Mrs Whyte's Account

After retiring from his Chair in Edinburgh University Sir Alexander Simpson and my only sister Margo wintered in Egypt, 1905-6, and invited me and my friend, Mrs Thornburgh-Cropper, to join them on their dahabeah [Nile sailing boat]. Mrs Cropper had an invitation to visit 'Abbás Effendi, afterwards known as 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the leader of the Bahá'i Movement, then prisoner under the Turkish Government in the fort at 'Akká, and I was included in the invitation. Knowing of this possibility when in Cambridge some months before, I consulted Professor E. Granville Browne as to the proposed visit, and his answer was, 'Certainly, do not refuse so great an opportunity.'

Here let me include what I wrote of my visit in March 1906. High in a sea-girt fortress, overlooking the bay of 'Akká, is the prison-home of 'Abbás Effendi. The outlook at early dawn would awaken the dullest mind. From the tower sounds the Adhán, the call to prayer; from the fort the Turkish soldiers' reveillée. Round the rocks which form the natural foundation of the house, break in unceasing roar the waves of the sea over which have come Crusaders and armies innumerable. As the mind's eye flashes back over history, it sees fleet after fleet, army after army led by all the chivalry of Europe, Dandolo, St Louis, Richard Coeur de Lion, the very flower of Christendom, as it then understood itself. It recalls the passionate warfare of centuries, during which Cross and Crescent fought and the deadliest antagonism existed between Muslim and Christian.

Is it a small thing in the sight of the angels that a spirit is here which would shelter all nations, and inspires its followers to use every power and willingly shed their blood to reconcile these warring elements and spread the truth? That God, Who has spoken by all His prophets, has in these last times spoken among the Persians giving them a light which is leading them out into truth, freedom, love, so that they too, Muslims, use Christ's gospel as their own, and only long that all who name His Name be worthy of it?

The pilgrim to 'Akká is asked many questions on his return. Is this a prophet? A manifestation of divinity? In seeking an answer we must remember how easily, how constantly the East has ever used these names. And we must ask ourselves — what do we recognise as Divine? Is it enough of Divinity to see love made perfect through suffering a life-long patience, a faith which no exile or imprisonment can dim, a love which no treachery can alter, a hope which rises a pure clear flame after bring drenched with the world's indifference through a lifetime? If that is not Divinity enough for this world, what is? There is no magic here; a material world today is too fond of seeking after magic, no magic but the old magic of Faith, Hope and Love. Or you ask, is this a progressive Movement, a step forward in the history of the world? Surely there can be no question as to the answer, for what do we find here? In the heart of a Turkish country, and at the centre of Muhammadan power — that most conservative, cast-iron of systems conserved in a faith which is passionate, fierce, fanatical to the death — there to find preached freedom, education at all costs, absolute equality of men and women, the frank recognition of the value of Christian truth, the teaching that God has revealed Himself in all faiths, the love of God, and the brotherhood of all nations. What greater sign can you ask than the power to flood this old world with love and aspiration, with patience and courage? Where formerly after a foreigner had sat at table and used the cups, they must be broken, so great was the sense of contamination, now all are lovingly welcomed, everything is shared with love, warm, kindly, sympathetic love, and without money or price — ah! that the Western world will understand, if it understands nothing else. Without money and without price, without bakhshish, the curse of the East. Not the meanest servant would touch the Pilgrim's money. Is that Divine enough for our cold Western hearts who understand not the East, with its mystical longing, its patient age-long brooding over the mystery of life?

The Roman legions thundered by

She plunged in thought again.


Oh, East is East, and West is West,

And never the twain can meet.

Not in Kipling's way will they meet, not in fleets and ironclads and armies, not in the 'Sergeant drilling Pharaoh's army.' No: but where the tides of faith rise, where love to God and service to man are flowing like a river, — there they meet and understand, and the deeper the understanding perhaps the more silent it is.

Let no one hearing of the teacher at 'Akká be disturbed and ask, how does this relate to my faith, my creed, my past experience? It disturbs nothing that is living or vital; it would only make Christians worthy of their great name.

But let everything that is dead, formal, Pharisaic, beware, for their day is over.

After the visit to the tombs the pilgrim will visit Bahji, the garden where Bahá'u'lláh spent His days when the Turkish authorities gave him some relaxation of His prison rules. As he crosses the fields in Spring, the pilgrim's feet will be hidden with the red anemones and to the excited imagination of the devout their brilliant colour seems a symbol at once of the red page of martyrdom so keenly desired, so gladly secured by the martyrs of Shaykh Tabarsi, of Zanján and of Yazd, whose blood and passion has awakened to life thousands of sleeping hearts in Persia, and also of the glowing heart of love to God which shall yet unite East and West in one red flame.

However you look at this movement, or appraise its value — remember one thing — it is not centuries ago.

It is today. It is a living, growing vital force now, and may hold within itself the power to alter the destinies of millions of human beings. It has come at a time when conditions are entirely new, when conditions in interchange, communication, are universal, immediate, both on the material and probably on the psychic plane. Him they gladly call Master has said that soon meetings will be held in Tihrán, in Washington, St Petersburg, and London, all moved at one time by one spirit.

It has the vital force of the early Christian faith shown in glad martyrdom, in loving union, in happy service.

The blood of the martyrs of Shaykh Tabarsi, of Zanján, of Yazd, has not been shed in vain.

The early passion for the love of God, for truth and freedom, shown by the Báb and by Qurratu'l-'Ayn have kindled a fire which will not go out until many torches are lighted.

The wisdom and dignity of Him they call the Manifestation, and the laws given by Him have laid the foundations of a roadway, and now the Christ-like patience, love and tenderness of the Master and his illuminative interpretation of the Tablets and of current history shed light on the daily path of all who are privileged to know him. 'We are separated in the body but we may all meet in the Spirit.'

Many of the laws cannot be acted upon at the present under conditions of exile, imprisonment, persecution, daily hazard to life of all concerned. These relate in detail to education, condition of women, conditions of married life, women's property, and multitudes of other subjects, in which the East lingers behind the West, and many in which both West and East have much still to fulfil. The teaching is very clear as to the evil of begging or living on charity — everyone must work, or must have a profession or trade by which he can be independent.

The love of God is the way to all good.

All ways are acceptable to God and all have borne fruit.

Circumstances arose which obliged Mrs Thornburgh-Cropper and myself to leave 'Akká suddenly.

His life, as the prisoner of the Sultan, was in continual danger by any sudden pressure from Constantinople and at that time it was not considered wise that visitors from the West should be too much in evidence. So it came that we could not have the farewell conversation we had promised ourselves. Instead I left a letter for him. In due time an answer came...

Src: Bahai World; Seven Candles of Unity, p47-9