‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Visits to the United Kingdom
To all without distinction—officials, scientists, workers, children, parents, exiles, activists, clerics, sceptics—[‘Abdu’l-Bahá] imparted love, wisdom, comfort, whatever the particular need. While elevating their souls, He challenged their assumptions, reoriented their perspectives, expanded their consciousness, and focused their energies. He demonstrated by word and deed such compassion and generosity that hearts were utterly transformed. No one was turned away.
UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE
In the summer of 1911, `Abdu’l-Bahá, the eldest son and appointed successor of Bahá’u’lláh, embarked on a historic journey to the United Kingdom, Europe and North America – an act crucial to the establishment of the Faith in the West. For two years, in churches, mosques, synagogues, philanthropic organizations and informal gatherings, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá proclaimed the social and spiritual teachings of Bahá’u’lláh to multitudes across the entire spectrum of Western society. His presence amongst the early Western Bahá'ís also provided invaluable encouragement, consolidating their sense of identity and purpose.
`Abdu’l-Bahá visited the United Kingdom twice. On His first visit, He arrived in England on 3 September 1911. A guest at the home of Lady Blomfield in Cadogan Gardens, `Abdu’l-Bahá travelled throughout London, Surrey and Bristol.
`Abdu’l-Bahá's first visit to England included a weekend stay in the city of Bristol where He met Bahá'ís and their friends. What struck some of those present was his extremely natural and simple behaviour," wrote an observer, "and the pleasant sense of humour, which his long imprisonment and awful trials had not succeeded in destroying."
On 10 September 1911, at the invitation of Reverend Reginald John Campbell, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave a public address from the pulpit of the City Temple Church in Holborn, London, to an audience of over 2,000 people, proclaiming that, “This is a new cycle of human power…the gift of God in this enlightened age is the knowledge of the oneness of mankind and the fundamental oneness of religion.”
The following week, on 17 September 1911, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was invited by Albert Wilberforce, the Archdeacon of Westminster, to address the congregation at St John’s Church. Archdeacon Wilberforce, in his introduction, quoted Rudyard Kipling’s famous line, that, “East is East, and West is West and never the twain shall meet,” but insisted that, “they can and do meet on the common ground of love and here is the proof. Look at our wonderful guest tonight who has suffered 40 years of imprisonment for the sake of humanity ... because of His message of love and unity to all peoples.”
So impressed was the Archdeacon by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s words about God, the need for Divine Educators to guide humanity and the oneness of these Educators, that he announced: “Truly the East and the West have met in this sacred place tonight.”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá left London on 3 October 1911 and continued with His travels to Paris. He spent much of 1912 in North America and made His second visit to Britain later that year.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá arrived in Liverpool on 13 December 1912 after crossing from New York City on the SS Celtic. Over a period of a few weeks, He visited Liverpool, London, Oxford, Edinburgh, Bristol and Woking, before leaving for Paris on 21 January 1913.
In His public talks, interviews and encounters, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá addressed significant topics relevant to contemporary issues in Britain.
It has been more than a century since ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit to the UK, yet his words are perhaps more relevant than ever. The prominent themes and concerns raised during His visit continue to be explored and shared by the UK Bahá'í community.
The Bahá’í community collaborates with government and civil society organisations on many of the challenges that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá raised, including education, advancing the equality of women and men, cultivating social cohesion and promoting religious freedom. Bahá’ís are also involved in interfaith work at national and local levels to continue to understand, along with co-religionists, the role of religion in today’s society.
In neighbourhoods and localities, Bahá’ís and their friends are gaining knowledge and experience through their community building activities, and are continuing to learn about the actions and capacities required for material and spiritual progress in the UK and worldwide.
An interesting post-script to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visits to the UK began shortly after His return to Palestine in 1913. With great foresight, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá began privately growing and storing large quantities of grain, so that when food shortages caused by the First World War occurred, He was able to assist the people of His city of Akka and prevent starvation.
In April 1920, the British government, in recognition of this humanitarian act, saw fit to bestow a Knighthood upon Him, a title He graciously accepted, but never used.