Perspective of  C. R. Ashbee

November 22, 2021
Perspective of  C. R. Ashbee

Impressions on ‘Abdu’l-Baha

Perspective of  C. R. Ashbee

Source: Ashbee, {A Palestine Notebook}, pp. 116-19]

In his book {A Palestine Notebook}, C. R. Ashbee (q.v.), who was the Civic Adviser to the City of Jerusalem, relates his meeting with ‘Abdu’l-Baha in March 1920, and remarks upon the great importance that the British administrators attached to ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s opinions:

………. On the ramparts, among the old masonry to a background of crumbling golden stone, there was an impressive little figure, white bearded, with waving white hair. He wore a white {’emma} and an {‘abaya} of tender brown over his gray {galabia}. It was Abbas the Bahai. Later on, thanks to the courtesy of one of our Syrian schoolmasters, we were invited into the house. Word came that he would be very glad to see Mr and Mrs Ashbee, and we spent a wonderful hour with him. He was quite willing to talk and our interpreter was clear and true in his English. Old Abbas curled himself up in the corner of his divan, looked at us with his wonderful illuminating eyes that radiate love, and set forth the cardinal points of Bahaism.

………. I have rarely come across a man who so completely sums up the saint, or let us say saint and philosopher combined, for the presence and image of the man are of the Middle Ages, their spirit of personal holiness, while what he says has the lucidity of the Greek, is disruptive of all religions and mediaeval systems, is philosophic, modern, and synthetic.

………. ‘First,’ said he, ‘we must get rid of all glosses, Talmuds, codes of divinity, and clerical law. Get back to the revealed word of God where we can. Christ had the revealed word, so had Mohammed, so had others before them, but — and here’s the point — those revelations were for their own day and environment. You cannot always take the literal interpretation of first-century Syria or eighth-century Arabia and say that in its application it is true now.’

………. He gave the impression of being very modest about his own teaching, adding that the East was in a bad way, needed light, and had to be told these things. That was the reason for Baha’u’llah and the Bab.

………. ‘Then,’ said he, ‘all the nations must come together, there must he a league of nations for the government of the world.’

………. He sketched out a sort of council appointed by the presidents, the kings, and the democracies.

………. ‘And the existing League?’ we asked.

………. He smiled and shook his head. ‘That is only the merest beginning. It is not representative of all. It palliates the disease, the disease of discord. It is no remedy.’

………. But Bahaism went much further, and here it cuts itself free from the orientalism of Pauline Christianity and from Mohammad. There must be equality of the sexes. ‘Humanity,’ said old Abbas as he took a pinch of snuff from a little enamelled box, ‘is as a creature with two wings — man and woman — you must not cripple either, or you impede flight. Humanity needs both for progress.’

………. ‘And the common tongue that is to make it possible for man to speak with man?’

………. ‘It will come,’ said he.

………. Janet suggested that the tongue might be English. He accepted the suggestion with a look of warm-hearted love that seemed to imply: ‘We all of us would like to have our own, but God has found a tongue before.’

………. Who knows but it may be English yet? Still the last language in which God revealed himself was not Aramaic, nor Greek, nor Hebrew, nor Egyptian, but Arabic. And don’t you make any mistake about it! But the languages of God are many.

………. He tells somewhere in his teaching: Release comes by making of the will a door through which the confirmations of the spirit move.

………. And those confirmations of the spirit? They are the powers and gifts with which some are born, and which men sometimes call genius, but for which others have to strive with infinite pains. They come to that man or woman who accepts his or her life with ‘radiant acquiescence.’

………. A good phrase, ‘radiant acquiescence.’ Let’s remember it!

………. As we motored back across the sands, we saw Lord Milner’s destroyer lying outside the harbour. ‘War,’ old Abbas had said, ‘is not of God because it does not unify.’

………. But may it not at times serve as a besom to sweep up ere we begin afresh? That is what it did in South Africa, after which came the peace of Vereeniging and Smuts and Botha became our friends.

………. The wise men of all time, be it Ptahhotep on his tomb, Diogenes from his tub, Plato when he parted from Dion, or Christ with the tribute to Caesar, have always been the passive protest against power. When they offered Abbas his title, with whatever bit of ribbon or strip of paper it was accompanied, he said:

………. ‘As it comes from the British Government I accept it, as a teacher of God’s word it will make no difference to me.’

………. It is pleasant to think that English administrators go to this wise old man for help and counsel. We dined in the evening with Colonel Stanton, the Military Governor of Haifa, Lord Milner, and Herbert Samuel. The two last were rather envious of our afternoon with Abbas, and Colonel Stanton told us how he often went to get his advice. ‘Of course,’ he added in the characteristic manner of the British Administrator, ‘I have to listen for half an hour or so first to the beauty of the flowers and the wings of the mind; after that we get to business.’


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