Thursday, July 4, 2019

A True Teacher

"Among the greatest of all services that can possibly be rendered by man to Almighty God is the education and training of children...", writes 'Abdu'l-Baha. "It is, however, very difficult to undertake this service, even harder to succeed in it."

What, I have often wondered, makes a good teacher? And why is it so difficult? I have taught children's classes and have experienced many ups and downs, joys and heartaches. It has been the most rewarding of all things, and at times the most painful of all things.

And you know what, dear Reader? I wouldn't miss it for anything. The greater the pain, they say, the greater the joy. The joy of teaching children is one of the greatest joys imaginable.

So what is it that I have learned?

Well, let me give you a story by way of example.

There was once a teacher by the name of Shaykh Abid. He was a gentle soul, learned and wise.

One day, a man enrolled his 6-year old nephew in Shaykh Abid's school. During one of the lessons, the students were asked to recite the opening words of the Qur'an. Now, you have to understand, this is not just some simple lesson like reading a few words off the page. These children spoke Persian, and the Qur'an is written in Arabic. While they could sound out the words, they probably had little or no idea what they meant. But like good Muslim children, they were expected to merely recite the sounds of the words.

This child, this 6-year old child, said that he would not recite them unless he was told what they meant.

Shaykh Abid, for some reason, pretended that he didn't know. It's possible that he was just tired and didn't want to explain, or perhaps he wanted to set an example for the children. He told the young boy that he himself didn't know what they meant, and so he may have been demonstrating that it was ok to recite them even if you didn't know their meaning.

Either way, whatever the reason, something special happened that day.

The young child said to his teacher, "I know what these words signify, by your leave, I will explain them." And so he did.

Shaykh Abid later recalled the incident, saying, "He spoke with such knowledge and fluency that I was struck with amazement. He expounded the meaning of ` Allah,' of ` Rahman,' and ` Rahim,' in terms such as I had neither read nor heard. The sweetness of His utterance still lingers in my memory."

This young child, as you probably know, was the Bab.

So what, you may wonder, is the lesson here for us today?

To me, it is a beautiful story showing us the wondrous gifts we open ourselves up to when we show humility as a teacher.

It would have been so easy for Shaykh Abid to recite the words in Arabic, and then add, "And they mean 'In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate'." So easy. So quick.

But he didn't.

When he declined telling the students what these words meant, for whatever reason, he opened the door for this student to do so. He could have told this student to be quiet and sit down, but he didn't. Like a good teacher, he encouraged this young Man. "Ok," I can hear him say, "let's hear what you think they mean."

By allowing the Bab to speak, even though He was only 6 years old, he demonstrated a humility that is worthy of any good teacher.

In return, he was given a priceless gift.

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