Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Paragraph 54

And likewise, reflect upon the revealed verse concerning the "Qiblih." When Muhammad, the Sun of Prophethood, had fled from the dayspring of Batha (Mecca) unto Yathrib (Medina), He continued to turn His face, while praying, unto Jerusalem, the holy city, until the time when the Jews began to utter unseemly words against Him -- words which if mentioned would ill befit these pages and would weary the reader. Muhammad strongly resented these words. Whilst, wrapt in meditation and wonder, He was gazing toward heaven, He heard the kindly Voice of Gabriel, saying: "We behold Thee from above, turning Thy face to heaven; but We will have Thee turn to a Qiblih which shall please Thee." (Qur'an 2:144) On a subsequent day, when the Prophet, together with His companions, was offering the noontide prayer, and had already performed two of the prescribed Rik'ats (prostrations), the Voice of Gabriel was heard again: "Turn Thou Thy face towards the sacred Mosque." (Qur'an 2:149) In the midst of that same prayer, Muhammad suddenly turned His face away from Jerusalem and faced the Ka'bih. Whereupon, a profound dismay seized suddenly the companions of the Prophet. Their faith was shaken severely. So great was their alarm, that many of them, discontinuing their prayer, apostatized their faith. Verily, God caused not this turmoil but to test and prove His servants. Otherwise, He, the ideal King, could easily have left the Qiblih unchanged, and could have caused Jerusalem to remain the Point of Adoration unto His Dispensation, thereby withholding not from that holy city the distinction of acceptance which had been conferred upon it.

This has been a very interesting exercise for us. Oh, not just reading this book in such detail, and studying it paragraph by paragraph, but reading this particular paragraph after a hiatus of a few days. We found that we initially began looking into the origin of this story, looking at the quotes cited from the Qur'an and reading the story around it. We then discovered that this story isn't actually from the Qur'an. It is from the Hadith. And then we began to talk about story telling and sacred text and how stories get changed and how Baha'u'llah has affirmed this story from the Hadith, as well as many others, while never mentioning some of the more wonky ones, and went on and on and talked about all sorts of other things only to discover that we had become distracted from what we feel is the main point.

And isn't that easy to do? Get distracted?

But then, when we said a prayer, which we always do before looking at this book together, and glanced over the previous few paragraphs, and checked where we were in the overall outline of the book, we realized that we had become distracted.

So, looking back at the outline, once again, we realized that this paragraph, this very story, falls under the section of that quote from Jesus, "The powers of the earth shall be shaken..."

"Their faith was shaken severely." Baha'u'llah does not choose His words lightly.

But let's look again at the placement of this story. This paragraph comes just after a reminder of symbolism in religion. He has just spent quite a number of paragraphs on this theme, and is still continuing to talk about it. He is not only stating what should be an obvious truth, He seems to also be reminding the Uncle of the Bab, and by extension us, of that other truth from Muhammad: "Think because ye say ye believe ye will not be tested?" We will be. Baha'u'llah seems to be preparing us for those inevitable tests.

Using a story that must have been very familiar to the reader, He reminds him that even the point towards which we turn is but a symbol.

This is quite important, given the status to which Mecca has been elevated in the Muslim community. He seems to be saying that even something so major, so iconic as the Ka'bih itself is merely a symbol, when in relation to God. In short, this becomes, as it was in the time of the Prophet, a test of detachment and obedience.

Let's be clear, God doesn't care where we face, where we turn our bodies. He is more concerned about our heart. Are we more attached to tradition, or is obedience more important to us? After all, just a few lines earlier in the Qur'an, it says, "So wherever you [might] turn, there is the Face of Allah." (Qur'an 2:115) The Uncle of the Bab would have been very familiar with this.

And so, once again, Baha'u'llah is leading us carefully onwards to help us get ready to recognize and accept a new Messenger. He is carefully pointing out what we already know, and the pitfalls that likely await us.

Finally, there is one other thing that really stood out for us, and that is a small phrase near the beginning. He tells us that "the Jews began to utter unseemly words". He is very specific. He is not anti-Semitic, to be sure, but is just reporting a specific historic fact. Our question, though, is whether this is a bit of foreshadowing, or not. Is Baha'u'llah planting the seed that will later grow into the law prohibiting backbiting? Were the Jews unseemly words a form of backbiting? If so, then look what was lost due to that: the supremacy of Jerusalem. This could be seen as but one result from the corrosive effects of backbiting.

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