November 10, 2016

The Egyptian Baha’i merchant who wanted to see Baha’u’llah

Abdu’l-Karim was an Egyptian merchant of considerable wealth, who had heard the story of the new Revelation, and accepted it with the ardor of his eager temperament. After some time he felt that he could not be content without seeing the Messenger of God whose presence in the world had stirred his heart. So he wrote a letter to Acca, where Baha’u’llah, the new Manifestation of God, was and begged permission to visit Him.

Baha’u’llah’s answer greatly surprised him. He was told that he could come to Acca, but first he must put himself in a position where he owed no man anything.

Abdu’l-Karim had carried on his business for many years in the customary Oriental fashion, sending his caravans across the desert laden with a precious freight of riches. He had established lines of credit everywhere, and probably never dreamed of doing business on a cash basis. His commerce was constantly expanding and perhaps he was not too scrupulous in his dealings. We may be certain it had not occurred to him that his interest in the new Day of God would require him to revise his approach to doing business with his fellow man. A successful merchant is apt to fall into the habit of considering his own advantage first. Naturally Abdu’l-Karim was absorbed in the conduct of his rapidly broadening trade connections, for he was a man of fifty years when this momentous influence came into his life.

Abdu’l-Karim accepted without hesitation the required stipulation. Before all else he wanted to see the Manifestation of God, and everything became of secondary importance in comparison with this event.

He began, therefore, to arrange his affairs with this point in view. Previously he had thought only of expansion, of increase. Now his one desire was to reach the condition where he would owe no man anything. So he began to pay off his debts. As money came in, instead of investing it again, he paid a debt with it, until at length, after five years, he had attained his goal, and he did not owe a penny to anyone!

But in this careful accounting of outlay and income his business had dwindled away to nothing. His longing to see the Blessed Perfection had completely absorbed him, so that the love of wealth had died out of his heart, and at the moment of realization he had just enough money left to pay a deck passage on the steamer to Haifa, and leave in his wife's hands a sum sufficient to provide for the family expenses during his absence. But he did not hesitate. The wealthy merchant had never before traveled except as a first-class passenger.  As he stepped across the gang plank to board the ship, a shawl draped across his arm which was his only protection from the weather, dropped into the water, and at that season the nights were chill! Nevertheless, he went on with a light heart. Was he not near the consummation of all his hopes? His soul was alive with prayer, and he did not know the wind was chill!

Meanwhile Baha’u’llah informed His family that they were about to receive a most honored guest, greater than any that had yet crossed His threshold. He sent an emissary with a carriage to the dock at Haifa, which is the seaport of Acca, with strict orders to bring this noble guest to Him without delay. But characteristically He told the attendant nothing as to the real character of the man he was to meet.

The attendant watched carefully the disembarkation of passengers at the landing of the steamer. He was looking eagerly for an ambassador with a noble retinue, for a prince with many orders upon his breast, for a personage resplendent in broadcloth and jewels. But no such individual stepped upon the quay. In fact, the passengers seemed an especially polyglot assemblage, and the emissary paid no attention to the shabby looking middle-aged man, who glanced about in disappointment, as if expecting someone, and then seated himself quietly upon a bench.

Abdu’l-Karim had been assured that someone from the household of the Manifestation would come in search of him, though he had not written warning of his expected arrival. He had no money to pay the necessary carriage hire to Acca. His faith had carried him so far, but now it suddenly failed him, and he sat forlornly upon the bench, while clouds of black despair settled over him.

The emissary returned alone to Acca, and reported that the guest had not appeared. He thought it strange, for he knew that Baha’u’llah’s vision was never mistaken, and he was familiar with all that transpired about Him. The Blessed Perfection looked keenly at His emissary as the message was delivered, and replied:

"Ah, your eyes were not far seeing enough to recognize my princely guest. I will send the Master (‘Abdu’l-Bahá) to find him. He has clearer vision."

So ‘Abdu’l-Bahá made his way to the dock, and though the quick twilight of the Orient had fallen before he reached the spot, he knew immediately the disappointed figure huddled upon the bench. This was the royal guest his Father expected!

He quickly introduced himself, explaining that the individual sent to meet the stranger, had failed to find him. Then he added:

"Do you wish to go on to Acca tonight, or will you wait until morning?"

It was customary for pilgrims to spend some hours in prayer and purification before entering the presence of Baha’u’llah, and Abdu’l-Karim had faithfully accomplished his duty in this regard. But sitting alone and neglected during the long afternoon, bitter thoughts had invaded his consciousness. He looked back regretfully to the fortune he had lost in preparation for what? For this day of waiting alone and penniless for a possible interview with a fictitious prophet! So events had painted themselves in his anguished soul, but in the presence of the gentle messenger who had sought him at last, suspicion vanished, and he longed for hours of prayer to wash the stain of doubt from his tormented inward self.

Abdu’l-Bahá knew instinctively that his new friend would not wish to seek a hotel at his expense, so finding that he preferred to wait until morning for the journey to Acca, he unbuttoned the long cloak that enveloped him, seated himself beside the pilgrim, and wrapped both in its ample folds. So they passed the night praying together, lost in that ecstasy of prayer that brings realization.

Then in the morning they turned toward Acca, and Abdu’l-Karim going to the Blessed Perfection with a radiant heart found full reward in His lovely presence for the five lonely years of seeking that had prefaced his pilgrimage.

We may be certain also that his inward wealth became so great he quite forgot the flatness of his pocketbook!
(Adapted from ‘The Oriental Rose’, by Mary Hanford Ford)