This month I will be taking part in a meeting celebrating the centenary of the visit of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to the United Kingdom.
One hundred years ago, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, arrived in the United Kingdom for the first of two visits. He was 66 years old, in failing health, and had been an exile from Persia since childhood. He and His family had spent forty years imprisoned by the Ottoman authorities in the Holy Land, and it was only in 1908 that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was finally free. He wasted no time in taking His Father Bahá’u’lláh’s message of peace and religious renewal to western societies. British Bahá’ís see ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visits as crucial in the establishment of the Bahá’í Faith in the UK. For decades until then, Bahá’ís had been persecuted, imprisoned and executed across Persia and the Ottoman empire. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s journeys to the west were an emancipation. In London, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave public lectures at City Temple, St John the Divine in Smith Square, and elsewhere. At City Temple, He said that, “The gift of God to this enlightened age is the knowledge of the oneness of mankind and of the fundamental oneness of religion.” At St John, the translation of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s remarks was read by the Archdeacon of Westminster, Albert Wilberforce. There are many stories of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s activities in Britain. His acts of charity at homeless shelters and for the poor; His audiences for hundreds of well-wishers and questioners; His constant emphasis on political reconciliation in the pre-war period; His call for racial harmony and an end to prejudice; all of these episodes set for Bahá’ís an enduring example of a life dedicated to the service of humanity.