Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Lowly Sifter of Wheat

There are certain people who become known by their professions. I remember one woman, when I was a child, who was known as Karen the Crossing Guard. And then there was Sam the Candy Man. In many communities there are people who are known throughout the area as "the butcher", or "the tinker". In fact, it is because of this synonymity with one's profession that many families got their surnames. That's why "Smith" is such a common last name in English.

One person, though, who will forever be remembered in this manner is Mulla Muhammad Ja'far Gandum-Pak-Kun, the "Sifter of Wheat".

He was living in Isfahan when Mulla Husayn came through to spread the new message of the Bab. He heard the message and responded immediately.

Beyond this, we don't actually know a lot about him.

We know that he met Mulla Husayn, and then the next we hear about him a few years later he is heading off to assist him at the siege of the Fort of Shaykh Tabarsi. As he's leaving Isfahan, he has his sieve with him, and people ask him where he is going in such a hurry. "I have arisen," he is reported to have replied, "to join the glorious company of the defenders of the fort of Shaykh Tabarsi! With this sieve which I carry with me, I intend to sift the people in every city through which I pass. Whomsoever I find ready to espouse the Cause I have embraced, I will ask to join me and hasten forthwith to the field of martyrdom." He joined Mulla Husayn and Quddus, and all the other defenders there, and perished during that historic battle.

So remarkable, though, was he that the Bab mentioned him in the Persian Bayan: In the land of Sad [Isfahan], which to outward seeming is a great city, in every corner of whose seminaries are vast numbers of people regarded as divines and doctors, yet when the time came for inmost essences to be drawn forth, only its sifter of wheat donned the robe of discipleship. This is the mystery of what was uttered by the kindred of the Prophet Muhammad -- upon them be the peace of God -- concerning this Revelation, saying that the abased shall be exalted and the exalted shall be abased.

Even Baha'u'llah mentioned him in, of all books, the Kitab-i-Aqdas: Call ye to mind the shaykh whose name was Muhammad-Hasan, who ranked among the most learned divines of his day. When the True One was made manifest, this shaykh, along with others of his calling, rejected Him, while a sifter of wheat and barley accepted Him and turned unto the Lord. Though he was occupied both night and day in setting down what he conceived to be the laws and ordinances of God, yet when He Who is the Unconstrained appeared, not one letter thereof availed him, or he would not have turned away from a Countenance that hath illumined the faces of the well-favoured of the Lord.

For someone about whom we know so little, he has certainly been given a great place in our history.

So what does all this have to do with us today?

Great question. Before I answer that, though, I need to share an observation.

One interesting aspect of this story is the speed at which it must have occurred. We know that Mulla Husayn first recognized the Bab during the evening of 22 May, and that he was the only Letter of the Living for a period of 40 days, or until 1 July. We also know that the Bab left Shiraz for His pilgrimage on 3 October. This means that there were only 95 days between the other Letters of the Living arriving in Shiraz and the Bab leaving on His pilgrimage.

Sometime after the other Letters of the Living arrived, the Bab prepared each of them to go out and face the tasks and tests awaiting them. Mulla Husayn He sent north, first to Isfahan. It was there that he met Mulla Jafar, the Sifter of Wheat. While he was in Isfahan at this time, he also presented the message of the Bab to a number of the scholars there, all of whom rejected the message.

He then continued on to Kashan, Qum and Tehran. In each of these cities he presented the message to the learned at various schools. It was also during this time that he heard about Baha'u'llah and sent a message especially to Him. From there he continued on to Mashad, where he wrote down what had happened during his journey, and sent this letter back to the Bab in Shiraz, who proceeded to leave on 3 October.

Given that the distance from Shiraz to Mashad is 1150 miles, and that an average horseman can only ride about 25 miles per day, it begins to put into perspective just how little time Mulla Husayn had in any one of those cities. Of course, a hardened rider could cover 50 miles in a day, but still, that doesn't leave a lot of time.

At the least, you have to give 23 days of riding just to get to Mashad, plus 23 more days for a letter to get back to the Bab. That only leaves a maximum of 49 days for all that stuff with the Letters of the Living, and all his teaching in the various cities.

So how long, really, could he have possibly been speaking to this Sifter of Wheat? it could not have been very long.

Now, the question is, "Why am I telling you all this?"

Simple, really.

We often question people when they want to become Baha'i. how much do they really know? Should we allow them to declare, or should we ensure that they know enough to understanding what they are declaring?

We often think that people need to study before enrolling. Many of us discount the illiterate or unlearned, thinking they can't possibly understand enough to enroll.

The Sifter of Wheat throws all these arguments to the wayside.

There are people out there who are ready to become Baha'i merely upon hearing the word, and we should honour that. While it took me over 5 years of searching to declare, I witnessed a dear friend jump when she heard me mention the Faith to someone else. She declared just a couple of days later. There is no reason to think that people have to take years, or even months, to recognize. Some blessed souls are just ready.

There are people out there who cannot read, but some of them will respond faster to the teachings than the most learned of scholars out there. It all depends on the quality of their soul, not their degrees. Mulla Jafar was unlearned, and he was the only one in a city renowned for its doctors and scholars to rise up to answer the Call.

This, to me, is one of the greatest legacies of this hero of our Faith: He rose up to show us all what the lowest of us are capable of.


  1. What a wonderful story. It brought memories of when I was very young. The National Spiritual Assembly of Peru would ask believers during the summer months to volunteer to visit villages in the mountain areas in order to find non active believers so they could vote. We would search and find these beautiful souls. Each time we were welcomed like kings. I clearly remember entering one home, all furniture simple but neatly arranged around the living room area. In one of the walls, on the highest spot stood the photo of 'Abdul'-Bahá. Although this family were not active members in that community, it was obvious that they identified themselves as Baha'is. Some families would offer whatever they had and would call out other family members or neighbors to join us. We would share the message and many hearing about the Faith for the first time would declare and right away vote. I often felt weird about this but never asked about it. These were tiny hidden villages up in the mountains. It took us one whole day of climbing and walking to get there. The chance of not ever seeing them again was hight. But, it was the request of our NSA so I kept going. I knew in my heart that to continue knocking on doors and searching for these unknown Baha'is must be of value, so I obeyed. One time I had a chance to mention it at a small gathering in Haifa where Ruhiyyih Khanum was present. She got so upset for my lack of understanding. She said, I am paraphrasing here, that I had become too american. I remember crying as if my mother had just set me straight. She went on explaining how the power of the word of God is enough to open the heart of the thirsty instantly. I thought a lot about what Ruhiyyih Khanum said to me. Who was I to judge the immediate awareness or enlightenment of another soul. There are so many souls wandering in search for the latest spiritual truth and like the Sifter of the Wheat, our job is wherever we go to present the message of the Blessed Beauty in search of all the open souls.

  2. Rumi said 'The seven cities of love were visited in full by Attar and we are still on the bend of the first lane. Good to read such stories to encourage us finding the illumined souls in need of a spark! Let's hope we have that spark to ignite those souls.