and the ship then fumigated. He is a man of medium height, though at first sight he seemed to be much taller. He is strongly and solidly built, and weighs probably one hundred and sixty five pounds. As he paced the deck, talking with the reporters, he appeared alert and active in every movement, his head thrown back and splendidly poised upon his broad, square shoulders, most of the time. A profusion of iron grey hair bursting out at the sides of the turban and hanging long upon the neck; a large, massive head, full domed and remarkably wide across the forehead and temples, the forehead rising like a great palisade above the eyes, which were very wide apart, their orbits large and deep, looking out from under massive overhanging brows; strong Roman nose, generous ears, decisive yet kindly mouth and chin; a creamy white complexion, beard same color as his hair, worn full over the face and carefully trimmed at almost full length -- this completes an insufficient word picture of this "Wise Man Out of the East."

His first words were about the press, saying:

"The pages of swiftly appearing newspapers are indeed the mirror of the world; they display the doings and actions of the different nations; they both illustrate them and cause them to be heard. Newspapers are as a mirror which is endowed with hearing, sight and speech; they are a wonderful phenomenon and a great matter. But it behooveth the editors of the newspaper to be sanctified from the prejudice of egotism and desire, and to be adorned with the ornament of equity and justice.”

"There are good and bad newspapers. Those which strive to speak only that which is truth, which hold the mirror up to truth, are like the sun. They light the world everywhere with truth and their work is imperishable. Those who play for their own little selfish ends give no true light to the world and perish of their own futility."

Dr. Ameen U. Fareed, a young Americanized Persian physician and surgeon, who is a nephew of ‘Abdu'l-Baha, and who acted as interpreter, then told of how ‘Abdu'l-Baha spent most of his time on the way across standing beside the wireless operator, himself receiving numerous messages through the air from his followers in America.

Talking to the reporters in his stateroom aboard the Cedric, ‘Abdu'l-Baha told of an incident which occurred in the Holy Land last winter, and it shows what a rare sense of humor this great world figure has.

An enquirer, about to set off to Jerusalem, was one day discussing with ‘Abdu'l-Baha the subject of pilgrimage:

"'The proper spirit' said ‘Abdul-Baha in his quaint way to the enquirer, 'in which to visit places hallowed by remembrances of Christ, is one of constant communion with God. Love for God will be the telegraph wire, one end of which is in the Kingdom of the Spirit, and the other in your heart.’

“’I am afraid my telegraph wire is broken,' the enquirer replied.

"'Then you will have to use wireless telegraphy' I told him," said ‘Abdu'l-Baha, laughing heartily.

When the ship was abreast the Statue of Liberty, standing erect and facing it, ‘Abdul-Baha held 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 that freedom is not a matter of place. It is a condition. Unless one accepts dire vicissitudes he will not attain. When one is released from the prison of self, that is indeed a release.”

Then, waving adieu to the Statue of Liberty, he continued:

"In former ages it has been said, 'To love one’s native land is faith'. But the tongue in this days says, 'Glory is not his who loves his native land; but glory is his who loves his kind -- humanity'.”

“What is your attitude toward woman suffrage?" asked one of the reporters.

"The modern suffragette is fighting for what must be, and many of these are willing martyrs to imprisonment for their cause. One might not approve of the ways of some of the more militant suffragettes, but in the end it will adjust itself. If women were given the same advantages as men, their capacity being the same, the result would be the same. In fact, women have a superior disposition to men, they are more receptive, more sensitive, and their intuition is more intense. The only reason of their present backwardness in some directions is because they have not had the same educational advantages as men.”

“All children should be educated, but if parents cannot educate both the boys and the girls, then it would be better to educate the girls, for they will be the mothers of the coming generation. This is a radical idea for the East, where I come from, but it is already taking effect there, for the Baha’i women of Persia are being educated along with the men.”

"We have only to look about us in nature,” ‘Abdu’l-Baha continued, "to see the truth of this. Is it not a fact that the females of many species of animals are stronger and more powerful than the male? The chief cause of the mental and physical inequalities of the sexes is due to custom and training, which for ages past have molded woman into the ideal of the weaker vessel.”

"The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the scales are already shifting -- force is losing its weight and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendency. Hence the new age will be an age less masculine, and more permeated with the feminine ideals or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more properly balanced."

"What is a Baha’i” asked one of the reporters.

“To be a Baha’i simply means to love all the world, to love humanity and try to serve it; to work for Universal Peace, and the Universal Brotherhood," replied ‘Abdu'l-Baha.

The ship now pointed its nose up the North River, and, gazing in a look of bewildered amazement at the rugged sky line of the lower city formed by the downtown skyscrapers, the "Wise Man out of the East," remarked, pointing at the towering buildings: "These are the minarets of Western World commerce and industry, and seem to stretch these things heavenward in an endeavor to bring about this Universal Peace for which we are all working, for the good of the nations and mankind in general.

"The bricks make the house, and if the bricks are bad the house will not stand, as these do. It is necessary for individuals to become as good bricks, to eradicate from themselves race and religious hatred, greed and a limited patriotism, so that, whether they find themselves guiding the government, or founding a home, the result of their efforts may be peace and prosperity, love and happiness.”

The ship now reached its pier, where were anxiously waiting several hundred Baha'is, as the followers of ‘Abdu'l-Baha are called, who had been craning their necks down the river for a first sight of him since early morning.

The ship docked shortly after noon, but, fearing that a demonstration in public would not be the best thing for the Cause, and not liking that sort of thing, the venerable Persian Divine did not leave the ship until the pier had been quietly cleared of his followers, who were told to meet him in the afternoon at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Kinney, where he greeted then a few hours later. (Star of the West, vol. 3, no. 3, April 28, 1912)