The early believers in Akká not only observed the Bahá’í Fast, but also observed the Muslim 30-day Fast of Ramadan during their incarceration in the Most Great Prison!
These are Thy servants, O my Lord, who have entered with Thee in this, the Most Great Prison, who have kept the fast within its walls according to what Thou hast commanded them in the Tablets of Thy decree.
(Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í Prayers, p.249)
The following beautiful story illustrates how taxing that Fast was on the Master, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:
The resident believers used to say that the phrase “effulgences of the Prison” was a term which had been revealed by the Tongue of Glory [Bahá’u’lláh] to characterize the hardships and tribulations associated with life in Akka; it had endured among the friends through word of mouth.
At the beginning these hardships were numerous, but many of them disappeared little by little, mainly because of the changes to the environment. Others still persisted. The various deadly epidemics, which during the time of Bahá’u’lláh’s imprisonment in the barracks had annihilated a large number of the inhabitants, had disappeared leaving no trace, as had the foul-smelling fumes which had caused and spread infectious diseases.
Still, one of those “effulgences of the Prison” which the passing of time and change in the climate had failed to overcome was the assault of the fleas, mosquitoes, flies and ants, which confirmed the expression, ‘Blessed the one who is bitten by the insects of Akka‘. Another was the thirty-day fast, which according to the command of Bahá’u’lláh was to be observed until the end of the period of incarceration to commemorate the Islamic holy month. Every sincere and devoted believer was expected to observe it gladly and of his own free will.
This thirty-day fast, which according to the Islamic calendar is observed in the month of Ramadan, continued to be kept until the end of the period of imprisonment in 1909 A.D. For the pilgrims and resident believers, who led relatively comfortable and peaceful lives, observing the thirty-day fast was not a difficult undertaking. But for the blessed person of the Centre of the Covenant, whose life was filled with numerous occupations and hardships (as described in Chapter 3 of this chronicle), it can be imagined how arduous and exhausting such an observance was. This was especially true when in the month of Ramadan the Muslims of Akká, including all the government officials, switched their nights and days and conveniently slept during the daytime, while at night, after breaking the fast and observing the obligatory prayers, they crowded ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s biruni [living room] to while away the night and disturb the Master until dawn.
But that spiritual and heavenly Being had to begin His many tasks before the rising of the sun, as has been described in previous chapters. And so in the month of Ramadan no comfort was possible for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá; at times even the opportunity to partake of the meals did not present itself, and therefore His fast began without any breakfast and ended without any dinner. Thus the “effulgences of the Most Great Prison” sapped His strength and weakened His body. Many times during these days of fasting I saw the Master in such a state of exhaustion that I was deeply shaken.
On one such day He summoned me to His presence in the biruni area. As He spoke, signs of melancholy and weariness were apparent in His voice. He slowly paced the floor and then began to climb the stairs with difficulty. The symptoms of fatigue gave way to expressions of displeasure and weariness: “I don’t feel well. Yesterday I did not eat any breakfast and when the time came to break the fast I had no appetite. Now I need a bit of rest.” As He spoke, His face was so ashen that I became alarmed for His Well-being. So I boldly exclaimed, “It is better for the Master to break the fast."
"No, it is not proper,” was ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s reply.
I persisted. “With the way the Master feels, fasting itself is not proper either."
"It is not important, I will rest awhile” responded ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
"The believers cannot endure to see the Master in such a state of physical weakness and exhaustion,” I remained unyielding.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave an effective and moving explanation in the hope of convincing me to relent. It did not work. In fact, it increased my ardour, and I continued to try to persuade Him to break the fast. As He would not yield, my words became mixed with tears and lamentations. But He would not let up.
Suddenly I realized that I had found a new quality in myself which did not allow me to give in, despite all the reasons that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had offered. And so, stubbornly holding my ground, I told myself, “Regardless of what may come of this, I will continue to beg, plead and implore until I achieve my purpose, for I can no longer behold the Beloved of the world in such a condition."
While begging and supplicating, strange thoughts crowded my mind. It was as if I wished to discover in what light my servitude and devotion to that Threshold was regarded in the sight of God. As such, I would consider success in this to be a good omen. And so from the very depths of my heart I entreated the Most Holy Shrine for assistance.
Spontaneously these words flowed from my lips, “So may I make a suggestion?"
"What do you want me to do?” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá replied.
Tears streaming from my eyes, I begged Him, “Come and for this once break your fast, to bring happiness to the heart of a sinful servant of Bahá’u’lláh."
God be praised, I know not where those words came from, but they brought such joy to the heart of that quintessence of kindness and love that quite loudly He exclaimed, “Of course, of course, of course."
Immediately He called for Nasir and told him, “Put some water in the pot and boil it and make a cup of tea for me.” And then He put His blessed hand on my shoulder and said,” Are you pleased with me now? If you wish, you can go back to your tasks now and I will drink the tea and pray for you."
Such feelings of joy and ecstasy flooded my being at that moment that I was rendered incapable of a reasonable response. Looking at me, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá remarked, “Do you want to be present to see with your own eyes when I break my fast? Very well, come and sit down.” He then withdrew to His small office, took up the pen and began to write, as I watched. Aqa Rida now came into the presence of the Master for some particular purpose. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá remarked, “Today I do not feel well and in response to the request of one of the loved ones of God I want to break my fast."
As Aqa Rida left the room, the teapot with a single glass and a bowl of sugar were brought in. Addressing me, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, Jinab-i-Khan, you have performed a praiseworthy service. May God bless you. If I had not broken the fast now; I would surely have fallen ill and would have been forced to break the fast.” And with every sip of the tea, He bestowed on me other kind and loving words. After that He arose and said, “Now that I feel better, I will go after my work and will continue to pray for you."
And then He started down the stairs. In the biruni reception room there was no one except the late Aqa Siyyid Ahmad-i-Afnan (the same Afnan upon whom the rank of martyr was bestowed posthumously). Addressing him, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, “Jinab-i-Afnan, today I was not feeling well and intended to rest, but at the request of a beloved friend I have broken my fast. I am happy to have done so, for otherwise I would have fallen ill. But now I feel well and can continue the work of the Cause.” Having said this, He walked out of the room.
Jinab-i-Afnan, his eyes shining with the light of pure joy and delight, said, “God Almighty, who was that ‘beloved friend‘, so that I can sacrifice my life for him?” And I, drunk with manifest victory, exclaimed, “It was I, it was I"
In brief, rather than any attempt at sacrifice of life, and filled with heavenly joy, we embraced each other as our spirits soared. As we did so, I placed in the storehouse of my memory the fact that the thirty-day fast truly was an “effulgence of the Most Great Prison”.
(Dr. Youness Afroukhteh, Memories of Nine Years In Akká)