Religion is Reality, and Reality is One. (Version from Mahmud’s Diary)
‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s address to the International Peace Forum at Grace Methodist Church in New York City (for a slightly different translation see: The Promulgation of the Universal Peace (1982), pp. 116-22; or, pp. 161-69 in the 2007 ed.)
May 12, 1912
[In the evening ‘Abdu’l-Bahá went to the Grace Methodist Church in New York to speak to the public meeting of the Peace Forum. He spoke on the purpose of the Prophets of God, the peace and unity of humankind and the coming of Bahá’u’lláh who would establish and promote these divinely-ordained teachings. His talk ignited such a fire in the listeners’ hearts that all became as moths with scorched wings. In this meeting, too, the members of the audience, with one accord, stood when the Master appeared before them, which seemed extraordinary to everyone.’Abdu’l-Bahá gave this address:]
If we look at history, we find that from the beginning to the present day strife and warfare have existed among mankind. It has either been religious warfare, warfare of races, warfare among nations or a war between two countries. All these wars were due to the ignorance of humanity, were the product of misunderstandings or were the results of the lack of the education of humankind.
The greatest wars and massacres were perpetrated in the name of religion. Yet the sole purpose for which the divine Prophets appeared was none other than the establishment of love and goodwill among mankind. These Prophets were shepherds and not wolves. Shepherds are to protect and collect their flocks and not to scatter them. Every divine shepherd has gathered together a certain flock which had been scattered. Moses was one of them. He assembled the various tribes of Israel and created love among them and led them on their way to the Holy Land. From their scattered state, He drew them together, united them and caused their development. Hence their degradation was transformed into glory, their poverty changed into wealth, their vices were replaced by virtues and finally they established the Kingdom of Solomon and the fame of their glory reached the East and the West. Therefore, it is obvious that Moses was a divine shepherd, for He assembled the scattered tribes of Israel and united them.
When Christ appeared, He too became the cause of the gathering of the scattered sheep. He united the dispersed flock of Israel with those of the Greeks, Romans, Chaldeans, Syrians and Egyptians. These nations were in a state of war and strife with one another, shedding one another’s blood and tearing one another apart like ferocious animals.
But Christ united, assembled and cemented them together by creating affinity among them so that strife and warfare were entire extirpated. Therefore, it is manifest that the divine religions were the cause of love and affection. Divine religion is never a cause of discord and disagreement. If religion be the cause of strife, its nonexistence is preferable because religion must be the source of life. If it be the cause of death, its absence is desirable and irreligion is preferable. Religious teachings are like unto remedies. If a remedy be the cause of disease, the absence of such a remedy is desirable.
Likewise, when the Arabian tribes were in a state of rancor and strife, engaged in shedding one another’s blood, plundering one another’s property, imprisoning one another’s wives and children and leading a warlike life in the peninsula of Arabia, and when no solitary soul enjoyed composure nor a single tribe was at ease, at such a time Muhammad appeared. He gathered, reconciled, united and cemented the different tribes so that all strife and warfare vanished from among them. The Arabian nation developed to such a degree that they founded the sovereignty of Andalusia [Spain] and established the mighty Caliphate.
From these evidences we must infer that the basic purpose of divine religion is to promote peace and not war. The foundation of the religions of God is one reality. It is love; it is truth; it is the promotion of fellowship and amity. These wars are the outcome of imitations which crept in subsequently. The essence of religion is one reality which constitutes the foundation Truth of the religions of God. There is no difference in the essence; the difference lies in imitations. Due to this difference in imitations, discord and strife take place. If imitations are eliminated from religions and the foundation Truth alone is followed, all of them would agree, and strife and discord would disappear, for religion is reality and reality is one and does not admit of plurality.
Racial distinctions and national differences are purely imaginary. Humanity is one in essence; it is one progeny of a common ancestor inhabiting the same globe; and there is no difference in the original genesis and creation of God. God has created all humanity. He has not created Frenchmen, Englishmen, Americans or Persians. There is no difference in regard to race. All are the leaves of one tree, the waves of the same sea, the fruit of one tree and the flowers of the same garden. Let us turn to the animal kingdom, where there is no distinction among them with regard to kind. The sheep of the East and the West graze together; no sheep of the East will regard a sheep of the West as a stranger and an alien. They graze together in the same pasture most harmoniously and affectionately. There are no racial dissensions or disputes regarding kind among them. Likewise the oriental and occidental birds, for example, the pigeons, will be found to live together in genuine love and amity. There is absolutely no racial distinction among them. Such fanciful concepts do not exist among animals, although they lack the faculty of reason. Is it becoming for man to observe such vain thoughts, notwithstanding the fact that he is endowed with reason, perceptive faculty and thinking power and is the repository of the divine trust? With all these bestowals how does he permit himself to yield to these erroneous superstitions by saying ‘I am a German’, ‘I am a Frenchman’, ‘I am an Englishman’ or ‘I am an Italian’? Through these superstitions they wage war against one another. Is this becoming? God forbid! It is not. If the animal does not condescend to follow such superstitions, why should man be willing to stoop to such low ideas which are nothing but superstition and pure imagination?
Is it proper to foster wars and feuds on account of nativity — such as Eastern and Western, Northern or Southern? No, by God! These, too, are sheer superstitions and mere fanciful imaginations. The whole earth is but one land and one home. Therefore, man must not allow himself to adhere to these superstitions.
God be praised! I have come from the East and find the American continent is prosperous, its climate is most delightful, its inhabitants are extremely courteous and its government is fair and just. Is it becoming for me to say, ‘This land is not my country and therefore it does not deserve any consideration?’ This would be utter prejudice to which man must not yield. He must, instead, investigate reality, which consists in that all humanity is one in kind and the whole earth is one home. Hence it is proven that the cause of every warfare and bloodshed is purely imaginary and has absolutely no foundation.
Consider what is taking place in Tripoli due to Italy’s disregard for law. Many of the helpless are being killed, thousands of men are being slain every day on both sides. How many are the children who become fatherless, the fathers who become childless and the mothers who bemoan the loss of their dear children. What is the result after all? Nothing. Is it just that man should be so reckless? Consider how animals with a blessed disposition are entirely free from war and strife. Although thousands of sheep graze together and thousands of flocks of pigeons fly together, war never takes place among them. But ferocious animals, such as wolves and dogs, are always fighting and attacking one another. However, these ferocious animals are necessarily compelled to hunt for food, whereas man does not stand in such need. He is capable of earning his livelihood. Men shed blood from greed, love for self-glory and desire for fame. The leaders of the nations enjoy delightful luxuries in their palatial buildings and only the poor are sent to bear the brunt in the battlefield. Every day new instruments are invented for destruction of the very foundation of the human race. The leaders are utterly devoid of all feelings of mercy toward those helpless ones and show no pity to the mothers who have tended their children so lovingly, having passed many sleepless nights and spent many laborious days in nurturing and bringing their children to maturity. Is it becoming that parents should be made to see thousands of the dear young ones torn to pieces in one day in the battlefield? What savagery! What heedlessness! What ignorance! What hostility! What animosity!
Ferocious animals rend only that which is necessary to meet their requirements; for instance, the wolf kills only one sheep a day. But an unjust man slaughters one hundred thousand of his kind in a day and glorifies in this action, saying, ‘How brave I am! What a feat of courage I have shown! I have killed in one day one hundred thousand of my kind and have destroyed a whole country.’ Consider to what extent man is ignorant and heedless! If a man kills another person — one single soul — he is called a murderer and he receives capital punishment or life imprisonment. But the man who kills one hundred thousand of his kind in one day is extolled as the greatest general and the greatest hero of the world. If a man steals a single dollar, he is called a cruel thief, whereas if a general ransacks the whole country, he is pronounced a conqueror of the world. What ignorance! What heedlessness!
Among the various religions and denominations in Persia there existed animosity, envy and hatred. In Asia religions were hostile toward one another, the sects sought to murder one another, the races were filled with hatred and the tribes were constantly at war. They considered that the greatest glory for man was to be able to kill, to slaughter many of his kind. If one religion succeeded in prevailing over another religion and in killing the adherents thereof, the first took pride in such deeds. This was the time when Bahá’u’lláh appeared in Persia. He founded the oneness of the world of humanity and established the foundations of universal peace. He declared that all men are the servants of God Who created all and provides for all. He is kind to all. Why should we be unkind? God is compassionate and merciful to all His creatures. Why should we entertain animosity or spite? God loves all. God provides for all. He trains us all and He is kind to all. Our duty is to be kind and loving to all. This is the divine polity. We must follow the polity of God. Is it possible that the human polity should be better than the divine polity? Certainly, it is not. Therefore we must emulate the divine polity. As God deals with all humanity affectionately and kindly, so must we deal with each and every one. Bahá’u’lláh laid the foundation of universal peace and proclaimed the oneness of mankind. He preached throughout the East the lessons of peace and goodwill. On this subject He sent to all the kings epistles encouraging and admonishing them. He made it evident that the glory of humanity lies in peace and reconciliation. This occurred about sixty years ago. Because He promulgated universal peace, the kings of the Orient rose against Him, as they regarded such teachings to be in conflict with their personal ambitions and interests. They arose to persecute and molest Him in divers ways, exiled Him and eventually confined Him to a fortress. They arose against His followers as well. For the sake of this teaching, which sought the abandonment of superstitions and imitations and promoted the establishment of the unity of mankind, the blood of twenty thousand Bahá’ís was spilled. How many homes were destroyed! How many persons were slaughtered and killed! Yet the friends of Bahá’u’lláh stood firm and steady, and up to this date they have endeavored with head and heart to promulgate peace and harmony, having shown their adherence to this principle by their actions.
Men of all denominations who have accepted the teaching of Bahá’u’lláh invariably support the cause of international peace and practice the principle of unity of mankind. They have the utmost love for all men because they know that all are the servants of God, that they belong to one kind and that they have a common descent. At the utmost, those who are ignorant must be educated, those who are sick must be treated, those who are children must be educated and trained. We must not regard children as enemies, we must not be annoyed with patients but we must treat the sick and must teach and educate those who are ignorant. Therefore the essentials of the foundation of the religions of God are love and amity among all humanity. If a divine religion should be productive of discord and hatred, it is not divine; for religion must be the cause of binding together and the means of infusing love and amity. Mere knowledge of anything is not sufficient. We all know that justice is good but there is the need for volition and executive power to carry it out. For example, we know it is good to construct a place of worship but the mere knowledge will not bring about its existence. We should exercise our will to build it. Wealth is needed for its erection; knowledge alone will not suffice. All of us know that peace is good, that it is conducive to the existence of humanity but this needs to be put into effect, it needs action. As this is the century of light which has the capacity for peace, these ideals will necessarily spread and attain the status of fulfillment and action. Time, itself, will raise up those who will promote the cause of peace. Within all countries peace exists. When I came to America I found its people supporters of peace and possessing great capacity, its government just, and equality established among its people. I desire that the light of peace be first shed abroad from America to the rest of the world. The people of America have greater competence to perform this task; that country is not like others. If Great Britain should come forward in support of this cause, it is apt to be interpreted that she is doing so for the preservation of her own interests. If France should stand up in its support, it may be said that she has done so in order to ensure the safety of her colonies. If Russia should proclaim it, she would be supposed to have done so in pursuance of the interests of her sovereignty. But the American nation, it is admitted, does not have such colonial possessions, is not anxious to extend its dominion and is not designing the invasion of other countries. Therefore, if America takes steps in this direction, all are certain to acknowledge that this is solely the outcome of her moral courage, her zeal and sense of honor, and that she has no ulterior motives.
Therefore, it is my desire that you may hold aloft this banner because you are preeminently fit for it. All countries are in readiness for this and the demand for international peace is very high everywhere because the people are in distress. Every year the powers increase the expenditure of war and so the people are tired. At this moment the subterranean storehouses of Europe are full of arms and ammunition and hellish armaments are about to exterminate the foundation of mankind.
The basic foundations for peace and amity are found in the principles of divine religions. If misunderstandings among religions disappear you will see that all work for peace and promulgate the oneness of humankind, for the foundation of all is one; it is truth, and truth is neither multiple nor divisible. The light of this reality shone forth in all the Prophets. For example, Moses promulgated this reality, Jesus established this reality, Muhammad advocated this reality, the Báb proclaimed this reality, Bahá’u’lláh upheld the standard of this reality and He promulgated universal peace and the unity of mankind. In the prison He rested not until He planted the banner of peace in the East. All the people who have accepted the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh are peace-lovers and are ever ready to sacrifice their lives and properties for it. As America is renowned for her material progress and for her scientific inventions and colossal undertakings, may she also exert noble efforts for the realization of universal peace, so that she may receive Divine help in this undertaking. May this great principle spread from her to other countries. I pray that all of you may succeed and be confirmed.
(Mahmud’s Diary, pp. 92-8)