“One of the Deep and Vital Problems of Society” 1
‘Abdu’l-Bahá has been both extremely wealthy and extremely poor. As a child, his family was one of the wealthiest in Persia, and he lived in lavish luxury. But when he was eight years old, they were suddenly stripped of their wealth, lands, and houses, because of their religious beliefs, and left homeless overnight. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s mother, Asiyih, would pull the gold buttons off her clothes and sell them in order to feed her children. Once, all she could offer her eldest son to eat was a handful of flour.
So when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá talks about the moral implications of an unjust economic order, he speaks from experience on both sides of the tracks.
“It is evident that under present systems and conditions of government,” he said, “the poor are subject to the greatest need and distress while others more fortunate live in luxury and plenty far beyond their actual necessities. This drastic inequality is “one of the deep and vital problems of society.”
The solution? “The remedy must be legislative readjustment of conditions.” But, he says, “The rich too must be merciful to the poor, contributing from willing hearts to their needs without being forced or compelled to do so.”
By combining these approaches — uncoerced generosity by the rich and laws that prevent economic extremes — ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells his audience: “The composure of the world will be assured.” 2
Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C.
On May 7, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá left at 8:00 A.M. for Pittsburgh, arriving about noon, and went with the friends to His rooms in the Hotel Schenley. One by one He talked to them privately. Among other things, they kept asking Him if He liked the rooms. He told each of them, “‘Very good! Very good!’” After they had departed, He turned to Dr. Zia Bagdadi and exclaimed:
“The friends are anxious to know if I like these rooms! They do not know what we had to go through in the past. Imagine the condition and surroundings when we were … imprisoned in the barracks of “Akká; Bahá’u’lláh occupied one room; His family and several other families were forced to occupy one room. Aside from the sever illness that was raging, and the death of many among us prisoners—adults and children—on account of unsanitary surroundings and starvation, I noticed that my own presence in that crowded room was another source of torture to all of them. This was due to the fact that parents and children were suppressing and restraining themselves by trying to be quiet and polite in my presence. So, in order to give them freedom, I accepted the morgue of the barracks, because that was the only room available, and I lived in it for about two years. Now the kind friends here wish to know if I like these magnificent rooms! 3 4
Talk at Hotel Schenley, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
No matter how far the material world advances, it cannot establish the happiness of mankind. Only when material and spiritual civilization are linked and coordinated will happiness be assured. Then material civilization will not contribute its energies to the forces of evil in destroying the oneness of humanity, for in material civilization good and evil advance together and maintain the same pace. For example, consider the material progress of man in the last decade. Schools and colleges, hospitals, philanthropic institutions, scientific academies and temples of philosophy have been founded, but hand in hand with these evidences of development, the invention and production of means and weapons for human destruction have correspondingly increased. In early days the weapon of war was the sword; now it is the magazine rifle. Among the ancients, men fought with javelins and daggers; now they employ shells and bombs. Dreadnoughts are built, torpedoes invented, and every few days new ammunition is forthcoming.
All this is the outcome of material civilization; therefore, although material advancement furthers good purposes in life, at the same time it serves evil ends. The divine civilization is good because it cultivates morals. Consider what the Prophets of God have contributed to human morality. Jesus Christ summoned all to the Most Great Peace through the acquisition of pure morals. If the moral precepts and foundations of divine civilization become united with the material advancement of man, there is no doubt that the happiness of the human world will be attained and that from every direction the glad tidings of peace upon earth will be announced. Then humankind will achieve extraordinary progress, the sphere of human intelligence will be immeasurably enlarged, wonderful inventions will appear, and the spirit of God will reveal itself; all men will consort in joy and fragrance, and eternal life will be conferred upon the children of the Kingdom. Then will the power of the divine make itself effective and the breath of the Holy Spirit penetrate the essence of all things. Therefore, the material and the divine, or merciful, civilizations must progress together until the highest aspirations and desires of humanity shall become realized. 5
Tuesday, May 7, 1912 6
Early in the morning ‘Abdu’l-Bahá received newspapers giving news of His arrival, His addresses and the meetings of the Bahá’ís, and describing the respect shown to Him, each report having a photograph of Him taken with us.
Shortly afterwards He received a letter from a dignitary of the city, who stated that after reading the newspapers and reflecting on the teachings of the Cause, he was convinced of its truth and greatness and wished to submit to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá a statement of his conviction and recognition of the Faith.
We left Cleveland at 8:00 a.m., arriving in Pittsburgh around noon. The friends in Pittsburgh, who had been informed by telegram of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s arrival, were waiting at the station. When the train pulled in, they were overjoyed to see Him and followed Him to the Hotel Schenley where He was staying.
After an hour’s brief rest, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá received many people who had been invited by the friends to meet Him. Some were leaders of the Jewish community who invited Him to address their congregations. However, owing to a previous commitment at the Peace Congress in New York City, He was not able to accept their invitation.
There was a large meeting in the evening at the hotel for the friends in Pittsburgh.90 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke on the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, His address ending with these words: ‘The East must acquire material civilization from the West and the West must learn divine civilization from the East.’ Everyone expressed their appreciation of the teachings with the utmost sincerity.
A little later a group of philosophers, doctors and journalists met with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. He spoke to them in detail about composition and decomposition and the diagnosis of disease:
“If one is fully cognizant of the reason for the incursion of disease and can determine the balance of elements, he can cure diseases by administering the food that can restore the normal level of the deficient element. In this way there will be no need for medicines and other difficulties will not arise.”
After a detailed discussion of this subject, He asked them, ‘Although animals do not know the science of medicine, why, when they are sick, do they abstain instinctively from what is injurious to them and eat foods that are beneficial, while man, when ailing, inclines more to that which is injurious to him?’ They had no answer to this question and stated that the Master knew the answer better than they.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá then gave a description of the extraordinary power of the world of humanity and the freedom of man from the limitations of nature:
“Since man’s attention is not confined to one interest, his negligence is greater; while his comprehension is greater than that of all other creatures when it is focused and fixed on one subject.”
Thus did the Master speak to the group of journalists, philosophers and doctors, who thanked Him for His discourse.
- Jones, Caitlin Shayda. “‘One of the Deep and Vital Problems of Society.’” 239 Days in America, May 7, 2012. https://239days.com/2012/05/07/one-of-the-deep-and-vital-problems-of-society/. ↩
- ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ʻAbduʼl-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Edited by Howard MacNutt. 2nd ed. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1982, 107. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/7#904155405. ↩
- Bagdadi, Zia. “‘Abdu’l-Bahá in America,” Star of the West, 19, no. 5. (Aug. 1928) 140-41. ↩
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 63-64. ↩
- ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ʻAbduʼl-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Edited by Howard MacNutt. 2nd ed. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1982, 109. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/7#650792604 ↩
- ’Abdu’l-Bahá, and Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. https://bahai-library.com/zarqani_mahmuds_diary&chapter=3#section44. ↩