Think, for example, how the enemy had completely hemmed in the Fort, and were endlessly pouring in cannon balls from their siege guns. The believers, among them Ismu’llah, went eighteen days without food. They lived on the leather of their shoes. This too was soon consumed, and they had nothing left but water. They drank a mouthful every morning, and lay famished and exhausted in their Fort. When attacked, however, they would instantly spring to their feet, and manifest in the face of the enemy a magnificent courage and astonishing resistance, and drive the army back from their walls. The hunger lasted eighteen days. It was a terrible ordeal. To begin with, they were far from home, surrounded and cut off by the foe; again, they were starving; and then there were the army’s sudden onslaughts and the bombshells raining down and bursting in the heart of the Fort. Under such circumstances to maintain an unwavering faith and patience is extremely difficult, and to endure such dire afflictions a rare phenomenon.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Memorials of the Faithful, p. 7)
One of the most striking examples of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s imperturbability was His reaction to possible personal tragedy, further exile or execution. His troubles stemmed from the Covenant-breakers, those Bahá’ís who did not accept Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant with His followers that after His passing they should turn to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the ‘Most Great Branch‘, as the Head of the Bahá’í Faith and sole Interpreter of its teachings. These people wished that leadership for themselves and to that end were willing to bring astonishing and false accusations again ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Indeed they rumoured that the Master was building a fortress on Mount Carmel, where the Shrine of the Bab was prominently located on the side of the mountain. They even claimed He had raised an army of thirty thousand people in order to overthrow the Sultan (‘Abdu’l-Hamid) himself. Given the instability existing in Turkey at that time, and the Sultan’s fear of impending rebellion, a Commission of enquiry was appointed and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá summoned to court. With courage He ‘exposed the absurdity of these accusations, acquainted the members of the Commission, in support of His argument, with the provisions of Bahá’u’lláh’s Testament, expressed His readiness to submit to any sentence the court might decide to pass on Him, and eloquently affirmed that if they should chain Him, drag Him through the streets, execrate and ridicule Him, stone and spit upon Him, suspend Him in the public square, and riddle Him with bullets, He would regard it as a signal honor, inasmuch as He would thereby be following in the footsteps, and sharing the sufferings, of His beloved Leader, the Bab. The situation was so serious that pilgrimages were temporarily suspended, mail handled in Egypt rather than in Haifa and sacred Bahá’í Writings placed in safe custody. Gatherings in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s home were curtailed and spies constantly watched the Master’s activities. The Guardian wrote that, nevertheless, ‘It was during these troubled times, the most dramatic period of His ministry, when, in the hey-day of His life and in the full tide of His power, He, with inexhaustible energy, marvellous serenity and unshakable confidence, initiated and resistlessly prosecuted the varied enterprises associated with that ministry.’ It was during these years, although still confined within the walls of the prison-city of ‘Akká, that, even at the height of His difficulties, He never allowed work on the construction of the Shrine of the Bab to be interrupted. Of His correspondence the Guardian recorded: ‘Eye-witnesses have testified that, during that agitated and perilous period of His life, they had known Him to pen, with His own Hand, no less than ninety Tablets in a single day, and to pass many a night, from dusk to dawn, alone in His bed-chamber engaged in a correspondence which the pressure of His manifold responsibilities had prevented Him from attending to in the day-time.’ Reference to the account of this period given by the Guardian in God Passes By (chapter XVII) will give an idea of the amazing scope and variety of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s activities and achievements at this time. ‘So imperturbable was ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s equanimity that, while rumors were being bruited about that He might be case into the sea, or exiled to Fizan in Tripolitania, or hanged on the gallows, He, to the amazement of His friends and the amusement of His enemies, was to be seen planting trees and vines in the garden of His house, whose fruits when the storm had blown over, He would bid His faithful gardener, Isma‘il Aqa, pluck and present to those same friends and enemies on the occasion of their visits to Him.’ The Master knew what He was talking about when He wrote: ‘… O ye lovers of God, make firm your steps in His Cause, with such resolve that ye shall not be shaken though the direst of calamities assail the world. By nothing, under no conditions, be ye perturbed.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 153)
‘Abdu’l-Bahá tested both the faith and courage of many of the Bahá’ís He met and Corinne True was one He really challenged. First, He had put her in charge of the Temple project, a woman dealing with many men. Then, as they stood at the train station before He left for Minneapolis, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told her, “Mrs. True, I want you to speak in public. I want you to tell the people about the faith.” This completely floored Corinne and she objected, saying, “But Master, I can’t do it; I have no training, no experience. I‘m too frank.” “The faith", she Thought, “had many gifted speakers, but she didn’t consider herself to be one of them.” Knowing what she was frantically thinking, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told her how to do it: “Forget what you can’t do. Stand up and turn your heart wholly toward Me. Look over the heads of the audience and I‘ll never fail you.”
(Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 195)
At a later period of danger and crisis the Spanish Consul put an Italian freighter at the disposal of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in order that He might escape during the night, but He refused to flee to safety, though the Bahá’ís begged Him to do so. Instead He sent a message to the ship’s captain: ‘The Bab did not run away; Bahá’u’lláh did not run away; I shall not run away …’ After three days and nights the freighter departed without the Master.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 156)
While in Paris, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá received a letter warning Him that if He visited a certain country, He would be in danger. When He learned of this, He smilingly remarked to Lady Blomfield, ‘My daughter, have you not yet realized that never, in my life, have I been for one day out of danger, and that I should rejoice to leave this world and go to my Father?’ Lady Blomfield was ‘overcome with sorrow and terror‘. He continued, ‘Be not troubled. These enemies have no power over my life, but that which is given them from on High. If my Beloved God so willed that my life-blood should be sacrificed in His path, it would be a glorious day, devoutly wished for by me.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 157)
To another He said: “Man is like a bird in a cage. A bird cannot attain freedom merely by knowing that in the free world there are pure breezes, spacious skies, beautiful gardens, pleasant parks and fountains; rather, the bird must find the power to break the cage and soar into the wide firmament.”
(Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 205)