ʿABD-AL-BAHĀʾ, epithet assumed by ʿAbbās Effendi, the eldest son of Bahāʾallāh, founder of the Bahaʾi movement. The epithet means “servant of the glory of God” or “servant of Bahāʾallāh.”

i. Life and work.

ii. Teachings.

i. Life and Work

ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ was born in Tehran on 23 May 1844. He accompanied his father into exile. At the latter’s death, the great majority of Bahaʾis recognized him, in accordance with Bahāʾallāh’s will (Ketāb ʿahdī), as the authorized interpreter of his father’s writings, as Center of the Covenant (markaz-e ʿahd or markaz-e mīṯāq) and Model of Bahaʾi Life. This will, however, was contested by Moḥammad ʿAlī, Bahāʾallāh’s younger son; he set up a rival group within the Bahaʾi organization and contrived to compromise his brother with the Ottoman authorities, who were hostile to the Bahaʾis. ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ was released from prison in 1908 under the amnesty granted by the new Young Turks government, and in 1910 he began his three great missionary journeys. The first was to Egypt (1910), the second to Europe (Paris, London, 1911), and the third to the United States and Europe (1912-13). In America he spent eight months preaching in evangelical churches, synagogues, Masonic lodges, and the like from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco. In September, 1912, he returned to England and continued on to France, Germany, Austria, and Hungary. At the end of 1913, he returned to Palestine from Paris.

The first Bahaʾi group in America had already been formed in 1894; and the first Bahaʾi pilgrims from the United States had reached ʿAkkā (Acre) on 10 December 1898. The journey of ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ in 1912, intended partly to counter the propaganda of his brother’s supporters in America, strengthened the community of American adherents. It also aroused great interest in various circles in Europe, where Bahaʾi communities were now formed. Toward the end of World War I, the Ottoman authorities, aroused by enemies of ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ and by his pacifist attitudes, seriously menaced his life. In 1920 he was made a knight of the Order of the British Empire. He died at Haifa on 28 November 1921 and was buried beside the Bāb (his mausoleum was completed in 1957). In his will, ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ appointed his eldest grandson, Šowqī Effendi Rabbānī (eldest son of his eldest daughter), as Guardian of the Cause of God (valī-e amr Allāh).

The works of ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ fall into two groups: his direct writings and speeches, lectures, and table talk as noted down by his followers. In the first group, the following are of special interest. 1. Resāla-ye madanīya (“Epistle on civilization”), written in Persian before 1875 and published in Bombay, 1310/1892-93, is a treatise on the philosophy of history and civilization from a Bahaʾi viewpoint. Two translations are available, one by Dawud, The Mysterious Forces of Civilization, London, 1910 (2nd ed., Chicago, 1918), and a more recent and accurate version by M. Gail, The Secret of Divine Civilization, Wilmette, 1957. 2. Maqāla-ye šaḵṣī sayyāḥ is a work in Persian, probably written in 1886, that does not bear the author’s name. It was translated, with notes and appendixes, by E. G. Browne in A Traveler’s Narrative Written to Illustrate the Episode of the Bāb, and published with the Persian text in 2 vols. (Vol. 1 being a facsimile edition of the Persian text), Cambridge, 1891. 3. Resāla-ye sīāsīya (“Epistle on politics”), written in Persian in 1893, published with n.p. and n.d. 4. Taḏkerat al-wafāʾ is an account in Persian of the lives of some of the early Babi and Bahaʾi believers who died in the author’s lifetime. It was written in 1915 and published in Haifa in 1924. M. Gail has made an English translation, Memorials of the Faithful, Wilmette, Illinois, 1971. 5. A large number of tablets (alvāḥ) or epistles are addressed to various persons in East and West. The original Arabic and Persian texts were collected as Makātīb-e ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ , 3 vols., Cairo, 1910-21; in English, Tablets of ʿAbdu’l-Bahāʾ, ed. Windust, 3 vols., Chicago, 1909, 1915, and 1916, respectively. The collection and publication of the epistles of ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ have continued in Tehran (IV, 1343 Š./1964; V, 1344 Š./1965; VI, 1345 Š./1966; VII, 1346 Š./1967; VIII, 1347 Š./1968-69?).

The second group includes: 6. Al-Nūr al-abhā fī mofāważāt ḥażrat-e ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ , table talk with Mrs. Laura Barney in ʿAkkā. The Persian text was published in London in 1908 and again in 1920. Mrs. Clifford’s translation, Some Answered Questions, was published in London in 1908 and has often been reprinted (a French translation, Les leçons de Saint-Jean-d’Acre by H. Dreyfus, was published in Paris the same year). The Bahaʾi interpretation of Christian dogmas and beliefs in this book are particularly interesting. 7. Paris Talks: Addresses Given by ʿAbd-ul-Bahāʾ in Paris 1911-12, London, 1923, 9th ed., London, 1951 (various other ed., also under the title The Wisdom of ʿAbd-ul-Bahāʾ ). 8. ʿAbd-ul-Bahāʾ in London (various ed.). 9. The Promulgation of Universal Peace, 2 vols., Chicago, 1922-25, contains addresses given in the United States. A Persian collection of the European and American speeches was published in Cairo in 1340/1921.

Bibliography : Other translations of ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ’s works into English, in addition to those mentioned in the text, include the following: Tablet to the Central Organization for a Durable Peace, the Hague, New York, 1930. Tablet to Dr. Forel, New York, 1930. Tablets of the Divine Plan, Wilmette, 1959. Will and Testament, New York, 1925. (Some of these are also found in collected works.)

There is a vast literature on ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ. Works by non-Bahaʾis include: M. H. Phelps, Life and Teachings of Abbās Effendi, London, 1912; and S. Lemaitre, Une grande figure de l’unité: ʿAbdu’l-Bahaʾ , Paris, 1952. Further bibliography is given in H. M. Balyuzi, ʿAbdu’l-Baha: the Centre of the Covenant of Bahāʾuʾllah, London, 1971 (reviewed by L. P. Edwell-Sutton in JRAS 1973, pp. 166-68).

(A. Bausani)

ii. Teachings

Modern Bahaʾi opinion tends to view ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ simply as an inspired interpreter (mobayyen) or expounder of his father’s teachings. While there is a fundamental truth in this, it obscures somewhat his own original contributions to Bahaʾi thinking, particularly as it came to be expressed in Europe and North America. Bahāʾallāh’s large corpus of writings deal in the main with a limited range of topics: ethical and mystical themes, the interpretation of traditional Islamic beliefs, the fulfillment of Bābī and other religious prophecy in himself, his replacement of Bābī use of force and intolerance with an ethos of human brotherhood, world peace, and inter-religious toleration, and the provision of a new šarīʿa for the Bahaʾi community.

ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ plays variations on many of these themes. But, in the course of his correspondence with European and American converts (from the mid-1890s), and, more particularly, his travels in the West, he began to introduce new concepts or, at least, to give prominence to ideas which had been mentioned only in passing by his father, although described as “the teachings of Bahāʾallāh.” Most notable among these are the principles of equality of the sexes, the need for independent search after truth (taḥarrī-ye ḥaqīqat), harmony of religion and science, oneness of all religions (an extension of the essentially Judeo-Christian-Islamic-Bābī-Bahaʾi progressive revelation of Bahāʾallāh), and the solution of the economic problem. His enumeration of these and other points termed “fundamental Bahaʾi principles”—often expressed as the ten or twelve principles—created one of the basic elements in the presentation of the Bahaʾi religion in later years, especially in the West. References to scientific and social progress, labor relations, socialism, education, or the problems raised by Western civilization and deteriorating international relations are increasingly common in his lectures and discourses in Europe and the United States and in the tablets (alvāḥ, tawqīʿāt) written after his return to Palestine. There is a similar increase in the amount of space devoted to the discussion of Christian doctrine, biblical prophecy, and, to a lesser extent, questions concerning reincarnation, astrology, faith healing, spiritualism, occult practices, vegetarianism, and so forth (which are generally condemned) raised by early Western Bahaʾis from a theosophist, spiritualist, new thought, or similar background (see particularly al-Nūr al-abhā fī mofāważāt-e ḥażrat-e ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ ).

In terms of style, ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ’s written works often stand in marked contrast to those of his father. Brought up for the most part in an Arab environment (Baghdad from 1852 to 1863, Palestine from 1868) and educated in Arabic literature, his Arabic style is purer than that of Bahāʾallāh; in both Persian and Arabic, he displays considerable skill in developing a consciously literary manner. Works such as the Resāla-ye madanīya and Resāla-ye sīāsīya show an affinity with the writings of many reformers of the period (such as Malkom Khan), although the question of influences remains to be studied in depth. The general atmosphere of early 20th century internationalism, pacifism, and humanitarian liberalism imbues the later lectures and letters (see particularly the Tablets to the Hague), while there is throughout a growing concern with the internal organization of Bahaʾi movement. By contrast with the letters, the talks are couched in a simple, almost naive style, partly influenced by the demands of speaking through an interpreter. In consequence, the Western Bahaʾi understanding of ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ , largely based on these talks and on translations of relatively straightforward letters to converts in Europe and North America, is ignorant of the more urbane, literary exponent of 19th century reformism.


The original texts of many talks given by ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ in Europe and America may be found in Ḵeṭābāt ḥażrat ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ fī Orobbā wa Amrīkā (Cairo, 1340/1921) and Ḵeṭābāt-e mobāraka-ye ḥażrat-e ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ (as vol. 2 following the previous title; Tehran, 1971).

The most important text for ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ’s Western tours is the travel diary of his secretary Mīrzā Maḥmūd Zarqānī Ketāb-e badāyeʿ al-āṯār, 2 vols. (Bombay, 1914, 1921); less valuable, but of interest is Howard Colby Ives, Portals to Freedom (1937; reprinted London, 1962).

Contemporary Western accounts of ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ, which include reports of his lecture tours, may be found in Star of the West. The Bahaʾi Magazine, vols. 1-14 (1910-24) reprinted in 8 vols. (Oxford, 1978).

ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ’s table talk in Egypt is recorded by another secretary Mīrzā Aḥmad Sohrāb in Abdul Bahaʾi in Egypt (London, n.d.). Memoirs of ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ include Dr. Ḥabīb Moʾayyad, Ḵāterāt-e Ḥabīb, 2 vols. (Tehran, 1962, 1973) and Dr. Yūnes Khan Afrūḵta, Ḵāterāt-e noh sāla-ye ʿAkkāʾ (Tehran).

Recent biographical works by Bahaʾis include Moḥammad ʿAlī Feyżī, Ḥayāt-e ḥażrat-e ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ (Tehran, 1972) and Hūšang Maḥmūdī, Yāddāšthāʾī dar bāra-ye ḥażrat-e ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ , 2 vols. (Tehran, 1974, 1975[?]).

The most recent translation of letters by ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ is by Marzieh Gail, Tablets of ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ (Haifa, 1979).

Early translations and memoirs may be found listed in the New York Public Library List of Works in the New York Public Library Relating to Persia, New York, 1915, pp. 103-07 (note especially the entries of ʿAbd-al-Bahā ibn Bahā Allāh, Chase, Goodall, Grundy, Johnson, Lucas, and Stevens).

(A. Bausani, D. MacEoin)

Originally Published: December 15, 1982

Last Updated: July 14, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 1, pp. 102-104

Cite this entry:

A. Bausani, D. MacEoin, “ʿABD-AL-BAHĀʾ,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/1, pp. 102-104, available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/abd-al-baha (accessed on 30 December 2012).