Abdu’l-Baha set out on the first of his two trips to Europe on August 11, 1911, when he sailed from Alexandria for Marseilles. He arrived on the 16th, and was met by Hippolyte Dreyfus, a Bahai who had taught himself Persian and at least as much Arabic as is necessary to read literary Persian, and who had already translated Some Answered Questions into French. Abdu’l-Baha stayed in Marseilles for two days. From there, he travelled to Geneva, and took a ferry across the lake to the health resort of Thonon-les-Bains, in France, where they were met by Laura Barney, recently married to Hippolyte Dreyfus. Abdu’l-Baha stayed in a hotel there from August 21 August 31, when he returned to Geneva to continue his rail journey North.
On August 27, Abdu’l-Baha gave the talk translated below, presumably in his hotel at Thonon. Two themes are intertwined in this talk: the oneness of humanity and progressive revelation, with its consequence of the need for new approaches to the needs of a new age.
I have made some comments about the sources and Abdu’l-Baha’s diverse audience in the first comment to this posting.
O you who are present: for how long shall this slumber and dormancy last? How long this retrogression? How long this ignorance and blindness? How long this heedlessness and perversity? How long, oppression and injustice? How long, hatred and contention? How long the fanaticism of the days of ignorance? How long, how long, this clinging to illusions, this conflict and contention, this fighting and strife? How much longer, for racial prejudice, national chauvinism, political intolerance and sectarianism? Has not the time come, for those who believe, that their hearts should be humble in the remembrance of God?”[Qur’an 57:16] Has God put a seal on hearts, has sight been enwrapped in a veil of transgressions? Are souls unaware that the liberal effusions of God’s grace have flooded over all? He created the creation by his power and has provided all things by his mercy. He has reared all by his providence: “You see no flaw in the creation of the God of Mercy: Repeat the gaze: do you see a single flaw?” [Qur’an 67:3]
Let us walk in the way of God, the all-glorious, into the sanctuary of wise policies, the sanctuary of good dealing with one-another, of bounty and generosity. Let us put tyranny and rebellion aside. Let us give healing with the salve that grants nearness, through justice and kindliness. Let us be blended as water with bitters. Let us unite in a union of spirits. We cannot establish a policy better than God’s policy. We cannot find anything more in harmony with the world of humanity than the outpourings of God’s grace. God, the all-glorious, is a good example for you. Do not change the favour of God, which is perfect friendship. O servants of God, it behoves you to turn away from enmity and establish friendship, love, equity, justice and freedom from oppression.
O you who are present: past ages have passed away, no place remains for hatred and darkness, for this dispensation is illumined with glorious lights, with a lustre of bounties, with evident proofs and luminous verses. The light that dispels darkness closes the door to pain, it invites friendship in and eliminates quarrelling. Thus they eyes have seen and the ears have heard and minds have understood that the divine religions are based on humane virtues such as friendship and love between all the people of the world, and unity and harmony among the citizenry.
O people, are you not of one lineage? Are you not leaves and branches of one tree? Does the eye of a merciful God not fall upon you? Are you not the ones who are immersed in the ocean of His mercy? Are you not bond-servants at the threshold of God? Do you doubt that all the Prophets are from God and the systems of religious law derive from the Word of God? The mission God entrusted to them was only to teach and train the souls and refine the minds of all, and lead them progressively in the path of ascent to success and attainment? It has been shown incontrovertibly that God chose the Prophets as a mercy in all worlds, and not as a chastisement on the wayfarers. They all summoned the people to the path of guidance and held fast to the sure handle, and thus they delivered degenerate peoples from the nadir of ignorance and blindness and led them to the apex of excellence and understanding.
Anyone who closely examines the facts of generally accepted history, revealing the hidden truths of previous eras, will be assured that Moses, peace be upon him, drew the children of Israel from abasement, humiliation, captivity and hopelessness, and taught them with immense strength until they attained to the apex of glory and distinction. He smoothed their path to the greatest happiness. God bestowed His favour upon them, and thanks to God, after being rendered powerless in the land, He made them foremost among the heirs of the Book and the bearers of the decisive holy text. Thus great men and prophets arose among them who laid the foundations for their well-being, and they prospered. This is clear proof of prophethood, peace be upon him.
As to Christ the Glorious, the Word of God and the Spirit of God, who upheld the Gospel, God raised him up among a subject people who had accepted bondage and silenced their own voices before the power of Rome. He breathed the spirit of life into them, and revived them after their death, and made them the foremost in the land. The Romans were humbled before them, Greece submitted to them, and their reputation spread around the world, to the present day.
As for the Holy Apostle Muhammad, the one chosen by God (Peace be upon him), God raised him up in a valley without farms, where nothing would grow, among a discordant multitude of warlike peoples, among tribes who had fallen to the depths of ignorance and blindness, not knowing who spread out the earth, not recognizing a single character in the Book, not understanding any part of God’s message. They were scattered in the deserts of Arabia and dwelling in sandy wastelands, subsisting on camel milk, with a few dates and grapes. His mission was as it were to breathe life into bodies or to light a shining lamp when it is dark. Then that vast, arid, empty desert was lit up, such were the bright lights in that region. The people rose from the sleep of those who stray, their eyes were illumined by the light of guidance in those days: their minds were opened, their souls were restored, their hearts were dilated through the verses of the oneness of God, chanted to them in stirring melodies. Thanks to this glorious bounty they progressed and attained to the apex of greatness. Their virtues were renowned around the world, they were as shining stars arising. Consider such signs, signs that disclose secrets, and be fair. That glorious figure was the source of such bounty for such wayward people. He was the lamp of guidance to tribes wrapped in the darkness of illusions, and he brought them to glory and prosperity, and offered them a good life in this world and the next. Isn’t this extraordinary power a sufficient proof for such a brilliant prophethood?
By God, every fair-minded person will attest with absolute assurance that those respected men were the ensigns of guidance among us. They were like banners waving over the towers of glory, a proclamation far and near. That illustrious fellowship sought and transmitted the emanations of God’s attributes, they sought enlightenment and radiated light, they drank the ocean dry and poured out its waters. They drew light from the kingdom of mysteries and shone the light of divine inspiration on the world of ideas. In truth, all these brilliant stars shining on the horizons of reality were allied, united and in agreement. Every forerunner announced the glad tidings of a successor, and every successor attested the prophethood of every forerunner. But look at you: a people divided, squabbling and contending! You have a good example in these luminous manifestations, these exponents of the divine and repositories of heavenly inspiration, the fellowship of God. After this proof, is there any justification for doubts, for holding to vain imaginings that are more tenuous than a spider’s web? The Qur’an says, “God has not revealed any authority for them” (12:4 and 53:23).
O people! Hasten, hasten to friendship! Turn away from enmity, rancor and contention! Renounce this waywardness! Your part is to lift the veil of darkness, to investigate the realities of history. If you achieve harmony, you gain; if you contend with one another you willfully depart from the path of guidance, turning your faces from reality and reason to thrash around in the ocean of illusion and worldly desires. This is going astray to the ruin of the human race. But if you unite and mix with one another and befriend each other, a great force will assist you to peace, righteousness, love and well-being in this world and eternal glory and eternal happiness.
“Peace be upon them who have followed the right path.” (Qur’an 20:47)