Song of Nightingale

“If religion becomes the cause of enmity and bloodshed, then irreligion is to be preferred. For religion is the remedy for every ailment, and if a remedy should become the cause of ailment and difficulty, it is better to abandon it.” – ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921)

My sister lives in Norway with her family right in the outskirts of Oslo. The whole nation is slowly recovering from the terror attacks that occurred in Oslo on 22 July 2011. 77 people, mostly youth gathered at a summer camp, were gunned down in cold blood. Anders Behring Breivik, the shooter, is a self-identified Christian and an Islamophobe, but by doing so he makes a mockery of the noble name of Christ.

We are living in an age where mankind is painfully learning the evils of particularistic creeds, ones that elevate one particular group of people (whether religious, racial, national, gender, or social class) over another. Such creeds breed prejudice and conflict. What happened in Norway two years ago is just another disturbed person who embraced such a creed – one of far-right Christian fundamentalism. Exclusivist salvation doctrines embraced by millions of good faithfuls transform in the hands of a fanatic into a hate-creed. It is not enough to develop early-warning systems to detect the psychological cues among the populace pointing to violent behaviour. It is equally, if not more essential, to uproot such man-made creeds and doctrines from the face of the earth. Occasionally it may even require some theological self-cleanup within major salvationist world religions. God does not breed conflict but unity. If anything, Oneness is one of His names.

“The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens” – Bahá’u’lláh

Ultimately the most powerful means to fight prejudice is education — starting from home. Educating our children to become genuine world-citizens and to recognize the progressive revelation of God in every great religion, without any claim to exclusivity and finality regarding one’s own brand of truth. Ironically, the greatest and the most barbaric terrorist attack on European soil has now been perpetrated by a Christian fundamentalist and not by an Islamist (albeit this record may still change). Both creeds make a mockery of the noble truths enshrined in the Holy Bible and the Holy Qur’án. Both blaspheme against the God of Christianity and of Islám.

The notion that ‘I am saved unlike so many others’, even as a silent conviction by a peace-loving believer, breeds an unhealthy sense of superiority. It appeals to the primordial sense of pride, not too dissimilar to the son who enjoys his father’s favoritism. Salvation creeds, by their very existence, heighten the thrilling feeling of being a favoured one of God, as well as a feeling of fearful prejudice towards ‘them others’ who have fallen out of favour, yet who may tempt me with their convincing talk to their damning ways. Well I say, “O ye of little faith”, whose faith is so easily shattered to pieces by the mere existence of alternative takes on life, man and God. True faith, if it really is true, is rather consolidated by the review of alternatives. Not weakened. While they are by no means the only factor behind mindless killing sprees at youth summer camps, particularistic creeds by their very existence, and the mere fact of their widespread adherence, lend powerful moral justification to the actions of the few who are prepared to go a step further — using violence for their promotion.

Small wonder that Bahá’u’lláh, who was severely persecuted for his Message of tolerance and unity, and imprisoned for 40 years in some of the most forbidding places, wrote:

“Consort with all religions with amity and concord. Beware lest amidst men the flame of foolish ignorance overpower you.”

“These mighty systems have proceeded from one Source, and are rays of one Light.”

“Religious fanaticism and hatred are a world-devouring fire.”

“Regard ye not one another as strangers. Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch.”

 My sister in Norway posted this verse of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (the son of Bahá’u’lláh) on her Facebook profile one day after the attack:

“The most important teaching of Bahá’u’lláh is to leave behind racial, religious, national and patriotic prejudices. Until these prejudices are entirely removed mankind will not find rest. Nay, rather, discord and bloodshed will increase day by day.”

We spend our lives trying to unlock the mystery of the universe, but there was a prisoner in Akka, Palestine, who had the Key.”

– Leo Tolstoy, 1908


A prisoner once wrote to a queen. His hands were shaking. The trembling was not due to fear nor trepidation. The ill-effects of the poisoned food were to last until the end of his days. His stature was bent. Iron chains — equal to his body weight — had hunched him for life and cut into his flesh. He had borne their weight on his shoulders for four months some fifteen years earlier. But that was another land, another time, and another prison. His long black beard seemed untrimmed and his hackneyed face belied his age. At fifty-one he was younger than he looked. His worn body no longer bore any testimony to his silken youth as the favoured son of the Sháh’s venerated vizier. ‘Why did he not take up his father’s high office?’Why did he opt for humiliation when he could have soaked in the glory of the Sháh’s court?’, the courtiers once murmured.

But now his minister-father could not run to his aid from his grave, nor his royal ancestors rescue him from his plight. The Persian kings of old, to whom his family traced his ancestry, lay motionless in their majestic tombs. Their noble seed lay in house-arrest in Ottoman Turkey, awaiting a transfer order from the Sultan. The prisoners proximity to the great Caliph was a matter of concern to his ministers and the Persian ambassador.

The prisoner’s letter was delivered to Queen Alexandrina Victoria of Great Britain, the sovereign of the greatest empire the world had yet seen. The same message was also sent to Napoleon III of France, the most powerful ruler of his time. Yet the list of addressees was longer. It included Czar Alexander II of Russia, William I the Emperor of a unified Germany, Emperor Francis Joseph of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Sultan ‘Abdu’l-Azíz of the Ottoman Empire, Násiri’d-Dín Sháh of Persia and Pope Pius IX of the Papal States.

None of these potentates were strangers to letters from prisoners asking for royal pardon. But the Persian prisoner asked no such thing. Neither did he ask for favours.

He issued a warning.

Your people are your treasures. 

Do not rob them to rear palaces for yourselves;
nay rather choose for them that which ye choose for yourselves. 

Deal with them with undeviating justice,
so that none among them may either suffer want,
or be pampered with luxuries. This is but manifest justice. 

Be united, O Kings of the earth, for thereby will the tempest of discord be stilled amongst you, and your people find rest.

Should anyone among you take up arms against another, rise ye all against him, for this is naught but manifest justice. 

O ye the elected representatives of the people in every land! Take ye counsel together, and let your concern be only for that which profiteth mankind,
and bettereth the condition thereof. 

Regard ye the world as a man’s body, which is afflicted with divers ailments,
and the recovery of which dependeth upon the harmonizing of
all its component elements.

If ye pay no heed unto the counsels which … We have revealed in this Tablet, Divine chastisement shall assail you from every direction.

The year was 1869. The prisoner was Bahá’u’lláh.


“In the garden of thy heart plant naught but the rose of love.”

– Bahá’u’lláh