Salita Salano is not a Bahai consciously, but the loves Abdul Baha, which is the kernel of the whole matter; and the proof of this is that she is willing to do things for him. She is willing to undertake all the press work in New York and in any other papers that she can reach during a period of twelve days, if we will pay her one hundred dollars. Any other press agent would charge from three to four hundred. . . . This arrangement will not preclude the work that Horace Holley can do in his own line or any big pull that Zoraya Chamberlain may have with the Associated Press . . . Berthalin Osgood has charge of one album of photographs of the Beloved to be prepared for exhibition at the Convention, and Edith Inglis of another. 97
Marjorie Morton is going to cut in two a most gorgeous piece of blue velvet she has to make curtains for the unveiling of the most Holy Tablets. She has also offered a contribution of one hundred dollars, and I wish to give a similar one; for I feel that this is no time to hold back either spiritually, bodily or financially, lest we be carried out dead, like Annanias. So, everybody was working, everybody was happy, matters were preceeding well in New York; and in regard to the Bahais throughout the country, I personally had mailed two letters to everyone. These have been incorporated in "Star of the West" vol. X, no. 2, pages 21, 22, 23. Following are some extracts from these letters.
Dear brothers and sisters in the Cause: It is indeed a great joy to be back in America and feel the warmth and heat of the love of Abdul Baha in the hearts of the friends . . . . I had brought for you his boundless love and greeting . . . his earnestness and enthusiasm to serve the Cause and promote love and unity amongst the friends. Aside from these ideal gifts, I have carried with me from his presence some most wonderful, world-wide, heavenly instructions; the unfoldment of which will give the vision of the future humanity, perfected and beautified . . . From every standpoint, the coming Bahai gathering will be unique the history of the movement . . . Let us come to the Convention with nothing but love in our hearts, and with nothing but the light of service on our faces, and with nothing but humility and submission at the Threshold of Baha-O-Llah . . . The whole world, now weary with war and bloodshed, must receive great spiritual blessing from the Bahai movement, and now is the time for us to show and demonstrate whether we can rise to the heights of this golden opportunity; whether we can serve our fellow men unitedly and with one accord; whether we can forget the past and, grasping the imperial sceptre of light, walk in the pathway of the Kingdom of Abha and raise a great acclamation of rejoicing in the hearts of the people of the earth. Hoping that we will all meet in that sacred Convention, receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit and go forth into the world with a new power, a new vision, a new strength, and dedicate anew at the Convention, our service to the world of humanity through the divine teachings of the Center of the Covenant. Your sincere brother in the Cause Ahmad. 98
[photo of Miss May Bowles, prior to her marriage to Wm. Sutherland, omitted]
The official invitation, which is to be found in "Star of the West." Vol. X no. 2, pages 20-21, reads in part as follows:
Eleventh Bahai Convention and Congress
To be held in New York City, April 26th to April 30th. Letter sent forth by Bahai Temple Unity — April 9, 1919. Dear friend in the love of the Most Glorious. The Eleventh Bahai Convention and Congress will be held at the Hotel McAlpin . . . This attendance should not be limited to delegates and alternates, but should include everyone who is attracted to the universality of the divine teachings. The doors are flung open to the lovers of Truth everywhere.... To a degree never before known, these gatherings are being planned and carried forward under the direct guidance of Abdul Baha. In a more wonderful sense than ever before realized, it is the Convention of Abdul Baha. The program for the Convention and Congress will revolve around these great messages which will be brought forward in nine presentations. The writers of this letter unquestionably felt the guidance of Abdul Baha: his spirit had re-entered their hearts, and the misunderstanding of past years was melting away. The invitation ends thus:
In the name of Abdul Baha, we bid you welcome, all ye who are thirsty, all ye who are hungry, all ye who are confused, all ye who are longing, all ye who are hopeless, for He has come. The doors are open, the call is raised, the sacrificing hearts are yearning for servitude. Will ye come? In the love of the Spirit Convention and Congress Committee of the Executive Board by Harlan Foster Ober, Secretary.
The headquarters of the publicity, and of other committees, installed in the Hotel McAlpin were now bee hives of feverish activity. Releases had been sent out to the press, and advance notices began to appear in the metropolitan newspapers. The delegates from North, South, East and West were arriving hourly; photographers clamored for pictures of the leading Bahai personalities. I was a much interviewed and photographed man, and some press pictures of myself in Oriental robes, looking I admit more like an Arab bandit than a dignified emissary of Abdul Baha, caused a measure of anxiety in the ranks of my co-workers; but this concern was swept away by the rolling waves of a spiritual revolution. Enthusiasm was mounting;
excitement, happiness swelled and rocketed; affection shone in all eyes. Abdul Baha's banquet table of Reconciliation was spread, and on April 26th at eight o'clock in the evening, the doors of the Eleventh Bahai Convention were flung open.
Chapter XIII THE CONVENTION OF RECONCILIATION The Convention was conducted under highly favorable circumstances. Bahais of all colors, figuratively speaking, were there in full force; the friends of the Cause from years back had assembled expectantly, while public interest was demonstrated to such an extent that, as the sessions succeeded each other, people thought themselves fortunate to gain standing-room, as others milled through the corridors unable to get even a glimpse of the beautifully decorated Convention Hall.
In nine successive afternoons and evenings, I delivered an address and presented one by one the great Tablets which were concealed behind folds of silken curtains. These were drawn aside at the proper moment by young girls dressed in white, to the accompaniment of music, while lighting effects designed and executed by Miss Beatrice Irwin added to the imposing effect.
I cannot convey an idea of the impression made on the audience by the Tablets of the Master. The people sat spell-bound, faces glowing and eyes brimming, and after the meeting they walked about in semi-trance, rapturously recalling what had taken place that day and in hushed anticipation of that which the morrow would bring. The spirit of service, awakened by the clarion call of Abdul Baha, pounded in the hearts of all. Women stripped off their jewels as an offering, men emptied their pockets and, as far as could be judged by appearances, the entire meeting dedicated itself then and there to the propagation of the Bahai principles throughout the world. At the close of the sessions, the following cablegram was dispatched by the Teaching Committee to Abul Baha:
Convention united all hearts, all differences removed. Convention appointed teaching committee, nineteen members, to send teachers. Teachers already selected start immediately. This committee unanimously begs Beloved permit Abroad Sohrab by cable travel and teach United States and Canada. His expenses already provided. (signed) Randall, Ober, Mills.
A cable from Abdul Baha in response to the above arrived Shortly:
Appointment of committee conducive to joy. Abroad Sohrab permitted to travel throughout states. Let him inform us from Washington.
[photo of Joesph H. Hannen omitted]
The Convention wound up with the distribution of a book of 82 pages entitled "The Unveiling of the Divine Plan," which contained the translation of the fourteen Tablets together with the incomparable talks of the Master as recorded in my note-book. The edition of 2,000 went in no time and a second one of 5,000 was duly ordered. A detailed official report later put out constitutes a record of the proceedings. We have also a panoramic photograph taken on the steps of the Post Office, just across the street from the Hotel McAlpin, which serves as a graphic exhibit.
In conjunction with the Convention, a banquet was held in the hotel a few days earlier which in many ways was as inspiring as the Convention itself. The guests included many personalities of note in New York who gave outstanding talks. Rev. Dr. Percy Stickney Grant, Rector of the Church of the Ascension on lower Fifth Avenue, will always have a niche of his own in Bahai annals, because of the fact that he was the first minister in this country to invite Abdul Baha to give an address from his pulpit. Dr. Grant spoke in a beautiful and poetic manner, saying that introspection and communion in a garden marked the beginnings of the Bahai Cause. It became the religion of a prison. Now it must go forth into the practical affairs of men and rear the structure of the divine civilization.
Mr. Topakyan, Persian Consul General in New York, spoke of the deep feeling which every true man and woman experiences in honoring Abdul Baha, who has devoted his life to the enlightenment of him fellow men. Dr. William Norman Guthrie, of St. Marks in-the-Bowerie, pointed out that even as Christianity had brought a new power, a new passion, a new perspective which gave life to the ideal thoughts of the past, So the Bahai movement is bringing a new power to the great social program, and unity and fusion to the many splendid individual thoughts of past and present. Khalil Gibran, Syrian poet and artist, spoke of the appearance of the Prophet, the seer, who comes from time to time in history to string again the heavenly instrument, and Mr. Alfred Martin of the Ethical Culture Society of New York summed up the value of the Cause in the following succinct words:
I am drawn to this movement because it to not a sect, but it fellowship. While the vast Christian church is but a sect, the vaster Buddhist church is but a sect, the little Bahai movement is no sect at all, but a fellowship; because it lives not for a sectarian end, but rather for the purpose of serving as a leaven through which the world shall be helped to live up to the level of its own highest and noblest ideals. May I express my very fervent hope that you of the Bahai movement will remain true to your present distrust of organization.
"To the believers of God and the maid-servants of the Merciful of the Bahai
Assemblies in the United States of America and Canada!
Upon them be Baha'o'llah El Abha!
He is God! "O ye apostles of Baha'o'llah - May my life be a ransom to you!
"The blessed Person of the Promised One is interpreted in the Holy Book as the Lord of Hosts, i. e., the heavenly armies: By heavenly armies those souls are intended who are entirely freed from the human world, transformed into celestial spirits and have become divine angels. Such souls are the rays of the Sun of Reality who will illumine all the continents. Each one is holding in his hand a trumpet, blowing the Breath of Life over all the regions. They are delivered from human qualities and the defects of the world of nature, are characterized with the characteristics of God, and are attracted with the Fragrances of the Merciful. Like unto the apostles of Christ, who were filled with Him, these souls also have become filled with His Holiness Baha'o'llah, i. e., the love or Baha'o'llah has so mastered every organ, part and limb of their bodies, as to leave no effect by the promptings of the human world.
"These souls are the Armies of God and the conquerors of the Fast and the West. Should one of them turn his race toward Rome direction and summon the people to the Kingdom of God, all the ideal forces and lordly confirmations will rush to his support and reinforcement. He will behold all the doors open and all the strong fortifications and impregnable castles razed to the ground. Singly and alone he will attack the armies of the 'world, defeat the right and left wings of the hosts of all the countries, break through the li es of the legions of all the nations and carry his attack to the very center or the powers of the earth. This is the meaning of the Hosts of God.
"Any soul from among the believers of Baha'o'llah who attains to this station, will become known as the Apostle of Baha'o'llah. Therefore strive ye with heart and soul — so that ye may reach this lofty and exalted position, be established on the throne of everlasting glory, and crown your heads with the shining Diadem of the Kingdom, whose brilliant jewels may irradiate upon centuries and cycles.
"O ye kind friends! Uplift your magnanimity and soar high toward the apex of heaven — so that your blessed hearts may become illumined more and more, day by day, through the Rays of the Sun of Reality, i.e., His Holiness Baha'o'llah; at every moment the spirits may obtain a new life, and the darkness of the world of nature may be entirely dispelled — thus ye may become incarnate light and personified spirit, become entirely unaware of the sordid matters of this world and in touch with the affairs of the Divine World.
The same posts from the book of "The Divine Plan" in English as distributed at the close of the Eleventh Bahai Convention held in New York April 1919.
At the banquet, besides the distinguished guests, the outstanding personalities in the Cause took part also; but in the Convention itself, all the addresses were given by Bahais, such as Mr. Mountford Mills, Mr. Louis I. Gregory, Mr. Charles Mason Remey, Rev. Albert R. Vail, Mr. Harlan Foster Ober, Mr. William H. Randall, Mr. Joseph H. Hannan, Mr. Hooper Harris, Mr. Howard Ives, Mrs. May Maxwell and many others.
In this manner was conducted the Eleventh Bahai Convention — the Convention of the Divine Plan. It was carried on in accordance with the wishes of Abdul Baha and remains to this day the high-water-mark of public Bahai activity. Actually, we well may call it the Convention of Reconciliation for so it was. Through the spirit of the Master, through the power of his Tablets, through his support by cablegrams and letters and through the fervent cooperation of those who loved him — those who understood the Cause as he taught it, the impossible had been accomplished and the Bahais were get again on the path of unity and service.
Such was the Convention in fact and implication for the future, but the road had been hard; many a time the outcome had wavered in the balance and from first to last, I was walking on thin ice.
My main difficulty was in myself presenting the Tablets at the Convention even as I had been commanded by the Master. The moving spirits in the "Orthodox Party" thought that the Tablets should be read by different persons in succession, for they openly doubted the authority which I claimed and even the authenticity of my credentials. My translation of the Tablets was likewise questioned, the addresses which I intended to give were objected to, and when the press came out with references to me as the "Ambassador of Abdul Baha," the cup of their exasperation overflowed.
In addition to the personal element which actuated so much suspicion in my regard, there was also the certainty of what I intended to do. To put it in one word, it was "Reconciliation," no more, no less; and this was the last thing desired by those who had created and firmly established the Bahai Committee of Investigation.
On the morning of the second day of the Convention, I appeared at request before the National Executive Board and was put through the third degree, the points in question being the following: my authority; my tablet of permission from Abdul Baha; my rumored repudiation of the Report of the Bahai Committee of Investigation; my unyielding determination to unveil the Tablets one by one, according to the Master's instructions; the elimination which I had engineered of certain individuals from important
committees; the "undignified and flamboyant" publicity; the use of the Tablets of Abdul Baha to "lionize myself"; my "socialistic and communistic tendencies," and my repeated allusions to a coming era of Reconciliation. A few members of the Executive Board, who had been caught up in the spirit of tolerance and liberality, which I had tried to impart and which was now coming in frequent messages from the Holy Land, watched me in helpless anxiety as the inquisitional flames rose high and menacing.
Fortunately for me, my hide contained an element of asbestos, and my tongue a coating of honey, I answered back question after question, not defiantly, but with assurance and truth. My opponents were discomfited, but not beaten. I watched them as they shifted in their chairs, exchanging glances, and in a flash read what was going on at the back of their minds. "Come friends" I assured them, "Don't feel awkward about it. Play your trump card."
What is that? ", the inquiry came in a cold voice.
"Are you not thinking of an alleged confidence which Abdul Baha made to a lady in Chicago. The words being: 'Don't trust Ahmed Sohrab'?"
"Do you claim to be a mind reader?" I was asked.
Not at all" I answered. "It is as plain as two and two. For eight years I have heard about this confidence. News of it has travelled from coast to coast, and across the Atlantic and Mediterranean. It is an underground pass-word. Every Bahai knows it, even I, for I have translated it to the Master in numberless letters written to him. So, when I looked at you a minute ago, I couldn't help seeing that old slogan written on your faces."
They remained silent, and I continued:
"Now, I propose that this message has been circulated for the last time. The cable office is open. Write out the following, addressed to Abdul Baha. 'Mrs. True of Chicago claims that you warned her in secret: Do not trust Ahmed Sohrab. Is this so?' And if the answer comes back: 'it is so.' I will retire from the Convention and leave all its affairs in your hands."
This demand took immediate effect. The committee as it whole, blanched, wavered and broke up. Needless to say, the cablegram was not sent. Undoubtedly, I had scored a victory, but equally certain is it that I had not come to the end of my troubles.
At one of the afternoon sessions of the Convention, in the presence of the delegates and the Bahai community, I was put on the carpet in a more public manner, the main objection being that it was I who was reading the
Tablets to the audience night after night. Why not some one else? At any rate, I did not have to add historical data on how, and when, and where the Tablets had been revealed; and then who knew whether or not I had incorporated some of my own words in this Holy Writ and were all the time playing a dastardly trick on the whole Convention!
Chiefly, my newspaper title: "Ambassador of Abdul Baha" rankled. Was it I who had put forward such a claim, and, if go, on what authority? I was asked to make a public recantation in the very newspapers which had printed these articles.
Here Mr. Louis Gregory spoke in my defense, something along thin line: He did not see anything wrong in the title. Kings and presidents sent ambassadors to foreign parts, and was not Abdul Baha a spiritual king? Whether Abroad Sohrab is called an ambassador, or a representative, or a messenger, it is all the same. He has come to us from our Master, from whom we have been waiting to receive news, lo, these many years of war. Mr. Gregory felt that he had witnessed in me signs of humility and devotion to the Cause. I was very grateful to him at that moment,
But the demands continued, unceremoniously; then my character went up for dissection, while I sat quietly in my seat in the audience, wondering if it was really I who was the cause of no much tumult. Of course Mr. Joseph Hannen spoke for me, he always did; and my other friends felt for me, they always did; but the opposition was so overwhelming, it had been gathering force ever since I had set foot in America, and the stakes were very high. If the Convention continued in the spirit in which it was going, all the work of the Bahai Committee of Investigation, and its plans for the future, would be set at naught. It amounted to that and to nothing less.
At last the Chairman of that session turned to me and asked if I had anything to say in my defense, and I slowly arose from my seat and began speaking from the floor. According to my notes taken down later (and my memory was in the pink of condition at that time), my argument ran as follows:
"As an opening statement, I must confess that I am no lawyer. The most friendless criminal would not accept my services; but I can tell a story. You see, when at a very early age I was driven from my home in Esphahan, because I was a Bahai — and Bahais are not liked in Persia (it seems that they are not liked anywhere). I was forced to earn my living in some way, as I wandered from hill-village to hill-village, and so I told
stories to the people and they rewarded me with food and presents. Therefore, as my talent lies in this direction, and forgetting that this gathering which I thought was a feast of love has assumed the aspect of a court of justice, I will just tell you a story.
Not long ago (yet it seems like hundreds of years), there came to this country a Wise Man from the East. Maybe you saw his picture in the newspapers; maybe you remember his name — a strange one to American ears. In English, it means the Servant of God; in Persian, it is Abdul Baha.
Now this visitor to our short taught an unusual and unwanted doctrine, namely: Universal Tolerance, Universal Charity, Universal Love, and he passed through the length and breadth of the land summoning all men and all women to the Kingdom of God. Thousands heard his message; hundreds acclaimed and followed him, and a few believed in him.
When the Servant of God had completed his mission in this country, he returned home, taking with him a boy whom he had befriended in the East at an earlier time and found again here; and in the Holy Land, he educated this boy and trained him for work that lay ahead.
When the appointed time had arrived, the boy presented himself in New York, not as an ambassador, for his Master was no king; his Master was a Servant, sending a servant to serve his servants. This was the Master's understanding of the matter. He never dreamed of an Order of Nobility within his domain; and if such there is, then he surely is out of place in it, or around it, or adjacent to it.
The boy did not come empty handed. He carried with him a gift of such value that anyone in his right mind would recognize the donor. He also carried his credentials in the Master's own handwriting and his instructions which he is trying to carry out. He wants very much to tell you about this gift and to show it to you, jewel by jewel, so that its refulgent splendor may not blind the beholders so that they may become accustomed, little by little, to the sunlit plains of the Master's vision
Now this country boy was unaccustomed to the arts and exhibits of city life, and in fairness to you I must say that even if you have not honored him with your trust and confidence, as he had so much hoped, you have at least prepared for him a rare entertainment. This particular session of the Eleventh Bahai Convention contained all the elements of comedy, tragedy melodrama and farce, to say nothing of burlesque and opera bouffe. Of course, the performance was uneven in spots, because it probably was unrehearsed; likewise, there was no proper lighting and no orchestral music
to relieve the tension created by the outbursts of the actors and actresses. Maybe the audience got a little on edge; but all were wide awake throughout, doubtless on account of the fervor, even passion, of those who played the stellar roles. So I must thank you, on behalf of this boy, for the performance and assure you that he has appreciated the theme of the drama and the intention of the producers.
You are free to repudiate the credentials given by the Master, his cables, his letters, every message written by him; but there is one message that you cannot repudiate, because it is not a written message but an oral one. It is a command, if you wish to look upon it as such; it also is an invitation. Here it is:
'The hour of dogmatic separation is past. In this Cause, do not shun nor expel a person on either human of divine authority. You must heal the wounds that have caused this division. Compose your quarrels. Raise the call of union. Lift up all barricades and pave the path of Reconciliation.'
That is the message of Abdul Baha; and now I leave the various questions that have arisen in your hands, to decide as you see fit."
It was then unanimously voted to wait and see the unfolding of the Divine Plan according to program.
In a letter to Shoghi Effendi, dated April 30, 1919, Mr. Joseph Hannen wrote of these events for the information of the Master. I quote from it for corroboration: