Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Uninvited Guests

Every morning, over breakfast, I read to my son. It is one of our delightful morning rituals. Lately I have been reading to him stories of the Bab, as I continue to search for stories to write about every week.

This morning we were reading Hour of Dawn, by Mary Perkins, and we are at the point where the Bab has just arrived in Tabriz for the first time. He is staying in a house with two guards stationed outside to keep everybody away. Nevertheless, despite being told that they would forfeit all their possessions, as well as be imprisoned for the rest of their lives, there are still some Babis who chose to try and meet Him. One of them was Haji Ali-Askar.

He and another Babi went to the house where the Bab was staying, and the guards promptly moved forward to arrest them. At that moment, though, Siyyid Hasan, one of the Bab's companions, came out and said that the Bab had the following message: "Suffer these visitors to enter, inasmuch as I Myself have invited them to meet Me."

When they went inside the Bab told them, "These miserable wretches who watch at the gate of My house have been destined by Me as a protection against the inrush of the multitude who throng around the house. They are powerless to prevent those whom I desire to meet from attaining My presence."

When I asked my son what stood out to him from the story this morning, it was this small part. We had read about 10 pages, but it was this part, in particular, that caught his attention.

"Why?" I wondered.

"I am just amazed," he said, "that despite the warnings and threats, so many people wanted to see Him."

And so, while we awaited his school bus, we talked about this.

Why did the people want to see the Bab? And why was He so eager to keep them away?

We were only able to come up with three reasons why people wanted to see Him. First, there were the Babis who recognized Him as the Promised One and would do or risk anything to be in His presence. Second, there were the sight-seers. These are the ones who merely wanted to see what the big deal was. The third group would be those who were investigating His claims.

When we divided the people into these three categories, the need for guards suddenly made more sense.

The first group, He would be happy to see, but possibly only if they made the effort. Otherwise, they had already recognized. They could be satisfied with His writings and go out and teach.

The second group He would probably have no desire to see. After all, they would likely be just as interested in seeing a two-headed chicken. And given the probable numbers in that group, it is no wonder that He had guards to keep them away.

As for the third group, if they truly wanted to investigate His claims, they would do better to start by asking His followers or read His writings. They should do the research instead of bothering Him.

And it is because of this third group that we saw relevance to our lives today.

When we have questions, we should do the groundwork first.

As Baha'is, we have the right to ask whatever we want of the Universal House of Justice. But does that mean we should? Of course not. We should begin by researching the question ourselves. Part of that research could include asking other Baha'is, or perhaps even asking for guidance from our local Assembly or an auxiliary Board member. If we do not find satisfaction, perhaps we may go to either the regional level, or even ask our National Assembly. Only when we have exhausted all other avenues of research, and if we feel that the question is important enough, should we even begin to think about taking the time of the Universal House of Justice. Now, of course, this is only my own personal opinion, but when I think of all that they have to do, I would not want to waste a single moment of their precious time.

There have been many times in my life where I have had questions about the Faith. I have looked in the writings. I have asked people. And when I post a question on-line, I am often astonished at how quickly and readily people suggest writing the House of Justice.

As my son and I talked about this today, I could see his puzzlement as to why this would be so quick a response. He, too, seems to have an inkling as to the amount of work they do.

And after we talked about it, he said he could now understand why the Bab had allowed the guards to be outside His door. And why some few were still allowed to see Him anyways.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Honour Guard

There are many interesting stories about the Bab, some of them are epic in their scope. Some others, though, were seemingly trivial. All of them have their lessons.

One such story, a seemingly trivial one, occurred fairly early in His ministry.

It was June, 1845. The Bab had returned to Bushihr from His Pilgrimage, and was contemplating visiting Karbilah, as He told His companions He would. He had sent Quddus to Shiraz to inform His uncle of His Mission, as well as to teach some of the locals there. One of those locals was a Mulla who immediately began obeying the new laws of the Bab. As He had added a line to the traditional Call to Prayer, people got upset, and the governor was moved to stop the spread of unrest, which resulted in guards being sent to arrest the Bab. It is likely that for these reasons the Bab decided to change His plans.

The Bab headed northeast of Bushihr some 65 kilometers to meet these guards. Normally it would take about 2 solid days of riding to cover that distance, and so when the Bab talked to them, His conversation had a significance we don't often consider.

The Bab asked them where they were going, which was odd enough, as they were guards, and were probably used to being avoided whenever possible. But the guard commander thought it best to conceal his mission and told the Bab that they were just sent to the area to look into some matter for the governor.

"The governor has sent you to arrest Me", came the startling reply from the Bab. "Here am I; do with Me as you please."

After a bit of back and forth, the Bab finally said, "I know that you are seeking Me. I prefer to deliver Myself into your hands, rather than subject you and your companions to unnecessary annoyance for My sake."

You can well imagine how this shocked the guards, a wanted man willingly giving himself up to the capricious whims of the governor, who was known to commit great violence in order to keep the peace in his province. To not flee was one thing, but for Him to go out of His way to save them two extra days of travel each way? It is no wonder they treated Him with such deference.

You can also imagine the surprise when these tough and hardened guards came back to Shiraz with the Bab leading them, as though they were His honour guard.

It seems like such a simple story, on the surface, and yet when we pause to think about it a bit more, we can see that there are depths to it.

But how is this relevant to us today?

For me, to see the relevance I have to go back a couple thousand years to the ministry of Jesus.

In Matthew 5, Jesus teaches "But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two."

I have written on the cheek striking part before, so I won't repeat it here. But it is this line about compelling someone to go a mile that interests me here. And while I've written about that, too, I'll repeat it here as it bears on this theme.

At the time of Jesus, it was fairly common for the Roman legions to "compel" people to do certain tasks, like carrying their packs for a mile. This was evidently a big issue for the Jewish rebels of the time, as I'm sure it would be for me today. It was, in fact, one of their main complaints about the Roman occupation of Jerusalem, and something they desperately wanted to get overturned. And just as they expected the Messiah to come as a warrior and physically boot the Romans out, they also expected that He would demand the cessation of this law.

Not only did Jesus not stop this practice, He encouraged His followers to go over and above it. If they ask you to walk a mile, walk two for them.

And here, the Bab effectively acts it out. He not only goes out to meet the guards, He goes so far as to save them a few days journeying by meeting them partway on the road back to Shiraz.

And the reaction? They go from merely carrying out the orders of the governor to becoming ardent admirers of the Bab.

When we know that someone is unjustly coming after us, metaphorically speaking, we can go out of our way to meet them on that road. Through this simple effort, we may end up, after all, turning our possible enemies into our greatest well-wishers.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Teacher

Shaykh 'Abid was a very interesting man. He was a disciple of both Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim. He was well known for both his piety and his learning. He was also, as stories about him show, quite humble, and this, I think, is one of his most important qualities.

He was a teacher in Shiraz, and his students referred to him as Shaykhuna. Personally, aside from the linguistic tie to the word Shaykh, I have no clue what that means, but I presume it is something good.

What he is most known for, though, in history, is being the teacher of the Bab when He was a young child.

One day, he said, he asked the Bab to recite the opening words of the Qur'an, Bismi'llahi'r-Rahmani'r-Rahim. The Bab, oddly enough, hesitated. He said that He would not attempt to pronounce the words unless He was told what they signified. And to think, He was only 7 years old, or so.

Shaykh Abid, of course, could have translated the Arabic words for Him, "In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate". He could have described the meaning to his young student. He could have insisted that the Bab just do as He was told. But he did none of those things. Instead he pretended not to know their meaning and asked the Bab what He thought.

"I know what these words signify", said the Bab, "by your leave I will explain them."

Shaykh Abid later recalled, "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."

Years later, this humble but knowledgeable teacher became a devoted Babi.

It's such a simple story, and really, can be told in just a few sentences. But like all stories of the Bab, like any story from religious history, it is filled with many layers of meaning.

One important learning that we get from it is to allow the students we are teaching to offer what they know. When the Bab asked Shaykh Abid what the words meant, he responded by asking the student what He thought. Of course, even if your student is not a Manifestation of God, it is still good to ask. Students, whether children or adult, already have a knowledge within them. And by asking what they think, you are giving them a chance to share, which is very encouraging. You also are taking the opportunity to learn, either from their new perspective, or learn what they are missing.

This, of course, is also the very basis of tutoring, too. As teachers or tutors, our job is to guide, not to try and fill "empty vessels".

To me, Shaykh Abid demonstrated the most important qualities of a teacher, and perhaps that may be why he was rewarded with the opportunity to both hear the Bab on this wonderful occasion, and recognize His Station later in life.

A second learning that we get from this story is from the actions of the Bab, Himself.

We note that He refused to utter the words unless He knew what they meant. Doesn't that just speak to the importance of understanding what we are doing? Knowing that of which we speak?

This is a lesson that I think we all need to consider far more these days.

Even as a young child, the Bab was demonstrating His station as a Manifestation of God, for His every action teaches us many lessons.