Posted by Sen on May 11, 2009
This posting points out that there is a clear procedure for the appointment of a legitimate Guardian of the Bahai Faith, and none of the claimants satisfy it. Therefore, all the past claimants and present hopefuls are counterfeit.
In his Will and Testament, Abdu’l-Baha established the institution of the Guardianship, appointed his grandson Shoghi Effendi as the first Guardian, and provided for him to appoint a successor, as follows:
It is incumbent upon the Guardian of the Cause of God to appoint in his own life-time him that shall become his successor, … The Hands of the Cause of God must elect from their own number nine … and these, whether unanimously or by a majority vote, must give their assent to the choice of the one whom the Guardian of the Cause of God hath chosen as his successor. This assent must be given in such wise as the assenting and dissenting voices may not be distinguished (i.e., secret ballot). (Abdu’l-Baha, The Will and Testament, 12)
One of the friends drew attention to the provision requiring the nine elected Hands to assent to the choice, and asked:
> …Does this mean that those Hands of the
> Cause could have rejected his [the Guardian’s] choice, ..?
The text above is quite clear: yes, the Hands could individually accept or reject the choice, voting in a secret ballot, and the majority view would prevail. Since Abdu’l-Baha refers to the possibility of a majority decision, he clearly anticipates a real possibility of some dissenting votes. Since his words explicitly require a secret ballot, not consultation, and dissenting votes are possible, the Hands themselves would not know until after the voting whether the result was to accept or reject the Guardian’s choice.
Any commentary on this looks like knocking down an open door: Abdu’l-Baha’s words are clear enough. A commentary also looks unimportant: the body of 9 Hands who would have this function was never elected, and the Guardian never proposed a successor, so obviously the decision was never made. But this little detail of the Covenant is still interesting, for (at least) four reasons.
One: it is one more indication of the way Abdu’l-Baha thought about democratic methods and the relationship between authority and assent. Abdu’l-Baha could have adopted the system that once applied in twelver Shi’ism, in which the Imam designated his successor (and in one case chose his own brother), or the system applied in Ismaili Shi’ism, in which the eldest son is automatically the successor to the Imam. Instead he required designation, birth and an assent given at the time succession: the last of these being more typical of Sunni than Shi’ah political theology.
Two: the requirement that the Hands must assent is also an indication of how Abdu’l-Baha thought of the Guardian’s divine guidance: it appears Abdu’l-Baha relies on the process to produce the correct result, rather than every step in the process. For example, if a Guardian designated a successor, and the Hands dissented from the choice, the Guardian would have to nominate someone else, or the same person again at a later date. If Abdu’l-Baha thought that the Guardian’s guidance would be enough to ensure that his choice was always the right person at the right time, this would be unnecessary.
Three: the required assent of the Hands is still important because it provides the simplest and strongest argument against the claims of the various imitation Guardians who still pop up here and there on the internet. There are even people claiming to be Hands of the Cause, supposedly appointed by these Guardian-hopefuls. No counterfeits! We want the real thing, or nothing. None of the claimants to the Guardianship received the assent of the 9 chosen Hands, therfore none are legitimate Guardians.
Most of the Bahai groups based on a continuing Guardianship stem in some way from Mason Remey’s claim to be the second Guardian. For those who do not know the history, it is summarised here and in more detail with all the later twists and turns here.
The claimants and their supporters have a whole battery of arguments about the need for a Guardian, about Remey being an adopted son, that Shoghi Effendi appointing Remey as the chair of the International Bahai Council and this indicating Shoghi Effendi’s intention … and so on. These arguments all boil down to the idea that there was an implied or secret appointment of Mason Remey that was not formalised. These arguments can be knocked down individually with evidence and counter-arguments, notably the fact that Remey himself, and all of the other Hands of the Cause, signed a statement that “no successor to Shoghi Effendi could have been appointed by him.” The arguments and counter-arguments are well rehearsed on Brent Poirier’s blog which also has images of some of the key documents and the signatures on them.
However this is all quite a lot of material to master, names to remember, and documents and sequences of events to get clear. Yet there is really no need to enter the arguments about an implied appointment, whether an American could be a “lineal descendant” of Baha’u’llah, and so forth, because the Will and Testament lays down a very concrete procedure. If
- the Guardian nominates someone, and
- the Hands of the Cause “elect from their own number nine,” and
- the majority of the 9 chosen Hands agree to the choice in a secret ballot, then
= we have a new Guardian.
If there is no assent from the Hands, there is no new Guardian: it is simple, and clear in the Will and Testament, leaving no room open for doubt, and this one fact refutes all the arguments of all the claimants.
Four: because the Guardian had to make the choice in his own lifetime, and had to present this choice to the Hands to accept or reject, it is clear that the Guardian could not possibly make his choice in his Will. It had to be proposed to the Hands (not necessarily in writing), while the Guardian was alive, for if they dissented from his choice, he had to be there to propose another candidate, or the same candidate at a later date. If the Guardian were already dead, the Hands would have no freedom to dissent: Abdu’l-Baha anticipated that they might dissent, so clearly Abdu’l-Baha anticipated the Guardian being on the scene when this process was occurring. This means that the whole question of the Guardian not writing a Will (or nobody finding it), and the reasons for that, is irrelevant.
~~ Sen McGlinn
[The text above revised 18 May 2009]
Postscript 18 May 2009
A little googling has shown that the followers of Mason Remey do have a counter-argument, although it’s a very weak one. They point to the following letter written on behalf of the Guardian and published in the (American) Baha’i News for February 1955:
The statement in the Will of ‘Abdu’l-Baha [*] does not imply that the Hands of the Cause of God have been given the authority to overrule the Guardian. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá could not have provided for a conflict of authority in the Faith. This is obvious, in view of His own words, which you will find on page 13 (p. 11 of 1944 U.S. edition) of the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. “The mighty stronghold shall remain impregnable and safe through obedience to him who is the guardian of the Cause of God. It is incumbent upon…the Hands of the Cause of God to show their obedience, submissiveness and subordination unto the guardian of the Cause of God, to turn unto him and be lowly before him. He that opposeth him hath opposed the True One,” etc.
The followers of Mason Remey have argued that the statement in the Will and Testament that the chosen Hands must indicate their assent or dissent from the choice of a Guardian does not allow them to overrule the Guardian in that choice! This just makes a nonsense of the clear language in the Will and Testament. But the secretary’s letter does not refer to the choice of a Guardian: it is answering a general, systemic question, not a question about the succession.
This is a good illustration of why letters written in answer to a specific question must be used with great caution. What meaning the secretary was intending to convey depends on what question was asked. The Remeyite reading supposes that the question asked was something ridiculous, along the lines of ‘does the provision in the Will and Testament calling for the Hands to indicate their assent or dissent to the Guardian’s choice of a successor, mean that they can actually dissent from the Guardian’s choice of a successor?’ And they then suppose that the Guardian’s secretary has simply over-ruled Abdu’l-Baha’s words about this specific function of the chosen Hands, using the general principle of obedience.
It is more natural to suppose that the secretary’s letter was written to answer a more sensible question, such as, ‘the Hands have been given the right, in the Will and Testament, to overrule the Guardian’s choice of a successor. Does this mean they can overrule all his decisions?’ And the answer to that question could only be a clear No!, as we see above.
If there was a general principle allowing the nine chosen Hands to overrule the Guardian, then the Guardian would be just “first among equals” in the body of the Hands. That’s not the case: the Guardianship is one institution, the Hands are another. In the Guardian’s sphere, of the interpretation of scripture, he has no colleagues. The Hands in turn have their particular tasks, one of which is to elect nine of their number who will have the final say on the Guardian’s choice of a successor, and who “shall at all times be occupied in the important services in the work of the Guardian of the Cause of God.” Their final say on the succession does not create any “conflict of authority” because the role of each institution is clear. The general duty of obedience to the Guardian does not nullify the explicit language which designates a particular task to the chosen Hands. In the same way, we all have a general duty to ‘speak no evil,’ but this does not prevent the members of the House of Justice (at any level) discussing possible wrong-doing. This is a general principle of scriptural interpretation: a general and unspecified duty cannot vitiate a specific and clearly specified right or duty.
Shoghi Effendi addressed potential conflicts of authority in another letter that gives us an impression of how strongly he felt about the question. One is a postscript in his handwriting :
I wish to reaffirm in clear and categorical language, the principle already enunciated upholding the supreme authority of the National Assembly in all matters that affect the interests of the Faith in that land. There can be no conflict of authority, no duality under any form or circumstances in any sphere of Baha’i jurisdiction whether local, national or international. (To the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada, June 11, 1934)
Despite this language, the Bahais have a specific duty to elect their delegates, who then attend a national convention, where they have a specific duty to offer criticisms and suggestions to the National Spiritual Assembly and, in a secret ballot, to elect its membership. Nobody would argue that Bahais’ duty of obedience to their National Spiritual Assemblies means that the Convention cannot criticize the NSA, or is bound to re-elect its members! Then why would anyone suppose that the Hands’ duty of obedience to the Guardian means they are unable to carry out the duty which Abdu’l-Baha placed squarely on their shoulders, to indicate their assent or dissent to the Guardian’s choice of a successor?