One hundred years ago this month, Abdu’l-Baha was speaking up on behalf of the victims of conflict in Libya and offering solutions to the scourge of war.
We who are witnessing a civil war in the same country exactly a century later can read what he said at that time. His words are published in one of the most beloved of Baha’i books, Paris Talks, which contains transcripts of talks delivered between October and December 1911, as well as some later addresses in London.
Many readers are likely to have an uncanny experience of the “history repeats itself” variety.
“The news of the Battle of the Benghazi grieves my heart,” Abdu’l-Baha said in a talk he gave to an audience in Paris on October 21, 1911.
That battle was part of the 1911-12 Italo-Turkish war which claimed 25,000 lives in what is now modern day Libya.
Abdu’l-Baha spoke about the pointlessness of the fighting, a feeling many of us no doubt share today concerning the present conflict.
“The highest of created being fighting to obtain the lowest form of matter, earth?” he said.
“Land belongs not to one people, but to all people. This earth is not man’s home, but his tomb. It is for their tombs these men are fighting.’
In a later talk, he cautioned against remaining “cold and indifferent” to the killings in Tripoli. He offered the solution to war as taught by his father, the Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah. Abdu’l-Baha urged humanity to work steadily towards “universal brotherhood” and to set up a global tribunal “to arrange by arbitration everything which otherwise could be a form of war”.
A contemporary description of Abdu’l-Baha
Abdu’l-Baha was 66 years old when arrived in Paris. Despite health problems caused by years of deprivation as a prisoner of the Ottoman Empire, he was in remarkable spirits, attracting the affection of people from all walks of life.
A description of the audiences for his talks comes from an English Baha’i, Lady Blomfield, who later translated the Persian transcripts into English for the first publication of Paris Talks in 1912.
They were all of all nationalities and creeds from the East and the West, including Theosophists, Agnostics, Materialists, Spiritualists, Christian Scientists, Social Reformers, Hindus, Sufis, Muslims, Buddhists, Zoroastrians and many others. Often came workers in various humanitarian societies, who were striving to reduce the miseries of the poor. They received special sympathy and blessing.
Lady Blomfield also provided a compelling description of Abdu’l-Baha.
The worlds of Abdul –Baha can be put on to paper, but how to describe the smile the earnest pleading the loving-kindness, the radiant vitality, and at times the awe-inspiring authority of his spoken words?
The vibrations of his voice seemed to enfold the listeners in an atmosphere of the Spirit, and to penetrate to the very core of being. A compendium of Volumes of the Baha’i World I-XII
The guidance given in the talks is as relevant today as it was in the days when Abdul-Baha was speaking. He addressed not only the pressing issues of war and peace but also spoke on topics of a deeply spiritual nature such as the “the holy spirit” and “pain and sorrow”.
He provided an eloquent and moving description of the life of Baha’u’llah, and gave concise explanations of the social principles of the Baha’i Faith, a good example being his words on the Baha’i principle of the equality of women and men:
Neither sex is superior to the other in the sight of God. Why then should one sex assert the inferiority of the other, withholding just rights and privileges as though God has given His authority for such a course of action?
If women received the same educational advantages as those of men, the result would demonstrate the equality of capacity of both for scholarship. In some respects woman is superior to man. She is more tender-hearted, more receptive, her intuition is more intense. Paris Talks
Clarity of language
There is none of the verbal trickery, confused reasoning and inaccessible language that in others often pass for expression of deep thought. The language is straightforward and the explanations of hitherto perplexing spiritual questions are stunning in their clarity.
Many self-help books go to all sorts of lengths in their attempts to explain how people can make themselves happy yet Abdu’l-Baha says it so concisely: “True happiness depends on spiritual good and having the heart ever open to receive the Divine Bounty.”
Elsewhere he phrased this truth as : “happiness is founded on spiritual behaviour.”
Today, it is possible to visit the very house where Abdu’l –Baha spent most of his time in Paris. It is at 4 Avenue de Camoens.
After imbibing the uplifting atmosphere in the house, you can stroll just a few steps down the avenue for a glorious view of the Eiffel tower, and then visit the Trocadero gardens, a favourite spot for Abdul-Baha.
And if you happen to have in your hand a copy of Paris Talks, so much the better.