Having traveled from coast to coast, I find the United States of America vast and progressive, the government just and equitable, the nation noble and independent … worthy of raising the flag of brotherhood and international agreement. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 386-387.
However, Abdu’l-Baha repeatedly challenged America to fulfill its role of peacemaker in the world:
America has become renowned for her discoveries, inventions and artistic skill, famous for equity of government and stupendous undertakings; now may she also become noted and celebrated as the herald and messenger of Universal Peace. – Ibid., p. 27.
Today, in 2017, we have a newly-authorized translation of Abdu’l-Baha’s original prayer for the confirmation of the American government from The Universal House of Justice:
Dr. Buck requests an authorized translation of the prayer of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá beginning “Alláhumma yá mu’ayyid-a-kull-i-sulṭatin ’ádilatin” and asks whether it was revealed specifically for America. The prayer in question is authentic, and its original Arabic text is held in the Archives at the Bahá’í World Centre. The manuscript includes the following heading in English: “A Prayer for the confirmation of the American Government”. Moreover, in a message dated 4 January 1982 to a National Spiritual Assembly, the Universal House of Justice has stated that the prayer was “specifically revealed for the U.S. Government”. A recently authorized translation of the prayer is attached. – Baha’i World Centre Research Department, “Prayers for America,” July 20, 2017.
Here’s the newly authorized translation of Abdu’l-Baha’s prayer itself:
O my God! O Thou Who endowest every just power and equitable dominion with abiding glory and everlasting might, with permanence and stability, with constancy and honour! Aid Thou by Thy heavenly grace every government that acteth justly towards its subjects and every sovereign authority, derived from Thee, that shieldeth the poor and the weak under the banner of its protection.
I beseech Thee, by Thy divine grace and surpassing bounty, to aid this just government, the canopy of whose authority is spread over vast and mighty lands and the evidences of whose justice are apparent in its prosperous and flourishing regions. Assist, O my God, its hosts, raise aloft its ensigns, bestow influence upon its word and its utterance, protect its lands, increase its honour, spread its fame, reveal its signs, and unfurl its banner through Thine all-subduing power and Thy resplendent might in the kingdom of creation.
Thou, verily, aidest whomsoever Thou willest, and Thou, verily, art the Almighty, the Most Powerful. – Abdu’l-Baha, “A Prayer for the confirmation of the American Government.” Authorized translation released by The Universal House of Justice.
Notice how the first paragraph of this prayer applies to “every government that acteth justly towards its subjects” and to “every sovereign authority … that shieldeth the poor and the weak under the banner of its protection.” Such governments will be aided by God, according to this prayer.
The second paragraph of the prayer concerns America, although not by name. The descriptions certainly fit: America is a “just government.” Here, the word “just” primarily means “duly constituted.” That said, hopefully America, duly constituted as a “just government,” will continue to govern with justice for all.
The prayer goes on to describe America as having a “canopy of … authority” that “is spread over vast and mighty lands.” The prayer then praises “the evidences” of America’s “justice,” which are “apparent in its prosperous and flourishing regions.”
Let’s take a close look at what specifically this prayer asks God to do when it comes to aiding and assisting America. Here, God is asked to bless, guide and empower America in nine distinct ways:
- “aid this just government”: “God bless America!” is a familiar phrase, especially at the end of presidential speeches. Much of this prayer may similarly be recapitulated as: “God has blessed America!” Regardless of how well (or not so well) America may be doing, this prayer inspires continued faith in America. It remains, therefore, for each citizen to ask God to “aid this just government,” by continuing to guide America. So beseeching God to “aid this just government” is a general invocation for divine assistance to America in every respect, whether as to America’s legislative, judicial, or executive branches, or to America’s state of affairs, domestically and abroad, or as to America’s economic, cultural, social, educational and scientific military capabilities.
- “Assist … its hosts”: Here, “hosts” refers primarily to America’s executive forces, whether police or military. Readers may be familiar with the biblical expression, “the Lord of hosts” (1 Samuel 17:45) where, as here, “hosts” means either the “heavenly host” or earthly forces, principally the military.
- “raise aloft its ensigns”: “Ensigns” typically means “flags,” which can be a symbol for America’s standards, values, and reputation, and America’s influence in the world at large. To “raise aloft” means to exalt, uplift, and otherwise promote. There would be no other reason or purpose for God to do so unless this was to further or fulfill a greater social good for the world generally.
- “bestow influence upon its word and its utterance”: The way in which “raise aloft its ensigns” is described above aptly characterizes this invocation which asks God to increase America’s influence for the betterment of the world. Obviously, by “influence” is not meant strengthening America’s ability to align other nations with America’s values and policies merely for America’s own sake. This prayer certainly does not include any ill-posed or otherwise unenlightened or even harmful policies which, hopefully, will self-correct over time, with the assistance of divine guidance, which can come about through the agency of enlightened leaders and citizens.
- “protect its lands”: America, as with every nation, has its own security interests. Protection, first and foremost, involves domestic peace and tranquility, economic stability and ideally prosperity, etc. There may even be an “environmental” dimension here, as none of this can happen without America’s “lands” (i.e. all 50 states and sundry territories) remaining in good shape, without serious damage due to environmental pollution, degradation and climate change.
- “increase its honour”: In the business sense, “honor”—as “goodwill”—is a key intangible asset, and can even be quantified in business valuation. To increase America’s honor redounds not only to America’s benefit, but also, in theory if not in practice, to those countries under America’s benign influence as well.
- “spread its fame”: “Fame” also has to do with reputation. Fame should be well deserved and worthy of honor. Otherwise, fame can turn into infamy.
- “reveal its signs”: Here, “signs” can be understood to mean not only symbols, but also intentions, mission and purpose, values, policies, alliances and commitments.
- “unfurl its banner through Thine all-subduing power and Thy resplendent might in the kingdom of creation”: “Banner” is likely the equivalent of “signs,” Which also might be understood as a dual reference to “evidences.”
Reciting this “Prayer for the confirmation of the American Government” is one further way that you can help “God Bless America”—and the world at large.
Although this prayer is optimistic—and emphasizes and encourages a positive world role that America has the opportunity and enhanced potential to exercise—America’s prospective moral and social leadership has been compromised by a number of unresolved issues that the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States, in February 25, 2017, has timely reminded all of us to ponder, encouraging each of us to personally consider how we may respond to these social maladies that threaten the very fabric of American society, and would likely nullify the necessary preconditions, in order for Abdu’l-Baha’s prayer for America to actually take effect:
At this pivotal juncture in our nation’s history, our foremost responsibility is to everywhere affirm―in the Name of Bahá’u’lláh―the truth of the oneness of humanity in a manner that will have an impact for decades to come. We must accelerate our efforts to remove the stains of prejudice and injustice from the fabric of our society. As you take up this call with courage and zeal, we ask that you keep the following concepts in mind.
The tensions, divisions, and injustices that currently beset America are symptoms of a longstanding illness. The nation is afflicted with a deep spiritual disorder, manifest in rampant materialism, widespread moral decay, and a deeply ingrained racial prejudice. As a result, millions of our fellow Americans, subject to systemic injustices in many facets of life, are prevented from making their full contributions to society and of partaking fully in its benefits. No one is immune to this disorder―we are all members of this society and to some degree suffer the effects of its maladies. That we live in a critical time can be seen in the way essential questions of identity, social vision, and global relations are being raised to a degree not seen in decades. Increasing numbers of our fellow-citizens are actively in search of solutions both moral and practical to answer them.
The resolution to these challenges lies in recognizing and embracing the truth at the heart of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation―the incontrovertible truth that humanity is one. Ignorance of this truth―which embodies the very spirit of the Age―is itself a form of oppression, for without it, it is impossible to build a truly just and peaceful world.
The original Arabic text of Abdu’l-Baha’s “Prayer for the United States Government” is published in Muntakhabātī az Makātīb-i-Ḥaḍrat-i-ʻAbduʼl-