The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
Once more, the order of banishment came from the capital city of Istanbul. This time, in an attempt to separate Baha’u’llah from the Baha’is, the order of exile disclosed no destination. Conditions there would prompt Baha’u’llah to call it the “Most Great Prison.”
One morning the family awoke to find the house of Baha’u’llah in Adrianople surrounded by soldiers. As the soldiers carried out the order for exile, many of the Baha’is suffered cruel interrogations. Baha’u’llah described the situation as his followers were taken to prison and
“were left on the first night without food…. The people surrounded the house, and Muslims and Christians wept over us…. We perceived that the weeping of the people of the Son (Christians) exceeded the weeping of others—a sign for such as ponder.” – The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 185.
One of the exiles recalled that, “A great tumult seized the people…. Some expressed their sympathy, others consoled us, and wept over us….Most of our possessions were auctioned at half their value.” Several foreign ambassadors in Adrianople went to Baha’u’llah and offered to negotiate a reprieve with the Sultan. Baha’u’llah expressed his appreciation for their kindness but refused their offers of political support.
On August 12, 1868, the government took Baha’u’llah, his family, and the other exiles by carriage to Gallipoli. At first, no one told Baha’u’llah and his companions where their exile would take them, or even if they would be separated and sent to different places. Later, the authorities announced that Baha’u’llah and seventy of his followers would go to the remote penal colony of Acre (now known as Akka) in Palestine. Baha’u’llah warned his followers of the dangers that lay ahead, stating that “this journey will be unlike any of the previous journeys.” He said that any of his followers who felt unprepared to face extreme hardship should “depart to whatever place he pleaseth, and be preserved from tests, for hereafter he will find himself
unable to leave.” But all the companions of Baha’u’llah chose to go with him into exile, accepting whatever lay ahead rather than any separation from Baha’u’llah.
From Gallipoli, the exiles steamed across the sea to Alexandria, Eygpt. Another steamer took them from Alexandria to Haifa, Palestine (now in northern Israel). From there, a sailing vessel ferried them across the bay to the prison-city of Akka. The combined effects of the heat, sea sickness, the filthy conditions of the ships, and improper food exhausted the exiles.
They arrived in ‘Akka during the brutal summer heat of August, 1868, but the port had no dock. The Baha’i men, forced to wade from the boat to the shore, carried the women, one by one, on a chair held above the waves. A rough crowd gathered on the shore, jeering Akka’s newest prisoners and their leader, who they denounced as the “god of the Persians.” Akka, called St. Jean d’Acre by the Crusaders centuries before, had become under the Ottoman Turks a flea-infested, desolate penal colony with a reputation for unhealthy air and water. A local proverb said that a bird flying over ‘Akka would fall dead out of the sky.
The jailers marched the exiles — men, women, and children — to a barracks within the city. Baha’u’llah’s young daughter Baha’iyyih recalled the ordeal:
When we had entered the barracks the massive door was closed upon us and the great iron bolts thrown home. I cannot find words to describe the filth and stench of that vile place. We were nearly up to our ankles in mud in the room into which we were led. The damp, close air and the excretions of the soldiers combined to produce horrible odors. Then, being unable to bear more, I fainted. As I fainted, those about me caught me before I fell; but because of the mud and filth there was no place upon which I could be laid. On one side of the room was a man weaving a mat for the soldiers. One of our friends took this mat and I was placed upon it. Then they begged for water, but they could not get it. The soldiers would permit no one to go out. There was a pool of water on the dirt floor, in which the mat-maker had been moistening his rushes. Some of this water was dipped up and strained and put to my lips. I swallowed a little and revived; but the water was so foul that my stomach rejected it, and I fainted again.
This horrible prison, with its privation, loathsome conditions and disease, opened a new chapter in the cruel repression of Baha’u’llah’s Faith – and paradoxically would later become the brilliant, beckoning hub of its global community.
Adapted from One With All The Earth, © Kalimat Press 2003, All Rights Reserved.