In 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of the founder of the Bahá’í Faith, traveled from coast to coast across America after a lifetime of imprisonment and persecution. His journey in North America lasted 239 days, including ten days in Canada, during which He traveled to important cities from the east to the west coast and met with people of diverse backgrounds and interests. Historians argue that no other figure of comparable stature has devoted themselves to America as Abdu’l-Baha did, and that until now, though generally unrecognized, His visit bears great significance to the destiny of America as a leader in world peace.
In the Fall of 1912 He arrived to the bay area by train. In total, He spent nearly two weeks in Oakland and Berkeley.
He called on America to become a land of spiritual distinction and leadership and gave a powerful vision of America’s spiritual destiny — to lead the way in establishing the oneness of humanity. In 1912, the country was torn with racial division, and “separate but equal” was the highest level of interracial relations to which the nation aspired. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá challenged Americans to go beyond tolerance, to embrace diversity completely, and to demolish racial barriers in law, education and even marriage.
During his hundreds of talks, lectures, meetings, and public gatherings, He emphasized that racial distinctions and national differences are purely imaginary. He taught that humanity is one in essence, that it is one progeny of common ancestors, living on the same planet. He taught that there is no difference in the human family’s original genesis. God has created all humanity--not as Frenchmen, Englishmen, Americans, Persians, etc.—but as one human race. There is no difference in regard to race. All are the leaves of one tree, the waves of the same sea, the fruit of one tree and the flowers of the same garden. Each lends a unique beauty to the human garden.
He offered that one means by which the spiritual source of God’s mysterious Power is shown is by its ability to transform people whose views are diametrically opposed, and, to inspire them with new minds and new hearts that are capable of unity amidst diversity.
After a century of growth and development around the world, the Bahá’í community is a rare testament to that power. With members from every national, racial, religious, class, and linguistic background, all working together under a leadership elected in what is quite possibly the world’s first international democratic process, the Bahá’í community is a model of “unity in diversity” and represents a cross-section of humanity, working to fulfill the wishes that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá expressed on the day that He left America’s shores for the last time:
“As to you: Your efforts must be lofty. Exert yourselves with heart and soul so that, perchance, through your efforts the light of universal peace may shine and this darkness of estrangement and enmity may be dispelled, that all may become as one family and consort together in love and kindness, that the East may assist the West and the West give help to the East, for all are the inhabitants of one planet, the people of one original native land and the flocks of one Shepherd.”
Until 1911, Abdu’l-Baha’s life was spent in exile and imprisonment alongside His father Baha’u’llah, Who strove day and night to proclaim the oneness of humanity and promulgate the message of universal peace. From the prison in Akka, Israel, He addressed the kings and rulers of the world in lengthy letters, summoning them to international agreement and explicitly stating that the standard of the Most Great Peace would surely be upraised in the world.
Perhaps the most prominent social message that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá brought to the West was the need for international peace, which he called “the most momentous question of this day.” While much of the popular discussion involved the political requisites to peace, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá focused on social and spiritual issues, linking universal peace with such topics as women’s suffrage, a world tribunal, collective security, the necessity of religious unity and the need for justice.
In neighborhoods across America, Baha’is are drawing on His vision and His example to build unified, purposeful, and spiritually uplifted communities. We invite you to get involved by visiting us at www.bahaifaithoakland.org or by calling 510-534-3883.