Mrs. Hearst Visits a Prisoner in ‘Akká 1
IN 1898 IT WASN’T easy to see ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. He was still a political prisoner after thirty years, and Ottoman government spies reported on his activities. It was a dangerous prospect for him to be seen welcoming one of America’s wealthiest and most famous women into the prison city of ‘Akká in the bright light of day. Therefore, Phoebe Hearst stole into ‘Akká under cover of night.
Not long after she had first heard of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and his father, Bahá’u’lláh, Mrs. Hearst had planned a trip to Egypt and Palestine, and had invited some younger members of her family and a few friends. The pilgrims arrived in small groups so as to avoid raising the suspicions of the authorities; Mrs. Hearst, her maid, and her British friend, Mrs. Thornburgh-Cropper, reached Palestine on or around Tuesday, December 20, 1898. “Mrs. Hearst and I arrived in Cairo, Egypt, after a terrible storm at sea,” her friend later wrote, “and remained there for a few days until all had been explained to us regarding our actual journey into the prison city.”
After a storm-tossed trip to Haifa in “a small, miserable boat,” the ladies checked into a hotel to wait for the sun to retire. Once darkness descended they mounted a carriage for the five-mile trip around the bay to ‘Akká along the hard beach sand. The carriage entered the prison city’s wooden gates, and turned left toward the house of ‘Abdu’lláh Páshá, a residence originally built about 1817 by the governor of the city, but which was now a run-down complex of apartments whose stucco suffered from an advanced stage of decay. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had rented rooms for his family there in 1896.
The next morning [October 15], in general conversation, the Presidential election was mentioned. ”’The president,’” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá noted, “‘must be a man who is not hankering for the presidency. He should be a person free from all thoughts of name and fame; he must think himself unworthy of the rank; and should say that he thinks himself unfit for the place and unable to bear this burdensome duty. … If the public good is the object, the president must be a person sensitive to the public weal and not a selfish and self-seeking one.’” During the day ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the Persian friends toured the gardens.
Tuesday, October 15, 1912 3
Early in the morning Mrs Phoebe Hearst presented the Master with flowers of various hues and perfumes. She suggested that, if He wished, He could stroll through the surrounding gardens and nursery. He first toured the house and then went to the nursery which had many beautiful flowers. A few rare specimens attracted His particular attention. He said that the seeds of those flowers should be sent to the Holy Land for cultivation in the gardens adjoining the Shrines of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. Continuing, He said: ‘The real flowers are those in the garden of the hearts. The flowers of the love of God which are grown with the warmth of the Sun of Truth perfume the peoples of the world and never wither.’
At the table during lunch His discourse concerned the greatness of this time, the dignity of the world of humanity and the importance of acquiring eternal virtues and perfections. Turning to the grandchildren of Mrs Hearst He said:
“In reality, children are the ornaments at the table, especially these children, who are very sweet! The hearts of children are extremely pure and simple. A person’s heart must be like a child’s, pure and free from all contamination.”
His prayer at the dinner table was this:
“He is God! How can we render Thee thanks, O Lord? Thy bounties are endless and our gratitude cannot equal them. How can the finite utter praise of the Infinite? Unable are we to voice our thanks for Thy favors and in utter powerlessness we turn wholly to Thy Kingdom beseeching the increase of Thy bestowals and bounties. Thou are the Giver, the Bestower, the Almighty.”
He then gave an account of the history of the kings of the world and concluded with remarks about the death of Alexander.
“When in the city of Zor the lamp of his life was extinguished and the last morn had dawned upon him, the wise men assembled by his corpse. One of them said, ‘Gracious God! The whole world could not contain this ambitious man yesterday but today a small plot of earth is sufficient to hold him.’ Another remarked, ‘With all his greatness, glory and eloquence of speech, Alexander never advised us in such a manner as he is instructing us today with this silence.’ Another said, ‘A few hours ago this man considered himself the sovereign of the whole world but now it has become evident that he was a servant and a subject.’”
After dinner, He went into the salon. Mrs Hearst and her guests were so attracted by His words and actions that although she had not spoken openly to her relatives about the Faith and had been cautious about it, without hesitation she invited the Master to speak about the teachings of the Cause of God. He spoke of devotion to the Cause, the appearance of the lights of the Kingdom, universal peace and the oneness of humanity. After an exposition of the teachings, He spoke briefly on the variety and diversity in human capacities, adding: ‘Christ likened divine words to seeds, and the hearts and capacities of his listeners to soil of different kinds.’ Mrs Hearst related her experiences of her days in ‘Akká and told of her joy on hearing a prayer chanted in the Holy Land. At her request the Master, in a melodious voice, read a prayer in eloquent Arabic. Although the listeners did not understand Arabic, most of them said that the beauty of the Tablet and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s voice caused them to draw nearer to God. Some of those present this evening expressed their desire to accept the Faith. They said that although they had been aware of the Cause and had associated with the believers, by listening to the Master they now understood more.
12 October 1912, Talk at Temple Emmanu-El, 450 Sutter Street, San Francisco, California 4
When a movement fundamentally religious makes a weak nation strong, changes a nondescript tribal people into a mighty and powerful civilization, rescues them from captivity and elevates them to sovereignty, transforms their ignorance into knowledge and endows them with an impetus of advancement in all degrees of development (this is not theory, but historical fact), it becomes evident that religion is the cause of man’s attainment to honor and sublimity.
But when we speak of religion, we mean the essential foundation or reality of religion, not the dogmas and blind imitations which have gradually encrusted it and which are the cause of the decline and effacement of a nation. These are inevitably destructive and a menace and hindrance to a nation’s life—even as it is recorded in the Torah and confirmed in history that when the Jews became fettered by empty forms and imitations, the wrath of God became manifest. When they forsook the foundations of the law of God, Nebuchadnezzar came and conquered the Holy Land. He killed and made captive the people of Israel, laid waste the country and populous cities and burned the villages. Seventy thousand Jews were carried away captive to Babylon. He destroyed Jerusalem, despoiled the great Temple, desecrated the Holy of Holies and burned the Torah, the heavenly book of Scriptures. Therefore, we learn that allegiance to the essential foundation of the divine religions is ever the cause of development and progress, whereas the abandonment and beclouding of that essential reality through blind imitations and adherence to dogmatic beliefs are the causes of a nation’s debasement and degradation. After their conquest by the Babylonians the Jews were successively subjugated by the Greeks and Romans. Under the Roman general Titus in A.D. 70 the Holy Land was stripped and pillaged, Jerusalem razed to its foundations and the Israelites scattered broadcast throughout the world. So complete was their dispersion that they have continued without a country and government of their own to the present day.
’Abdu’l-Bahá in America, 1912-2012: Calling America to It’s Spiritual Destiny
Celebrating the Centenary: The Master in America
Curated by Anne Perry
- Jones, Caitlin Shayda, and Jonathan Menon. “Mrs. Hearst Visits a Prisoner in ‘Akká.” 239 Days in America, 15 Oct. 2012, https://239days.com/2012/10/15/phoebe-hearst-visits-a-prisoner-in-akka/. ↩
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 168. ↩
- ’Abdu’l-Bahá, and Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. https://bahai-library.com/zarqani_mahmuds_diary&chapter=8#section206 ↩
- ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ʻAbduʼl-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Edited by Howard MacNutt. 2nd ed. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1982, 363-364. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/27#272161810 ↩