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.

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