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Abdu’l-Baha’s correspondence with Andrew Carnegie

Posted by Sen on January 19, 2011

[Revised Feb. 24]
Abdu’l-Baha wrote at least two letters to the Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. What appears to be the earlier of these must have been written in 1912 or the first weeks of 1913, although it was not until 1915 that a translation by Ahmad Sohrab, dated 1 May 1915, was published in The New York Times (September 5, 1915) and Star of the West vol. 6 no 11, September 27 1915. I am posting the full text here to make it available to search engines. The original of the letter also exists, in the Baha’i archives in Haifa, having turned up in England in the late 1940s. I haven’t found it published in Persian Bahai sources. The original may have the date of composition on it, the translation does not. I think it must have been written in 1912, because the other letter to Carnegie is dated January 10, 1913. The letter below begins with a reference to its being sent via HH Topakyan, the Persian Consul-General in New York, as if this was new, while the January 1913 letter and its cover letter suppose that this route was known to both Carnegie and Topakyan.

I find it interesting that Abdu’l-Baha refers not only to the danger of militarism in Europe but also to the possibility – which could still be averted by effort – that racial antipathy might be added to the mix. It’s not hard to see in this, Abdu’l-Baha’s awareness that early fascism (in the sense it existed before World War I, as a nationalist and populist middle way between communism and capitalism) could evolve in a racist direction, as it later did in forms such as Aryan superiority and antisemitism.

I have followed the Star of the West text, except that the introductory words are printed only in the New York Times version of the letter. The term “irrefragable” used in the translation means indisputable.

To the noble personage, his Excellency Mr. Andrew Carnegie:
May God assist him!

He is God!

1. O thou illustrious soul! O thou the great pillar of the palace of universal peace! It is some time since I intended to correspond with thee, but there was no intermediary between us. Now that his excellency, Mr. Topakyan, has made this possible through his kindly suggestion, I write thee this epistle; for truly I say thou art the lover of humanity and one of the founders of universal peace.

2. Today the most great service to the kingdom of God is the promotion of the principle of the unification of mankind and the establishment of universal peace. A number of souls who were doctrinaires and unpractical thinkers worked for the realization of this most exalted aim and good cause, but they were doomed to failure, save that lofty personage who has been and is still promoting the matter of international arbitration and general conciliation through deeds, words, self sacrifice and the generous donation of wealth and property. Rest thou assured that through the confirmations of the holy spirit thou wilt become confirmed and assisted in the accomplishment of this most resplendent service, and in this mortal world thou shalt lay the foundation of an immortal, everlasting edifice, and in the end thou wilt sit upon the throne of incorruptible glory in the kingdom of God.

3. All the leaders and statesmen of Europe are thinking on the plane of war and the annihilation of the mansion of humanity, but thou art thinking on the plane of peace and love and the strengthening and reinforcement of the basis of the superstructure of the human world. They are the heralds of death, thou art the harbinger of life. The foundations of their palaces are unstable and wavering and the turrets of their mansions are tottering and crumbling, but the basis of thy structure is firm and unmovable.

4. While I was journeying throughout America and Europe, I cried before all the meetings, conventions, and churches “O ye noble friends! The world of humanity is facing in the future a most portentous danger and supreme calamity. The continent of Europe has become like unto a gunpowder magazine and arsenal, under which are hidden combustible materials of the most inflammatory nature. Its combustion will be dependent upon the sudden and unexpected enkindling of one tiny spark which shall envelop the whole earth with a world-wide conflagration, causing the total collapse of European civilization through the furious, wild, raging, fiery tongues of war. Therefore, O ye well-wishers of the world of humanity, endeavor by day and by night so that these inflammable materials may not come in touch with the burning fires of racial antipathy and hatred!”

5. Today the life of mankind and its attainment to everlasting glory depend on its display of effort and exertion in accord with the principles of his holiness Baha’u’llah; for his first and foremost teaching consists of the oneness of the world of humanity. He says: “We are all the sheep of God. His Highness, the Almighty, is the real Shepherd and kind to all the sheep. Why then should we be unkind toward each other?” Another of his most great institutes deals with the subject of universal peace, the establishment of which would be conducive to the well-being and progress and tranquillity of the commonwealth of man.

6. Other precepts of Baha’u’llah treat of the identity of the underlying foundations of the religions of God, the original oneness of the nations, the adoption and general practice of a universal auxiliary language and the inculcation of the ideal of cosmopolitanism and world patriotism among the children of men; consequently in the future his teachings will act as a deterrent and preventive from the occurrence of the most great danger, i. e. universal war.

7. Today the most important object of the kingdom of God is the promulgation of the cause of universal peace and the principle of the oneness of the world of humanity. Whosoever arises in the accomplishment of this preeminent service the confirmations of the holy spirit will descend upon him.

8. Now all that has been predicted has come to pass, and the lurid flames of this war have emblazoned the horizon of the east and the west, causing a reverberating social earthquake through the columns of the earth. After this war the workers for the cause of universal peace will increase day by day, and the pacific party will array its force, displaying great activity with better advantage, and in the end gaining a permanent triumph and eternal victory over all the other parties. The realization of this matter is incontestable and irrefragable.

9. Therefore, before long a vast and unlimited field will be opened before your view for the display of your powers and energies. You must promote this glorious intention with the heavenly power and the confirmation of the holy spirit. I am praying in thy behalf that thou mayest erect a pavilion and unfurl a flag in the world of peace, love, and eternal life.

I beg you to accept the consideration of my highest and deepest respect.

(Signed) Abdul-Baha Abbas.
Translated by Mirza Ahmad Sohrab, May 1, 1915.
Home of Abdu’l-Baha, Mount Carmel, Haifa, Syria.

The second letter from Abdu’l-Baha to Carnegie was published in the New York Times for February 9, 1913, and is available in the newspaper’s archive. I reproduce this translation (by Sohrab) below. The Persian original is available online. Another translation is included in Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, section 79.

97, Cadogan Gardens, S.W.
January 10, 1913

To the Hon. Andrew Carnegie,
New York City.

He is God!

1. O thou revered personage! Your article entitled the “Gospel of Wealth” was read. Of a truth it contains sound opinion and ideas which, if followed, would lead to happier conditions in the world of Humanity. The doctrine of “Human Solidarity” is well developed in the Teaching of Baha Ullah. “Human Solidarity” is greater than “Equality.” “Equality” is obtained, more or less, through force (or legislation), but “Human Solidarity” is realized through the exercise of free will. The Virtue of man made manifest through voluntary philanthropy, based upon the idea of “Human Solidarity” is as follows:–

2. Rich men give to the poor; that is, they may assist the poor, but by their own desire. It is not well that the poor should coerce the rich to contribute to them! For such coercion would be followed by disintegration, and the organization of the affairs of society would be disturbed. But the idea of “Human Solidarity,” based upon mutual help and understanding, would lead to the peace and comfort of the world of Humanity, would be the cause of the illumination of the world of Humanity, and the means of prosperity and glory of the world.

3. As an evidence of this fact during my journey throughout the cities of America, my visits to various universities and associations, and my presence in educational circles, I witnessed the philanthropic traces of your honor scattered abroad. Therefore, I will pray for you that incessantly you may be encircled with Heavenly blessings and graces, and your philanthropic deeds may cover the East and West, so that you may become like unto a brilliant lamp in the kingdom of God, attain unto Everlasting Life and Glory, and shine as a luminous star from the horizon of Eternity. I beg of you to accept the consideration of my highest respect.

(Signed) Abdul Baha Abbas

The newspaper report adds: “Mr. Carnegie granted permission for the reproduction here of this letter, which was written from London and translated by Mirza Ahmad Sohrab. It was conveyed to Mr. Carnegie through H.H. Topakyan..”

The newspaper also reprints the letter from Abdu’l-Baha to Mr. Topakyan, which accompanied the letter above:

7 Charlotte Square,
Edinburgh

Hon. Mr. H. H. Topakyan,
Consul General of Persia:

He is God!

O thou my revered friend!
Your letter was received.

The Kind susceptibilities of conscious[ness] imported the utmost of rejoicing. Truly, I say, during my stay in America the signs of love became manifest from you from every side. Therefore, I am extremely pleased with you.

I will pray for you and Madame so that the Doors of the Kingdom of God be always open before your faces and the Infinite Divine bestowals may descend upon you uninterruptedly so that according to the statement of Christ, you may be of those who are chosen and not of those who are called.

May God encompass your family with His Heavenly Benediction!

Upon thee be Baha El Abha.

(Signed) Abdul Baha Abbas

What appears to be a third letter to Carnegie, also sent via Topakyan, is referred to in the New York Times for October 11, 1913. From that brief mention, it appears to be a courtesy response, which suggests that Andrew Carnegie had sent something to Abdu’l-Baha in the interim.

Carnegie lived to see the end of the fighting in World War 1, November 11, 1918, but little time to take up his activities for world peace. He died of pneumonia on 11 August 1919, some seven weeks after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles that formally ended the war, on 28 June 1919.

Thanks to Steve Cooney for locating the article in the New York Times.
Short link: http://wp.me/pcgF5-1EW

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8 Responses to “Abdu’l-Baha’s correspondence with Andrew Carnegie”

  1. Concourse on Low said

    Abdul Baha’s presaging of the nexus between fascism and racialism can only be explained by a supernatural agency.

  2. César said

    Thank you for your research and finding these interesting letters.

  3. Isn’t it possible that Abdul-Baha witnessed actual racism with his eyes when he visited the US and Europe? I’m not sure that it requires supernatural vision to suspect that supernationalism might turn racist.

  4. Sen said

    Certainly he saw prejudice and racism practiced in the US, because he did some rather pointed things to undermine it, like inviting black guests to his hotel and to sit at table beside him. However the fusion of racist ideology and fascism did not arise until after the first world war, as far as I know.

  5. But does he actually say “I predict that a non-racist Fascist ideology will become racist”? He doesn’t say anything like that. He was just being an insightful observer of the world around him.

  6. Sen said

    He writes: “… endeavor by day and by night so that these inflammable materials [of nationalism and militarism] may not come in touch with the burning fires of racial antipathy and hatred!” It’s not a prediction, it’s a warning of the possibility, which might have been avoided. In the event, it was not, and Europe was plunged both into war and into the holocaust.

  7. Faruq said

    The original Tablet of Abdu’l-Baha to Mr. Carnegie can be found in Khatirat-i Habib, published in Germany 1988, volume 1, page 309.

  8. Sen said

    The source Faruq cites is online at
    http://www.h-net.org/~bahai/areprint/authors/muayyad/Muayyad_Khatirat_Habib_v1_300_349.pdf
    but the relevant page (309-10) is blank! A scan of the page would be much appreciated, also by the H-Bahai team.

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