|Translations of Shaykhi, Babi and Baha'i Texts, vol. 6, no. 2 (February, 2002)|
`Abdu'l-Baha on Democracy and the Separation of Religion and State
Juan R.I. Cole,
Department of History,
University of Michigan
He is God.
A human being must, in the world of being, have hope of reward and fear of punishment--especially those souls who serve in the government, and have in their grasp the affairs of the state and the nation. If the officials of the government do not have such a hope of reward and fear of retribution, of course they will not behave with justice. Rewards and punishments are like poles, which hold up the pavilion of the world.
For this reason, what prevents government officials from committing injustice is fear of punishment and the eagerness produced by hope of reward. Consider despotic governments. Because there is neither fear of punishment nor hope for reward, therefore the affairs of such governments do not pivot upon justice and fairness. Rewards and punishments are of two sorts. One is political rewards and punishments, and the other is divine rewards and punishments. Of course, if they are the sort who believe in divine rewards and punishments, and they are under the constraints of political rewards and punishments as well, those persons are more perfect. For these beliefs and constraints will deter and prevent tyranny. If both fear of the divine and fear of retribution are present, that is, if there is both spiritual and political deterrence, of course this is superior. Some officials, who both fear the revenge of the state and dread divine torment, naturally observe justice to a greater extent, especially if they are frightened of eternal punishment and have hope of everlasting reward. Such souls arise with the highest aspirations, thinking about how to implement justice, and they are disgusted with despotism. For persons who are believers, to commit tyranny is to be visited by divine torment in the world of immortality. Naturally, they will avoid despotism and coercion, especially if they believe that if they act justly they will draw near to the threshold of grandeur, gain eternal life, enter into the kingdom of God, and have their faces be illumined by the lights of divine grace and loving-kindness.
Therefore, if government officials are religious, naturally that is better. For the latter are the manifestations of the fear of God. My intent in making this statement is not that religion should interfere in politics. Religion has absolutely no relationship with or entry-point into politics. For, religion is related to the spirit and the conscience. Politics, in contrast, is related to the body. For this reason, the leaders of religions must not intervene in political affairs. Rather, they must improve the morals of the nation. They must give advice and encourage service. They must serve universal ethics, inspire spiritual sentiments in individuals, and teach the branches of knowledge. As for political matters, they never have any grounds for interfering in them. Baha'u'llah says so. In the Gospels, it is written that one should render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's.
The intent is that in Iran Baha'i government officials who are religious observe the utmost justice, for they fear God's wrath and they entertain hopes of divine mercy. But others do not have such cares, at all. They never cease committing tyrannical acts. This is the reason for which Iran is in such difficulties. My own hope is that all the divine friends will be manifestations of justice in all affairs. For justice does not pertain to government figures alone. Merchants must also be just in commerce. Those who make goods must be just in what they produce. All human beings, large and small, must behave with justice and fairness. Justice consists in not exceeding their own prerogatives. They must wish for each person what they wish for themselves. This is divine justice. Praise be to God, the sun of justice has risen from the horizon of Baha'u'llah. For in his tablets was laid the foundation for a justice such as was never conceived by any mind from the beginning of creation until now. A station has been established for every sort of individual, which they must not transgress against. For instance, he says that the people of every occupation must exercise justice therein, that is, they must not go beyond what they deserve. If anyone should transgress in his occupation, such as a king who becomes a despot, there is no distinction between them and him. All individuals who do not observe justice in their dealings with others are like the dictatorial leader. Thus, it is apparent that every human being can be just or tyrannical. But my hope is that all will be just, and that all of your thoughts will be of associating with all humankind and employing the utmost justice and fairness in your dealings with others.
Always consider the rights of others above your own rights, and prefer the welfare of others to your own. Thus might you become manifestations of divine justice and act in accordance with the teachings of Baha'u'llah. Baha'u'llah spent his life in extreme hardship, difficulties and tribulations, so that all might be educated and just, and all might acquire the virtues of the world of humanity. Thus might they attain eternal illumination. Seek divine justice, and be the mercy of the Lord. Be embodiments of divine kindness, which encompasses all humankind. For this, I pray for everyone.
O God, giver of bestowals and forgiver of sins, who confers compassion upon the creatures: Lord of grandeur, your poor servants beseech your exalted threshold and humbly implore your most glorious kingdom. They seek the aid of your compassion, so enrich them. They seek the grace of the clouds of your bestowal, so rain down upon them. They humbly approach the realm of your glory, so give them honor. They desire your nearness, so nourish them with your presence and with the vision of your countenance. My Lord, you see them thirsty for the spring of your mercy, so give them to drink of the river of your grace and the celestial stream of your loving-kindness. My Lord, They are hungry, so feed them from your heavenly table. My Lord, they are sick, so heal them with your remedy. My Lord, they are abject at your door, make them great in your kingdom. In truth, you are the gracious. In truth, you are great. In truth, you are the merciful, the compassionate.
*November 17, 1911 was actually a Friday, not a Saturday, which would have been November 18. The Fermilab Calendar converter also gives 26 Dhu'l-Qa`dah 1329 as Saturday, November 18, 1911.
Source: Khitabat 1:174-179.