The 26th November marks the Baha’i celebration of “The Day of the Covenant”. The Covenant is the uniting force of the Baha’i Faith, the agreement by which all Baha’is continue to receive divinely ordained guidance by turning to an appointed successor. When early Baha’is wanted to celebrate the birthday of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, which falls on the same day as the Declaration of the Bab (23rd May 1844), ‘Abdu’l-Baha said that it was not permissible to celebrate his birthday but that the followers may instead celebrate the Covenant of which he was appointed the centre by his father Baha’u’llah prior to Baha’u’llah’s passing.
The following text is extracted from this article about ‘Abdu’l-Baha:
The question of religious succession has been crucial to all faiths. Failure to resolve this question has inevitably led to acrimony and division. The ambiguity surrounding the true successors of Jesus and Muhammad, for example, led to differing interpretations of sacred scripture and deep discord within both Christianity and Islam. However, Bahá’u’lláh prevented schism and established an unassailable foundation for His Faith through the provision of His will and testament, entitled “The Book of My Covenant.” He wrote: “When the ocean of My presence hath ebbed and the Book of My Revelation is ended, turn your faces toward Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hast branched from this Ancient Root. The object of this sacred verse is none other except the Most Mighty Branch [`Abdu’l-Bahá].”
Bahá’u’lláh’s appointment of `Abdu’l-Bahá as His successor was the means for diffusing His message of hope and universal peace to all corners of the world, for realizing the essential unity of all peoples. In referring to `Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’u’lláh wrote: “The glory of God rest upon Thee, and upon whosoever serveth Thee and circleth around Thee. Woe, great woe, betide him that opposeth and injureth Thee. Well is it with him that sweareth fealty to Thee.” `Abdu’l-Bahá was, in short, the Center of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant –the instrument for ensuring the unity of the Bahá’í community and preserving the integrity of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings.
As the authorized interpreter of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings, `Abdu’l-Bahá became the “living mouth of the Book, the expounder of the Word.” Without `Abdu’l-Bahá, the enormous creative power of Bahá’u’lláh’s revelation could not have been transmitted to humanity, nor its import fully comprehended. He elucidated the teachings of His Father’s Faith, amplified its doctrines, and delineated the central features of its administrative institutions. He was the unerring guide and architect of a rapidly expanding Bahá’í community. In addition, Bahá’u’lláh vested in `Abdu’l-Bahá “the virtues of perfection in personal and social behavior, that humanity may have an enduring model to emulate.” As the perfect Exemplar of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings and the Pivot of His Covenant, `Abdu’l-Bahá became “the incorruptible medium for applying the Word to practical measures for the raising up of a new civilization.”
In retrospect, it became clear that Bahá’u’lláh had carefully prepared `Abdu’l-Bahá to succeed Him. He was born on May 23, 1844, the very night that the Báb had declared the beginning of a new religious cycle in history. As a child, He suffered along with His Father during the persecutions against the Bábis. `Abdu’l-Bahá was eight years old when Bahá’u’lláh was first imprisoned for His role as a leading exponent and defender of the Bábi Faith. He accompanied Bahá’u’lláh throughout His long exile from Persia to the capital of the Ottoman empire, and ultimately, to Palestine. As He grew older, `Abdu’l-Bahá became His Father’s closest companion and emerged as His deputy, shield, and principal representative to the political and religious leaders of the day. `Abdu’l-Bahá’s extraordinary demonstration of leadership, knowledge, and service brought great prestige to the exiled Bahá’í community. He assumed His role as the Head of the Bahá’í Faith following Bahá’u’lláh’s passing in May 1892.
In 1911, after more than four decades of imprisonment and suffering, `Abdu’l-Bahá journeyed to the West and presented with brilliant simplicity, to high and low alike, Bahá’u’lláh’s prescription for the moral and spiritual renewal of society. This “Call of God,” `Abdu’l-Bahá stated, “…breathed a new life into the body of mankind, and infused a new spirit into the whole creation. It is for this reason that the world hath been moved to its depths, and the hearts and consciences of men been quickened. Erelong the evidences of this regeneration will be revealed, and the fast asleep will be awakened.”
Among the vital truths that `Abdu’l-Bahá tirelessly proclaimed to leaders of thought as well as countless groups and masses at large were: “The independent search after truth, unfettered by superstition or tradition; the oneness of the entire human race, the pivotal principle and fundamental doctrine of the Faith; the basic unity of all religions; the condemnation of all forms of prejudice, whether religious, racial, class or national; the harmony which must exist between religion and science; the equality of men and women, the two wings on which the bird of humankind is able to soar; the introduction of compulsory education; the adoption of a universal auxiliary language; the abolition of the extremes of wealth and poverty; the institution of a world tribunal for the adjudication of disputes between nations; the exaltation of work, performed in the spirit of service, to the rank of worship; the glorification of justice as the ruling principle in human society, and of religion as a bulwark for the protection of all peoples and nations; and the establishment of a permanent and universal peace as the supreme goal of all mankind.”
He affirmed time and again that He was a “herald of peace and reconciliation,” “an advocate of the oneness of humanity,” and an agent calling humanity to the “Kingdom of God.” Despite the receptivity and acclaim given Him, `Abdu’l-Bahá made clear the Source of His thought and His true station. In a letter to His followers in America He wrote:
“My name is `Abdu’l-Bahá [literally, Servant of Baha]. My qualification is `Abdu’l-Bahá. My reality is `Abdu’l-Bahá. My praise is `Abdu’l-Bahá. Thraldom to the Blessed Perfection [Bahá’u’lláh] is my glorious and refulgent diadem, and servitude to all the human race my perpetual religion… No name, no title, no mention, no commendation have I, nor will ever have, except `Abdu’l-Bahá. This is my longing. This is my greatest yearning. This is my eternal life. This is my everlasting glory.”