Alison Marshall's Column

Alison is an unenrolled Baha'i, a business writer and a mystic. She lives in Dunedin, New Zealand.


We are now in the days of Ayyam-i Ha, also known as the Intercalary Days. These are the four or five days that come before the month of 'Ala, when the fast begins on March 2. These few days are important because the Baha'i calendar of 19 months each with 19 days does not add up to a full solar year. The intercalary days make up the difference.

How should we celebrate Ayyam-i Ha?

Read more: Ayyam-i-Ha

Life and death

This is from my commentary on spiritual knowledge. But it includes a passage that I took out in the final version.

What does Baha'u'llah mean by "destruction and death"? The Sufis have traditionally referred to the state of being free as "dying to the world and living in God". Baha'u'llah uses this phrase to open his description of the seventh valley in The Seven Valleys: "This station is the dying from self and the living in God." The idea is that you "die" to the world because you no longer invest your self in it and you "live" in God because you take up a new life in the spiritual realities. The new life in God is the same thing as the traditional Christian concept of being born again. Baha'u'llah explains this in the following passage:

Read more: Life and death

Prayers for peace

"Therefore, O My God, leave them not by themselves;
take their hands by the supremacy of Thy grace,
then resurrect them in the presence of Thy regal generosity.
Send them forth, O my Beloved, to that
which Thou didst desire for them by the majesty of Thine eternity.
For this is that Good that shall never
have any peer or likeness in all creation;
and verily, Thou art Powerful over all things.

Praise be to Thee, my Beloved.
I ask Thee by Thy hidden Name,
then by Thy concealed description
and Thine impregnable mystery,
not to deprive them of the billowing seas of Thy unicity.
Bring them, O my Goal, aboard the ship of Thy Grandeur,
nor deprive them, O my Desire, of that which is with Thee.
Then reveal to them what will
soothe their breasts,
delight their hearts,
render their souls upright,
cause their tongues to speak forth,
cause their hearts to soar,
solace their eyes,
give hearing to their ears,
and endue their yearning with ardent passion,
that they might be attracted
by the breezes of Thy glorious verses,
to which none hath attained save those
whom Thou didst single out
for the mystical knowledge of Thy Self;
whom Thou didst select to receive
the treasures of Thy resplendent Unity;
whom Thou didst advance in order to make manifest
Thy Cause and Thy sovereignty;
whom Thou didst render the dawning-point
of Thy Being in Thy lands,
the rising-place of Thine eternity among Thy creatures
and the manifestation of Thy divinity
between Thy heaven and Thy earth."

Baha'u'llah: Tablet of the Sacred Night

The 'sacred night' refers to the night of the declaration of the Bab. You can read all about it at the link, where Juan has included a detailed introduction.

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.


I am in the process of reading Some Answered Questions cover to cover. I have been meaning to do it for a long time, but these things always come in their own good time. Now that I am finally doing it, I am getting a great deal out of it. I am glad that I waited until after I had read all those books about Abdu'l-Baha, which gave me a feeling of who he is.

Now that I read Some Answered Questions, I have a sense that Abdu'l-Baha is saying just one thing over and over again in different ways. That feeling overwhelms me now when I read Baha'u'llah's writings. The remark from the Imam Ali, which Baha'u'llah quotes in the Iqan, "Knowledge is a single point but the ignorant have multiplied it." captures what I'm trying to say. The same idea is found in this Hidden Word: "O essence of negligence! Myriads of mystic tongues find utterance in one speech, and myriads of hidden mysteries are revealed in a single melody; yet, alas, there is no ear to hear, nor heart to understand." (PHW, 16)

The passage that got me going this morning was the following, from the chapter on miracles, chapter 22:

"But in the day of the Manifestation the people with insight see that all the conditions of the Manifestation are miracles, for They are superior to all others, and this alone is an absolute miracle. Recollect that Christ, solitary and alone, without a helper or protector, without armies and legions, and under the greatest oppression, uplifted the standard of God before all the people of the world, and withstood them, and finally conquered all, although outwardly He was crucified. Now this is a veritable miracle which can never be denied." (SAQ, p101)

This short summary of what Christ achieved moved me to tears. It is a description of the glory and grace of God. Without help from anyone in the physical world and, in fact, despite the enormous oppression and opposition from the forces in the physical world, and Christ's seeming defeat through his crucifixion, he nevertheless came out the winner. For me, this summarises everything that is worth knowing and everything that is beautiful. It is indeed a miracle.

And today, as we Baha'is look at the situation we find ourselves in, this principle applies to us too. We look around us and we see that the Baha'i administration is lost in the wilds of remoteness and no longer gives off Baha'u'llah's fragrance, and it seems that all has been lost. But we are not unique in feeling this way and in being in a situation that seems hopeless. Every generation that wishes to be remembered in spiritual history has found itself in a hopeless situation. This is the point. We win anyway, despite the fact that, on the face of it, we have lost.

Mirza Abu'l-Fadl, in his book The Baha'i Proofs (published by Kalimat!), explains that this is the greatest proof of Baha'u'llah's revelation and, indeed of any revelation. The religion of each of the manifestations prevails despite the fact that each of the manifestations was opposed by all the forces on the earth. This is the proof -- something other than worldly forces has brought the religion into being and made it successful. And that spiritual force is on our side too, if we look to it and not to worldly things for support.

"Even or odd, thou shalt win the wager." The friends of God shall win and profit under all conditions, and shall attain true wealth. In fire they remain cold, and from water they emerge dry. Their affairs are at variance with the affairs of men. Gain is their lot, whatever the deal. To this testifieth every wise one with a discerning eye, and every fair-minded one with a hearing ear. (Baha'u'llah: Crisis and Victory, p 154)