August 10, 2010

Interview between ‘Abdu’l-Baha and a San Francisco Newspaper Reporter, October 3, 1912

(From the Diary of Mirza Ahmad Sohrab)

Correspondent: Are you pleased with the United States?

‘Abdu’l-Baha: The continent of America is most progressive. The means of instructions are prepared; the educational institutions are thoroughly equipped and the pupils are being systematically trained and educated. The wealth is on an upward tendency. Its government is democratic. Its advancement is unceasing. Its nation is hospitable. Its people are loyal, energetic and noble. Its inhabitants are free and the lovers of liberty. Its men are civilized and its women are cultured, refined and idealistic. On the other hand, all these advantages are on the material plane, and I observe the majority of the people are submerged in the sea of materialism and agnosticism. The natural civilization is well-nigh perfect; but it is in need of the civilization of heaven -- Divine civilization.

Correspondent: What do you mean by "Divine civilization"?

‘Abdu’l-Baha: Divine civilization is the light. Material civilization is the lamp. Material civilization is the body; in itself it is not sufficient, and humanity from every standpoint stands in sore need of divine civilization. Natural civilization insures material welfare and prosperity; Divine civilization vouchsafes to man ideal virtues. Material civilization serves the physical world; Divine civilization serves the world of morality. Divine civilization is a symposium of the perfections of the world of humanity. Divine civilization is the improvement of the ethical life of a nation. Divine civilization is the discovery of the reality of phenomena. Divine civilization is the spiritual philosophy. Divine civilization is the knowledge of God with rational and intellectual evidences. Divine civilization is Eternal Life. Divine civilization is the immortality of the soul. Divine civilization is the Breath of the Holy Spirit. Divine civilization is heavenly wisdom. Divine civilization is the reality of all the Teachings of the ancient prophets. Divine civilization is Universal Peace and the oneness of the world of humanity. The Holy manifestations of God have been the founders of Divine civilization, the first Teachers of mankind, and the spreaders of the fragrances of holiness and sanctity amongst the children of men.

Correspondent: Are you satisfied with the American people?

‘Abdu’l-Baha: The American people are a stranger-loving people. All nations are welcomed in their midst. They give to everyone the right of living and the pursuit of happiness. Here no one feels a foreigner, I am satisfied with all of them.

Correspondent: I have heard that you advocate the complete equality of men and women. This radical teaching coming from an Oriental thinker is of great interest and supreme significance. Just at this juncture the California women are clamoring for the right to vote for all the national and state officials, and your opinion on this important question will be greatly appreciated by the people.

‘Abdu’l-Baha: The question of equality between men and women has made greater advancement in America than elsewhere, and day by day it is assuming greater importance and becoming nearer to realization. However, as long as complete equality does not exist between male and female, the world of humanity will not make extraordinary progress. The woman is an important column, and there is another equally important. If we aim to have a durable building, the foundations of both columns must be laid very deep. The women are the first teachers and instructors of the small children. They teach them and inculcate morality in their minds and hearts. Later they go to universities for higher education and specialization. Now if the teacher or instructor is deficient, how can the scholar be properly trained? Therefore, it is proven that the culture and refinement of the men are intensified and will bloom and attain to perfect fruition when the women are equally educated and given the same educational facilities. Consequently the women must enjoy all the learning they are able to assimilate, in order that they may reach to the same level as men. The same privileges and opportunities must be conferred upon women; -- so that just as they share together life and its responsibilities, they may also share with him the same virtues of the world of humanity. Undoubtedly partnership in education and culture presupposes equality in rights. The world of humanity has two wings, one wing male, the other wing female. Both wings must become strong, so that mankind may soar to the empyrean realms of its destined perfection. But if one wing is left weak and the other strong, its upward flight will be slow. God bath created both human. They share together and in common all the faculties. No one is endowed with special privileges. How can we make a distinction which is unknown in the sight of God? We must follow the policy of God.

Moreover, there is male and female in the vegetable kingdom. They are on an equal footing. Inherently, they enjoy suffrage and there is no distinction between them. Likewise in the animal kingdom the right of suffrage and equality is enjoyed without any feeling of superiority of privilege. Therefore, it is well known that there is no distinction of gender in the vegetable and animal kingdoms, although they are deprived of the faculty of reasoning, and they have not the power of distinguishing. How can we, who are confirmed with the bestowal of reason, and enjoy all the facilities with which man is distinguished from the animal, act in this manner and build these false barriers? Many women have appeared who have won for themselves fame and name, for the versatility of their intellects and the brilliancy of their thoughts. Amongst the Bahai women many have shown remarkable capability in literature, sciences and arts, and have rendered distinguished service in every department of life.

In history many capable women appear who have displayed special genius in government and political administration, such as Semiramis; Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, and Queen Victoria, of England. In the religious world, the Israelites wandered for forty years in the wilderness and could not conquer the Holy Land. Finally a woman achieved the signal victory. During the Christian dispensation the apostles became agitated after the Crucifixion of Jesus; even Peter denied Him thrice, but Mary Magdalene became the cause of their becoming firm and steadfast. In the Religion of Baha’u’llah, Kurat-el-Ayn [Tahirih] and many other Persian women demonstrated their knowledge and wisdom to such an extent that even the men were astonished, and listened to their advices and lectures.

Correspondent: What is your object in coming to America?

‘Abdu’l-Baha: I have come to America to promote the ideal of Universal Peace and the solidarity of the human race I have not come for pleasure or as a tourist.

Correspondent: What do you think about women's fashions?

‘Abdu’l-Baha: We do not look upon the dresses of women, whether or not they are of the latest mode. We are not the judge of fashions. We rather judge the wearer of dresses. If she be chaste, if she be cultured, if she be characterized with heavenly morality, and if she be favored at the Threshold of God, she is honored and respected by us no matter what manner of dress she wears. We have nothing to do with the ever changing world of modes.

Correspondent: What is the greatest thing you have seen in America?

‘Abdu’l-Baha: The greatest thing I have seen in America is its freedom. In reality this is a free nation and a democratic government.

Correspondent: What is your opinion about Turkey and the Balkan War?

‘Abdu’l-Baha: We have nothing to do with war. We are advocates of peace. Speak to us about the condition of peace. Go to diplomatists and militarists and ask their opinion about this war But as regards peace: In the world of humanity there is no more important affair, no weightier cause. It is conducive to the well being of the world of creation; the means of the prosperity of the nations; the reason of eternal friendship between the people; the cause of solidarity between the East and the West; the promoter of real freedom, and the Most Eminent Favor of His Highness the Almighty. We must all strive to upraise the flag of international peace, the oneness of the world of humanity and the spiritual brotherhood of mankind.

[The correspondent tried to ask a few more questions, but ‘Abdul-Baha interrupted him by this final statement while putting his hand on his shoulder and kissing his face: Consider how much I love thee, and to what extent I respect Mr. Hearst, that notwithstanding the fatigue coming over the as the result of a very busy day, I have answered all thy questions. (Star of the West, vol. IV, no. 12, October 16, 1913)