The delight of hearts

Another book published by Kalimat Press, which is well worth reading, is Stories from the Delight of Hearts. The memoirs of Haji Mirza Haydar Ali, translated from the original Persian and abridged by A Q Faizi. The book is structured a bit like Memorials of the Faithful in that it is a collection of short stories, sometimes a couple of paragraphs long and sometimes a few pages long. When Haydar Ali was asked to come and live in Akka with the Master, Abdu'l-Baha asked him to write down his memoirs. This book is a translation of some of the recollections he wrote down.

The book tells us how Haydar Ali became a Babi and then a Baha'i. The most extraordinary aspect of the book is his account of his years of imprisonment. If you think to yourself how terrible the Siyah Chal was, then you have some idea of what Haydar Ali suffered. Only for him it went on for years rather than just four months.

We can get some idea of Haydar Ali's superhuman endurance when we compare his experience with a modern-day event. A few weeks ago, I learned on the news about a New Zealand man who was out diving. Somehow he became separated from his boat and the sea took him quite a long way away. He saw the searchers trying to find him but they could not see him floating in the water. As it turned out, they found him three days later. By this time, everyone believed that he would be dead. They imagined that no one could survive floating in the sea for three days. But he had undergone navy training, which had taught him how to survive that kind of situation. The navy officer that took the course explained that survival came down to mental endurance. That was the principal thing he taught his students. It puts into perspective what Haydar Ali endured. His intense torments lasted for months at a time, culminating in years of imprisonment overall.

He had been imprisoned for some time in Iran and then was to be taken by camel to the Sudan. Before the prisoners set out, they were put into permanent shackles. Haydar Ali describes what happened (pages 44 to 47):

On the sixteenth day the soldiers took us to ironsmiths and carpenters in order to place permanent fetters on our feet and chains around our necks. This process proved to be more painful than anything which we had previously endured. We could not control ourselves and cried out in pain. The soldiers, blacksmiths, and carpenters wept at our plight. This was particularly true of the blacksmiths and carpenters, who cursed their professions for making them instruments for the torture of innocent people.

The last operation was to put our hands in stocks. The heavy fetters on our feet, the terrible chains on our necks and hands made every little movement a torment. We could not move our hands much, nor was it possible for us to lift the chains on our feet in order to make their weight less painful while walking.

The fashioning of the chains and the stocks began about two o'clock in the afternoon and was finished a little after sunset. ...

During our captivity, our clothes had never been changed. We had worn them for months and they became so torn and dirty that they were intolerable. Now that we were chained we could not even take them off to wash them.

Gradually, God inspired the hearts of the guards and soldiers, and they took a liking to us. Out of pity they prepared us long, white garments. They had to tear the clothes off our bodies. Then they washed us with hot water and clothed us with the new long robes. We felt so happy that we thought it was New Year's Day and we were wearing clothes for the festivities....

On the third day, the guards were changed, and new ones came with camels for us to ride. But chained together as we were, our feet in one stock and our wrists joined by chains, how could we ride on camels? The guards were at a loss for what to do and how to carry us to our next destination. Eventually they brought some long pieces of strong, white cloth. They placed the hands and feet of each pair of us on the saddle, one person hanging on one side of the camel, and the other on the other side. Then they tied our hanging bodies to the camels with the white cloths. A more tortuous way to travel cannot be imagined!

Although we were in great pain and torture, as we watched each other hanging from the camels, the sight was so ridiculous that we could not help laughing.

In addition to Haydar Ali's account of his imprisonment, he also tells us about his travel teaching around Iran and about the things he witnessed when he was living in Akka with Abdu'l-Baha. That is the other gruelling part of the book, the horrific stories of what Abdu'l-Baha endured at the hands of the covenant breakers.