Immersion in the Ocean of His Words
Adib Masumian-United States of America
My name is Adib Masumian. I live in Austin, Texas in the United States, where I work as an instructional designer and e-learning developer.
On September 8, 1990, I was born to a family of devout Iranian Baha’is living in Austin. When one is born into that environment, they are typically thrust into a Baha’i lifestyle. For instance, we would attend Feasts and Holy Day celebrations as a family. As a child, I participated in children’s classes, and eventually joined a junior youth group once I got older.
In many cases, when a young person goes through these experiences, they begin to form a Baha’i identity. For some people, this Baha’i identity is inextricably bound to their participation in Baha’i activities. I know Baha’is who identified themselves as such when they were younger—when they participated in the same activities I did. Once they grew up, however, they became more independent; in other words, they were no longer obligated to go wherever their parents went. In many cases, these young folks would exercise this newfound autonomy by choosing not to participate in as many Baha’i activities as before, and, in some cases, stop attending them altogether. In most cases, the result of their decisions was that their perception of themselves as Baha’is became increasingly weaker. In some cases, their Baha’i identity vanished completely.
I didn’t quite go down that same road, and I can credit that to the efforts of my parents. They worked tirelessly to instill a sense of faith, gratitude, reverence, and a host of other virtues in me at an early age, that I might grow up to recognize the enormous value of this religion. Yet, notwithstanding all that, I can say that there was a point in my adolescence where I felt my spiritual life had plateaued. While I could appreciate the spiritual component of junior youth groups, I was decidedly more interested in the social bonds they helped create. I never really had any doubt that I was, in my heart of hearts, a Baha’i, and that I wanted to remain one for the foreseeable future—but I had yet to develop the organic zeal, the genuine ardor, that comes with being inspired to the core.
And then, as my teenage years were drawing to a close, a very important figure came into my life—someone who changed everything for me. This person was none other than the late Dr. Daniel Jordan.
Dan Jordan was a brilliant Baha’i educationalist and musical prodigy. I did not meet him in person, of course; I was introduced to him nearly thirty years after his unfortunate murder, which happened under very hazy circumstances (to this day, we don’t know why he was murdered; whether the murder took place on October 15 or 16, 1982; or whether he was murdered in New York or Connecticut).
I learned about him through my mother, Farnaz Masumian, who introduced me to his works. In the early 1970s, he wrote a series of booklets that were published by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States as “the Baha’i Comprehensive Deepening Program.” Each book focused on a different component of Baha’i life and the Baha’i teachings. The books mostly consisted of thematically relevant passages from the Baha’i Writings, each of which was flanked by Dr. Jordan’s highly insightful commentary. In executing this approach, Dr. Jordan created books that took the essences of the most fundamental Baha’i teachings and communicated them to his audience in a way that was both accessible and applicable to one’s daily life.
As it happened, we had copies of the original books that comprised this series (all out of print now, but most have been republished in a single volume by Special Ideas). One day, when I was about 17, I began reading the largest book in that series, The Dynamic Force of Example. Among many other subjects, this book discussed the emphasis Baha’is place on modesty and chastity, as well as the rectitude of conduct we are called upon to demonstrate in our daily lives. I had never heard these ideas articulated so clearly before, and they really spoke to the sense I had had—dormant and dimly perceptible, but definitely present—of wanting to reject the baser invitations of society, and to strive towards higher ideals.
I can, once again, credit that inclination to my mother’s diligent efforts. As I was growing up, she would read stories from Bill Bennett’s Book of Virtues with me, along with other, similar books from the world of character education that aimed to cultivate strong morals and ethics in young children. I don’t know that I would have been as receptive to the summons of Dan Jordan if I had not been reared in this critical way.
Not long after I began reading The Dynamic Force of Example, I found myself unable to put down the book, and was done with it before I knew it. I wanted more—needed more. So, I moved on to another one of the books, The Meaning of Deepening, roughly the same size as the book I had just finished. This book was essentially a guide to help Baha’is “deepen on”—or seek to acquire an enhanced understanding of—such profound, important questions as the purpose of human existence; the plethora of struggles that necessarily come with that existence; and others that, as Dr. Jordan so resourcefully shows, are all addressed in the Baha’i Writings. It wasn’t long before I finished the remaining, smaller volumes from that series, which I found just as inspiring.
Completing that series reinvigorated me, and aroused my stagnant sense of self as a Baha’i to much greater heights. In poring over those books, and in absorbing their profound insight, I came to develop a much stronger Baha’i identity than I had ever had. I went on to continue my reading binge, jumping from Baha’i text to Baha’i text in no apparent order—The World Order of Baha’u’llah, The Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha, The Hidden Words—it didn’t matter as long as I stayed engaged with what I felt to be the ultimate source of all this inspiration.
Over the course of my reading, however, I reached a point where I felt that I needed to do something for the Faith.
Debunking the Myths
Eventually, as I was reading Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, I came across this passage:
If any man were to arise to defend, in his writings, the Cause of God against its assailants, such a man, however inconsiderable his share, shall be so honored in the world to come that the Concourse on high would envy his glory. No pen can depict the loftiness of his station, neither can any tongue describe its splendor. For whosoever standeth firm and steadfast in this holy, this glorious, and exalted Revelation, such power shall be given him as to enable him to face and withstand all that is in heaven and on earth. Of this God is Himself a witness. (Gleanings CLIV; link)
I was awed by it, and also found it very timely. It happened at a time when I was frequently browsing Baha’i forums, as well as the Internet in general, for topics of discussion about the Baha’i Faith. Among all the valuable things I found, I would also come across the occasional post or article alleging that the Baha’i Faith was some sort of political conspiracy—not a legitimate religion at all, but an invention of the British, the Russians, or the Zionists (depending on who you asked) designed to create divisions within the Shi’a Muslim community of Iran and undermine the authority of its clerical establishment. I looked into the origins of these allegations, and soon learned that every one of them was totally baseless and patently absurd.
Drawing on the many articles and other materials I had found which addressed these claims, I worked with my research buff of a father, Bijan Masumian, to put together a short compilation entitled Debunking the Myths: Conspiracy Theories on the Genesis and Mission of the Baha’i Faith, which I completed on January 1, 2009 (available in both English and Persian translation here).
The front cover of my book
My goal in undertaking this project was to create a resource that anyone could use to provide counterarguments to those who were spreading these false accusations. Even if the antagonists themselves were too set in their ways, too determined in their resolve, to ever change their minds, I figured that—at the very least—perhaps those silent souls watching the public exchanges might be convinced by what the book had to say.
Not long after publishing that book, I joined a few Baha’i listservs and met another Baha’i (a living one this time!) who thrusted my devotion to new heights. This man, Naeem Nabiliakbar—the great-grandson of Nabil-i-Akbar, one of the nineteen Apostles of Baha’u’llah—has an intense passion for language. This is a mutual interest of ours, so we were bound to grow close. Soon after we first met, he asked me if I wanted to study the Persian Writings of Baha’u’llah with him over Skype. I explained to him that, as a child, I had only studied Persian with my parents to a limited extent—that I knew the alphabet and could read basic texts, but would have difficulty grappling with material that was as elevated as the Baha’i Writings. He assured me—patiently and kindly—that as long as I had the interest, my limited exposure to the language would not be a problem. We began to read The Persian Hidden Words. I found the original passages so pithy, so eloquent and potent, that I felt spurred on to keep reading—a prospect that seemed less and less intimidating as I gained a firmer grasp of the lexicon used in the Persian Baha’i Writings. We moved on to passages from the Tabernacle of Unity, and then the Tablet of the World, the Tablet of Maqsud, and eventually the entire Book of Certitude.
Up until we read these works together, I was genuinely convinced that my interest in the Faith—and my devotion to Baha’u’llah—had reached a kind of climax. But this fresh exposure opened me up to an entire dimension of the Faith hitherto unknown to me. It equipped me with the ability to read Writings that have, to this day, yet to be translated into English. It introduced me to a whole century’s worth of scholarship of the religion that existed only in Persian. It expanded my horizons, and my appreciation of this incredible Faith, beyond my wildest dreams.
And yet, despite all the progress I had made, I knew that there was still one important domain of this Faith that remained inaccessible to me, and I felt I needed to do something about it.
My interest in the Arabic language originally stemmed from my mother’s own passion for that language. Hearing her recite the Baha’i Writings in Arabic, and listening to her talk about how her mentor, the late Dr. Ali Murad Davudi—the Baha’i scholar, philosophical giant, and martyr—had encouraged her to study it so she could use it to serve the Faith, laid the fertile ground for my own eventual interest in the language Baha’u’llah designated “the eloquent tongue.”
I studied Modern Standard Arabic during my first two semesters at university, right around my 19th birthday, but was unable to pursue it after I transferred to a sister university; the gap in complexity between the level I had completed and the following level offered at the new school was too great to bridge in such a short period of time. For the next few years, when I would study the Baha’i Writings with Naeem Nabiliakbar, I would occasionally ask him if we could read a certain Tablet next, and he would inform me that the Tablet was originally revealed in Arabic, not Persian. I began to resent my lack of proficiency in Arabic, and came to see it as a barrier in my understanding of the Baha’i Writings. (I should note that Modern Standard Arabic is not even useful for reading the Arabic Baha’i Writings, which were essentially written in Classical Arabic, so it would not have done me any good even if I had retained a working knowledge of it!)
So, in the winter of 2014, I applied to the Qasid Arabic Institute in Jordan to study foundational Classical Arabic. A few months later, I was informed that I had been accepted—and on June 11, 2015, I moved into the apartment in Amman where I was to spend the next two months of my life.
The view of Amman, Jordan from my kitchen window
For the next nine weeks, day in and day out, my classmates and I were engaged in the intense study of Classical Arabic morphology, syntax, and an assortment of texts, including the Qur’an. I won’t go into the details, but I will say that by the time my stay in Jordan had come to an end, I had gained the tools necessary for approaching, reading, and understanding many of the Arabic Baha’i Writings. I distinctly remember that, just a few days before I was scheduled to fly back home, I was sitting at my desk, reading the Long Obligatory Prayer in the original Arabic, when I became acutely aware of a new emotion sweeping over me. It was heady, exhilarating—but also debilitating. Within a matter of seconds, I found that the prayer had become harder to read—not because it had suddenly become more complicated, but because tears had welled up in my eyes. “I can read this.” “This makes sense to me.” “I understand what it says.” These were the thoughts that rose irrepressibly to the forefront of my mind as I went on scanning that masterpiece of a prayer. I felt at that moment that I had, once again, broken new ground, and formed an intimate bond with a part of the Faith I had never known before.
I felt so triumphant. With this one experience, I had proven to myself that all the time, the energy, and the money that my family and I had invested in this venture was worth it. I had now acquired at least a basic level of access to the two chief modes of revelation used in the Baha’i Dispensation: Arabic and Persian. I had achieved my goal in coming to Jordan. My mission was a success. And, in the process, I found that the depth of my devotion to this religion had, once again, surged to heights I had thought impossible.
I firmly believe that there are a million ways a person can fall in love with the Baha’i Faith. In my case, it was primarily through the Words of Baha’u’llah as portrayed to me through inspiring mentors. For others, it may be the powerful addresses of Abdu’l-Baha, the soul-stirring letters of Shoghi Effendi, the heart-rending accounts of our many martyrs, the inspirational stories of the Hands of the Cause, the captivating lectures of eminent Baha’i speakers, the trenchant articles and incisive essays written by prominent Baha’i scholars, the exemplary character of a Baha’i friend or acquaintance, the hands-on experience and personal growth that come with participating in a range of Baha’i activities, or something else entirely.
I recognize that Dan Jordan’s books are not for everyone, and that it is not feasible for every Baha’i to learn Persian and Arabic (nor should they necessarily want to). That was my path; it does not have to be anyone else’s. I am confident, however, that there is at least one element of this Faith that will speak to everyone. Bend every effort to find something within it—a figure, a book, even a single tenet—that truly inspires you. Leave no stone unturned; there is a wealth of primary material and an abundance of ancillary resources out there, and coming upon just one of them might be all it takes to light that first spark of devotion within you—a spark that will hopefully give way to a chain reaction of other sparks, like the craving for communion with the Almighty, or the desire for fellowship with others.
If you are sincere in your quest, then I have no doubt you will find the tie that binds you to this religion—the special way in which you, and you alone, can fall in love with the Baha’i Faith.
Austin, TX, USA