One of the most important pioneer families in the Fort Worth / Dallas area ws the Dobbins family. While Nancy (the mother of the community) passed away a number of years ago, Gordon (whose grandfather was brought into the Faith by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá back in 1912) was with us until just a few months ago.
For decades their home was the main gathering spot in Fort Worth and literally scores of people became Bahá’ís in their home. This included dozens of youth, such as myself.
One evening Gordon was giving a fireside, during which he spoke of the suffering of Bahá’u’lláh, including His near fatal imprisonment in the siyyah chal ("black pit") of Tehran. Afterwards I, a young Bahá’í, was eager to hear more, so he sat down and told me a story.
Gordon was a very tall and physically imposing figure who had an IQ that was off the scale and he spoke in careful, measured tones. I settled in, ready to hear something truly enlightening and fascinating.
He began by describing how the Bahá’ís (then known as Babís) would try to keep their spirits up, despite being chained to the floor of what was essentially a pitch black sewer. They would recite prayers and sing and it would be a great comfort, even after Bahá’u’lláh was taken away and banished to Baghdad.
According to Gordon, they would also tell jokes. Unfortunately they didn’t know very many, so they kept telling the same jokes over and over. After a while this became somewhat tedious, so they decided to simply give each joke a number. When someone would call out a number, the others would remember the joke and laugh.
One day a new fellow was brought down into the pit. The others would sing and recite prayers, but then at one point someone said, “Fourteen!” and everyone laughed hysterically. This continued day after day: Every once in a while someone would call out, “Three!” or “eleven!” or some other number and they would laugh and laugh. The new guy didn’t understand any of this, but he wanted to be sociable, so after a lengthy period of silence he called out, “One hundred and seven!"
At first there was silence, but then one prisoner laughed and then another, and before long everyone was laughing so hard they could barely breathe. It took several minutes before everyone recovered their composure.
After this display, the fellow finally gives up. “Alright,” he says, “What on earth is so funny?"
The prisoner next to him smiled and said, “We have never heard that one before."
And that, delivered via the measured tones and from the stony visage of Gordon Dobbins, was my first informal introduction to Bahá’í history.
(Trey Yancy on Facebook)
He put His two thumbs to my eyes while He wiped the tears from my face; admonishing me not to cry, that one must always be happy. And He laughed. Such a ringing, boyish laugh. It was as though He had discovered the most delightful joke imaginable: a divine joke which only He could appreciate.
(Howard Colby Ives, Portals to Freedom, p. 32)
While in Sari, Quddus frequently attempted to convince Mirza Muhammad-Taqi of the truth of the Divine Message. He freely conversed with him on the most weighty and outstanding issues related to the Revelation of the Báb. His bold and challenging remarks were couched in such gentle, such persuasive and courteous language, and delivered with such geniality and humour, that those who heard him felt not in the least offended. They even misconstrued his allusions to the sacred Book as humorous observations intended to entertain his hearers.
(Shoghi Effendi, The Dawn-Breakers, p. 351)
A young single-taxer began to question Him. “What message shall I take to my friends?” he ended.
"Tell them,” laughed the Master (that wonderful spicy humour in His face) “to come into the Kingdom of God. There they will find plenty of land and there are no taxes on it.”
(Diary of Juliet Thompson, 13 April, 1912)
Just before leaving for the West Coast--John did not give me the date; I assume it was May 2, a day when the Master had delivered five public addresses--he was paying his hotel bill at the Plaza when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá came in. ‘One of the Persians in His party called to me. The man at the desk said, “Those people want you.” I stepped over to the elevator, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá seized my hand and wouldn’t let go, and pulled me into the elevator and up to His room on the fifth floor.’ Nobody was there except Dr. Baghdadi. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá did not speak until they were in the room. Then he went to His bed, lay down, and began talking with Baghdadi; He told how He had addressed four hundred women, and-described how the ladies looked. The Master had found them terribly funny; with keen enjoyment, He described them to John and the Doctor. Anyone who remembers the ladies of 1912, not as Hollywood films them but as they were, mostly plain and dumpy, with stiff skirts, jutting bosoms, ‘rats,’ (these were hair pads with tapering ends) and to crown all, hats that were wedding cakes and nesting birds, knows. Then He said, ‘Now it’s time for you to go.’
(Marzieh Gail, Dawn Over Mount Hira, p. 210)
Although ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was a serious expounder of the Bahá’í Faith He had a fine sense of humor. One day at dinner, we were eating soup, a nice thick soup. Leaving my spoon in the plate I raised my hand to adjust my collar. As I brought down my hand my elbow came in contact with the handle of the spoon. And soup was spread upon the whiskers of the Persian believer on my right. Of course, I was terribly embarrassed. However, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, observing the incident quickly said: “Do not worry. That is a blessing” and laughed aloud. My brother Wendell, then remarked: “Who gets the blessing, Bill, you or the friend with the whiskers?” And ‘Abdu’l-Bahá laughed again. Wendell and I were so glad to be with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. At some times we were quite jolly. We were mere boys of 18 and 21.
(Excerpt from the transcript of a talk given by William Copeland Dodge relating the account of his pilgrimage to ‘Akka in 1901)
No matter how relaxed or arduous life might be, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá always found or recalled a humorous situation. A cat purring beside His chair would amuse Him: this cat, He remarked, is indeed joyous, so carefree, so free of fear. A donkey standing in the street made Him remember that He saw no donkeys anywhere in the United States, and reminded Him of a polar bear in the Paris Zoo. People were staring at the bear, He said, and the animal was staring back, as if wanting to say: how did I get entangled with these folk? A man passing by the gates of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s house in Haifa, carrying a basket, put it down as soon as he saw Him, saying that he could not find a porter and had to carry the basket himself. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá remarked afterwards that a man should not feel ashamed of doing useful work. Someone had written to ask where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was. Tell him, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá replied with a smile: in front of a cannon.
(H.M. Balyuzi, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá - The Centre of the Covenant, p. 414)
[‘Abdu’l-Bahá said]: “Strange indeed that after 20 years of training in colleges and universities man should reach such a station wherein he will deny the existence of the ideal or that which is not perceptible to the senses. Have you ever stopped to think that the animal already has graduated from such a university? Have you ever realized that the cow is already a professor emeritus of that university? For the cow without hard labor and study is already a philosopher of the superlative degree in the school of nature. The cow denies everything that is not tangible, saying, “I can see! I can eat! Therefore, I believe only in what is tangible!” Then why should we go to the colleges? Let us go to the cow.
Writing about this, Mahmud-Zarqáni commented, “When the Master uttered these words, everyone burst into laughter. This kind of humor, delivered in such a lighthearted manner, is popular and accepted by the Americans and so brought smiles and joy to the audience.” His assessment seems to have been correct, for Lua wrote to Agnes Parsons about this story: “We‘re laughing yet!”
(Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 223-224)
Foolishly I said, “O, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, I came 3000 miles to see you.” He gave a good hearty laugh – you know what a wonderful laugh He had … And He said, “I came 8000 miles to see you.”
(Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 81)
There is a note in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s character that has not been emphasized, and with which no idea of him is complete. The impressive dignity which distinguishes his presence and bearing is occasionally lighted by a delicate and tactful humour, which is as unaffected as it is infectious and delightful. On his last afternoon in London, a reporter called to ask him of his future plans, finding him surrounded by a number of friends who had called to bid him good-bye. When, in answer to this query, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told in perfect English of his intention to visit Paris and go from there to Alexandria, the press representative evinced surprise at his faultless pronunciation. Thereupon ‘Abdu’l-Bahá proceeded to march with a free stride up and down the flower-scented drawing room, his Oriental garb contrasting strangely 111 with his modern surroundings; and, to the amusement of the assembly, uttered a string of elaborate English words, laughingly ending, “Very difficult English words I speak!” Then, a moment later, with the swift transition of one who knows both how to be grave and gay, he showed himself terribly in earnest.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 109)
Mrs. Tatum then remarked that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá always seem to think of automobiles when He saw her, and she wished she might inspire a more spiritual thought. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá answered: “One must often bring serious discussions through jokes, and then they will give happiness and rejoicing. Some people have frowns and are always serious. This is because of the narrowness of their thoughts. All should be openhearted and smiling.
(Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 160)
Most of those present at this luncheon party knew a little of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s life history, and, presumably, were expecting a dissertation from Him on the Bahá’í Cause. The hostess had suggested to the Master that He speak to them on the subject of Immortality. However, as the meal progressed, and no more than the usual commonplaces of polite society were mentioned, the hostess made an opening, as she thought, for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to speak on spiritual things. His response to this was to ask if He might tell them a story, and he related one of the Oriental tales, of which He had a great store and at its conclusion all laughed heartily. The ice was broken. Others added stories of which the Master’s anecdote had reminded them. Then ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, His face beaming with happiness, told another story, and another. His laughter rang through the room. He said that the Orientals, had many such stories illustrating different phases of life. Many of them are extremely humorous. It is good to laugh. Laughter is a spiritual relaxation. When they were in prison, He said, and under the utmost deprivation and difficulties, each of them at the close of the day would relate the most ludicrous event which had happened. Sometimes it was a little difficult to find one but always they would laugh until the tears would roll down their cheeks. Happiness, He said, is never dependent upon material surroundings, otherwise how sad those years would have been. As it was they were always in the utmost state of joy and happiness. That was the nearest approach He came to any reference to Himself or to the Divine Teachings. But over that group before the gathering dispersed, hovered a hush and reverence which no learned dissertation would have caused in them. After the guests had gone, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was leaving for His hotel, He came close to His hostess and asked her, with a little wistful smile, almost, she was used to say, like a child seeking approbation, if she were pleased with Him. She was never able to speak of this conclusion to the event without deep emotion.
(Howard Colby Ives, Portals to Freedom, p. 119)