Memories of Nine Years in Akka (Khatir??t-i-Nuh-Saliy-i-â€?Akk??) is the translation of the memoirs of Dr. Youness Afroukhteh, Abdu’l-Baha’s secretary and interpreter during 1900 to 1909. It is published by George Ronald and can be found at any good Baha’i bookstore, as well as many online book sellers.
It covers the period of time when the Baha’i Faith was still struggling with Covenant-breakers, but was also starting to gain attention and followers in North America and Europe. It was also during this time that two important building projects were undertaken and completed: the Shrine of the B??b and the House of Worship in Ishqabad.
I found it full of fantastic stories about Abdu’l-Baha from the point of view of someone who was very close to him. Here is an example of the anecdotes you’ll find in the book:
… another quality of His love was that whoever evinced a more hostile attitude received a larger measure of His attention and love. Among the fanatical Protestant missionaries was an old woman known as Mrs. Ramsey, who was consumed with the fire of religious prejudice and hatred. The Covenant-breakers found out about her and fanned her flames of rancour until she became a true enemy of the Faith. It just so happened that she had to pass Abdu’l-Baha’s house several times a day on her way to the American Protestant doctor who has been mentioned in Chapter 1 of this book. Each time, as her glance fell on the blessed person of Abdu’l-Baha, she would writhe in agony, grimace and lower her head while quickening her pace to a run. Several times Abdu’l-Baha remarked to the friends, “You see how much Mrs. Ramsey dislikes me, and yet I love her very much.”
One day as she passed, looking upset and perturbed, the Master called her over and remarked to her,
“Mrs. Ramsey, do you know how much I love you?”
“How much?” she asked.
“As much as you dislike me,” He responded.
That’s a really sweet story and I don’t mean to be hypocritical but it isn’t clear if Dr. Youness Afroukhteh himself witnessed it or was told of it by someone else. Also, I can’t imagine such a fanatical person, one who would avert her eyes at the sight of Abdu’l-Baha, actually answering the invitation and coming close enough to speak with the object of her disdain.
Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy the parts of the book which were devoted to the Covenant-breakers… which was a very large portion of the author’s work. I think I was uncomfortable because the author seemed very biased (obviously!) but more so, it made me uneasy because I felt the author was just backbiting.
I know we all have different tolerances and definitions for backbiting, but considering how harshly it is condemned by Baha’u’llah, I kept hoping, as I turned the pages, that the author would avoid it as much as possible. I know this is a very difficult path because the book is about Abdu’l-Baha’s life during a very difficult time – when was Abdu’l-Baha’s life not difficult!?
But at the same time, I wish there was more sweet stories like the one I quote above, and less… well, you know. All in all, I did enjoy the book. And I would encourage others to read it. Especially if you would like to get to know Abdu’l-Baha better.
There is another book along these line, which I enjoyed more: The Master in Akka by Myron H. Phelps:
Myron Phelps’s Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi is a classic of Bah??’? literature. It was the first attempt in English to write a full-length book about ‘Abdu’l-Bah??, the Master. An American lawyer from New York, Phelps was not himself a Bah??’? but was deeply attracted to the Bah??’? teachings and had come to know and to love ‘Abdu’l-Bah??. His work was published in 1903; this book reprints the first six chapters of that volume.
Phelps had traveled to Palestine and had stayed in ‘Akk?? for one month as the guest of ‘Abdu’l-Bah??. He records with tender devotion the daily life and habits of the Master–his service to the poor, his crushing workday, his tolerance, his gait, his gestures, even the food that he ate. These chapters offer the reader a unique and priceless portrait of the Perfect Exemplar of the Bah??’? way of life.
The most precious portion of the book, however, is the history of ‘Abdu’l-Bah??’s life (and that of all the Holy Family) told in intimate detail by the Greatest Holy Leaf (Bah?yyih Kh??num), the Master’s sister. This is the longest and most complete interview of the Holy Leaf known to exist. Her words are as simple and direct as they are powerful and moving. She tells of the intense joys and the many sorrows of her life in exile with her Father, Bah??’u’ll??h, and her brother. Her narrative provides a view of Bah??’? history seldom seen elsewhere. Marzieh Gail’s new foreword to this reprint provides the reader with a broad picture of the historical circumstances surrounding Phelps’s visit to ‘Akk?? and his publication of this book.
It is also much cheaper than “Memories of Nine Years in Akka” in case you’re close to maxing out your book budget (as I am).