Stories about 'Abdu'l-Bahá

‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s talk at San Francisco’s Jewish Temple (Emmanu-El)

Mahmud's Diary
October 12, 1912
San Francisco, CA

Address by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

The first bestowal of God to the world of humanity is religion because religion consists of divine teachings. Certainly divine teachings are preferable to all other sources of instructions.

Religion confers upon man life everlasting. Religion is a service to the world of morality. Religion guides humanity to eternal happiness. Religion is the cause of everlasting honor to the world of man. Religion has ever helped humanity towards progress.

But the proof must be established. To achieve this end, we should investigate religion as seekers of truth. When we do so, we find that religion is the cause of progress and development. Let us see, then, whether or not religion is the cause of illumination; whether or not religion is the impetus which enables man to make extraordinary strides.

Let us investigate in search of truth, without being bound by blind imitations or dogmas. If we are bound by blind imitations, some will believe that religion is the cause of happiness and others will say that religion has been the cause of degradation. Hence, we must investigate whether religion is the cause of human advancement or of retrogression, so that no doubt shall linger in our minds.

We shall therefore investigate the Prophets and review the episodes of their lives. We shall avoid traditions that some will find it possible to repudiate and shall cite historical facts provable to all and which are irrefutable. They are these:

Among the Prophets was Abraham, who prohibited idolatry and was a herald of the oneness of God, consequently He was banished by the people from His native land.

Let us observe how religion became an impetus towards progress. Abraham founded a family which God did bless. Owing to its religious basis the Abrahamic house progressed. Through divine benediction, Prophets issued forth from His lineage. There appeared Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, David and Solomon. The Holy Land was ruled by them and a glorious civilization was established. All this was due to the religion which was founded.

Hence, religion is the cause of honor and the happiness of mankind. Unto the present time Abraham’s household is spread over the whole world.

Let us consider even a greater reality. The children of Israel were in captivity in the land of Egypt. Being subject to the tyranny and oppression of the Egyptians, they were in the utmost state of degradation and slavery. The Egyptians were so antagonistic towards the Israelites that they were assigned the most arduous and servile tasks.

The children of Israel were in abject poverty, abasement, ignorance and barbarism when Moses appeared among them. Outwardly Moses was no other than a shepherd but through the power of religion He exhibited extraordinary grandeur and efficacy. His prophethood was spread throughout the land and His law became renowned throughout all regions.

Although Moses was single and alone, through the power of religion He rescued all the children of Israel from bondage. He conducted them to the Holy Land and founded a civilization for the world of humanity. He educated the children of Israel and enabled them to attain to the highest degree of honor and glory. Releasing them from their bondage, He caused them to reach the zenith of freedom. They progressed in the acquisition of human perfections and advanced in culture, in the arts and sciences, in philosophy and in craftsmanship. In brief, their growth and progress reached such an exalted state than even the Greek philosophers took journeys to the Holy Land in order to study philosophy with the children of Israel. It is an established historical fact that even Socrates, the Greek philosopher, came to the Holy Land and consorted with Jewish leaders, studying wisdom with them. When he returned to Greece, he formulated his basis for divine unity and advanced his belief regarding the immortality of the spirit after the dissolution of the body. These verities Socrates learned from the children of Israel.

Likewise Hippocrates and many other philosophers went to the Holy Land and acquired lessons from the Jewish prophets about the basis of philosophy and returned to their country to spread such verities.

A Cause which changed such a weak people into a powerful nation, rescued them from captivity, caused them to attain to sovereignty, transformed their ignorance into knowledge and philosophy, granted them prosperity and endowed them with an impetus to advance along all paths of attainment, such a Cause makes it evident that religion is a source of honor and progress for humanity, a foundation for eternal happiness.

But blind imitations and dogmas which crept in later, those are ever a destructive force and the cause of the retrogression of nations. It is written in the Torah and in historical records that when the Jews were fettered by forms and imitations the wrath of God became manifest.

When the foundation of the law of God was ignored, God sent Nebuchadnezzar. He killed the men, enslaved the children, laid waste the Holy Temple, took seventy thousand Jews into captivity to Bábylon and caused the Torah to be burned.

We see that the foundation of the divine religions has been the cause of progress and blind imitations have led to abasement and humiliation. Thus, the Greeks and the Romans conquered the Jews and were able to oppress them. Under Titus, the Roman emperor and commander of the army, the Holy Land was attacked. The Israelites were scattered and became fugitives. He killed their men, pillaged their possessions and destroyed Jerusalem. The dispersion of the Jews has continued ever since.

Hence, the foundation of the religion of God which was laid by Moses was the cause of eternal honor, the advancement and development of the nation and the life of the Hebrew people. The dogmas and blind imitations which crept in later debased the Israelites and caused them to be expelled from the Holy Land and to be scattered throughout the earth.

In short, the mission of the Prophets is no other than the advancement and education of the world of humanity. The Prophets are universal Educators.

Should we desire to determine whether these messengers were Prophets, we should investigate the truth. If they have been Educators of the people, enabled them to attain knowledge after having been in the abyss of ignorance, then we are sure that they were Prophets. Such evidence is irrefutable. We do not need to cite other matters which may be denied by some.

The deeds of Moses are conclusive proofs. No other proof is needed. If a man be unbiased and fair in investigating reality, he will undoubtedly bear testimony to the fact that Moses was verily a great Educator.

Let us not digress from the subject. But I ask you to be fair in your judgment, setting aside all prejudice.

We should all be seekers of truth. We should be aware that the purpose of the religion of God has been to promote amity and fellowship among men. Therefore, the foundation of the religions of God is one. Reality does not accept multiplicity. Every religion is divided into two parts.

One part is concerned with the world of morality, the upliftment and advancement of the world of humanity, the knowledge of God and the discovery of the realities of things. This part of religion is spiritual and is its essential and fundamental part. It is the foundation of all the religions of God. Therefore, all religions are one and the same.

The second part has to do with social relationships. This part is not essential; it is subject to change according to the requirements of the time. In the time of Noah certain conditions required that all sea foods be made lawful. Because of certain exigencies at the time of Abraham, it was lawful for a man to marry his sister, even as Abel and Cain had done, but in the Torah this practice was prohibited.

Moses lived in the wilderness. There were no prisons for the punishment of criminals. Hence, according to the exigency of the time, the law was an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Is it possible to follow such a law now? In the Torah there are ten commandments concerning murder. These ten ordinances, concerning the treatment of murderers, cannot be enforced now.

Even regarding capital punishment, wise men are studying this question, as they maintain that capital punishment should be abolished.

The laws of the Torah were from God but they were suited for that time. If a man committed theft to the extent of a dollar, the exigency of that time demanded that they cut off his hand but now you cannot cut off a man’s hand for stealing one thousand dollars. Such laws were laid down in every Dispensation in accordance with the needs of the age and are subject to change; they are non-essential. The essentials are spiritual in character and have to do with morality. They are the one foundation of religions and are subject to neither change or multiplicity.

The basis of the law was promulgated by Christ. That same foundation of religion was promulgated by Muhammad. Since all the Prophets called on the people to accept this reality, the purpose of all the Prophets has been the same. They upheld the honor and advancement of humanity and instituted the divine civilization of man. The proofs of the validity of a Prophet and the signs of the divine revelation received by Him are in the deeds of that Prophet. If His deeds have led to the advancement of humanity, beyond any doubt He is of God.

Be fair in your judgment! At the time when the Israelites had been taken into captivity, when the Roman Empire had effected the dispersion of the Hebrew nation and when the law of God had passed from among them and the foundation of the religion of God had been destroyed, at such a time Christ appeared. The first thing He did was to proclaim the validity of the Mosaic mission. He declared that the Torah was the book of God and all the prophets of Israel were valid and true. He promulgated the prophethood of Moses and proclaimed His name throughout the world.

In Persia, India and Europe the name of Moses had not been heard of before the appearance of Christ. Throughout these regions there was not a copy of the Torah. It was through the instrumentality of Christ that the Torah was translated into six hundred languages. It was Christ who raised aloft the standard of the Prophets of Israel, so that most nations of the world believed that the children of Israel were verily the chosen people of God, that that nation was a holy nation, blessed by God, and that all the prophets of Israel were dawning points of divine inspiration, day springs of divine revelation and shining stars from the eternal Realm.

Hence, Christ promulgated Judaism. He did not deny the prophetic validity of Moses but rather promoted it. He did not efface the Torah but rather published it. The portion of that Dispensation which concerned social transactions underwent changes in accordance with the conditions of the time. This is of no significance. The essential teaching of Moses was promulgated by Christ.

With the superlative power and efficacy of the Word of God, He gathered most of the nations of the East and the West. This achievement was effected at a time when these nations were in the utmost contention and strife. He ushered them into the overshadowing tent of the oneness of humanity. He educated them to become united so that the Roman, the Greek, the Assyrian, the Chaldean and other foreign nations were united and blended into a heavenly civilization. This efficacy of the Word and divine power, which are extraordinary, prove conclusively the validity of the revelation of Christ. Observe how His heavenly sovereignty has endured. This is indeed conclusive proof and manifest evidence.

Now, consider again! When Muhammad appeared, in His first address to His people He said that Moses was a Prophet of God and the Torah was the Book of God. He called on His people to believe in Moses, in the Torah and the Prophets; and also to accept Christ and the Gospel. In His Book the story of Moses is described seven times and in all these passages Moses is praised. Muhammad states that Moses was one of the Prophets endowed with constancy and established a new Law; that He heard God’s voice in the wilderness of Mount Sinai; that He was the Interlocutor of God; that He was the bearer of divine Tablets. Although the Arabian tribes opposed Muhammad, eventually He conquered all of them, because falsehood is defeated by truth.

You should consider that Muhammad was born among the barbarous tribes of Arabia and He lived among them. Outwardly He was illiterate and uninformed of the holy books of God. The Arabian nations were in ignorance and barbarism, to the extent that they buried their daughters alive. This act was considered to be the expression of valor and sublimity of nature. They lived under the yoke of the Persian and Roman governments, were scattered throughout the Arabian desert and were subjected to continuous internecine strife and bloodshed.

When the light of Muhammad dawned, the darkness of ignorance was dispelled from the Arabian desert. In a short space of time those barbarous tribes reached a degree of civilization which extended to Spain and was established in Baghdad and influenced the people of Europe. What proof is there concerning His prophethood greater than this? The evidence is clear, unless one ignores impartiality and adheres to unwarranted discrimination.

The Christians believe in Moses as a Prophet of God. The Muslims are believers in Moses and praise Him highly. Has any harm come to Christians and Muslims because they have admitted the validity of Moses? No, on the contrary, their acceptance of Moses and confirmation of the Torah prove that they have been fair-minded.

Why should not the children of Israel praise now Christ and Muhammad? This will do away forever with enmity and hatred which have lasted for two thousand years, so that differences and animosities may pass away forever.

The Muslims admit that Moses was the Interlocutor of God. What harm is there if the Jews would say that Christ was the Spirit of God and Muhammad was the Messenger of God? Thus there will be no hatred, no disputation, no warfare and no bloodshed.

I now declare to you that Moses was the Interlocutor of God; that Moses was the Prophet of God; that Moses brought the fundamental law of God; that Moses was the founder of a basis for the happiness of humanity.

What harm is there is this declaration? Do I lose by saying this to you and believing it as a Bahá’í? No! By God! On the contrary, as a Bahá’í it benefits me. Bahá’u’lláh becomes well-pleased with me and will confirm me. He says, ‘Well done; you have been fair in your judgment; you have impartially investigated the truth; you have believed in a Prophet of God and you have accepted the Book of God.’

As it is possible to do away with warfare and massacre with a small measure of liberalism in the world, why not do it? Thus bonds are established which can unite the hearts of men. What harm is there in this? Inasmuch as the other nations praise Moses, why should the Jews not also praise the other Prophets?

The followers of each religion should praise the Founders of the other religions so that the welfare of mankind, the happiness of the world of humanity, the eternal honor of man and universal fellowship may ensue.

God is One and He has created all of us. He provides for all; He protects all; He is kind to all. Why should we be so unkind? Why should we engage in strife?

This century is the century of science, it is the century of the discovery of the mysteries of nature; it is the century of service to the world of humanity. It is the century of the manifestation of the reality of things, the century for the oneness of mankind. Does it behoove us in this century to linger in our fanaticism and tarry in our prejudice? Does it behoove us to still be bound by old superstitions and be handicapped by superannuated and empty beliefs and regard these as grounds for waging war, shedding blood and shunning and anathematizing one another?

Is it not better for us to be loving to one another? Is it not preferable for us to enjoy fellowship, raise our voices to the heavens in tune with the melody of the Concourse on High and in glorification of the oneness of mankind? Is it not more praiseworthy to celebrate the unity of God and laud His Prophets in glorious assemblages and public meetings? On such a day, the world will become the paradise of the All-Glorious.

What does this mean?

It means that contending nations which have been characterized by these qualities and religions which have been formerly as wolves and sheep, with divergent creeds, will associate with each other in the utmost affection and amity and unite with each other in fellowship and love.

This is the meaning of the prophecy of Isaiah. Otherwise it will never come to pass literally, for the wolf will never live peacefully with the sheep, and the lion and the deer will never associate together, inasmuch as the deer is food for the lion and the sheep will ever be the prey of the wolf. As you know, the teeth of the lion are carnivorous. It has no molars to eat grass; hence it must eat flesh.

Therefore, this prophecy is symbolic of the state of affairs when nations and races, symbolized by wolves and sheep, among whom there is a bond of fellowship and association, will be unified and will treat each other kindly and liberally in that promised day.

In a word, the century is upon us when fellowship is to be established!
The century has come when all the religions are to be at peace with each other!
The century has come when all the nations shall become one nation!
The century has come when all mankind shall live under the tabernacle of the oneness of mankind.