239 Days in America, Day 101: July 20, 1912 | New York
The Secret of Divine Civilization 1
“IT IS A SPECTACLE never before witnessed,” William Jennings Bryan wrote from the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore. He was surprised at how aggressively moneyed interests had entered the political process in 1912. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had first gone on record about leadership and corruption thirty-seven years earlier, when he was just thirty-one years old. In 1875 he wrote a long, open letter — called The Secret of Divine Civilization — to the people and government of Persia in support of the early modernization efforts of Násiri’d-Dín Sháh, the king who had banished Bahá’u’lláh and his family from Iran.
In The Secret of Divine Civilization, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá demanded a high standard of conduct from political leaders: “First,” he wrote, “the elected members must be righteous, God-fearing, high-minded, incorruptible.” “These give no thought to amassing enormous fortunes for themselves; they believe, rather, that their own wealth lies in enriching their subjects.” He added: “They take no pride in gold and silver, but rather in their enlightenment and their determination to achieve the universal good.”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s open letter to the people of Persia engaged a wide range of national issues. In America, Social Gospel churchmen marched in the forefront of reform, but in Iran the clergy, and their arbitrary interpretation of the law, was a major barrier to progress. Two plaintiffs could go to two different religious officials about the same case and receive opposite decisions. “It may even happen that in one and the same case two conflicting decisions will be handed down by the same mujtahid, on the grounds that he was inspired first in one direction and then in the other,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote. “There can be no doubt that this state of affairs has confused every important issue and must jeopardize the very foundations of society.”
New York City 2
The next day [July 20] He spoke extensively about the martyrs. On the following evening He was invited to the home of the Consul General of Turkey where he spoke to a group of Armenians.
When the July 20 issue of Harper’s Weekly appeared on the newsstands, it included an article entitled, “A Ray from the East,” by Charles Johnston:
During the past few months there has appeared at peace conferences, in fashionable pupils, and at select meetings of devotees, a venerable Oriental with benign eyes and a patriarchal beard who is heralded as the head of a new world-religion … 3
The triumph of the Cause of God in the face of opposition from the most powerful enemies 4
A letter was received from Mrs Parsons in Dublin, New Hampshire, begging Him to go there to meet some seekers after truth as well as for a change of surroundings and climate. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, although very tired and weak, spent the afternoon receiving friends and revealing Tablets for the believers. At the evening meeting He spoke about the martyrs of the Faith and visited the son of Varqá, the martyr, Mírzá Valíyu’lláh Khán, who was the recipient of the Master’s loving kindness. He then spoke of the martyrdom of Varqá and his son Rúhu’lláh in a most impressive and dignified manner, paying tribute to and demonstrating His great loyalty to these servants of the threshold of the Blessed Beauty. He then said, ‘It is my last night with you and I exhort you to be loving and united.’ When He finished His talk, all the friends demonstrated their great joy and happiness.
- Menon, Jonathan. “The Secret of Divine Civilization.” 239 Days in America, 20 July 2012, https://239days.com/2012/07/20/secret-of-divine-civilization/. [return]
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 114. [return]
- Charles Johnston, “A Ray from the East,” Harper’s Weekly, 59 (July 20, 1912), 9. [return]
- ’Abdu’l-Bahá, and Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. https://bahai-library.com/zarqani_mahmuds_diary&chapter=5#section117 [return]