The Language of Signs



‘Abdu’l-Bahá was raised in Persia and Palestine in the mid-to- late 1800’s. As a result, He was steeped in Persian, Palestinian, Arabic, and Turkish storytelling traditions. During and after His visit to America in 1912, many of his speeches were reported in the American Bahá’í magazine, The Star of the West.

One of these speeches was a talk ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave at the summer home of a Cabinet member, just outside of New York City, on June 4, 1912. A man in attendance at the gathering said he was sorry he couldn't understand ‘Abdu’l-Bahá' without the aid of the interpreter who was translating from Persian to English. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá replied: "Praise be to God, this veil does not exist in the world of spirit. The hearts speak with each other". Then He told the gathering the following folktale.

The Language of Signs

There once was organized in Persia a society whose chief characteristic was that they spoke without the tongue, and with the slightest sign could communicate many important matters. This society progressed to such a degree that with the motion of a finger abstruse matter

could be understood. The government feared that they might organize a society against he government and since none could understand their purpose, they might work great mischief. Therefore they suppressed them I wish to tell you a story about this society.

Anyone who desired to join it had to stand at the door. Then they consulted with each other by signs and gave their opinions without speaking. Once a person with an awful looking visage stood at the door. The president looked at his face and saw what an awful looking figure he had. There was a cup on the table, containing water. The president poured in some water until it was full to the brim. This was the sign that there was no room among them for that person. But the man was intelligent. He took a tiny piece of a flower leaf and with the utmost deference entered the room and put it on the surface of die water in the cup. He laid it so carefully that the water in the cup did not move. All were delighted. He meant that he did not need a big place, that he was like the flower leaf which does not need a place. They clapped their hands and accepted him. (George Ronald Publishers, 1978, Vol.VII. p.81)

In this instance ‘Abdu’l-Bahá obviously intended this story to teach that there are more ways to communicate than with words. However, there are also other lessons in this story. For instance, the implication is here that there really is always room for one more this society. Regardless of whether or not that person is immediately perceived as desirable, it is ultimately possible for them to be productive or to make a contribution within the society. This story, then, also provides a lesson in favor of inclusiveness or pluralism. This story would support the Bahá’í teachings about unity in diversity, i.e. the need to overcome all forms of prejudice.