Section 1- Mount Carmel
Long before the extinction of the Ottoman Empire the Prisoner of 'Akka had won the spiritual battle over His persecutors. The slanders spread by fearful or ambitious politicians in Constantinople had been able to prejudice the people and officials in 'Akka against Baha'u'llah before His arrival. Now, however, these same people had several years of direct experience with their Visitor.
His patience, His forbearance, and His wisdom had captivated the hardest hearts. Although few had even the dimmest conception of His mission, they regarded Baha'u'llah Himself as a saint Whose presence was a blessing to the entire province.
The decree of banishment had never been repealed but it had become a dead letter. Baha'u'llah was still nominally a prisoner, but the doors of the prison-city had been opened to Him by the officials in 'Akka who had come to know His true worth.
Baha'u'llah, the Glory of God was at last free to walk on the side of Mount Carmel. There He chose the site for the future Shrine of His Herald, the Bab. Baha'u'llah arranged for the Sacred Remains of the Bab to be brought from Persia to the Holy Land.
Gradually, all elements of the population began to recognize Baha'u'llah's innocence of the crimes imputed to Him. Slowly the true spirit of His Teachings penetrated through the "hard crust of their indifference and bigotry."
The leading clergyman of 'Akka, Shaykh Mahmud, a man notorious for his bigotry, became converted to the Faith of Baha'u'llah. He was fired with enthusiasm to compile all the many traditional prophecies from the writings of Islam concerning the significance of the city of 'Akka and its "Visitor." In more recent years clergymen of all faiths have followed his example.
Men of letters, Christians and Jews as well as Muslims, sought His presence. Professor E.G. Browne, of Cambridge University, visited Baha'u'llah and was granted four successive interviews. He wrote of those hours, saying: "It was, in truth, a strange and moving experience, but one whereof I despair of conveying any save the feeblest impression."
Professor Browne declared that he underwent unparalleled spiritual joys. Perhaps men might disbelieve his words, Browne said, but if they ever came in contact with the spirit of Baha'u'llah, it would be an experience they would remember all the days of their lives.
Browne described one of his interviews with Baha'u'llah in these words:
"The face of Him on Whom I gazed I can never forget, though I cannot describe it . . . no need to ask in Whose presence I stood, as I bowed myself before One Who is the object of a devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain!"
"He will break the yoke from off the necks of men."
Section 2- The Center of the Covenant
Baha'u'llah passed from this world in His home outside the city of 'Akka on May 29, 1892. His Mission had been fulfilled. Although not even His followers were aware of its extent, He had laid the foundations of a world-wide community which would provide the pattern for the "new order in human relations" which the kings had so tragically rejected.
The people of 'Akka knew only that they had lost something from their midst that was irreplaceable. A huge crowd of people from all religions and all walks of life thronged the fields which surrounded Baha'u'llah's dwelling. An eye-witness wrote: " . . . a multitude of the inhabitants of 'Akka and of the neighboring villages . . . could be seen weeping, beating upon their heads and crying aloud their grief."
Baha'u'llah, in His own written Will and Testament, appointed 'Abdu'l-Baha ('Servant of Baha'u'llah') as the interpreter of His teachings. These documents are called the Covenant of Baha'u'llah. Baha'u'llah made 'Abdu'l-Baha the Center of that Covenant.
'Abdu'l-Baha took up Baha'u'llah's appeal to the leaders and peoples of the world. He traveled extensively throughout Europe and America in 1911 and 1912 trying to awaken mankind to the dangers threatening it.
Upon arrival at the prison-city of 'Akka, Baha'u'llah is reported to have said to 'Abdu'l-Baha:
"Now I concentrate on My work writing commands and counsels for the world of the future; to thee I leave the province of talking with and ministering to the people."
The Book of Psalms spoke of such a "Covenant" that would be established for "all generations" by the Lord of Hosts in the day when God would "scatter thine enemies" and "beat down his foes." Psalms declared of that day:
"I have made a covenant with my chosen . . . And will make my first-born, higher than the kings of the earth . . . and my covenant shall stand fast with him . . . it shall be established forever as the moon . . . "
'Abdu'l-Baha was not a Messenger or "Manifestation" of God as were Baha'u'llah, Christ and the other Founders of the great religions. His role in man's spiritual history is, in an important sense, a mystery. On the one hand 'Abdu'l-Baha's life is the perfect example for those who have recognized Baha'u'llah. It is the proof that Baha'u'llah's teachings are the sane and creative way for men to live in the new age.
On the other hand, 'Abdu'l-Baha is also the Architect of the system of administrative institutions conceived and outlined by Baha'u'llah. 'Abdu'l-Baha superintended the formation of the first of these democratically elected bodies, on the pattern designed by Baha'u'llah. For the first time in history, a Messenger of God has brought not only spiritual teachings, but social principles and model institutions.
It is because of this unique role conferred on 'Abdu'l-Baha by Baha'u'llah's own pen that He is so revered and loved by Baha'is everywhere. The story of the arrival of Baha'u'llah, the Glory of the Lord, at Mount Carmel in the Holy Land, there to establish this Covenant with men for all time, is so beautiful and powerful that it is impossible not to share also the echo of Isaiah to the words of the Book of Psalms above.
The greatest of the Hebrew prophets proclaimed:
"And the Redeemer shall come to Zion . . . this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord . . . Arise, shine; for the Glory of the Lord ('Baha'u'llah') is risen upon thee . . . darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee, . . . that nation and kingdom that shall not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted . . . and thou shalt know that I the Lord am thy Savior and thy redeemer . . . "
In 'Akka. the persecutions which had begun under 'Abdu'l-'Aziz reached their culmination under his successor, 'Abdu'l-Hamid II, before the fall of the Ottoman monarchy. 'Abdu'l-Baha refused to allow the new threats to interfere with His assistance to the ill and the destitute. Each day He visited the orphan, the sick and the downtrodden. Throughout His life, He serenely refused to allow His troubles to prevent Him from visiting in person those souls who needed His help.
One night early in the winter of 1907, 'Abdu'l-Baha had a dream. He told His friends about it. He had seen a ship cast anchor off 'Akka. From it flew a few birds. When they approached, 'Abdu'l-Baha they resembled sticks of dynamite. The birds flew toward Him and circled above His head.
'Abdu'l-Baha was standing in the midst of a great multitude of the frightened people of 'Akka. Suddenly the "birds" returned to their ship without exploding.
A few days later a ship appeared on the horizon and anchored in the Bay of Haifa. It had brought from Constantinople another Imperial investigation Commission. It consisted of four officers, headed by one, 'Arif Bey. This Commission was invested with plenary powers to summarily dispose of 'Abdu'l-Baha in any way they deemed fit. Among the Commission were outspoken enemies of Baha'u'llah and His Faith.
All telegraph and postal services in Haifa were immediately seized. The Commission dismissed any official suspected of being friendly with 'Abdu'l-Baha, including the governor of the city. They placed guards over 'Abdu'l-Baha's house. Encouraged by this show of force, 'Abdu'l-Baha's enemies flocked to the Commission sessions to do their part in assuring His downfall. Even some of the poor, whom He had so long and so bountifully succored now forsook Him because of their fear of reprisals.
Once again wild reports about 'Abdu'l-Baha's fate spread through Haifa and 'Akka: 'Abdu'l-Baha was to be taken on shipboard as a prisoner; He might be cast into the ocean at sea, or banished to the sands of Africa, or even nailed to the city gates of 'Akka.
'Abdu'l-Baha, His tranquility unshaken, told some of the Baha'is who still remained at 'Akka:
"The meaning of the dream I dreamt is now clear . . . Please God this dynamite will not explode."
"I will work a wonder which ye will not believe
even though it be told to you."
Section 3- God's gun
One evening just before sunset, the ship which had been lying off Haifa weighed anchor. It headed for 'Akka. The news spread rapidly. The Commission had boarded the vessel. It was expected that they would stop at 'Akka long enough to take 'Abdu'l-Baha on board.
Anguish seized the family of 'Abdu'l-Baha. The believers who were left in the city wept with grief at the thought of separation from Him. 'Abdu'l-Baha could be seen at that tragic hour, calmly walking alone and silent, in the courtyard of His house.
With the setting sun, the sky darkened and the lights of the ship could be seen clearly. Suddenly the ship changed her course! She swung about and was now obviously sailing directly for Constantinople!
The dynamite had not exploded! Rather, dynamite of a different kind had been detonated. In the capital city, the Young Turks had revolted and swept aside all royal resistance. The Sultan, 'Abdu'l-Hamid, had been deposed, and a puppet-king was set up in his place. The ship which was to carry 'Abdu'l-Baha to certain death, instead conveyed those who condemned 'Abdu'l-Baha back to Constantinople and their own destruction.
The gun which had touched off the Young Turks Rebellion not only removed the threat from over 'Abdu'l-Baha's head, but it also freed Him from an imprisonment which had lasted for over fifty years. The imprisonment had begun when 'Abdu'l-Baha was but a child of nine. It ended when He was sixty-four.
'Abdu'l-Baha carried the Faith of His Father, Baha'u'llah, to Africa, Europe and America. These apostolic journeys will remain forever unique in the annals of religious history. Imagine! The Son of a Messenger of God visiting and speaking in cathedrals, churches, synagogues, schools, universities, addressing lord mayors, presidents, educators, philosophers entering the homes of millionaires and the slum- dwellings of the poor!
'Abdu'l-Baha was entertained by princes, maharajas, and noblemen. He spoke to leading clergymen in both England and America, to Theosophists, agnostics, materialists, spiritualists, Christian Scientists, social reformers, Hindus, Sufis, Muslims, Buddhists and Zoroastrians, as well as Catholics, Protestants and Jews. Secretaries of state, ambassadors, congressmen, members of Parliament, ministers of state, presidents of universities, famous scholars, military leaders and socialites all met Him and heard His message of unity.
For eight long months 'Abdu'l-Baha traveled coast to coast in the United States and Canada proclaiming His Father's Faith from pulpit, platform and press. Whatever the future may hold, it will never be possible for people to say they did not have the opportunity to hear about the Revelation of God to our age.
Why did not millions instead of thousands listen and believe?
Perhaps a clue can be found in the Book of Habakkuk who prophesied that the
"knowledge of the Lord" (Baha'u'llah) would "cover the earth as the "waters cover the sea."Habakkuk also declared
"Behold . . . regard, and wonder marvelously: for I will work a work in your days which ye will not believe, though it be told you."
During the first World War, 'Abdu'l-Baha wrote His history-making "Tablets of the Divine Plan" which called on the followers of Baha'u'llah to carry message of world unity and social justice to every corner of the globe, however remote. They responded by the thousands. The Community of Baha'u'llah is now established in over 130,000 centers in over 350 independent nations and major territories. Indeed, even as these words are being written, the figures are obsolete, the Baha'i Faith is growing so rapidly.
It is little wonder that students of past scriptures should begin to become interested in words of Daniel which have found remarkable fulfillment in the story of Baha'u'llah. Not only did Daniel predict the overthrow of kings; he also prophesied: "And in the days of these [wicked] kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed . . . it shall stand forever."
These things Daniel pictured as taking place in a period that many Christian Bible scholars have said must have begun in 1844, the year of the birth of the Baha'i Faith.
'Abdu'l-Baha has said of the downfall of 'Abdu'l-Hamid: "God removed the chains from my neck and placed them around the neck of 'Abdu'l-Hamid. It was done suddenly- not in a long time- in a moment as it were. The same hour that the Young Turks declared liberty, the Committee of Union and Progress set me free. They lifted the chains from my neck and threw them around the neck of 'Abdu'l-Hamid. That which he did to me was inflicted on him."
Of the weapon which had fired off the Young Turks' revolt in such
forceful terms, 'Abdu'l-Baha said: "That was God's gun."
"The face of Him on Whom I gazed, I can never forget."
Section 4- The Envy of Kings
This was not, however, the end of the story. During World War I, the Turkish Commander-in-Chief of the military forces in the Holy Land was Jamal Pasha. This suspicious and ruthless officer established a harsh and complete military dictatorship. In such a regime there was no place for One who taught that all men were one and that justice is the Will of God for our age.
Jamal Pasha subjected 'Abdu'l-Baha to repeated insults and indignities and threatened to destroy the Tomb of Baha'u'llah. He openly boasted that if the Turkish Army was forced to evacuate Haifa, he would "crucify 'Abdu'l-Baha on Mount Carmel."
The British followers of Baha'u'llah were alarmed when this news reached them. They enlisted the aid of some of the cabinet members, including Lord Curzon who had written in 1892, the year of the death of Baha'u'llah, praising the "sublime" devotion of the early followers of this Faith.
Through Lord Curzon's intervention, Lord Lamington wrote to the Foreign Office explaining "the importance of 'Abdu'l-Baha's position." On the day of the receipt of this letter, Lord Balfour sent a message to General Allenby in Egypt. He instructed the General to "extend every protection and consideration to 'Abdu'l-Baha, His family and His friends."
Allenby's army entered Palestine and Jerusalem ahead of schedule. His surprise entry routed the Turkish forces.
Christian Arabs, unaware of the significance of Baha'u'llah's Faith or of His words to the rulers of Turkey, pointed proudly to the protection which God had given to them and to the Holy Land in that critical hour. It was the Hand of God raised up to save them, they said. It came through General Allenby, they explained, whose very name showed him to be an instrument of the Lord.
The name "Allenby was akin to "Al Nabi" which in Arabic meant: "The Prophet." For half a century these same people remained unaware of the significance of the presence of Baha'u'llah and His Faith in their midst.
General Allenby issued instructions to the officer in command at Haifa to insure 'Abdu'l-Baha's safety. After the capture of Haifa, Allenby sent a cable to London. He requested the authorities to "notify the world that 'Abdu'l-Baha is safe."
The plot of the Turkish commander, Jamal Pasha, was frustrated. Defeated in battle, he fled from the country. He was later slain while traveling as an exile in the Caucasus.
The fate of Jamal Pasha was only a minor footnote in the turbulent history of the period. Even the collapse of the Turkish regime in the Holy Land seemed somewhat anti-climactic.
Of far greater importance was the response of the world to the Message of God. That Message had been proclaimed in four continents as a result of the widely-publicized travels and writings of 'Abdu'l-Baha. The most powerful of the despots who had stood between mankind and the Messenger had been swept aside. New governments and new nations had come into existence.
Many of the leading statesmen, reformers and thinkers of this new world had met and talked with 'Abdu'l-Baha. Many of them had paid extravagant tribute to His wisdom and character, and to the vision in His Father's Revelation.
Now the opportunity for action had come. Republican governments and constitutional monarchies held the power formerly held by the Hohenzollerns and Romanovs. What would they do with it?
Prisoner and the Kings by William Sears