IT’S NOT BEEN A MONTH since Abdu’l-Baha arrived in America, yet he has succeeded in placing himself at the center of virtually all of the nation’s raging debates. He has championed women’s rights. He has challenged whites and blacks to work together. He has argued that, of all nations, America is uniquely capable of leading the world to peace.
He is the unlikeliest of spokesmen: a sixty-eight-year-old Middle-Easterner, recently released from forty years captivity at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, accompanied by an entourage of men wearing fezzes.
But Abdu’l-Baha has shown that he is entirely at home in America. He converses with ease in the company of scientists, philosophers, businessmen, politicians, and men of religion, whether Christian or Jew.
Racial equality. Social progress. International peace. For Abdu’l-Baha these matters are fundamentally spiritual in nature. Yet the faith he offers isn’t one of mystical contemplation, though there seems time for that too. As he noted at the temple’s cornerstone ceremony three days ago: spiritual devotion must be manifested in material action.
Abdu’l-Baha argues that the urgent task of the modern world is to create a greater degree of unity in all spheres of human activity. He would concur with President Roosevelt that, “The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us.” But this simple truth gets hidden by religious superstition and social prejudice. Most of the blame, he says, lies at the feet of religion. He has often reminded his audiences that human beings generally worship their own creations.
What is the answer to this spiritual dilemma? Reason, says Abdu’l-Baha: “It is most certain that if human souls exercise their respective reason and intelligence upon the divine questions, the power of God will dispel every difficulty, and the eternal realities will appear as one light, one truth, one love, one God . . . .”
America, Abdu’l-Baha says, has a special sense of ingenuity. He has spent a lot of his time with its scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs, as well as those who strive practically for social reform. For him, this is God’s work.
Read the next 239 Days in America article: Abdu’l-Baha and the President
Read the previous 239 Days in America article: America Will Lead the World to Peace
This article was originally published on May 4, 2012 at 239Days.com, a social media documentary following Abdu’l-Baha’s 1912 journey through North America. © Robert Sockett, 2012. This article may not be republished without prior written permission. Contact info@239Days.com.