The arrival of Bahá’u’lláh in ‘Akká marks the opening of the last phase of His forty-year long ministry, the final stage, and indeed the climax, of the banishment in which the whole of that ministry was spent. A banishment that had, at first, brought Him to the immediate vicinity of the strongholds of Shí‘ah orthodoxy and into contact with its outstanding exponents, and which, at a later period, had carried Him to the capital of the Ottoman empire, and led Him to address His epoch-making pronouncements to the Sulṭán, to his ministers and to the ecclesiastical leaders of Sunní Islám, had now been instrumental in landing Him upon the shores of the Holy Land—the Land promised by God to Abraham, sanctified by the Revelation of Moses, honored by the lives and labors of the Hebrew patriarchs, judges, kings and prophets, revered as the cradle of Christianity, and as the place where Zoroaster, according to ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá’s testimony, had “held converse with some of the Prophets of Israel,” and associated by Islám with the Apostle’s night-journey, through the seven heavens, to the throne of the Almighty. Within the confines of this holy and enviable country, “the nest of all the Prophets of God,” “the Vale of God’s unsearchable Decree, the snow-white Spot, the Land of unfading splendor” was the Exile of Baghdád, of Constantinople and Adrianople condemned to spend no less than a third of the allotted span of His life, and over half of the total period of His Mission. “It is difficult,” declares ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, “to understand how Bahá’u’lláh could have been obliged to leave Persia, and to pitch His tent in this Holy Land, but for the persecution of His enemies, His banishment and exile.”
Indeed such a consummation, He assures us, had been actually prophesied “through the tongue of the Prophets two or three thousand years before.” God, “faithful to His promise,” had, “to some of the Prophets” “revealed and given the good news that the ‘Lord of Hosts should be manifested in the Holy Land.’” Isaiah had, in this connection, announced in his Book: “Get thee up into the high mountain, O Zion that bringest good tidings; lift up thy voice with strength, O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings. Lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah: ‘Behold your God! Behold the Lord God will come with strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him.’” David, in his Psalms, had predicted: “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in. Who is this King of Glory? The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of Glory.” “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined. Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence.” Amos had, likewise, foretold His coming: “The Lord will roar from Zion, and utter His voice from Jerusalem; and the habitations of the shepherds shall mourn, and the top of Carmel shall wither.”
‘Akká, itself, flanked by the “glory of Lebanon,” and lying in full view of the “splendor of Carmel,” at the foot of the hills which enclose the home of Jesus Christ Himself, had been described by David as “the Strong City,” designated by Hosea as “a door of hope,” and alluded to by Ezekiel as “the gate that looketh towards the East,” whereunto “the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the East,” His voice “like a noise of many waters.” To it the Arabian Prophet had referred as “a city in Syria to which God hath shown His special mercy,” situated “betwixt two mountains … in the middle of a meadow,” “by the shore of the sea … suspended beneath the Throne,” “white, whose whiteness is pleasing unto God.” “Blessed the man,” He, moreover, as confirmed by Bahá’u’lláh, had declared, “that hath visited ‘Akká, and blessed he that hath visited the visitor of ‘Akká.” Furthermore, “He that raiseth therein the call to prayer, his voice will be lifted up unto Paradise.” And again: “The poor of ‘Akká are the kings of Paradise and the princes thereof. A month in ‘Akká is better than a thousand years elsewhere.” Moreover, in a remarkable tradition, which is contained in Shaykh Ibnu’l-‘Arabí’s work, entitled “Futúḥát-i-Makkíyyih,” and which is recognized as an authentic utterance of Muḥammad, and is quoted by Mírzá Abu’l-Faḍl in his “Fará’id,” this significant prediction has been made: “All of them (the companions of the Qá’im) shall be slain except One Who shall reach the plain of ‘Akká, the Banquet-Hall of God.”
Bahá’u’lláh Himself, as attested by Nabíl in his narrative, had, as far back as the first years of His banishment to Adrianople, alluded to that same city in His Lawḥ-i-Sayyáḥ, designating it as the “Vale of Nabíl,” the word Nabíl being equal in numerical value to that of ‘Akká. “Upon Our arrival,” that Tablet had predicted, “We were welcomed with banners of light, whereupon the Voice of the Spirit cried out saying: ‘Soon will all that dwell on earth be enlisted under these banners.’”
The banishment, lasting no less than twenty-four years, to which two Oriental despots had, in their implacable enmity and shortsightedness, combined to condemn Bahá’u’lláh, will go down in history as a period which witnessed a miraculous and truly revolutionizing change in the circumstances attending the life and activities of the Exile Himself, will be chiefly remembered for the widespread recrudescence of persecution, intermittent but singularly cruel, throughout His native country and the simultaneous increase in the number of His followers, and, lastly, for an enormous extension in the range and volume of His writings.
His arrival at the penal colony of ‘Akká, far from proving the end of His afflictions, was but the beginning of a major crisis, characterized by bitter suffering, severe restrictions, and intense turmoil, which, in its gravity, surpassed even the agonies of the Síyáh-Chál of Ṭihrán, and to which no other event, in the history of the entire century can compare, except the internal convulsion that rocked the Faith in Adrianople. “Know thou,” Bahá’u’lláh, wishing to emphasize the criticalness of the first nine years of His banishment to that prison-city, has written, “that upon Our arrival at this Spot, We chose to designate it as the ‘Most Great Prison.’ Though previously subjected in another land (Ṭihrán) to chains and fetters, We yet refused to call it by that name. Say: Ponder thereon, O ye endued with understanding!”
The ordeal He endured, as a direct consequence of the attempt on the life of Náṣiri’d-Dín Sháh, was one which had been inflicted upon Him solely by the external enemies of the Faith. The travail in Adrianople, the effects of which all but sundered the community of the Báb’s followers, was, on the other hand, purely internal in character. This fresh crisis which, during almost a decade, agitated Him and His companions, was, however, marked throughout not only by the assaults of His adversaries from without, but by the machinations of enemies from within, as well as by the grievous misdeeds of those who, though bearing His name, perpetrated what made His heart and His pen alike to lament.
‘Akká, the ancient Ptolemais, the St. Jean d’Acre of the Crusaders, that had successfully defied the siege of Napoleon, had sunk, under the Turks, to the level of a penal colony to which murderers, highway robbers and political agitators were consigned from all parts of the Turkish empire. It was girt about by a double system of ramparts; was inhabited by a people whom Bahá’u’lláh stigmatized as “the generation of vipers”; was devoid of any source of water within its gates; was flea-infested, damp and honey-combed with gloomy, filthy and tortuous lanes. “According to what they say,” the Supreme Pen has recorded in the Lawḥ-i-Sulṭán, “it is the most desolate of the cities of the world, the most unsightly of them in appearance, the most detestable in climate, and the foulest in water. It is as though it were the metropolis of the owl.” So putrid was its air that, according to a proverb, a bird when flying over it would drop dead.
Explicit orders had been issued by the Sulṭán and his ministers to subject the exiles, who were accused of having grievously erred and led others far astray, to the strictest confinement. Hopes were confidently expressed that the sentence of life-long imprisonment pronounced against them would lead to their eventual extermination. The farmán of Sulṭán ‘Abdu’l-‘Azíz, dated the fifth of Rabí‘u’th-Thání 1285 A.H. (July 26, 1868), not only condemned them to perpetual banishment, but stipulated their strict incarceration, and forbade them to associate either with each other or with the local inhabitants. The text of the farmán itself was read publicly, soon after the arrival of the exiles, in the principal mosque of the city as a warning to the population. The Persian Ambassador, accredited to the Sublime Porte, had thus assured his government, in a letter, written a little over a year after their banishment to ‘Akká: “I have issued telegraphic and written instructions, forbidding that He (Bahá’u’lláh) associate with any one except His wives and children, or leave under any circumstances, the house wherein He is imprisoned. ‘Abbas-Qulí Khán, the Consul-General in Damascus … I have, three days ago, sent back, instructing him to proceed direct to ‘Akká … confer with its governor regarding all necessary measures for the strict maintenance of their imprisonment … and appoint, before his return to Damascus, a representative on the spot to insure that the orders issued by the Sublime Porte will, in no wise, be disobeyed. I have, likewise, instructed him that once every three months he should proceed from Damascus to ‘Akká, and personally watch over them, and submit his report to the Legation.” Such was the isolation imposed upon them that the Bahá’ís of Persia, perturbed by the rumors set afloat by the Azalís of Iṣfahán that Bahá’u’lláh had been drowned, induced the British Telegraph office in Julfá to ascertain on their behalf the truth of the matter.
Having, after a miserable voyage, disembarked at ‘Akká, all the exiles, men, women and children, were, under the eyes of a curious and callous population that had assembled at the port to behold the “God of the Persians,” conducted to the army barracks, where they were locked in, and sentinels detailed to guard them. “The first night,” Bahá’u’lláh testifies in the Lawḥ-i-Ra’ís, “all were deprived of either food or drink … They even begged for water, and were refused.” So filthy and brackish was the water in the pool of the courtyard that no one could drink it. Three loaves of black and salty bread were assigned to each, which they were later permitted to exchange, when escorted by guards to the market, for two of better quality. Subsequently they were allowed a mere pittance as substitute for the allotted dole of bread. All fell sick, except two, shortly after their arrival. Malaria, dysentery, combined with the sultry heat, added to their miseries. Three succumbed, among them two brothers, who died the same night, “locked,” as testified by Bahá’u’lláh, “in each other’s arms.” The carpet used by Him He gave to be sold in order to provide for their winding-sheets and burial. The paltry sum obtained after it had been auctioned was delivered to the guards, who had refused to bury them without first being paid the necessary expenses. Later, it was learned that, unwashed and unshrouded, they had buried them, without coffins, in the clothes they wore, though, as affirmed by Bahá’u’lláh, they were given twice the amount required for their burial. “None,” He Himself has written, “knoweth what befell Us, except God, the Almighty, the All-Knowing … From the foundation of the world until the present day a cruelty such as this hath neither been seen nor heard of.” “He hath, during the greater part of His life,” He, referring to Himself, has, moreover, recorded, “been sore-tried in the clutches of His enemies. His sufferings have now reached their culmination in this afflictive Prison, into which His oppressors have so unjustly thrown Him.”
The few pilgrims who, despite the ban that had been so rigidly imposed, managed to reach the gates of the Prison—some of whom had journeyed the entire distance from Persia on foot—had to content themselves with a fleeting glimpse of the face of the Prisoner, as they stood, beyond the second moat, facing the window of His Prison. The very few who succeeded in penetrating into the city had, to their great distress, to retrace their steps without even beholding His countenance. The first among them, the self-denying Ḥájí Abu’l-Ḥasan-i-Ardikání, surnamed Amín-i-Iláhí (Trusted of God), to enter His presence was only able to do so in a public bath, where it had been arranged that he should see Bahá’u’lláh without approaching Him or giving any sign of recognition. Another pilgrim, Ustád Ismá‘íl-i-Káshí, arriving from Mosul, posted himself on the far side of the moat, and, gazing for hours, in rapt adoration, at the window of his Beloved, failed in the end, owing to the feebleness of his sight, to discern His face, and had to turn back to the cave which served as his dwelling-place on Mt. Carmel—an episode that moved to tears the Holy Family who had been anxiously watching from afar the frustration of his hopes. Nabíl himself had to precipitately flee the city, where he had been recognized, had to satisfy himself with a brief glimpse of Bahá’u’lláh from across that same moat, and continued to roam the countryside around Nazareth, Haifa, Jerusalem and Hebron, until the gradual relaxation of restrictions enabled him to join the exiles.
To the galling weight of these tribulations was now added the bitter grief of a sudden tragedy—the premature loss of the noble, the pious Mírzá Mihdí, the Purest Branch, ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá’s twenty-two year old brother, an amanuensis of Bahá’u’lláh and a companion of His exile from the days when, as a child, he was brought from Ṭihrán to Baghdád to join his Father after His return from Sulaymáníyyih. He was pacing the roof of the barracks in the twilight, one evening, wrapped in his customary devotions, when he fell through the unguarded skylight onto a wooden crate, standing on the floor beneath, which pierced his ribs, and caused, twenty-two hours later, his death, on the 23rd of Rabí‘u’l-Avval 1287 A.H. (June 23, 1870). His dying supplication to a grieving Father was that his life might be accepted as a ransom for those who were prevented from attaining the presence of their Beloved.
In a highly significant prayer, revealed by Bahá’u’lláh in memory of His son—a prayer that exalts his death to the rank of those great acts of atonement associated with Abraham’s intended sacrifice of His son, with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the martyrdom of the Imám Ḥusayn—we read the following: “I have, O my Lord, offered up that which Thou hast given Me, that Thy servants may be quickened, and all that dwell on earth be united.” And, likewise, these prophetic words, addressed to His martyred son: “Thou art the Trust of God and His Treasure in this Land. Erelong will God reveal through thee that which He hath desired.”
After he had been washed in the presence of Bahá’u’lláh, he “that was created of the light of Bahá,” to whose “meekness” the Supreme Pen had testified, and of the “mysteries” of whose ascension that same Pen had made mention, was borne forth, escorted by the fortress guards, and laid to rest, beyond the city walls, in a spot adjacent to the shrine of Nabí Ṣáliḥ, from whence, seventy years later, his remains, simultaneously with those of his illustrious mother, were to be translated to the slopes of Mt. Carmel, in the precincts of the grave of his sister, and under the shadow of the Báb’s holy sepulcher.
Nor was this the full measure of the afflictions endured by the Prisoner of ‘Akká and His fellow-exiles. Four months after this tragic event a mobilization of Turkish troops necessitated the removal of Bahá’u’lláh and all who bore Him company from the barracks. He and His family were accordingly assigned the house of Malik, in the western quarter of the city, whence, after a brief stay of three months, they were moved by the authorities to the house of Khavvám which faced it, and from which, after a few months, they were again obliged to take up new quarters in the house of Rábi‘ih, being finally transferred, four months later, to the house of ‘Údí Khammár, which was so insufficient to their needs that in one of its rooms no less than thirteen persons of both sexes had to accommodate themselves. Some of the companions had to take up their residence in other houses, while the remainder were consigned to a caravanserai named the Khán-i-‘Avámíd.
Their strict confinement had hardly been mitigated, and the guards who had kept watch over them been dismissed, when an internal crisis, which had been brewing in the midst of the community, was brought to a sudden and catastrophic climax. Such had been the conduct of two of the exiles, who had been included in the party that accompanied Bahá’u’lláh to ‘Akká, that He was eventually forced to expel them, an act of which Siyyid Muḥammad did not hesitate to take the fullest advantage. Reinforced by these recruits, he, together with his old associates, acting as spies, embarked on a campaign of abuse, calumny and intrigue, even more pernicious than that which had been launched by him in Constantinople, calculated to arouse an already prejudiced and suspicious populace to a new pitch of animosity and excitement. A fresh danger now clearly threatened the life of Bahá’u’lláh. Though He Himself had stringently forbidden His followers, on several occasions, both verbally and in writing, any retaliatory acts against their tormentors, and had even sent back to Beirut an irresponsible Arab convert, who had meditated avenging the wrongs suffered by his beloved Leader, seven of the companions clandestinely sought out and slew three of their persecutors, among whom were Siyyid Muḥammad and Áqá Ján.
The consternation that seized an already oppressed community was indescribable. Bahá’u’lláh’s indignation knew no bounds. “Were We,” He thus voices His emotions, in a Tablet revealed shortly after this act had been committed, “to make mention of what befell Us, the heavens would be rent asunder and the mountains would crumble.” “My captivity,” He wrote on another occasion, “cannot harm Me. That which can harm Me is the conduct of those who love Me, who claim to be related to Me, and yet perpetrate what causeth My heart and My pen to groan.” And again: “My captivity can bring on Me no shame. Nay, by My life, it conferreth on Me glory. That which can make Me ashamed is the conduct of such of My followers as profess to love Me, yet in fact follow the Evil One.”
He was dictating His Tablets to His amanuensis when the governor, at the head of his troops, with drawn swords, surrounded His house. The entire populace, as well as the military authorities, were in a state of great agitation. The shouts and clamor of the people could be heard on all sides. Bahá’u’lláh was peremptorily summoned to the Governorate, interrogated, kept in custody the first night, with one of His sons, in a chamber in the Khán-i-Shávirdí, transferred for the following two nights to better quarters in that neighborhood, and allowed only after the lapse of seventy hours to regain His home. ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá was thrown into prison and chained during the first night, after which He was permitted to join His Father. Twenty-five of the companions were cast into another prison and shackled, all of whom, except those responsible for that odious deed, whose imprisonment lasted several years, were, after six days, moved to the Khán-i-Shávirdí, and there placed, for six months, under confinement.
“Is it proper,” the Commandant of the city, turning to Bahá’u’lláh, after He had arrived at the Governorate, boldly inquired, “that some of your followers should act in such a manner?” “If one of your soldiers,” was the swift rejoinder, “were to commit a reprehensible act, would you be held responsible, and be punished in his place?” When interrogated, He was asked to state His name and that of the country from which He came. “It is more manifest than the sun,” He answered. The same question was put to Him again, to which He gave the following reply: “I deem it not proper to mention it. Refer to the farmán of the government which is in your possession.” Once again they, with marked deference, reiterated their request, whereupon Bahá’u’lláh spoke with majesty and power these words: “My name is Bahá’u’lláh (Light of God), and My country is Núr (Light). Be ye apprized of it.” Turning then, to the Muftí, He addressed him words of veiled rebuke, after which He spoke to the entire gathering, in such vehement and exalted language that none made bold to answer Him. Having quoted verses from the Súriy-i-Múlúk, He, afterwards, arose and left the gathering. The Governor, soon after, sent word that He was at liberty to return to His home, and apologized for what had occurred.
A population, already ill-disposed towards the exiles, was, after such an incident, fired with uncontrollable animosity for all those who bore the name of the Faith which those exiles professed. The charges of impiety, atheism, terrorism and heresy were openly and without restraint flung into their faces. ‘Abbúd, who lived next door to Bahá’u’lláh, reinforced the partition that separated his house from the dwelling of his now much-feared and suspected Neighbor. Even the children of the imprisoned exiles, whenever they ventured to show themselves in the streets during those days, would be pursued, vilified and pelted with stones.
The cup of Bahá’u’lláh’s tribulations was now filled to overflowing. A situation, greatly humiliating, full of anxieties and even perilous, continued to face the exiles, until the time, set by an inscrutable Will, at which the tide of misery and abasement began to ebb, signalizing a transformation in the fortunes of the Faith even more conspicuous than the revolutionary change effected during the latter years of Bahá’u’lláh’s sojourn in Baghdád.
The gradual recognition by all elements of the population of Bahá’u’lláh’s complete innocence; the slow penetration of the true spirit of His teachings through the hard crust of their indifference and bigotry; the substitution of the sagacious and humane governor, Aḥmad Big Tawfíq, for one whose mind had been hopelessly poisoned against the Faith and its followers; the unremitting labors of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, now in the full flower of His manhood, Who, through His contacts with the rank and file of the population, was increasingly demonstrating His capacity to act as the shield of His Father; the providential dismissal of the officials who had been instrumental in prolonging the confinement of the innocent companions—all paved the way for the reaction that was now setting in, a reaction with which the period of Bahá’u’lláh’s banishment to ‘Akká will ever remain indissolubly associated.
Such was the devotion gradually kindled in the heart of that governor, through his association with ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, and later through his perusal of the literature of the Faith, which mischief-makers, in the hope of angering him, had submitted for his consideration, that he invariably refused to enter His presence without first removing his shoes, as a token of his respect for Him. It was even bruited about that his favored counselors were those very exiles who were the followers of the Prisoner in his custody. His own son he was wont to send to ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá for instruction and enlightenment. It was on the occasion of a long-sought audience with Bahá’u’lláh that, in response to a request for permission to render Him some service, the suggestion was made to him to restore the aqueduct which for thirty years had been allowed to fall into disuse—a suggestion which he immediately arose to carry out. To the inflow of pilgrims, among whom were numbered the devout and venerable Mullá Ṣádiq-i-Khurásání and the father of Badí, both survivors of the struggle of Ṭabarsí, he offered scarcely any opposition, though the text of the imperial farmán forbade their admission into the city. Muṣṭafá Ḍíyí Páshá, who became governor a few years later, had even gone so far as to intimate that his Prisoner was free to pass through its gates whenever He pleased, a suggestion which Bahá’u’lláh declined. Even the Muftí of ‘Akká, Shaykh Maḥmúd, a man notorious for his bigotry, had been converted to the Faith, and, fired by his newborn enthusiasm, made a compilation of the Muḥammadan traditions related to ‘Akká. Nor were the occasionally unsympathetic governors, despatched to that city, able, despite the arbitrary power they wielded, to check the forces which were carrying the Author of the Faith towards His virtual emancipation and the ultimate accomplishment of His purpose. Men of letters, and even ‘ulamás residing in Syria, were moved, as the years rolled by, to voice their recognition of Bahá’u’lláh’s rising greatness and power. ‘Azíz Páshá, who, in Adrianople, had evinced a profound attachment to ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, and had in the meantime been promoted to the rank of Válí, twice visited ‘Akká for the express purpose of paying his respects to Bahá’u’lláh, and to renew his friendship with One Whom he had learned to admire and revere.
Though Bahá’u’lláh Himself practically never granted personal interviews, as He had been used to do in Baghdád, yet such was the influence He now wielded that the inhabitants openly asserted that the noticeable improvement in the climate and water of their city was directly attributable to His continued presence in their midst. The very designations by which they chose to refer to him, such as the “august leader,” and “his highness” bespoke the reverence with which He inspired them. On one occasion, a European general who, together with the governor, was granted an audience by Him, was so impressed that he “remained kneeling on the ground near the door.” Shaykh ‘Alíy-i-Mírí, the Muftí of ‘Akká, had even, at the suggestion of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, to plead insistently that He might permit the termination of His nine-year confinement within the walls of the prison-city, before He would consent to leave its gates. The garden of Na‘mayn, a small island, situated in the middle of a river to the east of the city, honored with the appellation of Riḍván, and designated by Him the “New Jerusalem” and “Our Verdant Isle,” had, together with the residence of ‘Abdu’lláh Páshá,—rented and prepared for Him by ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, and situated a few miles north of ‘Akká—become by now the favorite retreats of One Who, for almost a decade, had not set foot beyond the city walls, and Whose sole exercise had been to pace, in monotonous repetition, the floor of His bed-chamber.
Two years later the palace of Údí Khammár, on the construction of which so much wealth had been lavished, while Bahá’u’lláh lay imprisoned in the barracks, and which its owner had precipitately abandoned with his family owing to the outbreak of an epidemic disease, was rented and later purchased for Him—a dwelling-place which He characterized as the “lofty mansion,” the spot which “God hath ordained as the most sublime vision of mankind.” ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá’s visit to Beirut, at the invitation of Midḥat Páshá, a former Grand Vizir of Turkey, occurring about this time; His association with the civil and ecclesiastical leaders of that city; His several interviews with the well-known Shaykh Muḥammad ‘Abdu served to enhance immensely the growing prestige of the community and spread abroad the fame of its most distinguished member. The splendid welcome accorded him by the learned and highly esteemed Shaykh Yúsuf, the Muftí of Nazareth, who acted as host to the válís of Beirut, and who had despatched all the notables of the community several miles on the road to meet Him as He approached the town, accompanied by His brother and the Muftí of ‘Akká, as well as the magnificent reception given by ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá to that same Shaykh Yúsuf when the latter visited Him in ‘Akká, were such as to arouse the envy of those who, only a few years before, had treated Him and His fellow-exiles with feelings compounded of condescension and scorn.
The drastic farmán of Sulṭán ‘Abdu’l-‘Azíz, though officially unrepealed, had by now become a dead letter. Though “Bahá’u’lláh was still nominally a prisoner, “the doors of majesty and true sovereignty were,” in the words of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, “flung wide open.” “The rulers of Palestine,” He moreover has written, “envied His influence and power. Governors and mutiṣarrifs, generals and local officials, would humbly request the honor of attaining His presence—a request to which He seldom acceded.”
It was in that same mansion that the distinguished Orientalist, Prof. E. G. Browne of Cambridge, was granted his four successive interviews with Bahá’u’lláh, during the five days he was His guest at Bahjí (April 15–20, 1890), interviews immortalized by the Exile’s historic declaration that “these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away and the ‘Most Great Peace’ shall come.” “The face of Him on Whom I gazed,” is the interviewer’s memorable testimony for posterity, “I can never forget, though I cannot describe it. Those piercing eyes seemed to read one’s very soul; power and authority sat on that ample brow.… No need to ask in whose presence I stood, as I bowed myself before one who is the object of a devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain.” “Here,” the visitor himself has testified, “did I spend five most memorable days, during which I enjoyed unparalleled and unhoped-for opportunities of holding intercourse with those who are the fountain-heads of that mighty and wondrous spirit, which works with invisible but ever-increasing force for the transformation and quickening of a people who slumber in a sleep like unto death. It was, in truth, a strange and moving experience, but one whereof I despair of conveying any save the feeblest impression.”
In that same year Bahá’u’lláh’s tent, the “Tabernacle of Glory,” was raised on Mt. Carmel, “the Hill of God and His Vineyard,” the home of Elijah, extolled by Isaiah as the “mountain of the Lord,” to which “all nations shall flow.” Four times He visited Haifa, His last visit being no less than three months long. In the course of one of these visits, when His tent was pitched in the vicinity of the Carmelite Monastery, He, the “Lord of the Vineyard,” revealed the Tablet of Carmel, remarkable for its allusions and prophecies. On another occasion He pointed out Himself to ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, as He stood on the slopes of that mountain, the site which was to serve as the permanent resting-place of the Báb, and on which a befitting mausoleum was later to be erected.
Properties, bordering on the Lake associated with the ministry of Jesus Christ, were, moreover, purchased at Bahá’u’lláh’s bidding, designed to be consecrated to the glory of His Faith, and to be the forerunners of those “noble and imposing structures” which He, in His Tablets, had anticipated would be raised “throughout the length and breadth” of the Holy Land, as well as of the “rich and sacred territories adjoining the Jordan and its vicinity,” which, in those Tablets, He had permitted to be dedicated “to the worship and service of the one true God.”
The enormous expansion in the volume of Bahá’u’lláh’s correspondence; the establishment of a Bahá’í agency in Alexandria for its despatch and distribution; the facilities provided by His staunch follower, Muḥammad Muṣṭafá, now established in Beirut to safeguard the interests of the pilgrims who passed through that city; the comparative ease with which a titular Prisoner communicated with the multiplying centers in Persia, ‘Iráq, Caucasus, Turkistán, and Egypt; the mission entrusted by Him to Sulaymán Khán-i-Tanakábuní, known as Jamál Effendi, to initiate a systematic campaign of teaching in India and Burma; the appointment of a few of His followers as “Hands of the Cause of God”; the restoration of the Holy House in Shíráz, whose custodianship was now formally entrusted by Him to the Báb’s wife and her sister; the conversion of a considerable number of the adherents of the Jewish, Zoroastrian and Buddhist Faiths, the first fruits of the zeal and the perseverance which itinerant teachers in Persia, India and Burma were so strikingly displaying—conversions that automatically resulted in a firm recognition by them of the Divine origin of both Christianity and Islám—all these attested the vitality of a leadership that neither kings nor ecclesiastics, however powerful or antagonistic, could either destroy or undermine.
Nor should reference be omitted to the emergence of a prosperous community in the newly laid out city of ‘Ishqábád, in Russian Turkistán, assured of the good will of a sympathetic government, enabling it to establish a Bahá’í cemetery and to purchase property and erect thereon structures that were to prove the precursors of the first Mashriqu’l-Adhkár of the Bahá’í world; or to the establishment of new outposts of the Faith in far-off Samarqand and Bukhárá, in the heart of the Asiatic continent, in consequence of the discourses and writings of the erudite Fáḍil-i-Qá’iní and the learned apologist Mírzá Abu’l-Faḍl; or to the publication in India of five volumes of the writings of the Author of the Faith, including His “Most Holy Book”—publications which were to herald the vast multiplication of its literature, in various scripts and languages, and its dissemination, in later decades, throughout both the East and the West.
“Sulṭán ‘Abdu’l-‘Azíz,” Bahá’u’lláh is reported by one of His fellow-exiles to have stated, “banished Us to this country in the greatest abasement, and since his object was to destroy Us and humble Us, whenever the means of glory and ease presented themselves, We did not reject them.” “Now, praise be to God,” He, moreover, as reported by Nabíl in his narrative, once remarked, “it has reached the point when all the people of these regions are manifesting their submissiveness unto Us.” And again, as recorded in that same narrative: “The Ottoman Sulṭán, without any justification, or reason, arose to oppress Us, and sent Us to the fortress of ‘Akká. His imperial farmán decreed that none should associate with Us, and that We should become the object of the hatred of every one. The Hand of Divine power, therefore, swiftly avenged Us. It first loosed the winds of destruction upon his two irreplaceable ministers and confidants, ‘Alí and Fu’ád, after which that Hand was stretched out to roll up the panoply of ‘Azíz himself, and to seize him, as He only can seize, Who is the Mighty, the Strong.”
“His enemies,” ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, referring to this same theme, has written, “intended that His imprisonment should completely destroy and annihilate the blessed Cause, but this prison was, in reality, of the greatest assistance, and became the means of its development.” “…This illustrious Being,” He, moreover has affirmed, “uplifted His Cause in the Most Great Prison. From this Prison His light was shed abroad; His fame conquered the world, and the proclamation of His glory reached the East and the West.” “His light at first had been a star; now it became a mighty sun.” “Until our time,” He, moreover has affirmed, “no such thing has ever occurred.”
Little wonder that, in view of so remarkable a reversal in the circumstances attending the twenty-four years of His banishment to ‘Akká, Bahá’u’lláh Himself should have penned these weighty words: “The Almighty … hath transformed this Prison-House into the Most Exalted Paradise, the Heaven of Heavens.”