We can discover in the events leading up to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s travels to the West a significant and recurring coincidence between the necessity of the progression of the Bahá’í Faith and the natural course of history. It was not until 1908, a mere three years before His departure for Europe, that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was set free from a lifetime of captivity. Before His release such a journey would not have been possible, and it is difficult to imagine our Bahá’í world without the fruits of that achievement. But it was not through the campaigns of a sympathetic party, nor the benevolence of any ruler, that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was set free; it was a chain of events brought about by the social and political climate of the surrounding Ottoman Empire.
Winter of 1907: An Italian freighter docks at the bay of ‘Akká, where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá remains in exile by order of the Sultán of the Empire, ‘Abdu’l-Hamíd II. The freighter has been arranged by the Spanish Consul to secretly remove ‘Abdu’l-Bahá from the city and carry Him to freedom in any foreign port He might choose. At this point the Master stands as defender and promoter of the Faith of Baha’u’llah even as a prisoner – attentive to the poor, devoted in His communication with the Bahá’í world, and completely steadfast and unflinching despite the threats that surround Him. A recently dispatched committee of investigation from the Sultán, headed by Árif Bey, now occupies ‘Akká for the purpose of intimidation and interrogation, intensifying threats to the property and safety of the Bahá’ís. Against their demands, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá refuses to honor a single meeting with the members of this committee. The Bahá’ís of ‘Akká beg ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to board the Italian freighter, eager for His freedom and fearful of rumors that Árif Bey will have Him thrown into the sea or hanged at the gate of the city. Three days and three nights the ship waits for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, but He refuses to go, stating “The Báb did not run away: Bahá’u’lláh did not run away; I shall not run away.”
By following the examples of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh and enduring the persecution imposed upon Him, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá exemplifies a trust in the power and ultimate triumph of the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh which characterizes its progress even to this day. Soon after Árif Bey and his committee set sail back to Constantinople, the first stirrings of the Young Turk Revolution began: a bomb exploded in the path of ‘Abdu’l-Hamíd, followed shortly by a rebellion which forced the restoration of the constitution he had previously suspended and led ultimately to his deposition. As a result of this revolution, all political and religious prisoners under the Sultán’s regime were set free, including ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.