Weighhouse Chapel in London

Sunday, December 29, 1912: an evening meeting at the King’s Weighhouse Congregational Church at the corner of Weighhouse Street and Duke Street, London

A provisional translation from Khetabat-e Hazrat-e `Abdu’l-Baha dar safr-e-Europa (Talks of ‘Abdu’l-Baha in his European travels), page 86.

I thank God for the presence here of so many esteemed persons, whose hearts are united, whose very faces announce the glad tidings of God. The signs of love are evident in your faces. For when we examine the world of existence, there is nothing greater than love.

Love is the cause of life. Love is the means of salvation. Love forges a connection between human hearts. Love grants glory and progress to the human race. Love is the means of entering the Kingdom of God. Love confers eternal life. His holiness Christ declares: “God is Love:” what then is greater than love?” According to Christ’s words, there is nothing greater than love in the world of existence.

There are many communities in the world, each with a particular purpose, and for every gathering, some particular thing is fitting. Love is what is fitting for religious communities. Religious communities must be the cause of love between people. No-one is excluded, because His Holiness Christ declares “The Sun of God shines upon all.” This means that God is loving to all. All creation is submerged in the seas of divine mercy. The divine religions should be the cause of friendship and love among people, because love is the foundation of the divine religions. The holy scriptures announce that the foundation of the heavenly religion is love.

Although another dynamic may become the cause of friendship, none can compare to religion as the cause of love. For example, consider how the foundation of heavenly religion in the time of Christ and afterwards was the cause of fellowship. When his holiness Christ appeared the peoples of Rome and Greece, the Chaldeans, Assyrians and Egyptians were all hostile enemies, one for the other. Nevertheless, in a short time they were merged in a united community and exhibited the greatest friendship and love to one another. Contending peoples became a single religious community. From this example we understand that the religion of God is the cause of love and fellowship and not the cause of hostility and enmity.

Likewise, when his holiness Moses was manifest, the highest degree of unity was established among the Israelites. This too is proof that religion is not only the cause of love, it should be regarded as the mightiest power imaginable in this world for fostering fellowship and love. The power of diplomacy and policy cannot be relied on to establish this unity. They cannot give us a heartfelt love for one another. Learning and the arts cannot sow this love in our hearts. That power is the power of religion, for it is born of love. It bestows honour and glory.

It is the power of religion that illumines the world. It is the power of religion that bestows eternal life. It is the power of religion that eradicates the roots of enmity and contention among the people. Study history and you will see the extent to which religion has been the cause of fellowship and love. That is, the foundation of all the religions is love, however blind imitation in religion is the cause of enmity and contention.

When we examine the foundation of the heavenly religions, it is purely good, but when we look at the unthinking imitations of today we see that it is evil.

Since the foundation of the religions of God is one, it is the cause of fellowship. But blind imitations differ, so they are the cause of hostility and enmity. Take the belligerent peoples of the Balkans today: were they to discover the foundation of the religion of God they would immediately be reconciled to one another, because all the heavenly religions are guides to unity and love. Alas, a thousand times alas! people have forgotten the foundation of God’s religion and have held fast to this or that blind imitation, imitations that are contrary to the foundation of the religion of God. Therefore they have shed one another’s blood, destroying one another’s households.

How great has been the suffering of the prophets of God! How many afflictions they endured! Some were imprisoned, some banished, and some were martyred, offering even their lives as a sacrifice. Consider what afflictions his holiness Christ endured. In the end he accepted the cross so that love and fellowship might be established and the hearts might be bound to hearts.

How unfortunate, that the followers of the religions became forgetful, neglecting the foundation of the heavenly religions, holding fast to these rusty imitations, and because these imitations differ, they go to war, one against the other.

A thousand times alas: that which God established as the cause of life, they have made the cause of death. Something that God gave as the instrument of salvation, they have made a cause of destruction! Religion, which is the means for the illumination of the world of humanity, they have made to be the cause of darkness!

A thousand times alas, weep for the religions! How widely these foundations have been forgotten, while vain imaginings have taken their place! Because the imaginings are diverse, there is warfare and conflict.

This era is the era of illumination, the era of sciences and technologies, the era of discoveries. This is the era when the realities of things are unveiled. This is the era of justice and freedom. Yet observe: there is warfare between the religions, war between peoples, war between governments and between the regions of the world. How regrettable this is!

We should sit in the dust and weep, that Iran has been the scene of warfare and contention: war between religions and between the schools of religious thought. The religions have been enemies of one another, they have shunned one another. They have considered one another unclean. There was war between the ethnic groups and between governments and regions.

At such a time of darkness, his holiness Baha’u’llah appeared and dispelling that darkness. He proclaimed an all-embracing oneness. He proclaimed the oneness of all the religions. He proclaimed the oneness of the diverse peoples. All who have accepted the counsels of that holy soul are today living in perfect fellowship with one another. Conceptions of that kind, between the religions, have been dispelled. Today in Iran and in other places in the East, communities have been established where people from all religions live with one another in perfect fellowship and love. For example, you can see the greatest friendship between the Christian, Muslim, Jew, Zoroastrian and Buddhist, joined of one association: all are united and agreed. There are no quarrels or contention, no war or killing. Rather, they live in complete fellowship with one another, because they have forgotten the blind imitations and set aside those imagined things. They hold fast to the foundation of the heavenly religions, and because the foundation of the heavenly religions is real and reality knows no multiplicity, they are closely bonded to one another, to the extent that they would sacrifice their lives. But other groups, who have not accepted the counsels of his holiness Baha’u’llah, are fighting and contending even today.

His holiness, Baha’u’llah promulgated certain principles, the first being the oneness of the world of humanity. Addressing all humanity, he says “You are all the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch.” (Epistle to the Son of the Wolf), that is, each of you is as it were a single leaf or fruit and you all belong to the tree of Adam. You are all one family, and the servants of God, you are all the sheep of one shepherd. The true shepherd is God and he is kind to all. Given that the true shepherd is kind and is caring for all the flock, why do we quarrel with one another and take religion as a pretext for killing and conflict? We take ethnicity as a pretext and wage war. Why do we make differences between our homelands a pretext and express hatred and enmity for one another, although these are all imaginings?

Thus the first [principle] is that religion must be the cause of fellowship and love. The second is that all people are one race and the surface of the earth is one homeland. These differences are imaginings. God did not make these religions contend. He laid one foundation. God did not divide up the ground, he created it all as one planet. God did not distinguish between the ethnicities, they are created as one people. Why should we establish these hypothetical distinctions? Why do we differentiate, saying “this is Germany” and “this is France,” when all is one? God has created all as one and is kind to all. We should not reinforce these imaginings that cause contention and conflict, and especially not in the case of religion, which is the cause of love, the cause of illumination, which is spirituality in the heart, which is the effulgence of the Kingdom. If we were to make such a beloved object the cause of contention and conflict, what an error this would be, what thoughtlessness, what a failure!

Another teaching of his holiness Baha’u’llah is this: that religion should be the cause of fellowship and love. If it is the cause of hatred and enmity then irreligion is better, for religion is the remedy for human infirmities. If the remedy causes illness then undoubtedly the first thing to do is to discontinue the treatment. If religion becomes the cause of enmity it is absolutely evil and its non-existence is better than its existence.

Another of the teachings of his holiness Baha’u’llah is that religious prejudice, ethnic prejudice, national prejudice and political prejudice destroy the edifice of humanity. As long as these prejudices persist, there will be no repose for the world of humanity. Therefore these prejudices must be forgotten so that humanity may find repose.

Praise be to God that we are all his servants and are submerged in the ocean of God’s mercy. Given that we have such a kind Lord, why should we contend with one another, why should we be unkind? Why should we be darkness upon darkness?

In brief, there are many teachings of Baha’u’llah. If you wish to learn more, turn to the books and current reports. Then you will learn that this religion has been the cause of fellowship and love among people and preaches universal peace.

Now, as the English people are noble-minded and the English government is a just government, I hope that through them the banner of peace may be raised throughout the world, the oneness of the world of humanity may be witnessed, and this dark world may be illumined, these wars may be transformed into peace and this contention may give way to unity and concord.

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Eleven essentials: the Bahai principles as taught by Abdu’l-Baha in London

[This provisional translation was published previously on my Bahai Studies blog ~Sen]

Towards the end of his life, Baha’u’llah wrote a number of works that included numbered lists of his teachings. The Bisharat (Glad Tidings) and Tarazat (Ornaments) are examples. Abdu’l-Baha also wrote several letters that include such numbered lists of essential Bahai teachings, and he sometimes adopted the same format when speaking to gatherings. The records of these in English are often unreliable, but one of these “principles” talks does have authenticated Persian notes (here). It caught my attention because it includes “the separation of religion and politics” as a key principle and also refers to this as “not entering into politics” — a formulation that will be more familiar to Bahais.
The talk was probably addressed to a gathering of Bahais in London on the day of his departure, 3 October 1911, but the Islamic date is given as 11 Shawwal 1329 = 5 October 1911. According to the footnote shown in the inset, “some Persian texts say it was a Theosophical Society meeting in London on December 30, 1911.” This should presumably refer to a Theosophical Society meeting on September 30, 1911. A correspondent has pointed out that this date is confirmed by “the published accounts and records of the London Theosophical Society.” An earlier report of this talk is published in Abdu’l-Baha in London (which incidentally shows that — contrary to earlier understandings — some talks in that book can be authenticated as Bahai scripture). Naturally that report, based on an interpreter’s words, is more compact than the Persian version which I have translated. Its list of principles differs, having the equality of men and women added as an implication of the oneness of humanity, and missing the ninth and tenth principles in the Persian text: that religion is separated from politics and on the education and training of women. A correspondent tells me there is another report in Contemporary Review 1912 which has the same structure as the one in Abdu’l-Baha in London. My translation below is based entirely on the Persian notes referenced above.

He is God
O respected gathering, burning is the essential property of fire, and gleaming is the essential property of the power of lightening, shining is the essential property of the sun, and the essential property of soil is to promote growth. No dislocation is possible in the essential qualities of things. Therefore change and transformation, and transposition and alteration from one condition to another, come from the essential necessities of the contingent world. For example, the succession of seasons, of spring and summer, autumn and winter, and of day and night, flow from the essential qualities of the terrestrial world. Thus every spring is followed by autumn and every summer is followed by a winter, every day by a night, every dawn by an evening.

At a time when the divine religions had entirely decayed and the conduct of the people of the world had altered, when there were no glimmerings of the heavenly light to be seen, and benevolence was a thing of the past, when the darkness of bigotry and contention and slaughter reigned, and the winter with its gloom and cold prevailed, and shadows enveloped the world, Baha’u’llah arose on the horizon of Iran like a star. The lights of resplendent guidance shone out and the heavenly illumination dawned. He promulgated new teachings, reinvigorated the human virtues, revealed heavenly bounties and disclosed the power of spirituality. He brought the following fundamental principles into the world of existence, and promulgated them:

First, the investigation of reality. All religious communities are clinging to blind imitation and therefore are in complete disagreement with one another, and in bitter strife and conflict. However the appearance of reality uncovers this darkness and leads to unity in opinion. For reality admits no multiplicity.

Second, the unity of humanity. That is, all people are recipients of great and glorious favours, they are the servants of one God, they worship one Godhead. Mercy is extended to all, and every head is adorned with the crown of humanity. Therefore all the races and religious communities should consider themselves as brothers and sisters, they should regard themselves as the branches and leaves, the blossoms and fruit, of a single tree. For all of them are the descendants of Adam, all the pearls in one shell. At most, they are in need of education. They are ignorant, they are heedless, so they are should be guided. They are ill, they should be healed; they are children, they should be nurtured in the bosom of love so that they attain to maturity and reason; polishing is required until they are gleaming and luminous.

Third, religion is the foundation of harmony and love, of solidarity and unity. If religion is made the cause of enmity it yields not solidarity but rather troubles, and the absence of religion is better than its existence. The abandonment of religion is preferable to this.

Fourth, religion and learning are twins that cannot be separated, or they are two wings on which you fly. A single wing will not suffice. Any religion that is bereft of learning is to be considered as blind imitation. It is superficial, not spiritual. Therefore the promotion of learning is one of the limbs of religion.

Fifth, religious bigotry, racial prejudice, political partisanship and national bias bring down the edifice of humanity. The reality of the divine religions is one, for reality is one and admits not plurality, and all the prophets are in the utmost unity. The prophets are the mediators of the sun: in every season they rise from a certain point. Therefore each has spoken of his successor, and that successor has confirmed the truth of his predecessor. “No distinction do we make between any of them.” [Quran 2:285]

Sixth, equality between individuals, and perfect fellowship. Justice should be so perfect that the rights of the human race are protected and assured and the rights of the public are equal. This is one of the essential requirements of life in society.

Seventh, the equalisation of the means of livelihood for all humanity, to the extent that all are freed from poverty. Every person should have enough necessities and opportunities to live at ease in a certain honour and position. Although the Emir may be glorious and be surrounded with prosperity, the poor man also should have some daily sustenance. He should not be left in a state of degradation, nor should he be denied the enjoyment of life due to extreme hunger.

Eighth, the universal peace. A supreme tribunal should be formed by all the governments and religious communities, in general elections, and any differences and disputes arising among the governments and peoples should be settled in that tribunal, so that they do not lead to war.

Ninth, religion is separated from politics. Religion does not enter into political matters. In fact, it is linked with the hearts, not with the world of bodies. The leaders of religion should devote themselves to teaching and training the souls and propagating good morals, and they should not enter into political matters.

Tenth, the education and training of women, their progress, and consideration and respect for them, since they are partners and co-equals of men in life and, with respect to their humanity, are on an equal footing.

Eleventh, seeking the bounties of the Holy Spirit, so that spiritual civilization can be established. Material civilization alone is not enough, and does not lead to human happiness. Material civilization is like the body, and spiritual civilization is like the spirit. The body does not live without the spirit. The Quran says, “Truly, We have created the human being in the best of moulds.” [95:4]

These are a selection from the teachings of Baha’u’llah. He demonstrated perseverance and bore trials and afflictions to establish and promulgate them. He was always a prisoner, enduring punishment, heavily burdened, but in the prison he laid the foundations for this sublime mansion. From the darkness of the prison he illumined the horizons with this radiant light. The supreme desire of the Bahais is that these teachings should be put in practice. They strive with heart and soul, willing to sacrifice themselves for this goal, so that heavenly light may illumine the human race.

I am exceedingly pleased to have been able to speak with you in this respected gathering. I hope very much that you will accept my sincere reflections, and breathe a prayer in your hearts that you may be aided to attain to the highest distinction of the human world.

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The oneness of humanity and of religions

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)