Later on He was sent an exile to the Great City (Constantinople)
and thence to the Land of Mystery (Adrianople), whence
grievously wronged, He was eventually transferred to the Most
Great Prison ('Akka). He Whom the world hath wronged (may
my life be offered up for His loved ones) was four times banished
from city to city, till at last, condemned to perpetual confinement,
He was incarcerated in this prison, the prison of highway
robbers, of brigands and of man-slayers. All this is but one of the
trials that have afflicted the Blessed Beauty, the rest being even
as grievous as this.
Bahá'u'lláh in Baghdad
With the return of Bahá'u'lláh from Kurdistan to Baghdad in March 1856, a new day opened for the company of exiles in Iraq. During His absence it had become apparent to friend and foe alike that the Babi community, left for so long to the leadership of unfaithful persons such as Mirza Yahya and Siyyid Muhammad-i-Isfahani, had degenerated completely. Most of its members were now dispirited; unlike the early heroes and martyrs who only a decade before had demonstrated with their lifeblood the staunchness of their faith, the loftiness of their character, and the depth of their love, the Babis were now devoid of such virtues and were spiritually dead. They were also divided among themselves. The degradation to which many of the so-called followers of the Bab in Iraq had sunk was evident in the eyes of the public. They were involved in the most shameful crimes. The Kurds and Persians heaped abuse upon them in the streets and denounced their Faith in vile language.
When the fortunes of the Babi community had reached their lowest ebb, Bahá'u'lláh returned and took the reins of the Cause into His hands. The clouds of uncertainty and misfortune which had hung over the community's members during His absence now began to lift. Through His exhortations and encouragement, both verbal and written, He breathed a new life into the dying community and, in a short time, succeeded in transforming some of its members into the spiritual giants of His Dispensation. Bahá'u'lláh Himself has testified:
By the aid of God and His divine grace and mercy, We revealed,
as a copious rain, Our verses, and sent them to various parts of the
world. We exhorted all men, and particularly this people, through
Our wise counsels and loving admonitions, and forbade them to
engage in sedition, quarrels, disputes or conflict. As a result of this,
and by the grace of God, waywardness and folly were changed into
piety and understanding, and weapons of war converted into
instruments of peace.
[78 Bahá'u'lláh, quoted in Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 133.]
The influence that Bahá'u'lláh exerted on the public in Iraq was no less impressive. For eight years the Supreme Manifestation of God lived freely among the inhabitants of Baghdad. He walked among them, sat with them and poured out His affection and bounties upon them. Although He did not disclose His station to them, multitudes of people from all walks of life were attracted to His person and longed to attain His presence, to hear His words, or even to catch a glimpse of Him as He walked in the streets or paced along the bank of the Tigris rapt in meditation. During this period, also, many Babis from Persia came into contact with Bahá'u'lláh and some became great heroes of His Faith.
The transformation which took place in the lives of the companions of Bahá'u'lláh, the outpouring of His Revelation which revitalized the faith of many dispirited believers in Persia, the range and magnificence of Bahá'u'lláh's rising power and the high esteem in which He was held by many high-ranking government officials alarmed the authorities in Persia. Consequently the government of Nasiri'd-Din Shah asked the Ottoman government to hand Bahá'u'lláh over to the Persian authorities. This request was met with outright refusal because the authorities in Baghdad had been highly impressed with His person. Having failed to carry out its intention, the Persian government brought much pressure to bear upon 'Ali Pasha the Grand Vizir, to remove Bahá'u'lláh from Baghdad, which was close to its frontiers. Government representatives complained that Bahá'u'lláh's influence in the area was creating a serious problem for Persian pilgrims to the Islamic holy sites. Eventually the Grand Vizir issued orders to Namiq Pasha, the Governor of Baghdad, to invite Bahá'u'lláh to travel to Constantinople as a guest of the government. Namiq Pasha was an ardent admirer of Bahá'u'lláh whom he regarded as one of the lights of the age. So profound was the measure of his esteem that he could not bring himself to convey the government's decision to Him personally. Instead He sent his deputy to apprise Bahá'u'lláh of the invitation extended to Him by the Sultan to transfer His residence to the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Shoghi Effendi describes this interview in these words:
By the following day the Deputy-Governor had delivered to
Bahá'u'lláh in a mosque, in the neighbourhood of the governor's
house, 'Ali Pasha's letter, addressed to Namiq Pasha, couched in
courteous language, inviting Bahá'u'lláh to proceed, as a guest
of the Ottoman government, to Constantinople, placing a sum of
money at His disposal, and ordering a mounted escort to accompany
Him for His protection. To this request Bahá'u'lláh gave His
ready assent, but declined to accept the sum offered Him. On the
urgent representations of the Deputy that such a refusal would
offend the authorities, He reluctantly consented to receive the
generous allowance set aside for His use, and distributed it, that
same day, among the poor.
The effect upon the colony of exiles of this sudden intelligence
was instantaneous and overwhelming. 'That day,' wrote an eyewitness,
describing the reaction of the community to the news of
Bahá'u'lláh's approaching departure, 'witnessed a commotion
associated with the turmoil of the Day of Resurrection. Methinks,
the very gates and walls of the city wept aloud at their imminent
separation from the Abha Beloved. The first night mention was
made of His intended departure His loved ones, one and all,
renounced both sleep and food... Not a soul amongst them could
be tranquillized. Many had resolved that in the event of their being
deprived of the bounty of accompanying Him, they would, without
hesitation, kill themselves...Gradually, however, through the
words which He addressed them, and through His exhortations
and His loving-kindness, they were calmed and resigned themselves
to His good-pleasure.'
[79 Quoted in ibid. pp. 147-8. (Shoghi Effendi quoted, God Passes By.)]
The expressions of love and devotion for Bahá'u'lláh were not confined to the Babi community in Iraq. The love and admiration of the people for Bahá'u'lláh was fully demonstrated on the day of His departure from His 'Most Great House' in Baghdad. Then His majesty and greatness were evident to both friend and foe. The news of His forthcoming departure for Constantinople had spread rapidly among the inhabitants of Baghdad and its neighbouring towns, and large numbers wished to attain His presence and pay their last tributes to Him. But soon it became apparent that His house was too small for the purpose. Arrangements were made for Bahá'u'lláh to proceed to the garden-park of Najibiyyih. This beautiful garden, designated by His followers as the Garden of Ridvan (Paradise), was situated on the outskirts of Baghdad, across the river from His house.
Thirty-one days after Naw-Ruz, on 22 April 1863,[*] in the afternoon, Bahá'u'lláh moved to this garden, where He remained for twelve days. On the first day He declared His mission to His companions.[**] These twelve days are celebrated by the Bahá'ís as the Festival of Ridvan.
[* Thirty-one days after Naw-Ruz usually falls on 21 April. Occasionally, as in the year 1863, when the vernal equinox takes place after sunset, Naw-Ruz is celebrated on 22 March.]
[** This is stated by 'Abdu'l-Bahá in a talk given at Bahji on 29 April 1916.]
The departure of Bahá'u'lláh from His house witnessed a commotion the like of which Baghdad had rarely seen. People of all walks of life, men and women, rich and poor, young and old, men of learning and culture, princes, government officials, tradesmen and workers, and above all His companions, thronged the approaches to His house and crowded the streets and rooftops situated along His route to the river. They were weeping and lamenting the departure of One who, for a decade, had imparted to them the warmth of His love and the radiance of His spirit, who had been a refuge and guide for them all.
When Bahá'u'lláh appeared in the courtyard of His house, His companions, grief-stricken and disconsolate, prostrated themselves at His feet. For some time He stood there, amid the weeping and lamentations of His loved ones, speaking words of comfort and promising to receive each of them later in the garden. In a Tablet Bahá'u'lláh mentions that when He had walked some way towards the gate, amid the crowds, a child[***] of only a few years ran forward and, clinging to His robes, wept aloud, begging Him in his tender young voice not to leave. In such an atmosphere, where emotions had been so deeply stirred, this action on the part of a small child moved the hearts and brought further grief to everyone.
[*** He was Aqa 'Ali, the son of Haji Mirza Kamalu'd-Din-Naraqi.]
Outside the house, the lamentation and weeping of those who did not confess to be His followers were no less spectacular and heartrending. Everyone in the crowded street sought to approach Him. Some prostrated themselves at His feet, others waited to hear a few words and yet others were content with a touch of His hands or a glance at His face. A Persian lady of noble birth, who was not herself a believer, pushed her way into the crowd and with a gesture of sacrifice threw her child at the feet of Bahá'u'lláh. These demonstrations continued all the way to the riverbank.
Before crossing the river, Bahá'u'lláh addressed His companions who had gathered around Him, saying:
O My companions, I entrust to your keeping this city of Baghdad,
in the state ye now behold it, when from the eyes of friends and
strangers alike, crowding its housetops, its streets and markets,
tears like the rain of spring are flowing down, and I depart. With
you it now rests to watch lest your deeds and conduct dim the flame
of love that gloweth within the breasts of its inhabitants.
[80 Bahá'u'lláh, quoted in ibid. p. 149. (God Passes By.)]
Bahá'u'lláh was then ferried across the river, accompanied by three of His sons: 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Mirza Mihdi (the Purest Branch) and Muhammad-'Ali, who were 18, 14 and 10 years of age, respectively. With them also was His amanuensis, Mirza Aqa Jan. The identity of others who may have accompanied Him, of those in the garden who pitched His tent and made preparations for His arrival, or of those who might have followed Him on that day, is not clearly known.
The call to afternoon prayer was raised from the mosque and the words 'Allah'u'Akbar' (God is the Greatest), chanted by the muezzin,[*] reverberated through the garden as the King of Glory entered it. There, Bahá'u'lláh appeared in the utmost joy, walking majestically in its flower-lined avenues and among its trees. The fragrance of the roses and the singing of the nightingales created an atmosphere of beauty and enchantment.
[*The one who calls to prayer.]
Bahá'u'lláh's companions had, for some time, known the declaration of His station to be imminent. This realization came to them not only as a result of many remarks and allusions made by Him during the last few months of His sojourn in Baghdad but also through a noticeable change in His demeanour. Another sign which unmistakably pointed to this approaching hour was His adoption, on the day of His departure from His house in Baghdad, of a different type of headdress known as taj. (tall felt hat), which He wore throughout His ministry. 'Abdu'l-Bahá has described how, upon His arrival in the garden, Bahá'u'lláh declared His station to those of His companions who were present and announced with great joy the inauguration of the Festival of Ridvan. Sadness and grief vanished and the believers were filled with delight. Although Bahá'u'lláh was being exiled to far-off lands and knew the sufferings and tribulations which were in store for Him and His followers, yet through this historic declaration He changed all sorrow into blissful joy and spent the most delightful time of His ministry in the Garden of Ridvan. Indeed, in one of His Tablets He referred to the first day of Ridvan as the 'Day of supreme felicity' and called on His followers to 'rejoice with exceeding gladness' in remembrance of that day.
[81 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Risaliy-i-Ayyam-i-Tis'ah, p. 330.]
[82 Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, p. 35.]
Departure for Constantinople
Bahá'u'lláh left the Garden of Ridvan on the first leg of His journey to Constantinople on 3 May 1863. Shoghi Effendi recounts this historic journey in these words:
The departure of Bahá'u'lláh from the Garden of Ridvan, at noon,
on the 14th of Dhi'l-Qa'dih 1279 A.H. (May 3, 1863), witnessed
scenes of tumultuous enthusiasm no less spectacular, and even
more touching, than those which greeted Him when leaving His
Most Great House in Baghdad. 'The great tumult', wrote an
eyewitness, 'associated in our minds with the Day of Gathering, the
Day of Judgement, we beheld on that occasion. Believers and
unbelievers alike sobbed and lamented. The chiefs and notables
who had congregated were struck with wonder. Emotions were
stirred to such depths as no tongue can describe, nor could any
observer escape their contagion.'
Mounted on His steed, a red roan stallion of the finest breed,
the best His lovers could purchase for Him, and leaving behind
Him a bowing multitude of fervent admirers, He rode forth on
the first stage of a journey that was to carry Him to the city of
Constantinople. 'Numerous were the heads Nabil himself a
witness of that memorable scene, recounts, 'which, on every side,
bowed to the dust at the feet of His horse, and kissed its hoofs,
and countless were those who pressed forward to embrace His
stirrups.' 'How great the number of those embodiments of fidelity,'
testifies a fellow-traveller, 'who, casting themselves before
that charger, preferred death to separation from their Beloved!
Methinks, that blessed steed trod upon the bodies of those pure-
hearted souls.' 'He (God) it was,' Bahá'u'lláh Himself declares,
'Who enabled Me to depart out of the city (Baghdad), clothed
with such majesty as none, except the denier and the malicious,
can fail to acknowledge.'
[83 Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 155.]
The journey to Constantinople was arduous and fatiguing, taking 110 days to reach the Port of Samsun on the Black Sea. The route took the party across uplands, woods, valleys and mountain passes which entailed the careful negotiation of narrow roads above dangerous precipices. Accompanying Bahá'u'lláh were members of His family, including His faithful brothers Aqay-i-Kalim and Mirza Muhammad-Quli, and 26 men, among them His disciples and Siyyid Muhammad Isfahani, as well as Mirza Yahya, who joined the party en route.
A mounted guard of ten soldiers accompanied the caravan of 50 mules and seven howdahs.[*] Most of the time Bahá'u'lláh sat in one pannier with His wife Navvab in the other. Although the howdah was considered a comfortable means of transportation in those days, on long journeys it could be extremely tiring, for one has to sit cross-legged for hours while the panniers continually rise and fall with the movement of the mule's body. 'Abdu'l-Bahá describes how many a night He and Jinab-i-Munib, a devoted lover of Bahá'u'lláh, walked on either side of the howdah. Every time the party approached a village, or was about to depart from it, Bahá'u'lláh would mount His horse — a practice befitting His station as He appeared in public. On such occasions 'Abdu'l-Bahá would replace Him in His howdah. By virtue of a written order of Namiq Pasha, the Governor of Baghdad, Bahá'u'lláh was enthusiastically welcomed by various high-ranking officials at every village and town as He travelled northward. Shoghi Effendi writes:
[* A litter consisting of a pair of panniers in which two individuals can ride to balance each other's weight. It is carried by a beast of burden, in this case a mule.]
In Karkuk, in Irbil, in Mosul, where He tarried three days, in
Nisibin, in Mardin, in Diyar-Bakr, where a halt of a couple of days
was made, in Kharput, in Sivas, as well as in other villages and
hamlets, He would be met by a delegation immediately before His
arrival, and would be accompanied, for some distance, by a similar
delegation upon His departure. The festivities which, at some
stations, were held in His honour, the food the villagers prepared
and brought for His acceptance, the eagerness which time and
again they exhibited in providing the means for His comfort,
recalled the reverence which the people of Baghdad had shown
Him on so many occasions.
[84 ibid. p. 156. (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By.)]
Those who have travelled in the deserts or the valleys and uplands of the Middle East on the backs of mules and horses know how slow and monotonous the pace is. For miles there is no sign of life and those who travel in the party are not always able to talk and communicate easily with each other. Under these circumstances nothing can be more exhilarating than to hear a pleasant voice singing beautiful songs. Jinab-i-Munib was one of those whose melodious voice, chanting various odes and poems, rang out through the open fields and mountains of Turkey and brought joy and relaxation to those who travelled with Bahá'u'lláh. The odes that he sang were all indicative of his love for Bahá'u'lláh, and the prayers he chanted in the dead of night were a testimony to the yearning of his heart for his Lord.
On this journey many undesirable problems had to be dealt with, apart from providing food and shelter for a large party of men, women and children, and the daily feeding of mules and horses. The organization of such tasks was undertaken by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, who chose a number of men to assist him in carrying out various duties. Aqa Mirza Mahmud of Kashan, together with Aqa Rida of Shiraz, went all the way to the port of Samsun ahead of the howdah of Bahá'u'lláh. They would arrive at each halting place hours before the party and would take up the task of preparing and cooking the food for everyone. These two souls were so dedicated that, in spite of the fatigue and rigours of the journey, they were constantly engaged until midnight in serving the friends with great devotion. Not only did they cook the meals and wash the dishes but they ensured that every person was comfortable and had sufficient rest. They were the last to retire at night and the first to arise in the morning, rendering this vital service with an exemplary dedication each day of the journey from Baghdad to Constantinople.
Yet another person who performed a difficult task on this journey was the learned divine Mirza Ja'far-i-Yazdi. In spite of his great learning he was humble and self-effacing and for some time served in the household of Bahá'u'lláh in Baghdad. On the way to Constantinople he served the friends in every possible manner. While everyone was resting or sleeping at a stopping-place, Mirza Ja'far and 'Abdu'l-Bahá would go to surrounding villages to purchase straw and other provisions for the mules and horses. Sometimes this would take hours as there was a famine in the area and it was very difficult to obtain food.
Another soul who was truly enamoured of Bahá'u'lláh was Darvish Sidq-'Ali. He begged Bahá'u'lláh to allow him to join the party travelling to Constantinople and when permission was granted he undertook to serve as groom on the journey. He would walk all day beside the convoy, singing poems which brought joy to the friends, and at night would attend to the horses.
There were others also who carried out various duties with the utmost devotion and self-sacrifice.[*] Apart from the notorious Siyyid Muhammad-i-Isfahani who travelled with Bahá'u'lláh and Mirza Yahya, who joined Him on the way, the disciples of Bahá'u'lláh, as always, demonstrated such love, devotion and humility towards Him as no pen can ever describe. The inestimable privilege conferred upon them of accompanying Him to Constantinople completely overwhelmed them. They were so inspired with joy and contentment that
the hardships of the journey, whether on foot or by mule, had very little effect upon their health.
[* For more information see Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, vol. 1].
The marks of respect and veneration shown to Bahá'u'lláh by the people along the way continued until He reached the port of Samsun. From there He travelled by sea to Constantinople, a journey recounted by Shoghi Effendi in God Passes By:
In Samsun the Chief Inspector of the entire province, extending
from Baghdad to Constantinople, accompanied by several pashas,
called on Him, showed Him the utmost respect, and was entertained
by Him at luncheon. But seven days after His arrival, He,
as foreshadowed in the Tablet of the Holy Mariner, was put on
board a Turkish steamer and three days later was disembarked,
at noon, together with His fellow-exiles, at the port of Constantinople,
on the first of Rabi'u'l-Avval 1280 A.H. (August 16, 1863).
In two special carriages, which awaited Him at the landing-stage,
He and His family drove to the house of Shamsi Big, the official
who had been appointed by the government to entertain its guests,
and who lived in the vicinity of the Khirqiy-i-Sharif mosque. Later
they were transferred to the more commodious house of Visi Pasha
in the neighbourhood of the mosque of Sultan Muhammad.
[85 ibid. p. 157. (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By.)]
Bahá'u'lláh in Constantinople
The arrival of Bahá'u'lláh in Constantinople, the capital city of the Ottoman Empire, marks a significant milestone in the unfoldment of His mission. It was during His sojourn in the capital that the conciliatory attitude of the authorities changed to one of hostility as a direct consequence of the intrigues and misrepresentations of Haji Mirza Husayn Khan, the Mushiru'd-Dawlih, the Persian ambassador. It was also during the same eventful period that the initial phase of the proclamation of the message of Bahá'u'lláh to the kings and rulers of the world was ushered in by the revelation of a Tablet addressed to Sultan 'Abdu'l-'Aziz and his ministers, sternly rebuking them for their actions against the new-born Faith of God and its leader.
The house of Visi Pasha, like most houses in those days, consisted of an inner and an outer apartment. Each consisted of three storeys. Bahá'u'lláh resided in the inner section on the first floor and His family occupied the remainder. In the outer apartment, 'Abdu'l-Bahá lived on the first floor, the believers on the ground floor and the top floor was turned into a store and a kitchen.
Shamsi Big, on behalf of the government, would call every morning and attend to any matter pertaining to the needs and well-being of Bahá'u'lláh and His companions. In the courtyard a tent was pitched
for two Christian servants sent by the government to attend to shopping and various other duties.
Several eminent personalities, including state ministers, called on Bahá'u'lláh to pay their respects to Him. Among them was Kamal Pasha, a former Sadr-i-A'zam (prime minister), who was at that time one of the ministers of the Sultan. He knew several languages well and prided himself on this accomplishment.
Now that Bahá'u'lláh was in Constantinople, the Persian ambassador was making a desperate bid to misrepresent Him to the authorities and thereby secure their support for banishing Him further. The day after Bahá'u'lláh's arrival in Constantinople, the ambassador sent Prince Shuja'u'd-Dawlih and Haji Mirza Hasan-i-Safa, the two most prominent men in his circle, to call on Bahá'u'lláh on his behalf. He expected that Bahá'u'lláh would return the call and see him in person but he soon found that this was not going to happen. In those days it was customary for prominent guests of the government, soon after their arrival in the capital, to call on the prime minister and other high-ranking officials. It was on the occasion of these visits that people solicited all kinds of favours, made deals and secured the support of the authorities for themselves. Bahá'u'lláh refused to do this and did not even return the visits of some of the Sultan's ministers who had already called on Him to pay their respects.
Kamal Pasha and a few others went so far as to remind Bahá'u'lláh of this custom. Bahá'u'lláh responded by saying that He was aware of the practice but had no demands to make of anyone nor did He require favours from them; therefore there was no reason for Him to call.
This attitude of detachment played into the hands of the Persian ambassador who introduced Bahá'u'lláh to the Sublime Porte as one who was arrogant and proud, considering Himself subject to no law. The ambassador did this mainly through the influence of Haji Mirza Hasan-i-Safa. At last the machinations of the Persian ambassador yielded their fruit. 'Ali Pasha the prime minister, presented a report to the Sultan informing him of the Persian government's request that Bahá'u'lláh be banished either to Boursa or Adrianople. He asked the Sultan's approval for banishment to Adrianople and suggested that an allowance of 5,000 qurush per month be given to Bahá'u'lláh for subsistence, adding that during His stay in Constantinople He had been a guest of the government. He also enclosed the list of all those who had accompanied Him from Baghdad to Constantinople.
Immediately upon receipt of this report the Sultan endorsed these measures and the edict was issued the following day. Shoghi Effendi has summarized the events leading to Bahá'u'lláh's further banishment in these words:
No less a personage than the highly-respected brother-in-law of
the Sadr-i-A'zam was commissioned to apprise the Captive of the
edict pronounced against Him — an edict which evinced a virtual
coalition of the Turkish and Persian imperial governments against
a common adversary, and which in the end brought such tragic
consequences upon the Sultanate, the Caliphate and the Qajar
dynasty. Refused an audience by Bahá'u'lláh that envoy had to
content himself with a presentation of his puerile observations and
trivial arguments to 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Aqay-i-Kalim, who were
delegated to see him, and whom he informed that., after three days,
he would return to receive the answer to the order he had been
bidden to transmit.
That same day a Tablet, severely condemnatory in tone, was
revealed by Bahá'u'lláh, was entrusted by Him, in a sealed envelope,
on the following morning, to Shamsi Big, who was instructed
to deliver it into the hands of 'Ali Pasha, and to say that it was sent
down from God. 'I know not what that letter contained,' Shamsi
Big subsequently informed Aqay-i-Kalim, 'for no sooner had the
Grand Vizir perused it than he turned the colour of a corpse, and
remarked: "It is as if the King of Kings were issuing his behest to
his humblest vassal king and regulating his conduct." So grievous
was his condition that I backed out of his presence.' 'Whatever
action,' Bahá'u'lláh, commenting on the effect that Tablet had
produced, is reported to have stated, 'the ministers of the Sultan
took against Us, after having become acquainted with its contents,
cannot be regarded as unjustifiable. The acts they committed
before its perusal, however, can have no justification.'
That Tablet, according to Nabil, was of considerable length,
opened with words directed to the sovereign himself, severely
censured his ministers, exposed their immaturity and incompetence,
and included passages in which the ministers themselves
were addressed, in which they were boldly challenged, and sternly
admonished not to pride themselves on their worldly possessions,
nor foolishly seek the riches of which time would inexorably rob
Bahá'u'lláh was on the eve of His departure, which followed
almost immediately upon the promulgation of the edict of His
banishment, when, in a last and memorable interview with the
afore-mentioned Haji Mirza Hasan-i-Safa, He sent the following
message to the Persian Ambassador: 'What did it profit thee, and
such as are like thee, to slay, year after year, so many of the oppressed,
and to inflict upon them manifold afflictions, when they
increased a hundredfold, and ye find yourselves in complete
bewilderment, knowing not how to relieve your minds of this
oppressive thought... His Cause transcends any and every plan
ye devise. Know this much: Were all the governments on earth to
unite and take My life and the lives of all who bear this Name, this
Divine Fire would never be quenched. His Cause will rather
encompass all the kings of the earth, nay all that hath been created
from water and clay... Whatever may yet befall Us, great shall be
our gain, and manifest the loss wherewith they shall be afflicted.'
[86 ibid. pp. 159-61. (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By.)]
In one of the coldest Decembers that Turkey had seen for years, Bahá'u'lláh and, His family — including His two faithful brothers Mirza Musa, entitled Aqay-i-Kalim, and Mirza Muhammad-Quli, together with Mirza Yahya[*] — set out on their journey to the city of Adrianople. The officer commissioned to take charge of the journey was 'Ali Big Yuz-Bashi. According to a statement by Mirza Aqa Jan, it appears that Bahá'u'lláh was accompanied by 12 of His companions. Among them was the notorious Siyyid Muhammad-i-Isfahani, whose evil spirit was increasingly casting its shadow upon the exiles. Through his satanic influence he brought much pain and anguish to their hearts and created severe tests and trials for them.
[* On leaving Baghdad he had acquired a passport in the name of Mirza 'Ali, a newly assumed name. During his sojourn in Adrianople and later in Cyprus, the authorities referred to him by this name.]
In the Suriy-i-Muluk, addressing Sultan 'Abdu'l-'Aziz, Bahá'u'lláh speaks of His arrival in the city of Constantinople in conspicuous glory and His departure 'with an abasement with which no abasement on earth can compare'. He also describes the manner in which He and His loved ones were banished to Adrianople and the sufferings they were made to endure both on their way to that city and on their arrival there. These are some of His words: 'Neither My family, nor those who accompanied Me, had the necessary raiment to protect them from the cold in that freezing weather,' and 'The eyes of Our enemies wept over Us, and beyond them those of every discerning person.'
[87 Bahá'u'lláh, quoted in ibid. p. 161. (God Passes By.)]
[88 ibid. (Bahá'u'lláh, quoted in God Passes By, p. 161.)]
The circumstances of Bahá'u'lláh's banishment were tragic as well as humiliating. The authorities did not give Him and His party adequate time to prepare themselves for this long and hazardous journey. The weather was unusually cold, many rivers were frozen and the only way to obtain water on the journey was by lighting a fire and melting ice. The members of the party, which included women and children, were inadequately clad, yet some of them were made to ride in wagons normally used for carrying goods, while others had to ride on animals. Of this journey Shoghi Effendi writes:
Travelling through rain and storm, at times even making
night marches, the weary travellers, after brief halts at
Kuchik-Chakmachih, Buyuk-Chakmachih, Salvari, Birkas, and Baba-Iski,
arrived at their destination, on the first of Rajab 1280 A.H.
(December 12, 1863), and were lodged in the Khan-i-'Arab, a two-story
caravanserai, near the house of 'Izzat-Aqa. Three days later,
Bahá'u'lláh and His family were consigned to a house suitable only
for summer habitation, in the Muradiyyih quarter, near Takyiy-i-Mawlavi,
and were moved again, after a week, to another house,
in the vicinity of a mosque in that same neighbourhood. About six
months later they transferred to more commodious quarters,
known as the house of Amru'llah (House of God's command)
situated on the northern side of the mosque of Sultan Salim.
[89 ibid. pp. 161-2. (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By.)]
Soon after their arrival the companions of Bahá'u'lláh found their own accommodation and, as instructed by Him, engaged in trades and professions in the city.
Bahá'u'lláh in Adrianople
Adrianople's inhabitants soon became aware of Bahá'u'lláh's greatness and were deeply impressed by His genuine love and exalted character. Their leaders, including the governor of the city and other high-ranking officials, as well as men of culture and learning, were drawn to Him and soon discovered that He was the source of all knowledge and the embodiment of virtues. Some of these people earnestly sought His presence, sat at His feet and received spiritual enlightenment from Him. Such were the marks of honour and esteem shown to Bahá'u'lláh that on occasions when He walked in the streets and bazaars the people spontaneously stood and bowed before Him. Their veneration for Him was profound and whole-hearted. Among the people He was referred to as 'Shaykh Effendi', a designation that carried great prestige.
In Adrianople Bahá'u'lláh did not appear in public as much as He had in Baghdad. Instead He allowed 'Abdu'l-Bahá to do this for Him. But He did occasionally visit the mosques of Muradiyyih and Sultan Salim where some of the learned and devout came in contact with Him, recognized His greatness and became His admirers. This is one of the remarkable features of the life of Bahá'u'lláh — that although the powerful machinery of a despotic and tyrannical government was directed against Him, bringing about untold personal suffering and persecution, He yet evinced such glory and imparted such love that a great many people were magnetized by Him and were deeply affected by His peerless and exalted character. That a prisoner and an exile could exert such abiding influence upon both high and low is one of the evidences of His divine power and a sign of His authority as the Supreme Manifestation of God.
In spite of the hardships and rigours of yet another exile, the outpourings of the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh continued unabated in Adrianople. In one of his writings dated 17th Jamadi 1281 A.H. (19 October 1864), Mirza Aqa Jan has testified that from Bahá'u'lláh's time in Iraq up to that day, Tablets had been sent down successively and unceasingly from the heaven of the Will of God. This process acquired still greater momentum in Adrianople. From the tone of these Tablets it became clear that the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh had already entered a new phase and that He, who in previous years had only alluded to His station, was now openly summoning the believers to Himself as the Supreme Manifestation of God.
The five years that Bahá'u'lláh spent in Constantinople and Adrianople may be regarded as one of the most eventful and momentous times in His ministry. In this short period the sun of His Revelation mounted to its zenith and, in the plenitude of its splendour, shed its radiance upon all mankind. This was also a most turbulent period in which He bore with much resignation and fortitude the pains, the betrayals and calamities heaped upon Him by His unfaithful brother Mirza Yahya who broke the Covenant of the Bab and rose up in rebellion against the One whom the world had wronged. Shoghi Effendi describes the outpourings of Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation in these words:
A period of prodigious activity ensued which, in its repercussions,
outshone the vernal years of Bahá'u'lláh's ministry. 'Day and
night,' an eye-witness has written, 'the Divine verses were raining
down in such number that it was impossible to record them. Mirza
Aqa Jan wrote them as they were dictated, while the Most Great
Branch was continually occupied in transcribing them. There was
not a moment to spare.' 'A number of secretaries,' Nabil has
testified, 'were busy day and night and yet they were unable to cope
with the task. Among them was Mirza Baqir-i-Shirazi... He alone
transcribed no less than two thousand verses every day. He laboured
during six or seven months. Every month the equivalent
of several volumes would be transcribed by him and sent to Persia.
About twenty volumes, in his fine penmanship, he left behind as
a remembrance for Mirza Aqa Jan' Bahá'u'lláh, Himself, referring
to the verses revealed by Him, has written: 'Such are the outpourings
... from the clouds of Divine Bounty that within the space of
an hour the equivalent of a thousand verses hath been revealed.'
'So great is the grace vouchsafed in this day that in a single day
and night, were an amanuensis capable of accomplishing it to be
found, the equivalent of the Persian Bayan would be sent down
from the heaven of Divine holiness.' 'I swear by God!' He, in
another connection has affirmed, 'In those days the equivalent of
all that hath been sent down aforetime unto the Prophets hath
been revealed.' 'That which hath already been revealed in this land
(Adrianople),' He, furthermore, referring to the copiousness of His
writings, has declared, 'secretaries are incapable of transcribing.
It has, therefore, remained for the most part untranscribed.'
[90 ibid. pp. 170-l. (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By.)]
During Bahá'u'lláh's sojourn in Adrianople the proclamation of His message to the kings was made. He addressed the Suriy-i-Muluk to the kings of the world collectively. He revealed the Lawh-i-Sultan for Nasiri'd-Din Shah — a Tablet sent to him from 'Akka. He also addressed His first Tablet to Napoleon III. The first Suriy-i-Ra'is addressed to 'Ali Pasha, the Grand Vizir of the Sultan, was revealed on the way to the port of Gallipoli. And finally, the proclamation of His message reached its consummation when in 'Akka He revealed individual Tablets to certain monarchs and ecclesiastical leaders.[*]
[* For more information about Bahá'u'lláh's proclamation to the kings and rulers see Taherzadeh, Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, vols. 2, 3 and 4.]
While the foundations of the Cause of God were being strengthened through the outpouring of revelation in Adrianople, a crisis of unprecedented severity — namely the rebellion of Mirza Yahya — overtook the Faith and shook it to its roots. This act of treachery created a major internal convulsion in the Faith and brought untold suffering to Bahá'u'lláh, which left its mark on His person until the end of His life.
Neither the proclamation of the Cause nor the internal disruption it was undergoing escaped the attention of Bahá'u'lláh's enemies in the capital city. The revelation of so many important Tablets and the proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh's message to the kings and rulers of the world had endowed the Faith with such ascendancy that by the summer of 1868 the authorities in Constantinople had become apprehensive of its rising prestige and power. The exaggerated reports and ,calumnies of Mirza Yahya, Siyyid Muhammad and his accomplice Aqa Jan,[**] together with further representations by the Persian ambassador to the Sublime Porte, induced the Ottoman government to remove the author of such a dynamic Faith from the mainland and sentence Him to solitary confinement in a far-off prison.
[** He was known as 'Kaj Kula', a retired officer in the Turkish army.]
The authorities in Constantinople were alarmed by the news that several outstanding personalities, including Khurshid Pasha, the Governor of Adrianople, were among the fervent admirers of Bahá'u'lláh, were frequenting His house and were showing Him veneration worthy of a king. They knew that the consuls of foreign governments had also been attracted to Him and often spoke about His greatness. The movement of many pilgrims in and out of Adrianople further aggravated the situation. Fu'ad Pasha, the Turkish foreign minister, passed through Adrianople, made a tour of inspection and submitted exaggerated reports about the status and activities of the community.
Furthermore, a few among the authorities had come across some of Bahá'u'lláh's writings and had become aware of His stupendous claims. All these were important factors in deciding the fate of Bahá'u'lláh and His companions.
Those mainly responsible for Bahá'u'lláh's final banishment were the prime minister, 'Ali Pasha, the foreign minister, Fu'ad Pasha, and the Persian ambassador, Haji Mirza Husayn Khan (the Mushiru'd-Dawlih). These three worked together closely until they succeeded in their efforts to banish Bahá'u'lláh to 'Akka and to impose on Him life imprisonment there. 'Ali Pasha secured from Sultan 'Abdu'l-'Aziz an imperial edict dated 5th Rabi'u'l-Akhir 1285 A.H. (26 July 1868) ordering Bahá'u'lláh's exile to the fortress of 'Akka and His life imprisonment within the walls of that prison city. In the same edict five others, mentioned by name, were to be exiled with Him. They were the two faithful brothers of Bahá'u'lláh, Aqay-i-Kalim and Mirza Muhammad-Quli; His faithful servant Darvish Sidq-'Ali; the Antichrist of the Bahá'í Revelation Siyyid Muhammad-i-Isfahani; and his accomplice Aqa Jan Kaj Kulah. Mirza Yahya was condemned to life imprisonment in Famagusta along with four of Bahá'u'lláh's followers: Mirza Husayn entitled Mishkin Qalam, 'Aliy-i-Sayyah, Muhammad-Baqir-i-Qahvih-chi and 'Abdu'l-Ghaffar.
Strict orders were issued in the edict to the authorities in 'Akka directing them to accommodate the prisoners inside a house in the fortress, to guard it most effectively and to ensure that the exiles did not associate with anyone.
When Khurshid Pasha the Governor of Adrianople, was informed of the edict and learned of Bahá'u'lláh's immediate banishment he knew that he could not bring himself to notify Bahá'u'lláh of the contents of the Sultan's order. He was so embarrassed that he absented himself from his office and left the task to the registrar.
Shoghi Effendi has briefly described Bahá'u'lláh's departure from Adrianople:
On the twenty-second of the month of Rabi'u'th-Thani 1285 A.H.
(August 12, 1868) Bahá'u'lláh and His family, escorted by a
Turkish captain, Hasan Effendi by name, and other soldiers
appointed by the local government, set out on their four-day
journey to Gallipoli, riding in carriages and stopping on their way
at Uzun-Kupru and Kashanih, at which latter place the Suriy-i-Ra'is
was revealed. 'The inhabitants of the quarter in which
Bahá'u'lláh had been living, and the neighbours who had gathered
to bid Him farewell, came one after the other,' writes an eye-witness,
'with the utmost sadness and regret to kiss His hands and
the hem of His robe, expressing meanwhile their sorrow at His
departure. That day, too, was a strange day. Methinks the city, its
walls and its gates bemoaned their imminent separation from
Him.' 'On that day,' writes another eye-witness, 'there was a
wonderful concourse of Muslims and Christians at the door of our
Master's house. The hour of departure was a memorable one. Most
of those present were weeping and wailing, especially the Christians.'
'Say,' Bahá'u'lláh Himself declares in the Suriy-i-Ra'is, 'this
Youth hath departed out of this country and deposited beneath
every tree and every stone a trust, which God will erelong bring
forth through the power of truth.'
Several of the companions who had been brought from
Constantinople were awaiting them in Gallipoli. On his arrival
Bahá'u'lláh made the following pronouncement to Hasan Effendi,
who, his duty discharged, was taking his leave: 'Tell the king that
this territory will pass out of his hands, and his affairs will be
thrown into confusion.' 'To this,' Aqa Rida the recorder of that
scene has written, 'Bahá'u'lláh furthermore added: "Not I speak
these words, but God speaketh them." In those moments He was
uttering verses which we, who were downstairs, could overhear.
They were spoken with such vehemence and power that, methinks,
the foundations of the house itself trembled.'
Even in Gallipoli, where three nights were spent, no one knew
what Bahá'u'lláh's destination would be. Some believed that He P
and His brothers would be banished to one place, and the
remainder dispersed, and sent into exile. Others thought that His
companions would be sent back to Persia, while still others expected
their immediate extermination. The government's original
order was to banish Bahá'u'lláh, Aqay-i-Kalim and Mirza Muhammad-Quli
with a servant to 'Akka, while the rest were to proceed
to Constantinople. This order, which provoked scenes of indescribable
distress, was, however, at the insistence of Bahá'u'lláh, and
by the instrumentality of 'Umar Effendi, a major appointed to
accompany the exiles, revoked. It was eventually decided that all
the exiles, numbering about seventy, should be banished to 'Akka.
Instructions were, moreover, issued that a certain number of the
adherents of Mirza Yahya, among whom were Siyyid Muhammad
and Aqa Jan, should accompany these exiles, whilst four of the
companions of Bahá'u'lláh were ordered to depart with the Azalis
So grievous were the dangers and trials confronting Bahá'u'lláh
at the hour of His departure from Gallipoli that He warned His
companions that 'this journey will be unlike any of the previous
journeys,' and that whoever did not feel himself 'man enough to
face the future' had best 'depart to whatever place he pleaseth, and
be preserved from tests, for hereafter he will find himself unable
to leave' — a warning which His companions unanimously chose
On the morning of the 2nd of Jamadiyu'l-Avval 1285 A.H.
(August 21,1868) they all embarked in an Austrian-Lloyd steamer
for Alexandria, touching at Madelli, and stopping for two days at
Smyrna, where Jinab-i-Munir, surnamed Ismu'llahu'l-Munib,
became gravely ill, and had, to his great distress, to be left behind
in a hospital where he soon after died. In Alexandria they transshipped
into a steamer of the same company, bound for Haifa,
where, after brief stops at Port Said and Jaffa, they landed, setting
out, a few hours later, in a sailing vessel, for 'Akka, where they
disembarked, in the course of the afternoon of the 12th of
Jamadiyu'l-Avval 1285 A.H. (August 31, 1868). It was at the
moment when Bahá'u'lláh had stepped into the boat which was to
carry Him to the landing-stage in Haifa that 'Abdu'l-Ghaffar, one
of the four companions condemned to share the exile of Mirza
Yahya, and whose 'detachment, love and trust in God' Bahá'u'lláh
had greatly praised, cast himself, in his despair, into the sea,
shouting 'Ya Baha'u'l-Abha', and was subsequently rescued and
resuscitated with the greatest difficulty, only to be forced by adamant
officials to continue his voyage, with Mirza Yahya's party, to
the destination originally appointed for him. 
[91 ibid. pp. 180-2. (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By.)]
Bahá'u'lláh in 'Akka
Bahá'u'lláh's journey from Adrianople to 'Akka was laden with enormous hardship and suffering. It once again highlighted the abasement to which Bahá'u'lláh and His companions were subjected and the indignities heaped upon Him by the actions of His enemies. When He arrived in the prison of 'Akka these sufferings were intensified to such an extent that He designated that city as the 'Most Great Prison'. Referring to the first nine years of His exile in 'Akka, the Pen of the Most High has recorded these moving words in one of His Tablets:
Know thou that upon Our arrival at this Spot, We chose to designate
it as the 'Most Great Prison'. Though previously subjected in
another land (Tihran) to chains and fetters, We yet refused to call
it by that name. Say: Ponder thereon, O ye endued with under-standing!
[92 Bahá'u'lláh, quoted in ibid. p. 185. (God Passes By)]
At Haifa, Bahá'u'lláh and His companions — 70 in all — disembarked from the ship in sailing boats.[*] All their belongings were also ferried across with them. There, the prisoners were all counted and handed over to government officials. A few hours later they were all taken aboard a sailing vessel which took them to 'Akka in the afternoon of
the same day. As there were no landing facilities at 'Akka, the men had to wade ashore from the boat and the women were to be carried on the backs of men. But at 'Abdu'l-Bahá's insistence the women were carried ashore one by one, seated on a chair which He Himself procured.
[* According to the shipping records, the Austrian Lloyd steamer was due to leave Alexandria at 11 a.m. on Friday, arriving at Port Said on Saturday at 5 p.m., at Jaffa on Sunday at 6 p.m., at Haifa on Monday at 8 a.m. and in Cyprus at noon two days later.]
When Bahá'u'lláh arrived in 'Akka the city was a penal colony. Its population in the 1880s was estimated to be about nine thousand. The Turkish government had consigned to it from its vast empire a great number of criminals, murderers, political detainees and every type of troublemaker. The inhabitants, whom Bahá'u'lláh had stigmatized as the 'generation of vipers', had sunk to a very low level. Just prior to the arrival of Bahá'u'lláh and His followers wild rumours and false accusations circulated. The company of exiles, those God-intoxicated heroes who had accompanied their Lord to this most desolate of cities, were considered to be evil men, criminals of the worst type who deserved to be treated most cruelly. Great numbers from among the inhabitants of 'Akka assembled at the landing site to jeer at them and at their leader, to whom they referred as 'the God of the Persians'.
[93 Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, p. 345.]
Yet among the crowd there were some endowed with a measure of spiritual perception. These, as they gazed upon the countenance of Bahá'u'lláh, were struck by His majesty and witnessed a glory they had never seen before. Among them was a certain Khalil Ahmad 'Abdu, a venerable old man who used to say to the inhabitants of 'Akka that he could see in the face of Bahá'u'lláh signs of greatness and of majesty and truthfulness. He often said that the people of 'Akka should rejoice and be thankful to God for having ennobled their homeland by the footsteps of this great personage. He prophesied that through Him the inhabitants would be blessed and prosper, and this, of course, literally came to pass.
How incomparable is the difference between the vision of those assembled at the sea gate of 'Akka to jeer at the company of exiles and their leader, and the vision of Bahá'u'lláh. A few years before, in the Tablet of Sayyah foreshadowing His arrival in the city of 'Akka He had disclosed to those endowed with spiritual insight a vastly different spectacle:
Upon Our arrival 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.'
[94 Bahá'u'lláh, quoted in Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 184.]
The reaction of these onlookers, blind to the world of the spirit and the all-encompassing vision of Bahá'u'lláh, is characteristic of man's attitude to the Revelation of God in every age. Over one hundred years have passed since Bahá'u'lláh uttered these words. The majority of mankind, its rulers and wise men, have so far failed to recognize their truth, either remaining unaware of the coming of the Lord or turning a deaf ear to His voice. But those who have embraced His Cause believe in the vision of their Lord that 'soon will all that dwell on earth be enlisted under these banners'.
Bahá'u'lláh and His party entered 'Akka through the sea gate and were conducted to the barracks along the city's narrow and twisting streets. The hardships of the long and arduous journey from Adrianople to 'Akka in the burning heat of the midsummer season, with inadequate and primitive facilities on board the crowded ships, had exhausted everyone. Now, added to all this were the appalling conditions of their confinement in the barracks, especially during the first night after their arrival. Bahá'u'lláh was placed in a filthy room that was completely bare. Later He was moved into a room on the upper floor of the barracks; this room, the interior of which is now kept in good condition and visited by Bahá'í pilgrims, was in the days of Bahá'u'lláh unfit for habitation. He Himself has recounted in a Tablet that its floor was covered with earth and what plaster remained on the ceiling was falling.
Bahá'u'lláh's followers were huddled into another room, the floor of which was covered with mud. Ten soldiers were posted at the gate to guard the prisoners. The foul air and the stench in the prison, coupled with the sultry heat of the summer, were so offensive that on arrival Bahiyyih Khanum, the daughter of Bahá'u'lláh entitled the 'Greatest Holy Leaf', was overcome and fainted.
There was no drinking water except that in a small pool which had already been used for washing and was so filthy that the mere thought of drinking it would make one sick. That first night, in those hot surroundings when everyone was so thirsty that some of the women and children were overcome, water was withheld from the prisoners. Mothers with suckling babes were unable to feed them and for hours the children cried for food and water. 'Abdu'l-Bahá made several appeals to the guards to show mercy to the children and even sent a message to the governor of 'Akka but to no avail. At last in the morning some water was given to the prisoners and each received three loaves of bread as a daily ration. The bread was unfit to eat but after some time they were allowed to take it to the market and exchange it for two loaves of a better quality.
Soon after the arrival of the prisoners the governor visited the barracks for inspection. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, accompanied by a few believers, went to see him. But the governor was discourteous and spoke to them in a provocative manner. He threatened to cut the supply of bread if one of the prisoners, went missing and then ordered them back to their room. Husayn-i-Ashchi, one of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's attendants, could not bear to remain silent after such insulting treatment. He retorted with rage and hurled back at the governor some offensive remarks. 'Abdu'l-Bahá immediately chastised Husayn by slapping him hard in the face in front of the governor and ordering him to return to his room. This action by 'Abdu'l-Bahá not only defused a dangerous situation but also opened the eyes of the governor to the existence of a real leader among the prisoners, who would act with authority and justice.
Husayn-i-Ashchi, who has recorded this incident in his memoirs, and who prided himself on being chastised by the Master on that occasion, recalls that because of this action the governor's attitude towards 'Abdu'l-Bahá changed. He realized that, contrary to the wild rumours circulating in 'Akka at the time, 'Abdu'l-Bahá and His family were from a noble background and not criminals as he had been led to believe. The governor therefore began to act in a more humane way towards the prisoners. He eventually agreed to substitute a sum of money for the allotted ration of bread and allowed a small party of the prisoners, escorted by guards, to visit the markets of 'Akka daily to buy their provisions.
Three days after the arrival of Bahá'u'lláh and His companions, the edict of the Sultan condemning Him to life imprisonment was read out in the mosque. The prisoners were introduced as criminals who had corrupted the morals of the people. It was stated that they were to be confined to prison and were not allowed to associate with anyone.
In the course of a talk to the friends in Haifa years later, 'Abdu'l-Bahá described His being summoned by the governor of 'Akka to hear the contents of the edict. When it was read out to Him that they were to remain in prison forever,[*] 'Abdu'l-Bahá responded by saying that the contents of the edict were meaningless and without foundation. Upon hearing this remark, the governor became angry and retorted that the edict was from the Sultan and he wanted to know how it could be described as meaningless. 'Abdu'l-Bahá replied that it was impossible for His imprisonment to last forever, for man lives in this world only for a short period and sooner or later the captives would leave this prison, whether dead or alive. The governor and his officers were impressed by the vision of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and felt easier in His presence.
[95 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Asrau'l-Athar, vol. 4. p. 349.]
[*In Arabic the term used for life imprisonment is often 'prisoner forever'.]
In the meantime, life in the prison of 'Akka in the early days was extremely difficult. The conditions were appallingly unhygienic. The heat was severe during the day and there was no adequate water for washing. For three months the authorities did not allow Bahá'u'lláh to go to the public bath, which in those days was the only place where people could take a bath. The guards had been given strict orders not to allow any person to visit Him. Even when a barber came to attend to Bahá'u'lláh's hair, he was accompanied by a guard and was not allowed to talk to Him. 'Abdu'l-Bahá had to live in a room on the ground floor which had been formerly used as a morgue. Its moist air affected His health for the rest of His life. As for the other prisoners, the filthy conditions under which they were living, the lack of proper food and hygiene and the severity of restrictions took their toll. Shortly after their arrival in the barracks all but two fell sick and nine of the ten guards were also struck down by illness. Malaria and dysentery added to their ordeal. The only two unaffected at that stage were 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Aqa Riday-i-Qannad, although both of them were taken ill later. The Master, helped by this believer, attended to the needs of the sick, nursing them day and night. The authorities did not call for a doctor to administer medicine and with the few provisions at His disposal all that 'Abdu'l-Bahá could do was to cook them a simple broth and some rice each day.
In these circumstances three people died. The first victim was a certain Abu'l-Qasim-i-Sultan Abadi. Then two brothers, Ustad Muhammad-Baqir and Ustad Muhammad-Isma'il, both tailors by profession, died one evening within a few hours of each other, locked in each other's arms as they lay on the floor. Bahá'u'lláh particularly expressed His grief at these tragic deaths and stated that never before had two brothers passed away from this dark world and entered the realms of glory in such unity. As stated in a Tablet, He praised them, showered His bounties upon them and blessed their parents.
The burial of these three posed a difficult problem for the company of exiles. The government refused to allow anyone from among the prisoners to bury them, nor did they provide funds for their burial. The guards demanded payment of necessary expenses before removing the bodies, and as there were very few possessions which could be sold, Bahá'u'lláh gave up the only luxury He had, a small prayer carpet. When the proceeds of the sale were handed to the guards, they pocketed the money and buried the dead in the clothes they wore, without coffins and without the customary Muslim rites of washing and wrapping the bodies in shrouds. As they were not allowed to be buried inside the Muslim cemetery, they were laid to rest outside it. Some years later 'Abdu'l-Bahá arranged for one of the believers to build their graves, which are joined together.
After the death of these three men, Bahá'u'lláh revealed a short healing prayer especially for the believers in the barracks and asked them to chant it repeatedly and with absolute sincerity. This the friends did and soon everyone recovered.
In the meantime, the Persian ambassador to the Sublime Porte did everything in his power to enforce Bahá'u'lláh's imprisonment in 'Akka. The following is a translation of a letter he wrote to his government a little over a year after Bahá'u'lláh's arrival in 'Akka.
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-Quli Khan, the Consul-General in Damascus
... I have, three days ago, sent back, instructing him to proceed
direct to 'Akka ... 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 'Akka,
and personally watch over them, and submit his report to the
[96 Persian ambassador, quoted in ibid. p. 186. (Asrau'l-Athar, vol. 4.)]
Long before His departure from Adrianople, Bahá'u'lláh had prophesied the impending calamities which were to befall Him in His forthcoming exile to 'Akka. In some of His Tablets revealed in Adrianople He had alluded to that city, in others He had mentioned 'Akka by name as being the next place of His exile. For instance, in the Lawh-i-Sultan, the Tablet to Nasiri'd-Din Shah of Persia, He had clearly prophesied that the next place of His exile would be 'Akka. Concerning that city He wrote: 'According to what they say, 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.'
[97 Bahá'u'lláh, quoted in ibid. (Asrau'l-Athar, vol. 4.)]
In another Tablet, as yet unpublished, revealed soon before His departure from Adrianople, He predicted a new wave of calamities that would soon encompass Him in the fortress of 'Akka. He described the conditions of the city in terms similar to those in the Lawh-i-Sultan but declared that soon its climate would improve because its builder would enter it and adorn it with the ornament of His Greatest Name.
The foulness of 'Akka's air was summed up in the proverb that a bird flying over the city would drop dead. But the climate changed soon after Bahá'u'lláh's arrival. To this the inhabitants of 'Akka testified and many attributed it to the presence of Bahá'u'lláh. The edict of the Sultan condemning Bahá'u'lláh to solitary life imprisonment and forbidding Him to meet anyone, including His companions, was at the beginning carried out strictly. But soon the prison authorities became aware of the striking majesty of Bahá'u'lláh, the loftiness of His standards and the exalted character of His person. They were also deeply impressed by the loving disposition of the Master, His divine qualities and virtues; they increasingly turned to Him for advice and guidance. As a result, the authorities became lenient and relaxed some of the restrictions.
As time went on the companions of Bahá'u'lláh were allotted rooms in different parts of the barracks. Some of them took on essential duties such as cooking, cleaning, water delivery or shopping, and some were able to spend their free time in other useful work. As restrictions became more relaxed the companions were able to communicate with Bahá'u'lláh and even attain His presence.
Although the barracks was a depressing place to live, soon the companions of Bahá'u'lláh, mainly through 'Abdu'l-Bahá's leadership and guidance, organized their daily lives in such a way as to create the best possible conditions for the whole community. Their greatest source of joy was nearness to their Lord and sometimes Bahá'u'lláh visited them in their quarters where they entertained Him with what meagre food or refreshments they could provide.
The sufferings of Bahá'u'lláh in 'Akka were so intense in their severity and so extensive in their range that it would require volumes to recount them. Not confined only to what He endured in the barracks, culminating in the martyrdom of the Purest Branch, these distressing afflictions continued throughout His entire ministry in the Holy Land. These are Bahá'u'lláh's own words:
Ponder a while on the woes and afflictions which this Prisoner hath
sustained. I have, all the days of My life, been at the mercy of Mine
enemies, and have suffered each day, in the path of the love of
God, a fresh tribulation. I have patiently endured until the fame
of the Cause of God was spread abroad on the earth.
[98 Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, p. 203.]
O My servant that believest in God! By the righteousness of the
Almighty! Were I to recount to thee the tale of the things that have
befallen Me, the souls and minds of men would be incapable of
sustaining its weight. God Himself beareth Me witness.
[99 ibid. p. 148. (Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings.)]
Bahá'u'lláh's trials and tribulations were not only those inflicted on Him by His enemies. He suffered greatly from the reprehensible conduct of those who were reckoned among His own followers. In His Tablets, Bahá'u'lláh testifies to this truth.