The Secret of Divine Civilization 1
“IT IS A SPECTACLE never before witnessed,” William Jennings Bryan wrote from the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore. He was surprised at how aggressively moneyed interests had entered the political process in 1912. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had first gone on record about leadership and corruption thirty-seven years earlier, when he was just thirty-one years old. In 1875 he wrote a long, open letter — called The Secret of Divine Civilization — to the people and government of Persia in support of the early modernization efforts of Násiri’d-Dín Sháh, the king who had banished Bahá’u’lláh and his family from Iran.
In The Secret of Divine Civilization, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá demanded a high standard of conduct from political leaders: “First,” he wrote, “the elected members must be righteous, God-fearing, high-minded, incorruptible.” “These give no thought to amassing enormous fortunes for themselves; they believe, rather, that their own wealth lies in enriching their subjects.” He added: “They take no pride in gold and silver, but rather in their enlightenment and their determination to achieve the universal good.”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s open letter to the people of Persia engaged a wide range of national issues. In America, Social Gospel churchmen marched in the forefront of reform, but in Iran the clergy, and their arbitrary interpretation of the law, was a major barrier to progress. Two plaintiffs could go to two different religious officials about the same case and receive opposite decisions. “It may even happen that in one and the same case two conflicting decisions will be handed down by the same mujtahid, on the grounds that he was inspired first in one direction and then in the other,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote. “There can be no doubt that this state of affairs has confused every important issue and must jeopardize the very foundations of society.”
New York City 2
The next day [July 20] He spoke extensively about the martyrs. On the following evening He was invited to the home of the Consul General of Turkey where he spoke to a group of Armenians.
When the July 20 issue of Harper’s Weekly appeared on the newsstands, it included an article entitled, “A Ray from the East,” by Charles Johnston:
During the past few months there has appeared at peace conferences, in fashionable pupils, and at select meetings of devotees, a venerable Oriental with benign eyes and a patriarchal beard who is heralded as the head of a new world-religion … 3
Saturday, July 20, 2022
‘Abdu’l-Bahá received an invitation from the Consul General of Turkey. After meeting with the friends and expressing His happiness at their devotion and unity, He left for the Consul’s home. He took the ferry across the water, then a tram and arrived at the Consul General’s house. The Consul himself had gone to meet the Master by another route but his wife and relatives received Him with the utmost respect and reverence until the Consul General returned.
A number of prominent men and statesmen, as well as the Consul General, were present. The Master rested for a short time in one of the rooms. Then the Consul General, praising ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, introduced Him to the audience. The Master came to the table and spoke on the danger of wine and alcohol. He then considered some philosophical subjects and answered questions from the Consul’s wife about misconduct and its harmful consequences. She was pleased and when He was about to depart expressed her gratitude by kissing His hand. Everyone begged His pardon for any lack in their service to Him.
The Consul General’s brother-in-law requested and obtained permission to take the Master’s photograph. The Consul General then accompanied the Master to the railway station to see Him off, even though ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had asked him not to do so.
At a gathering of Armenians in the evening the Master gave a stirring and impressive talk concerning the attributes of the world of humanity, spiritual courage and valor. His talk was not recorded because we arrived at the meeting late. 4
Talk at All Souls Unitarian Church, Fourth Avenue and Twentieth Street, New York, 14 July 1912 5
Other sources of human dissension are political, racial and patriotic prejudices. These have been removed by Bahá’u’lláh. He has said, and has guarded His statement by rational proofs from the Holy Books, that the world of humanity is one race, the surface of the earth one place of residence and that these imaginary racial barriers and political boundaries are without right or foundation. Man is degraded in becoming the captive of his own illusions and suppositions. The earth is one earth, and the same atmosphere surrounds it. No difference or preference has been made by God for its human inhabitants; but man has laid the foundation of prejudice, hatred and discord with his fellowman by considering nationalities separate in importance and races different in rights and privileges.
Diversity of languages has been a fruitful cause of discord. The function of language is to convey the thought and purpose of one to another. Therefore, it matters not what language man speaks or employs. Sixty years ago Bahá’u’lláh advocated one language as the greatest means of unity and the basis of international conference. He wrote to the kings and rulers of the various nations, recommending that one language should be sanctioned and adopted by all governments. According to this each nation should acquire the universal language in addition to its native tongue. The world would then be in close communication, consultation would become general, and dissensions due to diversity of speech would be removed.
Another teaching of Bahá’u’lláh is in relation to universal peace: that all mankind must be awakened to and become conscious of the harm of war, that they should be brought to realize the benefits of peace and know that peace is from God while warfare is satanic. Man must emulate the merciful God and turn away from satanic promptings in order that universal inclination shall be toward peace, love and unity and the discord of war vanish.
’Abdu’l-Bahá in America, 1912-2012: Calling America to It’s Spiritual Destiny
Celebrating the Centenary: The Master in America
Curated by Anne Perry
- Menon, Jonathan. “The Secret of Divine Civilization.” 239 Days in America, 20 July 2012, https://239days.com/2012/07/20/secret-of-divine-civilization/. ↩
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 114. ↩
- Charles Johnston, “A Ray from the East,” Harper’s Weekly, 59 (July 20, 1912), 9. ↩
- ’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=5#section118 ↩
- 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, 232-233. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/16#387272638 ↩