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Talk by Abdu’l-Baha on Education, Plaza Hotel

An extract from this talk, as reported in Star of the West is cited in ‘Abdu’l-Baha and the African tribe.’

The full text is as follows:

The Plaza, Chicago, Friday night, May 3, 1912
(Translated by Dr. Ameen U. Fareed and taken stenographically by Mrs. Marzieh Moss).

THE difference, in humankind, from the highest to the lowest the philosophers declare, is due to education or lack of education. The proofs advanced with regard to this are these: The inhabitants of Africa are human, the inhabitants of America are also human, the inhabitants of Europe are human. What is the cause of the difference which exists between the inhabitants of Africa and those of America or Europe? The inhabitants of America are civilized, generally speaking; the inhabitants of Africa, generally speaking, are pronounced to be savage, with few exceptions. What causes this difference? There is no doubt that the inhabitants of America are civilized because of education, whereas the people of Africa have been deprived of education. Education renders the ignorant wise; education renders the tyrant just; education renders him who is sad, glad; PlazaHoteltalkeducation strengthens the weak minded or weak willed to be strong willed; education renders the fruitless trees fruitful. Therefore the differences apparent in humankind – in the world of humanity, namely that some occupy lofty degrees, others occupy the abyss of despair, is mainly due to education or its absence. Every individual member of the human race can attain to the loftiest degrees. He can even reach the prophetic degree. This is the statement of the philosophers.

The prophets of God also state that education is most effective; that it does give man sublimity; it does confer on man civilization; it does improve the morals of society; but they further state that in creation there is some difference. For example, take ten given children of the same age, of the same progeny, in the same school, one curriculum, one teaching, the same food, the same water, the same environment or air, in all respects having interests in common and equal; but we find out ere long that two of these appear exceedingly intelligent; some are in the medium, and some at the bottom of the school. One may become a professor emeritus; one will not even prove an apt scholar, whereas the education has been the same, one teacher, the same climate, the same school the same lessons. From all standpoints there has been an equality, but some advance extraordinarily, some occupy the middle school, some only the lowest degrees, hence it becomes evident that in existence, in the very existence of man, mankind is not equal. In capacity they differ; in their intellectual capability they differ. They are different, but every member of the human race is capable of becoming educated. They must be educated. The prophets of God are the first educators, they educate the human race generally, they give them universal education, they cause them to leave the lowest degrees or grades of savagery and attain to the highest pinnacle of civilization. Pupils_philosophers_John_SkylitzesThe philosophers likewise strive along educational lines for humanity, but at most they have been able to educate themselves, to improve their own morals, to civilize themselves, and they have been able to educate a limited number who have been about them, but they have been incapable of universal education. They have failed to cause an advancement for any given nation so that it might leave the lowest grades of savagery and attain to the highest pitch of civilization, but His Holiness, Jesus, conferred this education. His teachings were universal in aspect, His bestowal is universal in character. Through the power of the Holy Spirit did He educate, not through human agency, for the human power is limited, whereas the Divine power is unlimited, and no doubt the limited power in life has not [sic] capacity to cope with the unlimited power or power infinite.

250px-Galen_detailGalen, the Greek physician, has a certain treatise devoted to the discussion of the factors in the civilization of nations. Galen was not a Christian, but he has borne testimony saying that religious beliefs exercise an extraordinary effect on the problem of civilization. In substance he states: There are certain ones among us, people contemporaneous with us, who follow the Nazarene known as Jesus, the man who was killed in Jerusalem. This people are truly imbued with morals which are the envy of the philosophers. This people believe in God and fear God. They have hopes in his favors, therefore they shun all uncommendable actions and deeds. They are inclined to all praiseworthy morals and ethics. They strive day and night that their deeds may be of the praiseworthy type, that they might contribute to the welfare of humanity, therefore each one of them virtually is a philosopher, for that which is the purport and purpose of philosophy, these people have attained unto. Such people have praiseworthy morals, though they may be illiterate, not being capable of reading or writing.

The purpose is this, that the holy manifestations of God, the prophets, are the first teachers of the human race. They are universal educators, and their institutes, the foundations which they have laid down, are the causes or factors of the advancement of nations. Imitations which creep in afterwards are not conducive to that progress. Nay, rather, the imitations which later crept in, were the very destroyers of the human foundations. They are as elands which cloud the Sun of Reality. Consider the essential teachings of His Holiness, Jesus Christ, you will see they are lights. Nobody can question them. They are the very source of life. They are the cause of happiness for the human race, but subsequently imitations appeared, which imitations becloud the Sun of Reality. That has nothing to do with the reality of Christ. For example, His Holiness, Jesus Christ stated, “you must put the sword in its sheath.” That means warfare is forbidden, it is abrogated, but see what the Christians did later, think of the wars which took place afterward! This great persecution spared not even the learned; he who discovered the revolution of the earth was imprisoned for its sake; he who discovered the new astronomical system was likewise incarcerated. In short, those who were scholastic in type were subjected to the molestation of these people. How many were killed! What comparison or relation is there between the teaching of Jesus Christ and those actions, for Christ declared, “he who persecutes you, you must love him and praise him; he who deals harshly with you, you must deal kindly with.” “You must emulate the example of the Heavenly Father, whose sun shines upon the just and upon the unjust.” What relation is there between these two? Therefore there is need of turning back to the original foundation. The fundamentals of the prophets are correct. The imitations which subsequently have crept in have nothing to do with the original institutes. His Holiness BAHA’O’LLAH has reiterated or re-established the quintessence of all the teachings of all the prophets. He has thrown out all the accessories; the quintessence thereof He has renewed. His Holiness BAHA’O’LLAH has written a certain treatise which is known as the Hidden Words. The preface thereto is, that this is in brevity the quintessence of the teachings of the prophets, which God has revealed to the prophets, and herein is recorded in brevity their purposes and other questions concerning spiritual and ethical life. You may all read it and find out what it contains. See what the foundations of the prophets are, observe and consider the teachings of the prophets, see the inspiration of the prophets of God. You will see that it is light on light. We must not look at the actions of the nations; we must investigate the truth and summon all to this truth or reality in order that all may be united.

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