10 December 2017

Humor of Baha'u'llah

When a Baha'i goes on pilgrimage, they sign up for a formal 9 days in the Holy Land, marked by a few guided tours, talks, a hike or two up the terraces, and long visits to the shrines of Baha'u'llah and the Bab.

When I went in early 2001, Mrs. Grossman was my guide, and I heard many amazing stories while visiting the places in Akka and Haifa. Here are three stories that stood out to me because they serve as a reminder of the wit and humor of Baha'u'llah and His companions. These are from memory, and if you know of the references, please leave a comment.
Mishkin-Qalam was a great calligrapher of his day, and is the author of the Greatest Name calligraphy that Baha'is use as a symbol of the Faith. He was a close friend of Baha'u'llah and accompanied him on many of his journeys. One day Baha'u'llah needed to borrow a teapot, so he sent someone to request a teapot from Mishkin-Qalam. The messengers arrived and said, "Baha'u'llah would like to borrow your teapot." To which Mishkin-Qalam responded, "Tell him I said no." The messenger, a little stunned, returned to Baha'u'llah and said, "He said no." Baha'u'llah, now with a smile on His face, asked the messenger to return and ask Mishkin-Qalam, "Why?" The poor messenger now returned to Mishkin-Qalam and said, "He would like to ask you why you said no." To this, Mishkin-Qalam responded, "Tell him that many times in my life I have asked God for something and God denied my request. I would like to have one time in my life that I can say no to something God asks."
Near Akka there was a small alluvial island in a river that the Baha'is built up so that it wouldn't flood, and they made it into a garden. This became known as the Garden of Ridvan (not to be confused with the Garden of Ridvan in Baghdad, where Baha'u'llah declared his mission publicly). This was towards the end of Baha'u'llah's life, when he was free to live outside of the gates of Akka. Baha'u'llah would often visit the garden to relax and enjoy its natural beauty. The caretaker of the garden was a man named `Abu'l-Qasim, who spent many days tending the garden to perfection. One day, a swarm of locusts was approaching the area and would devastate the garden. `Abdu'l-Qasim was frantic and asked Baha'u'llah to do something about the impending destruction. Baha'u'llah responded, "`Abu'l-Qasim, the locusts need to eat too." He returned to his garden and sat in distress while the swarm got closer, within sight. Again, `Abu'l-Qasim pleaded for help and received the same response from Baha'u'llah. As the locusts began chewing on his plants, he again pleaded for help. Baha'u'llah went out into the garden, faced the swarm of approaching locusts, and said in a loud booming voice, "`Abu'l-Qasim is not pleased with you!" Then he shook his robe with a hard swoop, and then most of the locusts in the garden flew away, and the swarm bypassed the garden. 
`Abu'l-Qasim, tending the same garden, worked particularly hard cleaning up mulberries. There was a bush that grew up and over a bench where Baha'u'llah would often sit. To keep the area clean `Abu'l-Qasim would have to daily pick up the fallen berries and then wipe off juice from the bench. As this went on and on `Abu'l-Qasim once complained to Baha'u'llah about this problem and asked for a solution to the problem. To this, Baha'u'llah stood in front of the mulberry bush, and addressing the bush said, "`Abu'l-Qasim is not pleased with you!" Again, he shook his robe with a hard swoop at the bush. The bush never produced a berry again. 
These are stories recorded in Baha'u'llah: A Short Biography by Moojan Momen, pp. 121-122.
...when the Garden of Ridvan was being prepared, all the Baha'is lent a hand in raising the level of the island so that it would not flood and then worked on the soil to develop it into a garden. One day, Nabil Zarandi came to this garden while the other Baha'is were busy at work. One of them called out to Nabil to take a spade and give them a hand. Mulla Muhammad... whom Baha'u'llah had given the name Nabil (meaning 'noble' in Arabic), replied that "Baha'u'llah has prohibited me from working with a spade since he named me 'na bil' (which in Persian means 'no spade')."
On one occasion, Baha'u'llah attended a memorial meeting in `Akka for one of the Baha'is who had died. Aqa Muhammad `Ali noticed how graciously and beautifully Baha'u'llah spoke about the deceased. Longing for the same treatment, Aqa Muhammad `Ali is reported to have said to Baha'u'llah, "I shall be honoured if you would presume that I am dead also, and give me the privilege of inviting you to attend a memorial meeting for me!'
On one occasion when they were still in Baghdad, a rather rotund Iranian cleric came to visit Baha'u'llah and sat down pompously. "I am the seal of the mujtahids", he announced upon his arrival. Mujtahids are the most senior grade of Shi`i clerics and the word seal (khatam) is usually connected with Muhammad being the seal, meaning the last, of the prophets. The word can also mean, as intended here, the most excellent. Baha'u'llah however, taking the first meaning (which would make what he had said to mean 'I am the last of the mujtahids'), quipped: "Let's hope so." 

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