Wednesday, November 28, 2018

A Single Ray of Light

Ahh, Shaykh Hasan-i-Zunuzi. What a fascinating life he led.

As you know, dear Reader, I'm trying to write a story a week in remembrance of the upcoming 200th anniversary of the birth of the Bab. And in doing so, I am hoping to not only share some of my favorite stories, but show how they are relevant to us at this time in human history. In other words, what can we learn from them that is applicable today?

Well, Shaykh Hasan-i-Zunuzi, as you may recall, had that marvelous beverage with both his teacher, Siyyid Kazim, and a strange Youth.

It was only a few days later that he found himself back at Siyyid Kazim's lecture when he noticed that same Youth enter the room, quietly, humbly. He sat down as Siyyid Kazim continued his discourse, completely focused on the talk.

But as soon as Siyyid Kazim noticed Him, he suddenly fell silent.

As you can imagine, this puzzled some of the students. I mean, just imagine that you are at a university lecture listening to your amazing teacher. This is probably one of your favorite teachers, even though you don't quite understand all that he is saying, And then, suddenly, out of the blue, he just stops talking. Possibly in the middle of a sentence.

Can't you just imagine the reaction? "Professor", you might hear someone ask, "are you ok?"

Well, that's exactly what happened. Some of the students encouraged him to continue his talk.

But Siyyid Kazim merely asked, "What more shall I say? ...The Truth is more manifest than the ray of light that has fallen upon that lap." And with that, he indicated a ray of sunlight was illuminating the lap of that same Youth.

Shaykh Hasan was very puzzled by this.

At that moment, though, one of the students asked Siyyid Kazim why he wouldn't just tell them Who the promised One was, if it was so obvious. Now, he probably didn't say with any sort of rudeness. He was likely very humble and sincere in his tone, but even then, Siyyid Kazim merely pointed to his own throat, indicating that were he to do so, they would both be put to death.

This confused Shaykh Hasan even more.

He himself had heard Siyyid Kazim lament the perversity of his generation, saying that even were he to point to the promised One and say, "He indeed is the Beloved, the Desire of your hearts and mine", they would still fail to recognize Him. And there, in that very room, Shaykh Hasan had seen him point to that ray of light that had fallen on that lap, and none understood his meaning. Even Shaykh Hasan didn't understand it at that time. He was convinced that the young Siyyid, for that Youth was wearing the turban indicating His descent from the Prophet Muhammad, could never be the promised One. But he was certain that a mystery lay concealed in the person of that Youth.

Later on, Shaykh Hasan tried to approach the Bab and understand that mystery, but every time he did, he found he was unable to do so. Instead, he watched Him. When the Bab would go to the shrine of the Imam Husayn, Shaykh Hasan would watch. He saw the depth of love with which the Bab prayed, witnessed the tears that fell from His eyes, and heard those words of devotion and praise that surpassed even the Qur'an in power and beauty. How many times did he hear the Bab utter those words, "O God, my God, my Beloved, my heart's Desire"?

But all he could learn about Him was that He was a merchant from Shiraz. He knew that His uncles were admirers of Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim, but that was about it.

When the Bab eventually went to Najaf, on His way back to Shiraz, Shayh Hasan was haunted by His memory.

It is no wonder that when he heard the Call from Shiraz, that he immediately became a Babi.

So what does this have to do with us today?

Well, as usual, I'm not really sure, but I have my own thoughts on it.

Today, what with computers and the internet, we expect things to happen immediately. If we have a question, we just type it into our phone and, bam, we have an answer.

But this doesn't happen with the deep questions, the important things in life. This is mostly good only for trivia.

Shaykh Hasan had to wrestle with his questions for months, possibly even a couple of years. And even that is not too long a time.

A second point, for me, is that we often overlook the completely obvious. Or, to be more fair, we often laugh at others who overlook the obvious. This story is blindingly evident to us, we who have the luxury of hindsight. But would I have recognized the Bab at that moment? Would I even have recalled such an event a few years later? Probably not. So, for me, the fact that Shaykh Hasan recognized the Bab later, and still put it together with this story, is little short of a miracle.

A third point has to do with the previous story, the one with the silver cup. There is a level of trust there that I find admirable. Drinking from this cup was forbidden, but when Siyyid Kazim was offered it by the hand of the Bab Himself, he understood that "He doeth as He willeth". Anything that the Bab offered him was, by its very nature, allowed.

Shaykh Hasan, however, didn't recognize the Bab at that time. Why did he drink from a forbidden vessel? Because he trusted his teacher. This was not a blind trust, though. Siyyid Kazim had earned the trust of his student, and this is something that I think we often overlook. We have learned, in our modern age, to question authority, but we often fail to discern when that trust is warranted. Shaykh Hasan gives us a good example of knowing when to trust.

Today, we seem to have forgotten patience in our search for Truth, and we have also forgotten to take the time needed to come to understanding. In addition to this, it seems that we often forget to allow others that same time that is needed for them to arrive at their own understanding, too. Many people in society laugh when they see someone trusting someone else, and that, too, is a sad thing that we need to learn to overcome. Patience, compassion, discernment, trust: these are only some of the virtues I see in these stories of Shaykh Hasan-i-Zunuzi.

But how about you, dear Reader? What truths do you glean from these last couple of stories?

Monday, November 19, 2018

A Cup of Pure Beverage

I'm hoping to write one story a week over this next year, dear Reader, to lead up to the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Bab. Of course, part of this exercise is not only to share these inspiring stories, but to also talk a little bit about how they are relevant to our lives today.

You will notice, of course, that some names will come up over and over again. This is not just because we are dealing with a limited number of people, but also because they are the ones that inspire me the most.

One of these souls who inspires me is Shaykh Hasan-i-Zunuzi.

When he was a student of Siyyid Kazim, that great forerunner of the Bab, a number of interesting things happened to him.

As you probably know, most of Siyyid Kazim's teachings revolved around the coming of the Promised One, and this great promise attracted many seekers. Shaykh Hasan was one of them.

He was very aware of the imminent arrival of the Promised One, and given all that Siyyid Kazim had taught regarding how difficult it would be during His days, Shaykh Hasan was extremely concerned that he might not be considered worthy to recognize Him. He spent many nights unable to fall asleep, so great was his concern.

One morning, around the hour of dawn, he was awakened by one of Siyyid Kazim's close attendants. They went to the great Siyyid's home, and found him fully dressed and ready to leave.

"A highly esteemed and distinguished Person has arrived", he said, "and I feel it incumbent upon us both to visit Him." As you can imagine, this was most unusual, but Shaykh Hasan readily agreed to join him.

They walked through the streets of Karbila and soon found themselves at the home of a young Hashemite, a descendant of Muhammad. He was standing by the door, wearing His tell-tale green turban, which spoke of His ancestry, as if expecting them. Of course, this was before cell phones or even telephones, so it was extremely odd for anyone to be expecting them like that, especially at such an early hour of the day. The Youth, though, welcomed them with an expression of both humility and kindness which Shaykh Hasan was unable to later describe, except to say that it made a very deep impression upon him. The Youth approached them and lovingly embraced Siyyid Kazim. Shaykh Hasan later said that he was also struck by the contrast between the loving greeting of the Youth and the profound reverence of his teacher. Speechless, and with bowed head, Siyyid Kazim quietly received all the expressions of esteem and affection with which the Youth greeted him.

They went inside the home and were shown to a room decorated with flowers and scented with perfume. They were so overpowered with a sense of delight that Shaykh Hasan later said that they were unaware of what seats they actually used.

In the centre of the room they noticed a silver cup, the use of which was forbidden to the followers of Islam. The Youth filled the cup to overflowing and handed it to Siyyid Kazim, while quoting the Qur'an, saying, "A drink of pure beverage shall their Lord give them." Siyyid Kazim, without the least hesitation, took the cup in both hands and drank.

The cup was then handed to Shaykh Hasan, who also drank.

Soon after that, they were shown back to the door of the home, and they left.

That was all that occurred on that memorable occasion, but it made a lasting impression on Shaykh Hasan.

Before I talk about how this story is relevant to us today, I will share another story of Shaykh Hasan next week.

In the meantime, if there is relevance in this story to you, I would love to read about it in the comments below.

Monday, November 12, 2018

We Make Our Plans...

As many of you know, this is the year leading up to the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Bab. Just a few days ago was His 199th birthday, and I thought for this upcoming celebration to try to publish one story a week about either His life or that of one of His early followers. Of course, to me, the importance of a story is not just its entertainment value, but its relevance to our lives today. And so, with each of these stories, I will talk a little bit about how I see them as relevant to us today.

To start, I would like to share one of my favorite simple stories. It's not a complex one, and in fact, I'm going to tell it even more simply by leaving out many of the names, which could be confusing to some of my readers.

This story is one of Sulayman Khan.

Sulayman Khan was an interesting man. His father was an attendant of Muhammad Shah, the ruler of Persia for a number of years. He, himself, was destined for a life at court, but this court life held no interest for him. He was far more interested in the things of the spirit. And so, at a fairly young age, he left Persia and settled in Karbila in Iraq, to be in the shadow of the Shrine of the Imam Husayn, the great martyred leader of the Shia Muslims.

While Sulayman Khan was living in Karbila, he became attracted to the teachings of Siyyid Kazim, one of the two forerunners of the Babi Faith, as well as the Baha'i Faith. Many people speak of the Bab as the "John the Baptist" of the Baha'i Faith, but this is really not quite correct. The Bab was a Messenger of God in His own right. It was actually Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim who more accurately fit that role.

Well, Sulayman Khan was attracted to these teachings, and when he later heard about the advent of the Bab, he became a follower of the Bab almost immediately.

A few years later he had the incredible bounty of actually meeting the Bab while He was incarcerated in the prison in the castle of Chihriq.

A little while later, when he was in Tehran, he heard about the Bab's trial in Tabriz, and decided to try and rescue Him from His oppressors. As he knew many people in Tabriz, he thought that he might have a chance at rescuing his Beloved.

As fate would have it, though, he arrived one day too late. The Bab had been executed, with one of His followers, just a day earlier.

Now if it was me, I would have been completely downcast, shattered. My grief would likely have known no bounds, and I would have turned around in despair.

But not Sulayman Khan.

He knew that the Mullas had decided to throw their bodies on the edge of the moat outside the town, with soldiers on guard to prevent the Babis from retrieving the precious remains and give them a proper burial. The hope was that wild animals would devour the bodies, thus proving that the Bab was not a holy man at all.

Sulayman Khan, a day late, changed his plans and decided to try to rescue the bodies himself. He had decided to try a surprise-attack on the guards that evening, and carry away the bodies. He went to his long-time friend, the mayor of the city, and told him of his plans. The mayor, though, had a better idea. He told Sulayman Khan that he knew someone who might actually be able to secret away the bodies in a much safer and more reliable manner.

And so, that evening, the mayor and Sulayman Khan hired this other man to try and steal away the bodies, which, as you may know, was actually successful.

Sulayman Khan took the remains to a silk factory in Milan, in Persia, not Italy, and had them enshrouded and concealed in a wooden casket. From there, they were moved from location to location until such a time as they were able to make their way to the Holy Land and be interred on Mount Carmel.

It is because of the dedication of Sulayman Khan that today we have the incredible bounty of being able to visit the Shrine of the Bab when we go on Pilgrimage.

So, besides visiting the Shrine, what does this have to do with us today? Well, quite simply, it seems to me a great story to show what can happen when we are flexible in our plans. No matter how great our plans may be, things don't always go our way. But quite often God has greater plans for us, if only we're open to them.

But what relevance does this story hold for you, dear Reader? Please post your comments below. Thanks.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Obligatory Prayer - Kitab-i-Aqdas paragraphs 6 - 14

As I'm sure you know by now, my wife and I have been studying the Kitab-i-Aqdas this year. It's been very fruitful, deeply enlightening.

We find that reading a paragraph at a time, with an eye towards different sections of the book, has made this a lot easier than we first thought. As we mentioned in the previous post, we view the first five paragraphs as an introduction, an assistance to our re-framing our perception of the world in order to better approach this book.

This next section goes from paragraph 6 right through 14, or 15, depending. Depending on what? I'm glad you asked. Depending on how you assign paragraph 15, which is something of a bridge between this section and the next.

Throughout many of His works, Baha'u'llah gives us these bridging paragraphs possibly to allow us the time to reflect on what He has just said. Paragraph 7, you will note, is also in this vein. These 9 paragraphs all revolve around the dynamics of prayer, in a general sense, except for number 7. This one is something of a reminder of His station, and the importance of obedience. You will likely note that He reminds of this throughout this volume.

But before I go into any of this further, let me put the paragraphs in here. This is just as a convenience for you, so you can see what I'm referencing, dear Reader. Personally, though, I skip it here, and have a copy of the book next to me so I can follow along as I read. I find that much easier.

6. We have enjoined obligatory prayer upon you, with nine rak‘ahs, to be offered at noon and in the morning and the evening unto God, the Revealer of Verses. We have relieved you of a greater number, as a command in the Book of God. He, verily, is the Ordainer, the Omnipotent, the Unrestrained. When ye desire to perform this prayer, turn ye towards the Court of My Most Holy Presence, this Hallowed Spot that God hath made the Center round which circle the Concourse on high, and which He hath decreed to be the Point of Adoration for the denizens of the Cities of Eternity, and the Source of Command unto all that are in heaven and on earth; and when the Sun of Truth and Utterance shall set, turn your faces towards the Spot that We have ordained for you. He, verily, is Almighty and Omniscient.
7. Everything that is hath come to be through His irresistible decree. Whenever My laws appear like the sun in the heaven of Mine utterance, they must be faithfully obeyed by all, though My decree be such as to cause the heaven of every religion to be cleft asunder. He doeth what He pleaseth. He chooseth, and none may question His choice. Whatsoever He, the Well-Beloved, ordaineth, the same is, verily, beloved. To this He Who is the Lord of all creation beareth Me witness. Whoso hath inhaled the sweet fragrance of the All-Merciful, and recognized the Source of this utterance, will welcome with his own eyes the shafts of the enemy, that he may establish the truth of the laws of God amongst men. Well is it with him that hath turned thereunto, and apprehended the meaning of His decisive decree.
8. We have set forth the details of obligatory prayer in another Tablet. Blessed is he who observeth that whereunto he hath been bidden by Him Who ruleth over all mankind. In the Prayer for the Dead six specific passages have been sent down by God, the Revealer of Verses. Let one who is able to read recite that which hath been revealed to precede these passages; and as for him who is unable, God hath relieved him of this requirement. He, of a truth, is the Mighty, the Pardoner.
9. Hair doth not invalidate your prayer, nor aught from which the spirit hath departed, such as bones and the like. Ye are free to wear the fur of the sable as ye would that of the beaver, the squirrel, and other animals; the prohibition of its use hath stemmed, not from the Qur’├ín, but from the misconceptions of the divines. He, verily, is the All-Glorious, the All-Knowing.
10. We have commanded you to pray and fast from the beginning of maturity; this is ordained by God, your Lord and the Lord of your forefathers. He hath exempted from this those who are weak from illness or age, as a bounty from His Presence, and He is the Forgiving, the Generous. God hath granted you leave to prostrate yourselves on any surface that is clean, for We have removed in this regard the limitation that had been laid down in the Book; God, indeed, hath knowledge of that whereof ye know naught. Let him that findeth no water for ablution repeat five times the words “In the Name of God, the Most Pure, the Most Pure,” and then proceed to his devotions. Such is the command of the Lord of all worlds. In regions where the days and nights grow long, let times of prayer be gauged by clocks and other instruments that mark the passage of the hours. He, verily, is the Expounder, the Wise.
11. We have absolved you from the requirement of performing the Prayer of the Signs. On the appearance of fearful natural events call ye to mind the might and majesty of your Lord, He Who heareth and seeth all, and say “Dominion is God’s, the Lord of the seen and the unseen, the Lord of creation.”
12. It hath been ordained that obligatory prayer is to be performed by each of you individually. Save in the Prayer for the Dead, the practice of congregational prayer hath been annulled. He, of a truth, is the Ordainer, the All-Wise.
13. God hath exempted women who are in their courses from obligatory prayer and fasting. Let them, instead, after performance of their ablutions, give praise unto God, repeating ninety-five times between the noon of one day and the next “Glorified be God, the Lord of Splendor and Beauty.” Thus hath it been decreed in the Book, if ye be of them that comprehend.
14. When traveling, if ye should stop and rest in some safe spot, perform ye—men and women alike—a single prostration in place of each unsaid Obligatory Prayer, and while prostrating say “Glorified be God, the Lord of Might and Majesty, of Grace and Bounty.” Whoso is unable to do this, let him say only “Glorified be God”; this shall assuredly suffice him. He is, of a truth, the all-sufficing, the ever-abiding, the forgiving, compassionate God. Upon completing your prostrations, seat yourselves cross-legged—men and women alike—and eighteen times repeat “Glorified be God, the Lord of the kingdoms of earth and heaven.” Thus doth the Lord make plain the ways of truth and guidance, ways that lead to one way, which is this Straight Path. Render thanks unto God for this most gracious favor; offer praise unto Him for this bounty that hath encompassed the heavens and the earth; extol Him for this mercy that hath pervaded all creation.

Well, now that we have that done, you can see this theme very clearly. Of course, as you noticed, it overlaps with fasting, which is the next theme He addresses, in paragraph 16. But more on that later.

For now, let's look at paragraph 6. He's essentially telling  us what it is we need to say, even though He doesn't actually give us the words here. He also tells us when to say them, as well as where to face.

But why doesn't He give us the actual prayer here? Why was it revealed in a separate place, which, incidentally, was stolen by Mirza Muhammad-Ali, the arch Covenant-breaker, after Baha'u'llah's passing?

There may be a very good reason for it. Actually, since I can come up with one good reason, He probably has many thousands.

I would venture to guess that Baha'u'llah is merciful. I mean, that's not really a guess, is it? He is the All-Merciful. We know that. And here, it seems to me that He is allowing us to come to terms with what He is telling us.

A few years earlier, one of the Babis was leading a prayer and had added some words to the traditional prayer, as commanded by the Bab. The people freaked out. I mean, they literally went all violent and everything. You see, we love our prayers, and whenever anyone messes around with them, well, watch out. Personally, I think this is a visceral reaction, a reflex, even, and Baha'u'llah knows it. He knows this about us, and expects it. Of course, this is just my own personal opinion, but it makes sense to me. Anyways, here He is warning us that He is going to change the words. We don't have them yet, but we have the warning that change is coming.

And this leads us to paragraph 7. Don't forget, He seems to be saying, He doeth what He willeth. This change is a good thing, and when we understand it, we'll defend it to the death. Oh, our death, not someone else's.

Just like that last sentence in paragraph 5, when we are told to meditate, here it seems that we are given a full paragraph to reflect on this idea.

Anyways, this led my wife and I to an interesting train of thought, which I'll share here, as this is the point in our conversation that we had it.

The Obligatory Prayers from Baha'u'llah are quite different than any obligatory prayers we have seen in other faiths. All three of them seem to say the same thing, namely reminding us of our position in creation. So why is it that these are obligated of us? Why not any of the other prayers?

Quite simply, because we think they are true, as in the sense of absolute Truth, capitalized and all. Even if we don't believe them, even if we are an atheist or are just  saying them as a test, they are still true. This is the difference between truthfulness and honesty. The truth is the truth, no matter what we believe. Honesty is merely what we believe, whether or not it is true. And truthfulness, we are told, "is the foundation of all human virtues". Perhaps that is why I have suggested to my friends that they try saying these Obligatory Prayers every day, whether or not they agree with them. Many of them have,  and nearly all come back and said that yes, it did make a difference in their lives.

Oh, and I'm sure you noticed that it is in paragraph 8 that we are told where to find the words we are to say.

By the way, there is an interesting caveat in that paragraph regarding the Prayer for the Dead. He specifies that there are six verses that are repeated, and says that whoever can read should read the passages that precede them. If we can't read, He offers us, then presumably we can just recite the six verses the requisite number of times. I find this interesting because it is such a blessing to us, a true mercy in our time of grief. Prior to this, the prayers for the dead were to be read by ordained priests, as far as I am aware. But here, in the Baha'i Faith we don't have ordained clergy. So who is to bless the dead? Presumably we are. Ok, I can hear some people saying, but what if I can't read? Surely we can remember the six verses, six simple lines. And of course, we can probably count to 19, even if we're missing a finger. This, for many, I am sure, is a great blessing. They can now lay their own departed loved ones to rest, even if they are unable to read.

By the way, it is also worth noting that He still hasn't given us the words we are to say. It is as if He is doing all He can to assist us in curtailing that reaction I mentioned earlier. Truly, He is merciful.

On to paragraph 9. As I just mentioned, we don't have to be ordained ministers to say these prayers. We are all able to say them. And here, in this paragraph, He goes further. Many of those things that were thought might nullify our prayers in previous faiths? Nope. It's all poppycock. Such things as hair, fur, bones, and so on, do not invalidate our progress.

While we may think that this is merely correcting a minor misconception from Islam, or Judaism, I think it goes quite a bit further than that. This validates many Indigenous traditions around the world. All of a sudden those sacred objects that are so valued by people all over the globe are now justified. If something helps us remember our Creator, then it is good. If we find value in using a bird's wing to blow the smoke from the burning sage across our brow, this is fine. We are allowed to do it. No longer can Indigenous peoples be told not to use their own traditional items. Again, what a blessing and mercy.

By the way, as we read this paragraph, we were kind of curious about two of the animals mentioned. I mean, we had no problem with the sable, but my wife was wondering if there were beavers in Europe. After all, we live in Canada, and are well aware that there are many animals here that are not in Europe. Was the beaver one of them? Nope. There were plenty of beavers all over Europe and Asia. They almost went extinct around 1900, but, through various efforts, were saved.

Now, this connection to Canada, the beaver being one of our national icons, led me to think of another famous Canadian icon: the moose. And what comes next? The squirrel.

Moose and squirrel.

Every time I read this passage I think of Boris Badanov now: "Moose and sqvirrel? Excellent. Now ve can use their fur, Natasha."

Anyways, this brings us to paragraph 10, in which He tells us some of the boundaries for this Obligatory Prayer, as well as fasting. He tells us our  obligation to use it begins upon reaching maturity, but exempts us due to weakness from illness or age. He reminds us to prostrate ourselves on a clean surface, because cleanliness is a good thing, right? And He also gives provisions for those living in arid climes, or near the polar regions, demonstrating His global vision. Again, such mercy.

In paragraph 11 He removes the mandatory prayer for natural phenomenon. We no longer need to say this prayer when we encounter "fearful natural events". Why? Perhaps because He is helping us move past any superstition surrounding these events. While we may still be "frightened" during an earthquake, we understand they don't come from gay marriages, or anything else that we, as a society, may have done. We have an awareness of plate tectonics, and know why they really occur. By understanding their true nature, we can take more effective action against, say, the development of stronger  hurricanes due to climate change.

Another point here is that this remembrance of God during these times is a reminder that we are only here a short time. God is the one in charge.

On to paragraph 12. Remember what I said earlier about no priests? Well that applies here, too. Congregational prayer, contrary to some people's belief, does not refer to praying in a group setting. It refers to someone saying the prayers for you. In many previous religions it was only the ordained clergy who were able to say effective prayers. If you wanted your prayers to go to God, they were the ones who had the direct line connection. Here Baha'u'llah seems to be saying, "Do it yourself." You can't delegate someone else to pray on your behalf. It just won't work.

Paragraph 13 is also interesting. This one is specifically, and only, for women. And I really loved what my wife shared about it. First, it's not an exemption in the way that we normally think of it. In fact, it takes her longer to to the 95 repetitions than it does to say her normal Obligatory Prayers.

But what is it that she is to say? "Glorified be God, the Lord of Splendour and Beauty". During the time of the month when she "feels like crap" and "feels especially ugly", she is to focus on splendour and beauty. And not only is she to focus on it, she is given a mantra to use during that time. Again, it takes time. During this difficult time of the month for her, she is to make sure that she takes aside 20 - 30 minutes every day and say a mantra focused on beauty.

How often do women, especially mothers, take that kind of time to look after their spiritual needs? How often are they allowed? Here it is guaranteed. This is really powerful, and especially important.

Finally, paragraph 14, which is all about traveling. I find it interesting how He shows us a form of equality here, with the repeated phrase, "men and women alike". This is not just for the men, but for everyone. And look at what it is we are to do. If we miss an Obligatory Prayer, we are to prostrate ourselves in a safe place and recite one verse for each missed prayer, or if we can't prostrate ourselves, recite another verse. Ok. Cool. Then, once we've done that, we are to sit cross-legged and repeat another verse 18 times.

Wait. Cross-legged? Don't some people consider that inappropriate for a woman? Well, evidently it's ok. Presumably everyone will be wearing appropriate clothing for travel, and so this should be acceptable.

To me, this is another subtle reminder to not try and stifle women.

But what, my wife asked me, if she is in her courses? Then you look at the previous paragraph. Even while traveling, it is probably not all that difficult to find a little bit of time to say that mantra when you are resting at the end of the day. So this should be ok.

In the end, this whole section on Obligatory Prayer seems to me to be just blessing upon blessing, and mercy upon mercy.

But one last question: Why is this the very first thing He talks about? Simple, I think. It's all about our connection to God. Everything else comes from that. Recognize and obey. Understand the true nature of these laws, and their reasons. And then work on that connection with your Creator.