Missionary Interviews Abdu'l-Baha

A Missionary Interviews Abdu'l-Baha

By John Taylor; 2006 August 7


The interview we are about to focus in on today took place on the 13th of April in the lobby of the Hotel Ansonia, not long after the Master had arrived in America. It was the same day they got news of sinking of the Titanic. Mahmud Zarqani records in his diary that the relieved believers thanked God that the Master had refused their repeated requests to board this wonder of the age on her maiden voyage. Mahmoud records that the Master took a carriage and made a casual remark that helped make me into a town planning nerd,

"On the return to the hotel the carriage drove through the park roads. The Master remarked, 'America will make rapid progress in the future but I am fearful of the effects of these high buildings and such densely populated cities; these are not good for the public health.'" (Mahmud's Diary entry dated Saturday, April 12, 1912)

On a technical note, Mahmoud, making the sort of mistake that was rare until the invention of computers, got his dates one day out of whack for much of their year in America, so this comment may have actually taken place on the day of this interview, or maybe not, I am not sure. Mahmoud describes what the Master said in a similar interview with Christian clergy a few days later:

"In the afternoon the public meeting was at the home of Mr. [Mountfort] Mills. Several clergymen, professors and dignitaries were present. The Master first spoke on the superior power of the human kingdom over nature. Then in another room He spoke to the clergymen about the necessity of a power that will cause spirituality to be victorious over materialism. 'This power', He said, 'is the power of Baha'u'llah. We used that power and thus have succeeded in this great Cause.' The meeting and the attention and joyful devotion of those present gave 'Abdu'l-Baha much satisfaction. In the carriage returning to His hotel, He said,

"I have made the subject of my talks here only one of the principles of the Blessed Beauty. I have not as yet touched upon others of greater importance. It is because I perceive the pulse of the people and the needs of the present circumstances that the confirmations of the Blessed Beauty successively rain down and assist me. These effects that you see are not only the result of addresses but are due to the assistance of the Blessed Beauty. Of course, everyone says that peace is desirable but the power to influence and conform is what is required. The Blessed Beauty is indeed my helper and protector, to the degree that were I, for example, even to make war the subject of my talks, the same effects would become apparent. It is indeed the confirmations of the Blessed Beauty that aid us. Otherwise how would Westerners show such consideration to us Easterners?"

Our interview for today features a less pleasant clash with an opinionated missionary whose mission in life was to refute the Master on His home turf. It is also briefly recorded in his immortal memoir, Portals to Freedom, by the other Christian Minister present, Howard Colby Ives. This is what he recalled, as recounted by Marzieh Gail:

"One minister who came was not friendly. 'Abdu'l-Baha answered all his questions with reserve and patience. The minister asked by what authority Baha'u'llah is placed with Abraham, Moses and Jesus -- and 'Abdu'l-Baha said, 'Today we believe Baha'u'llah to be an educator... If He has opened the doors of human hearts to a higher consciousness, He is a heavenly educator. If He has not accomplished this we are privileged to deny His claim. Then 'Abdu'l-Baha gave the minister an armful of white roses." (Marzieh Gail, Dawn Over Mount Hira, 190; a note explains: Reminiscence, also recorded in Howard Colby Ives, Portals to Freedom, George Ronald, Oxford, 1943)

In any case, the interview in question does not appear in Promulgation, the collection of the Master's talks in America, though some other interviews and question periods are. It only is to be found in Star of the West. The following footnote to the article gives the following background material. I confess I do not know what they mean by His "disqualifying" the interviewer.

NOTE: This interview was prompted by the fact that an article prepared by Rev. S. T. Bixby for publication in the North American Review had been objected to by Baha'is to whom it had been submitted as incorrect and misleading. Although the truth embodied in the words of Abdu'l-Baha completely disprove the erroneous statements, the article in question -- slightly amended, was afterward published. It should also be noted that Abdu'l-Baha in his preliminary setting forth of the historical accomplishment of the Baha'i Movement disqualifies the writer and his motive before a question is asked. Ed.

So, without further ado, here is the text of the interview as it appears in Star of the West.

INTERVIEW AT HOTEL ANSONIA, NEW YORK CITY, APRIL 13, 1912. ABDUL BAHA, REV. J. T. Bixby AND REV. HOWARD COLBY IVES, PRESENT.

From Notes by Howard MacNutt.

(Star of the West, Vol. 3, No. 8, p. 5)

Abdu'l-Baha: The origin of man is one; the consummate intention of all human existence must likewise be one.

The development of a tree is from a seed; the purpose of a tree's existence therefore is to produce a seed. The fruit of man is love and unity, the development of spiritual susceptibilities through the influence and infusion of Divine Love. The union of East and West must be accomplished in the soil of man fortified by the Divine Spirit. This spiritual bond of unity, this power of Divine Love is everlasting. Its appearance in the sod of man is the purpose of his creation.

America is a great instrument for the accomplishment of world unity. No other nation of the world stands in a similar position of influence and responsibility. The fundamental question is the unification of religious belief.

In Persia during the last fifty years a wonderful evidence of such unity has appeared among the various sects and denominations of religionists. What is witnessed in that country is (a matter of) historical account and record which cannot be denied. The accomplishment of a fundamental religious unity in Persia is therefore a nucleus which proves the possibility of universal peace among the world nations.

Consider the kingdom of the animals. There is no strife among them on account of color or creed. If you select a pigeon from Persia, another from Germany, another from France, America and so on, you would find them living together in complete union and love. Because one was American it would not object to its companion from Persia. The birds of white plumage would not shun those of black and brown. They would not notice this difference in color, but would dwell together in peace and harmony. Should we not at least attain to their state and possibility? We have reason; we have consciousness. God has taught us through these channels that we were created for unity and love. The heavenly Prophets have revealed the principles of His Will and Word. Let us live in accord with those principles and thereby live in unity with each other.

When the adherents of the former despotic government of Persia found that this unity and harmony was being accomplished among the followers of Baha'u'llah, they arose in bigotry and persecution against them. The clergy especially perceived that their vocation and means of livelihood were threatened. They persecuted the Baha’is with bitterness and ferocity. They misrepresented this Cause to the Government, saying, "These are the people of rebellion and revolution; these are the enemies of the Shah;" whereas in fact down to the time of the recent revolution in Persia the Baha’is have taken no part whatever in political questions and disturbances. Their clamorous persecutors were the real revolutionists.

These discontents (sic. malcontents?) wanted Constitutional rights and privileges. They were politicians, not religionists. Today there are many political parties in Persia. Notwithstanding the spread of rumors intended to excite prejudice against the Baha’is, unity and love increased among them, for falsehood cannot stand against the onrushing stream of Truth. These enemies said, "The teachings of Baha’u’llah sanction one wife and nine husbands;" "the principles of Baha’u’llah are communistic and proclaim treason against the theories and government." All kinds of false and dangerous reports were circulated until even European travelers passing through the country were influenced to believe them. How different was the reality! While the Baha’is have practical laws upon moral, ethical, civil and governmental questions, their obedience to these laws is always conducive to the uplift, purification and improvement of human conditions and never destructive to the development of individual, community or nation.

Furthermore, the Baha’is consider it more blessed and a greater privilege to bestow than to gain and receive. They believe that bestowing good upon another freely is the greatest means of help to both. This is not the principle and practice of their calumniators who make even religion a source of livelihood. According to Baha’i principles justice and equity in government are not to be attained by force and rebellion against the existing order of things.

The solution of economic questions for instance will not be accomplished by array of labor against capital and capital against labor in strife and conflict, but by (a) voluntary attitude of sacrifice upon both sides. Then a real and lasting justness of conditions will be brought about. If a capitalist is forced to give up a portion of his income and possessions there will be no love in his heart; no permanent benefit in his action. But if it be given in the spirit of the Love of God, everything will be accomplished. As it is now, the forces of labor strike and the capitalist retaliates. If the latter should voluntarily add to the scale of wages love is evident and the greatest good results. Briefly, among the Baha'is there are no extortionate, mercenary and unjust practices, no rebellious demands, no revolutionary uprisings against existing governments.

In Persia Baha'i teachers never accept the slightest coin for their work. This is so noticeably true that when such recompense is refused it is customary to hear the statement "These are Baha'is." This is the strongest proof of the Baha'i principles and their power of accomplishment.

How different are the methods and actions of the clergy and priesthood of Persia, whose demands upon the property and possessions of the people are equivalent to pillage and plunder. For instance, when a man dies, the clergy takes possession of one third his goods and the other two thirds goes to his heirs. Then they accuse the Baha’is of doing this -- whereas, in fact, the followers of Baha’u’llah are forbidden to accept anything whatever from the property of others. The Baha’is are accustomed to give rather than to receive.

[Note from the Editor of Star of the West: In conformity with this principle before the departure of Abdu'l-Baha from the Orient for his visit to this country, a large amount of money contributed by friends here was forwarded to him with the request that he accept it toward defraying his expenses. He returned the money with a blessing, asking the donor to apply it to some philanthropic object. During his stay In this country, his gifts to churches and charity have been many and most generous in amount.]

For instance, ten thousand dollars have been sent to Chicago from the East toward the erection of the Mashrak El Azkar.

Rev. Bixby: Did not Professor Edward Browne, of Cambridge University, England, go to Akka and was he not received there by Baha’u’llah?

A.B. Professor Browne visited the East, interviewed various people and automatically wrote down all he heard. Naturally when he met the enemies of Baha’u’llah he heard nothing favorable. Would you go to the Vatican to hear praises of the Protestants? Would you consult Jewish rabbis as to the reality of Christ? In his first book, Professor Browne praised Baha’u’llah, but the second account, in which he publishes the statements of enemies, is the reverse. His books do not agree.

Rev. Bixby: Is Professor Browne correct in his statement that Abdul-Baha wrote "A Traveler's Narrative"

A. B. The writer of "A Traveler's Narrative" was not one person. It contains a statement of Baha'i principles. If a book was to be written setting forth the essence of Christianity, a number of Christians would come together for that purpose.

Rev. Bixby: Is "A Traveler's Narrative" substantially correct?

A. B. It is an authority.

Rev. Bixby: What is understood to be the relation between the manifestation in Baha'u'llah and the manifestations in Moses, Jesus and others?

A. B. It is one basis, one foundation. Abraham proclaimed the Truth, Moses raised the Standard of Truth. Jesus established the Truth. Can we say that any one of them did not found it? All the prophets have been chosen by God to promulgate The Word. There can be no multiplicity in the Truth itself. The teachings of the Manifestations are of two kinds; first, the Word of God in its outer or material aspect; second, the Word of God in its spiritual or inner significance. The first named is changeable; the second unchangeable. The essential principle of their teaching is spiritual. All the Prophets have come to spread these principles. Each confirms the spiritual utterance of the former and changes the material forms of teachings and ceremonials. For instance, the Ten Commandments revealed by Moses were applicable to the time in which he appeared. They were not applicable to the time of Jesus.

Therefore He abolished and superseded them.

He also abolished certain laws of Moses which were no longer necessary. But this change and renewal is of secondary importance to the Spiritual Reality of the Word in Moses and Jesus, for it is the foundation and it is One and Unchangeable.

Rev. Bixby: Has Baha’u’llah revealed obligatory prayers?

A. B. The mode and requirements of East and West are different. It matters not whether we bend the head in the East or the knee in the West. The purpose of prayer is to come nearer to God to pray from the heart fervently. If the heart is pure, it is beautiful for the tongue to express its ecstasy.

Rev. Bixby: By what authority is Baha’u’llah placed with Abraham, Moses and Jesus?

A. B. Today we believe Baha’u’llah to be an educator of humanity, as Abraham, Moses and Jesus were educators. Are His teachings worthy of serious attention? He originated and proclaimed them. He caused others to believe and follow them. What is the function of a teacher and educator of humanity? By what evidence shall we recognize him? Is it not his power to train and develop, as children are trained at school? Has Baha'u'llah trained the children of humanity? If He has opened the doors of human hearts to a higher consciousness, He is a heavenly Educator. If He has not accomplished this we are privileged to deny His claim and teaching. For the aim and function of an Educator is to train the children of humanity. This is His greatest proof that he has power to uplift humanity. Baha'u'llah either taught higher lessons or did not. If He did, He has fulfilled His claim.

The mission of a physician is to heal sickness and relieve the ailing. When he heals there is no doubt of his ability as a physician. If he cannot heal the sick be is disqualified. We accept the Teachings of Moses, Jesus, Abraham and Adam because unmistakably they came to educate humanity. For example, Moses arose at a time of the lowest ignorance and humiliation of the Hebrew nation. Did He not free them from the bondage of Egypt? Did He not train, educate and organize them as a nation and people. As a consequence of His discipline did they not attain a zenith of power? Yes, unmistakably, up to the time of Solomon. The philosophers of Greece came to Palestine, sat at the feet of the Hebrew sages and were taught by them the fundamental principles of life. Moses produced this result from ignorance and slavery. Can we deny history? Can we deny that He was an Educator?

Rev. Bixby: Has Baha’u’llah done this?

A. B. Yes! In Persia especially He has accomplished this miracle of training and education. Ere long, Persia will attain a high degree of civilization.

Rev. Bixby: Is Mirza Abul Fazl an apostle, prophet or one delegated with special authority?

A. B. We do not have apostles, prophets and special leaders, because all are servants. We have no ecclesiastical order or authority. Mirza Abul Fazl was trained and taught by Baha'u'llah -- His disciple in this sense. He was near to Baha'u'llah; but he has no special station except the station of service.

Rev. Bixby: Were the "Letters of the Living" appointed by the Bab abrogated by Baha'u'llah?

A. B. The "Letters of the Living" were at first eighteen in number. The Bab said, "Go forth and teach others the Message you have received." Among them were some of great ability, who became prominent. Some disappeared. They were not appointed as a secret order. Baha'u'llah did not abrogate their function. As an organization of believers in the Bab it passed away by itself, naturally. The Bab said, "These are the acceptors of my teachings." They had no official station. He did not depend upon them as His clergy. They were servants of the Cause of God. Whoever is near to God is a servant of God.

Rev. Bixby: Did not Subh Ezel occupy an authoritative position?

A. B. Baha'u'llah educated him just as he educated Mirza Abul Fazl and myself. Subh Ezel separated voluntarily. He did not follow his Teacher as we have done. Therefore we do not mention his name. We have no quarrel with those who differ, but are commanded to love them.

Rev. Bixby: How can we receive more from the Teaching of Baha'u'llah than from the Words of Jesus?

A. B. Jesus and the former Prophets laid the foundation of the Cause of God -- the Heavenly Kingdom. But their followers forget and overlook the foundation. Christ said, "Ye must he born again of water and spirit." "As children from the womb, so must ye be born again of Spirit." The essence of His meaning was that those who were taught by Him and became His real followers would become free from world-imperfections; they would become perfect, redeemed from animalism and human passions, transformed into angels; that is to say the earthly would become heavenly. These are the real disciples of Christ. These are real Christians.

Galen, a Greek philosopher, who was pagan and not Christian, writing upon the subject of "Ancient Civilization of Nations," states that "the greatest shaping influences in the civilization of nations are religious principles; and that the effect of Christianity upon the lives and morals of its adherents is a great proof of this statement." Now Baha'u'llah came and brought a new life into the hearts of mankind. He reversed the order of many former teachings. Vast numbers of His followers live in accord with the principles He set forth.

Mirza Abul Fazl for instance, whom you have named, was firmly fixed in his religious belief. Under the influence of Baha'u'llah's words, he arose to serve this Cause. He was thrown into prison two years he was persecuted and driven out of Persia. Under all conditions of distress and suffering, he was thankful and filled with happiness, constantly Serving the Cause of Baha'u'llah.

This is the strongest proof that the Teachings of Baha'u'llah have within them the same power to mould and influence human lives as the Teachings of Jesus. They free the souls of men from world attachments and imperfections. They open the doors in this age of the world to perfection. The Jews admit that Jesus appeared in the world and taught heavenly principles. If Christ had not appeared after Moses the mention of Moses would have been lost. The foundation of Jesus and the foundation of Moses were the same. The foundation of Baha'u'llah is likewise the same as Moses and Jesus. All religion has the same foundation. Furthermore, consider how Baha'u'llah has upraised the standard of Christ in the East in countries and among peoples where there was formerly no mention of Christ's name. He established the truth of the Bible among those who shunned and hated the Bible. They considered it a righteous act to burn and destroy the Book of Christianity. Baha'u'llah has taught them to read the Bible.

Rev. Bixby; Was Christ the Word?

A. B. Baha'u'llah has clearly explained and defined the "Word." Christianity, as explained by its followers, has taught that Christ is the Word and the Son of God. What is the meaning of this? Baha'u'llah has explained that seers and prophets are as letters incomplete in meaning. He shows that human intellects are imperfect, incomplete, but Christ was the All Surrounding Word and synonymous with Perfection. As He contained all Perfections and Attributes He was the Word and this wonderful title was conferred upon Him. But seers, prophets and disciples are as "letters" without complete significance.

Rev. Bixby: Was Baha'u'llah also the Word in the flesh?

A. B. Yes! Because He had all the perfections.

Rev. Bixby: Did Abraham embody the Word?

A. B. We cannot differentiate the attributes of the Word of God we cannot differentiate perfections. Abraham announced the Divine Truth. It is not necessary to lower Abraham to raise Jesus. It is not necessary to lower Jesus to proclaim Baha'u'llah. We must spread the Truth of God wherever we behold it. The essence of the question is that all these Great Messengers came to raise the Divine Standard of Perfections. All of them shine as stars in the same heaven of the Divine Will. All of them give Light to the world.

Rev. Bixby: Did Baha'u'llah fulfill Jesus as Jesus fulfilled Moses?

A. B. Yes! by spreading the renown and glory of Jesus. The aim of Moses, Jesus and Baha'u'llah was to train humanity toward divine perfections. Can we train the world upward by imperfections?

[At the conclusion of this interview Abdul-Baha arose and came toward Rev. Bixby, his arms filled with large white roses. As he placed them upon the bosom of his visitor, literally burying him in them, he said, "These beautiful roses will express to you the love and fragrance of the Baha’i Spirit."]


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