The populace of Akka gradually learned that the personage in their midst was no ordinary prisoner.
They came to appreciate Baha’u’llah’s remarkable wisdom and kindness as well as his majestic presence. The change in attitude also had much to do with the character and behavior of Baha’u’llah’s eldest son, Abbas, who would come to be known as Abdu’l-Baha, meaning “the Servant of Baha.”
Now a young man in his late twenties, Abdu’l-Baha increasingly dealt with the public on his father’s behalf, so that Baha’u’llah would be free to tend to the affairs of the Faith. Over time Abdu’l-Baha’s patience, kindliness, and humanitarianism warmed the hearts of many an erstwhile foe.
Among those who experienced a transformation of attitude was Shaykh Mahmud, the chief Islamic official of Akka. Enraged at the presence in his city of these “enemies of God and Islam,” he decided that he must take action as a leader of the people.
Determined to find and kill Baha’u’llah himself, Shaykh Mahmud hid a weapon under his cloak, then made his way to the citadel and demanded entry. The guards could not refuse such a prominent person, so he was admitted. He asked to see Baha’u’llah, whose cell lay at the top of a flight of stairs. An attendant went upstairs to seek permission for the shaykh to enter Baha’u’llah’s presence. He returned moments later with a message from Baha’u’llah to the effect that the shaykh should first divest himself of that which he was carrying. This reply astonished the shaykh, but it did not change his heart. He later made another attempt, this time intending to kill Baha’u’llah with his own hands. The response from Baha’u’llah this time was that he should first purify his heart.
The shaykh was stunned. Who is this man, he asked himself, who knows the secrets of hearts? He could not bring himself to enter Baha’u’llah’s presence that day.
Later the shaykh had a dream that made him understand Baha’u’llah was the fulfillment of the prophecy of the coming of the Lord to Akka. Upon his third attempt to visit Baha’u’llah he was a changed man and was taken to Baha’u’llah’s chamber. There and then he threw himself at Baha’u’llah’s feet and declared his belief in him. The shaykh remained a staunch Baha’i from that day forward.
In this day, the one favoured at the Threshold of the Lord is he who handeth round the cup of faithfulness; who bestoweth, even upon his enemies, the jewel of bounty, and lendeth, even to his fallen oppressor, a helping hand; it is he who will, even to the fiercest of his foes, be a loving friend. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 1.
Many high officials came to know and admire both Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha. The governor became so enamored that he begged Baha’u’llah for the honor of performing some service for Him. Baha’u’llah advised him to repair the city’s ancient aqueduct, which had fallen into disrepair. Its restoration provided fresh water to Akka’s inhabitants, who came to believe that since Baha’u’llah’s arrival the very air of the city had improved. That governor’s successor likewise became a friend, going so far as to imply that he would not object if Baha’u’llah were to decide to leave the city for the surrounding countryside.