Involvement of the faithful in political life, and showing justice in all walks of life

Evening of Saturday, November 18, 1911, in the home of Monsieur Dreyfus, Paris

A provisional translation from Khetabat-e Mubarakeh (Talks of ‘Abdu’l-Baha) vol. 1, 174-79 (and from page 180 in the 1-volume edition). There are English notes of this talk, published in Star of the West 3:2 page 7, April 9 1912, and a less reliable version of these published in The Wisdom of Abdul Baha in 1924 and in almost identical form in Paris Talks. For the date of the talk, see the second comment below.

He is God.

In the world of existence, a human being should have the hope of reward and the fear of punishment, particularly those who serve in the government, and have the affairs of the state and the people in their grasp. If government officials do not have such a hope of reward and fear of retribution, they will certainly not behave with justice.

Rewards and punishments are the two poles on which the tent of the world is raised. Thus government officials are held back from committing injustice by the fear of punishment and eager hope for reward.

Consider despotic governments in which there is neither fear of punishment nor hope for rewards. As a result, the affairs of such governments do not pivot upon justice and fairness.

Rewards and punishments are of two sorts. One is political rewards and punishments, and the other is divine rewards and punishments. It is certain that, if some souls are firmly persuaded of divine rewards and punishments, and they are under the constraints of political rewards and punishments as well, those persons are more perfect, for they will constrained and deterred from practicing oppression. If both the fear of God and the fear of retribution are present, that is, if there is both spiritual and political deterrence, of course this is more perfect.

Some government officials, who both fear the chastisement of the state and dread divine torment, naturally observe justice to a greater extent. In particular, those who fear eternal punishment and have hope of everlasting reward: such souls make the greatest possible efforts in thinking how to implement justice, and they are averse to oppression.

For, for those who are firm believers, to commit tyranny is to be visited by divine punishment in the eternal world. Naturally, they will shun oppression and wrong-doing, especially since firm believers, if they dispense justice, will draw near to the threshold of grandeur, gain eternal life, enter into the Kingdom of God, and their faces will be illumined by the lights of divine grace and loving-kindness.

Thus, if government officials are religious, naturally that is better, for they are the manifestations of the fear of God.

My intent with these words is not that religion should have any business in politics. Religion has absolutely no jurisdiction or involvement in politics. For religion is related to spirits and the conscience while politics is related to the body.

Therefore the leaders of religions should not be involved in political matters, but should devote themselves to rectifying the morals of the people. They admonish and excite the desire and appetite for piety. They sustain the morals of the community, they impart spiritual understandings to the souls, and teach the [religious] sciences, but never get involved in political matters.

Baha’u’llah commands this. In the Gospels, it is written that you should give Caesar what is Caesar’s, and God what is God’s.

The essence of the matter is this: in Iran the righteous Bahai government officials observe the utmost justice, because they fear the wrath of God and hope for the mercy of God. However there are others who do have no scruples at all. However capable they may be, they never cease their oppressive and negligent acts. This is why Iran is in such difficulties.

I hope that all the friends will be the exponents of justice in all matters. Justice is not something that concerns only senior government officials: the merchant should show justice in transactions, the industrialist should show justice in his industry. [note 1] All people, great and small, must be committed to justice and equity. Justice can be defined as not exceeding one’s own rights, and dealing with all others as one would wish to be dealt with oneself. This is divine justice.

“God be praised! The sun of justice has risen above the horizon of Baha’u’llah. For in his tablets the foundations of such a justice have been laid as no mind hath, from the beginning of creation, conceived. [note 2] A station has been ordained for every human rank, which must not be exceeded. For example, it is said that industrialists of every kind must show justice in their industry. That is, they should not claim more than their due. If they are oppressive in their own business, they are no different to a tyrannous king. Every person who does not exhibit justice in his own dealings with others, is like a tyrannous ruler. Thus every human being is able to be just or tyrannous.

Therefore I hope that you will all be just in your dealings, and that you should have no thought but to associate with all peoples and exhibit the purest justice and equity in all your dealings. You should even put the rights of others before your own rights, and the interests of others before your own interests, so that you may be the manifestations of divine justice and live according to the teachings of Baha’u’llah. In his own life, Baha’u’llah experienced the greatest hardships and afflictions, so that all humanity might be well nurtured, just, and show all the human virtues. Turn your faces to eternal edification. Seek divine justice. Become the manifestations of the bounties and mercy of God that surround all peoples. This is my sincere prayer for you.

[The talk concludes with a prayer in Arabic that does not appear to have been translated elsewhere.]

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3 thoughts on “Involvement of the faithful in political life, and showing justice in all walks of life

  1. Note 1:
    The word translated as industrialist here, could also be translated as ‘craft’ or ‘trade.’ However it is clear, where the word recurs below, that the person concerned is an employer in a powerful position.

    Note 2: “God be praised! The sun of justice has risen above the horizon of Baha’u’llah. For in his tablets the foundations of such a justice have been laid as no mind hath, from the beginning of creation, conceived.”
    This sentence is translated by Shoghi Effendi in The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 28.

  2. One of the friends has pointed out that the time and place of the talk differ from the time and place reported in Paris Talks. He asks about the possibility that Abdu’l-Baha might have given two talks on the same subject on consecutive days, one reported in Persian and the other in the English accounts (and presumably in French accounts as well). It’s a good question. I have amended the date of the talk from November 17 to November 18, based on the reasoning below.

    First, there’s no possibility that these two accounts are of different talks on the same topic, because the overall structures run parallel. The differences at the detailed level are due to the interposition of an interpreter (in the Star of the West version) and then the additions of an editor, in the Paris Talks version. For example, where the Persian says:

    Therefore the leaders of religions should not be involved in political matters, but should devote themselves to rectifying the morals of the people. They admonish and excite the desire and appetite for piety. They sustain the morals of the community, they impart spiritual understandings to the souls, and teach the [religious] sciences, but never get involved in political matters.

    The Star of the West (3.2.7) says:

    Those in authority should occupy themselves with the lives of men. They should teach ideas of service, good morals and develop the habit of Justice.

    This is much shorter, as one would expect with the interposition of the interpreter and the note-taker, and the word “leaders” (ra’is) has been translated, but “of religions” was missed, so it is not only a short paraphrase, it doesn’t give the reader the crucial information to follow the argument. The Paris Talks version enlarges this again to explain what Abdu’l-Baha meant:

    Religious teachers should not invade the realm of politics; they should concern themselves with the spiritual education of the people; they should ever give good counsel to men, trying to serve God and human kind; they should endeavour to awaken spiritual aspiration, and strive to enlarge the understanding and knowledge of humanity, to improve morals, and to increase the love for justice.

    This is an improvement, which indicates input from somebody such as Dreyfus or Barney who remembered what Abdu’l-Baha had said in Persian. But it is a fleshing out of the Star of the West version, not a new translation from the Persian, because the last phrase in the Persian, “but never get involved in political matters.” is not added. Both the Star of the West and Paris Talks versions end with “the habit of Justice.”

    However, in all three versions, the next step is the same: Abdu’l-Baha quotes Baha’u’llah’s quotation of “Render unto Caesar.” That’s what I mean by structural equivalents. They are quite definitely reporting the same talk.

    The next step is again the same: Abdu’l-Baha talks about Bahai government officials in Persia. And the following step is a reference to “others” who have no scruples (in Persian) or “do not think of consequences” (Star of the West), which is explained in Paris Talks as people who “who have no fear of God before their eyes, who think not of the consequences of their actions.” The Star of the West version had missed the point (it is consequences in the afterlife), the editor of Paris Talks explains what the Star of the West version omits, by adding “fear of God,” but not by reference to the Persian. And so forth…

    Clearly, we are looking at diverse accounts of one talk. As for the time and place, the Star of the West version did not say when or where the meeting was held; the editors of Paris Talks surmised that it was 4 Avenue de Camoens, but the Persian tells us it was at the Dreyfus home.

    November 17, 1911 was in fact a Friday, while the Persian text says the talk was given on Saturday, but the dates of all the Persian reports of these talks are to be read give-or-take-a-day. Not only had the Persian friends been away from Egypt for some time, there was and is no standard Islamic calendar: months begin from the sighting of the new moon, which is different in Tunisia, Alexandra and Tehran. That means that the question “was 26 Dhu’l-Qa`dah 1329 a Friday?” can only be answered by knowing what day of the week it was, when the Imam Jum`ah of a particular city declared that it was the first day of Dhu’-Qa`dah. This is why Islamic communities in Western countries begin Ramadan at diverse times: The Moroccans hear when Ramadan has begun in Morocco, the Egyptians follow the Mufti in Cairo, etc.

    So I think we can be reasonably sure that the talk was given on November 18, 1911, at the home of Monsieur Dreyfus. I have amended the dating of the talk accordingly.

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