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This fourth exile of Baha’u’llah, like previous exiles, did not diminish the flow of his writings. As he once wrote,
“Never will the barking of dogs deter the Nightingale from warbling its melodies.”
During the exile and upon his arrival in Akka, Baha’u’llah continued his series of tablets to kings and rulers that began in Adrianople. In some of them he recounts the sufferings imposed on his followers, and in particular, questions the appropriateness of placing such hardships on the women and children exiled with him. He reminds the world’s rulers that the only crime he and his followers have been found guilty of is the crime of starting a new religion. If the reasoning here, Baha’u’llah suggests, involves preferring ancient religions over new ones, then why do his Muslim persecutors not follow the Old or New Testaments?
If his crime, Baha’u’llah continues, is founding a new Faith, then before him Muhammad committed the same crime, and before him, Christ and Moses as well.
Baha’u’llah promises in his Tablets to the Kings that the persecution of his Faith will not hinder its progress:
Behold how in this Dispensation the worthless and foolish have fondly imagined that by such instruments as massacre, plunder and banishment they can extinguish the Lamp which the Hand of Divine power hath lit, or eclipse the Day Star of everlasting splendor. How utterly unaware they seem to be of the truth that such adversity is the oil that feedeth the flame of this Lamp! Such is God’s transforming power. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 72.
In his letter to the Ottoman Sultan, Baha’u’llah condemned the abuses of civil power committed by the Ottoman Prime Minister against the Baha’is. Shortly after the exiles arrived in Akka, clerics read the decree of Sultan Aziz in the mosque to warn the people against associating in any way with the Baha’is. This decree declared that Baha’u’llah would lead the people astray and be incarcerated for the rest of his life. He and the other exiles were not allowed to associate either with each other or the citizens of Akka. This decree prejudiced the minds of the people against the Baha’is.
Gradually the guards relaxed their harshness by placing the exiles in various rooms in the barracks and allowing some of them the freedom to leave the prison for short errands. Abdu’l-Baha asked a local man to come to the barracks and teach them how to weave rush mats. The prisoners could then take their mats to the market and sell them to provide some additional food and other necessities.
Eventually, the guards came to trust Abdu’l-Baha enough to let him and a few of the friends go to the market each day to get provisions. One of the Muslim religious leaders of Akka, Shaykh Mahmud, rudely confronted and insulted Abdu’l-Baha one day in the market. Abdu’l-Baha responded to the Shaykh’s insults with kindness and gentleness. And yet, the Shaykh continued in his anger at the presence of the Baha’is in Akka. As a religious leader, he decided that he should defend the honor of his faith and his city by killing Baha’u’llah.
Shaykh Mahmud went to the barracks, and because of his importance as a cleric, the guards let him enter, announcing the presence of the Shaykh to Baha’u’llah and asking if he wished to see him. Baha’u’llah responded that the Shaykh should first put away his weapon. The Shaykh responded with shock and surprise at this, since he had hidden his weapon inside his cloak and not even the guards had suspected his plan. He immediately turned and left the barracks.
Later the Shaykh decided that what had happened was a coincidence. After all, the thought, a strong man like himself could kill Baha’u’llah with his bare hands if he wanted to. He went back to the barracks and when the guards announced him, this time Baha’u’llah said the Shaykh should first cleanse his heart. The Shaykh, doubly astonished this time, left again.
The third time he went to the barracks, his curiosity to know more about Baha’u’llah had gotten the best of him. This time Baha’u’llah invited him into his cell. They talked for several hours and the Shakyh became a friend and supporter of Baha’u’llah’s, and ultimately the secret conduit for the Baha’is who increasingly flocked to Akka to see Baha’u’llah.
Guards at the city gates spotted most of the Baha’is who tried to enter Akka during the day and turned them away. But the Shaykh would leave the city at night to meet with the Baha’is who had been unable to enter the city. Under the cover of night, they would pretend to be the Shaykh’s lantern-carriers — and in this way he brought the Baha’is into the city.
Adapted from One With All The Earth, © Kalimat Press 2003, All Rights Reserved.