Following the Example of America 1
“THE PEOPLE OF THIS land enjoy many blessings,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told a reporter from the Independent, a popular national weekly newspaper. In 1908 the Independent, published from Boston, had printed William English Walling’s account of the Springfield Race Riot. On July 19, 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sat for his interview: it appeared in print on Chicago’s newsstands during the week of September 12, 1912.
“In spite of the lofty position ascribed to him by his followers,” the editor wrote, “his interest in ordinary human affairs is keen. He was dressed in flowing robes and turban, which accorded well with his square-cut grey beard. His blue eyes are frank, lively and humorous, his figure of medium hight sic and slight, but erect and graceful in spite of his sixty-eight years.”
“I am very pleased with America and its people,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá began. “I find religion, high ideals, broad sympathy with humanity, benevolence and kindness widespread here, and my hope is that America will lead in the movement for universal peace.”
Buffalo, Chicago, Kenosha 2
Abdu’l-Bahá and His entourage traveled most of the day of Tuesday, September 17, on the train toward Minnesota. “In these days,” Mahmúd noted, “the Holy Being appeared to be sad and depressed. At one time He said, ‘…The Ark of the Cause is invested with tempests and storms from all sides. But the confirmations of the Pre-existent Beauty are with us.’”
At 9:00 P.M. Mr. Albert Hall and some others got on the train several stops away from Minneapolis and rode with them. Abdu’l-Bahá told the reporters waiting for Him when they arrived that He would see them the following morning and went to the Hotel Plaza. When the friends told Him of many speaking invitations, He replied, “‘Oh no, we cannot stay more than two days. We come to your city to put a fresh spiritual unction into it. We come to sow the seeds, to make the people awake, to deliver to them the greatest news and then to depart from the city. In this short space of time our work is to proclaim the Cause of God, and, Praise be to God, its results are becoming evident, and powerful confirmations are descending upon us day by day.’”
I beg of God that you may become more enlightened, more severed, more spiritual, more aflame and that you may be humble and submissive… 3
The Master bade farewell to the friends and promised to come back to Chicago on His return from California. Here are a few of His remarks to the friends:
I ask the Blessed Beauty to assist you and confirm you. Wherever I go, you will be in my thoughts. I shall not forget any one of you. I beg of God that you may become more enlightened, more severed, more spiritual, more aflame and that you may be humble and submissive, for as long as man does not consider himself to be good but regards himself as weak and deficient, he progresses; but the moment he considers himself good and says, ‘I am perfect’, he falls into pride and retrogresses.
To another gathering, He spoke about socialism:
The principles of socialism are outstripped in the religions of God. For instance, God commands, ‘But [they prefer] them [the poor] before themselves, although there be indigence among them’ [Qur’án 59:9]. That is, the believers spend of their substance and share their possessions and prefer others to themselves willingly and with utmost spirituality. Socialists, however, desire to enforce equality and association by compulsion. Although the preference for others which is the exhortation of God is more difficult because the rich are enjoined to prefer others to themselves, this will become common and will be the cause of tranquillity and an aid to the order of the world, because it depends upon the inclination and willingness of the giver. But socialism and egalitarianism, although easier, as those who have are made equal with others, yet such a system will not become widespread and is the cause of disturbance and tumult because it rests on compulsion and coercion.
In the Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh it is mentioned that if a rich man neglects the duty of educating his children, the House of Justice is authorized to compel him to assist financially and to educate them. But this is a matter for the family of that wealthy man and comes under the jurisdiction of the House of Justice. The point is that there are matters greater than equality and socialism in divine religions. In the Cause of God there were persons like the King of Martyrs [Mírzá Muhammad-Hasan] who, in the days of tribulation, expended all their wealth and property to relieve the sufferings of the poor and the weak. In Persia the Bahá’ís were willing to sacrifice themselves for one another to such a degree that once when one of the Bahá’ís was a guest in the home of another believer, and the authorities demanded the arrest of the guest, the host gave the guest’s name as his own and surrendered himself to them, was martyred in his place, thus sacrificing his life for his guest and brother.
Turning to the editor of the Police Journal, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said,
A newspaper must in the first instance be the means of creating harmony among the people. This is the prime duty of the proprietors of newspapers, to eradicate misunderstandings between religions and races and nationalities and promote the oneness of mankind.
16 September 1912, Talk at Home of Mrs. Corinne True, 5338 Kenmore Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 4
Therefore, we must strive in order that the power of the Holy Spirit may become effective throughout the world of mankind, that it may confer a new quickening life upon the body politic of the nations and peoples and that all may be guided to the protection and shelter of the Word of God. Then this human world will become angelic, earthly darkness pass away and celestial illumination flood the horizons, human defects be effaced and divine virtues become resplendent. This is possible and real, but only through the power of the Holy Spirit. Today the greatest need of the world is the animating, unifying presence of the Holy Spirit. Until it becomes effective, penetrating and interpenetrating hearts and spirits, and until perfect, reasoning faith shall be implanted in the minds of men, it will be impossible for the social body to be inspired with security and confidence. Nay, on the contrary, enmity and strife will increase day by day, and the differences and divergences of nations will be woefully augmented. Continual additions to the armies and navies of the world will be made, and the fear and certainty of the great pandemic war—the war unparalleled in history—will be intensified; for armament, heretofore limited, is now being increased upon a colossal scale. Conditions are becoming acute, drawing nigh unto the degree of men warring upon the seas, warring upon the plains, warring in the very atmosphere with a violence unknown in former centuries. With the growth of armament and preparation the dangers are increasingly great.
- Menon, Jonathan. “Following the Example of America.” 239 Days in America, 17 Sept. 2012, https://239days.com/2012/09/17/following-the-example-of-america/. [return]
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 147. [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=7#section177 [return]
- ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ʻAbduʼl-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Edited by Howard MacNutt. 2nd ed. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1982, 321. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/23#577019256 [return]