239 Days in America

A Social Media Documentary following 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1912

Day
143
 | 
August 31, 1912
Montreal, Canada
Storify Feature

‘Abdu’l-Bahá Tells Canada: “Be Happy!”

ON ‘ABDU’L-BAHÁ’S FIRST morning in Canada, the front page of the largest newspaper in the country’s largest city printed an original pencil sketch of the “messenger of peace from the Orient to the Occident” who brought the city a clear message: “Be happy! You in Canada live in a magnificent, peaceful country. Be happy!”

The editor of the Montreal Daily Star, who was waiting for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to arrive on the night of August 30, chose to highlight the apparent contrast of this “Apostle of Peace” predicting “an Appalling War” in Europe.

One of the major differences between Canada and the United States in 1912 was that Canadians saw world events through the lens of their membership in the British Empire. When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke about a coming war in Europe, the warning held an immediacy for Canadians that it lacked in the United States. Britain was sure to be a principal player in any coming conflict, and as part of the Empire, Canada would be automatically involved.

Amongst Anglophone Canadians especially, talk of war was framed in terms of imperial or national duty and an opportunity to demonstrate manly virtues. In the context of such dominant ideas, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s statements about war were bold and, as the editor saw them, quite surprising.

“War must cease,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá declares. “There is something above and beyond patriotism, and it is better to love your fellowmen than to love only your countrymen. When we see this and know in very truth the brotherhood of man, war will appear to us in its true light as an outrage on civilization, an act of madness and blindness. . . . we shall recognize that we were like men in a dungeon, fighting and slaying ourselves.”

In his interview with the Star, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá praised Canadians to the extent that they were not building up armaments. “What a contrast is presented in your country,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told the reporter. “Canada should be a very happy land. So far removed from such a condition of strife.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá found great receptivity to the message of peace in Canada and the United States. “On this side of the Atlantic the peace message is well received; but in Europe, there is an apathy, a listlessness that is distressing,” he said. In “the old world, the inventive genius of man now seemed to be turned almost exclusively to the fabrication of murderous weapons of warfare.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá was sure that an “era of universal peace” was possible, but feared that before this, the world was headed towards “a war of colossal proportions” which “would be the most appalling in the world’s history.” He noted that much of the suffering endured by the common people of Europe was connected to this arms race. The idea that men would be pulled away from “productive employment” and “trained to slay one another,” he said, “was supreme madness.”

The Star noted that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had been “deeply impressed by his tour of the United States and is looking forward with a great interest to his visit to Canada” where “the [Bahá’í] movement has many adherents,” including “quite a number” in Montreal. Montreal was in fact the center of greatest activity for the early Bahá’í community in Canada, and at the center of this activity was May Maxwell.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá was staying at the home of May and her husband Sutherland Maxwell, who were members of Montreal’s Anglophone minority, living in the city’s most exclusive and wealthy neighborhood. They used their extensive social networks to maximize the impact of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit.

Within the first few hours of his arrival in Montreal, the impact of these efforts were evident in the growing public knowledge of his arrival in the city. Over lunch, Sutherland Maxwell told them how easy it was to retrieve the visitors’ luggage at the customs house when the government official opened their bags and saw a photo of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The official asked, “Is this the picture of the prophet of Persia?” When Sutherland Maxwell told him “Yes” he released the bags, saying “There is no need to inspect this luggage.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s stay in Montreal, originally a two day detour to visit May Maxwell, was quickly transforming into one of the most publicized, eventful, and attended stops on his entire North American tour. He drew such a crowd on the first full day in Montreal that those managing his schedule suggested he send everyone away and get some sleep. “No, this is the time to work,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told them. “We must not think of fatigue. Everyone is to be met.”

One of those he had met early that morning was a reporter for the Standard who published his interview with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the paper’s afternoon edition.

“You have a very beautiful country and you must be very happy here,” “Abdu’l-Bahá told him. “My message to the Canadian people is this: Your country is very prosperous and very delightful in every aspect; you have peace and security amidst you; happiness and composure are your friends; surely you must thank God that you are so submerged in the sea of His mercy.”

ADD A NEW COMMENT

  • Louise Profeit-LeBlanc

    This country has been blessed by the footsteps of Abdu’l-Baha. Let’s continue to see what he saw and cherish that! Thank you for documenting this special commemoration of the Master’s visit to Canada.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bruce.kinzinger Bruce Kinzinger

    “Gentle” has been described as using just the force that is needed for an action.

    In contrast to the pre-WWI era, the European Union of today is a miracle in so many respects. The affects of war are finally understood there, after two horrible conflicts. With the help of hindsite, a relative stability exist there now.

    The terrorism of today, with rogue groups and a handful of irresponsible countries is the current challenge, 100 years later. May God help us in this challenge, and protect us from becoming the evil we fight!

    More men have come to understand and accept what was a surprising message 100 years ago from Abdul-Baha. Cooperation and action, spinning from countries that love peace, uphold civility, and respect the value of what a human being is, is essential to our collective security.

  • shahla

    ‘Abdu’l-Bahá left no doubt that war is madness. Wars really never end. None of the wars man has fought in the last few thousand years have ended; people are still fighting the Crusades, the two World Wars, the “Cold” War, etc, etc… We can see remnants of all wars still being fought.
    Of course, “above and beyond patriotism” is the love of humanity, considering all members of our family. This we must do first (and soon?) to end wars.

  • Arie Niernberger

    It seems to be harder to find statements in the press in this country or in Europe that war is an opportunity to demonstrate manly virtues – but perhaps I am not reading or viewing diversified sources. Yet the term ‘madness’ does not permeate the talk about war either, or that the retort to organized violence called warfare is a sickness and perversion of the human spirit – as is clearly expressed in the Peace Statement of the Universal House of Justice. Today’s story reminds us to be happy, which entails gratitude: for the changing perspectives on war, for the improbability of another horrible war to start between the nations of Europe where WW1 ignited. Yet wars are being waged. We know that eventually humanity will abolish warfare; I wish we were finally there. How will it come about that the decisive majority all across the planet will say: Enough! – ?

    • Loie Mead

      Arie, you raise a significant question for us when you ask: “How will it [the end of warfare] come about?” You have also mentioned the Peace Statement of the Universal House of Justice issued in 1985. Copies of The Promise of World Peace or the Peace Statement were widely printed and distributed by many. In some communities full-page ads were sacrificially placed in newspapers across the nation with great excitement. Being reminded to express gratitude is timely; being thankful is the surest way to become happy. ‘Abdu’l-Baha taught us that “the best way to thank God is to love one another”. What would be the response of the press if in gratitude we report via social media what we are seeing as the fruits of that collaborative effort in 1985?

  • Neil Macmillan

    As an immigrant from Britain who came to Canada 43 years ago and
    who joined the Bahá’í community nine months after arriving, I have always felt
    doubly fortunate in this respect and thus duty-bound to reciprocate for the favour
    of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit. Today’s rich account very much highlights the contrast
    between Europe and the New World, which has been very much part of my
    particular life and which, together with extended sojourns in India and Africa,
    has forged my perspective on the world – a perspective that is infused with
    what happened 100 years ago in Montreal (approximately 75 miles from where I
    currently live) and which constitutes a further blessing that calls for an
    ongoing response.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Pascal-Molineaux/1203381202 Pascal Molineaux

    To ‘Abdu’l-Bahá – and those who lovingly try to follow Him – resorting to war to resolve differences is madness because it is the expression of man’s lowest, animal instincts. Man is, above all, a spiritual being and that essence is what ‘Abdu’l-Bahá endlessly proclaimed as the basis of unity. As a spiritually-inspired society, resorting to violence and war is lowering onesellf to the level of the beast, in which cruelty, viciousness and madness are characteristic. We can do better. Our high calling as human beings, as spiritual beings, as we recognize our fudamental unity, is to strive, strive and strive again to achieve greater unity and understanding. We have enough common challenges, that we must confront together as one – from extreme hunger and poverty to global climate change – that we should be so willing to ill-spend our human intelligence and material resources on war. Thst is madness.

  • Charles Boyle

    That human beings inherently trend towards violence is not to dismiss our capacity to act peacefully. Notwithstanding that human nature is still much as it ever was, our society has developed to the threshold of a global community and in this there is surely to be seen the possibilities envisioned by ‘Abdu’l-Baha.

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