It is interesting that Africa is the only place the Faith is really succeeding in light of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s extremely disparaging comments about Africa. Even most people who have left the Faith like myself do not seem to really ever comment on the fact ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s comments are really quite shocking.
To his credit he doesn’t attribute the inferiority of Africans he describes to genetics but he really comes across very much of his time, and even those who would spin his comments in the best positive light (viewing them as encouragement to “civilize” the ignorant Africans) seem ignorant as to how advanced much of African civilization was even dating back to prehistory.
Here are some of his comments regarding Africa:
“The inhabitants of a country like Africa are all as wandering savages and wild animals; they lack intelligence and knowledge; all are uncivilized; not one civilized and wise man is to be found among them. On the contrary, consider the civilized countries, the inhabitants of which are living in the highest state of culture and ethics, solidarity and inter-dependence; possessing, with few exceptions, acute power of comprehensions and sound mind. Therefore, it is made clear and evident that the superiority and inferiority of minds and comprehensions arises from education and cultivation, or from their lack and absence. A bent branch is straightened by training and the wild fruit of the jungle is made the product of the orchard. An ignorant man by learning becomes knowing, and the world of savagery, through the bounty of a wise educator, is changed into a civilized kingdom. The sick is healed by medication, and the poor man, by learning the arts of commerce, is made rich. The follower, by attaining the virtues of the leader, becomes great, and the lowly man, by the education of the teacher, rises from the nadir of oblivion to the zenith of celebrity.” These are the proofs of the wise men.
The prophets also acknowledge this opinion . . .
One may claim ‘Abdu’l-Baha is merely giving a speculative comment and not his own views when he goes on about not one civilized African existing here, but he attributes these comments to the “republic of wise men” clearly showing he is viewing this comment about Africans acting like wild animals in a positive light. His comments in Some Answered Questions and elsewhere strongly support the view that the view of Africans as wandering savage animals is very much a view he shares and endorses:
Consider how often murder occurs among the barbarians of Africa; they even kill one another in order to eat each other’s flesh and blood! Why do not such savageries occur in Switzerland? The reason is evident: it is because education and virtues prevent them.
All these brutal qualities exist in the nature of man. A man who has not had a spiritual education is a brute. Like the savages of Africa, whose actions, habits and morals are purely sensual, they act according to the demands of nature to such a degree that they rend and eat one another.
If we study human beings such as the aboriginal tribes of central Africa, who have been reared in complete subjection to nature’s rule, we will find them deficient indeed. They are without religious education; neither do they give evidences of any advance whatever toward civilization. They have simply grown and developed in the natural plane of barbarism. We find them bloodthirsty, immoral and animalistic in type to such an extent that they even kill and devour each other. It is evident, therefore, that the world of nature unassisted is imperfect because it is a plane upon which the struggle for physical existence expresses itself.
If man himself is left in his natural state, he will become lower than the animal and continue to grow more ignorant and imperfect. The savage tribes of central Africa are evidences of this. Left in their natural condition, they have sunk to the lowest depths and degrees of barbarism, dimly groping in a world of mental and moral obscurity.
But left in his natural condition without education and training, it is certain that he will become more depraved and vicious than the animal, even to the extreme degree witnessed among African tribes who practice cannibalism.
If you should leave a man uneducated and barbarous in the wilds of Africa, would there be any doubt about his remaining ignorant?
What is the difference between the people of America and the inhabitants of central Africa?
All are human beings. Why have the people of America advanced to a high degree of civilization while the tribes of central Africa remain in extreme ignorance and barbarism? The difference and distinction between them are the degree of education. This is unquestioned. The people of Europe and America have been uplifted by education and training from the world of defects and have ascended toward the realm of perfection, whereas the people of Africa, denied educational development, remain in a natural condition of illiteracy and deprivation, for nature is incomplete and defective.
Therefore, his race should everywhere be grateful, for no greater evidence of humanism and courageous devotion could be shown than the white man has displayed. If the blacks of the United States forget this sacrifice, zeal and manhood on the part of the whites, no ingratitude could be greater or more censurable. If they could see the wretched conditions and surroundings of the black people of Africa today, the contrast would be apparent and the fact clearly evident that the black race in America enjoys incomparable advantages.
How do Baha’is reconcile this? Other than the standard religious line of “Beloved Leader knows best, accept his thoughts and shut up or excommunication for you”.
If one respects ‘Abdu’l-Baha as a philosopher then his comments are quite progressive for the time and reflect a big improvement on the view of full eugenicists but by modern standards his comments are very ignorant.
The Baha’i community paints its efforts in Africa as being about empowerment and empowering locals to take charge of their own spiritual development. How is this being any way reconcilable with ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s firm “White Man’s Burden” view that Africans have no morals and must be civilized through education being given to them?