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Has God sent prophets and messengers to every culture and civilization?
Scholars, writers and theologians have asked this question for centuries. At its core, the question presupposes other important ones: Do the religions of indigenous cultures count? Just because indigenous faiths don’t necessarily have written scriptures or histories, do they still matter? Should we recognize those indigenous belief systems alongside the so-called major world religions?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “deduction” as the logical process of “inference by reasoning from generals to particulars.” Through the process of deduction, the Baha’is teachings allow us to deduce that God must have sent messengers and prophets to all nations, including the Americas, as this passage from Baha’u’llah clearly indicates:
Unto the cities of all nations He [God] hath sent His Messengers, Whom He hath commissioned to announce unto men tidings of the Paradise of His good pleasure, and to draw them nigh unto the Haven of abiding security, the Seat of eternal holiness and transcendent glory. … Ages rolled away, until they attained their consummation in this, the Lord of days. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u‘llah, p. 145.
A similar statement exists in Baha’u’llah’s “Commentary on the Sura of ‘The Sun’” (or “Commentary,” for short). In this Commentary, Baha’u’llah explains the meaning of Sura (Chapter) 91 of the Quran, which begins with this oath: “By the Sun and his (glorious) splendour.” The title “Baha’u’llah” means the “Glory of God” or the “Splendor of God.” In other words, Baha’is believe, Baha’u’llah is the spiritual Sun or messenger for this day and age.
According to Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah “explains the sura of ’The Sun’ should not be interpreted literally” (Dawn of a New Day, pp. 79–80). Shoghi Effendi has provided this authorized translation of the following passage from Baha’u’llah’s “Commentary on the Sura of ‘The Sun’”:
Know assuredly that just as thou firmly believest that the Word of God, exalted be His glory, endureth for ever, thou must, likewise, believe with undoubting faith that its meaning can never be exhausted. They who are its appointed interpreters, they whose hearts are the repositories of its secrets, are, however, the only ones who can comprehend its manifold wisdom. …
How great the multitude of truths which the garment of words can never contain! How vast the number of such verities as no expression can adequately describe, whose significance can never be unfolded, and to which not even the remotest allusions can be made! How manifold are the truths which must remain unuttered until the appointed time is come! Even as it hath been said: “Not everything that a man knoweth can be disclosed, nor can everything that he can disclose be regarded as timely, nor can every timely utterance be considered as suited to the capacity of those who hear it.”
Of these truths some can be disclosed only to the extent of the capacity of the repositories of the light of Our knowledge, and the recipients of Our hidden grace. – Ibid., pp. 175–176.
In an article previously published in the series, Necati Alkan wrote:
Lastly, there is a statement by Baha’u’llah in his Commentary on the Sura of “The Sun.” …Baha’u’llah states that every nation on earth has been enlightened by one of these “Suns,” i.e. Prophets of God.
From the two statements cited above, we can deduce that “Unto the cities of all nations” necessarily must include the Americas. Since the Americas were inhabited by indigenous peoples prior to pre-Columbian “contact,” we can further deduce that Baha’u’llah’s statements logically and necessarily include Native messengers of God within this universal perspective.
Let’s now look at two corraborating verses of the Quran, the holy book of Islam:
Indeed, We sent forth among every nation a Messenger. – Quran 16:36.
Every nation has its Messenger. – Quran 10:47.
How do these scriptures compare to other statements by Abdu’l-Baha to the effect that all of the Prophets of God have come from the East?
“In the books of the Prophets,” He [Abdu’l-Baha] again asserts, “certain glad-tidings are recorded which are absolutely true and free from doubt. The East hath ever been the dawning-place of the Sun of Truth. In the East all the Prophets of God have appeared … The West hath acquired illumination from the East but in some respects the reflection of the light hath been greater in the Occident. This is specially true of Christianity. Jesus Christ appeared in Palestine and His teachings were founded in that country. Although the doors of the Kingdom were first opened in that land and the bestowals of God were spread broadcast from its center, the people of the West have embraced and promulgated Christianity more fully than the people of the East.” – quoted by Shoghi Effendi in The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 75.
Here, Abdu’l-Baha uses the well-known history of Christianity to make the point that, even though it originated in the East, Christianity had its biggest historical impact in the West. In the same way, the Baha’i Faith, which also originated in the Middle East, is expected to have its greatest future impact in the West, especially in America. This is a persuasive and inspiring argument from history.
From these passages in the Baha’i writings, we know several truths: (1) World religions, by and large, have come from the East. (Just open any standard textbook on world religions, and this will become perfectly obvious, although a number of texts do include indigenous religions.) (2) The fact remains that indigenous religions have existed everywhere throughout human history as well. (3) According to Baha’i belief, all true religions derive from the same source—revelations from God, conveyed through a progressive series of prophets and messengers. (4) Therefore, we can resolve this apparent contradiction on a higher plane of understanding: While it is true that the major world religions have all come from the East, the fact remains that many indigenous religions appeared in the Americas and elsewhere.
Applying the Baha’i teaching of progressive revelation, indigenous religions, in their pure form, were of divine origin. The time has come for this truth to be acknowledged and respected.