Abdu’l-Baha spent 40 years of his life imprisoned in the ancient crusader city of Akka, a notoriously grim place, home to the most dangerous criminals and political enemies of the Ottoman Empire.
Legend had it that the air in the city was so foul it would cause birds flying over it to drop dead.
However, after he and his father Baha’u’llah’s imprisonment there in 1868, it did not take long for Abdu’l-Baha’s outstanding moral character to shine through in that prison city, and for his selfless commitment to service to make a deep, lasting impression on its inhabitants. Despite the dire conditions in the prison, Abdu’l-Baha later said in a talk he gave in Paris:
… thank God, during all those forty years I was supremely happy! Every day, on waking, it was like hearing good tidings, and every night infinite joy was mine. Spirituality was my comfort, and turning to God was my greatest joy.
With Baha’u’llah in strict confinement in the prison fortress, Abdu’l-Baha became the point of contact with officials and Akka’s residents, speaking for his family and the small band of Baha’is residing there. He soon won the trust and friendship of those he dealt with, whether lowly shopkeepers or powerful city officials.
During this period, Abdu’l-Baha began to come to the attention of Westerners who were captivated by the Baha’i teachings he championed, and by the news of the magnanimity of his person.
“… Such an atmosphere of perfect Majesty and humility surrounded His whole being,” recalled one American visitor on meeting Abdu’l-Baha in Akka. Aside from the impact that Abdu’l-Baha’s personality had on his visitors, their burgeoning interest in the Baha’i Faith meant that he could introduce the teachings of Baha’u’llah to a much wider audience, precipitating the rapid spread of the Faith in the world beyond the Middle East.
Through the words of those who met Abdu’l-Baha in Akka, and reflections from those who have studied his stay there, this second episode of the Ambassador to Humanity podcast tells the story of how Abdu’l-Baha turned an infamous place of suffering into a paradise for pilgrims.
Narrated by Parisa Fitz-Henley and Rainn Wilson with contributions from Michael Day, Kathryn Jewett Hogensen, Mona Khademi, Robert Stockman, and Lesley Taherzadeh O’Mara
Written and produced by Rob Weinberg and Nathan Rainsford
Assistant Editor: Noah Matthews
Executive producers include Rainn Wilson, Shahin Sobhani, Steve Sarowitz, Maia Reneau, and Ford Bowers for Spring Green Media, in collaboration with 239Days.com and BahaiTeachings.org.
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