Loitering at the gates of Shiraz.

What does the story of Mulla Husayn teach us? He is, of course, the hero of the story, and Nabil paints him a halo. But what about the others, those who tarry in Karbila? What can we learn from their story?

We learn from the absence of Nabil’s commentary. After recording their unwillingness to stand up and make the journey, he does not speak of them again. No great calamity befalls them, nor does he go out of his way to draw them as overly cowardly, worldly, or insincere in their faith. They simply disappear from the narrative. They are not a part of the story. They write themselves out.

Yet their story is not over. They go on to live lives, possibly good lives, perhaps fine lives of sublime virtue, charity, and justice. They come to a final reckoning, as we all do. Perhaps some of them were later offered, again, the opportunity of seeking out, even meeting, their Beloved. There is nothing ignoble, that we know, in any of their lives after that pivotal moment.

And what can we learn from Mulla Husayn’s friends and companions, his brother and his nephew, whom he sent to wait at the mosque — of whom the Bab said “Commit them to the care of God; He will surely protect and watch over them”? That the opportunity to meet the Beloved comes and goes without us, even when we are virtuous and have heeded the call. That often it will be somewhere else, with someone else; yet you are still under God’s watch and protection, and there is no need to fear.

And what do we learn from Mulla Husayn himself? Certainly that even for one who is both ready and chosen, there will be a moment beforehand, a moment of purification, a moment in which you shall fast and pray and prepare yourself before the Beloved makes himself known.

Yet there is another aspect to this, too. The grace of God leaves no one behind; God does not abandon even those who fail to go and pursue Him; much less those who heed the call. Nabil never says — and we are too respectful to read into God’s motives — but still we wonder, what is it that makes him different from his brother and his nephew? Perhaps it is that he was the one who stirred the others from their inaction; we don’t know.

But what we do know is that Mulla Husayn leapt from this first honor to greater and greater heights of service, until this gentle, learned man became something of legend — the one to bring the Bab’s message to Baha’u’llah, the fiercest and most powerful warrior to defend the Babis from attack at Barfurush and Fort Shaykh Tabarsi, and ultimately a martyr who was attended at his final hour by Quddus himself. So — did he receive these honors all because of that initial decision to rouse the followers of Siyyid Kazim and seek the Beloved? Or was it that the man who would do that would also serve the Bab faithfully and carry His message without complaint; would also defend the innocent without fear; would also naturally attract the love and kinship of one such as Quddus?

I had always read these lines

Learn well this Tablet, O Ahmad. Chant it during thy days and withhold not thyself therefrom. For verily, God hath ordained for the one who chants it, the reward of a hundred martyrs and a service in both worlds.

as saying that God would (well, who among us has not blasphemed in a moment of sloppy thinking?) perform a service for him in both worlds.

But a dear friend shamed me once by saying, offhandedly, that this must mean God would allow us to perform a service for Him in this world and the next. The reward of a martyr (that is, one who has the spirit of a martyr) is further service to the Cause of God, in whatever world. This was Mulla Husayn’s reward — not merely the momentary, however wonderful, “pleasure of communion” with the Manifestation, but the ongoing reward of endless opportunities for service.

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