Monday, March 27, 2006

'Abdu'l-Baha Spoke to the Soul of Black Folks

A Photo of 'Abdu'-Baha

At the recent incredible presentation 'The Origins of the Baha'i Faith in Black America 1900-1940" that I attended this past weekend, we discussed the history of 'Abdu'l-Baha's addresses in 1912 at Howard University, to the Bethel Literary Society, and to the Fourth Annual Conference of the NAACP. 'Adbu'l-Baha was the son of Baha'u'llah the Founder of the Baha'i Faith who was appointed to be it's leader and the Interpreter of Baha'i Scripture. He served in this role from 1892-1921. During his ministry he traveled to Europe and North America.

As our group reflected on the spiritual and historical significance of 'Abdu'l-Baha's speaking to these important African American audiences, I made the comment that the way he spoke to them was what most impressed me.'Abdu'l-Baha spoke to their spiritual reality, their nobility and their mental capacity, rather than appealing to their pain and anger at the oppression they had so long experienced in North America. Unlike so many leaders of that time and even today, he did not speak to them as if their victimization had become their identity, but a men and women created in the "image and likeness" of God.

I am reminded of Baha'u'llah's comments of the spiritual power and significance of human speech:
The Great Being saith: Human utterance is an essence which aspireth to exert its influence and needeth moderation. As to its influence, this is conditional upon refinement which in turn is dependent upon hearts which are detached and pure. As to its moderation, this hath to be combined with tact and wisdom as prescribed in the Holy Scriptures and Tablets. Every word is endowed with a spirit, therefore the speaker or expounder should carefully deliver his words at the appropriate time and place, for the impression which each word maketh is clearly evident and perceptible. The Great Being saith: One word may be likened unto fire, another unto light, and the influence which both exert is manifest in the world. Therefore an enlightened man of wisdom should primarily speak with words as mild as milk, that the children of men may be nurtured and edified thereby and may attain the ultimate goal of human existence which is the station of true understanding and nobility. And likewise He saith: One word is like unto springtime causing the tender saplings of the rose-garden of knowledge to become verdant and flourishing, while another word is even as a deadly poison.
(Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 172)

Here are some of the things which 'Abdu'l-Baha said in his talks:
23 April 1912 Talk at Howard UniversityWashington, D.C.

"Today I am most happy, for I see here a gathering of the servants of God. I see white and black sitting together. There are no whites and blacks before God. All colors are one, and that is the color of servitude to God...The heart is important. If the heart is pure, white or black or any color makes no difference. God does not look at colors; He looks at the hearts. He whose heart is pure is better. He whose character is better is more pleasing. He who turns more to the Abhá Kingdom is more advanced."

"Now ponder this: Animals, despite the fact that they lack reason and understanding, do not make colors the cause of conflict. Why should man, who has reason, create conflict? This is wholly unworthy of him. Especially white and black are the descendants of the same Adam; they belong to one household. In origin they were one; they were the same color. Adam was of one color. Eve had one color. All humanity is descended from them. Therefore, in origin they are one. These colors developed later due to climates and regions; they have no significance whatsoever. Therefore, today I am very happy that white and black have gathered together in this meeting. I hope this coming together and harmony reaches such a degree that no distinctions shall remain between them, and they shall be together in the utmost harmony and love."

23 April 1912 Talk to Bethel Literary Society Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal ChurchM Street, NW, Washington, D.C.

"All blessings are divine in origin, but none can be compared with this power of intellectual investigation and research, which is an eternal gift producing fruits of unending delight...How shall we utilize these gifts and expend these bounties? By directing our efforts toward the unification of the human race. We must use these powers in establishing the oneness of the world of humanity, appreciate these virtues by accomplishing the unity of whites and blacks, devote this divine intelligence to the perfecting of amity and accord among all branches of the human family so that under the protection and providence of God the East and West may hold each other’s hands and become as lovers. Then will mankind be as one nation, one race and kind—as waves of one ocean."

30 April 1912 Talk at Fourth Annual Conference of the National Associationfor the Advancement of Colored People Handel Hall, Chicago, Illinois

"Can we apply the test of racial color and say that man of a certain hue—white, black, brown, yellow, red—is the true image of his Creator? We must conclude that color is not the standard and estimate of judgment and that it is of no importance, for color is accidental in nature. The spirit and intelligence of man is essential, and that is the manifestation of divine virtues, the merciful bestowals of God, the eternal life and baptism through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, be it known that color or race is of no importance. He who is the image and likeness of God, who is the manifestation of the bestowals of God, is acceptable at the threshold of God—whether his color be white, black or brown; it matters not. Man is not man simply because of bodily attributes. The standard of divine measure and judgment is his intelligence and spirit. "

I'm planning on doing a deeper analysis on these talks in the future but just wanted to offer a few samples to illustrate that there was something special about the way that 'Abdu'l-Baha spoke to black people that is worthy of pondering in one's heart.