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Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era

  • Author:
  • J. E. Esslemont

  • Source:
  • US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1980 edition
  • Pages:
  • 286
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Pages 55-58

Strict Imprisonment Renewed

In consequence of this and other equally unfounded charges, in 1901, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and His family, who for more than twenty years had been allowed the freedom of the country for 56 some miles around ‘Akká, were again, for over seven years, strictly confined within the walls of the prison city. This did not prevent Him, however, from effectively spreading the Bahá’í message through Asia, Europe and America. Mr. Horace Holley writes of this period as follows:—
To ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, as a teacher and friend, came men and women from every race, religion and nation, to sit at his table like favored guests, questioning him about the social, spiritual or moral program each had most at heart; and after a stay lasting from a few hours to many months, returning home, inspired, renewed and enlightened. The world surely never possessed such a guest-house as this.
Within its doors the rigid castes of India melted away, the racial prejudice of Jew, Christian and Muḥammadan became less than a memory; and every convention save the essential law of warm hearts and aspiring minds broke down, banned and forbidden by the unifying sympathy of the master of the house. It was like a King Arthur and the Round Table … but an Arthur who knighted women as well as men, and sent them away not with the sword but with the Word.—The Modern Social Religion, Horace Holley, p. 171.
During these years ‘Abdu’l-Bahá cared on an enormous correspondence with believers and inquirers in all parts of the world. In this work He was greatly assisted by His daughters and also by several interpreters and secretaries.
Much of His time was spent in visiting the sick and the afflicted in their own homes; and in the poorest quarters of ‘Akká no visitor was more welcome than the “Master.” A pilgrim who visited ‘Akká at this time writes:—
It is the custom of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá each week, on Friday morning, to distribute alms to the poor. From his own scanty store he gives a little to each one of the needy who come to ask assistance. This morning about one hundred 57 were ranged in line, seated and crouching upon the ground in the open street of the courts where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s house stands. And such a nondescript collection of humanity they were. All kinds of men, women and children—poor, wretched, hopeless in aspect, half-clothed, many of them crippled and blind, beggars indeed, poor beyond expression—waiting expectant—until from the doorway came ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. … Quickly moving from one to another, stopping sometimes to leave a word of sympathy and encouragement, dropping small coins into each eager outstretched palm, touching the face of a child, taking the hand of an old woman who held fast to the hem of his garment as he passed along, speaking words of light to old men with sightless eyes, inquiring after those too feeble and wretched to come for their pittance of help, and sending them their portion with a message of love and uplift.—Glimpses of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, M. J. M., p. 13.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s personal wants were few. He worked late and early. Two simple meals a day sufficed Him. His wardrobe consisted of a very few garments of inexpensive material. He could not bear to live in luxury while others were in want.
He had a great love for children, for flowers, and for the beauties of nature. Every morning about six or seven, the family party used to gather to partake of the morning tea together, and while the Master sipped His tea, the little children of the household chanted prayers. Mr. Thornton Chase writes of these children:—“Such children I have never seen, so courteous, unselfish, thoughtful for others, unobtrusive, intelligent, and swiftly self-denying in the little things that children love. …”—In Galilee, p. 51.
The “ministry of flowers” was a feature of the life at ‘Akká, of which every pilgrim brought away fragrant memories. Mrs. Lucas writes:—“When the Master inhales the odor of flowers, it is wonderful to see him. It seems as though the perfume of the hyacinths were telling him something as he buries his face in the flowers. It is like the effort of the ear to hear a beautiful 58 harmony, a concentrated attention!”—A Brief Account of My Visit to ‘‘Akká, pp. 25–26.
He loved to present beautiful and sweet-smelling flowers to His numerous visitors.
Mr. Thornton Chase sums up his impression of the prison life at ‘Akká as follows:—
Five days we remained within those walls, prisoners with Him who dwells in that “Greatest Prison.” It is a prison of peace, of love and service. No wish, no desire is there save the good of mankind, the peace of the world, the acknowledgement of the Fatherhood of God and the mutual rights of men as His creatures, His children. Indeed, the real prison, the suffocating atmosphere, the separation from all true heart desires, the bond of world conditions, is outside of those stone walls, while within them is the freedom and pure aura of the Spirit of God. All troubles, tumults, worries or anxieties for worldly things are barred out there.—In Galilee, p. 24.
To most people the hardships of prison life would appear as grievous calamities, but for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá they had no terrors. When in prison He wrote:—
Grieve not because of my imprisonment and calamity; for this prison is my beautiful garden, my mansioned paradise and my throne of dominion among mankind. My calamity in my prison is a crown to me in which I glory among the righteous.
Anyone can be happy in the state of comfort, ease, health, success, pleasure and joy; but if one be happy and contented in the time of trouble, hardship and prevailing disease, that is the proof of nobility.