The sailboat drifted slowly across the bay under the brutal summer sun, delivering Baha’u’llah and his fellow prisoners to Akka. It was 31 August 1868, 150 years ago.
Akka did not have proper landing facilities, so the boat stopped in the shallow waters outside the city. As the prisoners waded in the water to the sea gate, they encountered a hostile and jeering crowd.
Baha’u’llah was taken from the sea gate, through the city’s narrow and winding alleys, to the barracks, used at the time as a prison.
The arrival of Baha’u’llah in Akka marks the opening of the last phase of his forty-year long ministry, the final stage, and indeed the climax, of the banishment in which the whole of that ministry was spent. …
The period of His incarceration in Akka brought with it the ripening of a slowly maturing process, and was a period during which the choicest fruits of that mission were ultimately garnered. – Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 183, p. 205.
The horrible conditions of the city and the dreadful treatment Baha’u’llah and his companions received upon arrival were meant to signal their imminent demise and the end of Baha’u’llah’s cause. Yet, Baha’u’llah’s description of that scene paints another picture entirely:
Upon Our arrival, We were welcomed with banners of light, whereupon the Voice of the Spirit cried out saying: “Soon will all that dwell on earth be enlisted under these banners.” – Ibid., p. 184.
Akka would be the setting for some of the most extraordinary developments in Baha’i history:
The banishment [to Akka], lasting no less than twenty-four years, to which two Oriental despots had, in their implacable enmity and shortsightedness, combined to condemn Baha’u’llah, will go down in history as a period which witnessed a miraculous and truly revolutionizing change in the circumstances attending the life and activities of the Exile Himself, will be chiefly remembered for the widespread recrudescence of persecution, intermittent but singularly cruel, throughout His native country and the simultaneous increase in the number of His followers, and, lastly, for an enormous extension in the range and volume of His writings. – Ibid.
It would be from his prison cell in Akka that Baha’u’llah would produce some of his most weighty writings. Among these were letters addressing individually a number of the kings and rulers of his time: Pope Pius IX, Napoleon III, Czar Alexander II, Queen Victoria, and Nasiri’d-Din Shah. It was also in Akka where he later revealed his Most Holy Book, the Kitab-i-Aqdas.
Baha’u’llah would live the remaining years of his life in the prison city and its surrounding area. His resting place at Bahji, just outside the old city of Akka, is the holiest place in the world for Baha’is.