Knighthood - ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

During the World War communication with friends and believers outside Syria was almost completely cut off, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and his followers suffered great hardships. During those dreary years the resourcefulness and sagacious philanthropy of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá were strikingly shown. He personally organized extensive agricultural operations near Tiberias, bringing under cultivation land which had been untilled for centuries; thus he secured a great supply of wheat by means of which famine was averted, not only for the Bahá’ís, but for many of the poor of all religions, whose wants he liberally supplied. After the cessation of hostilities, a knighthood of the British Empire was conferred upon him in recognition of these services.

During World War I when a blockade threatened the lives of many civilians in Haifa, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá saved them from starvation. ‘He personally organized extensive agricultural operations near Tiberias, thus securing a great supply of wheat…’ Food was stored in underground pits and elsewhere. This He distributed to inhabitants, regardless of religion or nationality. The food was systematically rationed. Having started His preparations as early as 1912, He averted tragedy in the dark days of 1917 and 1918. At war’s end the British were quick to recognize His painstaking accomplishments. He was to be kighted on 27 April 1920, at the residence of the British Governor in Haifa at a ceremony held especially for Him. British and religious dignitaries came to honour Him on this auspicious occasion. His unselfish acts had won Him the love and respect of high and low alike. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá consented to accept the knighthood – but He was not impressed with worldly honour or ceremony. Even a formality must be simplified. An elegant car was sent to bring Him to the Governor’s residence, but the chauffeur did not find the Master at His home. People scurried in every direction to find Him. Suddenly He appeared ‘… alone, walking His kingly walk, with that simplicity of greatness which always enfolded Him.’ Isfandiyar, His long-time faithful servant, stood near at hand. Many were the times when he had accompanied the Master on His labours of love. Now, suddenly, with this elegant car ready to convey his Master to the Governor, he felt sad and unneeded. Intuitively, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá must have sensed this – He gave him a sign. Isfandiyar dashed off – the horse was harnessed, the carriage brought to the lower gate and the Master was driven to a side entrance of the garden of the Governor. Isfandiyar was joyous – he was needed even yet. Quietly, without pomp, ‘Abbas Effendi arrived at the right time at the right place and did honour to those who would honour Him when He was made Sir ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Abbas, K.B.E. – a title which He almost never used.

Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Preparation for war conditions had been made by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá even before His return to Palestine, after His world tour. The people of the villages Nughayb, Samrih, and 'Adasiyyih were instructed by the Master how to grow corn, so as to produce prolific harvests, in the period before and during the lean years of the war. A vast quantity of this corn was stored in pits, some of which had been made by the Romans, and were now utilized for this purpose. So it came about that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was able to feed numberless poor of the people of Haifa, 'Akká, and the neighbourhood, in the famine years of 1914-1918.

We learned that when the British marched into Haifa there was some difficulty about the commissariat. The officer in command went to consult the Master.

"I have corn," was the reply.

"But for the army?" said the astonished soldier.

"I have corn for the British Army," said ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.

He truly walked the Mystic way with practical feet. Lady Blomfield often recounted how the corn pits proved a safe hiding-place for the corn, during the occupation of the Turkish army.

Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway

The dignitaries of the British crown from Jerusalem were gathered in Haifa, eager to do honour to the Master, Whom everyone had come to love and reverence for His life of unselfish service. An imposing motor-car had been sent to bring ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to the ceremony. The Master, however, could not be found. People were sent in every direction to look for Him, when suddenly from an unexpected side He appeared, alone, walking His kingly walk, with that simplicity of greatness which always enfolded Him.

The faithful servant, Isfandiyar, whose joy it had been for many years to drive the Master on errands of mercy, stood sadly looking on at the elegant motor-car which awaited the honoured guest. "No longer am I needed."

At a sign from Him, Who knew the sorrow, old Isfandiyar rushed off to harness the horse, and brought the carriage out at the lower gate, whence ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was driven to a side entrance of the garden of the Governorate of Phoenicia.

So Isfandiyar was needed and happy.

Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway

When the British arrived in Haifa, where the blockade had caused a perilous condition for the inhabitants, it was discovered that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had saved the civilian population from starvation. Provisions which He had grown, buried in under-ground pits, and otherwise stored, had been given out to the civilians of every nation living in Haifa. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá did this in a military way as an army would give rations, and deep was the gratitude of those women and children who had been saved by His power to see into the future of tragedy and woe as early as 1912, when He began the preparations for the catastrophe which was to overtake that land in 1917 and 1918. When Haifa was finally occupied by the British, reserve provisions had not yet come for the army, and someone in authority approached the Master, as already mentioned. The British Government, with its usual gesture of appreciating a heroic act, conferred a knighthood upon ‘Abdu’l-Bahá 'Abbas, Who accepted this honour as a courteous gift "from a just king."

Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway

‘Abdu’l-Bahá anticipated that conditions of hardship would appear with these events, and began to instruct people in the villages of Nughayb, Samrih and ‘Adasiyyih in Palestine to grow prolific quantities of corn, much of which was harvested and stored in vast ancient Roman pits.  When World War I broke out, this corn was used to feed the numberless poor people of Haifa, Akká and the surrounding areas during the famine years of 1914-1918.  When the British army marched into Haifa, the commanding officer requested a meeting with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, who graciously gave His consent for the corn to be distributed among the starving Britons. During the period of British occupation, large numbers of soldiers and Government officials of all ranks delighted in the company of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in His illuminating talks, His noble character, His genial hospitality, perfect courtesy and efforts to establish peace and prosperity throughout the world. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá averted a famine and uplifted countless souls, and in recognition of this, on the 27 April 1920, a Knighthood of the British Empire was conferred upon Him for “services rendered unto the British government”.

Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway