"Serve the cause of democracy and freedom" - an example of Sohrab's way with words

Sen McGlinn

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A quote attributed to Abdu’l-Baha has been used often on blogs and micro-blogs. Perhaps it is popular today because the opening — “The darkness of this gloomy night shall pass away” — chimes with a need today. Consisting largely of bromides reminiscent of American self-help literature, the quote includes the words “Serve the cause of democracy and freedom.”

The darkness of this gloomy night shall pass away. Again the Sun of Reality will dawn from the horizon of the hearts. Have patience — wait, but do not sit idle; work while you are waiting; smile while you are wearied with monotony; be firm while everything around you is being shaken; be joyous while the ugly face of despair grins at you; speak aloud while the malevolent forces of the nether world try to crush your mind; be valiant and courageous while men all around you are cringing with fear and cowardice. Do not yield to the overwhelming power of tyranny and despotism. Serve the cause of democracy and freedom. Continue your journey to the end. The bright day is coming. The nucleus of the new race is forming. The harbinger of the new ideals of international justice is appearing. The trees of hope will become verdant; the copper of scorn and derision will be transmuted into the gold of honour and praise; the arid desert of ignorance will be transformed into the luxuriant garden of knowledge, the threatening clouds shall be dispelled and the stars of faith and charity will again twinkle in the clear heaven of human consciousness.
(Star of the West, 9.13.141 (November 4, 1918): Phelps inventory #ABU2031)
These words attributed to Abdu’l-Baha come from a 1918 letter from Ahmad Sohrab to Alfred Lunt, who sent them to Star of the West. They were republished in Sohrab’s 1919 “Tablets, Instructions and Words of Explanation.” In 1923, Horace Holley included them in his compilation Bahai Scriptures, a book that mixes authentic and unauthentic material without distinctions. They were published again in Sohrab’s 1947 book Story of the Divine Plan.

Lunt, in introducing these words for Star of the West, says that Sohrab said that Abdu’l-Baha had “expressed [these words] many times during the last months.” So in the 1918 letter, Sohrab was not claiming to have literally recorded the words of Abdu’l-Baha. But when he wrote Story of the Divine Plan almost 30 years later, he writes “in this letter [to Lunt], I described a quiet afternoon on Mount Carmel and finished with some informal Words of Abdu’l-Baha which I had taken down in my note-book. These words, so fortunately preserved [by Sohrab’s oh-so-humble self], are one of the jewels of the Master’s utterance and constitute an immortal page in Bahai literature.” In his dreams, he has now written an immortal page in Bahai literature.

He has also changed some parts of the text. In 1918, he wrote to Lunt “be joyous while the ugly face of despair grins at you.” In 1947 this becomes “ be hopeful while the ugly face of despair grins at you,” which is a better contrast. “The trees of hope will become verdant” is elaborated to “The trees of hope shall be clothed in verdant leaves,” which I consider too much of a good thing. “The clear heaven of human consciousness” becomes “the clear conscience of the children of men.” The punctuation and sentence breaks are changed, “will” becomes “shall” – Sohrab is busy making his words sound more like the style that American readers of the time knew as Abdu’l-Baha’s style.

Sohrab often attributed his ideas to Abdu’l-Baha: when he reports Abdu’l-Baha speaking like a modernist American of the day it is likely to be Sohrab speaking, for that is the audience he seeks to impress. “Do not yield to the overwhelming power of tyranny and despotism. Serve the cause of democracy and freedom” is an example. Does Abdu’l-Baha ever speak in such terms, in authenticated sources? I think it is very likely that Ahmad Sohrab simply made this part up. And it is quite possible he made it all up.

On my Bahai Studies blog, I have noted a number of other instances of the deceitfulness of Sohrab. Most are similar to this: attributing spoken words to Abdu’l-Baha that come from his own imagination. However in one case Sohrab was translating a tablet of Abdu’l-Baha, and inserted into it (!) “spiritual democracy and celestial freedom” and “the Golden Era of International Solidarity and World Confederation.” The Persian text of that tablet is available, and it contains nothing resembling this. “Spiritual democracy” is a characteristic Sohrab diction, reflecting his concept of a Bahai community without any authorities.
Interesting. I followed the link to your blog. You have a lot of interesting entries! It will take me awhile to poke around.
I hope you keep taking part in discussions. There are a lot of discussions here with a Bahai member and non-Bahais. I think you have been on this forum a long time but maybe not very often? I hope you join more discussions. It would be good to have additional Bahai voices to address questions etc.