Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The First Baha'i

My friend Mike and I used to host a fireside together, and it was quite fun.  I think all teaching should be fun, or at least uplifting.  We used to have marvellous discussions focussed around the Writings, and many people would attend.  One thing that often came up was our different perspectives.  You see, he grew up within a Baha'i family, while I didn't become a Baha'i until I was nineteen.

For years we would joke with each other about this.  I would say how fortunate he was to have this head start and how much I needed to catch up, and he would always say how he needed all the help he could get.

And you know, I think we were both right, in a way.

The advantage that children in Baha'i families have is quite marvelous, but it also depends upon what they do with it.  Take a look at the children of Baha'u'llah and 'Abdu'l-Baha.  How many of them lost their priceless heritage?

But there is another advantage that people have if they become Baha'i after a long and ardent search.  I don't believe that I would have the perspective I do about interfaith work if I grew up in a Baha'i family.  Oh, not that it wouldn't be possible, just that I don't think I would have that perspective.  It's a limitation of mine, not of the Faith's or anyone else's.

I have thought about this a lot over the past number of years, wondering what the difference might be if one grows up within the embrace of the Faith, or not.  And really, I'm not sure it makes a huge difference.  It always depends upon the choices of the individual.

One thing, though, has always come to mind: the bounty of being the first Baha'i in my family.  It is quite tremendous, both in responsibility and in deed.  For me, it was easy.  My family and friends all suported my decision, so it was no big deal.  But I have many other friends who were the first Baha'is in their families, and it was much more difficult for them.  Many have been ridiculed, chastised or even disowned.  Some have been denied permission to marry as a form of punishment for daring to become Baha'i.  The stories are countless, and each one is unique.

So I had it real easy.  Thanks Mom, and all the rest of you.

This thought, however, has led me to ask a number of friends who the first Baha'i was in their family.  And you know, every single one of them knew.

There was a friend I worked with at the US National Center (it's the US, so it's spelled that way, instead of centre), and we had the fortune of going on Pilgrimage together.  I asked her who the first Baha'i was in her family, and she told me it was the "Sifter of Wheat".  You know, the one mentioned in the Kitab-i-Aqdas.  I could feel the weight of so mighty an ancestor on her shoulders as she said this.  How, her expression seemed to say, can I live up to that?

Of course, I knew his story, having read about it in Baha'i history books.

His story raises an interesting question.  In case you don't know, he met Mulla Husayn in Isfahan, and became the first Babi in that eminent city of scholars.  The question is, how long did it take for him to become convinced?  And how long before he became so convinced that he laid down his life at Fort Tabarsi?  The answer must be "fairly quick".  Mulla Husayn would not have been able to spend years, or even days, slowly trying to teach him about the Faith.  He would not have been able to present Anna's Presentation, or anything else along those lines.  But convinced he became, and he arose to be one of the outstanding heroes of the Faith.

There is a gentleman in my community here in Winnipeg whose family has been Baha'i for many years.  One day, out of curiosity, I asked him who had been the first Baha'i in his family.  He gave me some name, which I don't remember, but told me that this man had been taught by Mulla Aliy-i-Bastami.

"Mulla Aliy-i-Bastami?  The second Letter of the Living?"  I could not believe my ears.  "That means that your family became Babi in 1844."

He seemed surprised that I had heard of Mulla Aliy-i-Bastami, and even more surprised that I knew he had been arrested before the end of that year, and martyred a short time later.  You see, something of that deepening class did stick with me.  I'm sure Mrs Khadem is smiling in appreciation right now.

There are many wonderful books out now about how people have come to the Faith, and I love to read their declaration stories, but how many of us really think about the priceless gift we have been given?  How many of us consider who that first Baha'i, or Babi, was in our own family?  Do we say prayers of thanksgiving to them?   And if we are that lucky soul who has been given that honour, do we continually thank our teachers?

The woman who taught me the Faith, Lucki, has been working on a project about this.  She traced our "family tree" back to 'Abdu'l-Baha, who had taught a Rabbi when He was in North America.  She then traced him to the woman who taught her the Faith, and how she had taught me.  I am very grateful for this gift that she has given me. Oh, not only the gift of faith, but also the gift of knowing my "family" history.  This is a story that I will pass on to my son, Shoghi, as he gets older, for I think it is so valuable to know your history.

If we are the leaves of one tree, then it is important to know our roots.

So, who was the first Baha'i in your family?


  1. I love you brother :D

  2. ... or sister. haha, Allah'u'abha

  3. http://yahyay19.blogspot.com/2015/08/green-acre-1912.html

    Alfred E. Lunt (Panel 2, #87)

    I have been looking for motivation to identify what happened to all of these souls who attended or, perhaps, to those who are of old New England stock.