There was a Christian merchant in Akka who, like many of his fellow citizens, held the Bahá’ís in scant respect. It happened that he came upon a load of charcoal which some of the Bahá’ís had been permitted to buy outside Akka.
(Inside the town they were denied such purchases.) The merchant, noticing that the fuel was of a fine grade, took it for his own use. For him Bahá’ís were beyond the pale, and so their goods could be impounded. When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá heard of the incident, He went to the place where the merchant transacted his business to ask for the return of the charcoal. There were many people about in that office, bent on their trade, and they took no notice of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. He sat and waited. Three hours passed before the merchant turned to Him and said: “Are you one of the prisoners in this town?” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said that He was, and the merchant then enquired: “What was the crime for which you were imprisoned?” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá replied: “The same crime for which Christ was indicted.” The merchant was taken aback. He was a Christian, and here was a man speaking of similarity between His action and the action of Christ. “What could you know of Christ?” was his retort. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá calmly proceeded to tell him. The arrogance of the merchant was confronted by the patience of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá rose to go, the merchant also rose and walked with Him into the street, betokening his respect for this Man – one of the detested prisoners. From then on, he was a friend, even more, a stout supporter. But regarding the charcoal, the merchant could only say, ‘The coal is gone, - I cannot return you that, but here is the money.’
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
When Bahá’u’lláh along with His family and a number of His companions were travelling from Baghdad to Constantinople an incident took place near the city of Mardin which provides us with a wonderful example of Bahá’u’lláh’s high sense of justice, a principle greatly stressed in His Revelation. The caravan had encamped for the night at a small village below the town. “There, during the night, two mules, belonging to an Arab travelling with the caravan, were stolen. The owner was beside himself with grief. Bahá’u’lláh asked the official who accompanied the caravan to try and find the missing animals. Other officials were called in, but no animal was forthcoming. As the caravan was on the point of departing, the poor Arab went crying to Bahá’u’lláh. ‘You are leaving,’ he moaned, ‘and I shall never get back my beasts.’ Bahá’u’lláh immediately called off the resumption of the journey. ‘We will go to Firdaws [a nearby estate] and stay there‘, He said, ‘until this man’s mules are found and restored to him.’ “… The Mutasarrif [local Governor] threatened the headman of the village, where the mules had been stolen, with imprisonment if the animals were not found. The headman offered a sum of money in lieu of the mules. But Bahá’u’lláh insisted that the Arab was entitled to have his beasts restored to him. On the second day the headman came with a promissory note guaranteed by higher officials, offering to pay 60 pounds within a month, the value of the two mules. But Bahá’u’lláh refused this offer too. Then the headman realized that the game was up, sent for the animals and gave them to their distraught owner. People were amazed, for such a thing had never happened before. No stolen property had ever been retrieved, nor restitution made to the rightful owner. Aqa Husayn-i-Ashchi, in his reminiscences some four decades later, recalled that various officials went to Bahá’u’lláh to speak of the part they had played in retrieving the beasts and received suitable rewards. The Mutasarrif was given a costly cashmere shawl, the Mufti an illuminated copy of the Qur‘an, the head of the horsemen a sword with bejewelled scabbard.”
(Hasan Balyuzi, King of Glory, p. 187-188)
Economic justice, even in small matters, was important to the Master. Once in Egypt ‘Abdu’l-Bahá obtained a carriage in order that He might offer a ride to an important Pasha, who was to be His luncheon guest. When they reached their destination, the driver asked an exorbitant fee. The Master was fully aware of this and refused to pay the full amount. The driver, big and rough, grabbed His sash and ‘jerked Him back and forth‘, demanding his unfair price. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá remained firm and the man eventually let go. The Master paid what He actually owed him and informed him that had he been honest, he would have received a handsome tip instead of only the fare. He then walked away.
Shoghi Effendi, His grandson, was present when this happened. He later admitted to being very embarrassed that this should have happened in front of the Pasha. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, on the other hand, was evidently ‘not at all upset‘, but simply determined not to be cheated.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 109)
Thomas Breakwell, the first English believer, went to the prison city of ‘Akka as a pilgrim. In conversation with the Master, he described his position in the cotton mills of the South in the United States. Breakwell told ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that the mills were run on child labour. Then the Master looked at him gravely and sadly for a while, and said, ‘Cable your resignation.’ With great relief Breakwell hastened to obey Him.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 108)
They took a taxi to the train station, where the taxi driver demanded more than the usual fare. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá ignored him, saying, “A man may give $1000 without minding it, but he should not yield even a dollar to the person who wishes to take it wrongfully, for such wrongful behavior flouts justice and disrupts the order of the world.
(Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 190)
As the Master viewed the clear, rushing water of the river and the majestic mountains and parks, He said, “May God not have mercy on the tyrants who The Blessed Beauty imprisoned between four walls in Akka. How such scenes were loved by Him! Once He said that He had not seen greenery for several years”.
(Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 207)
After our liberation from the barracks and the termination of this affair, my brother was able to mingle freely with the people of Akká, and he at once began to establish friendly relations with them. As illustrating the manner in which he gradually won their good-will, an incident occurs to me which I will relate. The believers needed fuel, but the people would not sell it to them. They regarded us as heretics and thought there was merit for them in harshness and unkindness towards us. Abbas Effendi obtained permission to send out of the city for charcoal, and a camel-load was brought back. The driver was stopped by a Christian merchant. ‘This is better charcoal than I can get,’ he said, and without more ceremony took it for himself - nor would he return the money paid for it.
This was reported to my brother. He went to the merchant’s shop and stood in the door. He was not noticed. Then he entered and sat down by the door. The merchant continuing to transact his business with those who came and paying him no attention, he waited in silence for three hours. At length, when the others had left and no more came, the merchant said to him : ‘Are you one of those prisoners here?’ Abbas Effendi assenting, he continued: ‘What have you done that you are imprisoned?‘
‘Since you ask me,’ replied Abbas Effendi, ‘I will tell you. We have done nothing. We are persecuted as Christ was persecuted.’
‘What do you know of Christ?’ said the merchant.
My brother replied in such a manner that the merchant perceived that he was not ignorant of Christ and the Christian Bible. He then began to question him about the Bible and was interested in his replies, as my brother gave him explanations which he had never before heard.
Next he invited my brother to a seat beside him and continued the conversation for two hours. At its conclusion he seemed much pleased, and said: ‘The coal is gone, - I cannot return you that, but here is the money.’ He then escorted my brother to the door and down into the street, treating him with the greatest respect. Since that time he and Abbas Effendi have been fast friends, and the two families also.
(Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khanum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi, p. 77-79)
Soon after the arrival of Bahá’u’lláh and His party in ‘Akka the Governor visited the barracks for inspection. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, accompanied by a few believers, went to see him. But the Governor was discourteous and spoke to them in a provocative manner. He threatened to cut the supply of bread if one of the prisoners went missing and then ordered them back to their room. One of the Master’s attendants could not bear to remain silent after such insulting treatment. He retorted with rage and hurled back at the Governor some offensive remarks. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá immediately chastened His attendant by slapping him hard in the face in front of the Governor and ordering him to return to his room. This action by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá not only defused a dangerous situation but also opened the eyes of the Governor to the existence of a real leader among the prisoners, a leader who would act with authority and justice. Due to this action the Governor’s attitude towards ‘Abdu’l-Bahá changed. He realized that, contrary to the wild rumours circulating in ‘Akka at the time, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and His family were from a noble background, and not criminals as he had been led to believe. The Governor therefore began to act in a more humane way towards the prisoners. He eventually agreed to substitute the allotted ration of bread with a sum of money and allowed a small party of the prisoners, escorted by guards, to visit the markets of ‘Akka daily to buy their provisions.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 47)