Oct 202017
 

Today is the birthday (1819) of the Báb (“the door/gate”), whose birth name was Sayyed ʿAli Muhammad Shirāzi (سيد علی ‌محمد شیرازی‎‎ —  descendant of the prophet Ali Muhammad from Shiraz), the founder of Bábism, and one of the central figures of the Azali and Bahá’í faiths. His birthday is celebrated in the Bahá’í tradition on this date using the Gregorian calendar rather than the Islamic or Bahá’í calendars. He is considered to be a figure rather like John the Baptist in the Christian tradition, that is, a forerunner who prepared the way for Bahá’u’lláh. (see http://www.bookofdaystales.com/ascension-of-bahaullah/ ). He also has followers in his own right. Bahá’ís claim that the Báb was the spiritual return of Elijah and John the Baptist, that he was the saoshyant referred to in Zoroastrianism, and that he was the forerunner of their own religion. Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith, was a follower of the Báb and claimed to be the fulfillment of his promise that God would send another messenger. What follows gets a bit detailed and I understand if it is a bit much to digest for a simple daily post. I do think it is important, however, to glimpse the historical evolution of branches of Islam. The average non-Muslim Westerner doesn’t even know the difference between Shi’a and Sunni Muslims, let alone the branches of these main denominations.

The Báb was born in Shiraz to a middle-class merchant of the city. His father was Muhammad Ridá, and his mother was Fátimih (1800–1881), a daughter of a prominent merchant in Shiraz. She later became a Bahá’í. His father died while he was quite young and he was raised by his maternal uncle, Hájí Mírzá Siyyid `Alí, who was also a merchant. He claimed to be a descendant from Muhammad (a sayyid) through Husayn ibn Ali through both his parents. When he was in Shiraz his uncle sent him to maktab (primary school) and he was there for 6 to 7 years. Some time between when he was 15 and 20, he joined his uncle in the family business, a trading house, and became a merchant in the city of Bushehr in Iran, near the Persian Gulf. Some of his earlier writings suggest that he did not enjoy the business and instead applied himself to the study of religious literature. One of his contemporary followers described him as,

. . . very taciturn, and  would never utter a word unless it was absolutely necessary. He did not even answer our questions. He was constantly absorbed in his own thoughts, and was preoccupied with repetition of his prayers and verses. He was a handsome man with a thin beard, dressed in clean clothes, wearing a green shawl and a black turban.

An English physician him as a young man by saying: “He was a very mild and delicate-looking man, rather small in stature and very fair for a Persian, with a melodious soft voice, which struck me much.

In 1842 he married Khadíjih-Bagum (1822–1882); he was 23 and she was 20. She was the daughter of a prominent merchant in Shiraz. They had only one child, a boy named Ahmad who died the year he was born (1843). The pregnancy jeopardized Khadijih’s life and she never conceived again. The young couple occupied a modest house in Shiraz along with the Báb’s mother. Later, Khadijih became a Bahá’í.

In the 1790s in Persia, Shaykh Ahmad (1753–1826) began a religious movement within Twelver Shia Islam. His followers, who became known as Shaykhis, were expecting the imminent appearance of the al-Qa’im of the Ahl al-Bayt also called “the Mahdi” (the 12th (hidden) Imam, somewhat akin to a Messiah, whom some Twelver Muslims believe will appear at the second coming of Jesus). After the death of Shaykh Ahmad, leadership was passed on to Kazim Rashti (1793–1843). In 1841 the Báb went on pilgrimage to Iraq, and for seven months stayed mostly in and around Karbala. There he is believed to have met Kazim Rashti, who showed a high regard for him. He is believed to have attended some of Kazim Rashti’s lectures. On his death bed in December 1843, Kazim Rashti counselled his followers to leave their homes to seek the Mahdi, who, according to his prophecies, would soon appear. One of these followers, Mullá Husayn, after keeping vigil for 40 days in a mosque, travelled to Shiraz, where he met the Báb.

The Báb’s first religious inspirational experience, witnessed by his wife, is dated to about the evening of 3 April 1844. The Báb’s first public connection with his sense of a mission came with the arrival of Mullá Husayn in Shiraz. On the night of 22 May, Mullá Husayn was invited by the Báb to his home. On that night Mullá Husayn told him that he was searching for the possible successor to Kazim Rashti, the Promised One. The Báb told Mullá Husayn that he was Kazim Rashti’s successor and the bearer of divine knowledge. Mullá Husayn became the first to accept the Báb’s claims to be an inspired figure and a likely successor to Kazim Rashti. The Báb had replied satisfactorily to all of Mullá Husayn’s questions and had written in his presence, with extreme rapidity, a long tafsir (commentary) on surah “Yusuf”, which has come to be known as the Qayyúmu’l-Asmá’ and is considered the Báb’s first revealed work.

Mullá Husayn was the Báb’s first disciple. Within five months, seventeen other disciples of Kazim Rashti had accepted the Báb as a Manifestation of God. Among them was one woman, Fátimih Zarrín Táj Baragháni, a poet, who later received the name of Táhirih (the Pure). These 18 disciples were later to be known as the Letters of the Living and were given the task of spreading the new faith across Iran and Iraq. The Báb emphasized the spiritual station of these 18 individuals, who, along with himself, made the first “Unity” of his religion (in Arabic, the term wāhid “unity” has a numerical value of 19 using abjad numerals). The Báb, in his book the Persian Bayán, gives the metaphorical identity of the Letters of the Living as the Fourteen Infallibles of Twelver Shi’i Islam (Muhammad, the Twelve Imams, and Fatimah) and the four archangels. In his early writings, the Báb appears to identify himself as the gate (báb) to the Hidden Twelfth Imam, and later he begins explicitly to proclaim his station as that of the Hidden Imam and a new messenger from God.

In the Báb’s early writings, the exalted identity he was claiming was unmistakable, but because of the skeptical reception of this pronouncement by many people, his writings appear to convey the impression that he is only the gate to the Hidden Twelfth Imam. To his circle of early believers, the Báb was equivocal about his exact status, gradually confiding in them that he was not merely a gate to the Hidden Imam, but the Manifestation of the Hidden Imam and the Qa’im himself. During his early meetings with Mullá Husayn, the Báb described himself as the Master and the Promised One; he did not consider himself to be simply Kazim Rashti’s successor, but claimed a prophetic status, a kind of deputy, delegated not just by the Hidden Imam but through Divine authority.

In the early phase of his declaration to the public, the title báb was emphasized as that of the gate leading to the Hidden Imam, as the Báb had told his early believers not to fully disclose his claims or reveal his name. The approach of laying claim to a lower position was intended to create a sense of anticipation for the appearance of the Hidden Imam, as well to avoid persecution and imprisonment, because a public proclamation of mahdi status could have brought upon the Báb a swift penalty of death. After a couple of months, as the Báb observed further acceptance and readiness among his believers and the public, he gradually shifted his public claim to that of the Hidden Imam. Then in his final years he publicly announced his station as a Manifestation of God.

After the eighteen Letters of the Living had accepted him, the Báb and the eighteenth Letter of the Living, Quddús, left on a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. At the Kaaba in Mecca, the Báb publicly declared his claim to be the Qa’im or Mahdi. He also wrote to the Sharif of Mecca, the Custodian of the Kaaba, proclaiming his mission. After their pilgrimage, the Báb and Quddús returned to Bushehr in Iran.

Preaching by the Letters of the Living led to opposition by Islamic clergy, prompting the Governor of Shiraz to order the Báb’s arrest. The Báb, upon hearing of the arrest order, left Bushehr for Shiraz in June 1845 and presented himself to the authorities. He was placed under house arrest at the home of his uncle until a cholera epidemic broke out in the city in September 1846. The Báb was released and departed for Isfahan. There, many came to see him at the house of the imam jum’a, head of the local clergy, who became sympathetic. After an informal gathering where the Báb debated the local clergy and displayed his speed in producing instantaneous verses, his popularity soared. After the death of the governor of Isfahan, Manouchehr Khan Gorji, who had become his supporter, pressure from the clergy of the province led to the Shah, Mohammad Shah Qajar, ordering the Báb to Tehran in January 1847. After spending several months in a camp outside Tehran, and before the Báb could meet the Shah, the Prime Minister sent the Báb to Tabriz in the northwestern corner of the country, where he was imprisoned.

After forty days in Tabriz, the Báb was then transferred to the fortress of Maku in the province of Azerbaijian close to the Turkish border. During his incarceration there, the Báb began his most important work, the Persian Bayán, which he never finished. Because of the Báb’s growing popularity in Maku and the governor of Maku converting, the prime minister transferred him to the fortress of Chehriq in April 1848. In that place as well, the Báb’s popularity grew and his jailors relaxed restrictions on him. It was at this time that Áqa Bálá Big Shíshvání Naqshbandí painted the only known portrait of the Báb. The Prime Minister ordered the Báb back to Tabriz, where the government called on religious authorities to put the Báb on trial for blasphemy and apostasy.

The trial, attended by the Crown Prince, occurred in July 1848 and involved numerous local clergy. They questioned the Báb about the nature of his claims, his teachings, and demanded that he produce miracles to prove his divine authority. They admonished him to recant his claims. There are nine extant eyewitness reports of the trial which vary somewhat in terms of the questions asked and the answers given. Only one answer is found in all nine eyewitness sources, where the Báb states that “I am that person you have been awaiting for one thousand years.”

The trial did not bring a decisive result. Some clergy called for capital punishment, but the government pressured them to issue a lenient judgement because the Báb was popular. The government asked medical experts to declare the Báb insane so that he could not be executed. It is also likely that the government, to appease the religious clergy, spread rumours that the Báb had recanted. The Shaykh al-Islām, a champion of the anti-Bábist campaign, who was not at the Báb’s trial, issued a conditional death sentence if the Báb was found to be sane. A fatwa was issued establishing the Báb’s apostasy which stated, “The repentance of an incorrigible apostate is not accepted, and the only thing which has caused the postponement of your execution is a doubt as to your sanity of mind.”

The crown prince’s physician, William Cormick, examined the Báb and complied with the government’s request to find grounds for clemency. The physician’s opinion saved the Báb from execution for a time, but the clergy insisted that he face corporal punishment instead, so the Báb suffered foot whipping (twenty lashes to the bottoms of his feet). The unsigned and undated official government report states that because of his harsh beating, the Báb (orally and in writing) recanted, apologized, and stated that he would not continue to advance claims of divinity. The document of his alleged recantation was written shortly after his trial in Tabriz. Some authors believe that the assertions were made to embarrass the Báb and undermine his credibility with the public and that the language of this document is very different from the Báb’s usual style, so that it could have been prepared by the authorities.

After the trial, the Báb was ordered back to the fortress of Chehríq. In mid-1850 a new prime-minister, Amir Kabir, ordered the execution of the Báb, probably because various Bábí insurrections had been defeated and the movement’s popularity appeared to be waning. The Báb was brought back to Tabriz from Chehriq for an execution by firing squad. The night before his execution, as he was being conducted to his cell, a young Bábí, Muhammad-Ali “Anis” from Zonuz, threw himself at the feet of the Báb and begged to be killed with him. He was immediately arrested and placed in the same cell as the Báb.

On the morning of July 9, 1850, the Báb was taken to the courtyard of the barracks in which he was being held, where thousands of people had gathered to watch his execution. The Báb and Anís were suspended on a wall and a large firing squad of Christian soldiers prepared to shoot. Numerous eye-witness reports, including those of Western diplomats, recount the result. The order was given to fire and the barracks square filled with musket smoke. When it cleared, the Báb was no longer in the courtyard and his companion stood there unharmed. The bullets apparently had not harmed either man, but had cut the rope suspending them from the wall. There was a great commotion, many in the crowd believing the Báb had ascended to heaven or simply disappeared. But the soldiers subsequently found the Báb in another part of the barracks, completely unharmed, giving his final instructions to his secretary. He and Anis were tied up for execution a second time, a second firing squad of Muslim soldiers was ranged in front of them, and a second order to fire was given. This time, the Báb and his companion were killed. In Bábí and Bahá’í tradition, the failure of the first firing squad to kill the Báb is believed to have been a miracle. Their corpses were dumped outside the gates of the town to be eaten by animals.

The corpses, however, were clandestinely rescued by a handful of Bábis and were hidden. Over time the remains were secretly transported according to instructions of Bahá’u’lláh and then `Abdu’l-Bahá by way of Isfahan, Kirmanshah, Baghdad and Damascus, to Beirut and thence by sea to Acre on the plain below Mount Carmel in 1899. On March 21, 1909, the remains were then interred in a special tomb, the Shrine of the Báb, erected for this purpose by `Abdu’l-Bahá, on Mount Carmel in present-day Haifa in Israel. The Bahá’í World Centre is located close to this site.

Bahá’ís and Bábis treat today as a holy day, ceasing work and holding festive gatherings. Something Persian/Iranian is suitable and I have chosen an eggplant and tomato stew, Khoresh Bademjan, which is very popular. It usually contains meat of some sort – lamb or beef – but I am giving a vegan version here because many Bahá’ís and Bábis (not all), refrain from eating meat. Given that the dish’s main ingredients are eggplants and tomatoes, which are New World cultigens, it’s not an ancient dish by any means. But, given that the Báb lived in the 19th century an ancient dish is not called for. One of the main ingredients is pomegranate molasses. I give a recipe for here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/cyrus-the-great/  or you can buy it online. The dish is normally accompanied by a yoghurt sauce, and should be served with rice.

Khoresh Bademjan

Ingredients

For the Eggplant and Tomato Stew:

1 ½ pounds eggplant, stemmed, peeled, and cut into 1-inch pieces
¼ cup plus 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, peeled, and finely sliced
3 large cloves garlic, peeled, and finely chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp sea salt (plus extra for salting the eggplant)
1 28 oz can whole tomatoes, drained
¼ cup pomegranate molasses
1 pinch saffron

For the Yogurt Herb Sauce:

6 oz plain yogurt
¼ cup fresh, chopped dill
2 or 3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
salt

Instructions

Place the eggplant in a large colander set over a bowl. Sprinkle generously with sea or kosher salt and set aside. For 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Heat the ¼ cup of olive oil over medium high heat in a Dutch oven or deep, heavy skillet. Add the onions and sauté until they are soft and translucent, and beginning to brown in spots. Add the garlic, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, and salt, and sauté about a minute longer, stirring until the onions are coated and the spices are aromatic.

Press the eggplant well in the colander to release trapped fluid, and then turn it out on to paper towels and pat dry.    Add the eggplant to the pan. Drizzle the pan with the extra 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Sauté, turning to coat the eggplant in the onion and spice mixture. Continue until the eggplant is tender and shrinks in volume (about 10 15 minutes).

Stir in the tomatoes, using a wooden spoon to break them into chunks. Add ½ cup of water, pomegranate molasses, and saffron. Stir well. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, and cook covered for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

To make the yogurt sauce mix together the yogurt, dill, garlic, and salt to taste in a small bowl. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to serve. The sauce can be made several hours ahead.

To serve top with the yogurt sauce, and extra fresh chopped herbs, if desired.

May 292016
 

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Today is Oak Apple Day in England and that is fixed http://www.bookofdaystales.com/oak-apple-day/   It could also be Castleton Garland day in England, and the Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh (Bahá’í calendar) worldwide. However, in both cases it is not today this year. May 29 is the usual day for these celebrations (according to the Gregorian calendar), but they can shift a day now and again.  Castleton Garland is easy to explain; it occurs on 29 May unless it is a Sunday (as it is this year – 2016) in which case it is held on Saturday 28th.

The Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh is more complicated. Bahá’u’lláh (Arabic: بهاء الله‎‎, “Glory of God”, born Mírzá Ḥusayn-`Alí Núrí (Persian: میرزا حسینعلی نوری‎‎), was the founder of the Bahá’í Faith. He died on this date in 1892 and his death is celebrated as the Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh  within the Bahá’í faith. The date is fixed within the Bahá’í calendar, but can shift a little within the Gregorian calendar because the Bahá’í calendar is pegged to the vernal equinox (which can be either 20 or 21 March). Things are made a little more complicated by the fact that days within the Bahá’í calendar begin at sunset, and the date of the equinox varies according to time zone.

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The Bahá’í calendar was based on the original Badí‘ calendar, created by the Báb (founder of Bábism and central to Bahá’í) in the Kitabu’l-Asmá’ and the Persian Bayán in the 1840s. It uses a scheme of 19 months of 19 days (19×19) for 361 days, plus intercalary days to make the calendar a solar calendar. The first day of the early implementation of the calendar year was Naw-Rúz, while the intercalary days were assigned variously. The calendar contained symbolic connexions to prophecies of the Báb concerning the next Manifestation of God termed “He whom God shall make manifest.”

Bahá’u’lláh, who claimed to be the messenger prophesied by the Báb, confirmed and adopted this calendar. Around 1870, he instructed Nabíl-i-A`zam, the author of The Dawn-Breakers, to write an overview of the Badí’ calendar. In the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (1873) Bahá’u’lláh made Naw-Rúz the first day of the year, and also clarified the position of the intercalary days which should immediately precede the last month. Bahá’u’lláh set Naw-Rúz to the day on which the sun passes into the constellation Aries. Bahá’ís interpret this formula as a specification of the vernal equinox, though the global position where that should be calculated was not defined.

The Bahá’í scriptures left some issues regarding the implementation of the Badi’ calendar to be resolved by the Universal House of Justice (global governing body of Bahá’í) before the calendar could be observed uniformly worldwide. On 10 July 2014 the Universal House of Justice announced provisions that enabled the common implementation of the Badi’ calendar worldwide, beginning at sunset 20 March 2015, coinciding with the completion of the ninth cycle of the calendar.

The Bahá’í calendar in Western countries was originally synchronized with the Gregorian calendar, meaning that the extra day of a leap year occurred simultaneously in both calendars. The intercalary days stretched from 26 February to 1 March, so they automatically included the Gregorian leap day. There were four intercalary days in a regular year, and five in a leap year. The practice in Western countries was to start the year at sunset on March 20, regardless of when the vernal equinox technically occurred.

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In 2014, the Universal House of Justice selected Tehran, the birthplace of Bahá’u’lláh, as the location to which the date of the vernal equinox was to be fixed, thereby freeing the Badí’ calendar from the Gregorian calendar. For determining the dates, astronomical tables from reliable sources are used.

In the same message the Universal House of Justice decided that the birthdays of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh would be celebrated on “the first and the second day following the occurrence of the eighth new moon after Naw-Rúz” (also with the use of astronomical tables) and fixed the dates of the Bahá’í Holy Days in the Bahá’í calendar, standardizing dates for Bahá’ís worldwide. These changes came into effect as of sunset on 20 March 2015.

Normally the Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh falls on 29 May in the Gregorian Calendar when the vernal equinox in Tehran is on 21 March, but this year (2016) Naw-Rúz fell on 20 March, so the Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh was celebrated on 28 May (around 3 am). However, by the Gregorian calendar Bahá’u’lláh died around 3 am on 29 May 1892.

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Bahá’u’lláh was born Mírzá Ḥusayn-`Alí Núrí (Persian: میرزا حسینعلی نوری‎‎). Although he claimed to be the prophetic fulfillment of Bábism, a 19th-century outgrowth of Shí‘ism, in a broader sense he claimed to be a messenger from God referring to the fulfillment of the eschatological expectations of Islam, Christianity, and other major religions.

Bahá’u’lláh taught that humanity is one single race and that the time has come for its unification in a global society. He taught that “there is only one God, that all of the world’s religions are from God, and that now is the time for humanity to recognize its oneness and unite.” His claim to divine revelation resulted in persecution and imprisonment by the Persian and Ottoman authorities, and his eventual 24-year confinement in the prison city of `Akka in Palestine (present-day Israel), where he died. He wrote many religious works, totaling over 100, most notably the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, the Kitáb-i-Íqán, and Hidden Words.

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In the Bahá’í Faith, religious history is seen to have unfolded through a series of divine messengers, each of whom established a religion that was suited to the needs of the time and to the capacity of the people. These messengers have included Abrahamic figures—Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, as well as figures from Indian religions like Krishna, Buddha, and others. For Bahá’ís, the most recent messengers are the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. In Bahá’í belief, each messenger prophesied of messengers to follow, and Bahá’u’lláh’s life and teachings fulfilled the end-time promises of previous scriptures. Humanity is understood to be in a process of collective evolution, and the need of the present time is for the gradual establishment of peace, justice and unity on a global scale.

There are two known photographs of Bahá’u’lláh. Outside of pilgrimage, Bahá’ís prefer not to view his photo in public, or even to display it in their private homes, so I will follow suit here. I do know what he looked like.

Bahá’í eating practices are based on a desire for a healthy body and as religious observances. Thus there is a 19-day fast at the end of the year when the faithful may not ingest anything, including water, during sunlight hours. Otherwise, alcohol is completely forbidden, even in cooking, and a diet of fruit, vegetables, nuts, and grains is preferred, although meat is not forbidden. There is a general eschatological belief that the consumption of animal products will eventually end. Persian cuisine at the time of Bahá’u’lláh was in a period of transition, suitable for his philosophy. A recently discovered anonymous MS (WMS Pers 2013/1 ) shows just how heavily Western cooking fashions were entering the tradition. The recipes are written in Persian but are of French origin.

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Kateh is the basic rice recipe from northern Iran. It is much simpler than pilau recipes found throughout Middle Eastern and South Asian cultures, and is suitable today because it is basic, vegan, and easy. You can use it to accompany all manner of dishes.

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Start with 3 cups of basmati rice.  Wash the rice in cold water twice, drain the water, and then let the rice soak in fresh water for at least 2 hours.

Drain the rice again and put it in a non-stick saucepan. Add 5 cups of water, 4 tablespoons of your choice of oil and salt to taste. Mix thoroughly.

Bring the water to a rolling boil, skim off any scum, and let the water boil until the water level sinks to just below the rice level.

Cover the pan tightly (you can wrap the lid in a towel), and cook over low temperature for about 30 minutes.

As with every traditional recipe of this sort, experience counts. It is common to add saffron to the rice for flavor and color.