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Find unity, not prejudice as Bahá’í great encouraged a century ago

By Ajit Giani
Special to the American-Statesman
Ajit Giani is a member of the Austin Baha’i community and the secretary of Interfaith Action of Central Texas.

Long before I moved to Austin — about five decades ago — I was a Hindu teenager growing up in Karachi, Pakistan, amidst a Muslim majority.

The partition of India which divided British India into present-day India and Pakistan had displaced millions of Hindus and Muslims primarily along religious lines and left bitter feelings of antipathy between these two religions.

It was at this socio-historical crossroad that I came across a message of peace, unity and reconciliation that seemed diametrically opposed to the religious conflict tearing the fabric of Indo-Pakistani society — the Message of 'Abdu’l-Bahá. The year 2021 marks one hundred years since the passing of 'Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of the prophet-founder of the Baha’i Faith, Baháʼu'lláh and His successor, who was head of the Baha’i Faith from 1892-1921.

The year is being marked by a commemoration of his saintly life throughout the Bahá’í world with an emphasis on his writings and talks. American Baha’is including those living in Austin will recall with great joy His many talks delivered to a broad cross-section of American society during the eight months He spent travelling in North America. He then stated and re-stated the basic ideals and principles of this new religion inaugurated by His illustrious Father, including the principle which most inspired me as an adolescent — that we can truly unite despite our differences in religion, race, and culture.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá arrived in America in April 1912, 68 years old and in poor health, having suffered more than 40 years of imprisonment and exile. Now finally free, He was resolved to use the little strength he had to make His Father’s faith known.

He visited Washington as well as numerous other cities around the US and Canada until Dec. 5 when he sailed, on the S.S. Celtic, from New York bound for Europe and back to the holy land. He expounded, with brilliant simplicity, with persuasiveness and force, and for the first time in His ministry, those basic and distinguishing principles of His Father's Faith: the independent search after truth, unfettered by superstition or tradition.

He spoke of the oneness of the entire human race, the pivotal principle and fundamental doctrine of the Bahá’í faith, which is the basic unity of all religions. The faith condemns all forms of prejudice, whether religious, racial, class or national. It also believes in a harmony between religion and science and equality between men and women.

The Baha’i faith glorifies justice as the ruling principle in human society, and of religion as a bulwark for the protection of all peoples and nations. The faith promotes the establishment of a permanent and universal peace as the supreme goal of all mankind.

These principles stand out as the essential elements of that Divine polity that ‘Abdu’lBahá proclaimed to leaders of public thought as well as to the masses at large in the course of this journey. Secretaries of state, ambassadors, Congressmen, distinguished rabbis and pastors, and other people of eminence attained His presence, among whom were such figures as Dr. D. S. Jordan, president of Stanford University, and the Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran.

He emphasized the great role America could playin the transformation of our world, if she could live up to her motto of "e pluribus unum." He stated that America must aspire to lead the world spiritually and morally if she were to be worthy of her high station.

His talks in North America (including Canada) have been published as "The Promulgation of Universal Peace." These and His life are the subject of intense study by the Austin Bahá’í community culminating on Nov. 26-27, the day of His passing, when a video about His life and teachings will be shared with interested friends in the greater Austin area.

In many respects, Austin and Karachi could not be more different socially, culturally and politically. In our community and the United States, we are witnessing the strengthening of various social forces that appear destined to further divide us — racial injustice, partisan politics, class conflict, gender inequity and many other issues.

We have a long way to go to make ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s vision of society a reality. His message is just as salient today as it was nearly 50 years ago when I was a young boy in Karachi, and will continue to inspire my life and the lives of millions of others in the future. 

Ajit Giani is a member of the Austin Baha’i community and the secretary of Interfaith Action of Central Texas. Doing Good Together is compiled by iACT, interfaithtexas.org.