‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Marking the One Hundredth Anniversary of His Tablets of the Divine Plan (1916/17–2016/17)
This month, March 2016, we mark the centenary of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s revelation of the first Tablets of the Divine Plan. Of the fourteen tablets, eight were revealed between March 26 and April 19, 1916; six more followed in February and March 1917. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá revealed them to the Bahá’ís in the United States and Canada, a region He had visited for eight months and had left just three and a third years earlier. While in North America, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke often to the Bahá’ís about the urgent need to teach the Faith. He had been very impressed by the energy and dedication of the North American Bahá’ís, many of whom had already traveled worldwide to proclaim the Bahá’í teachings, and through His North American talks had prepared them for the role the Tablets of the Divine Plan would bestow on them.
World War I (1914–18) had been raging for a year and a half, and regular mail could no longer go back and forth between the United States and the Holy Land. Letters were thrown away rather than being read by the censors. But postcards, surprisingly, were not blocked. Hence ‘Abdu’l-Bahá squeezed each tablet onto the back of a postcard and sent it to various believers in North America. The tablet to the Northeastern States went to Hooper Harris in New York. The tablet to the Southern States went to Joseph Hannen in Washington, DC. The tablet to Canada went to May Maxwell in Montreal. The tablet to the Central States went to Zia Baghdadi in Chicago. And the tablet to the Western States went to Helen Goodall in San Francisco. Miraculously, all the postcards went through. Three other tablets were addressed to all the Bahá’ís of North America but were received later.
The American Bahá’ís responded immediately to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s call to teach. The September 8, 1916, issue of Star of the West suggested that the communities that received the tablets serve as unofficial coordinators of teaching in their regions and establish teaching funds. Traveling teachers set out to open new towns and cities to the Faith by giving lectures at universities, churches, and public halls. A new appreciation for systematic effort began to spread among the Bahá’ís, which set the stage for the election of local spiritual assembles six years later, after the provisions of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Will and Testament became known. A new era for the Bahá’í community did not begin for another five years—the Formative Age (1921–) and the beginning of the effort to build the Administrative Order—but with the activity stirred by receipt of the Tablets of the Divine Plan, the first glimmers of that dawn could be discerned.
In September 1916, the editors of the Star of the West called the five tablets first received “a trumpet call to action” and asked the Bahá’ís to arise in “united service.” Almost one hundred years later, the Universal House of Justice, in its December 29, 2015, message, referred to the Tablets of the Divine Plan as “the charter for the teaching work” that “set out not only the strategies” for teaching the Faith, “but guiding principles and unchanging spiritual prerequisites.” “Every effort” of the Bahá’ís over the last century to “propagate the divine teachings” systematically “traces its origins to the forces set in motion in the Divine Plan.”
As we study these foundational tablets again during the centenary of their revelation, no doubt we will be inspired with new insights, find our consecration to the Cause renewed, and discover our determination to take the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh to all humanity reinforced many fold.
The Universal House of Justice, in its January 2, 2016, letter puts it this way: “Every moment is precious. We long to see every believer choose the path of consecrated service and high endeavor to which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá repeatedly summoned the friends in the Tablet of the Divine Plan.”