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The Secret of Divine Civilization

  • Author:
  • ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

  • Source:
  • US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1990 pocket-size edition
  • Pages:
  • 116
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Pages 41-60

[Pages 41–60]

The second of these spiritual standards which apply to the possessor of knowledge is that he should be the defender of his faith. It is obvious that these holy words do not refer exclusively to searching out the implications of the Law, observing the forms of worship, avoiding greater and lesser sins, practicing the religious ordinances, and by all these methods, protecting the Faith. They mean rather that the whole population should be protected in every way; that every effort should be exerted to adopt a combination of all possible measures to raise up the Word of God, increase the number of believers, promote the Faith of God and exalt it and make it victorious over other religions.
If, indeed, the Muslim religious authorities had persevered along these lines as they ought to have done, by now every nation on earth would have been gathered into the shelter of the unity of God and the bright fire of “that He may make it victorious over every other religion” 1 would have flamed out like the sun in the midmost heart of the world.
Fifteen centuries after Christ, Luther, who was originally one of the twelve members of a Catholic religious body at the center of the Papal government and later on initiated the Protestant religious belief, opposed 42 the Pope on certain points of doctrine such as the prohibition of monastic marriage, the revering and bowing down before images of the Apostles and Christian leaders of the past, and various other religious practices and ceremonies which were accretional to the ordinances of the Gospel. Although at that period the power of the Pope was so great and he was regarded with such awe that the kings of Europe shook and trembled before him, and he held control of all Europe’s major concerns in the grasp of his might—nevertheless because Luther’s position as regards the freedom of religious leaders to marry, the abstention from worshiping and making prostrations before images and representations hung in the churches, and the abrogation of ceremonials which had been added on to the Gospel, was demonstrably correct, and because the proper means were adopted for the promulgation of his views: within these last four hundred and some years the majority of the population of America, four-fifths of Germany and England and a large percentage of Austrians, in sum about one hundred and twenty-five million people drawn from other Christian denominations, have entered the Protestant Church. The leaders of this religion are still making every effort to promote it, and today on the East Coast of Africa, ostensibly to emancipate the Sudanese and various Negro peoples, they have established schools and colleges and are training and civilizing completely savage African tribes, while their true and primary purpose 43 is to convert some of the Muslim Negro tribes to Protestantism. Every community is toiling for the advancement of its people, and we (i.e., Muslims) sleep on!
Although it was not clear what purpose impelled this man or where he was tending, see how the zealous efforts of Protestant leaders have spread his doctrines far and wide.
Now if the illustrious people of the one true God, the recipients of His confirmations, the objects of His Divine assistance, should put forth all their strength, and with complete dedication, relying upon God and turning aside from all else but Him, should adopt procedures for spreading the Faith and should bend all their efforts to this end, it is certain that His Divine light would envelop the whole earth.
A few, who are unaware of the reality below the surface of events, who cannot feel the pulse of the world under their fingers, who do not know what a massive dose of truth must be administered to heal this chronic old disease of falsehood, believe that the Faith can only be spread by the sword, and bolster their opinion with the Tradition, “I am a Prophet by the sword.” If, however, they would carefully examine this question, they would see that in this day and age the sword is not a suitable means for promulgating the Faith, for it would only fill peoples’ hearts with revulsion and terror. According to the Divine Law of Muḥammad, it is not permissible to compel the People of the Book to acknowledge and accept the Faith. While 44 it is a sacred obligation devolving on every conscientious believer in the unity of God to guide mankind to the truth, the Traditions “I am a Prophet by the sword” and “I am commanded to threaten the lives of the people until they say, ‘There is none other God but God’” referred to the idolaters of the Days of Ignorance, who in their blindness and bestiality had sunk below the level of human beings. A faith born of sword thrusts could hardly be relied upon, and would for any trifling cause revert to error and unbelief. After the ascension of Muḥammad, and His passing to “the seat of truth, in the presence of the potent King,” 2 the tribes around Medina apostatized from their Faith, turning back to the idolatry of pagan times.
Remember when the holy breaths of the Spirit of God (Jesus) were shedding their sweetness over Palestine and Galilee, over the shores of Jordan and the regions around Jerusalem, and the wondrous melodies of the Gospel were sounding in the ears of the spiritually illumined, all the peoples of Asia and Europe, of Africa and America, of Oceania, which comprises the islands and archipelagoes of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, were fire-worshipers and pagans, ignorant of the Divine Voice that spoke out on the Day of the Covenant. 3 Alone the Jews believed in the divinity and oneness of God. Following the declaration of Jesus, the pure 45 and reviving breath of His mouth conferred eternal life on the inhabitants of those regions for a period of three years, and through Divine Revelation the Law of Christ, at that time the vital remedy for the ailing body of the world, was established. In the days of Jesus only a few individuals turned their faces toward God; in fact only the twelve disciples and a few women truly became believers, and one of the disciples, Judas Iscariot apostatized from his Faith, leaving eleven. After the ascension of Jesus to the Realm of Glory, these few souls stood up with their spiritual qualities and with deeds that were pure and holy, and they arose by the power of God and the life-giving breaths of the Messiah to save all the peoples of the earth. Then all the idolatrous nations as well as the Jews rose up in their might to kill the Divine fire that had been lit in the lamp of Jerusalem. “Fain would they put out God’s light with their mouths: but God hath willed to perfect His light, albeit the infidels abhor it.” 4 Under the fiercest tortures, they did every one of these holy souls to death; with butchers’ cleavers, they chopped the pure and undefiled bodies of some of them to pieces and burned them in furnaces, and they stretched some of the followers on the rack and then buried them alive. In spite of this agonizing requital, the Christians continued to teach the Cause of God, and they never drew a sword from its scabbard or even so much as grazed a cheek. Then in the end the Faith of Christ encompassed 46 the whole earth, so that in Europe and America no traces of other religions were left, and today in Asia and Africa and Oceania, large masses of people are living within the sanctuary of the Four Gospels.
It has now by the above irrefutable proofs been fully established that the Faith of God must be propagated through human perfections, through qualities that are excellent and pleasing, and spiritual behavior. If a soul of his own accord advances toward God he will be accepted at the Threshold of Oneness, for such a one is free of personal considerations, of greed and selfish interests, and he has taken refuge within the sheltering protection of his Lord. He will become known among men as trustworthy and truthful, temperate and scrupulous, high-minded and loyal, incorruptible and God-fearing. In this way the primary purpose in revealing the Divine Law—which is to bring about happiness in the after life and civilization and the refinement of character in this—will be realized. As for the sword, it will only produce a man who is outwardly a believer, and inwardly a traitor and apostate.
We shall here relate a story that will serve as an example to all. The Arabian chronicles tell how, at a time prior to the advent of Muḥammad, Nu’mán son of Mundhír the Lakhmite 47—an Arab king in the Days of Ignorance, whose seat of government was the city of Hírih—had one day returned so often to his wine-cup that his mind clouded over and his reason deserted him. In this drunken and insensible condition he gave orders that his two boon companions, his close and much-loved friends, Khálid son of Mudallil and ‘Amr son of Mas’úd-Kaldih, should be put to death. When he wakened after his carousal, he inquired for the two friends and was given the grievous news. He was sick at heart, and because of his intense love and longing for them, he built two splendid monuments over their two graves and he named these the Smeared-With-Blood.
Then he set apart two days out of the year, in memory of the two companions, and he called one of them the Day of Evil and one the Day of Grace. Every year on these two appointed days he would issue forth with pomp and circumstance and sit between the monuments. If, on the Day of Evil, his eye fell on any soul, that person would be put to death; but on the Day of Grace, whoever passed would be overwhelmed with gifts and benefits. Such was his rule, sealed with a mighty oath and always rigidly observed.
One day the king mounted his horse, that was called Maḥmúd, and rode out into the plains to hunt. Suddenly in the distance he caught sight of a wild donkey. Nu’mán urged on his horse to overtake it, and galloped away at such speed that he was cut off from his retinue. As night approached, the king was hopelessly lost. 48 Then he made out a tent, far off in the desert, and he turned his horse and headed toward it. When he reached the entrance of the tent he asked, “Will you receive a guest?” The owner (who was Hanzalá, son of Ábi-Ghafráy-i-Tá’í) replied, “Yea.” He came forward and helped Nu’mán to dismount. Then he went to his wife and told her, “There are clear signs of greatness in the bearing of this person. Do your best to show him hospitality, and make ready a feast.” His wife said, “We have a ewe. Sacrifice it. And I have saved a little flour against such a day.” Hanzalá first milked the ewe and carried a bowl of milk to Nu’mán, and then he slaughtered her and prepared a meal; and what with his friendliness and loving-kindness, Nu’mán spent that night in peace and comfort. When dawn came, Nu’mán made ready to leave, and he said to Hanzalá: “You have shown me the utmost generosity, receiving and feasting me. I am Nu’mán, son of Mundhír, and I shall eagerly await your arrival at my court.”
Time passed, and famine fell on the land of Tayy. Hanzalá was in dire need and for this reason he sought out the king. By a strange coincidence he arrived on the Day of Evil. Nu’mán was greatly troubled in spirit. He began to reproach his friend, saying, “Why did you come to your friend on this day of all days? For this is the Day of Evil, that is, the Day of Wrath and the Day of Distress. This day, should my eyes alight on Qábús, my only son, he should not escape with his life. Now ask me whatever favor you will.” 49
Hanzalá said: “I knew nothing of your Day of Evil. As for the gifts of this life, they are meant for the living, and since I at this hour must drink of death, what can all the world’s storehouses avail me now?”
Nu’mán said, “There is no help for this.”
Hanzalá told him: “Respite me, then, that I may go back to my wife and make my testament. Next year I shall return, on the Day of Evil.”
Nu’mán then asked for a guarantor, so that, if Hanzalá should break his word, this guarantor would be put to death instead. Hanzalá, helpless and bewildered, looked about him. Then his gaze fell on one of Nu’mán’s retinue, Sharík, son of ‘Amr, son of Qays of Shaybán, and to him he recited these lines: “O my partner, O son of ‘Amr! Is there any escape from death? O brother of every afflicted one! O brother of him who is brotherless! O brother of Nu’mán, in thee today is a surety for the Shaykh. Where is Shaybán the noble—may the All-Merciful favor him!” But Sharík only answered, “O my brother, a man cannot gamble with his life.” At this the victim could not tell where to turn. Then a man named Qarád, son of Adjá the Kalbite stood up and offered himself as a surety, agreeing that, should he fail on the next Day of Wrath to deliver up the victim, the king might do with him, Qarád, as he wished. Nu’mán then bestowed five hundred camels on Hanzalá, and sent him home.
In the following year on the Day of Evil, as soon as the true dawn broke in the sky, Nu’mán as was his 50 custom set out with pomp and pageantry and made for the two mausoleums called the Smeared-With-Blood. He brought Qarád along, to wreak his kingly wrath upon him. The pillars of the state then loosed their tongues and begged for mercy, imploring the king to respite Qarád until sundown, for they hoped that Hanzalá might yet return; but the king’s purpose was to spare the life of Hanzalá, and to requite his hospitality by putting Qarád to death in his place. As the sun began to set, they stripped off the garments of Qarád, and made ready to sever his head. At that moment a rider appeared in the distance, galloping at top speed. Nu’mán said to the swordsman, “Why delayest thou?” The ministers said, “Perchance it is Hanzalá who comes.” And when the rider drew near, they saw it was none other.
Nu’mán was sorely displeased. He said, “Thou fool! Thou didst slip away once from the clutching fingers of death; must thou provoke him now a second time?”
And Hanzalá answered, “Sweet in my mouth and pleasant on my tongue is the poison of death, at the thought of redeeming my pledge.”
Nu’mán asked, “What could be the reason for this trustworthiness, this regard for thine obligation and this concern for thine oath?” And Hanzalá answered, “It is my faith in the one God and in the Books that have come down from heaven.” Nu’mán asked, “What Faith dost thou profess?” And Hanzalá said, “It was the holy breaths of Jesus that brought me to life. I follow the 51 straight pathway of Christ, the Spirit of God.” Nu’mán said, “Let me inhale these sweet aromas of the Spirit.”
So it was that Hanzalá drew out the white hand of guidance from the bosom of the love of God, 5 and illumined the sight and the insight of the beholders with the Gospel light. After he had in bell-like accents recited some of the divine verses out of the Evangel, Nu’mán and all his ministers sickened of their idols and their idol-worship and were confirmed in the Faith of God. And they said, “Alas, a thousand times alas, that up to now we were careless of this infinite mercy and veiled away therefrom, and were bereft of this rain from the clouds of the grace of God.” Then straightway the king tore down the two monuments called the Smeared-With-Blood, and he repented of his tyranny and established justice in the land. 52
Observe how one individual, and he a man of the desert, to outward seeming unknown and of no station—because he showed forth one of the qualities of the pure in heart, was able to deliver this proud sovereign and a great company of others from the dark night of unbelief and guide them into the morning of salvation; to save them from the perdition of idolatry and bring them to the shores of the oneness of God, and to put an end to practices of the sort which blight a whole society and reduce the peoples to barbarism. One must think deeply over this, and grasp its meaning.
My heart aches, for I note with intense regret that the attention of the people is nowhere directed toward that which is worthy of this day and time. The Sun of Truth has risen above the world but we are ensnared in the dark of our imaginings. The waters of the Most Great Sea are surging all around us, while we are parched and weak with thirst. The divine bread is coming down from 53 heaven, and yet we grope and stumble in a famine-stricken land. “Between the weeping and the telling, I spin out my days.”
One of the principal reasons why people of other religions have shunned and failed to become converted to the Faith of God is fanaticism and unreasoning religious zeal. See for example the divine words that were addressed to Muḥammad, the Ark of Salvation, the Luminous Countenance and Lord of Men, bidding Him to be gentle with the people and long-suffering: “Debate with them in the kindliest manner.” 6 That Blessed Tree Whose light was “neither of the East nor of the West” 7 and Who cast over all the peoples of the earth the sheltering shade of a measureless grace, showed forth infinite kindness and forbearance in His dealings with every one. In these words, likewise, were Moses and Aaron commanded to challenge Pharaoh, Lord of the Stakes: 8 “Speak ye to him with gentle speech.” 9
Although the noble conduct of the Prophets and Holy Ones of God is widely known, and it is indeed, until the coming of the Hour, 10 in every aspect of life 54 an excellent pattern for all mankind to follow, nevertheless some have remained neglectful of and separated from these qualities of extraordinary sympathy and loving-kindness, and have been prevented from attaining to the inner significances of the Holy Books. Not only do they scrupulously shun the adherents of religions other than their own, they do not even permit themselves to show them common courtesy. If one is not allowed to associate with another, how can one guide him out of the dark and empty night of denial, of “there-is-no-God,” into the bright morning of belief, and the affirmation, “but God.” 11 And how can one urge him on and encourage him to rise up out of the abyss of perdition and ignorance and climb the heights of salvation and knowledge? Consider justly: had not Hanzalá treated Nu’mán with true friendship, showing him kindness and hospitality, could he have brought the King and a great number of other idolaters to acknowledge the unity of God? To keep aloof from people, to shun them, to be harsh with them, will make them shrink away, while affection and consideration, mildness and forbearance will attract their hearts toward God. If a true believer when meeting an individual from a foreign country should express revulsion, and 55 should speak the horrible words forbidding association with foreigners and referring to them as “unclean,” the stranger would be grieved and offended to such a point that he would never accept the Faith, even if he should see, taking place before his very eyes, the miracle of the splitting of the moon. The results of shunning him would be this, that if there had been in his heart some faint inclination toward God, he would repent of it, and would flee away from the sea of faith into the wastes of oblivion and unbelief. And upon returning home to his own country he would publish in the press statements to the effect that such and such a nation was utterly lacking in the qualifications of a civilized people.
If we ponder a while over the Qur’ánic verses and proofs, and the traditional accounts which have come down to us from those stars of the heaven of Divine Unity, the Holy Imáms, we shall be convinced of the fact that if a soul is endowed with the attributes of true faith and characterized with spiritual qualities he will become to all mankind an emblem of the outstretched mercies of God. For the attributes of the people of faith are justice and fair-mindedness; forbearance and compassion and generosity; consideration for others; candor, trustworthiness, and loyalty; love and loving-kindness; devotion and determination and humanity. If therefore an individual is truly righteous, he will avail himself of all those means which will attract the hearts of men, and through the attributes of God he will draw 56 them to the straight path of faith and cause them to drink from the river of everlasting life.
Today we have closed our eyes to every righteous act and have sacrificed the abiding happiness of society to our own transitory profit. We regard fanaticism and zealotry as redounding to our credit and honor, and not content with this, we denounce one another and plot each other’s ruin, and whenever we wish to put on a show of wisdom and learning, of virtue and godliness, we set about mocking and reviling this one and that. “The ideas of such a one,” we say, “are wide of the mark, and so-and-so’s behavior leaves much to be desired. The religious observances of Zayd are few and far between, and ‘Amr is not firm in his faith. So-and-so’s opinions smack of Europe. Fundamentally, Blank thinks of nothing but his own name and fame. Last night when the congregation stood up to pray, the row was out of line, and it is not permissible to follow a different leader. No rich man has died this month, and nothing has been offered to charity in memory of the Prophet. The edifice of religion has crumbled, the foundations of faiths have been blown to the winds. The carpet of belief has been rolled up, the tokens of certitude blotted out; the whole world has fallen into error; when it comes to repelling tyranny all are soft and remiss. Days and months have passed away, and these villages and estates still belong to the same owners as they did last year. In this town there used to be seventy different governments functioning in good order, 57 but the number has steadily decreased; there are only twenty-five left now, as a memento. It used to be that two hundred contradictory judgments were handed down by the same muftí in any one day, now we hardly get fifty. In those days there were crowds of people who were all brainsick with litigation, and now they rest in peace; today the plaintiff would be defeated and the defendant victorious, tomorrow the plaintiff won the case and the defendant lost it—but now this excellent practice has been abandoned too. What is this heathenish religion, this idolatrous kind of error! Alas for the Law, alas for the Faith, alas for all these calamities! O Brothers in the Faith! This is surely the end of the world! The Judgment is coming!”
With words such as these they assault the minds of the helpless masses and disturb the hearts of the already bewildered poor, who know nothing of the true state of affairs and the real basis for all such talk, and remain completely unaware of the fact that a thousand selfish purposes are concealed behind the supposedly religious eloquence of certain individuals. They imagine that speakers of this type are motivated by virtuous zeal, when the truth is that such individuals keep up a great hue and cry because they see their own personal ruin in the welfare of the masses, and believe that if the people’s eyes are opened, their own light will go out. Only the keenest insight will detect the fact that if the hearts of these individuals were really impelled by righteousness and the fear of God, the fragrance of 58 it would, like musk, be spreading everywhere. Nothing in the world can ever be supported by words alone.
But these ill-omened owls have done a wrong,
And learned to sing as the white falcon sings.
And what of Sheba’s message that the lapwing brings
If the bittern learn to sing the lapwing’s song? 12
The spiritually learned, those who have derived infinite significance and wisdom from the Book of Divine Revelation, and whose illumined hearts draw inspiration from the unseen world of God, certainly exert their efforts to bring about the supremacy of the true followers of God, in all respects and above all peoples, and they toil and struggle to make use of every agency that will conduce to progress. If any man neglects these high purposes he can never prove acceptable in the sight of God; he stands out with all his shortcomings and claims perfection, and destitute, pretends to wealth.
One sluggish, blind and surly’s a poor thing,
“A lump of flesh, without a foot or wing.”
How far is he who apes and makes a show
From the illumined, who doth truly know.
One but an echo, though it’s clear and sharp,
And one, the Psalmist David with his harp.
Knowledge, purity, devotion, discipline, independence, have nothing to do with outer appearance and dress. Once in the course of My travels I heard an 59 eminent personage make the following excellent remark, the wit and charm of which remain in memory: “Not every cleric’s turban is a proof of continence and knowledge; not every layman’s hat a sign of ignorance and immorality. How many a hat has proudly raised the banner of knowledge, how many a turban pulled down the Law of God!”
The third element of the utterance under discussion is, “opposes his passions.” How wonderful are the implications of this deceptively easy, all-inclusive phrase. This is the very foundation of every laudable human quality; indeed, these few words embody the light of the world, the impregnable basis of all the spiritual attributes of human beings. This is the balance wheel of all behavior, the means of keeping all man’s good qualities in equilibrium.
For desire is a flame that has reduced to ashes uncounted lifetime harvests of the learned, a devouring fire that even the vast sea of their accumulated knowledge could never quench. How often has it happened that an individual who was graced with every attribute of humanity and wore the jewel of true understanding, nevertheless followed after his passions until his excellent qualities passed beyond moderation and he was forced into excess. His pure intentions changed to evil 60 ones, his attributes were no longer put to uses worthy of them, and the power of his desires turned him aside from righteousness and its rewards into ways that were dangerous and dark. A good character is in the sight of God and His chosen ones and the possessors of insight, the most excellent and praiseworthy of all things, but always on condition that its center of emanation should be reason and knowledge and its base should be true moderation. Were the implications of this subject to be developed as they deserve the work would grow too long and our main theme would be lost to view.
All the peoples of Europe, notwithstanding their vaunted civilization, sink and drown in this terrifying sea of passion and desire, and this is why all the phenomena of their culture come to nothing. Let no one wonder at this statement or deplore it. The primary purpose, the basic objective, in laying down powerful laws and setting up great principles and institutions dealing with every aspect of civilization, is human happiness; and human happiness consists only in drawing closer to the Threshold of Almighty God, and in securing the peace and well-being of every individual member, high and low alike, of the human race; and the supreme agencies for accomplishing these two objectives are the excellent qualities with which humanity has been endowed.
A superficial culture, unsupported by a cultivated morality, is as “a confused medley of dreams,” 13 and
1. Qur’án 9:33; 48:28; 61:9.   [ Back To Reference]
2. Qur’án 54:55.   [ Back To Reference]
3. Qur’án 7:171: Yawm-i-Alast, the Day when God, addressing Adam’s posterity-to-be, said to them, “Am I not your Lord?” (a-lastu bi Rabbikum) and they replied: “Yea, we bear witness.”   [ Back To Reference]
4. Qur’án 9:33.   [ Back To Reference]
5. Cf. Qur’án 27:12, referring to Moses: “Put now thy hand into thy bosom: it shall come forth white … one of nine signs to Pharaoh and his people….” Also Qur’án 7:105; 20:23; 26:32; 32. Also Exodus 4:6. See too Edward Fitzgerald’s The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam:
Now the New Year reviving old Desires,
The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires,
Where the White Hand of Moses on the Bough
Puts out, and Jesus from the Ground suspires.

The metaphors here refer to white blossoms and the perfumes of spring.   [ Back To Reference]

6. Qur’án 16:126.   [ Back To Reference]
7. Qur’án 24:35.   [ Back To Reference]
8. Dhu’l-Awtád is variously rendered by translators of the Qur’án as The Impaler, The Contriver of the Stakes, The Lord of a Strong Dominion, The One Surrounded by Ministers, etc. Awtád means pegs or tent stakes. See Qur’án 38:11 and 89:9.   [ Back To Reference]
9. Qur’án 20:46.   [ Back To Reference]
10. Qur’án 33:63: “Men will ask Thee of ‘the Hour.’ Say: The knowledge of it is with God alone.” Cf. also 22:1, “the earthquake of the Hour,” etc. See also Matthew 24:36, 42, etc. To Bahá’ís, this refers to the Advent of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh.   [ Back To Reference]
11. Cf. the Islamic confession of faith, sometimes called the two testimonies: “I testify that there is no God but God and Muḥammad is the Prophet of God.”   [ Back To Reference]
12. Cf. Qur’án 27:20 ff.   [ Back To Reference]
13. Qur’án 12:44; 21:5.   [ Back To Reference]