We sat in a circle facing 'Abdu'l-Bahá who inquired if there were any questions we would like to ask. I said my editor had sent me to ascertain something of his prison life, and 'Abdu'l-Bahá at once related in a simple impersonal way one of the most remarkable stories conceivable:
"At nine years of age, I accompanied my father, Bahá'u'lláh, in his journey of exile to Baghdad, seventy of his disciples going with us. This decree of exile, after persistent persecution, was intended to effectively stamp out of Persia what the authorities considered a dangerous religion. Bahá'u'lláh, with his family and followers, was banished, and travelled from one place to another. When I was about twenty-five years old, we were moved from Constantinople to Adrianople, and from there went with a guard of soldiers to the fortressed city of 'Akká, where we were imprisoned and closely guarded."
"We had no communication whatever with the out-side world. Each loaf of bread was cut open by the guard to see that it contained no message. All who believed in the Bahá'í manifestation, children, men and women, were imprisoned with us. There were one-hundred and fifty of us together in two rooms and no one was allowed to leave the place with the exceptions of four persons, who went to the bazaar to market each morning, under guard. The first summer was dreadful. 'Akká is a fever-ridden town. It was said that a bird attempting to fly over it would drop dead. The food was poor and insufficient, the water was drawn from a fever-infected well and the climate and conditions were such, that even the natives of the town fell ill. Many soldiers succumbed and eight out of ten of our guard died. During the intense heat, malaria, typhoid and dysentery attacked the prisoners, so that all, men, women and children, were sick at one time. There were no doctors, no medicines, no proper food, and no treatment of any kind.
"I used to make broth for the people, and as I had much practice, I make good broth," said 'Abdu'l-Bahá laughingly.
"After two years of the strictest confinement permission was granted me to find a house so that we could live outside the prison walls but still within the fortifications. Many believers came from Persia to join us but they were not allowed to do so. Nine years passed. Sometimes we were better off and sometimes very much worse. It depended on the governor, who, if he happened to be a kind and lenient ruler, would grant us permission to leave the fortification, and would allow the believers free access to visit the house; but when the governor was more rigorous, extra guards were placed around us, and often pilgrims who had come from afar were turned away."
"One year before Abdu'l-Hamid was dethroned, he sent an extremely overbearing, treacherous and insulting committee of investigation. The chairman was one of the governor's staff, Arif Bey, and with him were three army commanders varying in rank.”
"Immediately upon his arrival, Arif Bey proceeded to denounce me and tried to get proof strong enough to warrant sending me to Fizan, or throwing me into the sea. Fizan is a caravan station on the boundary of Tripoli where there are no houses and no water. It is a month's journey by camel route from 'Akká.
"The committee twice sent for me to hear what I had to say in my own defence and twice I sent back word: 'I know your purpose, I have nothing to say.'”
"This so infuriated Arif Bey that he declared he would return to Constantinople and bring back an order from the Sultan to have me hanged at the gate of 'Akká. He and his committee set sail with their report containing the following accusations: -- 'Abdu'l-Bahá is establishing a new nation of which he is to be the king; 'Abdu'l-Bahá is uplifting the banner of a new religion; 'Abdu'l-Bahá has built or caused to be built fortifications in Haifa, a neighbouring village, and is buying up all the surrounding lands.'
"About this time an Italian ship appeared in the harbour sent by order of the Italian Consul. It had been planned that I was to escape on it by night. The Bahá'ís in 'Akká implored me to go but I sent this message to the captain: 'The Báb did not run away: Bahá'u'lláh did not run away; I shall not run away, so the ship sailed away after waiting three days and three nights.”
"It was while the Sultan's committee of investigation was homeward bound that the first shell was dropped into Abdu'l-Hamid's camp and the first gun of freedom was fired into the home of despotism. That was God's gun," said 'Abdu'l-Bahá, with one of his wonderful smiles.
"When the committee reached the Turkish capital, they had more urgent things to think of. The city was in a state of uproar and rebellion, and the committee, as members of the government staff, were delegated to investigate the insurrection. Meanwhile the people were establishing a constitutional government and Abdu'l-Hamid was given no chance to act."
"With the advent of the Young Turks' supremacy, realized through the Society of Union and Progress, all the political prisoners of the Ottoman Empire were set free. Events took the chains from my neck and placed them about Hamid's; 'Abdu'l-Bahá came out of prison and Abdu'l-Hamid went in!"
"What became of the committee?" asked someone, breaking the deep silence that followed the recital of this thrilling page of history. "Arif Bey," continued 'Abdu'l-Bahá, "was shot with three bullets, the general was exiled, the next in rank died, and the third ran away to Cairo, where he sought and received help from the Bahá'ís."
(Adapted from ‘Abdu'l-Baha in London’, pp. 113-120; recorded by Isabel Fraser)