Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Paragraph 55

None of the many Prophets sent down, since Moses was made manifest, as Messengers of the Word of God, such as David, Jesus, and others among the more exalted Manifestations who have appeared during the intervening period between the Revelations of Moses and Muhammad, ever altered the law of the Qiblih. These Messengers of the Lord of creation have, one and all, directed their peoples to turn unto the same direction. In the eyes of God, the ideal King, all the places of the earth are one and the same, excepting that place which, in the days of His Manifestations, He doth appoint for a particular purpose. Even as He hath revealed: "The East and West are God's: therefore whichever way ye turn, there is the face of God." (Qur'an 2:115) Notwithstanding the truth of these facts, why should the Qiblih have been changed, thus casting such dismay amongst the people, causing the companions of the Prophet to waver, and throwing so great a confusion into their midst? Yea, such things as throw consternation into the hearts of all men come to pass only that each soul may be tested by the touchstone of God, that the true may be known and distinguished from the false. Thus hath He revealed after the breach amongst the people: "We did not appoint that which Thou wouldst have to be the Qiblih, but that We might know him who followeth the Apostle from him who turneth on his heels." (Qur'an 2:143) "Affrighted asses fleeing from a lion." (Qur'an 74:50)

This paragraph continue the train of thought that was started in the last paragraph, and asks a basic question that does not seem to be asked often. Why was the point of adoration changed? What was the reason? Was it because Mecca is somehow better than Jerusalem? Or because Muhammad had something against the Jews?

In the last paragraph, we are given a bit of a glimpse into this. We were told that there were a few Jews who had said some "unseemly words against Him". But this, in and of itself, was not enough to cause the changing of the Qiblih. It hurt Him, and He "strongly resented these words", but still faced Jerusalem while praying.

Then, after this continued for a while, the angel Gabriel gave Him permission to face where He wanted. Yet He still faced Jerusalem. It was only later, in the middle of His daily prayers with the friends, when the angel explicitly told Him to face the Ka'bih that He turned. It is as if He was unwilling to follow His own desires, no matter the pain that it caused Him. We are given clear indications that this law was not changed because of anything Muhammad felt or wanted, but for another reason altogether, possibly related, but still different.

And obviously, given what we read in this paragraph, it doesn't matter where we face, because in the eyes of God all places are one and the same, so it wasn't changed due to some inherent superiority of Mecca.

So why the change? To test the believers.

This is such an important point that Baha'u'llah talks about it not only here for two paragraphs, but continually throughout this book brings it up, beginning in paragraph 8.

Perhaps one reason for this is that many people seem to think that leading a pure and holy life will somehow free you from tests, but in fact, it seems to be the opposite. When you say you believe, you will be tested.

But how do you know when it is a test? One way is that you feel that sense of confusion or consternation. Imagine if you had been facing Jerusalem your whole life whenever you prayed. Your parents, your grandparents, everyone you ever knew, or even heard about, all considered facing Jerusalem while praying as a sign of holiness. In this sort of circumstance, we know that we would have felt uncomfortable if we were there when Muhammad suddenly changed where He was facing. The test, though, was to see if we would unhesitatingly obey the One that we recognized as a Messenger from God. If not, then we would have been placing tradition above the Messenger. We would, in a sense, be saying that we knew better.

This is a point that Baha'u'llah really seems to want to make to help us better understand our natural feelings of unease when facing these tests from the Bab, or later from Himself.

He may be giving us warning that if we feel that extreme discomfort to the point where we want to say, "That just cannot be", and walk away, we might want to see if it is just a test.

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