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  • The Equality of Men and Women

    When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá talked about the problems and challenges humanity must deal with during His travels in Europe and the United States and Canada from 1910 to 1913, He brought up the equality of men and women—a question that, where it has been unaddressed, is causing a crisis in society (and families) and consequently a threat to the social structure.

  • Traditions Differ From Truth

    Knowledge of the truth is the goal of religions. Its progressive revelation in pro- portions corresponding to human spiritual capacity should not be a cause for discord and strife between people.

  • Movement and Life

    In December 1911, ‘Abdu’l- Bahá returned from His tour in London and Paris to spend the winter months in the city of Alexandria and prepare for His journey to America and Canada the following year. The flow of visitors to His residence continued all through the months of the winter…

  • The Springtime of the Soul Returns

    ‘A bdu’l-Bahá’s stay in Paris for the months of October and November 1911 afforded His hearers the pleasure of daily talks in which He discussed various topics related to the principles of Bahá’u’lláh. At the beginning of His visit, on 15 October, He gave a talk about the regularity of the renewal of the divine […]

  • Universal Love

    ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, while on visit to the city of Paris in 1911, more than once addressed the subject of the soul in His public talks. He pointed out in particular its spiritual nature and its essential effect on material life, with emphasis too on its role in establishing a unity of mankind for whose realization in this enlightened age all past religions participated in preparing the way.

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Traditions Differ From Truth (continued)

On May 23, 1912 'Abdu'l-Baha was invited to a meeting at Clark University, where He spoke to a crowd of students, faculty and others. Present among them were Japanese, Chinese and Turkish students.

In His talk at Clark University the day be- fore, He took up the subject of methods that lead to unity: “Scientific knowledge is the highest attainment upon the hu- man plane, for science is the discoverer of real- ities. Human beings are distinguished from an- imals by reason and science. By science man discovers the secrets of the creation.… Science reveals the secrets of truth, science serves the world of truth, science saves the religions of the past from imitations, science lays bare the truth of divine re- ligions.… Science unifies all religions in one re- ligion, for science uncovers the truth and all religions are one truth, but the human world is now submerged in the ocean of traditions and these traditions are but vain imaginings. Science uproots these traditions and dissipates these dark clouds that hide the sun of truth, and allows the truth of the divine religions to appear. Because the truth is one, all the divine religions will unite and agree and differences disappear. Thus contention and quarrels shall be eliminated and the unity of the human world be established.”5

Baptist Temple Broad and Berks Streets, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: As the distinguished pastor of the Baptist Temple had previously announced the visit of ‘Abdu’l-Baha and the address He was to deliver, and had also invited dignitaries and statesmen from Washington DC and vicinity, this meeting was of great significance.

In the talk delivered at the Baptist Temple in Philadelphia on 9 June 1912, He declared that: “The first teaching of Bahá’u’lláh is the investigation of reality. Man must seek reality himself, forsaking imitations and adherence to mere hereditary forms. As the nations of the world are following imitations in lieu of truth and as imitations are many and various, differences of belief have been productive of strife and warfare. So long as these imitations remain, the oneness of the world of humanity is impossible. Therefore, we must investigate reality in order that by its light the clouds and darkness may be dispelled. Reality is one reality; it does not admit multiplicity or division. If the nations of the world investigate reality, they will agree and become united.”6

The misunderstanding of the meaning of the mostly symbolic and parabolic language of the Holy Books has been one of the greatest obstacles in the way of the renewal of every religion, and still exercises its influence at present time. The reason as explained by Bahá’u’lláh is that: “Leaders of religion, in every age, have hindered their people from attaining the shores of eternal salvation, inasmuch as they held the reins of authority in their mighty grasp. Some for the lust of leadership, others through want of knowledge and understanding, have been the cause of the deprivation of the people. By their sanction and authority, every Prophet of God hath drunk from the chalice of sacrifice, and winged His flight unto the heights of glory.”7

In expanding the previous statement, Bahá’u’lláh provided some examples for the misinterpretations supplied by the clergy for the words of Jesus Christ concerning the signs of the next coming as recorded in the New Testament: “In the first Gospel according to Matthew it is recorded: And when they asked Jesus concerning the signs of His coming, He said unto them: ‘Immediately after the oppression of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the earth shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.’”8

Bahá’u’lláh then spoke of the meaning of Christ’s words: “As to the words—‘Immediately after the oppression of those days’—they refer to the time when men shall become oppressed and afflicted, the time when the lingering traces of the Sun of Truth and the fruit of the Tree of knowledge and wisdom will have vanished from the midst of men, when the reins of mankind will have fallen into the grasp of the foolish and ignorant, when the portals of divine unity and understanding—the essential and highest purpose in creation—will have been closed, when certain knowledge will have given way to idle fancy, and corruption will have usurped the station of righteousness. Such a condition as this is witnessed in this day when the reins of every community have fallen into the grasp of foolish leaders, who lead after their own whims and desire. On their tongue the mention of God hath become an empty name; in their midst His holy Word a dead letter. Such is the sway of their desires, that the lamp of conscience and reason hath been quenched in their hearts, and this although the fingers of divine power have unlocked the portals of the knowledge of God, and the light of divine knowledge and heavenly grace hath illumined and inspired the essence of all created things, in such wise that in each and every thing a door of knowledge hath been opened, and within every atom traces of the sun hath been made manifest. And yet, in spite of all these manifold revelations of divine knowledge, which have encompassed the world, they still vainly imagine the door of knowledge to be closed, and the showers of mercy to be stilled. Clinging unto idle fancy, they have strayed far from the Urvatu’l-Vuthqá of divine knowledge. Their hearts seem not to be inclined to knowledge and the door thereof, neither think they of its manifestations, inasmuch as in idle fancy they have found the door that leadeth unto earthly riches, whereas in the manifestation of the Revealer of knowledge they find naught but the call to self-sacrifice. They therefore naturally hold fast unto the former, and flee from the latter. Though they recognize in their hearts the Law of God to be one and the same, yet from every direction they issue a new command, and in every season proclaim a fresh decree. No two are found to agree on one and the same law, for they seek no God but their own desire, and tread no path but the path of error. In leadership they have recognized the ultimate object of their endeavour, and account pride and haughtiness as the highest attainments of their heart’s desire. They have placed their sordid machinations above the divine decree, have renounced resignation unto the will of God, busied themselves with selfish calculation, and walked in the way of the hypocrite. With all their power and strength they strive to secure themselves in their petty pursuits, fearful lest the least discredit undermine their authority or blemish the display of their magnificence. Were the eye to be anointed and illumined with the collyrium of the knowledge of God, it would surely discover that a number of voracious beasts have gathered and preyed upon the carrion of the souls of men.

“What ‘oppression’ is greater than that which hath been recounted? What ‘oppression’ is more grievous than that a soul seeking the truth, and wishing to attain unto the knowledge of God, should know not where to go for it and from whom to seek it? For opinions have sorely differed, and the ways unto the attainment of God have multiplied. This ‘oppression’ is the essential feature of every Revelation. Unless it cometh to pass, the Sun of Truth will not be made manifest. For the break of the morn of divine guidance must needs follow the darkness of the night of error. For this reason, in all chronicles and traditions reference hath been made unto these things, namely that iniquity shall cover the surface of the earth and darkness shall envelop mankind. As the traditions referred to are well known, and as the purpose of this servant is to be brief, He will refrain from quoting the text of these traditions.

“Were this ‘oppression’ (which literally meaneth pressure) to be interpreted that the earth is to become contracted, or were men’s idle fancy to conceive similar calamities to befall mankind, it is clear and manifest that no such happenings can ever come to pass. They will assuredly protest that this pre-requisite of divine revelation hath not been made manifest. Such hath been and still is their contention.”9

Historical records show that the believers of religions were always waiting for religions that their Holy Books had promised them would appear. Jews for example were waiting for the coming of the Messiah, and were praying in their temples day and night for His speedy appearance so that, as promised, He would free them from the tyranny of the Romans; yet when He appeared they denied and denounced Him. The causes of such contradictory attitudes, which have been evident in various religions, are many and variant, but there are two important causes at the top of the list. These ‘Abdu’l-Bahá signaled in a talk given at a Baha’í gathering in New York on 11 July 1912:

“The first cause is that the signs and conditions of the Promised One are mentioned in the Holy Books in a symbolic language whose purport is not the literal meaning. Because the people interpret them literally they are turned away, and argue that this Promised One is not that Promised One and hold tenaciously to the words, as the Jews did when Christ appeared. Their leaders declared that this Messiah is not that Messiah, and this Person is not the Promised Person. They held tenaciously to the conditions of Christ’s coming that were written in the Torah, which are:

“The Messiah mentioned in the Torah will come from an unknown place, but this would-be Messiah, we know [they said], has come from Nazareth;

“It is mentioned in the Torah that His cane will be of iron and He will rule by the sword, but this would-be Messiah does not have even a stick of wood;

“According to Pentateuch, the Promised Messiah must be seated on the throne of David and establish a kingdom, but this Messiah has no kingdom, or army, or ministers, or deputies. He is single and alone; therefore he cannot be the same Promised Messiah;

“The Promised Messiah must promulgate the laws of the Torah, but this Messiah has violated the holiness of the Sabbath and changed the Law; therefore he cannot be that Promised Messiah;

“The Promised Messiah must conquer the East and the West, but this Messiah is homeless and has no refuge; how then can he be the One promised;

“At the time of the Promised Messiah, even animals will live in tranquility and justice, they will reach a point that no animal will transgress another, and the wolf and lamb will drink from the same spring, the eagle and partridge will live in the same nest, the lion and antelope will graze together. However, injustice has reached in these days such a point that the Roman government rules over Palestine and slays, beats, imprisons and banishes the Jews…. [T]herefore, this Messiah cannot be that Promised Messiah.”10

This example, illustrating how, by ignoring the symbolic language or desiring to conceal its true meaning, the Jewish leaders prevented their people from seeing, applies to other nations, for the prophesies of the Holy Books have all been told in a symbolic language rich with poetic imagery. All the conditions metaphorically mentioned in the Torah had in reality been fulfilled by the coming of Christ, but in a different manner than the Jews had imagined.

’Abdu’l-Bahá then spoke about the second cause that prevents people from recognizing new religions when they appear:

“The Manifestations of God have two stations (or realities), one is the visible human station and the other is the hidden, luminous and gracious station… [T]he human aspect is clear and visible, but people are unable to discern the holy reality that is manifested in the human temple, and cannot perceive the power of the Holy Spirit. Looking at the human aspect, they see that which is common to all human beings: They eat, sleep, get sick and weaken. Therefore they consider Them like themselves. For this reason, they object to Them and transgress against Them, and treat Them with injustice, and oppose Them, and try to kill Them.…Therefore, you should not look at the human aspect of the Manifestations of God,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, “but you must look at Their reality, that Luminous Reality which illumines the horizons, that Luminous Reality which lights up the human world, that Luminous Reality which frees the people from their shortcomings—that Luminous Reality, which leads humanity to the highest degree of perfection, is outside human perception.

“Therefore, we should not look at the glass, because it is a substance that may prevent us from the light. We must look at the lamp that is the light shining in that glass and which is the divine splendour and its manifestation in the human glass. If we look in this way we do will not be veiled.”11

To the extent we succeed to control imitations and eliminate their negative effects we will be in reach of the truth.


The first picture is of a color postcard entitled “Lower Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge Tower by Night, New York City,” published by The American Art Publishing Co., New York City, #R-43958. Its date is in the 1910s and it is in the public domain. The caption cites Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America, translated by Mohi Sobhani with the assistance of Shirley Macias (Oxford: George Ronald, 1998), p. 43.

The second picture is of Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA. This photograph by Detroit Publishing Company was published circa 1908. See Library of Congress. Reproduction Number: LC-D4-70393 (b&w glass neg.) Call Number: LC-D4-70393 and The caption cites Mahmúd’s Diary, p. 109.

The third picture is a postcard of the Baptist Temple in Philadelphia. Also shown is Russell Conwell, the Baptist minister who worked for the founding of Temple University and of this church, which was opened in 1891 and is today a historic landmark. The postcard is held by Temple University. The caption is a citation from Mahmúd’s Diary, p. 126.


1 The Promulgation of Universal Peace (US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982), second edition, p. 177.
2 Personal provisional translation from talk of “8 June 1912” as published in the Persian edition of these talks and their Arabic translation: Khutab ‘Abdu’l-Bahá fi Uropá wa Amricá (Addis Ababa: National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of North East Africa, n.d.). See also The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 175.
3 The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 140-41.
4. Ibid., p. 141.
5 Personal provisional translation from the version published in: Khutab ‘Abdu’l-Bahá fi Uropá wa Amricá, pp. 276-81.
6 The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 180.
7 The Kitáb-i-Íqán (US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1989 pocket-size edition), p.15.
8 Ibid., pp. 24-25.
9 Ibid., pp. 29-32. In the English translation of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, para.117, p. 62, the term “the Urvatu’l-Vuthqá” is translated as “the Sure Handle”.
10 Personal provisional translation from talk of 11 July 1912 as published in the Persian edition of these talks and their Arabic translation: Khutab ‘Abdu’l-Bahá fi Uropá wa Amricá, pp. 342-43.
11 Ibid.

General note: The dates referred to in the Arabic and English versions of this article differ slightly from time to time in order to reflect the Arabic and Persian texts in the former, and the English texts in the latter. These slight differences are due to a difference in customs concerning the beginning and ending of each day. In Middle Eastern countries, the new day began after sunset rather than after midnight.