His journeys to the West, and his Tablets of the Divine Plan spread the Bahá'í message beyond its middle-eastern roots, and his Will and Testament laid the foundation for the current Bahá'í administrative order.
`Abdu'l-Bahá's given name was `Abbás Effendí, but he preferred the title of `Abdu'l-Bahá (servant of the glory of God). He is commonly referred to in Bahá'í texts as "The Master", and received the title of KBE after his personal storage of grain was used to relieve famine in Palestine following World War I.
In 1863 Bahá'u'lláh was summoned to Constantinople (Istanbul), and thus his whole family including `Abdu'l-Bahá, then nineteen, accompanied him on his 110-day journey. `Abdu'l-Baha followed his father through the further exile to Adrianople (Edirne), and finally Akká, Palestine (now Acre, Israel). During this time he increasingly assumed the role of Bahá'u'lláh's chief steward.
On arrival in Akka, due to the unsanitary state of its barracks, many of the Bahá'ís fell sick, and `Abdu'l-Bahá tended the sick. Furthermore, the inhabitants of Akka were told that the new prisoners were enemies of the state, of God and his religion, and that association with them was strictly forbidden, and thus the Bahá'ís were faced with hostile officials, and scornful inhabitants and `Abdu'l-Bahá shielded his father of much of these attacks. Over time, he gradually took over responsibility for the relationships between the small Bahá'i exile community and the outside world. It was through his interaction with the people of Akka that, according to the Bahá'ís, they recognized the innocence of the Bahá'ís, and thus the conditions of imprisonment were eased. Eventually, Bahá'u'lláh was allowed to leave the city and visit nearby places.
The eldest daughter Díyá'íyyih Khánum would become the mother of `Abdu'l-Bahá's heir, his eldest grandson Shoghi Effendi. The other three daughters were Tuba Khanum, Ruha Khanum and Munavvar Khanum, the three younger daughters.
After Bahá'u'lláh died on 29 May 1892, the Will and Testament of Bahá'u'lláh named `Abdu'l-Bahá as Centre of the Covenant, successor and interpreter of Bahá'u'lláh's writings. In the Will and Testament `Abdu'l-Bahá's half-brother, Muhammad `Alí, was mentioned by name as being subordinate to `Abdu'l-Bahá. Muhammad `Alí became jealous of his half-brother and set out to establish authority for himself as an alternative leader with the support of his brothers Badi'u'llah and Diya'u'llah. He began correspondence with Bahá'ís in Iran, initially in secret, casting doubts in others' minds about `Abdu'l-Bahá. While most Bahá'ís followed `Abdu'l-Bahá, a handful followed Muhammad `Alí including such leaders as Mirza Javad and Ibrahim Khayru'llah, the famous Bahá'í missionary to America.
Muhammad `Alí and Mirza Javad began to openly accuse `Abdu'l-Bahá of taking on too much authority, suggesting that he believed himself to be a Manifestation of God, equal in status to Bahá'u'lláh. It was at this time that `Abdu'l-Bahá, in order to provide proof of the falsity of the accusations levelled against him, in tablets to the West, stated that he was to be known as "`Abdu'l-Bahá" an Arabic phrase meaning the Servant of Bahá to make it clear that he was not a Manifestation of God, and that his station was only servitude.
It was as a result of this breakdown in relations between the half-brothers that when `Abdu'l-Bahá died, instead of appointing Muhammad `Alí, he left a Will and Testament that set up the framework of an administration. The two highest institutions were the Universal House of Justice, and the Guardianship, for which he appointed Shoghi Effendi as the Guardian.
By the end of 1898, Western pilgrims starting coming to Akka on pilgrimage to visit `Abdu'l-Bahá; this group of pilgrims including Phoebe Hearst was the first time that Bahá'ís raised up in the West had met `Abdu'l-Bahá. During the next decade `Abdu'l-Bahá would be in constant communication with Bahá'ís around the world helping them to teach the religion; the group included May Ellis Bolles in Paris, Englishman Thomas Breakwell, American Herbert Hopper, French Hippolyte Dreyfus, Susan Moody, Lua Getsinger, American Laura Clifford Barney. It was Laura Clifford Barney who by asking questions of `Abdu'l-Bahá over many years that the book Some Answered Questions was written.
During the final years of the 19th century, while `Abdu'l-Bahá was still officially a prisoner and confined to `Akka, he organized the transfer of the remains of the Báb from Iran to Palestine. He then organized the purchase of land on Mount Carmel that Bahá'u'lláh has instructed should be used to lay the remains of the Báb, and organized for the construction of the Shrine of the Báb. This process took another 10 years.
With the increase of pilgrims visiting `Abdu'l-Bahá, Muhammad `Alí worked with the Ottoman authorities to re-introduce stricter terms on `Abdu'l-Bahá's imprisonment in August 1901. By 1902, however, due to the Governor of `Akka being supportive of `Abdu'l-Bahá, the situation was greatly eased; while pilgrims were able to once again visit `Abdu'l-Bahá, he was confined to the city. In February 1903, two followers of Muhammad `Alí, including Badi'u'llah and Siyyid `Aliy-i-Afnan, broke with Muhammad `Ali and wrote books and letters giving details of Muhammad `Ali's plots and noting that what was circulating about `Abdu'l-Bahá was fabrication.
From 1902-1904, in addition to the building of the Shrine of the Báb that `Abdu'l-Bahá was directing, he started to put into execution two different projects; the restoration of the House of the Báb in Shiraz, Iran and the construction of the first Bahá'í House of Worship in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. `Abdu'l-Bahá asked Aqa Mirza Aqa to coordinate the work so that the house of the Báb would be restored to the state that it was at the time of the Báb's declaration to Mulla Husayn in 1844; he also entrusted the work on the House of Worship to Vakil-u'd-Dawlih.
Also in 1904, Muhammad `Ali continued his accusations against `Abdu'l-Bahá which caused an Ottoman commission summoning `Abdu'l-Bahá to answer the accusations levelled against him. During the inquiry the charges against him were dropped and the inquiry collapsed. The next few years in `Akka were relatively free of pressures and pilgrims were able to come and visit `Abdu'l-Bahá. Also, by 1909 the mausoleum of the shrine of the Báb was completed.
The 1908 Young Turks revolution freed all political prisoners in the Ottoman Empire, and `Abdu'l-Bahá was freed from imprisonment. His first action after his freedom was to visit the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh in Bahji. While `Abdu'l-Bahá continued to live in `Akka immediately following the revolution, he soon moved to live in Haifa near the Shrine of the Báb. In 1910, with the freedom to leave the country, he embarked on a three year journey to Egypt, Europe, and North America, spreading the Bahá'í message.
From August to December 1911, `Abdu'l-Bahá visited cities in Europe, including London, Bristol, and Paris. The purpose of these trips was to support the Bahá'í communities in the west and to further spread his father's teachings.
In the following year, he undertook a much more extensive journey to the United States and Canada to once again spread his father's teachings. He arrived in New York City on 11 April 1912, after declining an offer of passage on the RMS Titanic, telling the Bahá'í believers, instead, to "Donate this to charity." He instead travelled on a slower craft, the S.S. Cedric, and cited preference of a longer sea journey as the reason (Balyuzi p. 171). Upon arriving in New York, he arranged a private meeting with the survivors of the ill-fated Titanic, who asked him if he knew the Titanic's ultimate destruction would occur, to which, 'Abdu'l-Baha replied, "God gives man feelings of intuition". While he spent most of his time in New York, he visited Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., Boston and Philadelphia. In August of the same year he started a more extensive journey to places including New Hampshire, the Green Acre school in Maine, and Montreal (his only visit to Canada). He then travelled west to Minneapolis, San Francisco, Stanford, and Los Angeles before starting to return east at the end of October. On 5 December 1912 he set sail back to Europe.
Back in Europe, he visited London, Paris (where he stayed for two months), Stuttgart, Budapest, and Vienna. Finally on 12 June 1913 he returned to Egypt, where he stayed for six months before returning to Haifa.
During World War I `Abdu'l-Bahá stayed in Palestine, under the continued threat of Allied bombardment and threats from the Turkish commander. As the war ended, the British Mandate over Palestine brought relative security to `Abdu'l-Bahá. During his final year, a growing number of visitors and pilgrims came to see him in Haifa.
On 27 April 1920, he was awarded a knighthood by the British Mandate of Palestine for his humanitarian efforts during the war. `Abdu'l-Bahá died on 28 November 1921 (27th of Rabi'u'l-Avval, 1340 AH). On his funeral, Esslemont notes:
He is buried in the front room of the Shrine of the Báb on Mount Carmel. Plans are in place to one day build a Shrine of `Abdu'l-Bahá. In his Will and Testament he appointed His grandson Shoghi Effendi Rabbani as the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith.
The second group includes Some Answered Questions, which is an English translation of a series of table talks with Laura Barney, and Paris Talks, `Abdu'l-Baha in London and Promulgation of Universal Peace which are respectively addresses given by `Abdu'l-Bahá in Paris, London and the United States.
The following is a list of some of `Abdu'l-Bahá's many books, tablets, and talks: