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Memories of Nine Years in Akka

by Youness Afroukhteh

translated by Riaz Masrour.
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Chapter 2


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CHAPTER TWO

He is the Most Glorious!

Departure from Tehran

When I departed the Holy Threshold, it had been my intention to stay away for no longer than three to four months. And while during that time I never ceased to contemplate a return-for I longed to be reunited with the Beloved-I never imagined that those few months could turn into several years. Attachment to the material world, however, had so dominated my existence that my life had become devoid of its spiritual dimension. I realized that physical attachments, earning a living in order to provide the necessities of everyday life, and the pleasures of the material world can deprive man of heavenly nourishment and deny him spiritual joy unless the confirmations of the Unseen and the blessings of the Divine Being rain down more generously than deserved, and the sun of good fortune rises all too unexpectedly from the horizon of grace and mercy, rather than from that of merit and true worth. And this was what happened to this servant. As I wallowed in the ocean of busy work at the bank, totally preoccupied by the trappings of this material world, one day when I was writing busily Haji Mirza Muhammad Afnan suddenly entered my office and handed me a telegram from 'Abdu'l-Bahá. It read: "Youness Khan is to come. 'Abbas." I was utterly stunned by this sudden and unexpected blessing. I thought I was dreaming, for the thrill and joy of


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reading the telegram was nothing less than the good fortune and pleasure of attaining His presence. Instantly I saw myself in the presence of the Beloved of hearts, suddenly I found myself in a world which I am utterly unable to describe.

That day I revealed nothing of my plans. But by the next morning, when I had made up my mind and had planned the details of my journey, I announced my decision. It goes without saying that selfish and material temptations assailed me from every side, attempting to deprive me of this heavenly blessing. But the power of assistance and the inspiration of the angels of mercy and bounty proved more than adequate to overcome the enticements presented by the bank president, who offered me a large raise in salary and the opportunity to take a paid sabbatical of six to twelve months if I were willing to withhold submitting a formal resignation. However, I did submit my resignation and received a substantial sum from the bank as a sign of their gratitude for my past services, as well as a letter of recommendation expressing their deep regret at my departure. Within ten to twelve days of receiving the telegram I was on my way. Accompanied by a fellow traveller, I departed from Tehran and set out towards Mazindaran.{79} After twelve days we arrived in Badkubih. I left my friend with Haji Mirza Haydar-'Ali and then along with two others set out for Istanbul. In Tbilisi the hospitality and kindliness of the Ahmadov brothers again arrested our further progress for two days. In Istanbul we spent a week waiting for a boat at the house of my late father, who had been appointed as the representative of the Faith in that city. Having secured passage on a vessel, I travelled with great haste towards Beirut and 'Akka and at last, in early April of the year 1900, I attained the Holy Threshold.

Pilgrimage at 'Akka with an American, Mr. Hoar

When we boarded the ship in Beirut, bound for Haifa, the radiant countenance of an American traveller so attracted my


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attention that I concluded that either he must be a Bahá'í or deserved to become one. I longed to start a conversation and unleash my tongue. However, the stormy seas and the increasing intensity of my emotions as we approached the coast of the Holy Land prevented me from doing so until our arrival. In Haifa, the officials of the Office of Travellers' Affairs directed us both to the house of 'Abdu'l-Bahá , and so this was the first time I had the privilege of meeting a Western believer. After lunch we proceeded to 'Akka in a carriage. The distance between the two cities was covered in about the same length of time as I remembered from a few years ago. As we journeyed on, joyful and eager, I breathed the fragrant air and with the ear of spirit listened to those same verses of praise and thanksgiving uttered by the angels of holiness that I had heard before. But this time there was a difference. Previously, I had had this experience after having tasted the sweetness of reunion with the Beloved, whereas this time I rode on with parched lips towards the sweet waters of the Euphrates of love. In any case, this two-hour journey to the Beloved seemed longer than the journey that had brought me from Iran to the Holy Land. As it is written: "When attainment is at hand, then the burning flames of love smoulder." Furthermore, as had been done for me in my previous pilgrimage, I felt the responsibility of describing point by point the significant and interesting spots along the road until we arrived at the city gate of 'Akka where we were received. Mr. Hoar was taken to the house of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and I to the pilgrim house. Before long we were summoned to the presence of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in the biruni of His house. There I tasted the sweetness of reunion and experienced once again all the emotions and feelings which had so filled my being the first time I attained His presence; His kind and loving words rejuvenated my drooping soul. Mr. Hoar was admitted next and for the first time I had the opportunity of translating in the presence of the Beloved


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of the world. There was not a long exchange of questions and answers, except that 'Abdu'l-Bahá praised the American believers in loving and tender words, gave glad tidings of future victories of the Faith of God, and also spoke a few words about tests and difficulties. Afterwards He assigned us to stay in the upper guest room of the house. From the following day Mr. Hoar began to ask questions and write down 'Abdu'l-Bahá's answers. Most of these sessions took place at the dinner table. One day the subject of Ibrahim Khayru'llah and his disloyalty to the Covenant came up. Mr. Hoar said that although Khayru'llah had guided many souls to the Faith, yet once he deserted the Faith all mention of him had ceased and his disloyalty had left no adverse effect on the American Bahá'í community. 'Abdu'l-Bahá agreed and added: "Since he has only recently died, his influence still endures. However, before long you will notice a foul odour emanating from him until he rots and disintegrates completely."{80} He added that any corpse follows a similar path: at first it possesses the freshness of the human body but soon it begins to exude a foul stench disgusting to any living being. As soon as 'Abdu'l-Bahá made the analogy, Mr. Hoar asked and received special instructions from 'Abdu'l-Bahá for the protection of the friends from the evil promptings of disloyalty and infidelity. In the few days of his pilgrimage Mr. Hoar became increasingly stirred until he was on fire. By the time he left he had become, through the influence of the Master, a complete and true teacher of the Faith. Later on, when the Covenant-breakers began their seditious activities, he was the source of great accomplishments and his magnificent services were always remembered, applauded and mentioned. One such service will be presented later.

My feelings during the first days in the Holy Land

While living in Tehran in previous years, I had kept in close contact with events in the Holy Land and was fully aware of


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all the changes that had taken place. I knew that the Covenant-breakers had been routed and cast out forever and that the gates of reunion were again opened to the eager faces of the believers. Numerous meetings of the Eastern and Western friends had been held in both 'Akka and Haifa. The mischief had ended, and of the troublemakers, some had repented; others, defeated and alone, had lost all hope of any further activity, while a few had received their just reward for their actions. Some of them had died while others had learned their lesson. Thus the Bahá'í world had finally found peace and tranquillity. What I did not know was:

A thousand tableaux has life in store, But not one the way we imagine before.

My first hour in the presence of the Beloved of hearts was spent in a fragmentary and disjointed attempt to translate His words, as I sat utterly intoxicated by His presence. When the meeting ended and we were all dismissed, I was summoned to His presence alone. In a hushed voice the Master confided: "You have to be here with us. Trust no one but me. Whatever is in your heart, confide it to me only. Trust no one, this land is in turmoil and the troublemakers are waiting in the wings. Be vigilant." These words gave cause for deep reflection. I meditated on His utterances word for word and placed them in the storehouse of my memory, realizing that things had not changed as I had thought. What I did not notice then was that in addition to the Covenant-breakers, other troublemakers had also emerged and this had added to 'Abdu'l-Bahá's cares. Before long the late Haji Niyaz arrived [from Egypt] in order to meet with Mr. Hoar. The Master asked me to be present at the interview and to serve as translator. We spent some time in conversation, after which I was again summoned to the presence of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Who told me, "This man [Haji Niyaz] is a trustworthy friend of mine. Do not have any concerns about him." Again, this statement


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added to my worries, for it emphasized the fact that the community of friends was infected by a large number of Covenant-breakers.

The condition of the pilgrims and of the pilgrim house were as before, orderly and efficient. The pilgrims and the residents visited Bahji in horse-drawn carriages on Holy Days with the same feelings of reverence and devotion as their predecessors. The old servants were still in service; only a few details had changed, except for the addition of a number of troublemakers whom I had not seen before and who were then part of the band of servants. Amongst these was Mirza Amin,{81} son of Mirza Asadu'llah-i-Isfahani a seventeen-year old boy who was said to be related to one of the maidservants of the household of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. This young man was very agile, shrewd and intelligent and was in the service of the ladies of the holy family. Outwardly, he was quite likable and enjoyed the favour and kind attention of the household. He had established a close and friendly relationship with Mr. Hoar when he was here and at times was present at 'Abdu'l-Bahá's informal talks at the dinner table; he also used to carry messages from the ladies of the household to the American ladies. However, I soon discovered that this young impostor had a long experience in treachery and deception. On the day that Mr. Hoar completed his pilgrimage, I received from the hand of 'Abdu'l-Bahá certain written instructions which I was to convey to Mr. Hoar to undertake once he arrived in the United States. In doing so, I was to avoid mentioning any names or handing him the actual written Tablet. Both Mirza Amin and I were instructed to accompany Mr. Hoar to Haifa. When I explained 'Abdu'l-Bahá's instructions to Mr. Hoar, he asked me for the written instructions. It became obvious to me that Mirza Amin had created suspicion in his mind in order to cause mischief I had no choice but to telegraph the request to 'Abdu'l-Bahá , with whose permission I submitted the Tablet to him. Gradually I noticed that the shrewd imposter lost no opportunity to create doubt and suspicion in


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the hearts of all he met. However, in the House of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and among the elderly residents of `'Akka he remained a charming favourite. After the departure of Mr. Hoar we returned to 'Akka.

Description of my duties in those days

After the departure of Mr. Hoar I returned to 'Akka and to the pilgrim house, where unlike previous years I, along with other pilgrims, busied myself with the prescribed duties of translating the incoming correspondence from the West and generally enjoying some pleasant and joyful times. With the arrival of the Ridvan festivities we visited the Holy Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh, as had now become the custom, with the same ceremony and formality of past years. The gardens around the Shrine had been expanded and so the use of the Mansion's first floor reception room had been abandoned. In its place and adjacent to the Mansion had been built a small garden filled with colourful and fragrant flowers, and four rooms; this served as the resting area for the pilgrims. To the custom of the carrying of flowerpots by the pilgrims from 'Akka to the Shrine, which had been carried out with great pomp and ceremony and in an atmosphere of complete humility and lowliness, another practice had been added. This was the transportation of water in some one hundred copper jugs by the pilgrims and residents from nearby springs to the Shrine to water the flowers while reciting divine verses and poetry. The spiritual state of the friends and the atmosphere of devotion and attraction which dominated the scene had a strange effect on any onlooker. When 'Abdu'l-Bahá held a jug of water on His shoulder as He stood before the Holy Shrine, signalling permission for the chanting of prayers, while the friends stood in reverent attention, such a heart-stirring scene was created as to cause the tears of the spectators to flow. Some even pleaded to be given jugs so that they too could share in the honour of pilgrimage by watering the flowers. In any event, after chanting of the Tablets


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revealed for observance of that Holy Day and completing the rites of pilgrimage for the first day of Ridvan, we all returned to 'Akka.

After the Ridvan period I was summoned one day to the presence of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. The Master asked me whether I was more fluent in French or English. I replied that although my English was limited, I was able to translate from English to Persian but not conversely. I explained that this was especially true of the sacred Tablets, which contained numerous Bahá'í expressions the English equivalents of which were unknown to me. 'Abdu'l-Bahá commanded, "You must study English; we are in great need of it. Stay in Haifa and translate the correspondence." Next day He summoned a person called 'Abdu'llah Bolurih from Haifa to His presence. Mirza Amin and I were also called in. After showering 'Abdu'llah with kindness and love, 'Abdu'l-Bahá handed the man a five-lira note in payment for him to teach us English in Haifa. Next day, the Master gave me a number of letters and Tablets to translate. He instructed me: "Rely on Bahá'u'lláh, be confident, and translate." I immediately went to Haifa where a room for my residence in the biruni of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's house was arranged; 'Abdu'llah Bolurih came daily and taught English to both Mirza Amin and me. Shortly after, I began to translate the incoming correspondence by myself. I also took up the translation of certain original Tablets into French and, with the help of my teacher, certain other Tablets into English.

Haifa in 1900 A.D.

The biruni of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's residence, also known as the pilgrim house, provided modest accommodation consisting of four rooms. One room served as the bedroom of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, while the second was used for public gatherings. The third room was the office of the late Haji Siyyid Taqi Manshadi and the fourth was designated as the pilgrim house. In recent years that room had been the residence of many pilgrims


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from around the world. However, this year, in view of the prevailing conditions, caution had dictated a reduction in their numbers. The andaruni of the house was normally occupied by a number of the ladies of the Holy Family. The American pilgrim house also consisted of four bedrooms and offered Western style accommodation; over the course of the previous two years it had regularly housed assorted groups of Western pilgrims. At that time, however, in accordance with the Master's instructions, it remained unoccupied.{82}

In addition to these, a great structure was being built on the slopes of Mount Carmel to house the remains of the Blessed Bab. The Master visited Haifa periodically to supervise the construction activities; this gave the friends and non-Bahá'ís of Haifa the opportunity and the blessing of attaining His presence for a few days before He returned to 'Akka. The attraction and fervour of the friends in Haifa were no less intense than those of the residents of 'Akka. The changes that had taken place over the previous three or four years were as follows:

First: for a short time Mirza Aqa Jan had found shelter with the Covenant-breakers in the Mansion and had received much care and attention there. But as soon as they had determined that he had no place in their future plans, they had packed him off to the Most Holy Shrine so that under the guise of "refugee" he could continue to irritate and torment the friends by denying them the opportunity of enjoying a peaceful visit to that Holy Spot. For a short while he remained a nuisance, until the hand of Providence removed him.

Second: the late Mirza Diya'u'llah had remained unstable, impulsive and confused, and had followed the path envisioned by Bahá'u'lláh in one of the verses of the Hidden Words: " bereft of the melody of the dove of heaven return[ed] to water and clay",{83} hoping for divine mercy and blessing.


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Third: The room on the lower floor of the Mansion which had formerly served as the pilgrims' reception room had been taken over by the Covenant-breakers and was now in their possession. According to 'Abdu'l-Bahá's instructions, a small garden adjoining the Holy Shrine had been purchased and established as a reception area for the pilgrims, as described above.

Fourth: the Covenant-breakers no longer accepted 'Abdu'l-Bahá's generous offerings for their expenses and therefore the financial pressures had considerably eased at 'Abdu'l-Bahá's house. Nevertheless, He often continued to support them financially on various pretexts.

Fifth: Tabur Aqasi's actions against the Faith had produced the opposite effect. He had been dismissed from office and had fallen on hard times. Eventually, he came begging at 'Abdu'l-Bahá's door and received financial assistance.

Sixth: For three years, groups of friends from East and West had been arriving regularly on pilgrimage; Haifa had become the gathering place for the friends and the site of many happy and joyful meetings and assemblies. In recent times, however, the Master's instructions had limited the number of such pilgrimages.

Seventh: Due to the improved financial condition of the funds, some of the victims of greed and self-indulgence had been put to the test. One had shown a desire for position and prestige; another had sought an all-expenses-paid vacation in America; yet another, unsatisfied with his circumstances, had become an outright enemy of the Faith. In brief, the raging fire of the greed of the Covenant-breakers had also awakened the avarice of the enemies of the Faith. These new rebellions had added to the many cares of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Yet His qualities of concealing sins and bestowing mercy and forgiveness would not allow Him to reveal the truth of the situation. A number of friends had, on their own, discovered the designs


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of the enemies of the Faith and yet dared not utter a word. In despair, one had lost his sanity, another had committed suicide, while a third had fled the city. For these, the distress and agony created by their knowledge of what was taking place had proved too much to bear. Such tragic circumstances had been prevalent in those years; however, since I was not in the Holy Land at the time I can present only a summary of those events. Having been defeated in their old designs, the violators of the Covenant had found a fresh excuse to motivate the mischief-makers, and that was the construction of the Shrine of the Bab. The details of this will be covered in a future chapter.

Eighth: Two of the Covenant-breakers had resolved to assassinate the Centre of the Covenant. One had poisoned 'Abdu'l-Bahá's water jug, which had been discovered in time. The other had made an unsuccessful attempt to stab the Master. 'Abdu'l-Bahá forgave one and turned a blind eye to the other; discredited for the rest of their lives, they spent their last days in Tehran.

The morale of the believers of Haifa and 'Akka in those days

Once the rebellion of Mirza Aqa Jan had ended and the pressures had eased, and the believers of the East and the West once again turned their attention toward the Holy Land, it soon became obvious that Akka did not have the capacity to accommodate such large numbers of pilgrims. The small city of Haifa became perforce the formal residence of the Master, as the House of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and the two aforementioned pilgrim houses had been completed and made ready for service.{84} Meanwhile, the friends resident in Haifa began to take on a larger share of the responsibilities and duties required at the Holy Threshold, while the friends of 'Akka continued to provide support in their many and varied services. This change of residence revived the spirits of the


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Bahá'ís of Haifa and brought joy to their hearts as it revitalized their community. The Covenant-breakers, routed, severed from the community and without hope, remained outside this centre of activity. For a time, mutiny and rebellion were replaced by peace and calm. However, a few of their loyal friends, whose greed had not been satisfied and whose many excessive desires had not been fulfilled, not unlike the Old Hyena, began to create mischief Even so, they continued to receive their share of opportunities for service to the Cause, for 'Abdu'l-Bahá's attribute of divine concealment veiled their activities and protected them from themselves.

However, a few of the servants of the Master's household who were aware of the secrets were quite indignant about the whole affair. Accusations and backbiting were rampant. For instance, these servants used to say things-the truth of which was to emerge only some twenty years later-about Aqa Mirza Asadu'llah and his son, and about Aqa Siyyid 'Ali Akbar Dahaji, as well as a few others who outwardly enjoyed 'Abdu'l-Bahá's trust. This was because these servants enjoyed varied and intimate association with many and were therefore informed of matters that only time would confirm. Armed with such knowledge they would backbite to their heart's content and then repent and ask for forgiveness. When I began to hear such whisperings, I was reminded of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's advice on the first day of my arrival: "Don't trust anyone, this land is in turmoil," etc. What was astonishing was that the very people who were the subjects of so much backbiting and rumour on the part of the intimate servants of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's household presented themselves in such a light of loyalty, constancy and humility that one felt utterly confused about the truth of such allegations. However, since four years earlier I had observed at first hand Mirza Aqa Jan's behaviour and the crisis he had precipitated, I could not overlook the possible credibility of such whisperings. But while at the time I disregarded much of the talk, it was quite evident that some of the friends in Haifa and


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'Akka were looking for opportunities for financial gain. Some travelled and wrote to 'Abdu'l-Bahá for financial help. In short, in the course of the four years of my absence, strange and bizarre changes had taken place in the general character and conduct of the friends, changes which could not have been imagined four years earlier. Praise be to God that all such people of dubious character ultimately revealed their true purpose, some after five years, others after fifteen, and yet others eventually died out and no memory of them remains.

Six months in Haifa

I have likened my six-month stay in Haifa to the life of an untrained, mute parrot who is given a cage for shelter and training in the art of speech. In my case, however, the cage was placed in the most wonderful site in the world, the divine paradise. Every few days that spiritual Teacher, that radiant and heavenly Personage, travelled to Haifa and imparted to my undeserving soul words of counsel and guidance which unveiled to my eyes sparkling vistas of the world of reality. He placed in my cage such a variety of heavenly sweets that I could not possibly desire more. At first I entertained thoughts of breaking the cage, finding a way out and soaring to 'Akka, but before long I became so acclimatized to my surroundings that when summoned to 'Akka I would go there, submit the completed documents, receive the letters and Tablets requiring translation, and return to Haifa contentedly, all within the span of a day. One such day, while handing me a whole sheaf of Tablets to translate, 'Abdu'l-Bahá commanded, "But be careful not to translate like the Old or the New Testaments."{85} I replied that if I could translate as well as that, I would throw my hat up in the air out of pure joy. Surprised, He said, "What! You want to try to translate like the Bible was translated?" and then He recited one of the New Testament verses in Arabic and said, "Do you want to translate like this?"


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"How do we know I can translate even as well as that?" I immediately answered.

He smiled again and said, "Rely on Bahá'u'lláh and you will translate well. Go, and trust in God."

I don't know what heavenly power was in those words, but it fortified my helpless soul with divine confirmation. Gradually, every undertaking and every assignment seemed well within my ability, and the act of translation, whether performed poorly or masterfully, became the simplest of tasks.

My classmate and colleague, however, was very clever and shrewd and under a variety of guises purloined some of the Tablets and translated them with the help of non-Bahá'ís. When I discovered this I began to exercise caution, and although our relationship became strained we continued our English language study sessions with 'Abdu'llah Bolurih

Pilgrimage by the Western friends had been suspended; and according to the servants of the Master's household the second pilgrim house and 'Abdu'l-Bahá's house in Haifa were to be closed. But the Eastern pilgrims from Iran, Egypt, India and Russia were arriving in large numbers and they usually stayed in Haifa for a few days. In the meantime, 'Abdu'l-Bahá paid special attention to Haifa and always encouraged the pilgrims to visit Mount Carmel and the future site of the Shrine of the Bab. In brief, this small town had become the promised paradise, although my only associations were limited to Haji Siyyid Taqi Manshadi and the honoured Mirza Jalal. All the friends in Haifa, especially the older ones, had a soft spot in their hearts for me. And so in the moderately warm climate of Haifa I spent six wonderfully happy months.

'Abdu'l-Bahá's visits from 'Akka to Haifa

As described before, every few days 'Abdu'l-Bahá came to Haifa to supervise the construction activities of the Shrine of the Bab, and stayed for a few days. Upon His arrival He usually visited the pilgrim house where both Bahá'ís and non-Bahá'ís who had received the news of His arrival would


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already have gathered in anticipation of a meeting which would last until late at night. In the morning, the Master began the day by visiting the notables of Haifa Visiting the poor and showering them with His love and generosity was one of His essential and customary tasks. He visited each and every indigent home, showing kindness and expressing sympathy and thus bringing happiness and joy to the hearts of the needy, who comprised people of various national and religious backgrounds. What was astonishing was that He knew the children of each household by name, and if a child or an old woman was not present, He would enquire after their health and well-being: "Where is so and so, how is he doing?" If there was an illness in a family, the Master expressed deep sympathy and bestowed upon them His kind and loving sentiments. He would even give complete medical instructions for the healing and recovery of the patient, and in addition offer prayers for each and every one, patting their heads and faces with His blessed hand, bestowing encouragement and well-being. He would then bring out from His pocket a bag of coins of every size and shape and, as dictated by the circumstances, bestow a generous sum on each , thus imparting hope and encouragement to them all. He carried on from one house to the next until the money ran out. But in addition to visiting the friends and town dignitaries, the Master's stay in Haifa had a more significant purpose. Visiting the poor and the indigent always merited first priority However, the task that consumed 'Abdu'l-Bahá's thoughts was the construction of the Shrine of the Bab, which will be brought to the attention of the esteemed readers in more detail below. This had given the Covenant-breakers a new excuse for mischief and sedition as they endeavoured with all their power to impede its progress. Construction of the Shrine of the Bab

The small city of Haifa, nestling on the slopes of Mount


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Carmel, could be divided into three distinct parts. The first was the old city on the lower east side where the air was warm, foul and filthy. It had a single bazaar with dark, narrow and winding alleys, similar to the one in 'Akka. The second part, on the west and the southwest side of the city, comprised the German colony, known as the German quarter. Here, the climate was moderate and the administration of civil affairs was in the hands of the Germans themselves. The third was the area of Mount Carmel and its slopes, which consisted of vineyards and were in the possession of the Germans. There were also other large tracts of land that were generally barren and unutilized. The climate of the slopes of Mount Carmel, especially on the upper southwest side, was quite temperate and mild. Situated on the choicest segment of the slopes across from German Street, and looking out toward the sea, was a beautiful plot of land covered with tall, lively and verdant cypress trees. In the days of the Blessed Beauty this plot of land had served as a summer resort for Bahá'u'lláh. The Ancient Beauty had been so pleased with the surroundings that He had instructed that the plot should be purchased in the future and that the eternal resting place of the blessed Primal Point should be built at its heart. At the first opportunity, 'Abdu'l-Bahá purchased a number of tracts of land in that area. It was the purchase of that plot of land and the subsequent construction of the Shrine of the Bab that again rekindled the enmity and jealousy of the Covenant-breakers. Thus began a twelve-year struggle, during which they revived and brought to the attention of the Ottoman government a variety of accusations, charges and complaints in order to destroy the edifice, extirpate the cause of God and precipitate the death of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. And so all subsequent events, the details of which will be presented later, stemmed from this land and this holy edifice. Under 'Abdu'l-Bahá's supervision, the construction of the foundation of the Shrine of the Bab began some time before


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the year 1909 A.D.{86} 'Abdu'l-Bahá's attachment to that edifice was such that He made reference to it and gave descriptions of it on every possible occasion, and when He arrived in Haifa most of His time was consumed in issuing instructions for the construction and the general supervision of these activities. Under such conditions, the friends who thirsted to attain His presence had to do so on the slopes of Mount Carmel. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's description of the future of that location and that edifice was uttered with such joy and excitement that while only the foundation work was commencing and all that could be seen was a large hole in the ground, a few dirt movers, and otherwise an expanse of rough and rugged land, nevertheless one could see with the eye of imagination the immaculate, spotless cleanliness and pristine beauty of the present structure.{87}

'Abdu'l-Bahá described in detail what portions of the work had been completed and what was planned for construction in the future. He indicated the locations of each flowerbed and the sites of various other ornamental features. The foundation of the edifice was so sound and solid that I frequently expressed my observation to 'Abdu'l-Bahá that in its strength and substance that foundation resembled the foundation of the Faith of God itself However, the jealousy and hatred of the Covenant-breakers and their incessant efforts to paralyse and ruin this major work were so intense that their effects brought much sadness and distress to the heart of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. In the course of twelve years, not a year, nay not a month, not even a day passed without a fresh calamity or a new treachery. One such act was the Covenant-breakers' deceiving the owner of a piece of property, land that provided access to the upper site of the construction work, to withhold its sale to 'Abdu'l-Bahá. They had assured the landowner that they would happily match any offer made by 'Abdu'l-Bahá without even taking Possession of the land. They had also encouraged other owners with properties in the vicinity of the construction


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work to obstruct all traffic through their properties to the construction site. Induced by the Covenant-breakers, the Germans who owned most of the land in that area began to create trouble. Anyone, whether Christian or Jew, who owned a piece of that barren and worthless land encouraged others to lay claim of ownership to a part of that ownerless wilderness and block all possible access routes to the incoming traffic hauling construction materials to the building site. All these activities gradually increased the value of the land on the slope. As soon as the edifice began to take form, the Covenant-breakers spread far and wide the rumour that the structure actually concealed an ammunition dump. In brief, a piece of land which is now nothing but a narrow paved alley that provides access to a major thoroughfare became so valuable that although the Master offered to buy it at fifty and sixty times its fair price, the owner refused to sell. Finally things reached such a pass that 'Abdu'l-Bahá would later say, "I was put under so much pressure that one night I stayed up and recited a prayer revealed by the Primal Point that I had in my possession. After that I felt at peace. Next morning the property owner came, apologized and offered to sell the property. I told him I had no further need of the land. He insisted and explained, 'This is not my fault; your brothers deceived me and told me they would double any offer that you would make and that I should not let go of the property easily.' In any case, he pleaded and I refused until he threw himself at my feet and begged me to take the property at no cost; then I sent him to Aqa Rida and instructed him to pay the landowner a sum of money and complete the purchase." This is an example of the various schemes of the Covenant-breakers. Even after this, whenever a piece of property was needed to expand the gardens, similar intrigues had to be overcome. Aside from this, the Master spent large sums for the maintenance work of the main road passing through the area, as a generous gesture towards the development


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and growth of the city of Haifa and towards the happiness of its citizens.

'Abdu'l-Bahá's words in those days in Haifa

Generally, whenever 'Abdu'l-Bahá came to Haifa He stayed in the pilgrim house for a day, after which His time was taken up by visits to various individuals or by supervision of the construction work. Only in the late hours of the evening would the friends find the honour and the opportunity of attaining His presence in the biruni or the pilgrim house. More often than not, He had His lunch in the biruni and His dinner at His residence. As before, at times His words pertained to the life stories of the troublemakers, while at other times He imparted kindly counsel to those present; yet sometimes, confidentially, He spoke about the consequences of the many intrigues perpetrated by Covenant-breakers. For example, He used to say, "The desire and the plan of the Covenant-breakers is that I should spend the rest of my life in prison and in chains. It so happens that this is also the height of my desire and my longing, since this would release me from all torment and agony and would enable me to spend my time in prayer and meditation. Nothing could bring me more happiness. Of course, for me, whatever they consider misery and agony is the apex of happiness and good fortune. Their misfortune is that whenever they lay a trap for me they get caught in it before I do. But for them the trap is hell and for me naught but paradise." In those days, when enemies, rabble rousers and rumourmongers abounded and were in fact wolves dressed in sheep's clothing intent on creating trouble, 'Abdu'l-Bahá especially talked about matters that were meant to reach the car of the Arch-breaker of the Covenant, so that he might know that the Head of the Faith was not uninformed of their intrigues and that there was wisdom in His silence. For example, for a few days the theme of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's talks had been to prove through intellectual and philosophical reasoning that at times


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Almighty God actually assists the actions of the non-believers and Covenant-breakers. There was wisdom in this that was unclear to man. For example, He would say, "Is it not true that as long as man's evil and sinful intentions do not translate into action he will remain free from God's punishment and retribution? Therefore, God's assistance, that may be likened to the heat of the rays of the sun, reaches all levels of existence so that the true nature of all beings may be revealed. It is only then that the wretched is distinguished from the good." And then He added, "Soon you will see the fire trap that they have set for me. The irony is that they will fall into it before I do. But for me this is happiness upon happiness and for them misery upon misery." In brief, these words of the Master created a dark picture in the minds of His audience, and yet 'Abdu'l-Bahá's face beamed with a joy and happiness that infused gladness and hope into the hearts of the friends. The general understanding was that the consequences of the actions of the Covenant-breakers would be revealed before long, but that they would not be a cause of distress or anguish for 'Abdu'l-Bahá. In fact it was expected that they would become the very cause of the progress and triumph of the Cause of God. Another sign of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's concern with the unsettled conditions of the times was that in the previous six months no permission for pilgrimage had been issued to the Western believers. The Eastern friends, too, only rarely received permission, and so the pilgrim houses of 'Akka and Haifa were mostly unoccupied and the Western pilgrim house in Haifa was eventually closed.

Three pistol shots at 'Abdu'l-Bahá

During the Caliphate of 'Abdu'l-Hamid, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, the central government encouraged an atmosphere of hatred and confrontation among the various peoples of the Empire in the entire region of Syria and Palestine, especially between the Muslims and the Christians. Most


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of the people ordinarily went about armed with pistols and one of their everyday pastimes was to fire their guns. At weddings and circumcision parties, firing shots in the air was quite customary and if by accident a passer-by was injured in the process, bad luck would be considered the true culprit. The smallest argument between two individuals could easily erupt into gunplay, with bullets flying back and forth between the two belligerents and at times striking innocent bystanders. According to the laws in force at that time, threatening someone with a gun, if proven in a court of law, would result in heavy punishment. However, shooting a pistol for the enjoyment of the sport was considered acceptable and allowable. Therefore, any loss of life in such circumstances was not normally taken seriously by the courts, and even a deliberate act of shooting with intent to kill could receive a suspended sentence if an adequate bribe could be raised. In short, the carrying of arms and firing of pistols were ordinary and accepted practices, and killing a man, given the conditions of the time, was a forgivable sin. A large number of the Covenant-breakers who had completely left the Faith and no longer felt any spiritual or religious attachments normally carried guns. They openly associated with the town's thugs and troublemakers and at times even threatened the life and the livelihood of the friends. Since 'Akka was a fortress with narrow winding streets, it did not provide sufficient space for such blatant actions. However, the small city of Haifa, because of its proximity to open spaces and the sea, had become the centre of their activities, and so the sound of gunshots, whether fired for fun or to create fear, filled the nights. And since escape routes were open and unguarded, murder was rampant; under cover of night the murderer could easily flee the scene unnoticed. This is a brief description of social conditions in Haifa. Therefore, whenever 'Abdu'l-Bahá travelled to Haifa, certain of the friends and especially the servants of the household were deeply concerned about His comings and goings at night. The andaruni was at some distance from the centre of


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town, and normally He would return from either attending to the poor and needy or visiting the notables of the town some time after midnight. He would then attend to the friends for a few minutes, either in the biruni or in the Haifa pilgrim house, and then walk towards the andaruni by himself, a ten-minute stroll.{88} This part of town, which was in close proximity to the German district, had no street lighting and the Master did not permit anyone to accompany Him with a lamp. However, someone used to follow Him at a distance all the way to the house. When His visits were confined to areas within the city proper, He himself carried a lamp. When 'Abdu'l-Bahá was in Haifa, those present at the pilgrim house-whether resident, pilgrim or household servant -knew that some time late at night, even if it were for no more than ten minutes, He would arrive for a visit. Therefore they waited for Him, sometimes until two in the morning. One night He arrived at one in the morning and after His customary expressions of affection to each and every one present He turned to Ustad Muhammad-'Ali, who was quite sleepy, and said, "Chant a prayer." He immediately recited:

O my God, my Master, the Goal of my desire! This, Thy servant, seeketh to sleep in the shelter of Thy mercy, and to repose beneath the canopy of Thy grace, imploring Thy care and Thy protection...{89}

And so one could see that 'Abdu'l-Bahá's life in Haifa was much more arduous than in 'Akka. In summer months, when nights were short, He was engaged until late at night and rose with the first light. He would then find a peaceful spot on the slopes of Mount Carmel and spend time in prayer and meditation. He never had a moment's peace. Some days He was busy all day attending to various matters, and at the setting of the sun He would return and rest for ten to fifteen minutes in His biruni bedroom before setting out to take care of other matters, without anyone knowing when He might return. The lack of security in the town was a continuous burden on


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the minds of the friends. Walking about town where the sound of gunfire was a routine matter was not without danger, especially considering the many threats that were consistently received by the friends. It was for this reason that despite His clear instructions to the contrary, Ustad Muhammad-'Ali, who was a builder and a shoemaker and was also considered a loyal and devoted servant, walked a few steps behind 'Abdu'l-Bahá all the way to the house. Sometimes I assumed this secretive duty and followed 'Abdu'l-Bahá from a distance on His return to the house. Once at His door, if He was pleased with me, He would honour me with the words, "Well done! God go with you." The pride and joy of having served 'Abdu'l-Bahá made the infraction of accompanying Him admissible-nay, to my mind, commendable. One night I began my usual walk, following a few steps behind 'Abdu'l-Bahá. We had not quite reached the midpoint when suddenly I saw three shots fired at Him from the alley to our right. At first I remained unconcerned, for I had become accustomed to the sound of gunshots at night. However, on the second shot I saw the flash of fire coming from the barrel of a gun being fired in the direction of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. I ran toward the alley. The third shot was fired before I reached the intersection but I saw someone fleeing. A second person who was halfway up the alley also ran away. Both ran toward the beach. At this moment I was but a few steps from 'Abdu'l-Bahá The Master's gait did not change. He strolled along with the same dignity and stateliness that were the distinguishing characteristics of that radiant and heavenly Being. Unperturbed, He continued His steady strides without paying the least attention to what had just transpired. He seemed to be praying and I did not wish to disturb Him with my expressions of concern and anxiety at a time when the whole of His attention was focused on the world of the spirit. As soon as we reached the house, He turned His blessed face around in the darkness and said, "May God go with you," granting me leave. I returned to the pilgrim house and


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related the story to Ustad Muhammad-'Ali He too became deeply distressed; he did not openly express any concern but began accompanying 'Abdu'l-Bahá from then on without missing a night. I too continued my service, as we both shared the honour of escorting 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Of course, our real concern was not due to any danger that might have threatened the Master on His short walks. It was rather in confronting those future troubles and trials that he had foretold, instigated by the Covenant-breakers.

The renewal of confinement

'Abdu'l-Bahá began in those days to disclose certain facts about the plans and strategies of His enemies, so bringing deep concern to the hearts of the friends. While He painted a rather dark picture of the future, no one had any real conception of the gravity of the emerging crisis, whose flames were to engulf first the Covenant-breakers and then 'Abdu'l-Bahá Himself. I constantly prayed and implored Almighty God to bring to realization only the first part of Abdu'l-Bahá's prophecy. In other words, I prayed that the Covenant-breakers might fall into the fire of their own sedition and treachery and become consumed by the flames of their own machinations and intrigues-but that the second part of the prediction ("after them, me") might not be fulfilled. But alas, His prophecy was realized to its full extent without the least mitigation of the circumstances. That Joseph of the heavenly Egypt{90} was incarcerated for eight years, until at last the Most Great Prison was dismantled and that blessed Being was able to travel, first to Egypt and then to Europe and America, to raise the call of the Kingdom in many gatherings and churches. And we, in praise and gratitude, repeated what Na'im has

written:

Glad tidings to Jacob, for his beloved son Is made sovereign in the Egypt of love.


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The details of the resumption of the Most Great Prison are as follows: Normally, a few days before 'Abdu'l-Bahá travelled to Haifa, correspondence received in that city gave tidings of His approaching journey. This provided an opportunity for the community to prepare for His arrival, and also for the construction contractors to complete their technical and financial reports for the Master's review. But this time the Master arrived in Haifa unannounced. The next day He spent in visiting certain people, while deferring to the following day a number of other invitations. His stay was only one full day and two nights. On the third day, which fell on the anniversary of the Declaration of the Bab, He rose very early, determined to visit the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh and then return to Haifa that same night. On such a blessed day, when two great Holy Days coincided, the friends in Haifa longed to attain the presence of the Master and taste the sweetness of reunion; they therefore looked forward to the end of the day with joy and excitement. As the Master's carriage began to pull out, Mirza Jalal (the son of the King of the Martyrs) and this servant asked permission to visit the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh too and return to Haifa later that evening. The request was granted and that very hour we set out for 'Akka. In the course of that one day we were able to visit the Shrine and the Ridvan Garden in a spirit of joy and elation. In the evening I presented myself at 'Abdu'l-Bahá's biruni in 'Akka, to either accompany the Master to Haifa or receive permission to make the journey separately. At this point we received a piece of news, the meaning and implication of which was beyond our comprehension. We were told that earlier in the day five or six government security agents had shown up at the Mansion of Bahji and had taken some of the Covenant-breakers into town, and that the Master had gone to the Government House to enquire about the situation. This news created a variety of impressions in the minds of the friends. A few years earlier I had


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heard that the government had openly shown their dissatisfaction with the general conduct of the Covenant-breakers and had decided to transfer them to another location, which meant expulsion and exile. But the Master had prevented such an action, had explained to the authorities that they were His brothers, and had asked for leniency On another occasion I had heard that 'Abdu'l-Bahá had once said, "If I will it, I can tie the moustaches and beards of the Covenant-breakers together and have them exiled to the remotest place on earth." In any event, all sorts of thoughts had crossed our minds as to the nature of what was taking place, except that no-one imagined that this could turn out to be the resumption of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's incarceration in the Prison City of 'Akka. While we were absorbed in the ocean of our thoughts 'Abdu'l-Bahá arrived, quietly and sombrely climbed the stairs, and after a few minutes summoned the two of us. We entered His presence. After about four or five minutes of ominous silence 'Abdu'l-Bahá addressed me in these words: "Today something has happened that has brought peace and tranquillity to my mind and will bring victory to the Faith of God. But because of the love that the friends of God have for me, this will be somewhat difficult for them to bear. But the focus of the friends should be on the Faith of God and not me. Whatever has happened is for the best." Then He said, "If you promise not to become unhappy, I will tell you what has happened." My heart was filled with such trepidation that I could hardly collect my thoughts and answer the question. Again He said, "It is nothing serious. Believe that whatever has taken place is for the good of the Faith and is the comfort of my heart. The friends must be happy in my happiness and should concentrate their thoughts on the Faith itself What has happened is the cause of rejoicing for me, but a cause of grief for the unfortunate Covenant-breakers." These words reminded me of His previous remarks on the subject. As I bowed in acknowledgement of His utterances


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He continued, "I worked for forty years to turn this prison into a paradise. These individuals have worked for years and have now turned the paradise into a prison and turned ease into hardship. For me nothing untoward has happened. Wherever I am, I have to take on all the burdens and challenges and strive for the triumph of the Cause of God. But it is going to be difficult for those gentlemen who were enjoying a life of comfort and ease in the Mansion." Then He said, "Today I heard that the government had sent officials to the Mansion and that they had taken the gentlemen into town in a state of utter misery. I went to the chief officer to enquire and noticed his embarrassment in attempting to explain the situation. I realized what had happened. He then put in my hands Sultan 'Abdu'l-Hamid's directive to resume the state of imprisonment in 'Akka. This order had reached him some time ago, but he had not brought it to my attention and in my absence had summoned these gentlemen to inform them. I have mentioned before that soon these gentlemen " Starting again, He went on, "I have done my work. Only the completion of the Shrine of the Bab remains. And that too will be completed one way or another. This is comforting for me. But for those who enjoyed their freedom in the Mansion, imprisonment will not be easy. They strove for many years and spent a considerable amount of money to bring about my expulsion and exile, so that they could find peace and comfort in my absence. And this is the result of all that work." In short, He spoke in this vein for some time, filling my heart with joy at one moment and concern and worry the next. Of course, what I recall here are not the exact words of 'Abdu'l-Bahá but rather His intent and purpose. Yet those words seemed to have transported us to another world. Finally He said, "You two go to Haifa straight away, bring all the friends together in the pilgrim house, and explain the situation in exactly the way I have described it. But while you relate it, beware, beware lest you bring sadness to any heart.


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There is much wisdom in this imprisonment. It influences the contingent world and reinforces the power of the Covenant." He then emphasized, "Beware, beware, lest you speak in terms that would bring sadness to any heart. May God go with you." From the moment that we descended the steps of the biruni of the House of 'Abdu'l-Bahá until we climbed the steps of the pilgrim house in Haifa, I didn't know whether I was on earth or in heaven, corporeal or spiritual. As we entered the pilgrim house I came out of my reverie, and the friends who were expecting the arrival of the Master gathered around me. I closed my eyes and haltingly began to speak, and parrot-like recounted whatever words had remained in my dazed and perplexed memory. I was utterly unaware of the effect of my words, although I saw no one sorrowful or weeping, yet all were stunned and bewildered. Mirza Jalal, too, related the same information at the House of 'Abdu'l-Bahá That night was not a particularly bad one. I ate my dinner with a good deal of appetite and had a restful sleep. But I did not know whether I was asleep or awake; was I intoxicated or was I suffering from a hangover, was I drunk or sober? All I know is that I spent the whole night in the presence of 'Abdu'l-Bahá as He spoke ceaselessly to me and I, word for word, committed what He said to heart. His words filled me with such wonder that I was spellbound. Within one night, I learned the lessons of a lifetime. When morning came, I couldn't distinguish between sleep and wakefulness. At times I was overwhelmed with sorrow, when I considered the Centre of the Covenant of God imprisoned. And at other times I became full of hope, as I remembered His words about the benefits of this imprisonment and the ultimate victory of the Faith of God. Although the fulfilment of His promises took a long time, praise the Lord, they all came true, proving that the blessed words, "Only the pious will come to a good end", apply to the believer and the steadfast. My observations that fateful night, whether a dream or a vision of reality, had as its interpretation an indescribable blessing. For


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several years hence, in the Most Great Prison of 'Akka, I became companion and confidant to the Beloved of the world.

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