September 7, 2010

Baha’u’llah, His family and companions experienced exceptionally inhumane conditions in early days in ‘Akka prison

Life in the prison of 'Akka in the early days was extremely difficult and tortuous. The heat was severe during the day and there was no adequate water for washing. For three months, the authorities did not allow Bahi'u'llah to attend the public bath which in those days was the only place where people could take a bath. The guards had been given strict orders not to allow any person to visit Him. Even when a barber came to attend to Baha'u'llah's hair, he was accompanied by a guard and was not allowed to talk to Him. 'Abdu'l-Baha had to live in a room on the ground floor which had been formerly used as a morgue. Its moist air affected His health for the rest of His life. As for the prisoners, the filthy conditions under which they were living, the lack of proper food and hygiene, and the severity of restrictions, took their toll. Shortly after their arrival in the barracks, all but two fell sick. Nine of the ten guards were also struck down by illness. Malaria and dysentery added to their ordeal. The only two unaffected at that stage were 'Abdu'l-Baha and Aqa Riday-i-Qannad, although both of them were taken ill at a later time. The Master, helped by this believer, attended to the needs of the sick and nursed them day and night. The authorities did not call for a doctor to administer medicine. With the few provisions at His disposal all that 'Abdu'l-Baha could do was to cook for them a simple broth and some rice each day. But the hygienic conditions were appalling. The heat was severe during the day and there was no adequate water for washing.

In these circumstances three people died. The first victim was a certain Abu'l-Qasim-i-Sultan Abadi. Then two brothers, Ustad Muhammad-Baqir and Ustad Muhammad-Isma’il, both tailors by profession, died one evening within a few hours of each other. They were locked in each other's arms as they lay on the floor. Baha'u'llah particularly expressed His grief at this tragic death, and stated that never before had two brothers passed away from this dark world and entered the realms of glory in such unity. He, as stated in a Tablet, praised them, showered His bounties upon them, and blessed their parents.

The burial of these three posed a difficult problem for the company of exiles. For the Government refused to allow anyone from among the prisoners to bury them, nor did they provide funds for their burial! The guards demanded payment of necessary expenses for burial before removing the bodies. And as there were very few possessions which could be sold, in order to raise the money Baha’u’llah ordered the sale of the only luxury He had, a small prayer carpet used by Him. This was done, and the proceeds were handed to the guards who then pocketed the money and buried the dead in the clothes they wore, without coffins and without the customary Muslim rites of washing and wrapping the bodies in shrouds.

As they were not allowed to be buried inside the Muslim Cemetery they were laid to rest outside it. Some years later 'Abdu'l-Baha arranged for one of the believers to build their graves, which are joined together. After the death of these three men, Baha'u'llah revealed a short healing prayer especially for the believers in the barracks and asked them to chant it repeatedly and with absolute sincerity. This the friends did and soon everyone recovered. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Child of the Covenant, p. 87; Stories of Baha'u'llah and Some Notable Believers, by Kiser Barnes. Pp. 111-112)