Tuesday 9 September 2008

Ahang's witnesses: volume 3, part 3

I continue my review of volume 3 of Ahang's witnesses series, a memoir of Dr Mu'ayyad titled "Eight Years Near Abdu'l-Baha". In part 1, I focused on the first two chapters; in part 2, I covered chapters 3-5; in this installment, I cover chapters 6-8. In part 2, I noted that I could not access volume 3 on Ahang's site and assumed that this was a temporary glitch. However, the problem continues, indicating that it's been taken down indefinitely. Therefore, this installment will be the last I'll do on volume 3. There's no point in my reviewing volumes my readers can't access. I'll move on to something else that everyone can read.

Chapter 6 is a different kettle of fish from the previous chapters. The events take place in Abu Sinan in November 1914; in other words, it is the beginning of the war and life changes a great deal. Footnote 241 tells us that "Abu Sinan is a village on the eastern side of Akka." Dr Mu'ayyad explains that the war made life hell. He describes it this way:

"With the passage of each day, worries and apprehensions grew more desperate. Power rested in the hands of a number of ruthless military men who did not consider themselves accountable to anyone. It was a day of mayhem and plunder by the Ottoman officials. They caused difficulties for whomever they chose and destroyed the innocent with the most meager charges. No one had the least control over his possessions or life. The government was in the control of a number of faithless, bloodthirsty and cruel men... Gallows were active in every town, all prominent citizens were eliminated. It was a time for Pashas to settle accounts with their opponents and to exact revenge [through hanging]. As soon as the smallest complaint was raised against anyone, immediately a file would be prepared for him and his demise was assured." (page 180)

As you can imagine, this was the perfect opportunity for Abdu'l-Baha's enemies to move against him. They gave gifts to Jamal Pasha, the military commander, which included Baha'u'llah's tent and carpets from his home. In doing so, they made complaints about Abdu'l-Baha, saying that he was a "political mishief-maker and a religious rabble-rouser", had "designs to inaugurate a new monarchy" and was "a foreign agent". "They painted the Greatest Name on a flag and presented it as Abdu'l-Baha's new 'Standard of Monarchy'". (p182) Abdu'l-Baha's situation became so grave that he sent every Baha'i out of Akka and Haifa. Only he remained in Akka, with a servant. Dr Mu'ayyad went to live in Abu Sinan.

Dr Mu'ayyad's residence in Abu Sinan has to be read to be believed. It was one room at street level made of clay bricks, 7-8 metres long, 3-4 metres wide and 3-4 meters high, with one warped door and one window. The ceiling was held up by "four bent and termite-infested beams" (p191). "When [they were] closed, it was totally dark, and when opened, the unbearable cold, particularly on cloudy or rainy days, cut through us. In fact, when it rained, it flooded the room, and we had to find ways to keep the water out."(p191) Dr Mu'ayyad would light a fire inside the room to keep warm, even though this meant that the room filled with smoke. Outside the door was an area of two square metres that was lower than ground level, in which the landlord placed figs for sale.

Dr Mu'ayyad lived in the room with Badi Effendi, a school teacher (although, when they had visitors, there was up to six people sleeping in it). In addition to sleeping in this room, they both used it for their occupations through the day; so Badi used it for teaching children and Dr Mu'ayyad used it as an office and for surgery!

"In addition to practicing regular medicine, I occasionally performed surgery, during which Lua Getsinger acted as the anesthetic technition. At times, Badi Effendi would help by providing anesthetics. The wonder of it was that all of those operations were successful, and I often performed surgeries that I had never performed before, particularly because I had only recently completed medical school and did not have much experience, nor adequate medical supplies... One hundred percent of my practice was successful and never once did I lose a patient. Despite the lack of medication and proper instruments, I attempted every necessary procedure and the Almighty always granted the healing." (page 190)

Abdu'l-Baha would visit whenever he could. He stayed with the Greatest Holy Leaf, who was living next door to Dr Mu'ayyad's room. She cooked the food for those staying in it. Dr Mu'ayyad stresses that, despite his living conditions and the political situation, he and fellow Baha'is were very happy. I think I would have been traumatised by seeing people being hung all the time. Dr Mu'ayyad says that people were hung for as little as leaving lights on at night.

Chapters 7 and 8 continue the earlier pattern of the memoirs, containing numerous accounts of talks and sayings from Abdu'l-Baha. I'll end with a few that interested me. On page 222, Dr Mu'ayyad quotes Abdu'l-Baha saying: "Plant fruit trees since they are productive. I am very fond of fruit trees, though I never eat fruits, except an occasional sweet tangerine. Nevertheless, I love for the tree to bear fruits." This intrigued me because, this year, I have planted several fruit trees in my garden. We don't have a large garden (I'd love to have more land), but I figured out a way to plant fruit trees anyway. I have even planted a walnut tree. I guess it's a sign of the new revelation that my walnut tree is grafted and will fruit almost immediately; I don't have to wait decades for walnuts! With global warming bringing an uncertain future, I decided to redesign my garden, taking out ornamentals and planting trees, shrubs, climbers and groundcovers that all fruit.

On page 220, Dr Mu'ayyad says that a "shining cat" was sitting next to Abdu'l-Baha and pressing herself against him. He said: "This cat has such bliss that none of earth's monarchs can rival her. She has no fears or worries and is completely protected and cared for by God." Steve and I adore our cat, and we often comment about how happy he is. Each day, I contemplate him and his relaxed attitude to life; he is a constant reminder to me of what union with God looks like. At the moment, he is fast asleep on his special bed on the couch. I call him a 'living ornament'. Functionally, he is as useless as an ornament on my wall, but he is living - he moves and eats. I love him and look after him as a member of the family. He's an example of why looking at things in a wholly functional way is a mistake. My cat is magic and spiritual and brings joy; medicine is just finding out how such things as having cats improves our health.

On page 223, Dr Mu'ayyad quotes Abdu'l-Baha as saying: "Cleanliness has a profound effect on the spirit... Even though some things are earth-bound, they have great effect on the soul, such as cleanliness or a good voice. Voice is no more than airwaves that reach one's ear and cause the vibration of the eardrums. Yet, consider its profound effect on the spirit. Similarly, cleanliness effects the soul." This is an issue I've often wondered about. "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" is a famous Christian saying that I associate with Victorian England, and so it comes with baggage for me. But I'm re-examining it in my own life. Recently, I eliminated many activities and concerns from my life that were not contributing to my spiritual health (such as participating in discussion lists and concerning myself with Baha'i community goings-on). The result is that I have more time than I used to. When I was 'busy', I used to think that I didn't have enough time for cleanliness. I don't mean that I lived in squalor; it's more a question of priorities. Now that I am not busy wasting my energies, I have more time to look after the cleanliness aspects of my life, and I will stop thinking it's just a physical thing and doesn't matter. This is just one consequence of my decision to follow new paths. The other day, I said to Steve that I had turned my life into a chore. I want it to be a creative endeavour.

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