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.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Quiet Audience

Mulla Husayn will long be remembered for being the first Letter of the Living, the first of those great souls to recognize the Bab, paving the way for all of us who came after him.

After the last of the Letters of the Living recognized Him, the Bab sent each of them on their own special mission. One was sent to Iraq. Another was to join Him on His Pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. Most were sent to teach the Faith in their hometowns. But Mulla Husayn was given a special mission, one that would have great and wonderful consequences.

He was sent by the Bab north, to spread the Cause in the cities of Isfahan, Kashan, Tihran, and Khurasan. Now this was not a random assignment. He had already made a name for himself in those areas, having visited them on behalf of Siyyid Kazim. He had proven himself an able scholar, wise, virtuous, and detached from all save God. It made a lot of sense to send him to these cities.

But, of course, there was more to it than just that. Before he left, the Bab told Mulla Husayn that one of the cities he was to visit held "a mystery of such transcendent holiness as neither Hijaz nor Shiraz can hope to rival". This meant that he would encounter something greater than either Muhammad or the Bab Himself. Hijaz, of course, referred to Muhammad, while Shiraz referred to the Bab. This, obviously, would not have been lost on Mulla Husayn. So he likely went forth not only willing to do his Lord's bidding, but eager to see what this mystery would be. He also would have been praying to God for assistance in being able to recognize it.

As you can imagine, things were very interesting wherever he went on this journey. He went to Isfahan first, being the first major city on his route. When he got there, he went to the school which he had previously visited on behalf of Siyyid Kazim, only to discover that the great teacher whose admiration and support he had won had passed away. Those former students who were now in charge of the school allowed their jealousy of his knowledge and wisdom to prevail, and denounced Mulla Husayn and his Message. One of the only people to accept the new Message in this city of scholars was a lowly sifter of wheat, whose story I shall recount another time.

From Isfahan, he went on to Kashan, Qum, and then on to Tihran.

In Tihran he took lodging at a famous religious school, directed by the leader of the Shaykhi community, the very community of Siyyid Kazim and Mulla Husayn.

This leader, however, ignored the very purpose of the Shaykhi community, namely to search for the Promised One after the passing of Siyyid Kazim, and was too caught up in being the head of it, instead. When Mulla Husayn delivered his Message, this teacher ignored the Bab's claim and instead rebuked Mulla Husayn for abandoning the Shaykhi community.

As you can imagine, Mulla Husayn delivered his message with wisdom and courtesy, and likely responded to the criticism with detachment. He left this leader to his own devices, and proceeded to spread the Message of the Bab in other parts of the city, leaving the school's lodgings early in the morning and returning late at night.

One of the students, however, Mulla Muhammad of Nur, had overheard the discussion between his teacher and Mulla Husayn. He was deeply touched by this new Message, and ashamed of the arrogance shown by his teacher.

On his own, around midnight one evening, Mulla Muhammad sought out Mulla Husayn in his rooms. Despite the late hour, he found him awake and seated by a lamp. Mulla Husayn greeted his unexpected guest with such loving welcome that this man was even further moved by his Message.

"I can now see", Mulla Husayn told him, "the reason why I have chosen to dwell in this place. Your teacher has contemptuously rejected this Message and despised its Author. My hope is that his pupil may, unlike his master, recognize its truth."

The conversation which followed led Mulla Husayn to recognize that great Mystery hidden in Tihran. But like the story of the Sifter of Wheat, that is for another time.

What is interesting here, and deeply relevant to our own circumstances today, is this encounter with Mulla Muhammad.

Many times we will find ourselves in a conversation, showing a truth or presenting a cogent argument, with someone who is just not open to the idea at all. And often during these moments we may be inclined to push a point or react with either dismay or anger. But most of the time the impact of the conversation will not be with the person with whom we are speaking. It will be with someone who just happens to overhear it. And if we push our point, or show anger at their "not getting it", then we are no different than anyone else. but when we respond with calm courtesy, and dignity, we can stand out.

I remember being in a used bookstore in San Diego many years ago, and looking through the religious section. Another customer came over to me and showed interest in the fact that I was interested in religious studies. We began to talk, and in the course of the conversation I naturally mentioned that I was a Baha'i. Things, as they say, went south from there. He began to chastise me, yell at me, tell me that I was going to hell, and so on. A preternatural calm came over me during this time, which is most unusual for me, and I responded to his comments with quiet courtesy, and simple points referenced from the Bible itself. Each of my comments had the singular effect of making him more and more upset. My calm reaction to his tirade did nothing but further fuel his anger. It finally got to the point where the owner of the store came over and proceeded to kick this poor man out. I, in the meantime, went back to looking over the section, wondering why I was so calm.

The owner came over and apologized profusely for this whole scene, which was no fault of his own. I assured him of this point, and thanked him for his intervention. Then, to my surprise, a few moments later, a woman came from the other side of the bookshelves and said, "I heard what you were saying about the Baha'i Faith. And if this faith leads you to remain so calm under such an attack, I want to know more. Can you tell me about it?"

Whether it is in a bookstore under circumstances like this, or on-line in a conversation in which someone has posted a prejudicial comment, our calm reaction to such things is probably not going to teach the person showing such hatred or anger. It can, however, teach those who are watching.

And in the case of Mulla Husayn, it led to him being able to share the Message of the Bab with Baha'u'llah Himself.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Those Schools of Learning

We all know the story of Mulla Husayn, and how he went in search of the Promised One after the passing of his teacher, Siyyid Kazim. But there are some things about his story that often surprise me. For example, there is that line in the Kitab-i-Iqan, "But for him, God would not have been established upon the seat of His mercy, nor ascended the throne of eternal glory."

Wait. What?

Except for Mulla Husayn? God would not have been established upon the seat of His mercy? God would not have ascended the throne of eternal glory?

After realizing what I was implied when I read that line, I began to pay a lot more attention to the story of this great hero of the Faith.

So what exactly happened?

Well, to begin, he was an incredible student, wise, tactful, knowledgeable, as well as firm, loyal, diligent and a whole whack of other virtues, too. He went off, at Siyyid Kazim's request, to answer the questions of some mullas who had reservations about his teachings. Mulla Husayn was able to satisfy them, and when he returned, he discovered that his revered teacher has passed away.

After realizing that his fellow students were not heading off to search for the Promised One, as Siyyid Kazim hads urged them, he decided to set the example for them all. He knew the criteria by which they could recognize the Him, but had also written a treatise outlining the more difficult teachings of Siyyid Kazim and Shaykh Ahmad, by which he could test Him, just to make sure.

You see, Mulla Husayn was very smart, and extremely learned. I know that I often forget this when I think of the epic battles he fought in Mazindarin at the site of the Shrine of Shaykh Tabarsi. But first and foremost, he was a scholar.

And so, before heading off on his great and historic journey, his epic search for the Promised One, he collected his treatise by which he would test anyone making so great a claim.

As you no doubt know, he presented this work to the Bab during that first meeting, and the Bab rebuked him for it. "It is for God to test His servants, not for His servants to judge Him in accordance with their deficient standards."

Now this is where I find myself pausing and thinking about how it applies to my own life.

There is a story about this treatise that caught my attention, and how Mulla Husayn felt about it.

He was walking with a friend of his, Haji Mu'min-i Khurasani. They had gone to school together as children, and Haji Mu'min was taught the faith by Mulla Husayn. They were walking and happened to pass a religious school like the one they had attended as children, and Mulla Husayn said, "Never from this school has come learning, this house of ignorance is fit for burning."

Haji Mu'min asked him, "Why should we complain about these schools, when they have produced a man like you?"

"No, my friend," Mulla Husayn interrupted, "if it were not for the education I received in these schools, I would not have argued with my Lord."

In these schools, he seems to be saying, and much like many of the schools today, the knowledge is passed on in conjunction with cultivating the ego. Students are often taught to be proud of their learning, to stand tall in their "ivory towers". But when searching for the Promised One, when striving to learn about God and the mysteries of creation, humility is required, not proud learning.

The true miracle to me of Mulla Husayn's recognition of the Bab is not that he found Him, but that he was able to cast aside his own ego in order to do so.

This, also, is the main requisite that Baha'u'llah talks about in the Kitab-i-Iqan, that detachment from all that we know. it is not that we should forget what we know, but just that we shouldn't be too attached to our understanding of it.

This, perhaps, might be a reason why "God would not have been established upon the seat of His mercy". Mulla Husayn was so learned, and yet was still able to cast aside his own ego. He was so filled with knowledge, and was still able to see through it all and recognize the light of his Lord.

If the whole purpose of creation is to lead us to God, then Mulla Husayn singlehandedly justified it. And if one as scholarly as he can do it, then what is getting in our way?

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Everything in Creation

This week I want to tell a story about the Bab.

Well, it's not really a story about His life, but more a story of us. You see, dear Reader, I've noticed that when we talk about Him, we often talk about Him as the "John the Baptist of the Baha'i Faith". At the holy day celebrations that center on Him, for example, we often hear the same few stories and how He prepared us for the coming of Baha'u'llah.

All right. Well, this is true. He did.

But dear Reader, that's like saying, "Jesus? Christmas, Easter, and He said He would return." Yes, that's all true, but it doesn't even begin to cover the full import of what He did.

I mean come on. He was a Messenger of God, for His sake.

Regarding the Bab, it was said that “Knowledge is twenty and seven letters. All that the Prophets have revealed are two letters thereof. No man thus far hath known more than these two letters. But when the Qá’im shall arise, He will cause the remaining twenty and five letters to be made manifest.”

Ok, check this. Everything, all human knowledge up until 1843 consisted of only a couple of letters. The Bab comes and reveals more than 12 times that knowledge, and what do we say? "He said Baha'u'llah's coming."


So this week, for my story about the Bab and the early Babi's, I want to share just a single line, seven words, from the Pen of the Bab. And remember, this is a Manifestation of God we're talking about. Those seven words? Well, let's see.

I was reading Gate of the Heart, by Nader Saiedi, when I ran across this line, so if you're looking for it in Selections from the Writings of the Bab, you won't find it there. (You're welcome.)

The line? Oh, yeah. Here it is:
Everything in creation hath its own heaven.

I feel like it should be bolded, sparkling, in a special colour, and maybe even flashing. It is so amazing in its depth and profundity that I feel I should write it again.

Everything in creation hath its own heaven.

I mean, think about it.

Ok, I can hear you say, but everything?

Well, He says "everything".

But, like, everything everything?

Yes, everything everything.

Even my shoe?

Even your shoe.


Ah, that's the question, isn't it? You see, dear Reader, I think the Bab is making a very profound point with these seven seemingly simple words, a point that has the power and capacity to change our very lives.

To help put this into a perspective, namely mine, and that's nothing official, as you well know, when I look through Baha'u'llah's teachings, I find that heaven is described as the fulfillment of potential. I'm not sure of an exact quote that says this, but I infer it from a lot of different references.

Anyways, if heaven is the fulfillment of potential, and everything in creation "hath its own heaven", then when we help something find and fulfill its greatest potential, it will be in its own heaven.

The plastic bag that we get when we go shopping has the potential to carry something. When it is actually doing that, it is fulfilling its potential. It finds itself in its own heaven.

However, and here's the rub, when we have carried our groceries home and casually toss that bag in the garbage, it no longer is fulfilling that potential. We are, in effect, telling it that it is useless, it's garbage. And that, if you care to anthropomorphize, would feel like hell.

Perhaps that is why garbage can be so toxic.

It is always the waste products, the by-products, those parts of a process that are not "useful", that are so damaging.

But when we look at that bag and find another use for it, either through repurposing, reusing, or recycling, we are helping it fulfill a new potential. We are, in effect, carrying it to its new heaven.

For a long time sand was considered one of the most useless things on the planet. Its coming together in the form a desert was considered absolutely ruinous. Still is by most people. But when we extract the silicon from the sand, we can produce the wonders of computers. Today we have found a myriad of uses for that most useless of all things, even to the point where it is one of the most widely stolen natural resources on the planet. Check it out, if you don't believe me. It's tragic, but true.

One of the things we missed when we spoke of "Easter, Christmas, and He would return" was Christ's promise of "Thy Kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven". Perhaps this recognition of fulfilling potential is part of that promise.

Imagine a world in which we found a use for everything, every object, every person. A world in which nothing was wasted or thrown away. A world in which nothing and no one was tossed aside as useless. Wouldn't this be a heaven on earth?

I say that this line can be life-changing because when we really pause to consider it, it can change our very behaviour.

Ever since I read that line, "Everything in creation hath its own heaven", I have thought about it almost continually. When I am about to toss something in the garbage, I find myself asking if it can be put to another use. I ask if there is some hidden potential for that object that I am missing. I actually find myself reluctant to throw anything away, not in the sense of wanting to hoard stuff, but in the sense of being more fully conscious of recycling it, if possible.

In fact, this has now shaped my shopping habits, too. I find myself unwilling to buy pretty much anything that I know will result in me having to throw something away, even, or especially, the packaging.

To be clear, though, it is not a manic thing, nor is it fanatical. It is a simple awareness that is shaping my life and my buying habits. The effect it has had on me is much like the effect the law of the Right of God has had. (You can click on that link, if you want, to see what I mean.)

Instead of buying pre-made food, for example, which will result in a lot of waste, I consciously choose to buy ingredients that I can prepare myself, which produces not only better quality food for my family, but also far less waste.

Instead of buying the cheapest products possible, I find the ones that are of a better quality, ensuring the livelihood of those who are producing them. I prefer to buy from local artisans for a bit more money than to buy cheap stuff that will last a short time and need to be replaced sooner. It means that budgeting is far more important now, but as I said, it results in a better quality of life for both myself and those that I support through my purchases.

This, to me, is a teaching that is worthy of a Messenger from God. This, to me, is a message that was worth bringing to us. And while it is true that He foretold the coming of Baha'u'llah, the Bab also taught so much more.

Everything, and yes, I do mean everything, truly does have its own heaven. And when we strive to help all around us fulfill their highest potential, we will find ourselves standing amidst that heaven, too.