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Abdu’l-Baha speaks to the NAACP

Posted by Sen on February 10, 2011

from Remey, 'Observations' 1908

This talk by Abdu’l-Baha, given in Chicago, was published in Star of the West volume 3, No. 3, page 30, dated April 28, 1912. This is puzzling, since the talk was not given until two days later! That issue of Star of the West reports talks dated up to May 5 1912, so presumably the “April 28” number was actually printed sometime in May. The talk has been republished in Promulgation of Universal Peace, page 69, but the editor of Promulgation has nipped and tucked here and there, taking out some of the wrinkles, adding some explanations, and removing Abdu’l-Baha’s humourous references to green and blue people. A friend has asked for the unvarnished text, so I am posting it here.

There are no Persian notes for this talk, so it is not Bahai scripture but simply a ‘pilgrim’s note’, an unauthenticated record of what the translator made of Abdu’l-Baha’s words.

While this is not the purpose of Abdu’l-Baha’s address, it has the additional interest of illustrating the categorical distinction Abdu’l-Baha makes between the human and the animal, a moral distinction not a denial of human evolution from the animal.

Address of Abdul-Baha at the Fourth Annual Conference, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Handel Hall, Chicago, April 30, 1912

Translated by Dr. Ameen U. Fareed and taken stenographically by Joseph H. Hannen.

God has stated in the Bible, the Old Testament, “We have created man in our own image and likeness.” This statement indicates the fact that man in some particular is of the image and likeness of God; that is to say, the Perfections of God, the Divine Virtues, have become reflected or revealed in the human reality. Just as the effulgence and the light of the sun, when cast upon a mirror, is reflected fully, gloriously, if the mirror be polished, so likewise the virtues of Divinity are possible of reflection in the human reality. And this makes it evident that man is the most noble of God’s creatures. When you observe created beings, you find that the mineral kingdom is endowed with certain virtues And we observe that the vegetable kingdom has not only the virtues of the mineral kingdom but it is endowed with another property, or, namely, the virtue augmentative or the power of growth. The animal kingdom possesses the virtues or powers of the mineral kingdom plus those of the vegetable kingdom, and moreover it possesses certain peculiar properties of its own. The human kingdom is endowed with the virtues or perfections of the mineral kingdom and those of the vegetable kingdom, and the perfections of the animal kingdom, and moreover has the human virtues. This makes it evident that man is superior and most noble, and he is the most glorious of beings! Man is the microcosm and this endless world is the macrocosm. But the mysteries of the macrocosm, the greater world, are expressed or revealed in the microcosm or the lesser world. The tree is the greater world, so to speak, and a seed holds the relation of the lesser world. But the whole of the tree is potentially latent in the seed. An immense tree, a colossal tree, is latent or hidden within a small seed. So when this seed is cultivated, is planted, then it is made possible of revelation. Likewise the greater world, the macrocosm, is latent and involved in the microcosm or the lesser world, and that is the universality of the virtues which is particularized in man. This man who has been called the image and likeness of God: Let us find out just where and how he is the image and likeness of the Lord, and what is the standard or criterion whereby he can be measured. The criterion or the standard can be no other than the Divine virtues within men, which are Divine and after His image. Therefore every man who is imbued with the Divine qualities, who reveals the heavenly perfections and heavenly morals, who is an expression of the praiseworthy attributes, ideal in nature, is verily an image and likeness of God. If a man should possess wealth, can we call him an image and likeness of God? Or is human honor the criterion whereby he can be called the image of God? Or can we apply a color test as a criterion, and say such and such an one is colored with a certain hue and he is, therefore, in the image of God? Can we say, for example, a man who is green in hue is an image of God? Or can we make another distinction, saying that one who is white is any more an image of God? Is simply the white color a criterion whereby man is to be judged? And shall we make a sweeping statement like that? Or is it reasonable for us to choose the dark color, supposing we say a colored man is, after all, the image and likeness, just because of his color, or the red skinned man, shall he be the image and likeness of God? Or shall we declare the yellow race to be a creation and therefore an image and likeness of God? Can we say simply that so and so is yellow in color, therefore he must be an image and likeness of God? Hence we come to the conclusion that colors are of no importance Colors are accidental in nature. That which is essential is the humanitarian aspect. And that is the manifestation of Divine virtues and that is the Merciful Bestowals. That is the Eternal Life. That is the baptism through the Holy Spirit. Therefore let it be known that color is of no importance Man, who is the image and likeness of God, who is the manifestation of the Bestowals of God, is acceptable at the Threshold of God whatever be his color. Let him be blue in color, or white, or green, or brown, that matters not! Man is not to be pronounced man simply because of bodily attributes. Man is to be judged according to his intelligence and to his spirit. Because he is to be judged according to spirit and intelligent therefore let that be the only criterion. That is the image of God. If man’s temperament be white, if his heart be white, let his outer skin be black; if his heart be black and his temperament be black, let him be blond, it is of no importance. Therefore, of all importance is the character of the heart. The heart which is brighter, in the estimation of God, is dearer. Inasmuch as God has endowed man with this Bestowal, such a favor, that he is called the Image of God, this is truly a great station. And this great station is not to be sacrificed for color’s sake.

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9 Responses to “Abdu’l-Baha speaks to the NAACP”

  1. Matt said

    I loved this post. Thanks for sharing it. There is something about ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s “simplicity” in explaining things that I have always adored.

  2. Excellent bog! ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave a second NAACP speech (at Handel Hall):

    No greater meeting has been held in the later history of this country … That wonderful teacher of peace and brotherhood of man, Abdul Baha made his first appearance at the Hull House. In both of his addresses at Hull House and Handel hall, Abdul Baha very eloquently showed the folly of discrimination on account of the only point of difference between men, that of the color of the skin. A garden of flowers, all of one color, would be monotonous and by no means beautiful.

    Mildred Miller, “Echoes of the N. A. A. C.’s [sic] Fourth Annual Conference.” The Chicago Defender Vol. 7, No. 18 (Big Weekend Edition, May 4, 1912), 2.

    Can you find it?

    Christopher Buck PhD JD · Attorney at Law · Author ·
    Religious Myths and Visions of America (2009) ·

  3. Sen said

    There are actually three talks that day. The text I have posted above is from Handel Hall, April 30, with Fareed translating. It was republished in Star of the West a year later with the same heading, so there’s little likelihood of a mistake as to the place and translator.

    Abdu’l-Baha also gave a talk, or perhaps answered questions, in the lobby of Hull House on the same day (this was the time when he refused to speak until screens around the area were removed), and another at Bowen Hall in Hull House, with Mr. Bagdadi translating.

    The one given in the lobby is presumably the one, with Fareed translating and located simply as “Hull House”, that is published in Star of the West 3.4.9. It begins, ” I wish to discuss for you a philosophic subject — a subject of Divine Philosophy, which is abstruse in its nature, and I want your closest attention for its consideration. In all the existing beings of the phenomenal world there are two aspects, one common to all species and one a distinguishing feature of each phenomenal being.”

    There are no Persian notes for this in Khatabat. This is the talk published in a much-altered form in Promulgation of Universal Peace page 67.

    As for the second, in Bowen Hall with Zia Bagdadi translating, Bagdadi refers to it briefly in his diary (Star of the West 19.111) but says nothing of the subject; just that the audience was multiracial. Ruth Moffet describes the meeting at Bowen Hall in Hull House, and inserts the words spoken at Handell Hall into her account (Star of the West 25.364-5), but I put no weight on that. Khatabat does not contain notes in Persian, so I fear this talk may not have been recorded in either language.

    Miller’s reference matches both the extant talks, and could be drawing on the written records, but it is also possible that he was present in Bowen Hall in Hull House.

  4. Robert Stockman said

    Gayle Morrison, in To Move the World, says that the talk published in The Crisis (June 1912, I think) is an amalgam from the Hull House and Handel Hall talks. I haven’t looked at what is in The Crisis, so I don’t know why she came to that conclusion. Possibly she was referring to the summary in the Weekly Defender instead and my memory is faulty.

    The three talks `Abdu’l-Baha gave on April 30 are published in Star of the West, as Sen noted, but it is also interesting to note that the order is Bahai Temple Unity, then Hull House, then Handel Hall. The first talk was actually the last one given that evening, presumably placed first because of the importance of addressing the Baha’is. MacNutt reproduced the Star of the West order as well in Promulgation, which I think is an indication of how dependent he was on the Star of the West versions. As I mentioned on Tarikh some months ago, the edited manuscript of Promulgation (ready for the typesetters) is in the National Baha’i Archives and in most cases it consists of pages cut from Star of the West and edited by hand.

  5. Faruq said

    there is a short report of the Talk in Hull House on page 62 of the first volume of Persian Mahmud’s Diary.

  6. […] ۱۸ – تارنمای مربوط به گزارش سخنرانی عبدالبهاء در NAACP 19 – تارنمای جامعه بهائی در شهر واشنگتن 20 – […]

  7. Bobby said

    I profoundly believe that the term “race” is a social construct. Man created it, bought into it, and has exploited it since the beginning of mankind’s time. Until humanity removes the construct – the term and what it stands for – from the human psyche, there will always be varying degrees of racism which divide us and cause war, chaos, and social disruption. You, I and everyone else need to extinguish the construct from memory and believe that we are all of one creation, from one God.

    I also strongly believe that institutions like the NAACP and similar need to shut its doors as they further propagate the social construct and make it relevant – totally counterproductive to my first point. As a Baha’i, this may sound very unusual (and to many concerning) but it is what I believe. In my opinion, Leaders in the Faith who meet with public officials and institutions, need to emphasize The Masters’ words and further emphasize the point that race is a social construct that needs to be universally deconstructed so to achieve peace, love and harmony for all mankind.

    I feel so strongly about this that my heart cries with the desire to make this a reality in my lifetime and with cries of love for mankind.

  8. Bridgette Fahnbulleh said

    Don’t believe you are a Bahai. Abdu’l-Baha gave
    them his blessings and I will follow him Always

  9. Sen said

    Me too. Allah’u’abha.
    If you mean that Abdu’l-Baha gave pilgrim’s notes his blessing, Abdu’l-Baha writes:

    Thou has written concerning the pilgrims and pilgrims’ note. Any narrative that is not authenticated by a Text should not be trusted. Narratives, even if true, cause confusion. For the people of Baha, the Text, and only the Text, is authentic” (translated in Lights of Guidance, p. 438)

    and Shoghi Effendi:

    I have insistently urged the believers of the West … to quote and consider as authentic only such translations as are based upon the authenticated text of His recorded utterances in the original tongue.” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, 5)

    The word translated as “narrative” in Abdu’l-Baha’s letter apparently refers to orally transmitted reports analogous to the “traditions” (hadith) of Islam, but I have not been able to locate the original for this tablet to check what word is used. Such “narratives” became known in the Bahai community as “pilgrims’ notes” because a large portion of the narratives that circulated in the early Bahai communities of the West originated as returning pilgrims’ recollections of the words they had heard from Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi in Palestine. Most reports of the talks that Abdu’l-Baha gave in his western journeys, reported in Paris Talks, Abdu’l-Baha in London and The Promulgation of Universal Peace for example, are also pilgrim’s notes. However in some cases, the English text is not based on what an interpreter said, but on a record of what Abdu’l-Baha said in Persian, authenticated by him and later translated into English. Some Answered Questions and Memorials of the Faithful were produced in this way, and I have begun to translated the authenticated Persian records of Abdu’l-Baha’s talks in the West on a separate blog, Abdu’l-Baha Speaks.

    Apart from such translations made direct from authenticated texts, all the talks of Abdu’l-Baha that we are so fond of are “narratives” and “pilgrims’ notes”: the Bahai equivalent of hadith. Such texts often circulate in various forms, as there is no original to check them against.

    You can see some examples of the problems caused by relying on such reports of Abdu’l-Baha’s words on this blog, under ‘You can never organize the Bahai Cause’ and “1917 and all that.” There’s a category of postings called Bahai Lore that you might like to look at. A widespread awareness of the problems introduced by pilgrims’ notes will help to preserve the Bahai community from the accretion of extraneous ideas, for some very strange ideas have come from this source.

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