Alison Marshall's Column

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

Kahlil Gibran and the houri

Back in 2001, Juan posted to Talisman an interesting message that contained a houri story from Kahlil Gibran. It is interesting to contrast his account with that of Baha'u'llah's.

In Talisman, Juan Cole wrote:

Some of us have enjoyed Baha'u'llah's writings about the houri or Maid of Heaven. A fan reminded me that Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese author, also wrote about the houri. Actually, there are some similarities in the two treatments, which would be interesting to explore. This is an old translation from "Tears and Laughter," which in my view is not very good. I can't remember if Walbridge or I did a new one, but if not we should. For those of you who don't know, I have translated three of Gibran's books, which are available from Penguin in paper and from White Cloud in hard covers.

cheers Juan

Before the Throne of Beauty

One heavy day I ran away from the grim face of society and the dizzying clamour of the city and directed my weary step to the spacious alley. I pursued the beckoning course of the rivulet and the musical sounds of the birds until I reached a lonely spot where the flowing branches of the trees prevented the sun from touching the earth.

Read more: Kahlil Gibran and the houri

Mars and Venus

Some years ago an incident happened that I will never forget. I was engaged in an intense emotional exchange with a man. Back then, I was still suffering from depression, which I suffered from all my life up until a few years ago. This contributed considerably to the situation I was in at the time. I was emotionally needy and seeking solace from my friend. I didn't realise that what I was seeking from him he could never give me. I realised years later that only Baha'u'llah could give it to me.

When I had pushed my friend to his limit with my demands, he finally resorted to the Mars and Venus argument. He said that women and men were different creatures in that women experienced emotions and needed to talk about them. He said that men were different; in fact, he wondered whether men actually had emotions at all. When I heard this, I was shaken to my very foundations. I stopped the conversation at that point; I felt that his comment had destroyed all possibility of us having a meaningful relationship. If his words were true, it was impossible for me to share my inner universe with him. It meant that any relationship we could have had would have been superficial for me.

Read more: Mars and Venus

A concise encyclopedia

Yesterday, I was delighted to see that one of my new books had arrived in my letterbox. It was A Concise Encyclopedia of the Baha'i Faith by Peter Smith, published by Oneworld Publications in 2000. I had been looking for a good reference book to help me to write my introductions to the tablets. I had borrowed a copy of A Basic Baha'i Dictionary edited by Wendy Momen and published by George Ronald, but it really is basic and doesn't have all the things that I need in it.

But then my concise encyclopedia arrived and everything changed. I looked up a few things and found that they were all there. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered that there was an even an entry on 'detachment'! After thumbing through the book and looking at the pictures, I discovered that this concise encyclopedia is an excellent piece of research and writing. If Peter Smith does nothing else in his life, he has already done something that will assure his entry to the kingdom. In my view, this is a 'must have' for all Baha'is and all those wanting to find out more about the Faith.

Read more: A concise encyclopedia

Description of Baha'u'llah

I was at mashriq last night and suddenly remembered this cool description of Baha'u'llah, which I found a year back. I don't think it's widely known, so I'll put it up here.

I have had the honour of catching a glimpse of him who is the incarnation of "the Word of God" in the eyes of the Persians, during a journey that I made to St Jean d'Acre ['Akka]. I was eager to pay a visit to Abbas Effendi, the eldest son of "the Word" who was in charge of the external relations of the community.... Naturally, I solicited from him the honour of an audience with his holy father. He explained to me, in a very kindly manner, that it was not the custom of the Divinity to admit to his presence unbelieving mortals. Since I insisted, he promised to make every possible effort to bring about the realization of my wish.

... I had to content myself with a glimpse of the illustrious Baha'u'llah at the moment when he came out to take his daily walk... in the evening, a time when he could better elude the prying attention of outsiders. But Abbas Effendi had carefully positioned me behind a part of the wall, along his path, in such a manner that I could easily contemplate him for a short while... His [Baha'u'llah's] appearance struck my imagination in such a way that I cannot better represent it than by evoking the image of God the Father, commanding, in his majesty, the elements of nature, in the middle of clouds.

Published in a French periodical by Lebanese Druze journalist Amir Amin Arslan

The passage is quoted in Christopher Buck's book Symbol and Secret: Qur'an Commentary in Baha'u'llah's Kitab-i-Iqan, pages xxxiii-xxxiv. Published by Kalimat Press.

An amazing story

From Marzieh Gail: Summon up Remembrance (Oxford: George Ronald, 1987) pp 269-270

"They spoke of the feasts they were enjoying, and the delicious foods. [Abdu'l-Baha] said: 'Food that is prepared with love and eaten with love gives great delight. When we were in Baghdad there was a poor man who lived off in the desert, and he eked out a living by gathering thorns and selling them in the city. He was a very devoted believer, and many a time he had invited me to eat a meal with him in his home. Finally we agreed to come to him, with some of the believers. He lived about 20 miles out of Baghdad. It was a hot day and we walked the whole distance and at last reached his house -- a small, humble dwelling made of reeds put together in the form of a triangle with a little entrance to it. He lived there all alone with his wife, a very old woman, out on the lonely wastes. He invited us into the hut. We found it very confined, and so hot that we all went outside again. But then there was nothing to shield us from the blazing sun, so we had to go back in and make the best of it.

Read more: An amazing story